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- Next Nature Researcher
Map-enthusiast Valerie Pieris has created a fascinating visualization of human population centers. We all know that a huge fraction of humanity lives in Asia, but this map really drives the point home. There are more people in China, India and Southeast Asia than there are in Europe, North America, South America and Australia combined. Yet another fun fact brought to you by the Anthropocene.
In South Korea, the global epicenter of plastic surgery, a newly popular form of augmentation is the “liptail”. Originally invented to help middle-aged folks reverse the downturned lips brought on by aging, this surgery is reportedly being adopted by the younger set to permanently create a cute, cheerful smile. While most opt for a more subtle lift, some girls go for the full-on duckface. Unlike other surgeries that merely change the body’s form, this one permanently alters its expression – perhaps an effort to be more happy by looking more happy.
Throughout the US, coal mines abandoned before environmental laws produce acid mine drainage, a soup of toxins that can turn contaminated streams as acidic as lemon juice. One of the main byproducts of acid mine drainage, ferric oxyhydroxides, also happen to be the base for commercial red and yellow paints. Guy Riefler, a professor of environmental engineering at Ohio University, has invented a method for collecting the iron sludge in the runoff and converting it into pigments. With the help of artist John Sabraw, Riefler is tweaking his process with an eye to eventually manufacturing commercially viable paints. There’s certainly no shortage of raw materials: a single seep near Ohio University oozes out enough sludge to produce one ton of pigments every day.
Via Smithsonian Magazine.
In what’s probably the most fun form of environmental protest ever, Banksy has created a morose-looking dolphin ride to protest the BP oil spill. The ride is complete with fish nets and a filthy barrel of BP crude. Go to Brighton Pier in England if you fancy a turn on the convulsing cetacean.
Big Data has made it into the bird-watching world. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird app allows scientists and citizens to record sightings to a form a vast, real-time map of bird populations and species across the globe. Far from being a niche product, the app is hugely successful in the birding world: Users logged more than 5.6 million observations in May alone, with the number increasing every month.
Unlike traditional methods of tallying birds, eBird makes sharing and recording sightings with scientists easy. Its instantaneous aspect addressed the day-to-day distribution of creatures that are, by definition, highly mobile. EBird has already proven its scientific mettle: ornithologists now know that the US has two genetically distinct groups of orchard orioles, and that the population of Eastern meadowlarks is in decline, suggesting that meadow ecosystems themselves are in trouble.
Chef Bun Lai of Miya’s Sushi in New Haven, Connecticut, has a cheeky solution to invasive species: he eats them. His menu regularly features lionfish and Asian shore crabs, neither of which are native to the East coast of the US. Lai’s not afraid to get his hands dirty either: watch him go snorkeling for invasive seaweed and turn it into tasty soup here. According to Lai, these seaweeds “are much more nutritious than any farmed animal flora or fauna than you could possibly buy”.
Edward Wong’s fascinating personal essay reveals the extreme lengths that foreigners and wealthy Chinese go to in order to survive in a country where the air, food and water are toxic. Children are raised indoors, surrounded by high-tech air filters. Adults wear face masks when they venture outside. Stranger still (from an outsider’s perspective) is the quest for safe staple foods such as infant formula:
“So widespread is the phenomenon of Chinese buying milk powder abroad that it has led to shortages in at least a half-dozen countries. Hong Kong has even cracked down on what customs officials call “syndicates” smuggling foreign-made powder to mainland China.”
Perhaps it’s time for a new field guide: Survival Strategies in the Anthropocene. Read Wong’s full article at the New York Times.
Because date rape drugs are odorless, colorless and tasteless, victims don’t normally realize they’ve been attacked until it’s too late. In a clever, necessary bit of information decoration, the founders of DrinkSavvy are working to invent disposable cups, straws and stirrers that change color in the present of date rape drugs.
DrinkSavvy’s products detect the common drugs GHB, rohypnol and ketamine, acting as discrete chemistry kits during a night out drinking. Though it’s a sad commentary on the world that this technology is even needed, anything that prevents rape should be put into widespread use. If Drinksavvy holds up in real-life scenarios, there’s no reason their goods shouldn’t become standard at clubs and bars.
A lot of planners give lip service to preparing for higher seas, stronger storms, and hotter summers, but in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, New York is putting its money where its mouth is. The city is considering creating new land in the East River, or constructing Dutch-style floodgates to hold back storms. From a next nature perspective, however, the most interesting proposal is the East River Blueway.
In an effort that restores some of the primeval feel of what was once the lush island of Mannahatta, the Blueway aims to create a series of wetlands and beaches that would absorb the tidal surges from future hurricanes. Lest this sound like another utopian vision, the city has already raised $8 million to revitalize a 4-mile stretch on Manhattan’s east side, and plans to grow a similar “soft edge” at Coney Island. Now that New York no longer needs its waterfront for industry or shipping, it might be time to let (artificial) nature return.
Greek and Roman writings are filled with accounts of people doing the dirty with statues – a sexual fetish so common that it had its own term, agalmatophilia. The scholars Alex Scobie and Tony Taylor argued in 1975 that these sculptures were
… representational in appearance, coloring and size. The statues were placed on street level rather than high up on pedestals. Hence the statues were life-size, life-like and so conveniently accessible as to enable the populace to form personal relationships with them.
Despite its prevalence in ancient times, agalmatophilia is all but unknown today. Over at Scientific American, author Jesse Bering theorizes that the disappearance of this sexual paraphilia is due to changing technology. People who might have been statute-lovers now own RealDolls and robots. According to Bering, “advances in technology mean that we’ve since gained everything from latex fetishism to mechanophilic arousal by automobiles to the electrophile’s sexual dependence on electric currents.” Our sexual natures change along with us.
You’re looking at the madidi titi, also know as the Goldenpalace.com titi – the first species whose name is also an ad. Discovered in 2004, the honor of naming this new monkey was auctioned off to raise funds for the national park it calls home. Since its christening as Callicebus aureipalatii, however, there’s no evidence that the titi enjoys online gambling any more than it used it.
Image via Nova Taxa.
Want to justify the amount of time you spend on your online dating profile? It turns out that monogamy (along with language, booze, cooking, and bipedalism) may be one of those unique traits that “made us human”. While primates as a whole are an unusually monogamous for mammals, our closest relatives, the great apes, are all into promiscuous free-love. Though the benefits of the human pair bond are obvious now – it’s helpful for rearing big-brained, energy-intensive offspring – scientists are still split on why human monogamy evolved in the first place.
Remember the Twitter tooth implant, the handy little (speculative) device that spied on your drinking, eating and smoking habits? The implant made its first debut in real life with a “tattoo” consisting of electrical sensors. Now, a team of Taiwanese researchers have gone beyond surface electronics to create a whole implantable tooth, complete with a tiny accelerometer.
Because everything we do with our mouths, from chatting to chewing, produces a unique motion profile, the team was able to predict what participants’ mouths were getting up to with close to 95% accuracy. Future prototypes of the “wearable oral sensory system” will include Bluetooth (no pun intended) to wirelessly transmit data to a cell phone or computer. Just imagine waking up to a chiding letter from your parents when they find out you’ve been smoking, or a worried note from your doctor if she suspects you’re coming down with a cold. Of course, you can always talk to yourself if you want to fake a healthy dose of social interaction.
The apocalypse is on its way – at least for oranges. Citrus greening, a disease that kills citrus trees and makes their fruit green, shrunken and inedibly bitter, is racing across the globe. The disease, which is transmitted from tree to tree by a tiny insect called a psyllid, was first reported in China in 1943. Since then, it’s spread across the globe, finally making its way to Florida’s famous orange groves in 2005.
There is no known cure. A worldwide search failed to turn up a naturally immune tree. Measures like burning infected trees and dousing the psyllids with insecticide slow but do not stop the disease. With such seemingly bleak odds, does this mean the end of oranges, lemons and grapefruits?
After leaving our stomachs growling for two whole years, Professor Mark Post has announced that the world’s first in vitro hamburger is finally here. The burger, grown from 3,000 rice-sized strips of lab-grown muscle tissue, will be cooked and consumed before a London audience this Monday. The 150 gram burger cost a whopping €300,000, making it far and away the most expensive hamburger ever produced. We don’t envy the chef in charge of grilling it.
Japanese artist Aki Inomata is lending a helping hand to homeless hermit crabs. Armed with a 3D printer and a CAT-scan of actual snail shells, Inomata has created a series of surreal, gorgeous shells adorned with famous cityscapes. Though the artist’s pet crab preferred to make its home in a model of the Moroccan city Ait-Ben-Haddou, we (of course) have a soft spot for the version covered in Dutch windmills.
Via The Guardian.
A gorgeously uncanny school of discus fish cluster in an aquarium, all of them captive breeds. Though there’s nothing unusual about artificially selecting animals for flamboyant or bizarre traits, it’s still compelling to see such a lovely display of manmade biodiversity. Some of these discus strains are the result of “natural” hybridization between fish from different geographic locations, while others are the result of random mutations and intense inbreeding.
Photo via Practical Fish Keeping.
Food mimics try to look and taste like whatever they’re replacing. Veggie burgers, veggie sausages, even the dreaded vegan bacon, all exist to comfort the nostalgic vegetarian. These meat-mimics imply that a change in diet doesn’t mean a loss of deep-seated cultural rituals. You can still barbecue and eat a full English breakfast. Sort of.