If you want to follow the brown bears in Alaska's Katmai National Park during Fat Bear Week -- or check out other nature/wildlife vistas around the world -- Explore.com has dozens of live cams that allow you to partake virtually: explore.org/livecams
Gravity is not the same all over the planet. One of the factors that can have an effect on surface gravity is the density of the underlying rock: higher-density rock increases surface gravity (ever so slightly). This map of Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio is part of a Bouguer gravity anomaly map, showing higher-gravity regions in pink/red and lower-gravity regions in blue. Because of the underlying rock, you will weigh more in southern Illinois than in eastern Ohio, for example. www.atlasobscura.com/articles/strange-maps-uneven-gravity
The Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea was in the news again last week: members of the Philippines coast guard took a fishing boat to the area near the shoal, where China had installed a "floating barrier" patrolled by Chinese vessels, impeding Filipino fishing boats from accessing the waters near the shoal, and cut the line. Chinese officials later denied the line had been cut, saying they had chosen to remove it. But for the people of the Philippines, the incident has been cast as a David-and-Goliath story, with Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos Jr. making an explicit decision to use the coast guard to defy Chinese efforts to claim the Scarborough Shoal. www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/philippines-remove-barrier-placed-by-china-south-china-sea-national-security-2023-09-25/
Drought in the Midwest is leading to lower water levels in the Mississippi River again this year, which is leading to salt water encroaching up the river and threatening the water supplies of New Orleans. Although the "saltwater wedge" isn't supposed to arrive for a couple of weeks, New Orleans residents are starting to empty grocery stores shelves of bottled water.
"The crisis is a result of drought conditions in the Midwest, which have sapped water levels in the Mississippi, allowing salty water from the Gulf to creep upstream beneath a freshwater layer. Officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers say the “saltwater wedge,” which has already affected communities downstream, could reach water treatment plants near New Orleans in about a month, pushing the salty water into household faucets. About a million people across southeastern Louisiana could be affected. Officials are working to slow the influx by strengthening an underwater sill, or levee, at the bottom of the Mississippi, and preparing to ship tens of millions of gallons of fresh water from upstream by barge to affected treatment facilities on a daily basis. Still, managing the demand for clean water could take a herculean effort, Dr. [Jesse] Keenan [of Tulane University] said, especially because it is unclear how long the intrusion could last. City officials said this week that they were planning for as long as three months, based on expert advice. In previous dry years, including in 1988 and 2012, officials in Louisiana managed to avert major problems, but this could be different: It’s the second straight year in which water levels have dropped drastically because of heat and drought intensified by climate change."
A confluence of factors -- including concentrated wealth searching for investment outlets and rising interest rates -- is leading to a growing proportion of single-family homes in the U.S. being purchased for cash and turned into rental housing. This map takes as a case study a middle-class neighborhood in Charlotte, NC. (Map from www.nytimes.com/interactive/2023/09/16/realestate/home-sales-north-carolina-wall-street.html.)
If you have been waiting to see the Starlink satellite system in the night sky, this is the map (and location search function) for you: findstarlink.com/
National Geographic's Explorer Classroom has returned for 2023-24, with free webinars designed to allow students to hear directly from a wide range of National Geographic explorers. For upcoming events or to register, see www.nationalgeographic.org/tickets/explorer-classroom/
The state of Massachusetts has an interactive site that maps all bear sightings in the state (not counting Boston Bruins) from 2019 to the present: massbears.wordpress.amherst.edu/sightings-map/
Nickel is a key mineral in batteries, a pivotal component in green energy technologies, and Indonesia has the world's largest nickel reserves, centered on the monkey-shaped island of Sulawesi. But Chinese investment in smelting and refining Indonesia's nickel is putting it at the center of a geopolitical tug of war.
"Mr. Luhut [an Indonesian cabinet minister] aspires to transform Indonesia into a hub for the production of electric vehicles. But as he pursues that paramount goal, he and his country are increasingly vulnerable to geopolitical forces beyond their control. Though this archipelago nation has long sidestepped entanglements in ideological rivalries, it is increasingly caught in the conflict between the United States and China. At stake is control over nickel, a mineral used to make batteries for electric cars and motorcycles — a central component of the mission to limit the ravages of climate change. Indonesia boasts the earth’s largest reserves, making it something like the Saudi Arabia of nickel. But harvesting and refining those stocks is largely dependent on investment and technology from Chinese companies. And that has limited Indonesia’s access to the United States. ... In recent months, Mr. Luhut — formally Indonesia’s coordinating minister for maritime affairs and investment — has implored the Biden administration for a trade deal covering minerals in an effort to secure his country status as a friendly country. That would generate greater demand for its nickel by making it eligible for the American tax credits under the Inflation Reduction Act. Companies around the globe would presumably gain incentive to erect smelters and electric vehicle factories in Indonesia, enhancing the nation’s technological prowess, and creating jobs. But Mr. Luhut, the government’s de facto lead official on trade matters, has been repeatedly rebuffed because of American concerns about Chinese investment in Indonesia’s nickel industry, as well as unease over working conditions and environmental standards. ... “We are aiming basically to the United States,” he said. “But if the Americans finally say, ‘We don’t want to take it,’ fine, we’ll look for some other places to go.”"www.nytimes.com/2023/08/18/business/indonesia-nickel-china-us.html
Spring is beginning in the Southern Hemisphere, and millions of birds are heading south. Scientists are concerned this migration will finally introduce avian flu to Antarctica and the 100 million birds that nest there as well as potentially spreading it to mammal populations that may also be vulnerable to avian flu. www.nytimes.com/2023/08/30/science/birds-flu-antarctica.html
This interactive map tracks anticipated foliage changes in the contiguous U.S.: smokymountains.com/fall-foliage-map/
This recent piece from MIT Technology Review considers AI weapons in light of evolving technology:
"[I]ntelligent autonomous weapons that fully displace human decision-making have (likely) yet to see real-world use. ... Meanwhile, intelligent systems that merely guide the hand that pulls the trigger have been gaining purchase in the warmaker’s tool kit. And they’ve quietly become sophisticated enough to raise novel questions—ones that are trickier to answer than the well-covered wrangles over killer robots and, with each passing day, more urgent: What does it mean when a decision is only part human and part machine? ... For a long time, the idea of supporting a human decision by computerized means wasn’t such a controversial prospect. Retired Air Force lieutenant general Jack Shanahan says the radar on the F4 Phantom fighter jet he flew in the 1980s was a decision aid of sorts. It alerted him to the presence of other aircraft, he told me, so that he could figure out what to do about them. But to say that the crew and the radar were coequal accomplices would be a stretch. ...
"The Ukrainian army uses a program, GIS Arta, that pairs each known Russian target on the battlefield with the artillery unit that is, according to the algorithm, best placed to shoot at it. A report by The Times, a British newspaper, likened it to Uber’s algorithm for pairing drivers and riders, noting that it significantly reduces the time between the detection of a target and the moment that target finds itself under a barrage of firepower. Before the Ukrainians had GIS Arta, that process took 20 minutes. Now it reportedly takes one. Russia claims to have its own command-and-control system with what it calls artificial intelligence, but it has shared few technical details. ... Like any complex computer, an AI-based tool might glitch in unusual and unpredictable ways; it’s not clear that the human involved will always be able to know when the answers on the screen are right or wrong. In their relentless efficiency, these tools may also not leave enough time and space for humans to determine if what they’re doing is legal. ...
"The scholar M.C. Elish has suggested that a human who is placed in this kind of impossible loop could end up serving as what she calls a “moral crumple zone.” In the event of an accident—regardless of whether the human was wrong, the computer was wrong, or they were wrong together—the person who made the “decision” will absorb the blame and protect everyone else along the chain of command from the full impact of accountability. ... The gunsight never pulls the trigger. The chatbot never pushes the button. But each time a machine takes on a new role that reduces the irreducible, we may be stepping a little closer to the moment when the act of killing is altogether more machine than human, when ethics becomes a formula and responsibility becomes little more than an abstraction. If we agree that we don’t want to let the machines take us all the way there, sooner or later we will have to ask ourselves: Where is the line? "
Due to a powerful solar storm, there have been great photos of the aurora borealis spotted in unlikely places this week, including as far south as Missouri. If you'd like to catch the aurora, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provides a daily forecast and notes the aurora "does not need to be directly overhead but can be observed from as much as a 1000 km away when the aurora is bright and if conditions are right." www.swpc.noaa.gov/products/aurora-30-minute-forecast
For American high school students interested in studying outside the U.S., applications are now open for a variety of fully funded State Department programs, including the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y), the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES), the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX), and the Future Leaders Exchange Program (FLEX Abroad). These programs all have different deadlines, goals, and participating countries. This link to the Department of State exchange search provides information about all of these programs and more: tinyurl.com/32xfy465
Fast forward to 2050: this geo-graphic from Statista looks at the anticipated number of retirees per 100 working people, in selected countries, in 2020 vs. 2050. Numbers in 2050 range from 40.4 retirees per 100 working people in the U.S. to 80.7 (!) retirees per 100 working people in Japan. The length of the bar highlights the change in value from 2020 to 2050. www.statista.com/chart/30831/evolution-of-the-number-of-retirees-per-100-working-people
The Darién Gap is a roadless region of tropical rainforest connecting North and South America; the "gap" refers to the gap in the Pan-American Highway in this section of southern Panama and northern Colombia. Since the economic disintegration of Venezuela in 2018, the Darién Gap has also emerged as a primary, if arduous, transit corridor for migrants trying to get from South America to Mexico and the U.S. This article from the New York Times looks at the how the Darién Gap has become a major cash cow, not just for smugglers but also for entrepreneurs and local officials in what is effectively a space outside central government control. Trafficking migrants across the Darién Gap is described as "the only profitable industry in a place that didn’t have a defined economy before.” www.nytimes.com/2023/09/14/world/americas/migrant-business-darien-gap.html
September is apple-picking time, but in Benton County, Arkansas (today, better known as the headquarters of Walmart) there is an unusual apple that is picked in the fall but not eaten until months later. The Arkansas Black was discovered in an Arkansas orchard in the 1870s and grown commercially until the Great Depression. Today, it is making a bit of a comeback as regional specialty. https://www.atlasobscura.com/foods/arkansas-black-apple
New York City recently passed restrictions on renting out properties on sites like Airbnb. Although NYC has (had?) a lot of Airbnb listings, other tourist destinations -- like Hawaii, New Orleans and Washington, DC -- have a lot more on a per capita basis. Asheville, NC, in the Blue Ridge Mountains, has the highest proportion of properties listed on Airbnb. www.statista.com/chart/30761/airbnb-listings-per-1000-inhabitants-in-the-us
History has shown, repeatedly, that philosophies that extol or justify a particular action often find traction after, not before, people have already take those actions for economic reasons. With Japan's population shrinking and domestic consumption also shrinking, then, it is not particularly surprising that an anti-growth book has become a best seller in Japan. This article from the New York Times looks at the philosophy of "degrowth communism" being advocated by the book: www.nytimes.com/2023/08/23/business/kohei-saito-degrowth-communism.html
This geo-graphic from Statista, based on UN data, shows how patterns in human migration have changed over the last 20 years: www.statista.com/chart/30815/top-destination-countries-for-international-migrants
NIH (the National Institutes of Health) offers loads of free resources for teaching health and life science topics, from bioengineering and microbiology to concussions, cannabis, ticks, and nutrition. There are even comics and a board game available for download! Most of the materials are for middle and high school, but there are some things for elementary school students too. science.education.nih.gov/
This satellite image, from Al Jazeera, shows the location of the two dams on the Wadi Derna in far northeastern Libya that collapsed earlier this week following unusually heavy rains. The dams were built in the 1970s by a Yugoslavian company as part of a project to provide reservoirs and an irrigation network for communities in the region. Although Libya is not considered especially vulnerable to climate change, Notre Dame's Global Adaptation Initiative had previously flagged Libya's dam capacity as a significant vulnerability. www.aljazeera.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/INTERACTIVE-Libya-Derna-floods-Storm-Daniel-1694506930.png
Cantonese is the primary language of southern China, including Hong Kong, and Cantonese has been a tool for anti-regime satire and solidarity since the 2019 protests in Hong Kong. This article from Quartz looks at Beijing's attempts to crackdown on Cantonese publishing outlets and promote the teaching of Mandarin in Hong Kong's schools: qz.com/hong-kong-s-new-public-enemy-the-cantonese-language-1850780591
With Hurricane Lee dawdling off the Atlantic Coast of the U.S., this graph from NOAA is a reminder that this is the busiest time of year for hurricanes. (Graph from www.nola.com/news/hurricane/hurricane-lee-becomes-a-cat-3-storm-no-threat-to-the-gulf/article_fe6ad090-4f64-11ee-984f-3facb7542d5c.html.)
If your state doesn't produce enough doctors to meet demand, where are the doctors in your state most likely from? This map, based on U.S. Census data, answers that question. (Map from www.washingtonpost.com/business/2023/08/18/states-most-artists-writers/.)
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