In a phenomenon that scientists still don’t quite understand, lightning is sometimes borne out of an active volcano when it erupts, with dramatic effect. On an island in southern Japan, one of Asia’s most active volcanos is providing an amazing show. Via FastCo Design:
National Geographic’s December issue is about the world’s biggest trees, and their team of photographers and explorers climbed many of the world’s largest trees to take size surveys, etc. Here they are in Sequoia National Park climbing “The President”, a 3200 year old ‘beaut that is most likely the largest tree in the world, by mass. To think that a living thing that has been around since well before the Romans and since early Egyptian days is, frankly, staggering.
Some fantastic photos and videos of the incredible Birds of paradise. Who wants to go to New Guinea with me? Via Wired.
Birds of paradise have evolved into very conspicuous animals with orange, red and turquoise plumage and ornate wire-like feathers that have captured the imagination of scientists and bird enthusiasts alike.
Their showy features are a delight to behold, but they would also make them an easy target for hungry cats and other predatory mammals — if there were any around. The absence of such predators is precisely what allowed these otherwise impractical species to evolve.
“There was an evolutionary opportunity to develop that kind of extravagance,” ornithologist Ed Scholes of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology said. “They’re a quirk of geography.”
More than 20 years ago, wildlife photographer Tim Laman saw his first birds of paradise, the Standardwing and the Red Bird of Paradise, while traveling in Indonesia. He started imagining a project to photograph every species of these birds in their natural habitats of New Guinea and parts of Australia.
“It was one of the dream assignments on my list,” said Laman, who’s also a rainforest biologist with a Ph.D. from Harvard.
Laman, whose work often focuses on conservation, finally pitched the project to National Geographic in 2003. He teamed up with Scholes, and during the next three years the pair made five trips to New Guinea and managed to photograph about half of the 39 species of birds of paradise.
After eight years, Laman and Scholes completed their mission of photographing all of the bird-of-paradise species, including the ballerina-like bronze parotia, which only recently was recognized as the 39th species.
The project took Laman and Scholes through more than 200 flights, 18 expeditions and thousands of hours spent hiding in blinds as high as 50 meters above ground. They set up a battery-powered jungle ethernet and remote-controlled cameras hooked up to laptops to take the nearly 40,000 photographs that comprise the Birds of Paradise Project.
Here is a selection of some of the best videos and photos from their avian adventures.
Goldie’s birds-of-paradise live on two or three islands on the western edge of Papua New Guinea.
Males coordinate their displays and their calls sound almost like an intense duet, says Scholes.
Unlike greater birds-of-paradise, the magnificent riflebird prefers to court females alone. He perches himself on a horizontal vine and transforms himself from a normal black bird into a “headless ovoid thing,” Scholes said. He hides his head behind his wings to reveal metallic blue feathers. As he hops around looking like a UFO trying to land, he flaps his wings and produces a buzzing sound that resembles fabric tearing, according to Scholes.
Male riflebirds are able to make that sound because their feathers have a soft, rounded edge, Scholes says. When a male riflebird spreads his wings, they look rounded instead of jagged like other birds. They may not be the most aerodynamically efficient wings, but they are beautiful to look at.
“No other birds have this adaptation. It’s purely for the purposes of courtship,” Scholes said. Magnificent riflebirds can still fly, but not for long distances.
Laman spent 80 hours hidden inside a blind to document the riflebird’s audiovisual, alien-like mating dance.
Male greater birds-of-paradise congregate in groups of up to 20 to court females in the canopies of New Guinea rain forests. Even though they’re competing for females, their displays are highly synchronized and coordinated, says Scholes. They display their wispy feathers and jump around from branch to branch.
There is some evidence suggesting that females prefer males who are part of more coordinated crowds. But that doesn’t mean all males in that pack will get equal access to the ladies because most females tend to choose the same male.
This one-male-for-all-females strategy is common among all birds-of-paradise and it’s part of the reason “why the process of evolution has been so extreme for these birds,” said Scholes. “The males with the most extreme characteristics are the ones fathering all the offspring.”
For years, Laman dreamed of taking a photograph of this bird with the sun in the background. After lots of climbing, waiting and good luck, he was finally able to take it with the help of a hidden “leaf cam” he set up in the trees.
These birds are smaller versions of the greater bird-of-paradise. They also have wispy colorful Mohawk-forming feathers, which made them targets for bird hunters in the 1900s looking to sell them to fashion houses as decoration for women’s hats.
Hunting doesn’t pose a big threat to these animals because by the time they’ve developed their beautiful feathers, they’ve reached adulthood and likely have had the chance to mate. Habitat destruction from logging is a concern, however.
These birds live in lowland swamp forests. Males prefer courting females atop vertical poles or branches.
“They’re playing a game or dance where she moves to the top and he positions himself so he can get her to come back down and get on top of her,” said Scholes.
As shown in the video, a yellow and purple male shimmies down a branch, tail first, wiggling 12 wire-like extensions in the female’s face. During this very tactile display, he moves back and forth several times, touching her.
“For some reason, females have found it appealing to be whipped by those wires before they mate,” said Scholes.
NASA has a new free iPad app out called Earth as Art, and it compiles over 70 of their most amazing satellite images.
[The App's images] cover all corners of the globe, from the craggy outlines of the Susitna Glacier in Alaska to the Bogda Mountains in China, the latter of which showcase “purple mountain majesty” in a very literal sense. Alas, in the introduction to the collection, NASA notes that the image sensors on these satellite cams can “measure light outside the visible range, so the images show more than what is visible to the naked eye.” The images, we are reminded, “are intended for viewing enjoyment rather than scientific interpretation.”
I finally got around to seeing the film Chasing Ice last night, and I highly recommend going to see it. The film is a gripping and fiercely scary look at the world’s glaciers, and their rapid decline and disappearance. Renowned photographer James Balog spends years of his life and literally destroys his own knees hiking to some of the world’s most remote yet critical glaciers, setting up multi-year timelapse studies. His visual records of swift glacial decline are irrefutable proof of climate change in action. At the same time, he captures images of ice, icebergs and glaciers that are visually astounding. Painfully beautiful and just plain painful, the film is a must-see for anyone that wants to feel invigorated to do something about the climate crisis. Go see it.
Some exquisite flower photography by Andrew Zuckerman.
In various artistic traditions, flowers have figured as ornament, allegory, and vehicles for exploring color, light, and technique. Substituted for the most fundamental themes — death, sex, the spiritual realm — they abound by virtue of their physical beauty and diversity, but also due to their symbolic implications, ritualistic and medicinal applications, and their proximity to decay.
Dispensing with romanticism and narrative associations, Andrew Zuckerman’s Flower is predicated on contemporizing this seemingly exhausted terrain. Culled from an exploration of over 300 species, Zuckerman aims, as always, to translate the essential nature of his subjects and unearth qualities that have previously escaped scrutiny.
With characteristic minimalism, he creates an atmosphere of absolute clarity to reveal each flower on its own terms. In the blank field of pure white light, in exacting definition, they appear alternately alien, comestible, and anatomical. Every aspect is made explicit. What one notices immediately are the astonishing gradations of color and variations of form — some sculptural, others almost viscous — followed by boundless textural nuance.
The images contained within are not still lives, but flowers in a specific time and place, responding to the pull of light, gravity, and water. At close range, they reveal a kind of topography for survival. Zuckerman’s photographs expose the mechanisms beneath the surface — vascular, respiratory, reproductive – the structural imperatives for such arresting physical beauty.
Some gorgeous aerial photography of Iceland’s volcanic landscape. The colors and patterns flow together to seem almost otherworldly. Photographs by Andre Ermolaev.
From the photographer:
Iceland is a wonderful country; I would even say that it is a true paradise for all the photo shooting-lovers. But what has become a real discovery for me is the bird’s eye view of the rivers flowing along the black volcanic sand. It is an inexpressible combination of colors, lines, and patterns. The photo represents the mouth of the river falling into the ocean. [...] A little bit upstream there is a yellow-colored brook flowing into the river, but yellow currents fail to mix with the main water flow. One can estimate the scale judging by the car tracks that are clearly seen on the black sand. This is just a river, just a volcano, just our planet.
Finally, a country with the balls/courage/conviction to make a bold step into the clean future. Thank you, Scotland, for showing that it can be done.
In 2010, Alex Salmond, the First Minister of Scotland, announced that his government was aiming to power all of Scotland with 100% renewable energy by 2025. Just a few months later, they kicked it up a notch or five: Scotland would seek to run entirely on renewable power by 2020. Most of that would come from ambitious onshore and offshore wind farms, as well as some smaller wave and tidal power projects—and there are 7 GW of such clean energy projects already completed or underway.
By the end of 2011, it looked as if all was going to plan, despite the requisite naysaying from skeptics. Here’s Triple Pundit on Scotland’s progress thus far:
2011 was an epic year for Scottish energy companies. The Department for Energy and Climate Change released figures recently demonstrating that the renewable energy sector saw more than £750 million of investment last year. Currently seven gigawatts (GW) of renewable projects are operational, under construction or approved … several projects are in the pipeline to eventually deliver 17 GW of power with an estimated investment of £46 billion … [Scotland] is already well on its way to hit its interim target of 31 percent.
And 2012 looks to continue that trend, especially as Salmond announced a new partnership with the United Arab Emirates, and Masdar, the Abu Dhabi clean energy company, today at the World Future Energy Summit. The two governments agreed to lay out an action plan this year that would allow them to pool resources and technology to accelerate cleantech development, initially focusing on offshore wind and carbon capture and sequestration.
Salmond acknowledged that one of the primary challenges to meeting the 2020 goal was finding ways to bring the costs of offshore wind projects down.
“The costs of offshore wind will have to be reduced by 20% to be competitive,” he said at a press conference today. Efforts to analyze and improve the supply chain will be a top priority, as will examining transmission challenges inherent in efficiently transporting electricity over long distances. Salmond repeatedly emphasized the need to commercialize offshore wind to make the technology available for wider deployment (and granting Scotland a foothold in one of the next generation’s most promising industries).
“The real prize is the technologies that we are refining together,” he said. “The result is to demonstrate the feasibility for deployment of those technologies around the world.”
Other challenges to the burgeoning renewable sector are strictly political in nature: Salmond has been leading a push for Scottish independence, which has led the likes of Citigroup to warn investors of backing energy projects in the region. But Salmond dismissed such concerns today, asserting that there was great “strength in confidence in the renewable sector”, and pointed to a great potential for foreign investment.
Scotland’s push to become a leader in marine renewables (they’re also seeking to deploy as much as 2 GW of wave and tidal power) is not just laudable, but could prove visionary indeed. The effort could prove a major boon to Scotland’s economy, where wind could become a $30 billion dollar industry, according to forecasts from Scottish Enterprises. As such, it’s no surprise that the plan is raising high hopes in the renewable energy industry – and, no doubt, in Scotland.
An amazing collection of species from the future, changed irreparably due to climate change and the need to adapt to a new planet.
In his “Engineered Species” project, part of his recently released book Past Forward, Fournier explores how life itself tinkers with its own design, changing DNA to make species better, faster and stronger. Fournier took pictures of taxidermy specimens—stuffed and pinned animals—and brought them to animal geneticists to find how these species were evolving in real time as the environment, thanks largely to human action, keeps changing.
PANGOLIN [Pholidota supraclimatis]
Climate change-tolerant mammal • Better adaptation to climate change (i.e. increase of 2∘C). Nocturnal/diurnal animals.
A high keratin content (DM content of 45%) maintains a constant body temperature and controls homeostatis. Claw composition: non-metallic and metallic (Ir) components [1:7] for animal defense.
BEETLE [Oryctes transmissionus]
Insect adapted to continuous tracking.
GPS receiver in the horn as integrated antenna. • Secretion of a two-layer ABS/Plexiglas material by the engineered animal. Accuracy of time signals (±10ns).
Head and thorax made with Al for short-wavelength transmissions in the ISM band from 2400-2480 MHz. Able to withstand accelerations of 12,000 g or about 118 km/s2. The L5 frequency band at 1.17645 GHz added. Animal for continuous tracking.
SPARROW [Passeridae megapixeliadeae]
Bird with high visual acuity
Injection around 20000 engineered stem cells per eye using isolate fibroblast precursors from corneal stroma.
Critical visual angle : 0.35 arc-minute. Large format camera : 180 degrees.Resolution of the bird eye : 576 megapixels. f/ratio = 22.3/7 = 3.2
CORTINARIUS [Fungus aridus]
Like-arid environment tolerant fungi
Injection of a genetically modified gene isolated from camel hump cells in spores. Reservoir of fatty tissue derived from lipoblasts within cap.
Metabolized tissue with a yield of approx. 0.1 of H2O for each 0.1 g of fat converted through reaction with O2from the air.
MONITOR LIZARD [Varanus imitabilis]
Glass mirrors on scales providing parabolic reflectors. Very low f/#s. With a ray depth of 48.
Secretion of a thin layer of aluminium by reduction from tetrahydroxoaluminate Al(OH)4–to metallic aluminum by microbial-bacterial processes. Agro-infiltration of engineered bacteria with surfactant Silwet L-77. Body for mimetic camouflage.
GREAT GREY OWL [Strix nebulosa]
Vision in pixels for delivering a fuller picture to the brain. Process of computer software memory. Engineered nerves cells and photoreceptor cells in the retina of the eye. Neither ears nor horns.
Embryogenesis modification. Tufts feather with a narrow band of wavelengths (305-320mm) to avoid predation.
Claw composition: non-metallic and metallic (106Cd) components [1:5] for defense.