Lost At Sea? Survive With These Tricks

A handy manual to prepare you for life’s misadventures. MANUAL_survival 01

illustrations by Chris Philpot

Jose Salvador Alvarenga was fishing off the coast of Mexico in late 2012 when a powerful storm sent his boat adrift. Marshall Islanders found the battered vessel nearly 16 months later, stuck on a reef—with Alvarenga still alive inside. Rainwater and a diet of fish and turtle sustained him (or so he told the press). Curious how DIY savvy could stave off disaster, we asked Frances and Michael Howorth, authors of The Sea Survival Manual, for advice.

Shelter: Don’t discard any clothing; multiple layers can keep you warm during cold nights. On hot days, drape or prop clothes overhead.

Water: Never drink seawater. If you have a raincoat, detach the hood and use it to catch and store rainwater. Plastic bags and rain boots also make excellent containers. Always rinse them with the first raindrops to wash away salt from sea spray.

Food: A boat’s shadow can attract fish. To catch them, string jewelry into a lure. (Pieces from a smartphone can work too.) Shoelaces or unraveled sock threads can serve as fishing line. Save any uneaten bits for bait.

Rescue: Relax and find familiar shapes in clouds to ease boredom—and keep an eye out for planes and ships. If you spot one, use a pocket mirror or a smartphone screen to reflect sunlight. The signal can be seen up to 10 miles away on a sunny day.

For more sea-survival tips, head to the Howorths’ website, thehoworths.com.

WARNING: Use these methods as last resorts. If they don’t work, direct your complaints to ididnotsurvive@popsci.com.

Courtesy : Popular Science

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Photo : The White Cliffs of Iturup

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Photograph by Alexey Kharitonov

This Month in Photo of the Day: National Geographic Photo Contest Images

White rocks have stretched for miles alongside the shore of the Prostor Bay. They are formed of a very light and soft pumice as a result of the huge volcanic eruption. This pumice is being eroded by the storms of the Okhotsk Sea, by the rains and numerous small rivers that form the amazing shapes of the rocks. At the foot of these rocks lies an unusual black-and-white beach, consisting of chopped white pumice and black lava sand. And every morning that we camped there, fresh bear trails appeared on this sand. Iturup island.

(This photo and caption were submitted to the 2013 National Geographic Photo Contest.)

Frosted Tamarack Swamp

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I had scouted out a few places for an early morning shoot in the tamarack swamps of Wisconsin. I searched and searched until I found this scene. With the sun barely breaking through the fog rising from the melting frost, the light lit up the tamarack in front of this ditch. The ditch faded into the mist, while the frost captured the early morning rays as everything glinted like it was covered in diamonds. I absolutely fell in love with the mood that this scene created. Just a few moments later, the sun rose high in the sky and melted all the frost, causing the scene to completely change.

Courtesy : National Geographic

National Geographic Akui Kualitas Foto Nokia Lumia 1020

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Nokia Lumia 1020 yang mengandalkan kamera 41MP mendapatkan pengakuan dari National Geographic. Kamera pada Lumia 1020 digunakan oleh salah satu kontributor National Geographic untuk hunting foto dalam sebuah tur yang dilakukan di bagian barat daya Amerika Serikat.

Kontributor bernama Stephen Alvares tersebut menggunakan Lumia 1020 sebagai kamera utamanya. Alvares mengaku bisa mendapatkan foto dengan kualitas yang tak kalah dibandingkan kamera yang biasa digunakannya. Dan dengan bentuknya yang sangat kecil, smartphone Lumia 1020 memudahkannya untuk dibawa kemana-mana serta memungkinkan untuk pengambilan foto dari berbagai posisi yang sangat sulit dilakukan dengan kamera biasa.

Dengan menggunakan Lumia 1020, Alvares pun merasa bahwa dirinya bisa menjadi lebih kreatif dibandingkan memakai kamera DLSR. Meskipun begitu, Alvares mengaku bahwa dirinya tidak akan meninggalkan kamera DLSR dan beralih ke Lumia 1020. Namun dengan hal ini, dia membuktikan bahwa kualitas gambar yang diambil memakai Lumia 1020 tidak akan kalah dibandingkan sebuah kamera. Testimoni lengkap Stephen Alvares bisa dilihat pada video dibawah ini.

Courtesy : Jeruk Nipis

National Geographic Extreme Photo of the Week

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1. Snowboarding the Pemberton Ice Cap, British Columbia. Photograph by Mark Gribbon

“Being in the backcountry is where I belong and am the most happy,” says snowboarder Joel Loverin, seen here on the Pemberton Ice Cap in British Columbia, Canada, during a three-day backcountry camping and riding excursion.

“Compared to the other lines I rode on the trip, this one was a lot more relaxed, but the end result for the photograph came out a lot better than the others,” recalls Loverin, who is based in Whistler. “I’m drawn to the freedom and isolation of being way out in the mountains and being submersed in terrain that is always changing. I love the adventure and endless exploration possibilities and the quiet serenity of it all.”

Getting the Shot

“The cold nights would turn the snow into a sheet of ice, then we would have to wait until the afternoon for the snow to soften up to ride anything,” recalls photographer Mark Gribbon, who was on assignment for Snowboard Canada magazine when he got this shot.

Gribbon faced tough weather conditions—for both snowboarding and photographing. Toward the end of the session, Gribbon captured this image. “At the end of the season, the sun is pretty high in the sky, which makes for less dramatic photos. It is a balance trying to find decent snow with a feature that is ridable this time of year,” he says. “The ice and shade kept the surrounding snow rideable at such a late hour in the day.”

Gribbon photographed with a Canon Mark IV and a 70-200mm, f/2.8 lens.

2. Climbing Hallucinogen Wall, Black Canyon, Colorado. Photograph by John Dickey

Getting the Shot

“I had never even seen the Black Canyon before this climb. Turns out the Black is infamous for a reason,” says photographer John Dickey, who joined climber Josh Wharton on Hallucinogen Wall in Colorado’s Black Canyon. “I’ve been shooting on big walls for over a decade and when I first stepped over the edge, it took me a minute to get my head right before continuing.

“I knew the Black had some pretty difficult lighting, so I went prepared with gradient filters and a strobe. Once I rappelled in and saw the lighting situation, I put away the filters and milked the contrast for all I could. I toyed with balancing the light using filters and in the end stuck with the high contrast,” he recalls.

In order to get the shots he wanted of Wharton, Dickey started climbing at 4 a.m. His goal was to get a head start on Wharton and then begin the long rappel at around 6:45 a.m. to intersect on the wall a few hundred feet off the ground. Dickey had his lighting and climbing thoroughly planned, but serious routes can give pause even to the most prepared. “The biggest challenge of the day was at the start—those first minutes stepping over the edge of the wall. Whenever I get intimidated like that I focus on the task at hand: Check the harness, make sure the carabiner on my belay device is locked, double check camera batteries, and move on.”

Dickey photographed with a Canon 6D and carried a lens.

3. Winter Surfing in Cook Inlet, Alaska. Photograph by Scott Dickerson

“I would say that surfing up here is not very popular,” says Homer, Alaska, local Gart Curtis, seen here rushing back to the truck, with his friend Mike in the distance, after a winter surf session 30 minutes outside of town. “The conditions are fickle. Weeks can go by without waves. It’s rare that the number of guys in the water exceeds single digits—and we know each other.”

Curtis and his friends were navigating large, broken up pieces of ice formed by packed snow on the shore that gets soaked, refrozen, and then broken by the waves and tide. “They are a bit tricky, but it is faster to go along on top of them than to slog and weave through the heavy snow in between,” Curtis recalls.

Gearing up to surf in Alaska’s biting cold is critical. “You can still feel the cold through the wetsuit, but luckily it’s warmer in the water than on the beach. I’m wearing a 6/5/4 wetsuit, with 7mm booties and mitts. I’m also wearing a thermal rashguard and neoprene trunks,” Curtis says. “Some guys use battery-powered, heated tops, but I don’t have one. And a couple of the guys I surf with put vaseline on their faces to block the wind on the really cold windy days … I might try that sometime.” “Hunting for breaks is a big part of the fun,” Curtis says. “Even finding a new sand bar a few hundred yards from a known spot, or a spot suddenly working at a different tide than what worked last season—that’s a thrill.”

Getting the Shot

“It was just above zero degrees, windy, snowing, and pretty dark outside,” says photographer and surfer Scott Dickerson. “There was no practical way that I could have photographed from the water given the conditions. The current was going much faster than I could swim, and there were large chunks of ice floating through the surf that would have been even more dangerous to me, considering my lack of mobility swimming with the camera.”

The surfers drove along the Alaskan coast, looking for waves that could be surfed at Cook Inlet. While watching his friends attempt to surf, Dickerson fought the extreme weather on the beach. “The beach was a sloped sheet of ice that made it incredibly difficult to get out of the water because it required you to scramble uphill over wet ice between the surging waves,” recalls Dickerson. “I had to be careful to keep the camera lens protected, while also having to run through thigh-deep snow to keep up with Mike and Gart as they drifted down the beach in the strong current.”

Dickerson photographed with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II and a EF24-70mm, f/2.8L lens.

4. Ice Climbing in Zirknitzgrotte, Austria. Photograph by Martin Lugger

Getting the Shot

“At the time it was very questionable to climb this ice rock because of the danger that it would break and crash—along with the climber,” says photographer and climber Martin Lugger. After climber Peter Ortner (pictured) told Lugger about the location in Zirknitzgrotte, Austria, the two went to scout and climb. Lugger immediately knew he wanted to light the scene with strobes. “When we came there, I knew I wanted make some shots with flashes. Although it’s dangerous because of falling ice, the area is very nice for lighting.”

Lugger set up the photo he wanted to capture. “I have no standard lighting because every scene needs to be adjusted differently,” he says. “I imagined this frame when I planned my setup and lights. I had three main angles in mind and two of them worked out for me.” For this shot, Lugger lit the scene with a Hensel Studio strobe and blue gel. He also used another strobe to brighten the climber. “The biggest challenge during the shoot was to not get hit by falling ice, and not to slip on the ice with my Hasselblad in my hands.”

Lugger photographed with a Hasselblad H3DII-50, 80mm lens, and Hensel Studio strobes.

5. Surfing Jaws, Maui, Hawaii. Photograph by Fred Pompermayer

Getting the Shot

“I was so stoked to watch through my viewfinder” as big-wave surfer Shane Dorian was in position for this massive wave, recalls surf photographer Fred Pompermayer. “As soon as he made it through the huge drop, I could see that he was going to make the huge barrel.”

Pompermayer originally was going to skip photographing this early season session at Jaws, a Maui surf break known for its ferocious waves. He changed his plans the night before and arrived on the island the next morning. Two hours after landing, he was in the water capturing Shane Dorian’s winning ride for the Billabong XXL Tube Ride of the Year.

“With the swell picking up in the afternoon, the waves continued to grow,” Pompermayer says. “Just before dark a huge set came in and washed every surfer out. Shane was the only one that was able to make through the sets and was able to stay far out.

“It was an incredible moment. Then he disappeared into the spray of the barrel. It was one of those hold-your-breath kind of moments, to see if he would make it out. I kept shooting and was thrilled to see him reappear. Everyone who saw this ride knew Shane had just scored the ride of the year, no doubt,” Pompermayer says.

Pompermayer shot with a Canon EOS 1Dx and a Canon 70-200mm lens, along with his customized water housing.

Polar Bear Mating : A Chance of a Lifetime

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(A large male polar bear attempts to mate with a female in Svalbard, Norway. (Photo courtesy of Paul Nicklen))

For 15 years I had been hoping to witness this moment. As a wildlife biologist and photographer for National Geographic, I have spent countless hours observing polar bears hunting, catching seals, nursing cubs, and sparring with each other. I probably have seen over a thousand polar bears in the wild, and yet, I have never watched them mate. I sat quietly on the frozen Barents Sea, watching the drama of a mating pair. The huge male tried everything in his power to entice her to mate.

It had been a long time since I had any feeling in my feet or hands as I sat on the sea ice in Svalbard, Norway, at minus 22°F. I wanted to jump around, stomp my feet, and swing my arms to entice the feeling back into my frozen limbs, but I did not dare move for fear of scaring away the pair of polar bears I had been watching for more than 24 hours.

When we first came upon this pair, my assistant, Karl Erik, and I parked our snowmobiles facing away from the bears, which allowed us to have an easy escape route. As we waited in silence, hour after hour, for the couple to consummate their courtship, the idea of capturing this moment that I had dreamed about for so many years became a lump in my throat, and I had to control my hands shaking in anticipation.

The thin, weak, and unpredictable conditions of the sea ice surrounding Svalbard, Norway, in recent years had forced me to put this assignment on hold for several years. Traditionally, sea ice envelops Svalbard and the surrounding islands year-round, but like everywhere else in the Arctic, things are changing fast.

Svalbard is now facing historic sea ice declines. Even though it was March, when the sea ice should be at its largest seasonal extent, we were only able to find a tiny strip of ice on the east side of Svalbard.

The bears were plentiful as there was nowhere else for them to hunt seals, but the lack of ice and lack of opportunities for the bears to hunt meant we had frequent visits to our camp by hungry bears on a near nightly basis. We saw many instances in which bear trails disappeared into the slushy soup of an ailing frozen sea to find solid ice again only several hundred yards away.

A close look at sea ice reveals its life-giving properties. After the long winter months, when the sun finally returns to the Arctic, phytoplankton starts to grow on the underside of the ice. The tiny plant communities that thrive there create an inverted garden that becomes the base for the entire food chain. Tiny crustaceans, such as amphipods and copepods, feed on the phytoplankton. Also feeding on this soup of tiny creatures is the Arctic cod, a key component of the Arctic ecosystem that has a direct effect in the energy transfer between the plankton and the larger vertebrate species like fish, seals, walrus, and marine birds. The mighty bowhead whales, as well as beluga whales and narwhals, also feed on the cod. And at the top of the food chain, the apex predator, the polar bear, feeds on seals and walrus. In the absence of sea ice, polar bears lose their hunting platform to chase seals and are then confined to land.

A couple of years ago, I escorted former U.S. President Jimmy Carter around Svalbard. As we looked into the frozen landscape he told me that if people are to care about complex and distant issues, like climate change and the loss of sea ice, then we will need to find a common and simple language to share and spread the facts with the rest of the world. To me that language is photography; it gives me the opportunity to create evocative images that speak for the polar wildlife and their dependence on healthy polar environments. The polar regions that have been my lifelong playground are disappearing right in front of my eyes, and I want my images to become banners of hope, ambassadors for a world very few of us will ever see.

As dire as things are, polar bears are still thriving in many areas, and I still love finding big males hunting, females playing with their cubs, or young males fighting. On that cold spring day when I found a mating pair I waited for as long as I could. Just when I thought I could not take the cold any longer, the female finally got up, calmly walked over to the sleepy male, and nudged him to mate. I wiped my frosty breath away from the viewfinder, ready to capture whatever happened next.

At that exact moment, another large male appeared out of the corner of my eye. He ran at the other male, roaring. The female ran away into the sea ice with the males in hot pursuit.

I was left sitting on the frozen ground, in complete disbelief. The moment was over. I had lost the chance of a lifetime, but will never forget being so present in the drama of nature. Perhaps one day I will have another chance at making this photograph. For now, I will be content with the memory of an incredible day spent in the company of bears.

Paul Nicklen is a wildlife photographer for National Geographic. He recently published the book Bear: Spirit of the Wild.

Courtesy : National Geographic

Tim Laman : Orang Indonesia Seharusnya Bangga

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Pada Kamis malam (22/8), ada acara yang menurut saya sangat menarik di Atamerica, Pacific Place, kawasan SCBD Sudirman Jakarta. Menarik sekaligus kesempatan yang langka: Tim Laman berbagi cerita pengalamannya saat mendokumentasikan 39 spesies burung cenderawasih dengan judul “Bird of Paradise: Crown Jewels of Indonesia’s Biodiversity”. Acara ini terselenggara berkat kerja sama National Geographic Indonesia, National Geographic Society, Concervation International dan The Cornel Lab of Ornithology.

Tim Laman adalah seorang doktor biologi dari Harvard University dan fotografer alam liar kenamaan yang kerap memotret untuk National Geographic. Pada awal presentasinya, Tim Laman bercerita bahwa beliau memulai penugasannya untuk National Geographic dalam mendokumentasikan burung cenderawasih pada 2004 bersama rekannya Edwin Scholes, seorang ahli unggas dari Cornell. Hingga 2007, Tim Laman baru berhasil mendokumentasikan 20 spesies dari 39 spesies burung cenderawasih yang diketahui.

Selain menampilkan foto-foto burung cenderawasih yang menakjubkan, Tim laman juga memperlihatkan beberapa video perilaku burung cenderawasih saat mencari pasangan. Perilaku cenderawasih yang lucu dan unik membuat penonton terkesima dan tertawa. Hal yang mungkin baru diketahui banyak orang: burung cenderawasih jantan memiliki bulu yang lebih bervariasi dan berwarna-warni dibanding burung betina yang hanya didominasi warna cokelat dan putih.

Untuk memikat sang betina, burung cenderawasih jantan membersihkan dan menyiapkan tempat sebagai “panggung”. Sang jantan pun menari-nari, membuat gerakan-gerakan yang unik.  Dari visual yang ditampilkan pada presentasi ini, tidaklah mengherankan jika hasilnya sangat mengagumkan. Selain kelengkapan peralatan dokumentasi, usaha untuk mencapai tempat keberadaan burung tersebut membutuhkan waktu dan tenaga yang tidak sedikit. Selama 8 tahun, ada 51 lokasi yang dia kunjungi, tersebar di wilayah Sulawesi Utara, Papua, Papua Nugini dan Australia.

Selama 80 jam merekam burung di hutan, memanjat pohon tinggi, serta membangun 109 tempat kamuflase dia lakukan untuk dapat mendokumentasikan 39 spesies burung cenderawasih dengan baik. Dari ekspedisinya ini, Tim Laman menghasilkan 39.568 foto dan, pertama kalinya dalam sejarah, Tim Laman berhasil mendokumentasikan seluruh 39 spesies burung cenderawasih (yang diketahui).

“Sebagai warga negara Indonesia, Anda harus bangga karena dari 39 spesies burung cenderawasih yang ada, 27 spesies berada di kawasan Indonesia,” kata pria jangkung ini. Tetapi sangat disayangkan, perburuan cenderawasih jantan masih terjadi. Jika kegiatan seperti itu tetap berlangsung, kata Tim, keberadaan burung cenderawasih akan punah. “Burung betina kesulitan bereproduksi disebabkan langkanya burung jantan.”

Dalam perjalanannya mendokumentasikan burung cenderawasih, Tim Laman juga menyampaikan kampanye, mengimbau masyarakat lokal untuk tidak memburu cenderawasih. Ia berharap para pemburu beralih profesi menjadi pemandu, mendapatkan bayaran dari turis untuk bisa melihat burung cenderawasih langsung di habitat aslinya.

*Cek juga liputan Tim Laman beserta foto-fotonya di http://nationalgeographic.co.id/feature/2012/12/bersua-dengan-surga

Courtesy : Photograph14 (27 Agustus 2013)

Photo of Tranquil Waters, Svalbard

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(Photograph by Cotton Coulson)

National Geographic – Even in the middle of the day, you can take compelling photos when the right photographic elements come together. Here, in Svalbard, Norway, the wind sometimes dies down and the fjords become like a mirror reflection of the sky. Normally I like to shoot during the early and late hours, when the sun is lower on the horizon and the light is warmer. Here, however, the scene also works with bright overhead sunshine, especially when the clouds and their reflection in the water add contrast and fill out the frame.

Keep your horizon straight and composition balanced. Pay special attention to composition and horizontal alignment: New cameras have built-in viewfinder grid displays that assist in making sure your horizons stay straight. In this image, I didn’t use any filters to enhance the contrast and color of the sky against the white, wispy clouds. I made a special effort, however, to balance the amount of space in the composition between the sky and the calm water. The small section of ice floating in the water adds an extra dimension and layer to the composition. Always look for subjects and objects to add to the foreground. —Cotton Coulson

National Geographic Photo of the Day : Grasshopper and Moss

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(Grasshopper and Moss. Photograph by Andrey Antov, Your Shot)

This Month in Photo of the Day: Your Shots

A green grasshopper rests aboard a red mushroom boat in a sea of moss.

What Makes This a Photo of the Day? I like how this is simply what it is—color and texture playing off each other to create an eye-catching tableau. —Alexa Keefe, Photo of the Day editor

This photo and caption were submitted to Your Shot. Check out the new and improved website, where you can share photos, take part in assignments, lend your voice to stories, and connect with fellow photographers from around the globe.

November 29, 2013

Courtesy : National Geographic

Annual Polar Bear Migration Under Way : How It Works and How Climate Change Could Be Impacting It

Melting sea ice means big changes for the world’s 20,000 polar bears.

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(A polar bear watches over two cubs in Hudson Bay, near the town of Churchill, Manitoba)

Photograph by David Jenkins/Robert Harding/Corbis

In the past month, hundreds of polar bears have strolled past a small town in Canada.

It’s part of their annual migration back to Hudson Bay, where sea ice is reforming after months of summer melt. To get to the ice each autumn, they traverse Churchill, Manitoba—the “polar bear capital of the world.”

These animals are the most studied group of polar bears on Earth. The renowned Ian Stirling, now retired from the Canadian Wildlife Service, began his groundbreaking research here 40 years ago.

Because this population comes ashore each year, says Steven Amstrup of Polar Bears International, they’re relatively easy to count. “Searching for a white bear on green grass and brown rocks is easier than searching for [it] out on the white sea ice.”

Churchill has only about 900 people, but several hotels. The polar bear migration is a huge tourist draw, as are regular sightings of beluga whales at the mouth of the Churchill River. Some 10,000 visitors flock here each year.

As the seasonal freeze approaches, polar bears gradually gather in the coastal areas around Cape Churchill. This gives people the chance to see them in the wild from the safety of giant tundra buggies, all-terrain vehicles that take tourists out from late October until late November.

While bear attacks in the town are uncommon—only a handful have occurred in the past 50 years—there have been three this year. To keep bears away from Churchill’s center, residents honk their horns, sound sirens, and fire shotguns loaded with rubber bullets. The town also closed its dump recently, which had been a big draw for the bears.

Sea Ice: Home and Hunting Platform

Sea ice that forms annually is key to polar bear survival. It provides a vital platform to hunt ringed and bearded seals, which helps make Ursus maritimus the largest bear in the world and the top Arctic predator.

When the sea ice melts in the summer, polar bears make their way to land, where they save energy with what some have called a walking hibernation.

But today the Hudson Bay population—and the rest of the world’s 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears—is being affected by changes. Since 1979, sea ice cover has declined by about 30 percent in the Arctic. As greenhouse gases continue to warm the Earth, Amstrup says, polar bears are being forced ashore for longer periods of time.

The bears of Hudson Bay, for instance, now spend an average of nearly 30 days longer on land than they did 30 years ago. Stirling and his colleague Andrew Derocher found that bears lose nearly two pounds of body weight each day they’re on land—meaning the bears here are, in effect, 60 pounds lighter on average than they were three decades ago.

Stirling also found that lighter bears produce smaller cubs, which can struggle to survive. Since 1987, there has been a 22 percent decline in the Churchill polar bear population.

Because polar bears depend on a habitat “that literally melts as temperatures rise,” Amstrup said, “they are perhaps the most vulnerable of any species to a warming world.”

If nothing changes, he says, two-thirds of all polar bears will be gone by 2050—and perhaps extinct in the wild by the end of the century.

You Can’t Go Home Again

According to fossil evidence, polar bears today look about the same as they did 120,000 years ago. At some point—perhaps during the frigid Pleistocene—they made the move from land to sea ice.

As the ice melts, some wonder if polar bears could readapt permanently to land. Amstrup says it’s unlikely. And even if they could, it couldn’t happen fast enough. “They can’t undo hundreds of thousands of years of evolution in 50 or 100 years.”

For one thing, there probably isn’t enough suitable food on land for these huge animals—males weigh up to 1,200 pounds (544 kilograms), females 650 (205 kilograms). While goose eggs and a few other terrestrial food sources now supplement polar bear diets, there aren’t enough of these to be sustainable.

A Collective Problem

Because polar bears depend so heavily on the sea ice, their plight is more visible than that of other species. But climate change is “really going to affect all life on Earth,” says Amstrup.

He says a recent paper predicts “a sea-level rise of 2.3 meters (7.5 feet) for every degree of Celsius temperature rise.”

“Because we could have two degrees Celsius in temperature rise by the middle of the century, that prediction is serious,” Amstrup said. “Geologic records actually show that the last time the Earth was a degree warmer than it is now, the sea level was six to seven meters (20 to 23 feet) higher than it is now.”

That could cause major coastal flooding—and vast displacement problems. Millions of people living near sea level around the world could be dramatically affected.

Economy and Ecology

Polar bear conservation faces a unique challenge. “The traditional model is that you set aside a reserve, or build a fence, to protect critical habitat,” explains Amstrup. “But we can’t really build a fence to protect the sea ice from rising temperatures.”

The best way to ensure polar bear survival, he says, would be to curtail the rise of greenhouse gas emissions. Amstrup believes the only effective way to do that would be to charge a price, or a tax, for the carbon dioxide that humans are emitting.

“We’re extracting fossil fuels, the primary productivity of the past, to subsidize our current economy,” Amstrup said, “and we’re expecting future generations to pay the price. When we utilize that ancient carbon, we should also pay that tax.”

If policies required people to pay the “true costs” of using carbon, he says, it would “level the playing field, making renewable energy and other sustainable practices more competitive. The resulting competition would, in turn, stimulate our ingenuity, create jobs, and preserve a climate that will support polar bears and the rest of us.”

Several European countries have already implemented carbon taxes. The United States, however, has not.

“It’s not just an ecological problem,” Amstrup said. It’s “an economic problem. We have to remember that humans are not just observers of ecology; we’re participants in it. Everything is connected. What we do in our economy directly influences the ecology of the earth.”

The polar bear is an indicator species for the Arctic ecosystem. The challenges they’re facing in Churchill today may one day be ours as well.

Do you think polar bears are important for the planet? Are you concerned about impacts to humans from climate change? What are your thoughts on paying a carbon tax?

Add your thoughts in the comments below.

Courtesy : National Geographic

National Geographic Travel 365 : Best of October 2013

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Banff National Park, Canada

Photograph by Jonathan Irish, National Geographic.

Morning mist rolls in over Moraine Lake, one of several glacial lakes in Alberta’s Banff National Park. There are more than a thousand glaciers in the park, plus the highest town in Canada (Banff), the largest cave system in the country (Castleguard Caves), and several national historic sites.

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Ward Charcoal Ovens, Nevada

Photograph by Royce Bair, National Geographic Your Shot.

In operation between 1876 and 1879, Nevada’s Ward Charcoal Ovens—here glowing with filtered lights that simulate functioning ovens—were built to produce charcoal from pinyon pine and juniper. In the years following, the ovens are said to have served as shelters for workmen and hideouts for stagecoach bandits. Today they’re the main attraction in Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park.

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Kirkefjorden, Lofoten Islands, Norway

 Photograph by Orsolya Haarberg, National Geographic

Norway’s 63,000-mile coastline boasts otherworldly fjords, bays, and islands. Here, the towering peaks of Norway’s Lofoten Islands make Kirkefjorden seem a world unto itself.

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Niagara Falls, Canada

Photograph by Chris Rainier, National Geographic

Water rushes over Horseshoe Falls, one of the three falls that make up world-famous Niagara Falls. The waterfalls straddle the border between Canada and the United States; Horseshoe is on the Canadian side, in the province of Ontario. Every 60 seconds, six million cubic feet of water rushes over the falls—enough water to fill a million bathtubs each minute.

Courtesy : National Geographic

Orphan Elephants Lack Social Knowledge Key for Survival

Psychological impact from loss of family structure parallels PTSD in people.

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(An elephant family moves through Kenya’s Amboseli National Park)

Highly intelligent and social animals, African elephants depend on their sophisticated communication skills for survival in the wild. A recent study investigated the effects of culling and relocation on elephant decision-making and cognition decades later.

Behavioral ecologists from the University of Sussex in England led an international team to study two different elephant populations: one relatively undisturbed group living in Amboseli National Park in Kenya and another translocated population in Pilanesberg Park in South Africa. The Pilanesberg elephants were moved there as calves following managed culling of adults and older juveniles in Kruger National Park in the 1980s and 1990s.

Survivors from the translocated elephant group showed signs of negative long-term psychological impact that affected their decision-making process, paralleling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in humans, according to the study, which was published in Frontiers in Zoology on October 23, 2013.

Complex Society

Elephants develop complex social relationships over long life spans. Long-term learning and knowledge transfer in the Pilanesberg population was deeply affected by the culling, the study found.

“Human-generated social disruption has profound effects on important decision-making abilities in wild African elephants that are likely to impact key aspects of their social behavior,” said Graeme Shannon, a University of Sussex psychologist who, along with colleague Karen McComb, led the study.

Call of the Wild

Through a series of acoustic playback experiments, the scientists found that human activities, including culling and relocation, have a profound impact on the communication skills, social understanding, and overall cognition of wild African elephants.

While other studies have looked at physiological and behavioral impacts on elephants from extreme human disturbance, such as poaching, this study was the first to assess their fundamental communication skills and cognitive abilities in the wild, Shannon said.

The researchers conducted two elephant call experiments. The first presented elephants with different calls—familiar and unfamiliar—to directly compare their social knowledge. The second experiment simulated calls from elephants of different sizes and ages in correlation with hierarchal dominance. They wanted to see how elephants responded to and understood different levels of social threat through their behaviors, specifically how they used listening skills, investigative smelling, and defensive group formation.

When an elephant family is threatened, they will often bunch together as a group, creating a defensive formation where calves move toward older individuals in the center, the most protected area.

The ability to “distinguish friend from foe,” McComb said, “enables defensive responses to be focused on genuinely threatening situations.” The calls “provided a way of getting at cognitive abilities that are usually inaccessible in wild elephant populations.”

Social Experiment

During the playback experiments they tested how elephants reacted to non-threatening social calls, including those from familiar and young individuals, and more threatening calls, such as those from unfamiliar and older individuals.

They found Amboseli elephants made better decisions in recognizing threatening calls, reacting with stronger listening, sniffing, and bunching behavior, showing that they focused their attention on the most socially dominant individuals, a critical defensive measure.

The Pilanesberg elephants were not able to discriminate in this way—the elephants did not change their response based on the social familiarity or dominance of the caller.

Effects of Culling

Effects of culling and subsequent translocation are twofold. Initial trauma is followed by a subsequent lack of leadership and group role models. The orphaned elephants from Kruger did not have older role models to learn from in Pilanesberg.

“They had experienced terrible trauma,” said biologist and conservationist Joyce Poole, another author of the study and a National Geographic explorer. “These calves watched as their mothers and other family members were killed and butchered. Because the people in charge of culls didn’t understand the long-term implications, didn’t understand they were dealing with intelligent, highly social animals, they, for convenience, tied the calves to their dead mothers while the butchering took place,” Poole said.

(Read about orphan elephants in National Geographic magazine.)

“The elephants who had grown up without the benefit of role models respond very differently to threats than do families with an older, experienced matriarch,” Poole said.

In highly cognitive and social species, like elephants and primates, social trauma early in life can have major effects on development, the researchers reported, such as persistent fear, hyper-aggression, and infant abandonment.

“Such disruption appears capable of driving aberrant behaviors in social animals that are akin to the post-traumatic stress disorder experienced by humans following extremely traumatic events,” the study noted.

Mental and Physical Effects

Without the ability to learn from older leaders, such as the matriarch and other group elders, young elephants suffer a profound loss of social knowledge, affecting their ability to make informed decisions, a deficit that impacts their overall social behavior.

“Rather than focusing energy on genuine threats,” said McComb, “their behavior will be randomly disrupted—this could impact on feeding and ultimately reproductive success.”

Ongoing Threats

War, poaching, human disturbance to the landscape, translocation, and capture remain issues facing elephant populations. (Culling has not been practiced for over a decade.)

“Poaching presents the greatest threat to elephants today as a result of increasing demand for ivory,” Shannon said.

 (Read “Blood Ivory” in National Geographic magazine.)

“Poaching is severely damaging the fabric of elephant societies, killing, wounding, and causing long-term trauma to individuals,” Poole said. “The social consequences of this escalating persecution can be seen across Africa, and will have repercussions in the years to come.”

Social Societies for the Future

Conservationists hope to apply the lessons learned toward future conservation efforts for other long-lived, large-brained social animals, including whales, dolphins, and primates.

Learning and communication is critical for the health and survival of these social societies. Pressure on natural resources and human encroachment is increasing.

“How a matriarch responds to threats can mean the difference between life and death for her family,” Poole said. “If you were an elephant, would you lead your family to charge a gang of humans with AK-47s? Or would you run as fast as you can into the forest?”

National Geographic Society funded this study in part.

Courtesy : National Geographic

Did a Mega-Flood Doom Ancient American City of Cahokia?

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(Clues found near the site of Cahokia (above) indicated that a flood occurred at the height of the city’s population and power.)

Photograph by Ira Block, National Geographic.

One thousand years ago, on a floodplain of the Mississippi River near modern-day St. Louis, the massive Native American city known today as Cahokia sprang suddenly into existence. Three hundred years later it was virtually deserted.

 The reasons for Cahokia’s quick emergence and precipitous decline have been among the greatest mysteries in American prehistory, but new research suggests a possible cause of the city’s demise: a catastrophic flood.

A team led by Samuel E. Munoz, a doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, reported at the 2013 conference of the Geological Society of America that their study of sediment cores from a lake adjacent to the site of Cahokia reveals calamitous flooding of the area around 1200 C.E., just as the city was reaching its apex of population and power.

While analyzing cores from Horseshoe Lake, an oxbow lake that separated from the Mississippi River some 1,700 years ago, Munoz’s team discovered a layer of silty clay 19 centimeters (7.5 inches) thick deposited by a massive ancient flood.

It’s unlikely that the ancient floodwaters were high enough to inundate the ten-story mound at Cahokia’s center, a structure now called Monk’s Mound. (See “Cahokia: America’s Forgotten City.”) But a flood of such magnitude would have devastated croplands and residential areas, and may have made it impossible for a population numbering as many as 15,000 to continue inhabiting the area.

Whether the flood caused Cahokia’s decline and abandonment or simply contributed to it remains a subject for future research. But this much is clear: Within 150 years of the flood, what had been the largest prehistoric settlement north of Mexico became a ghost town, a vacant landscape of earthen mounds that would confound European settlers.

Though the flood is a new wrinkle in Cahokia’s story, other data from the team’s research supports previous archaeological conclusions about the history of Cahokia and the Mississippian culture of which it was a part.

Core Clues

 Analysis of pollen deposits in the sediment cores from Horseshoe Lake shows an intensification of farming, accompanied by rapid deforestation, starting around 450 C.E., with corn cultivation peaking between 900 and 1200 C.E. Then the cores reveal the flood event, followed by a decline in corn cultivation. By 1350 C.E., the pollen record shows, agriculture there had essentially ceased.

 Munoz, a geographer who specializes in the study of pollen records, noticed that very little pollen research had been done in the American Southeast, where the Mississippian culture flourished. “And we didn’t really have any studies outside big archaeological sites,” he said. So when he saw Horseshoe Lake right next to Cahokia, he thought it was worth a shot.

 “These floodplain lakes have been ignored for a long time as sources of these kinds of records, and they can be really valuable,” said Munoz, whose research was supported by a grant from the National Geographic Society.

But he had no idea they might find such a big piece of the puzzle. “When we realized we were looking at a flood, and that it fell right at this key time in Cahokia’s history, it was very exciting.”

Courtesy : National Geographic