Top Stories

Waterfalls are more threatened than you might think

More than 100 years ago today, a 63-year-old Michigan schoolteacher took the first ride ever down Niagara Falls in a barrel. Annie Edson Taylor may have survived, but the future will tell if the waterfalls available for such (now-illegal) escapades will. Here are a few threats to waterfalls we can’t ignore if we want to preserve these natural wonders.

1. Drought

Last year, Yosemite Falls went dry for five months. While the falls have always been ephemeral, meaning they flow seasonally, California’s severe drought had stopped them two months earlier than usual in June until December rains started them again a month late. In The Atlantic, outdoorsman and author Michael Lanza wondered if the world’s sixth-highest falls would actually disappear, with climate change leading to less and less snowfall. Snowpack in the Cascade Range has already decreased 15 to 30 percent in the past 70 years.

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Want to know how healthy the air quality is today in your area? There's an app for that!

Yareli Sanchez lives in Los Angeles and jogs regularly, but she never used to know if the day’s air quality was bad until after she had already set out for a run — her chest would tighten and it would become hard to breathe. She knew poor air quality triggered her asthma, but she didn’t have a convenient way to check the day’s pollution levels.

For the past few months, instead of using trial-and-error, she’s checked UCLA’s new AirForU app, which uses GPS data to give her local air quality ratings. The app is useful for anyone in the U.S. who sees a hazy skyline and wonders how safe it is to breathe outside air.

“I depend on the AirForU app now, and I use it every time I plan on running,” said Sanchez, who helped test it before its launch. “The app is really convenient for helping me manage my asthma and minimize my exposure to pollution.”

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Artificial lung to help study air pollution effects

Air pollution is one of the leading causes of lung cancer and respiratory diseases, responsible for one in eight global deaths, according to the World Health Organisation.

However, researchers will soon be able to develop new treatments for such diseases with a life-sized, artificial human lung created at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel. It is the first diagnostic tool for understanding in real time how tiny particles move and behave in the deepest part of the human lungs, the alveolar tissue. 

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Was the Bronze Age plague really spread by flies?

When the plague swept through Europe in 1665, no one could figure out how the devastating disease spread. But after a tailor in the small village of Eyam in central England died that September, people eventually put two and two together. He had received a parcel of cloth infested with fleas just 4 days before dying of bubonic plague. Within a month, five other villagers had succumbed, and the local vicar convinced the town to voluntarily put itself under quarantine. It eventually became clear that it was fleas, probably on rats, that spread the plague so far and so quickly.

But now it appears that the plague did not always infect fleas—and the disease may not have always spread so rapidly or been as devastating. A new study of ancient DNA from the teeth of 101 Bronze Age skeletons has found that seven people living 2800 to 5000 years ago in Europe and Asia were infected with Yersinia pestis, the bacteria that causes the plague. 

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Newly discovered large asteroid will make flyby on Halloween

A large near-Earth asteroid named 2015 TB145, discovered on October 10 by the University of HawaiÊ»i’s Pan-STARRS1 Telescope atop Haleakala, Maui, will pass close to Earth on October 31. The asteroid has a diameter of approximately 400 meters (1,300 feet), and will pass within approximately 480,000 km (300,000 miles) of Earth.  There is no possibility of this object impacting Earth.

The asteroid is already being studied by telescopes across the planet, and soon will be targeted by radar observations that will look for details as small as 2 meters (6.5 feet) on its surface. The radar observations will directly measure its size and shape, and determine whether the object has any satellites.

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Ocean Heat Content Reveals Secrets of Fish Migration Behaviors

Researchers at the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science developed a new method to estimate fish movements using ocean heat content images, a dataset commonly used in hurricane intensity forecasting. With Atlantic tarpon as the messenger, this is the first study to quantitatively show that large migratory fishes, such as yellowfin and bluefin tunas, blue and white marlin, and sailfish have affinities for ocean fronts and eddies.

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How will rising sea levels impact the Phillippines?

More than 167,000 hectares of coastland -- about 0.6% of the country's total area -- are projected to go underwater in the Philippines, especially in low-lying island communities, according to research by the University of the Philippines.

Low-lying countries with an abundance of coastlines are at significant risk from rising sea levels resulting from global warming. According to data by the World Meteorological Organisation, the water levels around the Philippines are rising at a rate almost three times the global average due partly to the influence of the trade winds pushing ocean currents.

On average, sea levels around the world rise 3.1 centimetres every ten years. Water levels in the Philippines are projected to rise between 7.6 and 10.2 centimetres each decade.

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The fish that cools off by jumping OUT of the water

On hot, humid days, you might jump into water to cool down, but for the tiny mangrove rivulus fish, cooling down means jumping out of water, according to a new study from the University of Guelph.

In the study published today in the journal Biology Letters, the researchers describe how these fish air-chill themselves on solid ground in order to drop their body temperatures. The researchers also found that fish exposed to higher temperatures for a week tolerated warmer water better.

The fish jump out of the water to escape rising temperatures, said integrative biology professor Pat Wright, senior author of the study.

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Dirty pipeline: Methane from fracking sites can flow to abandoned wells, new study shows

As debate roils over EPA regulations proposed this month limiting the release of the potent greenhouse gas methane during fracking operations, a new University of Vermont study funded by the National Science Foundation shows that abandoned oil and gas wells near fracking sites can be conduits for methane escape not currently being measured.

The study, to be published in Water Resources Research on October 20, demonstrates that fractures in surrounding rock produced by the hydraulic fracturing process are able to connect to preexisting, abandoned oil and gas wells, common in fracking areas, which can provide a pathway to the surface for methane.

A recent paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science showed that methane release measured at abandoned wells near fracking sites can be significant but did not investigate how the process occurs.

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NASA studies LA earthquake

A new NASA-led analysis of a moderate magnitude 5.1 earthquake that shook Greater Los Angeles in 2014 finds that the earthquake deformed Earth's crust across a broad region encompassing the northern Los Angeles Basin and northern Orange County. The shallow ground movements observed from this earthquake likely reflect strain accumulated on deeper faults, which remain locked and may be capable of producing future earthquakes.

A team of NASA and university researchers led by geophysicist Andrea Donnellan of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, used GPS and NASA airborne radar data to measure surface deformation in Earth's crust caused by the March 28, 2014, earthquake, which was centered in La Habra, California. The earthquake was felt widely in Orange, Los Angeles, Ventura, Riverside, San Bernardino, Kern and San Diego counties. While the earthquake was relatively moderate in size, the earthquake's depth (3.6 miles, or 5.85 kilometers) and location within a highly populated region resulted in more than $12 million in damage. Most of the damage occurred within a 3.7-mile (6-kilometer) radius of the epicenter, with a substantial amount of damage south of the main rupture.

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