A friend of mine just returned to the US after a year spent teaching, spear fishing, and eating giant clams in the Marshall islands. The Marshall islands are most known for being home to Bikini Atoll site of the U.S. nuclear tests. (It is also home to the Cactus Dome, a gigantic concrete slab built to cover the enormous pile of radioactive dirt left behind.) One of the interesting things my friend told me is that the largest group of Marshallese living outside the islands can be found at the foothills of the Ozarks in Springfield Springdale, Arkansas.
The Marshallese diaspora can be traced to one man, a Marshallese man named John Moody who took a job at Tyson Chicken in the 1980s. When he returned home to the islands, he let everyone know that there were jobs available at Tyson and that he would help people get setup in Springdale. Unfortunately the Arkansas Marshallese diaspora hasn't been much of a boon to the islands, with most of the money going out of the islands and into Arkansas to help with the expenses of America. Today roughly 6,000-8,000 Marchellese live in Springdale, and at a given time fifty percent of Tyson Chicken's floor staff are from the Marshall islands. The Marshallese do not generally wear shoes inside, and work at Tyson barefoot with mesh booties covering their feet. You will also note a large number of CB antennas on cars in the area as the Marshallese tend to use CB radios, as they do on the islands, rather then cell phones to communicate.
This also reminded me of another unexpected diaspora I had read about, the large Mennonite community in Belize. Roughly 10,000 Russian Mennonites live in Belize, farming the land and living according to their religious beliefs. All of which leads me to the question, what are some other unexpected diasporas around the world? A good overview of the Marshallese in Arkansas can be found here
The Kansas Underground Salt Museum would be a curious site all on its own. Sixty-five stories below the ground of Hutchinson, Kansas sits a massive salt mine with salt veins stretching from Kansas all the way to New Mexico, and comes complete with an underground salt museum and tram tour. There is, however, an even more unusual aspect to this site. What might be the world's oldest organism was reanimated from the salty walls of this mine.
Deep in the mine, within a pocket of salt water trapped in a 250 million-year-old salt crystal, two biologists and a geologist discovered the 2-9-3 virgibacillus bacteria. This would be unremarkable save for the fact that this bacteria was 100 million years older than the dinosaurs... and it was still alive.
Bacteria have the ability to go into a kind of semi-permanent hibernation, but survival for this long was unheard of. After lying dormant in the salt crystal for 250 million years, the scientists added fresh nutrients and a new salt solution, and the ancient bacteria "re-animated."
Dr. Russell Vreeland, one of the biologists who found the bacteria, pointed out that bacteria can survive the forces acceleration via rubble thrown into space via a meteor impact. If it is possible for a bacteria to survive being off the planet and to stay alive within a salt chunk for 250 million years, then in a sort of "reverse-exogenesis" it may be possible that earth's own microbes are already out there.
"When man goes to the stars, our microbes will be waiting for us," Vreeland said.
Today the antiquity of the bacteria is still being tested. For a great roundup of the objections to and data backing up the bacteria try here at American Scientist. For more on the mine, which also stores the master prints of thousands of Hollywood films such as Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz, check the Atlas page here and more about the scientists on this excellent blog post at The Lope.
So to contrast with the giant industrial holes and moon poop Josh and I have been posting about, I am going to highlight one of my favorite bioluminescent wonders in the world.
Happening right now, and for the next few days the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee will light up as P. Carolinus fireflies begin to blink in beautiful, astonishing unison. The fireflies, who can sense when their neighbor fireflies are flashing and attempt to flash before them, send waves of light to cascading down the Tennessee hillsides. One of the best spots to see them is in one small area, near the Little River Trailhead in Elkmont, TN.
Long thought to be an exclusively Southeast Asian phenomenon, the dazzling behavior was only discovered in an American firefly species (P. Carolinus) in 1992. The American fireflies were first brought to the attention of scientists by a reader of Science News, who thought it odd that an article on Asian firefly synchronicity mentioned nothing about the bugs near her own home. She wrote a letter to a Steven Strogratz, a Cornell mathematician who studies synchronization:
"I am sure you are aware of this, but just in case, there is a type of group synchrony lightning bug inside the Great Smoky Mountain National Park near Elkmont, Tennessee. These bugs "start up" in mid June at 10 pm nightly. They exhibit 6 seconds of total darkness; then in perfect synchrony, thousands light up 6 rapid times in a 3 second period before all going dark for 6 more seconds."We have a cabin in Elkmont... and as far as we know, it is only in this small area that this particular type of group synchronized lightning bug exists. It is beautiful."
In 1995, scientists confirmed the existence of the Great Smoky Mountain synchronized fireflies, and have subsequently discovered other populations in the Congaree Swamp in South Carolina and other high altitude locations in the Appalachian mountains. As this curious phenomenon remained undiscovered for years, it is quite possible that there are other varieties of fireflies blinking in unison throughout the United States, perhaps even in your own backyard.
When Neil Armstrong first took that one small step onto the moon, he left behind more than just a footprint. Among the many items still sitting in the Bay of Tranquility are;
Neil Armstrong's boots, a gold replica of an olive branch, tongs, four armrests, urine collection assemblies, a hammer, an insulating blanket, and... four defecation collection devices. Yes, Neil Armstrong's poop is moldering on the moon.
While bags of frozen astronaut poop may sound unimportant, even a little gross, some "extreme heritage" conservationists are very concerned about their protection--as well as the other detritus left behind by humanity's first moonwalkers. For now, Tranquility Base is still tranquil (there is no wind or rain up there to damage things), but preservationists worry that private space enterprises will one day endanger the Apollo landing site, as well as other important landmarks on the moon. From the Lunar Legacy Site:
"Unfortunately, at the present time both NASA and the Federal Government are not willing to pursue preserving these properties on the moon...The Apollo 11 Lunar Landing Site is not simply a significant site for Americans, it was a significant event for all of humanity. The steps on the moon were a step for mankind. Over 600 million people watched the moon landing. The site belongs to the world."
Recovering from our experience being Boinged (Sysadmin, save me!) I thought I would share a wondrous site found in a less than exotic location...
The story begins in 1941 at an army depot in Seneca County, NY when some soldiers noticed a couple white deer roaming inside their 24-square-mile fenced-off base. Realizing that something strange (and wonderful) was afoot, the General ordered the soldiers to protect the white deer. While the soldiers continued to hunt brown deer inside the confines of the reserve, the white ones were allowed to breed. With predators were kept at bay by a giant fence, and pressure put on the brown deer by hunting, the white deer population was able to explode. (These blanched deer are not albinos, as you might assume, but rather possess two copies of another rare recessive gene for whiteness.) There are now 200 of them roaming the grounds, the largest herd of white deer anywhere in the world.
Today the base is no longer active, but the deer are looked after by a not-for-profit organization--Seneca White Deer Inc--devoted to managing the herd. They are currently fighting plans by developers to reduce the area to a fourth of its current size.