Satellites trace the appearance of crop circles in Saudi Arabia

It's not the work of aliens. Instead, you can chalk these crop circles up to humans + money + time. And, with the help of satellite imaging, you can watch as humans use money to change the desert over the course of almost 30 years.

Landsat is a United States satellite program that's been in operation since 1972. Eight different satellites (three of them still up there and functioning) have gathered images from all over the world for decades. This data is used to help scientists studying agriculture, geology, and forestry. It's also been used for surveillance and disaster relief.

Now, at Google, you can look at images taken from eight different sites between 1984 and 2012 and and watch as people change the face of the planet. In one set of images, you can watch agriculture emerge from the deserts of Saudi Arabia — little green polka-dots of irrigation popping up against a vast swath of tan. In another se, you'll see the deforestation of the Amazon. A third, the growth of Las Vegas. It's a fascinating view of how we shape the world around us, in massive ways, over a relatively short period of time. Read the rest

Evolution happens. Even in Oklahoma.

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, over the last 30 years, the number of cliff swallows killed by moving vehicles has drastically decreased. That change can't be accounted for by alterations in traffic patterns or swallow populations, say scientists. Instead, they think it's tied to the fact that the birds' wingspan is also decreasing. This adaptation — whether selected for by vehicular birdicide and/or other factors — helps swallows be more nimble in the air at high speeds, making it easier for them to avoid oncoming traffic. (EDIT: Sorry guys, I made an error here. Some of the researchers were from Tulsa, but study actually happened in Nebraska. Evolution takes place throughout the plains states.) Read the rest

HOW TO: Fish in the desert

In the United Arab Emirates, a freshwater lake has appeared in the middle of the desert. The oasis is beautiful and full of life, and it's risen 35 feet since 2011. It's also probably accidentally man-made.

Hydrologists believe the lake formed from recycled drinking water (and toilet water). The nearby city of Al Ain pumps in desalinated sea water, uses it for drinking and flushing the toilet, cleans it in a sewage treatment plant, and then re-uses it to water plants. All of that water ends up in the soil and, at the lake site, it comes back up.

The water is clean, writes Ari Daniel Shapiro at NPR. Don't worry about that. Instead, the major side-effect of the lake is change, as scientists watch the desert ecosystem that used to exist on the site decline, and a new one rise to take its place. It's a great story that shows how complicated discussions about ecology can be. On the one hand, you're losing something valuable. At least in this one spot. On the other hand, you're definitely gaining something valuable, too.

"With every species that we lose, it's like rolling the dice. The whole ecosystem could crash down," Howarth says.

But Clark, with the U.S. Geological Survey, says he's not so worried about the desert ecosystem. He says the lake is tiny compared to the vast amount of desert in this part of the world. "If I look through the binoculars, there's, like, seven different kinds of herons. There's greater cormorants.

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An epic nonprofit PSA: "Follow the Frog," for Rainforest Alliance

A clever example of short-form advocacy filmmaking by Max Joseph for Rainforest Alliance.

Godin's Poke the Box: manifesto demands that you go do something now!

Seth Godin's Poke the Box is a breezy, short manifesto that extols the virtue of taking initiative and doing stuff, even though you might fail or annoy the people you work with. At first, it seems awfully glib -- after all, Doing Stuff is easy to talk about, harder to make happen. But as the book goes on, it's clear that Godin has anticipated many -- if not all -- of the roadblocks to rising up and making things happen, and writes about how to overcome them with humor and simplicity.

Godin's short blog-posts are interesting little nuggets that can sometimes stick with you all day long, but time and again, Godin's shown that these really work best when they're strung together into longer essays. This is really quite an inspirational 88 pages.

Poke the Box  TED2009: Seth Godin - Boing Boing Seth Godin asks: "What's the overlooked gem, the book I haven't ... Seth Godin rants on faux science and irrationality - Boing Boing Seth Godin gives good advice to the music industry - Boing Boing Modern life is broken -- why? - Boing Boing Why I Left My Publisher in Order to Publish a Book - Boing Boing Read the rest