You've probably seen a biosphere ecosystem before. It's a glass orb filled with water, some aquatic plants, and some small animals like freshwater shrimp. The only input to the otherwise closed system is sunlight, and the goal is to keep the lifeforms inside the glass sphere going as long as possible. When I was at Make magazine we made a biosphere and it remained healthy for over five years.
Orb Farm is a web-based biosphere simulator. You are given an empty glass sphere, and you can fill it with glass, sand, stone, wood, water, algae, Daphnia, grass, bacteria, fish, goldfish, and, er, donuts. The game was created by Max Bittker. Read the rest
New research suggests that traffic noise (apart from pollution and general hectic motion) degrades the natural habitat of songbirds, and perhaps other animals. Boise State University biologists created a "phantom road" using speakers to create traffic noise in a natural, roadless songbird habitat. Read the rest
The New York Hall of Science's new Connected Worlds exhibit is a series of six interactive ecosystems that spreads across the walls of its Great Hall, united by a 3000 square foot interactive floor. Read the rest
Perhaps you have recently heard about Tanzania's Lake Natron, a body of water that has become famous on the Internet over the last couple of days because of the work of artist Nick Brandt, who took some eerie, posed photos of the calcified corpses of birds that he found along the lake's shore.
Natron, the stuff for which the lake is named, should also sound a bit familiar to you. That's because it's the mineral salt the ancient Egyptians used as part of their mummification rituals. (In fact, they used to harvest it from dry lake beds — Lake Natron isn't the only lake in Africa that's home to large quantities of naturally occurring natron.) It's both a serious drying agent and anti-bacterial, so immersion in natron can suck all the moisture out of a dead body while simultaneously preserving it against the ravages of microorganisms. As far as I can tell, that's what you're seeing in Brandt's creepy photos — birds and bats that look like Tim Burton's garden statuary, but are actually just mummified (and then propped up for artistic purposes).
Which brings us back to the video above. If Lake Natron mummifies birds, how do the fish survive? Read the rest
I'm totally fascinated by this photo that the R.J. Dunlap Marine Conservation Program posted to their Facebook page. It shows little branches of staghorn coral growing on a "tree" made of PVC pipes. Harvested from wild coral colonies when they're only 5 cm long, these samples will double in size every two months while attached to the tree. Once they've put on enough heft, they're transplanted to new homes on damaged coral reefs, where they grow into the surrounding environment and help to restore ecosystems that could otherwise be lost. I'd heard about coral restoration before, but had never seen pictures of the process. At the RJD website, you can see a series of photos that take you through it step-by-step. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it looks a lot like underwater gardening — similar to grafting fruit trees. Read the rest
Tired of measuring your relative pessimism/optimism by half-empty and half-full glassware? Try this new method, courtesy herpetologist Michael Dorcas. Read the following quote, then decide — is this fact comforting or distressing: "We’ve walked right past a 15-foot python without seeing it." Also potentially relevant to your interests: PBS' 2012 documentary about dissecting a giant python. Read the rest
Writing on Reuters, Felix Salmon has a good postmortem on the demise of the Daily, Rupert Murdoch's iPad-only, $30,000,000 subscription-based newspaper, which folded yesterday. Among other things, he writes about print media's enthusiasm for iPads, and the inability of closed ecosystems to out-iterate the open Web:
When the iPad was first announced, there were lots of dreams about what it could achieve, and how rich its content could be. But in hindsight, it’s notable how many of the dreamers came from the world of print. Web people tended to be much less excited about the iPad than print people were, maybe because they knew they already had something better. The web, for instance, doesn’t need to traffic in discrete “issues” — if you subscribe to the New York Times, you can read any story you like, going back decades. Whereas if you subscribe to a publication on a tablet, you can read only one issue at a time...
Similarly, when the iPad launched, it allowed people to do things they could never do with a print publication: watch videos, say. But at the same time the experience was still inferior to what you could get on the web, which iterates and improves incrementally every day. The iPad then stayed still — the technology behind iPad publications is basically the same as it was two years ago — even as the web, in its manner, predictably got better and better.
I was skeptical of the iPad for this reason from the start:
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I think that the press has been all over the iPad because Apple puts on a good show, and because everyone in journalism-land is looking for a daddy figure who'll promise them that their audience will go back to paying for their stuff.
Cloacina was the ancient Roman goddess of sewers. Think about that for a minute. To the Romans, the ability to take vile, disgusting wastewater and just get it the heck out of Rome was such a miraculous feat that they created a whole deity to watch over and protect the pipeline.
Now, how much more impressive would Cloacina have been if she could turn the sludge into usable water again?
Today, cities around the world are shifting away from the historical focus of wastewater management (i.e. the miracle of making the wastewater go away somewhere where we can't see it) and adopting a new paradigm of re-use. David Sedlak, professor of civil and environmental engineering at UC Berkeley, studies wastewater and spoke about water recycling at the 2009 Nobel Conference on water conservation issues at Minnesota's Gustavus Adolphus University. He said that people are often turned off by the idea of cycling water from the toilet to the tap and back again, but water recycling is very different from simply filling a glass out of the John.
In fact, you could be drinking recycled water and not even know it. Read the rest