Though noise may change moment by moment for humans, it has a more lasting effect on trees and plants.
A new Cal Poly study reveals that human noise pollution affects the diversity of plant life in an ecosystem even after the noise has been removed. This is the first study that explores the long-term effects of noise on plant communities. It was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
In a study conducted twelve years ago near natural gas wells in New Mexico, researchers found that there were 75% fewer piñon pine seedlings in noisy sites as in quiet ones. This was most likely due to the noise driving away the Woodhouse’s scrub jay, which plants thousands of pine seeds while storing them to eat during the winter months.
A research team recently returned to the sites to find out whether the piñon pine had recovered over time.
Because companies change the sites where they use noisy compressors to help produce natural gas, some of the previously noisy sites had become quiet. In these areas, there were fewer seedlings and saplings compared to sites that didn’t have compressors added to the wellpad to speed up gas extraction. The decrease in saplings results from the time when the site was noisy, but the decrease in seedlings shows that piñon pine seeds still weren’t sprouting once the noise was removed.
“The effects of human noise pollution are growing into the structure of these woodland communities,” said biology professor and senior author Clint Francis. “What we’re seeing is that removal of the noise doesn’t necessarily immediately result in a recovery of ecological function.”
While it’s possible that the piñon pine has decreased because of a lack of opportunities to produce, it’s more likely that the Woodhouse’s scrub jay hasn’t returned to the formerly noisy area and so isn’t planting seeds.
“Some animals, like scrub-jays, have episodic memory,” said Jennifer Phillips, the lead author who worked on the project while a postdoc at Cal Poly and who is now a professor teaches at Texas A&M-San Antonio. “Animals like the scrub-jay that are sensitive to noise learn to avoid particular areas. It may take time for animals to rediscover these previously noisy areas, and we don’t know how long that might take.”
Researchers also found differences in juniper seedlings and communities of flowering plants depending on current noise levels and whether noise levels had recently changed because noisy compressors were moved. Sites with greater noise had fewer juniper seedlings and different types of plants than quiet sites. Because of the complexity of ecosystems, the cause of these changes is still unknown.
“Our results reveal that plant communities change in lots of ways with noise exposure,” Francis said. “We have a decent understanding of how and why foundational trees like piñon pine are affected by noise from our previous work with jays, but we are also seeing large changes in plant communities through changes in the abundance of shrubs and annual plants. These changes likely reflect impacts of noise on animals that eat plants, such as deer, elk and various insects, plus the many pollinators that are important for plant reproduction. In essence our research indicates that the consequences of noise are far-reaching and reverberate throughout the ecosystem through lots of species.”
Future studies can offer a more fine-tuned look at how noise is causing these ecosystem changes. Researchers want to know more about which herbivores, seed dispersers and pollinators avoid or are attracted to noise and how changes in insect and animal behavior combine to affect plant communities.
Based on patterns from over a decade of an ecosystem experiencing noise pollution, evidence suggests that plant communities may take a long time to recover from the effects of human noise. Still, co-author and lead botanist Sarah Termondt, a Cal Poly research affiliate, emphasizes the need to understand the full and lasting costs of noise. “Continuing to look at long-term changes in floristic inventories over time will elucidate whether communities do eventually recover after long periods of noise pollution, even once it is removed from the landscape,” she said.
When changes to plant communities are viewed alongside the growing evidence for the problems that noise creates for animals, it is increasingly difficult to ignore the near absence of noise regulations across the U.S.
In the southern sky, situated about 4,300 light years from Earth, lies RCW 120, an enormous glowing cloud of gas and dust. This cloud, known as an emission nebula, is formed of ionized gases and emits light at various wavelengths. An international team led by West Virginia University researchers studied RCW 120 to analyze the effects of stellar feedback, the process by which stars inject energy back into their environment. Their observations showed that stellar winds cause the region to expand rapidly, which enabled them to constrain the age of the region. These findings indicate that RCW 120 must be less than 150,000 years old, which is very young for such a nebula.
About seven light years from the center of RCW 120 lies the boundary of the cloud, where a plethora of stars are forming. How are all of these stars being formed? To answer that question, we need to dig deep into the origin of the nebula. RCW 120 has one young, massive star in its center, which generates powerful stellar winds. The stellar winds from this star are much like those from our own Sun, in that they throw material out from their surface into space. This stellar wind shocks and compresses the surrounding gas clouds. The energy that is being input into the nebula triggers the formation of new stars in the clouds, a process known as “positive feedback” because the presence of the massive central star has a positive effect on future star formation. The team, featuring WVU postdoctoral researcher Matteo Luisi, used SOFIA (the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy) to study the interactions of massive stars with their environment.
SOFIA is an airborne observatory consisting of an 8.8-foot (2.7-meter) telescope carried by a modified Boeing 747SP aircraft. SOFIA observes in the infrared regime of the electromagnetic spectrum, which is just beyond what humans can see. For observers on the ground, water vapor in the atmosphere blocks much of the light from space that infrared astronomers are interested in measuring. However, its cruising altitude of seven miles (13 km), puts SOFIA above most of the water vapor, allowing researchers to study star-forming regions in a way that would not be possible from the ground. Overnight, the in-flight observatory observes celestial magnetic fields, star-forming regions (like RCW 120), comets and nebulae. Thanks to the new upGREAT receiver that was installed in 2015, the airborne telescope can make more precise maps of large areas of the sky than ever before. The observations of RCW 120 are part of the SOFIA FEEDBACK survey, an international effort led by researchers Nicola Schneider at the University of Cologne and Alexander Tielens at the University of Maryland, which makes use of upGREAT to observe a multitude of star-forming regions.
The research team opted to observe the spectroscopic [CII] line with SOFIA, which is emitted from diffuse ionized carbon in the star-forming region. “The [CII] line is probably the best tracer of feedback on small scales, and—unlike infrared images—it gives us velocity information, meaning we can measure how the gas moves. The fact that we can now observe [CII] easily across large regions in the sky with upGREAT makes SOFIA a really powerful instrument to explore stellar feedback in more detail than was possible previously,” says Matteo.
Using their [CII] observations from SOFIA, the research team found that RCW 120 is expanding at 33,000 mph (15 km/s), which is incredibly fast for a nebula. From this expansion speed, the team was able to put an age limit on the cloud and found that RCW 120 is much younger than previously believed. With the age estimate, they were able to infer the time it took for the star formation at the boundary of the nebula to kick in after the central star had been formed. These findings suggest that positive feedback processes occur on very short timescales and point to the idea that these mechanisms could be responsible for the high star formation rates that occurred during the early stages of the universe.
Looking forward, the team hopes to expand this type of analysis to the study of more star forming regions. Matteo says, “The other regions we are looking at with the FEEDBACK survey are in different stages of evolution, have different morphologies, and some have many high-mass stars in them, as opposed to only one in RCW 120. We can then use this information to determine what processes primarily drive triggered star formation and how feedback processes differ between various types of star-forming regions.”
Matteo Luisi et al. Stellar feedback and triggered star formation in the prototypical bubble RCW 120, Science Advances (2021). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abe9511
Stellar feedback and an airborne observatory: Team determines a nebula to be much younger than previously believed (2021, April 13)
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When you’re as rare and vulnerable as a black toad, you can’t afford to be coy about romance.
Surrounded by an unforgiving desert and forever isolated on a small patch of irrigated ranchland about 50 miles southeast of Yosemite National Park, black toads inhabit the smallest range of any North American amphibian.
So when breeding season arrives, as it did last month, this high desert basin nestled between the Inyo and White mountain ranges resounds with the toad’s high-pitched chirrups, which are reminiscent of peeping of baby chicks.
But this “toad heaven” would not be possible without the annual cooperation of the ranch owner, Deep Springs College. One of the smallest institutions of higher education in the United States, Deep Springs provides the amorous toads with all the basic creature comforts they will need to pair up and produce new crops of eggs and tadpoles.
Among those necessary comforts are peace, quiet and plenty of room for the 2-inch-long black toads with warty skin and golden eyes to serenade each other.
Cattle are kept away from the springs that ooze from the base of a nearby cliff from March through September—ensuring that courting toads don’t get trampled, said Tim Gipson, 63, ranch manager at the college.
“My priorities are cattle, toads, water and pasturelands,” Gipson said. “We only graze cattle by the springs in winter, when the toads are dormant and hibernating underground.”
The college, a complex of low-slung buildings surrounded by cottonwood trees, occupies a remote corner of the high desert, roughly 20 miles from the Nevada border. Framed by volcanic peaks, rock towers and sagebrush-studded alluvial fans, the area is the very definition of “remote.”
Grazing cattle and saving black toads have been dominant forces on campus operations for half a century, and a conservation success story at a time when amphibians are facing declines and extinctions across the United States and around the world.
Once abundant across the vast floodplains of the Great Basin, only about 8,500 black toads cling to existence by their stubby little toes at the college, a relic population isolated about 12,000 years ago when things were starting to heat up.
The toad’s first scientific name, Bufo exsul, acknowledges its extreme isolation. It means “exiled toad.”
Greg Pauley, herpetological curator at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, was a graduate student when he first ventured to Deep Valley Springs two decades ago.
“It was a bit of a shock to see how desolate, isolated and critically important their habitat is,” he recalled. “What’s terrifying now are the increasing demands for use of the desert aquifers that sustain such sites.”
It is one of several genetically distinct toad species that exist only in highly restricted spring-fed habitats and are prone to disease, inbreeding, predation, development and groundwater pumping. Now, longer droughts and rising temperatures from climate change are also upsetting the delicate balance between life and death in those habitats, too.
“These imperiled creatures face a staggering number of threats to their persistence,” said C. Richard Tracy, 76, a professor emeritus at the University of Nevada Reno. The threats, he said, “are compounded by their remarkably small range.”
“The situation requires urgent attention and strong conservation initiatives to protect and monitor these species,” Tracy said.
Cooperative management between Deep Springs College and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife helps protect the black toads and their water sources.
On a recent weekday morning, Padraic MacLeish, 63, director of operations at Deep Springs, led a group of visitors on a tour of the black toads’ nuptial flows.
At the water’s edge, MacLeish carefully scanned dense thickets of willows and bulrush, saying, “Black toads are good at hiding.”
Moments later, he nodded appreciatively toward a pair of toads, one of them floating placidly with only its nose and bulging eyes visible above the surface of the water, and the other clambering up a pile of leaves.
A few feet away, entangled in submerged twigs and pebbles, were long strands of toad eggs that resembled strings of tiny black beads.
With luck, the eggs will hatch in due time, and little tadpoles will begin a precarious existence.
Among those eager to get a glimpse of the toad story unfolding at the springs was Susan Darlington, 63, who was named president of Deep Springs College in September.
Kneeling on muddy banks amid the pervasive smell of cow manure may sound unpleasant, but for Darlington it was an opportunity to get close-up photographs of one of the rarest amphibians on the planet in its lone stronghold—her backyard.
After snapping dozens of pics with a macro-lens from a variety of angles, she remained spellbound.
“Wow! I’ve seen our legendary black toads and have photos to show for it,” she said. “I’m a real Deep Springer now!”
2021 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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When wildfires ripped through Oregon last Labor Day, they burned huge swaths of forest, including 63,000 acres of smaller, private lands.
Oregon state law requires forest owners to replant their land within two years of a wildfire, but many haven’t been able to: They used to rely heavily on state-run tree nurseries, but Oregon closed its nursery more than a decade ago.
“We’re scratching our heads over this trying to address the need from the fire,” said Glenn Ahrens, a forester with the Oregon State University extension service.
Seedlings are hard to come by. Large, commercial nurseries typically grow large tree orders on contract, supplying industrial timber companies that plan operations years in advance. State-run nurseries provide a more diverse array of species to landowners, allowing smaller orders on short notice. Many of the family foresters hit by the Oregon fires have struggled to obtain seedlings from the private sector.
The seedling problem is not unique to Oregon. Eight states have closed their nurseries, most in the past two decades, according to a survey by the National Association of State Foresters. Twenty-nine states still operate nursery programs, though many have closed some of their facilities.
The declining state production has hurt small landowners, who own the largest share of the nation’s forests. Private sector nurseries often lack many of the tree species offered by states, and they rarely accept small orders. In many cases, nursery closures have led to cutbacks in state research and breeding programs that produce trees more capable of withstanding the effects of climate change.
The foresters association survey found that seedling production at state-run nurseries fell by 28% between 2016 and 2018. In 2018, state nurseries produced 123 million seedlings, about a tenth of the nation’s total.
The are many reasons for the closures. State nurseries often have to cover their own operating expenses through seedling sales, and they’ve struggled to break even on the unpredictable speculative market. They’ve also faced political pressure to reduce capacity or close, as private growers bristle at competition from the public sector.
“The private sector doesn’t like the idea of competing with public nurseries,” said Brian Kittler, a reforestation expert with American Forests, a Washington, D.C.-based conservation nonprofit. “That has led to dramatic reductions in production over time from state nurseries.”
The result leaves small landowners at a disadvantage.
“It’s much harder for them to enter that market, because a commercial nursery isn’t very interested in an order for 100 trees,” said Ryan Gordon, family forestland coordinator with the Oregon Department of Forestry. “That’s precisely the niche that the state-run nursery would have filled.”
Gordon said the now-closed state nursery would have allowed officials to meet some of the current seedling need directly. The state agency and Oregon State University are helping small landowners coordinate aggregate seedling orders, increasing their buying power. The state has also purchased 450,000 seedlings and is reserving them for small landowners to buy. The state’s nursery would not have been able to fully meet the need caused by the fires, but its closure removed a major resource.
Many state nurseries were founded in the 1920s and 1930s, and for decades they provided most of the seedlings available to the public in their states. Some produced hundreds of millions of seedlings per year, meeting demand created by federal reforestation incentive programs to mitigate erosion and improve soil quality. Production ebbed and flowed with timber harvest cycles, and over the years, commercial timber companies began to join the seedling market.
As more private nurseries sprang up, many states scaled back theirs. Georgia, for instance, operated five nurseries that produced more than 100 million seedlings a year in the late 1980s. Today, its last remaining nursery grows just 12 million to 16 million seedlings annually.
Forestry experts say the rise of private sector production isn’t necessarily a problem, and there’s no longer a need for states to produce at their previous volume. But state nurseries still play an important role. Many of them provide seedlings for reforestation on state lands, but in many states, their primary role is supplying small forest owners.
Half of the country’s forestland is privately owned, and about two-thirds of that is owned by families and individuals. The nation’s 10 million forest landowners have historically depended on state nurseries for seedlings after timber harvests, wildfires and windstorms.
“We relied on the public nurseries to supply us,” said Keith Argow, policy director of the National Woodland Owners Association, a Vienna, Virginia-based education and advocacy group. “We knew the cost of seedlings and we knew they’d be available. When it started going to the private sector, you couldn’t be sure what would be available.”
When state nurseries have shut down, Argow said, he’s heard a consistent message from small forest owners: “Help! H-E-L-P. What do we do now?”
Minnesota lawmakers decided in 2011 to close one of the state’s two nurseries, and officials have capped production at 10 million seedlings to avoid competition with the private sector. But private nurseries have not met the demand for conservation-grade seedlings, said Kristina Somes, who oversees the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources nursery.
“There isn’t a lot of choice for a private landowner to get those different types of seedlings without going out of state,” she said. “Each year we tend to run out of certain seedlings or species. Then customers can’t get white pine, and we have a waitlist two pages long.”
Daryl Buck is the district manager for the Winona County Soil and Water Conservation District, which procures trees on behalf of local landowners for conservation plantings. The district’s efforts have been hampered by the drop in Minnesota’s seedling production.
“The availability of trees to private landowners has dropped drastically,” Buck said. “We used to buy most of our trees and shrubs through the DNR. They don’t have the numbers, and we haven’t bought from them the last couple years. We buy from private nurseries, but they don’t have the numbers either. We’ve turned away a lot of sales because everybody’s sold out.”
The cutbacks have been felt most strongly in the Southeast, where much of the nation’s private forestland and a majority of the state nursery production are concentrated.
Louisiana’s program, which produced a nation-leading 33 million seedlings in 2016, closed its three nurseries amid statewide budget cuts. State Forester Wade Dubea said the state nurseries provided a wealth of low-cost seedlings, including important wetland species and small shade tree packets.
“The simple fact that state nurseries are having to downsize or close does not reflect at all that they’re not needed,” he said. “It simply had to do with the budget climate in Louisiana at the time.”
Commercial nurseries in Georgia lead the nation in seedling production, growing more than 350 million trees each year. The state’s nursery sells fewer trees, but offers more species and will sell smaller volumes of trees to owners with just a few acres.
“We cater to the smaller landowners and try to meet that niche,” said Jeff Fields, chief of reforestation at the Georgia Forestry Commission. “A lot of that would be lost [if the state nursery closed], because a lot of the larger companies are just wanting to deal with larger customers.”
South Carolina has taken a unique approach. Its nursery production, which stood at 147 million seedlings in 1960, fell to 1.1 million by 2015 as the private sector expanded in the state.
The state’s last remaining nursery was struggling to stay afloat, but officials knew it was still important to its customers. In 2018, the state agreed to lease the nursery to ArborGen, a private company, for 10 years. ArborGen is working to upgrade the facility, and has also pledged to supply up to 5 million seedlings annually for the state, filling the role the state nursery once held.
“We can still determine the selections to be offered at a price that we set,” said Tim Adams, resource development director with the South Carolina Forestry Commission. “Some people want seedlings for unique habitats and ecosystems, and because of this agreement, ArborGen is still producing those seedlings.”
Owen Burney, an associate professor at New Mexico State University who has researched nurseries, said public-private partnerships like the South Carolina model could be a way to continue to meet the role of state nurseries while accounting for the financial challenges they face.
“That combination could allow for the money that’s generated through the large contracts to help support the speculative growing for the small landowners,” he said. “We still need to grow for those very unique and important niches.”
Forestry experts say all nurseries, not just state ones, need to drastically scale up production to meet the nation’s reforestation needs, especially as severe wildfires, droughts and diseases exacerbated by climate change increase tree mortality.
A recent joint study by state, federal, industry and nonprofit researchers found 128 million acres in the United States have the potential to be reforested. To plant just half of those acres would require a 2.3-fold increase in current nursery production, according to the February study, which was published in the journal Frontiers in Forests and Global Change.
“We have these denuded landscapes that are primed for invasive species, and we are not replanting at the capacity we need to be,” said Burney, who co-authored the study. “If we don’t do this soon, we’ll be losing these forests left and right.”
Private landowners play a critical if unheralded conservation role, said Amos Eno, the president and CEO of the Land Conservation Assistance Network, a nonprofit that provides tools for landowners to manage their land for conservation purposes.
“Eighty percent of endangered species habitat is on private land; 82% of wetlands are on private land,” he said. “It is inarguably the most important conservation portfolio in the United States.”
Private forestlands are especially vulnerable, he said, as many of them are owned by older adults who are increasingly selling off to developers. Without access to seedlings from state nurseries, it could become harder for owners to maintain those lands.
Producing seedlings isn’t as simple as planting a certain species of tree.
“A white oak that does well in Minnesota is not the same genotype as one that does well in Missouri,” said Marvin Brown, who heads the Forest Resources Management Committee with the National Association of State Foresters. “As climates shift, it’s going to be important to match those genotypes to the right environment.”
Washington state, for instance, has 18 different “seed zones” for Douglas fir trees, and it produces seedlings that are adapted to each, based on soil types, elevation, temperature, sunlight and precipitation.
“State nursery stock is suited to the soil types and climate within their state, which can be quite different from a commercial nursery,” said Argow, with the woodland owners group. “Most private landowners wouldn’t have a clue how to get trees that are suitable to grow on their woodlands [without state nurseries].”
States also participate in tree improvement programs, which breed and research trees to find varieties that grow faster, withstand drought and disease and sequester more carbon. As some states have closed their nurseries, they’ve withdrawn from those programs as well.
Steve McKeand works with the North Carolina State University Cooperative Tree Improvement Program, which includes timber companies and state agencies throughout the South. He said the loss of state partners has slowed the group’s work.
According to McKeand, tree improvement adds about 1% in economic value to the loblolly pine trees planted each year in the South by increasing volume and disease resistance. When tree improvement work slows by just 0.1%, it has an economic impact of $200 million per year, he said.
While some private companies have programs for popular timber species, divestment at the state level has left other breeds vulnerable.
“The only way to mitigate these exotic pests like the emerald ash borer is trying to find genetic resistance,” McKeand said. “The private companies are not going to go out and have seed orchards and tree improvement programs for 25 or 30 different species the way some of the states do. That concerns me, and I worry about these ecologically sensitive species.”
Brian Morris, who manages Washington’s state nursery, said tree improvement has been an important part of the state’s work.
“Our best tree of
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A Denali glacier suddenly moving at a speedier clip is intriguing scientists, increasing the risk of nearby flooding and potentially closing off some climbing routes on the mountain this season.
Muldrow Glacier—which begins on Denali’s northeastern slope and flows to form the McKinley River—is experiencing a geologic phenomenon: a surge event.
The glacier, which usually moves at an average or slow speed, is now jagged and covered with crevasses as it stretches and moves 50 to 100 times faster than normal, according to the National Park Service.
The event could affect a few mountaineers—one already canceled—who were scheduled to use the north approach to the mountain and intensifies the risk of flooding along the McKinley River, according to the park service.
The surge was first glimpsed by K2 Aviation pilot Chris Palm while he was flying last month for the Talkeetna-based company that does flight-seeing tours and glacier landings.
“I was looking at the glacier and I was thinking it looks really difficult to get onto the glacier right now,” Palm said Friday. “It’s all shattered and torn up and jagged ice and deep crevasses everywhere.”
As Palm looked from farther away, he saw that a good portion of the glacier looked similarly uneven. He’d read about a surge event on the mountain 60 years ago and thought it could be occurring again, he said.
Palm took a bunch of pictures and sent them to a geologist friend, who forwarded the photos to colleagues. Palm was correct—the glacier was surging.
Despite expectations that the glacier would surge sometime soon, it’s still exciting, said Guy Adema, physical scientist with the park service who has long studied the glacier.
The sudden surge of ice is not driven by climate change impacts. Instead, Adema said, it’s likely caused by the glacier’s elevation change and water dynamics within the glacier.
At the colder upper reaches of the glacier, there’s quite a bit of snow and ice that doesn’t move as freely as the warmer ice below it. As the ice above builds up, something triggers instability, moving the ice from upper to lower elevation in what’s known as a surge, Adema said.
Before the surge, the ice was moving between 3 and 11 inches per day. Now it’s moving 30 to 60 feet per day, according to satellite image analysis.
During the last surge event in 1956-57, the glacier moved over 4 miles in a period of months.
It’s a dynamic environment on a glacier during a surge, Adema said. One might see things tumbling, hear crackling and boulders falling. And the glacier itself is jumbled and cracked as the surface gets pulled and stretched.
“It’s gone from basically a very smooth, level ice surface to a totally impassable crevassed area,” Adema said.
Only about 1% of the world’s glaciers are considered “surge-type,” he said, though Denali has a particularly high proportion of them.
During surges, water that builds up at the end of the glacier usually releases sometime in late spring or early summer. In the case of Muldrow Glacier, that water would run into the McKinley River and cause a short but significant increase in flow, Adema said.
But luckily, there are no buildings or residents directly downstream.
The first Denali climbers of this year are expected to check in April 18, and about 800 to 900 climbers total are expected, somewhat fewer than the pre-pandemic average of around 1,200, said Maureen Gualtieri, a public information officer at Denali.
Most Denali climbers use the Kahiltna Glacier route on the southern side of Denali. But every year a small number head up the north side on a route that goes up Muldrow Glacier, and the surge could make it “extremely challenging or impossible with normal equipment,” Adema said.
The surge is a dramatic and fascinating process where the earth changes a lot in a short amount of time, he said.
“It’s a spectacle of nature,” he said.
In a place like Alaska, Adema said, the glacier surge acts as a “reminder of our own humility and place within the landscape.”
2021 Anchorage Daily News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
‘Spectacle of nature’: A Denali glacier is speeding downhill, potentially hampering climb
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Nepal’s population of endangered one-horned rhinoceros has grown by more than a hundred over the past six years, officials said, with campaigners hailing the increase as a conservation “milestone”.
The population rose to 752 across four national parks in the southern plains, up from 645 in 2015, the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation said Saturday.
“The increase of rhinos is exciting news for us,” the department’s information officer, Haribhadra Acharya, told AFP on Sunday.
“But we have challenges ahead to expand the habitat areas of this animal to maintain the growth.”
Thousands of one-horned rhinos once roamed the southern plains, but rampant poaching and human encroachment on their habitat reduced their numbers to around 100 in Nepal in the 1960s.
Since 1994, the Himalayan nation has conducted a rhino census once every five years, as authorities stepped up their efforts to boost population numbers for the species listed as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation for Nature.
In the first census in 1994, 466 rhinos were counted.
Some 250 personnel—including enumerators, soldiers and veterinarians—rode on 57 elephants for nearly three weeks from late March to count the rhinos.
The census—delayed for a year due to the coronavirus pandemic—was carried out using GPS equipment, binoculars and cameras.
“Rhinos were counted through a direct observation method, where the counting team reached as close as 100 metres (330 feet) from the wild animal,” Acharya added.
During the census, an elephant mahout was attacked and killed by a tiger, authorities said. Another official was injured when a wild elephant attacked the team.
Global conservation group the World Wildlife Fund—which provides financial and technical assistance for the census—called the population increase a “milestone” for Nepal.
“The overall growth in population size is indicative of ongoing protection and habitat management efforts by protected area authorities despite challenging contexts these past years,” the WWF’s Nepal representative, Ghana Gurung, said in a statement.
The rhino population has climbed in recent years amid the government’s anti-poaching and conservation initiatives.
But the illegal trade of rhino horns—prized in China and Southeast Asia for their supposed medicinal properties—remains a threat.
Some 26 rhinos died in Nepal last year, including four from poaching, the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation said.
Egypt’s best-known archaeologist on Saturday revealed further details on a Pharaonic city recently found in the southern province of Luxor.
Zahi Hawass said that archaeologists found brick houses, artifacts, and tools from pharaonic times at the site of the 3,000-year-old lost city. It dates back to Amenhotep III of the 18th dynasty, whose reign is considered a golden era for ancient Egypt.
“This is really a large city that was lost… The inscription that found inside here says that this city was called: ‘The dazzling Aten’,” Hawass told reporters at the site.
Archeologists started excavating in the area last year, searching for the mortuary temple of boy King Tutankhamun. However, within weeks they found mud brick formations that eventually turned out to be a well-preserved large city.
City walls and even rooms filled with ovens, storage pottery, and utensils used in daily life are said to be present. Archeologists also found human remains that were visible to reporters and visitors on Saturday.
“We found three major districts, one for administration, one for the workmen to sleep, one for the industry and (an) area for dried meat,” said Hawass, who spoke to reporters at the site while wearing his iconic Indiana Jones hat.
He said he believes that the city was “the most important discovery” since the tomb of Tutankhamun was unearthed in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor nearly fully intact in 1922.
Hawass also rejected the notion that the city’s remains had already been discovered previously, as has been suggested in posts circulating on social media. “It’s impossible… that I discover something that was previously discovered,” he said.
Betsy Brian, professor of Egyptology at John Hopkins University, agreed that the find was new, calling it “exceptional in scale and organization.”
“There’s no indication that I am aware of that this town section had been found before, although clearly it represents a new part of an enormous royal city, that we can appreciate far more now,” she said.
The newly unearthed city is located between the temple of King Rameses III and the colossi of Amenhotep III on the west bank of the Nile in Luxor. The city continued to be used by Amenhotep III’s grandson Tutankhamun, and then his successor King Ay.
Some mud bricks bear the seal of King Amenhotep III’s cartouche, or name insignia.
Amenhotep III, who ruled ancient Egypt between 1391 B.C. and 1353 B.C., built the main portions of the Luxor and Karnak temples in the ancient town of Thebes.
Egypt has sought publicity for its archaeological discoveries in the hopes of reviving its tourism sector, which was badly hit by the turmoil following the 2011 uprising, and now the coronavirus pandemic.
The announcement came a few days after Egypt moved 22 of its prized royal mummies in a gala parade to their new resting place—the newly opened National Museum of Egyptian Civilization in Cairo.
Famed Egyptian archaeologist reveals details of ancient city (2021, April 11)
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NASA has delayed by at least several days the first flight of its mini-helicopter on Mars after a possible tech issue emerged while testing its rotors, the US space agency said Saturday.
Ingenuity’s trip, which is to be the first-ever powered, controlled flight on another planet, was set for Sunday but is now on hold until at least April 14.
A high-speed test of the four-pound (1.8 kilogram) helicopter’s rotors on Friday ended earlier than expected due to an alert of a potential issue.
“The helicopter team is reviewing telemetry to diagnose and understand the issue,” NASA said in a statement. “Following that, they will reschedule the full-speed test.”
NASA noted the copter is “safe and healthy” and had sent information back to Earth.
Initially the plan for Sunday was to have Ingenuity fly for 30 seconds to take a picture of the Perseverance rover, which touched down on Mars on February 18 with the helicopter attached to its underside.
NASA calls the unprecedented helicopter operation highly risky, but says it could reap invaluable data about the conditions on Mars.
The flight is a true challenge because the air on Mars is so thin—less than one percent of the pressure of Earth’s atmosphere.
This means Ingenuity must spin its rotor blades much faster than a helicopter needs to do on Earth in order to fly.
After the flight, Ingenuity will send Perseverance technical data on what it has done, and that information will be transmitted back to Earth.
This will include a black and white photo of the Martian surface that Ingenuity is programmed to snap while flying.
A day later, once its batteries have charged up again, Ingenuity is to transmit another photo—in color, of the Martian horizon, taken with a different camera.
If the flight is a success, NASA plans another no more than four days later. It plans as many as five altogether, each successively more difficult, over the course of a month.
NASA hopes to make the helicopter rise five meters (16 feet) and then move laterally.
The mission is be the equivalent on Mars of the first powered flight on Earth—by the Wright brothers in 1903 in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. A piece of fabric from that plane has been tucked inside Ingenuity in honor of that feat.
On the campus of Houston University, students meet in small groups, sit alone at computers and attend virtual meetings.
It appears they are taking precautions against the coronavirus, but the Texas metropolis is still rushing to get its population of about 300,000 university and college students vaccinated as quickly as possible.
“Right now, college students make up a large percentage of super spreaders,” said Isaiah Martin, 22, a fourth-year student in political science who is leading a campaign for students to get their shots.
With some 500 new cases a day in April, down from about 2,000 in January, the situation in Houston—the fourth-largest city in the United States—is improving, yet it remains worrying.
Where it goes from here will depend in large part on the behavior of students, many of whom are chafing under a year of restrictions and isolation.
But a College Pulse survey in January of 1,000 US students found that only 21 percent were not concerned about vaccine safety.
At the University of Houston, home to 47,000 students, Martin says his peers still “go out and a lot of time they ignore the guidance from the CDC and other health departments and so they’ll go out, they’ll party, they’ll do things college kids normally do.”
After more than a year of the pandemic, words of caution are increasingly difficult to heed.
That is why the city has organized its “Take Your Best Shot” campaign, a competition between universities to see which can get the most of its current and former students vaccinated.
The competition began March 29, the first day the vaccine was available to all adults, after Texas decided it had sufficiently inoculated its at-risk population.
Vaccinating students is deemed so important that Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner came to the University of Houston to kick off the campaign.
‘Don’t even know what I’m missing’
Rice University, the most prestigious school in the Houston area, is not participating in the challenge. It has, however, set up a vaccination center managed by hospital group St. Luke’s Health on its campus in the heart of the city.
On this April day, several dozen students received their first doses, hoping to put an end to online courses and limited social interactions.
“I think online classes have been isolating and we haven’t been able to learn as well in our dorm rooms instead of the classroom,” said Sarah Sowell, 19, after getting her shot.
First-year students remain the most isolated, having never experienced the highlights of campus life and its close friendships.
“It’s hard to make friends when you only see them on a Zoom call, they’re only little pictures on a screen,” said Lillian Cui, 18, who came from Pennsylvania to study planetary science.
English student Hannah Hoskins, who also came to Rice at the start of the academic year, finds it “strange to hear these really amazing stories about previous years and I think that’s a little difficult to have to be like ‘Man, I’m missing out,’ but I don’t even know what I’m missing.”
On the other hand, older students struggle with separations they assumed would be temporary but may now be permanent, as friends stay home with families in other states or sometimes abroad until graduation.
“I’ll be graduated in May and a lot of my friends left Rice in March (2020) and were not able to return last year because of the coronavirus,” said French student Anna Margaret Clyburn.
“Now I fear I won’t get a chance to reconnect with (them) for a very long time, if at all,” she said, noting that in a few months she will move to San Francisco to start her first job.
Two dead whales have washed up on the same stretch of Bangladesh coastline in two days, officials said Saturday, raising suggestions that they were killed by sea pollution.
Officials said the second, much longer whale washed up on Himchhari Beach, outside the resort city of Cox’s Bazar, at around 8:30 am (0230 GMT) Saturday, just a day after the carcass of another Bryde’s whale was found two kilometres (1.25 miles) from the spot.
“The carcass of the whale found today is at least 50 feet (16 metres) long and 10 feet wide. It weighs three-four tonnes,” Jahirul Islam, executive director of the Cox’s Bazar-based Marine Life Alliance, told AFP.
Islam said the whales could have been killed in a collision with a ship plying the Bay of Bengal, or have died after eating plastics which litter the sea.
“Primarily we think the two have died from consuming plastic and polluted objects. There is an injury mark on the back of the second whale. We suspect it could have been hit by a high-speed vessel,” Islam said.
Mohammad Shahidul Alam, a professor at the Institute of Marine Science and Fisheries, said parts of the Bay of Bengal are seriously polluted, and that could have led to the animals’ demise.
A spokesman for Bangladesh’s environment and forestry department said its researchers had collected samples from the carcasses for post mortem examinations.
Two similar whales also washed up on Cox’s Bazar beaches in 1996 and 2006.