PHOTO: JAK WONDERLY
PHOTO: MENAHEM KAHANA, AFP/GETTY IMAGES
PHOTO: DMITRY MARKOV
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Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
On a holiday trek in the highlands of Ethiopia, the 37-year-old Stanley and his wife met farmers harvesting, “separating the wheat grain from the chaff. Every so often the wind would shift, and I would get covered in straw, making the men smile and laugh.”
TODAY'S DAILY DOZEN
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Lake Eyre might be the bleakest, most featureless place on Earth—a flat, arid salt sink in Australia with only the horizon to define its 3,700 square miles. Yet I went there 16 times in eight years. Why? To create a series of photographs out of infinite space.
I’ve always been drawn to multiyear projects in remote locations, like the series I shot in Patagonia, Tasmania, and the Himalaya. After that I went back to art school and studied the history and language of my field. It was then that I decided to “remove” the landscape from landscape photography. Lake Eyre was the perfect canvas.
Each winter I would ride my bike to the dried heart of the lake and camp for five weeks, working every day in the harsh sun, wind, and cold. Somehow I never got lonely out there. It was only when I got back to civilization, and sat at a quiet bar, that I felt truly alone.
All artists are interpreters of the world. This series is my attempt to translate the visual power of extreme desolation.
In the midst of a massive drought, two storms—thunder and dust—appeared and painted an apocalyptic portrait over Australia’s Lake Eyre. I used a digital camera and stitched together multiple images to capture this panorama.
At first light, predawn colors are reflected and distorted by a rare rain puddle in Australia’s highly saline Lake Eyre.
Pilots who fly over Lake Eyre had told me about a red hue that sometimes appears when the bed dries. I later learned that it’s caused by an organism that lives only in supersaline environments.
In this three-hour exposure during a full moon, the two brightest stars in the sky are described as arcing lines. The cracked bed of Lake Eyre, meantime, resembles nothing so much as a lunar landscape.
Health for the Ages
The plants pictured on this page might add up to a tossed salad. They might also be used to make remedies for serious intestinal disorders—just as they did in antiquity.
Medical historian Alain Touwaide says new DNA analysis of clay-bound pills from a Roman shipwreck confirms traces of the same dried plants (including carrot, radish, cabbage, celery, wild onion,* and parsley) described in ancient Greek medical texts. The brownish, coin-size pills—preserved in tin boxes for two millennia—are the first proof that the writings were “not just theoretical but actually applied.”
Could such knowledge inform today’s research? Touwaide says the second-century physician Galen referred to broccoli, a relative of cabbage, as an intestinal cancer treatment. Studies today confirm the plant’s anticancer properties—making “eat your vegetables” a timeless prescription. —Jeremy Berlin
*LEEK, A DESCENDANT OF WILD ONION, IS SHOWN.
PHOTOS: REBECCA HALE, NGM STAFF; ITALIAN DEPARTMENT OF ANTIQUITIES (VIAL)
domesticated rice at around 8,200 years ago in China. • Turkey announced plans to build Canal Istanbul, a roughly 30-mile waterway that will bypass the Bosporus, linking the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara. • A fossil found in Wyoming shows a giant queen ant that was the size of a small hummingbird.
A new species of unisexual lizard has been bred by Kansas City researchers. The all-female population reproduces by cloning. • A study of the rice genome puts the origin of
A Perfect Mummy In the Chinese city of Taizhou, workers digging a new roadbed recently uncovered a remarkable burial from the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). The deceased was a five-foot-three-inch-tall woman whose skin, hair, eyebrows, and more than 20 items of cotton clothing were all fully preserved. Three thick layers of plaster sealed her wooden coffin, keeping out oxygen and bacteria. When she was found, she lay in a mysterious fluid, which may have served to further stave off decay. Once the mummy is stabilized and studied, the city’s museum plans to make her one of the star attractions of a new exhibit. —A. R. Williams
PHOTO: GU XIANGZHONG, XINHUA/XINHUA PRESS/CORBIS; GRAPHIC: KISS ME I’M POLISH. SOURCES: INCA; UNESCO. NGM MAPS
They are resilient through winter, latch skillfully on to vehicles, and have few natural checks on their U.S. population. These factors have enabled an Asian native, the brown marmorated stinkbug, to thrive in the eastern U.S. First noted in 1996 in Allentown, Pennsylvania—and since spotted in 33 other states—the tenacious insect feasts on crops and creeps into homes, particularly in Maryland and Virginia. Squashing it unleashes a pungent odor. Now researchers hope a tiny wasp can help by attacking stinkbug eggs, but safety tests will take a few years. Smells like trouble in the meantime. —Catherine Zuckerman
Shake It OffIt all begins with a twist of the head—one so powerful it leads to full-body, high-speed oscillations that whip water in all directions. Although hazardous to nearby humans, the wet-dog shake is an elegant, effective drying mechanism, says Andrew Dickerson, an engineering student at Georgia Tech who analyzed the mechanics of this everyday canine act. In taking less than a second to disperse half the water in a hound’s fur, the motion is “more efficient than a washing machine’s spin cycle,” he says.
Using slow-motion video, Dickerson measured rates of oscillation in other animals too and found that the smaller they are, the faster they shake. Being wet adds weight, notes veterinarian Nicholas Dodman, and that makes it harder to run—perhaps one reason speed drying evolved.—Hannah Bloch
Animals not drawn to scale
*Oscillation averages have been rounded to the nearest whole number.
PHOTO: TIM FLACH. GRAPHIC: LAWSON PARKER, NGM STAFF SOURCE: ANDREW DICKERSON AND DAVID HU, GEORGIA TECH
The developing world holds an overlooked resource: millions of adolescent girls. Often forced to leave school and start families by their mid-teens, many fall prey to violence, disease, and complications of childbirth. Studies show that keeping these girls in school and delaying marriage benefits both them and their communities by reducing infant mortality, increasing family income, and slowing the spread of HIV. Groups including the World Bank, the UN Adolescent Girls Task Force, and movements such as the Girl Effect are looking at ways to make girls more valuable to their families as breadwinners than as child brides. —Margaret G. Zackowitz
Eva Nkirote, a student at Saint Annmona School in rural eastern Kenya, participates in a tree-planting program at the school. Says Esther Muthoni, Saint Annmona’s founder, “If you educate a girl, you educate a nation.”
PHOTO: LYNN JOHNSON
The warm waters of the Raja Ampat archipelago have long been a hot spot for biodiversity. Now they’re Indonesia’s first refuge for sharks. The big fish are key to its ecosystem and to the diver-focused ecotourism that supports conservation efforts and the local economy. So last year Raja Ampat joined Palau and the Maldives as a top-predator protectorate. The 17,760-square-mile haven is now safe for all sharks, as well as manta rays, dugongs, and turtles. Fishing practices like reef dynamiting are also banned. While enforcement is a work in progress, one local resort pays villagers to patrol the waters—including their own traditional fishing grounds, which had been hurt by shark finning and industrial trawling. —Noy Thrupkaew
SARK IS THE NIGHT They say on a clear day you can see forever. What about a clear night? If you’re on the isle of Sark (right), meteors, constellations, and a horizon-spanning Milky Way are on view. The tiny, rustic Channel Island—2.1 square miles, 600-some residents, no cars or public lighting— has long been a haven for naked-eye astronomy. This year it became the first island in the world deemed a Dark Sky Place by the International Dark-Sky Association, a U.S.-based nonprofit promoting solutions to light pollution. Sark joins about a dozen places worldwide recognized by the group for their commitment to night-sky clarity. Steve Owens, the astronomer who led Sark’s application process, says the designation came after a six-month “light audit” led to the retrofitting of 30 fixtures causing an orange glow. For midwinter stargazers, that means 12 hours of darkest night await. —Jeremy Berlin
PHOTOS: DANIELLE P. HEINRICHS (TOP); SUE DALY.
Sky Rivers A forecaster points to a bright weather system on a map and warns of torrential rain and flooding. But it’s no hurricane. It’s an atmospheric river, or Ar, first seen clearly via satellite data in the 1990s. “We now know that Ars are the primary cause of flooding in the West Coast states,” says NOAA’s Marty Ralph. Water-vapor superhighways 300 miles wide and more than a thousand miles long, Ars can, in a single day, move up to 20 times the Mississippi river’s daily discharge. last winter one stalled in California. Six days later 26 inches of rain and 15 feet of snow had fallen. Now experts are working ahead. A recent what-if test, in which an Ar swamped California, predicted $735 billion in losses. Says Ralph, “We’re preparing for the Katrina of the West.” —Juli Berwald
CHIMPS AND DOLLS In a Ugandan forest, primatologists Sonya Kahlenberg and Richard Wrangham see chimpanzees toting sticks—for fun. “Usually when a chimp carries an object,” says Kahlenberg, “it has a function.” Yet new analysis of 14 years of observations suggests these apes are playing with dolls. Such stick carrying has been seen regularly only in this community, so it’s likely a learned behavior. The game is passed from one juvenile to another—social networking, chimp-youth style. —JB
Pieces of wood used as dolls are thicker than pieces used to probe for honey.
MAP: JEROME N. COOKSON, NGM STAFF. SOURCE: NOAA. PHOTO: SONYA KAHLENBERG
Researchers seek the weak spots in a home’s defenses.
FOUR DECADES of studying fires have led Jack Cohen of the U.S. Forest Service to one conclusion: When it comes to wildfires, the greatest threat to homes isn’t from walls of flame sweeping through residential areas. It’s from the houses themselves—their construction, materials, even landscaping—and their susceptibility to embers, the tiny bits of burning material he calls firebrands.
Cohen has seen thousands of homes succumb to fire, including some of the approximately 5,500 consumed in the California infernos (Continued)
of 2003 and 2007. The following year the Department of Homeland Security agreed to fund development of software that will eventually enable homeowners and fire agencies to evaluate vulnerabilities in houses and other structures. This, says Cohen, is a vital step toward preventing disaster. To prove his point, he’s enlisted an impressive tool: a fullscale house that can be set afire, refitted with different materials, and then set aflame again.
Call it playing with fire for a purpose. The simulations take place in a giant facility situated on 90 acres in the South Carolina countryside. Here the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, with funding from some 60 insurance companies, re-creates the conditions of wildfires, hurricanes, and the like in order to study their impact on buildings and to develop protection guidelines.“There’s nothing else like this lab,” says President and CEO Julie Rochman. “Our number one obsession is that the science be right.”
The challenges are enormous. Fire chiefs and forestry experts attest to the scientific accuracy of the fire simulations, but in the course of that achievement, ember machines have burst into flames, and metal pipes have buckled. The 105 “wind” fans devour so much energy that the nearly year-old facility has its own power substation. The tests, however, have yielded valuable information that is documented on video and in photographs.
To isolate vulnerable spots on a building in the midst of a blaze, the 1,400-square-foot test house is bombarded with embers generated by igniting bins of mulch. The structure can be fitted with different kinds of siding, windows, gutters, and roofs. Among the lessons learned: Vinyl gutters readily melt, and embers can infiltrate homes through vents, windows, and roofs. “We were a little surprised how quickly things happened once embers blew onto the roof,” says Rochman. “We saw ignition in seconds.”
That’s the point Cohen hopes the software based on his research will drive home. “When wildfires burn intensely, they produce millions of firebrands that come down like a blizzard,” he says. Once inside a house, they can potentially burn it from the inside out. The software will help users pinpoint areas prone to igniting. At the lab, meantime, another test will look at how radiant heat from a burning structure can cause its neighbor to combust. And on deck as the next great simulation challenge: creating the perfect hailstorm. —Luna Shyr
This Suit Is Made for Walkin’
Pentagon-funded research has enabled the lost to pinpoint their locations, the night blind to see in the dark, and old lovers to keep tabs on each other online. Now it may help paraplegics to walk. Last fall California-based Berkeley Bionics unveiled a “wearable robot” called eLEGS, an exoskeleton adapted from technology currently being tested for U.S. foot soldiers. Users strap on a backpack containing a battery and microprocessor, then bionic legs with motorized joints at the hips and knees. Sensors in handheld crutches issue instructions to the backpack computer, which relays them to the legs. Walking is simple: Shifting weight to the left crutch, for example, initiates a step forward with the right foot. Trials begin this year. For now eLEGS is limited to patients under six feet two and 220 pounds with good upper-body strength. By 2013 a more rugged, versatile model may be afoot. —Bruce Falconer
A Gravity View of Earth Seen from space, the Earth appears like a blue marble floating in the void. But to scientists studying the connections between gravity, geology, and climate, it looks more like a deeply pitted potato (right). This colorful model, known as a geoid, shows what Earth would look like if it could be remolded to reflect gravity anomalies caused by density variations inside the planet. Created by the European Space Agency, this is the latest and most detailed geoid yet. Although surface features like mountains are known to have some effect on the gravity field, geologic structures all the way into the mantle greatly affect Earth’s gravitational pull. Less dense regions experience weaker gravity; the geoid’s lowest point, for instance, is in the Indian Ocean, where the ancient collision between the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates may have resulted in less dense rock. It’s also possible to study geoid changes over time to see how climate is affecting Earth’s surface. Recent NASA satellite data show the declining gravitational pull of polar ice sheets as a warming world has shifted their mass from ice to water. “It’s hard to weigh the Greenland ice sheet with a bathroom scale,” says NASA’s Michael Watkins, but geoids can help do just that. —Victoria Jaggard
GRAPHIC: STEFAN FICHTEL. SOURCE: GERMAN GEODETIC RESEARCH INSTITUTE