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Climate

Chinese Officials Arrested for Stuffing Cotton Gauze Into Air Monitoring Equipment to Falsify Results

Environmental officials in China's northern city of Xi'an have been detained for altering air quality monitoring results in order to avoid penalties for high pollution in their area.

Lu Guang / Greenpeace

According to media reports, five officials—including He Limin, the chief of the Environmental Protection Bureau for the city—were arrested for their involvement in the deception.

The investigation revealed the deceptive acts began when the monitoring station in question was being relocated to the Xi'an University of Posts and Telecommunications back in February, according Global Times newspaper.

A China Business View report said the head of the station, Li Sen, made a copy of the key so employees could have access to the station during that time to stuff the sensors with cotton gauze. The alteration to the system's data as a result triggered an alert to the National Environmental Monitoring Center who sent out inspectors to examine the station. During their investigation, they discovered the surveillance videos for March had been deleted, according to the report.

China has been cracking down on pollution by enacting an environmental protection law last year giving officials the authority to punish businesses whose pollution levels are too high and anyone who participates in deceptive practices. Researchers estimate about 1.6 million people die each year in China due to pollution. In June 2015, China's Ministry of Environmental Protection reported seven cases of falsification of air quality data, according to Greenpeace East Asia.

"Reliable data is the very starting point of China's 'war on pollution,'" Dong Liansai, a climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace East Asia, said Tuesday. "[This] news should serve as a warning to officials around the country that the central government is serious about punishing environmental abuses."

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Science

Experts Claim They 'Solved' the Bermuda Triangle Mystery

Have scientists figured out the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle? That's the claim that is going viral on the internet following the discovery of strange, hexagonal clouds at the western tip of the triangle.

Science Channel screenshot

According to a Science Channel documentary, the clouds were captured by satellites over the Bahamas peaking meteorologists' interest. The shape of the clouds appeared to have straight edges which, meteorologists say, is not normal.

"You don't typically see straight edges with clouds," Dr. Steve Miller, satellite meteorologist at Colorado State University, said. "Most of the time, clouds are random in their distribution."

The clouds, measuring between 20 and 50 miles across, have also been found in the North Sea in Europe and are believed to create "air bombs," formed by microbursts of air that blast out of the bottom of the cloud and hit the ocean creating massive waves and sea-level winds at up to 170 mph.

These "air bombs," Science Channel said, could provide an explanation for the mysterious disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle over the years.

While this argument is interesting, some experts, including the meteorologists who appeared in the short documentary, say it's a stretch.

"It is a common phenomenon occurring globally—most generally found at mid- to high-latitude locations over the oceans, and usually during the cold season," Steve Miller told USA Today.

Randy Cerveny, another meteorologist who talked about the "air bombs" in the Science Channel documentary, told USA Today, "They made it appear as if I was making a big breakthrough or something. Sadly, [that's] not the case."

NBC meteorologist Kevin Corriveau didn't even seem convinced that the clouds seen in the Bahamas would create "air bombs."

"When I look at a hexagonal cloud shape in the Bahamas, this is not the cloud signature of what a microburst looks like," he told NBC News. "You would normally have one large to extremely large thunderstorm that wouldn't have an opening in the middle."

Rather, he said, the odd shapes could be due to the small islands of the Bahamas heating the air differently than the long coastline of Florida, creating erratic weather patterns.

The Bermuda Triangle—a region of ocean bordered by Florida, Bermuda and Puerto Rico—has gained notoriety over the past century as the location many ships and aircrafts reportedly disappear without a trace.

Violent weather has been blamed for mysterious disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle before, along with other explanations ranging from compass problems, the Gulf Stream, methane hydrates that can reduce the density of the water and sink ships, and even paranormal activity.

While this theory adds to the discussion, there is still much more to learn about its occurrence and effect in the area of the Bermuda Triangle.

Energy

13-Year-Old Wins Top Prize: Makes Wind Energy Device That Costs Just $5

A 13-year-old student from Ohio won the top prize at the 2016 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge Tuesday for developing a cost-effective device that uses solar and wind power to create energy.

Grand prize winner Maanasa Mendu with 3M scientist mentor Margaux Mitera at the 2016 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge in St. Paul, MN.Discovery Education

Maanasa Mendu, a ninth grader at William Mason High School in Ohio, said she was inspired by a visit to India where she discovered many people lacked basic life necessities such as clean water and lighting.

Mendu's initial idea harnessed only wind energy when she entered the competition. According to Business Insider, the leaves cost roughly $5 to make.

During the past three months, Mendu worked with Margaux Mitera, a 3M senior product development engineer, to develop a more advanced system that was inspired by how plants function. Mendu decided to create "solar leaves" that harnessed vibrational energy. Her "leaves" get energy from rain, wind and the sun, using a solar cell and piezoelectric material—the part of the leaf that picks up on the vibrations—and transforms it into usable energy, Business Insider said.

Besides being named "America's Top Young Scientist," Mendu won $25,000 for her invention.

"Each year, the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge reminds us of the inspiring ingenuity that results when we empower our youngest generation to apply science, critical-thinking and creativity to solve real-world problems," said Bill Goodwyn, president and CEO, Discovery Education.

The second, third and fourth place winners each received a $1,000 prize and a trip to a taping of a show on Discovery's family of networks for their inventions:

  • Rohan Wagh from Portland, Oregon, a ninth grader at Sunset High School in Beaverton School District, received second place for his innovation that utilizes the natural metabolism of bacteria to create energy.
  • Kaien Yang from Chantilly, Virginia, an eighth grader at Nysmith School for the Gifted, received third place for his innovation that uses pumpkin seed oil to create both a biodiesel and bioplastic that reduces emissions and pollution from plastic.
  • Amelia Day from Sumner, Washington, a ninth grader at Sumner High School in Sumner School District, received fourth place for her invention that uses sensory feedback to help rebuild neural connections inside of the brain during rehabilitation.
Animals

Park Ranger Murdered While Protecting Critically Endangered Gorillas

A wildlife ranger tasked with protecting critically endangered Grauer's gorillas was killed this month in the Democratic Republic of Congo's Kahuzi Biega National Park, Mongabay reported.

Munganga Nzonga Jacques, 26, died Oct. 4 in an area in the Tshivanga region of the park, an area previously believed to be safe for the gorillas, showing the dangers conservationists face in unstable regions, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) said.

Jacques is the second ranger to be killed in the park in the last six months. Rebel groups shot and killed park ranger Oscar Byamungu Mianziro back in March.

Park rangers carrying out an anti-poaching patrol in Kahuzi-Biega National Park.A.J.Plumptre / WCS

"We are very concerned about these increased threats to the rangers and their families, and to the protection of these animals," Andrew Plumptre, WCS senior conservation scientist for Africa, said in a statement.

Grauer's gorilla—a subspecies of eastern gorilla, the world's largest ape—are confined to eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. They were listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species back in September after their population dropped 77 percent.

In 1998, it was estimated that 17,000 Grauer's gorillas lived in the forests of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Now, fewer than 3,800 of these gorillas still live in the wild, according to a report from the WCS, Flora and Fauna International and the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature.

The main cause of the decline is hunting for bushmeat and civil unrest, which is taking place around villages and mining camps that have been established by armed groups deep in the forests in eastern DR Congo.

"The civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo has led to the wide availability of arms and created a plethora of militia groups who control different territories in the east of the country," Andrew Plumptre, senior conservation scientist for the WCS Africa Program, told PLoS One. "This has been terrible for conservation of its wildlife."

Energy

World's Most Remote Village Is About to Become Self-Sufficient

The most remote village on Earth, located on Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic Ocean, is about to get a 21st century upgrade thanks to an international design competition aimed at creating a more sustainable future for the farming and fishing community.

Edinburgh of the Seven Seas, Tristan da Cunha, South Atlantic Oceanmichael clarke stuff / Wikipedia

RIBA Competitions launched the competition in March 2015 on behalf of the Tristan da Cunha government and narrowed down the 37 anonymous entries from around the world to five teams. A little over a year later, the team led by Brock Carmichael Architects was identified as the winner of the competition because of its "practical approach and in-depth understanding of the issues."

A wind farm, modernized buildings with heated floors and insulated roofs, greenhouses in backyards, communal kitchen gardens, community composting and a waste to energy incinerator are some of the improvements in the team's initial plans for the 265-member community.

Rendering of community garden, island store, kitchen garden and fisheries.Brock Carmichael Architects

However, creating this sustainable community will be a challenge.

The island—located 1,750 miles (7 to 10 sailing days) southwest of Cape Town, South Africa—can only be accessed by sea on a passenger or cargo ship eight times a year due to the severity of the ocean swells and limitations of the harbor facility.

German research vessel Maria S. Merian in front of the island Tristan da Cunha. In the background is the settlement Edinburgh of the Seven Seas.Mison / Wikipedia Commons

With the village so isolated, the main goal of this project is help create a self-sufficient community that future generations can manage themselves.

"Over a course of time, key people would be trained in any areas of expertise required to deliver these design proposals and acquire the knowledge and skills that can be passed down to generations to come," Martin Watson, director of operations for Brock Carmichael Architects, said.

The main way Brock Carmichael Architects propose getting this done is to prototype materials and products found on the island—such as sheep wool, basaltic blocks and seaweed—to assess its performance in the exposed marine environment and build-ability using locally-trained labor.

Along the way, the Island Council will have the final say in what will be added to the final plans, and their goals are ambitious, wanting to produce 30 to 40 percent of their own energy within the next five years.

Brock Carmichael architects will head out to the island in summer 2017 to inspect the island before fleshing out more details in their designs.

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Adventure

Giant Jade Stone Worth $170 Million Unearthed in Burma

Miners have unearthed the world's most valuable chunk of jade stone in Burma, the southeast Asian country also known as Myanmar.

Local politician U Tint Soe stand with the jade rock.SWNS.com

Worth an estimated $174.6 million, the massive 200-ton stone measures about 14 feet high and 19 feet long, the BBC reported. It's size is second to the carved statue at the Jade Buddha Palace in China which weighs 286 tons, according to the Daily Mail.

"We thought we had won the lottery," miner Sao Min told the Daily Mail. "But this belongs to the country. It is in honor of our leaders."

The term jade can refer to two different metamorphic rocks: nephrite and jadeite. This stone is believed to be jadeite, which is worth significantly more. Nearly all of the world's finest jadeite comes from Myanmar and makes up nearly half of the country's gross domestic product.

"I assume that it is a present for the fate for our citizens, the government and our party as it was discovered in the time of our government. It's a very good sign for us," local politician U Tint Soe told the Daily Mail.

The stone will reportedly head to China where it will be used to make jewelry and statues for homes.

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Animals

10,000 Critically Endangered Water Frogs Found Dead in Polluted Lake

Peru's National Forest and Wildlife Service, SERFOR, is investigating the deaths of hundreds of critically endangered Titicaca water frogs, whose bodies were found floating in the waters of Lake Titicaca, the only place in the world the species is found.

Hundreds of the critically endangered Titicaca water frogs have been found floating on the surface of the Coata River in southern Peru.SERFOR

SERFOR responded to the banks of the river in the buffer zone of the Titicaca National Reserve to investigate the reported deaths and found 500 dead frogs in a 200-meter (656-foot) area. However, based on statements from locals and samples taken in the days after, SEAFOR estimated that more than 10,000 frogs were likely affected in a 30-mile span.

SEAFOR's investigation found the presence of solid waste and sludge formation in the area. The Committee Against Pollution of the Coata River told the BBC pollution in the Coata River that flows into Lake Titicaca is to blame for the deaths, and that the government has ignored pleas to address the problem.

After this latest incident, committee leader Maruja Inquilla and other supporters brought 100 of the dead frogs to the central square in the regional capital, Puno.

"I've had to bring them the dead frogs," Inquilla told AFP. "The authorities don't realize how we're living. They have no idea how major the pollution is. The situation is maddening."

The committee said a sewage treatment plant is needed to clean up the lake and its tributaries.

Titicaca Water Frog Arturo Muñoz / iNaturalist.org

Titicaca water frogs are also known as Titicaca scrotum frogs because of their wrinkly, baggy skin that helps them breathe. They live their entire life in the water and it is estimated their population has declined by more than 80 percent over the past 15 years due to over-exploitation, habitat degradation and invasive species.

Food

Florida Faces Worst Orange Harvest Crisis Since Records Began in 1913

Production of the official fruit of Florida continues to plummet as the first forecast from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for the 2016-2017 growing season indicates a 14 percent drop in the state's orange crop.

On Wednesday, the USDA predicted farmers will have enough oranges to fill 70 million boxes for the season. Last season, Florida produced 81.5 million boxes, a 52-year low. This latest forecast shows that the region is in the midst of the worst orange harvest crisis since records began in 1913, according to The Guardian.

After the announcement, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam said that the forecast is disheartening and further proof of the difficult times facing Florida's citrus industry which has been dealing with citrus greening, an incurable bacterial disease that can kill a tree within two years.

Citrus greening disease on mandarin oranges.T.R. Gottwald and S.M. Garnsey / USDA

"Production of our state's signature crop is down 70 percent from 20 years ago, and the future of Florida citrus depends on a breakthrough in the fight against greening," Putnam said. "We must continue to support our growers and provide them with every tool available to combat greening."

The state has set aside $8 million in the budget to help fight against greening, in addition to $14.7 million for a citrus health response program within the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, reports The Tampa Bay Times. Farmers themselves have put $100 million into fighting the disease that is spread through hurricanes and storms that hit the state.

"Farmers are giving up on oranges altogether," Judith Ganes, president of the commodities research firm J Ganes Consulting, told The Guardian. "Normally after a freeze or a hurricane [which both kill lots of trees], the growers would replant 100% of their plants. But the disease has been spread all over by hurricanes, and made it totally uncontrollable. Farmers are giving up and turning to other crops or turning land over to housing."

This, in turn, is causing the steep rise in wholesale prices and companies are getting more creative in how they sell their juice in stores either by making the cartons smaller or blending the juice with other fruits or water.

So far, The Guardian reports that these methods have kept prices from increasing in grocery stores for now, in addition to the fact that demand for orange juice is down.

"U.S. consumers have it in their mind that orange juice is high in sugar, which it is, but it's natural sugars that don't contribute to obesity," John Michalik, a beverages expert at the Canadian division of the market research group Global Data, said. "People are not having the full breakfast at home like they used to. Now almost all breakfasts are a coffee and sandwich or snack on the go."

While some farmers may be abandoning the orange industry, Michael Sparks, vice president and CEO of grower group Florida Citrus Mutual, which represents many of the 62,000 people employed in the state's citrus industry, said Wednesday that their farmers are not giving up yet.

"The 2016-17 citrus season is here and we are cautiously optimistic heading into it," he said. "The all Florida orange forecast number of 70 million boxes is about what we expected, and although it's low, Florida growers will again use their trademark resilience to bring consumers the best citrus in the world."

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