Japan Quake Shifts the Earth’s Crust and Axis

March 14, 2011 – Elizabeth Smith

Earthquakes, volcano eruptions and tectonic shifts commonly alter the earth’s crust in small ways. However in the case of an earthquake that registers 8.9 on the Richter Scale, as the one that has occurred in Japan did, we can expect massive shifts in the global positions of landforms and perhaps even a shift in the earths axis.

Scientists from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and National Atmospheric Space Administration (NASA) have all concluded that the Japan earthquake was so large, it actually moved the surface of Japan up to 13 feet in some areas and lowered the elevation of the country by 2 feet in others. This in turn caused a domino effect; with a massive shift in landforms came a shift in the earths axis, a startling 4 inches, that shortened the day a few millionths of a second according to NASA.

The axis shift is due to a large redistribution of mass which is now leaving a gaping 217 mile long and 50 mile wide hole in the sea floor close the the epicenter of the earthquake. This moved the island of Japan 8 feet closer to the western coast of the United States and up to 13 feet closer in other areas closer to the epicenter according to an exact location and movement of a Global Positioning Center location belonging to the USGS.

The Japan earthquake has turned out to be one of the five largest earthquakes in the 20 and 21st century, a list that even the 2010 Haiti earthquake isn’t on.

The measured 8.9 Japan quake occurred on March 11 at 2:46 p.m. local time just off the east coast of Honshu Japan. This then created a 13-foot tsunami that landed on the northern coast of Japan. In the United States the tsunami created 7-foot waves that crashed into the Hawaiian islands which caused no major damage. In the continental United States a tsunami warning was issued from California to Alaska, with places like Crescent City, CA seeing moderate damage.

Earthquake Aftermath Looms Over Japan

March 12, 2011 – Paulina Perlin

Reeling from a record magnitude 8.9 earthquake and tsunami that struck early Friday, Japan remains wedged in a state of calamity, as billowing clouds from a nuclear explosion at a plant northeast of Tokyo magnified the catastrophic scene.

The blast at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, 170 miles from Tokyo, is pegged as the result of attempts to avoid a nuclear meltdown after the tsunami fractured power lines feeding the plant’s cooling system. When officials poured seawater over the fuel rods in a measure to reduce thermal pressure in the reactor, hydrogen atoms formed and reacted with oxygen from the atmosphere, igniting an explosion that decimated the building containing the reactor. The reactor itself emerged unscathed. Luckily, there were no casualties reported, though four employees are being treated for minor fractures and bruises.

Yet, Japan’s post-earthquake woes are far from over.

Though radiation levels have decreased since the blast, pre-explosion levels were pegged at dangerous heights, releasing each hour an amount of radiation that equaled the amount naturally absorbed by a person in one year. Authorities advised residents within twelve miles of the plant to evacuate, however, impeded by wreckage, a large number still remain in the area.

Stoppages in transportation and communication have encumbered clean-up and evacuation efforts. Photos capture streets riddled with small airplanes, smashed cars, and debris – grim signs indicating the massive devastation obstructing roadways.

“Everyone wants to get out of the town. But the roads are terrible,” said Japan resident Reiko Takagi. “It is too dangerous to go anywhere.”

Highways from Tokyo to quake-ravaged areas remain closed, according to the Japanese transport ministry, with only emergency vehicles allowed to get by. Coupled with flighty cellular communications and landlines, the congestion in movement is leaving many earthquake victims unrelieved and unaccounted for.

“All major phone lines in Japan were not working and even now it is hard to call Tokyo,” notes Daniel Bromberg, a Massachusetts teen staying in Osaka, Japan. “The airports in the eastern and northern parts of Japan are closed, so the rest of the airports are very stressed.”

Amidst apocalyptic images of make-shift shelters and “SOS” signs painted across roofs, authorities warn that aid is slow to reach survivors – if they can be reached at all. Search teams continue to scout the coasts for victims, as injured and hungry survivors flock to emergency centers. Reports are swirling surrounding missing counts, some placing figures beyond 9,500. Though the official death toll knells at 686, many approximations pin it above 1,000.

“Our estimates based on reported cases alone suggest that more than 1,000 people have lost their lives in the disaster,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano. “Unfortunately, the actual damage could far exceed that number considering the difficulty assessing the full extent of damage.”

Global aid has begun seeping into Japan, as the nation made a formal request for assistance. Popular music singer Lady Gaga advertised a choose-your-own-price Japanese Prayer bracelet on Twitter, with “ALL proceeds [going] to Tsunami Relief Efforts”. The United Nations has deployed nine experts, including two environmental pundits, to help meltdown prevention efforts. An ally of Japan, the United States has sent seven Navy ships and several search-and-rescue teams to the area. President Obama has vowed to offer Japan “whatever assistance is needed”, addressing the disaster at a Washington D.C. press conference.

“The friendship and alliance between our two nations is unshakeable,” said the president in a written statement, “and only strengthens our resolve to stand with the people of Japan as they overcome this tragedy.”

Yet even with international government officials exuding faint optimism in helping Japan cope with the earthquake aftermath, for survivors of the disaster, the situation remains bleak.

“All we have to eat are biscuits and rice balls,” said Noboru Uehara, a delivery truck driver. “I’m worried that we will run out of food.”

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Floating Solar Power Systems

floating solar panelsMarch 12, 2011 – Brett Leverett

Current solar farms are considered an environmentally friendly, renewable form of energy, but they commonly face two major problems.  These energy systems require vast amounts of space and their cost is high due to cell fabrication methods and maintenance.

In the never ending search for more power, Israel and France have teamed up to offer a new way to capture solar energy; floating solar power plants.

Dubbed AQUASUN, this prototype is scheduled to be completed by September 2011.  The tests will take place at Cadarache, in southern France, on a site that is relevant to the French electric grid.  The water surface to be used for the installation of the system is taken from a hydro-electric facility in that area. 

Over a period of nine months, the system’s performances and productivity will be assessed through seasonal changes and variations in water levels.  The researching team believes that after this test period, they will have enough information for their technology to hit the market.

 Even leading photovoltaic companies struggle to find the vast areas needed for their solar energy systems.  While there are millions of acres of unused land that is suitable for these systems, the problem is finding land that is relevant in location to where the power will be used.  This prototype aims to use an untapped surface; water.  By creating a floating solar power system, photovoltaic energy can be harnessed from almost anywhere that has sufficient solar energy.

The intended water basins which could host this new style of system are not on the open ocean or in ecologically-sensitive areas.  Instead, reservoirs already in use for industrial or agriculture purposes can be utilized without causing a disruption to the natural ecosystem.  “It’s a win-win situation,” declares Dr. Kassel, a leading researching on the project, “since there are many water reservoirs with energy, industrial or agricultural uses that are open for energy production use.”

In order to fund this project, the research team had to prove that their floating solar system would also be cost efficient compared to current systems.  The first way they accomplished this was by reducing the number of solar cells needed by the addition of a sun energy concentration system.  Mirrors will be set up around the cells to help redirect some of the sun’s energy that would otherwise be lost, while maintaining a steady amount of power produced.

The second means for reducing cost is found in the cooling system.  Normally, lower efficiency cells are used for solar systems because they do not require a separate cooling source.  By incorporating the water on which the solar panels float as a cooling method, this prototype can use silicon solar cells which are cheaper and more efficient.  Thus saving money in production cost and gaining money through energy output.

These floating solar systems will not be limited to the amount of power they can produce.  It is possible to assemble as many of the 200 kilowatt modules as needed; as they are all identical.  The only limiting factor is the amount of surface area available for use in the water basin.

Even with the intention of these floating solar systems to be used on water basins that are not ecologically sensitive, the team worked on reducing the environmental impact of their technology.  By making the system permeable, a sufficient amount of oxygen can still reach the water and maintain the life of plants and animals living there.  Dr. Kassel adds: “One of the implementation phase’s goals is to closely monitor the possible effects of this new technology on the environment with the help of specialists… a preliminary check shows no detrimental environmental impact on water quality, flora or fauna. Our choices of materials were always made with this concern in mind.”

Photo credit: business.vic.gov

Higher Gas Prices Not Fault Of Administration Says President Obama

March 11, 2011 – Mason Williams

High oil prices are not President Obama’s fault, he asserted today at a press conference that addressed domestic oil production. Mr. Obama was responding to criticisms from Republicans that his administration had thwarted attempts to expand domestic oil production.

“Any notion that my administration has shut down oil production might make for a good political slogan, but it doesn’t match up with reality,” Mr. Obama noted.

This comes on the heels of an accusation by House Speaker Boehner on Thursday that “The Obama administration has consistently blocked American energy production that would lower costs and create jobs in our country.”

To the dismay of some environmentalists, Mr. Obama reiterated his administration’s commitment to encouraging more land and offshore drilling. However, tempering this goal, Mr. Obama also underlined that increased investments in clean energy and conservation was key to decreasing America’s dependence on foreign oil.

“Every few years, gas prices go up, politicians pull out the same political playbook and nothing changes,” Mr. Obama emphasized. “I think the American people are tired of talk. We’ve got to work together, Democrats, Republicans and everybody in between.”

Mr. Obama added, we “can’t escape the fact that we only control 2% of the world’s oil, but we consume over a quarter of the world’s oil.”

However, when asked about tapping into the U.S.’s strategic petroleum reserve in response to spiking gas prices and Middle East unrest, Mr. Obama noted, “Should the situation demand it, we are prepared to tap the significant stockpile that we have in the strategic petroleum reserve.” The president did not go into specific detail as to what would justify this move, other than noting the disruption would need to be similar to the 1970’s oil embargo or Hurricane Katrina.

Apparel Industry Boasts Its ‘Green Score’

March 8, 2011 – Paulina Perlin

The Sustainable Apparel Coalition is a group of thirty-three member-founders comprised of prominent organizations, notably retail corporations like H&M, Wal-Mart, J.C. Penney, Nordstrom, Adidas, and Timberland, and more pedantic organizations, such as Duke University and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This collection of retailers and green pundits plan to tack a new factor to consumer decision-making: a retailer’s “green score.”

The coalition’s aim is simple: to create “an apparel industry that produces no unnecessary environmental harm and has a positive impact on the people and communities associated with its activities” through a systemic database of “green scores”. These scores measure a garment’s sustainability from every rung of its production– from the field to the fitting room. The tallies quantify such factors as carbon emission, energy efficiency, waste production and disposal, natural resource consumption, chemical use, and labor practices. According to group members, publishing green rankings unifies an often chaotic global manufacturing chain, generating more environmentally-informed decisions by retailers and consumers.

“The apparel supply chain is long and quite complicated, and many of our current apparel companies — brand companies — don’t really own all the production facilities and factories,” said Huantian Cao, an associate professor of fashion and apparel studies at the University of Delaware. “So even for a company that has a label or brand on the product, it might not be easy to study the whole life cycle of that product, because so much of that supply chain is out of their control.”

The coalition hopes the sustainability database can serve as a means of assessing suppliers and internal company practices.  By unveiling manufacturers’ positive and negative environmental impacts through the score system, the group aims to raise industry standards and, according to its website, intends for “pre-competitive collaboration” to allow “individual companies to focus more resources on product and process innovation.” Partnering with the Sustainability Consortium, the coalition hopes to broaden its reports, extending rankings to include all nations and retail stages.

However, such a tool doesn’t come cheap. Supported by funding from member corporations, the coalition will utilize “seed funding” to seek contributions from larger companies. Rick Ridgeway, the coalition’s chairman, places database development costs at approximately $2 million by the end of 2011 — a price that many say is well worth the ecological benefits.

According to environmental groups, such as Greenpeace, the measure is long overdue. Previous attempts at green databases, such as the Outdoor Industry Association’s (OIA) “Eco Index”, have been far from all-encompassing, giving only narrow snapshots of more obscure industry sectors. Yet, these efforts construct the foundation for coalition’s current database.

“OIA is proud of the outdoor industry’s foundational contribution of the Eco Index to the work of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition,” said OIA president Frank Hugelmeyer. “This effort reinforces our belief that global, industry-wide collaboration can lead to advances in sustainability that no one company, region or sector can achieve on its own.”

For now, the coalition’s system remains in its finalizing phases. An official governing body for the group is set to be assembled in 2012. Members continue to deliberate the formal implementation of the program, as well as how to best create “green score” labels for department store garments. “The coalition members see the need and value of a consumer-facing rating for products,” the group proclaims. “However, they appreciate the complexity involved in arriving at a single numeric score.”

Yet, no matter the manifestation of the label, members remain confident in the group’s overall goal.

“People are at such different points on the sustainability journey,” stated Alex Tomey, vice president for product development and design at Wal-mart, “and working together can accelerate our ability to make change.”

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Costa Rica Creates Giant Marine Reserve

Cocos Island-sharks-protected area-seamounts-fishingMarch 7, 2011- Nick Engelfried

Last week the Costa Rican government announced formation of one of the biggest marine protected areas in the eastern Pacific Ocean—a move that will help protect habitat for sharks, tuna, sea turtles, and other tropical marine species.  The new Seamounts Marine Management Area surrounds Cocos Island, a tiny tropical island more than three hundred miles off the western shore of Costa Rica.  The area is home to thirty forms of marine life found only in the waters off Costa Rica, and supports one of the largest concentrations of big sharks found anywhere in the world.

“This new protected area gives us a better chance to ensure that these species will thrive for future generations to marvel at for many decades to come,” said Dr. Bryan Wallace of Conservation International, one of the groups that pushed to create the new reserve.

The Seamounts Marine Management Area covers close to a million hectares (a hectare is about two and a half acres), and dramatically expands the boundaries of an existing protected area in the waters of Cocos Island National Park.  The protected area gets its name from a cluster of seamounts, or underwater mountains, located within its boundaries.  Seamounts are among the least-explored but most vulnerable ecosystems in the oceans, making protection of the ones near Cocos Island particularly important.  The tops of many seamounts are home to a vast diversity of slow-growing invertebrates such as corals and sea lilies. 

Some seamount species are unique to a particular cluster of seamounts, having evolved in isolation over millions of years.  Unfortunately many of these ecosystems have been severely damaged by ocean trawling, a fishing practice that involves scraping the ocean floor to catch bottom-dwelling fish.  Fishing trawls break, bury, and otherwise damage corals and other life forms that live on seamounts, devastating marine habitats that will take centuries to recover.  Luckily seamounts near Cocos Island have never been trawled so far, and the new protected area should help keep them safe for the future.

“Creating a protected seamount area sets an important precedent,” said Marco Quesada from Conservation International.  “Seamounts host endemic species, and the deep water that upwells along their sides brings nutrients that support rich feeding grounds for sea life on the surface. Seamounts serve as stepping stones for long-distance migratory species, including sharks, turtles, whales and tuna.”

In addition to preserving important seamounts, the new protected area excludes certain types of fishing within its boundaries.  At the same time long-line fishing will still be allowed in parts of the protected area—a decision that has already drawn criticism from environmentalists.  Conservation groups say all types of fishing should be banned in the protected area, providing a fully protected sanctuary where large fish populations can recover.

Even with the continued practice of long-line fishing, establishment of the Seamounts Marine Management Area is a big leap forward for threatened sea life.  The protected area is home to large but vulnerable fish species like the white-tipped reef shark, scalloped hammerhead shark, whale shark, and tuna.  It also provides habitat for the critically endangered leatherback turtle.  Sharks and other large fish are concentrated in the area near Cocos Island partly because the cluster of now-protected seamounts provides habitat for the smaller fish they feed on. 

The Marine Seamounts Management Area is bigger than Yellowstone National Park in the United States, and is the second largest protected area in the eastern tropical region of the Pacific Ocean.  If protections for the area can be successfully implemented by the Costa Rican government, it could serve as a model for other countries looking to protect their own marine resources.

Photo credit: Barry Peters

Eastern Cougar Extinct in North America

March 5, 2011 – Jen Noelken

Conclusive research determined the elusive eastern cougar is officially extinct.  After researching decades of evidence suggesting the animal may still exist, the US Fish and Wildlife Service concluded the animal is in fact no longer living.  Researchers believe overpopulation, loss of habitat, global warming and species exploitation is to blame for the loss of the eastern cougars.

Also known as puma, panther, mountain lion or ghost cat, the eastern cougar once roamed from southern Canada to the tip of South America.  Pumas were considered America’s largest cat and known as the “most widely distributed land mammal in the Western Hemisphere.”  The big cats have been listed on the endangered species list since 1973, but the animals’ existence has long been questioned.  Lead scientist for eastern cougars under the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Dr. Mark McCollough thinks the subspecies of eastern cougars may have gone extinct as early as the 1930s when larger numbers of cats were killed.  One story suggests the last surviving puma was shot in Maine in 1938 when states issued bounties on large cats. 

After a formal review of the mountain lion’s status, the US Fish and Wildlife Service recommended the subspecies be removed from the endangered species list.  According to the endangered species list any known extinct animal will no longer be eligible for protection.  A full proposal for the animal’s removal from the list will be prepared and available for public comment.  The review of the eastern cougar’s condition was initiated as part of the Service’s obligations under the Endangered Species Act.  Dr. McCollough stated the review was the first since 1982 when an eastern cougar recovery plan was initiated. 

The proposal to remove eastern cougars from the endangered species list will not effect protection of the endangered Florida panthers.  At one time Florida panthers ranged throughout the Southeast, now the cats are found in less than 5% of its original habitat.  Currently, only one breeding population exists of 120-160 panthers in southwestern Florida.   

Claims suggesting glimpses of the ghost cat, named so because of rare sightings of the mammal, is believed to be that of the western cougar.  The western cougar still exists in relatively large populations across America; enough remain continue breeding.  Western cougars have never been listed on the endangered species list.  Though western cougars are genetically and physically different than eastern cougars, researchers believe sighting of eastern cougars are a matter of misidentification.  (Some biologists now believe the western and eastern cougars are genetically brethren.)  Officials representing the 21 states where eastern cougars once roamed, concur with evidence stating the cat is indeed extinct.

Some are not so quick to believe pumas are extinct.  The Huffington Post reported avid hunter and freelance writer Ray Sedorchuk claimed he saw an eastern cougar last June in northern Pennsylvania.  Sedorchuk said a puma crossed in front of his truck and stopped.  He went on to say he saw the full reddish-brown body and is certain the animal was not a bobcat.  Other such stories throughout areas of the northeast exist. 

Experts say the loss of top-level predators will have ecological consequences.  Many point to the increase of deer population which led to a decrease in Eastern forest health.  Christopher Spatz, founder of Cougar Rewilding Foundation (formally the Eastern Cougar Foundation) explained white-tail deer are a main prey for cougars.  Without cougars to help thin deer populations, the Eastern ecosystem is collapsing.  Groups such as Cougar Rewilding Foundation would like eastern cougars to be reintroduced, but the wildlife service claim they have no authority to perform such an action.

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US Groups Push to Stop Lion Killings

lions-endangered-trophy hunting-Endangered Species ActMarch 4, 2011- Nick Engelfried

Few animals have captured the imaginations of as many children and adults as the African lion, one of the largest land-dwelling predators on the planet.  Yet faced with pressures from big game hunting, expansion of agriculture and grazing in their habitat, and outbreaks of disease caused by climate change, there is a real possibility lions could go extinct in the wild.  In response to this threat, organizations like the Humane Society and Defenders of Wildlife are urging the US government to do its part to protect lions.

Lions are exceptional among felines not only because of their large size—rivaled only by the equally charismatic tiger—but because they are the only truly social big cats.  Living in family groups, or “prides,” lions were originally found throughout the savannahs of central Africa.  Estimates vary over exactly how many lions remain in Africa today, but the population has declined by at least fifty percent in the last several decades.  In some parts of their range lions are shot or poisoned by ranchers because they feed on cattle, so the spread of agriculture threatens their continued existence. 

Recently lions have also suffered from what may be early effects of climate change: in 1994 and 2001 severe droughts in Africa weakened the large hoofed mammals lions feed on, and made them susceptible to outbreaks of parasitic ticks.  The ticks then spread to lions which fed on the original host animals, and the parasites turned out to harbor a disease that makes lions more susceptible to distemper.  Distemper outbreaks in both 1994 and 2001 killed many more lions than usual. 

As climate change continues, droughts and the resulting wildlife disease outbreaks are likely to become more and more common.  Meanwhile lions face an additional threat: the continued practice of big game hunting.  Many people think of trophy hunting for rare animals as a relict of the nineteenth century, but in fact hundreds of lions are still killed each year not by ranchers and villagers defending their livestock, but by visiting hunters from foreign countries.  Over half of those lions killed as trophies end up being brought back to the United States.  This means the US government has a real ability to impact the fate of the global lion population. 

Listing African lions on the US Endangered Species Act could help save the big cat from extinction.  US law doesn’t have the ability to directly control the hunting of lions in Africa, but Endangered Species Act protection would make it illegal to import dead lions or lion parts into the United States.  If strictly enforced, such regulations could dramatically curtail lion trophy hunting.  This month a coalition that includes Defenders of Wildlife, the Humane Society, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare has formally asked the US Department of the Interior to list the lion as endangered.

“This listing,” said Defenders of Wildlife in an email to supporters, “would provide a critical first step to help save lions by prohibiting U.S. imports of lions and lion parts, increasing conservation funding and helping foreign governments conserve lions.”  Defenders of Wildlife has also started an online petition urging Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to grant lions Endangered Species Act protection. 

Ultimately the fate of the lion, like that of so many other species, may depend on reducing worldwide carbon emissions and halting or slowing the effects of climate change.  Meanwhile reducing the number of lions killed by trophy hunters would take immediate pressure off their populations.  If the US Department of the Interior decides to list lions as endangered, it could have a positive impact on these amazing big cats throughout their natural range in Africa.

Photo credit: Peter Harrison

Sudan’s Water Crisis Continues: Hope for Change is Near

March 2, 2011 – Jen Noelken

Sudan’s lack of clean drinking water is no secret.  Only 37 percent of the country’s people have access to life’s necessity.  Drinking water is only one facet to the dire need for water.  Lack of water means Sudanese people struggle to grow enough food to feed their family, put their health at risk and research has shown clean drinking water has a direct correlation to education.  Though all of Sudan is in a water crisis, the country’s ever present war against itself and the south’s recent succession from the north has left Southern Sudan’s condition particularly grim.

Southern Sudan’s landscape offers mostly desert with temperatures during the dry season reaching an unbearable 120 degrees.  With 80 percent of Sudanese people working in agriculture, 97 percent of water use goes to farming.  Farmers provide the backbone for Sudan’s livelihood, supplying food for individual families and whole communities.  While farmers provide the country’s agricultural backbone, women and children spend their days traveling to water sources. 

Scarcity of available clean water has the most effect on village women.  Contaminated drinking water is the only available fluid for 12.3 million people.  Estimates in Sudan place available water for domestic use at 2 percent.  Women spend a great deal of time traveling to distant sources to gather water.  Time spent traveling is time lost on other domestic duties.  More so, the journey can be dangerous marked with rough terrain and aggressive predators.

Contaminated drinking water carries a plethora of diseases including diarrhea, Cholera, hepatitis E. and Guinea Worm Disease (also known as Dracunculiasis).  Sudanese highest risk of infection is Guinea Worm Disease (GWD), a debilitating and painful infection caused by a large roundworm.  Sudan has particular high outbreaks of the disease.  A 1999 report from the World Health Organization found two-thirds of GWD were from Sudan.  More current research suggests every three out of five Sudanese is infected. 

Sudan accesses some of the governmentally unregulated Nile River Basin water and uses accessible underground water shared with surrounding countries such as Egypt and Ethiopia.  Lack of sufficient amounts of water creates tension between the countries; termed water stress by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).   The label water stress is placed on any conflict, be it political or economical, created from lack of water.  At the heart of Africa’s suffering population is Sudan.

Conflicts in the country do not help what already is called a water crisis.  Focus of fighting between the north Muslim Arabs and the south Christian and animist Africans forefront the world’s view of Sudan.  Civil war has raged since 1966, with at least 2 million Sudanese killed and another four million losing all sense of home.  With no more than 7 percent of arable land in Sudan, researchers acknowledge the already scarcity of water will only become worse.

According to Discovery Health, a person in hot weather can dehydrate within an hour of not drinking water.  A child can die within that hour.  Adults can lose up to 1.5 liters of fluids through sweat alone, than lose more through urine, feces, and breathing.  Water is essential to cool the body’s core temperature preventing heat stroke.  A healthy adult in mild temperatures, not exerting energy will survive for less than a week.

Comprehensive knowledge of anatomy is not needed to understand clean water is vital for survival.  Two worthy non-profit organizations are working to give Sudan the clean drinking sources needed to sustain their livelihood.

The Water Project works in five countries bringing access to clean drinking water by funding water wells and proper sanitation efforts.  Placed in village schools or churches, The Water Project hopes to replace reliance on open drinking holes and streams with wells.  More than just digging a hole, the non-profit organization surveys the area, trains villagers in sanitation and pump repair and establishes a village water committee to oversee the well’s use and maintenance.  The project will also provide regular check-ups to ensure proper use and assess any maintenance needs.

Similarly, the non-profit group, Water for Sudan, is working to build water pumps in remote areas of Sudan.  President of the project, one of the famed lost boys of Sudan, Salva Dut, aims to make sure water distribution is fair.  Before pumps are built village elders discuss how water will be distributed and voice opinions on any issue of importance.  The pumps are maintained completely by the village.  Started in 2005, Water for Sudan has raised close to $2 million and built 85 wells in Southern Sudan.  Hopes are high for another 20 pumps to be completed in the next six months.    

Water is a basic need so often taken for granted.  Developed countries turn a faucet or open a fridge with barely a thought of water not being available.  Next time you take a drink of water, consider Sudan and other areas like Sudan.  A clean sip of water takes on new meaning.  

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“World’s Rarest Mammal” Filmed in Java’s Rainforest

March 2, 2011- Nick Engelfried

This week the World Wide Fund for Nature (once called the World Wildlife Fund and abbreviated WWF) released footage of what may be the world’s rarest mammal, captured on film late last year.  Camera traps set up in by WWF in the Javan rainforest managed to film four individual Javan rhinoceroses, providing hope that this critically endangered species is breeding successfully in the wild.  The camera trap operation was part of an ongoing effort by WWF-Java to non-invasively monitor the last confirmed population of Javan rhinoceroses, and educate the world about the plight of this imperiled and ancient-looking animal.

The Javan rhino, one of five living rhinoceros species in the world, was originally widespread throughout the rainforests of Southeast Asia.  Habitat destruction and hunting have greatly reduced the species’ distribution, until there is only one confirmed population on the island of Java, probably consisting of about forty individuals.  An even smaller population may exist in the rainforest of Vietnam, but the continued survival of this group in unverified and conservationists fear the last members may have been killed by poachers.  Like other rhinoceros species, Javan rhinos are a sought-after target for the international poaching trade because their horns are considered to have mythic medicinal properties in China.

The WWF film from 2010 shows two mother rhinos foraging for food in the Javan rainforest, each one accompanied by a calf.  The presence of calves is particularly encouraging because it shows the rhino population is breeding.  The footage was taken in Java’s Ujung Kulon National Park, where the last Javan rhinos live.  Though wildlife is officially protected inside the park, poaching is still a problem and threatens the continued existence of the species.

Conservationists also worry that because the population of forty or so rhinos in Ujung Kulon Park is so small, a single natural disaster could wipe out the entire species.  Java is part of the Indonesian archipelago—a geologically active area where large volcanic eruptions are not uncommon.  An ill-timed eruption near the habitat of the last Javan rhinos could destroy years of conservation work and push the species over the brink of extinction.

These worries aside, all is not necessarily lost for the Javan rhino—and with careful protection and monitoring of the last population it may be possible to restore the species.  With perhaps less than forty individuals in the wild and none in captivity, the Javan rhino is critically endangered and in need of all the help it can get.  However other species have recovered from similarly tiny populations in the past, with the help of conservationists.  In the US for example the black-footed ferret was once reduced to a population of eighteen individuals.  Though still highly endangered, black-footed ferrets have recovered to where there are now hundreds living in the wild.

Replicating this success story with the Javan rhinoceros will mean not only protecting the last confirmed population, but also conserving the tropical rainforests that make up its habitat.  Conservationists hope that if the population in Ujung Kulon Park is allowed to grow, some of these rhinos can one day be re-introduced to other parts of their former range.  This means large swaths of rainforest in Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries must be left intact.  Currently the biggest threat to these forests is the expansion of palm oil and timber plantations, fueled by demand for snack food ingredients and cheap paper pulp in countries like the US and China.  Environmental groups including Greenpeace and the Rainforest Action Network have launched campaigns that pressure international companies to stop buying products that destroy Indonesia’s rainforest.

Javan rhinos may be confined to single population on an island in Indonesia, but their conservation is a global affair.  While international groups such as WWF work to conserve the last population in Java, consumers around the world can help the species by avoiding products with palm oil or paper pulp sourced from endangered rainforests.  With help from the global community the Javan rhinoceros may once again roam in forests throughout Southeast Asia.

Photo credit: viajar24h.com