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Antarctic researchers rescued following icy ordeal

Akademik Shokalskiy
M R
The MV Akademik Shokalskiy in happier times.

A team of Antarctic researchers was rescued after spending nine days "stuck," as one of the scientists put it, "in our own experiment."

Members of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition were among 52 passengers aboard the MV Akademik Shokalskiy when it became trapped in sea ice on Dec. 24. Rescue efforts were thwarted for more than a week by bad weather, but on Thursday the scientists and tourists were finally airlifted by a Chinese helicopter to the safety of an Australian icebreaker:

https://twitter.com/GdnAntarctica/statuses/418702239960539136

The scientists had planned to study how the melting of B09B, one of the world's biggest icebergs, is triggering a buildup in surrounding sea ice and altering deep ocean currents.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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This weird jumping fish lives on land

leaping blenny
Martin Eckert

The Pacific leaping blenny (Alticus arnoldorum) is a land-dwelling fish that sounds like an Irish drinking exclamation ("leapin' blenny!") or maybe the name of a pub. Native to Guam, the fish is also the subject of a new study in Animal Behavior that looks at how important camouflage is.

The li’l buddies are only one to three inches long, but they can leap much farther than that (hence the name), flinging themselves on rocks near water and wiggling around to stay wet. Writes Sci-News:

“This terrestrial fish spends all of its adult life living on the rocks in the splash zone, hopping around defending its territory, feeding and courting mates ...” said study senior author Dr. Terry Ord.

Sounds like twentysomethings. Zing!

Read more: Living

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The year in GIFs: 2013′s green news in animated form

It's been a year. Here are a few of 2013's top green stories, animated. Happy 2014!

Obama unveiled an actual climate plan in June!

at-last-matrix
Reaction Gifs
ellen-thank-you
Tumblr

...But he likes fracking. REALLY likes it.

Read more: Living

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Tiny brewery sticks it to Starbucks

At Exit 6 Brewery, a little brewpub north of St. Louis, you can order a creamy vanilla stout that tastes like a Frappuccino. Just don’t call it that, because you might wind up paying Starbucks a hefty $6.

starbucks-check-exit-6-brewery

That’s what happened to Exit 6 owner Jeff Britton when Starbucks heard the brewery was serving Frappicino [sic] beers. After getting Starbucks’ cease and desist, Britton not only changed the drink’s name to The F Word but mailed Starbucks’ lawyers a $6 check and a sneakily hilarious letter:

We never thought that our beer drinking customers would have thought that the alcoholic beverage coming out of the tap would have actually been coffee from one of the many, many, many stores located a few blocks away...So that was our mistake...We also promise to stop production of our “Starbuck-McDonalds-Coca Cola-Marlboro Honey Lager” for fear of further repercussions...

Read more: Food, Living

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Ask Umbra: Does leaving the lights on really keep the burglars away?

spooky guy
AndYaDontStop

Send your question to Umbra!

Q. I always cringe when I see people leave their lights on when they’re not home to deter would-be burglars. Does burning the bulbs for hours really prevent robberies?

Ron K.
Wheaton, Ill.

A. Dearest Ron,

Environmental consciousness can be quite the balancing act. On the one hand, you certainly don’t want to be wantonly sucking up electricity. On the other, you don’t want to come home to a trashed house, either, to say nothing of the profound creepiness of having some criminal paw through your stuff. Let’s shed some light on the subject.

According to FBI crime statistics, of the 1.38 million home burglaries in 2012, the majority were committed during the day – when, presumably, having a light on wouldn’t have mattered as much. That’s because most thieves look for an unoccupied home above all else, and that’s (naturally) most common when residents are at work.

But if “Act casual and look occupied” is your house’s best strategy against burglars, then a pitch-dark abode in the waning daylight is a bit like a neon sign blazing “Up for grabs!” And pretty much every police department I surveyed while researching this question advises dwellers to keep lights (and/or TV and radio) on for at least part of the period they’re out and about.

Read more: Cities, Living

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Is gluten lobotomizing you?

farmer holding wheat
Shutterstock

In the past week both my mom (in California) and in-laws (in Florida) have mentioned the idea that gluten is eating our brains. That's a sure sign of a cultural phenomenon that deserves attention.

I've always thought of gluten as a symbol for the dietary hazards associated with highly refined flour. Those pulverized starches are like jet fuel: They burn hot and fast, and go into the bloodstream like they've been injected. There's a lot of evidence suggesting that people do better eating more complex carbohydrates. But now the symbol -- that is, gluten -- has begun to obscure the problem it symbolizes, and that seems like a bad thing. The appellation "gluten-free" is giving that jet fuel an aura of wholesomeness. Now food manufacturers are striping the gluten out of cookies and cakes in the hopes that you'll think they are a health food. Timothy Egan included "gluten- free" in his list of words to stop using in 2014. As he put it:

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Cut off this worm’s head, and it will grow back with the same memories

Slide 1
Michael Levin and Tal Shomrat, Tufts University

The planarian is just a little, flat worm that lives in dark places, like the bottom of ponds. It has one secret skill, though, and it's a good one: The planarian is incredibly good at regenerating. It can grow back its tail. It can grow back its head. It can grow back its body from either of those shorn-off bits. If you snip off both its head and tail, one worm can become three worms. And all three may share the same memories.

A group of scientists taught these dark-loving flatworms to approach the light rather than flee from it -- they baited a patch of light with liver, and over time the worms learned that this particular bit of light was safe and full of tasty food. Then the scientists chopped off their heads. The bodies grew new heads -- and the new heads still knew that the light was good.

Read more: Living

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Look how depressing The Lion King’s opening would be without the animals

Half the fun of the iconic opening of The Lion King, in which baby Simba is presented to the whole of the savannah's animal kingdom, is checking out the wealth of biodiversity that's come to greet the cub. (The other half, of course, is making up the words.) This video from Greenpeace Netherlands ruins everyone’s fun by taking away the animals:

Read more: Living

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Mass-transit commuters getting screwed by the taxman in 2014

subway scene
Shutterstock

Try this thought experiment: You have two forms of transportation, one of which moves each individual in a separate metal box costing around $20,000 and resulting annually in 40,000 accidental deaths. It also spews massive amounts of CO2 and other pollutants. The other mode of transportation collects anywhere from 30 to 300 people at a time, saving energy and money, reducing traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions, and resulting in far fewer fatalities. It also uses land more efficiently, thanks to the absence of big, ugly storage facilities for the expensive metal boxes, and promotes health because people have to walk to and from designated stops rather than being transported door to door.

Which of these approaches to moving people from home to the office every day would you expect your government to favor? If you answered the latter, you’re a rational person, but you’re not the federal government. Instead, as of Jan. 1, 2014, commuters will be able to use twice as much pre-tax income for parking expenses as for mass transit. So we will be encouraging people to drive instead of taking the bus or subway.

The Wall Street Journal reports: