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99 red balloons can power 4,500 homes

Land Art Generator Project

This wins for most charming solar concept based on a one-hit wonder from the '80s, and maybe most charming solar concept ever: a power generating system inspired by the song "99 Red Balloons." (But not by the [superior] German version, “99 Luftballons,” because that doesn't specify color.) Ninety-nine red balloons float over New York City's Freshkills Park, once a landfill, and create energy by using "transparent organic solar cells," according to Design Taxi. The system theoretically could power 4,500 houses.

The Canadian team that came up with this idea submitted it to the Land Art Generator Initiative Competition for Freshkills Park, a contest seeking conceptual ideas that show "renewable energy can be beautiful." This idea came in fourth, which is a little bit upsetting, since none of the other ideas involved catchy pop tunes.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Farm runoff leads to a rise in eight-legged frogs

David Herasimtschuk / Freshwaterillustrated.com via HCN
An eight-legged frog.

Finding an eight-legged frog, most of us would assume there's got to be a nuclear plant somewhere nearby. But in at least 17 states, radiation or other toxic waste isn't responsible for frogs with extra legs and skin flaps. Instead, the mutations are the work of a parasite -- the flatworm Ribeiroia ondatrae, which gets all up in frogs' business and makes them totally weird.

High Country News explains:

[The flatworm] breeds inside the common freshwater ramshorn snail, burrows into tadpoles' limbs, and creates cysts that interfere with development, explains Johnson. The adult frogs have trouble feeding themselves and become easy prey.

Humans aren't entirely free of blame for this state of affairs.

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Brazil plans to save endangered animals by cloning them

Lea Maimone
Go ahead and clone me. I want more of me. I rule.

Pronto! Apontar! Clonar! That's ready, set, clone, in Portuguese. You're going to need to know how to say it when Brazil implements its newest plan for increasing endangered animal populations.

Brazil is home to a lot of amazing animals, and it is therefore home to a lot of amazing animals that are in danger of extinction. Among those at risk: the jaguar, maned wolf, black lion, bush dog, coati, collared anteater, gray brocket deer, and bison. Brasilia Zoological Garden and the Brazilian government's agricultural research agency, EMBRAPA, have gotten together and decided to clone these and other animals. The goal is not to bring the population up to peak levels, as this would be rather extreme, but rather to repopulate zoos and other places where these animals are in captivity. That said, officials are not ruling out the eventual possibility of returning cloned animals to the wild.

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Alors! A wobbly bridge over the Seine! Tres magnifique!

bureau faceB
Oh, c'est tres wobbly!

Sometimes I feel sad that the world is ending, and other times I think this is a fun time for people to build crazy shit because we are all in a crazy mindset of "oh well, the oceans are rising, let's build a bridge that's totally wobbly." I of course can't crawl inside the mind of les folks at French architecture studio bureau faceB, who are developing a weird and wobbly new bridge over the Seine, but that is what I imagine they might be saying to themselves. Though in French, naturally.

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This talking seal is actually kind of spooky

Hoover the talking seal, who lived at the New England Aquarium in the 1980s, blows the talking beluga out of the water (sorry). He sounds way more like a person. In fact, he sounds enough like a person that it's kind of scary.

Here's Hoover:

Hmm, sounds kind of like Charlie Brown's teacher doing an impression of Teddy Roosevelt. Can we find one where he sounds exactly like Scorpion from Mortal Kombat?

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Sandy’s winds caused new World Trade Center building to make an eerie humming sound

The 104-story tower being constructed at One World Trade Center will be the cornerstone of the new, rebuilt World Trade Center complex. But it isn't done yet, and something about the construction on top -- the cranes, or the scaffolding, or the sort of cloth stuff that they put around the scaffolding, I don't know construction words -- caused it to make a spooky noise in rising pre-hurricane winds.

Read more: Cities

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Solar-powered generators save Sandy victims from waiting in line for gas

For days after Sandy passed, people with canisters in hand have been lining up outside of gas stations to get their share of the limited fuel supply. With the power grid down, backup gas generators have been keeping the power on for some families. It's not a great system -- it's dirty, it's inefficient, it involves waiting on gas lines for hours -- but for most people, it's the best option. But there are a couple of examples around the city where people have rigged up a better alternative: solar generators.

The solar industry's Solar One, SolarCity, and Consolidated Solar are leading the Solar Sandy Project -- an effort to get at least a few solar generators out on the streets of New York. They already had two 10-kilowatt generators up before the weekend, one in Staten Island and one in Rockaway Beach, and last we heard they were aiming to get three more up by the end of Sunday. Ten kilowatts isn't a huge amount of power, but it's more than enough to give people a place to charge their phones, power their tools, use their laptops, and heat up food, the companies say.

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Because every disaster needs its ridiculous problem, let’s talk about these people who gained five pounds after Sandy

When seeking frivolity in the face of tragedy, one need go no further than The New York Times’ Thursday Styles section, where, last week, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, several women stepped out from the rubble to lament that the storm had caused them to gain weight.

As reported by the Times, here are the experiences of three New York women upon whom the disaster visited the horrible misfortune called "The Sandy Five":

“I can’t even talk about it -- my jeans do not button,” said Emily Marnell, 31, a publicist who cited both boredom and anxiety as a reason she fell victim to odd, middle-school-kid cravings for junk food after her Gramercy Park apartment went dark. “I went through Duane Reade and was grabbing Double Stuf Oreos, whole milk, Twix, Twizzlers, Sour Patch Kids,” she recalled in horror.

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Elephants have a special word for ‘oh no, BEEEEEEEES!’

Despite what Disney might have told you, elephants aren't particularly afraid of mice. They are not, however, fond of ants. And bees give them the creeps -- so much so that when they hear the sound of bees buzzing they squeak the elephant version of "Eeek! A BEE!" and send everyone around them running.

Back in 2009, a team of Oxford scientists figured out that elephants would turn tail and run if they heard the sound of angry bees or saw a beehive. But it turns out that elephants also make "a unique 'rumbling' call" and shake their heads when they hear bees. That call is enough to warn other elephants to run far, far away from the evil bees.

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Climate change is stealing pandas’ food

As a species, pandas are not doing so hot. The 275 of them that live in China's Qinling Mountains make up almost one-fifth of the world's entire panda population. It's been clear, in a general way, that climate change is probably not going to be great for the habitats that pandas enjoy, but one group of biologists decided to figure out exactly how screwed the Qinling Mountain pandas, in particular, are.

The answer, of course, is really, really screwed. The biologists looked at the likely fate of the mountains' bamboo forests as the climate warms up. Bamboo might seem hardy, but it does not deal well with temperature changes.

Read more: Climate & Energy