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National Geographic


The most fascinating shark discoveries of the past decade

National Geographic

Whale sharks can carry up to 300 babies at once--at different fetal stages and from different fathers. Zebra sharks experience "virgin birth." These are but a mere sampling of the decade's most fascinating shark discoveries. Some 500 known species of these toothy fish ply our planet's waters, ranging from bite size to bus size, and scientists are still becoming acquainted with most of them. Since 2000, when scientists discovered shark populations were collapsing around the world, research on sharks has ramped up across many fields of study, from paleontology to neuroscience to biomechanics.


'Nothing to do, nowhere to go': What happens when elephants live alone

National Geographic

On a raw December day, as Christmas music blares over loudspeakers, an African elephant named Asha walks in tight circles in an enclosure at Natural Bridge Zoo, a roadside attraction in Virginia. Her living quarters consist of a barn and three outdoor yards--a fenced patch of grass about 90 by 40 feet, a dirt patch with a few logs scattered about, and a yard where she gives rides to children for $15 and her massive feet have worn a ring into the grass. Her space is barren--no shrubs, trees, or watering holes. Elephants, like humans, are social animals. In the wild, females typically live in herds of eight or more, yet Asha, who's nearly 40 years old, has been confined mostly alone for more than 30 years.


Tearing out these dams will open rivers up for recreation--and save lives

National Geographic

Across the flatlands of the American Midwest, concrete low-head dams served for decades as important tools in flood management, as gauging stations, and for irrigation. They're also highly dangerous--nicknamed "drowning machines" by some water management agencies. The hydrodynamics caused by the fast flow off the dam's ledge result in water moving in a reverse circular motion between the dam wall and the water boil point, typically a couple of yards downstream. Anything--or anyone--caught in the current gets pushed underwater, turned up and pushed back down again. Lifejackets lose their buoyancy and are rendered nearly useless by air bubbles that fill the water.


See the Mississippi River's hidden history, uncovered by lasers

National Geographic

For cartographers and cartophiles, Harold Fisk's 1944 maps of the lower Mississippi River are a seminal work. The centerpiece of his report was 15 maps showing the meandering Mississippi and its historical floodplains stretching from Missouri to southern Louisiana. More than seven decades later, Daniel Coe, a cartographer for the Washington Geological Survey, wanted to re-create Fisk's maps with greater accuracy and a new aesthetic. Coe had the advantage of hyperprecise U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) data collected using lidar, a system of laser pulses sent from aircraft to measure topography. The lasers detect the river's shape along with everything around it--every house, tree, and road.


When that must-have gift just isn't going to happen

National Geographic

For weeks, Jay Deitcher has been on the hunt for a specific Miles Morales: Spider-Man toy from Spidey and His Amazing Friends. "The thing that makes the toy special is Miles's mask flips up to show his face," Deitcher says. "My son is Black, and it would be great to have a Spider-Man figure that looks like him." But even though the father of two from Albany, New York, started shopping for Hanukkah earlier than usual, he has yet to track down the elusive toy, which is sold out at many retailers. "We were already expecting a shortage, so we got him most of his other presents," he says.


For travelers with disabilities, video games are windows to the world

National Geographic

Valerie Johnson is an avid traveler who loves the outdoors. Next on her list is a trip to Walden Pond, in Massachusetts. But the 27-year-old Texan won't need a plane ticket; all she'll need is a video game. Johnson was recently diagnosed with idiopathic intracranial hypertension, a neurological disorder that can cause headaches, impaired vision, and joint pain. These symptoms make travel--particularly to the outdoors--daunting.


The human memory--facts and information

National Geographic

From the moment we are born, our brains are bombarded by an immense amount of information about ourselves and the world around us. So, how do we hold on to everything we've learned and experienced? Humans retain different types of memories for different lengths of time. We also have a working memory, which lets us keep something in our minds for a limited time by repeating it. Whenever you say a phone number to yourself over and over to remember it, you're using your working memory.


Tearing out these dams will open rivers up for recreation--and save lives

National Geographic

Across the flatlands of the American Midwest, concrete low-head dams served for decades as important tools in flood management, as gauging stations, and for irrigation. They're also highly dangerous--nicknamed "drowning machines" by some water management agencies. The hydrodynamics caused by the fast flow off the dam's ledge result in water moving in a reverse circular motion between the dam wall and the water boil point, typically a couple of yards downstream. Anything--or anyone--caught in the current gets pushed underwater, turned up and pushed back down again. Lifejackets lose their buoyancy and are rendered nearly useless by air bubbles that fill the water.


David Gruber: Researching with respect and a gentler touch

National Geographic

David Gruber wants researchers to be gentler with their subjects. The marine biologist from New Jersey is probably best known for a 2014 study wherein he and colleagues identified more than 180 new species of biofluorescent fish -- a groundbreaking find -- but he is as interested in the process, as he is in the discovery. Much of Gruber's work involves developing, in his words, "new ways of doing science that are gentler and more connective than previous methods." He and roboticist Rob Wood teamed up to engineer "squishy robot fingers" that provide a less-invasive means of studying ocean life. More recently, he worked with Nina Sinatra to develop an ultra-gentle robot to interact with very fragile organisms like jellyfish.


'Lake bagging' is trending. What is it, and how can you do it safely?

National Geographic

Karen Byer, 61, knows she'll never join the 13,000 "ADK 46ers" who have summited all 46 of the major peaks in New York's Adirondack Mountains. But she's part of an even more exclusive club of adventurers: the "ADK 47 Lakers," a playful appellation for the small crew of "lake baggers" who have swum 47 lakes in the Adirondack Park. Similar to "peak bagging," where hikers or mountaineers tick off a list of summits to reach, lake bagging has swimmers tracking the bodies of water they take a dip in. Unlike peak bagging, lake bagging is less established, with little or no formal recognition or structure, although individuals and groups are increasingly sharing their criteria and online maps. Generally, enthusiasts do it for fun and friendly local competition, or as a personal challenge.