Category Archives: Nature

Inside a category 4 hurricane: video from Harvey’s eye

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been glued to the television and online videos since last weekend’s Harvey landfall. It started with those first wild live streams from storm chasers in Rockport, Texas, and quickly gave way to days of life-threatening floods. Local residents and news stations gave me, an American hundreds of miles away, an up-to-date glimpse into the disaster as flood waters rose. Those images will stick with me, but one thing shook me more: simply seeing the mother nature at its fiercest.

Beyond the flooding in New Orleans, the power of water from the storm surge in Biloxi, Mississippi, from Katrina is always fresh in my mind during these events. I remember pulling out photos I’d taken just months before and comparing them to video from the area after the storm, feeling the shock and horror. Every once in a while I watch video of the surge taken from a casino on the water. And the stories from the people who survived! They are simply unimaginable, as the true power of nature is hard to contemplate unless you’ve experienced it.

For these reasons, I am both horrified and in awe of those willing to risk their lives to tell the story from inside the storm. They perform a valuable service that I hope, as I’m sure they do, saves lives by bringing to view the reality of the danger.

One such person, award-winning storm chaser Jeff Piotrowski, became an internet sensation overnight as Harvey made landfall in Rockport, TX.

Yes, he’s the one responsible for the #blueshed memes you’ve probably seen.

As stupid and dangerous as it was, Jeff and some fellow chasers took shelter at a car wash as the hurricane roared ashore, and they captured every minute as the wind howled and structures broke apart around them.

Live coverage Hurricane Harvey Cat 4+ at Rockport TX. #txwx

And inside the eye, they captured this amazing photo:

The calm of the eye with a back-lit starry sky. Wow.

I watched every minute of their live stream, and afterward, there’s only one thing I could say: mother nature can be fucking terrifying.

Watch Jeff’s videos. Then, next time you are deciding whether to evacuate a storm, remember what the wall of wind and rain looked like as Harvey’s eye wall passed. Still not phased? Watch the video below of Katrina’s storm surge and remember how it wiped parts of the Mississippi coast clean.

If these don’t scare you into action, I don’t know what will.

Hurricane Irma has formed in the Atlantic and is a category 3 as of 1100 PM AST on August 31st. Whether it will hit the US is unknown, so keep track with the National Hurricane Center, and stay safe! 

Shark week blues: 5 documentaries to watch instead

By now I’m sure you’ve seen this year’s Shark Week promos. Perhaps it was singer Seal as a tasty dockside snack. Maybe it was Michael Phelps’ upcoming ‘thriller’ where he will ‘race’ against one of the ocean’s scariest beasts. Aren’t you so psyched? On Sunday, June 23rd, it all begins. There’s just one problem: I’m just not hyped.

Years ago I loved Shark Week. I would block off hours to watch the shows. It was something I looked forward to every year. Now? I tune in NAT GEO WILD’s Sharkfest, also starting on Sunday, June 23rd, this year. To me, their programming is much better.

One, Shark After Dark. Sharkmania. Really, Discovery? Give me a new show instead of this filler bull.

Two, I don’t need the 50th installment of Air Jaws.

Third, just five words: Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives. Screw you.

Fourth, is it just me, or do most of the shark attack shows seem like reruns? Or maybe new drapes, old furniture?

Finally, throwing celebrities in the middle of my shark shows. Look, I love Les Stroud. Survivorman is my favorite of the survival shows, by far. At least he’s outdoorsy. But comedians? Actors? YouTube personalities? Reality stars? Please go back to the days with no host.

Discovery’s Shark Week shows left a bad taste in my mouth starting a few years ago for these and other reasons. They felt repetitive, boring, too ratings-hungry and less what I used to love. I don’t hate Shark Week, really, but we’re taking a break. Seeing other people.

I’m going to try to get over it, I promise.

But until then, I’ll be watching Sharkfest and checking out the following shark-related documentaries.

These are what I want Shark Week to be. Not Michael Phelps ‘racing’ a shark. (Seriously, 4.4 mph versus 25 mph? What cheating tech is he going to wear? If your biggest promo makes me roll my eyes….this is what I’m talking about!)

Take a chance on these shark docs!

BBC One's Shark

A multi-episode series, Shark covers over 30 species, telling the story of shark life--from birth and courting to hunting and threats to their well-being.

Watch on Netflix

Galapagos: Realm of Giant Sharks

Researchers travel to Darin Island, where they track sharks to study their migration patterns. Here, both the currents and the sharks are a danger. 

Watch on Amazon

Mysteries of the Coral Canyon

This PBS documentary follows researchers in the atolls of French Polynesia as they explore how sharks and coral reefs are connected.

Watch on PBS

Of Shark and Man

According to the documentary's website, it "is an independent movie that follows the journey of David Diley, an ordinary man as he pursues his childhood love of sharks, uncovering one of the greatest conservation success stories of all time in the process."

Watch on Amazon

Shark Girl

From the Smithsonian website:
"For the young Madison Stewart, nothing feels safer or more natural than diving straight into shark-infested waters. Since childhood, growing up by the Great Barrier Reef, she's treated these predators as family. But they're vanishing from existence, and because of their bad reputation, few people seem to care. Follow Madison on her mission to protect our sharks, a battle that began when she put her studies on hold, grabbed a camera, and set out to save these incredible, misunderstood creatures."

Buy on VUDU or Amazon

10 awesome electron microscope images of tiny creatures

Science is helping us see creatures in ways we never have before. For instance, you generally know what a flea looks like, but have you ever examined it closely? It’s hard to get any details other than its tiny legs. But with technology like the electron microscope, we can see the flea’s details–from its face to the tiny hairs on its body!

To get a high-resolution, magnified image of a specimen, the electron microscope sends a beam of electrons toward it. Instead of lenses like a regular microscope, the electron microscope has a series of electromagnets that bend the electron beams to magnify the image. And magnify it does! The details are clearer than those from the regular light microscope you’re used to.

Check out the following images to witness the power of the electron microscope and see some tiny creatures up close and personal.

Hydrothermal Vent-tube Worm
Source: Philippe Crassous/

Head Louse, balancing on two hairs
Source: Louwrens Tiedt/

Source: Ms. Siti Nurul Mardhiah Mohamed , Universiti Malaya/

Mosquito's Wing
Source: Daniel Oldfield/@TheMicroscopist

Close up of spider eyes
Source: Dr. Louise Hughes/@DrLouiseCHughes


Close up of an ant
Source: US Govt
Source: matt the monkey/Flikr via  CC BY-NC 2.0


Fruit fly
Source: ZEISS Microscopy/Flikr via CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


Arrow worm
Source: JesseClaggett/Flikr via CC BY-NC 2.0


10 of the coolest species discovered in 2016

From insects to sea critters and reptiles to mammals, humans discover around 18,000 new species each year. Scientists study and classify these organisms, giving them each a scientific name according to their kingdom, phylum, class, order, suborder, family, genus and species (Learn about each of these here).

Biological Classification New Species
Credit: Peter Halasz

New findings can range from merely interesting to potentially life-saving. For instance, in February of this year researchers announced the discovery of a new bacteria that produces a very potent antibiotic against superbugs. Named Streptomyces formicae, the bacteria is found on African ants. In tests so far, it is effective against methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Vancomycin-Resistant Enterococci (VRE), two bacteria the World Health Organization lists as high priority for research and development due to high rates of antibiotic resistance.

Not all discoveries have such exciting implications, but that doesn’t mean each isn’t fascinating in its own right. For this reason, the International Institute for Species Exploration annually picks out 10 for May list of the most intriguing.

Which made this year’s top 10?

From creepy to possibly tasty, this year’s most interesting cover a variety of plants and animals:

“Sorting Hat” Spider (Eriovixia gryffindori)
sorting hat spider
Credit: Javed Ahmed/Twitter

Located in India, this spider is less than a tenth of an inch long. It gets its name from its shape, which favors the Sorting Hat from the Harry Potter series. It mimics dry foliage to camouflage itself from predators and prey.

Unexpected Katydid (Eulophophyllum kirki)
Eulophophyllum kirki katydid species
Credit: Peter Kirk

This new species of katydid uses its leaf-like shape and beautiful color to blend into the foliage. It is about 1.5 inches long and was found in Danum Valley, East Malaysia.

Omnivorous Root Rat (Gracilimus radix)
Gracukunys radix new rat species
Credit: Kevin Rowe, Museums Victoria

Sulawesi Island in Indonesia is where this new species of rat makes its home. The root rat gets its name because it will sometimes feed on roots, meaning it is not a strict carnivore like its relatives.

414-legged Millipede (Illacme tobini)
illacme tobini new species millipede
Credit: Paul Marek, Virginia Tech

Found in California’s Sequoia National Park’s Lange Cave, this 414-leg is about one inch in length. That may seem like a lot, but another species of millipede can have up to 750. When in danger, it secretes an unknown chemical for protection. Did we mention it has 4 modified legs to knock up the ladies? Yep, these legs transfer sperm.

“Dragon” Ant (Pheidole drogon)

Living in Papua New Guinea, this ant has spines on its back. Although researchers first thought it was purely a defense mechanism, they now believe it might play a role in anchoring muscles for their large heads.

Freshwater Stingray (Potamotrygon rex)
Potamotrygon rex stingray species
Credit: Marcele R. de Carvalho

A new freshwater species found in Brazil, this stingray is only found in the Tocantins River. The specimen pictured is 43 inches long.  Such brightly colored stingrays aren’t usually found in their area of the world.

Swimming Centipede (Scolopendra cataracta)
Scolopendra cataracta swimming centipede new species
Credit: Warut Siriwut/National Geographic

This species of centipede can be found in Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. No other centipede has ever been observed diving and swimming like this one does.

Bush Tomato (Solanum ossicruentum)

The inside of this tomato turns blood red when cut. It is local to Austrailia, but it received its name from 7th-grade students in Pennsylvania.

Endangered Orchid (Telipogon diabolicus)

There’s something devilish about this flower. Found in Colombia, this unique orchid is labeled critically endangered, as its only known location is under threat from road construction.

“Churro” Marine Worm (Xenoturbella churro)

Called the Churro, the worm in this video sure doesn’t look tasty. Local to Mexico, the species is primitive, with a mouth but no anus. It’s about 4 inches long and is believed to feed on mollusks.

What are some more recent species discoveries?

Researchers and regular people are always stumbling upon new species of organisms. The best way to stay informed of future developments is to set up a Google alert. To catch up for now, check out just some of the discoveries revealed in June below!

  • The Smithsoniam reports that a new species of Amazon parrot (Amazona gomezgarzai) has been discovered in the Yucatán.
  • Scientists classified four new species of frog from India.
  • For most people, squirrels are either cute or annoying. If you’re in cute category, check out this new type of flying squirrel.
  • A research team from Qatar University found a new species of crab, Coleusia janani.
  • Reptile lover? Take a look at these three chameleon species from Africa.
  • Did a diver find a new species of stingfish in Indonesia?



Watch: National Geographic’s ‘From the Ashes’ full documentary

National Geographic released its full coal documentary ‘From the Ashes’ on YouTube. With President Trump pushing to bring coal jobs back, the topic is a hot issue among Americans. But what does it mean for our environment? Is natural gas really a big reason for the reduction in coal mining? What can we do to help those impacted by the our energy industry’s change move away from coal? These are all important issues for which no one has found an answer that resonates.


From the Ashes captures Americans in communities across the country as they wrestle with the legacy of the coal industry and what its future should be in the current political climate. From Appalachia to the West’s Powder River Basin, the film goes beyond the rhetoric of the “war on coal” to present compelling and often heartbreaking stories about what’s at stake for our economy, health, and climate.


National Geographic took their YouTube video down (above), but it is still available on their website.

Winter storm Stella: What’s a ‘weather bomb’?

A nor’easter is setting up shop to dump over two feet of snow in the northeast Monday night, and forecasters are using the term weather bomb to describe the event. 

But what does that mean?

Winter Storm Stella could undergo a process called bombogenesis, reports the Weather Channel, where the system ‘bombs out.’ It’s similar to what happens when a low-pressure tropical system hits warm water and winds, causing the pressure to drop and strengthening the storm’s winds and precipitation to form a hurricane, except in this case, the winter low-pressure storm system enters the ocean and hits the boundary where a cold and warm front meet, causing the pressure to drop and strengthening the storm’s winds and precipitation. 

To qualify as a bombogenesis, the pressure has to drop 24 millibars within 24 hours. This causes a rapid strengthening of the storm, bringing hurricane force winds and a large amount of snow that together create blizzard conditions. There is even the possibility of thundersnow with these storms, and higher tides may cause some coastal erosion.