It Doesn't Look So Bad In The First Image, But By The End I'm Sure This Is A Really Bad Idea

What you're seeing: The Athabasca tar sands are a humungous (almost 55,000 square miles) deposit of oil-coated sand lying just under the boreal forests and peat bogs of Alberta, Canada. Mining companies extract the oil by digging up the sand in open-pit mines, and then rinsing it with hot water to separate the oil. The sand and wastewater are stored in ponds(smooth tan or green surfaces in satellite images). As of September 2011, roughly 256square miles of land had been dug up.


Companies arerequired to restore the land after they have finished mining. But although themining companies have planted grasses on the site (see "reclaimed pond," 2011), the imagesdon't show much greening up, do they?

Zoom 1: Pit mines can grow to more than 260 feet deep as massive trucks remove up to 720,000 tons of sand every day. It takes two tons of sand (and a heckof a lot of hot water) to produce one barrel of crude oil. The first minesopened in 1967, but growth was slow until 2000 because the global cost of a oilwas too low to make oil sands profitable. With higher oil prices, the mines areexpanding and are likely to continue to do so for decades.

Zoom 2: The mines pull water from the Athabasca River. In 1997, Suncor mining company admitted that their tailing ponds had been leaking 1,600 cubic meters of toxic water into the Athabasca a day. River water tested downstream of the mine contains naphthenic acid, metals such as mercury, and other nastiness.

Zoom 3: The oil sands lie under traditional territories of First Nations people including the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and the Mikisew Cree First Nation. While some First Nations people have jobs in the mining industry, many members protest the environmental devastation caused by tar sands oil extraction, especially the contamination of wildlife that traditional communities rely on for food.

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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