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drought

The bottom of the Paluxy River holds dinosaur tracks from millions of years ago.

In an area of Texas between Austin and Dallas, there's a riverbed that holds real, honest-to-goodness dinosaur footprints, bringing out the 5-year-old in all of us.

How did they get there, you ask? When dinosaurs roamed the area 113 million years ago, the land was at the edge of a tidal sea. Shells from crustaceans that lived in the sea created calcium carbonate deposits, forming a lime-rich mud that was the perfect consistency to preserve the tracks of dinosaurs that occasionally crossed the tidal flats.

Since then, the dinosaur tracks have been preserved under layers of sediment and silt. They were first discovered in 1909 by a young boy named George Adams, who found some odd three-toed tracks in a limestone riverbed. But it wasn't until 1937 that paleontologist R.T. Bird explored the area and recognized multiple trackways from therapods and sauropods whose footprints had been preserved almost perfectly under layers of mud.


Today, these trackways can be viewed in Dinosaur Valley State Park. The Paluxy River regularly has dry spots that allow some tracks to be seen at different times, but, according to ABC News, the drought in Texas has revealed tracks that even the park rangers haven't been able to see in at least 20 years.

To be clear, the footprints don't appear looking like this when the river dries up. Workers and volunteers have to meticulously clear away the dry mud and sediment with water, leaf blowers and brooms so that the definition of the tracks becomes visible in the limestone. But once they do, they look like something straight out of a movie.

The tracks above are found at the Taylor site, one of multiple track viewing sites in the park.

"The Paluxy River has pretty much gone dry this drought," a worker shared in a video posted on the Friends of Dinosaur Valley State Park Facebook page. "What's cool about the river is what you'll find in the river. Sweep a little bit of the dirt and dust away and this is what you'll find…dinosaur tracks. You see claw marks. These are awesome, awesome tracks. They are normally underwater so you normally don't get to see these."

The revealing of these particular tracks is exciting for researchers, who are mapping the dinosaur trackways in the park. Park Superintendent Jeff Davis told ABC News that the tracks at the Taylor site are possibly the longest tracks made by a single dinosaur in North America. Tracks that aren't usually visible in other sites have also been revealed in this drought, enabling people to see exactly where these enormous creatures walked millions and millions of years ago.

Drought isn't a good thing, but dinosaur tracks are an interesting silver lining. For more information about how these tracks came to be, visit the Dinosaur Valley State Park website.

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UCLA

Who ever thought you could fight the effects of drought just by mixing fruits together?

A 16-year-old from Johannesburg, that's who!

Photo by Andrew Weeks, used with permission.


Science whiz Kiara Nirghin, a grade 11 student at St. Martin's School in Johannesburg, came up with an idea that could make a big difference in drought-stricken regions.

"Currently, South Africa is experiencing one of the worst droughts in its history," said Nirghin. "I started looking at it, and not only is it affecting my community, it's a worldwide problem. From there, I started looking at, 'OK. What could I do to lessen the impact that the drought had on South Africa's food supply?' — which is one of the main things that it is affecting."

With temperatures rising to blistering levels and South Africa declaring a state of disaster due to drought in eight provinces, Nirghin's game-changing invention couldn't have come at a better time.

Using orange peels and avocado skins, Nirghin created her ownsuperabsorbent polymer (SAP) to nourish crops in desperate need of water.

An SAP is a powder-like material that can take in large amounts of liquid without taking up a lot of space. In fact, it's known to absorb hundreds of times its own weight. SAPs are planted alongside crops to create mini reservoirs of water that keep soil moist longer and allow growing plants to survive with less rainfall or water.

A helpful slide from Nirghin's award-winning submission. Image via Google Science Fair.

According to Science Direct, the problem with many SAPs is they're made from some pretty harsh chemicals that can harm people as well as the environment. So Nirghin set out to create a more natural, biodegradable alternative.

"I started looking at what characterized a superabsorbent polymer and how I could emulate that characterization," she said. "And one of those things were the polysaccharide found in orange peels."

Nirghin breaks down her process in a video for the Google Science Fair. First, she boiled the orange peels to extract pectin (more typically used as a gelling agent in jams and jellies). She then combined the pectin with sun-dried orange peels, baked the mixture, crushed it into a powder, and added more sun-dried orange peels and avocado skins.

The project, dubbed "No More Thirsty Crops," earned Nirghin the grand prize at this year's Google Science Fair.

Not only is Nirghin's SAP biodegradable, it's also affordable — and creating it produces less pollution than regular SAPs.

"[Commercial SAPs are] not biodegradable and they’re extremely costly," said Nirghin. "And one of the important aspects that’s often overlooked is that the making of the superabsorbent polymers pollutes the environment. … The production is not only timely, it’s very difficult to reproduce in poorer areas … So I looked at basically minimizing all those negative aspects."

In Nirghin's research paper, she estimates her SAP would cost about $30 to $60 per metric ton to mass produce — whereas current commercial SAPs can go for a staggering $2,000 to $3,000 per metric ton. Even better? Nirghin found her method to be more effective at retaining water than commercial SAPs.

Nirghin now has her sights set on getting her SAP in as many hands as possible and affecting more positive change around the world.

"I would love for it to go into actual farms out there," Nirghin said. "I want it to actually be supplied to farmers all over the world that are currently experiencing a drought. I don’t want to keep it as an idea that I just came up with … I would really like for it to go out and help people out there."

On top of her Google Science Fair victory, Nirghin's invention also garnered her a spot on Time's 30 Most Influential Teens of 2016 — an honor that could help her spread even more good. For starters, she's already looking to expand her SAP to test water filtration as well as oil removal from water.

Nirghin also has an inspiring message for anyone looking to follow in her footsteps.

Nirghin (third from left) and her fellow finalists. Photo by the Nirghin family, used with permission.

She said, "One of the main things is looking at what your community is facing because it's great coming up with an idea, but unless it impacts your community and makes it better — like the Google Science Fair says, 'What will you make better?' — that should be one of the main driving forces to lessen the impact of the problems of your community."

From there, just think of that idea as a freshly planted crop. With a little nourishment and attention, it can grow into something even stronger and more essential than you ever imagined.

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Gates Foundation: The Story of Food

If your livelihood depends on crops, which need water, and there isn’t any water ... what do you do?

Borrie Erasmus struggled with this very problem just this year in South Africa.

His family has lived on the same farmland for 50 years. It usually rains between October and April in the region, but in 2015, El Nino weather patterns caused a drought that lasted through late February of 2016.


“On our farm, there has never been a time when there has not been any maize in December,” Erasmus told Aljazeera. “We could not even try planting seeds. It has been drier than ever.”

‌Weeds grow in a maize field in Malawi, which is one of the areas affected by drought earlier this year. Image by Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images.‌

Over the last 40 years, Africa has suffered seven major droughts like this one that have dramatically affected food supply, crops, and livestock.

Philip Tioko, a villager in the northwestern Turkana region of Kenya, told the Washington Post that he lost all his livestock — including some 200 goats — in the span of just 20 years after repeated droughts dried up the rivers and caused the nearby lake, Lake Turkana, to recede. Now he survives by fishing, but even the number of fish are dwindling as water levels continue to fall.

‌A fisherman carries a caught fish at Lake Turkana in northwestern Kenya. Photo by Simon Maina/AFP/Getty Images.‌

These dangerous droughts are likely to become more common if trends in climate change play out as predicted by scientific studies.

Many of the world’s important food crops, as well as its livestock, are sensitive to changes in temperature and rainfall. Many simply won’t be able to survive in certain regions if it gets too hot or too dry. This problem will affect what local farmers can grow across the globe, as well as their everyday diets — especially when they rely on what they farm in order to eat.

‌A man cuts what is left of his yield to feed his livestock in Lesotho after a year-long drought devastated crops in the region this year. Image by John Wessels/AFP/Getty Images.‌

The good news is, people around the world are already starting to figure out ways to adapt their diets to the changing climate. To see some of the changes a warming world has had and will have on how people eat, take a look at Africa.

Here are five ways climate change could affect how Africa — and the world — will eat in the next century:

1. Corn might become less common.

Maize — a type of corn — has become an important staple food throughout the African continent over the last century. It's actually a pretty popular food all over: It’s the world’s third most important cereal crop (after rice and wheat).

A woman prepares the maize she raised inside her hut in Malawi. Photo by Kate Holt/Africa Practice/Flickr

‌In Africa, maize is often eaten by itself — roasted over a fire — or it is featured as a prominent ingredient in a lot of local dishes, such as the common mealtime starch ugali (a thick, stiff porridge) or the popular Kenyan githeri stew.

However, according to a study published in the scientific journal Nature, as much as 41% of the land in Africa devoted to growing maize could stop being productive by 2050.

2. Other staple foods might disappear too.

A banana harvest in Arba Minch, Ethiopia. Photo by Rod Waddington/Flickr.

Maize isn’t the only crop in trouble. Beans, bananas, barley, and wheat are just a few of the crops that could all struggle to grow because of climate change in certain regions of the world. This means that these foods might become less prominent in local diets, or they will need to be imported.

In Africa, the effects could be profound for local farmers. According to the study in Nature, 60% of bean agriculture and 30% of land currently cultivated for bananas could stop being productive.

3. New grains might become more popular.

‌A man loads his cart with millet near the village of Simiri in Niger, Africa. Image by Boureima Hama/AFP/Getty Images.‌

If some crops won’t grow where they used to, local farmers will need to grow something else in order to survive.

In Africa, this could me

an that farmers grow varieties of millet or sorghum instead. Both of these grains are actually native to Africa — unlike maize — and they are expected to maintain their production levels in the region despite climate change through 2100 because they are more resilient to drought. (Red millet also makes for a delicious and nutritious substitute to maize in ugali.)

4. We might eat different kinds of meat.

‌Image via iStock.‌

If it becomes too difficult to grow certain crops, some farmers might swap crop agriculture for livestock farming. Other farmers might change what animals they raise entirely.

In Kenya, camel rearing is catching up with cattle farming, reports Reuters News, because camels can withstand drought situations better than other animals.

While cows (and goats) require daily access to water and pasture, camels can survive without food or water for up to three weeks because their hump stores fluids to keep them hydrated.

5. We might start eating new veggies.

‌A man drying cowpeas in Ghana. Cowpeas grow in dry areas because they are able to survive high temperatures with little water. Image by Tree Aid/Flickr.‌

Several organizations, including the World Food Programme, are working to help local farmers in Africa become more resilient to climate change and “climate shocks” — like droughts — by diversifying what they grow. Instead of growing just one crop, farmers grow a variety so that even if one crop dies, others might survive.

Grain legumes, such as cowpeas, are often a great choice for this in Africa. These legumes are more drought-resistant, can provide protein, and they can even help restore the farmer’s soil because their roots "fix" nitrogen from the air, which then helps grow future crops. The stems and stalks of these plants can also be used to feed livestock.

While it is true that climate change could cause certain crops to disappear altogether, scientists, organizations, and farmers are working hard together to adapt and prepare for the future. It might just change what foods we all eat.

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Gates Foundation: The Story of Food

Ever look for something — for what seems like forever — only to never find it?

Your car keys, your wallet, your soulmate (jk!). It's so frustrating!

GIF from "South Park."


Try walking 14 miles to locate water and coming back with nothing.

That's not an extreme example. It happens often to pastoralists in Africa.

Over 250 million pastoralists (people who raise and care for livestock as their primary economic source) try to find grazing lands for their animals every year. It's their job to care and tend to them, after all.

But over the past few years, they've found it extra difficult to find green pastures for their livestock. El Niño has been in full force in the region and the extreme drought that's resulted from it has created unbearable conditions.

Image via Jeffrey Brown/Project Concern International. All images used with permission.

How do you feed your animals if you can't find food or water around? You keep looking.

Image via Jeffrey Brown/Project Concern International.

And looking.

Image via Jeffrey Brown/Project Concern International.

And looking.

Millions of pastoralists trek miles and miles with their herds looking for a sign of green pastures.

In the past, they've typically found them through word of mouth, from lessons learned in the past, or by sending people to scout out the areas in advance. But as resources are drying out and areas have already been consumed, these methods are becoming increasingly less reliable and livestock are dying from it.

Image via Jeffrey Brown/Project Concern International.

Fortunately, one organization is changing that. With space.

Image via Project Concern International/YouTube.

The global development org Project Concern International (PCI) has created an impressive solution to this problem.

They've launched the Satellite-Assisted Pastoral Resource Management program (say that 20 times fast), or SAPARM for short. It has helped to save the lives of livestock and the livelihoods of pastoralists from 22,000 miles away.

Here's how it works:

First, the organization teamed up with a pastoralist community in Ethiopia to understand and map out what the community's traditional grazing areas have looked like.

Then, they tapped into a satellite situated 22,000 miles above North Africa (that was already there doing satellite things) to record real-time images of those same areas. They layered the community's information with the satellite's and were able to create digitized maps that show real-time locations of the greenest areas around.

A generated SAPARM map example. Image via Project Concern International.

The maps are refreshed every 10 days and printed out and distributed to pastoralists to give them a better view of what the grazing lands look like in their area.

It shows them where the best vegetation (i.e., grass) is so they save time and money and make more informed decisions on where and when to migrate.

Findings have shown that the livestock mortality in the community has dropped by 47% since people started using the satellite maps.

It also showed that 80% of pastoralists in the area are using the maps, and almost half of them say that the maps are now the single most important resource when it comes to planning for their herds. What a shift.

If you're thinking, "Wow, that's a great idea, PCI. Good job," you're not the only one. The SAPARM program has a lot of support from USAID and the World Food Programme (to name a couple) and has even caught the eye of Google, where they are working together to expand access to these maps in Ethiopia, Tanzania, and beyond.

Image via Jeffrey Brown/Project Concern International.

As parts of Africa struggle through extreme drought and the effects of climate change, it's encouraging to see solutions that can make such an immediate impact.

It doesn't take a satellite from 22,000 miles above to see that the world is going in the right direction on this one.