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A juice company dumped orange peels in a national park. Here's what it looks like now.

12,000 tons of food waste and 21 years later, this forest looks totally different.


In 1997, ecologists Daniel Janzen and Winnie Hallwachs approached an orange juice company in Costa Rica with an off-the-wall idea.

In exchange for donating a portion of unspoiled, forested land to the Área de Conservación Guanacaste — a nature preserve in the country's northwest — the park would allow the company to dump its discarded orange peels and pulp, free of charge, in a heavily grazed, largely deforested area nearby.

One year later, one thousand trucks poured into the national park, offloading over 12,000 metric tons of sticky, mealy, orange compost onto the worn-out plot.



The site was left untouched and largely unexamined for over a decade. A sign was placed to ensure future researchers could locate and study it.

16 years later, Janzen dispatched graduate student Timothy Treuer to look for the site where the food waste was dumped.

Treuer initially set out to locate the large placard that marked the plot — and failed.

The first deposit of orange peels in 1996.

Photo by Dan Janzen.

"It's a huge sign, bright yellow lettering. We should have been able to see it," Treuer says. After wandering around for half an hour with no luck, he consulted Janzen, who gave him more detailed instructions on how to find the plot.

When he returned a week later and confirmed he was in the right place, Treuer was floored. Compared to the adjacent barren former pastureland, the site of the food waste deposit was "like night and day."

The site of the orange peel deposit (L) and adjacent pastureland (R).

Photo by Leland Werden.

"It was just hard to believe that the only difference between the two areas was a bunch of orange peels. They look like completely different ecosystems," he explains.

The area was so thick with vegetation he still could not find the sign.

Treuer and a team of researchers from Princeton University studied the site over the course of the following three years.

The results, published in the journal "Restoration Ecology," highlight just how completely the discarded fruit parts assisted the area's turnaround.

The ecologists measured various qualities of the site against an area of former pastureland immediately across the access road used to dump the orange peels two decades prior. Compared to the adjacent plot, which was dominated by a single species of tree, the site of the orange peel deposit featured two dozen species of vegetation, most thriving.

Lab technician Erik Schilling explores the newly overgrown orange peel plot.

Photo by Tim Treuer.

In addition to greater biodiversity, richer soil, and a better-developed canopy, researchers discovered a tayra (a dog-sized weasel) and a giant fig tree three feet in diameter, on the plot.

"You could have had 20 people climbing in that tree at once and it would have supported the weight no problem," says Jon Choi, co-author of the paper, who conducted much of the soil analysis. "That thing was massive."

Recent evidence suggests that secondary tropical forests — those that grow after the original inhabitants are torn down — are essential to helping slow climate change.

In a 2016 study published in Nature, researchers found that such forests absorb and store atmospheric carbon at roughly 11 times the rate of old-growth forests.

Treuer believes better management of discarded produce — like orange peels — could be key to helping these forests regrow.

In many parts of the world, rates of deforestation are increasing dramatically, sapping local soil of much-needed nutrients and, with them, the ability of ecosystems to restore themselves.

Meanwhile, much of the world is awash in nutrient-rich food waste. In the United States, up to half of all produce in the United States is discarded. Most currently ends up in landfills.

The site after a deposit of orange peels in 1998.

Photo by Dan Janzen.

"We don't want companies to go out there will-nilly just dumping their waste all over the place, but if it's scientifically driven and restorationists are involved in addition to companies, this is something I think has really high potential," Treuer says.

The next step, he believes, is to examine whether other ecosystems — dry forests, cloud forests, tropical savannas — react the same way to similar deposits.

Two years after his initial survey, Treuer returned to once again try to locate the sign marking the site.

Since his first scouting mission in 2013, Treuer had visited the plot more than 15 times. Choi had visited more than 50. Neither had spotted the original sign.

In 2015, when Treuer, with the help of the paper's senior author, David Wilcove, and Princeton Professor Rob Pringle, finally found it under a thicket of vines, the scope of the area's transformation became truly clear.

The sign after clearing away the vines.

Photo by Tim Treuer.

"It's a big honking sign," Choi emphasizes.

19 years of waiting with crossed fingers had buried it, thanks to two scientists, a flash of inspiration, and the rind of an unassuming fruit.


This article originally appeared on 08.23.17

Science

32 years separate this before and after of a beautiful Washington forest. Take a look.

Our relationship with our planet can be mutually beneficial if we commit ourselves to sustainability.

A return to green over decades.


Douglas Scott grew up on Washington's Olympic Peninsula in the dying shadow of the timber industry that had supported the region for decades.

"Nearly every home had a bright orange or yellow sign reading 'This home supported by timber dollars,'" Scott wrote on Outdoor Society.


While the region has also been recognized for its succulent seafood, temperate climate, and stunning natural formations, nothing shaped the community — or the physical landscape — quite like logging did.

rebuilding, Olympic Peninsula, logging

Logging repercussions felt on the Olympic Peninsula.

Olympic Peninsula, circa 1972. Photo from the Records of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The tension in the air between the loggers and the environmentalists throughout the 1980s was thicker than the trees being cut down.

"I heard from old timers in the Harbor about how environmentalists were ruining the region, and I was told by environmentalists that loggers were killing everything in sight," Scott recalled.

But to understand the full impact of deforestation on the region, it helps to take the bird's eye view.

Here's a satellite image of the Olympic Peninsula from 1984. The white region in the center are the mountaintops in Olympic National Park; you'll also notice the grey and brown areas along the western and northern coasts of the peninsula.

satellite images, deforestation, tourism

Satellite image of deforestation on the region of the Olympic Peninsula.

Screenshot via GoogleEarth Engine.

"When I moved away from the area in 1997, there wasn't much of a logging or mill economy in dozens of towns around the region," Scott said.

By that time, tourism had begun to take the place of timber as the region's major industry — which was probably helped along by the fact that the trees were slowly but surely starting to recover, enhancing the already stunning vistas that drew visitors.

Here's how the Olympic Peninsula looked by the time that Scott and his family left the area; you'll notice the western and northern coasts are just a little bit greener than they were 13 years prior...

recovery, ecology, healing

Some green coming back.

Screenshot via GoogleEarth Engine.

Those great green arbors continued their gradual recovery into the 2000s...

trees, parks, Google Earth

More forest returns to the peninsula.

Screenshot via GoogleEarth Engine.

And they're still going today.

ecosystem, timber, wood

And still more green comes back.

Screenshot via GoogleEarth Engine.

But those isolated moments don't tell the whole story of the region's recovery. It's even more remarkable when you can see it in action...

habitat, climate change, going green

Olympic Peninsula demonstrating the power of nature.

GIF via GoogleEarth Engine.

We don't always notice the world changing right before our eyes, but the decades-long view of the Olympic Peninsula shows the true power of nature.

It's not just the trees, either; according to Scott, the replenished forests have also had a positive impact on the local salmon population and other treasured natural resources.

erosion, growth, wildlife, earth

Mother Nature doing her thing.

Left photo from Records of the Environmental Protection Agency; Right, by Miguel Vieira/Flickr.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't use the natural world, of course. We still need wood, for example, but now we know there are sustainable ways to use it without recklessly damaging to the planet.

The Earth was built to take care of itself. We just need to let Mother Nature do her thing.


This article originally appeared on 12.22.16

Science

Scientists have finally figured out how whales are able to 'sing' underwater

The physical mechanism they use has been a mystery until now.

Baleen whales include blue, humpback, gray, fin, sei, minke whales and more.

We've long known that baleen whales sing underwater and that males sing in tropical waters to attract females for mating. What we haven't known is how they're able to do it.

When humans make sound underwater, we expel air over through our vocal chords and the air we release rises to the surface as bubbles. But baleen whales don't have vocal chords, and they don't create bubbles when they vocalize. Toothed whales, such as sperm whales, beaked whales, dolphins and porpoises, have an organ in their nasal passages that allows them to vocalize, but baleen whales such as humpback, gray and blue whales don't.

Whales are notoriously difficult to study because of their size and the environment they require, which is why the mechanism behind whale song has remained a mystery for so long. It's not like scientists can just pluck a whale out of the ocean and stick it in an x-ray machine while it's singing to see what's happening inside its body to create the sound. Scientists had theories, but no one really knew how baleen whales sing.

Now, thanks to researchers at the University of Denmark, that mystery has been solved.


To figure it out, a research team blew air through larynxes that had been removed from three juvenile whales that had died after being stranded—one humpback, one minke and one sei whale. They discovered that the design of these "voice boxes" and the mechanism they use to create sound is unique among mammals.

The study, published in the journal Nature, describes a u-shaped structure with a cushion of fat and muscle that allows air to be recycled and prevents water from being inhaled. When air is pushed through it, part of the fatty cushion vibrates and creates the low frequency sound we call whale song.

"We've never seen this in any other animal," lead author Coen Elemans told AFP. "This is a completely novel adaptation, and we think this allowed these large whales to make sound in the water while basically holding their breath."

The low frequency of their singing also sheds light on how human shipping activity can impact these whales' ability to communicate. Whale singing tops out at a frequency of 300 hertz, and whales have to be near the ocean's surface to sing. Since boat sounds range from 30 to 300 hertz and are at the surface of the water, our activity can interfere with whales' communication and reproductive behaviors in ways whales aren't able to adapt to.

"They cannot simply choose to, for example, sing higher to avoid the noise we make in the ocean," Elemans explained to BBC News, adding additional context for why it matters. "[These are some] of the most enigmatic animals that ever lived on the planet. They are amongst the biggest animals, they're smart and they're highly social."

Whale populations have seen a positive turnaround since most countries put an end to commercial whaling, but now the threat is less direct. Since whales live in a mostly acoustic world under the waves, the noise created by boats and shipping vessels can affect their behavior. Since whales can't "outsing" our boat noises, we need to alter our own behavior prevent negatively impacting theirs.

In February 2024, the U.S. Coast Guard launched a "cetacean desk" that alerts regional ferries and commercial vessels in Washington State's Salish Sea to whale sightings in an attempt to prevent collisions and reduce noise when whales are known to be present. The alert system utilizes apps where mariners and civilians can report whale sightings, which are then passed on to captains.

Whale vocalizations are incredibly diverse and wide-ranging, and there's a lot we still don't know about how they communicate. We know that they vocalize to find one another in the murky depths and that males sing to attract females, but more research is needed to learn about the intricacies of their vocal repertoire.

But at least now scientists have a better picture of the "how," which is one step closer to better understanding these massive, magnificent creatures.

@penslucero/TikTok

Pency Lucero taking in the Northern Lights

Seeing the northern lights is a common bucket list adventure for many people. After all, it ticks a lot of boxes—being a dazzling light show, rich historical experience and scientific phenomenon all rolled into one. Plus there’s the uncertainty of it all, never quite knowing if you’ll witness a vivid streak of otherworldly colors dance across the sky…or simply see an oddly colored cloud. It’s nature’s slot machine, if you will.

Traveler and content creator Pency Lucero was willing to take that gamble. After thorough research, she stumbled upon an Airbnb in Rörbäck, Sweden with an actual picture of the northern lights shining above the cabin in the listing. With that kind of photo evidence, she felt good about her odds.

However, as soon as she landed, snow began falling so hard that the entire sky was “barely visible,” she told Upworthy. Martin, the Airbnb host, was nonetheless determined to do everything he could to ensure his guests got to see the spectacle, even offering to wake Lucero up in the middle of the night if he saw anything.

Then one night, the knock came.


In a video Lucero posted to TikTok, which now has over 12 million views, we hear Martin ushering her out to take a peek. Then we see Lucero’s face light up just before seeing the sky do the same.

“I thought it was a prank,” the onscreen text reads in the clip. “And then I see it….”

Watch:

@penslucero

I’m on the verge of crying every time I watch this video I still cannot believe it. 📍 Rörbäck, Sweden

“I was mostly in awe of what this Earth is capable of,” Lucero recalled. “I never expected it to be THAT beautiful for the naked eye.” This is a hopeful sentiment against the widely accepted notion that the northern lights are often better looking in photos than they are in real life.

As Lucero asserted in a follow-up video, “Our video doesn’t do it justice at all…I would argue it’s even better for the naked eye.”

@penslucero Replying to @PatriotFamilyHomes ♬ Golden Hour: Piano Version - Andy Morris

Others were quick to back Lucero with anecdotes of their own experience.

“It’s definitely possible to see it like in the pics. I saw it this winter in Norway, there was bright green, purple and so much movement.”

“They’re so much better in person, the way they dance and move around is insane and beautiful.”


Of course, if you ask Martin, who everyone agreed was the best host ever, seeing guest reactions of pure wonder and joy is even “better than the lights themselves.” But still, he can’t deny that there’s a breathtaking magic to it all. He shared with Upworthy that “Sometimes it feels like it will pull you up in the sky like you are in the middle of it. I wish everyone would have the chance to witness it.”

northern lights

A photo from Martin's Airbnb listing

a0.muscache.com

When it comes to tips for actually seeing the northern lights, Martin admits it still mostly comes down to being in the right place at the right time. Luckily, his Airbnb listing can help with that.

Nature has a great way of reminding us that beyond the distractions and distresses of modern life, there is sublime beauty waiting for the chance to capture our hearts.


This article originally appeared on 03.27.23