Monday, July 27, 2009

The Soul of Seoul: A River Restoration Project with a Big Impact

By guest blogger Nora Lewis Allen

Recently in Seoul, South Korea, the government undertook a 384 million dollar project to uncover the Cheonggyecheon stream. The stream was the centerpiece of the Choson Dynasty 600 years ago and remained at the heart of Seoul city and culture until it was covered by an elevated highway.
The newly uncovered Cheonggyecheon River

The restoration project had numerous affects that were beneficial to not only the aesthetics of the city but the health of its residents as well. After removing three miles of elevated highway, the amount of air pollution in that section of the city went from 74 to 48 micrograms/m³. Moreover, the air temperature is now five degrees cooler in the area that surrounds the river.

Though the environmental impact has been incredible, the human element of the project has been unprecedented. About 90,000 pedestrians visit and walk along-side the river per day and Lee In-keun, who headed the project, commented that by uncovering the Cheonggyecheon, Seoul “changed from a car-oriented city to a human-oriented city.”
River patrons enjoy the stream

Restoration projects like that of the Cheonggyecheon River are popping up all over the world. In Yonkers, New York they are currently raising funds to uncover the Saw Mill River. Also, the recent restoration of the Manhattan High Line has turned the old railroad into a beautiful and extremely popular park.
The newly restored Manhattan High Line

These projects show a new drive to bring more beauty and natural elements to cities, and prove that you don’t have to sacrifice the pleasure of being outdoors while living in the city. Not only is there a proliferation of new parks, but people are visiting them in the thousands, substantiating the idea that no matter where you are there is always a new place to explore.
Manhattan's Central Park, a mecca for urban outdoor enthusiasts

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Don’t let the sun burn and the bugs bite!

By guest blogger - Cassandra Lobo
The summer season is arguably the most relaxing and enjoyed seasons of them all. The summer season brings with it a handful of outdoor picnics, sun bathing at the beach, and family camping trips. Although summer time is when the living is easy, there are some precautions one should take before stepping outdoors. Anyone who knows me or even simply just read my Ninja Sun Hat blog, know that I am an avid sun worshiper. Extremely bad and dangerous addiction … I know, I know! No need to preach to this choir! Although a golden tan may look appealing, the actuality of what a sun tan is is far from attractive. When skin is exposed to the sun, it protects it’s self from the harmful ultraviolet rays by creating a brown-colored pigment called melanin. This process is extremely dangerous and harmful to your skin.

Sun burn is also commonly taken for a common, unimportant issue. Truth be told, it is extremely serious and should not be taken lightly. Sun burn is simply a burn from the powerful UV rays. The outer layer of skin on your body, called the epidermis, contains dead cells. But just below the dead cells is a layer of living cells. By sitting in the sun, you expose yourself to ultraviolet light. Ultraviolet light has the ability to kill cells. When Ultraviolet light hits the layer of living cells in the epidermis it damages and kills. The body’s reaction to repair the dead cells is to increase the blood flow in the affected area. It opens up capillary walls allowing white blood cells to enter and remove the damaged cells. The increased blood flow makes your skin warm and red, also known as “sunburn”.

Before heading outdoors, don’t forget to apply a sunscreen with an SPF of atleast 20! If sunburn does get the best of you, here are some very useful tips that can help soothe any burn:

-Hydrate, Hydrate,HYDRATE! .. A great, refreshing drink to enjoy while the sunburn is not so pleasant is: equal parts of pineapple and black cherry juice. The pineapple juice contains an ingredient, called bromelain, which is a substance helpful for reducing inflammation. The black cherry juice contains an antioxidant, called anthocyanins, which helps the body relieve inflammation. Drink two or three cups daily to allow the burn to cool

-Apply a thin layer of plain yogurt on to the burn. The yogurt must contain live cultures. This will help cool the

Summer’s unwelcomed guests can also be another picnic ruiner. During the summer months, bug spray is a necessity and should always be applied when outdoors. Fleas, ticks, and bees are be quite pesky during these months. It is humans versus bugs and, unfortunately, most of the time we are not the winners. Here are some quick anti-itch remedies for when the bug wins the battle:

- Apply honey to a bug bite to bring relief and prevent infections. Honey has long been known for its antibiotic purposes.

- Be as cool as a cucumber. Place cucumber skins on top of the bites to soothe the itching irritation. You can also cut round slices from a fresh eggplant and place on top of the bite to draw out toxins and appease irritation.

- Apply tea tree oil to bites every 2 to 3 hours to relieve itching and aid healing. Tea tree oil possesses antiseptic, antifungal, and antibacterial actions and has been recognized by recent studies as playing a supportive role in skin care.

- For flea bites, soaking in a warm bath of Epsom salts and baking soda can ease itching.

If your summer includes relaxing on the beach, canoeing down the river, or just playing in your local park, make sure to pack some summer necessities. A well–planned survival kit, such as the Altoid Survival Tin mentioned in “Born to Explore, can ensure that you have a fun and healthy outdoor experience!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Young People, Big Adventures

by Guest Blogger Lucy Mele

Author on an adventure at Age 22

Yesterday, 17-year-old Zac Sunderland finished a 13-month solo sailing trip around the world, making him the youngest person in history to independently circumnavigate the globe.
Throughout his trip, the teenager endured more trials than most people do in a lifetime: bad storms, long periods without sleep, and even a brief encounter with pirates in the Indian Ocean (luckily, he was able to put a call into Australian authorities using a satellite phone and had a loaded pistol at the ready in case he was approached).

17-year-old Zac Sunderland on his boat

Zac’s journey is an incredible story, but the coolest thing about it is that it’s not the only one of its kind. Since the beginning of time, amazing things have been accomplished by young people with big goals and the confidence and determination to see them through.

Take Richard, for example, whose lifelong passion for science and exploration all began when he climbed to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro – at age 11. Since then, he’s discovered hundreds of new forms of life, in areas as diverse as Ethiopia and New York City’s Central Park, and, in 2002, became the youngest-ever president of the Explorer’s Club.

Richard teaching some Boy Scouts all he's learned about science

There’s also Maggie Doyne, who took a gap year after high school to backpack the Himalayas and never left. She was touched by the number of orphans she saw, and decided to take her life savings to build an orphanage and a school. I saw her at this year’s Do Something awards, where she took the top prize – a $100,000 grant to continue the work she began when she was just 17 years old.

I remember growing up, when adults would ask what you wanted to be someday, everyone had these great, big dreams of becoming an astronaut or a professional sports player or President of the United States. Somewhere along the way, for most people, these dreams faded to make room for more practical goals and the lofty ideas of “changing the world” became intangible and unrealistic.

Budding Scientists and Explorers in Central Park

So, when Zac arrived to cheering crowds in California yesterday, he had some great advice for other people his age who might be struggling with whether or not to pursue their goals:
"I think society puts young people in a box…and does not expect them to do much but go to high school and play football and stuff like that. This just shows they can do a lot more with some strong ambition and desire. My [advice] is to get out there and do your thing with all you got."

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Squid Invasion

by guest blogger Cassandra Lobo

Things seemed a little fishy last Saturday in San Diego, California. This previous Saturday, a 4.0 earthquake struck the coast of San Diego. Earthquakes are very common in this area, however what happened afterwards was quite bizarre. Minutes after the earthquake had struck, dozens of dazed Humboldt squid were found lining the La Jolla Shore beach. These particular squids were about 4 feet long and weighed nearly 40 pounds.

Many questions were arising after this peculiar squid incident that occurred. Why were these squids washed up on the shore? Did the earthquake cause the squids to become disoriented? Was the pH level after the quake too high for these water bound creatures? Or was simply just a coincidence? The level 4 earthquake that struck may have played a factor with the squids washing up on shore. The earthquake had hit approximately 20 miles from the La Jolla shore. When an earthquake strikes, there is a shift of continental crust which causes a shock wave. These shock waves are what we feel. The shock waves that were produced in this particular earthquake traveled through the ocean and caused harm to some of our sea life. Many fish and sea life have sensors that are able to feel pressure and direction. These sensors are very similar to those contained in the human ear. The Humboldt squid may have experienced damage to their sensors during the earthquake. Humboldt squid generally stay in waters that are 660–2,300 ft, but with the damage caused to their sensors, the squid became extremely disorientated and were unable to navigate correctly, causing them to wash up on shore.
Another possibility for these sea creatures squirming around the La Jolla shore may have been due to the pH level. The gases released from the earthquake could have caused the pH level to increase. Humboldt Squid are very sensitive to pH. They need more oxygen during daylight than any other animal in the sea, according to scientists at University of Rhode Island. Squid now appear to be joining the list of marine creatures that are at risk from rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. As the oceans absorb some of this CO2 load, pH levels drop, and the water becomes more acidic. A test done by Brad Seibel, of the University of Rhode Island, was done to see if pH really did play a factor to squid. He netted 86 jumbo squid in the Gulf of California and placed each squid in different a water-filled container, that varied in temperature, oxygen and CO2 levels. The results showed that when facing high CO2 levels, the creatures became 45% less active.
Another theory is the change in water temperature. The San Diego area has experienced a lot of cold water coming up to the shore. Cold water has been known to bring a lot of nutrients and life, causing the squid to follow the food supply.

In the end there are only theories as to what exactly happened, and exactly how the earthquake affected the squid. What is quite obvious, however, is that we still have quite a bit to learn, and in the end we are equivalent to a nine year old wondering why the tides go in and out. Really, it's quite humbling to realize that we can't even comprehend thoroughly the hardships that a squid endures.

Too cool to burn? Wrong.

by guest blogger: Cassandra Lobo

Summer is finally here! … Well at least on some days it is! The weather here in Connecticut has been extremely random the last few months. It is constantly jumping from 85 degrees one day and, without warning, 65 degrees the next. Saturday’s weather was warm enough for the beach (or so we thought!) therefore my mom, aunt, four year old cousin, and I headed down the street to the beach. The constant wind at the beach made it a bit chilly and not desirable beach weather. After debating if we should go back home where it was much warmer or stay at the not so pleasant beach, the stubbornness of three women struck and leaving the beach was not an option. Occupying my time and trying to take my mind off my goose bumps, I adventured to the shore of the water to build sand castles with my cousin.

The majority of the shore was lined with breeding horseshoe crabs. The pesky kids next to us were throwing rocks at the ancient creatures (did you know horse shoe crabs predate the dinosaurs!?) which really troubled me. These harmless creatures were helpless for they could not defend themselves against the problematic children. Not long after, the lifeguard on duty came to the horseshoe crab’s rescue and put an end to the children’s uncaring behavior. I sat and chatted with the lifeguard and learned that horseshoe crabs are endangered species and the beach is doing all they can to prevent any harm to the creatures.

I learned some other very interesting facts about horseshoe crabs. A horseshoe crab actually can see UV light with its ten eyes. The horseshoe crabs you see resting on the shore of the beach are all adults. Younger horseshoe crabs live on the intertidal flats and spend most of their day buried underneath the sand. The horse crab education session and sand building fiasco turned into a two hour ordeal and by that time it was time to head back home. While walking home, I noticed that my face and shoulders felt a tad taut, but I did not think much of it.

I arrived home only to look in the mirror to see my upper body a dazzling shade of fire engine red…except it was definitely not dazzling. In fact, it was quite unpleasant, painful, and extremely sore. I spent the next couple of hours applying foul smelling aloe hoping the shade of red would tone down. Unfortunately I still resembled a lobster and wished I would have applied sun block. Who thinks of sunscreen when the temperature barely broke 70 degrees? I guess I under estimated the power of the sun!

The ninja sun hat mentioned in “Born to Explore” would have been the perfect solution to this awful sunburn. The ninja sun hat is extremely easy to create but makes all the difference when out in the sun. It is created by strategically placing a basic t-shirt on your head to protect your face and neck from the blistering sun. The way the t-shirt is placed on your head resembles a ninja hat which is not only a great way to protect yourself from the sun but also a great costume idea. Oh what an adventurous day at the beach! After experiencing this horrible sunburn, I will never again forget my sunscreen or ninja sunhat!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Fireflies - A Summer's Delight!

By Guest Blogger- Cassandra Lobo

Did you know that fireflies are actually a beetle? I’ve always been amazed by those remarkable insects and until recently did not know much about them. I forgot how amazing fireflies were until the other night when I let my dogs outside to play in the yard. My dog, Hope, was carefully inspecting around her and would erratically jump into the air. I smirked at her curiousness, but had no idea what she was doing. After watching for a few seconds (and after thinking she was just plain crazy!) I saw what was keeping her occupied. She had found a firefly, but was confused when its light had gone out and could no longer find it! Intrigued by these creatures I quickly jumped onto the computer to learn more about them.

The life of a firefly is relatively romantic. The male firefly flickers its best flash through the dark summer sky in hopes to find a soul mate. Female fireflies stay closer to the ground and will flash in response if interested. This courtship usually occurs from May through August. There are various different species of these twinkling insects, and like a potato chip, each specie produces the different patterns of flashes. Female fireflies are able to mimic up to 11 different species flash patterns in order to lure males in. Fireflies are able to produce light because they have a light- emitting organ in their lower abdomen. The light is produced by a chemical reaction involving a special protein, a pigment called luciferin, and oxygen. The protein, called luciferase, acts as an enzyme, starting the chemical reaction that generates light.

The hopeless romantic male firefly thinks he is going to find a mate, but instead becomes a scrumptious treat to the tricky female firefly. Talk about an awful date!! When the male is eaten, the female acquires an unpleasant taste to their predators. The male firefly constantly puts his life on the line, but when a female of the right species is finally spotted, they produce eggs and the cycle occurs once again!

Fireflies are one of my favorite (or should I say least feared?) insects and hope you all take the time to admire these fascinating creatures. Watching fireflies is an enchanting experience and has always been a favorite past time of mine! Get your children (and yourselves!) outdoors and catch fireflies for a great summer evening activity!

Monday, July 6, 2009

The day I almost died

Member of the Belize rescue team

There I was, caught underneath a tree in a white-water river in Belize, thinking,
“This is a really stupid way to die.” However, because of the training my father, a 747 captain, had instilled in me growing up I instinctively surrounded myself with a “bubble of calm.” I had learned over the years that whenever emergencies or tough situations arise to slow things down in my head and try to assess the situation. Nevertheless, I knew I had about a minute-and-a-half of available oxygen before I’d black out and drown.

A crowded field heads into dangerous rapids

Luckily for me, that never happened. I was able to shift the boat that was on top of me, free myself from the maze of tree limbs that were holding me captive, and swim toward the light. When I surfaced the first image that greeted me was my friend and teammate Bo Parfet hanging onto a branch against the surging river. He had come up about a minute earlier.

Perhaps too much testosterone and not enough brains

It was day two of the La Ruta Maya, a grueling, multi-day canoe race, and we were now last among a field of just under a hundred vessels. Though we didn’t win, this was only the first of many adventures that Bo and I would share together. Often, the kind of life-threatening incident that we’d just experienced deeply affects a person’s sense of fearlessness, and I wondered how it was going to affect Bo. You see, in my mind he was still untested. I did not know then that, during the next few years, he would witness a death on Mount Everest and have several brushes with it himself in some of the world’s most exotic locations.
As for me, I have thought about that day often and consider myself lucky. The scenario could have been drastically different, and I don’t know if I would have survived. I have always prided myself on being risk adverse and safe in the field, but good explorers or adventurers are able to sense dangerous situations, unlike I had done on that day on the river in Belize.

A widely used phrase, though somewhat cliché, is that the mark of real character in a climber is not how he stands on the summit while holding a flag, but how he pulls himself out of an icy crevasse. Expeditions have a way of revealing a person's true personality, mostly because teammates spend so much time together in close quarters and often in trying conditions, that all pretenses quickly vanish. No one should ever underestimate the value of being a good teammate. A group that works cohesively together will triumph over individual effort every time.

Author with Bo Parfet at Everest base camp

The easy road is safe and predictable, however sticking your neck out on an expedition or trying to extend yourself in any field of endeavor is difficult, especially when you run the risk of looking foolish if you fail. Still, you might as well face the fact that if you’re going to be a leader, you will undoubtedly fail at some point. The important thing is to learn from experience, and also to understand that on those occasions when you put every ounce of energy and passion into achieving something, the exhilaration of realizing your ambition will be well worth the fight. If I had died under a tree in a river in Belize I would have been pretty embarrassed, but I was able to stay calm and as a result learned an invaluable lesson. It is important to remind yourself that though every person lives, it takes a person with true courage to experience failure and continue to live outside their comfort zone.