Sustainability

Deep blue sea documentaries for World Ocean Day

Videos we like: Sea-themed documentaries for World Ocean Day

Deep blue sea documentaries for World Ocean Day

Videos we like: Sea-themed documentaries for World Ocean Day

Deep blue sea documentaries for World Ocean Day

Videos we like: Sea-themed documentaries for World Ocean Day

Looking for the best ocean-themed documentaries on the planet? For World Ocean Day, we've fished up these hard-hitting, inspiring and beautiful portrayals of the deep blue sea.

Oceans make up 96.5 percent of the world's water

A habitat vital for human survival as much as for the life that calls the sea home, humanity is fast waking up to the need to protect the deep blue. If you can't get outside to enjoy the sight of the deep blue this World Ocean Day, do the next best thing and see these top ocean-themed documentaries.

For more documentaries on our oceans, subscribe to Tomorrow Unlocked on YouTube and watch From Kurils With Love, a poignant look at a forgotten archipelago and its endangered seal population.

Mission Blue

2014

About ocean preservation

On Netflix

Directed by Fisher Stevens and Robert Nixon

Get to know the ground-breaking work of oceanographer and National Geographic explorer-in-residence Dr Sylvia Earle, whose water work in Mission Blue will make you well up.

Chasing Coral

2017

About coral reefs

On Netflix

Directed by Jeff Orlowski

"Under the sea" sang Sebastian the crab among animated friends and coral reefs. Fast forward to today and he and his friends might not be so impressed at the rapid disappearance of coral from across the globe. In Chasing Coral, divers, photographers and scientists start an epic adventure to reveal the reasons for coral depletion.

Blue Planet II

2017

About ocean biodiversity

On Amazon Prime

Directed by Various, on behalf of BBC

No documentary list would be complete without the legend Sir David Attenborough. Dive into an endless stream of arresting, awe-inspiring ocean footage, emperor penguins and unusual species.

Sharkwater Extinction

2018

About shark finning

On Amazon Prime

Directed by Rob Stewart

Shark finning might not be as notorious as plastic pollution or biodiversity loss, but it's gravely damaging the ocean. Explore the billion-dollar shark fin industry in this exposé of political corruption at sea.

The Cove

2009

About dolphin preservation

On YouTube

Directed by Louie Psihoyos

What happens when an activist and filmmaker team up with a preservation society to expose one of Japan's most gruesome secrets? The Cove won a Best Documentary Oscar.

Seaspiracy

2021

About overfishing

On Netflix

Directed by Ali Tabrizi

You'll have heard talk of this documentary during the pandemic. Seaspiracy will change the way you look at the ocean, its inhabitants and everything it produces. Not for the faint-hearted.

A Plastic Ocean

2016

About plastic pollution

On Netflix

Directed by Craig Leeson

Winning dozen awards, A Plastic Ocean raised the alarm about the growing threat of plastic polluting the oceans. Shot in 20 locations over four years, this is a hard-hitting exploration of plastic's impact on the seas.

Blackfish

2013

About orca captivity

On Netflix

Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite

Following the story of captive orca Tilikum who killed three people, Blackfish is the shocking story of the devastation caused by keeping wild animals for entertainment.

My Octopus Teacher (above)

2020

About octopi

On Netflix

Directed by Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed

The result of a human-octopus friendship, this heart-warming documentary looks at cross-species connection below the surface. Tissues at the ready.

Did we miss any great ocean-themed documentaries?

These are our favorites, but we know there are more ocean-inspired documentaries everyone should see. Give us your recommendations on Twitter and Facebook.

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World-changing environmental docos: 7 of the best

Videos we like: Our favorite environment documentaries for Earth Day

World-changing environmental docos: 7 of the best

Videos we like: Our favorite environment documentaries for Earth Day

World-changing environmental docos: 7 of the best

Videos we like: Our favorite environment documentaries for Earth Day

As we prepare for life after the pandemic, the inspiration of the great outdoors calls. These 7 environment documentaries are essential Earth Day watching.

Seven inspiring stories for Earth Day 2021

This time last year, much of the world was in lockdown. Now, we move towards a new normal of roaming freely in the great outdoors. But spare a thought for the future of nature. While we've been battling lousy Zoom connections, the environment is under threat from plastic pollution, overfishing and more.

But technological advancements and our renewed appreciation of nature mean hope is on the horizon. This Earth Day, we've picked seven environmental documentaries showing incredible responses to our world's most pressing issues. Which one moves you the most?

Seaspiracy (above)

2021

Directed by Ali Tabrizi

About: Overfishing

After this poignant examination of the global fishing industry, sustainable fisheries and ocean destruction, you may never look at tuna salad the same way. Seaspiracy leaves a lasting impression.

Watch on Netflix.

Sir David Attenborough's Life on our Planet

2020

Directed by Alastair Fothergill, Jonathan Hughes, Keith Scholey

About: Conservation

Life on our Planet is David Attenborough's 'witness statement' for the environment. Tracing his 60-year career broadcasting and natural history career, he shows the steep decline in the planet's health over his lifetime.

Watch on Netflix.

Virunga

2014

Directed by Orlando von Einsiedel

About: Poaching

What happens when brave park rangers meet dangerous animal poachers? Virunga is a powerful look at the poaching industry and those trying to stop it every day.

Watch on Netflix.

From Kurils With Love

2020

Directed by Renan Ozturk, Taylor Rees – a Tomorrow Unlocked film

About: Biodiversity

The Kuril Islands are one of the most inaccessible volcanic islands chains in the world, and they're under threat from climate change. One man stands to protect one of nature's last safe havens.

Waste Land

2010

Directed by Lucy Walker

About: Recycling

Not your average eco-documentary. New York-based artist Vik Muniz travels to the world's largest garbage heap in his native Brazil. What he finds changes him and those around him forever.

Watch on Amazon.

The Plastic Age

2015

Directed by Jake Summer

About: Plastic

Plastic pollution is a severe issue, but what can we do about it? The Plastic Age demonstrates a use for the Great Pacific garbage patch: Bionic yarn. But what is it and how can it help?

The Undamaged

2018

Directed by Miha Avguštin, Rožle Bregar and Matic Oblak

About: River conservation

Building 2,700 hydroelectric dams on Europe's rivers might seem a good idea. So why is this kayaking group fighting it? Follow the paddling protesters from Slovenia to Albania as they join locals to oppose new dams.

These sobering but powerful glimpses at Earth under threat show people acting for change. Have we missed one? Share your recommendations with us on Facebook and Twitter.

Inspired to go one step further? Donate to the Kuril Islands preservation fund set up by marine biologist Vladimir, star of From Kurils With Love.

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Could this beetle end water scarcity?

Our video picks: This World Water Day, Science Insider introduces nature's water-saving experts

Could this beetle end water scarcity?

Our video picks: This World Water Day, Science Insider introduces nature's water-saving experts

Could this beetle end water scarcity?

Our video picks: This World Water Day, Science Insider introduces nature's water-saving experts

This World Water Day, we're asking, how will we beat the world's water crisis? Science Insider says one tiny beetle could be the answer.

Nature's answer to climate change impacts this World Water Day

In fighting climate change, nature could teach us our biggest lessons. Take this machine learning-based ocean microorganism preservation project, for instance. Now, according to Science Insider, one big (or small) source of inspiration could come from the Namib Desert Beetle. Why are scientists rushing to study its exoskeleton as a way to help overcome the water crisis?

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Can ice and code preserve human culture?

Freethink meets the Arctic World Archive, archiving knowledge in ice

Can ice and code preserve human culture?

Freethink meets the Arctic World Archive, archiving knowledge in ice

Can ice and code preserve human culture?

Freethink meets the Arctic World Archive, archiving knowledge in ice

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Urban Sun - art to beat the pandemic

This art project explores how UVC light could clean coronavirus from public spaces

Urban Sun - art to beat the pandemic

This art project explores how UVC light could clean coronavirus from public spaces

Urban Sun - art to beat the pandemic

This art project explores how UVC light could clean coronavirus from public spaces

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MIT engineers taught spinach to send emails

Watch how these nanotechnology-charged plants are communicating with humans

MIT engineers taught spinach to send emails

Watch how these nanotechnology-charged plants are communicating with humans

MIT engineers taught spinach to send emails

Watch how these nanotechnology-charged plants are communicating with humans

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Can low-tech help forests survive?

Terraformation shows technology can help to transform nature

Can low-tech help forests survive?

Terraformation shows technology can help to transform nature

Can low-tech help forests survive?

Terraformation shows technology can help to transform nature

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Games could help develop better assistive tech

"My brain became part of the machine."

Games could help develop better assistive tech

"My brain became part of the machine."

Games could help develop better assistive tech

"My brain became part of the machine."

For disabled people, high-tech assistance systems are breaking barriers. Competitors in multi-sport championship Cybathlon are showing how these technologies are changing the game.

State-of-the-art 'pilots' are opening doors

It's easy to take independence for granted, but for someone with a disability, a new piece of assistive technology that lets them perform an everyday task without help can never come soon enough.

To show the power of technological assistance systems (known to many as 'pilots,') every four years in Zürich, Switzerland, disabled people with software developers, engineers and neuroscientists use state-of-the-art assistance tech to compete in the multi-sport championship Cybathlon.

Of course, there are medals at stake. But Cybathlon exists to promote experimenting with assistive technologies to extend disabled people's access to all parts of life. From using brain power to control avatars, to navigating obstacle courses with augmented limbs, Cybathlon wants to make sure we can all expect independence, regardless of impairment or injury.

Even Covid couldn't stand in the way of Cybathlon 2020. Here's how Cybathlon's organizers and competing teams changed tack to deliver its most inclusive events yet.

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Taking notes from nature

3 examples of scientists using biomimicry for human improvement

Taking notes from nature

3 examples of scientists using biomimicry for human improvement

Taking notes from nature

3 examples of scientists using biomimicry for human improvement

Humans are innovative but has it been done before? Learning from and mimicking nature for human designs is known as biomimicry. Find out how inspiring nature truly is when scientists utilise biomimicry in order to successfully create intelligent mechanisms:

Reducing carbon dioxide and making cement

How a kingfisher helped an engineer

Biobots inspired by nature

What are some other examples of biomimicry? Share your favourites with us on Twitter and Facebook!

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Taylor Rees: The story of the nature filmmaker

One of the most exciting nature filmmakers out there

Taylor Rees: The story of the nature filmmaker

One of the most exciting nature filmmakers out there

This Wildlife Day, see how nature perseveres

One of the most exciting nature filmmakers out there

World Wildlife Day is a time to celebrate and raise awareness of the natural world and its value in our lives. From Kurils With Love is set in one of the most inaccessible volcanic island chains in the world. We meet Vladimir, a marine biologist, and warrior for the planet.

Behind the scenes

Renan Ozturk and the crew survey the devastation to wildlife after a volcanic eruption and reflect on what it means.

The rise of drones

Go behind the scenes to learn how the film was made and the crew overcame technical challenges. With extra footage and commentary from the filmmakers.

Would you visit the Kuril Islands if you could? What's the most beautiful nature spot you've ever visited? Share your wildlife stories with us on Twitter and Facebook!

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The Rise of the Drones

The Rise of the Drones

The Rise of the Drones

While From Kurils with Love was getting airtime at various festivals during the first half of 2020, the overwhelming feedback seemed to be: how can we see more of the Kurils? How can we learn more about the Kurils? How can we understand the challenges that Vladimir Burkanov is facing on his mission to protect the Kurils?

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Nature and Virtual Reality

Exploring our planet with virtual reality

Did you know that 12.000 years ago about 6.6 trillion trees grew on our planet? Today there are still just over 3 million: In the last 8.000 years alone about 80 percent of our forests have been destroyed. And can you imagine, that there are children who have never seen a forest before and probably never will? So on March 21, the International Day of Forests, I would like to remind us of the importance of trees, and how much we need forests, not just to decorate golf courses, but as habitats for animals and plants, and also understand, how virtual reality may change what we see, know and learn about faraway jungles and natural habitats, only a small group of people has ever seen before.

Burning Trees

We're losing one of the world's most precious commodities - our forests. In 2018, 3.6 million hectares of rainforest disappeared – an area the size of Belgium. In 2019 it was the Australian bushfires which took almost 25.5 million acres of woodland with it – the same landmass as South Korea. And, despite the many protests, there is still the ongoing deforestation of the Amazonian rainforest for farming and cattle which is taking place at an alarming rate and shows no sign of slowing down. In fact, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has surged to its highest rate in more than a decade.

This simply can't go on. For me, the world's forests represent nature's zoo - a home to so many species but also a playground for people of all ages to enjoy bike rides, walks or camping. They're a personal haven to so many and a home to billions of creatures. They provide an opportunity for people of all walks of life to escape the stresses of the world and be close to nature - something that those of us living in big cities or built-up urban areas rarely get the chance to do.

Take a Virtual Tour Through the Jungle

So, with the destruction of the world's forests showing no sign of slowing, it made me wonder if we are heading towards a time where we don't even have the chance to enjoy and explore the many natural wonders our forests hold. I hope this will never be the case, but what if it did? How could future generations benefit from the learning and understanding of the world around you that you can only get from our forestlands?

The answer is technology, specifically virtual reality (VR) technology. Advancements and innovations in this space now mean that it is just as easy to strap on a VR headset and explore the world from the safety and comfort of your own home. With this has come an increased interest in how we can explore and learn about global forestry and to witness their natural beauty and learn of their history without even being there.

360° Virtual Reality Tour

The 360-degree film, called "Under the Canopy," takes viewers into the depths of the Amazon allowing you to experience the region's diverse environment as if you were there in person. But it's not just about the picturesque views and beautiful vistas, the film also shares a very important message with viewers – unless we as the human race make changes, this incredible landscape is under threat and is likely to be destroyed unless we all collectively work towards keeping this landscape protected.

Virtual Reality and Education

By having the opportunity to explore these areas of natural beauty in VR we can learn so much. Education on the important role forests play in helping our climate and sustaining a vast eco-system of plants and animals is extremely important for both current and future generations. Without this technology, many of us will miss out on the vital education they provide. We won't learn about the impact of deforestation on both the forest eco-system and the world and we won't know how to best respond to the threat of climate change and do more to protect the wilderness and wildlife.

From this perspective, it is important that big tech firms and the many global and regional organisations responsible for the protection and upkeep of the world's forests come together to make this happen. Tech companies have the platforms and resources to be able to deliver on the many promises VR and related technology can offer. We all know that technology is one of the best platforms for helping engage children with learning so it makes sense that it is used to encourage kids to become involved with preserving forests and perhaps consider a future career in forest preservation and management.

Fighting Climate Change

But aside from the obvious benefits, VR has in enacting behavioural change through education, there are of course many other uses. But for me, the most important is how VR technology can help us do more to respond to the current climate change emergency. I've been so inspired to find many filmmakers and advocacy groups using VR content as a platform for helping the world better understand the need to act on this important issue. One of my favourites from a few years ago is the film 'This is Climate Change'. This four-part film explores the key topics of deforestation, global warming, wildfires and famine with viewers experiencing first-hand how the world and civilization suffer as a consequence of these changes. Experiencing the impact first-hand is quite an emotional ride but one that leaves you wanting to do more to help. And if VR can make such an impact on each and every one of us, imagine the enormous positive change we could all help bring about.

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Technology on Tyuleny

How to study 50.000 seals up to six times a day

The engine of the ship Afina, our home on the From Kurils with Love expedition, was quiet. The only noise making its way into our cabins came from the sound of waves slapping against the hull of the ship. As I emerged from below deck, I saw it was misty that day. The only sense of direction I had was a vague one- we were somewhere in the North Pacific, a few hundred kilometers northwest of Japan, in a place that you would never have found on a map if not for the likes of Google maps: Tyuleny Island.

Getting ready

 

The film crew, myself included, scrambled to get ready that morning. We were pushing through the chaos of the end of the trip- exhaustion, scattered gear, and the slight hangover that comes from time spent on a ship with old (and new) friends.

Dr. Vladimir Burkanov, our unexpected guest on the journey, was already drifting into the fog in a zodiac. It was laden with 42-gallon barrels filled of water that would supply the research station on Tyuleny Island.

We struggled to catch up with him, but a few minutes later, I was on another zodiac speeding off into the mist towards the island. All around me the heads of dozens, if not hundreds, of northern fur seals snuck out of the water surface. They silently stared at us, curious at the sight of the vessel passing by, before dipping back into the depths.

The smell of nature

Renan Ozturk

Soon after the island came into view. The Tyuleny Island Research Station sat behind the slope of a narrow, boulder filled beach. At first glance I remember thinking that the boulders were moving. And sure enough, they were, but they weren't boulders- almost every corner of open space was covered with sprawling masses of the northern fur seals and Stellar sea lions.

It wasn't long after that I noticed the smell- not an unfamiliar one to me, but… one that seemed stronger than I had experienced before. Much stronger.

It was the smell of not tens, or hundreds, or even thousands of northern fur seals and Stellar sea lions, but tens of thousands. 50.000 of them, to be precise.

If, at this point in the story, you are wondering how and why so many large animals can make a living on an island that doesn't even reach 650 meters at its longest point- you are asking the right question.

The changes in the population of northern fur seals and Stellar sea lions here, along with their behavior and mating habits, are the exact reason Vladimir and his team spend months at the Tyuleny Island research station.

No kitchen, no heating - pure research

Chris Burkard

As I walked into the Tyuleny Island Research station, a building without heating or a working kitchen, I was surprised to see Vladimir's students and colleagues inside one of the rooms with computer screens dotted with aerial imagery and complex computing software.

The team inside the room was a small one: besides Vladimir and his colleague and the field station leader Ivan Usatov, efforts on Tyuleny are built upon the work of Anya Kirillova, a researcher from Nizhniy Novgorod; Dasha Gerasimova, a veterinary student from Irkutsk, Egor Vasyukov, a student from Kirov, and Sasha Igitov, volunteer from Kirov.

The Challenge: Studying 50.000 marine mammals

Taylor Rees

Studying such a large population is a daunting task. Simply navigating through the cacophony of sounds and smells while weaving through the moving maze of seal and sea lion bodies was a challenge for us as one-day visitors to the island. As an ocean scientist myself, I couldn't imagine the amount of labor that would be needed to get regular counts of the population here and how it changes on a week-to-week and day-to-day basis. On top of that, the team on the island is a small team with limited resources, supported only by occasional supply runs, making it all seem like an impossible task. Each survey would take days of intense work, and in order to get the best quality of data, this process would need to happen ad infinitum during each field season.

But Vladimir and his team have found a way to survey the populations anywhere from four to six times a day. How?

The technology behind the research

Chris Burkard

It all started when Vladimir's colleague Ivan taught himself to use U-Net: a type of convolutional neural network, originally made for medical purposes, which is designed to work with limited numbers of images as a training set.

Using U-net alongside existing drone technology, Vladimir and his team can capture aerial imagery suited to specific research questions. In some cases, for example, the team wants counts of Stellar sea lions and northern fur seals by age/sex (pups, juveniles, mature adults). Data related to other behaviors is also captured, like how many males and females have territory, tracking specific individuals with brands or injuries, or estimating body size.

Taylor Rees

Each of these surveys requires a huge amount of data, and getting the surveys right takes practice. Test flight paths have to be developed in order to find the best altitude, speed, time of day, and image overlap that maximizes the image quality of the drones. Anywhere from one thousand to three thousand images are collected per survey - again, with 4-6 surveys a day. Once the images are all normalized to the same scale and stitched together -often called an orthophoto plan, in technical terms- an application in the statistical programming language R created by Ivan Usatov automatically processes the images and collects the relevant information.

With that, a survey that might take days of labor can now be processed from start to finish in just six hours after the images are collected, all with an error rate in the range of 4-8%.

So what are the implications of this new integration of drone technology into Vladimir's work?

While we chose to integrate technology can be complicated, it became clear that the use of drones and modern computing techniques on Tyuleny has an outsized impact in their capacity to understand marine mammals in the region. With a bit of luck and a lot of effort, the strategic use of technology by the team here may one day help conserve the natural beauty in this tiny corner of the planet.

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Kinetic Energy is all around

The power source of the future?

Kinetic energy is not something we talk about a lot, but it is one of the most exciting technologies coming to market and potential solution to the world's over-reliance on legacy sources of energy such as fossil fuel. So why is it so important? Simply put, kinetic energy is all around us and if harnessed correctly, it could become one of the most important sources of clean energy we have at our disposal and an important weapon in helping fight climate change.

What is kinetic energy?

manu mangalassery – Pexels.com

In short, it is the energy of motion. When you move your body or a physical object, you are doing so with kinetic energy. A person walking, a ball being kicked or even an item falling from a table all possess kinetic energy – it is the force that is propelling them forward. You can even work out the amount of kinetic energy in joules using a simple equation, which I won't bore you with here, but what this means is that every individual and object have the potential to produce kinetic energy.

This is why I am talking about kinetic energy with such a passion – because it has such amazing potential – we just need to change our behaviours to tap into this technology and ensure there is a planet Earth left in all our futures.

Why is it so important?

Pixabay - Pexels.com

With 67 countries and eight US states working towards carbon net neutral targets, clean energy solutions need to be identified and implemented as soon as possible.

In tandem, as set out by the World Economic Forum way back in 2017, many countries are also working to reduce the number of petrol and diesel cars in use by 2040 at the latest, although some countries such as UK and Norway look to achieve that by at least 2035.

This is where kinetic energy comes into the equation. Most self-charging hybrid electric vehicles are based on kinetic energy. Have you ever booked an Uber and rode in one of the world's most popular self-charging hybrids – the Toyota Prius? Well if you have, you have been in a car that is powered by kinetic energy. Every time the car breaks, kinetic energy is produced which is stored in the cars batteries and then reused to help drive the car forward. So, it makes sense that as we slowly wean the planet off of its reliance on fossil fuels, particularly to power the many, many, many cars on the road, kinetic energy capabilities offer the perfect 'clean energy' solution. In fact, as of 2020, Uber insists that every one of its London drivers needs to drive a fully electric or petrol/electric hybrid car.

Where else can kinetic energy be used?

Hasan Albari - Pexels.com

But of course, this technology doesn't come cheap and, right now, electric cars are not something we can all afford. But there are many ways in which we can all harness and use kinetic energy in our day to day lives. Take your phone for example, you charge it every day, right? Well, swap your phone charger for a kinetic charger. There are some which are powered by a hand crank and others powered by a battery that is charged by a sensor in your trainers as you run. These are just some of the examples of products already available, but a wider variety of devices will soon hit the market that will help charge all of your most important devices – from your phone to your computer and most devices in between.

But aside from the obvious solutions, there are a handful of other technologies to take advantage of. One of my favourites is the self-charging floor, a technology that is already at work in Las Vegas, lighting up a handful of 'the strips' streets. But imagine applying this technology to your office space where workers are constantly walking back and forth between their desks and meeting rooms. One company, called Energy Floors, is hoping to achieve just that and are beginning to design kinetic installations for spaces of all sizes.

Of course, businesses are not going to switch to 100 per cent kinetic energy soon, but products such as the Flywheel Batteries will help businesses create and store kinetic energy locally. Flywheel storage facilities make use of a flywheel system that constantly accelerates and decelerates a rotor in order to store kinetic energy.

How will the future with kinetic energy look like?

Nita - Pexels.com

There are also a handful of start-ups harnessing energy in different and unique ways. Kite Power Systems is looking to harness the power of kites by floating them high up in the sky where there are far more power wind speeds. The movement of the kites in the wind turns a turbine which, in turn (pun totally intended), generates clean energy. American Wind has invented the world's smallest wind turbine – one that can generate almost 1,000 times more than a solar panel. That's quite impressive for something no bigger than a 30 cm cube.

Finally, there is Constructis, an innovative new energy start-up that wants to use its technology to collect kinetic energy from every vehicle on the road by capturing energy as they drive over it. Think of it as an energy harvesting speed bump.

When it all comes down to it, we all have a responsibility to do more to change how we source and consume energy so that we become less reliant on less green energy solutions. There is no doubt that we are only at the start of the journey towards to a kinetically powered future, but when we get there I have a feeling it will be a very bright future.

 

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Could immortality be this easy?

Could immortality be this easy?

Could immortality be this easy?

Eat turmeric, exercise regularly, sleep well – a few of many tips to increase your lifespan. But if they work, they will probably only give you a handful of extra years. If you want to drastically prolong your time on earth, here's what you might do instead.

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How green is green technology?

Green technologies are often seen as solutions to save our environment. But have you ever heard of their rebound effects?

Imagine an entire country enacts a law that requires the use of a more energy-efficient LED lightbulbs. Sounds good right? But what if I told you that in every country this law has been passed energy consumption went up?

The reason why could be a bit of a mystery, but it's exactly why using green technology to solve problems can be incredibly difficult. It all boils down to two main reasons: The first is that a lot of what we consider to be the sustainable option, is only sustainable if a product is used in a certain way. The second is that people's behavioral changes that come from introducing new technology are hard to predict. That's what we call "rebound effects". But what does that mean?

Like many people today, you might feel guilty about going to your favorite café because every time you buy a coffee, it comes in a disposable plastic cup that you know will somehow, someway, end up in a landfill and slowly make its way into the ocean where it may sit for decades or even centuries. What do you do? The easy answer for many of us is to purchase a reusable coffee mug that we take with us every day to fill up our coffee. Voila! You've circumvented the need for a single-use paper cup with a plastic lid. The purchase feels good knowing that we've done our small part to help save the planet. Problem solved… right?

A Woman Holding A Takeout Coffee Getty Images

But is any of this really true- that a reusable mug is "greener" than a disposable cup? As it turns out, it depends on how you use your reusable coffee container. This is because, in part, it requires more CO2 emissions to produce than a disposable cup. Just to make up for emissions, it might need to be used up to 100 times in order to balance the emissions of a disposable cup. And it gets even trickier: "Sustainability" doesn't just mean reducing CO2 emissions, right?

All the materials that combined make up everything we buy come at an environmental cost. If we take into account the materials used in a reusable coffee mug, the water it takes to wash it after each use, the soap and more - it may take over a thousand uses compared to a disposable mug to balance the overall environmental impacts. If you're anything like me and you tend to lose reusable mugs every now and then, this really calls into question whether it's an environmentally friendly purchase.

Nowadays, this is why researchers are trying to understand the lifecycle of products - the environmental impacts starting from the extraction of materials from the Earth, through manufacturing, to the transportation to stores - all for increased understanding of the conditions under which a product might actually be considered "sustainable".

The second, even more tricky issue, is that day-to-day human behavior may change when we exposed people to a new piece of technology. Going back to the coffee mug, for example, a consumer may drink 50% more coffee, simply because the volume of the mug is larger compared to a single-use cup. At first, it may seem like a small change, but on a large scale, an increase in coffee demand, simply from using a bigger mug, could easily lead to a huge number of unintended consequences: Increased coffee demand, for example, has long been linked to deforestation and economic inequality. These types of changes are known as direct rebound effects.

On the other side of that same coin are indirect rebound effects. Indirect rebound effects are even more difficult to quantify, and there can be many of them associated with a single new product or technology. In our coffee cup scenario, it could be that with your new purchase you start drinking more milk with your coffee - another driver of deforestation. It might mean you make more frequent trips to a café and increase your time driving which increases your annual CO2 emissions. You might start purchasing more snacks alongside each new coffee, increasing your net consumption of goods that were likely imported from all over the world. As you can imagine, those indirect rebound effects are extremely hard to track and basically impossible to predict in advance.

It's amazing that even the example of the reusable coffee mug above can have so many unintended consequences on a global scale. It's also important to note that these may be particularly prevalent in technological products that are individually owned, rather than something that is publicly owned. This is exactly why the problem gets even more precarious with initiatives like promoting an entire rehaul of the transportation system by electric vehicles (EV). Other options like making public transit and biking more accessible is more likely to have a net positive effect since both are options that are less materially intensive than an EV.

Electric car charging. Getty Images

The lifecycle of electric vehicles already requires rare earth metals that are more environmentally destructive than a comparable fossil-fuel-powered vehicle when being mined. In many places, they also have thin margins in terms of how much they actually reduce emissions compared to fossil-fuel-powered vehicles. This gets tricky because when people buy an EV, their behavior may change. In their excitement of driving a new, "sustainable" vehicle, they may end up driving it more often and actually emitting more carbon dioxide than the average diesel-powered vehicle - a direct rebound effect commonly associated with electric cars. Electric vehicle owners may also make other decisions differently: to use less public transport, car share less with others, or to use the tax rebate issued to promote electric cars (such as in California) to buy other products that, in the end, all contribute to increased emissions and environmental destruction. Of course, none of this means we should keep using huge amounts of fossil fuels in the face of climate change- it just means that the solutions to these problems may be even more difficult than we initially expected.

Pollution Getty Images

While the idea of rebound effects applies most commonly to topics related to energy use, it's conceptual framework can apply to almost any new integrated technology or product. As of now, all that researchers and policy-makers can do is monitor the impacts in the aftermath of introducing new "green" technology. In the face of these rebound effects, more and more people have been asking themselves whether or not the current technological solutions to climate change are the way to go, especially for individually owned products. Given the urgency of climate change mitigation, the environmental destruction many types of green technology causes because of their lifecycle is precarious. Added is the uncertainty of how rebound effects might actually reduce emissions benefits of EVs in the real world compared to theory. And, in the end, it's why we can mysteriously advocate for energy-efficient lightbulbs and see energy consumption go up. Sometimes, "green" energy may be anything but.

Related articles:

The Guardian - Could the rebound effect undermine climate efforts?

World Economic Forum - Do fuel-efficient cars make us drive more?

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Machine learning beneath the sea

Understanding the impact of climate change

All around us, it seems like things are changing too fast to keep track of. From social media bombardments, constantly updating news cycles, and daily reminders about the threat of climate change, usually accompanied by images that are hard to look away from. Temperatures are rising. Ice caps are melting. Ecosystems everywhere seem to be threatened by local impacts and global climate change.

Climate change illustrated

Pixabay

It is all so overwhelming that by the time we look away from our screens, we are so consumed by the big picture impacts that we overlook the smaller – yet not less important - parts of our planet that are also affected by climate change. The parts of planet that are both figuratively, and literally, hidden from us.

In many ways, it's these tiny, invisible worlds that keep our ecosystems - and us as humans that rely on them - moving along and functioning. But they're hard to see and even harder to study. It's what keeps these tiny organisms, that form our planet's foundation, largely a mystery to scientists who have spent decades studying them.

Phyto... what?

This is exactly the case for phytoplankton, tiny plant-like organisms that photosynthesize in the ocean and produce most of Earth's newly supplied oxygen. Most of them aren't strong swimmers, and they simply drift along ocean currents. Phytoplankton make up the very bottom of marine food web, meaning that the health of everything else - from fish, octopus, squids, and mammals like dolphins, otters, and whales - all directly or indirectly depend on them.

Phytoplankton

Pixabay

In the past, tracking how these organisms change has been extraordinarily difficult. First the plankton were captured by passing water through small filters. Then tens to thousands of them would be manually counted underneath a microscope by a trained professional who spent years learning to correctly identify them. In the 1930s scientists managed to automatically capture plankton over long oceanic distances by equipment dragging behind volunteer merchant and research vessels. However, even with these technological advances the plankton would still have to be processed in a lab under a microscope.

A Continuous Plankton Recorder

https://tinyurl.com/yxjk93eo

Making the invisible visible

This type of research formed the foundation of incredibly important ocean science, but its cost and labor intensity limited researchers' ability to assess phytoplankton communities in detail. For example how the communities responded to long-term ecological changes like global warming, seasonality, and even day-to-day differences driven by weather, precipitation, or ocean currents.

In other words, their size made most patterns in phytoplankton communities hidden from researchers. All this has started to change with a new wave of ocean technology that has been combined with advances in machine learning. Opening up new possibilities and finally allowing ocean scientists to make what was once invisible to us, visible.

Big data becoming meaningful

Scripps Plankton Camera, built by the Jaffe Lab, anchored to a pier piling at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography collects tens of thousands of images every day. Image courtesy of the Jaffe Lab.

Scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California are using new underwater microscopes, that can spend weeks below the surface with little maintenance. The system captures images of particles floating pass by the camera, including phytoplankton. They are imaged at an impressive rate of up to 8 pictures per second.

"Over the last four years, the camera collected nearly 1 billion images of suspended particles drifting onto the microscope. Collection of such a huge amount of data, as exciting as it is to any scientist, comes with a lot of challenges related to data storage and processing," said Dr. Kasia Kenitz, a postdoctoral researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography working on the ecology of phytoplankton communities in the ocean.

"The next challenge is identifying which organisms are depicted in every single image and how can we use this information in a way that will provide meaningful insights into the ecology of these tiny organisms. This is where recent advances in computer vision and machine learning become an integral part in collecting biologically meaningful data."

The Ellen Browning Scripps Memorial Pier hosts an abundance of scientific research equipment to collect data and help solve mysteries of our planet's processes. Image by Rishi Sugla.

Perhaps it is not as bad as looking at a billion samples of phytoplankton slides underneath a microscope, but looking at a billion of images on your computer by hand is still next to impossible. Researchers like Dr. Kenitz have started using machine learning to train image classifiers to automatically identify subgroups of different phytoplankton.

The underwater images of phytoplankton highlight the complex forms of phytoplankton and how beautiful and diverse the invisible can be. This also represents a challenge for automatic object identification since their unique forms are unlike anything else we see in the visible world. Dr. Kenitz and her colleagues have manually inspected tens of thousands of these images to train classifiers to correctly recognize phytoplankton species and calculate their relative abundance through time.

In other words, these methods are revolutionizing our ability to see how these species, which influence every other living creature in the ocean, may change in years to come.

The diversity of phytoplankton. (Images taken by the Scripps Plankton Camera courtesy of the Jaffe Lab).

​So what comes next?

Dr. Kenitz expects that this line of research will become increasingly relevant to humans and how they interact with oceans. "These new underwater technologies have revolutionized the way we observe these tiny-but-mighty organisms. It's especially important to start using these tools for coastal populations that rely on seafood, as uncontrolled growth of some phytoplankton can produce toxic substances, generate huge economic losses and lead to public health issues. We're now working with a community of experts in plankton identification to help us build better, cost-effective ecosystem monitoring."

In the end, this new technology helps us remember that some of the most spectacular parts of our planet are hidden from us. These images, taken in a way previously impossible, help us understand that we can't afford to forget about the people, plants, and tiny organisms living in worlds we aren't able to see.

Even in the midst of what sometimes feel chaotic, we all have a chance to understand the effects of the smallest change in our world just by staying curious.

More about Rishi Sugla you can read here or follow him on Instagram.

 

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How technology protects animals

How technology protects animals

How technology protects animals

The expedition was set up to have two scientists on board: Rishi Sugla, who is an oceanographer, and Jeff Kerby, who researches in plant life and animal interactions in extreme environments. So these two were the scientific backbone of the crew - until last minute we received a request to take someone on board who wanted to check his timelapse cameras around the islands and bring replenishments to some of his team on Tyulenyi.

It was Dr. Vladimir Burkanov, most likely the most knowledgeable person when it comes to life on the Kuril Islands. He has HD timelapse cameras all around the islands to monitor the development of the populations. "When I started 30 years ago, we had a compass", he says. "We use lots of computers and satellite navigation now. Only few years ago, new technologies popped up, showed up in our field research - drones." His team is now using drones to monitor and count the wildlife populations on the island of Tyulenyi.

"Everyday, researchers and students working with scientist Vladimir Burkanov (@bigdaddivladi) fly drones over these populations and feed the resulting photographs into computer vision (that uses a type of AI) models that count all the pups and adults on the island with high accuracy. It is absolutely mind blowing to get a count of tens of thousands of pups from imagery flown earlier in a day (plus a map of where each one is located!!!!!)", Jeff Kerby explained the approach.

For Rishi Sugla "this rugged place is one of the most interesting locations I've ever seen science being done."

For him, it was a reminder of how important international cooperation in research is. "Climate change doesn't care much for the borders we've created as people. But these borders and barriers, whether they are social, political, economic, cultural, or geographic will determine our capacity to deal with its impacts", he said. "Increasing each other's capacity to do important work at the grassroots level, pulling from our institutional resources, is part of how we build something different. I hope I can work to support the scientists I've met here. Not because they needed saving or anything dumb like that, but because solidarity will mean survival going forward."Increasing each other's capacity to do important work at the grassroots level, pulling from our institutional resources, is part of how we build something different. I hope I can work to support the scientists I've met here. Not because they needed saving or anything dumb like that, but because solidarity will mean survival going forward."

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