Meet the Man Cloning Ancient Redwood Trees

Justin Sullivan // Getty Images
Justin Sullivan // Getty Images

David Milarch had a near-death experience in the early 1990s. It led him to rethink his life and his work as an arborist. He looked to the oldest trees he could find in the U.S.—the few remaining coastal redwoods in California—and decided to try bringing the biggest ones back to life. How? Cloning.

One stumbling block is that most of the biggest trees, the famous 30-foot-diameter ones, have already been cut down or burned. How can you get a living cutting from a dead tree? Milarch found that many such trees had secondary trunks called basal sprouts growing out of the same root system. These were genetically identical, and provided viable genetic material.

Many plants can be propagated by cloning. In its simplest form, you literally snip off a green bit and put it in water. While this process is substantially more complex for many plants, at its root (pun intended), Milarch is doing the same thing—but adding hormones to divide and multiply a single cutting. Along with his son, Milarch is taking branches from ancient giants and making new trees. He's planting a brand new forest in the coastal town of Port Orford, Oregon.

Coastal redwoods and giant sequoias grow fast. They can shoot up 10 feet in a year. Although it will take many generations for a new forest to rival the giants these clones came from, these new trees will reach mature status quickly. And while they're doing that, they suck carbon dioxide out of the air.

Milarch has spread his efforts around the world, even cloning several dozen of the largest oak trees in Ireland. His Archangel Ancient Tree Archive now operates in nine countries, working to preserve trees and reforest areas with what they call "new old growth."

In this beautiful short film directed by Michael Ramsey, we meet Milarch and see his work grow. Enjoy:

There Could Be Hundreds of Frozen Corpses Buried Beneath Antarctica's Snow and Ice

Prpix.com.au/Getty Images
Prpix.com.au/Getty Images

Scientists and explorers take a number of risks when they travel to Antarctica. One of the more macabre gambles is that they'll perish during their mission, and their bodies will never be recovered. According to the BBC, hundreds of frozen corpses may be trapped beneath layers and layers of Antarctic snow and ice.

“Some are discovered decades or more than a century later,” Martha Henriques writes for the BBC series Frozen Continent. “But many that were lost will never be found, buried so deep in ice sheets or crevasses that they will never emerge—or they are headed out towards the sea within creeping glaciers and calving ice.”

In the world’s most extreme regions, this is not uncommon. For comparison, some estimates suggest that more than 200 bodies remain on Mt. Everest. Antarctica's icy terrain is rugged and dangerous. Massive crevasses—some concealed by snow—measure hundreds of feet deep and pose a particularly serious threat for anyone crossing them on foot or by dogsled. There’s also the extreme weather: Antarctica is the coldest, driest, and windiest place on Earth, yet scientists recently discovered hundreds of mummified penguins that they believe died centuries ago from unusually heavy snow and rain.

One of the most famous cases of a left-behind body on Antarctica dates back to the British Antarctic Expedition (also known as the Terra Nova Expedition) of 1910 to 1913. British explorer Robert Falcon Scott and his four-man team hoped to be the first ones to reach the South Pole in 1912, but were bitterly disappointed when they arrived and learned that the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen had beaten them to it.

On the return trip, Scott and his companions died of exposure and starvation while trapped by a blizzard in their tent, just 11 miles from a food depot. Two of those bodies were never found, but the others (including Scott’s) were located a few months after their deaths. Members of the search party covered their bodies in the tent with snow and left them there. The bodies have since travelled miles from their original location, as the ice grows and shifts around them.

Other evidence suggests people landed on Antarctica decades before Scott’s team did. A 175-year-old human skull and femur found on Antarctica’s Livingston Island were identified as the remains of a young indigenous Chilean woman. No one yet knows how she got there.

Accidents still happen: After coming close to completing the first solo, unaided traverse of Antarctica, British adventurer Henry Worsley died of organ failure following an airlift from the continent in 2016. Most modern-day polar visitors, however, have learned from past missteps.

[h/t BBC]

How Waffle House Helps Measure the Severity of a Natural Disaster

iStock
iStock

There are a lot of ways the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assesses and addresses the severity of a natural disaster. Meteorology can predict movement patterns, wind gusts, and precipitation. Resources are dispatched to areas hit hardest by torrential weather.

But when the agency needs an accurate, ground-level gauge for how a community is coping during a crisis, they turn to Waffle House.

Since 2004, FEMA has utilized what former administrator Craig Fugate called the “Waffle House Index.” Because the casual dining chain is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, tracking to see if a location is closed or working with limited supplies can help inform the agency as to whether affected areas are ailing or taking steps toward normalcy.

“If a Waffle House is closed because there's a disaster, it's bad,” Fugate told NPR in 2011. “We call it red. If they're open but have a limited menu, that's yellow ... If they're green, we're good, keep going. You haven't found the bad stuff yet.”

For FEMA, the ability to order a plate of smothered and covered hash browns is an important analytic. If a Waffle House is having trouble getting stock, then transportation has been interrupted. If the menu is limited, then it’s possible they have some utilities but not others. If its locations have locked their doors, inclement weather has taken over. The chain’s locations would normally stay open even in severe conditions to help first responders.

The company has opened a Waffle House Storm Center to gather data in anticipation of Hurricane Florence, a Category 2 storm expected to touch down in the Carolinas this week. But not all locations are taking a wait-and-see approach. One Waffle House in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina has already closed due to the looming threat, making it the first red dot on the Index.

[h/t CNN]

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