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Left: Muir Glacier Melt, Alaska, 1891 (G.D. Hazard). Right: 2005 (Bruce F. Molnia). Images courtesy of the Glacier Photograph Collection and the National Snow and Ice Data Center

NASA Shares Striking Before and After Images of a Changing Earth

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Left: Muir Glacier Melt, Alaska, 1891 (G.D. Hazard). Right: 2005 (Bruce F. Molnia). Images courtesy of the Glacier Photograph Collection and the National Snow and Ice Data Center

Whether it's a selfie-a-day project or the time machine function on Google Street View, few things are as effective at illustrating change over time as photography. NASA's Images of Change online gallery pairs photos taken of various places on Earth with historical images of the same locations to show how things like climate change, natural disasters, and urban growth have altered the landscape of the planet. Some of the images were taken a century apart, while others show drastic changes over a much shorter period of time.

As NASA notes, the images underscore how mutable Earth's surface really is. There are 309 sets of photos, including shots of growing urban sprawl in Cancun, Mexico, the shrinking ice caps of Iceland, and the damaged marshlands surrounding a post-Katrina New Orleans. Check out a few selections below, and head over to the NASA Global Climate Change website to view the full gallery.

Left: McCarty Glacier Melt, Alaska. 1909. Right: 2004. Images courtesy of Glacier Photograph Collection, National Snow and Ice Data Center/World Data Center for Glaciology.

Left: Urban growth, Mexico, 1979. Right: 2009. Images courtesy of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) 

Left: Drought, California, 2011. Middle: 2013. Right: 2014. Images courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Landsat Missions Gallery / USGS and NASA.

Left: Drying Lake Urmia, Iran, 2000. Middle: 2010. Right: 2014. Images courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Landsat Missions Gallery / USGS and NASA.

Left: Shrinking ice cap, Iceland, 1986. Right: 2014. Images courtesy of the NASA Earth Observatory

Left: Agricultural growth, Egypt, 1972. Right: 2003. Images courtesy of Earthshots: Satellite Images of Environmental Change

[h/t Architecture and Design]

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A Coral Reef in Mexico Just Got Its Own Insurance Policy
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The Puerto Morelos coral reef, about 20 miles south of Cancún, is one of Mexico’s most popular snorkeling attractions. It also serves a vital purpose beyond drawing tourists. Like all reefs, it provides a buffer for the coast, protecting nearby beaches from brutal waves and storms. And so the beachside businesses that rely on the reef have decided to protect the coral as they would any other vital asset: with insurance. As Fast Company reports, the reef now has its own insurance policy, the first-ever policy of its kind.

Coral reefs are currently threatened by increasing ocean acidification, warmer waters, pollution, and other ocean changes that put them at risk of extinction. Mass coral bleachings are affecting reefs all over the world. That’s not to mention the risk of damage during extreme storms, which are becoming more frequent due to climate change.

Businesses in Puerto Morelos and Cancún pay the premiums for the Reef & Beach Resilience and Insurance Fund, and if the reef gets damaged, the insurance company will pay to help restore it. It’s not just an altruistic move. By protecting the Puerto Morelos reef, nearby businesses are protecting themselves. According to The Nature Conservancy, which designed the insurance policy, coral reef tourism generates around $36 billion for businesses around the world each year. Perhaps even more importantly to coastal businesses, reefs protect $6 billion worth of built capital (i.e. anything human-made) annually.

When a storm hits, the insurance company will pay out a claim in 10 days, according to Fast Company, providing an immediate influx of cash for urgent repair. (The insurance policy is tied to the event of a storm, not the damage, since it would be hard to immediately quantify the economic damage to a reef.) The corals that break off the reef can be rehabilitated at a nursery and reattached, but they have to be collected immediately. Waiting months for an insurance payout wouldn’t help if all the damaged corals have already floated away.

The insurance policy is one of many new initiatives designed to rehabilitate and protect endangered coastal ecosystems that we now know are vital to buffering the coast from storm surges and strong waves. Coral reefs aren’t the only protective reefs: In the eastern and southern coastal U.S., some restaurants have started donating oyster shells to help rebuild oyster reefs offshore as a storm protection and ecosystem rehabilitation measure.

Considering the outsized role reefs play in coastal protection, more insurance policies may be coming to ecosystems elsewhere in the world. Hopefully.

[h/t Fast Company]

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How Louisville Used GPS to Improve Residents' Asthma
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Louisville, Kentucky has some of the worst air pollution in the U.S., which is particularly bad news for the 85,000 people in surrounding Jefferson County (about 11 percent of the population [PDF]) who have been diagnosed with asthma.

The air quality situation in Louisville won’t be changing anytime soon, but a new study with sensor-equipped inhalers shows that technology can help people with asthma cope, as CityLab reports. The two-year AIR Louisville project involved the Louisville government, the Institute for Healthy Air Water and Soil, and a respiratory health startup called Propeller, which makes sensors for inhalers that can track location and measure air pollutants, humidity levels, and temperature.

Propeller's inhaler-mounted sensors allowed the researchers to monitor the relationship between asthma attacks and environmental factors and provided new insight on how air quality can change from neighborhood to neighborhood. The sensors—which are already used by doctors, but have never been deployed citywide before—can measure levels of nitrogen oxide, sulfur, ozone, particulate matter, and pollen in the air, plus track location, temperature, and humidity, all of which can impact the risk of asthma attacks. The sensors send Propeller data on when, where, and how many "puffs" patients take to track how often people are resorting to emergency medication.

Propeller sent out app notifications to warn the Louisville program participants of greater risk of an asthma attack on bad air quality days, and showed them where and when the most asthma attacks happened around the city.

An inhaler with a sensor on top of it lies next to a smartphone open to the Propeller app.

The Propeller program illuminated just how much more asthma-triggering pollution the city’s west side (predominantly home to poor, African-American residents) faces compared to other neighborhoods. The data also showed that ozone provoked an uptick in asthma attacks throughout the city, namely along highways. The study may end up influencing air quality regulations, since the researchers found that air pollutants became problematic for asthma sufferers even under the legal levels.

The program had huge short-term benefits, too, beyond collecting research for city policies. By the time it ended in late June, the study clearly had a significant impact on the nearly 1200 people with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) who took part. The asthma group showed a decline in average inhaler use after a year. There was an 82 percent decline in people's weekly average uses of rescue inhalers at the 12-month follow-up, and the participants had twice the number of symptom-free days. The majority of participants said they understand their asthma "very well" or "well," can better control it, and feel confident about avoiding a bad asthma attack.

Now that the program is over, the institutions involved are still working to launch new policies based on the results, like creating citywide asthma alerts and planting more trees.

[h/t CityLab]


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