Friday, December 3, 2010

Places you should see: before they're gone.

Barrow, Alaska
"Why travel to the northernmost point in the U.S.? To see the polar bears that occasionally wander off their sea-ice homes and amble through the tiny town (pop. 4,500). The Department of the Interior added polar bears to the list of threatened species in 2008 as melting sea ice diminished the bears’ ability to hunt for prey. Debate continues to rage — especially in Alaska — about whether the warming trend means polar bears should be added to the more restrictive endangered species list. But when it comes to bears, why not play it safe and see them before it’s too late?"
Mount Kilimanjaro
"The Snows of Kilimanjaro," described in Ernest Hemingway’s 1938 short story of the same name, may soon become history. A 2009 report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences warned that Africa’s highest peak has lost 26 percent of its icecap just since 2000, and 85 percent of the snows that blanketed the mountain in 1912. Climate change and deforestation may both be contributing factors. The study’s author, Ohio State University glaciologist Lonnie G. Thompson, warned that Kilimanjaro may be bare as soon as 2020. That will make summiting the mountain even easier than it is now, since it already requires relatively little climbing expertise. There just may not be as much to see from the top."
"Across the southeastern U.S., mining companies are clear-cutting forests, blowing the tops off mountains to get at the coal within, and dumping the waste into nearby streams. "Mountaintop removal,” as the process is known, has already flattened nearly 500 Appalachian peaks, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. A good way to witness the beauty of the remaining mountains is on a whitewater rafting trip through the Gauley River National Recreation Area in West Virginia. This 28-mile river features more than 100 rapids and is home to a salamander called the eastern hellbender, found only in this river gorge."
The Great Barrier Reef
"If ocean temperatures continue to rise, the world’s largest coral reef could lose much of what makes it so appealing to more than 1,500 species of tropical fish — and to thousands of snorkelers and scuba divers. In 1998, 2002 and 2006, higher water temperatures caused epidemics of coral bleaching, which robs the coral of the algae that gives it its brilliant color. Scientists say the reef has recovered well from the latest episode, but runoff from coastal development and increasing commercial fishing levels remain threats to this magnificent underwater ecosystem. Most at risk are the reef’s populations of dugongs — marine mammals closely related to manatees — and loggerhead turtles."

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