Category: Tech

Innovation: Drone Mapping of Coral Reefs and the Coastal Zone

Join the Conservancy’s Steve Schill and an enterprising student in northern Haiti as they use an amphibious drone to monitor marine habitats — above and below water.

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A Hackathon for Fish Conservation

Hackathons have swept through the tech industry, and have been used to quickly find innovative solutions in software, gaming and apps. Could a hackathon ever be used to solve a conservation challenge?

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Grouse Robot: Remote-Controlled Bird Assists Conservation

A grouse robot? You bet. And no, it’s not a gimmick. On the sagebrush plains of Wyoming, researchers are deploying the fake birds to study how males react to females — and helping to protect the species in the process.

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Of Drones and Cranes: UAV Technology Aids California Bird Conservation

Sandhill Cranes congregate in great numbers at night, crowded together in flooded fields. How can California conservationists accurately count them. Enter a new tool in bird monitoring: the drone.

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NASA Radar Helps Conservationists Study Songbird Migrations

NASA radar technology can detect the size, shape and speed of individual raindrops. It can also, it turns out, detect individual birds. Welcome to a powerful new tool in understanding songbird migration being deployed in eastern Maryland and Virginia.

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JournalMap: Where in the World is that Research?

Scientific journals are stuck in the 19th century, says Conservancy scientist Bob Unnasch. They index their articles by topics and concepts and not locations — making them difficult to search for place-based conservation scientists. Enter JournalMap, an ecological literature search engine that allows users to track down relevant scientific research based on location and biophysical variables as well as traditional keyword searches.

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Cloud Computing: A Key Tool in the Fight Against Invasive Species

iMapInvasives is a cloud-based database and mapping system that tracks and monitors invasive species in real-time. It’s also a great way to get citizen-scientists and conservation volunteers involved in the fight against invasive species. And the use of the tool is spreading fast (much like an invasive species does, you might say).

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Matchmaking for Elms: Restoring America’s Iconic Tree Through Genetics

Christian Marks runs a dating service. For elm trees.

As Marks sees it, American elms may be stunningly beautiful, but they could use far more help finding suitable mates than those unlucky-in-love singles scanning Match.com.

Marks, a floodplain ecologist for The Nature Conservancy’s Connecticut River program, is leading a research effort to restore populations of elms, once one of the most iconic and beloved trees in the eastern and midwestern United States.

Restoring trees might seem simple: plant them and they will grow. But in this case, it will require more than Arbor Day volunteers to return elms. Marks’ project involves quests for hidden survivors, sophisticated plant breeding, clones and extensive monitoring – all aimed at speeding up the process of natural selection.

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Genetic Engineers and Conservation Biologists: Scenes From a First Date

Sipping coffee one morning in early April, my eyes quickly darted to an article in my city newspaper by our local hunting columnist entitled “De-extinction coming to Montana.” I didn’t even need to read the column to know what was coming.

Having just read the cover story in the April issue of National Geographic on bringing back extinct species, our columnist — who has spent years fretting over a conservation initiative to restore bison to the grasslands of eastern Montana — now found good reason to fear that the reintroduction of woolly mammoths and other extinct species was headed our way.

Fast forward a week later and I was in Cambridge, England, along with Conservancy Chief Scientist Peter Kareiva, at an international conference organized by the Wildlife Conservation Society on the topic of synthetic biology and how it may influence the future of nature and conservation.

You may already be asking yourself, just what is synthetic biology? In a recent paper in PLOS Biology, Kent Redford and colleagues, borrowing from the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, defined it as “a scientific discipline that relies on chemically synthesized DNA, along with standardized and automatable processes, to address human needs by the creation of organisms with novel or enhanced characteristics or traits.”

The Cambridge meeting brought together over 80 synthetic biologists and conservation scientists to learn about each other’s disciplines and explore how we could work together. (It may be easier to think of synthetic biologists as genetic engineers, as they definitely approach their discipline from an engineering perspective.)

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How Can We Get to Zero-Carbon Energy?

Last week, Earth hit a long-awaited (and much dreaded) climate milestone: the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (as recorded at Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Observatory) has exceeded 400 parts per million for the first time in the 55 years atmospheric CO2 concentrations have been measured — and perhaps not since the Pliocene Epoch, which was between 2.6 and 5.3 million years ago.

The reading was just for a single day — May 9 — and will fall in the summer if previous annual trends hold. But even with substantial improvements in energy efficiency and conservation, atmospheric CO2 levels will continue to grow over the coming decades unless significant global steps are taking to stabilize them — among them, a large increase in zero-carbon energy production. What will it take to achieve that increase? (I’ll speak on that topic tonight at 7:30 PM as part of The Future of Energy,” a Nature Conservancy/WBUR panel discussion at Boston’s BSA Space that also includes Daniel Kammen of the University of California-Berkeley and Jigar Shah, clean-tech entrepreneur. Learn more about the panel and The Future of Nature discussion series.)

Obviously, political will would help get us to zero-carbon energy. But innovations in several key areas could have a big impact. And innovations that lower costs of zero-carbon solutions, making the switch relatively painless for families and businesses, should help bolster political will.

The future of zero-carbon energy production is a big, complicated topic, but there are three areas that seem particularly worthy of discussion: 1) the importance of energy storage for renewables, 2) the diversity of options for zero-carbon electricity, and 3) zero-carbon transportation.

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Go Deep: Using DataThief to Rebuild Misleading Figures

Have you ever looked at a difficult-to-read graph and wished there was a way to figure out what the precise values of the data were?

Or maybe you wanted to extract the data so that you could do your own analysis (or at least produce a clearer graph)? You’re in luck!

DataThief is a program that lets you take an image of a graph or chart and extract the underlying values.

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Forest Dilemmas

Too many deer. Logging one tree to save another. Beavers versus old growth. Welcome to forest conservation in the Anthropocene. Beginning Monday, July 21, join us for a provocative 5-part series exploring the full complexity facing forest conservation in the eastern United States.

What is Cool Green Science?

noun 1. Blog where Nature Conservancy scientists, science writers and external experts discuss and debate how conservation can meet the challenges of a 9 billion + planet.

2. Blog with astonishing photos, videos and dispatches of Nature Conservancy science in the field.

3. Home of Weird Nature, The Cooler, Quick Study, Traveling Naturalist and other amazing features.

Cool Green Science is managed by Matt Miller, the Conservancy's deputy director for science communications, and edited by Bob Lalasz, its director of science communications. Email us your feedback.

Innovative Science

Investing in Seagrass
Marine scientists and fishers alike know that grass beds are valuable as nursery habitat. A new Conservancy-funded study puts a number to it.

Drones Aid Bird Conservation
How can California conservationists accurately count thousands of cranes? Enter a new tool in bird monitoring: the drone.

Creating a Climate-Smart Agriculture
Can farmers globally both adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change? A new paper answers with a definitive yes. But it won't be easy.

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