Updated: Smokies crews recover drowned Knoxville kayaker
TOWNSEND — Smokies recovery teams on Monday found the body of Carl Keaney, 61, of Knoxville, in the Little River.
Keaney was last seen kayaking the Sinks during high flow when he vanished under water, prompting calls to Great Smoky Mountains National Park rangers who, along with other local crews, proceeded to search for his body for three days.
Here’s the previous Hellbender Press report:
Teams are searching for a missing kayaker in what Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials are now calling a “recovery operation” after a 61-year-old man disappeared underwater while boating above the Sinks on Little River. High water levels from recent heavy rains are making search and recovery difficult.
“Around 3:40 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 16 Great Smoky Mountains National Park dispatch received a call that a 61-year-old man had disappeared underwater while kayaking above The Sinks and did not resurface,” according to a news release from the park.
“Park rangers, along with emergency personnel from Townsend Fire Department and Blount Special Operations Response Team are on scene searching for the kayaker. High water level from recent rain is complicating recovery efforts. Little River Road from Metcalf Bottoms to the Townsend Wye is closed to accommodate emergency traffic.”
No more information is immediately available. This story will be updated.
Real or fake Christmas trees? Like most things in life, the answer is a function of time.
Nothing beats the fresh aroma of a live Christmas tree, if you are into that kind of thing, but both real and fake trees carry their own load of sustainability pros and cons.
Live trees offer holiday beauty and scent and are a traditional addition to households. But they are harvested from a vast monoculture and require multiple levels of carbon-burning transport.
Artificial trees offer convenience, and can be reused for a decade. But they are largely made of plastic, manufactured in places with unsavory human rights records, and require global transit.
This article breaks it down pretty well. Maybe it’s just best to not have a Christmas tree?
Beavers mitigate forest fires
NPR: California enlists beavers in battle against climate change
Forest areas with beaver dams are less prone to severe fire damage because of more consistent soil moisture and less extreme air aridity and temperature conditions. Read about it or listen to Randy Simon’s 2-minute beaver podcast on National Public Radio’s Earth Wise web page.
Food myths hurt Mother Earth
The average American family of four annually spends more than $2,000 on food they never eat!
Nearly one in nine people suffer from hunger worldwide.
Agriculture contributes to global greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation and soil degradation.
Climate change increases crop losses.
One third of all food produced in the world is lost or wasted.
It’s not just the food that’s wasted.
Consider the energy wasted to grow, process and transport it.
That all contributes to climate change, food shortages and to the rising costs of food, energy and health care.
Food waste stresses our environment, humanity and the economy.
Austria to sue the European Union if it labels nuclear and gas power plants as “green infrastructure”
VIENNA — Leonore Gewessler, Austria’s energy and climate minister announced that she would take the case to the European Court of Justice if the union’s executive proceeds with plans to include nuclear and natural gas in the EU taxonomy of sustainable finance.
About gas, Gewessler said that it releases unconscionable amounts of greenhouse gases. “Just because something is less bad than coal doesn’t make it good or sustainable.”
Regarding nuclear energy she said it has unpredictably high risks, referring to Chernobyl and Fukushima. She also mentioned as great concerns, the safe disposal of spent nuclear fuel and lack of a global solution for its final storage.
Smokies researchers make a formal acquaintance with a familiar salamander
Great news from the Smokies via Instagram!
The “salamander capital of the world” just gained a new member! Meet our 31st species: the Cherokee black-bellied salamander, or Desmognathus gvnigeusgwotli. Its species name means “black belly” in the Cherokee language. Scientists used genetics to find out that it is different from the other black-bellied salamander in the park.
Climbers can clean their crags during Obed event
WARTBURG — The Obed Wild and Scenic River will host the park’s annual Adopt-a-Crag event on Saturday, Sept. 11 in cooperation with the East Tennessee Climbers Coalition.
Volunteers are needed to help with a variety of projects, including general trail maintenance and litter pickup. Participants should meet at the Lilly Pad Hopyard Brewery at 9 a.m. to register and receive a project assignment. Carpooling is suggested, and volunteers should bring their own lunch, water, hand tools and gloves.
When the work is done, volunteers are invited to spend the day climbing, kayaking or hiking. The ETCC plans a volunteer appreciation dinner that evening at the Lilly Pad.
For more information, contact the Obed Wild and Scenic River at (423) 346-6294.
Falling trees accountable for very few deaths in Smokies, but they do happen
Karen Chavez of the Asheville Citizen Times wrote a great article on tree-related deaths in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and beyond following the death last week of a Georgia child killed by a falling tree as she was occupying a tent in Elkmont Campground.
She reports the death of the child was only the 11th tree-linked death in the national park’s history.
Falling tree kills child in Great Smokies
ELKMONT — A 9-year-old girl died early Wednesday after a tree fell on a tent she was occupying in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The unidentified child was among a group of people camping in Elkmont Campground when the red maple, 2 feet in diameter, fell shortly after midnight and crushed the girl in her tent, according to the National Park Service.
Congo retreats from climate commitments to fuel its fossil energy sector
The government of Congo is recruiting fossil-fuel extractors to suck oil from beneath tropical forest and bog ecosystems that rival the Amazon in their role as carbon sinks.
Opponents say it’s another step in knocking over the dominoes of climate renewal as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues to roil energy markets and threaten international commitments to addressing climate change.
HuffPost: More than 50 House Republicans want to repeal a century-old excise tax that bankrolls wildlife conservation
In the latest “gun rights” lash-out from the GOP, legislation has been filed to abolish firearms taxes levied on gunmakers that fund wildlife conservation.
The Republican legislation is framed as a way to defend gun purchasers from odious taxation under the 2nd Amendment umbrella, but leading hunting and fishing interests said the proposal is misguided and misses the target by a wide mark.
The levy as currently written applies to gunmakers, not individual firearms purchasers.
Rare bipartisan legal effort under way for widespread wildlife protections
New York Times columnist Margaret Renkl noted recently that a precious opportunity has presented itself to strengthen wildlife-protection laws and add to environmental protections across the nation.
The Nashville-based journalist said the act, known as RAWA, “is poised to become the single most effective tool in combating biodiversity loss since the Endangered Species Act.” The resolution is carried in the House by Michigan Democrat Rep. Debbie Dingell.
“This bill provides funding for (1) the conservation or restoration of wildlife and plant species of greatest conservation need; (2) the wildlife conservation strategies of states, territories, or the District of Columbia; and (3) wildlife conservation education and recreation projects,” according to the U.S. Congress.
UTK has quite the collection of earthly remains
WBIR: UT got good bones
KNOXVILLE — The University of Tennessee boasts an incredible collection of animal skeletons — from hummingbirds to bison, according to a story from WBIR. It’s among the largest such assemblages in the country. (There are also skeletons at the Body Farm, but that’s a different story).
The skeletons are part of the UT Anthropology Department’s Vertebrate Osteology Collection.
“We have over 12,000 vertebrate specimens in our collections. So that’s 12,000 skeletons of individual animals,” Dr. Anneke Janzen, an assistant professor in UT’s Anthropology Department, told WBIR.
Initial Advance Knox growth studies available for review
KNOXVILLE — The Advance Knox State of the County Report outlining the conditions and trends that are currently impacting the lives, work, and travel of Knox County residents has been completed and is available on the project website.
The report provides a detailed overview of the county’s geography, demographics, economic well being, and infrastructure. The result is a thorough summary of population, land utilization, development potential, economic growth, employment, housing, and infrastructure data.
“This report is a baseline, a starting point, the first step in creating a new comprehensive land use and transportation plan for Knox County,” said Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs. “It shows us where we are and will help us determine the most responsible ways to manage future development and infrastructure.”
Hellbender Press nets two top awards from Society of Professional Journalists
KNOXVILLE — Hellbender Press took home two awards from the 2021 Golden Press Card contest sponsored by the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists.
Smokies rangers, swift-water teams retrieve body from Little River near Metcalf
TOWNSEND — Great Smoky Mountains National Park rangers responded to a report of a body in Little River about a mile west of Metcalf Bottoms at 1:30 p.m. May 9. Rangers and Gatlinburg EMS/Fire discovered the body of Charles Queen, age 72 of Bybee, Tennessee, partially submerged in the middle of the river.
TDOT wants your input on electric-vehicle infrastructure
Inside of Knoxville: State seeks input on charging stations, EV corridors
(Update: The survey has now ended.) The Tennessee Department of Transportation’s traveling and electrifying road show made an appearance in Knoxville this week. The intent of the meeting, as others scheduled around the state, was to collect public feedback on proposed charging station networks and other components of EV infrastructure.
Tennessee will receive a significant chunk of change toward developing its own share of National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure, provided as part of the infrastructure bill passed by Congress last year. The state will receive $88 million over five years, and has begun drafting some options.
UT journalism stalwart James Crook dies at 82
KNOXVILLE — Dr. James Crook, the former director of the University of Tennessee School of Journalism and Electronic Media, died April 30 in Knoxville. Dr. Crook led the School of Journalism for 28 years before retiring in 2002 and becoming professor emeritus. He also served as a president of the East Tennessee Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
Crook died at the age of 82, just two days short of his 83rd birthday.
He was considered the “father” of the Front Page Follies, an annual satiric send-up of Knoxville’s newsmakers that raised funds for the Front Page Foundation. Dr. Crook, a co-founder of the Follies, was an excellent vocalist and served as musical director for a number of years. His wife, Diane, an experienced theater person and teacher, teamed with her husband during the productions. The couple met while they were teaching journalism, speech and drama in Iowa in high school and community college and married in 1966.
Ocoee Whitewater Center destroyed in huge fire
Investigators are on the site of Polk County’s Ocoee Whitewater Center after it burned down in the early morning hours of April 26. No injuries were reported, and the building was closed to the public because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Forest Service website. Several trails in the area were closed as authorities, including state arson investigators, probed the cause of the massive fire.
The center featured native stone and massive beams and overlooked the Class V rapids of the section of river used for whitewater events during the 1996 Olympics.
Another look at the parallel war Russia is waging against the natural environment
Open armed conflict understandably abrogates immediate concerns about the natural environment.
Despite the tens of thousands of human deaths already caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the war’s impact on natural systems can’t be understated.
In some cases, Russian troops have taken up positions in natural parks and protected ecological areas in Ukraine. The Black Sea coast is an important remaining area of biodiversity in Europe. Ukrainian counterattacks, while understandable, have also inflamed environmental consequences.
There are also immediate risks to human respiratory health from the fires sparked by attacks on fuel depots and chemical facilities.
War’s negative environmental impacts are by no means a new thing: See the use of Agent Orange by the U.S. in Vietnam and the wasteland of burning oil fields left behind in the Gulf War.
War is bad for every living thing.
Bobcats vs. pythons in the swamps of Florida
The proliferation of the exotic and invasive Burmese python in the swamps and wilds of Florida is demonstrably bad for native birds and mammals.
Researchers now have evidence the best solution might have been there all along.
A bobcat was captured on a trail camera by the U.S. Geological Survey eating python eggs and challenging one of the gigantic snakes. It was the first instance of natural, native predation on the snake’s eggs. Bobcats are already known to target reptile eggs, including those of sea turtles.
“While it is possible that this interaction was just an isolated incident, it is also possible that native species are beginning to respond to the presence of the python,” the New York Times reported.
“‘Most cat species adapt their diet to what is available, so bobcats predating on python eggs is actually not that surprising’” said Mathias Tobler, a wildlife ecologist at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance.”
Parson Branch Road improvements under way in Smokies
CADES COVE — Great Smoky Mountains National Park contractors began removing at least 800 dead hemlock trees along Parson Branch Road, an eight-mile primitive backcountry road that connects Cades Cove with U.S. 129 on the western edge of the park.
The road has been closed since 2016 because of the tree hazards and damage to the road surface. The hemlocks succumbed to the hemlock woolly adelgid, an exotic insect that has wreaked havoc on hemlock stands and their accompanying ecosystems.
The road passes several trailheads, and is used by emergency vehicles as needed. The park initially identified some 1,700 trees that posed a hazard to the adjacent roadway, but that number has naturally declined by about half over the past six years.
Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park provided $100,000 for the hazard-mitigation project. That was matched with $50,000 from the federal government.
Once the dead trees are removed, work will begin to rehabilitate the roadway and ensure its safety.
The roadway could reopen this summer, according to a news release from the National Park Service.
Hike and learn at Trails and Trilliums Festival in South Cumberland State Park
MONTEAGLE — Naturalists and nature lovers are invited to South Cumberland State Park April 8-10 for the Trails and Trilliums Festival sponsored by Friends of South Cumberland State Park. The Dubose Conference Center will be the base of operations for activities throughout the park.
Registration opens at noon April 8 with activities for those who arrive early, followed at 5 p.m. by Wine and Wildflowers, a kickoff event featuring author David Haskell. In 2012, “The Forest Unseen” was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction. Haskell is expected to speak about his latest book “Sounds Wild and Broken” released by Penguin Random House on March 1.
The rest of this weekend-long celebration of nature and education will feature activities throughout the park and the community. From Foster Falls to Savage Gulf and Sherwood Forest, participants will enjoy bird walks, wildflower walks, nature journaling and sketching, and a university herbarium and greenhouse tour. The Saturday evening star party is sure to be a hit, weather permitting.
Find a full schedule and registration information at Trails and Trilliums.
Baby whale! Cruise with a humpback and her calf at Tennessee Aquarium 3D movie
The Tennessee Aquarium IMAX Theater in Chattanooga premiered its new 3D educational movie Ocean Odyssey on March 4.
Author, oceanographer and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Sylvia Earle visited the aquarium to help launch the movie, which she and Rupert Degas narrate.
The movie follows a humpback whale mother and calf as they navigate the East Australian Current from the Great Barrier Reef to Antarctica. The planet’s oceans are home to the most diverse and abundant array of life on earth, but they are threatened by climate change, pollution and acidification. Still, life lives on.
The Tennessee Aquarium encourages filmgoers to enhance the 3D film experience with a visit to the Secret Reef exhibit in their Ocean Journey building. This exhibit replicates the Flower Garden Banks off the coast of Texas and Louisiana.
She left that agency to work in the private sector to promote healthy oceans and public access to ocean environments, including Mission Blue.
Kayaker drowns in Smokies near Smokemont
An Ohio woman drowned Thursday while kayaking the Oconaluftee River near Smokemont Campground in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
It was the first fatality of the year in the park.
Rangers said Megan Thompson, 34, of Cleveland Heights, Ohio was trapped underwater “between a fallen tree and the riverbank” after floating through a rapid. It was not immediately clear whether she was out of her boat.
Her fellow boaters alerted rangers at 2:18 p.m. and her body was recovered at 2:57 p.m., according to a release from the park service.
Drowning is the third-leading cause of death in the Smokies, after vehicle and aircraft accidents.
This story will be updated.
Seal it up: Inefficiency increases energy costs across the board
Editors note: SACE executive director Stephen Smith is on the board of Foundation for Global Sustainability. Hellbender Press operates under the FGS nonprofit umbrella.
The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) released its fourth annual “Energy Efficiency in the Southeast” report, which tracks recent policy developments and performance trends in electric utility efficiency from 2020.
It continues to highlight that despite being a proven low-cost clean energy resource with enormous potential to reduce carbon emissions and customers’ energy burden, Southeastern utilities continue to underinvest in energy efficiency.
As a result, households in many Southeastern states have some of the highest electricity usage and monthly energy bills in the nation. Some states and utilities are making progress, and it’s not too late for local policymakers to take advantage of untapped efficiency savings to help reach crucial decarbonization goals.
- Download the “Energy Efficiency in the Southeast” fourth annual report
- Read an excerpt from the accompanying report blog post below, or read the full post here.
Good enviro reporting from Knox News: Smokies air quality and more salamanders!
News Sentinel: State takes path of least resistance with air-quality plans; and researchers are gauging how Southern Appalachian salamanders will respond to climate change.
KNOXVILLE — Local journalists delivered a double tap of critical conservation coverage this week:
The state air quality board is outlining its 10-year haze-reduction plan for Tennessee, and some enviros are arguing the state is not going much beyond the bare minimum required by the feds. That was the crux of a detailed report from News Sentinel reporter Anila Yoganathan that also examined lingering air quality and deposition issues in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. While air quality in some aspects has improved in recent decades, there are still some insidious issues that affect the park’s viewshed, and on occasion, the health of park visitors, too. Acid and nitrate deposition continue to take a toll on park streams.
The report is extensive. A digital subscription is required to view the stories at Knox News, but hopefully they’ll open it up as an introductory freebie.
Speaking of streams and the threat they face:
Science reporter Vincent Gabrielle waded into a story about research at the Tennessee Aquarium delving into the effects of global and regional climate change on Southern Appalachian freshwater denizens such as the black-bellied salamander.
“Their teeming millions make up a substantial proportion of the animal life of a forest. In the headwaters of the Appalachian Mountains, salamanders frequently outnumber fish, birds and other small animals,” Gabrielle reported.
“Lungless salamanders, like the black-bellied salamander, breathe only through their skin. They will notice water pollution, including sediment, agricultural runoff or acidic seepage from old mines, and relocate to cleaner water.” — If they can, we might add. Too often, that is impossible for them.
As global forests fall to blades, tree species go unknown
Nearly 9,000 global tree species haven’t been identified, based on a database that analyzed millions of trees within 100,000 forest segments around the Earth.
Of the 73,300 estimated tree species, the researchers predict there are 9,200 yet to be discovered. Most of the undiscovered and rare species are believed to be in beleaguered tropical rainforests, such as those in the Amazon or Central Africa.
“The researchers used statistical techniques to predict the likely number of tree species, correcting for gaps in existing data,” the BBC reported.
“The findings suggest more must be done to protect the incredible life forms needed for food, timber and medicine and to fight climate change by sucking carbon dioxide from the air.”
E.O. Wilson left energy in Knoxville
Knox County commish subdivides Hardin Valley despite opposition. Again.
Knox County Commission approved yet another expansive subdivision in the rapidly developing Hardin Valley area despite pleas from area residents to pause and take a deep breath as residential and commercial development outstrips and overwhelms first responders, streets, roads and schools and other infrastructure — and any pretense of responsible suburban planning and zoning.
The decision comes on the heels of similar land-use fights (such as those reported by Hellbender Press) originated by citizens as housing shortages mean such disputes aren’t likely to go away anytime soon.
“Look at all the development projects instead of each one individually. Look at all the projects in the pipeline, not just the few hundred that are on the books right now,” said Knox County Planning Alliance consulting engineer Lee Muller, according to WATE reporting. “There’s like 4,500 in the pipeline in some stage of approval or construction in the county right now. They need to look at all that and what that requires in terms of schools, sewer, police, fire stations,” Muller told WATE.
(Correction 26 Jan. 2022: During the meeting Muller said 2021 ended with 4,499 homes under construction in the county, not the country. After reported by Hellbender Press, this transcription error was corrected on the WATE site too.)
Outgoing Smokies forester Kristine Johnson leaves behind a legacy of science and communication
Good read here from the Asheville newspaper about the retirement of Great Smoky Mountains National Park Supervisory Forester Kristine Johnson.
In her three decades at the Smokies, she has tackled issues ranging from exotic and invasive plants to the slow and disastrous demise of the park’s hemlocks due to the hemlock wooly adelgid.
“‘The work we do includes forest health in all aspects,’ said Johnson, who is retiring this month after more than 30 years in the Smokies,” Frances Ligart reported. “Her career has been devoted to reducing the introduction into the park of exotic plants, insects, and diseases.”
Mountain bears in crosshairs of NC sanctuary management plan
State wildlife officials in North Carolina are proposing a rule change that would allow hunters to kill black bears in areas that are currently off-limits to “harvesting” of the animals.
The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission cites the population boom of the bruins in its consideration of opening up permit hunting in sanctuaries such as Panthertown, Standing Indian and Pisgah.
The proposal is among changes to state wildlife law suggested by the commission for 2022-2023 hunting seasons.
“Allowing hunting in additional sanctuaries will help control the growing population as increased human development reduces hunter access outside the sanctuaries, the Wildlife Commission says, and it will also cut down on human-bear conflicts in those areas,” according to reporting from Holly Kays of Smoky Mountain News.
An outline and rationale for the bear sanctuary hunting rule is available on the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission website.
Amorous salamanders heat up the Southern winter
The woods, fields, rivers, creeks and wetlands of Southern Appalachia aren’t as barren as one would think in the midst of winter.
News Sentinel science reporter Vincent Gabrielle gives a solid rundown of why some of our amphibious denizens, including hellbenders, put themselves out there when so many other Appalachian critters retreat to burrows, dens and nests when the snow begins to blow.
“There are more salamander species that call the Southern Appalachians home than any other place on Earth. There are 30 salamander species present in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Out of the 550 known salamander species on the planet, 77 live here in our backyards. Their bright colors make them the living jewels of Appalachia,” Gabrielle reports.
Walker Sisters off-limits for now
Great Smoky Mountains National Park closed the Walker Sisters Cabin because of safety concerns including a shifting chimney.
The cabin is now inaccessible, but visitors can still explore the homestead and outbuildings as work proceeds to analyze and fix the landmark Smokies dwelling.
Restoration work will be funded by Friends of the Smokies.
Per the National Park Service:
“The cabin dates back to the 1800s and was occupied by the Walker Sisters until 1964. Park crews are concerned about recent movement around the chimney in the two-story cabin. Noticeable cracks and buckling around the stone masonry need to be repaired and stabilized to prevent further movement. The cabin is now closed to all use.
“Cabin renovations, including roof replacement, are planned for the 2022 field season. The Friends of the Smokies have provided funding for this critical work as part of the Forever Places campaign to protect and preserve the park’s historical resources. The historic farmstead, including additional outbuildings, will remain accessible during the cabin closure. Visitors may reach the area by hiking approximately 1.4 miles along the Little Brier Gap Trail located near the Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area.”
For more information about the Walker Sisters, please visit https://www.nps.gov/grsm/learn/historyculture/walker-sisters.htm.
SACE works to keep us all warm this winter
This is a submission from the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
After public advocacy from Knoxville community members, the KUB board passed a resolution that will deliver $5 million for emergency bill assistance to benefit those most in need, and an additional $1 million for weatherization to improve the comfort of people’s homes while lowering their bills by increasing energy efficiency. These funds are part of a pandemic relief credit from TVA.
KUB staff proposed a resolution in October that would have allocated $1.3 million of the total $7.3 million TVA pandemic recovery credit toward payment of debt owed by KUB customers, and the remaining $6 million would be distributed as a monthly bill credit for all residential and small business KUB customers. This would have resulted in an average savings of $17 over 12 months, or about $1.40 per month for all KUB customers, regardless of their level of need for pandemic relief.
Knoxville Water and Energy for All (KWEA), a coalition which SACE is a part of, circulated a petition asking that KUB instead forgive all debt owed by KUB customers, and then use the remaining funds to assist households who were struggling to pay their KUB bills. KWEA delivered nearly 200 petition signatures, and the KUB board asked that the resolution be amended.
As a result of our coalition’s advocacy, the KUB board allocated not only the originally proposed $1.3 million for debt relief, but also the remaining $6 million for customers in need.
While KUB did not pledge to forgive all debt, this is certainly a major win for the community.
The KUB Board’s decision to reallocate funds demonstrates the power of our community speaking up to advocate for ourselves and our neighbors.
Lunker sturgeon are out there again
The population of lake sturgeon, a survivor since the Cretaceous Era that barely escaped the ravages of modern dams and reservoirs, is on the upswing in the Holston River and other branches and tributaries of the Tennessee River system. The last record of the fish in the valley before restoration efforts began is about 1960, according to WBIR.
Significantly older fish were identified during a recent inventory of sturgeon, giving hope that some fish were closing in on reproductive maturity. The gradual recovery is largely the result of Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and Tennessee Valley Authority restoration efforts, WBIR reports.
“It makes our valley richer; that fish is supposed to be here,” one researcher told WBIR about the significance of the so-far successful restoration of native sturgeon habitats.
Aerosols and atoms: ORNL supercomputer models airborne spread of Covid-19
Scientists studying the spread of the novel coronavirus utilized the world’s second-fastest computer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory to model the movements of millions of individual atoms that make up the virus and aerosols that can transport and transmit it.
The virus has killed nearly 1 million Americans and infected more than 50 million since a pandemic was declared in early 2020.
“The researchers started by creating a model of the coronavirus, known as SARS-CoV-2, from 300 million virtual atoms,” the New York Times reported.
Researchers then placed the virtual virus model in an intricately detailed and microscopic model of a water droplet such as the type exhaled by those infected with the virus. The supercomputer then calculated how the droplet and its attendant virus could, for example, move within a room where people are in close quarters and exhaling and inhaling the virus.
To carry out this vast set of calculations, the researchers had to take over the Summit Supercomputer, the second most powerful supercomputer in the world.
From fungi to trees, Smokies life gets back on track five years after conflagration
Researchers are tallying recovering species and noting some surprises five years after deadly wildfires tore through Great Smoky Mountains National Park and adjacent communities, according to News Sentinel science writer Vincent Gabrielle.
Fire-dependent species such as the table mountain pine are seizing new land as a result of the wildfires, and some scientists have been surprised by the proliferation of chestnut saplings. Those saplings are the progeny of remaining chestnut root systems, though few if any survive to maturity. The chestnut was largely eliminated from the American landscape more than 100 years ago by a blight that eliminated one of the most productive mast species in the Southern Appalachians.
Scientists are also intrigued by the reappearance of certain fungi decimated by the 2016 fires, which originated near the Chimneys and ultimately spread up Bullhead and then down into Twin Creeks and the surrounding developed communities. Fifteen people were killed and thousands of structures destroyed.
A lot of Smokies habitat is fire dependent, but few wildfires have been allowed to burn in the backcountry over the history of the park. The fire and its aftermath provide researchers a unique opportunity to determine the effects the fire had on the natural landscape and accompanying plants, fungi, trees and animals.
Knox County increases penalties for littering with fines going to illegal dump cleanup
The Knox County Commission in November voted to approve an ordinance further criminalizing the act of littering in Knox County, according to Hard Knox Wire.
According to the new measure, anyone caught littering could be fined up to $500 for the offense, depending on the amount and type of trash involved. Convicted offenders may also be sentenced to up to 160 hours of trash-pickup duties.
The provision also gives Knox County citizens the right to remove trash from rights of way at their own discretion
Littering is already illegal under state law, but the new ordinance allows Knox County to levy its own punishments. For instance, all money collected in the enforcement of the new ordinance will be placed into an illegal-dump cleanup fund maintained by the county.
Clemson University honors Smokies chief for conservation excellence
Clemson University awarded Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Cassius Cash the Walter T. Cox Award for conservation excellence for his dedication to preserving the natural resources of the most visited national park in the United States.
The Clemson University Institute for Parks, in conjunction with the George B. Hartsog Awards Progran, bestows the annual honor “to recognize individuals who demonstrate exemplary leadership in the field of conservation,” according to a news release from the park service.
“The Walter T. Cox Award recognizes park administrators who exemplify Dr. Cox’s distinguished career in education and public service. Superintendent Cash was one of five individuals recognized this year alongside other national and state park leaders.”
The institute said it gave Cash the award because of his “sustained achievement, public service and leadership in conserving and managing public lands. including the most biodiverse and most visited national park in the U.S.”
In acceptance of the award, Cash acknowledged the difficulties faced by managers of wild lands and other public conservation resources during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Leading staff in providing high-quality services and protecting resources during the pandemic, coupled with an extreme rise in visitation, has been challenging,” Cash said in the release.
“I’ve been inspired by our staff, partners, and communities as we work together to care for the park and to continue to welcome people to this space for rejuvenation and healing. It is an honor to be recognized for this work.”
Visit Clemson Institute for Parks for more information about the award and a full list of honorees.
TVA project manager pleads guilty to falsifying reports
A former senior project manager at the Tennessee Valley Authority could spend up to five years in federal prison after he admitted to falsifying financial disclosure reports over several years.
TVA is the largest public electricity provider in the nation and is in the midst of a fraught effort to lessen its dependence on fossil fuels and reduce its carbon output.
James Christopher “Chris” Jenkins, 60, of Chattanooga, entered a guilty plea on Friday to one count of making a false official statement, according to a spokesperson from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Hard Knox Wire reported.
He was accused of failing to disclose personal financial information during a conflict of interest probe, among other charges.
He faces a maximum prison sentence of five years plus up to three years of supervised release and $250,000 in fines when he’s sentenced in March by U.S. District Court Judge Travis R. McDonough.
FBI Special Agent in Charge Joe Carrico said the case was an example of the bureau’s commitment to fighting corruption.
“There is zero tolerance for those who exploit their official position for personal gain. It erodes public confidence and undermines the Rule of Law,” Carrico said. “We want the people we serve to know the FBI along with our law enforcement partners will hold those accountable who betray the public's trust.”
(Remember this?) Report: Sen. Joe Manchin, a holdout Democrat on climate-change legislation, is a “coal baron”
The Guardian: Manchin monkey-wrenches climate change legislation because he’s made millions off fossil fuels
West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, the Democratic linchpin for game-changing climate legislation proposed in a budget bill as part of the Biden administration’s plan to provide aid to families as well as give a boost to efforts to reduce global warming, has thrown a now-infamous wrench in the works.
He has vigorously opposed key parts of the climate legislation included in the 2022 budget bill. Per the Guardian, it’s simply because he and his family have made a fortune off coal extraction in the relatively impoverished state of West Virginia and elsewhere.
“Financial records detailed by reporter Alex Kotch for the Center for Media and Democracy and published in the Guardian show that Manchin makes roughly half a million dollars a year in dividends from millions of dollars of coal company stock he owns. The stock is held in Enersystems, Inc, a company Manchin started in 1988 and later gave to his son, Joseph, to run,” according to the Guardian.
“He has already effectively succeeded in stripping the bill of its most powerful climate change provision, a program that would have rapidly shut down coal and gas-fired power plants and replaced them with wind and solar power,” according to the New York Times.
Big South Fork seeking information on vehicles dumped in Blue Hole
The National Park Service and officials with Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area are still looking for those responsible for dumping derelict vehicles in a remote part of the park known as Blue Hole.
Park staff found two vehicles and a boat illegally discarded in a section of the park closed to traffic. The junk was discovered Aug. 26 and staff and rangers had to pulled from other projects to clean up the mess.
Park staff recovered an abandoned vehicle, UTV, and boat from the Blue Hole section of the park that appeared to have been dumped in separate incidents.
“The resulting cleanup pulled staff away from planned trail work and public safety duties. Additionally, illegally dumping trash and other items create a negative visitor experience for those hoping to enjoy the serene natural beauty of Big South Fork NRRA,” said Superintendent Niki Stephanie Nicholas in a press release.
“Visitors are reminded that abandoning property in the park is prohibited by federal law.”
Anyone with information concerning these incidents is encouraged to contact the NPS at 423-223-4489 or leave a confidential message on the Resource Protection Tip Line at 423-569-7301.
The 24-hour tip line allows callers to remain anonymous.
Anti-nuke nun jailed after Y-12 protest dies at 91
Sister Megan Rice, who along with two others were prosecuted by the federal government after breaking into the Y-12 nuclear weapons complex in Oak Ridge, died of congestive heart failure Oct. 10 in Rosemont, Pennsylvania.
Rice, a member of the order of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, penetrated the secure perimeter of Y-12 in July 2012 along with two other Catholic activists for prayers and protests outside a bunker containing uranium, according to the Associated Press via the News Sentinel. The incident prompted numerous inquiries about the security of Y-12 and put the inherent danger of nuclear armament in the media spotlight.
The trio was charged with felony sabotage but served only two years of their federal prison terms.
“While testifying during her jury trial, Rice defended her decision to break into the Oak Ridge uranium facility as an attempt to stop “manufacturing that...can only cause death,” according to a trial transcript.'
“I had to do it,” she said of her decision to break the law.
“My guilt is that I waited 70 years to be able to speak what I knew in my conscience.”
Permafrost is a ticking methane bomb
The melting Siberian tundra north of the Arctic Circle released millions of tons of methane last year as regional temperatures rose to 11 degrees (°F) above average.
Methane has a shorter effect than carbon dioxide on global atmospheric change but is still 70 times more potent than CO2 in its overall global-warming potential. Its accelerated release on such a vast scale represents an immediate challenge to restricting overall global warming to less than 3 degrees (°F) by the end of the century, which scientists agree is necessary to prevent dramatic climate change. Methane’s potent global warming potential is why many conservationists oppose the use of natural gas as an energy source.
But in Siberia, even the rocks are emitting methane. Scientists were surprised to find that limestone exposed by disappearing permafrost itself generated high levels of methane. Tundra fires have also accelerated the release of methane and other gases, and have come at great cost to the Russian government and the rural inhabitants of the vast region.
That means economical and practical means must be developed elsewhere, at least, for methane management.
But according to the United Nations Economic Council for Europe:
“Despite methane’s short residence time, the fact that it has a much higher warming potential than CO2 and that its atmospheric volumes are continuously replenished make effective methane management a potentially important element in countries’ climate change mitigation strategies. As of today, however, there is neither a common technological approach to monitoring and recording methane emissions, nor a standard method for reporting them.“
ORNL’s comprehensive mapping of built environments aids disaster response
Oak Ridge National Laboratory scientists spent five years mapping virtually every structure in the U.S. and the data is bearing early fruit as it is used for response to disasters such as hurricanes and severe floods.
Mark Tuttle and Melanie Lavardiere, the team leaders of the project, have mapped “virtually every single structure in the United States and its territories,” Compass reports.
The information is used by disaster responders from the FEMA level and down. During a hurricane, for example, authorities can focus response efforts on the most vulnerable areas using the building-mapping database.
The database can also be used by insurers to charge rates more according to risk, and for structures covered under the National Flood Insurance Program, as is already happening.
But the data is most valuable for saving lives and determining the most likely location those lives will have to be saved.
“After disaster strikes, the data can give a rapid indication of the scope of the damage and point responders in the right direction to assist in the recovery. Using the powerful computers available at ORNL, the team can process data quickly — producing in a matter of hours work that used to take months — and get it into FEMA’s hands for analysis,” Compass reports.
Another slice of the wild preserved in Cumberlands
The Conservation Fund and state wildlife and forestry officials reached a deal to conserve and manage thousands of wild acres in Fentress County.
The expanse was previously held by an out-of-state speculative investment company likely originally tied to timber companies.
The Cumberland Plateau and escarpments have been increasingly recognized for their biodiversity along with the Smokies to the east beyond the Tennessee Valley. The Cumberlands are along a songbird and fowl migration route, and host a niche population of mature timber, mosses, lichens, fungi, mammals and amphibians. Elk were reintroduced a decade ago, and black bears have begun to range across the Cumberlands and their base.
The area is pocked with caves and sinkholes, some containing petroglyphs and other carvings from previous populations.
"On the Cumberland Plateau, the key to maintaining biodiversity is to retain as much natural forest (both managed and unmanaged) as possible," a forestry expert told the News Sentinel's Vincent Gabrielle.
The Foothills Land Conservancy has also helped protect thousands of acres along the plateau and its escarpments in recent years.
Deadly natural disasters have ravaged hardscrabble Knoxville for generations. Covid-19 takes the cake.
The Covid-19 pandemic currently could go down in history as Knoxville's worst hard time (to borrow a phrase from Timothy Egan), but a litany of natural disasters preceded the international outbreak of respiratory disease that killed 629 people in Knox County as of Sept. 8, according to the Knox County Health Department. Only half of the county's residents have been vaccinated, according to a New York Times database, and more than 10 percent of the population has been infected with Covid-19, which can carry life-long health implications.
Hard Knox Wire has a great rundown of the Covid crisis and other natural disasters that the city and region have faced in its ongoing Knoxville history series. They include the far-flung effects of the New Madrid earthquake; periodic flooding that devastated downtown and outlying areas before TVA dammed the Tennessee River; a Cocke County plane crash that killed all aboard, including noteworthy Knoxvillians; and, perhaps, appropo, the smallpox and cholera breakouts that struck the city in the 1800s.
History is a great teacher, and thanks to JJ Stambaugh of Hard Knox Wire and Jack Neely of the Knoxville History Project for keeping us on our toes in regard to the past.