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‘Apocalyptic and otherworldly’: Bay Area wakes up to blizzard of ash and deep red, smoke-filled skies

Bay Area skies have been darkened and transformed into an apocalyptic red – drawing comparisons to life on Mars or perhaps even hell.

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As California continues to struggle with an unprecedented scourge of major fires, Bay Area skies have been darkened and transformed into an apocalyptic red – drawing comparisons to life on Mars or perhaps even hell.

Residents of San Francisco, Oakland, and surrounding communities woke up to ominous pumpkin-orange skies on Wednesday, a result of toxic air overhead and massive plumes of smoking reaching high into the atmosphere, dimming the sunlight and creating an otherworldly ambiance.

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What would have been a normally bright and sunny morning instead looked like dawn as the sun’s rays struggled to penetrate the smoky haze, reports SFGate.

As a result, many slept in because it remained dark outside, while one father joked to his children that they had been moved overnight to Mars, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

“It feels like the end of the world, or like Mordor. But I guess it’s just a weird mix of smog and smoke and haze,” local resident Catherine Geeslin told the Chronicle in between snapping cell phone shots of the blackened sky. “It was alarming to see it’s still dark. And it will be strange to have lunch in the dark. But you still have to get on with your day.”

The smoke is the result of the massive August Complex Fire near Mendocino National Forest, the site of a huge cluster of wildfires in Northern California, as well as similarly unprecedented fires across Washington and Oregon. The wind has pushed the fire southward from as far as the Pacific Northwest U.S. into the Bay Area.

“Extremely dense & tall smoke plumes from numerous large wildfires, some of which have been generating nocturnal pyrocumulunimbus clouds (‘fire thunderstorms), are almost completely blocking out the sun across some portions of Northern California this morning,” UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain wrote on Twitter.

In the meantime, a snow-like blanket of ash has also come in from the Bear Fire near Chico, California, which exploded overnight and sent a blizzard of ash into the region’s air.

The ash at Buchanan Field Airport in Concord nearly created sights rarely seen in the Bay, according to National Weather Service forecaster Roger Gass.

“They reported a significant amount of ash,” Gass said. “Almost to the point where it looked like moderate to heavy snow.”

However, Bay Area residents are fortunate because while the high-altitude smoke may create a dramatic scene, the toxic air remains hover above the marine layer from the Pacific Ocean, which offers literal breathing room to locals and a respite from the smoky stench of fire season.

“The marine layer is a stable area of air that does not rise, and so we’re continually pumping in cleaner air from over the ocean,” said ABC7 meteorologist Mike Nicco.

The surreal conditions underscore the bizarre and unnerving nature of 2020, a year that has been characterized by a pandemic, acute social unrest, and a brutal wave of wildfires across the Golden State.

“Pretty much all the customers have the apocalypse on their mind,” barista Leah Lozano said. “It’s a metaphor for our current plight,”

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Animals

Scientists Thrilled by Discovery of Rare, Mammoth 400-Year-Old Coral

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A massive 400-year-old hard coral discovered on the Great Barrier Reef has scientists expressing their sense of surprise and excitement.

Named Muga dambhi by the Manbarra people, the Indigenous group who have traditionally taken care of the land, the “exceptionally large” brown and cream-colored coral is located off the coast of Goolboodi or Orpheus Island in the Great Barrier Reef.

It is believed that the coral was spawned some 421 to 438 years ago, meaning that its age predates the arrival of Captain James Cook and the advent of colonization in Australia, notes the Guardian.

The spectacular coral is about 35 feet wide and over 17 feet high, and is double the size of the nearest coral.

Scientists and members of the community participating in a marine science course discovered the specimen earlier this year.

While not the largest coral in the world, the huge find is of major significance to the local ecosystem, according to Adam Smith, an adjunct professor at James Cook University who wrote the field note on the find.

“It’s like a block of apartments,” Smith said. “It attracts other species. There’s other corals, there’s fish, there’s other animals around that use it for shelter or for feeding, so it’s pretty important for them.”

“It’s a bit like finding a giant redwood tree in the middle of a botanic gardens,” he added.

It is likely that the coral hasn’t been discovered for such a long time due to its location in a relatively remote and unvisited portion of a Marine National Park zone that enjoys a high degree of protection.

“Over the last 20 or 30 years, no one has noticed, or observed, or thought it newsworthy enough to share photos, or document, or do research on this giant coral,” Smith said.

The coral is in remarkable condition, with over 70 percent of its surface covered in live coral, coral rock and microalgae. No disease, bleaching or recently deceased coral has been recorded on the specimen.

“The cumulative impact of almost 100 bleaching events and up to 80 major cyclones over a period of four centuries, plus declining nearshore water quality contextualise the high resilience of this Porites coral,” the field note added.

The specific coral has been given the name Muga dhambi, meaning big coral, out of respect for the Indigenous knowledge, language, and culture of the Manbarra Traditional Owners.

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Environment

Greenland Ice Washed Away as Summit Sees Rain for First Time in Recorded History

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For the first time in recorded history, torrential downpours of rain have struck Greenland’s icy summit nearly two miles above sea level.

Greenland, an environmentally sensitive island, is typically known for its majestic ice sheet and snowy climate, but this is fast changing due to a massive melt taking place this summer.

However, the typical snowfall has been replaced in recent years not simply by a few showers, but by heavy rainfall. The torrential downpour last week was so huge, in fact, that it washed away a terrifying amount of ice across some 337,000 square miles of the ice shelf’s surface, reports Earther.

Temperatures at the ice shelf had simultaneously warmed to a significant degree, with the summit reaching 33 degrees Fahrenheit – within a degree above freezing and the third time that the shelf has surpassed freezing temperatures this decade.

The fact that rain is falling on ice rather than snow is also significant because it is melting ice across much of southern Greenland, which already saw huge melting events last month, while hastening rising sea levels that threaten to submerge whole coastal cities and communities.

To make matters worse, any new ice formed by the freezing rainwater will not last long. The ice shelf currently existing on Greenland was formed by the compression of snow over innumerable years, which shines bright white and reflects sunlight away rather than absorbing it, as ice from frozen rain does.

The huge scale of the melt and accompanying rainfall illustrate the growing peril of rapidly warming climate conditions across the globe.

“This event by itself does not have a huge impact, but it’s indicative of the increasing extent, duration, and intensity of melting on Greenland,” wrote Ted Scambos, a senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado. “Like the heat wave in the [U.S. Pacific] northwest, it’s something that’s hard to imagine without the influence of global climate change.”

“Greenland, like the rest of the world, is changing,” Scambos told the Washington Post. “We now see three melting events in a decade in Greenland — and before 1990, that happened about once every 150 years. And now rainfall: in an area where rain never fell.”

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South Korean Toilet Turns Poo Into Green Energy and Pays Its Users Digital Cash

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What if your morning #2 not only powered your stove to cook your eggs, but also allowed you to pay for your coffee and pastry on the way to class?

It seems like an absurd question, but one university in South Korea has invented a toilet that allows human excrement to not only be used for clean power, but also dumps a bit of digital currency into your wallet that can be exchanged for some fruit or cup noodles at the campus canteen, reports Reuters.

The BeeVi toilet – short for Bee-Vision – was designed by urban and environmental engineering professor Cho Jae-weon of the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), and is meant to not only save resources but also reward students for their feces.

The toilet is designed to first deliver your excrement into a special underground tank, reducing water use, before microorganisms break the waste down into methane, a clean source of energy that can power the numerous appliances that dorm life requires.

“If we think out of the box, feces has precious value to make energy and manure,” Cho explained. “I have put this value into ecological circulation.”

The toilet can transform approximately a pound of solid human waste – roughly the average amount people poop per day – into some 50 liters of methane gas, said Cho. That’s about enough to generate half a kilowatt hour of electricity, enough to transport a student throughout campus for some of their school day.

Cho has even devised a special virtual currency for the BeeVi toilet called Ggool, or honey in Korean. Users of the toilet can expect to earn 10 Ggool per day, covering some of the many expenses students rack up on campus every day.

Students have given the new system glowing reviews, and don’t even mind discussing their bodily functions at lunchtime – even expressing their hopes to use their fecal credits to purchase books.

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