Global Warming Could Soften 66 Tons of Human Poop at Alaska’s Denali National Park

iStock.com/zzvision
iStock.com/zzvision

As North America’s tallest mountain, Denali has always been a challenge to climb. Those who dare to scale the Alaskan summit may be forced to dodge avalanches, bears, and altitude sickness—and piles of melting poo could soon be added to the list.

As USA Today reports, decades-old feces left behind by climbers could start thawing out as early as this summer due to climate change. Researchers say 66 tons of frozen poo has been dumped in snow pits or crevasses, according to estimates based on the average human “deposit.” That waste can eventually work its way downstream and end up on the surface of a glacier.

Situated in Denali National Park, the mountain—formerly known as Mount McKinley—rises to an elevation of 20,310 feet above sea level. That makes removing the waste difficult, but climbers are starting to embrace more sustainable practices. Companies that arrange expeditions at Denali have voluntarily offered to make their clients pack up and carry their own waste. Visitors were already required to carry their waste while climbing up the first 14,000 feet of the mountain, but the new measure would help protect the upper section of Denali as well.

“Climbers and particularly guide services are really embracing the new policy and are even exceeding it,” Michael Loso, a National Park Service (NPS) glaciologist, told USA Today. “It has become kind of an informal badge of merit to carry off all your waste.”

Of course, the softening poo is representative of a much larger issue. Some of Denali’s glaciers are melting at a rate that is concerning. The NPS has used comparative photography to measure some of the glaciers and concluded that most of the ones they studied had “retreated, thinned, or stagnated.”

Alaskan parks in general have also seen their ice-covered areas shrink by 8 percent in the last 50 years. “We have lost more glacier cover in the Alaskan national parks than there is area in the whole state of Rhode Island,” Loso said.

[h/t USA Today]

You’ll Be Able to Buy Some of Fiona the Hippo’s Poop to Fertilize Your Garden

Mark Dumont, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0
Mark Dumont, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Fiona the hippo has come along way since she was born two months premature at the Cincinnati Zoo in 2017. Today, Fiona is happy and healthy, weighing in at more than 1200 pounds. A hippo that size makes a lot of excrement, and now Fiona fans can purchase some of it to fertilize their gardens, WLWT5 reports.

Fiona produces about 22 pounds of poop a day; just 7 pounds shy of her birth weight. Normally the dung would be sent to a landfill, but as part of its new zero-waste initiative, the Cincinnati Zoo is composting all of its animal waste into fertilizer. Much of it will be added to the zoo's own farm and gardens, but some will also be available to purchase from the zoo's gift shops and online store. The fertilizer will be made from the dung left behind by the hundreds of animals living at the zoo, including Fiona.

The Cincinnati Zoo bills itself as the greenest zoo in the country. In addition to recycling all of its animal waste into compost, it also aims to fill its animal habitats with recycled rain water and grow more food for its animals on its own farm [PDF]. For the zero-waste part of the plan, the zoo plans to repurpose two million pounds of animal feces each year using a combination of on-site and off-site composting.

The zoo is in the process of acquiring the necessary equipment to launch its waste composting program. When the time comes, Fiona will be ready to make her sizable contributions to the project.

[h/t WLWT5]

Fat Bats Might Be Resistant to Deadly White-Nose Syndrome

Penn State, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Penn State, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Good news for flying mammals: chubby little brown bats might be genetically resistant to white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that’s killed more than 5.5 million bats since it was first documented in 2006 [PDF]. A new study in the journal Scientific Reports describes three genetic adaptations in the bats that could protect them from the pathogen.

Little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus), common in Canada and the eastern United States, are especially susceptible to white-nose syndrome. According to lead author Giorgia G. Auteri, a doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan, white-nose syndrome kills bats by disrupting their hibernation cycles.

“When they’re in hibernation in the winter, they’re not meant to be waking up. They’re supposed to be asleep,” Auteri tells Mental Floss. “But this fungus grows on them, and it causes the bats to keep waking up during hibernation. And because they’re waking up when they shouldn’t be, they’re running out of fat reserves too early.”

But while white-nose syndrome has devastated bat populations in North America, not all infected bats die from the disease—some recover. Auteri wanted to find out what made the survivors so special.

Auteri and her team compared the genetic makeup of nine surviving and 29 non-surviving little brown bats from northern Michigan. They discovered that survivors share three important genetic distinctions. “One is involved with fat metabolism,” she says. “And another is involved with regulating when the bats wake up from hibernation. And the third gene is involved in their echolocation ability, in their sonar for hunting insects.”

The results make sense, Auteri says. Because white-nose syndrome interrupts bats’ hibernation schedules, bats with genes that relate to more optimal fat storage (i.e., they’re fatter) and better hibernation regulation (i.e., they sleep longer) are more likely to survive the disease.

Auteri’s research could help scientists and conservationists find ways to preserve little brown bat populations. Besides being adorable, little brown bats also play an important ecological role as predators of insects like mosquitoes, moths, and other pests that are destructive to crops and forests.

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