400-Mile Walk on Rim of Africa Mountain Passage
Photograph by Charles Powne
From solo diving to the ocean's deepest point to uncovering a hidden sea monster, National Geographic explorers have had an eventful and exciting 2012. Here are just a few examples of the work that's left us looking forward to another year of incredible exploration.
Storms, the sweltering African sun, and limited access to water were all challenges that Jay Simpson overcame when walking over 400 miles on the Rim of Africa Mountain Passage. After walking alone for 15 days before being joined by others to finish the journey, Simpson became the first person to walk the entire route, aiming to excite and educate South African youth about conservation and the environment.
Photograph by Tyrone Turner, National Geographic
Those who were anxious about the 2012 Maya-predicted apocalypse need not worry thanks to a discovery made by archaeologist Bill Saturno. A roughly 1,200-year-old home found in Guatemala features wall art and calculations that refer to dates after the December 21 doomsday.
Journey to the Bottom of the Ocean
Photograph by Mark Thiessen
One of this year's biggest moments in exploration occurred when Explorer-in-Residence James Cameron performed a record-breaking solo dive to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, over seven miles below the surface of the ocean. Now, the DEEPSEA CHALLENGE is in its second phase— scientific analysis of the expedition's findings and the production of a 3-D feature film. Cameron hopes that other scientists will continue to explore the Mariana Trench in his custom-built sub.
Campsite Built of Bee Hives
Photograph by Claire Bangser
Catherine Jaffee had a particularly sweet 2012. Following the honey trail in northeastern Turkey, Jaffee spent her days leading tours and learning about the local beekeeping culture. After joining a farmer for a day harvesting honey in Çıldır, Jaffee decided to ask if she could camp outside for the night among the beehives.
"First baffled and then amused, the beekeepers decided to build us a fortress using the empty hives, a ladder, and a tarp for shelter. We woke up the next morning to the gentle buzzing of Caucasian bees, coming in to check out the interior, and some fresh flower honey from our hosts for breakfast," says Jaffee's colleague Claire Bangser.
New Face on the Human Family Tree
Photograph courtesy Mike Hettwer, National Geographic
Who were our earliest ancestors in the first chapter of the human story? A study led by paleontologists Meave and Louise Leakey unearthed new information about the products of a 40-year search. New fossils found east of Kenya's Lake Turkana confirm that at least three different human species inhabited the same neighborhood at the beginning of humanity. The fossils were discovered within six miles of a disputed skull found by Meave's husband in 1972—confirming that the skull represents a new species.
Uncovering Sea Monsters in the Arctic
Photograph by Erik Tunstad
What does it take to uncover a sea monster? Patience, determination, and a good sense of humor. When paleontologist Jørn Hurum's team went ten days on the chilly Island of Spitsbergen—78 degrees North—without making the sought-after discovery, they didn't let the lack of findings bring their spirits down. This optimism paid off when, on day 11, the team found the skull of a plesiosaur, solving a 150-year-old mystery surrounding the so far fragmented remains of the genus Colymbosaurus.
Mountain Photos Then and Now
Photograph by Sorin Rechitan
High up in the Cordillera Blanca and Cordillera Huayhuash mountains in Peru, Sergiu Jiduc spent about a month re-creating photographs from similar expeditions in 1936 and 1939. By comparing the two sets of photos, Jiduc could document changes in the area caused by an earthquake, human impact, climate change, and other factors. Here, he holds a 1939 Alpenverein photograph of Paron Lake—the largest in Cordillera Blanca-while overlooking the lake itself.
Bizarre Fish Face
Photograph by Enric Sala
This charismatic triggerfish was just one of the creatures Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala encountered on his journey to the Pitcairn Islands this year. Sala, along with fellow Explorer-in-Residence Mike Fay, surveyed the islands as part of his Pristine Seas expeditions, which aim to help protect the last undisturbed places in the ocean. Together, Sala and Fay examined both land and sea around the islands of Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie, and Oeno.
Befriending the Locals
Photograph by Rebecca Sheridan
In Punta Tombo, Argentina, biologist Dee Boersma shared a special moment with an inhabitant of the local penguin colony. While conducting a population census circle by counting all of the active nests within the area, Boersma was joined by Turbo the penguin, a member of the largest Magellanic breeding colony.
Spotting One of Earth's Rarest Species
Photograph by Andrew Stanbridge
Exactly how rare is the endangered São Tomé giant reedfrog? The animal, which breeds in water-filled tree hole cavities, is currently only known from a single "special tree" in the montane forests located on the island of São Tomé. In an opportunity provided by a California Academy of Sciences expedition, biologist Rayna Bell had the chance to visit the tree and see several clutches of the frog's eggs—as well as a few breeding adults of the endemic species.
Photograph by Josh Howard
A recent field expedition became an opportunity for photographer Josh Howard to spend time with the person who originally sparked his interest in his craft: his father, pictured above. Together the two traveled to Bonaire to document the island's plan to become 100 percent dependent on renewable energy, as well as the beauty of the surrounding marine sanctuary. "My father served as a great dive buddy throughout the course of the trip," Howard says.
Old Species, New Tricks
Photograph by Christopher Golden
When eco-epidemiologist Christopher Golden works in Madagascar, he can be found doing anything from collecting human blood samples to observing forest resource extractions like bat or bush pig hunts. This year, Golden organized what he thought was an isolated grid area of study in Makira Natural Park, monitoring different populations of the tenrec. An unexpected result revealed that tenrecs not only range much farther than expected, but they were also discovered to possess a previously unknown talent—swimming.
Beyond the Bucket List
Photograph by Eric Leifer
What started out as a simple canyoneering trip soon became Eric Leifer's favorite adventure of 2012—and one of the best of his life thus far. When Leifer and his team first dropped their ropes into the unknown depths of Hawaii's Mana Creek, they weren't prepared for the true immensity of the route.
"In the world of exploratory technical canyoneering, once you pull your ropes, the only way out is down. You must come equipped to deal with any and every obstacle you can imagine," Leifer says. After 32 hours of exploring the dark chasm—encountering unparalleled natural beauty, spiritual connection, and dire consequences—the team emerged triumphant.
A Closer Look
Photograph courtesy Mejdi Tours
In 2012, cultural educator Aziz Abu Sarah began leading a National Geographic expedition that focuses on the history and culture of the Holy Land. His unique tour explores sites that include the City of David, Masada, the Sea of Galilee, and Jerusalem—all through the eyes of Christians, Muslims, and Jews. Here, the group stops for a photo with a friendly camel at the Mount of Olives.