The Grass Was Greener
Photograph by Federico de la Mano
Initial support from National Geographic has helped launch the careers of many of the Society's, and our planet's, most renowned explorers. Meet some of the hard-working, passionate, and creative individuals who have received Young Explorer grants.
Between the Andes and Patagonia lies one of Argentina’s most enchanting landscapes, a region once noted for its richly diversified upland meadows, called mallines. But these grasslands are fast fading away, increasingly overgrazed and invaded by exotic weeds. Biologist and photographer Anand Varma is documenting the few remaining pristine mallines to capture their beauty and highlight their ecological vulnerability.
Salt of the Earth
Photograph courtesy Brian Schubert
Death Valley doesn’t seem like the most promising place to study the long-term survival of anything. But Brian Schubert has found that it’s an ideal spot to study longevity in bacteria and other microorganisms, which can persist in evaporites—salts and other sediments left behind after ancient lakes dried up—for at least 100,000 years.
Photograph by Rebecca Skinner
The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami so devastated the Aceh region of Sumatra that it even halted a brutal civil war. By forcing the Achenese to acknowledge their mutual interdependence, Rebecca Skinner believes that the calamity has had as transforming an effect on Aceh society as it has on its geography, as her comparison of pre- and post-disaster images of architecture and construction is proving.
Photograph by Rachel A. Racicot
A graduate student in vertebrate paleontology, Daniel Field led a recent expedition to Iceland that recovered the first fossil whale skull ever discovered there. At approximately five million years old, the skull probably belongs to a previously unknown species, and Field suspects it may shed light on the murkier reaches of whale evolutionary history.
Reading the Leaves
Photograph by Lindsey Sloat
Botanist Benjamin Blonder suspects that certain perennials endemic to the Hawaiian Islands, called silverswords, might hold the answers to some important botanical questions. Although they range in form from creeping mats to trees, it is the way the veins in their leaves are patterned that provides the clue to how plants in general evolved and, more pressingly, what role they play in the global carbon cycle.
Conservation through Exploration
Photograph by Trevor Frost
Although the mountainous island of New Britain—part of Papua New Guinea—is a biodiversity hotspot, it has been so little explored that a 60-day expedition led by Trip Jennings in 2007 was the first to kayak the 40-mile length of the Pandi River. The trip took the expedition from the river’s source, located deep in the Southern Hemisphere’s largest cave system, through dangerous gorges and over heart-stopping waterfalls to the river’s outlet in the sea.
Photograph by Pete Mesley
When groupers spawn, they do it in crowds—making them easy prey for commercial fishermen. After Australian marine biologist Steve Lindfield learned that groupers around some Pacific atolls had been nearly eliminated in this way, he began diving off the island of Pohnpei to observe such spawning aggregations firsthand. His counts of the number of fish involved will be essential to their future conservation.
Photograph by Sergey Kolchin
Dedicated conservationists like Liya Vitalievna Sagatelova are releasing orphaned Asiatic black bear cubs into the wild, hoping by such efforts to stem the decline of the species in the Russian Far East. Loggers have been decimating the bears’ forested habitat, while poachers have drastically reduced their numbers.
Photograph by Sanna Everskog-Lund
What became of the hundreds of thousands of children orphaned during the 1994 Rwandan genocide? Natalia Ledford is filming one family of brothers and sisters who lost their parents. Though 16 years have passed since that terrible time, each sibling is still at a different level of emotional recovery, and all of them still grapple with a central question: Is forgiveness possible?
Photograph by Sushil Dorje
Hunger aside, why might a snow leopard come to prefer eating domestic goat to such natural prey as bharal, a wild sheep? That’s the question Kulbhushansingh Suryawanshi, working high in the Himalaya, is hoping to answer as the increasing conflict between snow leopards and pastoralists threatens the survival of this beautiful but endangered carnivore.
Photograph by Robert C. Morehead
Thanks to seeing the movie Contact when she was young, Knicole Colon now spends her nights looking for aliens. The astronomy graduate student has used one of the world’s largest telescopes, set on a peak in the Canary Islands, to observe exoplanets as they crossed the faces of distant stars, seeking any hint that such faraway worlds might be inhabited by extraterrestrial life.
Romancing the Bones
Photograph by Gary Takeuchi
Whenever paleontologist Jack Tseng returns to the “bone beds” of Inner Mongolia, he is both following in the footsteps of Roy Chapman Andrews (whose classic expeditions in the 1920s returned with the first fossil dinosaur eggs) and making additional discoveries of his own. Tseng has been excavating a site rich with the remains of extinct horses, hyenas, rhinos, early giraffes, and gazelles.
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