Arts & Entertainment

Dinosaur National Monument is Hidden Gem of US National Parks

After visiting the diverse landscapes of Dinosaur National Monument once, national parks traveler Mikah Meyer knew he had to come back.

In addition to the site’s ancient land formations and dinosaur fossils, the massive park — which spreads across the states of Utah and Colorado — is also home to a river canyon made up of unique rock formations. 

During his first visit this past summer, Mikah hiked along “some of the most diverse and expansive views of my entire journey so far,” he said.

“It was incredible. I have never seen a river canyon this close to massive valleys that were shifted upward that looked like giant ski slopes of lush green grass that are also right next to white snowcapped mountains.” 

After a year, traveling to 160 national parks around the country, that landscape was just one of the reasons he found the site so compelling.

Wall of bones

Another reason was the area’s vast deposits of fossilized dinosaur bones, many of which are still visible, embedded in the rocks.

Through a series of exhibits, visitors like Mikah get to see — and feel — just how massive the giant animals were. Examining a huge dinosaur claw, Mikah noted how sharp it felt to the touch.

“That would not feel good if that ripped into you,” he said.

“They found tons and tons of dinosaur bones that are now in museums from New York to D.C. to my hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska,” he added.

A river runs through it

After his experiences on land, where he had a bird’s eye view of the panoramic vistas, Mikah returned to the park a couple of months later, to see it from a different angle… rafting on the Green River.

“What really struck me the first time I came to Dinosaur National Monument was these impressive unique rock features. And now to be able to see them up close from the water was incredible,” he said.

“You’ll be rafting along and suddenly you see these layers, and they’re vertical. It looks like something that nature couldn’t have created because it’s perpendicular to what we’re used to seeing the earth layers look like,” he described.

Over the course of several days, he discovered a wide variety of formations to explore. He describes the geology at the intersection of the Green and Yampa Rivers for example, as “particularly awesome.”

Waves of rock

“You can see these kind of pancake-like features where these large maroon and brown boulders are all smashed together,” he noted. But as he continued on his river journey he noticed “a lot more varied geology,” with lighter sandstone formations.

Mikah was particularly intrigued by a series of rock ripples that he saw along the shoreline. He described the sedimentary structures as “deposits of rock that were upturned and now make this curve shape that we see shooting up from the river to the sky.”

Loosey goosey

In addition to the park’s natural beauty and historic artifacts, there was a surprising highlight to Mikah’s river adventure. From the beginning of his journey, he and his tour group were joined by an unlikely fellow traveler… a wild goose that seemed to have appeared out of nowhere…

“I noticed there was this little goose that was hanging out on the beach… and then we got in the boat and we started floating down the river and this goose was swimming right up next to the boat,” Mikah explained.

“About five or 10 minutes later, the goose was still with us,” he said. “So my buddy Tom jokingly said, ‘I think he’s just going to come along for the journey. We should name him. Let’s call him George.’”

George continued to hang out with Mikah and his group for several days. He followed them on water, on hikes, and even settled in with them at their campsite overnight.

“It became very apparent that George the Goose had attached himself to us; thought he was either one of our group or we were his new flock,” Mikah noted. “Wherever we went, George the Goose was going.”

Right up until the very end.

“We loaded up in the van, and we start driving away, and poor George the Goose starts to run after us. And eventually I saw him stop and just kinda look around and I think at that point he realized we had left him.”

“Without a doubt, all of us were touched and moved by George the Goose,” he added.

Dinosaur National Monument is now among Mikah’s top five favorite parks. He wishes the site had an official national park designation so it would attract more visitors.

“It is a National Park Service site, but its official name is Dinosaur National Monument which I’m guessing people see the name and it doesn’t sound as incredible as Rocky Mountain National Park nearby, or Arches National Park that are those big 59 ones that are recognized,” he said.

“It really is a special place that seems to be a hidden gem that I hope other people will get a chance to explore.”

With, or without a goose.

Mikah invites you to follow him on his epic journey by visiting him on his website, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

Science & Health

Why Gravitational Wave Researchers Won a Nobel

Three U.S.-based astrophysicists won the Nobel prize in physics Tuesday for their discovery of gravitational waves, a phenomenon Albert Einstein predicted a century ago in his theory of general relativity. Here’s what their discovery means and why they won the prize worth $1.1 million (9 million kronor).

Who won?

Rainer Weiss of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a German-born scientist who initially flunked out of MIT, won half the prize as the astronomer who initially spearheaded the push for the $1.1 billion project called LIGO. Theorist Kip Thorne and physicist Barry Barish, both of the California Institute of Technology, split the other half.

So far, the LIGO twin detectors in Louisiana and Washington — and a new one in Italy — have spotted four gravitational waves in about two years since going online in September 2015.

What is a gravitational wave?

Gravitational waves are extremely faint ripples in the fabric of space and time that come from some of the most violent events in the universe. The four observations came from the merger of two black holes. The first one was 1.3 billion light-years away.

These waves stretch in one dimension — like left and right — while compressing in another, such as up and down. Then they switch, Weiss explained.

“They are ripples that stretch and squeeze space and everything that lives in space,” Thorne said.

What is space-time?

Space-time is the mind-bending, four-dimensional way astronomers see the universe. It melds the one-way march of time with the more familiar three dimensions of space.

Einstein’s general relativity says that gravity is caused by heavy objects bending space-time. And when massive but compact objects like black holes or neutron stars collide, their immense gravity causes space-time to stretch or compress.

When two black holes collide, you get “a storm in the fabric of space-time … vortices of twisting space fighting with each other,” Thorne said.

Ironically, Einstein would have been quite surprised because even though he theorized about gravitational waves, he didn’t think humans would ever have the technology to spot them. And he didn’t believe black holes existed, Weiss said.

Why is it important?

Unlike other types of waves that go through the universe such as electromagnetic waves, gravitational waves go through matter — stars, planets, us — untouched. So it’s an entirely new type of astronomy, with experts comparing it to Galileo’s observations of the solar system. There’s information in gravitational waves that cannot be found elsewhere.

The first gravitational wave detected was in the form of an audible chirp that some call the music of the cosmos. University of Florida’s Clifford Will said it offers a new way of observing the cosmos beyond light and particles.

How is this “hearing” the cosmos?

Scientists mostly use the word “hear” when describing gravitational waves, and the data does, in fact, arrive in audio form. The researchers can don headphones and listen to the detectors’ output if they want. But Weiss said it is not quite like sound waves.

What’s next?

Scientists are waiting to detect crashes of neutron stars, which many thought would be the first collision to be heard.

Other types of gravitational detectors are being built, including one in India.

The European Space Agency is planning a multibillion-dollar probe to be launched in about 17 years that would look for gravitational waves from space. With better technology, Weiss hopes astronomers will learn more about nuclear physics, states of matter and how heavy elements are made, and detect information from “the very moment when the universe came out of nothingness.”

“We expect surprises,” Weiss said. “There has to be surprises.”

Economy & business

UN Says Recovery of Eastern Caribbean Could Cost $1 Billion

The recovery of eastern Caribbean islands hardest hit by recent hurricanes, including Dominica, Barbuda, Turks and Caicos, the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla, could cost up to $1 billion, a senior U.N. official said Tuesday.

“It’s going to be a large-scale rebuilding effort that will take time,” said Stephen O’Malley, the U.N. resident coordinator for Barbados and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, “and it will be important to do that right.”


He told U.N. correspondents in a phone briefing from Dominica that “we don’t have exact figures yet,” but for the worst-affected islands the recovery bill will be “half a billion to a billion dollars.”

O’Malley said the United Nations, World Bank and Antigua government have conducted a post-disaster needs assessment for Barbuda, whose 1,800 residents were evacuated to Antigua before Hurricane Irma damaged 95 percent of its structures on Sept. 14. And he said a similar assessment will be done in Dominca, which was ravaged on Sept. 18 by Hurricane Maria, a Category 5 storm, probably in about three weeks.

“They want to build back better and they take that very, very seriously — to make sure that that can be done,” O’Malley said.

Making plans for future

Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said he wants to have the world’s first “climate-resilient nation.”


He made an impassioned case for the world to do more to help vulnerable countries cope with the effects of global warming and urged the U.N. General Assembly 10 days ago to “let these extraordinary events elicit extraordinary efforts to rebuild nations sustainably.”

O’Malley said the effects of climate change are evident in the Caribbean, where the sea is heating up.

“The fact that the Caribbean Sea heats up, it intensifies the strengths of hurricanes; it doesn’t necessarily make them more frequent but it intensifies” the storm, he said.

O’Malley said the challenge for the islands in rebuilding is: “How do you protect yourself against that? How do you ensure that you have a resilient state and a resilient economy if you know that the risk factors are going to be elevating in this next period of time?”

Immediate disaster relief critical

As for immediate disaster relief following Hurricanes Irma and Maria, he said, regional efforts and military assistance from outside the region have been critical.

He singled out the Caribbean Disaster and Emergency Management Agency which sent a ship from Barbados to Dominica with initial aid workers the day after Hurricane Maria devastated the island.

When he landed at the airport in Dominica on Tuesday, he said there were policemen from St. Kitts, soldiers from Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago securing the airport and other sites.

“That has helped the government set itself back up — that regional solidarity,” O’Malley said.

Some ‘green’ returning to Dominica

He said Dominica has also benefited from timely military support, especially helicopters and water desalination plants on naval vessels that produced water that could be taken inland and distributed.


He singled out military help to Dominica from Venezuela, United States, United Kingdom, Canada, France and the Netherlands.

Compared with the situation a week ago, O’Malley said he could already see some green returning to the almost totally brown island, streets were clear, roads were opening up, power and water supplies were being restored and the port was open. Now, he said, power and water need to be restored to everyone on Dominica and the economy needs to start operating quickly.


Silicon Valley & Technology

Study: Las Vegas Shooting Was Twitter’s Saddest Day Ever

The mass shooting in Las Vegas, in which at least 59 people were killed and more than 500 injured, was the saddest day ever recorded on Twitter, according to Hedonometer, a tool that measures sentiment on social media platforms.

The barometer, which measures the happiness of millions of Twitter users based on their posts, showed an average happiness level of 5.77 on Monday when the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history occurred at a country music festival in Las Vegas.

The previous record low was 5.84 on the day of another mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, that killed at least 49 people and injured more than 50 last year.

The third-saddest recorded day on Twitter was Nov. 9, 2016, the day after Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, according to Hedonometer. The barometer on that day was 5.87.

The happiest recorded day on Twitter was on Christmas day of 2008, when the day’s score was 6.36. The tool has been tracking Twitter sentiment since 2008.

Hedonometer was invented by Peter Dodds and Chris Danforth, a mathematician and computer scientist at the University of Vermont’s Advanced Computing Center. It gathers sentences that start with “I feel” or “I am feeling” and generates a happiness score for the text. Each sentence is then given a happiness score from 1 to 9.

Economy & business

US Lawmakers Grill Former Equifax Chairman Over Data Breach

House Republicans and Democrats on Tuesday grilled Equifax’s former chief executive over the massive data hack of the personal information of 145 million Americans, calling the company’s response inadequate as consumers struggle to deal with the breach. 

Former Equifax CEO Richard Smith apologized for the compromise of such information as names, addresses, birth dates and Social Security numbers. Smith was the lone witness at the first of several Capitol Hill hearings this week. No current Equifax official testified.

“The criminal hack happened on my watch, and as CEO, I am ultimately responsible, and I take full responsibility,” Smith said. “I am here today to say to each and every person affected by this breach, I am truly and deeply sorry for what happened.”

Democrats favor legislation that they say would establish strong data security standards and prompt notification and relief for consumers when their information is hacked. But Republicans tamped down expectations for any congressional action as this year the GOP-led Congress has rolled back several Obama-era rules affecting businesses and the financial sector.

“Equifax deserves to be shamed in this hearing, but we should also ask what Congress has done, or failed to do, to stop data breaches from occurring,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.

Rep. Bob Latta, R-Ohio, the chairman of the subcommittee examining the breach, said there are already laws on the books that require companies to secure sensitive consumer data. He said that hearings before four House and Senate panels this week should run their course before lawmakers make a decision about what to do next.

“The big thing we heard today is it was a very human error on their part,” Latta said.

Timeline of breach

Smith offered a timeline of what went wrong, saying the Department of Homeland Security warned the company on March 8 about the need to patch a particular vulnerability in software used by Equifax and other businesses. The company disseminated that warning by email the next day and requested that applicable personnel install the upgrade. The company’s policy requires the upgrade to occur within 48 hours, but that did not occur. The company’s information security department also ran scans on March 15 that did not pick up the vulnerability.

In late July, data security officials noticed suspicious activity on a website, which Smith said “happens routinely around our business.” He said an internal investigation ensued and he was alerted the next day, but he had no knowledge at that time that consumers’ personal information had been accessed.

Lawmakers pressed Smith about company executives selling stock in the company after the suspicious activity had been detected. On August 1 and 2, Equifax Chief Financial Officer John Gamble and two other executives, Rodolfo Ploder and Joseph Loughran, sold a combined $1.8 million in stock.

Smith described the executives as “honorable men, men of integrity.” He said at that point in time the company was unaware that consumer data had been accessed.

Schakowsky said “for a lot of Americans, that just doesn’t pass the smell test.”

Smith said the full extent of what occurred emerged during a meeting he had with cybersecurity experts and outside counsel on August 17. The board was alerted the following week and the public on September 7, after the company had made plans for how it would try to help consumers respond.

‘Damage control’

The timeline laid out by Smith didn’t satisfy many lawmakers, who accused the company of being too slow.

“I worry that your job today is about damage control. You put a happy face on your firm’s disgraceful actions, and then depart with a golden parachute,” said Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M. “Unfortunately, if fraudsters destroy my constituent’s savings and financial futures, there’s no golden parachute awaiting them.”

Lawmakers said that at one point Equifax tweeted the wrong link for consumers to check to learn if they were part of the breach.

“Talk about ham-handed responses, this is simply unacceptable,” said Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore.

Smith said he was disappointed in the rollout of call centers and a website designed to help the people affected by the breach. He said the company has increased its number of customer service representatives and the website has been improved. He said more than 400 million consumers contacted the company in the weeks following the announcement of the breach. He said the company wasn’t prepared for that kind of volume.

Lawmakers said they’re getting scores of calls from constituents concerned that their information was stolen and the potential ramifications in the years ahead. Rep. Ryan Costello, R-Pa., said hundreds of constituents have contacted his office about the company’s response.

“The slow rollout and how poorly it was done. To me, it was just inexcusable,” Costello said.

Economy & business

First Global Funding Pact Launched to Secure Indigenous Land Rights

Indigenous people under threat from companies seeking to develop their land for agriculture, mining and energy projects will be supported with money and practical help through a major global partnership backed by philanthropic and government funding.

The International Land and Forest Tenure Facility is the first initiative to provide grants to advance the rights of indigenous people to help them protect their forest land and resources.

“Creating mechanisms that allow indigenous peoples and local communities to gain tenure over their land or forests is a key way to tackle climate change and inequality,” said Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, a major backer.

Norway pledges $20 million

The facility won a $20 million pledge from Norway on Tuesday when it was launched at a land rights conference in Stockholm.

Indigenous people and rural communities have customary claims to two thirds of the world’s land but are legally recognized as holding only 10 percent, according to the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), a global network.

This has contributed to an increase in conflicts over land in countries rich in tropical forests and natural resources as agribusinesses, mining and energy companies lay claim to indigenous land and forests.

Forests help slow global warming

Forests absorb planet-warming carbon dioxide and when they are degraded or destroyed, the carbon stored in the trees is released into the atmosphere. Deforestation accounts for 10 to 15 percent of carbon emissions worldwide.

If the facility invests at least $10 million a year for its first 10 years, experts project an increase in titled, protected and well-managed community and indigenous tropical forests of more than 40 million hectares (100,000 acres), an area roughly the size of Sweden.

Such efforts would also prevent deforestation of one million hectares and the release of 500 million tons of carbon dioxide and help reduce poverty among indigenous people, the RRI said.

“The Tenure Facility provides a powerful solution to save the world’s forests from the ground up,” said Carin Jämtin, director general of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, another key funder.

Pilot projects

The facility has already provided grants and guidance for pilot projects in Indonesia, Mali, Peru, Cameroon, Liberia and Panama.

A 2015 peace accord that ended Mali’s civil war failed to address land-based conflicts that contributed to the war, said Boubacar Diarra, the project’s coordinator in the West African country.

The facility helped to set up 17 local land commissions to sort through conflicting claims to determine who owns the land, he said.

“These commissions have reduced conflicts by up to a third by working with local villagers and tribal leaders,” Diarra told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Science & Health

Plan Aims to Sharply Reduce Cholera Deaths Worldwide by 2030

Fifty leading United Nations and international agencies on Wednesday will roll out a global road map for reducing cholera deaths by 90 percent by 2030.

The new strategy from the Global Task Force on Cholera Control will target “hot spots” with simple, effective tools to prevent the disease from taking hold.

The World Health Organization reports cholera kills an estimated 95,000 people and affects nearly 3 million more every year at a cost of about $2 billion to world economies.

WHO says it expects the global cholera situation to worsen because of accelerating conflicts, climate change and population growth.

Currently, 47 countries are affected by cholera. The disease is endemic in 20 of these countries.

The director of WHO Health Emergencies, Peter Salama, said the  cholera “hot spots” are relatively small but play a disproportionate role in spreading this fatal disease.

“Just to give you a sense of what we are talking about, in sub-Saharan Africa, around 40 million to 80 million people live in these cholera hot spots,” he said. “If we can effectively target water and sanitation and health interventions at those areas, we will make a tremendous contribution in controlling this disease.”

Success in Nigeria

Salama told VOA the road map for ending cholera already was in play in some of the world’s crisis spots.

“We have seen, for example, in northern Nigeria’s Borno state, the very effective use of oral cholera vaccine in a displaced population affected by conflict,” he said, noting that there had been “a rapid decline” in cholera cases there.

Salama said this case provided a template for a very early response to any new emergency where a significant risk of cholera exists. For example, he cited the dire situation of a half-million Rohingya refugees who recently fled to Bangladesh to escape violence in Myanmar.

Health professionals say new tools, including oral vaccines, can prevent death from cholera. They note it has been more than 150 years since rich countries achieved cholera control. They say poor countries also can end cholera by improving water, sanitation and hygiene.

Science & Health

Obesity-Related Cancers Rising, Threatening Gains in US Cancer Rates

The rates of 12 obesity-related cancers rose by 7 percent from 2005 to 2014, an increase that is threatening to reverse progress in reducing the rate of cancer in the United States, U.S. health officials said on Tuesday.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 630,000 people in the United States were diagnosed with a cancer linked with being overweight or obese in 2014.

Obesity-related cancers accounted for about 40 percent of all cancers diagnosed in the United States in 2014. Although the overall rate of new cancer diagnoses has fallen since the 1990s, rates of obesity-related cancers have been rising.

“Today’s report shows in some cancers we’re going in the wrong direction,” Dr. Anne Schuchat of the CDC said on a conference call with reporters.

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, 13 cancers are associated with overweight and obesity.

They include meningioma, multiple myeloma, adenocarcinoma of the esophagus, and cancers of the thyroid, postmenopausal breast, gallbladder, stomach, liver, pancreas, kidney, ovaries, uterus and colon and rectum (colorectal).

In 2013-2014, about two out of three U.S. adults were considered overweight or obese. CDC researchers used the U.S. cancer statistics database to see how obesity was affecting cancer rates.

Although cancer rates rose in 12 of these cancers from 2005 to 2012, colorectal cancer rates fell by 23 percent, helped by increases in screening, which prevents new cases by finding growths before they turn into cancer.

Cancers not associated with overweight and obesity fell by 13 percent.

About half of Americans are not aware of this link, according to Schuchat. The findings suggest that U.S. healthcare providers need to make clear to patients the link between obesity and cancer, and encourage patients to achieve a healthy weight.

“The trends we are reporting today are concerning,” Schuchat said. “There are many good reasons to strive for a healthy weight. Now you can add cancer to the list.”

She said the science linking cancer to obesity is still evolving, and it is not yet clear whether losing weight will help individuals once cancer has taken root.

What is clear is that obesity can raise an individual’s risk of cancer, and that risk may be reduced by maintaining a healthy weight, Schuchat said.