Category Archives: It’s Only Natural: Geology, Environment

Adventures with the natural world.

Brick — The Roadway Less Traveled By (But It Could Make All the Difference) by Tamia Nelson

Cyclists paved the way for cars. Literally. Long before the masses embraced internal combustion and took to the highways and byways on four wheels, cyclists were lobbying for paved roads. If you often ride on gravel or dirt you’ll know why. When you’re going somewhere on your bike—as opposed to simply killing time on singletrack between airings of the X Games—you soon learn to value a smooth, hard, stable surface. But the freedom of the paved road isn’t free. Asphalt and concrete slab surfaces are, for all practical purposes, impermeable. And when heavy rain falls on a well-engineered, impervious roadway (or shopping mall parking lot), the water does what comes naturally: It runs off immediately, swelling local streams to flood stage and overwhelming urban sewer systems.

From the narrow perspective of a highway engineer, this is a very good thing. You don’t want your roads turning into rivers, after all. But environmental geologists look at things differently. If you prevent rainwater from soaking into the ground, you impoverish local aquifers. And when you then hustle that … Continue reading »

Move Over, Niagara! Our Southern Hemisphere Correspondent Reports From Brazil’s “Big Water” Fallsby Marcos Netto

There’s nothing special about waterfalls, is there? Almost any stream large enough to appear on a quad has one or two tucked away somewhere. But these are everyday waterfalls. They’re well worth a visit, to be sure, but they’re not likely to take your breath away. The Cataratas do Iguaçu (Iguaçu Falls), on the other hand, are WATERFALLS. Located in the Iguaçu River, on the border between the Brazilian state of Paraná and the Argentine province of Misiones, this U-shaped complex of 300 islands and 200-plus-foot drops dwarfs North America’s Niagara Falls. (“Poor Niagara!” Eleanor Roosevelt is said to have exclaimed on first seeing Iguaçu.)

Despite this, I might have gone to my grave ignorant of the falls’ existence, but for the efforts the indefatigable Marcos Netto, our Southern Hemisphere Correspondent, who recently visited the Parque Nacional das Cataratas do Iguaçu—a World Heritage Site—and sent along some truly spectacular photos to jog me out of my mid-summer torpor.

He certainly succeeded. His first photo was taken well back from the falls … Continue reading »

Tales of a Turtle Taxi: This Lady’s Not for Turning by Tamia Nelson

With the onset of warm weather, turtles are out and about on the roads. Most are females, who leave their home waters to search for sandy soil in which to deposit their eggs. I met this formidable lady on a town road. While not the largest snapper I’ve encountered, she was pretty good-sized—perhaps half again as big as my helmet. And she had a disposition to match her appearance:

This Lady Is Not for Turning

She’d just begun to cross the road when I first saw her, and I decided to offer her a lift. But as soon as I got close she swiveled around to face me. She moved with lightning speed, too. Try as I might I couldn’t get behind her. (For what I hope will be obvious reasons—the name is a clue—it’s important to approach snappers from the rear. See this page for details.) Things were not going according to script. So I opted for Plan B: gentle persuasion. A windfall limb would serve as my shepherd’s crook. I figured I’d stay with the lady, nudging her away from … Continue reading »

A Good News Story: Florida Turtles Get a Helping Hand by Tamia Nelson

There aren’t any turtles making the rounds in the Adirondack foothills on these winter days, but they are plenty who are already out and about in warmer climes. Of course, whatever the season, a turtle’s life is never easy. Their survival strategies, evolved over hundreds of millions of years, didn’t take speeding automobiles into account. It’s an unequal contest, with the turtles always coming off second-best. A case in point: the portion of US Highway 27 in northern Florida that cuts across an arm of Lake Jackson, creating an isolated impoundment known, logically enough, as Little Lake Jackson. These lakes lie at the center of a rich wetland, and they’re home to a great diversity of wildlife species, many of which cross back and forth between the two bodies of water—running the gauntlet of the busy roadway every time they do. Not surprisingly, then, this stretch of highway has a well-earned reputation as a killing zone for turtles, with over 2,000 being struck every year by speeding cars.

The terrible toll hasn’t gone unnoticed. Some big-hearted … Continue reading »