Unexpected (Positive) Aspects Of Tragic Events
Let's face it: there's no such thing as an awesome tragedy or a super fun disaster. Suffering, destruction, and death are all sad and unfortunate parts of life. But sometimes -- if you let some time pass and look really hard -- you'll find an unexpected silver lining to even the worst events. Such as ...
The BP Oil Spill Led Scientists to Discover 60 New Species Living in the Gulf
In addition to being 4/20 for the entire month, April 2020 will mark the 10-year anniversary of the worst oil spill in US history. BP's Deepwater Horizon explosion killed 11 people and released an estimated 210 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico over 87 days. If you're lacking context here, the Exxon Valdez spilled a mere 11 million gallons of oil back in 1989, and many of Alaska's beaches are still contaminated thirty years later. It's virtually impossible to quantify the full extent of the damage caused to marine animals and the environment, but among the hurt and killed were 80,000 birds, 35,000 hatchling sea turtles, and about 508 million pounds of oysters. It was the definition of a catastrophe, and a decade later the ecosystem is still struggling. It may never fully recover.
While nothing can ever really make up for the loss of life and environmental harm, there is a tiny rainbow to this shitstorm: it led to the discovery of new species of fish. See, following BP's monumental fuckup, they formed an organization called the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) which would coordinate BP-funded research post-spill. It was very literally the least they could do.
Through this program, scientists have discovered 60 new species of fish never before found in the Gulf, including seven species previously unknown to exist period. Among them are two never-before-seen varieties of squid, a new type of anglerfish, and two new species of "mud dragons," which are -- sadly -- just microscopic sandworms that don't breathe fire. Researchers have also gathered valuable data on the effects of oil spills on the wildlife, ecosystem, the economy, and public health (Guess what? It's bad for all those things). Presumably, they're also using this time to study up on all these newly-discovered species, so we can learn as much as possible before we try to kill them again.
Behold the exciting new species Buttus uglius.
The Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Led to the Development of Bone Marrow Transplants
The number of Japanese deaths from America's dropping of atomic bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki totaled in the hundreds of thousands. Sadly, those killed instantly may have been the lucky ones, as thousands more suffered slow, agonizing, deaths over the subsequent days, months, and years. It wasn't until survivors of the initial blast started dying in waves that doctors began to discover the full, horrible effect ionizing radiation ... and the fact that bone marrow from a healthy donor can save a radiation victim's life.
Prior to World War II, known cases of radiation poisoning were so rare that doctors had little to no experience studying or treating it. But with the development of A-bombs underway, scientists with the Manhattan Project began studying the effects of radiation on mice and other animals. You know, so they could treat the people they didn't immediately incinerate like a Sarah Connor nightmare. A doctor named Egon Lorentz found that mice receiving lethal doses of radiation could be saved with a donation of bone marrow from a healthy mouse (And hopefully prevent any possible rodent-Godzillas). Fortunately, with radiation killing off rodent bone marrow and humans' in pretty much the same way, doctors were able to adapt the bone marrow transplant (BMT) procedure for humans.
Today, a transplant of bone marrow stem cells from a healthy donor is still the most effective treatment for diseases like leukemia, multiple myeloma, and certain types of lymphoma. The important (at least for therapeutic reasons) part of bone marrow is that it contains hematopoietic stem cells or "blood stem cells" that can become marrow, platelets, white blood cells, or red blood cells as needed. Even now, researchers are finding ways to use these blood stem cells to treat a growing number of diseases in new and exciting ways. Cool, but just next time maybe don't invent Uncle Bob's Instant Genocide to do it.
Hurricane Sandy Helped Save an Endangered Species
When Hurricane Sandy made landfall in 2012, some 220 people lost their lives during a nine-day-long waltz of destruction-- which caused an estimated $70 billion in damage in the US alone. In the hardest-hit areas of New York and New Jersey, thousands of people lost their homes (Sadly, the Jersey Shore house survived), along with parts of the coastline being left completely unrecognizable. Seven years later, some people are still working to recover and rebuild, while others left the remains of their property behind and relocated elsewhere. Probably further inland.
Although getting a tea-bagging from Mother Nature really sucks for people, it can actually be a good thing for some species of animals. While infrastructure was getting washed away, shorebirds were basically getting a visit from the Property Brothers. The area's low-lying barrier islands are ideal nesting and nursery areas, but years of beachfront construction had seen these habitats destroyed and the natural geography drastically altered. When Sandy clobbered the barrier islands, she not only opened up new nesting areas for shorebirds but also "recharged" the area with an all-you-can-eat buffet of invertebrates and crustaceans for the birds feed on.
Sandy's beach remodeling was particularly beneficial to one endangered species of shorebird, the piping plover. Scientists studying the birds determined that the hurricane increased the piping plover habitat anywhere between 9% and 300% at four study sites. Better still, researchers are finding that most of the increased habitat areas are holding steady years after the storm, which has allowed the bird population to stabilize and even begin increasing. Because the birds are on the endangered species list, the Army Corps of Engineers was obliged to work around the birds' newly-expanded habitats when rebuilding beaches following the storm. It's a good thing we have a longstanding Endangered Species Act that helps protect these beautiful creatures. Oh ... wait.
The Search for the Missing Malaysian Flight Yielded Some Incredible Science About the Ocean
There is no shortage of questions when it comes to the fate of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. How can we just lose an airplane? What was J.J. Abrams doing during this? Was it abducted by aliens before or after it entered a black hole? The truth is, the ocean covers more than 70% of the planet, yet 80% of it remains "unmapped, unobserved, and unexplored." In other words, you can hide a plane in it really easily, and finding one in the ocean - even if you kinda sorta know where to look - is like trying to pick out a single turd at a sewage plant.
That doesn't mean we didn't try, mind you. In the months and years that followed, the patch of ocean thought to be the plane's most likely resting place was catapulted into the spotlight and subjected to a search of "unprecedented detail." Today, that 46,000 square mile area off the coast of Australia is one of the most thoroughly mapped regions of Earth's entire ocean floor.
Realistically, if you'd let scientists pick a portion of the ocean on which to conduct the most detailed study in history, not one of them would have picked this spot. Kinda like Cleveland, it's on the world's radar only for its proximity to human tragedy. Still, the library of knowledge the search efforts contributed to science is incredible. Subsea volcanoes and mountains larger than Everest are lurking under that portion of the ocean. The surveys even found hotspots for future sushi, like tuna and alfonsino. The detailed geographical information will help scientists study everything from tsunamis to the ancient movements of tectonic plates-- so while the search didn't turn up the plane, or the 239 people on it, it found pretty much almost everything else short of Aquaman.
The Abrupt Halt of Ocean Traffic After 9/11 Prompted Years of Research on Whales
In ranking historic tragedies, 9/11 was our 9/11. Thousands of people lost their lives on that horrible day, and survivors and first-responders continue to die from the lingering side-effects of being at ground zero. However, while the days following September 11th were an unquestionably depressing time for the humans, it was absolute bliss for whales.
In September 2001, two different groups of scientists were studying right whales in the Bay of Fundy. One group was recording whale songs, while the other, smellier, group was collecting whale shit. Despite approaching their work from opposite ends of the animal, they came to the same conclusion: whales were stressed and unhappy. But, when increased security measures led to an abrupt halt of virtually all shipping traffic for a period of several days, scientists discovered that whales' stress levels dropped considerably. Their poop showed lower levels of cortisol, and they actually started singing more songs and for longer periods.
So why were the whales laughing at our pain? Did they just discover power ballads? Nope - the oceans were just peaceful and quiet for once. See, it really, really, sucks to be a whale these days. Thanks to increased shipping, offshore drilling, seismic surveys, underwater air guns, and sonar the oceans are ridiculously loud. For marine life, this constant racket makes life "a living hell," and the noise levels are only increasing. The National Resource Defense Council is one of several groups taking steps to stop seismic surveys, but with more ships crossing (and recrossing) the ocean every single day, the overall volume of our oceans isn't likely to decrease anytime soon. But, at least the whales will always have the happy memories of the day the noise briefly stopped. They'll never forget.
For more, check out 6 Horrifying Videos That Prove Nature Is Trying To Kill Us:
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