Hurricane Maria ravaged the only tropical rainforest in the United States

September 28, 2017 by  
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El Yunque National Forest, the only tropical rainforest managed by the United States Forest Service, suffered major damage as Hurricane Maria bore down on Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm. While Washington faces criticism for its apparently lackluster response to the unfolding humanitarian disaster , scientists are beginning to turn their attention to the ecological devastation wrought by the powerful hurricane. Bill McDowell, an ecologist at the University of New Hampshire who led research missions in El Yunque for decades, described the national forest and center for scientific research as “devastated.” Still, life will find a way and El Yunque, adapted for the hurricane-prone Caribbean, is expected to endure, offering scientists a glimpse into the ecological recovery process. El Yunque National Forest covers nearly 30,000 acres in the northeast region of Puerto Rico and contains a wide range of habitat, from humid lowland rainforests to cool, cloud forests in the Luquillo Mountains. El Yunque is home to sixteen species of coqui frogs , the only species of native parrot in Puerto Rico, and a wide variety of epiphytes, which survive by pulling water from the air in the chilly upland dwarf forests. The National Forest is also known for its uniquely preserved petroglyphs by the indigenous Taíno people. Related: Scientists discover the Amazon forest sets off its own rainy season While El Yunque and similar forests in the region have evolved to cope with a sometimes-volatile climate , the unique power of Hurricane Maria presents an unprecedented challenge for the ecosystem . “From a science perspective, this is a test of how resilient the forests and streams are,” said Alan Covich, an aquatic ecologist at the University of Georgia who has studied El Yunque for decades. “I think the biggest question is the intensity of the disturbance and the cumulative effect of two [major hurricanes]. It’s a situation that has taken a century to develop.” Still, researchers are optimistic about the forest’s future. “We think things are pretty resilient and will come back within weeks and months, like they did after Hugo,” said Covich. “Six to 12 months from now, the forest will be in fine shape.” However, Covich noted that in the wake of such a disruptive event, different organisms may emerge as dominant species than before the storm. In addition to its role as an ecological and scientific hotspot, El Yunque has historically supported the people of Puerto Rico in critical ways. After hurricanes , the forest typically prevents debris and landslides from contaminating the headwaters of the Loquillo Mountains. While Puerto Ricans wait for relief from FEMA, El Yunque National Forest protects the much-needed sources of clean drinking water that sustain the population. Via Earther Images via  Omar Gutiérrez del Arroyo Santiago/Earther

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Hurricane Maria ravaged the only tropical rainforest in the United States

Architect builds a tiny studio in his backyard to be closer to his child

September 28, 2017 by  
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This tiny backyard studio in Toronto is the perfect home office for parents who want to play a bigger role in their young child’s life. Oliver Dang, founder of architecture firm Six Four Five A , has constructed the timber structure for himself as a private workspace overlooking a small green area where his one-year-old can play. The studio occupies a place at the end of the architect’s garden enclosed by high fencing. The cedar wood used for the fence was also chosen for decking and cladding the 100-square-foot hut. An asymmetric pitched roof tops the structure and shelters a small interior space fully optimized to fit all the necessary amenities. Related: Timber Shoffice is a Naturally Daylit Garden Shed + Office Combo in London Exposed vertical studs are used to support shelves, the drawing board occupies a space underneath the window, and a standing computer desk runs along one side. A slab of Carrara marble salvaged from a skyscraper functions as a threshold. The building provides the family with more flexibility in organizing their day-to-day life and spend more time together. The firm said in a statement: “The resulting design is a bright, lofty and functional office space that is also visually and spatially connected to the house and yard.” + Six Four Five A Via Dezeen Photos by Ashlea Wessel

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Architect builds a tiny studio in his backyard to be closer to his child

Clever GrowMore planter expands along with your garden

September 6, 2017 by  
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GrowMore is a clever planter that expands as your garden grows. Designed by Danish architects Sine Lindholm and Mads-Ulrik Husum of Husum Lindholm Architects , the modular gardening system can be bolted together in a variety of configurations to host everything from mini pocket gardens to large food-producing crops. The GrowMore modular system is comprised of just six main elements including planting boxes, shelves, and connectors. The plywood shelves and boxes can be arranged to create large circular pavilions and funky free-standing planters. The structures can also create small “urban nests” that enable people to reconnect with nature. Related: Prefabricated garden retreat snaps together in less than a week Sine Lindholm and Mads-Ulrik Husum wanted to create a system that would make it easy for anyone to build their own three-dimensional garden – and they plan to make GrowMore an open-source system so that anyone with a CNC machine can cut their own plywood components to arrange as they see fit. “As architects, we have to address new technologies,” said Lindholm. “We have to think about how can we build and produce designs that people can grasp, and that they can build themselves.” Lindholm and Husum recently showcased the system at the Seoul Architecture Biennale , an exhibition of designs created for the cities of the future. + Husum Lindholm Architects  

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Scientists find a massive black hole swirling in the Milky Way

September 6, 2017 by  
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Scientists from Keio University in Japan have unveiled the best evidence we have for an intermediate-mass black hole – and it’s right in our Milky Way . Intermediate-mass black holes have eluded astronomers , who have found hints of both star-sized black holes and supermassive black holes . But the discovery of the mid-sized black hole could help scientists understand why supermassive black holes grow so immense. The formation of supermassive black holes has been a mystery for astronomers, but this new study might provide an explanation for how they form. The researchers from Japan said in their research that mid-sized black holes could merge to form supermassive black holes, but there’s been little evidence for the existence of intermediate-mass black holes – until now. Related: Supermassive black holes offer hint at structure of the universe Last year, a team led by Tomoharu Oka of Keio University reported a strange cloud of molecular gas, dubbed CO-0.40-0.22, in our Milky Way. A team also led by Oka then scrutinized the cloud with instruments such as the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) and found a dense clump of gas near the cloud’s center, and a nearby radio wave source, CO-0.40-0.22*, that has similarities to the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A*. According to Oka, the similarity “supports the notion that CO-0.40-0.22* is an intermediate-mass black hole.” Scientists have expressed excitement about the discovery; Swiss Federal Institute of Technology astronomer Kevin Schawinski told Science Magazine, “It’s a very careful paper and they have gorgeous data. It’s the most promising evidence so far.” If CO-0.40-0.22* is verified as a black hole, its presence could offer support to the idea our galaxy has gotten bigger by cannibalizing smaller neighboring galaxies. The Japanese scientists think CO-0.40-0.22* could be a former dwarf galaxy core that could have been absorbed into the Milky Way, and could one day be subsumed by Sagittarius A*. The journal Nature Astronomy published the study online this week. Via Keio University , Science Magazine , and ScienceAlert Images via Keio University and NASA/JPL-Caltech

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Spectacular mountain-like Valley breaks ground in Amsterdam

September 6, 2017 by  
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A jagged mountain-like mass is turning up on Amsterdam’s pancake-flat landscape. MVRDV recently broke ground on Valley, a 75,000-square-meter mixed-use development that looks like a cluster of mountain peaks covered in greenery. Located in Amsterdam’s Central Business District Zuidas, the competition-winning design for OVG Real Estate will aim for BREEAM-NL Excellent rating and comprise apartments, offices, underground parking, a sky bar, and various retail and cultural facilities. Selected as the competition winner by the Municipality of Amsterdam in 2015, the stunning Valley project seeks to transform the quickly developing Zuidas area into a more livable and complete urban quarter. The green-terraced towers are designed as three mountain-like peaks of varied heights that soar to a maximum of 100 meters. The Valley will include 196 apartments, seven stories of office space, a three-story underground parking garage with 375 parking spots, and a variety of retail and cultural options on the lower floors. The publicly accessible Sky bar, which spans two stories, will offer panoramic views across the city. “Valley combines residential apartments with a green environment that offers panoramic views of Amsterdam”, says Winy Maas, MVRDV co-founder. “A lively plinth offering a range of commercial activities has some offices above and is topped finally with residences. The carving out of the resulting block ensures that it becomes less introverted than existing buildings in the Zuidas. There will be many terraces, both private and public, filled with people, flowers, plants and outdoor seating.” Related: BIG unveils lush mountain-like terraced building infused with nature The jagged building will be clad in natural stone and the layout informed by digital tools to optimize access to natural daylight and views, while preserving privacy. Due to the unique layout, no two apartments will be alike. MVRDV collaborated with award-winning garden designer Piet Oudolf and Deltavormgroep on the landscape design, which features an abundance of outdoor space and landscaped terraces. The publicly accessible central valley-area—from which the project derives its name—spreads across the fourth and fifth floor between the towers’ residential and commercial areas and will have an attractive year-round green appearance. + MVRDV Images via MVRDV

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Woman’s lost engagement ring found rooted to a carrot – 13 years later

August 18, 2017 by  
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Watch while you weed , or you may lose a ring. Gloves can help, not only to prevent contact with soil-borne infections and bacteria, but also to keep prized possessions on your person. Mary Grams of Alberta, Canada learned this the hard way. 13 years ago, Grams, 84, lost her diamond engagement ring, a family heirloom since 1951, whilst working in her garden. “I didn’t tell [my husband], even, because I thought for sure he’d give me heck or something,” said Grams. Fortunately, her lost treasure reemerged from the dirty depths, thanks to a carrot , the most charismatic of root vegetables, which had grown through the ring. Although Grams has since moved on from the plot where her ring was lost, her family stayed on the farm . The ring was rediscovered by Colleen Daley, Gram’s daughter-in-law, while she was out harvesting carrots with her dog Billy. “I knew it had to belong to either grandma or my mother-in-law,” said Daley, “because no other women have lived on that farm.” Although Gram’s husband died five years ago, shortly after their 60th wedding anniversary, she imagines that he would have appreciated this peculiar turn of events. “I’m going to wear it because it still fits,” she said. Related: HOW TO: Extend the Shelf Life of Root Vegetables by Storing Them in Sand Not only are carrots great finders of lost relics, but they are also very adaptable and can grow around objects. Gardeners can utilize this special feature of the root vegetable by planting carrots within an underground mold , designed to shape the carrots growth. Think of it as the subterranean version of the cubed watermelon . Head over to NPR to see the extraordinary image of the ring wrapped around a carrot . Via NPR Images via Liz West/Flickr , Shira Gal/Flickr , and Nate Steiner/Flickr

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Woman’s lost engagement ring found rooted to a carrot – 13 years later

Rooftop farms in Gaza provide lifeline to the community

August 17, 2017 by  
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Meeting even basic needs in Gaza can be a challenge for the nearly 2 million people that live in the territory’s 141 square miles. Under  Israeli blockade, which prevents vital supplies from reaching Gaza and inhibits international trade, the Palestinians living there rely on resilience and innovation to survive with the resources they have. Squeezed out of arable land, many Gaza residents are farming upwards, on the rooftops of the dense urban Mediterranean territory. Rooftop farming is fairly new in Gaza. Starting in 2010, an urban farming project by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization equipped over 200 female-headed households with fish tanks, equipment, and supplies to build and maintain an aquaponics growing system, in which fish provide both edible protein and fertilizer for vegetables with roots growing into water, without soil. This initial design was adapted by others to suit their available resources and needs. The current model, designed and built by Palestinians, involves recycled plastic and wood being used to create garden beds, which are then planted with seeds from local farmers. Related: Gaza man’s DIY solar desalination machine can produce 2.6 gallons of fresh water every day The growing rooftop farming scene in Gaza is helping to met the needs of a population increasingly threatened by food insecurity. However, a garden is often more than simply the food that it produces. “There are many useful benefits with this project,” said Dr. Ahmad Saleh, an agricultural consultant, former professor, and community organizer who is helping to promote urban farming in Gaza. “Rooftop agriculture enables and empowers people. It allows them to find effective ways to confront environmental problems and helps create a healthier population.” Muhyeddin al-Kahlout, a former school director, sees his gardens as a social gathering spot. “We are experiencing severe power shortages and there is already a scarcity of recreational places,” he said. “Many of my friends liked the idea. Now they are starting to think about doing the same on their rooftops.” Via Sondos Walid / Electronic Intifada Images via  Mohamed Hajjar  and  David Berkowitz/Flickr

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6 Surprising uses for garlic you probably didnt know about

August 17, 2017 by  
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It’s garlic harvesting season, and those glorious, aromatic bulbs are now adorning farmer’s market stalls just about everywhere. Garlic isn’t just good for flavoring bread and warding off vampires: it has many great uses for your health, as well as around your home and garden. Read on to find out some of its more surprising uses, and develop an even greater love for this fine and fragrant bulb. 1. Ear Infection Remedy The ancient Egyptians used garlic for its many medicinal purposes, as did the Romans and Greeks, and it’s safe to assume that it was used for thousands of years before anyone decided to commit such knowledge to papyrus. Olive oil’s polyphenols are anti-inflammatory, while the allicin in garlic is anti-microbial, as well as anti-viral and anti-fungal properties, so they work well together to treat bacterial as well as viral infections… much like the type that likes to nestle inside damp ear canals. What you’ll need and how to prepare it: The ratio of garlic to olive oil is 1:2, being 1 clove of garlic, minced (organic is preferable), to 2 tablespoons of olive oil. The allicin in garlic stabilizes best in a liquid, but loses its potency quickly: be sure to use this pretty much immediately after being made. Step 1: Heat the oil in a small saucepan on medium-low heat, and once warmed, turn the heat down to the lowest setting and add the minced garlic. Keep this on low heat for 20-30 minutes to draw the garlic’s healing properties into the oil without cooking it. Step 2: Remove from the heat and allow to cool a bit. You should be able to dip a fingertip into it without flinching. Step 3: Strain through cheesecloth or muslin, then use an eyedropper to administer 2-3 drops in the affected ear. Stop up the ear with a cotton ball and ask the sufferer to remain lying down for a few minutes to allow the oil to seep down through the eustachian tube.* Note: Garlic olive oil is also an effective treatment for ear mites in pet cats and dogs. Dip a cotton swab into the oil and apply to the affected ear, wait about 10 minutes, then use a clean swab to clean it away. The mites and eggs will be sloshed out, and remaining oil will help to treat the inflammation caused by their bites. Related: Researchers discover how nature makes powerful antibiotics that defy resistance 2. Topical Treatment for Cold Sores and Acne Those anti-just-about-everything properties mentioned above also work wonders for skin issues like acne breakouts and cold sores. You can just take a raw garlic clove, slice it, and rub the cut side on the affected area a couple of times a day to speed its healing. Another approach is to crush a couple of cloves through a press, and mix the garlic juice with an equal amount of apple cider vinegar. Apply with a cotton ball and allow to dry on the skin. 3. Disinfecting Spray Cleaner Ideal for cleaning countertops in your kitchen or bathroom: fill a spray bottle with plain white vinegar, and add 5 or 6 finely chopped garlic cloves. Let this steep for about an hour, then spray any surfaces you’d like disinfected. Feel free to add a few drops of grapefruit, orange, or lemon essential oil to both boost the cleansing properties and improve the scent overall. 4. Cough Syrup Garlic-infused honey is a startlingly effective cough syrup, especially for those dry, hacking coughs that can keep you up all night. Keeping in mind how quickly allicin’s potency dissipates, make this about 10 minutes before you’re ready to take it as a remedy. What you’ll need and how to make it: 3 or 4 garlic cloves, crushed 1 teaspoon ground turmeric (optional) 1/2 cup honey (raw is preferable) 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice Mix everything together and let stand for 10 to 15 minutes. Strain, and take a spoonful of it immediately. Related: DIY throat drops and cough syrup 5. Organic Pesticide for House and Garden Plants This wonderful allium’s anti-fungal and pesticidal properties means that it can work wonders as a wide-spectrum treatment for all kinds of plant-related issues. What you’ll need and how to make it: 1 large garlic bulb: remove the skins from all its cloves 2 liters of water 1 tablespoon liquid castile soap Step 1: Crush the garlic cloves well with a garlic press, and mix with the water. Let this steep for 8 to 12 hours. Step 2: Strain well, and then add the castile soap, like Dr. Bronner’s unscented. Step 3: Pour into a spray bottle, and spray your affected plants. This should help to eliminate aphids, borers, caterpillars, white flies, and slugs, and deter them from returning. Repeat every couple of weeks as needed. 6. Glass Repair This only works if you have a tiny, thin crack in glass. Have you ever noticed how sticky garlic is? Well, it’s a natural adhesive! If you drop your iPad and it develops a thin crack, slice a piece of raw garlic and rub it into the break. It’s sticky enough that it’ll keep the broken sides together, at least until you can get the glass replaced properly. *As with any other home remedy, this is not guaranteed to cure advanced infections, and can possibly cause more damage if the eardrum is ruptured. If the infection seems serious, or if the sufferer is in a significant amount of pain, consult a healthcare professional. Images via Unsplash and Wikimedia Creative Commons

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A color guide to the best plants for dyeing fabric and fibers naturally

August 10, 2017 by  
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People have been dyeing fabric and fibers with plants for thousands of years, and you can too! In fact, chances are that you have plenty of plant material in your garden, refrigerator, and pantry to do just that. Onions, blueberries , and spinach are just a few plants that you can use to create beautiful fabric dyes. Read on for more info! If you’ve ever dyed fabric at home, chances are you probably used one of the packets you can buy at the pharmacy or local sewing shop. Instead of using these, which are packed with chemicals that leak into groundwater , you can use a variety of different plants. You probably wouldn’t look down at a spinach and blueberry salad and think “hey, I could dye a shirt with this stuff”, but you’d be surprised at how many plants can yield rich, beautiful dye colors with the help of simple mordants. When it comes to dyeing fabric or fiber, make sure that it’s thoroughly dampened before it goes into the dye bath, or it may dye unevenly. What’s a Mordant? Also known as a fixative, a mordant is a metallic or mineral compound that causes a chemical reaction with the plant dye. Sometimes it will intensify or enhance a color (or change it completely), but the main purpose of a mordant is to lock the dye into the fabric. You can dye without mordants, but the colour won’t be as rich, and will wash out very quickly. The most common mordants used are: Alum Ammonia Baking Soda Chrome Copper Cream of Tartar Iron Salt Tin Urine (yes, human) Vinegar Plants to Dye With I’ll list these by colors of the rainbow rather than alphabetical order, along with the mordants used to brighten and/or affix the dye. Keep in mind that you don’t *have* to use a mordant to dye with: the colors will be softer, more like pastels, and won’t hold up under heavy washing, but it’s fun to experiment to see which hues you can coax from different plantstuffs. The general rule of thumb is to toss your dye materials into a pot that’s large enough to later hold the fabric you’re planning to dye. ONLY use a stainless steel or glass pot for this, as copper or aluminum can affect the color outcome. Cover the plant matter with a generous amount of water, bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer it for about 40 minutes. Allow it to cool before dyeing! If you toss natural fibers like wool or cotton into hot water, you risk shrinking it. Red Red Onions Onion skins are ideal because they don’t need a mordant. The skins create their own tannins that’ll act as fixatives for you. Just fill a pot with red onion skins and water, boil, and simmer for about half an hour until the water is stained well. Add in your fabric, turn the heat off, and let everything sit for 1-2 days. Sumac Berries Those bright red berries aren’t just great for making lemonade—they can create a vibrant pink-red hue. Crush the berry cones or put them through a food processor, then simmer in a pot for about half an hour with some vinegar added to it. Add your pre-soaked fabric to the pot and simmer for another half hour. Orange and Yellow Yellow Onion Skins One of the most readily available bits of plant matter to work with, and one of the easiest to work with as well. Pre-mordant your fiber (i.e. soak it in a water bath with the mordant added to it first, and wring it out slightly before dyeing). Fill your pot with as many yellow onion skins as it will hold, add water, bring to a boil and simmer for about half an hour. Add your fabric and simmer for another 20 minutes, then remove from the heat and allow to soak overnight. Rinse under cold water. For a bright yellow color, use alum as a mordant. For bright orange, use tin. Green Green lettuce There are so many different varieties of lettuce , and their leaves can create hues ranging from pale apple green to olive, so be sure to experiment with small batches, using different mordants. Iron will create a really wonderful green, but you can get widely differing results using tin, vinegar, blue vitriol, etc. You can also add other leafy greens like spinach, chard, purslane, dandelion greens, or sorrel for different variations in hues. Related: Silkworms munch mulberries and dye to create naturally fluorescent silk Blue Blueberries It’s an incredible waste of good fruit, but you can make a pale blue dye with blueberries that have been simmered in water and then strained out. To get a blue pigment, you’ll have to let the dye cool completely and then immerse your damp fabric in it. If you put the fabric in while the dye is hot, you’ll get a more purple-ish shade instead. To create a more intense blue, you can simmer blueberries, black beans , and purple cabbage together, strain it well, cool it, and then soak your stuff in it. If you just have purple cabbage on hand, use baking soda in the water to amp its blue tones. Pink Pink berries If you feel like sacrificing a bunch of delicious fruit, simmer raspberries, strawberries, or cherries in water until the fruit flesh falls apart. They’ll create a variety of different hues depending on whether you use them alone, or combined together. Pickled Beets Have you ever handled raw beets? Then you’re familiar with the bright magenta juice that’ll stain your hands pink for days. Guess what? That will dye fabric as well. The thing with beets is that if you just boil the root veg and then steep your fabric in it, you’ll get a slightly reddish brown hue. It’s PICKLED beets that will dye fabric bright pink. If you don’t feel like going through all the hassle of pickling these foods yourselves, ask friends and family members to keep the brine after they’ve eaten their share of pickled beets. Pour all of that into a pot, and steep your fabric in it. The vinegar, salt, and sugar all work together to bind the pigment into your fabric or fiber. Related: How to dye Easter eggs naturally with leaf imprints Purple Purple cabbage Chop the cabbage finely, toss into a large pot of water, and add a tablespoon of salt for every half cabbage you use. Bring this to a boil, then simmer for up to an hour. Strain it well, allow it to cool, and you’ll have a lovely purple dye: no mordant needed. If you add vinegar to this dye, you’ll get a lighter, pinker mauve shade. If you add ammonia to it, you’ll get blue. Experiment! Brown Chicory Also known as Bachelor’s Buttons, this flower grows along roadways, ditches, and in abandoned parks all around North America and many parts of Europe, China, and Australia. Its long taproot can be used as a coffee substitute after being roasted and dried , and when used with chrome or iron as mordant, will produce a rich, warm brown dye. Gray Blackberry You’d think that blackberries would dye a fabric purple, but newp. In fact, since people generally prefer to eat these berries than to waste them as dye, it’s actually autumnal blackberry leaves that are used to create a beautiful gray dye, but only once they have darkened to purple. You can toss some berries that are past their prime into the water as well: it’ll just make the color richer. Use iron as a mordant. Remember that these color results are based on the assumption that you’re using white or unbleached natural material such as cotton, linen, wool, etc. The hues you get will vary greatly depending on the base color you’re working with, and whether you do more than one dip. If you’re interested in exploring more about these kinds of dyes, I’d recommend picking up a book or two as reference material, or even scouring through online resources and taking notes as you go along. Be sure to experiment! You may find a new combination that yields the color of your dreams. Lead image of colored yarn via Deposit Photos , others via Deposit Photos , Unsplash and Wikimedia Creative Commons, and by the author

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A color guide to the best plants for dyeing fabric and fibers naturally

Floating, solar-powered ‘dragonfly’ bridge can sail to new locations

August 10, 2017 by  
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This floating pedestrian bridge  can sail along rivers and oceans like a boat. Designer Margot Krasojevic conceived the bridge as a flexible structure that can be folded, stacked and expanded so that it can be moored along quaysides, sailed to different locations, or permanently positioned. The Ordos government commissioned Krasojevic to design a pedestrian bridge which would cross the Wulanmulun River, located in Ordos city, Kangbashi district Mongolia. The SailBoat bridge consists of a main floating section, three expanding walkways, and a carbon fiber triple sail. The sail can be lowered and raised by a buoyancy rotator and allows the bridge to function as a sailboat in order to reach new locations. Cylindrical cross-flow turbines function as rafts and help stabilize the primary structure. Related: Margot Krasojevic designs Belgrade trolly system powered by piezoelectricity A hydraulic telescopic secondary structure supports the pedestrian walkway which expands and contracts into the main body of the structure. The walkways are flexible and can adapt to different spans. Caisson foundations and screw-in moorings can be used to permanently stabilize the bridge. A rotating Mobius ballast chamber hydraulically operated by a thruster and powered by photovoltaic cells rotates the sails which are made from lightweight aluminium and carbon fiber-reinforced polymer. + Margot Krasojevic Architecture

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Floating, solar-powered ‘dragonfly’ bridge can sail to new locations

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