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In France, ancient forests are resurging — growing bigger every year

France's forests are even creeping up on their major cities.

Photo credit: Tim de Waele / Getty Images
  • Forests account for over 31 percent of France's land.
  • While most of the world is losing woodland to farmland, France is gaining.
  • France has both a public and private effort working on reforesting rural and urban areas.

Deforestation plagues vast swathes of the world. As rainforests are decimated — an unthinkable amount of trees are destroyed every second. Yet, in Europe this trend seems to have reversed.

Look no further than Provence, France, where resurged greenery cuts through mountain passes and sprouts up to form one of France's newest natural parks — the Baronnies Provençales. Set up only four years ago, and spreading more than 1,800 square kilometers (approx. 700 square miles), this mixed forest of oak, pine and beech is a testament to France's dedication to regrowing their ancient forests.

While the forests of the world are on the decline, those in France are quietly rising.

Successful reforestation effort

The French start-up EcoTree, launched near Brest in 2016, buys forests all over France to restore them. Photo credit: FRED TANNEAU / AFP / Getty Images

Current estimates show that forests cover 31 percent of France. The country is ranked fourth, in terms of largest forests, within the European Union. It is only surpassed by Sweden, Finland, and Spain.

Due to a concentrated reforestation effort and decline in farming, the past 30 years has seen France's forested areas increase by 7 percent. This hasn't been resigned just to France either. During the 1990s, Europe initiated something called the Common Agricultural Policy, which ensured only productive areas would be used as cropland to prevent inefficient farming. Land that was lacking was turned back into forest.

Between 1990 and 2015, Europe's total forestland grew 90,000 square kilometers — about 35,000 square miles. There has been so much progress, in fact, that there are more trees and larger forests in the EU today than there were at the start of the 20th century.

France's success can be contributed to a collective effort of private individuals and public forestry initiatives working together. A majority of the forests are on private land. With a total of 16.4 million hectares and increasing every day, new French forests reclaim old agricultural and industrial wastelands to fuel their growth.

The trees and plants being planted will do well to keep up with carbon dioxide absorption demands and fight climate change. Already within the Baronnies Provençales natural park, people are beginning to see rare species, such as the black vulture, reemerge.

Still, the new forests aren't without their fair share of complex problems and challenges.

Reforestation challenges 

There are some 34,000 people who live inside the new Baronnies Provençales. Some of the inhabitants see the black pine as a pest, which sometimes grows on their pastureland. The Economist notes that there was an initial backlash from local groups who were wary at the rapid pace at which the forest was being reclaimed. Audrey Matt, who is in charge of the park's forests, is on record saying, "The fact that forests are growing here can be problematic… It all depends which way round you look at it."

Many forests in France and Europe have become scarred with the scourge of beetle infestation. Also with the risks of extended heatwaves, these new forests are liable to burst into flames amid dry weather and turn into dangerous wildfires.

Yet, the benefits still outweigh many of the potential problems. Which is why France is also taking its reforestation efforts into the urban realm as well.

Urban forests in Paris

Photo credit: ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT /AFP / Getty Images

Mayor Anne Hidalgo recently announced a new greenery plan for the city of Paris. One that's going to bring more forests right into the city itself.

The plan is to begin planting forests near many of Paris's historic landmarks, such as Hôtel de Ville (Paris's city hall) and the Opéra Garnier. These groves will be placed in both busy and dormant pedestrian areas. Part beautification, part practical, the trees will alleviate intense heat during the increasingly sweltering summer months.

Paris is more susceptible than most places during a heatwave as it's considered an urban heat island. The mayor intends to counteract that with what she calls an "isle of coolness."

If all goes according to plan, 20,000 trees will be planted by 2020. The capstone of the goal is to cover half of the City of Light's acreage with trees by 2030.

Paris could have a potentially radical new look with the simple addition of all of this beautiful foliage.

How accountability at work can transform your organization

If you don't practice accountability at work you're letting the formula for success slip right through your hands.

Videos
  • What is accountability? It's a tool for improving performance and, once its potential is thoroughly understood, it can be leveraged at scale in any team or organization.
  • In this lesson for leaders, managers, and individuals, Shideh Sedgh Bina, a founding partner of Insigniam and the editor-in-chief of IQ Insigniam Quarterly, explains why it is so crucial to success.
  • Learn to recognize the mindset of accountable versus unaccountable people, then use Shideh's guided exercise as a template for your next post-project accountability analysis—whether that project was a success or it fell short, it's equally important to do the reckoning.

What if Middle-earth was in Pakistan?

Iranian Tolkien scholar finds intriguing parallels between subcontinental geography and famous map of Middle-earth

Could this former river island in the Indus have inspired Tolkien to create Cair Andros, the ship-shaped island in the Anduin river?

Image: Mohammad Reza Kamali, reproduced with kind permission
Strange Maps
  • J.R.R. Tolkien himself hinted that his stories are set in a really ancient version of Europe.
  • But a fantasy realm can be inspired by a variety of places; and perhaps so is Tolkien's world.
  • These intriguing similarities with Asian topography show that it may be time to 'decolonise' Middle-earth.
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Giant whale sharks have teeth on their eyeballs

The ocean's largest shark relies on vision more than previously believed.

An eight-metre-long Whale shark swims with other fish at the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium on February 26, 2010 in Motobu, Okinawa, Japan.

Photo by Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • Japanese researchers discovered that the whale shark has "tiny teeth"—dermal denticles—protecting its eyes from abrasion.
  • They also found the shark is able to retract its eyeball into the eye socket.
  • Their research confirms that this giant fish relies on vision more than previously believed.
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A massive star has mysteriously vanished, confusing astronomers

A gigantic star makes off during an eight-year gap in observations.

Image source: ESO/L. Calçada
Surprising Science
  • The massive star in the Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy seems to have disappeared between 2011 and 2019.
  • It's likely that it erupted, but could it have collapsed into a black hole without a supernova?
  • Maybe it's still there, but much less luminous and/or covered by dust.

A "very massive star" in the Kinman Dwarf galaxy caught the attention of astronomers in the early years of the 2000s: It seemed to be reaching a late-ish chapter in its life story and offered a rare chance to observe the death of a large star in a region low in metallicity. However, by the time scientists had the chance to turn the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Paranal, Chile back around to it in 2019 — it's not a slow-turner, just an in-demand device — it was utterly gone without a trace. But how?

The two leading theories about what happened are that either it's still there, still erupting its way through its death throes, with less luminosity and perhaps obscured by dust, or it just up and collapsed into a black hole without going through a supernova stage. "If true, this would be the first direct detection of such a monster star ending its life in this manner," says Andrew Allan of Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, leader of the observation team whose study is published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

So, em...

Between astronomers' last look in 2011 and 2019 is a large enough interval of time for something to happen. Not that 2001 (when it was first observed) or 2019 have much meaning, since we're always watching the past out there and the Kinman Dwarf Galaxy is 75 million light years away. We often think of cosmic events as slow-moving phenomena because so often their follow-on effects are massive and unfold to us over time. But things happen just as fast big as small. The number of things that happened in the first 10 millionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang, for example, is insane.

In any event, the Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy, or PHL 293B, is far way, too far for astronomers to directly observe its stars. Their presence can be inferred from spectroscopic signatures — specifically, PHL 293B between 2001 and 2011 consistently featured strong signatures of hydrogen that indicated the presence of a massive "luminous blue variable" (LBV) star about 2.5 times more brilliant than our Sun. Astronomers suspect that some very large stars may spend their final years as LBVs.

Though LBVs are known to experience radical shifts in spectra and brightness, they reliably leave specific traces that help confirm their ongoing presence. In 2019 the hydrogen signatures, and such traces, were gone. Allan says, "It would be highly unusual for such a massive star to disappear without producing a bright supernova explosion."

The Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy, or PHL 293B, is one of the most metal-poor galaxies known. Explosive, massive, Wolf-Rayet stars are seldom seen in such environments — NASA refers to such stars as those that "live fast, die hard." Red supergiants are also rare to low Z environments. The now-missing star was looked to as a rare opportunity to observe a massive star's late stages in such an environment.

Celestial sleuthing

In August 2019, the team pointed the four eight-meter telescopes of ESO's ESPRESSO array simultaneously toward the LBV's former location: nothing. They also gave the VLT's X-shooter instrument a shot a few months later: also nothing.

Still pursuing the missing star, the scientists acquired access to older data for comparison to what they already felt they knew. "The ESO Science Archive Facility enabled us to find and use data of the same object obtained in 2002 and 2009," says Andrea Mehner, an ESO staff member who worked on the study. "The comparison of the 2002 high-resolution UVES spectra with our observations obtained in 2019 with ESO's newest high-resolution spectrograph ESPRESSO was especially revealing, from both an astronomical and an instrumentation point of view."

Examination of this data suggested that the LBV may have indeed been winding up to a grand final sometime after 2011.

Team member Jose Groh, also of Trinity College, says "We may have detected one of the most massive stars of the local Universe going gently into the night. Our discovery would not have been made without using the powerful ESO 8-meter telescopes, their unique instrumentation, and the prompt access to those capabilities following the recent agreement of Ireland to join ESO."

Combining the 2019 data with contemporaneous Hubble Space Telescope (HST) imagery leaves the authors of the reports with the sense that "the LBV was in an eruptive state at least between 2001 and 2011, which then ended, and may have been followed by a collapse into a massive BH without the production of an SN. This scenario is consistent with the available HST and ground-based photometry."

Or...

A star collapsing into a black hole without a supernova would be a rare event, and that argues against the idea. The paper also notes that we may simply have missed the star's supernova during the eight-year observation gap.

LBVs are known to be highly unstable, so the star dropping to a state of less luminosity or producing a dust cover would be much more in the realm of expected behavior.

Says the paper: "A combination of a slightly reduced luminosity and a thick dusty shell could result in the star being obscured. While the lack of variability between the 2009 and 2019 near-infrared continuum from our X-shooter spectra eliminates the possibility of formation of hot dust (⪆1500 K), mid-infrared observations are necessary to rule out a slowly expanding cooler dust shell."

The authors of the report are pretty confident the star experienced a dramatic eruption after 2011. Beyond that, though:

"Based on our observations and models, we suggest that PHL 293B hosted an LBV with an eruption that ended sometime after 2011. This could have been followed by
(1) a surviving star or
(2) a collapse of the LBV to a BH [black hole] without the production of a bright SN, but possibly with a weak transient."

Future of Learning

Changing the way we grade students could trigger a wave of innovation

How students apply what they've learned is more important than a letter or number grade.

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