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Finland is the 'most sustainable' country, say expats
India finishes last of 60 countries in environment and sustainability, as ranked by the expats who work there.
- How 'green' is life in your work country?
- That's the question InterNations asked its network of expats.
- The United States ended 30th out of 60 countries.
InterNations, the world's largest expat network, has delivered a global ranking with a twist. For the first time, it's asked its members to rate the environmental and sustainability qualities of their work countries. The best country for a sustainable life abroad: Finland. The worst: India. The U.S. lands exactly in the middle, at #30.
The ranking reflects the combined score for three categories:
- Products and Utilities: How available are sustainable goods and services? How 'green' is the energy supply? What about the local waste management and recycling practices?
- Policies and People: How engaged is the local government in green policies? And how environmentally aware is the public?
- Quality of the Environment: Specifically, of the local environment, air and water.
Nordics on top
Evo Hiking Area in Hämeenlinna, Finland. Great nature, clean air, clean water? Check, check and check.
Credit: Kanta-Hämeen kuvapankki on Flickr/ Public Domain.
The Nordic country scores at or near the top in all categories surveyed, including the quality of the natural environment (say 96 percent of expats in Finland), water and sanitation (96 percent) and air (95 percent).
Swedes lead the world in environmental awareness (84 percent versus just 48 percent globally). Perhaps not surprising, for the homeland of Greta Thunberg. This is reflected by government policy. Sweden currently gets more than 50 percent of its power from renewable sources and wants to go 100% renewable before 2040. "I've been here for over 20 years and I clearly see the benefits of my taxes paid coming back to me and the rest of society," says one American expat.
"The beautiful nature, the clean air and tap water, and the focus on the environment," are what one Ukrainian expat enjoys most about Norway. With 76 percent of expats happy with the availability of green goods and services, Norway's 'weakest' category is still 13 percentage points above the global average.
The first non-Nordic in the global ranking, Austria places in the Top 10 for each category and comes in first for the availability of green goods and services (90 percent).
Swiss nature is the most appreciated in the world (98 percent versus 83 percent on average). Switzerland also gets stellar results for air and water quality and the availability of green energy and green goods and services.
Danes are very much into green causes, as is their government, say 83 percent resp. 84 percent of expats. "Organic food is readily available, and they are good with recycling," observes a South African expat. And they love cycling: 9 out of 10 Danes own a bike.
7. New Zealand
85 percent of expats agree that the New Zealand government takes green issues seriously. In fact, New Zealand plans to use 90 percent electricity from renewables by 2025. The country also scores high on the quality of its natural environment and all other categories – albeit slightly less on the quality of its water and sanitation.
"I enjoy the rising awareness about environmental issues and the alternatives the government and society are developing," says one Colombian expat. Indeed, 80 percent of expats agree the German government is pro-environment (versus 55 percent globally).
The only North American destination in the Top 10, thanks especially to expat appreciation of Canada's natural environment (96 percent), but also the quality of its water and sanitation (90 percet) and the availability of green goods and services (80 percent).
"Access to nature for hiking and bicycling" is a definite boon for one American expat. In fact, the country's natural environment, although ranking 13th out of 60, is its lowest-rated subcategory. Luxembourg does even better when it comes to green energy, waste management, and the quality of its air and water.
Taiwan, most sustainable destination in Asia
Eternal Spring Shrine in the Taroko Gorge, Hualien County. Outside of Taipei, Taiwan can be surprisingly green and beautiful.
Credit: Zairon, CC BY-SA 4.0
The highest-scoring expat destination in Asia, Taiwan boasts 92 percent approval of its waste management and recycling, and 80 percent of the availability of green goods and services. But "the air pollution (in Taipei) is getting worse because it is too crowded," one expat complains.
Green goods and services are widely available, agree 82 percen of expats, as is green energy. However, 13 percent rate the Dutch environment negatively, 4 percet above the global average.
Well ahead of its neighbor Spain (#20), the country scores high for air quality (91 percent) and natural environment (95 percent). "I like the opportunity for gardening and growing our own food," says one expat.
Estonia scores in the Top 20 for every category and gets its highest marks for its natural environment. "A beautiful country with excellent air quality and open spaces," praises an Indian expat.
15. Costa Rica
Both the government and the people are very supportive of green policies, find 82 percent, resp. 67 percent of expats. "It's easy to live a healthy lifestyle with regard to the food, climate, clean air and water," says one. Costa Rica won the 2019 UN Champion of the Earth award and has pledged to go carbon neutral by 2050.
"The beauty of the environment" is one of the best things about living in Czechia, says a Russian expat. No less than 97 percent of expats agree.
77 percent of expats are happy about the availability of green goods and services in France, which is 14 percentage points above average. The country also scores well for waste management and recycling. In short, France has a "good, green and clean environment," one Iranian expat finds.
While ranking high on the quality of its nature, water and air, Australia scores low when it comes to government support for green issues (51 percent). Fortunately, expats see more interest among the general population (68 percent).
Expats rate the government's interest in green issues higher than globally average (77 percent versus 55 percent), but the Singaporean public's engagement for the same less than average (40 percent versus 48 percent). Of course, in a small, crowded place like Singapore, "(nature) spots are limited."
Spain's "scenery, diversity of places to visit and healthier environment" are what rate highly with one British expat. Its weak point is governmental and public support for green issues – but still slightly above the global average.
London is "polluted and noisy"
Afternoon traffic jam in London.
The highest-ranking country in the Middle East, Oman does especially well for natural environment (93 percent) and air quality (76 percent). However, only 50 percent are happy with the availability of green goods and services (versus 63 percent globally).
22. United Arab Emirates
Despite higher-than-average scores in some categories, the UAE's 52nd place out of 60 for the appreciation of its natural environment drags down its overall score.
Two in three expats rate Israel's air quality positively, 55 percent think the government cares about the environment (exactly the global average) and 51 percent thinks the public does too (slightly above global average).
The highest-ranked South American country, Ecuador scores especially well for its natural environment (95 percent). Its overall ranking is dragged down by lower scores for air and water quality. One Dutch expat sees "a lack of care for the environment."
Japan boasts a "high quality of life due to clean air and water, as well as many natural recreational places," reports a Malaysian expat. Waste management and recycling is rated highly (85 percent), but not the government's (27 percent) nor the public's (33 percent) engagement in green issues.
Expats are particularly satisfied with Ireland's air quality (16th) and natural environment (19th), but only 65 percent are content with the quality of the water and sanitation.
Biggest pluses: the public is into green issues (57 percent), the availability of green goods and services (75 percent) and green energy (66 percent). Belgium scores below average for air quality and one Danish expat complains about "poor green infrastructure."
28. United Kingdom
"(London) is very polluted and noisy," complains a Swiss expat. In fact, the UK's natural environment ranks just 43rd. On the upside, green goods and services are slightly more available than the global average.
The Gulf state ranks near the bottom for its natural environment and performs best for its government's green credentials (72 percent). One British expat regrets "the lack of green spaces."
30. United States
When it comes to green government policies, the U.S. ranks in the Bottom 10; but the country does a lot better in terms of the availability of green goods and services. "I like that basic services for living, such as access to clean water, are guaranteed," says one Venezuelan expat.
World map for the 'sustainable expat'
Sixty expat destinations ranked for sustainability, from best (orange) to worst (light blue). In between: fairly okay (brown), middling (grey) and not that great (dark blue).
While 94 percent of expats are happy with the quality of the natural environment, only 37 percent find Panama's waste management and recycling practices up to scratch (versus 60 percent globally). "There is a lot of litter on the streets and in the ocean," says one expat.
Italy's "beautiful landscapes and natural areas" earn the country high praise, but that is offset by "air pollution and heavy traffic," as the same expat explains.
Just like its overall score, Colombia is a mid-fielder in most categories. Its worst ranking is for air quality (47th), its best for the policy and people attitudes towards the environment (30th).
65 percent of expats appreciate the Qatari government's green efforts, but just 40 percent think the people feel the same. "There is a lack of green options, but things are changing," observes a Canadian expat.
Expats rate the quality of Hungary's water and sanitation higher than the global average (76 percent versus 72 percent), but its air quality significantly lower (49 percent versus 62 percent).
Poland is one of the few European countries to rank below average. No less than 60 percent of expats are unhappy with the air quality in Poland, compared to just 24 percent worldwide.
"St Petersburg is absolutely beautiful. There are many parks and green spaces, and the canals and the coast make it even better," gushes an American expat. But Russia is bigger than St Petersburg, and on the whole less pleasant. Water quality and waste management are just two categories rated well below the global average.
88 percent of expats like Argentina's natural environment, and 64 percent are satisfied with air quality (versus 62 percent globally) but the country performs average or worse on all other indicators.
Chile scores among the Bottom 10 for air quality, and not too well on many other indicators, but the quality of the country's natural environment (appreciated by 89 percent of expats) somewhat mitigates the result.
With 86 percent of expats lauding Malaysia's natural environment, the country scores above the global average in exactly one category. An Australian expat in Kuala Lumpur expresses concerns "about the air quality and waste disposal."
South Korea's "rather horrible" air
Seoul's air quality is so bad you can picture it. Only India's air is perceived as worse than South Korea's, according to the expat survey.
41. South Korea
Coming in on 59th place, South Korea scores particularly poorly for air quality. One Filipino expat even finds the Korean air "rather horrible". The water and sanitation quality are rated a lot higher, though.
Turkey's natural environment scores only slightly below average (78 percent versus 82 percent globally), as does the appreciation for its air quality (59 percent versus 62 percent). But the country scores well below global average when it comes to waste management (42 percent versus 60 percent). One expat laments the "traffic, pollution and lack of recycling" in the country.
Mexico is the worst performer among the North American destinations. No less than 35 percent of expats are dissatisfied with the quality of water and sanitation. One respondent mentioned the "lack of clean and operational public restrooms."
The island nation scores particularly well on air quality (68 percent), but worse than average on many other indicators, notably environmental awareness. "Garbage is just left anywhere," complains one British expat.
Greece's worst score is for waste management and recycling (53rd), but it does better for air quality (19th). Overall, 89 percent of expats appreciate Greece's nature, but the country is "not environmentally conscious," a Canadian expat says.
46. South Africa
Being Africa's best-ranked country at #46 is a bit of a Pyrrhic victory. In fact, South Africa scores near the bottom in many categories, including green energy options and government interest in green policies (both 59th).
The worst destination in South America when it comes to environment and sustainability. Just 23 percent of expats say the government supports green policies, only 32 percent think the population is interested in them. A Canadian expat lamented the "lack of empathy for the environment."
Morocco's biggest draws for expats in terms of environment and sustainability are its air quality (67 percent) and its nature (80 percent). But "I wish there was a greater awareness (with regards to) littering," complains an American expat.
49. Saudi Arabia
Best score: 50 percent of expats believe the Saudi government supports green policies (still 5 percent below the global average). "I don't like the total reliance on cars, the lack of recycling, and the lack of green spaces," an Australian expat says.
29 percent of expats are dissatisfied with China's natural environment, more than three times the global average (9 percent). "The air quality is terrible, and the people are packed tightly together," says an American expat.
Bad, worse, India
India scores worst in all three categories, but to be fair – some of its problems were imported from more developed countries.
51. Hong Kong
Hong Kong's two highest-ranked qualities are its natural environment and its water and sanitation infrastructure (both 37th). It does a lot worse for air quality (55th). "They still have landfill sites. And food waste is also a huge problem," observes a Hungarian expat.
The only European country in the Bottom 10, Malta performs poorly in all categories, but especially in terms of green policies. Only 33 percent of expats thinks the government cares about those, and only 48 percent think the same of the people. "It's a shame," says one British expat: "Wind farms and electric buses would be a good idea."
No less than 72 percent of expats are unsatisfied with Kenya's waste management and recycling, versus just 28 percent globally, and just 23 percent of expats believe Kenyans are interested in the environment, versus a global average of 48 percent.
The Philippines places in the Bottom 10 for each category. There is "no environmental care," laments one British expat.
53 percent of respondents agree that the Thai government is not supportive of green policies, more than double the global average (25 percent). An American expat lists "air pollution and the government's inability to enforce air pollution laws" as their least favorite aspect of expat life in Thailand.
Expats rate only India and South Korea as having worse air quality than Vietnam. A Dutch expat lists "air pollution, noise, bad waste management and rodents" as things he does not like about living in Vietnam.
50 percent of expats are unhappy about the state of Indonesia's water and sanitation infrastructure (vs. just 15 percent worldwide). "There is no waste management. All rubbish is going to the rivers and into the ocean," says a German expat.
The country on the Nile scores among the worst three in all of the survey's categories. There seems to be "no care for the environment," says a Polish expat. A French expat in Cairo laments the absence of "organic or pesticide-free foods".
Only 12 perent of expats are pleased with Kuwait's natural environment. That the emirate's worst result, but not the only bad one. "Poor sanitation and inept waste management" are among the worst things in Kuwait, says one Australian expat.
India is the worst destination for all three categories. 87 percent of expats are dissatisfied with India's waste management and recycling efforts, 82 percent rate the air quality poorly (with 55 percent saying it's "very bad"), and 69 percent are unhappy with the quality of the water and sanitation infrastructure.
World Bank data suggests India's output of renewable energy is 15%, significantly lower than the global average of 23 percent. However, in terms of the ubiquitous rubbish in India, it should be noted that the country has been used by western countries as a dumping ground for plastic waste.
Strange Maps #1053
Got a strange map? Let me know at email@example.com.
Inventions with revolutionary potential made by a mysterious aerospace engineer for the U.S. Navy come to light.
- U.S. Navy holds patents for enigmatic inventions by aerospace engineer Dr. Salvatore Pais.
- Pais came up with technology that can "engineer" reality, devising an ultrafast craft, a fusion reactor, and more.
- While mostly theoretical at this point, the inventions could transform energy, space, and military sectors.
The U.S. Navy controls patents for some futuristic and outlandish technologies, some of which, dubbed "the UFO patents," came to light recently. Of particular note are inventions by the somewhat mysterious Dr. Salvatore Cezar Pais, whose tech claims to be able to "engineer reality." His slate of highly-ambitious, borderline sci-fi designs meant for use by the U.S. government range from gravitational wave generators and compact fusion reactors to next-gen hybrid aerospace-underwater crafts with revolutionary propulsion systems, and beyond.
Of course, the existence of patents does not mean these technologies have actually been created, but there is evidence that some demonstrations of operability have been successfully carried out. As investigated and reported by The War Zone, a possible reason why some of the patents may have been taken on by the Navy is that the Chinese military may also be developing similar advanced gadgets.
Among Dr. Pais's patents are designs, approved in 2018, for an aerospace-underwater craft of incredible speed and maneuverability. This cone-shaped vehicle can potentially fly just as well anywhere it may be, whether air, water or space, without leaving any heat signatures. It can achieve this by creating a quantum vacuum around itself with a very dense polarized energy field. This vacuum would allow it to repel any molecule the craft comes in contact with, no matter the medium. Manipulating "quantum field fluctuations in the local vacuum energy state," would help reduce the craft's inertia. The polarized vacuum would dramatically decrease any elemental resistance and lead to "extreme speeds," claims the paper.
Not only that, if the vacuum-creating technology can be engineered, we'd also be able to "engineer the fabric of our reality at the most fundamental level," states the patent. This would lead to major advancements in aerospace propulsion and generating power. Not to mention other reality-changing outcomes that come to mind.
Among Pais's other patents are inventions that stem from similar thinking, outlining pieces of technology necessary to make his creations come to fruition. His paper presented in 2019, titled "Room Temperature Superconducting System for Use on a Hybrid Aerospace Undersea Craft," proposes a system that can achieve superconductivity at room temperatures. This would become "a highly disruptive technology, capable of a total paradigm change in Science and Technology," conveys Pais.
High frequency gravitational wave generator.
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
Another invention devised by Pais is an electromagnetic field generator that could generate "an impenetrable defensive shield to sea and land as well as space-based military and civilian assets." This shield could protect from threats like anti-ship ballistic missiles, cruise missiles that evade radar, coronal mass ejections, military satellites, and even asteroids.
Dr. Pais's ideas center around the phenomenon he dubbed "The Pais Effect". He referred to it in his writings as the "controlled motion of electrically charged matter (from solid to plasma) via accelerated spin and/or accelerated vibration under rapid (yet smooth) acceleration-deceleration-acceleration transients." In less jargon-heavy terms, Pais claims to have figured out how to spin electromagnetic fields in order to contain a fusion reaction – an accomplishment that would lead to a tremendous change in power consumption and an abundance of energy.
According to his bio in a recently published paper on a new Plasma Compression Fusion Device, which could transform energy production, Dr. Pais is a mechanical and aerospace engineer working at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD), which is headquartered in Patuxent River, Maryland. Holding a Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, Pais was a NASA Research Fellow and worked with Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. His current Department of Defense work involves his "advanced knowledge of theory, analysis, and modern experimental and computational methods in aerodynamics, along with an understanding of air-vehicle and missile design, especially in the domain of hypersonic power plant and vehicle design." He also has expert knowledge of electrooptics, emerging quantum technologies (laser power generation in particular), high-energy electromagnetic field generation, and the "breakthrough field of room temperature superconductivity, as related to advanced field propulsion."
Suffice it to say, with such a list of research credentials that would make Nikola Tesla proud, Dr. Pais seems well-positioned to carry out groundbreaking work.
A craft using an inertial mass reduction device.
Credit: Salvatore Pais
The patents won't necessarily lead to these technologies ever seeing the light of day. The research has its share of detractors and nonbelievers among other scientists, who think the amount of energy required for the fields described by Pais and his ideas on electromagnetic propulsions are well beyond the scope of current tech and are nearly impossible. Yet investigators at The War Zone found comments from Navy officials that indicate the inventions are being looked at seriously enough, and some tests are taking place.
If you'd like to read through Pais's patents yourself, check them out here.
Laser Augmented Turbojet Propulsion System
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
She helped create CRISPR, a gene-editing technology that is changing the way we treat genetic diseases and even how we produce food.
This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.
Last year, Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier became the first all-woman team to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work developing CRISPR-Cas9, the gene-editing technology. The technology was invented in 2012 — and nine years later, it's truly revolutionizing how we treat genetic diseases and even how we produce food.
CRISPR allows scientists to alter DNA by using proteins that are naturally found in bacteria. They use these proteins, called Cas9, to naturally fend off viruses, destroying the virus' DNA and cutting it out of their genes. CRISPR allows scientists to co-opt this function, redirecting the proteins toward disease-causing mutations in our DNA.
So far, gene-editing technology is showing promise in treating sickle cell disease and genetic blindness — and it could eventually be used to treat all sorts of genetic diseases, from cancer to Huntington's Disease.
The biotech revolution is just getting started — and CRISPR is leading the charge. We talked with Doudna about what we can expect from genetic engineering in the future.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Freethink: You've said that your journey to becoming a scientist had humble beginnings — in your teenage bedroom when you discovered The Double Helix by Jim Watson. Back then, there weren't a lot of women scientists — what was your breakthrough moment in realizing you could pursue this as a career?
Dr. Jennifer Doudna: There is a moment that I often think back to from high school in Hilo, Hawaii, when I first heard the word "biochemistry." A researcher from the UH Cancer Center on Oahu came and gave a talk on her work studying cancer cells.
I didn't understand much of her talk, but it still made a huge impact on me. You didn't see professional women scientists in popular culture at the time, and it really opened my eyes to new possibilities. She was very impressive.
I remember thinking right then that I wanted to do what she does, and that's what set me off on the journey that became my career in science.
CRISPR 101: Curing Sickle Cell, Growing Organs, Mosquito Makeovers | Jennifer Doudna | Big Think www.youtube.com
Freethink: The term "CRISPR" is everywhere in the media these days but it's a really complicated tool to describe. What is the one thing that you wish people understood about CRISPR that they usually get wrong?
Dr. Jennifer Doudna: People should know that CRISPR technology has revolutionized scientific research and will make a positive difference to their lives.
Researchers are gaining incredible new understanding of the nature of disease, evolution, and are developing CRISPR-based strategies to tackle our greatest health, food, and sustainability challenges.
Freethink: You previously wrote in Wired that this year, 2021, is going to be a big year for CRISPR. What exciting new developments should we be on the lookout for?
Dr. Jennifer Doudna: Before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were multiple teams around the world, including my lab and colleagues at the Innovative Genomics Institute, working on developing CRISPR-based diagnostics.
"Traits that we could select for using traditional breeding methods, that might take decades, we can now engineer precisely in a much shorter time."
DR. JENNIFER DOUDNA
When the pandemic hit, we pivoted our work to focus these tools on SARS-CoV-2. The benefit of these new diagnostics is that they're fast, cheap, can be done anywhere without the need for a lab, and they can be quickly modified to detect different pathogens. I'm excited about the future of diagnostics, and not just for pandemics.
We'll also be seeing more CRISPR applications in agriculture to help combat hunger, reduce the need for toxic pesticides and fertilizers, fight plant diseases and help crops adapt to a changing climate.
Traits that we could select for using traditional breeding methods, that might take decades, we can now engineer precisely in a much shorter time.
Freethink: Curing genetic diseases isn't a pipedream anymore, but there are still some hurdles to cross before we're able to say for certain that we can do this. What are those hurdles and how close do you think we are to crossing them?
Dr. Jennifer Doudna: There are people today, like Victoria Gray, who have been successfully treated for sickle cell disease. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
There are absolutely still many hurdles. We don't currently have ways to deliver genome-editing enzymes to all types of tissues, but delivery is a hot area of research for this very reason.
We also need to continue improving on the first wave of CRISPR therapies, as well as making them more affordable and accessible.
Freethink: Another big challenge is making this technology widely available to everyone and not just the really wealthy. You've previously said that this challenge starts with the scientists.
Dr. Jennifer Doudna: A sickle cell disease cure that is 100 percent effective but can't be accessed by most of the people in need is not really a full cure.
This is one of the insights that led me to found the Innovative Genomics Institute back in 2014. It's not enough to develop a therapy, prove that it works, and move on. You have to develop a therapy that actually meets the real-world need.
Too often, scientists don't fully incorporate issues of equity and accessibility into their research, and the incentives of the pharmaceutical industry tend to run in the opposite direction. If the world needs affordable therapy, you have to work toward that goal from the beginning.
Freethink: You've expressed some concern about the ethics of using CRISPR. Do you think there is a meaningful difference between enhancing human abilities — for example, using gene therapy to become stronger or more intelligent — versus correcting deficiencies, like Type 1 diabetes or Huntington's?
Dr. Jennifer Doudna: There is a meaningful distinction between enhancement and treatment, but that doesn't mean that the line is always clear. It isn't.
There's always a gray area when it comes to complex ethical issues like this, and our thinking on this is undoubtedly going to evolve over time.
What we need is to find an appropriate balance between preventing misuse and promoting beneficial innovation.
Freethink: What if it turns out that being physically stronger helps you live a longer life — if that's the case, are there some ways of improving health that we should simply rule out?
Dr. Jennifer Doudna: The concept of improving the "healthspan" of individuals is an area of considerable interest. Eliminating neurodegenerative disease will not only massively reduce suffering around the world, but it will also meaningfully increase the healthy years for millions of individuals.
"There is a meaningful distinction between enhancement and treatment, but that doesn't mean that the line is always clear. It isn't."
DR. JENNIFER DOUDNA
There will also be knock-on effects, such as increased economic output, but also increased impact on the planet.
When you think about increasing lifespans just so certain people can live longer, then not only do those knock-on effects become more central, you also have to ask who is benefiting and who isn't? Is it possible to develop this technology so the benefits are shared equitably? Is it environmentally sustainable to go down this road?
Freethink: Where do you see it going from here?
Dr. Jennifer Doudna: The bio revolution will allow us to create breakthroughs in treating not just a few but whole classes of previously unaddressed genetic diseases.
We're also likely to see genome editing play a role not just in climate adaptation, but in climate change solutions as well. There will be challenges along the way both expected and unexpected, but also great leaps in progress and benefits that will move society forward. It's an exciting time to be a scientist.
Freethink: If you had to guess, what is the first disease you think we are most likely to cure, in the real world, with CRISPR?
Dr. Jennifer Doudna: Because of the progress that has already been made, sickle cell disease and beta-thalassemia are likely to be the first diseases with a CRISPR cure, but we're closely following the developments of other CRISPR clinical trials for types of cancer, a form of congenital blindness, chronic infection, and some rare genetic disorders.
The pace of clinical trials is picking up, and the list will be longer next year.
A school lesson leads to more precise measurements of the extinct megalodon shark, one of the largest fish ever.
- A new method estimates the ancient megalodon shark was as long as 65 feet.
- The megalodon was one of the largest fish that ever lived.
- The new model uses the width of shark teeth to estimate its overall size.
A Florida student figured out a way to more accurately measure the size of one of the largest fish that ever lived – the extinct megalodon shark – and found that it was even larger than previously estimated.
The megalodon (officially named Otodus megalodon, which means "Big Tooth") lived between 3.6 and 23 million years ago and was thought to be about 34 feet long on average, reaching the maximum length of 60 feet. Now a new study puts that number at up to 65 feet (20 meters).
Homework assignment leads to a discovery
The study, published in Palaeontologia Electronica, used new equations extrapolated from the width of megalodon's teeth to make the improved estimates. The paper's lead author, Victor Perez, developed the revised methodology while he was a doctoral student at the Florida Museum of Natural History. He got the idea while teaching students, noticing a range of discrepancies in the results they were getting.
Students were supposed to calculate the size of megalodon based on the ancient fish's similarities to the modern great white shark. They utilized the commonly accepted method of linking the height of a shark's tooth to its total body length. As the press release from the Florida Museum of Natural History expounds, this method involves locating the anatomical position of a tooth in the shark's jaw, measuring the tooth "from the tip of the crown to the line where root and crown meet," and using that number in an appropriate equation.
But while carrying out calculations in this way, some of Perez's students thought the shark would have been just 40 feet long, while others were calculating 148 feet. Teeth located toward the back of the mouth were yielding the largest estimates.
"I was going around, checking, like, did you use the wrong equation? Did you forget to convert your units?" said Perez, currently the assistant curator of paleontology at the Calvert Marine Museum in Maryland. "But it very quickly became clear that it was not the students that had made the error. It was simply that the equations were not as accurate as we had predicted."
Found in North Carolina, these 46 fossils are the most complete set of megalodon teeth ever excavated.Credit: Jeff Gage/Florida Museum
The new approach
Perez's math exercise demonstrated that the equations in use since 2002 were generating different size estimates for the same shark based on which tooth was being measured. Because megalodon teeth are most often found as standalone fossils, Perez focused on a nearly complete set of teeth donated by a fossil collector to design a new approach.
Perez also had help from Teddy Badaut, an avocational paleontologist in France, who suggested using tooth width instead of height, which would be proportional to the length of its body. Another collaborator on the revised method was Ronny Maik Leder, then a postdoctoral researcher at the Florida Museum, who aided in the development of the new set of equations.
The research team analyzed the widths of fossil teeth that came from 11 individual sharks of five species, which included megalodon and modern great white sharks, and created a model that connects how wide a tooth was to the size of the jaw for each species.
"I was quite surprised that indeed no one had thought of this before," shared Leder, who is now director of the Natural History Museum in Leipzig, Germany. "The simple beauty of this method must have been too obvious to be seen. Our model was much more stable than previous approaches. This collaboration was a wonderful example of why working with amateur and hobby paleontologists is so important."
Why use teeth?
In general, almost nothing of the super-shark survived to this day, other than a few vertebrae and a large number of big teeth. The megalodon's skeleton was made of lightweight cartilage that decomposed after death. But teeth, with enamel that preserves very well, are "probably the most structurally stable thing in living organisms," Perez said. Considering that megalodons lost thousands of teeth during a lifetime, these are the best resources we have in trying to figure out information about these long-gone giants.
Researchers suggest megalodon's large jaws were very thick, made for grabbing prey and breaking its bones, exerting a bite force of up to 108,500 to 182,200 newtons.
Megalodon tooth compared to two great white shark teeth. Credit: Brocken Inaglory / Wikimedia.
Limitations of the new model
While the new model is better than previous methods, it's still far from perfect in precisely figuring out the sizes of animals which lived so long ago and left behind few if any full remains. Because individual sharks come in a variety of sizes, Perez warned that even their new estimates have an error range of about 10 feet when it comes to the largest animals.
Other ambiguities may affect the results, such as the width of the megalodon's jaw and the size of the gaps between its teeth, neither of which are accurately known. "There's still more that could be done, but that would probably require finding a complete skeleton at this point," Perez pointed out.
How did the megalodon go extinct?
Environmental changes that led to fluctuations in sea levels and disturbed ecosystems in the oceans likely led to the demise of these enormous ancient sharks. They were just too big to be sustained by diminishing food resources, says the ReefQuest Centre for Shark Research.
A 2018 study suggested that a supernova 2.6 million years ago hit Earth's atmosphere with so much cosmic energy that it resulted in climate change. The cosmic rays that included particles called muons might have caused a mass extinction of giant ocean animals ("the megafauna") that included the megalodon by causing mutations and cancer.
Scientists, led by Adrian Melott, professor emeritus of physics and astronomy at the University of Kansas, estimated that "the cancer rate would go up about 50 percent for something the size of a human — and the bigger you are, the worse it is. For an elephant or a whale, the radiation dose goes way up," as he explained in a press release.