No, Sharkcano is not the cult-hit series about a shark tornado off the coast of New Jersey. It is, in fact, a real-live undersea volcano, that is home to—you guessed it—thousands and thousands of sharks. But not your typical sharks. These sharks shouldn’t even be alive.
Spin your globe to the Solomon Islands, halfway between Hawaiʻi and Australia, in the southwest Pacific Ocean. Near the island of Vangunu sits Kavachi. A volcano named after the local God of the Sea.
When Kavachi erupts, plumes of steam and ash burst out of the water. Lava and sulfur flow into the ocean. The volcano’s plumes are hot and caustic (aka they can cause burns), rising to temperatures of 100 degrees Fahrenheit (100°F). (The average surface temperature of the ocean is 65°F.) The combination of very hot seawater, a reduction of oxygen, and a more acidic environment (from the sulfur) are deadly for most marine life. But on May 14, 2022, NASA captured photos of an eruption with baited drop cameras, and spotted hammerheads and silky sharks!
How is that even possible?
Scientists aren’t quite sure. Marine ecologist Michael Heithaus of Florida International University studies predators who live in volcanoes (cool job alert!). Heithaus has a theory that the Sharkcano sharks use a cluster of pores on their snout, called Ampullae of Lorenzini, to detect changes in the earth’s magnetic field that precede a volcanic eruption. He thinks the Sharkcano sharks sense the volcano's imminent eruption and leave until the action is over.
Amazingly, the Sharkcano has a thriving ecosystem. Jelly-like zooplankton and reef fish live alongside the sharks. Scientists think that turbulent waters may give sharks an invisibility cloak, which helps them catch unsuspecting prey.
But this still doesn’t answer the question: how do these creatures adapt to rapid environmental changes? Some scientists think that if we can figure out how these mighty marine animals have adjusted to the harsh conditions in their volcano under the sea, we might begin to learn how humans can adapt to global warming…
Who knew Jaws might teach us a thing or two about survival on earth?!
What do you get when you combine a toy drone, a convoy of Russian tanks, and a teen boy?
A spectacular adventure, brimming with spy skills and a heavy dose of bravery.
Fifteen-year-old Andrii Pokrasa turned a hobby into a heroic act in late February. Pokrasa used his drone to locate a column of Russian military vehicles heading toward Kyiv. He had bought the drone just last summer after becoming obsessed with a YouTube video of an aerial view of Kyiv. He’s afraid of heights, so he decided this was the perfect way to see the city from a bird’s eye perspective.
Pokrasa’s pastime turned into a present-day mission when his father contacted local armed forces to suggest his son might be able to help. This was in the very first days of the Russian invasion; Ukraine had limited supplies and military surveillance in place. After a commander discovered that Pokrasa was the only experienced drone pilot in the region, he agreed to let the 15-year-old help his country’s cause. Soldiers were struggling to find the exact location of their enemy as they headed toward the capital. The skateboarding, bike-riding, trampolining teen was it.
When night fell, Pokrasa launched his drone quickly and quietly from a field near his home in the general direction of the enemy. In a stroke of luck, one of the trucks had its headlights on and Pokrasa was able to use its light to locate the Russian column and take aerial photos to pinpoint their precise coordinates. Pokrasa and his father sent this information to the Ukrainian army, which was able to use it to intercept the vehicles before they reached Kyiv.
Pokrasa and his father have since performed further aerial reconnaissance missions using a bigger drone with a longer range supplied by the Ukrainian army. Asked if he was scared, Pokrasa said, “Yes, I am scared, but I can’t do it any other way.”
In 1874, a book appeared in libraries across Michigan that looked like a catalog of wallpapers. It was written by Dr. Robert Kedzie, a surgeon for the North in the Civil War. Dr. Kedzie called the book Shadows from the Walls of Death—but it was no ordinary book. It came with handling instructions for librarians: DO NOT let children hold this!
The good doctor was trying to issue a warning and his book was Exhibit #1. In the 19th century, most wallpaper in the United States—especially when it contained the color green—was made with the deadly poison arsenic. The purpose of his book full of beautiful if deadly wallpaper samples was to educate consumers about arsenic pigmentation. Dr. Kedzie wrote that arsenic not only caused a “sudden and violent destruction of life” when consumed in even small quantities, but it also caused a slow decline in the form of “many chronic [and deadly] diseases.” It turns out that all wallpaper sheds dust particles into the air, which are easily inhaled. Ack!
Most of the one hundred copies of Shadows from the Walls of Death were destroyed. Four remain intact. Two are available for viewing, each of their pages safely covered with a plastic sleeve. Another is at Harvard Medical School, and the last is at the National Library of Medicine which has been digitized for online access.
Books offer windows and doors and pathways leading to a variety of adventures. But a word to the wise—don’t choose the book that might kill you when you lick your finger to turn its pages.
To avoid such perils and to skip the hazmat suit, read Shadows from the Walls of Death, located at the National Library of Medicine, poison-free, here.