Upper Int/Advanced

The story of the Aral Sea

April 2010   One Sunday afternoon in Kazakhstan last August, three dozen fishermen met near the shore of the North Aral Sea. They brought food to eat and they had races and throwing contests. Afterwards, they relaxed telling stories and singing songs about the Aral Sea and fishing and how much they loved both of these things. For many years before this, there had been no reason to celebrate. The Aral Sea in Central Asia, once the fourth largest lake in the world, had shrunk because of irrigation and drought.

Detroit: then and now

The city of Detroit, in the USA, was once compared to Paris. It had a broad river, grand boulevards and historically significant architecture. Then, in the 20th century, it became ‘Motor City’. For a time, most of the world’s cars were made here. There was steady work and a good salary in the motor industry. An autoworker could own a home, plus a boat, maybe even a holiday cottage. Some say America’s middle class was born in Detroit – new highways certainly made it easy for workers to move from the city centre to the suburbs in the 1950s.

Food for a community

Every year for many years the people of Milpa Alta, Mexico, have prepared a feast in the week before Christmas. Sixty thousand tamales and 15,000 litres of hot chocolate are made in less than a week, not too much and not too little for the thousands of people who show up for the feast. The feast is called La Rejunta and is made for pilgrims preparing for the long walk to the holy cave of El Señor de Chalma on January 3rd. The people responsible for organising La Rejunta are called the majordomos.

Siberia's medical train

In Khani, a small village under the snowy peaks of the Stanovoy Mountains in Russia, there is a queue of patients waiting next to the railway line to see the doctor. They are waiting for the Matvei Mudrov train – a mobile medical clinic with basic equipment, examination rooms and twelve to fifteen doctors on board. The Matvei Mudrov runs along the 4,000 kilometres of the Baikal-Amur Mainline (BAM), a railway line parallel to but 650 kilometres north of the more famous Trans-Siberian line. The Matvei Mudrov takes its name from a nineteenth century Russian doctor.

The first year of life

A study into child development published in 2010 was one of the first to demonstrate that childhood experience influences the structure of the developing brain. Since then, other studies have shown a link between a baby’s socioeconomic status and the growth of its brain. Despite millennia of child rearing, we have only a limited understanding of how babies take such gigantic strides in cognitive, linguistic, reasoning and planning ability. At birth, the brain has nearly a hundred billion neurons, as many as in adulthood.

Life on the Seine

On the Île de la Cité, in front of the Cathedral of Notre Dame, is a bronze compass set into the paving stones. From here — point zero — all distances from Paris are measured. And at the centre of Paris is the River Seine: its liquid heart. ‘For Parisians, the Seine is a compass, a way to know where you are’, says Marina Ferretti, an art historian.

A long and healthy life?

A baby born today could live to be not only 100, but even 120 years old.  Hard to believe? Apparently, there could be a gene for not only long life, but long and healthy life.

Sylvia Earle

Sylvia Earle: National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence

Sylvia Earle was called a "Hero for the Planet" by Time magazine. She’s an oceanographer, explorer, author, and lecturer.

Wild weather

What is happening to our weather?

One weekend in May 2010, Nashville in the USA was expecting a few centimetres of rain. Two days later, 33 centimetres had fallen and eleven people had died in the resulting floods.

Return to River Town

In 1996, Peace Corps volunteer, Peter Hessler, arrived in Fuling, a quiet town on the Yangtze, to teach English. He went back recently to find the landscape and his former students transformed.

If only they could talk.

The statues walked, Easter Islanders say. Archaeologists are still trying to figure out how – and whether their story is a cautionary tale of environmental disaster or a celebration of human ingenuity.

On a winter night last June, José Antonio Tuki, a 30-year-old artist on Easter Island, did one of the things he loves best: he left his house on the southwest coast and hiked north across the island to Anakena beach. Tuki sat on the sand and gazed at the colossal human statues – the moai. The statues range from four to 33 feet and some weigh more than 80 tons. They were carved long ago with stone tools and then transported up to 11 miles to massive stone platforms. As Tuki stares at their faces, he feels a connection. ‘It’s something strange and energetic,’ he says. ‘This is something produced from my culture, the Rapanui.’ He shakes his head. ‘How did they do it?’

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