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Study says droughts in the Southwest could become more frequent

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A federally funded study published Thursday argues the Southwest is moving into a drier climate, where droughts will be more frequent.

Researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research took data from 1979 to 2014 and identified broad storm patterns linked to wet weather. They noted the three patterns most connected to precipitation have become increasingly rare.

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"A normal year in the Southwest is now drier than it once was," the leader of the study said in a press release. "If you have a drought nowadays, it will be more severe because our base state is drier."

But 35 years of data may not be enough time to consider the shift to drier climates abnormal.

California, which is in the middle of a drought, is a good example. Scientists told The New York Times last April if you look at California's history, the state had droughts that lasted not just years but decades. In at least two cases during the last 1,200 years, droughts have lasted roughly two centuries.

"We consider the last 150 years or so to be normal," one researcher told The New York Times. "But you don't have to go back very far at all to find much drier decades, and much drier centuries."

What could be worse for California may not be future dry-periods but that it developed its water infrastructure during an abnormally wet period from the mid-1970s to late 1990s when the state's population roughly doubled.

The National Center for Atmospheric Research's study supports other predictions of a drier climate in the Southwest. The authors said they hope their work will help water be conserved and dispersed strategically.

Some trees might slow climate change better than others

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Planting trees to help fight climate-change works, right? Well, according to a new study that's not always the case.

It turns out that conifer trees, like evergreens, may actually cause temperature increases where they've taken root in place of broad-leafed trees.

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For example, look at Europe where the study was focused. Once upon a time, its forests were largely leafy deciduous trees. Now, a majority of Europe's trees are managed by humans, and we've been planting trees like pines and spruces because they grow faster.

But by replacing older forests with ones that are newer and faster-growing, Europe has gone into "carbon debt." Harvesting those older trees and replacing them with conifers has released 3.1 billion metric tons of carbon.

Researchers say this change caused a temperature increase equal to 6 percent of warming attributed to fossil fuels. Which may not sound like much, but small changes in temperature can ripple out to larger changes in the environment.

It's not just about the carbon that's released, though. Conifer trees are darker and absorb more solar radiation. When less of that radiation is reflected into space, the planet can heat up.

Some countries are already planting trees to help combat climate change. China, for instance, has been planting a "green wall" in the Gobi Desert, a project that would eventually include over a million square miles of trees.

And in 2014, the U.N. established the New York Declaration on Forests to restore deforested land.

But the study warns that those types of plans risk failure if countries don't consider the type of trees used or the forestry management techniques used to maintain them.

New deal protects 85 percent of Canada's massive Great Bear Rainforest

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Bears and various other animals in one of Canada's temperate rainforests can continue to live comfortably in most of their habitats.

The latest agreement among aboriginal tribes, logging companies and environmental organizations will protect 85 percent of the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia. 

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To put that in perspective, the total span of the forest, at 21 million acres, is a little under the acreage of Indiana.

About 15 percent that's not protected will be allowed for loggers to use, with monitoring to ensure practices are sustainable.

For some environmental organizations, this agreement has been a long time coming. Some are saying it has taken them nearly two decades of activism.

The forest is home to a variety of bears, including the white Spirit Bear, and other species specific to Canada.

Watch: Family completely freaks out over spider

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Arachnophobia, the fear of spiders and other eight-legged creatures, is a common phobia. 

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The sight alone of a spider is enough to send many pepole screaming in the opposite direction. 

One father was caught on camera when he thought he brought a spider into his house after walking through a web outside. 

"I just walked through a spider web. Is it on me?" the man asks nervously.

When his family members start screaming, so does he. In fact, his scream is even louder and shriller than his daughter's.

After the man removes his sweater and runs from the screen, the women in his family start laughing. The daughter even says, "I wish I had that on video," before realizing that the event took place in front of their home security camera. 

Penguins have their own awareness day, and they deserve it

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Jan. 20 was Penguin Awareness Day and there's a lot of cuteness to celebrate.

But sadly, more than half of penguin species are vulnerable or endangered.

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In all, there are about 17 species -- like the endangered yellow-eyed penguin, native to New Zealand and the African penguin.

Oil spills and overfishing of the African penguin's food supply are big threats to its survival, but the Georgia Aquarium has welcomed 24 baby African penguins since 2012 as part of the Species Survival Program.

It's hoping to raise a lot more.

Report: Ocean to house more plastic than fish by 2050

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The world’s oceans could contain more plastic than fish by 2050 if current business practices are continued, according to a report released by the World Economic Forum Tuesday.

A collaboration between the World Economic Forum, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and business consulting company McKinsey & Company, the report suggested the numbers stress the need to build a strong after-use plastics economy.

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“The best research currently available estimates that there are over 150 million tons of plastics in the ocean today,” the study, titled “The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the Future of Plastics,” said. “In a business-as-usual scenario, the ocean is expected to contain 1 ton of plastic for every 3 tons of fish by 2025, and by 2050, more plastics than fish (by weight).”

According to the report, 8 million tons of plastics leak into the ocean each year – “equivalent to dumping the contents of one garbage truck into the ocean every minute.

“If no action is taken, this is expected to increase to two per minute by 2030 and four per minute by 2050,” said the report.

A majority of the leakage comes from plastic packaging. The study’s authors found most plastic packaging is only used once before it’s discarded.

The report was based on interviews with more than 180 experts and an analysis of more than 200 reports.

This treehouse is Airbnb's most desired rental property in the world

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Treehouses. People want to stay in treehouses.

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Airbnb, the online home rental site, recently released its top wish-listed destinations and properties, and treehouses were at the top.

As Airbnb put it: "A penchant for fantasy is evident when examining the most Wish-Listed properties by type. The adventure of an outdoor treehouse is by far the most popular type of property on Wish Lists."

At the top of those desired treehouses is one in Atlanta, based on the frequency that active listings appear on people's wish lists.

Hidden away in the affluent uptown district of Buckhead, there are three connected treehouse rooms that rent for $350-$400 a night, with a two-night minimum.

The living room, bedroom and deck are connected by rope bridges. The bathroom is a 30-second walk to the main house.

As of mid-January, the first vacancy, according to the Airbnb listing, is in March.

Other desired treehouse locations include one in Italy and one with a pool, in Bali.

Maybe treehouses aren't your thing. In that case, check out the Seashell House in Mexico or the Pirates of the Caribbean getaway in California.

Airbnb's top destination on its wish list is also in Georgia.

Savannah is the top U.S. destination and No. 3 worldwide among "markets with highest percent of listings that have appeared on at least one wishlist with at least 200 currently active listings."

‘Psychedelic swamp’ in Florida displays rainbow colors

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Florida Landscapes, a public Facebook group of almost 10,000 members, invites social media users to post original photos of unique landscapes and cityscapes in the state. 

On Wednesday, a post to the group's page showed a Tallahassee swamp -- a wetland area not usually recognized for its beauty -- in a new light. 

Michael Hussey posted the photo of a "Psychedelic Swamp" with water that appears to be blue, pink, yellow, green and purple.

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"This happens every year as leaves begin to decompose in the water," Hussey wrote. "The decomposing leaves release tannic acid, and when the sunlight hits it, you see this gorgeous rainbow effect over the water.”

So far over 1,300 people have liked the photo on Facebook, and it has over 2,200 shares on the social media site.

The original photo was posted on Hussey's personal Facebook page last February. 

Psychedelic  SwampThis happens every year as leaves begin to decompose in the water.  The decomposing leaves release...Posted by Michael Hussey on Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Severe natural gas leak in Los Angeles County could be major disaster

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A massive natural gas leak from a Los Angeles County storage facility is pouring millions of pounds of methane into the atmosphere, and California officials say it's shaping up to be major ecological disaster.

Officials told The Washington Post the Aliso Canyon leak was first detected more than two months ago and is releasing about 110,000 pounds of gas per hour. It's invisible to the naked eye, but the outlet recently obtained infrared video showing the dangerous gas billowing into the air.

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On top of being an explosive hazard, the methane is also a potent greenhouse gas that's reportedly affecting both the atmosphere and the well-being of many nearby residents.

Thousands have been forced to evacuate the area, and students there will have to move to different schools. And several lawsuits have already been filed by people who claim they've been harmed by the leak.

"I have felt the effects, as my husband has — the stomach, the vomiting, the headaches. But when my 17-month-old son has to be on a nebulizer and comes home with bloody noses, there's no excuse," resident Robin Shapiro told NPR.

A spokesperson for the storage facility's owner, Southern California Gas Co., told the Los Angeles Times the leak likely began when an underground well-casing failed, which allowed pressurized gas to push through to the surface.

So far, efforts to contain the gas leak have been unsuccessful, and state officials say it could take months before it's stopped.

This video includes an image from Getty Images.

Watch: Three-eyed catfish reeled in

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A fisherman caught more than he expected when he reeled in a catfish with three eyes. 

"It was a crazy scene," said Greg Hunter, a witness who shot video of the fish as a crowd gathered around. "Some lady was flipping out cause (the fisherman) whacked it dead,” he told WABC.

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The fish was captured in the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, New York. 

Hunter said a female bystander was upset, citing efforts to preserve wildlife. 

The man who caught the oddity said he was going to eat it.

Social media users have compared the fish's likeness to Blinky, the three-eyed fish character in "The Simpsons."

Read more here.

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