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Ancient mastodon tooth washes ashore near Santa Cruz, is almost lost to unwitting jogger

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Ancient mastodon tooth washes ashore near Santa Cruz, is almost lost to unwitting jogger

Jennifer Schuh was walking along Rio Del Mar State Beach near Santa Cruz during the Memorial Day holiday when she spotted something unusual in the sand.

The foot-long object resembled a piece of driftwood, but Schuh wasn’t certain, so she took a picture of it, posted it on Facebook and asked if anyone could help identify it.

“People from Aptos find all kinds of stuff washed up on that beach, like horse teeth or fossilized sand dollars,” she said. “And I was like, ‘Well, shoot, I’m going to post this crazy thing because I have no idea what it is.’”

Someone in Facebook’s comments section tagged Wayne Thompson, a paleontologist at the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History. He identified the object as a molar belonging to a Pacific mastodon, an elephant-like mammal that existed between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago, during the Ice Age.

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“This is an extremely important find,” Thompson wrote Schuh. “Give me a call when you get a chance.”

The Santa Cruz museum recently added the artifact to its collection — one of only three known specimens found in the area, Thompson said.

“When this tooth was fossilized, sea levels were 300 feet lower than they are today. Elephants and mammoths could walk out to the Channel Islands,” Thompson said. “It’s another piece of evidence that we have for climate change.”

Liz Broughton, the visitor experience manager at the Santa Cruz museum, thinks the devastating winter storm that hit Santa Cruz in January may have washed the mastodon tooth onshore.

Storms are known to uncover paleontological finds, but Thompson said this is the first time it’s happened in their region.

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But acquiring the mastodon tooth was not easy. After he saw the Facebook post, Thompson raced to the beach on Friday, but the tooth was gone.

“We were on pins and needles,” he said.

On Saturday, Thompson went on Instagram to ask if anyone knew the tooth’s whereabouts, and if they did, to call the museum. KRON 4 first reported about the missing tooth on Sunday.

“It was like a social media news blitz, just putting everything out to try to find out who might have taken the tooth,” Thompson said.

Two days later, the museum received a call from an unnamed person from Aptos who had picked up the tooth on the beach during a jog. He saw the news coverage of the missing molar, realized what the artifact he had found was and turned it in.

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“It’s really a testament to our community and the trust they have in us to care for objects like this,” Broughton said.

This isn’t the first time the museum has encountered remains of a mastodon. In 1980, 16-year-old Jim Stanton found a mastodon skull in the same creek at Rio Del Mar State Beach, Broughton said. Thompson excavated the skull and spent years repairing it for display.

The skull and a tooth belonging to a young mastodon are on permanent exhibit at the museum. The newly discovered molar will be studied and is expected to also be put on display.

“We all have studied history, but the minute you see something from the past that you can actually hold in your hands — it gives me goosebumps now just thinking about it,” Schuh said.

Based on the wear and tear of the tooth, museum staff estimates the mastodon was between 30 and 40 years old when it died in a nearby river valley.

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Thompson said the Santa Cruz museum might install a temporary exhibit to display the molar. Longer-term, staff are hoping to put together an exhibit about the extinct elephants that lived in the county.

“Any fossil we find helps to better fill in the gaps in our knowledge and paint a picture of what life looked like here in the past,” Broughton said. “The potential for the scientific value from this specimen is very high.”

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Q&A: Noma chef René Redzepi wants to make insects delicious. In 'Omnivore,' he explains why

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Q&A: Noma chef René Redzepi wants to make insects delicious. In 'Omnivore,' he explains why

Earning three Michelin stars and having your restaurant named the best in the world five times might be enough for most chefs, but René Redzepi has set his sights on something bigger: changing the way we eat.

The fare we take for granted today is at risk on multiple fronts. Climate change threatens all kinds of crops, including the most popular food in the world. Mass production by agribusinesses is marring the environment, while monoculture farming practices are giving deadly pathogens a biological edge. Underlying all these challenges is the persistent pressure to feed an ever-growing global population.

None of this was on Redzepi’s mind when he followed his best friend to culinary school at age 15. He quickly found his purpose, cooking in multiple Michelin-starred restaurants before opening Noma in his native Copenhagen 2003.

In the 21 years since, one thing has become abundantly clear.

“There’s something happening with our environment,” Redzepi said, “and how we produce and grow our food has a huge impact.”

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Matt Goulding, left, and René Redzepi created “Omnivore,” a documentary series on Apple TV+.

(Courtesy of Apple TV+)

That’s the starting point for “Omnivore,” which debuts on AppleTV+ on Friday. Created with his “old pal” Matt Goulding, a food writer and three-time James Beard Award winner, the documentary series raises big questions about the future of food by going deep on eight ingredients: chiles, bluefin tuna, salt, bananas, pork, rice, coffee and corn.

Redzepi and Goulding spoke with The Times about their new show and what they learned about sustainability while making it.

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How did “Omnivore” come about?

René Redzepi: Noma was exploding, and I was being offered all sorts of opportunities. I never had the desire to be on TV unless we were informing the world about how magical and important and delicious food is in a way that would be more like “Planet Earth” than a cooking show or travel show.

It was always on the back burner. Then COVID happens.

Matt Goulding: When René called, it all fell into place. His voice always had that kind of David Attenborough echo to it.

Of course we want to make food delicious and enjoyable, but we also want to understand what it means — not just political or cultural but also the natural world, the biological. All of those elements felt like they could be connected through the vessel of the ingredient.

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How did you pick the ingredients?

MG: We thought about this like a recipe. What are some of the fundamental ingredients you would put at the heart of a recipe — the protein or the carb — and what are the seasonings? That’s why we have an episode on chile peppers. They don’t have an essential role in our survival, but they have an essential role in explaining the human psyche.

RR: For me, we need wheat to stay alive, but we need chile to feel alive.

You highlight traditional milpa farmers in the Yucatan and organic rice growers in India. If techniques like theirs were widely adopted, would we be able to feed everyone?

RR: We need large-scale agriculture to be inspired by traditional ways that have been used for thousands of years. At the same time, you need those ancient ways to adopt some technology that can actually help things move forward.

MG: It’s a question at the heart of the series, and the episode on corn is where we address this most directly. It’s built around the idea of a tale of two corns. One is a giant monoculture Iowa farm, and the other is the milpa, this polyculture system that was the way corn was grown during its rise in Mesoamerica.

What attracted us to the milpa was not just this romantic ideal of ancient wisdom. When you look at studies, you’ll find that polycultures can produce more calories per acre than a monoculture can.

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Monocultures work on a one-dimensional plane — they just use surface area. With polyculture, you’re using using a three-dimensional space to create more food. There’s the crawling vines of the beans, the cover crop of the squash grown below, and the shade being produced by the cornstalks.

The peril of climate change is seen most acutely in the episode about rice. Farmers are so dependent on monsoons, and they’re not behaving as they were in the past.

MG: This single ingredient represents about 20% of the human diet. Figuring out how to continue to grow rice amid this incredible change in our climate is one of the most confounding problems of the 21st century.

Organic farmer Jayakrishnan Thazhathuveetil sows Kuruva rice seeds in Kerala, India.

Organic farmer Jayakrishnan Thazhathuveetil sows Kuruva rice seeds in Kerala, India, in the documentary series “Omnivore” on Apple TV +.

(Courtesy of Apple TV+)

We found JK, a southern Indian rice farmer who was just trying to grow rice for his community. He discovered that all these incredible varieties of rice that he grew up with were disappearing, so he took it upon himself to look for them. Maybe one of them will adapt better to the changing climate.

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RR: Perhaps if we ate more different things, that would also be something that could help. Could we eat more seaweed? Could we eat more mushrooms? Could we eat more legumes? What about bugs? These things have the potential to be mini-staples.

Could we eat more seaweed? Could we eat more mushrooms? Could we eat more legumes? What about bugs?

— René Redzepi, founder and head chef of Noma

Throughout the series, you show how much humans have literally changed the landscape in pursuit of a good bite to eat. Is this necessarily bad?

MG: Food has always been at the sharp end of the globalization spear. It’s been driving a globalized world since the Age of Discovery, looking for spices, trading salts along the Silk Road.

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Sushi chef Takashi Saito guides a knife into a large chunk of bluefin tuna over a cutting board

Master sushi chef Takashi Saito prepares bluefin tuna at his Tokyo restaurant in a scene from the documentary series “Omnivore” on Apple TV+.

(Apple TV+)

Bluefin tuna is a very potent example. What had been a trash fish for the better part of the 20th century could suddenly transform into one of the most sought-after ingredients through the innovation of this one individual at Japan Airlines.

Is this necessarily bad? I don’t think it has to be. There are good ways to do it and there are bad ways to do it. It’s a tough thing to draw a line in the sand.

You seem to have a love/hate relationship with global markets. They make it possible for premium coffee growers in Rwanda to be paid fairly for their labor-intensive work, but they also allow the United Fruit Company to take over big chunks of Latin America to grow bananas.

MG: The United Fruit Company is the classic example of a system that controls all means of production so you can maximize efficiency and profit and get a product around the world. The only thing they didn’t factor in is that you can’t control nature in the long run. This is what we’re seeing with Panama disease and bananas.

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That a banana costs one-fifth of the cost of an apple grown right down the road from you is one of the most confounding things about our food system. But the true cost of that banana — to the workforce, the consumer, and the planet — is definitely much greater.

RR: If we can just make people aware that this is how food works, and make you think about what sort of systems you tap into, that will be powerful. Most people probably have no clue.

MG: When we eat, when we drink, we are voting for some world we want to live in. It’s an incredibly empowering thing to be able to do three times a day.

Did you learn anything while making “Omnivore” that changed the way you do things at Noma?

RR: When we go into Noma 3.0 next year, we will cease to operate as a 12-months-of-the-year restaurant and focus a lot of our attention and skills and team on tackling bigger questions in the food space. One of the projects I’m looking into is this thing that we call Future Staples of Food, which was inspired by a lot of the research we’ve done. I mentioned some of them before — the seaweeds, the mushrooms, legumes, and so on.

What about insects?

RR: For sure. It’s definitely a superfood. It’s unbelievable the amount of calories and nutrition you get. It’s mind-blowing.

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But to change habits and have more things in our diet, we need to make them utterly delicious so that people choose them. Deliciousness is the change factor.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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We Mapped Heat in 3 U.S. Cities. Some Sidewalks Were Over 130 Degrees.

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We Mapped Heat in 3 U.S. Cities. Some Sidewalks Were Over 130 Degrees.

We usually talk about summertime heat in terms of how hot the air is, but there’s another metric that matters: the temperatures of roads, sidewalks, buildings, parking lots and other outdoor surfaces. Hot surfaces can make the places people live and work more dangerous, and can increase the risk of contact burns.

Just consider this image, captured recently by satellite, of surface temperatures across Phoenix.

Sources: U.S.G.S. Landsat via Google Earth Engine; U.S. Census.

Note: Satellite image taken at 12:03 p.m. local time. Higher-uncertainty pixels removed.

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Around noon on July 10, huge parts of the nation’s fastest-growing large city were 120 degrees Fahrenheit, about 49 Celsius, or hotter to the touch. Had you been unlucky or unwise enough to actually touch it with bare skin, it could have caused injury within minutes.

On the city’s desert fringes, in territory governed by Native American nations, the land was even hotter, 150 degrees or more.

So far this summer, the Arizona Burn Center, which serves Phoenix and the broader Southwest, has admitted 65 people for severe heat-related burns, according to Dr. Kevin Foster, the center’s director. Six of these people died from their injuries. Last summer, the center recorded 14 such deaths.

Yet even that figure is small compared with the 645 heat-related deaths that were identified last year in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix. That was the highest number on record for the county. (This year, the county has so far reported 23 heat-related deaths and is investigating 322 more.)

Surface temperatures are just one of many factors that cities are thinking about as they try to protect residents from extreme heat, said Ladd Keith, an associate professor in the School of Landscape Architecture and Planning at the University of Arizona.

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In an environment as complex as a city, heat can harm people, pets and wildlife in many different settings and circumstances, Dr. Keith said. For officials, it can be tricky to figure out which exact combination of policies and actions might prove most beneficial to public health.

Phoenix, for instance, is trying to plant more trees and increase shade. The city’s “Cool Pavement” program has treated 120 miles of asphalt to help it reflect more sunlight and stay cooler as a result. But from a cost-benefit perspective, might it make more sense to put those resources toward building more heat-tolerant homes or addressing homelessness instead? “It’s really hard to know what that mix is,” Dr. Keith said.

What’s clear, he said, is the need to figure it out quickly. “Heat deaths are climbing faster than any of our investments to prevent them,” he said. And human-caused global warming keeps increasing the frequency and intensity of dangerous heat waves. “We’re chasing a moving target very slowly,” he said.

Sources: U.S.G.S. Landsat via Google Earth Engine; U.S. Census.

Note: Satellite image taken at 11:45 a.m. local time. Higher-uncertainty pixels removed.

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Sacramento is known, with pride, as the City of Trees. But tree cover isn’t distributed equally there, and neither is exposure to broiling heat. On the northern and southern sides of California’s capital, residents of low-income neighborhoods have long contended with a shortage of shade and green space on sweltering days like last week’s.

Victoria Vasquez is the grants and public policy manager for California ReLeaf, a coalition of nonprofit groups that protect and grow the state’s urban forests. Funding for such work is always tight, Ms. Vasquez said. That hasn’t changed very much even as the West suffers through more and more record temperatures. “I wish that it did,” she said.

Still, she sees signs of movement in the right direction. Sacramento is considering a plan to increase citywide tree cover to 35 percent from 19 percent by 2045. Under the Inflation Reduction Act, the United States Forest Service received $1.5 billion to support urban forest programs.

When neighborhood associations see how quickly they can reap the benefits of planting and maintaining trees, Ms. Vasquez said, “that is an infectious, positive change.”

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Sources: U.S.G.S. Landsat via Google Earth Engine; U.S. Census.

Note: Satellite image taken at 11:55 a.m. local time. Higher-uncertainty pixels removed.

In Portland, Ore., tree-filled areas like Forest Park, on the city’s west side, provided oases of cool last week. Yet Vivek Shandas, a professor of urban planning at Portland State University, and his colleagues recently discovered that the city’s overall tree cover decreased somewhat between 2014 and 2020. One likely culprit? Trees are often removed when houses are sold and residential areas redeveloped.

The medical examiner’s office in Multnomah County, which includes Portland, said last week that it was investigating five deaths for links to the recent blistering heat.

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In many ways, Portland has become much more attuned to heat threats ever since a heat dome killed hundreds of people in Oregon and Washington in the summer of 2021, Dr. Shandas said. The city is communicating the risks more actively. It has provided portable cooling units to low-income residents. Still missing, Dr. Shandas said, are the changes to building codes and construction practices that would truly ready Portland for the hotter years and decades to come.

“The things that are low-hanging fruit right now, I think have pretty much been picked,” he said. “The longer-term, sustained, deep retrofit that the city needs in order to be prepared for the increasing intensity and frequency of these heat waves? I have yet to see any of that.”

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Extreme heat may have increased spread of H5N1 at poultry farm

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Extreme heat may have increased spread of H5N1 at poultry farm

An H5N1 outbreak that recently infected five poultry workers and 1.8 million chickens in northeast Colorado may have been fueled in part by heat wave conditions and slaughtering methods, according to federal health authorities.

At a press conference Tuesday, Nirav Shah, principal deputy director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the human infections occurred as poultry workers culled infected birds in 104-degree heat — a condition that may have made wearing protective clothing and equipment nearly intolerable, and necessitated the use of large fans, which may have promoted the virus’s spread via feathers, dust and other poultry detritus.

In addition, the method used to kill the infected chickens — carbon dioxide gassing — required that workers move “from chicken to chicken” increasing their “degree of interaction with each potentially infected bird.”

“This confluence of factors may play a role in explaining why this outbreak occurred where it did and when it did,” said Shah, noting that a state and federal investigation is still underway.

He said these observations potentially “highlight a pathway for prevention,” which would include more systematic use of protective equipment as well as engineering adaptations that could help reduce exposure risk.

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This weekend, Colorado and federal health officials reported five cases of bird flu in poultry workers at a single farm in northeast Colorado. Four of the cases have been confirmed by the CDC, and a fifth is considered presumptive as officials wait for the final results.

The poultry farm was infected by bird flu earlier this month. The virus is particularly deadly to poultry, and highly transmissible. Standard practice in the industry is to cull all potentially infected birds and clean the premises.

Federal officials said the chickens were slaughtered with carbon dioxide, which a 2016 Meat and Poultry magazine article described as the “gas of choice” in North America due to its availability, low cost, and track record for “attaining consistency in terms of good animal welfare and meat quality.”

Birds infected with H5N1 are discarded and do not enter the food supply.

The technique requires that workers place chickens in a sealed, portable unit in which anywhere from 20 to “several dozen” are exposed to the gas. At first the CO2 is emitted at a concentration that will render the birds unconscious — a phase of slaughter known as “the induction of insensibility.” Once the birds are knocked out, the concentration is increased, and the animals suffocate and die.

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The whole thing takes “less than a minute and a half,” said Julie Gauthier, executive director for field operations at the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Maurice Pitesky, an expert in poultry health and food safety epidemiology at UC Davis, said for “houses” as big as the one in Colorado, culling can take weeks.

The process requires that workers handle both live and dead birds. And officials on Tuesday’s call hypothesized that if their PPE was not on properly due to the excessive heat, or had been made less effective by large cooling fans (which were also kicking up dust), they may have been exposed and vulnerable to the virus.

“The heat is an issue,” Pitesky said. “The expectation that dairy workers, poultry workers, under those current heat conditions — or California’s Central Valley, for example, when it was over 110 degrees — that they would wear PPE like Tyvek suits that don’t breathe at all, and the N95 masks that USDA is offering for free, is unrealistic.”

He said there was “no way” anyone was going to wear PPE in those conditions. Instead, he said, the USDA should provide things like visors or surgical masks — protective items that might actually be worn.

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“Then there’s the culture, which is probably the bigger issue,” he said, noting in his experience, most workers won’t wear masks — even for particulate matter. So, “while the USDA intentions were good, I think the practicality of what they were trying to bring about wasn’t very sensitive to that reality.”

Federal officials also noted that DNA sequencing of virus obtained from one of the patients is closely related both to infected chickens from that farm, as well as to the first dairy worker infected in Texas in April and to infected dairy herds located near the Colorado poultry farm.

The finding raises “the possibility that this virus was transmitted from a dairy herd in Colorado to the poultry farm,” said Shah, from the CDC. “That is a hypothesis … that needs and requires a full investigation.”

Pitesky said the finding implies the virus may be moving between workers employed at multiple farms, or equipment that’s being shared, “or there’s potentially some environmental connection through groundwater or some kind of habitat-type transmission.”

He said birds and rodents can be mechanical transmitters, and wild birds are common visitors in both dairy and poultry farms. He said he works with poultry farmers to keep birds from nesting inside — “that’s a no-no” — but birds, such as swallows, can and do fly through.

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He also suggested that while poultry farmers have really upped their biosecurity in the past several years, the dairy industry is “light-years” behind when it comes to creating physical barriers.

He said with every update he hears, it’s becoming increasingly clear “there’s no way to model or predict how this virus is going to move when it’s in this many different species and in this many different environments.”

And it’s anyone’s guess, he said, what’s going to happen this fall when fall migration begins and things potentially get even more complex.

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