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The best science long reads of 2017 (part two)

From investigating the songbird trade in South-East Asia to hanging out with a man who keeps some very poisonous company, here’s a second festive selection of the best science and environment long reads this year. You can read part one here.


Sold for a song. By Victoria Gill

Lush green blankets of vegetation drape over Java’s steep mountains. But these dense rain forests – on Indonesia’s most crowded island – are rapidly falling silent. Songbirds that used to give the mountains a unique melody are being caught and sold.

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Weather forecasting’s post-1987 revolution. By David Shukman

Image copyright
Met Office

Image caption

The power of modern supercomputers has been a game-changer for weather forecasting

On 15 October 1987, a BBC weather forecast, drawing on Met Office guidance, dismissed any suggestion that Britain might be hit by a hurricane. That night, the country was battered by high winds, leaving 18 people dead. For the 30th anniversary of the event, David Shukman looked at how technology has transformed weather forecasting in the time since the Great Storm.

Read the feature.


The man who keeps monsters. By Jonathan Amos

Image copyright
NHM

Nothing in your imagination can match some of the terrifying creatures that already exist in nature. Venom evolution expert Dr Ronald Jenner studies them up close.

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Botanical exploits: How British plant hunters served science. By Helen Briggs

Image copyright
Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh and RHS

Image caption

Plant specimens are pressed under large rocks at George Forrest’s campsite in Lichiang Range

In the early part of the 20th Century, British plant-hunters risked life and limb to explore the botanically rich interior of China in the name of science. The legacy of these expeditions can be seen in gardens across Britain today.

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Europa: Our best shot at finding alien life? By Paul Rincon

Image copyright
NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

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Europa holds a vast, salty ocean beneath its fractured ice shell

After two decades of development and “heartbreak”, scientists are on the verge of sending missions to explore the ocean world of Europa. Could this be our best chance of finding life elsewhere in the Solar System?

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Are your clothes polluting the ocean? By Victoria Gill

Image copyright
Science Photo Library

Polyester and acrylic clothing shed thousands of plastic fibres during a wash – sending plastic pollution down the drain and, eventually, into the ocean. From here, these fibres can get into the marine food chain. How can we tackle this threat to the environment?

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The other Dodo: Extinct bird that used its wings for clubs. By Rory Galloway

Image copyright
Julian Hume

Image caption

Two male Rodrigues solitaires fight over a female in the background using club-like wings

The extinct Dodo had a little-known relative on another island. This fascinating bird ultimately suffered the same fate as its iconic cousin, but we can reconstruct some of its biology thanks to the writings of a French explorer who studied it during his travels of the Indian Ocean.

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Why is it so hard to swat a fly? By Rory Galloway

Image copyright
Science Photo Library

Try to swat a fly and it will soon become clear that they’re faster than you. Much faster. But how on Earth do these tiny creatures – with their minuscule brains – outwit us so easily?

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