National Geographic’s Mindblowing Interactive Serengeti Lion Feature

National Geographic recently published an interactive Serengeti lion feature that has the internet swooning. Complementing the coverage of the lions in the August 2013 print issue of the magazine, the interactive feature allows users to get up close and personal with the Vumbi pride. Michael “Nick” Nichols, a photographer, and Nathan Williamson, a videographer, made several trips to the Serengeti between July 2011 and January 2013. The duo used cameras mounted on a robotic tank and a remote-control toy car to obtain images that had never before been taken of the lions from low angles and within close proximity. These images were paired with the ones they took by hand and in total, Nichols collected 242,000 images and Williamson recorded 200 hours of video during this time.This interactive feature allows users to sneak into the private lives of these lions, lives that seem to always strike a delicate balance between feast and famine. Explore the Serengeti lion feature here.

Lions in the Southern Serengeti Tanzania

National Geographic Announces Emerging Explorers For 2013

Emerging Explorers - Erin Pettit
Courtesy Erin Pettit

The National Geographic Emerging Explorers Program was created to recognize young adventurers, scientists and researchers who have shown particular promise in their chosen field. Each year, Nat Geo selects a group of outstanding men and women who have not only made a significant impact early in their career but whose work shows potential for major breakthroughs down the line as well.

Earlier this week, the Class of 2013 Emerging Explorers was revealed for the first time. This year there are 17 recipients of this honor, each with their own diverse interests and areas of expertise. For instance, conservation biologist Steve Boyes is recognized for his work in protecting Botswana’s famous Okavango Delta ecosystem. He’s joined by Sayed Gul Kalash, an archaeologist who is striving to preserve the endangered Kalash culture and language in remote Pakistan. Erin Pettit earned her Emerging Explorer honors by studying glaciers to better understand the effects of climate change, while Shah Selbe is an engineer who built a system to track illegal fishing activities across the globe.

This year’s class of Emerging Explorers also represents how we are redefining who we perceive as an “explorer” in the 21st century. In addition to the traditional biologists, anthropologists and geologists that fit that mold, we also have Chad Jenkins who is a computer scientists and roboticist working in the field of artificial intelligence. Entrepreneur Tan Le is recognized for her efforts in studying how the brain works and sharing that knowledge on a global scale, while Jer Throp is breaking new ground in the arena of data visualization and digital art. These are new areas of research and study that would have been unheard of even a decade ago.

Each of the Emerging Explorers is awarded $10,000 to assist with their ongoing research. To view the entire Class of 2013, click here.

Nat Geo Television Stars Offer Alaska Travel Tips

Alaska Travel Tips - Don't Miss Denali!There is no question that Alaska is one of the top adventure travel destinations in North America, if not the entire world. The brief Alaskan summer brings incredible opportunities for climbing, backpacking, camping and fishing, giving visitors a chance to explore everything the state has to offer in relatively warm conditions. During the winter, Alaska becomes the ultimate outdoor playground for those who enjoy cold weather escapes. From dogsledding and snowshoeing to cross country and heli-skiing, it is paradise for the adrenaline junkie and explorer alike.

Covering an area more than twice the size of Texas, Alaska is by far the largest state in the Union. That makes it a daunting place for travelers, who often struggle to determine what it is that they want to see and do in the limited time that they have there. Fortunately we were able to call in some local experts to provide Gadling readers with some great travel tips for visiting the 49th state. These experts all happen to be residents of Alaska and they also happen to be featured on two new television shows that are debuting soon on the National Geographic Channel. They have been kind enough to share their thoughts on the best experiences that Alaska has to offer.

Our first two experts are Dallas Seavey of Willow and Marty Raney of Wasilla, both of whom appear in the new Nat Geo show “Ultimate Survival Alaska,” which debuts tonight at 10 p.m. ET/PT. The show drops eight survival experts into the Alaskan backcountry, where they must cross 3000 miles of remote wilderness with nothing but the gear on their back. Dallas is best known as the youngest winner in the history of the infamous Iditarod sled dog race, while his co-star Marty is a mountain guide who has led 17 successful expeditions to the summit of Denali – also known as Mt. McKinley.Dallas recommends that visitors to his state take a scenic drive to really get immersed in the Alaskan landscapes and culture. He says:

Alaska Travel Tips - Dallas Seavey“It’s hard to see all of Alaska in one trip. But if I only had a week to go to Alaska I would travel between the coastal town of Seward, where I grew up, and Willow (4.5 hours north) where I live now. This would give you a good sampling of what Alaska has to offer. Between these two locations is one of America’s top ten most scenic highways and many of the “must see” sights. While the summer months are by far the most popular for guests, I would also consider seeing Alaska in the winter when the state boasts it’s most unique and extreme side.”

On the other hand, Marty says if you have just one day to kill, under no circumstances should you miss his favorite mountain:

Alaska Travel Tips - Marty Raney“Here in Alaska there are a million things to do. To choose just one, I would recommend a drive or a train ride from Anchorage International Airport to Talkeetna. There you would take a flightseeing tour of Mt. McKinley. It’s the most impressive thing in one day any average Joe could do. There is nothing like it on planet earth. Landing at base camp, you will stand on glaciers one mile thick, while one of the tallest mountains in the world looms above. Dwarfed by mile high granite spires cloaked with thousands of deep blue hanging glaciers, you quite possibly will be scared s—less. This breathtaking, beautiful landscape-and also foreboding and eerie landscape-will be up close and personal. It is a masterpiece of God’s handiwork. You will realize your insignificance like never before. It’s surreal. It’s spiritual. It’s meditative. It’s contemplative. Whether atheist or believer, it will be the loudest sermon you’ve ever heard.”

Our other two Alaskan experts are Andy Bassich from the town of Eagle and Sue Aikens of Kavik. They’ll both appear on the show “Life Below Zero” when it debuts next Sunday, May 19 at 10 p.m. ET/PT. That program follows the lives of six Alaskans who live off the land, scraping out a life in one of the harshest environments imaginable. Andy and his wife Kate live along the beautiful, but remote, Yukon River, which freezes solid each winter, completely cutting them off from civilization for months at a time. They may have it easy compared to Sue, however, as she is actually the sole inhabitant of the Kavik River Camp, which is located 197 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

Andy tells visitors that they shouldn’t miss out on the opportunity to explore the river on which he lives. He says:

Alaska Travel Tips - Andy Bassich“An experience you will never forget is a three day to two week float down the Yukon River. It is a very peaceful way to experience the true wilderness via a canoe, which was the traditional way of travel in the early years. You could float up to 50 miles a day, and in addition to amazing scenery you’ll see moose, bears, eagles and many other types of birds and wildlife. I recommend camping along the shores of Island, and fishing the feeder streams for grayling pike and shee fish. You also may get lucky enough to meet the hardy people who have carved out a quality life along the Yukon River. You’ll experience true quiet and solitude at a relaxed safe pace. It’s also a great trip for novice.”

Meanwhile, Sue tells us we shouldn’t overlook a visit to the remote high Arctic:

Alaska Travel Tips - Sue Aikens“My home (Kavik) in the high Arctic puts me in the center of the great caribou migration, the migratory bird path and nesting grounds as well as having the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge out my door. In some ways even I will never have enough time to see all that my own area has to offer, but with careful planning and homework done, you could easily chip away at seeing and experiencing some of this state’s s most beautiful and challenging experiences. Fly fishing, rafting, hiking in untouched areas, and watching 500,000 Caribou thunder past on their migration route. I can raft down wild rivers and see rare and wonderful sights, and you can too!”

There you have it, great travel advice from four Alaskans who have intimate knowledge on what their state has to offer. You might not be able to take advantage of all of their suggestions on your visit to the state, but they’ll certainly provide a nice starting point.

[Photo Credits: National Park Service, National Geographic]

The Pacific Ocean: Is It Really True That One-Third Of Young Americans Can’t Find It?

Pacific OceanWhile reading fellow Gadling blogger Chris Owen’s post about a Twitter mix-up between Chechnya and the Czech Republic, I was horrified to read that one-third of young Americans can’t find the Pacific Ocean.

I was horrified, but not surprised. I taught for several years in a community college and no amount of public ignorance surprises me anymore – not after a student handed in a paper stating that Iraq and Afghanistan were cities.

But I’m always suspicious of statistics. It’s a well-known fact that 85 percent of all statistics are wrong, so I emailed Chris and asked for his source, which turned out to be the Around the World geography project. They cite a National Geographic study that found 29 percent of U.S. 18-24 year olds couldn’t find the Pacific Ocean on an unlabeled map.

Looking at the original study, it turns out they got it wrong. “Only” 21 percent of those quizzed couldn’t find the Pacific Ocean. The 2006 study quizzed 510 Americans aged 18-24 on a number of geographic issues. The one that concerns us here was a blank map test to see if the participants could correctly point out certain countries and geographic locations. Boundaries were clearly labeled; they simply needed to match the shape and location with the country or ocean.

The Pacific Ocean wasn’t the only hard-to-find location. A staggering 63 percent couldn’t find Iraq, despite near-constant media coverage. Closer to home, 50 percent couldn’t find New York state. Check out the link to read more disheartening statistics.

I suppose we could blame the educational system, but 48 percent of the participants said they had a geography class sometime between sixth grade and senior year, so I suspect the blame lies with parents for not instilling a desire to learn about the world and the young Americans themselves for not realizing this information could be useful.

When I was discussing this post at the breakfast table my7-year-old scoffed, “I know where the Pacific Ocean is!”

I decided to test him. He correctly pointed out the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, as well as the Mediterranean and Red Seas. I stumped him on the Sea of Azov, though. Can’t let him get too big for his britches.

Of course he enjoys a key advantage – parents who channel his natural childhood curiosity into learning about the world around him and foster an enthusiasm for exploration and discovery.

In other words, we give a shit about his education.

[Image of the Pacific Ocean courtesy NASA]

Felix Baumgartner Named Nat Geo People’s Choice Adventurer Of The Year

Felix Baumgartner right before he makes his leap from spaceAustrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner has been named the National Geographic People’s Choice Adventurer of the Year following an online poll, which saw more than 55,000 votes cast. Baumgartner edged out nine other Adventurer of the Year candidates that included men and women who have pushed the envelope in terms of exploration and outdoor adventure in the past year.

Baumgartner’s initial inclusion on this list follows his epic skydive from the edge of space last October. The world breathlessly watched on as the 43-year-old rode a specially designed helium balloon to the edge of space, then popped open the hatch and stepped off into nothingness. At that point he was more than 127,000 feet above the Earth’s surface and far higher than any other skydiver had gone before.

During his descent, Baumgartner managed to set several new world’s records, including becoming the first person to break the sound barrier without the use of an aircraft. During his free fall, Felix reached speeds in excess of 844 miles per hour or Mach 1.25. He officially jumped from his balloon at an altitude of 24.2 miles, which is of course a record height as well. He even experienced 25 seconds of weightlessness on the way down, before pulling his ripcord and slowly completing his descent back to Earth.

While Baumgartner was clearly the most well known Adventurer of the Year candidate amongst the general public he still faced stiff competition from a number of outdoor personalities. For instance, ultrarunner Lizzy Hawker isn’t exactly a household name, but she is an absolute legend amongst endurance athletes. Hawker won her fifth Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc trail race, which is grueling 103-mile run through the Alps. Similarly, kayaker Steve Fisher is one of the best paddlers in the world and last year he managed to run the biggest rapids on the planet on the Congo River. Those feats didn’t receive nearly the amount of attention that Baumgartner’s did, but they are impressive nonetheless.

To read Felix’s thoughts on winning this honor, what role adventure has played in his life and much more, check out the Nat Geo interview with the man himself.

[Photo Credit: Red Bull Stratos/Red Bull Content Pool]