657 new islands discovered across the globe

A new geographic survey, conducted by researchers from Duke University and Meredith College, located in Raleigh, N.C., has discovered more than 650 new barrier islands, spread out across the globe. The team used a collection of satellite images, navigational charts, and topographical maps, all of which are available to the general public, as part of their research. They counted 2149 barrier islands worldwide, up from 1492, the number found following a similar study conducted back in 2001.

Barrier islands are common around the world, and appear along the coasts of every continent except Antarctica. They usually are made up of deposits of sand and other sediment that collects along the coastlines, running parallel to the shore. They can be quite transitory however, coming and going with the change of tides, which may help explain why more were discovered in this recent survey, although it is also likely that many were simply missed in the previous count.

While more than 74% of all barrier islands are located in the Northern Hemisphere, they tend to serve similar purposes where ever they are found. These islands often serve as a protective barrier for shorelines against storms and high tide erosion. They are also quite often a safe haven for wildlife as well.

The study did find a few surprising results. Generally it was believed that barrier islands could only exist in a setting with seasonal tides that did not exceed 13 feet in height. But a chain of 54 islands was discovered stretching along the coast of Brazil in an area where the seasonal tides are often in excess of 23 feet. Scientists say that those islands can exist in that environment thanks to the vast amounts of sand and silt delivered to the region by the Amazon River.

The 657 new islands will obviously be welcomed with open arms by beach combers the world over. I’m sure there are already a number of resort chains that have begun scoping out this prime real estate as well. Maybe we should all launch Google Earth and start looking for a private island of our own. After all, there has to be at least a few more that are still waiting to be found.

NHL All-Star Game travel advice: what to do in Raleigh, NC

It’s shaping up to be a busy, busy weekend for sports. The NFL’s Pro Bowl is set to take place Sunday night, and a few hours prior, the NHL’s All-Star Game will kick off in North Carolina’s capital city. This weekend will be the first that Raleigh has hosted the All-Star Game, with the Carolina Hurricanes being the host team and their RBC Center being the host facility. Those living here (like me!) will be quick to point out that Raleigh brought home a major national championship before the more populated Charlotte, with the Stanley Cup coming to NC during the 2005 – 2006 season.

The city has been doing an awful lot of planning since it found out it would be this year’s host in April of 2010, including the finalization of RDU’s sophisticated Terminal 2 this past week. We’re still no closer to having a legitimate public transportation system (outside of a few sporadic bus routes), but there’s plenty of southern hospitality to go around for those coming to town. If you’re planning a trip down below the Mason–Dixon Line in order to attend this year’s NHL All-Star Game, read on to discover five can’t-miss places to visit (and eat at) while in Raleigh.

The Pit. Yes, this is the same Pit featured on Travel Channel’s “Man v. Food,” and if you’re looking for a real taste of the south, you’ll need to grab a reservation here. The vibe is authentic, the “y’alls” are easy to come by, and the food is simply delicious. Don’t be scared to try a few local favorites: fried catfish, cheesy bacon grits, sweet potato fries and fried okra.

Cook-Out. Don’t bother searching for an official website — there isn’t one. Cook-Out is a mysterious fast food eatery that only has stores in the state of North Carolina, and while the grub itself is delightful, it’s the expansive milkshake menu that’ll have you returning nightly. You’ll find well over 30 options, with each shake costing just $2.19. Feel free to mix and match flavors (Oreo Cheesecake is a popular custom flavor), and grab a “Huge” sweet tea if you want to really know what a southern beverage tastes like. Here’s a secret: order a Cook-Out tray at the Cook-Out on Western Blvd. near NC State’s campus, and you can take home a Cook-Out visor or t-shirt for just $1.99!

Wolfpack vs. Tar Heels basketball. UNC alums will swear up and down that Duke is their only rival in The Triangle, but if NC State pulls the upset at the Dean Dome this weekend, you’ll never find a more sour group of fans. NC State vs. UNC games are always rowdy, and if you can score a ticket for this Saturday’s matchup (1/29) in Chapel Hill, it’s most certainly worth going to. Just getting inside of the Smith Center is a magical experience for devout college basketball fans.

Velocity VeloCAB ride. Downtown Raleigh may not be the biggest downtown you’ve ever seen, but it’s still full of life, parks and history. It’ll be chilly in late January, but if you’ve got a beefy coat and a significant other to cuddle up with, a ride in a rickshaw (dubbed a VeloCAB) is a great way to learn about Raleigh from an expert that lives here. And hey, you may just pass by somewhere you’ll want to return to afterwards.

Second Empire Restaurant and Tavern. If you leave Raleigh without dining here, you’re doing yourself a huge disservice. This restaurant is a Four Diamond award winner, and their menu changes on a regular basis. They go out of their way to procure ingredients from right here in North Carolina, and every single dish is a winner. Head to the tavern if you aren’t looking to dress up, or reserve a table in the main dining room if you bring your formal wear to town.

Raleigh — along with all of North Carolina — is a fine place to visit, and while there are quite a few hotels to choose from, the out-of-the-box travelers would do themselves a favor by heading up to Durham. There, you’ll find The Arrowhead B&B, a gorgeous inn (circa 1775) ran by two of the nicest, sweetest individuals (Phil and Gloria Teber) you’ll ever meet. The breakfasts you’ll find here are to die for, and if you’re into splurging, the Carolina Log Cabin or Garden Cottage are the ones to book.

If you’re a local, feel free to add your own must-do suggestions in comments below. For the full schedule of events during the 2011 NHL All-Star weekend, click here. Enjoy NC, y’all!

Airport efficiency: the world’s winners

Do you get frustrated when you walk into an airport? Even before you get there? On good days, it’s a painful experience, with long lines, the security gauntlet and procedures (which may or may not be appropriate) that are guaranteed to annoy. It should come as no surprise that some are better than others. While the hope for a headache-free flight may not change your vacation plans, knowing that you’ll pass though one may take the edge off a bit.

The Air Transport Research Society has put out a list of the world’s most efficient airports, large and small, in the top three regions for travel: North America, Asia-Pacific and Europe. The rankings were based on a wide range of statistic, including “traffic data, on-time statistics, financial reports and passenger throughput.”

According to the ATRS, the five airports least likely to drive you nuts (by region) are:

  • Europe, Large Airport (more than 15 million passengers): Oslo, Norway
  • Europe, Small Airport (less than 15 million passengers): Geneva, Switzerland
  • North America, Large Airport (more than 15 million passengers): Atlanta, Georgia
  • North America, Small Airport (less than 15 million passengers): Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina
  • Asia-Pacific, Large Airport (more than 15 million passengers): Hong Kong
  • Asia-Pacific, Small Airport (less than 15 million passengers): Seoul-Gimpo, South Korea

So, which one is the best in the world? The ATRS gives that distinction to Atlanta, which is tops for traffic and has solid financial management. Seoul-Gimpo, according to the study, has made a “remarkable turnaround, and Oslo knocked Copenhagen out of the winner’s circle that it had owned for several years.

[photo by Franco Folini via Flickr]

Odds are, you’ll be on a smaller plane

Airlines are using the little planes for longer runs, these days. According to the Las Vegas Sun, the average regional airline flight hit 461 miles in 2008, up profoundly from 274 miles in 2009. That’s an increase of 41 percent! This is an industry-wide trend, so shopping around isn’t likely to help you get a larger jet. The major carriers are relying on regional affiliates, so you’ll probably be out of luck. The regionals fly more than half the flights from some pretty hefty airports, including LaGuardia, O’Hare, Milwaukee, Raleigh and Memphis. And, these airlines account for 45% of the traffic at Atlanta’s Hartsfield International, the busiest airport in the United States.

American Airlines and United announced that they were adopting this approach back in September, particularly at airports such as Chicago and Denver. Delta has moved its Washington-to-New York shuttle to one of its regional carriers, as well.

[Via USA Today]

American finds $2.9 billion: more routes added

It’s hard to see how the machinations of Wall Street affect the end consumer, sometimes. In the case of American Airlines and its recent pickup of $2.9 billion, you can draw a straight line from the money to the exit row.

The hefty infusion, a risky move because revenues are down and this is not a trivial amount of debt, has already prompted announcements of schedule changes … for the better. American is planning to increase flying in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas-Fort Worth and Miami, though there will be fewer flights in Raleigh/Durham and St. Louis. Look for 57 new daily flights at O’Hare, six more from JFK, two in Los Angeles and anther 19 in Dallas-Fort Worth.

The news comes at a time when most airlines are cutting back service as a way to control costs due to reductions in passenger traffic.

Since we’ve seen what fewer flights can mean – more crowded flights, less legroom and higher odds of getting stuck in a middle seat – the financial breathing room that American has gained could actually give you more actual breathing room the next time you fly. If American fill these extra seats (at the expense of your throwing up the armrest and claiming two), it will generate more revenue, which could turn into real growth. Maybe some of that cash will be used to bring back some amenities.

Blankets, anyone?