News briefs, 3rd quarter 2012

Lew Toulmin, Ph.D., MN ’04, F.R.G.S., was the co-leader with Jonathan Leader, Ph.D., FN ’05, F.R.G.S. of a recently completed Flag expedition to try to find the missing Revolutionary plantation, battlefield, POW camp, arms depot and slave quarters of his fifth great-grandfather, Brigadier Andrew Williamson of the South Carolina militia.

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Bill Runyon MN ’01 led the Coastal Oregon Shark Habitat and Population Survey & Hubbard Underwater Radio expedition, which documented the decline of the great white shark population and captured much information about the underwater habitat and water quality in this location.  They also gathered sonographic data on coastal tectonic plate movement in this area of high geologic activity.

Dr. Craig Cook MN ’01 was medical director and diver in a multi-institutional research flag expedition to the Phoenix Islands in Kirabati, including Nikumarora, the purported site of Amelia Earhart’s demise.  These central equatorial pacific islands are sites of ongoing evaluation of coral reef health and marine ecosystems in a large collaborative effort including Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Scripps Oceanographic Institute, The Nature Conservancy, the New England Aquarium, and other similar organizations.  Their efforts included placement and data retrieval from permanent benthic sensors, tracking and tagging of manta rays, DNA sampling of reef fishes and invertebrates, and coral sampling to document reef recovery after damage.  The absence of human impact in this remote area enables research on natural factors influencing reef health and recovery.

Lew Toulmin, Ph.D., MN ’04, F.R.G.S has signed a contract to work for a year in the Prime Minister’s office of the Republic of Vanuatu (formerly the New Hebrides), and has his eye on the actual island which inspired James Michener to write about Bali Hai in Tales of the South Pacific. He is planning an expedition there to study the island’s volcano (one of the ten most dangerous in the world, with a crater lake that just changed color from blue to red, but no-one knows why), to examine the emergency management and evacuation plan for the island’s 10,000 people, and to document a downed WW II fighter that he previously found on the island.

Toulmin and the Missing Aircraft Search Team (MAST), of which he is a co-founder, have been assisting two sheriff’s offices in northeast Minnesota try to locate a missing light Piper aircraft, which disappeared near northern Lake Superior in June 2012.  Previously the MAST dealt only with “cold” cases, but recently has been getting requests to assist with “hot,” active cases.  Toulmin and other MAST members have been analyzing radar and cell phone data, and interviewing eye- and ear-witnesses, campers in the area, and people familiar with the pilot and plane.  They have tentatively reduced the search area from about 500 square miles of lake and shoreline to 10 square miles of dense forest.

John Maclean, FN ’02, award-winning author of three previous books on wildfire disasters, has written another, a book on the deadly 2006 Esperanza Fire in California.

The book will be released next January by Counterpoint Press. Maclean first visited the site of the Esperanza Fire in 2007, the spring after it occurred, and he has returned many times since. He covered the lengthy Oyler trial in Riverside, California, and he details both the trial and the fire in his book.

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Dr. Rick Potts FN ’95 was quoted in both the NY Times (with photo) and the Washington Post regarding a new 2 million year old human fossil skull he believes is likely to be a third early human species from that era.

Scott Wallace FN’06 spoke at the bookstore Politics and Prose, a Washington institution, and his book The Unconquered: In Search of the Amazon’s Last Uncontacted Tribes was highlighted for the second time in the NY Times Book Review.

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