Tuesday, 31 May 2016

The Science of Tsunamis Explained

International Business Times
Tsunamis are one of the most destructive natural forces on the planet. We've all seen massive waves towering high above ground level during windy days on the coast, but let me assure you, a tsunami isn't comparable to that. These huge, deadly waves can have crests reaching as high as 30 metres and a wavelength of 200km, compared to an average wave's wavelength of about 100 metres. This scale means that they travel at well over 800kph at times. So, basically, you're looking at a wave as all as Christ the Redeemer, coming at you at the speed of a Tornado jet fighter.

How are these towering walls of doom even formed though? Tsunamis are often mistakenly referred to as tidal waves, but this is something of a misnomer. While normal waves are caused by the tidal patterns inflicted by the moon's gravitational pull, and intensified by wind conditions, neither of those forces are powerful enough to birth a tsunami.

How an earthquake forms a tsunami (via How Stuff Works)
As is often the case with these things, destruction begets destruction. When an undersea volcano erupts, or in particular, an earthquake happens beneath the ocean, a tremendous amount of energy is released upwards. This in turn pushes the water upwards, far above sea level, but instead of simply collapsing in on itself, gravity forces the energy to tumble forwards, causing the water to behave like a normal wave, only much, much bigger.

The deeper the water, the faster a tsunami will move, because the force driving it is coming from beneath, rather than above. At this stage, the tsunami is barely visible, but as the seabed rises up to meet it, the tip of the tsunami grows upwards, and once it reaches the shore, you're dealing with a colossus. It's at this point you see the infamous towering crest, at at this scale the wave slows down to about 50kph.

Before the wave hits though, it will drag the water ahead of it out to sea, and the effect of this is a big tidal recession, which can be fatally deceptive. In 479 BC, the tide went back in such a way that it cleared a path across a peninsula which led to the ancient city of Potidea. This recession was exploited by an invading force of Persians, but no sooner had they begun to cross, the tsunami heralded by this tidal shift arrived and drowned them all.

The shape, speed and behaviour of tsunamis make them difficult to predict and respond to even now. The 2004 tsunami which struck Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, Somalia and The Maldives is recognised to be one of the worst natural disasters in human history, claiming over 250,000 lives, it is estimated. This is in part because once a tsunami has made landfall, sweeping inwards, leveling buildings, cars and anything else in the way, the force then dissipates, dragging it all back out to sea. Typically though, rather than one wave, there is a large bore, followed by a consistent wave train.

Aftermath of 2004 tsunami (via Wikipedia)
It gets worse, if the tsunami has made landfall near a harbour (often the case), harbour resonance may occur, during which multiple waves will strike and bounce back towards the source, and then back again, creating a spreading chain of smaller, faster, more violent waves. Water pressure can continue to build in situations such as these, as was the case when a 9.0 earthquake causes a massive tsunami to strike Japan in 2011, which caused a crisis in the coastal Fukushima nuclear plant.

Seismic activity is notoriously difficult to predict, and for this reason, so are tsunamis. Sea walls and redirection canals have proven almost completely ineffectual against them (as was the case with Fukushima), but there are things that can be done. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre was founded in 1949, and has become one of the most advanced, reliable warning sources there is, using buoys and tidal gauges to monitor sea level changes and seismograph stations to measure for tremors. Activity is also monitored from space by NASA.

Once a tsunami is caught forming, there is no preventative protocol, all you can do is get the hell out of the way. Evacuation has to be implimented immediately and on a huge scale; as hard as it is to predict the formation of a tsunami, it's even harder to predict exactly where it will strike. Perhaps one day we'll be able to build flood countermeasures strong enough to withstand one, but it hasn't happened yet.

Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. 

Breaking Down the Six Stages of Dehydration

It’s thought that, in the US alone, around 75% of people aren’t taking in as much water as they should be. Thirst is fairly easy to ignore on a basic level, and with so many of us spending our working days hurling coffee down our gizzards before going out and doing the same thing with alcohol (both diuretics), it’s hardly surprising.

Dehydration starts out as a mild, manageable sensation, but if it’s allowed to progress unchecked, it can cross over into dangerous, and then life threatening. It’s difficult to assess how many people are killed by dehydration each year, as it has so many different circumstantial influences. Suffice to say, it’s far more common in poorer parts of the world, but it certainly also happens in the UK and US. Children and the elderly are particularly susceptible to it.

How does dehydration actually play out, though? Well, it happens in six stages. The first stages are manageable, but certainly ignorable, as they can potentially phase into something far more severe. During the earlier part you’ll likely only be lacking 1 or 2% of your typical body water, but when it gets severe you might be down by as much as 10%.

1 – Thirst

Yes, this is the more obvious sign that you might need a drink. We’ve all been thirsty, it’s not a pleasant feeling, your throat dries, your mouth is coated with thick, sticky saliva, your swallow feels harder and you get worn out.

It’s easy enough to explain – your body is telling you that you need a drink, your lips are dry, so you salivate, your throat is sore because there’s less fluid to lubricate it and you’re tired because you’re lacking for the mineral energy which fluids provide. It’s that simple, really, you can ignore it, but it’s always better to just go and get a drink, no matter how chronically lazy you might be.

2 – Fatigue

This is the stage when you’ll start feeling genuinely unwell. Along with the increasing weariness, you’ll probably be contending with a nasty headache, along with an inability to focus on anything properly. If it advances further still, you’ll feel yourself break out in a cold sweat, and you’ll notice that your urine is a darker shade than before.

These are all signs that the dehydration has crossed over into more serious territory. The dark urine is the most obvious sign, the body has less water to expel, as well as use. The headache is caused your brain actually shrinking back from your skull, which in turn triggers the pain receptors. Once again, getting water into your body is the most effective solution here, but it’s after this that things start to become more complicated.

3 – Dizziness, Dry Skin

Usually this is the stage when people realise there is something really, seriously wrong. At this point the dizziness will become much more pronounced, and you’ll also start to become lightheaded. More alarmingly, you’ll find that, if you do start crying from fatigue, panic or both, you won’t be able to actually shed any tears.

The other thing which happens at this stage is what could potentially lead to permanent bodily damage – your skin dries out. If you’re unsure if this has happened, pinch your skin, if it doesn’t quickly reform once you let go, bad sign. This could cause permanent wrinkles if left unchecked for too long. At this point, water won’t do the job quickly enough, you need either an isotonic drink or fruit squash with a pinch of salt mixed in.

4 – Sunken Eyes

If the dehydration has been allowed to progress this far, you’ll barely be able to stand. Your eyes will darken as they draw back into their sockets and your nagging headache will have crossed over into sheer agony. Remember the cold sweats which started earlier? Well, you’ve also now lost a great deal of electrolytes through the sweating, which leads to further, greater issues.

Electrolytes control the transit of electrical signals moving up your nervous system to your brain. You may start to feel your stomach cramping up, the onset of nausea and when it gets really bad you may either vomit or experience diarrhoea, which is a big problem if you’re already so dangerously low on body fluid. Now you need to think about taking some kind of electrolyte supplement or rehydration sachet to deal with this.

5 – Low Blood Pressure

That’s it; you’ve dipped below 10% body fluid deficiency. I shouldn’t have to tell you why this is cause for very serious concern. At this point, there’s so little fluid in your body that your blood is even turning against you, leeching fluid from parts of your body that it really ought not to be. This, in turn, lowers your blood pressure, which will make your heart start pounding in your ribcage.

You will also likely start to tremor, and feel feverish. This is classed as severe dehydration, and it is a medical emergency. If you start to feel like this, call an ambulance, but in the meantime doctors recommend an ice lolly, as it will slowly release fluid (and sugar) back into your system. If you drink anything, you’ll puke it back up.

6 – Concentrated or No Urine

If you’ve hit this stage, you’ve gone through every warning sign and countermeasure your body could possibly take against dehydration, and you’re in very real danger of ending up dead. At this point, there’s so little water in your body that you either won’t be able to pee, or your urine will come out as a kind of concentrated, disgusting goop. As if that wasn’t enough, your blood pressure will have gone through the floor, which could easily cause you to pass out, and will also almost certainly induce a state of delirium.

Your electrolyte levels will also be dangerously low, and the salt levels in your blood will be dangerously high. This can lead to severe neuromuscular failure, seizures, oedema, coma and ultimately a very painful and undignified death. If you hit this stage, you won’t be able to eat or drink anything, you’ll need to be treated intravenously, seek medical attention as quickly as you possibly can, and try not to move.

Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. 

Friday, 27 May 2016

The Best Diving Spots: Africa Edition

When you talk about any kind of wildlife watching in Africa, you’re usually above ground. The safari trips and tours around national parks across the continent are legendary, but there’s so much more to see than what’s on the surface. Africa is almost completely surrounded belted by verdant, fertile coastline with a rich history and even richer ecosystem.

There are certain aquatic experiences in Africa which have become huge tourist attractions, the most notable of them being cage diving with a great white. This list isn’t for animal encounters though, diving isn’t about that, diving is about experiencing an alien world, and this is what the 5 places on this list offer.

Lake Malawi – Malawi

Kicking off with a bit of a wild card, this dive is actually located in a landlocked nation. That being said, Lake Malawi has perhaps the best visibility of any freshwater body in all of Africa, and it offers exceptional diving. A large portion of the lakebed is rocky, while the rest is sand and silt, and because of the high alkali content there isn’t much plant life. If you think that means that the lake isn’t teeming with life though, you are a fool.

The sheer variety of fish in Lake Malawi is astounding; it is thought to be the most biologically diverse lake in Africa, with a huge range of fish in the Cichlidae family, a broad and colourful family. Most of them are extremely bright, so diving with them is a bit like immersing yourself in a shimmering, organic rainbow, one which will playfully nibble at you from time to time.

Dolphin House – Egypt

The Red Sea could warrant an entire list all by itself, but for the purposes of this list we’ll stick to one. Dolphin House, which is just off the El Gouna on the Egyptian northeast coast, is something of an anomaly, a wondrous anomaly. Most dolphin pods in the Red Sea roam around freely, largely ignorant of one another, but in Dolphin House they congregate in huge numbers, sometimes as many as 200.

This is because it’s a sheltered, warm reef where they can make pit stops between hunts. The area is very strictly regulated to keep from overcrowding, and divers aren’t allowed to touch or chase after dolphins, but they can, and inevitably will swim up to divers of their own accord. Dolphins are nothing if not inquisitive. There’s plenty of other life on the reef, including rays, small sharks, octopus and even the occasional manatee.

Djabeda Wreck – Mauritius

Okay, this one is a little bit further afield, but Mauritius is still technically part of Africa, and it’s also one of the most amazing places on the planet in almost every respect. There are dozens of great dives off the Mauritian coast, but this one is particularly special. The Djabeda was a Japanese fishing boat which sank just off the island of Gunner’s Coin on the north coast in 1998. 

In that time, a sizeable coral reef has grown over it, inhabited by huge moray eels, lion fish, barracuda, rays, trigger fish and even dolphins on a good day. The main draw is the wreck itself, a hulking 44 metre vessel which remains mostly intact, allowing you to swim through the cabins and holds freely. Visibility is also excellent for the depth (34m).

The Sardine Run – South Africa

This is perhaps the most unique diving experience offered in Africa. You can only do it between June and July, taking a boat out from Durban. At this time, millions of sardines swim up from the colder southern oceans in tightly packed, gigantic schools. Inevitably, when they reach the warmer waters around the Transkei they catch the attention of predators, and that’s where the fun begins. 

Dolphins, seals, sharks, birds, tuna and even whales gather to feast and you get dropped right in the middle of it all. It’s not dangerous, the guides know exactly what they’re doing and none of these hunters are going to be paying you any mind, other than to nudge you out of the way if they need to. There’s simply nothing else like it, you’re being dropped right in the middle of one of the biggest feeding frenzies on the planet.

Tofo – Mozambique

Mozambique offers some of the most amazing diving in the world, and Tofo is probably the best place to dive from in the whole country. There are several sites across the thin stretch of coastline, each with a particular subset of wildlife you can expect to encounter, including whale sharks, tiger sharks, dolphins, manta rays and if you’re lucky, humpbacks.

At certain times of year, the gigantic whales congregate around the area in large groups. You’ll definitely see them from the boat as you approach, and feel it rock as their flukes push through the water, but once you’re down there it’s a different story. On a murkier day, you might only hear their songs reverberating through the water, but on clearer days you’ll see them, and they may even swim right up to you. Of all the kinds of wildlife you can encounter whilst scuba diving, whales are perhaps the most incredible.  

Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. 

Water on Nearby Worlds

So, we’ve covered the far distant worlds which might house adequate enough water sources to sustain life, but what about the ones which we’re actually sure about, the ones we’re a little bit closer to? There are a few different, confirmed sources of water within our own solar system. It might not necessarily be water as we know it, but it’s still liquid, and it still has the potential to sustain life in some sense or another. 

We are, supposedly, on the cusp of developing the technology to render distance between worlds almost a non-issue, but for the time being, our next door neighbours are our best hope. So which ones are worthy of consideration? Well, these ones…


Probably the least well known sphere on this list, Enceladus is the sixth largest moon of Saturn, with a diameter of about 500km. From a distance, it looks a bit like the wrinkles you find on the underside of your leg when you’ve been sat in the same place for too long. Said wrinkles are actually huge rifts and craters in the moon’s icy surface. Yes, icy. Enceladus is basically a big ball of ice, occasionally permeated by awesome sounding cryovolcanoes which blast water vapour, sodium chloride crystals and chunks of ice out into space. As a result, it actually snows on Enceladus, but the matter which doesn’t come back down drifts out to form part of Saturn’s E ring.

In 2010, NASA found evidence to suggest that there’s a subsurface ocean beneath the ice on the South Pole, which could go some way to explaining the hydrothermal activity. That’s what we know for sure, but theories suggest that the entire inner layer is ocean, and the reason this is theorised is because Enceladus ‘wobbles’ at it orbits Saturn, which would suggest that the entire icy surface is actually moving freely and independently of the core, there’s nothing to anchor it. 

In terms of sustaining life, it’s obviously worth taking into account that Enceladus is very, very cold, but the presence of salty water, a porous rocky core and a possible hydrothermic energy source all suggest that there might already be life beneath the ice. Several missions to investigate further have been proposed, including one which would involve landing on the surface and melting through the ice to collect biological samples.


Ganymede is big; it’s 2% larger than Titan, the second largest moon in the solar system, and a full 8% larger than Mercury. It’s largely made up of silicate rock, but there is a lot of evidence of tectonic activity on the surface which could have been caused by tidal heating. It also has a thin atmosphere of oxygen across the surface, including O, O2, and possibly O3 (ozone). Most importantly though, there is evidence to suggest that, like Enceladus, it has a subterranean ocean.

As a matter of fact, it is theorised that Ganymede’s salty ocean may contain more water, cumulatively, than Earth. The deepest the ocean ever gets on Earth is just under 11km (that would be the Mariana Trench) but estimates suggest that the oceans on Ganymede could be as deep as 100km. Think about that for a second, that’s the distance from London to Brighton, straight down. There’s some evidence of flooding in the lower reaches as well, suggesting that water has at some stage come up through faults in the surface. 

The catch, however, is this: that ocean is likely over 100 miles underground, so even with the help of a robot, actually exploring them for signs of life would present almost insurmountable obstacles. For this reason, it’s not really a candidate for supporting human life, but if we could ever actually access the water flowing beneath the rock, we could utilise it for other ends. A mission sometime in the 2020s will explore Ganymede, along with Europa and Callisto, both of which are also thought to have water sources.


Ceres is a fascinating little sphere. The dwarf planet sits nestled in the asteroid belt which forms a perimeter between Mars and Jupiter. It is, in fact, the largest body residing in the belt, with a 945km diameter, which makes it the 33rd largest body in the solar system. It’s comprised of rock and ice, as many of the other dwarf planets are (their size necessitates it to some extent), and there’s been talk of a past ocean existing there for years, but then in 2014 some new evidence came to light.

The Herschel space observatory caught a glimpse of several huge plumes of water vapour erupting from the planet’s surface. This phenomenon is well documented as far as comets go, but unheard of on dwarf planets. Just over a year later, NASA’s Dawn probe arrived in orbit around Ceres, having set off back in 2007. It had already photographed two ‘bright spots’ thought to be evidence of cryo-volcanic activity, but once it drew closer still, more spots were found. Evidence now suggests that the spots were formed due to a build-up of salty brine, and the presence of ammonia-rich clay.

Whether or not Ceres has ever sustained life is still up for debate, but there can be almost no doubt that a layer of watery ice exists beneath the surface. It’s been hypothesised that the vapour eruptions might have even propelled microorganisms all the way to Earth. Fully liquid water may even still exist further down, as evidenced by the presence of volatile materials in the interior.


You all saw this coming. Mars remains our best option for beginning the process of interplanetary colonisation, which some have argued is our race’s only chance of survival, in the long term. It’s just unfortunate that it’s a big red rocky ball of boring, at least by comparison to Earth. The thing is, though, it wasn’t always thus. Today, there’s ice on the surface and water vapour in the air, but around 3.8 billion years ago, the atmosphere would have allowed for standing water to exist, and what’s more, it probably covered most of the planet.

5 million cubic kilometres of ice have been logged across the surface of the planet, and as such, if the climate shifted to support liquid water again, the entire planet would be coated in around 35 metres of it, on average, and that’s without taking into account the ice trapped beneath the rocky surface. Numerous outflow channels, lakebeds and deltas have been observed, as well as mineral deposits which could only have formed in water. There is even some evidence to suggest that flowing water may still exist in certain areas, welling up from somewhere below.

It might seem like we know a lot about Mars at this stage, but imagine trying to scour the entire surface of Earth with a team of small robots, it would take centuries. Admittedly Mars doesn’t have quite the abundance of features that Earth does, but even at this point it’s fairly self-evident that it once supported some form of life, and likely could again if the need arose.

Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. 

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Office Water Coolers - Do They Increase Productivity?

We’ve all heard the term ‘water cooler talk’, referring to office natter, and the installation of water coolers in office buildings or any other kind of commercial building is a logical undertaking, people need to drink. There’s a secondary benefit to it though – supposedly having a watercooler in your office can actually boost staff productivity.

Img source: BorgandOverstrom.com
That might seem like a contradiction in terms, given that if people are getting up to get water, or standing talking around the source of it, they are categorically not working, but as many studies have shown, short regular breaks during the day are highly beneficial for motivation. A trip to make a coffee or use the vending machine might serve the same purpose in that sense, but staffers pumped full of additives and coffee-flavoured caffeine granules aren’t going to be as reliable as the ones keeping a healthy intake of H2O. 

We are supposedly meant to drink 1.2 litres of water a day, which isn’t all that much, it boils down to somewhere between 5 or 6 glasses a day (depending on the volume of the glass, obviously), which is far easier to maintain if you have a source of cooled water within easy reach. A recent study carried out by the University of East London found that regular intake of drinking water actually improves focus, as the brain isn’t constantly reminding the body that it needs to be hydrated. 

They tested this by splitting 34 people into two groups – one which ate a breakfast and another which did the same, only with a glass of water afterwards. Performance tasks were then carried out and the results were consistently better in the hydrated group. In this way, having a nearby supply of water in a working environment can increase productivity significantly. One source said 14% but I have no earthly idea how you would go about quantifying that.

It’s not just staff either, having one of these in your waiting area makes a far better impression on clients, interviewees and other visitors who might come knocking, even if they don’t actually make use of it, it shows that you’ve taken their comfort and well-being into consideration. While there might be other water sources in the building, many people do not trust tap water, and many more still will hardly ever take the time to buy a bottle on the way in or fill one up at home. In this sense, without a water cooler, staff members may actually be less hydrated at work than they are at home. 

Most of the offices I’ve ever worked at have had watercoolers, and I noticed a measurable difference in my work output when I started making regular use of them. Better hydration is scientifically proven not only to increase energy levels but also to elevate mood, raise metabolism and generally turn people into more motivated, energised workers. 

In an office environment, it grants the added benefit of allowing staff to take mini-breaks from their desks and screens each time they want a refill. It might not sound like much, but once again it’s been deduced that getting up and moving around frequently can vastly improve productivity for desk-bound workers. In sum, yes, water coolers do increase productivity, significantly. 

Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. 

The Dangers of Drinking Distilled Water

Distillation is a very particular form of water purification, primarily used to desalinate seawater. We’ve been doing it in one form or another for more than 1,800 years, as in the simplest terms, it’s just a case of boiling water in one container, then trapping and condensing it in another.

Distilled water is used in chemical processes when something purer than deionized water is needed. It’s also used in cooling systems for cars, topping off automotive batteries, and more specific requirements like cigar humidors and certain types of beer brewing, Pilsner in particular. 

Is it safe to drink, though? Well there’s certainly nothing stopping you, distilled water can be bought by the bottle in shops around the world, and there are certain brands of water which are very open about their use of the process (GlacĂ©au Smart Water, for example).  In those cases though, minerals and other components tend to be added to the water after it has been distilled. Were you to drink water that had been distilled, but nothing else, it would not contain any of the naturally occurring minerals you get from standard drinking water.

Beyond that, it’s still very much an open debate. The theory goes that distilled water is uniquely capable of cleansing your innards, pulling out all the toxins which normal water simply flows past. It is pretty well accepted that this is true in the short term, but long term consumption is thought to carry a lot more risks. Distilled water will absorb anything that it comes into contact with in the open air, meaning that it picks up trace amounts of carbon dioxide when it is first exposed. This can gradually raise body acidity, which as I’m sure you can understand is not a good thing. 

Distilled water can also cause you to lose minerals through urine, which can lead to all sorts of unpleasant complications in the long term, such as high blood pressure, coronary artery disease and, in particular, osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a deterioration of bone strength, particularly in the spine, hips and forearms. It usually manifests in old age, but with increased mineral loss it can happen a lot earlier, resulting in a significant drop in quality of life, and a much higher risk of paralysis from spinal injury.

It’s not just distilled bottled water, either. Distilled water is an active ingredient in all soft drinks, as if you needed another reason to avoid those. Water in the human body should contain calcium and magnesium, the things that distilled water tends to pull out. Cells, tissue and organs are at far higher risk of significant damage when the body has a pronounced mineral deficiency. In short, if you’re going to drink distilled water, it’s best to make sure that it’s been supplemented with minerals after the fact; otherwise you’re taking a highly unnecessary health risk. 

Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop.