TILL DEPTH DO US PART: The 2010 Gulf oil spill may have been the largest such disaster in history, and hobbled BP's race to the frontiers of oil exploration, but it was only a speed bump for the industry overall, the [skipwords]New York[/skipwords] Times and Guardian report today. The Times takes a front-page look at how a new generation of futuristic, far-flung oil rigs are digging deeper and more remotely than ever to reach the Gulf's remaining crude, while the Guardian looks ahead to how a similar bonanza might affect the Arctic. A $3 billion rig named "Perdido" (pictured) serves as the Times' main example of the ongoing Gulf push, since Shell's "giant steel octopus" — and the world's deepest-reaching rig — can pump oil from 35 wells two miles deep and 200 miles from shore, all while simultaneously drilling new ones. Although accidents like the one that sunk the less sophisticated Deepwater Horizon are rare, the risks inevitably pile up as oil exploration and production becomes more complex and more remote. Perdido is a 20-hour boat trip from shore, for example, meaning a fire could run wild before rescue crews arrive; its deepwater wells also must be serviced by robots, since humans can't dive that deep — a challenge made infamous by this summer's BP spill. And while BP has been boxed out of the most recent rush for black gold in Greenland, the Guardian points out that rivals such as Shell, ExxonMobil and StatOil will have no trouble filling the void as vast new oil fields open up across the Arctic. Environmental advocates warn that a BP-style spill in the Arctic could drag on for years due to the region's remote and rugged location, and Greenpeace has vowed to "make a real fight of this." But as one senior manager at Shell tells the Times, the industry will get to that oil one way or another. "We've proven over the years, and the decades, that if the reserves justify it, we will find a way to do it," he says. "The trick is how to do it safely." (Sources: New York Times, Guardian)

MY NAME IS EARL: As Hurricane Danielle wraps up a relatively uneventful romp through the Atlantic Ocean, her protegé is already poised to wreak a bit more havoc, although it's still unclear exactly where or how much. Hurricane Earl is now a Category 2 storm, with maximum sustained winds of 110 mph, and is located just east of Puerto Rico as it rumbles west-northwest at 14 mph. While Danielle curled harmlessly away from North America and even missed Bermuda, Earl is clinging much more closely to the coast, potentially bringing 8 to 12 inches of rain as well as "life-threatening flash floods and mudslides" today to Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the Leeward Islands, according to the National Hurricane Center. It's expected to become a major hurricane later today or Tuesday morning, the hurricane center says, and may generate 4-foot storm surges "accompanied by large and dangerous battering waves." Federal forecasters project Earl will eventually curve eastward away from the U.S. Atlantic Coast, but they aren't sure how soon that'll happen — by Thursday afternoon, the storm is expected to be looming ominously off the North Carolina coast, possibly making landfall anywhere from there up to Cape Cod over the Labor Day weekend. Meanwhile, another tropical wave is following in Earl's footsteps, and the NHC predicts it has a 90 percent chance of becoming a tropical cyclone in the next 48 hours. (Sources: CNN, ReutersNational Hurricane Center)

EARNING STRIPES: As the world's remaining Siberian tigers continue plummeting toward extinction — with only about 500 still living in the wild — China and Russia have agreed to set up the first-ever cross-border protection zone to save the endangered species from dying off. The conservation area will straddle the border between China's northeastern Jilin province and Russia's Primorksy Krai region, and officials in each country will coordinate an anti-poaching campaign on their respective side, Agence France-Presse reports. They'll also begin using standardized monitoring equipment for tracking Siberian tigers and their prey, will conduct joint ecological surveys and will share more of the information they gather, according to state media reports in China. "A ... transnational protection area will provide a wider and healthier habitat for Siberian tigers and other endangered species, such as the Far East leopard," according to Yu Changchun, an official with the forestry department in Jilin. Habitat loss and poaching are generally seen as the main threats facing Siberian tigers today, and while China outlawed all trade of tiger products in 1993, the country has struggled since then to wipe out its black market for tiger-related goods. Of the several hundred Siberian tigers that still exist in the wild, only about 20 are believed to live in China. (Sources: Agence France-Presse, Ria Novosti)

CORE KNOWLEDGE: An international team of scientists has sequenced the domestic apple genome, yet another breakthrough in the breakdown of food that follows last week's publication of wheat's genetic code. Researchers from Belgium, France, Italy, New Zealand and the U.S. collaborated on decoding the golden delicious apple's genes, which will now help other scientists more quickly link certain genes with desirable or undesirable traits, from taste and texture to disease and drought resistance. That information can then be used to rapidly improve a plant's quality thanks to more targeted selective breeding. "Before genome sequencing, the best we could do was correlate traits with genes. Now we can point to a specific gene and say, 'This is the one; this gene is responsible for this trait,'" explains the study's lead author. "We are already working on finding physiological solutions to issues like bitter pit in current apple varieties with the gene-based information available to us, and laying a foundation for improved varieties in the future through generation of [mutations] and breeding." (Source: ScienceDaily)

Russell McLendon

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Photo (Shell's Perdido oil rig): ZUMA Press

Image (Hurricane Earl projected path): National Hurricane Center

Photo (Siberian tiger in snow): ZUMA Press

Photo (golden delicious apple): Jupiter Images

Russell McLendon ( @russmclendon ) writes about humans and other wildlife.