Monday, November 29, 2021

Deer Management

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Wildlife, Biodiversity, Nature, Society, Culture, Sustainability

--Writing about nature protection, environmental lawyer Holly Doremus once wrote. "(We assume) that nature can be allowed to function without reserves, while humans can be allowed to function ithout concern for nature outside them."--from Brooke Jarvis, The New Yorker, November 15, 2021 

Staten Island, New York is home to a large and very "happy," resident population of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). The deer are thriving--food aplenty, no predators, no hunting. In the Wiki entry on this New York City borough, the white-tailed deer population "increased from a population of 24 in 2008 to 2,000 in 2017." 

Staten Island has become contested territory, now one of the many "'deer wars,' vitriolic disagreements among hunters, environmentalists, animal-rights activists, and suburbanites over how to manage deer populations."

A project aims to sterilize 98% if the male deer on the island and it is the subject of an article in The New Yorker by Brooke Jarvis.  (est. 20-minute plus read)

This article digs into the issue and includes some history of humans and those animals that do well with us (called synanthropes), Staten Island's past, the deer's history in the United States, attitudes toward deer, the question of numbers, e.g., how many is the right number which is the wrong question, deer behavioral patterns on the island, the fluidity of boundaries (imagined) between "our"and "their" world, the utter complexity of the conflicts, what we mean by 'nature', and the sterilization campaign.

Animals that thrive with us "sometimes lead us to odd and inconsistent places" and  to often contradictory personal and social decisions. So the question is what to do with them when they do too well.

Brooke Jarvis talked with Allen Rutberg of Tufts' Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine who is a veteran of a similar deer management issue/problem. What he said seems to be a maxim among wildlife managers.  who observed what seems a maxim among wildlife managers. which has been written and said many times. It had to do with the role of biology in the decisions managers face and try to resolve. The biology and ecology of the situation is a mighty small part. "'The  rest is sorting out why people believe what they do."

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Where Do Viral Variants Come From?

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine

Ed Hessler

COVID-19 consists of many variants--alpha, beta, gamma and delta are quite familiar terms to most of us.  We've just learned of a new one "variant of concern," dubbed Omicron after the 15th letter in the Greek alphabet.  It is the 7th variant of concern.

Little is known about it. The most concerning is the presence of 38 mutations, all strategically located on the spikes which are used by the virus to attach itself to cells. Some of these mutations are quite well known for their ability to slip right through the first line of defense.

 Omnicron is a quick spreader in unvaccinated populations. So the big question is just how effective current vaccines are against it. Virus expert, Dr. Peter Hotez, provided much more informed information about Omnicron than I could.  Reporting from  KHOU 11, Houston by Stephanie Whitfield includes a short embedded video featuring Dr. Hotez. Stay tuned. Things are bound to change but that there will be a surge in COVID-19 cases this winter seems a safe bet.

The purpose of this post is to answer a question on where these variants come from in the first place. In a mere 1m 56s video, the BBC's health correspondent Laura Foster and virologist, Dr. Cindy Duke explain why and what we can do to stop it happening. 

Many of you may know quite a bit about the origin of viral variants so you can skip it. On the other hand because it is short you can take a look and judge the content of this primer.

So wear masks where and when you should and get fully vaccinated, if you haven't taken this vital first step.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

A New Indigo Dye

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Sustainability, Sustainable Development, Water, Pollution, Health

Ed Hessler 

One of the most common dyes, Indigo, "is usually make from petroleum-derived aniline in a high temperature process that involves formaldehyde and cyanide. Globally, around 20% of industrial water pollution comes from fabric dyeing,"writes James Mitchell Crow in a short essay in the British journal Nature series "Where I Work," about Tammy Hsu who intends to produce fabric dyes with much lower environmental (and human health) impacts (added) . The process makes use of microbial fermentation.

Hsu holds a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley (indigo synthesis through bioengineering  Escherichia coli bacteria to do what happens indigo plants do). Dr. Hsu is now the chief scientific officer and co-founder with Michelle Zhu, of Huee in Berkeley, CA.

The profile includes a picture of Hsu in front of Huee's fermentation station and a brief description of this work. "We (Hsu and Zhu) have demonstrated," Crow notes, "that we can make a high-quality product, and are now working with dye mills to see what quality of we can obtain. Depending on the launch schedule of the denim brands, we hope to see products dyed with our indigo on the market within a year."

Why indigo? Hsu had a short answer: "because it is iconic."

Friday, November 26, 2021

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art & Environment

Ed Hessler 

Good morning from the Center for Global Environmental Education (CGEE), Hamline University, Saint Paul, MN on the 330th day of November 26, 2021. We have now spent 475,200 minutes or 90.41% of the year.

Sunrise is at 7:25 am and sunset is at 4:34 pm giving us 9h 09m 42s of sunlight.

Foodimentary celebrates National Cake Day with pictures, cake facts and historic food events.

Quote. Regarding the signing of the COP 26 declaration in Glasgow. "Signing the declaration is the easy part."--U.N. Secretary-General, Antonio Guzterres (in Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker, November 15, 2021.

Today's poem is by Denusha Lamaris.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Wildflowers on Mount Ranier

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature, Wildlife

Ed Hessler

--I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order. —John Burroughs

--There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature -- the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter. --- Rachel Carson

CBS Sunday Morning takes us on a tour of wildflowers on Mount Rainier (Washington). The only sounds are what was there when the video (2m 48s) was shot.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

NASA's Dart Launch A Success

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Earth & Space Science, Solar System, Nature of Science

Ed Hessler

Grrreaat news! NASA's Dart mission left the planet yesterday, November 23, in roaring style heading for a crash landing to a space object named Dimorphos. The purpose, a nudge, is"to see how much its speed and path can be altered."

This 35s BBC video shows the launch.

Measuring Masking's Protection

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine, Nature of Science

Ed Hessler

The journal Nature in a daily news update refers readers to a medRxiv preprint (Medical Archives) which has not yet been peer reviewed. It asks where/when to face masks as a COVID-19 preventative matter most.

 "Rxivs" have proliferated in the last few years. They provide results to others and also used for feedback on the studies. It is a great practice, one I appreciate. 

The researchers analyzed hundreds of COVID-19 cases and found, not surprisingly, but how good it is to have evidence, masks matter most during long encounters and indoors. It is not a small study--more than a thousand people who had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. And the circumstances are quite specific. Each infected participant was matched with at least one control person with matching factors, e.g., age and sex, but who tested negative during the same time period. Indoors matters as do encounters that lasted for more than three hours.

"Participants exposed to someone with COVID-19 had lower odds of infection if masks were worn at the encounter than if they weren't." (emphasis mine)

The news item is brief but has more details, including criticisms, e.g., size of benefits, "precise figures on masking's benefits, and the challenge of matching infected people with controls. However, one of the critics, biostatistcian Grant Brown, notes that "even so, (the study is) a reasonable approach to a hard problem."

h/t Nature Briefing November 4, 2021

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Test of Asteroid Defence

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Earth & Space Science, Solar System, Astronomy, Astrophysics, Biodiversity, Global Climate Change, Global Warming.

Ed Hessler

On November 23, 2021 is scheduled the launch of the spacecraft known as Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART). It is headed to two asteroids, Dimrophos and Didymus, one of which Dimorphus orbits Didymos. The former is 160 meters wide; the other is about 800 meters wide.

The intention is for the spacecraft to hit Dimorphos to see whether it can change its trajectory. It may be a technology that one day earthlings will have to employ to deflect a much larger asteroid from smashing into Earth and creating ecological and socioeconomic havoc.

An essay by Alexandra Witze in the scientific journal Nature tells the story and has a great diagram of this planned encounter and a photograph of the Dart spacecraft with a small group of the research team sitting nearby making close observations while it was being tested. An interesting feature is that "a tiny probe funded by the Italian Space Agency will fly by to photograph the aftermath . Named LICIACube, it will travel aboard DART.  If all goes as planned, "its cameras should spot the dust cloud, if the impact kicks one up, and possibly the resulting crater."

Should we be worried? Witze reports that “The odds of something large enough to be a problem, that we would have to deflect, are pretty slim in our lifetimes,” says Andy Rivkin, a planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU-APL) in Laurel, Maryland, which built the spacecraft for NASA. “But sometimes your number comes up when you don’t expect it, and it’s good to have an insurance policy.”

The title of the essay includes the phrase "in first planetary-defence test."  It hit me between the eyes, as is said. I don't want to be picky--well, maybe I do--but one test we have been taking and showing little success at coming close to receiving a minimal passing grade is the protection of the planet, its people and all the other living species that are aboard, has been global climate change.  I think it is fair to say global climate crisis. The most recent effort is the just concluded COP26 and it will be a while before we can measure any success from it.

The space launch is the easy test; saving our home is here is the really hard one. COP26 was the 26th time world leaders have attended a conference of the parties to deal with this threat, almost three decades of earth time.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Hedgehog Highway

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Wildlife, Nature, Biodiversity, Sustainabilty

Ed Hessler

In the BBC video (2m 13s) below is shown a project to encourage "neighbours to drill holes in their garden fences to create a "hedgehog highway" it is hoped will save the creatures from extinction.

"Jennifer Manning-Ohren, from Keyworth in Nottinghamshire, believes the concrete-based fencing used on new housing estates acts as a barrier to" hedgehogs.

Manning-Ohren said "We need everyone to do something. I've responded to the call to action to do it locally.'"


Sunday, November 21, 2021

Cats as Hunters

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature, Wildlife, Biodiversity

Ed Hessler 

I was sure that I'd written Zefrank's name down. If I did I have never found it and I couldn't remember his name so I was unable to take a look at his latest releases. He is a careful fact checker so when he does a video on the natural world you can be quite sure it is accurate. He also credits his sources.

This one is not the most recent but these are not time-stamped. It is "Cats' Killer Senses." I hope to post more of ZeFrank now that I have finally found the link and this time did write it down.

And in the event you forgot who he is or never knew, here is the Wiki entry.