Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Scientific Literacy In Everyday Use

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Literacy, Miscellaneous, Science & Society

Ed Hessler

From McGill University, the Office for Science and Society which aims to separate sense from nonsense -- raises this question about a gadget, an antifreeze snow removal device, allegedly inspired by NASA technology. Is it a scam?

Author Jonathan Jerry presents as a case study to assist us in wading through claims, a device with a tongue tangler of a name, the Fivfivgo™ PRO Electromagnetic Molecular Interference Antifreeze Snow Removal Instrument, "for how (he goes) about figuring out if a cutting-edge gadget really does work (as a windshield snow and ice removal instrument, or if it’s just a worthless scam. Hopefully, you can use these steps to better protect your wallet."

The steps Jerry discusses don't provide much information about the content to follow  although the last one provides a clue - all failed except one - but certainly served as teasers for me to read on. The discussions are thorough and helpful.

--- Extraordinary Claims

--- Birds of a Feather

--- Insert Business Address Here

--- Like and Share

--- The One Thing it Doesn’t Fail is the Smell Test

Monday, December 4, 2023

Illuminated River Art Installation, London

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Art & Environment

Ed Hessler

Illuminated River is a long-term art installation transforming the Thames at night with an orchestrated series of light works that span nine bridges in central London. Its subtly moving sequences of LED light symbolically unify the Thames bridges, drawing inspiration from the spirit and history of the river and from the architectural and engineering heritage of its bridges.

The website shows the bridges,, a description of the project, the installation sequence, stories, and artwork. Included in the stories is a poem inspired by Illuminated River (It was commissioned for the event.)

I haven't found anything on whether effects on the night sky was considered or what effects it has on the natural world and human biology. I did notice that the London Wildlife Trust was involved. There is considerable biology and ecology to consider if these were considered. I did a quick search for newspaper articles on the bridge but these are overwhelmingly positive and no story I've seen mentioned the environment.

Here is a story about New York based artist Leo Villareal, who conceived the installation.

Sunday, December 3, 2023

Tornado Inside Another Tornado?

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Earth & Space Science, Earth Systems, Solar System, Geology

Ed Hessler

This remarkable image and explanation - the latter much needed - is from Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD). 
I'd never heard of a landspout tornado.

Saturday, December 2, 2023

Hot Fishing

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature, Wildlife, Global Warming, Global Climate Change, Global Change

Ed Hessler

An article in the Star Tribune on the effects of "weather vagaries tied to climate change" (increase of air temperatures and water temperature) on some game fish,  by Dennis Anderson suggests one of the many ways climate change might affect us in the future, even the near future. 

Anderson's essay, "Too hot to fish? We Could be There Now" Star Tibune, July 28, 2023, is protected by a subscription paywall but if you subscribe and missed it, your search engine will find it. A few of its important points follow with thanks to Dennis Anderson for his reporting on this important topic.

Hot fishing. as Anderson notes, now has two meanings. One is that fish are biting. A more recent one is to use it to describe times when "anglers should park their boats and hang up their rods until things cool down."

There is a choice on those days, both related to the angler's goal for the day: a few to take home to eat or to catch and release fishing.

Anderson notes that "muskies in warm water are susceptible to delayed mortality --dying after release. ... Walleyes often don't do well in hot weather, either. ...A DNR study of walleye hooking mortality  on Mille Lacs found no walleyes dies that were caught and released in May of the study period, when water temperatures were less than 68 degrees F. But in July and August, when water temperatures were above 68 degrees F, about 12% of released fish died." The effects of water depth on catch-and-release mortality (Rainy Lake) done by the DNR found that "at depths of 30 feet and more...walleyes were particularly susceptible to delayed mortality....(increasing with each 5 feet of depth beyond that point."

Anderson notes that fishing tournaments occur in summer and that according to DNR's Jon Hansen, could mean that  eventually "a review of tournament regulations might be necessary." 

Summertime and the livin' is not so easy for some fishes.
KARE 11 also did some recent reporting on climate change and fish kills.

Friday, December 1, 2023

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art & Environment, Nature, Wildlife, Biodiversity

Ed Hessler

The Snail is by Donald Hall.

The poem was published in The Yellow Room (Harper & Row, 1971).

And welcome to Meteorological Winter.

Thursday, November 30, 2023

A Slight Interruption In Posting

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Miscellaneous

Ed Hessler

I will be off the blog after this post, November 30, for about a day. 

I am the "nurse-in-residence" following what I expect to be a routine surgery but the patient needs someone around that first day. I'm it and glad to be of help which is mostly being there.

So the December 1, Friday poem will be delayed until about midday plus or minus. This could be longer if any complications occur which are unlikely.


What Can Be Learned From Dead Fungi aboutLife?

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biodiversity, Biological Evolution, Global Change, Climate Change

Ed Hessler

In a recent field note from Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve, CCESR (UMN), Adara Taylor reports on research by postdoctoral researcher Dr. Kathyrn Beidler.

The opening paragraph provides an abstract of what is to follow.

"Fungi are inextricably linked with death and decay. With microscopic filaments called hyphae that grow through tiny spaces in the soil, fungi are able to reach far and wide in search of nutrients, feasting on and decomposing organic debris on the way. So what happens when fungi, an agent of decay, meet their end?"

First, why is it important? "Below-ground fungal bodies...make up most of the carbon that sticks around in the soil, literally. Fungal Hyphae live and die next to soil minerals and sticking to clay minerals can physically protect fungal cells from being recycled by other microbes." My emphasis.

There are several reasons I'm pointing out this short article. It highlights species in the food chain/web that tend to get overlooked, at least their function. It is also a great illustration of how a field problem is turned into a laboratory and field problem. It also illustrates how research provides openings into other problems.
The close to Taylor's reporting includes a quote from Beidler. She said “It is all very circle of life, with living microbes recycling the carbon and nutrients contained within dead microbes. Ultimately I am interested in how necromass becomes stable soil carbon and how the traits of living and dead fungi influence this transformation.”
Wiki provides a short definition of necromass which is focused on above ground "dead stuff."

This research also emphasizes that we've much more to learn about food chains and food webs and also have the molecular tools to do this. They are not so simple.

And you can read all about it in this short informative article.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

A High Altitude Plant Facing Climate Change in Tibet

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature, Sustainability, Global Change, Global Climate Change, Biological Evolution, History of Science, Nature of Science

Ed Hessler
Context: The discussion of the following scientific paper is the story scientists are piecing together on a moss. The moss, genus Takakia has found a place in the natural world for 400 million years, roughly the geological period known as the Devonian. Evidence suggests that it is in danger of extinction Tibetan Plateau to which it has been famously adapted to what the environment has on offer: cold and harmful radiation from the sun. And that story began roughly 50 million years ago when India pushed into into Asia causing the uplift. In 2005 the two exisiting species were discovered by a survey team. The team set up study plots and since then have returned twice a year to collect environmental data. The outlook for its survival there strongly suggests that this highly specialized plant will disappear as the globe continues rapidly changing temperature increases. It may not have enough evolutionary time for further adaptations and adjustments.

A short sentence from a paper I just read (lightly) caught my attention. "Following nearly 400 million years of evolution and resilience, this species is now facing extinction."

The species is Takakia lepidozioides, a moss adapted to live in high altitudes, 4000 m plus (~13,000 feet).

The paper "Adaptive evolution of the enigmatic Takakia now facing climate change in Tibet" (PDF - Don't be put off by its length.) was published August 9, 2023 in the journal Cell. The research involved multiple specialties and authors with a key to their contributions which you can view by clicking on the authors. This is not as cumbersome as it might seem since the author key (digits) is used multiple times.

There is a list of highlights, a graphical abstract, a summary and keywords. I included the highlights so I could link to possible problematic technical vocabulary and ideas. And don't forget to use Google when in doubt of a technical word or concept.

  • Steepest temperature increase at 4 km elevation threatens highly adapted moss species
  • Sequenced genome with highest number of fast-evolving genes under positive selection. (There are two types of natural selection in biological evolution: Positive (Darwinian) selection promotes the spread of beneficial alleles, and negative (or purifying) selection hinders the spread of deleterious alleles. See here.
  • Adaptation to severe UV-B radiation and freezing likely evolved at high altitudes
  • Morphological peculiarities of Takakia plants likely evolved earlier than 165 mya
  • There are probably several points which will attract your attention. Here are 3 that caught mine.
  • 1. Takakia is a "sister to all other mosses, including Sphagnum...despite their morphological dissimilarities."
  • 2. "Takakia lacks rhizoids, ,,, Instead of rhizoids that attach plants to the soil matrix, Takakia  evolved a morphology that is not known from other mosses." (Oxford Languages Dictionary defines matrix as "an environment or material in which something develops; a surrounding medium or structure.")
  • 3. Stomata were one of the first developmental innovations of land plants, at about 400 mya (million years ago).  However, Takakia lacks stomata." 
  • From the Summary:
  • In short the authors documented "the steepest temperature increase (2010–2021) on record at altitudes of above 4,000 m, triggering a decline of the relictual and highly adapted moss Talakia." The summary is short.

  • The modern origin of protective traits in Takakia
  • Whereas Takakia evolved characteristic morphological features before 65 mya, the duplication and divergence of genes involved in stress protection occurred mainly during the uplift of the Himalayas, namely from 50 mya to the present. This period is characterized by a sharp increase in harmful UV-B radiation and a sharp drop in temperature, both caused by the uplift of the region." Whereas 
    Takakia evolved characteristic morphological features before 65 mya, the duplication and divergence of genes involved in stress protection occurred mainly during the uplift of the Himalayas, namely from 50 mya to the present. This period is characterized by a sharp increase in harmful UV-B radiation and a sharp drop in temperature, both caused by the uplift of the region. Whereas Takakia evolved characteristic morphological features before 65 mya, the duplication and divergence of genes involved in stress protection occurred mainly during the uplift of the Himalayas, namely from 50 mya to the present. This period is characterized by a sharp increase in harmful UV-B radiation and a sharp drop in temperature, both caused by the uplift of the region. The uplift of the Himalayas has caused the annual average temperature in the area of our experimental site to drop from 27°C (50 mya) to about 5°C at present, forcing Takakia  to evolve enhanced freezing tolerance."  (This sounds somewhat intentional which I doubt is the intention of the researchers. I prefer the idea of natural selection.)
  • This is a technical scientific paper but the paper's discussion, a couple of short videos and parts of the discussion are accessible and downright fascinating.  Every day we are learning more about the reach of global climate change and its effects on the large, the small, the deep, the high, the widespread and the isolated.
  • The authors conclude with a short section on the limitations of the study.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Challenging Quantum Orthodoxy: Physicist Jonathan Oppenheim

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature of Science, History of Science, Cosmology

Ed Hessler

A challenge to the idea of a universal  theory of nature which is currently held in the sway of quantum mechanics is presented by Jonathan Oppenheim, a theoretical physicist at University College London in a story about him and his research which includes a short video (6 m 44 s) in which he explains his theory is found in Quanta Magazine, by Thomas Lewton, a free-lance writer for several publications.

Lewton sets the stage. "Most physicists expect that when we zoom in on the fabric of reality, the unintuitive weirdness of quantum mechanics persists down to the very smallest scales. But in those settings, quantum mechanics collides with classical gravity in a resolutely incompatible way.

"So for almost a century, theorists have tried to create a unified theory by quantizing gravity, or sculpting it according to the rules of quantum mechanics. They still haven’t succeeded."

Oppenheim thinks the "presumption is wrong." Lewton tells us how he began by a search for alternatives to the idea that classical physics and quantum physics might one day be joined. He thinks it possible that there is both a classical world of physics (ruling the way large things interact) and  the way the very small things interact (quantum physics).

Lewten met Oppenheim for an interview in a North London cafe. I provide the headings for the conversation, not all of them describing that part of the conversation but following from the previous part.

--Why are most theorists so sure that space-time is quantized? 

--Is gravity special in your view?

-- What sorts of problems do you run into if gravity is classical and not quantized?

-- So if gravity behaves classically, you end up knowing too much. And that means that cherished ideas from quantum mechanics, like superposition, break down?

--What is that loophole?

--So why don’t more physicists think gravity is classical?


--What are you proposing instead?

--Why did you start working on these hybrid theories?

--So the noisiness in these quantum-classical hybrid theories allows information to be lost?

--But information conservation is a key principle in quantum mechanics. Losing this can’t sit easily with many theorists.

--Will experiments ever resolve if gravity is quantized or not?

--How do you know this randomness is intrinsic to the gravitational field and not some noise from the environment? 

--On the flip side of the bet, are there any experiments that would prove that gravity is quantized?

This discussion flows well, made possible by a well-prepared and observant interviewer and the responses of Dr. Oppenheim. Throughout you will find comments about the nature of science and how theoreticians work. If you get stuck here and there you can move on or check your source of confusion on the Wiki. Some of these explanations become complex very quickly, because of the language barrier: mathematics and our common languages.

Monday, November 27, 2023

A Regional Guide to The Fifth National Climate Assessment

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Earth & Space Science, Earth Systems, Sustainability, Global Change, Climate Change

Ed Hessler

Grist is a "a nonprofit, independent media organization dedicated to telling stories of climate solutions and a just future." 

On November 15, 2023 Grist published its summary - The Fifth National Climate Assessment - of "a congressionally mandated interagency effort that provides the scientific foundation to support informed decision-making across the United States."

Grist provides "a region-by-region guide" on what it judges are the most important takeaways for the 10 regions included.

Thanks to MinnPost.