Friday, June 18, 2021

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art and Environment

Ed Hessler 

Greetings from the Center for Global Environmental Education (CGEE), Hamline University, June 18, day 169 of 2021 (46.30%). One hundred and seventeen work days. There will be 15h 36m 49 s of sunlight and the sun rises at 5:25am and sets at 9:02 pm.

And in just a two days, June 20 at 10:32 pm in St. Paul, we'll observe the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. This day is 6h 51m longer than on the Winter Solstice. Here are 11 facts about the June or Summer Solstice. The earliest sunrise occurred on June 15 and the latest sunset is on June 26.

This is International Picnic Day and Foodimentary has five food finds about picnics and some history related to food.

Quote: I do not miss childhood, but I miss the way I took pleasure in small things, even as greater things crumbled. I could not control the world I was in, could not walk away from things or people or moments that hurt, but I took joy in the things that made me happy.--Neil Gaiman, writer

Today's poem is by Yehuda Amichai.

And here is "Summer," from Vivaldi's Four Seasons performed by Voices of Music and George Gershwin's "Summertiime" sung by Ella Fitzgerald..

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Life on Venus: Whatever Happened to It?

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

Ed Hessler

A while back I published two posts on finding traces of a molecule (phosphine) in the atmosphere of Mars. 

Life, at last, elsewhere in this solar system led the headlines the day it was announced. This was based in part on the simple fact that Venus's atmosphere doesn't have sufficient pressure and temperature to produce this chemical through physical processes. So biology came in. The molecule can be formed chemically and/or biologically. But the excitement cooled when it was learned that some of the data had not been processed correctly.

Sabine Hossenfelder provides a wonderful summary of the events with further explanation so if you want the full story complete in one entry you can read or watch it with my usual reminder to read the comments.

Another motivation for posting it is because of Professor Hossenfelder's final two sentences. 

And so, the summary is, as so often in science. More work is needed.  

The second sentence is the story of science in four words.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

A Retirement

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

Ed Hessler

Magawa is a seven-year-old African giant pouched rat  (Cricetomys gambianus) who was awarded the PDSA Gold Medal for sniffing out "71 landmines and dozen more unexploded items in Cambodia." His early education in mine detecting was at the "Belgium-registered charity Apopo in Tanzania in their HeroRATS progam. He received his certificate after a year of training.

The Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) has welcomed new replacements and his handler, Malen said "'Magawa's performance has been unbeaten, and I have been proud to work side-by-side with him."

The BBC report includes details on his size--just right to not trigger an explosiion, the details of his George Cross medal and his search capabilities. What would take a person with a metal detector between one and four days to search a tennis court sized field, Magawa can do in 20 minutes. The report notes that "Cambodia is thought to have "up to six million landmines," so there is much work remaining.

By the way, these rats have become an invasive species in Florida.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Grasslands, Carbon Storage and Biodiversity

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Climate Change, Biodiversity, Nature, Sustainability, global Change

Ed Hessler

University of Minnesota research conducted at the Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve has shown "that the degree of biodiversity in the world's grasslands is vital to their ability to continue functioning as carbon 'sinks'".

Deane Morrison reports on the work of a then PhD student (now a postdoctoral student at the University of Vermont), Melissa Pastore. She was advised by Professor Sarah Hobbie, College of Biological Sciences (CBS) and Regents Professor Peter Reich, College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFAN).

Four grassland plots, "either with one, four, nine, or 16 species of plants" were studied Some of the plots were treated with CO2 at levels likely to occur at the end of the century. Some plots received standard nitrogen fertilizer at rates of current nitrogen deposition the Northern Hemisphere. Other plots received both treatments or neither. Additionally, they were also periodically burned with scheduled prairie fires.

And this is what the researchers found."On average over 19 years, increasing the species richness from one species to four, nine, or 16 boosted total carbon storage by 22 to 32 percent. But even though the soil was nutrient-poor, the added nitrogen and CO2 increased carbon stores by only about 5 percent. Soil carbon—which excluded any in above ground plants and roots down to 20 centimeters—accounted for 90 percent of total ecosystem carbon. Therefore, as soil carbon went, so also did ecosystem carbon."

There is a caveat. The treatments raised carbon loses. Those plots treated with nitrogen and CO2 "enhanced plant growth--barely outweighing the losses. The plots with more species both gained and lost more soil carbon "but the gains outstripped the losses by large enough margins that carbon storage rose by a substantial amount."

Currently, some models overestimate carbon storage as atmospheric CO2 increases, not taking richness of species into account. The key to soil storage of carbon is grassland biodiversity, at least maintaining it where it exists.

Monday, June 14, 2021

On Being Annoying (Physics Version)

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

Ed Hessler

Sabine Hossenfelder who writes the blog BackReaction has a new video (5m 58s), one that is both informative and fun, nearly comic.

This is how Dr. Hossenfelder introduces it: "Today I will tell you how to be just as annoying as a real physicist. And the easiest way to do that is to insist correcting people when it really doesn't matter." Some of the ten examples are familiar even to non-physicists but not several of the real answers. 

This reminded me of a tactic often used by those who make claims about intelligent design who show a remarkable misunderstanding of biology, evolutionary biology, ecology, chemistry and physics. Conversation stoppers are used to replace them.

And Back Reaction means...? Wiki provides an answer, one intuitive and one deeper and more challenging to those of us who don't walk as confidently in the halls of theoretical physics.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Brood X--Other Views

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Behavior, Society, Culture, Art and Environment 

Ed Hessler

Brood X did not escape Garrison Keillor's eyes (and ears). Prairie Home Companion did a show at Wolf Trap during the last emergence when PHC competed for the audience ears against a Brood X above ground event.

Keillor wrote a song and here it is with the Guy's All Star Shoe Band: Tribute to the Cicada.(2m 44s)

Catspeak by Brooks Riley has a perfect cartoon on how cats might think about Brood X.

And then, there is this from the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Nature: May's Best Science Images

Environmental & Science Education, Art and Environment, STEM, Miscellaneous

Ed Hessler

From the British scientific journal Nature, May's "sharpest science shots."

Friday, June 11, 2021

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art and Environment 

Ed Hessler

Good morning from the Center for Environmental Education, Hamline University on June 11. It is day 162 of 2021 and we have spent 3888 hours of it or 44.38%. Sunrise is at 5:25 am and sunset is at 8:59 pm. There are 15h 33m 46s of sunlight here in St. Paul, MN.

It is National German Chocolate Cake day. Foodimentary tells us the fact about the name and then facts about cakes along with some food history. You will learn whether a president ever served hot dogs, an American gourment treat, to visiting dignitaries.

Quote.“Writers don’t write from experience, although many are hesitant to admit that they don’t. … If you wrote from experience, you’d get maybe one book, maybe three poems. Writers write from empathy.”--Nikki Giovanni (The Writer's Almanac, June 7, 2021

Today's poem is by Nikki Giovanni who had a birthday this week (June 7).

Thursday, June 10, 2021

On The Trapline

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Children, Early Childhood. Education, Culture, Society, Wildlife, Biodiversity, Nature

Ed Hessler 

I had a muskrat trapline when I was a high school student. Before and after school, no matter what the wind was blowing up,  I "ran" the line, checked the traps, reset them if necessary (moved them sometimes), and at night I'd skin the 'rats and stretch them for drying. Sometimes when I was in the field, I'd bump into real professional trappers who put up with me mostly. Our exchanges were quick hellos or a head nod, an acknowledgement that there we were and that they would prefer I wasn't.

I carried my supplies--traps, extra nametags, hatchet--and dead rats in an old Adirondack Pack Basket, not as elegant as those pictured. It belonged to my Grandfather and had seen a fair amount of use during deer season.  I made my own nametags pounding out each, a letter at a time with name and address and then boiled them and new traps in water infused with sumac.When necessary I wore old fashioned snowshoes that were longer than I was tall. Cumbersome at fences which were everywhere.

A beautifully told and wonderfully illustrated new book about a little boy and his grandfather reminded me of those days. On the Trapline is by David A. Robertson, a member of the Norway House Cree Nation and illustrated by Julie Flett, a Swampy Cree and Red River Metis. This is not their first collaboration  But for both of them, this was the last book that they could show their fathers who died near the end of the project.

The book is reviewed by NPR's Samantha Blaban--print and listen--and includes some of the illustrations which I found simply perfect--the words and illustrations inform the other. Blabon remarks that along the way Swampy Cree words are used, e.g., Moshon means Grandfather, wanawi is the word for "go outside."

Robertson told Blaban that he "thought it's important that people recognize that it's still a way of life to a lot of indigenous people. And it's an important and vibrant way of life." He also emphasized to her that it is a "gentle book one that helps to dispel stereotypes and myths about life in an indigenous community, and to educate readers."

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Thomas Brock: Microbiologist

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

Ed Hessler 

Thermophiles, more specifically, thermophile bacteria. Maybe you've heard of them.

The discoverer of thermophile bacteria, Thomas Brock, died in early April from complications following a fall. He was 94.

The Scientist published an obituary about his distinguished career by Lisa Winter. While doing field work in Yellowstone National Park Brock, as chance would have it, got out of his car and overheard a park ranger who was leading an interpretive talk that the color in the thermal pool was due to blue-green algae. "'I got interested right away.'"

Winter writes, "Brock returned to Yellowstone over the next few years to better understand its microbial life, and in 1966 identified a bacterial species he named Thermus aquaticus, which lived at temperatures of around 70 °C. The following year, Brock published his observations about life in hot springs in (the scientific journal) Science challenging the assumption of the day that life couldn’t exist at temperatures that high." 

The discovery opened the door to the now-famous polymerase chain reaction (PCR). "An enzyme T. aquaticus uses to replicate DNA in high temperatures" was later found and this in turn led to create PCR. And the rest, as is said, is history.

Following retirement Brock became in interested in understanding "the decline of oak barrens throughout the Midwest." The obituary includes a 3m 39s video in which Brock talks about his discovery and its later impact. This interest started when he and his wife created the Pleasant Valley Conservancy State Natural Area (WI). This link describes the preserve and also includes a blog by Brock and a history of his life.