Monday, September 23, 2019

"You Have Stolen My Dreams"

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Climate Change
Edward Hessler

This is a powerful, moving, passionate statement, one informed by the science of climate change.

Here is part of Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg's statement at the United Nations just a few hours ago (9.23.2019).

Update: This is a report from NPR which includes the full statement.

Just How Fast Are The Oceans Warming?

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Climate Change
Nature of Science
Edward Hessler

A while back, the journal Science published a short perspective on an aspect of global warming that receives much less press than other aspects. It was on how fast the oceans are warming. That paper is  behind a membership paywall although a summary is available. One of the authors was John Abraham, a professor of engineering at the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul. 

The short summary is that "observational records of ocean heat content show that ocean warming is accelerating." And once again, the observational data support global warming models, i.e., the "models reliably project changes in" increased ocean heat content (OHC). The effects of OHC are alarming and include "increases in rainfall intensity, rising sea levels, the destruction of coral reefs, declining ocean oxygen levels, and declines in ice sheets" (glaciers and polar ice caps). This is more evidence that Earth is in fact warming.

One of the important features of this paper is that it is based on "multiple lines of evidence from four independent groups (different studies, different approaches) thus now suggest a stronger observed OHC warming." Ron Meador who writes on the environment for MinnPost talked with Professor Abraham about this paper and he puts into perspective the significance of the studies: "prior estimates were about 40 percent too low."

Abraham brings very special skills and talents to this work. His graduate work was in fluid mechanics, the branch of physics concerned with the mechanics of fluids (air and liquids) and the forces on them.  I especially recommend the section of this paper in which Abraham explains how flawed data were collected, not the least of which is that these measurements were made for another purpose as you will note.

Meador who writes the Earth Journal column for MinnPost reports on the paper's findings as well as described Abraham's research on improving the accuracy of the data, including the use of Argo sensors--a remarkable piece of engineering design that now includes a global array of 3800 free drifting floats that measures the temperature and salinity of the upper 2000 m of the ocean--in more detail and I urge you to read his essay. Currently, there are not enough Argo sensors to completely cover and represent temperature variations in the world's oceans.  

Abraham calls attention to the important contribution of the lead author of the paper, Lijing Cheng, published in Science who developed a trustworthy way to cover the gaps--reducing the errors between Argo instruments.

This is an important report.
Once again I recommend Ron Meador's writing. He knows the beat well and also reports on it very well.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Guided Tour Inside the Wreck of HMS Terror

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Archeology
History
Edward Hessler

Parks Canada has produced a film of an underwater exploration of HMS Terror, one of the ships in the ill-fated Franklin expedition that departed England in 1845. The second ship, the largest, was the HMS Erebus. The purpose of the expedition was to complete the final section of the Northwest Passage. All 129 members of the two boats were lost and never heard from.

In 2014, the wreck of HMS Erebus was found in 11 meters (~36') of water and in 2016, the wreck of the HMS Terror was found in 24 meters (~79') of water. The Wiki entry on the Franklin expedition summarizes the background of the expedition, including preparations (command, ships, provisions and crew, crew manifest, and Australian connections), losses, early searches, overland searches, contemporary search expeditions, modern expeditions (1981 - 2016), and scientific conclusions.

John Franklin, who led the expedition is known as "The Man Who Ate His Boots," for eating boiled lichens and shoe leather. He was one of a group of explorers known as "Barrow's Boys," after John Barrow, Second Secretary to the Admiralty (1804 - 1844), launched the most ambitious exploration program the world has ever seen. His teams of elite naval officers went on missions to fill the blanks that littered the atlases of the day. Those thirty years are beautifully told in Barrow's Boys: A Stirring Story of Daring, Fortitude, and Outright Lunacy by Fergus Fleming. The subtitle is not hype.


Parks Canada Guided Tour Inside HMS Terror was filmed "Over seven days, under exceptional weather conditions, the interior spaces of the wreck of HMS Terror were scientifically and systematically explored for the first time. Parks Canada’s Underwater Archaeology Team conducted seven ROV dives and explored 20 cabins/compartments on the ship, in search of uncovering a better understanding of the fate of the Franklin expedition. The team obtained clear images of over 90 per cent of the lower deck of the ship, which includes the living quarters of the crew."

The film is a remarkable achievement.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Climate Change: Testimony and the Climate Strike

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Climate Change
Edward Hessler

The Global Climate Strike is happening now. Today is the first day.

MPR reported on the strike in Minnesota this morning.  Protests are being held in more than a dozen cities: Baudette, Bemidji, Center City, Duluth, Grand Marais, Moose Lake, Morris, Northfield Rochester, St. Joseph, St. Paul, Virginia, Willmar, and Winona

Two days ago climate activist Greta Thunberg presented congressional testimony. Here is EVERYTHING she said.

The message: listen to the science and act on it.

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education
Poetry
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

There is a long tradition of poetry responding to visual art (and vice versa). In 2014 Rattle, a poetry magazine, thought it would be fun to post a challenge. Poems in this category are known as Ekphrastic poetry. This is known as Ekphrastic poetry.

And you get two poems, one chosen by the artist and one chosen by the editor including their comments.

 

Thursday, September 19, 2019

How The Distribution of Global Warming Has Changed Over Time.

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Climate Change
History of Science
Nature of Science
Edward Hessler

When you assume...well when you do this you often make a big mistake. Sometimes it is a result of intellectual laziness, something I seem to have some talent for.

Case in point. I'd always assumed that the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age were world-wide even though the only pictures I have in my mind are of things such as the frozen Thames River, England, i.e., a single data point! Why check?

Sid Perkins, writing for the journal Science, comments on a new report from Nature Geoscience in which "almost 7000 sets of natural climate records," e.g., tree rings, ice cores, and others, "from 1 C.E. to 2000 C.E." (C.E. means Christian era; here 1 C. E. is 1 A.D were analyzed. In short events did not "unfold pretty much the same everywhere."
Perkins explains. "In the central and eastern Pacific Ocean, the coldest decades of the Little Ice Age fell during the 15th century. In northwestern Europe and the southeastern United States, the deepest cold occurred during the 17th century. For the rest of the world, the strongest chill didn’t occur until the mid–19th century, almost at the very end of this colder-than-normal interval.
"The researchers found the same pattern of asynchrony when they looked at lesser-known events like the Roman Warm Period, which toasted the first few centuries C.E.; the Dark Ages Cold Period, which cast a chill from 400 to 800; and the Medieval Warm Period, which defrosted Earth from around 800 to 1200. As in the Little Ice Age, the warmest and coolest decades within those intervals didn’t occur everywhere in the world at the same time."
Perkins notes two features about the current global warming: magnitude and geography (world wide.  Paleoclimatologist at the University of Minnesota, Scott St. George, who was not involved in the work, put it this way "'No matter where you go, you can't avoid the dramatic march toward warmer temperatures.'"

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Nature's Photo Selections for August 2019

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

The Nature photography team has picked their favorite science shots for August 2019.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Making Science Possible: Technicians and Others

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Nature of Science
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Craft & Graft is a new, well new to me, exhibition at the Francis Crick Institute in London (1 March 2019 to 30 November 2019).  I wish I had discovered it earlier. It is about the work of the technicians, engineers and other specialists who make science possible at the Crick--from fruit-fly breeders and maintainers, to glass washers, to engineers, and microscopists.

The link takes you to a short video but below this video is as good an exhibition as I know on what these people do: who some of them are, their qualifications, career paths, and work. Find out about

--how the engineering team keeps the science running;
--the Crick's specialty fly facility;
--how the Glasswash team (750,000 washes per year) keep the Crick running
--how cell services nurtures billions of cells; and
--what the microscopy team does.

Francis Crick, with James Watson and Maurice Wilkins, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962.





Monday, September 16, 2019

Shaping Dog Brains

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Brain
Biological Evolution
Edward Hessler

Dogs are different in appearance and size, sometimes surprisingly so. As is well-known this is a result of domestication and artificial selection by humans from the time they split from wolves many thousands of years ago. As an example, dogs range in size from large, the Great Dane, New Foundland, and English Mastiff to small, the Chiuahua, Bichon Frise, and Pomeranian. 

It is also well-known that dog breeds differ in temperament and behavior. There are herders (Border Collie), hunters (Springer Spaniel), companions (Japanese Chin). A recent study reported in the Journal of Neuroscience, led by Erin Hecht, a neuroscientist at Harvard University, and her colleagues "examined whether and how selective breeding by humans has altered the gross organization of the brain in dogs." The team did MRI studies of 62 male and female dogs of 33 breeds. "Notably," the authors report, "neuroanatomical variation is plainly visible across breeds." The team concluded that the "results establish that brain anatomy varies significantly in dogs, likely due to human-applied selection for behavior."

The full paper is protected by a paywall but the abstract, the significance of the study, and how the research was distributed across team members may be read.

Eva Frederick, reporting for Science, writes that "Hecht and her team identified six networks of brain regions...and that "each of the six brain networks correlated with at least one behavioral trait." According to Frederick, Hecht notes "one drawback to her study, is that all dogs examined were pet dogs, not working dogs."

At caninebrains.org you may learn more about research to "understand the minds and brains of our best friends."  It describes a linked study at Harvard University and the University of Georgia-Athens. There are several ways to participate if you are interested.

And for more information about Professor Erin Hecht, her research group and their work this will link you to the Evolutionary Neuroscience Laboratory at Harvard which she leads.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Ynes Mexica

Environmental & Science Education
Biodiversity
History of Science
Nature
Edward Hessler

Thanks to today's Google Doodle I was introduced to a scientist new to me: Mexican-American botanist and explorerYnes Mexica (May 24 1870 to July 12 1938). 

According to Bryce J. Williams, TheNewsCrunch, " The life of Ynes Mexia is a prime example of how it’s never too late to find one’s calling,” wrote Latino Natural History. Her full name was Ynes Enriquetta Julietta Mexica. MexĂ­ca didn’t even start collecting specimens until she was in her 50s, and she didn’t live very long after that point."

Mexica started college when she was 51 (University of California-Berkeley). Upon graduation she started an ambitious collecting career-- ~ 150,000 specimens, ~ 500 of which were new to botany. Harmeet Kaur, writing for CNN, notes that "The Sierra Club Bulletin credits her with discovering two genera, or groups of species."

Today, September 15, is the first day of National Hispanic Heritage Month.