Tuesday, September 27, 2022

The North Pacific Garbage Patch

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Earth & Space Science, Earth Systems, Pollution, Sustainability, Science & Society

Ed Hessler

I suspect that many of us, if asked, about common materials in that great patch of garbage in the northern Pacific (known as the North Pacific Garbage Patch) would say common household plastic items - straws, containers, shoes, those famous duckies, small crates, etc. The patch was discovered in 1997 and has been monitored since. It has grown.

Freda Kreier, reporting on a new study of the patch for the journal Nature writes that the research found that "Fishing gear from just five regions could account for most of the floating plastic debris in the ‘North Pacific garbage patch’, a vast swathe of the North Pacific Ocean.. 

"The  just published research (Scientific Reports) "found that as much as 86% of the large pieces of floating plastic in the garbage patch are items that were abandoned, lost or discarded by fishing vessels. The finding is counterintuitive...." 

The researchers were surprised because as Kreier reports, what was "notably absent from the debris was plastic from nations with lots of plastic pollution in their rivers..." long "thought to be the source of most ocean plastic. Instead, most of the garbage-patch plastic seemed to have been dumped into the ocean directly by passing ships."

This suggests, said Matthias Egger of The Ocean Cleanup  that “'plastic emitted from land tends to accumulate along coastal areas, while plastic lost at sea has a high chance of accumulating in ocean garbage patches'".  The research "indicates that fishing — spearheaded by the five countries and territories identified in the study — is the main source of plastic in the North Pacific garbage patch."

Kreier includes a map of the area as well as a very useful and compact data chart and, of course, a link to the original paper. I include a link to the 11 page PDF of the original which you may want to look at, especially the abstract and the discussion as well as the figures.

Numbers on the map are reported in metric units so for reference: 2000km = ~ 1243 miles; 1.6 sq. km. =  ~ 0.62 sq. mi.; 80,000 tonnes = ~ 88,185 US tons

Monday, September 26, 2022

GR Clears Another Hurdle

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

Ed Hessler

I overlooked the following report from Science News (SN) when it was first published. Symmetry re-published it with the by-line... Another test of a key principle of Einstein's theory of general relativity.

You might want a refresher on the equivalence principle before you read further and here is a lesson (8m 54s ) by theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder who is quoted in the SN report. You know that you have two viewing choices: the blog report which includes a written transcript directly below and her YouTube channel which doesn't have the transcript unless you are a subscriber. 

I'm also including a video (6m 14s) by Paul Anderson, who was an AP physics teacher, Bozeman, Montana and now is an educational consultant and YouTube creator known (Bozeman Science). Anderson was a workshop leader at the annual MnSTA conference in Mankato  (MnCOSE 15, 2015). 

The Anderson video is shorter and included because I thought you might like to learn about the principle  from two perspectives, what an AP physics student is expected to know as well as one pitched at a higher level, say college/interested adult. AP Physics is algebra based while college physics is calculus based.

James Riordan who wrote the SN (9/14/2022) report provides the take home message in the first paragraph. "Gravity doesn't discriminate. An experiment in orbit has confirmed with precision a hundred times greater than previous efforts, that everything falls the same way under the influence of gravity." But please don't stop reading it.

The essay includes background, discussion of the hope by many physicists for a unified theory, known as the theory of everything, a definition (and you may want to compare notes with the explanations above), details of the experiment known as the MICROSCOPE experiment (a satellite), and what's planned next which, in the 2030s is another launch with an even better and more sensitive measuring devices.

Riordan quotes Dr. Hossenfelder on the expectations of theoretical physicists in the current experiment.  “'These tests aren’t just about the equivalence principle. They implicitly look for all other kinds of deviations, new forces and so on' "that aren’t part of general relativity." '“So really it’s a multiple-purpose, high-precision measurement.'”

And what goes up will come down. The experiments were conducted in platinum cylinders, which cost about 2 million Euros (~2 million US, 2022). The satellite impact  is expected in about 25 years in case the dosh attracts you. Where? It will be years before the location will be known and you will have to wait until that date is close.

One of the underlying themes of the Riordan story is about how science works which in this case is really important due to its centrality to a powerful theory in theoretical physics. It includes checking and rechecking measurements, especially as techniques improve, the slant a new line of evidence brings, and the development of even better technical measurements and during the interval until the next launch. In other words, getting the science right.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

The Sylvanshine

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Earth & Space Science, Earth Systems

Ed Hessler 

I'd never heard of sylvanshine but photographer Marco Meniero has and in a recent photograph notes that photographing it had "eluded (him) for years."

The photograph and explanation are found in this Earth Science Picture of the Day. I think that after seeing the picture and reading the explanation you will understand why sylvanshine is such an elusive photographic subject. Many things have to be "picture perfect."

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Developing Personalized Hearts From Stem Cells

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

Ed Hessler

Dr. Doris Taylor is doing research on the engineering of personalized hearts using a patient's own stem cells.

In this 4m 23s video, she discusses the work with CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry,  Art & Environment

Two poems for the season - Poem in Autumn and Autumn Sonnets - by May Sarton, May 3, 1912 - July 16, 1995.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

The Multiverse: A Dissenting View

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

Ed Hessler 

One universe or many?

In this video (linked below) theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder answers questions about what is known as "The Multiverse."  She asks is it science, religion, or pseudoscience? 

Hossenfelder limits her discussion to three main types - as many as nine have been proposed. They are Many Worlds, Eternal Inflation, The String Theory Landscape. Then she goes through some "'standard' objections that physicists (who make claims that they exist) try on" her as well as how we "can deal with them."

Her last sentence is "But don't mistake (stories, articles, videos) about science."

As usual I direct you to her website for the video (17m 01s) and transcript where there is also a link to her YouTube channel minus the transcript (subscription required for bells and whistles).

And don't miss checking the link to her new book "Existential Physics" (Viking)

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

The Peregrine: A Masterpiece

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature, Wildlife, Behavior, Art & Environment

Ed Hessler

JA Baker THE PEREGRINE 1967 Harper & Row, inc. Reissued by The New York Review of Books in 2004.

This book is based on 10 years of meticulous observations which were distilled into a single winter season. I'm not going to say much about it except to urge you to read it. It remains my favorite book of nature writing.

In a review (2005?) I can no longer find, Kathleen Jamie wrote "What will date this book...is the author's self-eradication," something I noticed upon first reading. Baker is explicitly absent in the book as are place names. He simply uses the cardinal compass points - the north, etc. - for locations. 
The book is about the falcon and is divided into three parts: Beginnings, Peregrines (November, December, January, February, March, April), and The Hunting Life.

When I first read it little was known about the author who was born in 1926 and died in 1967 and it was not easy to learn more. He lived his entire life in Chelmsford, Essex, was an office worker, got about on bicycle and foot, used binoculars (10 x 50) and a hand held telescope, had arthritis and did his work when birds of prey in England appeared headed for extinction.
In 2011 HarperCollins published in a single volume The Complete Works of JA Baker (he wrote two books, one a companion to The Peregrine).  The HarperCollins website for the books has some information about Baker.
There is also a biography by Hetty Saunders titled "My House of Sky" (Little Toller Books, 2018). It includes Baker's notebooks, journals and annotated maps with a photo essay and original artwork. I've never read it. Maybe someday.

Here are some quotes from The Peregrine.

--"I have turned away from the musky opulence of the summer woods...Autumn begins my season of hawk hunting, spring ends it, winter glitters between like the arch of Orion."--p.11

--"The hardest thing of all  to see is what is really there."--p.19

--"She drifted idly; remote, inimical. She balanced in the wind, two thousand feet above, while the white cloud passed beyond her and went across the estuary to the south. Slowly her wings curved back. She slipped smoothly through the wind, as though she were moving forward on a wire. This mastery of the roaring wind, this majesty and noble power of flight, made me shout aloud and dance up and down with excitement. Now, I thought, I have seen the best of the peregrine; there will be no need to pursue it farther; I shall never want to search for it again. I was wrong of course. One can never have enough"--p.149 
--Imprisoned by horizons, I envied the hawk his boundless prospect of the sky. Hawks live on the curve of the air. Their globed eyes have never seen the grey flatness of our human vision.--p.170

I've yet to read it this year. No small part of the pleasure of reading it each year is recalling who recommended to to me - a peregrine expert. He also read it once a year. We were having a casual conversation about graduate school and books, when he said, "I bet you've never read this book." He could have added "or heard of it." My copy was published by the University of Idaho Press.

I mentioned that when Baker was making his observations the future of the peregrines in England was dicey and they seemed headed for extinction. Thanks to much work they survived. This article from the newspaper, The Daily Mail (2018) has more information about this and their status today.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

HowThe Brain Develops Language

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Behavior, Nature of Science, History of Science, Biological Evolution

Ed Hessler

One of the big questions in the scientific study of humans is how the brain develops language.

Here, in this 10m 13s video, experimental psychologist Steven Pinker "shares his expertise on how the brain develops language while shedding light on how children, in particular, acquire language at a young age." 

Pinker is a pretty darn good photographer as well so check out his webpage linked above for them and other items about him.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Climate Challenge For Students: A Competition

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

Ed Hessler

The Innovate to Mitigate is a challenge for students in 8th to 12th grade to submit ideas that will mitigate climate change by reducing greenhouse gases. (UL added).  It is a project of TERC and is funded by two National Science Foundation (NSF) grants.

Full information - guidelines, general timeline, promising ideas, student submissions and information about the project - is included at the website. There are four prize categories: $3000, $1500, $500...and more.  

h/t: Thanks to MnSTA for posting this. My purpose is to extend the reach of that announcement and to draw attention to it, in case you missed it.


Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature, Agriculture, Biodiversity, Culture, Society

Ed Hessler

The dynasty of the Mughal Empire lasted some three centuries, from 1526 to 1858.
Alia Yunis writes that it "ended much as it started: wrapped in a love of poetry, painting --and mangos."  (UL added)

Mangos and the complex history of this period are the subject of an essay about this fruit in Aramco World September / October 2022). The Mughal Empire began with "Babur, a descendant of...Genghis Khan and Central Asian conqueror Amir Timur." Babar had "few kind words...for his new domain" but said that the mango was "the best fruit of Hindustan."
In his autobiography Babar described how to eat this fruit. "One is to squeeze it to a pulp, make a hole in it, and suck out the juice, the other, to peel and eat it like a kardi peach." *

The mango, according to Yunis, is "India's beloved national fruit," with the state of Goa the major grower. The mango tree (Mangifera indica)  is estimated to have "developed in the wild about 4000 ya." Interestingly, Babur's son Humayun and successor Akbar the Great...changed the course of mango history more than anyone else with a contribution that went back to the Moors." 

The connections, influences, rulers and knowledge, including their wide ranging geography are fascinating. One is the development of an agricultural practice "unknown to the rest of Europe."  It developed "in the 12th century"  with  horticulturalist Abu Zakariya" who, in his "Book of Agriculture... put into writing the science of plant grafting, the process by which two plants are joined...." 

The Jesuit missionaries who were "sent to Goa by the Portuguese...set about grafting the trees" to increase the availability of these fruits which were so new and delicious to them.  By the mid-16th century...Akbar sent for the Jesuits to come "to his court in Agra to pass along their skills in mango tree grafting. Akbar then commissioned the 100,000-tree Lakhi Bagh orchards...where grafting" led to hundreds of mango varieties.This led to their geographic spread with the Mughals "spread the grafting of mangos across South Asia (and) Portuguese and Arab traders (spreading) mango sees to Yemen, Egypt, East Africa and the tropics of the Americas."

The result according to Yunis has been the development of "more than 1000 mango varieties, 106 of which are found in Goa. The mango season in Goa is short--late March to early June. Global production is growing and global trade and the industrialization of mango production is making it possible for more and more people to enjoy them. Yunis cites one estimate "that by 2030 global production will reach 84 million metric tons (94 million US tons), half of which will come from India." Two other nations are currently major exporters: Thailand and Indonesia.

There is a favorite variety in India, "the Alphonso (also nicknamed Hapoo) and  it originated in Goa. 

Mangos can have some side effects, one of which Yunis mentions, for it showed up "in Mughal-era medical records that speak of the heat the fruit ignites when consumed to excess. ... Ayurvedic medicine widely practiced in the region (Goa)" considers the mango "as a food which heats the body, not one that cools it." For two contemporary discussions see here and here

In closing Yunis writes "while there may be limits to the number of mangos a person can eat, there seems to be none to the stories and myths about them. Some may be overheated, but only some have been shared here, in keeping with sensible moderation."

Yunis' essay is lavishly illustrated and extraordinarily well told. The complex history she distilled was done with "sensible moderation."

The complete essay may be read here.
* I was not able to find a good reference for Kardi peaches. Maybe you can.