Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Happy Halloween


Image result for jack o lantern

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Biodiversity
Culture
Society
Edward Hessler

BBC News posed a question: "How did (Brits) fall in love with pumpkins?" Their answer is found in a short video. You probably know that our tradition started across the pond with the carving of...turnips! Not by any means my favorite when I was a kid. 

Pumpkins crossed the pond and this BBC video has a few stats on Halloween in the UK.The announcer notes that Halloween is the "third most valuable" holiday of the year there. What a lovely description on the flow of money.

So just what is a punkin--vegetable or fruit? It all depends who you ask. If you ask a plant biologist, the answer is a fruit. If you ask a cook or your green grocer, it is a vegetable.

The law became engaged in this question in 1893 when a United States Supreme Court case, Nix v. Hedden ruled on whether the tomato was a fruit or vegetable. It had to do with how imported tomatoes were taxed. As a fruit, the tax was less. As a vegetable, the tax was more. In a unanimous decision, the court while acknowledging that tomatoes were fruits, decided that for purposes of tariffs, the tomato was a vegetable.

Halloween all began with the ancient Celtic festival of Samheim.

And here is a poem by Carl Sandburg about the yellow and orange balls of autumn that are turned into wonderful, sometimes scary and most often fanciful carvings.

Happy Halloween!


Monday, October 29, 2018

National Cat Day


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Environmental & Science Eduction
STEM
Society
Culture
Edward Hessler

Well I've missed most of this day of honor and celebration for our owners, true for many of us.

Today is National Cat Day.

Twitter, too, of course but I don't tweet.

And finally, a compilation of cats and kittens. I don't much like the so-called music but I do like the moggies.

I hope you did better.

Communication in Bees

Environmental & Science Education
Image result for bee hiveSTEM
Behavior
Edward Hessler


A signal, a vibrational pulse, produced by honeybees is a signal known since the 1950s according to an article by Sam Wong in the New Scientist (2/14/2017). It has been long thought a way that bees tell other bees to cease and desist--a warning to their "colleagues against foraging in a location where there might be problems, such as a predator or a researcher bothering the bees for an experiment." 

These sounds cannot be heard directly by us.

Research led by Dr. Martin Bencsik of Nottingham Trent University (UK) resulted in a new interpretation, that the bees are expressing surprise. The Bencsik team installed accelerometers in beehives to "record vibrations inside hives over the course of a year. Then they used software to scan the recordings and identify the signal." 

The researchers found that the signal is surprisingly common, occurs mostly at night and "what's more, the signal is easy to elicit from hundreds of bees en masse just by knocking gently on the wooden wall of the hive."

The research group has proposed "that instead of the 'stop' signal, it should be called the 'whooping' signal."

For more details see Mr. Wong's original essay which includes the sounds, a short video, and a potential application, namely judging the health of the colony.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Measuring Day Length of the Gas Giants


Image result for gas giants
Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Solar System
Astronomy
Edward Hessler

I'd never thought about the problems of measuring the day length of the "gas giants," four planets found in the outer solar system. They are Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.

These planets can be thought of as wearing veils of gases that are in turbulent motion. These shield fixed interiors rendering the use of surface objects on which to base measurements. To see through these veils, astronomers have made use of radio waves created by the planetary magnetic fields.

There is a short article in Science (October 4 2018) by Paul Voosen that includes an animated video on how such measurements are made and interpreted. The focus is Saturn which is not as straightforward a calculation as the others. Studies have revealed a deeper challenge in making the  measurements and then in interpreting them. The studies also raise the question of why Saturn has a magnetic field in the first place.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

When Bees Go Bump In The Night

Image result for bee hiveEnvironmental & Science Education
STEM
Behavior
Edward Hessler


A signal, a vibrational pulse, produced by honeybees is a signal known since the 1950s according to an article by Sam Wong in the New Scientist (2/14/2017). It has been long thought a way that bees tell other bees to cease and desist--a warning to their "colleagues against foraging in a location where there might be problems, such as a predator or a researcher bothering the bees for an experiment." 

These sounds cannot be heard directly by us.

Research led by Dr. Martin Bencsik of Nottingham Trent University (UK) resulted in a new interpretation, that the bees are expressing surprise. The Bencsik team installed accelerometers in beehives to "record vibrations inside hives over the course of a year. Then they used software to scan the recordings and identify the signal." 

The researchers found that the signal is surprisingly common, occurs mostly at night and "what's more, the signal is easy to elicit from hundreds of bees en masse just by knocking gently on the wooden wall of the hive."

The research group has proposed "that instead of the 'stop' signal, it should be called the 'whooping' signal."

For more details see Mr. Wong's original essay which includes the sounds, a short video, and a potential application, namely judging the health of the colony.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Friday Poem


Image result for wading

Environmental & Science Education
Poetry
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Tracy K. Smith is the current United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry which is commonly referred to as the United States Poet Laureate.

I'm embarrassed not to have included a poem or two by her this year. Time to make a correction.

Today's poem is from Ms. Smith's fourth book of verse, "Wade in the Water" (Graywolf). Graywolf is a local publishing house (Minneapolis).

Hilton Als who writes for the New Yorker reminded of my forgetfulness in his October1, 2018 essay about some of her poetry. It is titled "The Muses" (print) or in the electronic edition, "Tracy K. Smith's Poetry of Desire."


Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Bletting


Image result for rotten fruit

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Culture
Biodiversity
Edward Hessler

I am not a Scrabble player but "bletting" seems a potential candidate for the game, at least from the point-of-view of the uninitiated. Maybe it is well-known or a lousy choice or.....

I'd never heard the term before but was introduced to it today. Bletting is a process in the break down of the astringent and firm tissues of a fruit into an edible sugary mush. Mespilus germanica is a new entry on Botany Picture of the Day (BPOD). Its fruits blet. This may be a better Scrabble word.

M. germanica is a member of the rose family and you will notice a family resemblance at BPOD.

I find the leaves and fruit beautiful. Redolent of fall. The description includes a link to Wikipedia where the process of bletting is described and side-by-side photos of semi-ripe fruit and bletted fruit are found.




Monday, October 22, 2018

Borrowing Time


Image result for books

Environmental & Science Education
Literacy
Society
Culture
Edward Hessler

My memory of reading when I was a kid is that it was more important to me than school. If not more important, it was more interesting. I think most of my teachers would agree that my interests were elsewhere, mostly outside the school windows.

My parents encouraged my reading in many ways even though our home was not filled with books. However, I could always depend on books as gifts. Trips to the local library were special events since we lived in the country and trips to town were purposeful. When I got older a bicycle solved that problem.

The local library, once a gracious home--the Guernsey Memorial Library--was a lovely wooden building with shelves filled with books that seemed not to end, a hushed place. There were tables where you could browse a find and make a decision on whether to check it out or seek another. It was a place where browsers were welcomed...encouraged. The librarian(s), whose names I've long forgotten were friendly and helpful, common characteristics of the profession.

What a big deal it was when I was issued my own library card. It said I was responsible or trusted to be--a proxy indicating that I'd take care of the books I was loaned and that I promised to return them on time otherwise I'd be fined. I never had much loose change when I was a kid so pennies paid as a fine represented an opportunity cost. Those pennies, when accumulated, might represent a soda, especially a Fawn soda and most especially what I regarded as their premier beverage: a cream soda. I know that memory is evanescent but I have never found an equal.

I still have the habit of browsing library shelves somewhat randomly but not whiling away as much time now as I did then. I miss library cards, with their histories of signatures and stamps noting due dates. I still recall one of the pleasures of graduate school: finding a book's date card signed by well known scientists. In one case, I found a card signed by George Beadle, who had been awarded a Nobel prize. In those days, the olden times, university libraries retained books in their collections seemingly forever. I don't know when that became much less common but it has and I find it a loss.

If you have fond memories of libraries, New Yorker writer Susan Orleans wrote an evocative essay titled Growing Up in the Library.  Here is a sample.

Our visits were never long enough for me—the library was so bountiful. I loved wandering around the shelves, scanning the spines of the books until something happened to catch my eye. Those trips were dreamy, frictionless interludes that promised I would leave richer than I arrived. It wasn’t like going to a store with my mom, which guaranteed a tug-of-war between what I desired and what she was willing to buy me; in the library, I could have anything I wanted. On the way home, I loved having the books stacked on my lap, pressing me under their solid, warm weight, their Mylar covers sticking to my thighs. It was such a thrill leaving a place with things you hadn’t paid for; such a thrill anticipating the new books we would read. We talked about the order in which we were going to read them, a solemn conversation in which we planned how we would pace ourselves through this charmed, evanescent period of grace until the books were due. We both thought that all the librarians at the Bertram Woods branch were beautiful. For a few minutes, we discussed their beauty. My mother then always mentioned that, if she could have chosen any profession, she would have chosen to be a librarian, and the car would grow silent for a moment as we both considered what an amazing thing that would have been.

Orleans's personal history opens another element to reading: the tension between borrowing and owning. I've become a borrower rather than an owner and make much use of those Little Free Libraries that have popped-up on lawns.
Image result for little free library

I've become a browser again although the shelves are farther apart.

Sempe's New Yorker cover for October 15, 2018 is a tribute to the joy of books.

Little Free Libraries were the idea of Todd Bol (Hudson, Wisconsin). He built the first one in 2009. An essay by Jenna Ross that turned out to be a tribute to his life and his contribution was published October 18, 2018 in the Star Tribune. Mr. Bol died that day of pancreatic cancer. This local action has become a global movement.

Ms. Ross writes that "Bol set a goal of 2,150 — to beat the number of Carnegie Libraries * in the country. Less than a decade later, more than 75,000 dollhouse-size libraries have sprouted on front lawns in 88 countries.
“'I want to see a Little Free Library on every block and a book in every hand,' Bol said."
*Dr. Kevin Clemens, a former Center for Global Eenvironmental Education (CGEE) Fellow, wrote a book on the surviving Carnegie Libraries of Minnesota (66 were constructed; 48 buildings remain, of which 25 still house libraries. ).  He photographed and provided a description for each library.  Wiki has an entry with photographs of all of the original Minnesota Carnegie Libraries, including one at Hamline that is no longer used as a library but the magnificent entrance was saved.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

The Kibale Snare Removal Program, Kibale National Park, Uganda


Image result for chimpanzee

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Sustainability
Biodiversity
Behavior
Society
Edward Hessler

The Kibale Chimpanzee Project, Kibale National Park, Uganda was established in 1987 by Dr. Richard Wrangham.

The Kibale Snare Removal Program is one of the conservation initiatives of the project. Chimpanzees are not the target of Ugandans who snare small ungulates but they are caught nevertheless and serious injury, maiming, amputations and even death can follow.

In this film a team of four local rangers are shown doing their work which also includes the education of Ugandan children about chimpanzees.

A senior ranger shows how snares work in this short film.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Thursday, October 18, 2018

24 August 79 CE


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Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Geology
Culture
Society
Edward Hessler

A Day in Pompeii, a Melbourne Winter Masterpieces exhibition, was held at Melbourne Museum from 26 June to 25 October 2009. Zero One Studio created an animation for the exhibition. It starts the morning of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and ends the following night, when Pompeii, a city of some 10,000 to 20,000, was deeply buried in fragments of volcanic ash, pumice and debris (~ 9 m). The city of Pompeii was quickly forgotten, almost as though it never existed. Its excavation is well known (on-going) and provides remarkable insights into Greco-Roman life.

Pliny the Younger (61 CE - 112 CE), was seventeen years old and witnessed the event. He was asked by Cornelius Tacitus to report on his uncle. Pliny responded with two extraordinary letters. In the first, his account of the eruption was so scientifically accurate that these types of volcanic eruptions have since been name 'Plinian' eruptions.

The second letter includes many details about the eruption, e.g., ashes were already falling, not as yet very thickly. I looked round: a dense black cloud was coming up behind us, spreading over the earth like a flood. ‘Let us leave the road while we can still see’ I said, … ‘We had scarcely sat down to rest when darkness fell, not the dark of a moonless or cloudy night, but as if the lamp had been put out in a closed room...“you could hear the shrieks of women, the wailing of infants, and the shouting of men; some were calling their parents, other their children or their wives, trying to recognize them by their voices… there were some who prayed for death in their terror of dying. Many besought the aid of the gods, but still more imagined there were no gods left, and that the universe was plunged into eternal darkness for evermore.

Pliny the Elder moved quickly to the scene to witness the eruption as well as to help. He died while attempting a rescue.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

A Decade to Go

Image result for ipccEnvironmental & Science Education
STEM
Climate Change
Culture
Society
Edward Hessler



The United Nations’ International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released a special report (SR 15) on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. The IPCC is the leading world body for assessing the science related to climate change, its impacts and potential future risks, and potential response options.



The report’s full name is Global Warming of 1.5°C, an IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty.



The report was prepared under the scientific leadership of all three IPCC working groups. Working Group I assesses the physical science basis of climate change; Working Group II addresses impacts, adaptation and vulnerability; and Working Group III deals with the mitigation of climate change



There are several key messages but the first sentence in the press release is a succinct summary: Limiting global warming to 1.5ºC would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.  So it all depends on the (rapid) response of humans and the governments of nations in which they live. All countries and sectors must act.



Here are a few highlights from the press release of this gloomy report:



--We are already seeing the consequences of 1°C of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice.
Image result for extreme weather



--Half-degree increases--1.5ºC compared to 2ºC, or more—have dramatic impacts. For instance, by 2100, global sea level rise would be 10 cm lower with global warming of 1.5°C compared with 2°C. The likelihood of an Arctic Ocean free of sea ice in summer would be once per century with global warming of 1.5°C, compared with at least once per decade with 2°C. Coral reefs would decline by 70-90 percent with global warming of 1.5°C, whereas virtually all (> 99 percent) would be lost with 2ºC.



--Hans-Otto Pörtner, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II notes that “Every extra bit of warming matters, especially since warming of 1.5ºC or higher increases the risk associated with long-lasting or irreversible changes, such as the loss of some ecosystems below relevant risk thresholds.” Portner added that limiting global warming would also give people and ecosystems more room to adapt and remain below relevant risk thresholds.



--Jim Skea, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group III notes that “Limiting warming to 1.5ºC is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics BUT doing so would require unprecedented changes.” (My bold)



--The report finds that limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require “rapid and far-reaching” transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities. Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050. This means that any remaining emissions would need to be balanced by removing CO2 from the air.


As I so often do when I'm confronted with reports like these, I turn to an expert to see what /she has to say. This time the expert was Dr. Gavin Schmidt, a climate change modeler, who writes regularly on the blog RealClimate: Climate Science From Climate Scientists. Schmidt makes some interesting comments on what the term 1.5 degrees centigrade means.



This special report defines1.5ºC as the warming from the period 1850-1900. This is 2.7ºF and about 1/3rd of an ice age unit (the amount of warming from the depths of the last ice age 20,000 years ago to the mid-19th Century).


This baseline is not really “pre-industrial”… but this baseline is easiest to adopt since estimates of climate impacts are being based on climate models from CMIP5 which effectively use that same baseline. The timing of projected impacts is a little sensitive to definitional issues with the “global mean” temperature, and whether the instrumental record is biased with respect to changes in the mean – particularly in the earlier part of the record when the data is relatively sparse.


At current rates, we’ll hit 1.5ºC on a decadal-average basis by ~2040. The first year above 1.5ºC will occur substantially earlier, likely associated with a big El Niño event in the late 2020s/early 2030s.

So the arithmetic is simple and frighteningly straightforward.  By 2030, the carbon emission path must be steeply downward. So far, we haven't even peaked, i.e., there are no signs of even a small decline.  One way to try to put this into perspective is to consider a new born born today or a toddler (pick the age) and think about what grade they will be in in 2030.

The science is settled no matter the number of people who think otherwise.  George Will, writing on on populism v. modernism made use of a wonderful quote from Jonathan Rauch of the Brookings Institute. It applies here. "We don't mail Elvis a Social Secuity check, no matter how many people think he is alive." Will continues: No. Matter. How. Many.  What isn't settled about climate change is our political and moral will to do something about it.
Image result for protest

When I read the 1.5 degree Celsius recommendation in the IPCC SR 15, I was doubtful whether it was really possible. Dr. Natalie Mahowald, one of the lead authors of the IPCC special report spoke about this goal to MSNBC's Ali Velshi. "It is going to be extremely difficult to keep temperatures below 1.5 and 2.0 degrees."  Each degree, each tenth of a degree counts.

Schmidt notes the difficulty of the efforts ahead as well as the need to sustain them (over decades).  "This will be a marathon effort," he writes. "It is thus perhaps worth paraphrasing Eliud Kipchoge, the recent winner of the Berlin marathon:
The best time to start [reducing emissions] was 25 years ago. The second best time is today.

Here are relevant document links.