Friday, May 24, 2019

Friday Poem


Image result for nature

Environmental & Science Education
Poetry
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Today's poem is by Denise Levertov (1923 - 1997).

Thursday, May 23, 2019

The Teeming Planet Is Teeming Ever Lesser

Image result for endangered animalsEnvironmental & Science Education 
STEM
Sustainability
Extinction
Nature
Biodiversity
Edward Hessler


If one were to think of global climate change as one side of a coin what would be on the other face of the coin?  My candidate would be biological diversity.  And like a coin the two faces are intimately combined and interacting. 

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem (IPBES) is the intergovernmental body which assesses the state of biodiversity and of the ecosystem services it provides to society. The 7th session of the IPBES Plenary, met April 29 to May 4 in Paris.

The report, stunning in its implications, tells us that "Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history."  Here are some of the findings.
  • Three-quarters of the land-based environment and about 66% of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human actions. On average these trends have been less severe or avoided in areas held or managed by Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities.
  • More than a third of the world’s land surface and nearly 75% of freshwater resources are now devoted to crop or livestock production.
  • The value of agricultural crop production has increased by about 300% since 1970, raw timber harvest has risen by 45% and approximately 60 billion tons of renewable and nonrenewable resources are now extracted globally every year – having nearly doubled since 1980.
  • Land degradation has reduced the productivity of 23% of the global land surface, up to US$577 billion in annual global crops are at risk from pollinator loss and 100-300 million people are at increased risk of floods and hurricanes because of loss of coastal habitats and protection.
  • In 2015, 33% of marine fish stocks were being harvested at unsustainable levels; 60% were maximally sustainably fished, with just 7% harvested at levels lower than what can be sustainably fished.
  • Urban areas have more than doubled since 1992.
  • Plastic pollution has increased tenfold since 1980, 300-400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge and other wastes from industrial facilities are dumped annually into the world’s waters, and fertilizers entering coastal ecosystems have produced more than 400 ocean ‘dead zones’, totaling more than 245,000 km2 (​~95000 mi2​) - a combined area greater than that of the United Kingdom.
  • Negative trends in nature will continue to 2050 and beyond in all of the policy scenarios explored in the Report, except those that include transformative change – due to the projected impacts of increasing land-use change, exploitation of organisms and climate change, although with significant differences between regions.
​The numbers found in the report are overwhelming at times, more than one can comprehend or grasp. They are found in a long listing in the media release, broken into categories (General, Species, populations, and varieties of plans and animals, Food and Agriculture, Oceans and Fisheries, Forests, Mining and energy, Health, Climate change, and Global goals.​

We've heard the warning words/phrases before: 'unprecedented', extinction rates 'accelerating', current responses are insufficient, 'transformative changes' are needed. This time though these words/phrases are used about an incredibly comprehensive report--145 expert authors, 50 countries represented, input from 310 experts, and the time frame: changes are assessed over 5 decades. In any event, 1,000,000 species are threatened with extinction. Whether action will follow is another thing (see below).

One thing I've not mentioned but which is clear from the report demands emphasis: humanity depends on nature and its services.

Currently the IPBES includes 132 member nations. And yes the U.S. belongs, something I no longer take for granted.

The media release is found here. It is comprehensive, i.e., not a one-pager with links.. Below are links to four short videos.

IPBES Assessment of Land Degradation and Restoration 2018

IPBES Regional Assessment of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services 2018

IPBES Assessment of Pollinators and Food Production 2016

IPBES Assessment of Scenarios and Models of Biodiversity 2016

The BBC announced the report with a short video. Take a peek.  The BBC also prepared  a short report of five things learned from this study of nature in crisis. The most important one for me was "Boy, are we in trouble."
Image result for ipcc

Is there any political progress toward doing something now or in the future? Matt McGrath, writing for the BBC, notes a similarity between the IPBES report and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the first "will inform the talks on a 'new deal for nature and people' (China 2020), the second informed the 2015 Paris agreement on global warming."  

However, McGrath notes the difficulty ahead. "If a new global deal on nature is to be struck, then it will need the participation of heads of state. Right now, despite the evidence from the IPBES report, that seems a very big ask." (my emphasis)

Indeed.






Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Nature Play

Image result for catherine duchess of cambridgeEnvironmental & Science Education
STEM
Early Childhood
Nature
Children
Edward Hessler

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge adds her voice to the need for nature play as well as spending time in nature in a short video from the BBC.
She had a hand in designing the garden featured at the Chelsea Flower Show, a garden so magical that I fully expected to see Pooh Bear at any minute.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

A Predator at Work


Image result for glassworm

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Behavior
Biological Evolution
Biodiversity
Edward Hessler

I posted about a lake management study recently in which one of the featured players were Daphnia.

Daphnia have their predators, too, one of which is the phantom midge larvae. According to a recent report in Science (March 27, 2019) by Erik Stokstad the "predators—phantom midge larvae, also known as glassworms—are common in lakes worldwide. Now, scientists trying to learn how the neckteeth work have captured the first high-speed footage of a glassworm attack—and they have discovered that it is one of the fastest in the animal kingdom."

See the article with a short movie of a nasty looking predator at work. It reminds me of the predator in the 1986 movie Aliens.

Monday, May 20, 2019

A Game About Birds



Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Edward Hessler

In Wingspan (Stonemaier Games), a card-driven board game, players compete to discover birds and attract them to wildlife reserves.

It is for 10 yo and up.

You may learn more about it here which includes videos of the release trailer (released March 8 2019), how to play the game, watch an unboxing and link to the gorgeous prints of the featured birds by Natalia Rojas.

The game was designed by Elizabeth Hargrave (Maryland).

Stuart West (University of Oxford) tested the game with a team of academics, graduate students, a biodiversity analyst and "older" children (my emphasis--wish he'd been more specific). "What makes Wingspan special," West wrote in Nature," is how science infuses it. You can't play without painlessly absorbing some zoology. Perhaps a bonus card nudges you to hunt for woodland species, or you focus on species that gain points through predation. Or maybe you're just pleased to get a paricularly stunning species...."





Saturday, May 18, 2019

Roolz!


Image result for kid outside

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Children
Early Childhood
Nature
Edward Hessler

Brian Doyle was a remarkable poet, essayist and writer.

I dearly miss his wise words but find myself revisiting them occasionally.

Here he lists his children's rules for nature, all 21 of them.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Friday Poem


Image result for dandelions

Environmental & Science Education
Poetry
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Today's poem is a week later than it should be. Dandelions are already blooming no matter where one looks--N, E, S, W and all points inbetween.

So a poem about dandelions by Julie Lechevsky.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

The Wood Wide Web


Image result for tree roots

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Microbiology
Climate Change
Sustainability
Edward Hessler

I'm a fan of the BBC's short videos.

Here is one about how microbial communities connect trees (and why this is important).

And here is a short essay from Science (AAAS) on mapping the "wood-wide web."

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Ice Stupas

Image result for ice stupaEnvironmental & Science Education
STEM
Engineering
Sustainability
Water & Watersheds
Culture
Edward Hessler


Elizabeth Kolbert begins her recent New Yorker article by providing some useful information about stupas. "The word comes from the Sanskrit, meaning 'to heap' or 'to pile up'—is a Buddhist monument that often houses a relic. Over the millennia, stupas have been built from many materials—wood, stone, earth, clay, brick—and have taken many forms, from simple domes to ornately tiered towers.

"The first ice stupa was created in 2013, in Ladakh, in Kashmir. 

"Villages in Ladakh, a high mountain-desert region bordered by the Himalayas, largely depend on glacial runoff for water. As the glaciers recede, owing to climate change, the flow of water has become more erratic. Sometimes there’s too much, producing flash flooding; often, there’s too little. The ice stupa, a kind of artificial glacier, is the brainchild of a Ladakhi engineer named Sonam Wangchuk. In a way, it, too, is designed to house relics.

...

"The stupas are created in winter, using runoff or spring water that’s been piped underground and downslope. The water is released at night, when temperatures can drop below zero degrees Fahrenheit. It shoots through a sprinkler into the air and freezes. In the course of the season, elaborate conical structures take shape, with the contours of the drip castles that kids make on the beach.

"Ice stupas can reach the height of a ten-story building. They start to melt in March, and at higher elevations—some villages in Ladakh sit more than fifteen thousand feet above sea level—the process can last through July. The meltwater helps farmers get through the crucial spring planting season, when they sow vegetables, barley, and potatoes. (Rainfall in the region averages only around four inches a year.)"

Kolbert's essay appeared in the print edition of the May 20, 2019 The New Yorker.

Here you can watch a short video--not narrated unless you know the local language. I read the essay first--beautifully written and photographed. It includes diagrams on how stupas are constructed as well as a link to the video which begins with kids at play.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

A Story Of A Lake Study

Image result for daphniaEnvironmental & Science Education
STEM
Nature of Science
Water & Watersheds
Clean Water
Edward Hessler

I try to attend the weekly biology seminars at Hamline.  The fall features invited speakers from local institutions: colleges (sometimes HU), the University of Minnesota, health departments, etc. In the spring (it is really winter!) students are the featured presenters. They have several choices: a report on a scientific paper, a design for a research study, and original research.

I've intended to write about several seminars that have been about a wildlife management issue and had been keeping notes. They focused on the question of stocking rainbow trout and its effect on water quality (area residents were concerned about diminishing water clarity) in Square Lake, a metropolitan lake noted for its outstanding water quality. Good intentions, I've been told more than a few times, lead somewhere. In my case I missed the boat but a newspaper article provides the prompt to write a short post about this fisheries management question.

Intern Zach Walker of the St. Paul Pioneer Press (May 13, 2019) writes about this research. Professor Leif Hembre, a member of Hamline University's Biology Department has been studying Square Lake since 2003. He has kept tabs on the ups-and-downs of the population of Daphnia or water fleas (trout like them) and the lake's overall water quality. 

Hembre's research has many dimensions, one of them, of course, is in the making of an evidence-based decision on managing fisheries in a lake. The research resulted in a short, compelling tale of how nature works and how humans often conspire against it. It is also a story about resolving competing interests, a central issue that state departments of conservation/natural resources face in most of their decisions. And it is also a story about the nature of science.

You may recall Daphnia from a bio course, high school or college but if not, here is the Wiki entry and a short video on their care and handling from Carolina Biological Supply Company.

Square Lake has had a long history of stocking trout, a favorite fish for many anglers. It is also one of only three trout lakes close to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. In 2012, trout stocking stopped, a decision that has been controversial. Eventually, plans were made to renew a somewhat limited stocking program in 2017.

Fortunately, Hembre had comparative data: during stocking trout (from 2003 to 2012) and after stocking trout (from 2013 to 2015). He did not have to design an elaborate laboratory study; the lake had already done that for him. That he would be studying Daphnia to begin with is not a surprise. These critters were a focus of his graduate school work.

Below is what he found.

Following stocking the Daphnia population increased and water quality (clarity and oxygenation) increased. Daphnia are known algae foragers. There was a surprise, too (there almost always is). As Daphnia numbers increased, phosphorous levels in the lake decreased. It is suspected that phosphorous might be ending up in the bodies of Daphnia, a research opportunity for future bio majors.

Walker ends his reporting by writing, "The DNR has no immediate plans to resume trout stocking." One word in this sentence troubles me: immediate.

I hope you will read Walker's story for additional details. It is a great story well told. Unfortunately, I've yet to find it on the web. The headline is "Study: No trout helped clear up lake: Stocking halt allowed comparison."

Monday, May 13, 2019

The Pap Smear

Image result for pap smearEnvironmental & Science Education
STEM
Health
Medicine
Nature of Science
History of Science
Edward Hessler


Today marks the 136th year of the birthday of Dr. Georgios Papanikolaou who developed the life-saving cervical cancer test, aka the Pap smear or Pap test.

In honor of this contribution to medicine and women's health, today's Google Doodle shows him with his microscope and some cells. 

Here is an excellent article about him and his wife. It is in list format so it is easily and quickly read. There are two videos embedded, one of his life and the other of a self-screening program. A few highlights of a remarkable career.

--In 1898, aged only 15, he managed to get into the School of Medicine of the National University of Athens and, after graduation, he worked in the military as an assistant surgeon for a short time. In 1904, he graduated with top honours. 

--In October 1914, Papanikolaou was recruited as a researcher at Cornell University, he would work there for the next 47 years.


--He devoted his entire time to research on early cancer diagnosis through recovery and identification of exfoliated cancer cells.

--The first time Papanikolaou identified the cancerous cell in a sample from a woman with cervical cancer, he confessed it was one of the most important experiences of his career.

--In 1961, despite the fact that he was 78 years old, he decided to leave New York and settle in Miami. He planned to undertake the organisation and management of the Miami Cancer Institute.

--However, he did not have the chance to inaugurate the institute himself, he died suddenly of a heart attack on February 19, 1962. The institute was renamed the Papanikolaou Cancer Research Institute in his honour.

--Mary, his wife, continued his work in Miami until her death in 1982.

--One of the most important examples (of his work) is the famous Atlas of Exfoliative Cytology. The book is considered by many a milestone in the science of cytology.   

And for access to the Google Doodle see this link


Saturday, May 11, 2019

Big Pictures


Image result for biodiversity

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Miscellaneous
Nature
Biodiversity
Edward Hessler

Entrants in the California Academy of Sciences' 2019 Big Picture Natural World competition "were invited to submit images that showcase Earth's biodiversity and show some of the mounting threats to the natural world."

The Atlantic posted 11 splendid images.





Friday, May 10, 2019

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Light: A Brief History


Image result for light

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
History of Science
Edward Hessler

It seems reasonable that a history of light would be a visual one.

See this brief history of light from The Atlantic.

Below the film you can read more about the inventions.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Medical Practice

Image result for icuEnvironmental & Science Education
STEM
Health
Medicine
Edward Hessler

I recently read Intern: A Doctor's Initiation by Sandeep Jauhar which focuses on the first year of medical residency, a year noted for its brutal and inhumane schedule. Jauhar attended medical school directly following the completion of a Ph.D. in theoretical physics, in fact he missed his first day of class, a result of defending his thesis. Upon completion of his third year of medical school he started his internship. 

Jauhar made the career switch for several reasons, one of them was a desire to work in a more humane profession.  During his residency he became a critic/commentator of medicine, at first writing on the nature of internships and then more broadly about the practice of medicine. He continues to write for the New York Times, now as a practicing cardiologist.

A column by an internal medicine resident, Colleen M. Farrell (Washington Post) reminded me Jauher's book which is a wonderful read.  Both Jauhar and Farrell have a deep concern about patient care, especially the  relationship between patient and physician.

Farrell describes her first experience in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU). She was still a medical student, there to learn about lung physiology and lung ventilators. She had never seen a person in this condition. Her first reaction was wondering whether she should pray. Then she was jolted from her thoughts by a basic question from her medical school professor about lung physiology but found she "couldn't reconcile this academic discussion with the existence of the man in the bed." Could I cope "working in an ICU?"

Farrell was assigned to an ICU during her internship and in her essay she describes several wrenching cases. "I stumbled home from those long shifts (27 hours), exhausted to delirium. I would crawl in bed next to my husband, climb under his arm and sob. 'Please don't die,' I'd say...."

After her ICU assignment, Farrell read some poetry by Mary Oliver. One poem, The Rabbit, allowed her to see "my patients: bleeding, moaning, gasping. I pictured what once was, and what was lost. The poem helped me to accept what I didn't want to be true: that death as painful as it is, has its place in nature."

Farrell returned to the ICU, this time as a resident, responsible for a team of medical student interns. By then she had become more interested in the machine. and lung physiology. During one round, "I decided that the ventilator could wait and I would teach them something else. I gave each student a copy of the poem Intensive Care by Jane O. Wayne. ... I asked the students if the poem related at all to their experience in the ICU."  That experience "provided an opening, a permission slip to name the grief we experience vicariously and the helplessness we feel when medicine has reached its limits."

"Bringing poetry to the ICU," Dr. Farrell "discovered, is one way to the heart of things."  

Dr. Farrell, like Dr. Jauhar, is a physician-writer. She has a web page with a biography (she intends to become a pulmonary and critical care physician), a list of published columns, and information about Medical Humanities Chat, a Twitter-based discussion of poetry and prose "with a mission of fostering reflection, and communication in health care."

Of course, poetry and prose have a place in medicine, one that has been practiced for a decade or two. See, for example, the Bellevue Literary Review. The BLR is published by NYU Langone Medical Cener "as part of the Department of Medicine's thriving Division of Medical Humanities." Dr. Farrell is doing her residency at the NYU center.


Tuesday, May 7, 2019

It Is Said You Are What You Eat: A Case In Point

Image result for microbiotaEnvironmental & Science Education
STEM
Biodiversity
Biological Evolution
Microbiology
Edward Hessler

There is a large ecosystem of microorganisms (aka microbiota) in the gut. They help digest foot, fight infections, and break down dangerous substances. 

Baboon researchers have learned that the gut microbiota of baboons varies across baboon populations. Well this is the sort of thing that fascinates scientists. How did this happen. Genetics? Is it the distance separating baboon populations? The environment? Or is it a combination of factors?

Researchers collected samples of "poop" (or to use the more technical term--stool) from 14 different baboon populations in Kenya comprised of yellow and olive baboons. They interbreed. They examined 13 different environmental characteristics such as vegetation, climate, and soil and also analyzed the baboons' DNA.

The most important factor was very clear: soil. It was better than all the other variables. By better scientists mean that soil was the best at predicting gut microbiota.

Helen Santoro reported in Science on the findings of the paper published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Much of the food baboons consume "come straight off the ground with a dusting of soil, providing a perfect entryway for the soil microbes to colonize the baboon's guts."

This work leads to still another question (the research cycle continues): "How do these soil microbes survive once they take up residence in an animal's intestines?"

Monday, May 6, 2019

Tinder for Measles Outbreaks

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Health
Medicine
Edward Hessler

More than 700 cases of measles have been reported this year according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Helen Branswell, writing for STAT, notes that "With the year only a third of the way through and measles spreading in a number of outbreaks across the country, this year's total could well top the 1994's 963 cases."

We are not alone in this struggle with measles. It is international. Branswell continues "More than 112,000 measles cases were recorded globally in the first three months of the year, with major epidemics in countries including Ukraine, Israel, and the Philippines.

Branswell's report is mostly about the growing number of people susceptible to measles, tinder for future outbreaks as she puts it. In a recent United Nations survey of 10 high-income countries, "the United States topped the list of nations in terms of percentage of children who were not vaccinated against measles from 2010 to 2017, with an estimated 2.6 million children who didn't receive their first dose of measles vaccine during that period.

As you know the measles vaccine is effective, protecting some 97 percent of those vaccinated from the disease. Measles vaccination is a two-step affair with the first vaccination occurring around the time of a child's first birthday and the second, between the ages of four and six years old.

You may wonder about the 3 percent who think they are protected. They are susceptible but what protects them is "herd immunity, the phenomenon where enough people in a population are immune to the pathogen that it cannot effectively spread within it."  This is what we depend on but now we are threatening such immunity. "Nationally," according to Branswell, "the percentage of children who received one or more doses of measles-containing vaccine remained pretty stable between 2013 and 2017, hovering between 91.1% and 91.9%." However, this is "near the lower end of the vaccination rates--between 90% and 95%--needed to maintain herd immunity...."

There is another problem with measles and that is the distribution of those susceptible which is not even across the U.S.. There are pockets or clusters e.g., "Brooklyn and in Rockland Country, north of Manhattan, where transmission is largely occurring among unvaccinated familes of Orthodox Jews. ... And "California, for instance has seen low vaccination rates among children in some affluent, highly educated families...." 


Branswell cites Dr. Karen Smith, director of the California Department of Public Health who notes, "'Overwhelmingly the schools that have very low vaccination rates tend to be the Waldorf schools, the Montessori schools, but also then a number of charter schools. Most of those are small schools that cater to a very specific community.'"

And there are other factors, e.g., the role of  probability, increased today by international travel where a susceptible travelercan return infected and not know it but able to start an outbreak(s) elsewhere. This probability is made more likely when the level of protection among the general population is lowered. Another factor is states and counties that have non-medical exemptions.

Branswell's essay contains an animated video on what makes measles so contagious and, of course, more details.