Monday, January 20, 2020

Takiing Flight in early 2020

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Biodiversity
Nature
Edward Hessler

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology will release Birds of the World in early 2020. It includes 10,721 species accounts and 249 family overviews.

Birds of the World will provide scientists, students, conservationists, and birders with the sharpest picture yet of the biology of the world's birdlife. For questions about birds, this promises to be the resource. It will be entirely on-line.

It is described here, including a video (2m 48 s) narrated by Cornell's Lab of Ornithology director Jim Fitzpatrick, where you may also sign-up for updates.

It is a tour-de-force...an incredible contribution.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

An Astounding, Awe Inspiring Animation of Cellular Molecules

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

University of Chicago emeritus professor Jerry Coyne recently posted several animations by Drew Berry on what goes on inside cells.

There are no ways to directly observe the molecules of a cell doing what they do. In this TEDx talk (9 m 08 s) from Sydney Australia, Berry "shows his scientifically accurate (and entertaining) animations that help researchers see unseeable processes within our cells."  As you watch it, try to keep in mind that there are all kinds of other things going on at the same time inside a cell in a kind of thick soup. It is a very busy shop and the schedule is around the clock.

Berry is Biomedical Animations Manager at the Walter + Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (Australia). This link includes a link to other animations he and his team have produced.

Here is a link to the long history of the Institute.

h/t Jerry Coyne, WEIT


Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Sippy Cups

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Archaeology
Culture
Edward Hessler

Some clay vessels "with open tops (that) fit easily in an adult hand" with "thin spouts jutting out of them" have puzzled archaeologists. What were they used for?

In an article in Science, chemical residues were found inside "three vessels...found in children's graves from the Bavaria region of Germany (1200 B.C.E. to 450 B.C.E.)"...contain "fatty acid from milk." The vessels are thought to be the world's oldest baby bottles."

Lizzy Wade, writing for Science, reports. There is a picture of three of them.

In a Nature commentary essay, Sian Halcrow, a bioarcheologist at the University of Otago (New Zealand) who was not involved in the research writes,

For years, many archaeologists ignored children when studying ancient populations, but researchers now increasingly recognize the importance of children when trying to understand the factors affecting earlier societies. One such example concerns a major societal turning point in human prehistory, known as the Neolithic demographic transition, when there is evidence of a substantial increase in fertility and a growth in the number of individuals in human populations compared with that of earlier societies.
The Neolithic period in Europe began roughly around 7000 BC. During the Neolithic, some humans began to move away from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle towards one that depended on crops and domesticated animals. How did this transition to agriculture lead to a baby boom? An exploration of the approaches used to feed infants might provide some of the evidence needed to answer this question. 
"(B)reast milk," as Halcrow notes, "is a perfect baby food, containing carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, digestive enzymes and hormones. It provides protection from infection because it contains numerous types of immune cell. Some of the sugars it contains, although not digested by babies, support certain communities of gut microorganisms , which prevent disease-causing microbes from establishing a presence in the body. By contrast, animal-milk products do not provide a complete nutritional source for infants. And the use of hard-to-clean bottles for animal milk poses a risk of exposure to life-threatening infections such as gastroenteritis. The introduction of milk in bottles during the Neolithic, therefore, might have led to a deterioration in the health of some infants."

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

What do Theoretical Physicists Do?

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

Have you ever wondered what it is that theoretical physicists do?

Over at her blog BackReaction, Sabine Hossenfelder who is a theoretical physicist tells us what  theoreticians "do do," to use the immortal words Elizabeth asked Inge in Young Frankenstein

Dr. Hossenfelder calls attention to the fact that all of physics has an "experimental part and a theoretical part." What makes theoretical physics "special is in the amount of mathematics that we use in our research." This is something that "mathematics does remarkably well."

As usual Dr. Hossenfelder provides two formats: video and text. I also recommend you scan the comments and her responses.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Australia's Bushfires: One Australian's Perspective

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Nature
Earth Science
Earth Systems
Sustainability
Climate Change
Edward Hessler

The founding editor of Qullette, Claire Lehmann is an Australian. She recently wrote an essay for Quillette titled "Lessons from Australia's Bushfires: We Need  More Science, Less Rhetoric." I recommend it. Here are a few notes. I've added a few links and others are found in Lehmann's essay.

The causes are well known: Climate change, arson (How sad.) and drought. The connections between these factors and others are mutually reinforcing.

In a previous post I linked a BBC visual guide about the bushfires in which the influence of the the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) was explained. Moist ocean air doesn't reach Australia which results in severe drought. The IOD also comes "in tandem with unusually strong and sustained winds associated with...the Antarctic Oscillation, which...(pushes) fires in all directions." Additionally, the Southern Pacific El Nino is also implicated. This can have two effects, neither one good: weakening or completely reversing trade winds that bring rain.

These have occurred as the average temperatures have been increasing, something climate scientists have alerted us for decades. "They have also correctly predicted that long-term climate-change trends will increasingly interact disastrously with short-term climate phenomena in a way that catalyzes and exacerbates extreme weather events." 

An effect I hadn't heard of is sudden stratospheric warming which occurs over Antarctica. This event was discovered and named by a Melbourne Bureau of Meteorologist Dr. Eun-Pa Lim. This year there was an "18C (~64F) spike in localized upper atmospheric temperatures. Lin predicted that this would exacerbate the spread of hot, dry winds across eastern Australia. And she was right."

Partisan politics or political tribalism has played a large role "with both sides using the issue to score points instead of implementing sensible and pragmatic policies."  One of these is controlled burning which "might have given firefighters a chance to control this season's bushfires." Lehmann discusses the Australian distaste for controlled burning. The arguments are familiar. 

What is also familiar is "ideological inflexibility," which led to rejection of useful policies even when they were politically feasible. In Australia the struggle is between the Green MPs and the Conservative MPs. The game of blaming has resulted in this year's devastating fires and loss of wildlife. Lehmann discusses the politics in greater detail in her essay.
Australians, Lehman writes "need to talk about solutions that to climate change that go beyond reducing consumption, ...i.e., we're not going to be able to deindustrialize our way out of this problem."  She raises the issue of nuclear energy noting that Australia has "33% of the world's uranium deposits, and yet does not have a single plant generating (zero-emission) nuclear power," and the need for "investing in research that will yield scalable and reliable clean-energy technologies. This can be done in a way that respects legitimate concerns about jobs in legacy energy sectors such as coal, which have provided a livelihood to generations of blue collar and middle-class workers."


Sunday, January 12, 2020

Inuit Throat Singing

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Culture
Music
Edward Hessler

This short film (3 m) features two Inuit women throat singing. In this Inuit tradition, the duo stand face-to-face in a musical competition. Here is information on throat singing in three cultures.

There is more explanation below the film.  The setting is magnificent and the singing is "mesmerizing."

At the bottom there is a link to Canada-based First Nations film initiative Wapikoni Mobile. Take a look.


h/t AEON



Saturday, January 11, 2020

The Ocean Top to Bottom

Environmental & Science Education
Biodiversity
Nature
Edward Hessler

The deep sea is deep.

What lives down there and what lives in the ocean on the way to its deep bottom?

Here is a visualization that starts at the top and takes you all the way down to the deepest part of the ocean pointing out inhabitants along the way. Some of course are temporary residents while others call it home sweet home.


Friday, January 10, 2020

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education
Poetry
Art and Environment

Today's poem is by Elizabeth Bishop who died in 1979.

It is a favorite. Please scroll down to read the section (below the painting) about the person for whom it was written, Alice Methfessel.

There you will also learn about the poem's discovery. Bishop never saw it in print. It was discovered in one of her poetry notebooks and could have been lost.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Micronutrients, Global Fish Catches and Sustainability

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Health
Sustainability
Edward Hessler

Writing in the British journal Nature, Daniel Pauly summarizes a research report on the nutrient content of fish around the globe.

The researchers determined the "nutritional content of 367 species of fish" and then "for 43 countries, the authors mapped the relationship between the fish-derived nutrients available from fisheries' catches and the prevalence of nutrient-deficiency diseases in communities living within 100 kilometres (~62 miles) of the coast." The abstract of the paper is found here; the full paper is behind a subscription wall.

The nutrients, actually micronutrients (trace chemicals essential for normal growth and development) measured are essential for good health: calcium, iron, zinc, selenium, omega-3, and vitamin A.

What the research team found was that "for 22 of the countries...studied, 20% or less of the fish caught could provide enough key micronutients to meet the needs of all children under five years old," critical years of development. However, global fisheries are being challenged by overfishing for export "to match the insatiable demand for fish in the markets of high-income Western countries and East Asia." Some of this is used for the production of fishmeal used to feed farmed fish.

Pauly notes that construction of industrial fish-processing plants is growing. Most of them are Chinese industries. He also raises an important question about western consumer patterns. We tend to be careful when we purchase or order fish that these fish are sustainably caught. "If, Pauly writes,"such fish come from fish farms, as is the case for most salmon...this...is considered a good thing, because it is widely thought that fish farming relieves pressure on capture fisheries."

That eating fish is good for us is a bumper sticker. This leads Pauly to ask who is this elusive "us." Does it include all of us, the them from whom they have been taken or just us?  This research, Pauly, writes can be "used to put a spotlight on fish availability when thinking of ways to prevent human disease cased by micronutrient deficiencies."

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

A Test of a da Vinci Bridge Design

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
History of Science
Edward Hessler

What didn't Leonardo da Vinci turn his time and talent to?  Here is one I had never heard about.

David Chandler in a press release from MIT put it this way. "In 1502 A.D., Sultan Bayezid II sent out the Renaissance equivalent of a government RFP (request for proposals), seeking a design for a bridge to connect Istanbul with its neighbor city of Galata. Leonardo da Vinci, already a well-known artist and inventor, came up with a novel bridge design that he described in a letter to the Sultan and sketched in a small drawing in his notebook."

His proposal was not accepted. The design "would have been the world's longest bridge span (~280 m or ~ 918 feet) of its time." Three researchers at MIT wondered whether it "really would have worked."

They analyzed "the available documents, the possible materials and construction methods that were available at the time, and the geological conditions at the proposed site....Ultimately, the team built a detailed scale model to test the structure's ability to stand and support weight, and even to withstand settlement of its foundations." Their models were 32" long and were made of 126 blocks (da Vinci's bridge would have consisted of thousands. Each block required about 6 hours to produce on a 3D printer.

da Vinci's design worked! It is held together by compression. As Karly Bast notes, "It's the power of geometry." You may see a sketch from one of daVinci's notebooks here.

The MIT News release has more details. The Engineer's Journal also reported on the test and has more information.

What a brilliant talent!









Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Ratmobile

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Behavior
Brain
Health
Medicine
Edward Hessler

From the BBC:
"Researchers at the University of Richmond in the US taught a group of 17 rats how to drive little plastic cars, in exchange for bits of cereal.
"Study lead Dr Kelly Lambert said the rats felt more relaxed during the task, a finding that could help with the development of non-pharmaceutical treatments for mental illness.
The basics:
Car design: clear plastic jar mounted on an aluminum plate, wheels, copper wire mounted across the inside of the car cab for left-turning, right-turning and center (direct motion)
Motor: Rat sits on aluminum plate, grasps plate and completes a circuit
Driving school: "Months of practice"
Drivers: Laboratory rats and rats living in "enriched" environments
Findings: Drivers had higher levels of dehydroepicandrosterone (anti-stress hormone) than corticosterone (stress hormone) at end of trials
Inference: Higher level of anti-stress hormone may be "linked to the satisfaction of having learned a new skill." 
Application: Because this research shows that behavior can change neurochemistry it is possible that this could have use in the treatment of psychiatric illnesses.
For more see the BBC report which includes an amazing video of rats on the road. Professor Lambert's web page is filled with information about her research as well as many videos so, worth a look.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Australian Bush Fires: Visual Guide

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Earth Systems
Earth Science
Edward Hessler

The BBC has produced a visual guide to the Australian bush fires.

It includes locations, worst places, size e.g.,overlaying a grid on England, links to photographs, fires as weather creators, worst fires since 1918, how fast they spread  an average human cannot outrun them), relationship to climate change, a map of Australia's mean maximum temperature for December, and information about a climate phenomenon known as the Indian Ocean Dipole which is the cause of the current heatwave.

The southern tip of India is a convenient dividing line for the IOD--to the west wetter than average; to the east warmer and drier than average.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

And Tommorrow's Hurricane Season?

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Earth Science
Earth Systems
Climate Change
Edward Hessler

And now we may have stalling hurricanes to add to our growing list of woes. Remember Dorian, the Category 5 hurricane that moved so slowly, including lingering, across the Bahamas?

In this Yale Climate Connections video, expert meteorologists and climatologists discuss the recent occurring of meandering and stalled hurricanes.

--Meteorologist Jeff Berardelli points "to evidence that hurricanes '''may be slowing down''' as they move.

--Meteorologist Jeff Masters notes "that the forward speed of hurricanes has decreased by about 10 percent since the beginning of the satellite era." Based on data dating to 1851, Masters also raises the issue of stronger category hurricanes occurring in consecutive years rather than being spread out.

--NOAA scientist James Kossin discusses meandering and that hurricanes are growing stronger.

--MIT's Kerry Emanuel tells us that "just eight hurricane events in the United States since the middle of the 19th century have resulted in one-half of the financial damages."

--Penn State climatologist Michael Mann talks about the growing strength of hurricanes.

--Allison Wing of Florida State University provides a summary. "We expect that in general in a warmer climate, extreme precipitation, intense rain, will increase."

Saturday, January 4, 2020

African Vultures in Crisis

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Biodiversity
Nature
Endangered Species
Edward Hessler

The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology notes that "Vultures in Africa provide important municipal services to rural and urban communities. Their highly efficient work benefits the continent’s economy by removing livestock and wild animal carcasses and human-generated waste. Today, almost all African vulture species are in severe decline."

This film (~11 m) from the Lab describes causes, consequences and some (possible) solutions.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education
Poetry
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Pretend it is New Year's Day when you read this poem--New Year's Day--by Kim Addonizio.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Scat

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Behavior
Nature
Edward Hessler

Poop. 

It is a fact of life. 

Everybody poops.

The Conversation has a series titled Curious Kids in which children ask for an expert answer to a question. Here is 9-year old Cora's question who sets a higher bar than me from the outset by using a scientific term..

What can you learn from studying an animal's scat

Verity Mathis who studies mammals at the Florida Museum of Natural History answered the question. Ms. Mathis includes a short video from the Smithsonian on what can be learned about an animal's health from an examination of their scat.

As you will see a lot can be learned from scat based on the shape, size, content, chemical analysis about diet, health, habits and movement. Scat even has uses in conservation efforts (number of organisms in an area). Mathis includes a tweet showing a dog sniffing the waters of Puget sound for Orca whale scat. In the course of seven years 349 scats from 79 orcas were found.

An interesting question and answered well.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Favorite Health Stories of 2019 from STAT

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Health
Medicine
Edward Hessler

Writers at STAT pick their favorite story that they wished they had reported on in 2019.

There are twelve. Each entry includes information and comments about the story and if your interest is piqued, there is a link to the full story.

This is a great idea, I think. I know that writer's read (a lot) and I also know that they appreciate others who do the same well and which they appreciate. STAT notes it was started by Bloomberg Businessweek and has become an annual tradition there.