Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Pack Hunting in Electric Eels

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Behavior, Biological Evolution, Nature, Wildlife

Ed Hessler

The headline to an essay by Sofia Moutinha about a recently published finding in the scientific journal Science was irresistible: Shocking discovery: Electric eels hunt in packs in Amazon rivers.

Pack hunting is found in a range of species: orcas or killer whales, tuna, and wolves. Moutinha writes that The finding, a first among electric fishes, may open the way for new studies to investigate when social predation evolved among fishes. Moutinha quotes Douglas Bastos, a biologist at the National Institute of Amazonian Research (Manaus. Brazil) who first saw a group attack in 2012. Usually the eels, which can grow as long as a broomstick and weigh up to 20 kilograms, prey alone at night, targeting single resting fishes.. This behavior is unprecedented for electrical eels and also rare among freshwater fishes.

A very short AND impressive video (10s) accompanies Moutinha's introduction to this behavior. There is a longer clip in this BBC story on this behavior. The story which contains more information includes a picture of the two main scientists involved, one of whom, Dr. Carlos David de Santana, is holding an electric eel. They are not small--in length or circumference!

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

I Am A Lariat

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biological Evolution, Wildlife, Nature, Biodiversity, behavior

Ed Hessler

Guam's venomous brown tree snake, Boiga irregularis, uses a mode of locomotion new to researchers and human technology. In this video, the snake, an invasive species to Guarm, ties its body into a lasso, using it to shimmy up poles designed to protect bird nests. This species is rear-fanged and not considered poisonous to humans.

Not all snakes are equally successful. Tess Joosse who wrote the comment about this newly found behavior notes "Not all of the snakes—which ranged in length from 99 to 193 centimeters—actually climbed, notes Julie Savidge, an ecologist at Colorado State University, Fort Collins, and a co-author of the study. Some made the lasso, but couldn’t move themselves up the poles, whereas others just hung out on the ground below. And the snakes that did lasso their way up did so slowly, at rates of less than 1 centimeter per second, and they seemed to be huffing and puffing as they rippled upward." You gotta' love that last phrase no matter the cautionary "seemed."

To give you an idea of the ecological menace they represent since they were introduced to Guam more than 70years ago they have managed to consume almost all the native birds. Researcher thought they had developed a solution when nests were placed on top of smooth poles, confident that the snakes could not climb them.

The video is at the top of a short written comments (~4m read)

Monday, March 29, 2021

On the Move Again

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Miscellaneous, Society

Ed Hessler

The Ever given (operator Evergreen Marine Corporation) became lodged diagonally in the Suez canal one week ago Tuesday. 

 The 400 meter long (1300 ft) ship, fully loaded, is free at last to ply the seas and re-open this vital canal to ship traffic. According to the report, an average of 51.5 ships passed through the 193 km (120 miles) canal per day.

Here in stills from the BBC are photographs showing the ship stuck and finally moving again.

Trees and Bogs: Carbon Storage

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Sustainability, Climate Change

Ed Hessler 

Cutting down trees can be good for the environment is the title of this BBC News video which describes a "massive tree felling operation that has been going on in the vast Kielder Forest of Northumberland for the last few weeks."

The idea is not cutting down all trees but trees that were planted over a particular kind of ecosystem, bogs or mires as they are called In England. The carbon storage capacity of bogs is large as you will learn.

Here is the BBC's Justin Rolatt's report. The video is 3m 02s long.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Pie Charts: Names

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Maths, Mathematics Education

Ed Hessler

The Wiki entry on "pie charts" (aka circle charts) describes them as a "circular statistical graphic, which is divided into slices to illustrate numerical proportion." Most of us have made at least one.

I never knew that there was such a cornucopia of names for them world wide. The search for them began when "public-policy researcher Eric Hittinger learnt that in France, the term for a pie chart is a 'camenbert,' he was rightly compelled to created a pie chart of pie-chart names."

See it here on Twitter which includes a fascinating thread of comments and pictures. How about  "bracelet chart" for starters?

h/t Nature, Daily Briefing, 2/16/2021

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Origin of Mammals


Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Animals, Biodiversity, Biological Evolution 

Ed Hessler

This Nature video (4m 50s) is about a fossil that may push back the origin of mammals many millions of years. 

The fossil, Vilevolodon diplomylos, was a glider living during the mesozoic era. It is the earliest known glider, "winged" if you will but these are membranes not flappers (think of flying squirrels). It was mouse-sized.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art and Environment

Ed Hessler

From CGEE, Hamline University, welcome to March 26 2021, day 85. Percentage-wise 23.29% has been spent which is equal to 122,400 minutes. Sunrise is at 7:03 am and sunset at 7:38 pm and in between those times there will be 12h 29m 19s of sunlight. There is light here but it is overcast and the wind makes it chilly.

Foodimentary says it is National Nougat Day about which I knew nothing. There you will learn how it is made, some facts and some food history. I never knew that it was made to resemble: ice cream, and the candy bars were once commonly served cold. It is a staple of several traditional candy bars. The photographs are always mouth-watering.

Today's Quote. Shobita Parthasarathy, writing for Slate, If the past year has taught us anything, it's that broad social trust is crucial to successful public health initiatives and, ultimately, to our survival."

On Monday poet Billy Collins celebrated his 80th birthday. The Writer's Almanac posted this poem by Collins for the occasion. And if you scroll down you will find more information about Collins, a great gift to American poetry.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Was the COVID-19 Pandemic Peak the Final Summit?

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine, Society

Ed Hessler

For many of us the question on whether the COVID-19 pandemic has peaked is much on our minds. Cases have fallen world-wide since they peaked in January.

But questions and lingering concerns remain, amplified somewhat by the slight rise of cases.

British journal Nature science writer Smriti Mallapaty has a story about several uncertainties that is well-worth reading. There is a great graph in the beginning of his article on the rise and fall of COVID-19.

On the encouraging side are surveys that show "the hidden scale of outbreaks by including asymptomatic people who are overlooked in official counts based on testing." However an unknown is the lockdown and social distancing effect. What happens when people start mixing again?  U. S. epidemiologist Rachel Baker, Princeton University "'worries that the US is taking a strong step back from controls." Many people are susceptible to infection. Another unknown is how long immunity lasts whether it was acquired from vaccination or infection.

As more and more variants are found such as the highly infectious B.1.1.7. there is deep concern on whether a new wave of infection will result.  Mallapaty notes that "this might have already happened. There are some signs that a variant called P.1., currently sweeping Brazil, could evade pre-existing immunity and facilitate the virus's resurgence."

And in all of this is variation which can be large "within communities, says Marm Kilpatrick, an infectious-disease researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Immune protection could explain the fall in some communities where people have been very highly exposed to the birus, but the drop in other communities is probably dud to people hunkering down since the holiday period in November and December. ... As some states lift restrictions, people could start to socialize again." The same is true for national variations.

As Rachel Baker notes in the closing paragraph of Mallapaty's report, "'We're in this race against time. Can we vaccinate people fast enough to that we can aboid that future peak from these more transmissible variants.'" 

That is, the race is between the variants and the vaccine. So far we (US) aren't doing so good. Too many Americans are refusing the vaccine and too many refuse to don a mask or practice social distancing.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

The Dire Wolf

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature, Biodiversity, Wildlife, Extinction, Biological Evolution

Ed Hessler

You are familiar with the scientific tradition in a multiauthored research paper--main authors followed by et al. I'm not going to name or count contributors (authors/institutions ) who are cited as authors of "Dire wolves were the last of an ancient New World canid lineage" escept to cite the author citationthis is the author citation: Perri, A.R., Mitchell, K.J, Mouton, A. et al. It was published in Nature, behind a full fire wall but some details, including the above as well as a few maps and tables, if you are interested in the effort this research required.

David Grimm, a writer for the journal Science (US) has a summary although there are other choices if you want to check since the research has been widely reported on.. He writes,

"One of North America’s most famous ancient predators—and a favorite of Game of Thrones fans—emerged as mysteriously as it disappeared. Dire wolves (Canis dirus), which died out with mammoths and saber-toothed cats at the end of the last ice age, were long thought to be close cousins of gray wolves. Now, the first analysis of dire wolf DNA finds they instead traveled a lonely evolutionary path: They are so different from other wolves, coyotes, and dogs that they don’t belong in the genus that includes these animals. Instead, researchers argue, they need an entirely new scientific classification."

I've no idea of what Game of Thrones is, having never seen it, but I knew a little about the dire wolf thanks to the La Brea tarpits. The common name seems kinder than the Latin meaning "terrible wolf" but both names suggest you'd not like to meet one face to nose on a dark night. That's enough to interest a schoolboy. Ah, the power of mythology. 

It turns out these wolves were quite likely to be distinct, a loner in more ways than one, not closely related to what occurred as obvious to most: the gray wolf (Canis lupus). The Wiki entry on the dire wolf notes that it was paleontologist John C. Merriam who in a paper published in 1918, "proposed consolidating (specimen names) under the separate genus Aenocyon (from ainos, ‘terrible’ and cyon, ‘dog’) to become Aenocyon dirus,but at that time not everyone agreed with this extinct wolf being placed in a new genus separate from the genus Canis."

What held up progress in determining who it is and its lineage was a lack of corroborating evidence: DNA. The work of the researchers was to recover usable DNA who "recovered about one-quarter of the nuclear genome and the full mitochondiral DNA across five individuals ranging in age from about 13,000 to 50,000 years old" (samples from dire wolf remains at universities and museums). The team suggests a reclassification that "dire wolves would become Aeonocyon dirus" once more.

Dire wolves were not as large as presented today in popular culture--maybe 20% larger than today's gray wolves but noticeable in skeletal remains (and it could be they weren't gray either--Grimm discusses this possibility). We all want to know what contributed to their seeming abrupt extinction They were successful on this continent from about 250,000 to 13,000 years ago--perhaps it was the disappearance of their preferred prey and then later human hunting. 

Grimm closes with a quote from Angela Perri, the lead author, "These animals were not mythological beasts. They lived among us, not that long ago, the world was full of creatures we will never see again."

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

What Does Philosophy Have to do with the Science of Clmate Change?

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Climate Change, Global Change, Sustainability, Earth Science, Earth Systems, History of Science, Nature of Science

Ed Hessler

Many scientists have little to do or regard for philosophers of philosophers of science.

Theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder thinks it should be otherwise. You may not have heard of  Karl Popper but have certainly heard of his claim: "falsifiability is both necessary and sufficient to make a theory scientific...." It all seems so easy to distinguish one, science, from the other, non-science.

In another of her blog posts * on science she writes that she "wants to clarify just when it is scientifically justified to amend a theory whose predictions run into tension with new data." And again you've heard of how this is done:  Occam's razor. Hossenfelder writes that the shaving is done when "two theories ...describe nature equally well you should take the simpler one." And this "means you must discard superfluous assumptions." She continues that "without it we would be "allowed to add all kinds of unnecessary clutter to a theory just because we like it."

And Hossenfelder cites one of the distinguished philosophers of science, Larry Laudan who put it as she says "politely." He wrote, using Popper to distinguish the good from the bad, separate the wheat from the chaff, that it has "'the untoward consequence of countenancing as "scientific" every crank claim which makes...false assertions." Popper can be used "to make arbitrary statements about the future" to make them "scientific.

A common climate denier's complaint is that climate modelers in what they would describe as willy-nilly fashion "adapt models when new data comes in."  Hossenfelder writes that this is a clear example how little deniers know "about scientific methodology".

Revising a hypothesis when new data comes in is perfectly fine in science. In fact, it is what you" must do when you have "more and better data." These data make "higher demands on your theory. Sometimes this means you actually need a new theory. Sometimes you have to adjust one or the other parameter. Sometimes you find an actual mistake (deniers no doubt chortling all the time) and have to correct it. But more often than not it just means you neglected something that better measurements are sensitive to and you must add details to your theory. And this is perfectly fine as long as adding details results in a model that explains the data better than before, and does so not just because you now have more parameters."  And to help in the decision-making are statistical processes and methods which assist in determining which data fit better than other data.(parens mine). 

In response to a reader's comment Dr. Hossenfelder points out that statistics "will not tell you...which parameters are superfluous, but just give you a weight for how relevant they are.

*Take a look for her more extensive discussion and the comments.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Ten Years Later: Fukushima Daiichi, Japan

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Pollution, Technology

"On 11 March 2011, an earthquake cut power to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, and a tsunami wiped out emergency generators. Three reactor cores exploded, releasing the highest amount of radioactivity in the environment since the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Although cleanup in Fukushima has been in progress for 10 years, many years remain before all the melted fuel debris will be removed from the damaged reactors."

This  video (4m 38s) shows the nuclear power plant today and also the impact of this disaster on the adjacent community.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Volcanic Eruption Near Reykjavik, Iceland.

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

Ed Hessler

A couple of days ago I posted a short story on the rash of earthquakes in Iceland which are forerunners of a volcanic eruption. By now you know that it happened.

Here is a short video (1m 39s) showing flowing lava from the volcanic eruption on the Southern Peninsula near the capital of Iceland. The last eruption was around 800 years before the present.

And here is a short story about the eruption about this from NPR with some stills, including one taken in daylight which provides the lay of the land.

And here is a livestream of this event from Iceland.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

The Last Shepherds of the Himalaya

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Agriculture, Culture

Ed Hessler

Ways of life change over time and as education and technology influence choices we make. 

In a short BBC film (3m 42s) Yak herders in the Himalaya (Sanskrit: snow dwelling, abode) talk about their lives and the reality that they are the last members of their families to practice this long standing profession.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art and Environment

Good morning from CGEE, Hamline University, Saint Paul on March 19 2021, the 63rd day of the year of which 2 months 4 days or 17.26% have passed.

Sunrise is at 7:17am, followed by sunset at 7:24 pm giving us 12h 07m 04s sunlight.

We have another spring to celebrate, March 20 tomorrow at 4:27 am. It is the one rooted in the cosmos. The last announcement I made for spring was meteorological spring on March 1. They are different. Viva!  This is what the Farmer's Almanac has to say about them.

It is National Oatmeal Cookie Day and the photo at Foodimentary looks like a yummy favorite: soft not crispy, good with or without raisins. In addition to the photo are the usual facts about the food of the day, a quote, fun facts and today's food history.

The Quote. No matter what, a nurse will be at your bedside doing everything they can to save your life while risking their own lives as well as their families. Let our sacrifices become well worth the effort.--Nurse Raymond Joe on COVID-19  (Letter Navajo Times, Read it if you have time. It is in hands, hearts, commitments and expertise like his that nurses continue to care for us when we are sick. Unfortunately, Mr. Joe died in December from COVID-19.

Today's poem is the first poem to be published in American Life in Poetry as Kwame Dawes assumes editorship of this column. See here for information about him and the poem, one that had been published years earlier in that weekly column. Some scrolling and clicking required.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Waiting for a Volcanic Eruption in Iceland

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Geology, Earth and Space Sciences, Earth Systems

Ed Hessler

The BBC reports that Iceland "has recorded more than 50000 earthquakes in the past three weeks. This unusual activity indicates a volcanic eruption is on the way." Iceland experiences frequent earthquakes but this is way out of the ordinary.

BBC's Jean McMacKenzie visited and this video (2m 38s) shows the area and includes comments by government officials and scientists. This time is, as the Prime Minister said, almost in understatement, "stressful." I can only imagine. The eruption is not expected to be explosive. And with respect to a warning: minutes is what will be given by the volcano.





Wednesday, March 17, 2021

A Tale of the Tail of Comet NEOWISE

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Earth & Space Science, Astronomy, Cosmology

Ed Hessler 

Wiki tells us that Comet NEOWISE is known as the brightest comet in the northern hemisphere since Hale-Bopp in 1997. 

The comet's astronomical name is C/2020 F3 but because it was first seen by the Near Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) in March 27, 2020 it was renamed.

Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) has a photograph of its gorgeous tail with an explanation.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Sharks That Glow in the Dark

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Behavior, Ocean, Biological Evolution, Wildlife

Ed Hessler

An article in The Guardian by Elle Hunt calls our attention to yet another species--no, three--that glow in the dark. One "is now the largest-known luminous vertebrate." 

"Bioluminescence--the production of visible light through a chemical reaction by living organisms--is a widespread phenomenon among marine life," Hunt writes, but this is the first time it has been documented and analysed in the kitefin shark (Dalatias licha), the blackbelly lanternshark (Etmopterus lucifer), and the southern lanternshark  (Etmopterus granulosa). The sharks were collected...from the Chatham Rise off the east coast of New Zealand. ... The Kitefin, which can grow to 180 cm (5.7 feet) , is now the largest-known luminous vertebrate: what the research team referred to as a 'giant luminous shark'".

The researchers have some ideas about how this luminosity may be used by the glowing sharks. For two of them it may be as camouflage "against the bright surface of the water. The kitefin shark is not known to have any predators, is slow-moving so the glow might be used "to illuminate the sea floor while it searches for food, or to disguise itself while approaching prey." All three inhabit what is known as the "'twilight' zone of the ocean, between 200 (~ 656 feet) and 1000 meters (~3280 feet) deep, beyiond which sunlight does not penetrate."

Hunt's article includes a photograph as well as a link to the original paper in which the findings were reported.


Monday, March 15, 2021

Studies of the Long Game

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine, Children, Early Childhood, Culture, Society

Ed Hessler

Cohort studies in people are long-term research programs that collect empirical data regularly over decades. 

Barbara Maughan, writing for Nature, reviews a new book, The Origins of You: How Childhood Shapes Later Life (Harvard University Press) written by four leaders in this research field: psychologists Jay Belsky, Avshalom Caspi, Terrie E. Moffitt & Richie Poulton. The work on which they report was done in New Zealand, the United States and the United Kingdom. So far children have been tracked "from birth into their teens, twenties, thirties or forties."

The review is short and includes discussion of how such studies are conducted, what has been found in studies that focus on particular development periods, the study of continuites that were found between childhood and later well being (one emphasis: life is probabalistic not deterministic), the power of such studies and how they "are now revolutionizing our understanding of the determinants of health and social capital, and, in the case of the longest-running studies, of ageing and decline."  

If you've seen and watched and or all of the Up series which the Wiki entry describes as "documentary films...that follows the lives of fourteen British children since 1964 (age 7)...has had nine episodes--one episode every seven years"(so far 56 years), you may find this book of interest. The series had a working hypothesis and you can follow the status of that hypothesis over time. It was that class structure is so strong in the United Kingdom that it acts as a determinant of a person's life. 

Here, in a film made at Spotlight on Documentary, New York Film Festival, the director of the Up series, Michael Apted, discusses this decades long project. The participants were age 63 at the time.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

The Lies Plants and Animals Use to Protect Themselves and Catch Others

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biological Evolution, Predators, Behavior, Nature

Ed Hessler

I must start keeping a checklist which would include a reminder to check whether there is a new ZeFrank video.

Fortunately, two biologists do, one tells the other and then one of them posts the latest on his website. The advantage of this is that the latter is a first rate evolutionary biologist so you get informed commentary as well.

Jerry Coyne, professor emeritus at the University of Chicago posted the most recent one in the ongoing series True Facts. It is about the ways animals and plants play pretend and is known as mimicry. These adaptations, as Professor Coyne points out that there are several kinds of mimicry: visual, vibrational, audible, and smell mimicry. He also thinks that there are other mimicries to be found.

So click on this entry from Professor Coyne's website which by the time you get there will have even more responses, now including a couple from Zefrank. Dr. Coyne includes a link where many of the images ZeFrank used to make this video are found.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Two Pandemic Anniversaries: 10 People Respond to Their Realizing When he World Had Caved In

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine, Society 

Ed Hessler

STAT's Paul Skerret calls attention to "two pandemic 'anniversaries' —1) the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic on March 11, 2020, and 2) former President Trump  declared it a national U. S. emergency two days later.

Skerrett asked a wide range of people including writers, frontline clinicians, virus experts, vaccine makers, and public health specialists this question: 'What was the moment last year when you realized we were in real trouble?'

Here are their responses.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art and Environment

Good morning from CGEE, Hamline University in St. Paul on March 12, 2021, the 63rd day of the 9th week of the year (17.26% of the year is gone).

Sunrise is at 6:30 am and sunset is at 6:15 pm, providing us with 11h 45m 7s of sunlight. The amount of sunlight increasing at about 3 minutes/day is adding up.

Sunday, March 14, you may want to sleep in because we "spring forward" at 2:00 am in the morning, switching to Daylight Savings Time. For the umpteenth time, it seems, a few Senators have introduced a bill to make this change permanent, something overdue and which many would welcome.

Foodimentary notes that today is National Milky Way Day, the first commercial candy bar to have a filling. The entry includes five facts about this candy as well as people and events associated with March 12 in food history.

Potent Quote. Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to haggle with a fishmonger and you'll feed him for a lifetime.--Siddhartha Mukerjee, The New Yorker, March 11,2021 (writing about a retired civil engineer who shops at a wet market in India who became ill with COVID 19, recovered and by now has returned to haggle again)

Today's poem is by the late C. D. Wright who died much too early from thrombosis after a long flight.




t's early death is a great loss.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Wetland Restoration: Australia

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Wildlife, Sustainability, Nature, Biodiversity, Water, Watersheds

Ed Hessler

Restoration of degraded ecosystems requires considerable work and knowledge.

In this BBC video (3m 11s) the restoration of "a once-thriving wetland that was artificially drained and farmed for over a century is described. It is a massive project.

The wetland known as Walker Swamp is near Grampians National Park, Australia.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Fully Vaccinated? CDC Guidelines on Personal Behavior

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine

Ed Hessler

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released interim public health recommendations for fully vaccinated people. The  recommendations apply to non-healthcare settings. I list them below. You are only considered fully vaccinated 14 days after the the final injection (Minneapolis Star Tribune March 9 2021).

Fully vaccinated people can:

  • Visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing
  • Visit with unvaccinated people from a single household who are at low risk for severe COVID-19 disease indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing
  • Refrain from quarantine and testing following a known exposure if asymptomatic

For now, fully vaccinated people should continue to:

  • Take precautions in public like wearing a well-fitted mask and physical distancing
  • Wear masks, practice physical distancing, and adhere to other prevention measures when visiting with unvaccinated people who are at increased risk for severe COVID-19 disease or who have an unvaccinated household member who is at increased risk for severe COVID-19 disease
  • Wear masks, maintain physical distance, and practice other prevention measures when visiting with unvaccinated people from multiple households
  • Avoid medium- and large-sized in-person gatherings
  • Get tested if experiencing COVID-19 symptoms
  • Follow guidance issued by individual employers
  • Follow CDC and health department travel requirements and recommendations

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Micro Forests

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Sustainability, Nature, Wildlife, Climate Change, Global Change

Ed Hessler

The very tiny forest movement--not sure it is a full-throttled movement yet but seems it might heading that way--is comprised of forests grown from native seeds on small holdings in cities, usually on degraded soils that average about the size of a tennis court. They take all kinds of shapes.

What's the point of such small forests?

A short (3m 01s) BBC News/Stories film gives us a fittingly short overview and the point. 

Nothing is said upon mention of the Miyawaki forest restoration method which is briefly explained here. It includes several stills of such forests, including one planted by Professor Miyawaki and his students a decade ago. It can be thought of as an ecological engineering project.

Monday, March 8, 2021

The Covid Conundrum

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

Ed Hessler

The worldwide discrepancies in death rates of COVID-19 represent one of the great conundrums of this pandemic. It is, as Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee writes in The Covid Conundrum (The New Yorker, March 1, 2021), "an epidemiological mystery". The worst off nations are the wealthiest and the poorer nations are "curiously low (South Africa, which accounts for most of sub-Saharan Africa's reported COVID-19 deaths, is an important exception.)"

In this essay, Mukerjee reports on a number of models that might explain what has been observed. "It was," Mukerjee notes, "an epidemiological whodunnit," one that includes variables such as differences in demographic structure (age distribution), undercounting, the role of government, how the elderly live ("house bound," "warehoused"), open or closed air ventilation. The story is complex and detailed so worth reading rather than trying to summarize.

Near the end of the essay Mukerjee refers readers to William of Ockham, a fourteenth-century theologian with wide ranging interests. We remember him because of an idea referred to frequently in science: "'Ockham's razor": the idea that, when seeking the cause of an event, we should favor the most parsimonious solutions--the simplest one." And Mukerjee includes a wonderful and short summary of the "special premium (Ockham's razor has) in the realm of science."

This finished Mukerjee takes a turn, to Agatha Christie and Hercule Poirot. In her classic mystery 'Murder on the Orient Express', Poirot happened to be on the train.  A passenger is killed but Poirot is stymied. It doesn't fit "the logic of the classic mystery tale: one murder, one murderer, one weapon" until he realizes that the murder was due to "a plurality of murderers." And this may be instructive in explaining the peculiar feature of the pandemic's distribution of deaths: "there is no one culprit but many." The global pattern observed--unequal distribution of death rates--may be one of many contributing factors." (my emphasis)

The pandemic "When it comes to a crisis that combines social and biological forces," Mukerjee suggests, "we'll do well to acknowledge the causal patchwork. What's needed, Muckerjee writes, isn't Ockham's razor but Ockham's quilt." I very much like the way he puts what is needed: humility in the face of an intricatel1y evolving body of evidence."

Mukerjee begins his story with Mukul Ganguly an eighty-three-year-old retired civil engineer who at the height of the pandemic in Kolkata, India, went to a wet market to buy fish. This was not a quick in an out but real shopping: looking, choosing, handling vegetables and fruits, and, of course, haggling. His family tried to prevent him from shopping but he could not be persuaded. Two days later Ganguly tested positive for COVID-19 which turned into a serious case, especially for someone his age. A cousin of Mukerjee's,  Ganguly's daughter-in-law who lives in New Jersey learned about his illness, called Mukerkee and a plan was worked up. Infected roughly on December 4, Ganguly was mostly back to normal by Christmas. While he hasn't been back to market since, this week (March 1)  the intrepid haggler, now fully recovered "plans to go the fish market." 

The Mukerjee essay, titled differently than the one in the print version and the one I used in the title--Why Does the Pandemic Seem to be Hitting Some Countries Harder than Others?--may be read here. It will give you an idea of how hard epidemiology is.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Saving an Endangered Marsupial

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biodiversity, Biological Evolution, Nature, Wildlife, Endangered Species

Ed Hessler

I've never heard of a small Australian marsupial, the numbat (Myrmecobius fasciatus), also known as the noombat and walpurti). It is one of the world's most endangered animals.

This BBC News video (2m 25s) notes that it is "unique even to Australia" and that is saying something. The video describes the numbat and reports on efforts to save them by constructing predator-free sanctuaries.

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Another Very Endangered Australian Animal

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Wildlife, Biodiversity, Endangered, Nature

Ed Hessler

Here is another critter unheard of by me, the Kangaroo Island dunnart (genus Sminthopis). It is another in the large group of Australian marsupials. The dunnart is also a cryptic species (two or more distinct species classified as a single species which superficially look the same). 

When the dunnart's habitat was almost completely destroyed by Australia's bushfires of 2021 it was already critically endangered. From bad to worse.

A BBC video (4m 08s) introduces us to the dunnart, an ecologist who has studied them for four years but has never seen one in the wild, how the animals are being studied (observed indirectly) and measures being taken to protect them in their remaining habitat.

Friday, March 5, 2021

Minnesota's Seasons: Updated

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

Ed Hessler

Paul Huttner is Minnesota Public Radio's chief meteorologist. On the Updraft weather notes for March 3 he listed the new Minnesota's seasons. This, on the occasion of what he called "the spring of deception." It has been warmer and much less snowier than the normal. We know that snows of various sizes are still possible but it is unlikely to be so cold.. Huttner referred to them as seasonal memes but this cultural fad had not reached me or me it so I suspect posting them will be yesterday's news. Nevertheless, I liked them. 

And about that 3rd winter...we wait to see what the atmosphere does in the next few weeks.

  • Winter

  • Fool's Spring

  • Second Winter

  • Spring of Deception (You are here!)

  • Third Winter

  • Actual Spring

  • Summer

  • False Fall

  • Second Summer

  • Actual Fall

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art and Environment

Ed Hessler

From CGEE, Hamline University, welcome to March 5th, the 64th day of the year which places 17.53% of 2021 in the past.

There will be 11 h 23 m 7 s of daylight, the sun rising at 6:42 am and setting at 6:05 pm. On Monday, March 1 we celebrated Spring #1, known as meteorological spring on (based on average temperature); on March 20, Spring #2, known as the Vernal Equinox (based on when the direct rays of the sun are directly on the equator). It arrives at 4:36 am. Here is further explanation.

It is National Cheese Doodle Day and Foodimentary provides 5 things about the Cheese Doodle followed by some highlights in food history.

Potent Quote. Species are like "individual letters which go to make a sentence unintelligible, so the extinction of the numerous forms of life which the progress of cultivation  invariably entails will necessarily render obscure this invaluable record of the past.--Alfred Russel Wallace, 1863. On the Physical Geography of the Malay Archipelago. J. Royal Geographical Society 33: 217-34

Today's poem is by Margaret Atwood.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Double Up!?

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine, Society

Ed Hessler

The Washington Post's January 26, 2021 coronavirus coverage (Ben Guarino with Angela Fritz reporting) included this question from a reader. Scroll down for the question and answer.

I’m getting confused about masks; I see some places say you should ‘double up,’ others where you should wear medical grade, but it looks like most people on the news (including at the inauguration) were wearing cloth masks like I am. Is there a mask standard?

Allyson Chiu, wellness reporter for the Post responded to this question.

--Anthony S. Fauci has said "it just makes common sense that it likely would be more effective."

--Professor Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease expert, University of California-San Francisco suggests "doubling up on face coverings if you are spending time indoors in crowded spaces or in areas where transmission rates are high. People who are medically vulnerable should also consider layering their masks."

Gandhi suggested two options:

One. "Wear a tightly fitted, multiple-layer cloth covering over a surgical mask."  The surgical mask repulses the virus electrostatics at work) repulsion while the cloth mask provides the physical barrier. Never put anything over an N95 mask. It is as good as it gets.

Two."Wear a three-layer mask with tightly woven fabric outer layers sandwiching a middle layer made out of a “'nonwoven high-efficiency filter material' such as a vacuum bag filter....The filter material will act similarly to a surgical mask or other medical-grade covering."

The link to the question and response includes a link if you are interested in learning more. 

The Corona virus reporting from the Washington Post is free and you can sign up--a link is at the top of the page. It is a great service. 

Wear one for starters and don't wear it so its top is at the bottom of your nose!


Wednesday, March 3, 2021

3 Coronavirus FAQs rrom NPR

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine

Ed Hessler

MPR's Goats and Soda: Stories of Life in a Changing World serves up three independent and important Coronavirus FAQs. Mammograms, vaccine ingredients and sniffers, dogs who sniff masks found on sidewalks and streets.

I pulled out a point for each but remind you that a full explanation is included so please read them.

--What is the sequence: mammogram or vaccine first? The Society of Breast Imaging recommends that it be done before receiving the vaccine or 4-6 weeks following the second injection

--Anti-vaccination groups have a long record of propagating  myths about the safety of vaccines. The only two vaccines licensed for use in the U.S. Pfizer and Moderna have one "active" ingredient and in each of the vaccines it is identical. The other ingredients are used to maintain the vaccine from manufacturer to your upper arm. Each is discussed.

--What is the risk to the sniffers and their owners of doing what dogs do: sniff their way through life? Contracting COVID-19 is "extremely unlikely." With a tip for those wanting to be sure that they are safe after their pooch encounters a discarded mask.

The FAQs were written by Sheila Mulrooney Eldred and Pranav Baskar. Eldred lives in Minneapolis. The FAQs are introduced with a lively and colorful cartoon.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Not Your Typical Arch

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Geology, Earth Science, Earth Systems, Engineering

Ed Hessler

When we think of arches we think of an upward curving structure and have learned that there is a great gain in strength from that curve.

In geology there are many different kinds of geological arches, more than I knew. Here is one, unusual in our experience and found in just the right park, Arches National Park. This website has many interesting explorations to be made at the click of a mouse

Monday, March 1, 2021

Paul Crutzen: Nature Notes his Death

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

Ed Hessler

A giant in atmospheric research, Paul J. Crutzen has died. There is remembrance in the British scientific journal Nature.

Paul J. Crutzen discovered how atmospheric pollutants can destroy stratospheric ozone, which protects Earth from harmful ultraviolet radiation. He shared the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for this work with F. Sherwood Rowland and Mario J. Molina, who had shown that such pollutants included chlorofluorocarbons. Combining rigorous research with a gift for communicating, Crutzen championed the term ‘Anthropocene’ to describe what he regarded as a new epoch, characterized by human dominance of biological, chemical and geological processes on Earth. He has died, aged 87. 

An incredibly productive and diverse life in science.


Of  his important contributions to science, Crutzen placed the concept of the Anthropocene at the top of his list. The essay in Nature notes:

At a conference in Cuernavaca, Mexico, in 2000, Crutzen stood up and proclaimed that we live in the “Anthropocene”. The term immediately caught on and stimulated discussion in many disciplines. The “age of humans” is now considered to have begun in the mid-twentieth century, as the exploitation of the planet’s resources accelerated. Crutzen regarded the concept as his most important contribution. It reflected his deep concerns about climate change and other environmental pressures in a world with a population that could reach ten billion in several decades.

Paul J. Crutzen discovered how atmospheric pollutants can destroy stratospheric ozone, which protects Earth from harmful ultraviolet radiation. He shared the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for this work with F. Sherwood Rowland and Mario J. Molina, who had shown that such pollutants included chlorofluorocarbons. Combining rigorous research with a gift for communicating, Crutzen championed the term ‘Anthropocene’ to describe what he regarded as a new epoch, characterized by human dominance of biological, chemical and geological processes on Earth1. He has died, aged 87.

At a conference in Cuernavaca, Mexico, in 2000, Crutzen stood up and proclaimed that we live in the “Anthropocene”. The term immediately caught on and stimulated discussion in many disciplines. The “age of humans” is now considered to have begun in the mid-twentieth century, as the exploitation of the planet’s resources accelerated. Crutzen regarded the concept as his most important contribution. It reflected his deep concerns about climate change and other environmental pressures in a world with a population that could reach ten billion in several decades.