Tuesday, November 30, 2021

College Entrance Examinations: South Korea

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Children, Students, Education, Culture

Ed Hessler

College entrance exams in South Korea, known as the Suneung (College Scholastic Ability Test, CSAT) are serious matters. The standardized exams are grueling (also difficult) and long: 8 hours of back-to-back examinations divided into 5 sections. As you will see students do not just walk in and take them. They prepare for them which is an intense and grueling process.

The reason is that "The stakes are really high, with students feeling the pressure to perform well to secure university placements, jobs and even future relationships."  

Examination day is December 18 and "brings the whole country to a stop each year. Shops and banks delay their openings, construction sites take breaks and planes are grounded. Police area on standby for test-takers in need of help, transporting students to exam centers on patrol vehicles and motorcycles," as reported in The Korean Herald (November 16, 2021). This piece is thorough and includes criticism of the exams.

In this BBC video (4m 54s), Hosu Lee documents the journey of three Korean students to examination day.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Deer Management

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Wildlife, Biodiversity, Nature, Society, Culture, Sustainability

--Writing about nature protection, environmental lawyer Holly Doremus once wrote. "(We assume) that nature can be allowed to function without reserves, while humans can be allowed to function ithout concern for nature outside them."--from Brooke Jarvis, The New Yorker, November 15, 2021 

Staten Island, New York is home to a large and very "happy," resident population of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). The deer are thriving--food aplenty, no predators, no hunting. In the Wiki entry on this New York City borough, the white-tailed deer population "increased from a population of 24 in 2008 to 2,000 in 2017." 

Staten Island has become contested territory, now one of the many "'deer wars,' vitriolic disagreements among hunters, environmentalists, animal-rights activists, and suburbanites over how to manage deer populations."

A project aims to sterilize 98% if the male deer on the island and it is the subject of an article in The New Yorker by Brooke Jarvis.  (est. 20-minute plus read)

This article digs into the issue and includes some history of humans and those animals that do well with us (called synanthropes), Staten Island's past, the deer's history in the United States, attitudes toward deer, the question of numbers, e.g., how many is the right number which is the wrong question, deer behavioral patterns on the island, the fluidity of boundaries (imagined) between "our"and "their" world, the utter complexity of the conflicts, what we mean by 'nature', and the sterilization campaign.

Animals that thrive with us "sometimes lead us to odd and inconsistent places" and  to often contradictory personal and social decisions. So the question is what to do with them when they do too well.

Brooke Jarvis talked with Allen Rutberg of Tufts' Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine who is a veteran of a similar deer management issue/problem. What he said seems to be a maxim among wildlife managers.  who observed what seems a maxim among wildlife managers. which has been written and said many times. It had to do with the role of biology in the decisions managers face and try to resolve. The biology and ecology of the situation is a mighty small part. "'The  rest is sorting out why people believe what they do."

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Where Do Viral Variants Come From?

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine

Ed Hessler

COVID-19 consists of many variants--alpha, beta, gamma and delta are quite familiar terms to most of us.  We've just learned of a new one "variant of concern," dubbed Omicron after the 15th letter in the Greek alphabet.  It is the 7th variant of concern.

Little is known about it. The most concerning is the presence of 38 mutations, all strategically located on the spikes which are used by the virus to attach itself to cells. Some of these mutations are quite well known for their ability to slip right through the first line of defense.

 Omnicron is a quick spreader in unvaccinated populations. So the big question is just how effective current vaccines are against it. Virus expert, Dr. Peter Hotez, provided much more informed information about Omnicron than I could.  Reporting from  KHOU 11, Houston by Stephanie Whitfield includes a short embedded video featuring Dr. Hotez. Stay tuned. Things are bound to change but that there will be a surge in COVID-19 cases this winter seems a safe bet.

The purpose of this post is to answer a question on where these variants come from in the first place. In a mere 1m 56s video, the BBC's health correspondent Laura Foster and virologist, Dr. Cindy Duke explain why and what we can do to stop it happening. 

Many of you may know quite a bit about the origin of viral variants so you can skip it. On the other hand because it is short you can take a look and judge the content of this primer.

So wear masks where and when you should and get fully vaccinated, if you haven't taken this vital first step.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

A New Indigo Dye

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Sustainability, Sustainable Development, Water, Pollution, Health

Ed Hessler 

One of the most common dyes, Indigo, "is usually make from petroleum-derived aniline in a high temperature process that involves formaldehyde and cyanide. Globally, around 20% of industrial water pollution comes from fabric dyeing,"writes James Mitchell Crow in a short essay in the British journal Nature series "Where I Work," about Tammy Hsu who intends to produce fabric dyes with much lower environmental (and human health) impacts (added) . The process makes use of microbial fermentation.

Hsu holds a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley (indigo synthesis through bioengineering  Escherichia coli bacteria to do what happens indigo plants do). Dr. Hsu is now the chief scientific officer and co-founder with Michelle Zhu, of Huee in Berkeley, CA.

The profile includes a picture of Hsu in front of Huee's fermentation station and a brief description of this work. "We (Hsu and Zhu) have demonstrated," Crow notes, "that we can make a high-quality product, and are now working with dye mills to see what quality of we can obtain. Depending on the launch schedule of the denim brands, we hope to see products dyed with our indigo on the market within a year."

Why indigo? Hsu had a short answer: "because it is iconic."

Friday, November 26, 2021

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art & Environment

Ed Hessler 

Good morning from the Center for Global Environmental Education (CGEE), Hamline University, Saint Paul, MN on the 330th day of November 26, 2021. We have now spent 475,200 minutes or 90.41% of the year.

Sunrise is at 7:25 am and sunset is at 4:34 pm giving us 9h 09m 42s of sunlight.

Foodimentary celebrates National Cake Day with pictures, cake facts and historic food events.

Quote. Regarding the signing of the COP 26 declaration in Glasgow. "Signing the declaration is the easy part."--U.N. Secretary-General, Antonio Guzterres (in Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker, November 15, 2021.

Today's poem is by Denusha Lamaris.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Wildflowers on Mount Ranier

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature, Wildlife

Ed Hessler

--I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order. —John Burroughs

--There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature -- the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter. --- Rachel Carson

CBS Sunday Morning takes us on a tour of wildflowers on Mount Rainier (Washington). The only sounds are what was there when the video (2m 48s) was shot.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

NASA's Dart Launch A Success

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Earth & Space Science, Solar System, Nature of Science

Ed Hessler

Grrreaat news! NASA's Dart mission left the planet yesterday, November 23, in roaring style heading for a crash landing to a space object named Dimorphos. The purpose, a nudge, is"to see how much its speed and path can be altered."

This 35s BBC video shows the launch.

Measuring Masking's Protection

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

Ed Hessler

The journal Nature in a daily news update refers readers to a medRxiv preprint (Medical Archives) which has not yet been peer reviewed. It asks where/when to face masks as a COVID-19 preventative matter most.

 "Rxivs" have proliferated in the last few years. They provide results to others and also used for feedback on the studies. It is a great practice, one I appreciate. 

The researchers analyzed hundreds of COVID-19 cases and found, not surprisingly, but how good it is to have evidence, masks matter most during long encounters and indoors. It is not a small study--more than a thousand people who had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. And the circumstances are quite specific. Each infected participant was matched with at least one control person with matching factors, e.g., age and sex, but who tested negative during the same time period. Indoors matters as do encounters that lasted for more than three hours.

"Participants exposed to someone with COVID-19 had lower odds of infection if masks were worn at the encounter than if they weren't." (emphasis mine)

The news item is brief but has more details, including criticisms, e.g., size of benefits, "precise figures on masking's benefits, and the challenge of matching infected people with controls. However, one of the critics, biostatistcian Grant Brown, notes that "even so, (the study is) a reasonable approach to a hard problem."

h/t Nature Briefing November 4, 2021

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Test of Asteroid Defence

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Earth & Space Science, Solar System, Astronomy, Astrophysics, Biodiversity, Global Climate Change, Global Warming.

Ed Hessler

On November 23, 2021 is scheduled the launch of the spacecraft known as Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART). It is headed to two asteroids, Dimrophos and Didymus, one of which Dimorphus orbits Didymos. The former is 160 meters wide; the other is about 800 meters wide.

The intention is for the spacecraft to hit Dimorphos to see whether it can change its trajectory. It may be a technology that one day earthlings will have to employ to deflect a much larger asteroid from smashing into Earth and creating ecological and socioeconomic havoc.

An essay by Alexandra Witze in the scientific journal Nature tells the story and has a great diagram of this planned encounter and a photograph of the Dart spacecraft with a small group of the research team sitting nearby making close observations while it was being tested. An interesting feature is that "a tiny probe funded by the Italian Space Agency will fly by to photograph the aftermath . Named LICIACube, it will travel aboard DART.  If all goes as planned, "its cameras should spot the dust cloud, if the impact kicks one up, and possibly the resulting crater."

Should we be worried? Witze reports that “The odds of something large enough to be a problem, that we would have to deflect, are pretty slim in our lifetimes,” says Andy Rivkin, a planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU-APL) in Laurel, Maryland, which built the spacecraft for NASA. “But sometimes your number comes up when you don’t expect it, and it’s good to have an insurance policy.”

The title of the essay includes the phrase "in first planetary-defence test."  It hit me between the eyes, as is said. I don't want to be picky--well, maybe I do--but one test we have been taking and showing little success at coming close to receiving a minimal passing grade is the protection of the planet, its people and all the other living species that are aboard, has been global climate change.  I think it is fair to say global climate crisis. The most recent effort is the just concluded COP26 and it will be a while before we can measure any success from it.

The space launch is the easy test; saving our home is here is the really hard one. COP26 was the 26th time world leaders have attended a conference of the parties to deal with this threat, almost three decades of earth time.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Hedgehog Highway

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

Ed Hessler

In the BBC video (2m 13s) below is shown a project to encourage "neighbours to drill holes in their garden fences to create a "hedgehog highway" it is hoped will save the creatures from extinction.

"Jennifer Manning-Ohren, from Keyworth in Nottinghamshire, believes the concrete-based fencing used on new housing estates acts as a barrier to" hedgehogs.

Manning-Ohren said "We need everyone to do something. I've responded to the call to action to do it locally.'"


Sunday, November 21, 2021

Cats as Hunters

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

Ed Hessler 

I was sure that I'd written Zefrank's name down. If I did I have never found it and I couldn't remember his name so I was unable to take a look at his latest releases. He is a careful fact checker so when he does a video on the natural world you can be quite sure it is accurate. He also credits his sources.

This one is not the most recent but these are not time-stamped. It is "Cats' Killer Senses." I hope to post more of ZeFrank now that I have finally found the link and this time did write it down.

And in the event you forgot who he is or never knew, here is the Wiki entry.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Wildlife Images That Will Surpise and Delight

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Art & Nature 

Ed Hessler

The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards for 2021 have been announced. There you will find a gallery of winners and finalists, both stills and video.

For each winner the photographer is listed, the title the portrait was given and a comment by the photographer. There is also a group is of "highly commended winners."

These are all remarkable images--stills and videos.

Friday, November 19, 2021

World Toilet Day

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

Ed Hessler

A while back I announced that Marc Silver (NPR Goats and Soda) was seeking photographs of quirky toilet signs. 

November 19, today, is World Toilet Day, and as Marc Silver promised, after again calling our attention to the seriousness of the event and reminding us of the world's need for improved sanitation - consider this number:"By 2020, the rate" of "access to safely managed sanitation was 54%.) - has some great, sometimes quirky and funny toilet signs from around the world. 

So called children's literature includes several titles on the "poo taboo" resulting from our physiology. Here is one popular title.

And here, "without further loo ado, here are signs sent in by our loo-yal, er...loyal readers." 

By the way, it is tempting to look only at the signs but the essay is very good and informs us of the great need (and why) for improved sanitation facilities for all. There are links, too.

Thanks, Mr. Silver.

Friday Poem

From the Center for Global Environmental Education (CGEE) at Hamline University, Saint Paul, MN, good morning. It is the 323rd day of the year (88.49%) or 46 weeks and 1 day after the start of 2021.

Today there will be 9h 23m 36s of sunlight and the sunrises at 7:16 am and sets at 4:39 pm. The dark hours are enclosing our lives.

It is National Macchiato Day and Foodimentary shows us the art of a caffe latte, has five facts about them and some food history.  One is quite grisly! On the other hand, National Today informs us that November 19 is National Carbonated Beverage With Caffeine Day

Aliyah Armstrong, reporter for the San Antonio Current, tells us why we have so many national food holidays. Foodimentary "lists approximately 500 food days" while National Today includes "314 food celebrations." Aha, some clarity. Foodimentary listed 19 November as National Peanut Butter Day in 2012 and 2019. So P&J to go with the latte to go, please.

Quote: Saving the planet isn't a partisan issue.--Barack Obama, COP 26.

Today's poem is by Lisel Mueller.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

The Transporter Problem

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

Ed Hessler

One of the technlogies used by the crew of Star Trek that contributed to the success of the series, was the "transporter" (teleporter).  You may remember the catchphrase "Beam me up Scotty."  Here is a dramatic fragment (1m 16s) in the nick of time. Dr. McCoy expresses his usual doubts and fears about the entire technology. He served as the chief transporter-phobe in the series.

So are such devices possible and if so how might they work? Dr. Sabine Hossenfelder considers the transporter problem in this video (10m 49s). One of the questions is whether Captain Kirk dies when he, or anyone, goes through the process?

Hossenfelder points out that "philosophers by the way are evenly divided between the possible answers to the question. In a survey, about a third voted for “death” another third for “survival” and yet another third for “other”. What do you think? And did this video change your mind?


Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Fahrenheit v. Celsius and the US Citizen

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

Ed Hessler

I like and welcome the following advice, a plea in the name of more effective communication by Dr. J. Marshall Shepherd, a past president (2013) of the American Meteorological Society (AMS).

Shepherd thinks we speak a "'temperature language' that the American public does not understand. It is not a term that is a part of our everyday thinking for most Americans." Indeed, he notes that the metric system is one that "'Americans generally loathe."

Dr. Shepherd is a scientist "who publishes in the scientific literature where the standard expectation is to use the metric system and the Celsius or even Kelvin scales. Guess what? The American public is not reading the scientific literature or attending our conferences. The purpose of effective science communication is to translate the scholarly information in a manner that the public can consume" (my emphasis).

Dr. Shepherd's essay is found in Forbes which includes one photograph that dramatically shows the power as well as illustrates the confusion the two temperature systems pose for general U. S. readers.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021


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

Ed Hessler

The BBC has a short clip (1m 28s), the culmination of Welsh photographer Gareth Mon Jones's five-year wait to capture "pictures of waves glowing with bioluminescence." The video was taken at Penmon Point beach North Wales.

Jones said he was "left 'euphoric.'" 

Who wouldn't be?

Monday, November 15, 2021

On Vaccination Mandates.

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine

Ed Hessler

Dr. Scott Gottlieb served as the 23rd commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). He discussed the following question with Dr. Leana Wen of the Washington Post. "Is the short-term benefit from the mandate worth the potential for long-term harm to public health?" Dr. Wen put it this way: "Is the juice worth the squeeze?"

There isn't a clear answer and Wen noted that workplace mandates work, citing the 96 percent vaccination achievements of Tyson Foods, the 97 percent by United Airlines, and the fact that "some businesses appreciate the federal government's action because it gives them cover to implement vaccine requirements."

However, there is always the other hand. In this case it is the sense of government overreach which could "jeopardize childhood immunizations." Here is the teeter-totter. On one side is "the potential for opposition"; on the other side "the added value of increasing vaccinations." There is no clear answer.

There is a simple fact. The train has already left the station and "backing down now is not going to stop the controversy which has been with us from the beginning--masking, social distancing, community events, etc. Of course, Wen wishes "that Americans would have decided to get vaccines on their own and that mandates weren't necessary. ... But that's not our reality." 

But we should continue to push vaccinations in softer ways and Wen strongly agrees "with Gottlieb that we need to focus on preventing further erosion of  trust in public health."

Dr. Wen publishes a free public health newsletter on the Washington Post. The article referred to above may be found here (November 10, 2021), likely behind a paywall.  You can at least read about her background and credentials! To subscribe see here.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Cloud Appreciation

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

Ed Hessler

Perhaps you know about The Cloud Appreciation Society (CAS). Maybe you are already a member.

The CAS has chock-full-of-clouds website with a gallery, a link to the Facebook page Monday broadcast of Cloud-a-Day, news, clouds in video, art, music, poetry, forums/cloudspotter groups, a shop where among the products is an app to help you identify the main cloud types. and membership information.

In addition there is a Society manifesto which includes CAS beliefs which closes,  "And so we say to all who'll listen: Look up, marvel at their ephemeral beauty, and always remember to live life with your heads in the clouds."

But also mind the gaps, curbs and other hazards associated with walking! (my addition)

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Leaving the Office for Lunch

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

Ed Hessler 

Here is another answer to the question: "What you doin' for lunch?"

Dave Newman is a amateur wildlife photograph who captures many of his stunning images during his lunch break.

After a short trip "from his office in the centre of Steaford, Lincolnshire to the local river," Newman captures its wildlife on camera."His obsession with photography started when he found himself at a loose end during his breaks, and wanted to do something more than just walking around town." He admits that sometimes he wishes "that things would just sit still and they don't." Here is Cogglesford Mill, "on the 'crystal-clear River Stea," one of his shooting venues.

Newman has been shooting photographs for only three years and makes some suggestions on how to start." This is a great piece of advice: "The more you do the more you learn." The last image in this remarkable gallery shows one of the upgrades to his photography kit." For a moment I thought I was looking a ceramic he had found on one of his River Stea rambles!

Newman has fans worldwide and these images show why.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Is It Too Late?

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

Ed Hessler

Delegates to COP26 face some hard work on final texts. It is not unusual  for COP meetings to go into overtime, "some by days," according to reporting from Nature Briefing for November 12, 2021. The link is included in their short update.

Included in that update is a link to a short Nature video  (6m 27s) about what certainly must be on, in the back of everyone's mind, one that pesters and worries me: Is it too late?

The question sounds simple and "scientists are divided. We dive into the pledges to date in search of clarity."

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art & Environment, Biodiversity, Nature, Wildlife

Ed Hessler

Good morning from the Center for Global Environmental Education (CGEE), Hamline University, Saint Paul, MN on November 12, 2021.

It is day 316 of 2021-- in minutes 455,040; in percent 86.58%. Sunrise is at 7:06 am and sunset is at 4:46 pm. There will be 9h 39m 48s of sunlight.

Foodimentary marks the occasion with National Pizza With The Works Except Anchovies Day. There are the usual "5 Things to Know" and food history, another list including an entry that is a stretch.

Today's poem is by Linda Hogan who also is writer-in-residence for the Chickasaw Nation. The poem  is from Rounding the Human Corners and was published by Coffee House Press in 2008.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Parrot Bird Academy

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biodiversity, Wildlife, Nature, Behavior, Nature of Science

Ed Hessler 

"Wild parrots address each other using "'signature contact calls' much like using someone's name to get their attention." But how do they learn do this?

Karl Berg, The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, in his study of wild parrots (Venezuela) found that they "learn their names while they're in the nest. They hear their parents using each other's names and begin calling themselves by names that sound similar, but not identical to those of their parents."

This video (5m 47s) from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology's Bird Academy explains.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Early Images of China

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Culture, Society, Art & Environment

Ed Hessler

John Thomson was born in Edinburgh in 1837 and left for the Far East in 1862 with a camera and portable dark room. For ten years he captured images from all walks of life in China, Siam (now Thailand) and Cambodia. This collection "form(s) one of the most extensive (photographic) records of any region taken in the 19th Century."

The BBC News has an album of images that he took in China in black and white and some appearing to be in sepia. 

There is an article about him among the photographs which describes his photographic work when he returned. He became "photographer to the Royal Family" in 1881.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

The Making of an Oil Spill

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

Ed Hessler

While I know better, I like to think I'm somewhat informed on world affairs. I'm not as the following essay I'm going to comment on showed me. One result of reading it is I have a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize, if what Ed Caesar writes about in the October 8, 2021 issue of The New Yorker is solved before it becomes a long-term ecological, economic and social disaster.

Caeser's article is about the future of a ship, one dead in the water, re-purposed many years ago to be a "floating storage-and-off-loading facility" for oil. The ship is the now decrepit Safer, moored, as it has been, for about 45 years, some 5 miles off the shore of Yemen (already a nation with the world's worst humanitarian crisis). 

The Safer, an oil transfer station, is about 5 miles from the Yemen port of Hodeidah and currently stores some 1,000,000 barrels of oil. It has several futures if nothing is done: explode, suffer a catastrophic leak or sink. For some perspective, the Exxon Valdez  dumped about 250,000 barrels of oil off Alaska in 1989, and the Torrey Canyon "which struck rocks off the coast of Cornwell in 1967 dumped about 800,000 barrels of crude oil. By the way, Caesar reports that many experts expect the Safer to sink and it is not likely to stay in one piece, breaking up in descent and/or being pushed to on shore rocks to be further pounded and broken.

You will recall that Saddam Hussein, in 1991," released "some eleven million barrels of oil into the Persian Gulf, to stop a marine assault by the United States. The oil spill was the largest in history, and in some places the slick was five inches this. It polluted 500 miles of the Saudi coast, killing tens of thousands of seabirds, poisoning the water column, and creating lasting damage. '''Twelve years after this spill, more than eight million cubic metres (35,314,666,572,222 cubic feet) of oily sediment remained on the Saudi shoreline."

The Safer was once an "ultra large crude carrier," owned by Exxon and named Exxon Japan. To give you an idea of its size, to go from full speed to stop would take about 15 minutes and two miles of clear sea and like an iceberg, most of it is below water (about 70 feet). These ships were once the subject of a series in the The New Yorker which became a popular book, Supership (1974)--money, oil, the oceans and the ocean's ecosystems.  Mostert was a passenger on a medium-sized supership while he was collecting information for his story. These fragile, barge-like ships were soon mothballed (1982) and sold for scrap.

The Safer is "maintained" by a skeleton crew of seven (once 50, the accommodations were described by one employee "as well appointed as a 'five-star hotel."), its electricity is supplied by two generators which provide minimal services--air conditioning is not one (temperatures often exceed 120 F below decks) but charging computers is. The maintenance budget once 20 million/year is zero. 

The ship includes a clever design. The mooring system rotates the ship when the winds become strong enough to turn it. The purpose is to reduce strain on the hull. This is vividly and garishly illustrated, appropriate to the situation, in a full page painting of the moored Safer in Caesar's article

Caeser tells readers about the decision not to construct a permanent pumping station after oil was discovered in Yemen in the early 1980s. The Hunt Oil Company (TX) was given a 15-year lease and the construction of a permanent pumping station would have taken too much time and been too costly.  In the end the lease was not renewed and the Yemen state-run oil company known as SEPOC took over the administration of the ship and pipeline and a start was made on the construction of an onshore oil terminal which was never completed.  

As you know there was a coup in Yemen which has led to a brutal and continuing conflict. The Houthis who are Zaydi Shiites, "a minority of a minority," overthrew the Sunni government, accused by the Houthis of massive financial corruption "and colluding with imperialist enemies.  Their motto is "God is great, death to the U.S., death to Israel, curse the Jews and victory for Islam." 

The threat of an explosion aboard the Safer is real. One, that Caesar describes is known as "'inerting,' in which inert gases are pumped into the tanks where the crude is stored to neutralize flammable hydrocarbons that rise off the oils. Today it is a routine safety measure but no longer practiced on the Safer. The ship is also no longer inspected for safety. An engine room leak discovered on May 27, 2020 was repaired but only temporarily. Water is still being pumped out today "using power from the on-deck generators." In addition a random spark or unintended gunshot could set an explosion off.

The threat of a catastrophic leak includes damage to the unique ecosystem of the Red Sea (it is sometimes called "the Baby Ocean"), including corals, unique marine life (endemics) found nowhere else on the glove and mangrove ecosystems,  the closing of the port at Hodeidah, a total collapse of a fishing industry already "ravaged by war," the closing of shipping access to the Red Sea from the Gulf of Aden,  a Saudi desalination plant ("About half of Saudi Arabia's drinking water is produced by desalination."),  and                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      even more deaths from further shortages of food, medicine, and fuel. And should the port of Hodeidah be closed for a prolonged period (likely), it "might precipitate a famine unprecedented in scale in the twenty-first century. Caesar describes the complex political situation--made me think of Humpty Dumpty. "It is extremely unlikely that the Yemen of 2014 will ever be put back together." 

The economic consequences would be profound. When "the container ship Ever Given blocked the Suez Canal for nearly a week this past March, the incident cost about a billion dollars a day. Ships rarely traverse oil-contaminated waters, especially when a clean-up is in progress, and their insurance can be imperiled if they do. A spill from the Safer could take months to clear, imposing a toll of tens of billions of dollars on the shipping business and the industries it services." The percentage of ship traffic--about 10% of the world's shipping according to Caesar, is not insignificant. One estimate on clean-up says it "could cost 20 billion dollars."

Several plans for off-loading the oil have been proposed, including a military version, a commercial venture, and Iran has offered ship-to-ship transfer of oil, all this in an area of deep unrest, mistrust,and hatred. Caesar notes that "the tension surrounding the Safer crisis is generated as much by different calibrations of times as by different  assessments of risk. In an instant, a lead, a crack, or a spark could cause a disaster," and here is a hooker, "even in the best case scenario any solutions would take months to execute. ... A spare supertanker cannot be summoned like a taxi. Unexpected things can happen in a war zone. Because of all these conflicting scenarios with unclear time frames, the Safer crisis feels at once urgent and endless. ... The crisis unfolds at the speed of rust." (emphasis mine)

What it requires is that "every party (be) committed to a resolution of the crisis." After reading Caesar's essay this seems a very tall order. Caesar notes that "all the oil could be removed from the Safter within a month or so" if parties could agree.  But according to "one view...the more the international community fixated on protecting the Safer the more strategically valuable the ship became to the Houthis. Yemen was a failed state. At some point, the Houthis and the Saudi-led coalition (very long Wiki entry) would need to reach a peace agreement. Until then, the Safer was an ace up the Houthis' sleeve."

Do yourself a favor and read this comprehensive, truly frightening, and well-researched story by Mr. Caesar. He provides considerable, indeed necessary context for understanding the situation and what is involved.  My short thumbnail sketch is made in the hope that you will read it to learn more about this geopolitical crisis. There you will find the illustration referred to above as well as a map of the region; the geography must be understand even though the map is a broad view of the region, it helps in understanding the current situation.

Caesar closes with a perfect quote. In response to a question of a Saudi army officer about "what an oil spill would mean for his region," the officer, "without emotion," responded "'A huge catastrophe." Many words could have been a part of any response but the effect of these three is glaring, stark-naked, and bleak. That quote forced a return to the opening sentence. "Soon, a vast, decrepit oil tanker in the Red Sea will likely sink, catch fire, or explode."


Monday, November 8, 2021

The Loo

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

Ed Hessler

When he joined NPR to be the editor for global health, Marc Silver (Goats and Soda) reports that he "Became interested in a subset of signage:" Toilet signs! "We cover toilets because of the connection between sanitation and diarrheal diseases. And it turns out there is often a need for an instructive toilet sign."

This led him to do a round-up of  toilet signs, the "amusing and the confusing." The posts were "pegged...to a U.N. event known as “World Toilet Day,” an official United Nations International Observance day.

"The signs are a great example of … toilet humor. Only G-rated! And covering toilet signs is a way to remind the world that a functional indoor toilet is indeed a luxury in many parts of the world – and an important part of disease prevention." 

Goats and Soda "skipped the story last year -- too much pandemic coverage going on."

This story will be revived in 2021 with new images and a story  and there will be "a post ready to share on World Toilet Day."

Here is the story and pictures from 2019. The story adds greatly to the images and may give you a new appreciation for it and sanitation systems. We are among the fortunate of the world (in so many ways).

Submissions are invited for 2021. Email your original photos to goatsandsoda@npr.org and tell them a little about the image.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Cave Art, Indonesia: A Field Trip

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Archeology, Culture, Art & Environment

Ed Hessler 

BBC Indonesia was given access to the cave on the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia containing a panel of paintings showing wild pigs, one in spectacular detail. It is almost as though it is a video--the sense of movement is so strong.

The preceding Wiki entry has some details about the painting and notes that it is "likely a Sulawesi or Celebes warty pig (Sus celebensis)".  It is estimated to have been made 45,000 ya, so far the world's oldest known animal cave painting and also the "earliest evidence of human settlement of the region." Wiki also includes a link to information about the species.

This area is mountainous and gorgeous. Here I am in Minnesota, able to take a field trip to the cave to see this incredibly beautiful art work as well as listen to the comments made about it. This like the art is an incredible gift.

The video is 3m 08s long.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Leaf Layers

Environmental & Science Education, Art & Environment, Nature, Earth & Space Science, Earth Systems, Biodiversity

Ed Hessler

I don't think I've posted this Earth Science Picture of the Day (EPOD) before but.... 

It was first posted October 25, 2016. If I have, I think it deserves a second look. It reminds me of the sculptures of Andy Goldsworthy whose land and water art are intentionally temporary and left in their environment. 

Two ingredients: natural materials and time.

Friday, November 5, 2021

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art & Environment

Ed Hessler

Good morning on November 5, 2021 from the Center for Environmental Education (CGEE), Hamline University, Saint Paul, MN.

On this 309th day of the year sunrise is at 7:57 am and sunset is at 5:54 pm making our day length 9h 57m47s. It is 44 weeks and 1 day from the beginning of 2021 (84.66%). 

Don't forget to "fall back" on Sunday, November 7, the second day of the year we reset our clocks and lives forward or back an hour. The Old Farmer's Almanac has a brief history of time change from World War I to 2021. It all began in the interest of fuel saving. Over the past several years "at least 350 bills and resolutions have been introduced in virtually every state...and 19 states have enacted legislation or passed resolutions to provide for year-round daylight saving time" once Congress authorizes such a change." Minnesota just passed such legislation as reported here.We are ready and waiting. Clocks ticking.

Quote: A guide to turning your clocks back in November:
* Smartphone: Leave it alone to do its magic
* Sundial: Move one house to the left
* Oven: You'll need a Masters in Electronic Engineering, or a hammer
* Car radio: Not worth it, wait six months
~Author unknown

It is National Doughnut Day and Foodimentary has five facts about those deep-fried pieces of dough or batter and today's food history.

Today's poem is by Robert Haight. If you scroll almost to the bottom of the interview you can read why he wrote this poem. His first sentence in the answer is wonderful.

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Broadcom MASTERS Awards

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

Ed Hessler

In late October, the Society for Science issued a press release on the 2021 awardees in the Broadcom Masters science and engineering competition for middle school students. The top award went to Akilan Sankaran (14) from Albuquerque, New Mexico who is the "first student with a math project in the competition's 11-year history to take home the Samueli Foundation Prize" of $25,000.

The prize "is a gift of Dr. Henry Samueli, Chairman of the Board, Broadcom Inc., and Chair of the Broadcom Foundation and his wife, Dr. Susan Samueli, President of the Samueli Foundation."

Sankaran's computer program has the "potential capacity to speed up and optimize the performance of software and apps, such as Shazam." This required the creation of a new class of mathematical functions.

There were thirty finalists who "took home more than $100,000 in awards." The press release includes a list of the winners and the titles of their projects. The Broadcom MASTERS "winners were chosen from the 30 finalists selected from 1841 applicants" (48 states, Washington, D.C. and the territories of Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands). "Winners were selected by a panel of distinguished scientists, engineers and educators. Each finalist's school will receive $1000 from the Broadcom MASTERS program to benefit their STEM initiatives." The event was virtual due to the pandemic.

The press release includes a brief description of the top five awardees and a link where you can learn more about each of them and their projects. These links are a delight to read and the research is impressive. In addition, there are links to the other awardees in the various categories.

There is also information on the Broadcom MASTERS, about the Broadcom Foundation, and the Society for Science. The link to the media kit includes photographs and videos of the top award winners.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

October Picks by Nature's Photoraphy Team

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Art & Environment 

October's best science shots, selected by Nature's photography team.  Each includes a description, too.

One, of a favorite critter, was a find. They are teensy-weensy and not well known to most.

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Actor, Woodworker, Comedian, Musician, Author and Outdoorman Talks About the Outdoors

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature

Ed Hessler

--When I hear young people today complain about being bored - and the things that keep them from being bored are generally exclusively videogames and/or computer pastimes - I just try to encourage them to go outside.--Actor, Writer, Woodworker Nick Offerman

I don't watch television and while I'd heard of the mockumentary sitcom Parks and Recreation, I've never seen even a clip from the show which  means, of course,  I'd never heard of one of the kead players, Nick Offerman.

Weekend Edition's Scott Simon (NPR) talked with Offerman upon the publication of Offerman's new book, Where the Deer and the Antelope Play: The Pastoral Observations of One Ignorant American who Loves to Walk Outside. It is still warm from its recent release (October 12). The link lets you take a look between the covers.

Simon spent his time talking with Offerman about his love of the natural world rather than about the book. The conversation which may be heard and read, took place "in the great wilderness of New York City's Central Park."

In the interview, Offerman talks about how he became fond of the outdoors, on what he values about being outside, his approach to the outdoors--he is a wanderer, the relationship of biodiversity to human diversity, and that great question on how to experience nature while living in cities.

The interview is an 8-minute listen and a shorter read.

Monday, November 1, 2021

How Birds Survive Winter

Environmental & Science Education
Biological Evolution
Nature of Science
Edward Hessler

The Living Bird is the flagship publication of Cornell University's Laboratory of Ornithology and is written for people interested in learning more about birds.. 

The current issue has a relatively short and beautifully illustrated article on how birds survive in winter. It is written by Bernd Heinrich, an ecologist and animal behaviorist--a premier field biologist--who has studied several of these birds under severe winter conditions in Vermont.

The birds discussed in his essay for The Living Bird are Black-Capped Chickadees, Golden Crowned Kinglets, Woodpeckers, Ruffed Grouse, and Crows and Ravens.

Heinrich writes, "It seems logical that most birds flee the northern regions to overwinter somewhere warmer, such as the tropics. Their feat of leaving their homes, navigating and negotiating often stupendous distances twice a year, indicates their great necessity of avoiding the alternative—of staying and enduring howling snowstorms and subzero temperatures.

"However, some birds stay and face the dead of winter against seemingly insurmountable odds. The they can and do invites our awe and wonder, for it requires solving two problems simultaneously. 

"The first is maintaining an elevated body temperature--generally about 105 degrees F for birds--in order to stay active. ...

"The second problem to be surmounted in winter is finding food. For most birds, food supplies become greatly reduced in winter just when food is most required as fuel for keeping them warm."

The article is about the behavioral, ecological and physiological strategies employed by birds in winter. You will also learn how a very talented and persevering field worker cleverly studies birds in winter. He is not immune to climbing a tree on the coldest of nights, flashlight in hand to answer a question he had about a winter roosting site and to make observations on the behavior of the birds using them..

If you are not familiar with these strategies, you will be impressed.

Read and view Henirich's essay here. And if you are interested in his book you may take a peek inside at Amazon.   For more about Heinrich here is the Wiki entry.