‘Greatest mission NASA ever pulled off was saving your butt’

November 28, 2018

Image of the ozone hole over the Antarctic, screen capture from Big Think short film on NASA's averting an ozone apocalypes.

Image of the ozone hole over the Antarctic, screen capture from Big Think short film on NASA’s averting an ozone apocalypes.

Why do we trust the scientists at NASA and NOAA when they talk about climate change?

Because they saved all of humanity. And then didn’t brag about it.

Did you even know?

From Big Think:

Pop quiz! Which NASA mission has been most critical to humanity? It’s not the Moon landing. It’s not the Apollo 8 mission, with its iconic Earthrise photo. It’s not even spinoff tech like cell phones, baby formula, and GPS. “All those kind of fall flat, to tell you the truth,” says Michelle Thaller, NASA’s assistant director of science communication. “I think that people don’t understand.” Thaller says the greatest mission NASA ever pulled off was saving your butt. While conducting blue sky research—curiosity-driven scientific investigation with no immediate “real-world” applications—that scientists in the 1980s discovered that the ozone layer was being depleted. Realizing the danger this posed to life on Earth, scientists—and NASA’s crack team of science communicators—mobilized the public, the U.N., and governments to get the Montreal Protocol signed, and to ban ozone-depleting chemicals for good. “We’ve since done atmospheric models that show that we would have actually destroyed the ozone layer, had we done nothing, by the year 2060…” says Thaller. “That would have destroyed agriculture. Crops would have failed all over the world. You couldn’t have livestock outside. People couldn’t have lived outside. We very nearly destroyed civilization, and your grandchildren would have lived through that.” The value of blue sky research is severely underestimated—especially when budgets are being drafted. But it has led to the best NASA spinoff Michelle Thaller can think of: grandchildren.

Ozone hole information just started coming into formed questions when I worked in air pollution research, and most of the best stuff here came after I was off into laws. But having watched hard debates among the scientists, in the field when we were measuring other stuff, in the libraries, over dinner, I watched this issue as it grew up, as the scientists collected the information, devised ways to determine how big a problem it was, invented ways to fight it, and then backed the politicians and statesmen who made the treaty that, literally, saves our butts.

If you didn’t have my experience, did you even know this history?

That’s why it’s here, to remember the right stuff.

And when some yahoo claims he doesn’t trust NASA scientists, I can link to this post before blocking the idiot on whatever platform he decided to be stupid on.


Global warming changes local bird populations, matching scientists’ predictions

April 3, 2016

Phys.org caption: The American robin, a familiar species across much of continental USA, has declined in some southern states such as Mississippi and Louisiana, but increased in north-central states, such as the Dakotas. Credit: US Fish & Wildlife Service

Phys.org caption: The American robin, a familiar species across much of continental USA, has declined in some southern states such as Mississippi and Louisiana, but increased in north-central states, such as the Dakotas. Credit: US Fish & Wildlife Service Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2016-03-strong-effects-climate-common-bird.html#jCp

Most serious birdwatchers can tell you about global warming and climate change, just from watching the birds at their feeders, and when those birds migrate.

Now comes a study to confirm with data and controlled observation what the birders have been saying all along. Phys.org reported:

Scientists have shown for the first time that common bird populations are responding to climate change in a similar pronounced way in both Europe and the USA.

An international team of researchers led by Durham University, UK, found that populations of bird species expected to do well due to climate change had substantially outperformed those expected to do badly over a 30 year period from 1980 to 2010.

The research, conducted in collaboration with the RSPB and the United States Geological Survey (USGS), is published in the journal Science.

It is the first real demonstration that climate is having a similar, large-scale influence on the abundance of common birds in widely separated parts of the world, the researchers said.

Among the species showing pronounced effects of climate change are common woodland and garden birds such as the wren, in Europe, and the American robin in the USA.

(Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2016-03-strong-effects-climate-common-bird.html#jCp)

Biologists especially work to predict effects of warming on plants and animals, both to help plan changes in activities such as farming and hunting, and to protect species that are endangered now, or are likely to become so due to changing climate factors.

This study shows scientists can predict with accuracy some of the wildlife effects.

These changes are consistent with changing climate suitability within those areas, the researchers said.

Other factors, such as the size of the birds, the habitats they live in and their migratory behaviour, all affect , but did not differ systematically between groups advantaged or disadvantaged by climate change.

Therefore, only climate change could explain the differences between average population trends in advantaged and disadvantaged groups, the researchers said.

The study’s lead authors, Dr Stephen Willis and Dr Philip Stephens, of Durham University’s School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, said the findings showed there was a large-scale, consistent response by bird populations to climate change on two continents.

The study was published in the April 1, 2016 issue of Science, “Consistent response of bird populations to climate change on two continents.

Science  01 Apr 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6281, pp. 84-87
DOI: 10.1126/science.aac4858

Tip of the old scrub brush to Svein T veitdal:


September 23, 1858: DON’T wash your hands!

September 23, 2015

Ignaz Semmelweiss

Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis

This is one of the classic stories of public health, an issue that most U.S. history and world history texts tend to ignore, to the detriment of the students and the classroom outcomes.

This is the story as retold by Christopher Cerf and Victor Navasky in The Experts Speak:

In the 1850s a Hungarian doctor and professor of obstetrics named Ignaz Semmelweis [pictured at left] ordered his interns at the Viennese Lying-in Hospital to wash their hands after performing autopsies and before examining new mothers. The death rate plummeted from 22 out of 200 to 2 out of 200, prompting the following reception from one of Europe’s most respected medical practitioners:

“It may be that it [Semmelweis’ procedure] does contain a few good principles, but its scrupulous application has presented such difficulties that it would be necessary, in Paris for instance, to place in quarantine the personnel of a hospital during the great part of a year, and that, moreover, to obtain results that remain entirely problematical.”

Dr. Charles Dubois (Parisian obstetrician), memo to the French Academy
September 23, 1858

Semmelweiss’ superiors shared Dubois’ opinion; when the Hungarian physician insisted on defending his theories, they forced him to resign his post on the faculty.

Gotta wonder what Dr. Dubois would make of the suits and sanitation procedures required today for health professionals who treat Ebola victims.

More: 

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.


Recent photos of peppered moths

August 5, 2015

Peppered moth, from Lepi-Photos: Geometridae : Enomminae; Peppered Moth; BISTON betularia (Linnaeus,1758)

Creationists deny such photos can exist, a peppered moth actually resting on a living plant. Peppered moth, from Lepi-Photos: Geometridae : Enomminae; Peppered Moth; BISTON betularia (Linnaeus,1758)

Look, Mother Creationist: No glue!

Collection of recent photos of peppered moths found on Twitter:

It appears moth trapping is a favorite nature-observing activity in parts of Britain. One may find naturalists showing off their captures on Twitter during the non-winter months, now. Dozens of photos, made by digital cameras Thomas Kettlewell could only dream of in some science-fiction fantasy; moths captured in-situ, bearing witness against creationism, and for natural selection.

More:


Millard Fillmore resources, from the Library of Congress

August 20, 2014

Found this wonderful page with a list of resources on Millard Fillmore, available on line from the Library of Congress.  The list was compiled by Library of Congress’s Virtual Services, Digital Reference Section.

Completely cribbed from that site:

Millard Fillmore: A Resource Guide

Millard Fillmore: whig candidate for Vice President of the United States
Millard Fillmore: whig candidate for Vice President of the United States.
1 print : lithograph.
New York : Published by N. Currier, c1848.
Prints & Photographs Division.
Reproduction Number:
LC-USZ62-7549

American Memory Historical Collections

Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress

The complete Abraham Lincoln Papers from the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress consist of approximately 20,000 documents. The Lincoln Papers contain more than fifty items to, from, or referring to Millard Fillmore. To find these documents, go to the collection’s search page, and search on the phrase Millard Fillmore (do not put quotation marks around the words).

Among the collection’s Fillmore-related materials are:

An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera

The Printed Ephemera collection comprises 28,000 primary source items dating from the seventeenth century to the present and encompasses key events and eras in American history. Search the bibliographic records and the full-text option to find items related to Millard Fillmore.

A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875

This collection contains a large selection of congressional material related to Millard Fillmore’s political career as a member of the House of Representatives, vice president, and president. Search this collection by date and type of publication to find materials related to Fillmore.

From Slavery to Freedom: The African-American Pamphlet Collection, 1824-1909

The collection consists of 397 pamphlets, published from 1824 through 1909, by African-American authors and others who wrote about slavery, African colonization, Emancipation, Reconstruction, and related topics, including two items that reference Millard Fillmore.

“I Do Solemnly Swear…”: Presidential Inaugurations

This collection contains approximately 400 items relating to presidential inaugurations, including a lithograph of Millard Fillmore from 1850.

Map Collections

The focus of Map Collections is Americana and the cartographic treasures of the Library of Congress. These images were created from maps and atlases selected from the collections of the Geography and Map Division. Millard Fillmore’s personal collection of printed and manuscript maps is represented by sixteen maps.

Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music, 1820-1860 & 1870-1885

This collection contains more than 62,500 pieces of historical sheet music registered for copyright, including three songs related to Millard Fillmore.

The Nineteenth Century in Print: Periodicals

This collection presents twenty-three popular periodicals digitized by Cornell University Library and the Preservation Reformatting Division of the Library of Congress. Search the bibliographic records and the full-text options to find articles that discuss Millard Fillmore.

Among the collection’s Fillmore-related articles are:

Words and Deeds in American History: Selected Documents Celebrating the Manuscript Division’s First 100 Years

In honor of the Manuscript Division’s centennial, its staff selected approximately ninety representative documents spanning from the fifteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. The following items reference Millard Fillmore:

Happy researching! Teachers, be sure to make your students aware of these sites (I presume other presidents are covered, too).


Annals of DDT: Study implicates DDT in human obesity and diabetes

August 2, 2014

Press report from the University of California at Davis (unedited here):

Exposure of pregnant mice to the pesticide DDT is linked to an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and related conditions in female offspring later in life, according to a study led by the University of California, Davis.

White mouse looking at camera

Caption from UC-Davis: The study is the first to show that developmental exposure to DDT increases the risk of females later developing a cluster of conditions that include increased body fat, blood glucose and cholesterol.

The study, published online July 30 in the journal PLOS ONE, is the first to show that developmental exposure to DDT increases the risk of females later developing metabolic syndrome — a cluster of conditions that include increased body fat, blood glucose and cholesterol.

DDT was banned in the United States in the 1970s but continues to be used for malaria control in countries including India and South Africa.

Scientists gave mice doses of DDT comparable to exposures of people living in malaria-infested regions where it is regularly sprayed, as well as of pregnant mothers of U.S. adults who are now in their 50s.

“The women and men this study is most applicable to in the United States are currently at the age when they’re more likely to develop metabolic syndrome, because these are diseases of middle- to late adulthood,” said lead author Michele La Merrill, assistant professor of environmental toxicology at UC Davis.

The scientists found that exposure to DDT before birth slowed the metabolism of female mice and lowered their tolerance of cold temperature. This increased their likelihood of developing metabolic syndrome and its host of related conditions.

“As mammals, we have to regulate our body temperature in order to live,” La Merrill said. “We found that DDT reduced female mice’s ability to generate heat. If you’re not generating as much heat as the next guy, instead of burning calories, you’re storing them.”

The study found stark gender differences in the mice’s response to DDT. Females were at higher risk of obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cholesterol, but in males, DDT exposure did not affect obesity or cholesterol levels and caused only a minor increase in glucose levels.

A high fat diet also caused female mice to have more problems with glucose, insulin and cholesterol but was not a risk factor for males. The sex differences require further research, the authors said.

The study was funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Co-authors include Emma Karey and Michael La Frano of UC Davis; John Newman of UC Davis and the U.S. Department of Agriculture; and Erin Moshier, Claudia Lindtner, and Christoph Buettner of Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

About UC Davis

UC Davis is a global community of individuals united to better humanity and our natural world while seeking solutions to some of our most pressing challenges. Located near the California state capital, UC Davis has more than 34,000 students, and the full-time equivalent of 4,100 faculty and other academics and 17,400 staff. The campus has an annual research budget of over $750 million, a comprehensive health system and about two dozen specialized research centers. The university offers interdisciplinary graduate study and 99 undergraduate majors in four colleges and six professional schools.

Additional information:

In the past five decades, the case that DDT and its daughter metabolites damage human health in subtle but extremely destructive ways constantly mounted. Perhaps Rachel Carson was right to urge much more study of the stuff, in Silent Spring.  Perhaps the National Academy of Sciences was right when it called for a rapid phasing out of DDT use in 1970, after noting it had been one of the greatest lifesaving pesticides ever known.

In 1972 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency prohibited use of DDT in agriculture.  Use in day-to-day indoor extermination had ended earlier; bedbugs had become almost wholly immune to DDT by 1960.  The U.S. ban was predicated on damage to wildlife, not human health.  The order allowed U.S. DDT manufacturers to continue to make the stuff for export to other nations.  Exports continued from 1972 to 1984, when the Superfund required manufacturers to clean up any pollution they may have caused.


It’s a desert out there: Salmon Research at Iliamna Lake, Alaska 2013 – Jason Ching film

March 6, 2014

Sitting in a hot trailer out on the northern New Mexico desert, Arizona State’s great soil scientist Tom Brown tipped back his cowboy hat, and asked me if I had been lonely over the previous week.  Classes at BYU started up in August, and our other field workers on the project, with the University of Utah Engineering Experiment Station, for EPA and New Mexico Public Service, had gone back to class.  My classes at the University of Utah didn’t start for a few more weeks — so I was holding down the fort by myself.

Dr. Brown’s expertise in reading air pollution damage on desert plants propelled a good part of the work.  He showed me how to tell the difference between sulfur dioxide damage and nitrogen oxide damage on grasses and other plants, and how to tell  when it was insects.  He had some great stories.  As a Mormon, he was also full of advice on life.

The Shiprock, a plug from an ancient volcano, left after the mountain eroded away. Near Shiprock, New Mexico, on the Navajo Reservation. Wikipedia image by Bowie Snodgrass

The Shiprock, a plug from an ancient volcano, left after the mountain eroded away. Near Shiprock, New Mexico, on the Navajo Reservation. Wikipedia image by Bowie Snodgrass

Between Farmington where our hotel was, and Teec Nos Pos where our most distant (non-wet) sampling site was, radio reception was lousy most of the time.  The Navajo-language AM station in Farmington played some of the best music, and sometimes it could be caught as far west as Shiprock .  Most of the time, driving across Navajoland, I had nothing but my thoughts to accompany me.  Well, thoughts and the all-too-frequent Navajo funeral processions, 50 pickups long on a two-lane highway.

“No, not lonely.  There’s a lot of work, I’ve got good books, and sleep is good,” I told him.

“Enjoy it,” Brown said.  “The best time for any researcher is out in the field.  And when you’re young, and you haven’t seen it all, it’s better.”

Indian rice grass in the sunlight (Oryzopsis hymendoides). Photo from the Intermountain Herbarium, Utah State University Extension Service

Indian rice grass in the sunlight (Oryzopsis hymendoides). Photo from the Intermountain Herbarium, Utah State University Extension Service

Brown spent a couple of days.  Within a couple of weeks I turned everything over to other Ph.Ds to shut down the wet sampling for the winter, and caught a ride back to Provo (closer to where I lived) in a Cessna with a pilot who loved to fly low enough to see the canyons along the way.  Get a map and think of the possibilities, with a landing in Moab; if you don’t drool at the thought of such a trip in the air but not too high, if your heart doesn’t actually beat faster thinking of such a trip, go see your physician for treatment.

By that time I was out of film, alas.

My few summers out in the desert chasing air pollution stay fixed in the surface of my memory.  Indian rice grass still excites me in the afternoon sun (Oryzopsis hymenoides) — one of the more beautiful of grasses, one of the more beautiful and soil-holding desert plants.  When hear the word “volcano,” I think of the Shiprock.  When I read of air pollution damage, I think of all the pinon, aspen, cottonwoods, firs and other trees we gassed; when I see aspen in its full autumn glory, I remember those dozen  or so leaves we caused to turn with SO2 (slight damage turns the leaves colors; greater damage makes them necrotic, a bit of a mirror of autumn).

All of that came back as I watched Jason Ching’s film, “Salmon Research at Iliamna Lake, Alaska 2013,” a simple six-minute compilation of shots taken with modern electronic cameras, including the hardy little GoPros, and with assistance from a DJI Phantom Quadcopter drone.  Wow, what we could have captured with that equipment!

Ching’s description of the film:

This video showcases the scenery of Iliamna Lake and shows some of the 2013 research of the Alaska Salmon Program’s Iliamna Lake research station, one of four main facilities in Southwest Alaska . Established in the 1940’s, the Program’s research has been focused on ecology and fisheries management relating primarily to salmon and the environment in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Check out our program at: fish.washington.edu/research/alaska/

Filmed and edited by Jason Ching
Additional footage provided by Cyril Michel

Song:
“The long & quiet flight of the pelican” by Ending Satellites (endingsatellites.com)

Additonal Information:
Shot on a Canon 5d Mark II, Canon T3i, GoPro Hero 2 and GoPro Hero 3
DJI Phantom Quadcopter

JasonSChing.com

I am very grateful to be a part of such a long standing, and prominent program that allows me to work in the field in such an incredible setting with fantastic folks. This is the second video I created, the first one in 2012, to merely show family and friends back at home what I’ve been up to during the summer. This video was often shot between, or during field sampling events so a special thanks goes out to all those who supported me by continuing to work while I fiddled with camera gear.

Do you really want to get kids more interested in science?  Show them this stuff.  Scientists get the front seats on cool stuff — and they often get paid to do it, though they won’t get rich.

Researching life, and rocks, geography and landscape, and water resources, one may be alone in a desert, or a desert of human communication.  Then one discovers just how beautiful the desert  is, all the time.

More:

  • Yes, I know; Indian rice grass has been renomenclaturedAchnatherum hymenoides (Roemer & J.A. Shultes) Barkworth, or Stipa hymenoides Roemer & J.S. Shultes, or Oryzopsis hymenoides (Roemer & J.S. Shultes) Ricker ex Piper.  It is the State Grass of Utah

Texas researchers tease out correlation between DDT exposure and late-onset Alzheimer’s

February 12, 2014

Press release from the University of Texas-Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas:

Research finds elevated levels of DDT metabolite in Alzheimer’s patients

Dr. Dwight German, Professor of Psychiatry

Dr. Dwight German, Professor of Psychiatry – UT-Southwestern photo

DALLAS – January 29, 2014 – Exposure to DDT may increase the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life, a study with researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center suggests. While previous studies have linked chronic diseases such as cancer and diabetes to DDT, this is the first clinical study to link the U.S.-banned pesticide to Alzheimer’s disease.

The study, published online in JAMA Neurology, found elevated levels of the DDT metabolite, DDE, that were 3.8 times higher in patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in comparison to control subjects. The studies were conducted in partnership with researchers at Emory University School of Medicine and Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

“We have additional studies underway that will seek to directly link DDT exposure to Alzheimer’s disease,” said co-author Dr. Dwight German, Professor of Psychiatry at UT Southwestern. “If a direct link is made, our hope is to then identify the presence of DDE in blood samples from people at an early age and administer treatments to remove it.”

The study found elevated levels of DDE in blood samples of 86 patients with Alzheimer’s disease as compared to 79 control patients from the UT Southwestern Alzheimer’s Disease Center and the Emory University Alzheimer’s Disease Center.

Researchers made the link between DDE and Alzheimer’s by measuring three components – blood serum levels, severity of the patient’s Alzheimer’s disease as measured by the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) and its relation to serum DDE levels, and the reaction of isolated nerve cells to DDE. Treatment of human nerve cells with DDE caused them to increase the production of the amyloid precursor protein that is directly linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

Participants in the study underwent preliminary testing to ensure that they didn’t have symptoms of other dementia-related diseases, and were an average age of 74, while the control subjects were on average 70 years old. These findings may help lead to the development of early biomarkers that can determine whether a person will develop Alzheimer’s disease later in life due to DDT exposure.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common neurodegenerative disease worldwide and is expected to increase three-fold over the next 40 years, according to the researchers.

DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane) was used extensively as an insecticide in the 1940s, but has been banned in the United States since 1972 after scientists linked the compound to wildlife health and environmental concerns. DDT is still used in other countries to combat the spread of malaria.

About UT Southwestern Medical Center
UT Southwestern, one of the premier academic medical centers in the nation, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s faculty includes many distinguished members, including five who have been awarded Nobel Prizes since 1985. Numbering more than 2,700, the faculty is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide medical care in 40 specialties to nearly 91,000 hospitalized patients and oversee more than 2 million outpatient visits a year.

###

Once again, research seems to demonstrates the wisdom of Rachel Carson, who warned us that we could not know the long-term damage done by untested pesticides applied with abandon in great abundance as if it were a solution to everything.

Carson’s book indicting pesticides regulation, Silent Spring, was published in 1962, with more than 50 pages of footnotes and citations to scientific studies.  In the 52 years since, none of that research has been rebutted by any further research.  Instead, more harms have been discovered, greater questions raised about the damage done by pesticides applied indiscriminantly.


Voyager I becomes Earth’s first interstellar object

September 14, 2013

Can you recall what you were doing on September 5, 1977?

The Voyager 1 aboard the Titan III/Centaur lif...

The Voyager 1 aboard the Titan III/Centaur lifted off on September 5, 1977, joining its sister spacecraft, the Voyager 2, on a mission to the outer planets. Wikipedia image, from NASA

That’s the day NASA launched Voyager I, on a trip to photograph planets in our solar system more close up than we can get with Earth-bound telescopes.  The Hubble Space Telescope was not even on the drawing board then.

After completing its mission, Voyager I continued on its path.  Scientists thought it would survive to leave the solar systems, and a few forward-looking thinkers hoped to learn more about just how far the influence of our Sun really extends.  At some point, Voyager I would leave space where the chief gravitational and wind influence is the Sun, and move into truly inter-stellar (“between the stars”) space, where gravity and particle emissions are dominated by other objects in our galaxy.

Last week NASA announced that time came in August of 2012, confirmed by data transmitted back to earth by Voyager’s primitive capabilities, over the last year.

Space.com explains it well:

Interesting to think of the investment in thought, money, effort and patience by scientists and policy-makers to wait more than 35 years for such a research result.

More:

Voyager I, artist's interpretation.  NASA image

Voyager I, artist’s interpretation. NASA image


For the birds, scientists at work

July 2, 2013

A scientist at work:

Amanda Holland with one of her research subjects, in South Carolina

Amanda Holland with one of her research subjects, in South Carolina

Kathryn’s cousin, Amanda Holland, moved from researching condors in California, to buzzards in Georgia and South Carolina (for the University of Georgia, I think).

Here she is with one of her research subjects.  Much lore is out there about handling carrion-eating birds for research — they vomit on you only if they like you, for example — but wholly apart from that, how great is this photo of a scientist at work?

I told her to copyright the photo (it is), and to hand on to the meme.  Can’t you see a character in Game of Thrones, or some other fantasy, who carries her own vultures to clean up after she devastates some other army in battle?

Eagles and falcons and owls are okay, but what other bird could conceal the results of the battle, so the warrior princess could move on in stealth?

Science field work looks like great stuff.  My experience is that it’s tiring, and sometimes lonely (though in very beautiful locations) — but the psychic rewards of actually increasing knowledge keep a lot of scientists going.  There’s not a lot of money in it.

Look at the friends you could make!


Annals of global warming: No, polar bears are not “fine” — suffer from loss of sea ice

March 20, 2013

Press release from The Journal of Animal Ecology (links added here):

For polar bears, it’s survival of the fattest

One of the most southerly populations of polar bears in the world – and the best studied – is struggling to cope with climate-induced changes to sea ice, new research reveals. Based on over 10 years’ data the study, published in the British Ecological Society‘s Journal of Animal Ecology, sheds new light on how sea ice conditions drive polar bears’ annual migration on and off the ice.

Led by Dr. Seth Cherry of the University of Alberta, the team studied polar bears in western Hudson Bay, where sea ice melts completely each summer and typically re-freezes from late November to early December. “This poses an interesting challenge for a species that has evolved as a highly efficient predator of ice-associated seals,” he explains. “Because although polar bears are excellent swimmers compared with other bear species, they use the sea ice to travel, hunt, mate and rest.”

Polar bear and two cubs wait for ice to reform

Caption from EurekAlert: An adult female polar bear wearing a GPS-satellite linked collar with her two 10-month-old cubs waits for the sea ice to re-form onshore in western Hudson Bay, Manitoba, Canada. Photo Copyright Andrew Derocher, Univeristy of Alberta.

Polar bears have adapted to the annual loss of sea ice by migrating onto land each summer. While there, they cannot hunt seals and must rely on fat reserves to see them through until the ice returns.

Dr. Cherry and colleagues wanted to discover how earlier thawing and later freezing of sea ice affects the bears’ migration. “At first glance, sea ice may look like a barren, uniform environment, but in reality, it’s remarkably complex and polar bears manage to cope, and even thrive, in a habitat that moves beneath their feet and even disappears for part of the year. This is an extraordinary biological feat and biologist still don’t fully understand it,” he says.

From 1991-97 and 2004-09, they monitored movements of 109 female polar bears fitted with satellite tracking collars. They tagged only females because males’ necks are wider than their heads, so they cannot wear a collar. During the same period, the team also monitored the position and concentration of sea ice using satellite images.

“Defining precisely what aspects of sea ice break-up and freeze-up affect polar bear migration, and when these conditions occur, is a vital part of monitoring how potential climate-induced changes to sea ice freeze-thaw cycles may affect the bears,” he says.

The results reveal the timing of polar bears’ migration can be predicted by how fast the sea ice melts and freezes, and by when specific sea ice concentrations occur within a given area of Hudson Bay.

According to Dr. Cherry: “The data suggest that in recent years, polar bears are arriving on shore earlier in the summer and leaving later in the autumn. These are precisely the kind of changes one would expect to see as a result of a warming climate and may help explain some other studies that are showing declines in body condition and cub production.”

Recent estimates put the western Hudson Bay polar bear population at around 900 individuals. The population has declined since the 1990s, as has the bears’ body condition and the number of cubs surviving to adulthood.

Young polar bear challenged by lack of sea ice, Andrew Derocher photo

Caption from EurekAlert: This is a subadult polar bear on a lake on the shores of Hudson Bay in Manitoba, Canada in November waiting for the sea ice to re-form. Copyright Andrew Derocher, Univeristy of Alberta.

Because polar bears’ main food source is seals, and these are hunted almost exclusively on sea ice, the longer bears spend on land, the longer they must go without energy-rich seals. “Climate-induced changes that cause sea ice to melt earlier, form later, or both, likely affect the overall health of polar bears in the area. Ultimately, for polar bears, it’s survival of the fattest,” says Dr. Cherry.

He hopes the results will enable other scientists and wildlife managers to predict how potential climate-induced changes to sea ice freeze-thaw cycles will affect the ecology, particularly the migration patterns, of this iconic species.

###

Seth Cherry et al (2013). ‘Migration phenology and seasonal fidelity of an Arctic marine predator in relation to sea ice dynamics’, doi: 10.1111/1365-2656.12050, is published in the Journal of Animal Ecology on Wednesday 20 March 2013.

More:


The Presidential Library that isn’t a Presidential Library

March 9, 2013

Campaign poster showing William McKinley holdi...

Campaign poster showing William McKinley holding U.S. flag and standing on gold coin “sound money”, held up by group of men, in front of ships “commerce” and factories “civilization”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Things you learn looking for documents:  The U.S. National Archives now manages the presidential libraries and museums — except for one:  The William McKinley Memorial Library and Museum.

President William McKinley Memorial Library and Museum, in Niles, Ohio.

President William McKinley Memorial Library and Museum, in Niles, Ohio. McKinley was born in Niles. Photo from the LIbrary’s website.

To be more accurate and fair, National Archives manages the documents for the presidential libraries starting with Herbert Hoover, though there are usually special arrangements with each of the libraries.

Separately, the Ladies of Mount Vernon Association manages the research facilities at Mount Vernon, Virginia,  (and the rest of the grounds) associated with George Washington, and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, is operated by a separate foundation, too.  The Teddy Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University in North Dakota stands apart from the National Archives system, too (much TR material can be found at Harvard, too).

The idea of a specific library to hold papers from a president’s term is a mid-20th century idea.  Franklin Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover were the first, with the idea coming about the same time.  Private foundations built and operated them until after the Nixon library, and since then Congress authorized the National Archives to get into the act and coordinate the work, and then made the links official, for libraries from here on out.

For presidents prior to Hoover, papers generally became the property of the outgoing president.  Collection was spotty.  The idea of library dedicated to one president is such a good one, though, that private groups have gone back to set them up for Washington and Lincoln.

And McKinley.

Modern texts don’t show well the high regard McKinley had from Americans before he was assassinated.  Within a few years after his death, the people of Ohio and his birthplace, in Niles, got Congress to approve a memorial.  Eventually the local library moved into the memorial building.

The National McKinley Birthplace Memorial Association was incorporated by a special Act of Congress on March 4, 1911.  The purpose of the Association was to erect a suitable structure marking the birthplace of President William McKinley, the 25th President of the United States. The result was the National McKinley Birthplace Memorial.

McKinley was born in the city of Niles, Ohio on January 29, 1843. The city donated the site for the Memorial which consisted of an entire city square. The architects were McKim, Mead & White of New York and the erection of the Memorial was done by John H. Parker Company, also of New York. Groundbreaking began in 1915 with the corner stone being laid on November 20, 1915.

The building was dedicated on October 5, 1917.

The cost was more than half a million dollars, all of which was donated by the American public.

The 232 foot by 136 foot by 38 foot monument is constructed of Georgian marble with two lateral wings–
one wing houses the public library called the McKinley Memorial Library, and the other wing houses the
McKinley Museum and an auditorium. The Museum contains artifacts of the life and presidency of McKinley.

In the center of the Memorial is a Court of   Honor supported by 28 imposing columns. It features a heroic statue of McKinley sculptured by John Massey-Rhind. Surrounding the statue are busts and tablets dedicated to the members of    McKinley’s cabinet and other prominent men who were closely associated with him.  These bronze busts, mounted on marble pedestals, weigh between 800 and 1100 pounds each.

As a presidential library, the McKinley Memorial Library in Niles is unique.  While it does not offer the vast research resources of the National Archives, it does offer a memorial from the people of Ohio and the U.S., a more down-home look at  reverence for presidents and the keeping of the history of our heroes.

Memorial to President William McKinley in Niles, Ohio

The memorial to President McKinley in Niles. Photo from the McKinley Memorial Library and Museum.

The “official” list of other presidential libraries and museums in the National Archives’ network, listed at the American Presidency Project at the University of California – Santa Barbara:

Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum
Herbert Hoover Presidential Library Association
Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Digital Archives
Harry S. Truman Library and Museum
The Dwight D. Eisenhower Library
John F. Kennedy Library and Museum
Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum
Richard Nixon Library and Museum
Richard Nixon Library Foundation
Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum
Jimmy Carter Library
Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library
George Bush Presidential Library and Museum
William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum
Clinton Presidential Center
George W. Bush Presidential Library
George W. Bush Presidential Center

More:


CERN press conference: Discovery of the Higgs boson

July 4, 2012

Here is the complete press conference held today, July 4, 2012, at the CERN offices in Geneva, Switzerland.  (Alas, the press conference was not held in Cedar Hill, Texas, making it a monument to the dangers of saying “we can’t be great in America any more” and refusing to appropriate money for science, or anything else good.)

This may be the biggest discovery of the decade for particle physics; it’s incredibly exciting, despite the appearance of calm.  It may be the biggest discovery of the century.  (We have 88 years left in the century, too.)

Description from the poster:

Published on Jul 4, 2012 by

This is the full press conference update on the search for the Higgs boson at CERN in Geneva Switzerland. This press conference followed the 2-hour Seminar that you can see here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JAlgX4FNiyM

This original CERN webcast recording was officially published at https://cdsweb.cern.ch/record/1459604 but I re-uploaded it here because YouTube is best. The CERN Copyright notice seems to say doing something like this may be ok http://copyright.web.cern.ch/ but if they release this video on the official http://youtube.com/cerntv YouTube channel, I may remove this copy from my YouTube account.

So, if the video above goes dark, check the official CERN YouTube site.

Especially for middle school and high school teachers, More:


One more time: Recognizing bogus history

May 14, 2012

2012 is an election year, a time when we make history together as a nation.  Potential turning points in history often get tarred with false interpretations of history to sway an election, or worse, a completely false recounting of history.  Especially in campaigns, we need to beware false claims of history, lest we be like the ignorants George Santayana warned about, doomed to repeat errors of history they do not know or understand.  How to tell that a purported piece of history is bogus?  This is mostly a repeat of a post that first appeared at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub six years ago.

Recognizing bogus history, 1

Robert Park provides a short e-mail newsletter every Friday, covering news in the world of physics. It’s called “What’s New.” Park makes an art of smoking out bogus science and frauds people try to perpetrate in the name of science, or for money. He wrote an opinion column for the Chronicle of Higher Education [now from Quack Watch; CHE put it behind a paywall] published January 31, 2003, in which he listed the “7 warning signs of bogus science.”

Please go read Park’s entire essay, it’s good.

And it got me thinking about whether there are similar warning signs for bogus history? Are there clues that a biography of Howard Hughes is false that should pop out at any disinterested observer? Are there clues that the claimed quote from James Madison saying the U.S. government is founded on the Ten Commandments is pure buncombe? Should Oliver Stone have been able to to more readily separate fact from fantasy about the Kennedy assassination (assuming he wasn’t just going for the dramatic elements)? Can we generalize for such hoaxes, to inoculate ourselves and our history texts against error?

Bogus science section of Thinkquest logo

Perhaps some of the detection methods Park suggests would work for history. He wrote his opinion piece after the Supreme Court’s decision in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., in which the Court laid out some rules lower courts should use to smoke out and eliminate false science. As Park described it, “The case involved Bendectin, the only morning-sickness medication ever approved by the Food and Drug Administration. It had been used by millions of women, and more than 30 published studies had found no evidence that it caused birth defects. Yet eight so-called experts were willing to testify, in exchange for a fee from the Daubert family, that Bendectin might indeed cause birth defects.” The Court said lower courts must act as gatekeepers against science buncombe — a difficult task for some judges who, in their training as attorneys, often spent little time studying science.

Some of the Daubert reasoning surfaced in another case recently, the opinion in Pennsylvania district federal court in which Federal District Judge John Jones struck down a school board’s order that intelligent design be introduced to high school biology students, Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District.

Can we generalize to history, too? I’m going to try, below the fold.

Here are Park’s seven warning signs, boiled down:

Park wrote:

Justice Stephen G. Breyer encouraged trial judges to appoint independent experts to help them. He noted that courts can turn to scientific organizations, like the National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, to identify neutral experts who could preview questionable scientific testimony and advise a judge on whether a jury should be exposed to it. Judges are still concerned about meeting their responsibilities under the Daubert decision, and a group of them asked me how to recognize questionable scientific claims. What are the warning signs?

I have identified seven indicators that a scientific claim lies well outside the bounds of rational scientific discourse. Of course, they are only warning signs — even a claim with several of the signs could be legitimate. [I have cut out the explanations. — E.D.]

  1. The discoverer pitches the claim directly to the media.
  2. The discoverer says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his or her work.
  3. The scientific effect involved is always at the very limit of detection.
  4. Evidence for a discovery is anecdotal.
  5. The discoverer says a belief is credible because it has endured for centuries.
  6. The discoverer has worked in isolation.
  7. The discoverer must propose new laws of nature to explain an observation.

Voodoo history

Here, with thanks to Robert Park, is what I propose for the warning signs for bogus history, for voodoo history:

  1. The author pitches the claim directly to the media or to organizations of non-historians, sometimes for pay.
  2. The author says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his or her work.  Bogus history relies more on invective than investigation; anyone with an opposing view is an “idiot,” or evil.
  3. The sources that verify the new interpretation of history are obscure, or unavailable; if they involve a famous person, the sources are not those usually relied on by historians.
  4. Evidence for the history is anecdotal.
  5. The author says a belief is credible because it has endured for some time, or because many people believe it to be true.
  6. The author has worked in isolation, and fails to incorporate or explain other, mainstream versions of the history of the incident, and especially the author fails to explain why they are in error.
  7. The author must propose a new interpretation of history to explain an observation.

Any history account that shows one or more of those warning signs should be viewed skeptically.

In another post, I’ll flesh out the reasoning behind why they are warning signs.

Save


Wegman Report plagiarism doesn’t bother George Mason University officials

March 18, 2012

Over at Desmogblog, John Mashey details problems with George Mason University’s conclusions that plagiarism did not really occur in  a report written for Congress that plagiarized several different sources.

If true, not only did GMU violate its own policies on duration, but on process, because they have ignored numerous well-documented complaints, including about 4 papers with Federal funding.  This process involved VP Research Roger Stough, Provost Peter Stearns and President Alan Merten, so it was certainly visible inside GMU.

See No Evil,

Hear No Evil

Speak No Evil … except about Ray Bradley [the fellow who filed the plagiarism complaint], who has yet to receive any report.

The attached report enumerates the problems that GMU managed not to see, shows the chronology of a simple complaint that took almost 2X longer than specified by policy and finally produced an obvious contradiction. People may find GMU’s funding and connections interesting, including similarities and relationships with Heartland Institute.  Finally, readers might recall the WR was alleged to be an attempt to mislead Congress, so this is not just an academic issue.

No e-mails stolen to expose the problem, but still no action against those who deny climate change occurs and will plagiarize papers to make their point.  It’s a not-pretty pass.

I suspect reporters get MEGO syndrome reading the stuff, but Desmogblog points to real problems, real difficulties in science, that deserve to be covered better than they have been.

Go read Mashey’s report and follow the links.

More:


<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: