March 11, 2014

Al Roker – Climate Change Educator?

Back in 2009,  TV meteorologist Joe Witte had a great idea. The public looks to TV weathercasters as a source of information concerning weather and climate. Why not use them to education viewers about climate change? After all they are:

1.) Trusted.

2.) Have access to large audiences. (Side note: did you catch Roker’s recent twitter war with Mayor de Blasio over snow days? Meow!)

3.) Are excellent communicators of dense scientific information.

Along with partners, Joe wrote a National Science Foundation grant proposal that was funded the next year.  The grant enabled them to develop a pilot project called Climate Matters, a series of climate education segments that Jim Gandy (chief meteorologist at the station) and his colleagues produced and aired over the next 12 months.

The results? According to an article published recently in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS), over the course of one year, viewers of WLTX news developed a better understanding of climate change than viewers of other local TV news stations in the Columbia media market.  Boom.

Check out the whole article HERE.

February 6, 2012

NASA is freaking me out

In a good way, of course.

Normally, my friends, I like to pay attention to very, very long periods of time, and the big picture.  But you know, I saw something last week that I keep thinking about.  One of my colleagues sent me a link to this video from NASA, which shows what has happened to the earth over what most people nowadays think of as “a long time”.  It’s a video showing how temperatures all over the world have changed since people started keeping track of these things in the late 1880s — the Industrial Revolution, basically.  In 26 seconds, you can see how the temperature of the Earth has risen since then.

Screenshot of NASA's climate measuring video.

(The video is in Flash; iPhone or iPad users should use this YouTube link instead.)

Climate Central, where the link Flash link is posted, has an excellent explanation of how the scientists at NASA figured out the data, and some of the comments are helpful, too. (Some, maybe not so much.)

This is a fairly compelling thing to see, no?  So much happens in such a relatively short time, when you take into account the fact that the Earth is several billions of years old.

Of course, the heat generated from Madonna’s Super Bowl halftime show has not been factored into the computations (yet).  I must confess to you, my friends, it absolutely knocked my socks off.

Time for a bowl of leftover sancocho, then back to analyzing my phytoliths.

January 10, 2012

A seedbank for the future

Saludos, my friends, it’s been quite a while. But of course in the grand scheme of things, barely any time at all.

I’ve been thinking quite a lot lately about the things that scientists are trying to preserve for the future.  I’ve been thinking about how during Stalin’s reign, there were botanists who secretly stored seeds and different kinds of plants as the agricultural landscape of the huge country was being radically altered as the country was being unified.  It was in the name of crop diversity.  Crops are “genetic resources.” They can go extinct just like animals.

The varieties of wheat, corn and rice grown all over the world today may survive, but may not thrive, in a future threatened by climate change. A “biodiversity warrior” named Cary Fowler did an excellent TED Talk (yes, I know, they are so great, my friends!) in which he takes us inside a gigantic global seed bank, buried inside a frozen mountain in Norway, that stores a diverse group of food crops for whatever tomorrow may bring.  It is quite fascinating.  (There are quite a few all over the world.)

The entrance to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway. Muy dramatico, no?

Burying seeds inside an icy Norwegian mountain may seem like something from a James Bond movie, but this is very serious business.  We really don’t know what will happen one hundred years from now.  Let alone one thousand  Or ten thousand.

It heartens me to know someone is thinking about protecting the future of food.

The grim iciness of the seedbank’s entrance is making me crave papaya, so I will leave you to ponder Mr. Fowler’s talk while I appreciate the fleeting deliciousness of that exquisite fruit.



November 27, 2011

DAS RAD (“The Wheel”)

A while ago I watched a short film by three Germans called “DAS RAD (The Wheel).”  Now, before you say “German films?  Nein, danke” and run into a cave, let me tell you, my friends, that it is quite entertaining and was even nominated for an Academy Award.

The stars are two rock piles, observing life on a hillside from ancient times through the present, and into the future.  The little film moves through time at high speed, like a time-lapse version of geological eras. When the modern world comes into view, the buildings appear and disappear in an instant, and was my favorite section.  And sometimes it switchesto real time and shows the inhabitants and objects in motion in their day-to-day existence.

If you have about nine minutes, check it out.  It is — how do you say? — “my cup of tea.”

November 9, 2011

Land use over time

Hola my friends,

I recently saw a fascinating animation on Youtube.  No, it was not a cat playing a piano… I know, you cannot believe it!  But what I saw is far more intriguing.  It shows the change in global land use from 8,000 BP (BP = before the present) to 50 years from now (-50 BP, a figure I find amusing). I love to think about great spans of time, so this was like paleontological “catnip” to me.

Eight thousand years ago is when the human population began expanding following the dawn of agriculture.  Like so many simulations of this kind, it’s difficult to really see all the detail in the last couple of seconds, since so much happens so quickly once the Industrial Revolution happens…

The animation was made by ARVE, which stands for Atmosphere Regolith Vegetation, a group of scientists at a polytechnic university in Lausanne, Switzerland.  Research at ARVE focuses on how changes in the terrestrial biosphere amplify changes in the climate system by examining the interaction between soils, vegetation and the atmosphere.

By combining maps of potential vegetation and land use intensity, we create high resolution maps of vegetation and human impact covering the entire Holocene [*] for the Mediterranean. This allows us to address a number research questions, including the time history of human impact in relation to conservation, biodiversity, and land degradation; and the impact of land cover change on terrestrial hydrology and carbon and nutrient cycling.

*The Holocene is the geological epoch we on earth have been in for the last 10,000 years.

We think we on Earth right now are the first people to create areas drastic deforestation.  Far from it.  Of particular interest to me is the re-vegetation of South America:

Following the first contact with Europeans around 1500, nearly 90% of the indigenous people of the Americas were killed, mainly by disease. This collapse in populations led to massive regrowth of natural vegetation, especially forests in the Amazon, Andes, and Mesoamerica. As we race towards modern times we see the settlement of the Americas and Australia by Europeans spreading across the continents, and the development of the human-dominated world we have today.

Indeed, my friends…

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