February 16, 2012

CSI: Invasive Species

This is a marvelous development in protecting and conserving biodiversity from the Percolator blog of the Chronicle for Higher Education.

Some new research by British scientists suggests that an investigative tool used to help cops find criminals can also help locate the sources of invasive species. (Invasive species are generally considered the second largest cause of biodiversity loss, right after habitat destruction.  Think Asian carp, Nile perch, Real Housewives.  (Just kidding about the last one.)  Anyway:

The tool, known as geographic profiling, has also been used to find patterns in the foraging of animals and the spread of infectious disease.

In criminology, geographic profiling won’t magically point to a serial criminal’s hideout. But it can help determine the probability of where a criminal may live.  To see if it would work on invasive species, the team used a series of computer simulations to compare it with other mathematical methods.

The researchers applied geographic profiling to historical data on 53 species that have invaded Britain: daddy-long-legs spiders, Pacific oysters, Norway spruce trees, and giant hogweed — a noxious weed that can get up to a dozen feet tall and can cause blistering and blindness.

This plant is a giant hogweed, whose spread may be thwarted with geographical profiling. It causes blistering and blindness. It is pretty sinister, come to think of it. Get it off the streets!

In criminology, geographic profiling has two rules of thumb: 1) The probability of a crime decreases with distance from the criminal’s “anchor point,”, like a home or office.  2) There’s a “buffer zone” of lower activity around the criminal’s base. The zone is set partly by the rules of plane geometry and partly because criminals avoid activity near their homes, lest they be discovered.

Turns out invasive species’ spread patterns have similar mathematical properties to criminal-activity patterns: the farther the invasive species are from their source, the more opportunities they have to prosper.  And in some species, the “buffer zone” has even more makes a great deal of sense: for instance, trees from seeds that fall in the shade of the trees’ parents may not do as well as the seeds that make it out to sunnier places.

We can just see the scientists putting on their shades and uttering invasive species one-liners.

February 8, 2012

It’s a bird, it’s a… green airplane?

I’m partial to ships, but that doesn’t mean I don’t pay attention to other forms of transportation.  When I was a little one, I went nuts for just about anything that moved people from one place to another:  trucks, trains, cars, ships, and planes.  For some reason the thrill of spotting everything but ships faded.  I guess ’cause they’re just so darn easy to see.  But I’d love to spot these things in the air:

‘The hell is this, you ask?  Why, let me explain:

Science Daily’s reporting on how the good folks at NASA challenged three aeronautics firms — Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman — to come up with new designs that’ll help the aircrafts of the future burn 50% less fuel than those that started flying in 1998 (the study’s baseline), AND with 75% fewer harmful emissions, AND will shrink the areas affected by airport noise by 83%.  It’s all part of NASA’s .Environmentally Responsible Aviation Project.  (Who knew?  I guess you and me now.)  The three aircraft you see in the picture represent the three firms’ various efforts to meet the criteria.

“The real challenge is we want to accomplish all these things simultaneously,” “It’s never been done before. We looked at some very difficult metrics and tried to push all those metrics down at the same time… We’ll be digesting the three studies and we’ll be looking into what to do next.”

– Fay Collier, Project Manager

Dare I say this makes me feel rather excited?  It could just be a nice warm belly full of Swanson’s beef pot pie and Sanka talking, but this seems like a really good, absolutely not bad, potentially wonderful thing.  I might just do a jig!

If you wanna read more about the different designs, the whole article is a great read.

Back to the binocs.

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