September 10, 2012

We Are Scientists

As environmentally conscious world citizens, “What can I do to help?” is a question that we frequently ask ourselves when the discussion of environmental issues comes up. The National Science Foundation has found a really cool answer- everyday people can work as scientists by helping to collect data for their projects.

Citizen Scientists are:

  • Concerned volunteers who collect data and share their observations with full-time scientists.
  • People who may or may not have any previous scientific training or background
  • People who have a curiosity for learning and a willingness to complete relatively simple tasks (such as monitoring backyard rain gauges, taking pictures of local insects, etc.)

Citizen scientists are invaluable to the scientific community because they not only provide sheer numbers to aide in data collection, but also contribute new insights to on-going questions. A group of Foldit gamers helped generate models that assisted researchers in refining and determining the enzyme structure of an AIDS-like virus which then allowed the researchers to advance their work designing anti-AIDS drugs.

A few places to check out if you’re interested in becoming a citizen scientist are:

The USA National Phenology Network http://www.usanpn.org/
Project Budburst http://neoninc.org/budburst/
Projects Sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology http://www.birds.cornell.edu/Page.aspx?pid=708

As well as many others about sustainability, lady bugs, and the sky which are linked on the original National Science Foundation Article! A lot of these are great for kids or adults, and there are lots of options for what subject you can be working on and what kinds of activities you can do. Find something that you’re excited about, and get to it!


March 16, 2012

If you could ask a climate scientist one question, what would it be?

Here’s our last question for our run of The Great Immensity at Kansas City Repertory Theatre! We have gotten to ask climate scientists a lot of different questions over the last few years. We want to know what YOU would ask a climate scientist if you got in the room with one.

And just in case your question is, Who’s a climate scientist, here’s an answer for you in the form of a hilarious music video.


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 6, 2012

Here comes the sun, doot-n-doo-doo

OK, so obviously I care about the environment and wanna get people to think about how they live their lives and what kind of impact that makes on the Earth.  I’ve always thought that wind power was an amazing idea, equally as good as solar power.  But now it turns out maybe not, in the long run.

My Earth Science teacher from last year, Mr. Hoekbaard, emailed a bunch of us who run the Environment Club at our school about this article he thought we would find intriguing.  We’ve been, um, discussing it a lot, which is really saying something, ’cause we’re a hyper-opinionated group.  Anyway, it’s from New Scientist, and it’s completely fascinating, and you should absolutely read it.  It basically says that as the global demand for energy grows (’cause of population growth, and more people getting access to energy), nuclear energy is too risky, and large-scale wind power could negatively affect the environment, too.  Strap on your nerd helmet, ’cause this here’s a diagram to show how it works:

This basically shows why solar is going to be the way to go. Copyright New Scientist.

One of the scientists quoted in the article says:

Sagan used to preach to me, and I now preach to my students, that any intelligent civilisation on any planet will eventually have to use the energy of its parent star, exclusively.

If that doesn’t blow your mind, read the last third of the article, about how pulling down cool air from the four jet streams of wind ten kilometers above the Earth could be harnessed to “geoengineer” the temperature of the Earth.  In other words, counteract and even reverse the effects of global warming.

I know what you’re thinking.  You’re like, This is all really far in the future.  But it shouldn’t be.  It could start happening more now.

Not sure why? But this article makes me really happy.  Hence, my totally corny title for this post, which is a nod to my mom and dad and their olde-tyme musical tastes.  Also, I’m finally finished with all the stuff I was supposed to do today, so now I can treat myself to the latest episode of “Fringe”.  Don’t worry, I’ll be watching on the lowest-possible brightness level on my computer to save energy.  ; )

 


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.


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    "The Next Forever" is a song from The Great Immensity. The footage was taken on Barro Colorado Island in the Panama Canal by videographer David Ford. Music and lyrics by Michael Friedman.
     
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