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.  ; )


January 10, 2012

You’re least responsible? Here’s the worst deal.

Some people at McGill University (known to some as the Harvard of Canada — but I call Harvard the McGill of the States) recently figured out what a lot of environmentally-oriented folks have suspected for a while now: the people in the world who’re most vulnerable to bad stuff happening from climate change are those least responsible for causing it. GOOD magazine wrote about it, which is a pretty, uh, good publication if you ask me.

They made this thing called the Climate Demographic Vulnerability Index, — yup, the CDVI — to show which areas of the world are gonna be in the most trouble as population increases and temperatures rise, even just a little bit.

Basically, the hottest places will only get hotter, which’ll make it harder to grow food.  Places like Somalia, for example.  As populations, of course, get bigger and bigger.

Unfair?  What isn’t.  Just hope somebody’s paying attention on the world scale who cares about making things even a little bit fairer.

I know I sound like I’m down in the dumps, but this kinda stuff really chaps my butt.

Meantime, I guess I better ditch those plans to move to Somalia and stay put here at the store.  (Twist my arm, why don’cha.)  Easier to watch the icebergs melt up here anyway.

Dang, somebody better cheer me up.

December 14, 2011

Whale FM: Calling all Citizen Scientists

Pilot whales. You can hear their newest singles on Whale FM.

We’re professional scientists, ooh aah.  But do you know about “Citizen Science”?

Citizen Science falls into many categories, and usually involves harnessing the power of the Internet.  Laypeople can work on projects like SETI@Home, the groundbreaking project that had millions of participants (with time to kill) helping in the search for extraterrestrial life. Citizen scientists also  volunteer to classify heavenly objects, like in Galaxy Zoo,  observe the natural world, as in The Great Sunflower Project, and even solve puzzles to design proteins, as in the project called FoldIt.

Scientific American keeps tabs on such projects, and has co-sponsored this one with the Citizen Science Alliance (CSA).

The Whale Song Project (also known as Whale FM), invites citizen scientists to help study whale communications and pass along their observations. The Whale Song Project, which is also available as part of the CSA’s suite of Zooniverse projects, was created to help with  killer (Orca) and pilot whale research being conducted by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts and the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) at the University of St Andrews in Scotland.

This orca duo's about to go platinum.

(You can tell the Scottish whales because of their charming brogues.  Sorry, we couldn’t resist.  Ahem.  Moving on…

Here’s how it works. You’re presented with a whale call and shown where it was recorded on a map of the world’s oceans and seas. After listening to it —represented on screen as a spectrogram which shows how the pitch of the sound changes over time—you’re asked to listen to a number of potential matching calls from the project’s database. If there’s a match, the citizen scientist clicks on that sound’s spectrogram to store the results.

The data set generated by this project should help the researchers to answer a number of questions about how whales communicate. For example, the (professional) scientists want to know the size of the pilot whales’ call repertoire, and whether repertoire size is a sign of intelligence. They’re also trying to understand whether the two different types of pilot whales (long fin and short fin) have different call repertoires, and, if so, whether this “signifies a distinct dialect.”

We think it’s extraordinary and hope you’ll give it a look — or rather, a listen.

As Steely Dan says, “no static at all.”

November 27, 2011

Field Notes on Science and Nature

We love taking notes.  And we love to sketch and muse upon what we see in the field.

So when we heard about this beautiful book featuring the observations, artistry, and notes of scientists out in the field, we were thrilled:

The publisher, Harvard University Press, says:

Field Notes on Science and Nature allows readers to peer over the shoulders and into the notebooks of a dozen eminent field workers, to study firsthand their observational methods, materials, and fleeting impressions [...] Covering disciplines as diverse as ornithology, entomology, ecology, paleontology, anthropology, botany, and animal behavior, Field Notes offers specific examples that professional naturalists can emulate to fine-tune their own field methods, along with practical advice that amateur naturalists and students can use to document their adventures.

Hear, hear!  And to this we add: One doesn’t need to be a scientist or naturalist in order to record thoughts, objects, images, and learnings from life.  All you have to be is curious.

And do have pen and paper handy…

October 28, 2011

Encyclopedia of Life

The great biologist and researcher E.O. Wilson gave a TED Prize speech in 2007  and made a plea that we learn more about our biosphere — and build a networked encyclopedia of all the world’s knowledge about life.

His wish served as the catalyst for creating the Encyclopedia of Life, an free online collaborative encyclopedia documenting all 1.9 million known living species on Earth.

Corynactis californica, just one of the 1.9 million entries in the Encyclopedia of Life.

Needless to say, we encourage you to explore the site.  Photos, drawings, descriptions…  it’s a wonderful resource for learning, or for simply marveling at the breathtaking scope of life on this planet.

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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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