Apr
16
2014

Matthew Beattie-Callahan is another senior at 'Iolani School in Honolulu, Hawaii. He also participated in outreach for his final project for AP Biology. He wrote this blog post describing his experience being the teachers, not the students, to promote environmental sustainability in the next, next generation.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was an anti-Nazi dissident during World War II and was executed by the Gestapo for his involvement in plans to assassinate Adolf Hitler. A Lutheran Pastor, Bonhoeffer said, “The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.” Since World War II, the world has made great strides in working to promote peace and stability as well as prevent the types of atrocities that were committed by the Nazis. Yet, now the world is faced with a greatly different problem: a rapidly disintegrating environment; and this time children are not only passive receivers of the problems of earlier generations, but also the potential solution to these problems.

Often it seems that education and lifestyle changes on an individual level are as necessary and effective, if not more so, at promoting environmental sustainability as sweeping governmental legislation can be. This is the fundamental reason that youth are such an essential part of the solution to our environmental problems; it is in the younger generations that new lifestyle practices and social norms can and must be established to promote environmental sustainability. The first step to accomplishing those goals is environmental education. This past February, a group of my AP Biology classmates and I had the opportunity to engage in this environmental education; however this time we weren’t the students, we were the teachers.

We made the short walk over to Ala Wai elementary school to meet and teach a group of extremely energetic and bright fifth graders on a range of environmental topics: bacteria, water chemistry, weather, big animals, and small animals. Each of the topics was related to the neighboring Ala Wai Canal and the ecosystem of the area. We hoped that by teaching the fifth graders more about their environment and the fragility of ecosystems they would be more aware of their own actions and impact on the environment.

I think we were all a little nervous about trying to keep the fifth graders interested and engaged during our presentations. However, it quickly became apparent that the problem was instead trying to answer all of their questions in the time we had been allotted. The students were fascinated by everything from plankton under a microscope, to crabs they could hold, to the colorful bacterial colonies of a water sample from the Ala Wai.

Our experiences at Ala Wai Elementary show that environmental education can be fun, enlightening, and valuable. Hopefully, after seeing the bacterial samples from the Ala Wai, the animals that live in the canal and understanding the nature of the ecosystem, the students will be more aware and conscious in their efforts to maintain a clean environment both at school and at home. Furthermore, there is always the hope that by exposing students to biology and other science fields early in their education, they will develop a love for science and go on to make even greater contributions to environmental science and sustainability. It was an amazing experience to be able to teach the Ala Wai Elementary students, but my greatest takeaway from the experience was hearing the shrieks of laughter as the students held a crab or helped assemble a weather station and the knowledge that we had hopefully created a group of students who are more aware of their environment.

See video

During our interview with Mary Mclaughlin and Jasmine Koncur, they shared some things on what they did before getting this job. Check it out!

Mary and Jasmine are Sheffield Research Associates whom we worked with at the expedition.

Apr
14
2014

Lunar eclipse: Tonight's will be the first in a tetrad of four total lunar eclipses over the next year-and-a-half.
Lunar eclipse: Tonight's will be the first in a tetrad of four total lunar eclipses over the next year-and-a-half.Courtesy Mark Ryan
The first of 4 consecutive total lunar eclipses occurs late tonight (and early Tuesday morning) and will be visible to practically all of the United States (local weather permitting). The astronomical event begins around 5:58 UT, and should last about 4 and a half hours from start to finish.

A total lunar eclipse takes place when the moon passes through the Earth's umbra, the innermost darkest shadow created by the Earth as it (from the Moon's perspective) blocks out the Sun. Refraction caused by the Earth's atmosphere allows for some of the Sun's light to bend around the Earth and bathe the Moon in an amber glow, resulting in what is sometimes referred to as a Blood Moon, especially by some fundamental religious groups who see it as an omen of the biblical End Times. There are two other kinds of lunar eclipses. When the Moon passes only through the penumbra, the faint part of the shadow, that's called a penumbral lunar eclipse. When only a portion of the Moon intersects with the darker umbra, that's a partial lunar eclipse.

As I mentioned, tonight's eclipse is the first in a series of four consecutive total lunar eclipses. This is a pretty uncommon occurrence known as a tetrad. Only 62 tetrad events will have occurred from 1 A.D. to the year 2100, and just eight in the 1200 months of the 21st century.

Each year there are at least two lunar eclipses and sometimes as many as five. Eclipses don't happen every month because the plane of the Moon's orbit around Earth is tilted. Usually, consecutive eclipses are a mix of partial, penumbral, and the relatively rarer total lunar eclipses. To have four total lunar eclipses happen in a row, as we will over the next seventeen months or so is even rarer. And luckily, all four of them be will visible to most of us in the United States.

Tonight's celestial event begins at 11:55 PM (Minneapolis time) and reaches maximum eclipse at 2:46 AM, then finishes at 4:32 AM. If you want to confirm the times for your area, use this handy eclipse calculator. The night-owl timing of tonight's eclipse might keep many of you from enjoying it (I'll probably be sleeping), but just know there are three more headed our way: October 8, 2014, April 4, 2015, and September 28, 2015.

SOURCES and LINKS
NASA Eclipse Web Site
Eclipse expert Fred Espanek's Lunar Eclipse Primer
Universal Time (UT) conversion table
Observing tips at Space.com
Eclipse visibility maps at Space.com

Apr
13
2014

Tiktaalik roseae: Field Museum of Natural History
Tiktaalik roseae: Field Museum of Natural HistoryCourtesy Eduard Solà via Wikipedia
If you missed last week's PBS broadcast of Your Inner Fish, the documentary based on paleontologist-anatomist Neil Shubin's book by the same name, you have another chance to catch up on the first of three segments on the web. It's an excellent opening segment of the 3-part series, but is only available (for free!) right here through April 23, 2014.

The series deals with Shubin's search for the connections we all have with our fishy and reptilian ancestors. His discovery of the remarkable transitional fossil named Tiktaalik roseae on Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic has added great evidence of our ties with our distant piscean relatives. The flat-headed, 375 million year-old Tiktaalik possessed the exact features - such as both lungs and gills, a wrist and neck - that you'd hope to find in a transitional form between swimming fish and land-walking tetrapods.

The next episode, titled Your Inner Reptile airs Wednesday, April 16th on your local PBS station. It's on here in the Twin Cities at 9pm but check your local listing for times in your area.

In the meantime, watch the first episode, and read about some of the reaction to Shubin's find here, here, and here.

LINKS
University of Chicago Tiktaalik roseae page

Gooseberry Falls in calmer times
Gooseberry Falls in calmer timesCourtesy Mark Ryan
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary the definition of "ice-out" is: the disappearance of ice from the surface of a body of water as a result of thawing. After the long winter we've been through it's a welcomed event, and a pretty spectacular example took place earlier today at Gooseberry Falls on the North Shore of Lake Superior. You can watch it on this video provided by the Duluth News-Tribune.

Apr
09
2014

Contributed by Haley Harada

We see headlines, newspaper articles, and television specials almost everyday—“Oil Spill in South America”, “Bird Species Endangered”, and “Temperatures At All Time High Due to Global Warming”. Environmental catastrophes and problems are undoubtedly a major world issue. While we are likely aware of some of the various environmental challenges global citizens face, preserving and restoring Earth’s delicate environment often leaves us with more questions than answers. Mahatma Gandhi once advised, “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. But progress is impossible if we do not understand or realize what those changes should be.

After participating in an environmental outreach program between ‘Iolani School and Ala Wai Elementary, I’ve begun to see the importance of environmental education. Awareness is the first step towards action. Children especially, should be taught about their surroundings in order to become educated voters, innovative scientists, and productive members of an environmentally conscious society. Teaching children about anything, from the trees in their backyards to the earth’s atmosphere, can broaden their perspectives of organisms and the systems in which they operate. Although the saying is cliché, it is undoubtably true: children are the future. Ultimately, they are the ones who will propagate change and answer our questions.

When we first started introducing ourselves to the students at Ala Wai Elementary, they seemed nervous and a bit confused about the purpose of the outreach project. One concept that we really wanted the students to understand was the connectivity of all living and non-living things, from animals and plants to water and weather. Although in the allotted time period it was impossible to go in depth about each subject, it was most important for the students to see the connection between the concepts. We also brought up ideas that the students were already familiar with and tried to get them to think about each in a new way. As the project continued, the students became more comfortable and seemed to gain at least some environmental insight. It filled me with joy to watch them playing with fish and looking through microscopes at things that they had never seen or paid attention to before.

The most rewarding part of the project was bringing the Ala Wai surroundings, often taken for granted, to life. Showing students that experiments can be interesting and fun might encourage them to seek environmental learning opportunities in the future. My hope is that students realized that there is an endless amount of things to see and learn about in their world. In the process of trying to teach younger students, I myself became more aware of the importance of bringing the outside world into the classroom. Children need to put down their iPads and cell phones once in a while to understand and appreciate the world around them. In the future, they'll be thankful they did.

Haley Harada is a high school senior at 'Iolani School. She wrote this blog post as part of a final project for AP Biology.

I'm certain this must mean winter is finally over but I'm not optimistic.

Apr
01
2014

Maya ball game: When disputes arose during Maya ball games, players would reenact the play in slow motion for officials to determine if they made the correct call.
Maya ball game: When disputes arose during Maya ball games, players would reenact the play in slow motion for officials to determine if they made the correct call.Courtesy anth2589
The new Major League Baseball season is underway with lots of hoopla about the expanded use by umpires of using instant replay to reconsider close or controversial calls during the course of a game. It’s all overshadowed some amazing archaeological findings in Central America, where stele art and cave paintings have confirmed that the Maya ball game was governed by its own set of replay rulings.

Independent teams of archaeologists from the University of Michigan and Stanford have found evidence that disputes in games were resolved by an elaborate replay system. First working independently, they’ve now combined their research into this extensive report, co-published in Science and Sports Illustrated this month.

Of course, video technology was many centuries away in the future. But Maya ingenuity figured out a way to get around that hurdle in a creative fashion. Former Maya ball game players would position themselves around the field observing the actions of their contemporaries. If a controversial play occurred and a coach threw out his challenge marker, the former players would rely on their keen observation and game skills to reenact the play at a slower motion for officials to take a second or third look. According to limited data collected in the findings, officials’ calls were overturned about 36 percent of the time.

Key clue: Heiroglyphs and art on this pot helped researchers figure out that instant replay was a key part of Maya ball game officiating.
Key clue: Heiroglyphs and art on this pot helped researchers figure out that instant replay was a key part of Maya ball game officiating.Courtesy Loryn Leonard
Heiroglyphs explaining the process were careful to note how critical it was to get the calls correct in games, especially those at the highest level where the losing teams would be sacrificed. After three consecutive years of bad calls in championship games leading to the deaths of what should have been victorious players, the replay system was implemented.

Further causing the move to replay rulings was the large amount of wagers gamblers placed on the games each year at Chichen Itza, the Las Vegas of Maya cities. After that run of poor officiating, gambling leaders who had taken huge financial losses on the altered outcomes threatened ball game leaders with execution if they didn’t come up with a more just system of deciding calls.

Ha!
Ha!Courtesy Wikipedia
And looking at the infamous Maya calendar, the new replay system was put into effect on the Gregorian Calendar equivalent of April 1, 1414 BCE, exactly 1600 years ago today, April Fool’s Day 2014.!

Fifty years ago, on March 27, 1964 at 5:36pm local time, a huge, magnitude 9.2 earthquake rattled the state of Alaska. The quake's epicenter was located about 75 miles east of Anchorage, at a depth of 15 miles. Violent shaking lasted about 4 minutes and triggered several avalanches and landslides, and caused damage to many of Alaska's major cities including Anchorage. Quake-generated tsunamis caused additional damage. A 30-ft wave destroyed Kodiak, Alaska's ocean-front industries and much of the city's fishing fleet.

Despite it being the 2nd largest earthquake ever recorded (a 1960 Chinese quake measured magnitude 9.5), Alaska's Good Friday quake and resulting tsunami caused only 131 deaths (115 in Alaska; 16 in Oregon and California!).

As noted in the video at the top of the page, the Alaska earthquake took place just as plate tectonics was gaining acceptance in the scientific community. The idea of moving and colliding crustal plates had been around since the early 1920s but didn't gain any serious foothold until the 1960s. The developing theory helped explain the 1964 Great Alaska Earthquake, which was the result of subduction of the Pacific plate beneath the North American plate.

More scientific information can be found here and here.

The video below show some of the quake's effects in Anchorage and elsewhere.

Mar
26
2014

Mudslide inundates mailbloxes
Mudslide inundates mailbloxesCourtesy Public domain via Wikipedia
The deadly mudslide that occurred last Saturday in Washington state should not have surprised people living in the area, at least according to a 1999 report. Fifteen years ago, in a study commissioned by the US Army Corps of Engineers, geomorphologist Daniel Miller warned that a "large catastrophic failure" was likely in the area, 55 miles northeast of Seattle. Recent heavy rains have saturated the bluff above the floodplain of the Stillaguamish river, near the towns of Oso and Darrington, and a square mile of the slope suddenly collapsed Saturday morning wiping out several houses and covering a mile of State Route 530 with mud and debris, some to depths of 15 feet.

Local officials claim it was entirely unforeseen (a minor earthquake has been suggested) but history shows the area suffered a flood in 1933 and two previous mudslides, one in 1967, and another as recently as 2006. Despite that, development continued in the river's floodplain.

The death toll from this tragedy continues to rise, and, as of today, some 175 people are still missing.

SOURCES
Reuters
USA Today