Dec
10
2013

Wind power vs. eagle power: New regulations hope to spur more development of wind farms (above) by removing penalties power companies face if they kill bald eagles (below).
Wind power vs. eagle power: New regulations hope to spur more development of wind farms (above) by removing penalties power companies face if they kill bald eagles (below).Courtesy Jesus Martinez
In an interesting match-up between alternative energy sources and wildlife protection, wind energy appears to have come out the winner.

The Obama administration and the Interior Department last week decided it will waive penalties for up to three decades to wind energy farms that kill bald eagles in the generation of electrical power. The birds are killed when flying into the path of spinning wind turbine blades. Eagles in flight are especially susceptible to turbine blades as they're attention is often focused on the ground looking for prey rather than looking forward to see obstacles.

The new rule will give legal protection for the lifespan of wind farms and other projects if companies obtain permits and make efforts to avoid killing protected birds. If they end up killing more birds than estimated at the start of the project, additional safeguards for the birds would then kick in. Numbers of eagle kills would be reviewed every five years. Wind power companies would have to document eagle deaths caused by their blades, but that information would not be made public.

Proponents of the plan say it will free up companies to look into expanding wind farms and providing "cleaner" electrical power. Currently there are no protections against eagle kills, which might be limiting building new wind farms. Just last month a company was prosecuted for eagle killings at two wind farms in Wyoming.

Bald eagles were removed from the endangered species list in 2007 but are still protected under two federal laws. Since 2008, official numbers peg eagle deaths due to wind turbine blades at 67. But that figure does not include eagle kills from the Altamont Pass in California, where a large wind farm is believed to kill about 60 eagles a year. Wind turbines can be massive, reaching up to 30 stories tall. Tips of the turbine blades can be spinning at speeds of 170 miles per hour on extremely windy days.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agrees with the new regulation as it will allow it to more closely monitor the relationship between eagles and wind farms.

So what do you think? Is the price for increased "clean" electricity worth the cost of more eagle deaths? Share your thoughts here with other Science Buzz readers.

Dec
09
2013

Charlie Darwin: The schoolbook victory in Texas obviously makes him feel like Charlie Sheen.
Charlie Darwin: The schoolbook victory in Texas obviously makes him feel like Charlie Sheen.Courtesy National Portrait Gallery
Last month, on November 22nd, while many people in the country were observing the 50th anniversary of president John F. Kennedy's assassination by shots fired from the Texas School Book Depository, there was another significant event happening that day involving Texas schoolbooks. That same Friday, despite objections and obstructionist tactics by creationists, the Texas Board of Education approved several public school science textbooks that included full coverage of evolution and climate change. The vote came late in the day and although the creationist faction did manage to make the adoption of two biology books contingent on a committee ruling regarding some alleged "flaws" in the text, the Texas Freedom Network (TFN), a watchdog group instrumental in countering the irrational creationist attacks, expects the passage to stand.

“It’s hard to overstate the importance of today’s vote, which is a huge win for science education and public school students in Texas,” said Kathy Miller, TFN's president. “Four years ago this board passed controversial curriculum standards some members hoped would force textbooks to water down instruction on evolution and climate change. But that strategy has failed because publishers refused to lie to students and parents demanded that their children get a 21st-century education based on established, mainstream science.”

SOURCES
Dallas Morning News story
Evolution is True article

Dec
06
2013

Victim of mass extinction: Will current species suffer a similar fate due to current environmental trends?
Victim of mass extinction: Will current species suffer a similar fate due to current environmental trends?Courtesy Mark Ryan
A new and troubling paper from the Committee on Understanding and Monitoring Abrupt Climate Change and its Impacts predicts possible and somewhat grim outcomes for some of Earth's natural systems from climate change that could rival the extinction event of the non-avian dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous Period 65 million years ago.

The abrupt impact could be coming faster than previously expected and would negatively affect human and physical climate systems as well. The document warns that the abruptness of the changes could be unanticipated and could find us unprepared to deal with them

Records of past climate preserved in tree rings, ice cores, and ocean sediments show that the atmosphere contains higher levels of carbon dioxide than it has in a very long time. Carbon emissions from human activity continue to add to this rising concentration. Other activities including deforestation and resource extraction place additional environmental pressures on our climate and other natural systems.

At the end of the Cretaceous, all species of non-avian dinosaurs, along with the megafauna of flying and swimming reptiles were wiped off the face of the Earth. Many dinosaur species showed signs of decline even before the Chicxlub asteroid delivered the final kibosh on their existence.

Dr. James W.C. White, a professor of Geological Sciences and of Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder chaired the committee which included more than a dozen earth scientists and ocean researchers from universities in both Canada and the United States, and from the National Academy of Science.

A prepublication copy of the entire 201-page paper is available to read without charge on the National Academies Press page. You can also download it for free although it was a little tricky getting it to my computer.

SOURCE
MinnPost story

Foggy day

by mdr on Dec. 03rd, 2013

It was foggy here in southern Minnesota today but nothing like the fog that shrouded the Grand Canyon on Sunday. The time-lapse video was made by photographer Derek von Briesen and Brian Klimowski, chief meteorologist of Flagstaff's National Weather Service office.

Dec
02
2013

Scott Anfinson
Scott AnfinsonCourtesy Scott Anfinson
Hey there! Do you know that we have a State Archaeologist here in Minnesota? Meet Scott Anfinson the 3rd State Archaeologist of Minnesota. Scott came to visit us and while talking to him, we’ve learned some interesting things about the burial mounds in Minnesota. We’ve learned about the Lidars (shots of lasers that are use to scan the ground from above, used to detect mounds) that are used to detect the mounds and the importance of his job of protecting them. We’ve interviewed him with some questions and will like to share some of his answers to you about his job experiences.

What inspired you to become an archaeologist?
When I was 8 years old, I received a book for Christmas, that was all about dinosaurs. It showed mainly these guys who were digging in China in the Gobi Desert… That sparked my interest in digging and archaeology… However, at that time I didn’t know that paleontology and archaeology are different.

What is exactly a State Archaeologist? What is the significance of the job you do?
One of the jobs that I do for the state is, I’m in charge of all ancient burials that were made 100 or 12,000 years ago in Minnesota...
Some people would probably say to me “Why do we need an state archaeologist?.
First of all, I’ll say to them is, “Well who do you want to be in charge of all those 3,000 pioneer cemeteries and 12,000 Indian burial mounds? Who would be in charge if they asked,
“Can I disturb them?”, “Where are they?”
“What are the disturbance?”. I can help them find a solution.
I also help state agencies... It’s against the law to disturb any archaeological site on public property. So they need my help to figure out how to build their road, their trail, or their new visitor center by reducing the harm to the site.

How long have you’ve been the state archaeologist?
Started in 2006. So it’s been 7 years now.

What places you excavated?
I’ve never done archaeology in another country. I do almost all of my archeology right in the Midwest.

Have you ever misidentified anything or changed your mind about something you found?
Happens all the time... When you create a hypothesis, basically it is saying is “I think this what happened”. But you can never prove for sure if that’s what exactly what happened, but you can prove something that didn’t happen... What you do is, you can start eliminating the possibilities until you are left with possibly what probably caused it… Science proves the truth, it is just getting closer to some kind of truth, and that truth can change. For an example, one time when I was working on a site in western Minnesota and I found some burnt bones, which looked very much like hand bones from a human. I thought I had found a cremation burial, but then I noticed that the bone that I found must be a very big guy. I went over to the Bell Museum in the University of Minnesota and took the bones with me to look at them a little more carefully. And they were are actually a paw of a black bear… So I was wrong on my first conclusion.

As you can see the job of the an State Archaeologist is very important to the state. Meeting him, was a great opportunity because just learning what he does, really draws you closer to the importance of archaeology. It’s more than digging, it’s science!

Dec
01
2013

Three shiitake mushrooms: Some fungi create their own breeze to disperse spores.
Three shiitake mushrooms: Some fungi create their own breeze to disperse spores.Courtesy apc33
According to a new study presented at the recent Annual Meeting of the American Physical Society's Division of Fluid Dynamicsin Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, many species of mushrooms create their own breezes to help disperse their spores. Most times, mushrooms rely on wind to spread their offspring around the environment. But using indirect measurements, along with high-speed video and scaling analysis of fluid mechanics, researchers from Trinity College and UCLA have shown that before releasing their spores, some fungi create their own air movement through the release of water vapor that produces a convective dynamic to cool the air and get it moving. As slight as the breeze may seem, it's enough to move the spores to an adequate distance away from the mushroom parent.

SOURCE
Scientific American story

Happy Thanksgiving!: Remember, that delicious bird you're consuming today is the descendent of a carnivorous dinosaur!
Happy Thanksgiving!: Remember, that delicious bird you're consuming today is the descendent of a carnivorous dinosaur!Courtesy Mark Ryan

Lighting the Paths Across the U.S.: The Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP (National Polar-orbiting Partnership) satellite acquired two nighttime images early on Oct. 1, 2013, for this natural-light, mosaic view of the continental United States.
Lighting the Paths Across the U.S.: The Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP (National Polar-orbiting Partnership) satellite acquired two nighttime images early on Oct. 1, 2013, for this natural-light, mosaic view of the continental United States.Courtesy NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon, using Suomi NPP VIIRS and DMSP OLS data provided courtesy of Chris Elvidge (NOAA National Geophysical Data Center)
From NASA's Image of the Day:

Thanksgiving is a time for family, for feasting, and for gratitude in the United States. It is also a time when the nation’s transportation network is clogged with travelers. According to the American Automobile Association, an estimated 43.4 million Americans will travel 50 miles (80 kilometers) or more during Thanksgiving week, with the average round trip being 600 miles (1,000 kilometers). More than 90 percent of them will use cars or trucks, while the rest will ride planes or trains.

The United States has more roads—4.1 million miles (6.6 million kilometers)—than any other nation in the world, and roughly 40 percent more than second-ranked India. About 47,000 of those U.S. miles are part of the Interstate Highway System, established by President Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s. The country also has 127,000 miles (204,000 kilometers) of railroad tracks and about 25,000 miles (40,000 kilometers) of navigable rivers and canals (not including the Great Lakes).

The imprint of that transportation web becomes easier to see at night. The Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP (National Polar-orbiting Partnership) satellite acquired two nighttime images early on Oct. 1, 2013, for this natural-light, mosaic view of the continental United States. The VIIRS instrument uses a “day-night band” of wavelengths that is sensitive to low light levels and man made light sources. The images were collected just three days before the new moon, so reflected light from space and the atmosphere was relatively low. It was also a rare night when most of the nation was cloud-free.

Nov
26
2013

Wild Turkey: Wild Turkey
Wild Turkey: Wild TurkeyCourtesy Malcolm - Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) in Fort Worth Zoo

Some turkey feathers look iridescent due to nano-sized structures within the feathers rather than pigment.

Iridescence due to nano-sized structures can also be easily seen in peacock feathers and Blue Morpho butterfly wings.

More about iridescence in nature:

  • Butterfly Blues video
    Mr. O talks about iridescence and Blue Morpho butterflies in another "O Wow" moment at the Children's Museum of Houston.


  • Zoom into a Blue Morpho Butterfly video
    Zoom into the natural nanostructures that manipulate light on a Blue Morpho Butterfly!

    See video

  • To learn more about nanotechnology, science, and engineering, visit:
    www.whatisnano.org

    To see other nano stories on Science Buzz tagged #nano visit:
    http://www.sciencebuzz.org/buzz_tags/nano

    Nov
    21
    2013

    3D printed dinosaur bone
    3D printed dinosaur boneCourtesy Radiological Society of North America
    Using state-of-the-art medical scanning and printing technology, German paleontologists have been able to scan and reconstruct a dinosaur vertebrae that survived a World War II bombing raid that left hundreds of fossils unidentified. Dug out of a clay pit south of Halberstadt, Germany in the early 20th century, the fossil was jacketed in plaster (for protection during transportation from the field) and stored in the basement of the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin along with numerous other fossils from Halberstadt in southern Germany and another dig site in Tanzania. When the Allies made a bombing raid over Berlin during WWII, a portion of the museum was hit and collapsed, leaving the poorly labeled fossils in one big messy pile of plaster jackets and rubble. Museum workers sorted the jacketed fossils from the rubble but which fossil came from which dig? The labeled plaster jackets gave no clue.

    Plateosaurus mount: Early postcard of a Plateosaurus skeleton seen in a museum in Stuttgart, Germany.
    Plateosaurus mount: Early postcard of a Plateosaurus skeleton seen in a museum in Stuttgart, Germany.Courtesy Mark Ryan
    Modern technology came to the rescue from technicians from the Department of Radiology at Charité Campus Mitte in Berlin. One of the jacketed fossils was first scanned with a CT (computed tomography) scanner - similar to those used to scan and diagnose medical patients. Because the radiation absorption (attenuation) of the fossil differs from that of the surrounding matrix - the rocky material in which the fossil is encased - making it easy to outline and create a digital copy of the fossil. The resulting image was compared to field drawings from the two expeditions and identified as a vertebrae of a Triassic Period prosauropod known as a Plateosaurus. The dataset was entered into a computer, cleaned up a bit, and then fed into a 3D printer where - layer by plastic layer - an exact replica of the hidden and unprepared fossil was "printed" in 3-dimensions.

    CT scanning and 3D printing of fossils has been in use for a while now but this is a first time paleontologists have been able to identify and copy a dinosaur bone still encased in a matrix wrapped in a plaster field jacket.

    In the past, this couldn't have been done without first cutting open the field jacket and spending long hours of detailed lab preparation - i.e. removing all the matrix from around the fossil. Making copies of fossils usually entails creating molds using rubber or something similar, then filling the void with plaster or other casting materials. Now with 3D printing technology, exact (or scaled) duplicates of important fossils can be created and shared with scientists or schools for study and comparison. The dataset of the scan can serve the same purpose.

    Both the cost and size of the technology have been reduced in recent years, making it both affordable and portable for many museums. The following videos show the processes in action. Desktop scanning of dinosaur bones and the printing a dinosaur skull with a simple desktop 3D printer.

    SOURCES and LINKS
    Story on Science Daily
    Live Science story