Oct
09
2006

Spaceship Earth: Amazon.com image
Spaceship Earth: Amazon.com image

Captain, we are running low on supplies.

R. Buckminster Fuller's 1969 book imagines humanity as a crew aboard a tiny spaceship traveling through infinity. We have limited water, food, and fuel. Because of our proximity to the sun, we are given a limited budget of additional fuel which allows growth of food, trees, and fish. The sun's energy input also cycles our water and air. We even have past energy from the sun stored up in the form of coal and oil.

What is biocapacity?

What happens if we use up more food and energy each year than the Earth/Sun system can regenerate? Each year Global Footprint Network calculates humanity’s Ecological Footprint (its demand on cropland, pasture, forests and fisheries) and compares it with global biocapacity (the ability of these ecosystems to generate resources and absorb wastes). They declared that today (Oct. 9th) is Global Overshoot Day, the day we passed our biocapacity limit.

"We are clearly drawing natural capital ... the point about collapse is that we don't know when some of the systems in the global atmosphere and fish will collapse but we do know that collapse is a very real possibility" says Professor Tim Jackson, head of sustainable development at Surrey University via The Independent)

We are living beyond our means. Earth's six billion inhabitants and their rising living standards are putting an intolerable strain on nature.

Overfishing, deforestation, overpopulation, etc.

The biggest problem relating to the over-consumption of resources is climate change, but its other effects include deforestation, falling agricultural yields and overfishing.
Overfishing should be easy to understand. If you harvest fish with nets faster than they can reproduce, pretty soon there are not enough fish. Remember what happened at Red Lake.

Global Footprint Network's vision

Global Footprint Network is committed to fostering a world where all people have the opportunity to live satisfying lives within the means of Earth's ecological capacity. You can read about their accomplishments and publications here.

Oct
09
2006

Compact fluorescent lighting: Changing lightbulbs. photo by Art Oglesby
Compact fluorescent lighting: Changing lightbulbs. photo by Art Oglesby

Lets go on a diet.

I am going on an energy diet. Each year I hope to reduce the amount of energy I use. By recording the gallons of gas, the electricity, and the natural gas I pay for each year, I will measure my success.

What will you give up?

“The Energy Diet,” a story in Thursday’s Home & Garden section of the New York Times gave me this idea. Its author, Andrew Postman, asks, "What would you be willing — or not willing — to give up in order to lessen your household’s impact on the environment?" So far, 159 people have answered in their comments.

Tell us what you are doing.

Please use comments to tell me what you are doing to reduce your energy consumption. I will add the most commonly used ones to this list.

    Change incandescent lightbulbs to compact fluorescent bulbs(CFLs)
    Dial down the thermostat in the winter.
    Dress warmer and exercise to warm up if needed.
    Reduce the number of times you run to the store, etc. (make a list and buy lots at a time)

If you are in a pinch and need floss immediately, do you find a makeshift substitute? The British Dental Health Foundation found more that 60% of people risk their oral health by utilizing makeshift substitutes to remove food from between their teeth. It is postulated that American numbers are lower, but not by much.

Oct
07
2006

U.S. population, 300 million: from Wikimedia
U.S. population, 300 million: from Wikimedia
As I entered college in the fall of 1967, the population of the United States reached 200 million. Now, 40 years later, it will hit 300 million (about Oct. 15).
Our population is effected by deaths, births, and migration. Here are the current rates for each:

  • One birth every.................................. 7 seconds
  • One death every.................................. 13 seconds
  • One international migrant (net) every............ 31 seconds
  • Net gain of one person every..................... 11 seconds

The U.S. Bureau of the Census has a website projecting the current resident population of the United States (click link for today's number). At 300 million, the United States is the world's third most populous nation, though it remains far behind the growing economic superpowers of China (1.31 billion) and India (1.09 billion).

Minority children become a majority

Now, according to the Population Reference Bureau, almost half of all children under age 5 are members of a racial or ethnic minority.

Other changes since 1970

  • The suburbs share of the population grew from 38 percent to 50 percent (share of population living in central cities stagnated at around 30 percent).
  • The population in the South and West grew from 38 percent to 48 percent of the nations total.
  • Persons living alone rose from 18 percent to 26 percent. Households with five or more people almost halved, from 20 percent to 11 percent.
  • Women in the workforce grew from 43 percent to 59 percent.
  • Persons over 24 with high school diplomas soared from 55 percent to 85 percent.

Source: Population Reference Bureau, and RedOrbit

Oct
07
2006

Victoria crater, Mars: credit: NASA/JPL/UA
Victoria crater, Mars: credit: NASA/JPL/UA

Springtime on Mars

Our two little Mars rover robots survived another winter on Mars. Spirit, who has a bad wheel, sat on a hillside facing the sun. Opportunity, who spent several weeks spinning its wheels in a sand dune, has now reached a huge crater named Victoria. Progress will be slow during October, though, because the Sun's position near our radio path causes interference.

Rovers goal is to find evidence of water

Within two months after landing on Mars in early 2004, Opportunity found geological evidence for a long-ago environment that was wet. Deeper sediments exposed in craters allow a look into Mar's past. The Eagle Crater, in which Opportunity landed in 2004, gave geologists about 0.5 metres of layered rock to study. Endurance Crater, where Opportunity spent about six months, provided 7 metres of layers. Victoria Crater appears to be at least 60 metres deep.

"This is a geologist's dream come true," says rover principal scientist Steve Squyres of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, US. "Those layers of rock, if we can get to them, will tell us new stories about the environmental conditions long ago. New Scientist

Jim Bell of Cornell, lead scientist for the rovers' panoramic cameras says NASA plans to drive Opportunity from crater ridge to ridge, studying nearby cliffs across the intervening alcoves and looking for safe ways to drive the rover down.

"It's like going to the Grand Canyon and seeing what you can from several different overlooks before you walk down," Bell said.

Want see more

Oct
06
2006

Pliosaur: Credit: Natural History Museum, University of Oslo, Norway  Artwork by Tor Sponga, BT
Pliosaur: Credit: Natural History Museum, University of Oslo, Norway Artwork by Tor Sponga, BT

Marine reptile burial ground found

Norwegian scientists have discovered a "treasure trove" of fossils belonging to giant sea reptiles that roamed the seas at the time of the dinosaurs. The 150 million year-old Jurassic fossils were discovered while conducting fieldwork in a remote locality on the island of Spitsbergen, approximately 800 miles from the North Pole.

The Svalbard locality represents one of the most important new sites for marine reptiles to have been discovered in the last several decades. In terms of number, a remarkable 28 new individuals were documented during the short two-week field period, nine of which are believed to be significant discoveries. This tally, which includes 21 long-necked plesiosaurs, six ichthyosaurs and one short necked plesiosaur, ranks Svalbard as one of the most productive sites for marine reptiles in the world. The fossilized remains are also very well preserved, and most of the skeletons are articulated, with the bones still lying in their original life position. University of Oslo, Natural History Museum

A skeleton of a pliosaur promises to be one of the largest ever discovered. Over 30 feet long with a six foot skull, the find is referred to as "the monster". A large number of photos documenting these finds are on the Naturhistorisk museum website. A plesiosaur is pictured being eaten by the pliosaur. Ichthyosaurs were another food source represented in the fossil treasue trove.

Unconserved, these specimens would crumble due to repeated freezing and thawing during the cold winters and fairly temperate summers in Svalbard. The destruction of these fossils is being prevented by wrapping them in a “field jackets” and bringing them back to the museum.

Oct
06
2006

As I watched the praying mantis crawling on my hand, I noticed something brownish coming out of its bottom. At first I thought it was feces, but then it started wriggling around vigorously. Was it a tapeworm, or some unknown species of worm?

Praying mantis: This isn't the mantis with the hairworm. But any excuse to post a photo of a praying mantis is a good excuse to do it.
Praying mantis: This isn't the mantis with the hairworm. But any excuse to post a photo of a praying mantis is a good excuse to do it.Courtesy CatDancing

We brought the worm home in a bag and searched on the internet. It was a hairworm, a parasite that feeds on the insides of insects and brainwashes the insects into jumping into the water, where it completes its lifecycle. That makes sense because the praying mantis jumped off my hand into a wading pool just before I brought it onto land and the hairworm started coming out.
We've only found examples of hairworms coming out of grasshoppers and rarely emerging from damselfies/dragonflies. Has a hairworm ever before been observed coming out of a praying mantis? I found it on Oct. 4, 2006 at Kyodo no Mori in Fuchu-shi in Tokyo when my 4th grade class from ASIJ was on a field trip.
My name is Elsa and I am nine years old. I want to be either an entemologist or a herpetologist when I grow up.

Oct
05
2006

Skipjack herring: Illustration courtesy Duane Raver and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Skipjack herring: Illustration courtesy Duane Raver and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

I work at the Science Museum and I often learn unusual things during the course of my day. Some things are funny, some I store away to pull out in a Cliff Claven moment, and others make me want to run screaming to my desk to put them into this blog.

This is one of the latter.

Yesterday I learned that herrings may communicate with one another through their anuses by farting. I almost exploded when the person leading the meeting casually mentioned this fact. I ran back to my computer, and sure enough. Researchers at not one, but TWO institutions are studying the phenomena. Both the Institute of Coastal Research at the National Board of Fisheries in Sweden and the University of British Columbia, Vancouver have researchers looking into the matter.

Before this remarkable discovery, it was known that herrings communicated with one another through sounds produced by their swim bladder. Researchers thought that all the sounds they heard coming from the herring were coming from the swim bladder. But, and I am laughing as I type, they noticed that a stream of bubbles would leave the herring’s anus in time with the sounds they were hearing. Sure enough, they are connected, and that sound was soon dubbed by the quick-thinking researchers as a Fast Repetitive Tick (or FRT, if you will).

Researchers note that the unlike the gas we pass, these sounds are not produced by the digestive process, but rather a connection between the swim bladder and the anus. The exact purpose or reason behind the FRTs is not exactly known. One theory is that is a way for the herring to communicate with each other at night. Another is that is an anti-predator tactic. Seriously. Or, it could just be an incidental release of air from the swim bladder as the fish adjusts its buoyancy.

You can hear the herring communicating in this manner here.

Oct
05
2006

Ecotourism is the practice of visiting places where rare or exotic animals live and the popularity of ecotourism is growing at an amazing rate. Ecotourism can foster many beneficial effects for the special- interest sites that people visit: people can learn about the wonderful places and animals they see, donations help with conservation and preservation of the area and species, and tourism can be a source of income for surrounding communities.

However, ecotourism remains a routinely unregulated practice and scientists are starting to wonder about the effects that such high numbers of visitors will have on the wild animals, their populations, and the surrounding habitats, if the practice continues unchecked. Other problems , such as the amount of garbage that is accumulating at sites due to the tourism and the loss of natural resources that area communities are experiencing, have come to light and are generating concern from scientists and local peoples.

Scientists on the island of Damas, off the coast of Chile, are studying Humboldt penguins and the effects of ecotourism on the penguin population. They have reported a steady decline in the average number of offspring produced by each Humboldt female, as tourism to view the penguins has increased. Scientists fear if ecotourism practices are not regulated and the sites not managed, many exotic species and their habitats will disappear.

Oct
04
2006

The rise of the spread of the deer ticks are back on the road. Over the pass year, 2005, a total of 918 Lymes disease cases were reported at the the Minnesota Department of Health. Deer ticks are also known as black-legged tick. They carry a bacteria that causes the Lyme disease, which is an illness that can cause debilitating arthritis, for example. The deer tick also carry a bacteria that causes human anaplasmosis, which is a serious illness that usually begins with a high fever. So when you are going outdoors remember to wear protective clothings, such as wearing long sleeve shirts and pants, tucking in your pant legs into your socks. Frequently check to see if there are any ticks clinging on to your clothing or skin. Try to stay away from woody areas and bushy places. Or use tick repelling spray.