Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin died earlier today after being stung in the heart by a stingray barb.

Sep
04
2006

Two events sponsored by the Bell Museum of Natural History this month should add fuel to the ongoing discussion about global warming.

Filmed in eight countries on four continents, "The Great Warming" documentary features interviews with international experts on the subject of global warming. Narrated by Alanis Morissette and Keanu Reeves, the film shows on Thursday, September 7, at 7 p.m. in the Bell Auditorium. (Price: $7; $5 for students and members of the Bell Museum.)

A café scientifique conversation about the accuracy of global warming predictions will follow on Monday, September 11, at 6 p.m. in the Varsity Theater in Dinkytown, near the University of Minnesota campus. Titled "Global Climate Change: It's Getting Hot in Here!", the discussion's panelists will include Peter Ciborowski from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Fresh Energy's Science Policy Director J. Drake Hamilton, and University of Minnesota Rhetoric professor and environmental historian Daniel Philippon. ($5 suggested donation.)

Two of this summer's most active "Science Buzz" blogs approached this heated topic by asking Have You seen Al Gore's movie, "An Inconvenient Truth"? and examining Global Warming Skepticism.

Sep
03
2006

California's 25/20 vision: photo from Wikimedia
California's 25/20 vision: photo from Wikimedia

A 25 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020

California seeks to again lead the world toward a better future. After last weeks "one million solar roofs" legislation, this week California politicians are working out details that will reduce their green house emissions 25 per cent by the year 2020.

The legislation will require all businesses, from automakers to cement manufacturers, to reduce emissions beginning as early as 2012 to meet the 2020 cap. The state's 11-member Air Resources Board, which is appointed by the governor, will be charged with developing targets for each industry and for seeing that those targets are met. The board now will embark on a years-long process to fully develop regulations. The board could impose fees on some industries to pay for new programs that could do everything from requiring truckers to use biodiesel fuels to forcing farmers to handle animal waste differently.San Francisco Chronicle

California is the world's 12th-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, responsible for 10 percent of the carbon dioxide produced nationally and 2.5 percent globally. Global scientists agree that to prevent catastrophic temperature increases in this century, greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 would have to be 70 to 80 percent lower than 1990 levels.

Cap emissions; buy and sell emissions credits

Last week Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the state's senior Democratic legislator, pledged at the Commonwealth Club to introduce legislation in January that would place mandatory caps on industrial emissions. She also supports a federal cap-and-trade bill, a market-based approach for lowering emissions.(see Buzz Blog post about buying and selling pollution) For example, it would allow farmers and landowners who plant trees or convert crops into bio-fuels to earn emission credits that could be sold to companies that exceed emission limits.

What will it cost and who will pay

Some predict that because "green" energy is more expensive, many companies will move out of California. Others insist that investment capital and "clean-tech" jobs will result, similar to when California led the way with Silicon Valley. California would become more efficient and self reliant. This could give them a head start in a future that will certainly need to do something about global warming and rising energy costs.

Sep
02
2006

Iron pyrite: Photo by Art Oglesby
Iron pyrite: Photo by Art Oglesby

Best mineral ID website

We get a variety of rocks, minerals, and crystals from traders at SMM's Collector's Corner. Sometimes we need reference books or use the internet to identify specimens. Webmineral.com has the most comprehensive mineral image library on the web. Their pictures of over 2,700 different species represents 60% of all known minerals. This mineral database contains 4,442 individual mineral species.
To differentiate minerals, several properties need to be identified.

The section on crystallography has a tool that allows you to see crystals from any angle by using the computer mouse. Another section gives chemical composition, or to see all minerals that contain a certain element. The search tool allows one to enter several properties with the most relevant finds placed first in the results.

Another Collector's Corner

The "Collectors Corner" of the Mineralogical Society of America features an excellent, on-line, mineral identification key by Alan Plante, Donald Peck, & David Von Bargen. Their identification key is also based on simple mineralogical tests such as luster, hardness, color and physical description for the most common minerals an individual is likely to encounter.

With our recent cool snap mosquitoes may not be a problem for much longer. Still, you might be interested to know that it would take about 1,200,000 mosquito bites to totally drain the blood from an adult human.

Sep
01
2006

Farming the Wind: photo by Dirk Ingo Franke.   licensed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 1.0
Farming the Wind: photo by Dirk Ingo Franke. licensed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 1.0

Is wind a good cash crop?

At the State Fair I observed as several farmers were researching whether a 1.5 million dollar wind turbine would make them money. The biggest factor was how much wind was available where they lived.The break even point was if they had better than 7.5 mph average wind speeds( see map pdf). Apparently several banks and also John Deere are financing projects if the numbers look good. Power companies will give a 20 year contract to buy electricity. The wind generators usally have a life expectancy of 25 years. Most farmers pay back the loan in ten years, then can reap profits of over $100,000 a year for the next 15 years. Sounds tempting, doesn't it?

An Iowa company hopes to build a $200 million wind farm.

Iowa Winds LLC hopes to build a 200- to 300-megawatt farm covering about 40,000 acres in Franklin County.

Company officials said the farm could be the nation's largest -- depending on the permits and the county's power grid infrastructure. If the county approves the project, construction would start next spring and take about a year, said Franklin County Supervisor Michael Nolte. LiveScience

Texas leads the nation with 2,370 megawatts of wind energy installed and California has 2,323 megawatts (American Wind Association). Iowa is in third place with 836 megawatts. Minnesota is fourth with 794 megawatts. The total United States capacity is about 10,000 megawatts. These numbers and rankings are changing. Wind energy output is growing by about 30 percent a year globally.

Want more? Go to the Minnesota Dept. of Commerce wind energy information web page.

With the federal government refusing to fund research into new embryonic stem cell lines, reports this week of a process that created them without destroying embryos in the process had scientists excited. But critics are claiming that the researchers overstated the implications of their work.

Aug
30
2006

Cocked and ready to go: A trap-jaw ant poised to strike. Photo courtesy Alex Wild at myrmecos.net
Cocked and ready to go: A trap-jaw ant poised to strike. Photo courtesy Alex Wild at myrmecos.net
The title for the world’s fastest jaws has a new champion. And I’m not talking about Robin Williams or any other fast-talking human. The title has been bestowed on the tiny trap-jaw ant, also known as Odontomachus bauri. The former title-holder was the mantis shrimp.

The ant’s mandibles are so fast, they’ve been clocked at 0.13 milliseconds, a mere 2300 times faster than the blink of an eye!

Trap-jaw ant with not-so-swift prey: Photo courtesy Alex Wild at myrmecos.net
Trap-jaw ant with not-so-swift prey: Photo courtesy Alex Wild at myrmecos.net
But that’s not all. The trap-jaw’s super-choppers are in fact so powerful, the very force of them snapping against the ground can propel the insect backwards, and out of danger.

Seeing them do that was "one of the more hilarious moments in our lab," said Sheila Patek, lead researcher and assistant professor of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley (watch it here ). The study was reported recently in an online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Patek and her team used high-speed video, recording at thousands of frames per second, to study and calculate the speed of the ant’s ultra-swift yap and hasty retreat. Normal video records at 30 frames per second.

Co-author of the study, Andrew Suarez, an ant expert who teaches animal behavior at the University of Illinois at Urban-Champaign, is fascinated that the trap-jaw has co-opted its feeding apparatus for other safety uses.

The 1/3-inch long ants can throw themselves more than 3 inches upward, and 15.6 inches to the side. In human terms, it would be like a five foot six inch person jumping up 44 feet in the air, and sideways 132 feet.

The trap-jaw’s secret lies in powerful muscles that hold the ant’s jaws open and ready to strike at less than a moment’s notice when a latch is triggered. Patek likens it to a crossbow where power is stored in the flexible bow and can be released instantly.

Trap-jaw ants are found in Central and South America. The ants used in the study came from Costa Rica.

FURTHER INFORMATION:

Biology News Net
National Geographic
More about ants
BBC News w/video

Aug
29
2006

A new paper published in the Procedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that, as parents preferentially select boys over girls and gender imbalances grow, we'll see rising levels of anti-social and violent behavior.

Stella: Isn't she worth just as much as a baby boy? (Photo by Liza Pryor)
Stella: Isn't she worth just as much as a baby boy? (Photo by Liza Pryor)

"There are already an estimated 80 million missing females in India and China alone."

(According to the World Bank, in 2004 48.6% of China's population and 48.7% of India's population were female. By contrast, females made up 49.1% of the total population in East Asia, and 52.1% in all of Europe and Central Asia.)

The Reuters news report says,

"'This trend would lead to increased levels of anti-social behavior and violence, as gender is a well-established correlate of crime, and especially violent crime,' [the authors] said, adding the trend would threaten stability and security in many societies."

The authors of the paper call for "measures to reduce sex-selection and an urgent change in cultural attitudes." But that seems easier said than done.

Do you think it's possible to change cultural attitudes about gender preference? It's easy to say this is a problem of East Asian cultures, but what about the US? Do we have cultural preferences about our children's genders, too?

116 candles

by Elisabeth on Aug. 29th, 2006

The world’s oldest woman (certified on December 8th, 2005) passed away at age 116. Cause of death was linked to pneumonia.