Stories tagged desert

Nov
09
2009

Floating Free on the Dead Sea
Floating Free on the Dead SeaCourtesy Courtesy of Ranveig at Wikimedia Commons
In anticipation for the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit coming to the Science Museum of Minnesota, I found myself wondering, why do we call it the Dead Sea? The Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth and one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world, 6 to 10 times saltier than the Atlantic Ocean. Because the salt creates such a harsh living environment, the only organisms that will survive in the Dead Sea are bacteria and algae. Any fish that accidentally swims into the Dead Sea from one of the freshwater streams that feed it, like the Jordan River, would die instantly!

The sea is so salty because of evaporation. The high temperatures and low humidity in the region cause the water in the sea to evaporate very quickly, leaving behind all the dissolved mineral salts. Some salts sink to the bottom and some wash ashore leaving a salty crusty beach.
Dead Sea Salt Beach
Dead Sea Salt BeachCourtesy Courtesy of Isewell at WikiMedia Commons

Because of the high concentration of mineral salts in the Dead Sea, the water is more dense than both freshwater and the human body. This means that our bodies become buoyant, like a cork, and we can easily float on it. When you take a dip in the Dead Sea you can actually kick back and read a book like floating on a raft. In fact, it is hard to actually “swim” in the sea.
Dead Sea Salt
Dead Sea SaltCourtesy Courtesy of Xtall at WikiMedia Commons

The Dead Sea has been a tourist attraction since the time of Herod the Great in the 1st Century BCE. The Dead Sea isn’t just a novelty for “fun while floating” but the mineral salts have been used in Egyptian mummification, in agricultural fertilizers and even in modern day cosmetics. Check out these links to learn more about Dead Sea geography, how it was formed, how it is used by humans, and some of the issues it faces today.

http://www.extremescience.com/DeadSea.htm
http://www.wysinfo.com/Dead_Sea/dead_sea_overview.html

Mar
25
2009

I can has babiez?: Um, no. Sorry.
I can has babiez?: Um, no. Sorry.Courtesy roo72
Chinese officials have come up with another plan to combat their “desert rat plague,” one so crazy it just might work: gerbil abortion snacks.

As far as I can tell, gerbils (or “desert rats,” I guess) are native to China’s deserts and dry grasslands. However, the gerbils have gotten out of control, and are destroying too much of the grass, possibly accelerating desertification in a country that’s already one third desert.

According to Wikipedia, China already came up with a plan so crazy it just might work: in 2003, the government began releasing eagles into the desert to control the Gerbil population. Apparently, despite being so crazy it just might work, it didn’t work, and they have moved on to gerbil abortion pills.

The pills are small, resemble bran feed, and will be scattered around the gerbils’ burrows. They should prevent gerbils from becoming pregnant, and cause abortions in already-pregnant females. According to official press release, the pills should have “little effect on other animals.” Shucks, this plan is just so crazy it might work.

I don’t know too much about the situation, but scattering birth control pills across a fragile ecosystem seems… It seems like something that wouldn’t surprise me if it had plenty of unforeseen repercussions. Also, considering how the gerbils are a native species, it makes me wonder what happened that they have become a danger to their ecosystem. My guess is that there are too few predators. (Which, I suppose, the eagle infusion of 2003 was meant to address.) One wonders how the remaining gerbil predators will be affected by eating rodents stuffed with birth control pills…