Record Arctic Temps Despite Decreasing Sunlight

September 3rd, 2009. By Dave. 7,669 views.
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Arctic Ice Flow (courtesty of NOAA)

Arctic Ice Flow (courtesty of NOAA)

Scientists from the National Center for Atmospheric Research will publish in tomorrow’s edition of the journal Science that the last 10 years have been the warmest 10-year period in the arctic compared to any withing the last 2000 years.  The main culprit?  Greenhouse gases.  All this comes on top of  a 21,000 year old cycle caused to a wobble in the earth’s rotation that has, for the last 8,000 years, put less sunlight onto the arctic than otherwise (think of a top that spins and wobbles).  Eventually, within a few thousand years, the cycle will reverse, leading to an increase in sunlight in the arctic region, potentially exasperating the problem of already warmer temperatures.

Evidently, Cash for Clunkers couldn’t have come at a better time.

Source: MSNBC

Here Comes the Sun…Spot

June 19th, 2009. By Dave Oei. 4,238 views.
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The Sun, as of 19 June 2009.  Courtesy of the National Solar Observatory/AURA/NSF.

The Sun, as of 19 June 2009. Courtesy of the National Solar Observatory/AURA/NSF.

If you’re a geek like me, you’ve kept your telescopic solar filter on the shelf for more years than you care to remember because of the lack of anything of interest on the sun. Well, time to dust it off. At least, if the scientists at the National Solar Observatory have the right idea.

Scientists have observed that solar activity waxes and wanes on an 11 year cycle. Why? Nobody yet knows. But when solar activity increases, all sorts of havoc gets wrecked onto our satellites and telecommunication systems, and at the same time we see a marked increase in aurora activity. For amateur astronomers, as even professional ones I suppose, increased activity means that sunspots are back. And peering at the sun with a telescope fitted with a high-grade solar filter suddenly becomes interesting again.

Read more…

6 Great Pictures from Shuttle Mission STS-119

April 3rd, 2009. By Dave Oei. 8,084 views.
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If you know where to look, you can find a treasure trove of great pictures from each and every NASA mission, including, of course, those of the Space Shuttle.  It’s not easy though, that despite the improved look-and-feel of NASA’s website.  But if you’re interested in shuttle-specific images, here’s a good jumping off page.

Getting back, here are some of the best images of the just-completed mission STS-119.  You won’t find any of astronauts with frizzy hair, or astronauts in gravity-defying poses (that’s so 1990).  You will find juxtapositions of Earth, with the ISS, astronauts on EVA, and of course, the shuttle.

Here are the pictures, enjoy, and a word of warning – they’re quite large!

How Udderly Odd – Cows with Built-in Magnets Confirmed?

March 17th, 2009. By Dave Oei. 11,805 views.
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Cows on Microsoft Live

How Udderly Odd - Cows with Built-in Magnets Confirmed?

Last year, after looking at over 8000 images of domestic cattle on Google Earth, a group of scientists led by Hynek Burda and Sabine Begall found that something interesting: Cows tended to align their bodies north-south.

While the reason for why cows did this was elusive, the methodology they used was such that anybody with a computer and internet access could have reached the same results.

Google Earth, a monster of a program, is a free one by Google that provides detailed satellite images, topographic maps, etc… of our planet.  These researchers simply looked at a lot of cows spread across Earth and made this simple discovery.  But was this cause of this mystery-behavior the work of magnetism or the sun?  The researchers suggested it was magnetism because cows were seen pointing north-south even in cloudy conditions.

But there was one way to find out definitively.

Enter Google Earth again.  Except this time, they focused on cows…under high-powered electrical lines.

Contrary to popular belief, the Earth’s magnetic field is very weak, measuring in at no more than 60 microteslas.  Just for reference, a typical refrigerator magnet pulls in at about 5,000 microteslas.  Which means that electrical lines, despite being some distance off the ground from these cows could still provide enough of a disruption to Earth’s magnetic field to confuse cows.

And confuse cows they did.  The researchers found that cows under electrical lines were oriented randomly, not in neat north-south orientations.

Of course, none of this explains the picture I provided above.  It’s not from Google Earth, but from Microsoft Live.  It’s a picture of cows from the Netherlands, which if correctly depicted, shows them oriented more east-west (see the link below if you don’t believe me).  None, in fact, are oriented north-south.

Perhaps it’s just another example of things being done a little differently over in Holland.  Or maybe there are underground wires that are interfering with these cow’s internal compass. Regardless, for now go ahead and put me on the skeptical but highly amused side.

Image source: Live.com

Volcanos Shmalcanos: Don’t Worry Jindal, They Don’t Exist

March 2nd, 2009. By Dave Oei. 10,526 views.
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July 22, 1980, Mount Saint Helens. © USGS, Photo by Jim Vallance.

July 22, 1980, Mount Saint Helens. © USGS, Photo by Jim Vallance.

Redoubt Volcano, Alaska, currently at code Orange.  Photo taken February 26, 2009, courtesy of AVO/USGS, photo by Jennifer Adleman.

Redoubt Volcano, Alaska, currently at code Orange. Photo taken February 26, 2009, courtesy of AVO/USGS, photo by Jennifer Adleman.

Dear Governor Bobby Jindal,

Last week, President Barack Obama’s proposed a multi-trillion dollar budget and in response you said, “And $140 million for something called volcano monitoring. Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington D.C.”

Nicely put.  After all, in my neck of the woods, there are no such things as…volcanoes.

Sheesh.

I mean, let’s set aside the fact that unlike what you said, in reality only 10% of the $140 million you mentioned will be used for monitoring volcanoes.  The rest would be allocated across the United States Geological Service which is tasked to help monitor and aid in the prevention of damage resulting from nearly all natural disasters (pdf).  Such as wildfires.  Floods.  Tsunamis.  Oh, and hurricanes.

Kilauea, December 19, 2008.  Photo courtesy of USGS.

Kilauea, lava entering the ocean on December 19, 2008. Photo courtesy of USGS.

Wait – and earthquakes.

Hey.  Where I live there are earthquakes, lots of them.  Where my cousins live there are wildfires.  And if I recall, my friends in your wonderful state of Louisiana and relatives in Florida often get bombarded by those nasty hurricanes.

On second thought, Mr. Jindal, I think I would like to have these potential natural disasters monitored.  I want these organizations to be well funded so ordinary citizens like myself have a chance of receiving a warning in advance of disaster and potentially surviving one.

But is $14 million too much for volcanic monitoring?  It is a lot of money.  But considering that a single Boening 747 can easily cost twenty times as much, and that a single plume of volcanic ash can bring down one of these planes, and that we have 169 active volcanoes in the U.S., I’d like to think we can spare the $14 million.

Tigers, Whole Foods, Global Warming & Orangutans. What’s the Link?

March 1st, 2009. By Dave Oei. 38,475 views.
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Whole Foods, Tigers, Global Warming & Orangutans. What’s the Link?  Photo by Dave Watts of Birdlife International.

Tigers, Whole Foods, Global Warming & Orangutans. What's the Link? Photo by Dave Watts.

Palm oil.

Palm what?

If you pay as little attention to your food as I do then you’re probably just as surprised as I am that: 1) Some palm trees make edible fruit; and 2) Some of this fruit is linked to endangered species destruction and deforestation.

It so happens that for the last 50 years or so, palm oil has been making head-ways into the foods we eat.  It’s also in bio-fuels we burn and cosmetics some of you may use.  Recently, there’s been a huge push for the introduction of palm oil in U.S. foods because of new trans-fat reporting requirements.  Because palm oil doesn’t have any, it’s been used as a choice to replace non-trans-fat-free shortening.

And while we are collectively healthier for eating less trans-fat, there are measurable global consequences that have resulted from this relatively tiny shift in our dietary habits.  Namely, deforestation on a vast scale and threatened species nearing extinction.

Read more…

Turtles Shell Helmets Courtesy of Sinking Ships

February 23rd, 2009. By Dave Oei. 18,794 views.
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USS Mullinnix as it's getting sunk as part of naval tests in August 1992.  Photo courtesy of USSMullinnix.org.

USS Mullinnix as it's getting sunk as part of naval tests in August 1992. Photo by USSMullinnix.org.

The path to science discovery and application does not always follow a straight line.  This is one such example.

For years the U.S. Navy has conducted tests of the explosive variety in an effort to make ships stronger and bombs more potent.  I can only assume they’re succeeding in doing a very good job at both.

But since these tests tend to take place over open water, there’s collateral damage of the marine variety.  In particular, dolphins and turtles.

Read more…

Coffee v. Strokes: Coffee Wins

February 22nd, 2009. By Dave Oei. 4,304 views.
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Does coffee help prevent strokes?  Photo courtesy of Starbucks.com.

Does coffee help prevent strokes? Photo courtesy of Starbucks.com.

Doctor David Liebeskind of UCLA et al. announced late last week at the International Stroke Conference an interesting finding with regard to the relationship between coffee consumption and…wait for it…strokes.

While previous publications have touted the seemingly beneficial effects of coffee drinking, how it relates to strokes was not established.

But after looking at daily coffee intake amongst a sample of over 30,000 individuals (of which, over 9,000 were coffee drinkers), they found lower incidences of strokes in those who drank more coffee.  In other words, those who imbibed at least 6 cups a day had fewer strokes than those who drank 3-5, who had fewer than those who drank 1-2, who had fewer than those who didn’t drink any.

If that wasn’t enough, the incidence of cardiac disease, diabetes, and hypertension was also lower for those who drank more coffee.

Right about now you might be asking why this is. Is coffee good for you? Should I drink more? The simple answer is, nobody knows.

Which implies that despite these findings, caution is in order.  The results represent correlations, not necessarily cause and effect.  The authors state that the mechanism behind these “benefits” is as yet unknown and more research is required.

For example, it is possible that those who drink a lot of coffee have greater wealth and thus better access to health care than those who drink less.  After all, last I checked 6 cafe mochas at Starbucks can easily set you back $20 a day. Which is about the cost of a very good PPO with a very good health insurance company here in California.

Source: International Stroke Conference Oral and Poster Presentations

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