Archive for category Nature

Algae World News: Red snow melts glaciers

Just in time for our first snow in Minnesota when we eagerly bring out our cross-country skis and sleds—both self-propelled and motorized, comes this news of a melt-inducing microbe.  I’ve seen and tasted the resulting “watermelon snow” up in the Rockies.  It seemed harmless enough—a natural frozen novelty.  But a simple comparative experiment by Alaskan researchers showed a 17% increase in melting where the snow became darkened by the algae stain.  On the positive side it will be watermelon snow-cones all around.

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‘Roid rage

Let’s not get caught off guard by an Earth-killing asteroid. As Dylan Thomas said: “Do not go gentle into that good night, …rage against the dying of the light.” 

That is the mission of NASA.  If you are reading this, chances are that Asteroid 2012 TC4 whizzed by today at 30,000 miles per hour—closely monitored by a network of observatories. Check out the details at this NASA website. They take asteroid defense very seriously.  Their defense plans for redirecting asteroids will be tested out in 2022 on a double asteroid Didymos B as explained here.

Keep in mind that asteroid 1950DA, about three-quarters a mile wide—big enough to destroy our planet, has a 0.1% chance of hitting the earth 2818.  In case NASA does not succeed in their defense efforts, start digging now and you might get hunkered down enough to survive for a short while after that.

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Arctic vortex delivers an impressive “Cold Force” for mid-December

20-below-dec-18As you can see, I awoke this morning to an outside temperature of minus 20.2 degrees F, which comes to precisely minus 29.00000 on the Celsius scale according to this metric converter.  When I opened the window, the air provided an impressive slap to my face—no need for coffee to provide an eye-opener.  However, I had to quickly shut out the cold before it gave me a brain freeze.

The iconic fellow pictured on my La Crosse Technology Wireless Weather Station, whom I generally find very indicative on temperature, did not get dressed warmly enough today. He needs a mask to avoid a frostbitten nose and frozen ears.  When the Arctic express whistles down into our mid-Continent winter wasteland, I fall back on the Anderson Cold Scale, which came up just shy of Freezing Force 6 in the predawn hour.  That tells me to don 6 layers before venturing out for my morning walk.  I start with Long Johns.  If this is your first winter up north and you need a warm undergarment, check out this traditional one from the Gentleman’s Emporium — fire engine red with rear fireman’s flap.

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New Summer Glory Index provides proof positive of great weather

Minnesotans love to point out what a pain in the posterior (PIP) it is to endure the climate from November through March.  Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) State Climatology Office (SCO) quantifies the suffering with this Winter Misery Index (WMI).  As you can see by their chart, last year’s WMI ranked highly for PIP.

I actually like the cold (good for ice skating!) and snow (great for cross-country skiing).  Therefore I agree with the DNR suggesting the WMI be renamed WFI, that is, Winter Fun Index.  However, even I must admit to favoring spring, summer and fall over the winter.

It’s been especially nice here for the past few months—only a few really hot days.  This is confirmed by the MN DNR climatology wonks who concocted this Summer Glory Index (SGI).  They figure the sweet spot (“full credit”) is high and low temperatures of 73-79 F and 57-64, respectively, with less than 60 F dew point and at most 0.01 inches of rain.  By these measures we Twin Citians are enjoying a mostly glorious summer.

Looking back some years on the chart a few summers fall into the “wretched” category, primarily due to extreme heat.  I recall many a summer night lying awake in my upper bunk on the second floor of our home in St. Paul with the window pulled down and begging for the least bit of breeze.  That really was wretched.  Thank goodness for air conditioning now being so ubiquitous in buildings and vehicles!

Baby Laine relaxing in the glorious summer of 2015Check out my granddaughter Laine enjoying our great outdoors.  Glory be! : )

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When you gotta glow, you gotta glow

In my youth I enjoyed a pop ditty by Johnny Mercer about a little glow worm.  This song is now stuck in my head.  It is an “ear worm”!  It emerged from a corner of my brain when I toured the Waitomo Caves in the North Island of New Zealand yesterday and saw the wonderful constellations of glow worms that populate its cavern ceilings.

I have no clue how to eliminate an ear worm, but it turns out that glow worms are susceptible to increases in carbon dioxide according a poster presentation of this scientific study that kept me occupied while awaiting our Maori guide at the cave mouth.  Not surprisingly the half million tourists get the most blame.  It’d be far worse if not for the glowworms providing such a breathtaking sight.

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Sea turtles nesting now—only 1 out of 1000 will make it to maturity

Walking the beach yesterday on the beach by our condo on Florida’s West Coast I came across this sea turtle nest.  Most likely it’s a loggerhead, but it could be a rare Kemp’s ridley according to biologists at Mote’s Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program.

Sea turtle nestAs you can see in this news report —including video of the female digging in, somewhere on this beach they recorded a nest made by this most uncommon of all sea turtles.  Unfortunately, the odds of any one baby living to an age when they can reproduce, which might take up to 30 years, are only 1 out of 1000.*  It does not help to be sharing their nesting ground with all the people along the coast, but, with the admonitions of biologists and concerned citizens to not disturb the eggs and keep the lights down, perhaps their chances will improve.

*One of the hazards, of particular concern for the Kemp’s ridley turtle, is toxins from Florida’s red tides based on this new research by Mote scientists.


Oh, snow–but it was ice out

Walking the dog to the park on a decent day yesterday (today being terribly cold and rainy) I came across this remnant of the mountain of snow piled up in the cul de sac.  Yuk!  On the other hand, many of the area’s lakes enjoyed ice-out this week.   Nearby White Bear Lake was declared open on  Wednesday morning  (it’s a bit of a judgement call, evidently).   According to records that go back 86 years this year’s ice-out fell nine days later than the median date but well ahead of the record of May 4, 1950.  

I am looking forward to the dirty-snow-out coming soon.  Then I feel it really will be Spring.
Dirty snow pile
P.S. I noticed the postal-deliverer wearing the USPS summer-shorts uniform, so that’s a good sign. : )

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White squirrel on fresh snow

On my triple-long commute into town this morning I enjoyed my scenic route along County Road B2 in Roseville. One may as well make a savory slurpee out of the snowstorm as sit in traffic stewing.  This route paralleled the gob-stomped Highway 36 so moving along the stopped traffic made this bypass all the more satisfying.  I happily paid heed to the calming advice of the mellifluous public radio announcer that “you will get to where you going in due time.”

While admiring the flakes falling on the white-bedecked urban forest I was startled by a clump of snow scurrying down a tree trunk and then disappearing when it hit the deck.  It was an albino* squirrel who managed to survive standing out all summer amongst all the greenery.  Cool!

You really can see a lot just by looking—to paraphrase Yogi Berra.

*Not being close enough to look it in the eye, I cannot be sure it wasn’t a plain old white squirrel (black eyed) but from the map posted at this website , my guess is it’s an albino.  If so, that’s very rare—only 1 out of 100,000 squirrels exhibit this trait, according to my research.

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Feeling Fall finally–thoughts turn to Florida…but, given their gators, do we dare go?

Talk about the office this week blew with the strong northern winds to consideration of making a move to the South.  When I suggested Florida, a colleague expressed concerns about alligators, such as this one that put an end to a jogger.  This led me to doing some research on the relative risks of Nature down there in God’s Waiting Room.

Check out these stats that surprised me with evidence that ‘gators are worse than sharks.

Elsewhere I learned that there’s been 52 lighting deaths in Florida over the last 10 years.

Here’s a recap of these grisly stats for Florida:

  • Gators—3 deaths per decade
  • Sharks—1.4 killed every 10 years
  • Lightning—52 fried per decade

It turns out that the latter are mainly men out fishing (>80 % of the deaths)—probably trying to catch sharks or gators.

Maybe I will just stay here in Minnesota and take my chances on either freezing to death or being eaten by wolves.



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Slugging down beer—which brew preferred by shell-less terrestrial gastropods

Inspired by my new web-based “Launch Pad” to the book DOE Simplified, PhD biologist Gaston Habets put his new statistical know-how to good use in his own backyard out in California by offering a choice of beer to the slugs eating up his garden.

Being a native of a cold clime I’d no idea how troublesome slugs could be until some years ago when my cousin in the Bay Area had me out to her place for dinner and asked me to help her gather up greens from the garden.  The size of the slugs surprised me: The Pacific banana slug approaches a foot in length according to this New York Times science blog.

Given their gentle nature and top speed of 0.0055 miles per hour, one need not fear these slimy creatures.  The only thing is that they eat up the gardens.  So that sets the stage for the humane solution of sidetracking slugs with a bowl of beer.  But which brew do they prefer?  Gaston did his bit for the sake of garden science by setting out eight trays at specific locations around the vegetables and randomly pouring either Bud light or alcohol-free O’Doul’s.  He repeated this experiment over four nights in a way that blocked out any differences in the nocturnal feedings.*  The graphic shown here shows the outcome: By nearly a 3-to-1 ration slugs preferred Bud Light over the O’Doul’s.  They did not get thrown off by the random location of the beer—the slugs found their favorite bars and bellied up.

*Gaston’s data showed a maximum slug count on Saturday night, but then they dropped off to a minimum on Sunday.  My conclusion is that slugs party hearty.  Who knew?

SlugBeerFest_Model Graphs of R1Slugs

Slugs prefer Bud Light over O’Doul’s

P.S.  It seems that slugs from coast to coast really do prefer Bud from what I see here.

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