Sunday, June 30, 2013

Hot enough to fry an egg in the desert?

I know weather isn't climate, but temperatures will be near world record level in the deserts of the American Southwest this weekend.  CNN reports from Palm Springs in Extreme heat soars throughout Southwest.

Triple digit temperatures are scorching the Southwest. CNN's Casey Wian reports.
The high temperatures prompted Robert Roy Britt to ask on LiveScience: Hot Enough to Fry an Egg on the Sidewalk This Weekend?
PHOENIX, AZ — It’s so hot today … Actually, it’s only 112 degrees Fahrenheit here today, nothing compared to Death Valley, Ca., which the National Weather Service says will see high temperatures near 130 through Monday. The hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth was 134 degrees Fahrenheit (56.7 degrees Celsius) in Death Valley on July 10, 1913. All this got me wondering about the old adage.

So I checked around. The science on whether you can fry an egg on the sidewalk is sketchy, but if ever there were a time and a place to try, it would be this weekend in Death Valley. It didn’t work in Phoenix. More on that in a moment.

There are several references to 158 degrees as the minimum temperature needed to fry an egg. But Bill Nye the Science Guy tested egg-frying on a griddle on a stove a couple years ago, and found the minimum temperature to cook an egg was 130 degrees Fahrenheit (55 C), but that it took 20 minutes at that relatively low temperature. “So indeed, it can be hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk,” he writes.
Britt has photos of his egg congealing, not frying, at the link.

For any of you in the desert southwest reading this (Hi, Nebris!) try to stay cool.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Science fiction news from Space.com

Discovery News on World War Z wasn't the only science fiction news covered this week.  Space.com had quite a bit of it, beginning with a follow-up to Rescuing the Star Trek past and Rescuing the Star Trek past, continued, 'Star Trek' Fans Unveil Restored Galileo Shuttlecraft | Video.

'Star Trek' superfans Adam and Leslie Schneider unveil the fully restored Galileo shuttlecraft, a life-size prop from the iconic 1960s TV science fiction series while fans cheer on June 22, 2013. The Galileo will be donated to Space Center Housto[n.]
The story by Tariq Malik at Space.com that accompanies this video is 'Star Trek' Superfans Restore Galileo Shuttlecraft to 1960s Sci-Fi Glory.
A life-size spaceship prop from TV's original "Star Trek" series, once lost and in shambles, has been lovingly restored to its former glory by die-hard fans so it can live long and prosper as a museum piece.

After nine months of restoration, the Galileo shuttlecraft — a life-size spaceship prop from the iconic 1960s science fiction TV series — was publicly unveiled last week in a ceremony amid loud cheers from a crowd of "Star Trek" fans and friends on hand to see the ship before its sendoff to its final frontier. It shipped off Space Center Houston, the visitor's center for NASA's Johnson Space Center, on Wednesday (June 26).

"This is amazing," "Star Trek" superfan Adam Schneider told a crowd of more than 350 friends and fellow fans as he unveiled the restored Galileo on June 22 in Atlantic Highlands, N.J. Schneider bought the huge Trek spaceship prop at auction with the specific goal of restoring it and donating it to a museum for the public to enjoy. "Despite spending [nearly] 50 years basically outdoors, for a prop built to last a year or two, she's ready for her next journey."
Follow over the jump for more science fiction news, including the latest on the newly continued Star Wars franchise.

The ethics of orcas as entertainment

In PETA attempts a science-fiction solution to a real-world issue, I embedded a Next Media Animation video describing a lawsuit PETA filed against Sea World to release the aquarium chain's orcas, along with how the lawsuit was an action right out of Niven's Known Space stories.  That lawsuit was dismissed, but the controversy has continued, as ABC News reported in Should 'Killer Whales' Be Tourist Attractions?

Orcas are no threat to humans in the wild, but in captivity, they have killed.
When I included this video in Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Solstice and Supermoon) at Daily Kos, one of the commenters responded with Simple answers to easy questions--"No."

Duggan returns as a write-in candidate

In Duggan will not appeal to Michigan Supreme Court, I bemoaned the absence of Mike Duggan from the ballot from a competitiveness perspective, but thought the contest was going to be entertaining without him.  It turns out that my giving up on Duggan was premature, as WXYZ reports Mike Duggan running as a write-in candidate.

Mike Duggan says he will run for Mayor of Detroit as a write-in candidate.
While I was wrong about Duggan giving up, I was right about this election being great entertainment.  Pass the popcorn.

On a related note, one of my colleagues passed on the rumor that Duggan was going to be running for Governor.  I replied that it wasn't going to happen, as the Democrats have already settled on Mark Schauer and Duggan's most visible backers were Detroit Republicans.  Now I can point to this announcement and say, "See, he's not running for Governor."

I also gave my one-minute pitch for Schauer, which left my colleague knowing more about him than she had ever heard.  Of course, it helps that he was my representative when I was living out in the country and I met him while he was running in 2008.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Civil disobedience against tar sands in Marshall, Michigan

I concluded Occupy Detroit and others campaign against petcoke with a promise.
The west side of the state also has their own set of activists against Tar Sands, and I'll post an entry about them later this afternoon or evening.
A couple of days ago, a protester engaged in some locally very visible civil disobedience by climbing into Enbridge's 6B pipeline as a new segment was being installed.  At least six other protesters picketed in support.  WOOD-TV reported the day-long demonstration with several reports. Here's the summary from WOOD-TV.

Chris Wahmoff crawled several feet into the 36-inch pipe around 7 a.m. Monday -- also his 35th birthday. The pipe he was in is part of the 6B pipeline replacement effort, which he was protesting, and is located near I-69 and Division Drive.
An earlier report included more of the other protesters and their statement.

The man crawled several feet into the 36-inch pipe around 7 a.m. Monday. The pipe he was is part of the 6B pipeline replacement effort, which the man was protesting, and is located near I-69 and Division Drive.
I hope Wahmoff has a good lawyer.  He'll need one.

At least his actions got his cause the attention it deserved.  While I'm pessimistic about stopping the northernmost part of the Keystone XL pipeline, I think calling attention to the specific environmental problems caused by the diluted bitumen that is tar sands "oil" is worth doing.  Without his illegal but principled action, the other protesters, including the woman who claims that the 2010 spill from the Enbridge pipeline harmed her health, would not have been covered by WOOD-TV.  I wish it weren't so--I don't advocate breaking the law in any protest--but I have to admit, it did work, at least for one day.

There are limits on how effective the protest was, though.  Right now, the only news outlets that have covered the story outside of Michigan are Huffington Post and UPI.  It deserves a wider audience.  Here's to hoping that this entry boosts the signal.

Occupy Detroit and others campaign against petcoke

I mentioned petroleum coke or petcoke for the first time in this blog's history in Air pollution from cars doesn't just come out of a tailpipe.
After all, how clean is coal, or for that matter, petroleum coke, which might be burned in combination at the DTE plant in Monroe?  Not very.
While I have been remiss on this subject, Occupy Detroit is still active and posted Petcoke & the Detroit river to their YouTube channel this week.*

Just a few hundred yards from the offensive piles of carcinogenic petcoke by the shores of the Detroit river, people are catching fish to feed to their children. The poisonous byproduct from the refining of Canadian tar sands gives off a windblown dust that goes everywhere, including the river and ultimately the fish these people will eat.
Not only are activists educating residents, they're protesting, as Michigan Radio reports in Citizen groups flex some muscle in fight against Detroit's petroleum coke piles.
But that hasn’t stopped a whole movement from springing up—and gaining some ground in the global fight against tar sands oil.

Just this week, a small group of protesters stopped a Mack truck carrying pet coke in its tracks, just a few hundred feet from its destination on the Detroit River—a place where freighters load up and ship out to places all over the world.

Standing in the middle of the street, McKenzie Duke read a list of demands from activists and residents. They’ve watched the pet coke piles grow and shift for months—at times, spanning a half-dozen city blocks and reaching several stories high.
...
As for that blockade Duke was a part of this week--well, the protesters succeeded in stopping pet coke shipments for the day. And they got some direct attention from Detroit Bulk Storage personnel, who’ve promised an ongoing dialogue about their concerns.
I've been more than a bit pessimistic about protesting against the XL Pipeline in general, although President Obama's statement on climate change this week was encouraging.  However, I'm all for protests against poor alignment of that pipeline, and specific health, environmental, and safety issues resulting from use of tar sands.  Improper storage of petcoke in Detroit is certainly one of those issues and I say more power to Occupy Detroit and the other activists, including U.S. Representative and Senate candidate Gary Peters, for bringing this subject to light.

The west side of the state also has their own set of activists against tar sands, and I'll post an entry about them later this afternoon or evening.

*Occupy Detroit has continued to do good work, including documenting the fast-food workers strike last month.  I'll be sure to cover that in a future entry.

Severe storms yesterday afternoon

A severe thunderstorm passed through the area from northwest to southeast yesterday just as I was driving home.  WXYZ reports on what the storm did to the area to the north of me in Storms sock Oakland County.

Parts of Oakland County are cleaning up after a series of powerful storms slammed the area.
I left work hoping to drive in front of the storm.  That didn't work, as I was assuming that it woulld pass from west to east or southwest to northeast, as weather usually does around here.  Instead, I drove right into the teeth of the storm.

Over a distance of a quarter of a mile, I drove from dry to driving rain.  Another quarter mile and the rain was coming down in buckets.   A half mile after that, the streets were beginning to flood.  At that time, WDET broke in with a severe thunderstorm warning for Detroit because of the storm I was driving through.  The report included penny-sized hail, wind gusts up to 70 miles per hour, flash floods, and continuous air-to-ground lightning.  The winds didn't blow that hard and the hail never got bigger than tiny pellets, but the flooding and lightning were all around me.  I felt fortunate to come home safely.  After viewing the video above, I feel even more lucky that my power stayed on and that I didn't have to clean up any storm damage.

As for the weather right now, it's gorgeous.  I plan on walking downtown to run my errands, including getting my dogs licensed.  Here's to performing some of my civic responsibilities sustainably.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

90 cents in three weeks


That's how far and how fast local gas prices have fallen, as it was exactly 21 days ago that I posted $4.29 gas in Michigan.  That means that prices have dropped eight more cents since I posted The gas price rollercoaster continued to drop only the day before yesterday, when gas was selling for $3.47 at the corner station.  It took less than a day for that to happen.

When I got home that night, I saw that the corner station was selling regular for $3.39.  I still hadn't filled up my wife's car, so when she sent me out for an errand that evening that just happened to take me to that station, I drove her car instead of walking.  Considering how much I like and advocate walking, that was an extraordinary thing for me to do.  Then again, I think this was an extraordinary price, all things considered.*  I still don't expect it to last, although all of the local stations were still selling gas for $3.39 yesterday.  I haven't checked yet today, but if anything changes, I'll be sure to post it here.

*The current price just happens to be exactly the same as the price during New Year's Day this year, so prices have returned to where they were six months ago.  That's the comparison that makes the current price look really good.  However, it turns out that a smaller version of this price drop happened last year at this time, too.
In Gas price rollercoaster returns to this month's low, I predicted that gas prices would continue to fall. I was right. The price fell from $3.55 when I wrote that entry to $3.49, then $3.45, and ended the month at $3.39.
Maybe prices aren't that unusual for this time of year.  They're still very good.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Detroit River fireworks show continues

Last year, I commented on the possibility that there might not be a fireworks show this year.
Based on what I think motivates Americans to act and the presence of the Michigan State Police and Wayne County Sheriffs at the show, I'm sure that the fireworks and parade will continue. People want their entertainment, especially if it comes in the form of an annual civic ritual to celebrate the seasons, and messing with America's entertainment is the one guaranteed thing that will get Americans to act.
The fireworks show was held again last night with a lot of help from the Michigan State Police, as WXYZ reported in Detroit fireworks.


That was a very cheerful report, even though it did mention the effects of the Boston Marathon bombing, as well as the capacity crowd.  Still, things didn't go off as smoothly as reported above, as WXYZ followed up with POLICE: No gunshots at fireworks.


While it's unfortunate that people apparently mistook the echoes of the fireworks for gunshots and ran in panic, injuring others in the stampede, I can take some small comfort that no one was shot and there may not have been any shooting at all.  The security efforts of the police seemed to have worked.  That should mean more fireworks next year.

Speaking of events continuing next year, this year's Thanksgiving parade has already been scheduled.  Take that as evidence that, while Detroit may go into bankruptcy, the entertainment people demand will go on.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Discovery News on World War Z

I've only mentioned the zombie apocalypse once before, and that was to mock it.
Speaking of tracking tools, here's the most amusing search term used so far to find this blog:
humans vs zombies michigan state university
Looks like this blog has already been swept up in the fear of the zombie apocalypse. So, what's next in search terms--2012?
That was at the end of March 2011.  Since then, nothing until today, as I consider the zombie apocalypse to be at best a metaphor for what Americans fear about the future, not a real possibility.  In fact, I take the idea about as seriously as I do The Rapture.
I don't take this version of the end of the world (as we know it) as seriously as the one I've been blogging about the past two months.  No supernatural causes will be needed to bring about the collapse of civilization; the interaction of human behavior with limited resources can do that all by themselves. That end will be completely natural, not supernatural.
That was more than two years ago.  My opinion hasn't changed.  However, Discovery News managed to explore the realistic aspects of the zombie apocalypse in World War Z: The Real Plan for Apocalypse.

Say the world was actually taken over by vicious zombies, World War Z style. What would an actual government response to an apocalypse look like? Anthony fights his way through imaginary an undead army to find out.
Who needs a imaginary zombie plague when a very real flu pandemic combined with mass riots against a background of crumbling infrastructure could produce the same response, if not much the same result?  Besides, pandemics are like asteroid strikes; both combine science fiction with the collapse of civilization.  We need to be prepared for both of them.

The gas price rollercoaster continued to drop


When I declared that June's gas price spike is over, I noted how far gas prices had fallen.
On Monday, the corner station was still at $3.85, but the three stations down the street were at $3.79.   By Wednesday, the three stations down the block were at $3.69, while the corner station undercut them at $3.67.  It was still at that price level Thursday morning, but by the evening, all the stations were at $3.59.  Better yet, the corner station was out of regular and was selling premium at the unleaded price.  I topped off my tank.

Today, all the local stations are still at $3.59.  I pointed this out to my wife.  I might must top off her car's gas tank, too, especially if the corner station is still selling premium at the regular price.  After all, gas hasn't been this cheap locally since April, when prices began their recent rise.
As you could probably tell by the comment about topping my wife's tank off, I didn't expect the price to fall any more.  Events proved me wrong.  Later that day, the price at the corner station fell to $3.55.  The day after that, it was at $3.49.  By Sunday night, it had inched down to $3.47.  That's the lowest price for gas locally since January and a price drop of 82 cents in just a few weeks.

By the way, I still haven't topped my wife's gas tank.  I told her again about the low price again Sunday night, but neither one of us has driven her car since then.  One of us should, soon.  I don't expect these prices to last.

While I would have been wrong about the price not falling, I made another prediction that did come true.
If this price drop holds, expect another headline in the Free Press next week like this week's Michigan gas prices falling, analysts say.
Sure enough, the headline in yesterday's Detroit Free Press read Michigan gas prices fall 30 cents over past week.  The statewide average was $3.64, which is seven cents above where it was last year.  Here's to hoping the lower prices last long enough for next Monday's report to show another price drop and a price below where it was during June 2012.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Happy Motoring in the U.S. has peaked

My regular readers will recognize the miles driven graphs I include with my driving updates, the last one of which I posted in April, along with another adjusted for population.  The latter one always reminds me of something.
I've posted earlier versions of this graph twice before.  Both times I remarked about how it mimicked the classic Peak Oil graph, right down to the expected timing, and asked "Peak Driving, anyone?"  The resemblance has, if anything, become more striking.
It turns out that it isn't just the miles driven that reflects the classic Peak Oil graph, it's the number of cars on the road that does, too, as the following Univeristy of Michigan press release asks, Has motorization in the US reached its peak?
Fewer light vehicles are on America's roads today than five years ago, thanks possibly to increases in telecommuting and public transportation, says a University of Michigan researcher.

Michael Sivak, a research professor at the U-M Transportation Research Institute, studied recent trends in the numbers of registered cars, pickup trucks, SUVs and vans in the U.S. from 1984 to 2011. He examined both the absolute numbers and rates per person, per licensed driver and per household.

Sivak found that the absolute number of registered vehicles reached a maximum of 236.4 million in 2008, 2.6 million more than in 2011.

"It is likely that this was only a temporary maximum and that the decline after 2008 was primarily driven by the current economic downturn that started that year," Sivak said. "Consequently, with the improving economy and the expected increase in the U.S. population, it is highly likely that from a long-term perspective, the absolute number of vehicles has not yet peaked."
The press release doesn't include either a graph of total cars or a link to one, but the figures mimic those of the total miles driven graphs, the latest of which from Doug Short is below.



 The resemblance continutes, as does the press release.
He found, however, that rates of vehicles per person, per licensed driver and per household reached their highest levels most recently in 2006—two years before the economy stalled. The rates that year were 0.79 vehicles per person, 1.16 per licensed driver and 2.05 per household. In 2011, the rates were 0.75, 1.10 and 1.95, respectively.
Normalize miles driven by the population, and it shows that same relationship.



Peak driving and peak cars, anyone?

Sivak has more about what this means.
"It is likely that the declines in these rates prior to the current economic downturn reflect other societal changes that influence the need for vehicles—such as increases in telecommuting and in the use of public transportation," Sivak said.

Sivak said that changes in the rates from 2008 on, however, likely reflect both the economy and a variety of societal changes.

"Whether the recent maxima in the rates will represent long-term peaks, as well, will be influenced by the extent to which the relevant societal changes turn out to be permanent," he said.
In the meantime, transportation decisions are still being based on the old way of doing things, but they need to change.
"The Driving Boom is over," said Phineas Baxandall, Senior Analyst at the U.S. PIRG Education Fund and co-author of the report. "The constant increases we saw in driving up until 2005 show no sign of returning. As more and more Millennials become adults, and their tendency to drive less becomes the norm, the reduction in driving will be even larger."
...
"Given the magnitude of these trends and the implications for the future, we need to press the reset button on our transportation policy,” said Baxandall. "Public officials can’t just stay on the only course they’ve known. They need to learn from current trends to rethink whether it's worth building all those extra highway miles that were planned based on an obsolete understanding of future driving trends."
So long, Happy Motoring!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

New urban heat island videos from The Weather Channel

In Urban heat island video for my class I noted that The Weather Channel's Science Behind Urban Heat "almost does a better job of showing the growth of cities and urban population in the U.S. than it does explaining urban heat islands."  I then wrote that "I might just use it for the former, then remind the students about it during the latter.  I'll see what I think about it right after July 4th, when I'm planning on giving the urbanization lecture."  It turns out that The Weather Channel has made the decision for me, posting two videos that explain urban heat island much better than the one they posted earlier this month, which I'll use to illustrate the effects of urbanization on the environment during that lecture.

Here's the first, The Urban Heat Island Explained.

The Weather Channel meteorologist Mark Elliot explains why cities are usually warmer than the suburbs.
This video concentrates on exactly the aspects of the urban heat island as an example of a microclimate that I emphasize in my lectures--the causes, the effects on nighttime temperatures, the increase in thunderstorms, and the differences between the temperatures of the city and the surrounding suburbs and countryside.  My only complaint is the low resolution, which won't look good on a big screen.

I may or may not show the second video, Reducing the Urban Heat Island, because climate is usually the last lecture, and I tend to run out of time, but I'll see.

Researchers are working to find ways to reduce what is known as Urban Heat Island. That happens when a metropolitan area is significantly warmer than it's suburbs due to human causes.
On the one hand, this has the same low resolution as the previous video, which makes it less likely for me to use it.  On the other hand, it does a good job of bringing in the esthetics of urban areas as well as connecting heat to ozone production.  Since I cover air pollution in the same lecture as I do microclimates, that makes this video worth showing to my classes.  Here's to hoping I make the time to do so.

Supermoon tonight!

ABC News has the executive summary in 'Supermoon' Shines a Bit Brighter in Tonight's Sky.

Star gazers will see brightest full moon of the year, 14 percent larger than normal.
NASA Explorer has the full interview with the astronomer in Supermoon 2013.

Dr. Michelle Thaller answers questions about what a Supermoon is and talks about how NASA is studying the moon with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Too bad for me it's cloudy here.  I hope the sky is clear where you are.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Aren't Orions green already?

Since I've described this blog as being about sustainability and collapse with a science fiction slant, I can't pass up the opportunity to write about when the two coincide.  Jillian Scharr of Space.com made it easy for me with NASA Goes 'Green': Next Spacecraft to Be Reusable.
Since the space shuttle's retirement in 2011, NASA has relied on Russian rockets to launch its astronauts to space. But the United States plans to have its own homemade spacecraft again soon. Called the Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle, the new vehicle will be able to carry astronauts to Earth orbit, to the moon, asteroids, and eventually to Mars.

Though it looks similar to the gumdrop shape of the Apollo moon-bound capsules, the Orion spacecraft is a whole new machine. Unlike the old capsules, Orion — set to make its first test flight in 2014 — can be reused.
How appropriate that a spacecraft named Orion is green.  After all, the Orions in Star Trek are literally green, as I've mentioned in passing.

Netroots Nation coming to Detroit in 2014

Netroots Nation Video posted Chris Savage announces location of next year's conference, Netoots Nation 2013 today.


Chris Savage did indeed blog about the announcement at Eclectablog: BREAKING! Netroots Nation conference comes to Detroit in 2014!  I recommend you read it.

As for me, I've been thinking about going to Netroots Nation since 2008, but never went.  Now that I've waited long enough, I don't have to.  It's come to me.  See you at Cobo in July!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Summer arrives with hot weather

WXYZ reports in Here Comes the Summer Heat.


The Weather Channel forecast 90F for a high on Sunday, which means that summer has arrived with a bang. Welcome to the 400 ppm world.

June's gas price spike is over

In Monday's installment about riding the gas price rollercoaster, I described how prices were going down like a parachute.
On Friday afternoon, I saw that the three stations were at $3.89.  Sunday, I was surprised to see that regular was selling for $3.85 at the corner station.
Prices contined to fall.  On Monday, the corner station was still at $3.85, but the three stations down the street were at $3.79.   By Wednesday, the three stations down the block were at $3.69, while the corner station undercut them at $3.67.  It was still at that price level Thursday morning, but by the evening, all the stations were at $3.59.  Better yet, the corner station was out of regular and was selling premium at the unleaded price.  I topped off my tank.

Today, all the local stations are still at $3.59.  I pointed this out to my wife.  I might must top off her car's gas tank, too, especially if the corner station is still selling premium at the regular price.  After all, gas hasn't been this cheap locally since April, when prices began their recent rise.  If this price drop holds, expect another headline in the Free Press next week like this week's Michigan gas prices falling, analysts say.
The average price at the pump in Michigan was back down to $3.95 a gallon on Monday, falling about 27 cents in a week — and prices may fall further, analysts said.

The average price nationally is $3.61 a gallon, according to AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report.

“Hopefully, you’ll see the price in Michigan keep coming down as refineries produce more product and gas becomes more available,” said Phil Flynn, chief energy analyst with the Price Futures Group in Chicago. “Of course, you still have to worry about hurricane season.”
...
Gregg Laskoski, a senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy.com in Tampa, predicted Michigan gas prices could come down another 20-30 cents over the next two weeks.
That 20-30 cent price drop happened in less than one week, returning local gas prices to the national average and at least close to where they should be given the price of oil.  At long last, it's time to break out Professor Farnsworth, something I haven't done since January.

Happy Summer Solstice 2013!

To celebrate, here is today's Google doodle.

Summer solstice 2013 - First Day of Summer 2013 Google Doodle - Google celebrates the First Day of Summer 2013 with a funny animated Google Doodle.

The Artwork of the First Day of Summer 2013 Google Doodle was designed by Christoph Niemann.
More about today from National Geographic News.

Summer Solstice 2013: Why It's the First Day of Summer
This year's summer solstice will be followed by the year's largest supermoon.
Ker Than
for National Geographic
Published June 20, 2013
Summer officially begins this week as the summer solstice marks the longest day of the year. For Americans, summer will begin either on Thursday or Friday—depending on which time zone you live in.

That's because the timing of the summer solstice depends on when the sun reaches its farthest point north of the equator, and that varies from year to year.

This year's summer solstice falls on Friday, June 21, at 1:04 a.m. ET, but it will start on Thursday night for places in North America west of the Central Time Zone.

This year's summer solstice also stands out because it will be followed shortly after by the largest "supermoon" of the year. In the early hours of Sunday, June 23, the moon will officially reach its full phase and will be the closest to Earth that it will be all year.
Happy Solstice!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Try the Yellow Pages under 'Wild Goose Chase'

In In the Yellow Pages under concrete, I called the most recent search for Jimmy Hoffa's remains a wild goose chase that would be a waste of time but great entertainment.  WXYZ confirms my opinion in FBI ends Oakland Township search for remains of Jimmy Hoffa.


Told you so.

That written, the coverage of the search wasn't a complete waste of time.  WXYZ did present the science involved in Anthropologist talks about search for Hoffa.

7 Action News talks with a forensic anthropologist about what goes into a search for someone who has been missing as long as Jimmy Hoffa.
Now, that I found worth watching.  I hope they interview her the next time, and I promise there will be a next time.

Duggan will not appeal to Michigan Supreme Court

WXYZ summarizes the situation in Duggan out of the mayoral race.


That's too bad, as it means that there isn't a competitive horse race for the top spot right now.  As WXYZ's Editorial Director Chuck Stokes explains, Benny Napoleon is in the driver's seat.

WXYZ Editorial Director Chuck Stokes analyzes Mike Duggan's decision not to challenge a local courts ruling knocking him off the Detroit Mayoral ballot.
That written, the contest will still be competitive, if not for the number one spot, at least for the other general election slot.  Napoleon isn't going to get 50%+1, so there will be an election in November.  Also, it continues to promise to be entertaining, as Stephen Henderson of the Detroit Free Press minces no words describing the field.
There’s also grand irony in the efforts of candidate Tom Barrow, a convicted felon (who has long asserted his own innocence, but has not prevailed in convincing the courts to overturn his conviction for bank fraud and tax evasion) who was thrice rejected by Detroit voters, to toss Duggan from the ballot.

The race also features: a sheriff (Benny Napoleon) who has never met a budget and whose tenure as Detroit police chief ended with the imposition of a federal consent decree; the city’s former general counsel, whose behavior in defiance of the mayor helped earn Detroit an important credit downgrade and cost tens of millions more in interest payments, and a state representative who just got outed as a chronic truant, choosing at least one recent day to water his grass in Detroit rather than vote in Lansing.

Yes, there are other quality hopefuls, including some young Detroiters who are stepping forward earlier than they probably should, but who are showing what kind of leadership we might expect in the future.

But the field as a whole, combined with the legal and logical gymnastics to disqualify Duggan, reinforce the idea that politics in Detroit are a joke.
This is not good for the city, but it definitely will be worth watching.  Pass the popcorn.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Now the U.N. says edible insects are the future of food

Since I posted Eating bugs on the Beeb, the idea of eating insects has attracted even more attention, as the United Nations issued a report last month on the topic saying it was a good idea.  Al Jazeera English gives more details in UN says eating insects could tackle world hunger.

The United Nations says that eating insects might provide one of the answers to global hunger. There are 19-hundred edible insect species on the planet and 40 tons of insects to every human. Insects are rich in protein, vitamins and minerals and do not damage the environment. But the UN admits that getting over people's squeamishness will be a big challenge. Al Jazeera's Jessica Baldwin, reports from London.
You don't have to wait until insects are grown commercially.  Tech Feed shows how one can Grow Your Own Edible Insects?!

A few weeks ago, we told you how t3D-Printed food may be made from insect parts. Annie explains how now, you can grow your own edible insects right in your kitchen with Lepsis.
Welcome to "our food is a science project," which just happens to be the most memorable comment one of my students made yesterday while watching Food, Inc.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

In the Yellow Pages under concrete

Just a few days ago, I told my wife that it was about time for the annual search for Jimmy Hoffa's body.  That seems to happen just about like clockwork every summer here in Detroit.  Sure enough, WXYZ posted the following video, along with eight others so far, about that story yesterday.

Search continues for Jimmy Hoffa remains


The report itself mentions the searches last year and the year before, both of which were unsucessful.  I suspect this one will be, too.  In fact, I think these are all wild goose chases by old "made men" who want to play one last joke on their adversaries the Feds.  That the Feds and the local media play into this just encourages them.  It also reinforces my opinion that Americans love their entertainment, and while these searches are a waste of everyone's time, they're great entertainment.

Speaking of entertainment, the location the FBI is excavating fits the Milton Berle joke about the subject, which I heard him tell live back in 1984.

"Waitng for Pia Zadora to make it big is like leaving the porch light on for Jimmy Hoffa.  In case you don't know who Jimmy Hoffa is, you can find him in the Yellow Pages under concrete."

Monday, June 17, 2013

More gas theft while prices continue to drop

In Gas thieves caught while prices drop again, I wrote about both falling prices and gas theft.
Sure enough, prices dropped some more, as the corner station was selling regular for $3.89 earlier this evening.  Instead of buying only $10 worth, as I had the last two times I bought gas, I purchased $30.  I don't expect prices to drop more any time very soon, as all the rest of the stations I saw were selling above $4.  This doesn't include the three stations down the street; they were out of my way so I didn't check, but I expect they're also at $3.89.
I was right and wrong.  On Friday afternoon, I saw that the three stations were at $3.89.  Sunday, I was surprised to see that regular was selling for $3.85 at the corner station.  Prices did drop.  Just the same, that's the kind of prediction I'd rather turn out wrong.  After all, I'm not speculating on gas with my own money and if I were, I wouldn't have been taking a long position anyway.

Now for the second part of today's entry.  The last installment featured a video about gas thieves being caught, along with my reaction.
I shouldn't be surprised, as I posted Hard times plus rising gas prices equals gas thefts during the last time gas ran up to $4.  Most of that was drive-offs or theft from private individuals.  This time, the theft was wholesale, both literally and figuratively.
WXYZ had another report about gas thieves.  This time, they weren't just stealing fuel, but causing a pollution problem.

Gas thieves cause HAZMAT situation in Detroit


I can add this incident to a long list of local examples of how poverty compounds environmental problems.  As I've written before, I don't have to worry about finding something to write about. Blogging about sustainability in metro Detroit means never running out of material!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Solar Impulse goes coast-to-coast but not finished yet

It's time to follow up on Solar Impulse landing in Cincinnati tonight.  First, Denise Chow of LiveScience also had a story on the flight in Solar Plane Makes Stop in Cincinnati Tonight
A solar-powered airplane that is attempting to fly across the United States without using any fuel is en route from St. Louis to Cincinnati today (June 14).

The plane, called Solar Impulse, took off from Lambert-St. Louis International Airport early this morning, and is expected to land at Cincinnati Municipal Lunken Airport around 9 p.m. EDT tonight, after approximately 16 hours in the air. During today's flight, the aircraft is expected to reach a cruising altitude of 10,000 feet (3,050 meters), according to company officials.

Originally, Solar Impulse was scheduled to fly directly from St. Louis to Washington, D.C., on this leg of the journey, but bad weather forced flight officials to readjust the route. The plane continues on to the nation's capital on Sunday (June 16).
That had more detail than the WCPO report I included in the previous installment.

The plane took off the next morning, as shown by meanwiddlekid's video: Solar Impulse departs Cincinnati - June 15, 2013.

After an unscheduled stop at Cincinnati, Ohio during its Across America flight, the Solar Impulse takes off from Lunken Field runway 21L. The morning departure had been delayed due to moisture problems that developed after the overnight stay in Cincinnati. The Solar Impulse took to the air at approximately 10:10 am EDT. The destination for this leg of the flight - Washington DC (Dulles).
The audio is not your imagination; an electric plane is just as quiet as an electric car.

Suzanne Goldenberg of The Guardian completes the story, for now, with Solar-powered plane flying across US lands in Washington DC.
It took nine minutes from the time the Solar Impulse first appeared in the midnight sky, lit up along the entire elegant swoop of its Airbus-size wings, to the moment the plane glided slowly and almost silently to a stop on the runway of Dulles airport in Washington.

At 00:23 on Sunday, Bertrand Piccard clambered out of the cockpit after a 14-hour flight fuelled by nothing but the sun and the photovoltaic cells along that vast wingspan. But as Piccard admitted, the technical demands of his improbable journey – in the first solar-powered aircraft to fly by night as well as day – made for a strange picture. "I was flipping the landing lights here and there to make you believe it was a UFO," he joked.

That spectacle of the Solar Impulse comes to a much broader audience on Sunday as the plane goes on limited display at the Smithsonian's Steven F Udvar-Hazy air and space museum.

For the Swiss team of Piccard and AndrĂ© Borschberg, who take turns flying solo, the exhibit is a chance to showcase the potential of clean energy technology. It also offers a brief pause before the final leg of their American journey – the relatively short hop to JFK airport in New York.

Borschberg is already plotting how to line up the plane with the Statue of Liberty for photographs.
That's right.  The journey is not over, even though the plane has traveled from coast-to-coast.  Time to repeat my wish for a successful final leg of the flight.

BuzzFeed shows how to act unsustainably

I gave some advice on what to do in The Sustainability Dozen: how to live more simply.  It's now BuzzFeed's turn to show what not to do in 14 Ways To Ruin the Environment in 61 Seconds.

This is unsustainable.

No chemicals actually poured into the ocean or anywhere else in the making of this video. OBVIOUSLY DON'T EVER DO THIS.
I learned while I laughed.  Did you?

The science of Father's Day

Discovery News brings its viewers Best Dads in the Animal Kingdom.

In honor of Father's Day, Trace taking some time to salute the greatest dads in the animal kingdom.
Megan Gannon of LiveScience mentions another winning animal dad in Darwin's Frogs Are in Steep Decline
Some of nature's most fascinating fathers may be at risk of extinction.

Male Darwin's frogs swallow their offspring in the tadpole stage, incubate their young in their vocal sacs, and eventually spit out fully developed froglets. Along with seahorses, the frogs are thought to be the only known living vertebrates in which dads take on baby-carrying duties with special sacs that make them look pregnant.

But new research shows that these unique creatures may be vanishing as their habitats in Chile's temperate forests are destroyed.
Finally, this is a holiday for humans, as Tia Ghose of LiveScience notes in 6 Ways Dads Win at Parenting.
From paper towel commercials to PTA meetings, let's face it: Moms are assumed to be the default parents.

But that is an increasingly outdated notion that doesn't reflect reality. Fathers are becoming more and more engaged with their children's lives; American dads today spend nearly 7.5 hours a week with their children, triple the 2.5 hours a week they spent with their offspring in 1965, according to a 2011 Pew Research Report. And nearly half of those dads wish they could spend even more time with the kids.

That may be a particularly good thing. Fathers tend to differ from mothers in their parenting styles, and though it's not a competition, there are several things that dads do better. From roughhousing to side-by-side activities, here are six arenas in which dads excel.
LiveScience has more in The Science of Fatherhood: Why Dads Matter, Dad Deserves More Credit ... Good and Bad (Op-Ed) and The Science of Dad: Engaged Fathers Help Kids Flourish.

Happy reading and Happy Father's Day!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Air pollution from cars doesn't just come out of a tailpipe

That finding features prominently in Discovery News' Why Electric Cars Won't Solve the Pollution Problem.

Electric cars are billed as a solution to the Earth's pollution problem. But as Anthony shows us, the majority of pollution actually comes from places you'd least expect.
All of these sources of pollution are over and above the air pollution that comes from the source of electricity.  Electrical cars without clean sources of electricity are a more effective form of biofuels.  They are an energy independence strategy, as the sources of energy are domestic, not a sustainability strategy.  After all, how clean is coal, or for that matter, petroleum coke, which might be burned in combination at the DTE plant in Monroe?  Not very.

Also, I might just play this video for my class, although air pollution is the last lecture and I usually am running out of time.  We'll see.

Another asteroid buzzing Earth and more space and astronomy news

Just over a week after an asteroid passed by Earth, another one came even closer.  Space.com has the story in Garbage Truck-Sized Asteroid To Give Earth Close Buzz | Video.

Asteroid 2013 LR6 -- a small chuck of cosmic trash -- makes its closest approach on June 8th, 2013, coming with 68,350 miles (110,000 km) of Earth.
Follow over the jump for more of last week's space and astronomy news.

Discovery News on hacking tornadoes

In Hacking the Planet, I reviewed how The Weather Channel handled proposals to geoengineer away weather threats.
The episodes I watched dealt with ideas on how to deal with hurricanes and tornadoes.  The good news is that the show seems to be treating the science and scientists seriously as well as presenting the material enertainingly.  The consequence is that the hosts are coming to fairly realistic assessments of current capabilities, i.e., so far most of the ideas are a long way from fruition.  They're also realizing that a lot of the ideas are 1950s and 1960s technological optimism updated, and so they treat them with the proper levels of skepticism.  Finally, all the ideas quickly run up against the limits of prediction.  For a hurricane, that's a few days.  For a tornado, it's a matter of minutes.
Discovery News covered the same territory last week in How To Stop a Tornado.

As those living in America's heartland have long known- tornados are not a force to be reckoned with, or are they? Trace looks at whether drastic measures actually stop a killer tornado in it's tracks.
Trace isn't optimistic, either, and for the same reasons.  Instead, the best bets are to improve prediction and storm shelters.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Solar Impulse landing in Cincinnati tonight

In Energy news from California, I left myself a programming note about the journey of the Solar Impulse.
Now that I've posted this story, I'll have to follow up on the rest of the flights.
WCPO has made it easy for me by posting Solar-powered plane on its way to its YouTube channel today.

The Solar Impulse off from St. Louis early Friday and is scheduled to stop at Lunken Airport around 9 p.m. Friday night.
The plane won't be there long, as today's entry on the plane's website declares.
Expected to land sometime after 9 PM EDT (UTC-4), the solar airplane will complete a short 10-hour touchdown at Cincinnati Municipal Lunken Airport and will take-off the following morning, on Saturday June 15th around 8 AM EST (UTC-4).  Bertrand will complete the final segment of this fourth leg bringing the solar airplane to the nation’s capital, sometime after midnight EDT (UTC-4) on Sunday June 16th.
Here's to a successful final leg of the mission!

China returns humans to space

The Weather Channel has the story in The Space Race Continues.

China's space program is on track to compete with U.S. private companies with Tuesday's launch.
Remember, The CoDominion does not cooperate in space, they compete.

Gas thieves caught while prices drop again

I concluded Both parties upset about gas prices as they continue to drop with a prediction and a promise.
Yesterday, all four stations near me fell below $4.00, although by the skins of their teeth, by selling regular at $3.99.  I expect they'll fall some more.  When they do, I have another video of some real gas-related crime to share with my readers.
Sure enough, prices dropped some more, as the corner station was selling regular for $3.89 earlier this evening.  Instead of buying only $10 worth, as I had the last two times I bought gas, I purchased $30.  I don't expect prices to drop more any time very soon, as all the rest of the stations I saw were selling above $4.  This doesn't include the three stations down the street; they were out of my way so I didn't check, but I expect they're also at $3.89.

Now for the promised video.  WXYZ posted a video yesterday about Gas thieves caught.

Police have arrested two gas thieves, accused of stealing gas right from the tanks of gas stations.
I shouldn't be surprised, as I posted Hard times plus rising gas prices equals gas thefts during the last time gas ran up to $4.  Most of that was drive-offs or theft from private individuals.  This time, the theft was wholesale, both literally and figuratively.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Both parties upset about gas prices as they continue to drop

I have new developments to report since Gas prices falling but still high.  First, both political parties in Lansing are making noises about high gas prices.  I'll give WXYZ first crack with State democrats call for gas price investigation.


Beyond both sides grandstanding over prices (Schuette is the pot calling the kettle black in this instance, as I'll explain later), this segment offers some hope for lower prices, which is already happening.  It also does a good job of explaining the economics of looking for cheaper gas, including giving some good advice about how to go about it the right way.  That final bit, driving from Southfield to the Ohio state line, is a bit of showmanship of its own.  Unfortunately, WXYZ didn't post any follow ups to that drive on its YouTube channel.  Those would have been fun to watch.

WOOD-TV covers much of the same territory in Attorney General warns of gas gouging, but its report downplays the conflict between Schuette and the Democrats in the state legislature and replaces it with a very useful map of gas prices.

Near-record gas prices may decrease soon, but that's not stopping some lawmakers from getting the word out that they are on the watch for gas gougers.
As for Schuette also grandstanding over high gas prices, I described that last year in Eye spy the gas price rollercoaster about to coast down like a parachute.
As for Bill Schuette, who is SchuetteOnDuty on Twitter, I'm glad to see that he is enforcing consumer protection laws. Even so, I'm somewhat cynical about it. After all, he's a member of a party that is a bunch of fossil fools who are in the pocket of the oil companies and who deny climate change. He's looking forward to replacing Governor Snyder when OneToughNerd retires, either in 2014 (early retirement or defeat) or in 2018 (term limitations), so he needs to be enough of a populist to maintain his electability. Here's to his ambitions making him actually serve the residents of Michigan, at least occasionally.
Finally, the gas prices are continuing to drop.  Yesterday, all four stations near me fell below $4.00, although by the skins of their teeth, by selling regular at $3.99.  I expect they'll fall some more.  When they do, I have another video of some real gas-related crime to share with my readers.

Duggan appeals to get back on ballot

Last night, I wrote Duggan removed from ballot--for now.   He may not be off the ballot for long.  As WXYZ reports, Duggan to appeal decision.

Mike Duggan says he will appeal a judge's decision that removed him from the Detroit Mayoral Primary ballot.
That didn't take long at all.

The next clip not only features an Interview with Mike Duggan, but also a sound bite from Tom Barrow, who filed the suit.

Mike Duggan talks with 7 Action News about his next move after being removed from the Detroit Mayoral Prmary ballot.
This election continues to live up to my expectation of being great entertainment.  Barrow's response in particular is a hoot, especially the Star Trek reference.

Here's to this contest continuing to be worthy of pulling up a chair and eating popcorn.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

WOOD-TV on tonight's severe weather

In WNWO on tonight's severe weather, I concluded with this programming note.
The next installment will carry the coverage from WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids, where the weather is already upon them.
I begin with this segment from the station's 5:00 P.M. newscast, giving their overview of the situation about the same time as WNWO posted their evening update.  Since WOOD-TV is closer to the oncoming storm, their segment has a lot more information.

Severe T-storm Watch issued for SW Mich

A Severe Thunderstorm Watch has been issued for counties in Southwest and West Michigan.
That thunderstorm watch extends all the way across the state, including Washtenaw and Wayne Counties.  In addition, there's a flood watch that includes Oakland County, where I am now.  And, yes, they mentioned a possible derecho.

The Storm Team 8 Forecast - June 12, 2013, 6 p.m. updated the situation.


One of the developments is that the storm that had spawned two tornadoes at 5 PM now had produced three.  Also, my daughter in Chicago has been posting updates from the National Weather Service Office in Chicago.  The most recent of them described winds of 70 to 80 miles per hour.  That fits very closely with the predictions I included in Severe weather and possible derecho in the Midwest today.

Stay tuned.  I'm sure WOOD-TV will be posting an update from their 11 P.M. newscast shortly.

WNWO on tonight's severe weather

Here is the first of two updates to Severe weather and possible derecho in the Midwest today, this one featuring coverage from WNWO in Toledo on the developing severe weather.

This morning, the station gave an overview of the situation with a forecast covering not only tonight's storm and its aftermath tomorrow, but a long-range forecast extending ten days out in Severe weather watch for June 12.


This evening, the updated forecast indicated that everything predicted for today has so far come to pass in Strong storms likely tonight.


All of the above is pretty much looking into the future for Toledo.  The next installment will carry the coverage from WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids, where the weather is already upon them.

Severe weather and possible derecho in the Midwest today

The Weather Channel posted two videos warning of severe thunderstorms along with scattered tornadoes and even a derecho developing this afternoon and evening.  Here's the first: Possible Storms & Tornadoes Wednesday.

Matt Sampson talks with John Erdman about the upcoming severe weather threat.
The other video was even more specific, saying that the thunderstorms could develop into a derecho: Derecho Thunderstorms for Millions.

Digital meteorologist Nick Wiltgen talks to weather.com's Matt Sampson about the concerns people may have over derechoes this week.
The prospect of more comfortable weather in case of blackouts is small comfort.  Still, that would be an improvement over last year's derecho.

So, how are these predictions playing out locally?  While WXYZ hasn't posted any weather forecast videos to their YouTube page, both WNWO-TV and WOOD-TV have.  Both show the area where the thunderstorms will appear and where tornadoes and the possible derecho could develop, which happens to be mostly to the south of metro Detroit.

First, here's WNWO-TV with Strong storms, heavy rain possible Wednesday into early Thursday.


Next, WOOD-TV contributes as part of their regular 11:00 P.M. weather segment.


This promises to be an eventful day of weather to the south of here.  As I'm found of writing, stay tuned.

Duggan removed from ballot--for now

In Fireworks at first Detroit mayoral debate, I told people to break out the popcorn, as the campaign for Detroit Mayor promised to be very entertaining.  So far, it's definitely living up to that promise, as WXYZ reports Mike Duggan removed from ballot for Detroit mayoral race.


Chuck Stokes correctly notes that Duggan and Napoleon were the leaders in the polling for the primary, which means that the removal of Duggan would greatly favor Napoleon.  Tom Barrow must figure that he'd be the beneficiary of the anti-Napoleon vote, but I'm not sure.  If Duggan can't get back on the ballot, then I think Napoleon, who is an experienced politician, would be favored.  That might actually make this election less fun to watch.  Then again, this could still be a wild contest even without Duggan.  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Urban heat island video for my class

The Weather Channel just posted Science Behind Urban Heat, which I could use in one of two lectures, either urbanization or microclimates.  I haven't decided yet which.

Meteorologist Mike Bettes take a look at urban heat, specifically how highly populated areas can be hotter than less populated areas.
This video almost does a better job of showing the growth of cities and urban population in the U.S. than it does explaining urban heat islands.  I might just use it for the former, then remind the students about it during the latter.  I'll see what I think about it right after July 4th, when I'm planning on giving the urbanization lecture.

Twinkies return!


Americans have made good on their screwed up priorities and saved the Twinkie.  WIBW in Emporia, Kansas, has the story.

Emporia Hostess Plant Reopens, Twinkies Back Late Summer
A company that once laid off roughly 500 employees in Emporia has new life. The city's Hostess plant opened its doors again.

After the damaging blow of Hostess Brands closing its doors last November, the city is now celebrating at that same building.

The Twinkie is back!

The Hostess plant in Emporia is re-launching its baking production, and more than 300 people in the Emporia area will call Hostess, LLC. their employer.
...
And the final Hostess good news of the whole event - you will be able to snag a box of Twinkies in late summer.
Until then, you can make your own vegan creme-filled snack cakes using the recipe at Girly Girl Army.  Those would probably be healthier for you and return you to your roots as a cook, if you ever were one.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Gas prices falling but still high


On Thursday, gas prices were already starting to drop, falling to $4.17 from $4.29.  Yesterday, the corner station lowered its price to $4.09, which was matched by the three stations down the street.  This is exactly where it was when I first noticed the price over $4.00 just over a week ago.

The good news is that the price is falling just as predicted.  The bad news is that it's still much higher than 1) it was last month, 2) what it should be based on the price of oil, and 3) the price this time last year. In fact, the average price last week was 49 cents higher than the same week last year.  I'm going to wait a while before breaking out Professor Farnsworth again, at least for the price of gas.

Energy news from California

While I now consider Michigan to be my home, I am originally from California.  Time to acknowledge my roots with four energy stories from the Golden State that I originally included in Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday on Daily Kos.

First, Discovery News on YouTube presents Solar Impulse Plane Takes Flight.  Note that the plane began its journey by taking off from a California airfield.

Forget fossil fuel, this plane is driven by energy from the sun! Anthony woke up at the crack of dawn to watch the amazing Solar Impulse take to the sky.
Now that I've posted this story, I'll have to follow up on the rest of the flights.

Follow over the jump for more energy news plus a rant I've been promising since 2011.

Sustainability headlines from Reuters for 6/10/13


Here are four sustainability headlines I pulled off the front page and top stories on Reuters, which I did to prove a point about how much top news has a sustainability focus these days.

'No Nile, no Egypt', Cairo warns over Ethiopia dam

U.S. management of wild horses flawed, scientific report finds

Legal uncertainty cuts progress against Amazon deforestation

Tesla Motors shares face drain from pricey batteries -Barron's

Sunday, June 9, 2013

More storms from space

In the spirit of Storms from orbit and other space and astronomy news, I present two more views of recent superstorms from space, or at least Space.com.  The first is Oklahoma's EF-5 Tornado Scar Seen From Space | Video.

The May 20, 2013 tornado that ripped through Moore, Oklahoma was 1.3 miles wide at its peak and had winds that reached 210 mph. The NASA Terra satellite took imagery of the tornado track and NOAA's GOES-13 captured the storm from over head.
The second is a simulated view from geosynchronous orbit: Superstorm Sandy's Track, Winds Intensity Visualized By Supercomputer | Video

In the most accurate assessment to date, the changing wind speeds are seen over a 5-day time-lapse (Oct. 26 to Oct. 31, 2012). NASA GOES-5 atmosphere model computer was used to create the simulation.
Both of these are impressive in disturbing ways, showing how huge both storms were.  In particular, note how far out Sandy's winds reached, with strong winds blowing over Lake Michigan while the eye was still over the ocean.  I've had hurricane remnants pass over me before, including Tropical Storm Lee, but I've never been inside an active hurricane before.  It was eerie.

The Troopers: From Steampunk to Tradition


As dedicated readers of this blog might know, I was involved with drum corps for four decades and can't even get away from the topic here, especially when The Activity (yes, that's what the participants call it) intersects with sustainability, science fiction, disasters (real or imagined), or holidays (including fake ones).  I've stumbled over yet another example of drum corps exploring a science fiction theme.  Follow over the fold for my reaction to The Troopers exploring steampunk in "This was the Future."

Saturday, June 8, 2013

More news about the 400 ppm world


In Carbon Dioxide at Miocene levels, I wrote, "If the 10-15 million year figure is right, the last time CO2 was this high, Antarctica still had forests."  Even if it isn't, and the last time was about 3 million years ago, the world was still a very different place, as Erin Wayman of Science News reported in The Arctic was once warmer, covered by trees
Pliocene epoch featured greenhouse gas levels similar to today's but with higher average temperatures

The Arctic wasn’t always frozen tundra. About 3.6 million years ago, the far north was blanketed in boreal forests, and summers were 8 degrees Celsius warmer than they are today, geologists report May 9 in Science.

Researchers pieced together that picture from sediments buried beneath Lake El’gygytgyn (pronounced EL-gih-git-gin), about 100 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle in northeastern Russia (SN: 11/20/10, p. 13). The sediments preserve the most complete history of Arctic climate on land over the last 3.6 million years. 

“It’s an unprecedented record,” says study coauthor Julie Brigham-Grette, a geologist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “It gives us a way of envisioning what the future may hold.”
That was then.  What about the effects now?

Science News: Southwest's monsoon season may heat up with the climate
Warmer temperatures may bring stronger rainy seasons over the long term, study finds
By Erin Wayman
Web edition: May 28, 2013
The summer monsoon that dumps rain on an otherwise-arid American Southwest may grow stronger as the climate warms, suggests a study of the region’s monsoon patterns of the last millennium. 

Across the Northern Hemisphere, monsoons — winds that change directions seasonally, altering rainfall — could intensify, the team reports May 27 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The results complement recent observations and simulations of monsoon activity, says Pang-chi Hsu, a climate scientist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, who was not involved in the work. “We do see enhanced Northern Hemisphere monsoons over the recent decades, from the 1970s.”
My friend Nebris will appreciate this prediction for reasons that will take too long to explain here now.

World Oceans Day

World Oceans Day is being celebrated by millions of people all over the globe. Be a part of the movement to protect our oceans!

Visit http://oneworldoneocean.org and http://worldoceansday.org to see more amazing videos about the ocean and learn what you can do to help protect it.
As you can see from the video and accompanying text, today is World Oceans Day, exactly the kind of holiday I want to celebrate here.  I'm not alone in doing so.  Follow over the jump for videos marking the day from the U.S. State Department, The Weather Channel, and Discovery News, along with an accompanying link to an article and slideshow.  The BBC also makes a cameo.

Tropical Storm Andrea and the 2013 hurricane season

ABC News has the latest in Tropical Storm Andrea Drenches North East.

Massive storm causes flooding as it barrels up eastern seaboard.
One of the commenters on YouTube pointed out an inaccuracy in the report.
Ginger is wrong. A teenage boy in Maryland died due to flash flooding. Your affiliate WMDT has more.
I searched WMDT's website and found Juvenile Killed In Fatal Taylor's Island Crash.

WMDT 47 News - Delmarva's Choice
A 16-year-old was reportedly driving on Talyor's Island Road in the area of Smithville Road, when the vehicle hydroplaned, and the driver lost control. He struck a tree and was killed.
The newscaster said that weather may be implicated, not that it definitely was.  Also, she didn't say anything about flash flooding.  That would have washed the car downstream, not resulted in hydroplaning.  I'll be generous and say the commenter was right in general, but wrong about the details.

Finally, as the first storm of the season, it's time to revisit NOAA's prediction of an active or 'extremely active' Atlantic hurricane season this year, which I quoted in Weather and climate news for Memorial Day.  Yesterday, The Weather Channel asked Is It Irresponsible to Predict Entire Hurricane Season?

Dr. Jeff Masters with Weather Undergound talks about forecasting the hurricane season and the difficulties involved.
Apparently, it isn't Dr. Masters' style to make such predictions, but he does seem to be on board with the idea that this year's season will be very active and that storms will be larger.  I agree with those last two thoughts.

To paraphrase Masters, may the steering winds be our friends.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Nixon spied on Earth Day participants


I'm reading a lot about the NSA surveillance program, whether on Facebook or on blogs like Elaine Meinel Supkis's Culture of Life News, who noted that domestic surveillance has been going on a long time.  As she wrote, "I exposed CIA/FBI spying on students in the sixties."  Mind you, she's doing this while ranting about the Bilderbergers, which suggests to me that she's losing it.  That doesn't mean that she's wrong about this point.

On Earth Day this year, Becky Oskin of OurAmazingPlanet recounted How President Nixon Spied on Earth Day.
The launch of Earth Day in 1970 raised suspicions in Washington, D.C., according to former Representative Pete McCloskey, one of the organizers of the first Earth Day.

The annual event was launched as a national teach-in on April 22, 1970, by former Senator Gaylord Nelson, McCloskey and others. Earth Day galvanized a political movement that led to some of the country's most significant environmental legislation, including the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act.

At a panel discussion on the Endangered Species Act and its future, held Jan. 31 at the Western Section of The Wildlife Society's annual meeting in Sacramento, Calif., McCloskey recalled the FBI's scrutiny of the event. According to McCloskey, President Richard Nixon ordered the FBI to observe college students across the country.
The FBI found nothing.  Just the same, while Elaine may have gone over the deep end, she's right about this one.  Environmentalists are being watched and have been since the beginning of the movement.

If you're interested in this sort of thing, I recommend Green is the new Red, which specializes in stories about domestic intelligence and police activity against enviromental and animal rights activists.  It so happens that they have a story related to the NSA as I write this: How the NSA Kept Us From Knowing About a Previous, Illegal Domestic Spy Program in 2006.  I suggest you read it.

Radiation on Mars voyage and other space and astronomy news

I've already covered a lot of this past week's space and astronomy news in Another asteroid passed by on Friday and "After Earth" in this installment of Crazy Eddie at the movies, but there was plenty left over.

Several sources covered the impact of radiation on humans during an expedition to Mars.  I begin with Space.com's video: Will Radiation Kill Mars Astronauts?

Astronauts on long interplanetary trips will face at least two kinds of radiation hazards. The Mars Science Lab's Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) has quantified the risk. Crews could get much more than the current accepted career dose.
Scientific American via Nature (UK) has more in Spacecraft data nails down radiation risk for humans going to Mars
Improved shielding technology could keep exposure within acceptable levels.
Ron Cowen
30 May 2013
Astronauts travelling to Mars on any of the current space-flight vehicles would receive a dose of radiation higher than NASA standards permit, according to a study of the radiation environment inside the craft that carried the Curiosity rover to the planet.

The study, reported in Science, is the first to use radiation data recorded by a robotic craft en route to Mars. It is also the first to rely on measurements from a radiation detector in space that has shielding similar to what might be used on missions carrying humans, says physicist Sheila Thibeault of NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia, who was not involved in the study.

Previous calculations of exposure were extrapolations, notes study co-author Cary Zeitlin of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. Those studies used detectors in space that either had no shielding or were aboard Mars-bound craft whose instruments were not switched on until they reached the planet.
Finally, LeftOfYou on Daily Kos discussed the finding in On Mars: Manned Missions Will be Trickier, More Expensive and Take Longer to Design.

Follow over the jump for general space news, followed by astronomy news from the outer Solar System to the surface of our planet.