Monthly Archives: February 2006

Oceans Of Listerine

Well here’s another reason global warming sucks: The increase in carbon dioxide levels is rapidly making the world’s oceans more acidic and could lead to a massive extinction of marine invertebrates similar to the K-T event 65 million years ago.

When CO2 dissolves in the ocean, some of it becomes carbonic acid. The current rate of input is 50 times greater than the ocean’s sediments can absorb though. This will lead to a change in worldwide pH levels from 8.2 to 7.7 in under 100 years. Carbonic acid dissolves calcium carbonate, the basic building material of corals, plankton and mollusc shells. This could make it difficult for these animals to build shells and survive in the acidic waters.

The last time the oceans endured such a drastic change in chemistry was 65 million years ago, at about the same time the dinosaurs went extinct. Though researchers do not yet know exactly what caused this ancient acidification, it was directly related to the cataclysm that wiped out the giant beasts. The pattern of extinction in the ocean is consistent with ocean acidification–the fossil record reveals a precipitous drop in the number of species with calcium carbonate shells that live in the upper ocean–especially corals and plankton. During the same period, species with shells made from resistant silicate minerals were more likely to survive.

Ukiyo-e Sunday

Inside Kameido Tenjin Shrine
Inside Kameido Tenjin Shrine, from the series One Hundred Famous Views of Edo by Utagawa Hiroshige, 1856.

And a very special thank you to Dianne for bringing me back a full color Mita Arts Gallery catalog from her recent trip to Tokyo and Sapporo. It is an excellent catalog, though the photos are too small to scan successfully. I spent most every lunch hour last week peering through its pages. Domo arigato gozaimasu Dianne-san.

Here’s A Big Drag

A Stanford researcher is forecasting that the retirement age ‘will rise to 85’ by 2050 according to a BBC report. Guess who will be 82 in 2050? This doesn’t make me happy at all. All the more reason to live fast and die young.

In a bit more depressing news, he also expects 50 and 75 year mortgages to become common as people live these greatly extended lives. Of course if George W. Bush gets his way and HSA’s become more common, I suspect a great many folks won’t be enjoying those golden years.

Cahokia Mounds Gets A Little Larger

It took years of trying, but Cahokia Mounds State Park in Illinois finally got some money to purchase additional land adjacent to the existing park. The park currently protects 2,200 acres of the original 4,000 that comprised the ancient city, and the additional money will help acquire land from private farmers and homeowners in Collinsville.

Cahokia, a World Heritage site, was the center of a vast inland culture during the Mississippian Period from 800 AD to 1400 AD. The centerpiece of the site is Monks Mound, one of the largest mounds in the New World. The mound is over 100 feet high, and covers 14 acres at its base. The mound got its name from a Trappist monastery who lived nearby in the early 1800’s.

Dust Devils Of Mars

The Christian Science Monitor has a little piece on NASA’s Energizer Bunnies, aka the Mars Rovers Spirt and Opportunity. For two years now, the redoubtable rovers have been wandering the surface of Mars, and while parts are wearing out, both machines are still going strong. It is amazing, and apparently a big part of their longevity are regular scourings by Martian dust devils which keep the solar panels clear of dusty buildup.

I love this picture of the Martian sunset at Gusev Crater. It’s on my desktop computer at work. The small resolution doesn’t do it justice, open up the medium sized image hyperlink to get an idea of how cool this photo really is…

Martian Sunset at Gusev Crater

Greenland Is Melting, Greenland is melting. And melting faster than earlier predictions. The amount of ice dumped into the Atlantic doubled in the last five years, and the amount of three times greater than it was in 1996. If the icecaps covering Greenland melt, world sea level will rise over 22 feet.

A Paean To Bali

Found a nice little story on Bali in the Tyee, a British Columbia magazine. Shadows and Light in Bali talks about the fantastic incongruity of Bali, a place completely driven by 21st century tourism, yet still containing a wonderful warm and innocence. Bali is a really remarkable place, and I hope to get back there sometime later this year.

Lotus blossom

She Blinded Me With Science

Let’s go crazy with a collection of interesting science related links:

  • Space-elevator Tether Climbs A Mile High – a prototype of a space-elevator cable reached a mile high last month according to LiftPort Group, a private company developing the technology. The cable, a sandwich of three carbon fiber sheets between fiberglass tape, was held aloft by three balloons. A battery operated lifter robot was deployed on the cable and reached over 1500 feet before stopping. LiftPort hopes to reach 2 miles by the spring.
  • New Images Capture Virus In Extraordinary Detail – Researchers at MIT and Baylor imaged a bacteriophage virus poised to inject its genetic material using electron microscopy. The image graces the cover of the latest issue of Nature. Well, actually they composited 15,000 seperate images together to produce the stunning picture. It’s just like what astronomers do, stacking multiple exposures on top of each other to produce stunning images. Behold the power of Photoshop.
  • Tabletop Nuclear Fusion Device Developed – Yes, I said tabletop nuclear fusion. Yes, I am serious. Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute developed a tabletop particle accelerator that actually produces nuclear fusion at room temperature. Using two opposing pyroelectric crystals, the device is filled with deuterium gas. When the crystals are heated they create a strong electrical field that propels the deuterium onto one of the crystals. As the gas molecules smash into the crystal, a steady stream of neutrons are emitted, a telltale sign of nuclear fusion. The aim is not power generation but a new portable class of x-ray instruments for medical and security purposes. This is still incredible news, and I hope it is explored further.
  • Movement Of Earth’s North Magnetic Pole Acceleration Rapidly – After 400 years in the Canadian Arctic, the magnetic North Pole is lurching rapidly out into the Arctic Ocean. At it’s present rate, it could be in Siberia within 50 years. The movement of the pole could spell the end of Alaska’s glorious northern lights, as the aurora glows around the magnetic pole. The movement of the pole does not necessarily auger a change in the planet’s magnetic field, but we are overdue for a pole reversal.
  • BBC Joins To Advance Climate Change Research – The BBC announced this week that it will start offering a special version of the distributed screensaver. Glad to see they are throwing themselves behind a worthwhile project and I hope they get lots of people to sign up. I’d do it myself, but I’m already torqueing my computers’ processors with Folding@Home, Einstein@Home and SETI@Home.
  • Study: King Tut Slain By Sword In The Knee – Itialian scientists discovered gold leaf embedded in the knee of King Tut’s mummy, and believe it got lodged there because of a sword wound. This led to the hypothesis that the boy pharoah died of a fatal infection. Interesting, but it still sounds a little iffy to me. But hey, everybody loves mummies!
  • Open Solaris LiveCD Available – I’ve been goofing around with numerous Linux LiveCD’s lately, but here’s one called Belenix that is based on OpenSolaris, the recently open sourced crown jewels for Sun Microsystems. Think I’ll pull down the ISO tonight and give it a whirl. I really like Ubuntu on my box at home, but I still like to goof around.

Restoration Efforts Underway At Johnson’s Shut-Ins

Here’s a page from Ameren/UE about their efforts restoring the flood damage to Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park. Ameren’s reservoir atop Proffit Mountain collapsed on December 14th, flooding the state park and destroying the campgrounds. Ameren employees are working full time at the state park on the clean up, removing trees and clearing debris. The power utility is footing the bill for the entire cost of the restoration.

For a detailed description of the recovery, check out Shelley Power’s post with plenty of pictures of the park both before and after the flood. She was part of a media tour of the facility on February 9th and took detailed photos of the damage and the crews rebuilding the park. Shelley writes a great blog, full of photos around St. Louis and the neighborhood where I grew up. Check out here post about Lone Elk Park, one of my favorite places to visit when I was a kid.

Ruh Roh, Shaggy

So, GovGuam has stepped into the 20th century and put out a site for online Guam income tax submissions. Why do I think this is a bad idea? Perhaps because Rev & Tax has no money to pay refunds, and nobody seems to care anymore. I got this sinking feeling this website will be hacked soon too, but by all means, go ahead and file your 1040EZ online with GovGuam, you’ll make their job easier and it won’t back a lick of difference in getting your refund – ever.

Spectacle On Ice

The 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin are going full swing, and NBC is offering video on their website. Did anybody else watch that little wisp of a Chinese figure skater slam into the ice last night, then rise up to capture the silver? I’m not a big fan of figure skating, but that was pretty cool. It was gutsy stuff, a point brought home by the cutaway shots of the other other skaters grimacing and averting their eyes as she did her routine.

Silk Road Oasis In Peril

The ancient city of Dunhuang, in the remote wastes of western China, is facing a threat greater than all the battles fought in this Silk Road outpost. Dunhuang is running out of water.

For thousands of years, Dunhuang served as the Chinese border city along the Silk Road and attracted more than its fair share of artists, monks, and adventurers. Among the city’s World Heritage attractions are the mythical Crescent Lake, a narrow sliver of water outside the city, and the Mogao Caves, decorated with murals by the monks and artisans who brought Buddhism to China.

A booming tourism trade in the Silk Road sites has swelled the city to almost twice its traditional size, and increased agricultural production has brought much of the desert into bloom. The Chinese government dammed the Dang River in the 1970’s and encouraged farmers to plant more fields.

But this prosperity has a price. Water is a precious commodity, especially in the Gobi Desert. The city is under peril. Irrigated farming in the region has depleted the water table to dangerously low levels. Crescent Lake has dropped 25 feet and is a third of its size 30 years ago, while the water table elsewhere in Dunhuang has subsided 35 feet or more.

While farmers were once encouraged to plant more fields using irrigation, new prohibitions ban any new farmland, no new wells are allowed, and new emigration into the city is forbidden. Hopefully these measures will stabilize the water table and recharge Crescent Lake. It would be a tragedy for the sands of the Taklamakan Desert to swallow up over 2,000 years of history.

Tokelau Votes

Tokelau, a tiny cluster of islands located 300 miles north of Samoa, are voting to determine their future self government. The three tiny atolls are currently governed by New Zealand, and no matter what their decision on self determination, Tokelau will remain in close association with the Kiwis. The voting will conclude on Saturday.

If Tokelau decides on independence, it will become one of the world’s smallest nations with only 4.7 square miles of land and 1,500 citizens.

Makes me wonder if Guam will ever vote on its self determination. The Commission on Self Determination has really dropped the ball on establishing a referendum on the island about this. It is long overdue, and I know it causes anguish among many activists and Chamoru leaders on the island. I am all for this vote, whether I am allowed to vote or not, freedom must be heard.

Bottle Or Tap?

No surprise here: Bottled water is taxing the world’s ecosystem. The demand for bottled water is filling waste dumps and landfills around the world with little plastic bottles. The amount of crude oil used each year to create these bottles for the US market alone would power 100,000 automobiles for a year. And in many areas the burgeoning growth of this industry has lead to water shortages as bottling facilities consume all the ground water supply.

It is especially ironic that water is marketed as a healthy alternative to sodas and sugary drinks yet common tap water is subject to more stringent regulations and testing. Anybody else remember the ruckus about Dasani in Great Britain containing dangerous levels of cancer causing bromate?

Light Pollution

Living out here on verge of the deep blue sea, I’ve become attuned to light pollution. On one side of my home, the neighborhood is bathed in the garish yellow glow of sodium streetlights and store signs; on the other deep blackness hovers over the open ocean. I much prefer the dark side of the house. On the all too frequent power outages, I enjoy sitting outside basking in the glory of countless stars blazing in the night sky. The difference is startling. Our species must still be in its childhood for we are definitely afraid of the dark.

Hmm, why am I sitting inside when I could be out there gazing at the moon right now?