Swimming Without Walls

Just published a short story, my first fiction piece, in the Spring 2017 issue of Razor Literary Magazine, a literary magazine exploring the creative process with support from The Mellon Foundation and the Digital Humanities program at Gustavus Adolphus College. Enjoy!

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Dix Field Panorama

Talking to kids about climate change

NASA’s Climate Kids

Scholastic’s “Communicate with your kids about climate change”

Yale Climate Connections: Parenting in an age of climate change

Think Progress: How to talk to a 5-year-old about climate change

NOAA Climate Stewards Education Project

5 Pro Tips for Talking to Kids About Climate Change (Without Freaking Them Out)

Rainforest Alliance Climate Educator Guide

Parent Map: Wisdom for talking to kids about climate change

Archive of EPA’s “A Student’s Guide to Global Climate Change”

Climate 101 from Climate Classroom Kids and the National Wildlife Federation

The Essential Principles of Climate Literacy, by NOAA

Climate Communication: Science and Outreach

CITIZEN SCIENCE PROJECTS:

SciStarter: Science We Can Do Together

Journey North: Wildlife migration and seasonal change

NestWatch

North Carolina’s Candid Critters

Project FeederWatch

eBird

Project BudBurst

 

 

 

 

Compost.

If you need a good reason to compost your food waste, Kenneth Weiss provides it an article he wrote for Science magazine in May (Vancouver’s Green Dream, Science 20 May 2016, Vol. 352, Issue 6288, pp. 918-921, DOI: 10.1126/science.352.6288.918).  Weiss describes Vancouver’s efforts to combat climate change, among other environmental initiatives, by capturing methane generated in its landfills with extraction wells. Methane can be 30 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than is carbon dioxide, so rather than allow methane to escape to the atmosphere, Vancouver burns what it collects to generate useful heat.

Then the city discovered that about 40% of the methane generated in its landfills evaded the extraction wells and escaped to the atmosphere. Extraction wells can only capture so much, so Vancouver decided to do what other cities have begun, barring the food wastes and other compostable garbage that generates methane when buried in a landfill.

That meant convincing the city’s population (over 600,000 within the city limits alone) to keep their food wastes and other compostables out of the regular trash and save it for a separate collection. When that separate collection only happened every other week, compliance lagged, but when the frequency increased to weekly, the city experienced a 40% reduction in garbage while compost collections jumped 60%.

It’s coming, folks. We can’t afford to throw food and other recoverable garbage into landfills which not only tosses valuable nutrients out of reach, but also produces dangerous greenhouse emissions. If your town or city collects food scraps for composting, participate in the program. If they don’t, start your own compost bin. It’s not that difficult, and it will combat climate change.

 

To do science…

Recently came across this quote from T.S. Eliot’s 1942 poem, Little Gidding, and thought it a wonderful description of the scientific endeavor.

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”

—T.S. Eliot

Hungry Birds

Walking around the Apex Reservoir this afternoon I noticed a lone Double-crested cormorant paddling along. I kept an eye on him as I figured he’d soon be diving, and I was curious how far he’d go underwater. Sure enough he submerged, and I looked ahead five, ten yards to catch where he came up.

I stretched to see around trees that blocked my view, and noticed a Great blue heron standing tall and statue-like about three feet offshore. Then the cormorant surfaced, a white fish about 4 inches long wiggling in its beak. Before the first cormorant swallowed his catch, a second cormorant surfaced, also bearing white fish. As soon as the first cormorant downed his fish, he dove under and within seconds surfaced with another fish. Suddenly I noticed a third cormorant, also with white fish in its beak.

All this time the heron looked on, motionless, less than five yards away from the ongoing feast, beak empty.

The school of white fish under the surface continued to provide a late afternoon dinner for the trio of cormorants for another few minutes while the heron watched.

 

ABC Asteroid XYZ

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Spacecraft NEAR Shoemaker executed a soft landing on this asteroid, Eros, in 2000.

In “Asteroids Good and Bad” we touched on NASA’s plans to detect asteroids as well as to eventually land on one and “redirect” a piece of it into orbit around the Moon.

Why the interest in these space rocks?

Asteroids have pounded Earth for billions of years, and they’re not done with their mission, as the Chelyabinsk meteor rudely reminded us over Russia in 2013. With no warning it slammed into Earth’s atmosphere and exploded 28 miles up. Even that far away the relatively small 18-meter diameter asteroid fragment’s 500 kiloton equivalent explosion injured over 1,200 surprised people going about their business below it.

So what are asteroids? They consist of rocks and minerals, and come in three varieties: chondrite (C-class) made of clay and silicate rocks; stony (S-class) made of silicate and nickel-iron rocks; and metallic (M-class) consisting of mostly nickel-iron rock. They’re irregularly shaped, usually pitted or covered with craters.

Size matters, especially if one is headed our way. Most asteroids range from thirty feet to 330 miles in diameter, and none have any atmosphere. They orbit the Sun, rotating or tumbling along. More than half-a-million are known, but millions more are out there – exactly how many is unknown – and size matters.

Most asteroids orbit our Sun between Mars and Jupiter in the main asteroid belt. Between 1 and 2 million asteroids larger than 1 kilometer in diameter may exist in the main belt, yet most are still a million or more kilometers away from their nearest sibling. Just 150 have a companion moon, a few have two moons, and some asteroids occur as a pair of relatively equal-sized bodies. Astronomers have even spotted triple asteroids tumbling along together.

Although most asteroids may remain in the main belt, Jupiter’s massive gravity flings them out across the solar system from time to time. At present, 10,003 are known to approach Earth close enough to be considered potential collision hazards. These asteroids are called “Near-Earth Objects” or NEOs, and 861 NEOs have a diameter of 1 kilometer or more. Thus far scientists have tracked over 1,400 “Earth-crossers” that pose a significant threat. But as the surprise arrival of the asteroid over Chelyabinsk, Russia demonstrated, we’ve not yet located every potential collider.

How often do astronomers expect an asteroid to hit Earth? What evidence do we have that asteroids have hit Earth in the past? Where else can we find most asteroids other than in the main belt? How do asteroids get named, and did you know there’s an asteroid named for a cat called Dr. Spock? That’s weird.

The Ozone Protocol: A Climate Change Precedent

The following letter appeared in the January 1, 2016 edition of the News and Observer, Raleigh, NC

News and Observer Letter

It’s deja vu all over again reading George Will (“Another false ‘turning point’,” N&O, 12/17) and Charles Krauthammer (“Obama’s legacy of fiction,” N&O, 12/18) whine about efforts to address climate change. Neither one considers the science or the history. In this case, it’s history worth repeating, not avoiding.

When the world faced the destruction of stratospheric ozone, 12 countries sat down in 1977 to plan how to negotiate a planet-wide pact. It took 10 years, and the outcome was the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, signed by just 24 countries. It’s strength was flexibility, proven in the eight revisions made since 1987.

Now 197 countries are party to a protocol that includes monitoring, reporting, and critically, sanctions for noncompliance. Most important, it’s working, as the rates of emissions of ozone-depleting chemicals have dropped, and since 2000, the ozone layer has begun its slow process of recovery.

International agreements can succeed in addressing a global environmental crisis. The fits and starts seen in the attempts to address climate change might work faster if those with a monetary or political stake in burning fossil fuels would cease their misinformation campaigns, aided by the head-in-the-sand antics of Will and Krauthammer.

—Denis DuBay

P.S. See this article by Jennifer Morgan and Eliza Northrop,  “Form AND Function: Why the Paris Agreement’s Legal Form Is So Important” for confirmation that the Paris deal holds real promise, not unlike the situation with the Montreal Protocol when it was first signed my just 24 countries. It was published online December 16, 2015 by the World Resources Institute.

ASTEROIDS GOOD AND BAD

Ceres_Dawn2015

Ceres, the largest asteroid, first discovered in 1801 by Giuseppe Piazzi, and visited by the Dawn spacecraft in February, 2015. Those bright spots remain a mystery, and Dawn continues taking pictures of Ceres from its closest approach, which continues the next few months. Image from NASA JPL via Dawn.

NASA’s new 2016 budget includes money for two asteroid missions. One of those missions continues an effort underway for years, the detection of near-Earth objects (NEOs), asteroids that pose a risk of colliding with our home planet. The other mission proposes to land on a near-earth asteroid, pick up a large boulder from its surface, and redirect the boulder into an orbit around the Moon. Once in a stable lunar orbit, manned missions would visit the asteroid fragment and retrieve pieces to return to Earth for detailed study.

Both missions complement each other and serve multiple roles. The detection mission will help protect Earth from a potentially cataclysmic collision with an asteroid. It’s happened many times in the past, and it continues to happen now. The biggest recent impact came in 2013 over Chelyabinsk, Russia, from an asteroid estimated at a mere 18 meters in diameter.

The detection mission would also help NASA find a nearby asteroid from which it might pluck a piece. That mission to “redirect” a piece of an asteroid into orbit around the Moon would build our understanding of what asteroids consist of and how they might contribute valuable minerals for industry. Perhaps even more important, the “redirect” mission involves landing on an asteroid and moving a piece of it onto a different trajectory, skills we would need if we ever detected an asteroid on a collision course with Earth and wanted to deflect it away.

How many asteroids are out there? How big are they? How many are on a course that might bring them into contact with Earth one day? What are they made of and does their composition mean we might benefit by capturing one and mining it? Could we deflect an asteroid on a collision course with Earth? What spacecraft missions have already studied asteroids, and what have we learned?

Stay tuned.

 

A referral…

Des Latham explores the evolution of definitions for the term “aviation” from 1934 until 2015, and includes the 1934 meaning of “aviator.” As a bonus you find out why the word “avigation” was invented. A nice end-of-the-year aviation post. Whether you fly for business, fun, or out of necessity, and regardless of where you sit, remember what you’re doing up there!

See Navigation, Avigation, and the Sexless Aviator, by Des Latham.