Archive for August, 2012

So You Care About the Polar Bears?

August 19, 2012 Leave a comment

It’s impossible (and unfair) to expect everyone you meet to have abundant knowledge on science and current events.  I do, however, wish that I would not have to explain that my dedication to climate change research has nothing to do with the polar bears.

What do I have against polar bears?

I love polar bears.  The one at the zoo is adorable, and I do hope that his feral buddies have long happy lives and produce many, many children.  I just don’t believe that the polar bears are the larger concern when it comes to climate change.

I’m mostly worried about the water.  Projections for global water resources are becoming increasingly dire within a rapidly changing environment.  Water resources define human – political, economic, and social – vulnerability in many regions of the world today.   Certain alpine regions are particularly vulnerable, as rapidly retreating glaciers provide the primary source of fresh surface water downstream.

One such region is the Rio Santa watershed, which drains the Cordillera Blanca mountain range in Ancash, Peru.   The Cordillera Blanca contains the world’s highest concentration of tropical glaciers – nearly 600.  The glaciers provide a hydrologic buffer during the austral winter dry season, seasonally supplying between 40 and 60 percent of the region’s water resources.  As the glaciers retreat, a process begins in which meltwater discharge first increases and becomes much more variable, and then decreases and eventually ceases to supply the local rivers altogether.  Most of the glaciers in this region are in the later stages of the process, which poses some major problems for the developing and rapidly-growing populations downstream.   The consequences of reduced water resources in this region are numerous, and Peruvians have been and will be required to adapt under a rapidly shifting regime.   The figure below shows the various ways in which this glacier-dependent region uses water (click to embiggen).


Climate change is an issue that is here and now.  Mitigation is important, but I think our focus should be on how we’re adapting, managing, and planning for a problem that is already upon us.

For a better-written article about Peruvian glaciers and people:

Indian Country: Melting Andes Glaciers Worry Indigenous Peoples

And for those of you who think that gritty science papers are sexy:

Mark et al. (2010). Climate Change and Tropical Andean Glacier Recession: Evaluating Hydrologic Changes and Livelihood Vulnerability in the Cordillera Blanca, Peru

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Scientists Finally Conclude Nonhuman Animals Are Conscious Beings

August 16, 2012 1 comment

I came across an article which concluded that non-human animals are indeed conscious beings. For many pet owners, this finding is not surprising whatsoever; I myself am the proud owner of a few beautiful animals and know them to be very conscious and sentient in their own right. But this entry isn’t really about the findings of science on this topic, but more on the reaction some people have that any research was needed at all.

I had posted the article on my personal Facebook account and received a comment on it.

I really hate when tons of money is spent on stupid research….it’s like researching whether pavement is really better for cars to drive on than the bare ground or whether the sky is really blue to the human eye. Useless. Having had tons of pets growing up, I could have easily told them this and bet my life on it.”


I have to admit, deep down this is pretty much how I feel about, too. However, even though this is a kind of truth any pet owner could recognize just by thinking about it (once called “meta-physics”), one has to understand that every contention in science must be proven, no matter how much the topic seems to fall under “common sense”. Invariably there are the skeptics that must be convinced of a claim, so a mere say-so is never enough. Can you imagine if we lived in a world where contentions were left unchallenged, even if they were trivial ones? That does a disservice to us and to the methods of science.

Are these types of research a waste of money? Again, I would argue that they are not. Not everyone is inherently convinced that animals are conscious beings; the whole argument of it being a waste of time and money hinges on the assumption that it is “common sense” that animals are conscious. No matter how trivial an assertion may be or how sensical it may sound to the vast majority of us, it must be tested and challenged through research. Only after the evidence is collected can we say with certainty that a claim is true.

After all, it was once common sense that the Sun revolved around the Earth.

August 13, 2012 Leave a comment



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Categories: Uncategorized

Curiosity Has Landed

August 8, 2012 1 comment

   At 10:32 p.m. PDT on August 6th, the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft successfully placed a mini car-sized  rover named Curiosity on the surface of Mars. It’s location is Gale Crater, a 154 kilometer (96 miles) wide, 3.5 billion year old hole in the ground, whose origin is not yet fully understood. In the center of the crater stands the five-and-a-half kilometer (18,000 feet)  high mountain, Aeolis Mons (commonly referred to as “Mount Sharp”).

The trip to Mars spanned over 350 million miles, requiring an 8-month lonely voyage. Getting Curiosity to Mars was the easy part; landing the nearly one-ton rover was another game all together. Unlike its predecessors, Opportunity and Spirit, Curiosity could not use the ‘air-bag’ approach to landing because of its immense size. Instead, Curiosity employed a retro-rocket to slow its decent after entry and was lowered onto the ground via a “Sky-Crane” (See video below).

Over the next Martian year (686 Earth days), Curiosity – which is powered by the nuclear decay of plutonium – will do a multitude of experiments with various  scientific tools, cameras, a weather station, a robotic arm with a power drill, a laser that can zap distant rocks, a chemistry lab to search for the chemical building blocks of life and a detector to measure dangerous radiation on the surface – just to name a few.

I can’t wait to see what new discoveries are around the corner. Something incredible is waiting to be known.

Finally, I leave you with a quote from the late Carl Sagan, recorded only months before his untimely death.

Maybe we’re on Mars because of the magnificent science that can be done there — the gates of the wonder world are opening in our time. Maybe we’re on Mars because we have to be, because there’s a deep nomadic impulse built into us by the evolutionary process — we come, after all, from hunter-gatherers, and for 99.9% of our tenure on Earth we’ve been wanderers. And the next place to wander to is Mars. But whatever the reason you’re on Mars is, I’m glad you’re there. And I wish I was with you.

New Additions!

August 8, 2012 1 comment

New Additions!

I’d like to extend a warm welcome to two new contributors to the blog! Please welcome David (davidcurry348050155) and Alex (sassymaps)!

Together we have a wide-range of interests that will be covered in the future; some will be editorial and opinion on various topics, others will be cut-and-dry coverage of the latest scientific discoveries. Either way, we hope that you will enjoy what we have to offer!

Categories: All, Ramblings

Why Do We Explore?

August 2, 2012 Leave a comment

Why Do We Explore?

Ever since humanity first understood that other lands existed across vast oceans, we’ve been cursed with an everlasting itch to see what was there. Regardless of the perils, countless brave men and women set their sights on traversing immense distances in their ships, all for the chance to be the first people to set foot on foreign territory. Some were in search for new foods or spices, others for flexing their military muscles in dominance.

For the most part seeking new lands was a bargain, especially if the waters were uncharted. They did not know if they would succeed and return home or fail and perish at sea. The uncertainty of their fate, I imagine, is what drives people to try their luck. The hazards involved are an inseparable component of the potential glory.

I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts.”
-Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Curiosity is the driving force behind exploration. Most of the Earth (save for the ocean bottoms) have been visited, mapped and studied. Our playground for learning exploring is growing smaller. Where else is there to look but to other worlds? We are destined for the stars.

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