Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Global warming: 'This is the worst news'

Worst ever carbon emissions leave climate on the brink
Record rise, despite recession, means 2C target almost out of reach

The Guardian: Greenhouse emissions increased by a record amount last year, to the highest carbon output in history, putting hopes of holding global warming to safe levels all but out of reach, according to unpublished estimates from the International Energy Agency.

The shock rise means the goal of preventing a temperature rise of more than 2 degrees celsius -- which scientists say is the threshold for potentially 'dangerous climate change' -- is likely to be just 'a nice Utopia,' according to Fatih Birol, chief economist of the IEA... 'I am very worried. This is the worst news on emissions. It is becoming extremely challenging to stay below 2 degrees. The prospect is getting bleaker. That is what the numbers say.'

Professor Lord Stern of the London School of Economics, the author of the influential Stern Report into the economics of climate change for the Treasury in 2006, warned that if the pattern continued, the results would be dire... 'According to the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's] projections, such a path... would mean around a 50% chance of a rise in global average temperatures of more than 4C by 2100,' he said. 'Such warming would disrupt the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people across the planet, leading to widespread mass migration and conflict.'...

John Sauven, the executive director of Greenpeace UK, said time was running out. 'This news should shock the world. Yet even now politicians in each of the great powers are eyeing up extraordinary and risky ways to extract the world's last remaining reserves of fossil fuels -- even from under the melting ice of the Arctic. You don't put out a fire with gasoline. It will not be up to us to stop them.'
Image source here.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Labyrinth at Chartres

All the glass from the cathedral was removed just before the Germans invaded France in 1939, and it was cleaned after the War and releaded before replacing. While the city suffered heavy damage by bombing in the course of World War II, the cathedral was spared by an American Army officer who challenged the order to destroy it.

Colonel Welborn Barton Griffith, Jr. questioned the strategy of destroying the cathedral and volunteered to go behind enemy lines to find out whether the German Army was occupying the cathedral and using it as an observation post. With a single enlisted soldier to assist, Col. Griffith proceeded to the cathedral and confirmed the Germans were not using it. After he returned from his reconnaissance, he reported that the cathedral was clear of enemy troops. The order to destroy the cathedral was withdrawn, and the Allies later liberated the area. Col Griffith was killed in action on August 16, 1944 in the town of Leves, near Chartres.
Image sources here, here, and here.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Report: higher sea level rise, more quickly

Arctic Warming May Raise Global Sea Levels 1.6 metres
Reuters: Quickening climate change in the Arctic including a thaw of Greenland's ice could raise world sea levels by up to 1.6 metres by 2100... Such a rise -- above most past scientific estimates -- would add to threats to coasts from Bangladesh to Florida, low-lying Pacific islands and cities from London to Shanghai...

'The past six years (until 2010) have been the warmest period ever recorded in the Arctic,' according to the Oslo-based Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), which is backed by the eight-nation Arctic Council... The rises were projected from 1990 levels... Warming in the Arctic is happening at about twice the world average...

The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in its last major report in 2007 that world sea levels were likely to rise between 18 and 59 cm by 2100. Those numbers did not include a possible acceleration of a thaw in polar regions.

'It is worrying that the most recent science points to much higher sea level rise than we have been expecting until now.' European Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard told Reuters. 'The study is yet another reminder of how pressing it has become to tackle climate change, although this urgency is not always evident, neither in the public debate nor from the pace of the international negotiations.'
Image source here.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Dylan: 70 on 70

70 reasons why Bob Dylan is the most important figure in pop-culture history
The Independent: Bob Dylan is 70 today. Andy Gill gives that many reasons why he is a pop-culture colossus

Bob Dylan in 1963. Image source here.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Beavers mitigate climate change

The beaver's new brand: eco-saviour
Erin Aderssen, Globe and Mail: Our bucktoothed icon is hard-working and monogamous, steadfast and stable in the Canuck way... An increasingly vocal group of scientists and conservationists believes the dam-bulding rodent is an overlooked tool to mitigate climate change -- a natural remedy for our sick rivers and ravaged wildlife...

It's the beaver's avid dam-building that makes it a star in conservationists. In 2002, when University of Alberta biologist Glynnis Hood was in the middle of getting her PhD, the Prairies experienced the worst drought on record. She watched the wetland dry up... But where beaver dams existed, ponds remained. Poring over 54 years of historic aerial photos, records of beaver populations and climate data, she discovered that the ponds with active beaver lodges had nine times more water during droughts... In dry summers, the beavers kept water from trickling out and built channels to guide the water in; they had more impact than any rainfall... A pilot project found that beaver dams stored five to 10 times more groundwater reserves than rivers without dams, and slowed the spring runoff.

When beaver dams were added to wetland restoration efforts, the population of frogs, toads and songbirds rebounded. Native foliage returned. The dams created waterholes for moose and other animals... They slowed down water flow in rivers and shored up banks, while preventing sediment and pollutants from being carried downstream... Beaver ponds appear to be capturing the pollutants and breaking them down with bacteria...

The presence of beavers improves endangered fish stocks. Beaver ponds are deeper, which means that they thaw earlier and freeze later, giving juvenile salmon more time to grow. The bark and branches that beavers drag into the water add nutrients and draw insects, which the young salmon eat... Even in cases where beaver dams have been found to impede adult salmon... no research has suggested that it was enough to affect river-wide populations... 'It's about $10,000 a hectare to replace wetlands, and you've got something to do it for free,' Dr. Hood says.
Image source here.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

'How your heart pounds inside me'

Could Have
It could have happened.
It had to happen.
It happened earlier. Later.
Nearer. Farther off.
It happened, but not to you.

You were saved because you were the first.
You were saved because you were the last.
Alone. With others.
On the right. The left.
Because it was raining. Because of the shade.
Because the day was sunny.

You were in luck -- there was a forest.
You were in luck -- there were no trees.
You were in luck -- a rake, a hook, a beam, a brake,
A jamb, a turn, a quarter inch, an instant...

So you're here? Still dizzy from
another dodge, close shave, reprieve?
One hole in the net and you slipped through?
I couldn't be more shocked or
how your heart pounds inside me.
-- Wislawa Szymborska, from the Polish

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Marshall Islands: cosmos change

The change of Cosmos

Skye Hohmann, New Internationalist: Climate change can strip away an atoll's natural physical defences... Flying in to Majuro, the capital of the Marshall Islands, this is heart-wrenchingly obvious... Elevations average mere metres above the sea level. In December 2008, and again in February this year, abnormally high tides inundated the capital, temporarily flooding houses and roads and raising health concerns as waves washed over cemeteries and mixed raw sewage into the standing water...

The effects of rising sea levels are evident in coastline erosion, where waves have undercut coconut palms, felling the trees into the deceptively quiet turquoise waters of the lagoons. Changing weather patterns are beginning to erode the traditional knowledge so long essential for life on these fragile islands...

The culture on these islands is deeply interconnected with the land... Steps are being taken to enable inhabitants to remain on their traditional lands for as long as possible... It is perhaps for this reason that the Marshall Islands have no official resettlement plans...

Climate change has strengthened local distrust of modern, Western culture. [Peter] Rudiak-Gould says that the idea dovetails with local notions of cultural decline. 'When the term "climate change" was translated into Marshallese, they used a word for "climate" that means cosmos -- environment in the widest possible sense. So when scientists say that the climate is changing, what people are actually hearing is that scientists say that the cosmos is changing, and there's all sorts of evidence of that, not just environmental change, but social and cultural change...

There is little that Marshall Islanders can do to stem the rising tides. But reinvigorating traditional subsistence lifestyles means that islanders can control at least one aspect of their changing cosmos. While climate change may be eroding the islands, it's galvanizing Marshallese culture; this culture is greatly needed in such an uncertain time in this low-lying nation.
Image source here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Immigrants make Canada safer

Arrival of the Fittest
Canada's crime rate is dropping as immigration increases. Is there a connection?

Rachel Giese, The Walrus: In times of social upheaval and economic hardship, immigrants are a convenient scapegoat, accused of bringing with them an element of deviance and criminality... What few have bothered to ask is whether there's any merit to this belief... In Canada, an. overall drop in crime has paralleled the upsurge in non-European immigration since Pierre Trudeau championed multiculturalism in the 1970s... Could it be that immigrants are making us all safer?..

A University of Toronto study initiated more than thirty years ago provides some of the most convincing evidence to support the theory that immigration equals less crime... Immigrant kids were less likely than their peers to engage in delinquent behaviour... The disinclination to commit crime extended across all nationalities... The newer the immigrant, the better behaved he or she was...

Statistics Canada has now released findings from spatial analysis of crime data in Canadian cities that suggest the percentage of recent immigrants in various regions of Toronto and Montreal is inversely proportional to all types of violent crime... 'It acts as a protective factor'...

What ultimately set the first generation kids apart were three important protective factors: strong family bonds, commitment to education, and and aversion to risk. The traits required for a person to leave behind all that's familiar and take a chance on making it in a new country -- ambition, resilience, perseverance, imagination, optimism -- are conducive to the rearing of successful children; those children, in turn naturally feel an obligation to their self-sacrificing parents...

As each generation regresses to the [Canadian] mean, the mean itself has shifted and improved, thanks, it appears, to immigration making the country safer overall. Living in Canada may change immigrants, but not before they change Canada for the better.
Image source here.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

'Eye of God'

Author Giles Sparrow's Cosmos Close-up is a collection of photographs of the nearest vision of the universemodern technology can give us

At a distance of around 700 light years from Earth, the Helix Nebula is one of the closest planetaries... With an apparent size in the sky close to that of the Full Moon, it is also extremely large with a diameter of about five light years. Though difficult to observe with small telescopes because the light is 'smeared' across a large area, Hubble images have made it famous and given rise to the popular nickname 'Eye of God.'
Image source here.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Canadians most tolerant

At 84% on average, Canadians report the highest community tolerance of minority groups -- ethnic minorities, migrants, and gays and lesbians -- in the OECD, where the average is 61%.

Postmedia News: Canadians are hard-working, great readers, the most tolerant people in the developed world, and enjoy more 'positive experiences' than everyone but Icelanders, according to a new analysis of social trends.

But Canadians have a below-average participation rate in elections, don't produce many babies and, in one apparently contradictory finding, are more likely to report 'negative experiences,' according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development [in] its Society at a Glance report, done every two years...

'Canadians have the second highest rate of positive experiences in the OECD after Iceland -- feeling well-rested, being treated with respect, smiling, doing something interesting and experiencing enjoyment,' the OECD said... At the same time, Canadians have (above-average) negative experiences -- pain, worry, sadness, stress and depression...

'Canada had the sixth-highest proportion of foreign-born people in its population, at roughly one in five... Canadian 15-year olds rank third in reading skills, behind only Korea and Finland.'

Image source here.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Interactive sky

Phototopic Sky Survey
A 360-degree interactive map of the night sky, including constellations, bright stars, and objects. Click the 'i' button for constellations.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Ants form raft to survive floods

The incredible floating fire ant
The Washington Post: When swept up by a flood, a colony of the critters -- thousands of them -- will save themselves by joining forces and forming a raft. They pile together and lock arms, legs and jaws. So bound, an ant raft can survive for months, sailing off to new lands.

Engineers studying animal oddities now report that together, the ants aren't just stronger. They're more buoyant. Airtight, even... 'Water does not penetrate the raft,' said Nathan Mlot, a mechanical engineer at Georgia Institute of Technology and lead author of the ant-raft report published in Proceedings of the National Academies. Even the bottom layer of ants stays dry... The uneven, hairy surface of the ant's skin explains this phenomenon. Bumpy, hirsute, or otherwise rough surfaces repel water... Duck feathers also repel water because of their tiny bumps...

Mlot and his colleagues gathered fire ants from the wilderness of Atlanta. Back in the lab, Mlot deposited colonies of 500 to 8,000 ants in large beakers. When gently swirled, each colony spontaneously formed a sphere. Mlot dropped these spheres into water... The ants on top of the ball crawled down to the water and grabbed onto other water-level compatriots. The next layer of top ants then crawled to the edge, and so on. In about a minute-and-a-half, each ant sphere flattened into a dome, then flattened further into a pancake shape -- a raft... This togetherness pushes each ant's individual air bubble against the next ant's bubble. The bubbles join, protecting the whole raft.

Image source here.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Found: Tom Thompson's 'Early Snow'

Lost Tom Thompson sketch is being repatriated after spending five decades in the U.S.

Vancouver Sun: 'Early Snow': No one is quite sure when it was painted -- it could be anywhere between 1913 and '17. But there's no question it is one of the small number of paintings done by Thompson...' I am absolutely certain this is a Tom Thompson sketch, A.Y. Jackson' wrote on the back. A.Y. Jackson, of course, was one of the painters in the Group of Seven, and a close friend of Thompson's until Thompson's untimely death in 1917...

The Thompson painting... has been hanging in 'a little bungalow in Pittsburgh for several decades. 'It was a nice bungalow,' laughs Linda Rodeck of Sotheby's. 'It wasn't just anywhere... And the owner knew exactly what she had.'
Image source here.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Arctic sea ice second lowest on record

Earth Observatory: In March 2011, after a winter of growth, sea ice extent in the Arctic was the second lowest for the month of March since satellite records were first kept in 1979... Including 2011, the March trend in sea ice extent has been decreasing at a rate of 2.7 percent per decade. Visit World of Change Arctic Sea Ice to see the trend since 1999.