NOAA Discusses Global Warming

Map of the U.S. demonstrating that every state experienced record warmth this year.
U.S. temperature state rankings for 2006. Source: NOAA.

As I noted in a previous entry, 2006 was the United States’ warmest year on record and the sixth-warmest year worldwide. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently its yearly weather summary, including this amusing map showing temprature rankings of U.S. states. The NOAA attributed the trend to both El Niño and global warming and was surprisingly open about human-induced climate change, given that it is a U.S government agency. It said:

The 2006 average annual temperature for the contiguous U.S. was the warmest on record and nearly identical to the record set in 1998, according to scientists at the NOAA National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C.…The unusually warm start to this winter reflected the rarity of Arctic outbreaks across the country as an El Niño episode continued in the equatorial Pacific. A contributing factor to the unusually warm temperatures throughout 2006 also is the long-term warming trend, which has been linked to increases in greenhouse gases. This has made warmer-than-average conditions more common in the U.S. and other parts of the world. It is unclear how much of the recent anomalous warmth was due to greenhouse-gas–induced warming and how much was due to the El Niño–related circulation pattern. It is known that El Niño is playing a major role in this winter’s short-term warm period.

Continue reading “NOAA Discusses Global Warming”

Space News Update (11 Jan 2007)

In recent years, NASA, the United States’ space agency, has been dominating exploration of the solar system. At Mars, NASA has two craft in orbit (2001 Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter—plus the recently lost Mars Global Surveyor, and the two rovers Spirit and Opportunity on the surface), while Europe has the Mars Express. But as Stephen Battersby reports in New Scientist, Euprope is contemplating additional moon and Mars missions, including speculating on the possibility of human spaceflight.

Also, Bill Christensen at writes about a proposed partnership between Google and NASA. Google will help process the data and make it available to the public. Google doesn’t seem to derive any significant direct benefits, but it certainly isn’t making enemies by its continued support of science and nerdy topics in general.

Amazon Plants Grow on Saharan Dust

A recent article in Environmental Research Letters studies this interesting phenomenon. As Richard Fisher at New Scientist reports,

The trees and plants in the Amazon rainforest rely on nutrient-rich dust from a single valley in the Sahara desert for sustenance, researchers have discovered.

Scientists know that millions of tonnes of mineral dust are blown from the Sahara desert to the Amazon basin each year. The dust helps keep the Brazilian rainforest soils fertile.

(continue reading at New Scientist)

Climate Change Update (10 Jan 2007)

Earlier satellite photograph of Ellesmere Island.
Satellite photograph from 13 Aug 2005 showing the now-free Ayles Ice Shelf.
NASA’s Terra satellite took these photographs. In the first image, the ice shelf is still attached to the island. In the second photograph, from 13 August 2005, the now-free ice shelf can be seen near the top middle of the image. Credit: Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA GSFC.

In a dramatic, alarming event, CNN and NASA reported that scientists have just discovered a sixty-six–square kilometer (twenty-five–square mile) ice shelf, the Ayles Ice Shelf, broke free from northern Canada’s Ellesmere Island last year. This was one of only six major ice shelves in Canada. The shelves are ancient, having been present for at least three thousand years; the loss of one is unprecedented. The event was discovered by scientist Laurie Weir who had been examining 2005 satellite data. After she noticed the break and alerted other scientists, satellite images were used to pinpoint the event to 13 August 2005; a retrospective examination of seismologic data confirmed this.

Richard Fisher of New Scientist reports on a study published in Science (vol 315, p 95) studying a fish population (Zoarces viviparous) over the past ten years (also read the report by Katharine Sanderson of Nature News). They showed that rising temperatures in the North Sea have led to a decreased oxygen supply but increased oxygen demand, causing the population to drop sharply. As would be expected, the fish are best adapted to function at the temperatures at which they evolved, not at the warmer temperatures of the last decade.

Continue reading “Climate Change Update (10 Jan 2007)”

NASA Finally Switches to Metric

Map showing that only the United States, Liberia, Myanmar, and Thailand have not switched to the metric system.
Countries primarily using non-metric systems of measurement (Liberia, Myanmar, Thailand, and the United States). Source: Wikipedia.

As reported in,

When NASA returns astronauts to the Moon, the mission will be measured kilometers, not miles.

The agency has decided to use metric units for all operations on the lunar surface, according to a statement released today.

(continue reading at

Continue reading “NASA Finally Switches to Metric”

Dark Matter, in Three Dimensions

Image comparing distribution of normal and dark matter
Comparison of the large-scale structure of normal matter and dark matter. Credit: NASA, ESA, and R. Massey (California Institute of Technology)

The American Astronomical Society is meeting in Seattle, and researchers just announced the results from an intense, international, multi-telescope survey looking deep into the universe. Using data from the survey, called COSMOS, astronomers were able to map out the distribution of dark matter and compare it to the distribution of normal matter. The data confirmed several theories we have, though we’re still quite far from understanding even the fundamentals of dark matter.

It has been theorized that dark matter became arranged in enormous filaments as the universe cooled after the big bang. And since normal matter would be gravitationally attracted to the dark matter, we would expect that galaxies would be distributed along the dark matter filaments as well. As you can see in the accompanying image, they match up remarkably well. There are some discrepancies, though they may be related simply to the limits of our ability to detect all the matter. Continue reading “Dark Matter, in Three Dimensions”

Anti-obesity Drug for Dogs

The structure of dirlotapide, from PubChem.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration just approved Slentrol (dirlotapide), a drug intended to treat obesity in dogs. Roxanne Khamsi of New Scientist writes

A drug specifically designed to treat canine obesity has been approved for the first time by the US Food and Drug Administration.

The drug’s developer, New York-based Pfizer, says the prescription medication will slim dogs, thereby reducing their risk of diseases such as arthritis and cancer. But veterinarians stress that any weight-loss programme for pets must also include lots of exercise and restricted food intake.

(continue reading at New Scientist)

According to the article, 5% of dogs in the United States are obese; apparently, humans’ unhealthful lifestyles are starting to affect our best friend as well—dogs are getting more snacks and less exercise.

Though its mechanism of action is not precisely known, dirlotapide appears to reduce appetite and fat absorption. It’s a liquid given directly to a dog or put in his food.

And no, it’s not approved for human use.

Search Terms

I always find it interesting to see how people end up at my weblog. One nice feature of WordPress is that they list the search terms people use to find this site (if those keywords are contained within the URL). Don’t worry: there isn’t any identifying information attached to them. I have no idea if the user using a particular search viewed more than one page, what pages he viewed, where he is located, and so forth. I just get a list of search terms.

Here are some of the more interesting terms people have used to find my weblog:

Continue reading “Search Terms”

What if Everyone Left?

I just came across a thought-provoking article from New Scientist, October, discussing what would happen to Earth if all Homo sapiens were suddenly removed. It’s a nice look at our influence and permanence/transience. Bob Holmes writes

Humans are undoubtedly the most dominant species the Earth has ever known. In just a few thousand years we have swallowed up more than a third of the planet’s land for our cities, farmland and pastures. By some estimates, we now commandeer 40 per cent of all its productivity. And we’re leaving quite a mess behind: ploughed-up prairies, razed forests, drained aquifers, nuclear waste, chemical pollution, invasive species, mass extinctions and now the looming spectre of climate change. If they could, the other species we share Earth with would surely vote us off the planet.

Now just suppose they got their wish. Imagine that all the people on Earth — all 6.5 billion of us and counting — could be spirited away tomorrow, transported to a re-education camp in a far-off galaxy. (Let’s not invoke the mother of all plagues to wipe us out, if only to avoid complications from all the corpses). Left once more to its own devices, Nature would begin to reclaim the planet, as fields and pastures reverted to prairies and forest, the air and water cleansed themselves of pollutants, and roads and cities crumbled back to dust.

(continue reading at New Scientist)

Makes you think, huh? There was also a similar article in Scientific American several months ago, though the title escapes me at the moment. I’ll see if I can find it in my old issues.

If you are interested in this sort of thing, you may also enjoy watching “Das Rad” (nominated for the 2003 Academy Award for best short film). I’ve mentioned it a couple times before, I know, but I thought it was really well done. I included it at the end of a previous post.

New Year 2007

As we approach the arbitrary point many cultures have decided to designate as the boundary between years, I would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year. It is customary for media to publish reviews (often themed) of the past year, so I thought I would share with you some of my favorite science-related articles from The Onion, a satirical newspaper.

Mars Rover Beginning to Hate Mars

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientists overseeing the ongoing Mars Exploration Rover Mission said Monday that the Spirit’s latest transmissions could indicate a growing resentment of the Red Planet.

Spirit has been displaying some anomalous behavior,” said Project Manager John Callas, who noted the rover’s unsuccessful attempts to flip itself over and otherwise damage its scientific instruments.” And the thousand or so daily messages of ‘STILL NO WATER’ really point to a crisis of purpose.”


Kansas Outlaws Practice of Evolution

In response to a Nov. 7 referendum, Kansas lawmakers passed emergency legislation outlawing evolution, the highly controversial process responsible for the development and diversity of species and the continued survival of all life.

“From now on, the streets, forests, plains, and rivers of Kansas will be safe from the godless practice of evolution, and species will be able to procreate without deviating from God’s intended design,” said Bob Bethell, a member of the state House of Representatives. “This is about protecting the integrity of all creation.”


Continue reading “New Year 2007”