Archive for the ‘science’ Category

Industrial-Strength Carbon Footprints (NY Times)

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

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[Editor's note: Carbon dioxide emissions charted by ton, economic sector, and revenue.]

Republished from the New York Times. Dec. 28, 2009.

Emissions Disclosure as a Business Virtue

Cupping their hands near holes drilled for cable routing, workers at the Boeing Company’s four-acre data processing site near Seattle noticed this year that air used to keep the computers cool was seeping through floor openings.

Mindful of the company’s drive to slash electricity consumption by 25 percent, they tucked insulation into holes there and at five similar sites. The resulting savings are projected at $55,000, or some 685,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a year.

Yet Boeing’s goal is not just to save money. The hope is to keep pace with other companies that have joined in a vast global experiment in tracking the carbon dioxide emissions generated by industry.

Boeing and other enterprises are voluntarily doing what some might fiercely resist being forced to do: submitting detailed reports on how much they emit, largely through fossil fuel consumption, to a central clearinghouse.

The information flows to the Carbon Disclosure Project, a small nonprofit organization based in London that sifts through the numbers and generates snapshots by industry sectors in different nations.

By giving enterprises a road map for measuring their emissions and pointing out how they compare with their peers, experts say, the voluntary project is persuading companies to change their energy practices well before many governments step in to regulate emissions.

Scientists estimate that industry and energy providers produce nearly 45 percent of the heat-trapping emissions that contribute to global warming. While some governments are convinced that reining in such pollution is crucial to protecting the atmosphere, a binding global pact is not on the immediate horizon, as negotiations in Copenhagen showed this month.

Until broad regulation is at hand, many investors and company executives say, voluntary reporting programs like the Carbon Disclosure Project may be the best way to leverage market forces for change.

Continue reading at the New York Times . . .

What is the difference between a sea and a lake? (Environment Canada)

Friday, December 11th, 2009

[Editor's note: This Q&A from Environment Canada explains the rough difference between types of hydrological features. Names in the real world are often messier than this text book explanation. One way we've tried to help in Natural Earth is by indicating if a lake is freshwater, saline, natural, artificial, stable water level, seasonal water level, or simply ephemeral.]

Republished from Environment Canada. Feb. 2002.

What is the difference between a sea and a lake? Looking at the names of many sea and many lakes does not readily demonstrate an identifiable difference. There are salt water lakes and fresh water seas and some lakes that are bigger than other seas.
Bruce Schoenegge, Irvine, California, USA

Salt crust resulting from receding lake, Lake Frome, Australia.
Salt crust resulting from receding lake, Lake Frome, Australia.

In order to understand why some smaller salt water bodies are called lakes and others seas it is necessary to realize that lakes are, in geological time scales, transitory in nature–they form, mature and die.

Some water bodies that started out as saltwater seas over time became closed-off from the oceans. Depending on the quantity of fresh water flowing in from rivers, glacial melt water, or other sources, the salinity could have declined to the point where the water became relatively fresh. The Sea of Aral is probably an example of where this transition has occurred. Similarly the reverse can occur whereby freshwater lakes can become open to the sea so that the salinity increases, as in the Baltic Sea. The Black Sea is an example that has alternated between fresh and salt water conditions over geological time. Evidence for these changes can be found in ancient fossils of organisms some of which were known to be tolerant of saltwater while others were known to have been intolerant.

No doubt there was also some confusion in the naming of water bodies by the early explorers based on their first impressions and certainly one can understand why some may have been inappropriately named. In addition the subsequent translation of the names between different languages could also have added to the confusion.

Here are some definitions of water bodies:

Ocean
The whole body of salt water that covers nearly 3/4 of the surface area of the globe. In particular, each of the main areas into which the sea is divided geographically, e.g. Atlantic, Pacific. Oceans are tidal, living systems containing a multitude of biological organisms.

  • Average depth of the world’s oceans: 3,962 metres(13,000ft)
  • Maximum depth: 10,680 meters; (35,040ft)
  • Average salt content – 3.5% (mostly common salt, NaCl but with some magnesium and calcium salts)
  • Average density – 1.026
Sea
The expanse of salt water that covers most of the earth’s surface and surrounds the land masses. A body of salt water that is secondary in size to oceans.
Lake
A large area of water surrounded by land. Normally fresh water but in some cases can be appreciably saline depending on the geology of the underlying and surrounding terrain. Lakes are living systems containing various quantities of biological organisms. Lakes can be classified according to the level of bioproductivity as oligotrophic (low productivity), mesotrophic or eutrophic (high productivity). The productivity is usually controlled by the amount of nutrients (mostly phosphorus and nitrogen) present in the water and the amount of light that can penetrate the water column.
River
A large natural stream of water flowing in a channel to the sea, a lake or another such river. The flow can be permanent of seasonal.
Stream
A small, narrow river flowing on the surface of, or beneath, the ground.

Gene Therapy for Color Blindness (Cal Academy of Sciences)

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

[Editor's note: Color blindness affects a significant portion of the male population and impacts design decisions. Bernhard Jenny and I developed the Color Oracle software for Mac, Windows, and Linux to help designers muddle thru. Now gene therapy may offer a "cure" for the condition, as this video from the California Academy of Sciences explains. Thanks Tom!]

Republished from the Science in Action from the California Academy of Sciences.

Gene therapy has proven to cure color blindness in squirrel monkeys— can the same process work for humans?

We’ve been tracking a lot of vision stories lately… What have you found?

Continue reading text version at TG Daily . . .

One Planet Many People: Atlas of Our Changing Environment (UNEP)

Friday, July 31st, 2009

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[Editor's note: Fun site from the United Nations Environment Programme highlighting changes in the natural environment with side-by-side remotely sensed imagery and full write up of each place. Done both in Google Maps and available as a Google Earth feed. Map is fairly decent.]

Republished from United Nations Environment Programme.

Increasing concern as to how human activities impact the Earth has led to documentation and quantification of environmental changes taking place on land, in the water, and in the air. Through a combination of ground photographs, current and historical satellite images, and narrative based on extensive scientific evidence, this publication illustrates how humans have altered their surroundings and continue to make observable and measurable changes to the global environment.

Continue to Interactive Atlas: Google Maps | Google Earth

The Internet’s Undersea World (Guardian)

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

[Editor's note: Wireless is all the buzz but good old copper and fiber-optic cables link most of us together, as this graphic from last year's Guardian newspaper shows.]

Republished from the Guardian newspaper (UK).

The vast majority of the world’s communications are not carried by satellites but an altogether older technology: cables under the earth’s oceans. As a ship accidently wipes out Asia’s net access [in 2008-ed], this map showss how we rely on collections of wires of less than 10 cm diameter to link us all together.

View larger JPG version (hi-res pdf).

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Suddenly, a Wider World Below the Waterline (Economist)

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

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[Editor's note: Nations around the world are laying claim to areas beyond their 200-nautical-mile limit to lay claim to underwater mineral riches like oil and gas, including the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic, as detailed in last month's National Geographic magazine. Note the use of Southern Ocean on this map for waters around Antarctica south of 60 degrees.]

Republished from the Economist. May 14th 2009
Related story: St Pierre and Miquelon – Squaring off for a seabed scrap

The scramble for the seabed: Coastal states have now made their bids for vast new areas of continental shelf

YOU never know what may come in handy. That is the principle behind the rush for the seabed that reached a climax of sorts this week with the deadline on May 13th for lodging claims to extensions of the continental shelf. When Russia sold Alaska to the United States for two cents an acre (five cents a hectare) in 1867, it thought it was parting with a useless lump of ice. After gold was discovered there, it began kicking itself. Now it is one of a host of countries eagerly laying claim to swathes of the seafloor that may one day yield huge riches. That is the hope anyway.

The rules for this carve-up derive from the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. These gave all countries that had ratified the treaty before May 13th 1999 ten years in which to claim any extension of their continental shelf beyond the normal 200 nautical miles (370km), so long as that extension was no more than 100 miles from the point at which the sea reached a depth of 2.5km, and no more than 350 miles from land. Any other country wishing to make a claim has ten years from the date on which it ratified the treaty. It must then, like all the states that have now made their claims, submit copious scientific evidence to show that the seabed in question is indeed continental shelf.

Continue reading at The Economist . . .

Directional Signage and Maps in San Francisco

Friday, April 24th, 2009

Here are several pictures taken at the new California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco and at SFO airport last week. The museum’s exhibits and aquarium make extensive use of maps and directional signage. They even feature an lenticular foil showing before and after glacier loss. The California Beef Council map was seen at the Fry’s parking lot in San Jose. The bathroom signage is from the SFO airport where they have both an in and an out for the restrooms :)

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sfomensrestroomdirectionalsignage

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Disappearing Birds (Wash Post)

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

[Editor's note: "Habitat loss has sent many bird species into decline across the United States." This chart  shows the percent change in bird population since 1968, by habitat. I like three things about this chart: (1) it uses direct labeling on the green and red lines thus making it easy to understand for all and allowing color blind viewers access to the encoded information (see post) and (2) the chart segments out important thematic subtrends in the dataset. Also (3) I worked on a bird migration supplement (wall) map for National Geographic in 2004 and Cornell Lab of Ornithology has some of the coolest time-based mapping techniques around. See original artwork from the North America side of the supplement now thru May at NG Explorers Hall in DC.]

Republished from The Washington Post.
Graphic by Patterson Clark.  March 20, 2009.
SOURCE: www.stateofthebirds.org.

Related story by Juliet Eilperin.

Major Decline Found In Some Bird Groups
But Conservation Has Helped Others

Several major bird populations have plummeted over the past four decades across the United States as development transformed the nation’s landscape, according to a comprehensive survey released yesterday by the Interior Department and outside experts, but conservation efforts have staved off potential extinctions of others.

“The State of the Birds” report, a broad analysis of data compiled from scientific and citizen surveys over 40 years, shows that some species have made significant gains even as others have suffered. Hunted waterfowl and iconic species such as the bald eagle have expanded in number, the report said, while populations of birds along the nation’s coasts and in its arid areas and grasslands have declined sharply.

From the report: “Reveals troubling declines of bird populations during the past 40 years—a warning signal of the failing health of our ecosystems. At the same time, we see heartening evidence that strategic land management and conservation action can reverse declines of birds. This report calls attention to the collective efforts needed to protect nature’s resources for the benefit of people and wildlife.”

Continue reading at The Washington Post . . .

Greek To Me: Mapping Mutual Incomprehension (StrangeMaps)

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

[Editor's note: This cartogram shows which languages cultures point to when they "just don't get it". Thanks Michael!]

Republished from StrangeMaps.
Originally published February 26, 2009.

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“When an English speaker doesn’t understand a word of what someone says, he or she states that it’s ‘Greek to me’. When a Hebrew speaker encounters this difficulty, it ’sounds like Chinese’. I’ve been told the Korean equivalent is ’sounds like Hebrew’,” says Yuval Pinter (here on the excellent Languagelog).

Which begs the question: “Has there been a study of this phrase phenomenon, relating different languages on some kind of Directed Graph?” Well apparently there has, even if only perfunctorily, and the result is this cartogram.

Continue reading at StrangeMaps . . .

Molecular Frameworks, the Building Blocks of All Life (Wired mag)

Monday, March 9th, 2009

[Editor's note: Blast from your chemistry class, Wired profiles the 30 most common molecular shapes, nature's "shape alphabet".]

Republished from Wired magazine.
By Erin Biba Email 02.23.09

Sure, the world is complicated, but not as complicated as you might think. It turns out that most organic molecules—the kind of chemicals that make food tasty, perfumes fragrant, and life alive—derive from a few relatively simple architectures.

Together with a bunch of data-minded colleagues, Alan Lipkus of the Chemical Abstracts Service took a deep dive into his organization’s century-old library of 24 million organic compounds—most of them synthetic. They found that more than half are built from just 143 basic shapes, or “frameworks.” And the rest? Well, building those requires the other 836,565 cataloged frameworks.

Why do a handful of fundamental shapes get all the work? In part because chemists typically create new molecules—in the search, say, for potential new drugs—from the ones they’re familiar with. It’s cheaper. But Lipkus hopes that showcasing this lopsided approach will encourage researchers to work farther out on the long tail of molecular geometry. “A lot of structures have not been fully explored,” he says. “There could be interesting things to discover.” Here’s a snapshot of the newly discovered shape-alphabet.

Top 30 Molecular Shapes

Molecules are clusters of atoms joined like Tinkertoys. The range of possible structures is vast, but they can all be categorized by “molecular framework”—the underlying rings and connectors. Most common by far is the hexagon—a ring of six atoms, with one at each corner, that’s the basis for nearly 10 percent of known organic compounds. Here are the top 30 most common frameworks, with frequency of occurrence in parentheses.

Continue reading a Wired . . .