Global Warming and Risk Management

November 30, 2007

Stolen from A Blog Around the Clock.


The Open Access Dinosaur

November 15, 2007

There’s news of new dinosaur publication from Coturnix, which is rather exciting for a couple of reasons.

Nigersaurus from PLoS One.

One is that it seems to be an intrinsically interesting dinosaur. Structural Extremes in a Cretaceous Dinosaur is a publication of a dinosaur which is like a mini Diplodocus, mini being a relative description. What makes it very strange are the bones, there’s not a lot to them. The skull is described as a featherweight PLoS paper. This seems to be the same throughout the skeleton. Co-author Jeffrey Wilson said: “The vertebrae are so paper-thin that it is difficult to imagine them coping with the stresses of everyday use — but we know they did it, and they did it well.” The mounting of the skull on the spine means that it’s also more evidence as to whether Nigersaurus and Diplodocus ate like giraffes from high food sources, or from the ground like cows. You can read about it in the December National Geographic, or if you want to see where these facts come from go to the source in PLoS One, which is the second exciting thing.

The publication of the paper shows a really clever piece of thinking in publishing. Rather than just seeing publication as either commercial or non-commercial, the team working on Nigersaurus are using the strengths of both methods of publishing. In this instance the commercial publication in National Geographic is going to get the work far more attention than a purely open access publication would. At the same time, the open access publication means that the data will be accessible to anyone with internet access until the apocalypse. I’m currently having trouble tracking down publications that are barely a century old, so this is very attractive. It’s not an isolated example, the Archaeological Institute of America publishes their journal with open-access free online but has a commercial publication with Archaeology magazine, which shows that organisations can work with both traditional copyright and open-access rather than one to the exclusion of the other. Yet I can’t recall this kind of co-operation being done with such a major find before.

Hopefully there’ll be many more successes for PLoS One in many more disciplines.

Two Carnivals

May 27, 2007

Two science-based blog carnivals have gone online recently. At Pharyngula the Creation Museum Carnival has just gone live. I appreciate the freedom of speech issue. If someone wants to spend millions of dollars fighting against science that it their right, but there’s no need to agree with or even respect dishonesty.

More cheerful is the Carnival of Space, hosted by Universe Today, which has a collection of links on Space Science and Astronomy from various weblogs.

Ithaca Found?

January 10, 2007

[Cross-posted to Revise & Dissent]

Borehole drilling
Drilling for Ithaca. © Robert Bittlestone.

Some tremendously exciting news was announced yesterday. Ithaca, the home of Odysseus from Homer’s Odyssey, may have been located. The reason why I’m finding it so exciting isn’t so much that from what they’ve found, but from the way that different strands of evidence are coming together to confirm the idea.

Locating Ithaca has long been a puzzle, complicated by the fact that Homer may have been making some of the description up for dramatic effect. For instance he refers to wealthy Corinth, which was nowhere special at the time of Trojan Wars and didn’t become a major power till much later. So there was the possibility that something similar was true of Ithaca.

Ithaca was described in the Odyssey:

I am Odysseus, Laertes’ son, world-famed
For stratagems: my name has reached the heavens.
Bright Ithaca is my home: it has a mountain,
Leaf-quivering Neriton, far visible.
Around are many islands, close to each other,
Doulichion and Same and wooded Zacynthos.
Ithaca itself lies low, furthest to sea
Towards dusk; the rest, apart, face dawn and sun.

Odyssey 9, 19-26 (trans. James Diggle)

The island known in modern times as Ithaki is currently thought to be Ithaca, but there are problems. Ithaki is hilly, among other islands and slopes to the east. Paliki would be a much better fit for the description, but there’s a problem there too. Paliki isn’t an island, it’s a peninsula on Kephalonia. Robert Bittlestone has looked at the isthmus connecting Paliki to the rest of the island and he’s come up with a solution. He thinks the isthmus is infill of a marine channel and that, in ancient times, Paliki was an island. However the isthmus is up to 180 metres above sea-level. Is this reasonable?
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Liquid Water on Mars

December 6, 2006

NASA has announced the discovery of liquid water on Mars thanks to MGS images.

The clue is that the continual imaging by the MGS has enabled the team to track changes in the surface over time. The really exciting thing is that the team think that this shows evidence of material being moved by water today. The traces are light streaks in gulleys.

Mars Water
Photo by NASA

There are a few reasons why the scientists are arguing for the existence of water. One is the colour of these streaks. Usually when the dust gets disturbed on Mars, the surface gets darker. This is seen in the tracks the Mars rovers make, the trenches Viking made and the scars of impacts from space. These streaks are a lot lighter. Why the streaks are lighter is unknown, but there are couple of possibilities.
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An Inconvenient Truth

October 13, 2006

I went to see An Inconvenient Truth this week. It’s on a short run outside of London making it briefly a slightly more convenient truth. I was rather impressed. There’s little new in the film, at not to those living in Europe, but what is there is put together and presented very well. The film tackles four basic issues, What is Global Warming? What’s causing it? Why does it matter? What can we do about it?

The explanation of Global Warming is simplfied, it solely about CO2 in Al Gore’s film, which skips over the problems that might be caused by things like Methane clathrates. For the sake of explaining the problem this is a very smart move, because it allows him to then concentrate on one issue for tackling the cause. The common rejoinder from industry is that warming and cooling follows a natural cycle. Gore’s able to show that this is true it does. He’s then able to follow this up by showing the range of natural variation, and how modern carbon dioxide levels are way waaaay in excess of natural variation. Some of the more powerful scenes in the film explore why this matters. In the preview above you can see that a feasible rise of sea level caused by the melting of Greenlandic or a portion of Antarctic ice will cause large scale flooding of densely populated coastal areas.

The weakest part of the film, from a European perspective is the call to action. He says nothing wrong, but it’s all very old news over here. This is very much a section for the North American audience where being green is a matter of envying your neighbour’s gas guzzler. One scene is about proposed improvements in fuel efficiency by the state of California which are being opposed by the motor industry and it’s hard not to laugh. They’re pitiful. California wants to be, in twelve year’s time, where China is today. If this really is a problem for Ford or General Motors then who in their right mind would buy an American car?

This aside, it is a very good introduction to the problem. Like all politicians Gore cannot tell jokes, but he comes close on a couple of occasions. What he does do is get across his message clearly, effectively and powerfully. Visual aids are used well, but so is his presence as a speaker. As an example of science communication its hard to beat.

Your own Stonehenge?

October 2, 2006
Stonehenge in Google Earth

Above is a view of a Google Earth model we’re using to demonstrate some of the equipment we have in the i-Science labs for the pi-CETL launch evening. Click on Sunrise Alignment and you’ll see the view from Stonehenge to the rising sun in midsummer. Click on Sunset alignment and you’ll see the view in the direction through Stonehenge to the setting midwinter sun. There’s also a moonrise alignment to the most southerly rising of the moon, which can be viewed along the long side of the station stone rectangle. It’s for the students to improve it or otherwise, but you can download a version to play with.