Dirty polluted snow causes early mountain snow melts -time to clean up our act

Dirty or sooty snow decreases the snow’s brightness, warms and shrinks the snow causing it to melt weeks earlier  February in spring and dropping the runoff in late spring and summer.

When soot from pollution settles on pristine snow, it can increase snowmelt in the winter 090112093336-large1month of February (See the chart included to the right). How pollution affects a mountain range’s natural water reservoirs is important for water resource managers in the western United States and Canada who plan for hydroelectricity generation, fisheries and farming.Scientists at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory conducted the first study of soot on snow in the western states. Now they can predict impacts along mountain ranges. Soot warms up the snow and the air above it by up to 1.2 degrees Fahrenheit, causing snow to melt.

“It is important to know how much impact pollution, the dirty snow, is having on our water supply.  So we can judge how much water is coming down the rivers so that a good usuage plan can be implemented. Atmospheric scientist Yun Qian said. Snow melt can be up to “75 percent of the water supply, in some regions. Changes  in amount and timing of the melts can affect the water supply, as well as aggravate winter flooding and summer droughts.”

Is this sooty snow part of a natural cycle?

shastinadillercanyonlookingup061105-12001The soot-snow cycle begins with the burning fossil fuels and soot is a by-product that is released in the air. It falls to the earth when it rains or snows, sleets or hails and blankets the snow it lands upon with a dark gray black cover. This dark blanket absorbs more of the sun’s energy than clean white snow. The resulting thinner snowpack reflects less sunlight back into the atmosphere and further warms the area, continuing the snowmelt cycle.

Green house gases also seem to be causing differences in regional snowpack caused by  higher air temperatures. Qian and his colleagues at PNNL used a climate computer model to zoom in on the Rocky Mountain, Cascade, and other western United States mountain ranges. Qian’s model shows how soot from diesel engines, power plants and other sources affected snowpacks it landed on. (1)
Researchers know that soot settles on snow. And like an asphalt street compared to a concrete sidewalk, dirty snow retains more heat from the sun than bright white snow. Qian and colleagues wanted to determine to what degree dark snow contributes to the declining snowpack.

To get the kind of detail from their computer model that they needed, the PNNL team used a regional model called the Weather Research and Forecasting model – or WRF, developed in part at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.

Compared to planet-scale models that can distinguish land features 200 kilometers apart, this computer model zooms in on the landscape, increasing resolution to 15 kilometers. At 15 kilometers, features such as mountain ranges and soot deposition are better defined.

Recently, PNNL researchers added a software component to WRF that models the chemistry of tiny atmospheric particles called aerosols and their interaction with clouds and sunlight.

Using the WRF-chem model, the team first examined how much soot in the form of so-called black carbon would land on snow in the Sierra Nevada, Cascade and Rocky Mountains.

Then the team simulated how that soot would affect the snow’s brightness throughout the year. Finally, they translated the brightness into snow accumulation and melting over time.

Gray Outlook
“Earlier studies didn’t talk about snowpack changes due to soot for two reasons,” said atmospheric scientist and co-author William Gustafson.

“Soot hasn’t been widely measured in snowpack, and it’s hard to accurately simulate snowpack in global models. The Cascades have lost 60 percent of their snowpack since the 1950s, most of that due to rising temperatures. We wanted to see if we could quantify the impact of soot.”

Their simulations compared well to data collected on snowpack distribution and water runoff. But their first experiment did not include all sources of soot, so they modeled what would happen if enough soot landed on snow to double the loss of brightness.

In this computer simulation, the regional climate and snowpack changed significantly, and not in a simply predictable way.

Overall, doubling the dimming of the snow did not lead to twice as high temperature changes – it led to an approximate 50 percent increase in the snow surface temperature. The drop in snow accumulation, however, more than doubled in some areas.

Snowpack over the central Rockies and southern Alberta, for example, dropped two to 50 millimeters over the mountains during late spring and early winter. The most drastic changes occurred in March, the model showed.

The team also found that soot decreased snow’s brightness in two ways. About half of soot’s effect came from its dark color. The other half came indirectly from reducing the size of the snowpack, exposing the underlying darker soil of the earth.

Studies like this one start to unmask pollution’s role in the changing climate. While greenhouse gases work unseen, soot bares its dark nature, with a cloak that slowly steals summertime’s snow.

Dirty snow also impacts global warming

“Dirty snow has had a significant impact on climate warming since the Industrial Revolution. In the past 200 years, the Earth has warmed about .8 degree Celsius. Zender, graduate student Mark Flanner, and their colleagues calculated that dirty snow caused the Earth’s temperature to rise .1 to .15 degree, or up to 19 percent of the total warming.070606113327-large

In the past two centuries, the Arctic has warmed about 1.6 degrees. Dirty snow caused .5 to 1.5 degrees of warming, or up to 94 percent of the observed change, the scientists determined.

The amount of warming by dirty snow varied from year to year, with higher temperatures in years with many forest fires. Greenhouse gases, which trap outgoing energy, are primarily responsible for the remaining temperature increase and are considered the Earth’s most important overall climate changing mechanism. Other human influences on Arctic climate change are particles in the atmosphere, including soot; clouds; and land use.

Humans create the majority of airborne soot through industry and fuel combustion, while forest and open-field fires account for the rest.” Time for cities, states and the federal government to step up to the plate along with each individual and clean up our fossil and biofuel act.

Excerpts courtesy of ScienceDaily

1. Dirty Snow Causes Early Runoff In Cascades, – Rockies  Staff  ScienceDaily, January 13, 2009. DirtySnowCausesEarlyRunoff

2. Dirty sow may warm the atmosphere as much as green house gases -Staff Science Daily June 7, 2007. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/

Graphs courtesy of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory as cited in Science Daily

Image snow  courtesy of Ski Mountainer ShastinaDillerCanyonLookingUp

Chart courtesy of Science Daily



Do dogs walk like elephants?


A new study published in Current Biology shows that anatomists, taxidermists, and toy designers get the walking gait of horses and other quadruped animals wrong about half the time. That’s despite the fact that their correct walking behavior was described and published more than 120 years ago.

About 50 % of the time people can explain which foot leads and which follows correctly, but many books and children’s toys get it wrong said Gabor Horvath of Eotvos University.

Experts of animal locomotion have known how a quadruped walks since the 1880s.”

All four-legged animals step with their left hind leg followed by their left foreleg. Then they step with their right hind leg followed by the right foreleg, and so on. Animals differ from one another only in the timing of that stepping.

Why do they walk like that?

The universality of that walk provides the maximum static stability. When walking slowly, a dog’s or elephant’s body is supported at all times by three feet on the ground, which form a triangle. The closer their center of mass is to the center of those three points, the more stable they will be.

Do the movies get animated movement correct?

Horvath and his colleagues  thinks Hollywood movies such as Jurassic Park and The Lord of the Rings generally do get the walking of dinosaurs, elephants, and other fantastic, four-legged creatures just right. That’s because they often rely behind the scenes on experts in biomechanics and animal locomotion.


How Does A Dog Walk? Surprisingly, Many Of Us Don’t Really Know Staff  Flora and Fauna TerraDaily Staff Writers Budapest, Hungary (SPX) Jan 29, 2009


Image courtesy of


NASA’s new space detective looking for carbon sinks

This newest space detective will provide the first global picture of the human and natural sources of carbon dioxide and the places where this important greenhouse gas is stored. Such information will improve global carbon cycle models as well as forecasts of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and of how our climate may change in the future.

“NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory satellite will work as a detective from space, measuring the distribution of carbon dioxide thousands of times daily as it orbits the planet, providing 296151main_2-516the data to create very precise carbon dioxide maps that will help us confirm the whereabouts, nature and efficiency of the sinks absorbing the 30 percent of carbon dioxide that disappears each year from the atmosphere,” said Steve Wofsy, a professor of atmospheric and environmental chemistry at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., and a co-investigator for the mission. The Orbiting Carbon Observatory will measure carbon in the air, from Earth’s surface to the top of the atmosphere.

“The future behavior of carbon dioxide sinks is one of the most uncertain things in predicting climate in the 21st century,” said Denning. “Mapping today’s sinks will allow us to measure how much of the carbon budget is controlled by carbon dioxide intake from ocean mixing, versus carbon dioxide fertilization, versus forest re-growth, etc. If we can determine that current land sinks are dominated by carbon dioxide fertilization, it would buy us more time to develop alternative energy and other mitigation measures.”

Carbon, a chemical element forms the chemical backbone for all of life. Carbon dioxide, is the basic “molecule” of the carbon cycle. It is “inhaled” by sinks to fuel photosynthesis in plant life. It is “exhaled” by natural sources when plant life dies or burns, and through human activities like the burning of fossil fuels, crops and forests.

If we think of Earth as “breathing,” the balance between photosynthesis, or “inhaling,” and respiration, or “exhaling,” was about equal until humans began mining and burning large amounts of fossilized organic matter like coal, oil and natural gas a couple of hundred years ago.

Until about 1990, most scientists believed land was primarily a source of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere because forests are continuously being destroyed by human activities like deforestation in tropical areas, urban and suburban development, and land clearing for farming.

“The amazing truth is that on a global scale, photosynthesis is greater than decomposition and has been for decades,” said Denning. “… plant life is growing faster than it’s dying. This means land is a net sink for carbon dioxide, rather than a net source.”

Denning outlined the six different ways carbon dioxide sinks can develop on land:

— Carbon dioxide fertilization, usually from land areas, carbon dioxide in the air stimulates photosynthesis to produce a temporary jump in the growth rates of plant life.

— Agricultural abandonment occurs where once-deforested land formerly used as family farms is abandoned, allowing forests to re-grow into terrestrial carbon dioxide sinks.

— Forest fire suppression, the aggressive extinguishing of forest fires that has led to preservation of more wooded areas than existed 100 years ago, saves trees that pull carbon dioxide from the air for growth.

— Woody encroachment occurs when cattle graze on grass but leave behind carbon dioxide-absorbing woody shrubs that accumulate over land ranges throughout the western U.S. and elsewhere.

— Boreal, or northern, warming takes place in northern latitude forests that are experiencing longer frost-free growing seasons due to global warming, allowing more woody growth and more absorption of carbon dioxide.

— Lastly, carbon dioxide sinks are created when nitrogen in agricultural fertilizer or nitrogen oxide from car emissions dissolves into clouds, spreads for hundreds of miles on vegetation with rainfall, and acts in tandem with carbon dioxide fertilization to accelerate plant growth.”1.

“The future behavior of carbon dioxide sinks is one of the most uncertain things in predicting climate in the 21st century,” said Denning. “Mapping today’s sinks will allow us to measure how much of the carbon budget is controlled by carbon dioxide intake from ocean mixing, versus carbon dioxide fertilization, versus forest re-growth, etc. If we can determine that current land sinks are dominated by carbon dioxide fertilization, it would buy us more time to develop alternative energy and other mitigation measures.”

Orbiting Carbon Observatory

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory’s single science instrument consists of three parallel, high-resolution spectrometers, integrated into a common structure and fed by a common telescope. The spectrometers will make simultaneous measurements of the carbon dioxide and molecular oxygen absorption of sunlight reflected off the same location on Earth’s surface when viewed in the near-infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum, invisible to the human eye.

As sunlight passes through Earth’s atmosphere and is reflected from Earth’s surface, molecules of atmospheric gases absorb very specific colors of light. If the light is divided into a rainbow of colors, called a “spectrum,” the specific colors absorbed by each gas appear as dark lines. Different gases absorb different colors, so the pattern of absorption lines provides a telltale spectral “fingerprint” for that molecule. The Orbiting Carbon Observatory’s spectrometers have been designed to detect these molecular fingerprints.

Each of the three spectrometers is tuned to measure the absorption in a specific range of colors. Each of these ranges includes dozens of dark absorption lines produced by either carbon dioxide or molecular oxygen. The amount of light absorbed in each spectral line increases with the number of molecules along the optical path. assembly that ensures all three spectrometer channels view the same scene. A beam splitter selects specific ranges of colors of light to be analyzed by each spectrometer, which is then refocused on a narrow slit that for the entrance to each spectrometer.

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory spectrometers measure the fraction of the light absorbed in each of these lines with very high precision. This information is then analyzed to determine the number of molecules along the path between the top of the atmosphere and the surface.

If the amount of carbon dioxide varies from place to place, the amount of absorption will also vary. The Orbiting Carbon Observatory’s instrument records an image of the spectrum produced by each spectrometer three times every second as the satellite flies over the surface at more than four miles per second. This information is then transmitted to the ground, where carbon dioxide concentrations are retrieved in four separate footprints for each image collected. These spatially varying carbon dioxide concentration estimates are then analyzed using global transport models, like those used for weather prediction, to infer the locations of carbon dioxide sources and sinks.

This assembly ensures all three spectrometer channels view the same scene. A beam splitter 296386main_instrument-2264selects specific ranges of colors of light to be analyzed by each spectrometer, which is then refocused on a narrow slit that forms the entrance to each spectrometer.

Once light passes through the spectrometer slits, it is aligned, and then divided into its component colors by a diffraction grating. This is similar to the way light shined through a prism creates a rainbow.

The light is then re-focused by a camera lens onto each spectrometer’s focal plane array–image sensing devices designed to detect very fine differences in the intensity of the light within its spectrometer’s spectral range. There, it forms a two-dimensional image of a spectrum and is recorded.

The instrument measures the absorption of reflected sunlight by carbon dioxide in two color ranges. The first absorbs carbon dioxide relatively weakly, but is most sensitive to the concentration of carbon dioxide near Earth’s surface. The second absorbs carbon dioxide more strongly, and provides a totally independent measure of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. That color range provides critical information about the pathway the light has taken and can detect clouds, aerosols and variations in atmospheric pressure and humidity, all of which can interfere with accurate measurements of carbon dioxide.

The third range of colors, within the molecular oxygen A-band, is used to measure how much molecular oxygen is present in the light’s pathway. To accurately derive the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide using instrument data, scientists first need to compare them to measurements of a second atmospheric gas. Because the concentration of molecular oxygen is constant, well-known and uniformly distributed throughout the atmosphere, it provides an excellent reference measurement. The molecular oxygen A-band spectra can also assess the effects of clouds, aerosols and the atmospheric pressure at Earth’s surface.

The observatory will continuously collect 12 soundings per second while over Earth’s sunlit hemisphere. At this rate, the instrument will gather between 33,500 and 35,500 individual measurements over a narrow ground track each orbit.

The surface footprint of each measurement is about 1 square mile (just under 3 square kilometers). Over the course of each 16-day ground repeat cycle, it will collect about 8,000,000 measurements, with orbit tracks separated by less than 1.5 degrees longitude (100 miles or 170 kilometers) at the equator. With so many measurements of this size and density, high-quality soundings, even in regions with clouds, aerosols and variations in topography is possible.


Excerpts and Image courtesy of  Nasa.gov

The Mystery of the Missing Sinks nasa.gov/mission_pages/oco/main/index.html January 23. 2009

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory And The Mystery Of The Missing Sinks – Pasadena CA (JPL) January 28, 2009. Spacemart OrbitingCarbonObservatoryAndTheMysteryOfTheMissingSinks

Using the bee visual recognition system as model artificial intelligence


So who is smarter than a fifth grader? Maybe a bee.

Using the Pavolvian behavioral rewards system, researchers  trained different groups of free flying bees to choose the “right” answer by rewarding them with sugar water. If they made an incorrect choice, the bees were punished with a bitter tasting solution. Faces were presented on a vertical screen and bees slowly learned to fly to the correct target faces. Over the course of a day a bee brain learned a complex task, and then when tested in non-rewarded tests (to totally excluded cues like olfaction) only bees that had experience multiple views (e.g. faces at both 0° and 60°) were able to solve a novel rotational angle of 30°.

Dr Dyer said the discovery helps to answer a fundamental question about how brains solve complex image rotational problems by either image averaging or mentally rotating previously learnt views.

“Bee brains clearly use image interpolation to solve the problem. In other words, bees that had learnt what a particular face looked like from two different viewpoints could then recognise a novel view of this target face. However, bees that had only learnt a single view could not recognise novel views,” Dr Dyer said.

The study, performed over two years in Australia and Germany by Dr Dyer with the support of the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR), and Dr Quoc Vuong from Newcastle University UK, was published in the science journal PLoS ONE.

“The relationships between different components of the object often dramatically change when viewed from different angles but it is amazing to find the bees’ brains have evolved clever mechanisms for problem solving which may help develop improved models for AI face recognition systems,” Dr Dyer said. This research from Monash University bee researcher Adrian Dyer could lead to improved artificial intelligence systems and computer programs for facial recognition.

Save the bees take care of the environment.


Excerpts courtesy of  ScienceDaily

New Insight Into How Bees See Could Improve Artificial Intelligence Systems

ScienceDaily January 26, 2009. http://www.sciencedaily.com

Image courtesy of Dr. Adrian Dyer

A 111 year old Tuatara fathers 11 offspring

tuatara-male128763115_a1b78f9cde_oA captive tuatara, an ancient reptile from New Zealand has surprised his keepers by becoming a father at the ripe old age of 111 years. He had been a crotchity old guy rather hostile to the ladies until after he received treatment for cancer. Seems cancer sort of put him out of the mood. But this centenarian tuatara, named Henry, seemed to regain his natural drive not with Viagra, but out of pain Mother Nature simply took over again. Though his keepers seemed to think he was too old to mate -one cannot keep a healthy good man down.He mated with a female named Mildred last March and on January 26, 2009, eleven babies were hatched at the Southland Museum and Art Gallery. This birthing will provide a badly needed boost to the tuatara’s genetic diversity, said the gallery’s tuatara curator, Lindsay Hazley. (1)

There are two species of tuatara and are the only living members of the order Sphenodontia, which flourished around 200 million years ago. The tuataras most recent common ancestor is the squamates (lizards and snakes). This makes the tuatara important for two reasons one to better understand the evolution of lizards and snakes, and two to help reconstruct the appearance and habits of the earliest diapsids. This ancient group also includes birds and crocodiles besides the tuatara.

Tuatara are greenish brown, and measure up to 80 cm (32 in) from head to tail-tip with a spiny crest along the back, especially pronounced in males. They have a unique jaw formation. Two rows of teeth in the upper jaw overlap one row of teeth on the lower jawno other living species that we know of has this formation. They are further distinguished by having a pronounced parietal eye, the “third eye”, whose current function is unknown. They are able to ear, but possess no external ear apparatus. Their skeleton, some of them apparently evolutionarily retained from fish. Although tuatara are sometimes called “living fossils”, recent taxonomic and molecular work has shown that they have changed significantly since the Mesozoic era.

The tuatara has been classified as an endangered species since 1895 (the second species, S. guntheri, was not recognised until 1989). Tuatara, like many of New Zealand’s native animals, are threatened by habitat loss and the introduced Polynesian Rat (Rattus exulans). They were extinct on the mainland, with the remaining populations confined to 32 offshore islands, until the first mainland release into the heavily fenced and monitored Karori Wildlife Sanctuary in 2005. (2)


Reptile Becomes Dad at Age 111, Ray Lilley, A. P. January 26, 2009. as reported in Discovery News January 26, 2009. dsc.discovery.com/news/2009/01/26/tuatara

1. Excerpts courtesy of Discovery dsc.discovery.com/news/tuatara

2. Excerpts and image courtesy of wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuatara

The romantic male cardinal goes beak-to-beak

Colored red for romance the Northern Cardinal so named “cardinal” after the Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church, who wear distinctive red robes and caps. The term “Northern” innorthern_cardinal_male-275271 the common name refers to its range, as it is the only cardinal found in the Northern Hemisphere.

This beautiful male bird also courts his future mate by feeding her seeds. When the female agrees to become his mate they sing to each other. (Now there is a dating behavior tocopy! -Mother Nature) During courtship they may also participate in a bonding behavior where the male collects food and brings it to the female, feeding her beak-to-beak. If the mating is successful, this mate-feeding may continue throughout the period of incubation. Mated pairs often travel together. The male Cardinal often feeds the female as part of their mating behavior.


The Northern Cardinal is a territorial song bird. The male sings in a loud, clear whistle from the top of a tree or another high location to defend his territory. He will chase off other males entering his territory. The Northern Cardinal learns its songs, and as a result the songs vary regionally. It is able to easily distinguish the sex of another singing Northern Cardinal by its song alone.


Northern cardinal female with sunflower seed in her mouth.

Both sexes sing a clear, whistled song patterns, which are repeated several times, then varied. Some common phrases are described as purdy, purdy, purdy…whoit, whoit, whoit, whoit and what-cheer, what-cheer… wheet, wheet, wheet, wheet’. The Northern Cardinal has a distinctive alarm call, a short metallic ‘chip’ sound. This call often is given when predators approach the nest, in order to give warning to the female and nestlings.In some cases it will also utter a series of chipping notes. The frequency and volume of these notes increases as the threat becomes greater.

Northern Cardinals become prey for the Cooper’s Hawks, Loggerhead Shrikes, Northern Shrikes, Eastern gray squirrels, Long-eared Owls and Eastern Screech Owls. Predators of chicks and eggs include milk snakes, coluber constrictors, Blue Jays, fox squirrels, red squirrels and eastern chipmunks.

Northern Cardinal are weed seed, grains, insect snail berry and fruits eaters. It eats beetles, cicadas, grasshoppers, snails, wild fruit and berries, corn and oats, sunflower seeds, the blossoms and bark of elm trees, and drinks maple sap from holes made by sapsuckers. It is a ground feeder and finds food while hopping on the ground through trees or shrubbery. During the summer months, it shows preference for seeds that are easily husked, but is less selective during winter, when food is scarce. Northern Cardinals feed their young almost exclusively on insects.

Female becomes an egg producing machine
After mating the female builds a cup nest in a well-concealed spot in dense shrub or a low tree one to three meters (three to ten ft) off the ground. The nest is made of thin twigs, bark strips, and grasses, lined with grasses or other plant fibers. Eggs are laid one to six days following the completion of the nest. The eggs are white, with a tint of green, blue or brown, and are marked with lavender, gray, or brown blotches which are thicker around the larger end. The shell is smooth and slightly glossy. Three or four eggs are laid in each clutch. the female usually incubates the eggs, rarely and for brief periods, the male assist. Two to three, and even four, broods are raised each year. The male cares for and feeds each brood as the female incubates the next clutch of eggs.card-feeding-young2

The oldest wild Cardinal banded by researchers lived at least 15 years and 9 months, although 28.5 years was achieved by a captive bird. The survival rates for adult Northern Cardinals in the wild have been estimated at 60 to 65% with the high mortality of juveniles average lifespan is only about a year.

Humans can do a lot to help this bird flourish by creating nesting habitat and feeders and gardening to attract cardinals and other song birds year around.


Northern Cardinal Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia wiki/NorthernCardinal

Images courtesy of Wikimedia.org

1. Northern_Cardinal Male

2. Northern_Cardinal_Pair

3. Northern Cardinal Female

Image # 4 courtesy of www.wild-bird-watching.com male cardinal feeding young

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Beam me up scotty -where did that bee go? Needed tiny lighter transistor.

081114-bees-radio-tracking-missions_bigNeeded an even lighter pack -can you design it for me? asks Ms. Honey Bee.

The bee at the right is wearing a 170-milligram (.006 ounces) radio tracking tag, about one-third of its body weight.

The tag is held in place with eyelash glue and superglue. It is powered by a hearing-aid battery and includes a crystal-controlled oscillator, tiny circuit and an antenna that sticks out from the back about 1 and 1/2 inches. Even loaded up like this, the bees “fly beautifully,” says zoologist Martin Wikelski.

Wikelski and his colleagues are using transmitter tags the size of three or four grains of rice.
The transmitters weigh 0.006 ounces (170 milligrams), are small and light enough to attach to the backs of bees from two relatively hefty species, weighing .02 ounces (600 milligrams), with just a bit of eyelash glue and superglue. Loaded up its weight is about a 1/3 the bees weight.

The transmitters can track the insects as long as they remain within a few miles of the receiver. To date the carpenter bee from a New Jersey center and an orchid bees at Panama’s Smithsoniancarpenter-bee-resting-on-my-hand Tropical Research Institute have passed the transmitter test. To have this device work on smaller native and honey bees the tag would need to become about 40% smaller about the size of a pine nut.

Winfree says the team tried to fit transmitters on bumblebees, but these .007-ounce (200 milligram) insects simply couldn’t carry the load, which amounted to about 80 percent of their body weight.

“You’d throw them up into the air, and they’d just come back to the ground,” she says. “So we need a next generation of transmitters for them, I think.”

Smaller tracking tags like this may eventually help scientists address growing concerns about the blossoms-applefuture production of crops such as apples, melons, and almonds, grains ans other vegetables and fruits that require bees and other insects for pollination.

cucumber flower

cucumber flower

Our domesticated honeybee colonies are weakened and worn out with colonies dieing, but native wild bees appear unaffected by the so-called colony collapse disorder.Possibly native bees could become the main pollinateors of US crops in the future if we do not mess with the sze of their comb or over stress they or feed them GMO supplements or take them out of their native surroundings.

bee-honeyUnderstanding how to support the bees lifestyle in a natural organic way including their foraging range can support the improvement of beekeeping and natural agriculture.

Tiny tracking tags should eventually enable scientists to tackle a laundry list of other questions, including how bees and other pollinators interact with flowering plants in rain forests and how to design agricultural landscapes to attract and sustain native bees.

Scott Hoffman Black, executive director of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, an organization based in Portland, Oregon, that advocates for the protection of pollinators, says tagging bees in food-rich and food-poor landscapes may lead to better, more efficient uses of farmland.
These radio transmitter tags will give more pertinent, exciting real time information and understanding of the bees and other vital pollinators. This new data could improve the health and food production for people and animals around the world.


Images courtesy of

Image #1 National Geographic 14-bees-radio-trackin

Image # 2 John Bokma carpenter-bee-resting

Image # 3 blossoms-apple

Image # 4 flowers/cucumber

Image # 5 vg/flowers/honeybee

Image # 5 blossoms-apple

Inspiration for new propulsion system for boats -beetle larvae

The newest propulsion system for small robotic craft would not need  paddles, sails, or motors and would harnesses the energy

within the water’s surface. This method of propulsion for small water craft and robots was inspired Sung Kwon Cho, senior researcher and a professor of mechanical engineering and materials science in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering by reading a paper about how beetle larvae move through the water. If developed this system could be an efficient and low-maintenance system for small robots and boats that monitor water quality in oceans, reservoirs, and other bodies of water.

Cho and his team-Pitt engineering doctoral students Sang Kug Chung and Kyungjoo Ryu-substituted the larva’s back bending with an electric pulse. In their experiments, an electrode attached to a 2-centimeter-long “mini-boat” emitted a surge that changed the rear surface tension direction and propelled the boat at roughly 4 millimeters per second.

A second electrode attached to the boat’s front side served as the rudder.

The lovely floating beetle larvae how do they do it?

The beetles technique destabilizes the surface tension of the water and this allows the water to move the beetle forward. The larva resting in the water causes the surface tension to pull beetle-waterlily-leaf-larva-prepares-propel200-bgequally on both sides. To move forward, the larva bends its back downward to change the tension direction behind it. The forward tension then pulls the larva through the water.The new propulsion system surrounds the object with an electric pulse breaks the surface tension of the water and causes the craft to move via the surface’s natural pull.

Today these small research and robotic devices are typically propeller-driven. The Pitt system has no moving parts and the low-energy electrode that emits the pulse could be powered by batteries, radio waves, or solar power.

The researchers will present their findings Jan. 26 at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ 2009 Micro Electro Mechanical Systems (MEMS) conference in Sorrento, Italy.


Excerpts courtesy of Energy Daily

Baby Beetles Inspires Mini Boat Powered By Surface Tension Staff,  Energy Daily January 23, 2009.

Image courtesy of  University of Pittsburgh   http://www-math.mit.edu/

Video of rudder rotation courtesy of http://www.pitt.edu/news2009/rotation_side_cho.wmv

From Sci-Fi to mosquito research a repellant odor to make humans disappear to mosquitoes

The  female Anopheles gambiae mosquito pictured at the right, shows her weapons researchers are trying to combat in this ancient war of man against mosquito. It is only the female mosquito that bites and can spread disease using these parts of olfactory (smelling) appendages (antennae, maxillary palps and proboscis) as so graphically seen in this electron micrograph image.

Dr. Leslie Vosshall and two colleagues at Rockefeller University published a series of experiments that seemed to settle the 50-year-old question of how the insect repellent DEET kept mosquitoes at bay (Science, 319:1838-42, 2008).

Vosshal explained their findings “It doesn’t smell bad to insects. It masks or inhibits their ability to smell you.”
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funded the research to understand how and why DEET works. This is critical to creating the next generation of chemicals, which may head off insect-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever.
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Laurence Zwiebel of Vanderbilt University (also a Gates’ grantee) and  Ulrich Bernier of the US Department of Agriculture are not sure the findings just didn’t make sense, given everything they knew about this system

In Vosshall experiment,  the response of the mosquito’s olfactory neurons to two separate, attractive odors in human breath. Then, she combined each odorant with DEET in a single odor cartridge and noticed a smaller neural response. Vosshall believes DEET was blocking the mosquito’s olfactory co-receptor.
Another teams experiment another interpretation

Using gas chromatography, Leal confirmed his suspicions this year. When he repeated Vosshall’s experiment using separate odor cartridges that blended DEET and each attractive odor only at their tips, the mosquito’s neural response was no longer diminished. Then, Leal identified a 19-1DEET-sensitive odor receptor neuron and showed that mosquitoes avoid passing through a “curtain” of DEET vapors.
Leal’s paper surprised Vosshall, but is unconvinced by Leal’s results, and has been trying to reproduce the effect in her own lab. “Competition in science is good,” she says, “It can be difficult when it’s a small field, and this is a very small field.”

Genomic studies in 2005 have since shown that this co-receptor is found in insects ranging from mosquitoes to moths,  making humans invisible to insects. Using tissue cultures, she uses targeted drug discovery to screen 91,520 compounds from a chemical library, short-listing about 150 that she believes have the potential to be insect “confusants.”

Even Vosshall’s skeptics admit the confusant strategy is fundamentally sound. Zwiebel says his unpublished molecular work confirms the existence of confusants, but when it comes to DEET, he and Vosshall aren’t willing to budge. “We have agreed to disagree on the DEET story,” he says.


Smells funny? – Brendan Borrell  The Scientist.com Volume 23 | Issue 1 | Page 19.


Mosquitoes smell and avoid the insect repellent DEET – Leal and Zainulabeuddin Syed,  PNAS 105:13598-603, 2008 September 2008.

Image courtesy
of LJ Zwiebel, colorization by Dominic Doyle / Vanderbilt University

Manna from heaven came in the form of bird spit and rain water maybe

Manna from heaven came in the form of bird spit and rain water saved the lives of two men lost at sea floating in a giant icebox for 45 days. They survived their extraordinary ordeal thanks to rainwater from tropical storms and fish spat out by passing birds. The men, who were rescued by helicopter on Saturday, are still being interviewed by Australian immigration officials, who are hoping to clarify how they came to be drifting in shark-infested waters off the country’s northern coast.

iceboxphoto_1232424248222-3-0The pair told The Sydney Morning Herald they drank only rainwater and ate small fish regurgitated by seabirds after their Thai fishing boat broke up, possibly in Indonesian waters, in huge waves on December 23, 2008.

“For 10 days, nothing to eat,” one of the men told the paper through an interpreter.

“Then two big seabirds came and vomited some small fish — about six or seven little fish, and that’s all.”

The pair, who are aged 22 and 24 and thought to be from Myanmar, said that 18 of their crewmates from Thailand and Myanmar were lost when the 10-metre wooden fishing boat went down. Meanwhile, doubts have surfaced about the men’s seemingly incredible survival tale. Doctor Paul Luckin, a Royal Australian Navy Reserve commander and survival expert, said only a regular supply of fresh water would have kept them alive.

“But for them to be able to capture rainwater in that esky (icebox) would mean the bottom of that esky would have to be fairly clean — in other words free of saltwater and dead fish,” he told national news agency AAP.

“It would be unlikely that they would travel in that esky for that time without a certain quantity of saltwater getting in.”

An unnamed source told The Australian that doctors felt the men were in “remarkable condition, given their claimed exposure to the elements for almost a month. “There is no sunburn, no chafed lips, no discernible signs that the men were out there that long,” the source said. But Peter Heath, general manager at the helicopter rescue company that picked the men up, said they were both dehydrated and at least one was suffering from ulcerations.

“The first one, as soon as the rescue crewman who was on the line got close to him, the bloke jumped at him,” he told AFP. “He really wanted to get out of there. And he was in reasonable condition.” But he said the second man was wearing a lifejacket and floating in the water tied to the icebox — which was roughly a metre high, a metre wide and two metres long — when the helicopter arrived. “He was a bit worse. He needed to be picked up fairly carefully. And he needed to have first aid once he was in the aircraft to stop him going into shock,” Heath said.

So you let us know are these guys for real?


Excerpts and image – Staff Yahoo News,  January 21, 2009. australiamyanmarmaritimerescue

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