Wandering albatross grows larger and flies faster because of climate change — for now

Click on photo to enlargePhoto by LarryJW

Wandering albatrosses have altered their foraging due to changes in wind fields in the southern hemisphere during the last decades. Since winds have increased in intensity and moved to the south, the flight speed of albatrosses increased and they spend less time foraging. As a consequence, breeding success has improved and birds have gained 1 kilogram. These are the results of the study of an international research team published in the latest issue of the Science journal. However, these positive consequences of climate change may last short if future wind fields follow predictions of climate change scenarios…

For this study, biologists had combined data on the duration of foraging trips and breeding success over the last 40 years, as well as foraging and body mass over the last 20 years of wandering albatross breeding in Crozet Islands. This archipelago lies approximately in the heart of the southern Indian Ocean (halfway between Madagascar and Antarctica). It belongs to the French Southern Territories and it is located in the windiest part of the Southern Ocean…

Thanks to miniaturised tracking devices, researchers were able to track the foraging movement of albatrosses at a distance of 3500 kilometers from the colony. They found that albatross have altered their search patterns following changes in wind conditions over the past two decades. Females used increasingly more poleward and windy areas for foraging. As a consequence their travel speed increased while the total distance covered during foraging flights did not change. “This means that they spend less time at sea while incubating the egg and thus the breeding success increases” explains Dr. Henri Weimerskirch…Researchers were surprised that both females and males have increased their body mass in one kilogram, which corresponds approximately to one tenth of their total body weight. This could be not only a result of shorter incubation periods on the nest, but also an adaptation to windier conditions…

The wandering albatross has fascinated people for centuries. With a wingspan of over three meters and a half, it is the largest seabird in the world…This elegant sailor, which spends most of its life flying, breeds on remote subantarctic islands over the Southern Ocean. They travel thousand of kilometers searching for fish and cephalopods like squids, often following ships and feeding on offal. The plumage of wandering albatrosses is variable, whitening with age. The maximum known age is 55 years old…

Down dropped the breeze, the sails dropped down,
‘Twas sad as sad could be;
And we did speak only to break
The silence of the sea!

Graphene adds another property to an astounding list

Dr Nair shows one micron thick graphene oxide film sample

Ever since University of Manchester scientists Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov first isolated flakes of graphene in 2004 using that most high-tech pieces of equipment – adhesive tape – the one-atom sheet of carbon has continued to astound researchers with its remarkable properties. Now Professor Sir Andre Geim…has led a team that has added superpermeability with respect to water to graphene’s ever lengthening list of extraordinary characteristics.

Graphene has already proven to be the thinnest known material in the universe, strongest material ever measured, the best-known conductor of heat and electricity, and the stiffest known material, while also the most ductile. But it seems the two-dimensional lattice of carbon atoms just can’t stop showing off.

Stacking membranes of a chemical derivative of graphene called graphene oxide, which is a graphene sheet randomly covered with other molecules such as hydroxyl groups OH-, scientists at the University of Manchester created laminates that were hundreds of times thinner than a human hair but remained strong, flexible and were easy to handle.

When the team sealed a metal container using this film, they say that even the most sensitive equipment was unable to detect air or any other gas, including helium, leaking through. The team then tried the same thing with water and, to their surprise, found that it evaporated and diffused through the graphene-oxide membranes as if they weren’t even there. The evaporation rate was the same whether the container was sealed or completely open.

“Graphene oxide sheets arrange in such a way that between them there is room for exactly one layer of water molecules. They arrange themselves in one molecule thick sheets of ice which slide along the graphene surface with practically no friction, explains Dr Rahul Nair, who was leading the experimental work. “If another atom or molecule tries the same trick, it finds that graphene capillaries either shrink in low humidity or get clogged with water molecules.”

Professor Geim added, “Helium gas is hard to stop. It slowly leaks even through a millimetre -thick window glass but our ultra-thin films completely block it. At the same time, water evaporates through them unimpeded. Materials cannot behave any stranger. You cannot help wondering what else graphene has in store for us.”

Amazing stuff. Science fiction crosses over into the real world. As it always does – at its best.

Michelle Obama at introduction of new guidance for school meals

Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

Hoping to combat the growing problem of childhood obesity, the Obama administration on Wednesday announced its long-awaited changes to government-subsidized school meals, a final round of rules that adds more fruits and green vegetables to breakfasts and lunches and reduces the amount of salt and fat…

The rules were announced by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Michelle Obama at Parklawn Elementary School in Alexandria, Va.

“As parents, we try to prepare decent meals, limit how much junk food our kids eat and ensure that they have a reasonable balanced diet,” Mrs. Obama said in a statement. “And when we are putting in all that effort the last thing we want is for our hard work to be undone each day in the school cafeteria…”

The rules are the first changes in 15 years to the $11 billion school lunch program. They will double the amount of fruits and vegetables children are served in school and will require that all grains served are whole grains.

All milk served must be low fat, and for the first time the rules set limits on levels of salt and trans fats. They also set a minimum and maximum calorie intake per day based on student age…

Nutrition experts praised the new standards…

Representatives of the food industry generally also approved. Which only leaves Republicans and members of the Kool Aid Party to protest.

Continue reading

Priest off to a retreat to pray – was one of the survivors of the Costa Concordia wreck

An Italian priest has a lot of explaining to do after telling his parishioners he was going on a spiritual retreat, only for it to be revealed that he was on the capsized Costa Concordia cruise ship.

Father Massimo Donghi told his parishioners that he was heading off for a week of contemplation and prayer, but instead boarded the luxury liner at Civitavecchia, north of Rome, for a luxury cruise of Mediterranean ports.

He was found out when his nephew, who was also on the cruise, posted assurances on Facebook that the priest had survived the disaster.

The nephew told worried friends and relatives that he, his uncle and the priest’s elderly mother had managed to get into lifeboats when the 1,000ft liner ran aground off the Tuscan island of Giglio. They were among the 4,200 passengers and crew who were forced to evacuate the ship after it smashed into a rocky shoal on the night of Jan 13…

Father Donghi…will now have to explain himself to his parishioners in Besana Brianza, near Monza in northern Italy.

Church-goers had imagined he had signed up for a week of simple living and religious devotion, rather than a cruise on board a ship which boasts spas, saunas, jacuzzis, four swimming pools, five restaurants, 13 bars, a casino and a discotheque.

“What do you want me to say?” the priest told an Italian news magazine, Panorama. “I have nothing to add. I’m OK although I’m still a bit in shock. I will talk to my parishioners in church. The judgment of others is not important to me.”

Thoughtful dude. And a few more days to come up with a story will probably help.

I wonder if he was strolling the ship in his civvies or in uniform?

BMW is offering up a 381 bhp/36 mpg triple turbo diesel — WTF?

The BMW M550d xDrive

The engine in BMW’s new diesel M cars appears to be a ripsnorter – 3.0-litre six cylinder with three turbochargers, common-rail direct injection with piezo injectors, a very healthy maximum power output of 381 bhp…abundant torque 546 lb-ft, very economical, low emissions and instantaneous response…

The key to the incredible performance of the engine is inaptly named M Performance TwinPower Turbo technology. That’s because they found that two turbochargers worked so well together, that they have now employed three for the first time.

The system uses two smaller turbochargers and one large one, with the right diameter turbo being used at precisely the time when it is most efficient. Another reason why three turbos is better than two is that the low moment of inertia of the small turbochargers means they do not suffer from the lag of a larger single turbo.

The interplay between the strategy of the turbos are designed to guarantee maximum power delivery across a wide rev band. The system comprises two relatively small turbochargers and one large turbo, which join forces precisely to deliver the amount of power required…The performance of the six-cylinder in-line diesel is only half the equation though…

The BMW M550d xDrive Sedan with its lighter weight and lower frontal area, returns the best of the bunch with 36mpg US and CO2 emissions of 165 g/km…

These cars come with a significant boost in performance and hallmark M precision in the interplay of the powertrain, chassis and aerodynamics – coupled with unrestricted everyday utility and high levels of efficiency.

The new powerplant strikes the most effective balance between output and fuel consumption of any series- produced unit of its kind.

Every one of them is beyond my budget. But, the engineering and design is terrific.

Toronto teens launch Legoman into space [sort of]

Click on photo for video

Two Toronto teenagers with an interest in space flight became overnight rock stars after their mission to send a Lego man into near space captured international attention.

Mathew Ho and Asad Muhammad, two 17-year-old Agincourt Collegiate students, successfully sent a balloon carrying a Lego man and a small Canadian flag to the edge of Earth’s atmosphere.

The mission was more than a year in the making and was completed two weeks ago. It gained the attention of local media on Wednesday and, within 24 hours, their exploits and the awe-inspiring images they collected were being talked about across North America and mentioned as far away as Australia and Germany…

Ho and Muhammad first started sketching out their plans to send a pod into the middle stratosphere last September, working only on weekends as they balanced life as high school seniors.

Two weeks ago, the unit was attached to a helium-filled balloon and launched from a park near Ho’s east-end home, ascending 24 kilometres in 97 minutes before the balloon popped.

The Lego man and his cargo fell safely to Earth, with the help of a homemade parachute, where it landed in a field near Rice Lake, about 120 kilometres from the launch point.

The whole mission, which cost about $400, was captured by four cameras on board the shuttle and tracked by the GPS inside a phone. The astonishing photographs showed the Lego man hovering well above earth and captured glorious views of our planet from space…

Ho and Muhammad became friends in elementary school when Muhammad’s family moved to Toronto from Pakistan.

They haven’t any more space flights planned at the moment. The next task is graduating high school and getting into a good college.

Good luck to you both.