Four-month-old baby panda named Peanut


Click to enlargeDaily Mail UK

Realized we haven’t had a panda picture here in a spell. This is from the Daily Mail.

Canada will be rid of coal power plants by 2030


Vintage Architecture

❝ While US President-elect Trump has promised to bring jobs back to the coal-mining industry despite market forces favoring cheaper natural gas, America’s northern neighbor is pressing to move beyond the fuel that started the Industrial Revolution.

On Monday, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna announced a plan to completely phase out coal-burning power plants by 2030 — unless those plants capture and store their carbon dioxide emissions.

❝ In October, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that all provinces would be required to implement carbon emissions pricing programs by 2018. British Columbia has had a carbon tax since 2008, while Alberta will have a carbon tax starting on January 1. Ontario and Quebec are already operating carbon cap-and-trade schemes. Either sort of program will fulfill the requirement as long as the price per ton of emissions meets the federal standard.

❝ While Canada currently gets about 80 percent of its electricity from “non-emitting sources” (renewables and nuclear), it is aiming to hit 90 percent by 2030…to reduce Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels…

Bravo! Hope some of that good sense leaks over the border into the brains of American politicians, American voters.

China has an Arctic commercial and scientific partner in remote Iceland

In a remote valley near the Arctic Circle where the wind whips the coarse yellow grass, China and Iceland are preparing to look to the sky — and a shared future.

Construction workers are building a research facility to study the Northern Lights, whose spectacular streaks of color light up Iceland’s winter skies. Funded by China’s Polar Research Institute, the facility will house Chinese, Icelandic and international scientists when it opens next year.

This cement shell is a concrete achievement in the burgeoning relationship between the rising Asian superpower, population 1.37 billion, and this tiny North Atlantic island nation of 330,000 people. It may seem a lopsided friendship, but both countries perceive benefits…

“It is better to be a friend to everyone when you are small than be an enemy to anybody,” said Reinhard Reynisson, director of the nonprofit company building the Aurora Observatory.

Reynisson speaks with the confidence of a country that has weathered earthquakes, volcanoes, famine and financial meltdown since it was settled by Vikings in the 9th century…

Iceland was nudged in China’s direction by financial calamity. When the global credit crunch hit in 2008, Iceland’s banks — whose debts had ballooned to more than 10 times the country’s GDP — collapsed. Iceland’s currency nosedived, unemployment soared, and Iceland was forced to go the International Monetary Fund and the European Union for bailouts. It also began looking for new economic partners to help it rebuild — and China was willing.

In 2010, the two countries agreed currency swaps between Iceland’s krona and China’s yuan, and in 2013 they signed a free trade agreement — the first between China and a European country.

With Iceland’s support, China was granted observer status in 2013 at the Arctic Council, whose core members are Canada, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Russia, the United States and Iceland.

It also attends annual Arctic Circle Assemblies hosted by Iceland — gatherings of politicians, officials, scientists and businesspeople to discuss the future of the region…

Iceland is one of the best places in the world to observe the aurora borealis, or northern lights. The colorful phenomenon is caused when a magnetic solar wind slams into the Earth’s magnetic field.

Scientists hope the observatory will help them learn about the interaction between the sun and the Earth’s magnetic field, which could help predict space weather…

Reynisson said the initial local skepticism about China’s intentions has faded.

Trade in commerce, ideas and science? Seems to me to be an example of the best kind of global cooperation. 21st Century foreign policy between nations with intense respect for long-lived culture.

Haboob eats Phoenix


Click to enlargeJerry Ferguson

❝ It was a haboob. The word is Arabic and means “blowing or drifting,” and to meteorologists it is the term used to describe intense dust storms inherent to arid regions.

❝ Haboobs are caused when the strong winds blasting out of a thunderstorm hit the ground and kick up the loose sand and dust covering the arid landscapes. Just as a shelf cloud marks the leading edge of a thunderstorm from above, a thick dust cloud marks the leading edge of this same thunderstorm from below.

Arcing across the sky landscape stretching dozens of miles from end-to-end, these dust storms can reach up thousands of feet in the air, and move across the landscape at highway speeds.

❝ While these monstrous haboobs with their menacing shelf clouds hold astonishing beauty, they can be incredibly dangerous. Often accompanied by 60 mph winds or higher, they can pack a serious punch as they steam-roll across the landscape. In addition to the strong winds, the dust can cause visibility to drop to zero in heart beat, blocking out the sun turning day to night, and making it nearly impossible to see until the winds die down and the dust settles…

Phoenix is the haboob capital of the United States. I’ll just leave that alone as a straight line.

Arctic crossing planned for autonomous sub


Click to enlargeBritish Antarctic Survey

❝ The UK’s favourite new yellow submarine, Boaty McBoatface, is in training for a grand challenge…Scientists plan to send the long-range autonomous vehicle under the sea-ice of the Arctic – from one side of the ocean basin to the other.

It is a journey of at least 2,500km – and while nuclear subs might routinely do it, the prospect is a daunting one for a battery-operated research vehicle…The trip could happen in 2018 or 2019.

❝ “It represents one of the last great transects on Earth for an autonomous sub,” said Prof Russell Wynn, from the National Oceanography Centre, Boaty’s UK base…“Previously, such subs have gone perhaps 150km (horizontally) under the ice and then come back out out again. Boaty will have the endurance to go all the way across the Arctic.”…

❝ “One of the things we’re going to do is teach Boaty to read a map,” said Prof Wynn. “You give it a map of the seabed in its brain and then as it travels it uses sonar to collect data that it can compare with the stored map. This should tell it where it is. It’s a neat concept but it’s never been tested over thousands of km before.”…

❝ Schools will be able to apply for education packs centred on ocean and polar topics. And STEM ambassadors will also be working with children to bring these subjects alive.

Beaucoup information, anecdotes, discussion-worthy goodies in the article. No doubt there will be online tracking much like that following the recent solar round-the-globe adventure. Looking forward to Boaty’s travels.

Lots of cold balls!

❝ Like thousands of white cannonballs dumped on the beach, you think these have to be manmade, perhaps part of some sculpture exhibition. But the giant snowballs are entirely natural, although the sight has not been witnessed here in living memory.

It was ten days ago that the villagers of Nyda, just above the Arctic Circle, started noticing the phenomenon. Some are the size of tennis balls. Others almost as large as a basketball…

❝ Valery Akulov, from the village administration, said: ‘Even old-timers say they see this phenomenon for the first time. These balls appeared about a week and a half ago…

❝ When the water in the gulf rose, it came into contact with the frost. The beach began to be covered with ice. Then the water began to slowly retreat, and the ice remained. Its pieces were rolling over in the wet sand, and turned into these balls.

A few more photos in the article. Way cool.

How brown rats made it from Mongolia to New York City subway tunnels

❝ City dwellers’ favorite scruffy friend, the brown rat (Rattus norvegicus), causes $19 billion dollars in damages around the world every year. Yet for an animal that is responsible for so much havoc, we know surprisingly little about it. Including how it came to own the globe (we just think we’re in control). So a team of researchers from Fordham University conducted the first ever large-scale genomic study of the brown rat, and created a rough map of the routes the rodent immigrant took to every continent except Antarctica. It was published this week in the Royal Society’s journal Proceedings B.

❝ The brown rat and its smaller cousins, the black rat (Rattus rattus), and the house mouse (Mus musculus), are the three most successful invasive mammals on Earth. (Coincidentally, they also have the best scientific names.) But whereas the black rat and house mouse have followed human agricultural expansion for millennia, the brown rat didn’t venture out of its native China and Mongolia until hundreds of years ago, riding the waves of global trade to every corner.

❝ For the past three years, researchers of the Munshi-South Lab at Fordham University collected tissue samples from 314 rats across 76 different locations from around the world. Some rats were field-trapped, some were from museums, and some were picked up at wildlife markets. Their genomic analysis of the samples, led by ecologist Emily Puckett, unveiled a story of brown rat migration that followed five major routes out of East Asia.

One wave cautiously sniffed its way down to Southeast Asia. Another traveled along the Silk Road across Central Asia and into Europe. It established itself there by about 1500. The Europeans probably didn’t expect to get a new rat in their trade deals.

Two more groups crossed the Pacific into Western North America: one island-hopped with Russian ships through Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, the other made its way across the vast expanse of ocean straight to the West Coast, also by ship.

And finally, the group that settled into Europe exploded out to Eastern North America, South America, Africa and Australasia with the spread of colonial powers. Unwanted guests brought more unwanted guests.

We did it to ourselves, so to speak.

A meaningless phrase presuming the small number of imperial barons of theft and trade somehow consulted the rest of the population before the colonial onslaught. The folks at the root of the process were – and are – those who live by profits before people.

The oldest, thickest Arctic sea ice is melting away – shrinking the expanse of sea ice

❝ Arctic sea ice, the vast sheath of frozen seawater floating on the Arctic Ocean and its neighboring seas, has been hit with a double whammy over the past decades: as its extent shrunk, the oldest and thickest ice has either thinned or melted away, leaving the sea ice cap more vulnerable to the warming ocean and atmosphere…

❝ Direct measurements of sea ice thickness are sporadic and incomplete across the Arctic, so scientists have developed estimates of sea ice age and tracked their evolution from 1984 to the present. Now, a new NASA visualization of the age of Arctic sea ice shows how sea ice has been growing and shrinking, spinning, melting in place and drifting out of the Arctic for the past three decades.

“Ice age is a good analog for ice thickness because basically, as ice gets older it gets thicker,” Walt Meier said. “This is due to the ice generally growing more in the winter than it melts in the summer.”

❝ The new animation shows two main bursts of thick ice loss: the first one, starting in 1989 and lasting a few years, was due to a switch in the Arctic Oscillation, an atmospheric circulation pattern, which shrunk the Beaufort Gyre and enhanced the Transpolar Drift Stream, flushing more sea ice than usual out of the Arctic. The second peak in ice loss started in the mid-2000s…

“We’ve lost most of the older ice: In the 1980s, multiyear ice made up 20 percent of the sea ice cover. Now it’s only about 3 percent,” Meier said. “The older ice was like the insurance policy of the Arctic sea ice pack: as we lose it, the likelihood for a largely ice-free summer in the Arctic increases.”

Science, knowledge, marches on inevitably. Hopefully, our understanding keeps pace. That understanding comes with an imperative to aid increasing knowledge in supplanting older, sometimes spurious understanding.