Behold the mighty sky-squid

June 10, 2009

Is it coincidence that this upper-atmosphere lightening (called a “sprite“) resembles a mighty sky-squid? Or is fearsome Cthulhu sending us a sign? YOU DECIDE.

Thanks, Christi!


Why you didn’t really want the job, Waiting for Godot edition

May 30, 2009

Even without trading tears for electric shocks, graduate school is a painful, mostly thankless slog with rare moments of fun and rarer moments of reward. (NSF and Kristen sittin’ in a Petri, F-U-N-D-I-N-G.) If that weren’t lonely enough, try spending graduate school studying fragile, dying creatures in hopes of someday possibly contributing the tiniest bit of help to one of the biggest disasters mankind has caused. It almost makes you want to study fruit flies.

One of the few delights I have while studying (the end of) coral reefs is watching baby corals just after they’re born. Coral “birth” involves collecting gametes on night dives, mixing them on shore, having panic attacks while rinsing them and trying to keep them from dying and exploding in the lab, sleeping from 5 to 8 am, finding sanity in iPod shuffle mode, repeating for three days, then beginning the year’s experiments. Okay, that’s not the delightful part. Read the rest of this entry »

“A Sea Change” reviewed; or, HALP! Iz I stuck in the ivory science tower?

May 12, 2009

After seeing “A Sea Change,” a documentary about ocean acidification, I felt really, really guilty. Not because of my carbon footprint, but because I did not like this earnest, passionate movie.

“A Sea Change,” which made its southern California debut at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography last week, is essentially one big appeal to emotion. Everyman Sven Huseby embarks on a quest to save the oceans for his overly adorable grandson, seeking answers in scientific meetings, subarctic labs, and even artist Maya Lin’s studio. The narrative is frequently interspersed with Mr. Huseby writing heartfelt letters to and frolicking with his grandson, as well as multiple scenes on his computer googling away for “pteropods” and “ocean acidification.” Since the filmmakers said that they were determined to avoid graphs, information is conveyed in voiceovers while the audience listens to Phillip Glass music (Battlestar Galactica fans will feel like they’re in the Opera House) and gazes at pretty ocean scenes.

I was bothered by the lack of informative content. I understand that oceanic carbon chemistry and acidification is extremely difficult to explain and understand, but there is almost no mention of what ocean acidification actually is. There was an interesting demonstration of the effects of carbonated soda water on human teeth (they dissolve!), but since soda water is far more acidic than even the worst seawater, will people find this convincing? At another point Mr. Huseby mentions “a world without fish” but we have no idea how this is linked to ocean acidification, except for that it has to do with CO2 somehow.

I did like that the last third of the movie focused on climate change solutions. Mr. Huseby visits Google’s solar panels, a wind farm, and a hotel that runs on ocean geothermic energy. He makes the excellent point that clean energy technology exists! It exists right now! We should use it! I was also shocked and intrigued at a statistic casually bandied about by climate scientist Ken Caldeira. Caldeira said that fixing the climate change problem would cost less than 2% annual GDP. I would love to know more about that figure. Whose GDP? And what does 2% actually mean in terms of predicted economic impact?

As a nascent scientist who took an entire seminar on the scientific ocean acidification literature,  I’m not the target audience for “A Sea Change.” But I’m not sure who their audience might be. In my opinion, the movie is not informative enough to show in science classes, and I don’t know if young people will emotionally connect with a grandfather’s quest. (It doesn’t help that nearly every single person in the movie is white.)  I could see the movie resonating with older, non-scientific audiences, but as a young science person it’s hard for me to tell.

I would love to hear from others who have seen “A Sea Change.” Am I a sterotypical scientist addicted to facts and graphs? A grinch who hates sea lions and blond moppets? Or do non-scientists also want more content from their science documentaries?

Earth Day: Thinking Big

April 22, 2009

Happy Earth Day! For my Earth Day, I’m attending a seminar on Google Earth (totally hot interactive kmz documents await you, lovely readers) and thinking about the environmental effects of racism, socioeconomic interest, and partisan politics here on the US-Mexican border.

The new ever-so-impermeable border fence will definitely stop endangered bighorn sheep and desert frogs in their tracks, though it probably won’t do much about people desperate to feed their families. Though it’s good to recycle and cut down on plastic bags, the really big problems are going to need really big cooperative solutions.

Check out National Geographic’s photos of life along the border fence. Here’s my favorite – a juvenile mountain lion in southern Arizona.

The Carnival of Evolution commands you!

March 30, 2009


The deadline for Carnival of Evolution entries is tomorrow (5 PM PST) and yet, you persist in thwarting my evilutionary plan. Do you think I don’t see you lurking in the corner? No, my internet powers are like unto Sauron, a laser beaming into every corner of the internet where quality unsubmitted evolution-related blog posts lurk. Give me my rightful entries, or suffer the consequences.

You will submit here, puny mortals!

What the Earth of 150,000 years ago was really like

March 23, 2009

SPOILER WARNING: This entire post is a giant spoiler for the Battlestar Galactica Season 5 4.5 finale, so I’ve tucked it behind the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »

What stops population growth?

March 17, 2009

I’ve written before about why I think discussing population control became a taboo, but I’m glad to say I have never heard anyone arguing that poor children should just die. Disgusting.

But in case you have heard that argument, Hans Rosling is here to explain why it’s wrong. And he also explains why he thinks that a permanent world population of 9 billion is inevitable.

Via Anna and Think or Thwim