Category "Environment"

Category "Public Health"

Category "Science!"

March 29, 2006

MidWest Haze Cam

St. Paul Hazecam

The sky looked really hazy driving in to work today. I was surprised that our local Air Quality Index (AQI) wasn't elevated above "moderate" when I checked the MPCA web site. The AQI is a composite score based on ground-level ozone, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and fine particles (PM2.5).

But I found out at MPCA's site that there's an even better way to get a sense of local air quality -- the MidWest Hazecam. The site has live camera shots and fine particle and ozone data for many big cities in the Upper Midwest/Great Lakes states. You can also link to it through the EPA's AIRNow site, which gives national forecasts for air quality along with several public health resources. And it's got several great maps. Did you know the U.S. Forest Service has air quality images? Here's one for the Boundary Waters.

Posted by rigd0003 at 10:06 AM | Environment | Public Health | Science!

Category "Environment"

February 6, 2006

Tasmanian devils succumbing to effects of shrinking gene pool

I came across a sad story recently about a facial cancer that is killing Tasmanian devils. The disease is being monitored by the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Water & Environment (DPIWE). There's more information on the disease on their web site, but a heads up about the pictures -- they're a bit graphic.

What strikes me as simultaneously odd, fascinating, and devastating about this particular disease is that the cancerous cell itself appears to be acting as the infectious agent. There are some well-known examples of viruses causing cancer, you may even call it an "infectious cancer", I suppose. For example, feline leukemia virus (FeLV) in cats; and human papillomavirus (HPV), of which there are several strains that cause cervical cancer. (Fortunately, two vaccines are close to production that would prevent infection by the most common cancer-causing strains.)

But for this devil disease, a virus isn't the culprit. It appears that the cancerous cells themselves are being transmitted between animals during fights and skirmishes -- being scraped from the facial lesions of the sick into wounds of the healthy. The reason why this is so odd is that immune systems are really good at fighting foreign cells and invaders. Viruses and bacteria, in order to successfully reproduce, have evolved stealth mechanisms to evade immune systems in their hosts. Normally, a cancerous cell would be a big red target to the devil's immune system.

The key to what's gone wrong in this instance is described towards the end of the ProMED-mail posting: the low genetic diversity in the current Tasmanian devil population. It sounds like the devil gene pool is now similar enough among the different devils that the cancerous cell is not identified as 'foreign,' but rather the animal's immune system thinks of it as 'self' and doesn't attack it. Like I said, it's a sad story.

Posted by rigd0003 at 2:38 PM | Environment

Category "Environment"

Category "Science and Policy"

February 3, 2006

Global surface temperatures in 2005

Global surface temperatures in 2005

This is an image from NASA's Earth Observatory news site. The agency's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) considers 2005 to be tied for the warmest year ever recorded. The other year, 1998, was the year in which the strongest El Niño in a century occurred; 2005 reached the same high temperatures without an El Niño effect.

Here's what the GISS director has to say about 2005:


In early 2006, James Hansen, director of NASA GISS, pointed out that five of the warmest years over the last century were in the previous eight years: 1998, 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005. Moreover, the GISS team states, “It is no longer correct to say that ‘most global warming occurred before 1940,’? an argument sometimes made by those who are skeptical of the link between human-produced greenhouse gases and global warming. Instead, the GISS team says, global warming over the last century up until 1975 was slow, with large fluctuations. Since 1975, there has been a “rapid warming of almost 0.2°C per decade.?

That's the same James Hansen who says he's being censored and hindered in his efforts to talk about global warming to the public. We can't screw around with this. This is a problem that transcends not only borders but time. And not just time in the sense of a few presidential administrations, but in the sense of generations.

Posted by rigd0003 at 10:27 AM | Environment | Science and Policy

Category "Environment"

November 11, 2005

Buyer's Guide to Hybrid Cars


Sigh... I won't be able to buy one of these beauties for a while, but I can daydream!

If you're in the market, the Union of Concerned Scientists has a great informational web site called the Hybrid Center. It's got a buyer's guide, technical information, links to model reviews, and even a Saturn-esque owners page where current owners post pictures and comments.

Posted by rigd0003 at 1:32 PM | Environment

Category "Environment"

Category "Innovations"

July 29, 2005

Hot idea for chilli peppers



Just came across this story on a great agricultural innovation:

Key to elephant conservation is 'in the sauce'

Dr. Loki Osborn has been researching ways of preventing crop destruction by elephants and other animals in the Zambezi Valley. It turns out that chilli peppers are an excellent deterrent and they can be harvested for creating sauces and jellies. Thus, the Elephant Pepper Development Trust was born.

Posted by rigd0003 at 11:44 AM | Environment | Innovations

Category "Environment"

Category "News"

July 8, 2005

TerraPass: clean up after your car...

TerraPass Decal

I came across a short news item in this month's Wired magazine about a way to offset the carbon dioxide your car emits by funding projects that reduce industrial carbon dioxide emissions.

The project is called TerraPass. They create a way for individuals to help finance projects that reduce carbon dioxide by having members pay for the greenhouse gases they are producing by driving around in their car. In essence, TerraPass is allowing individuals to get in on the carbon emissions free market trading that was part of the Kyoto Protocol.

On their web site there is a calculator for estimating the amount of carbon dioxide generated per year for a given make and model of car and the average annual mileage. Our manual transmission Honda Civic emits about 5800 pounds of carbon dioxide per year. TerraPass estimates it can fund programs that prevent the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide from being emitted for about $30 a year.

They have four classes of memberships based on fuel efficiency: Hybrid, Efficient, Standard, and Performance (SUV). The Performance pass is the most expensive $80 a year and is off-setting about 20,000 pounds of carbon dioxide a year. Members receive a bumper sticker and a window decal, presumably alerting the crazed person that is about to key your SUV (or bash it with a baseball bat) that "Yes, I am emitting greenhouse gases, but I'm paying for them!" (Of course, there's still the carbon monoxide, particulate matter, and nitrogen compounds to worry about, among other things, that all petroleum-fueled cars emit...) All cynicism aside, I think it's a cool idea. And since my family still relies on the car quite a bit, I'm considering becoming a member.

TerraPass has made some interesting investments. They're divided into three categories:

Clean energy -- including a wind farm in Dodge Center, Minnesota

Industrial efficiency -- trading on the Chicago Climate Exchange

Greenhouse gas -- bacterial digestion of manure on a California dairy farm to prevent methane emissions

Or they could just start paying bicycle commuters directly!

Posted by rigd0003 at 10:11 AM | Environment | News