Nature, Outdoors, Science, Tech

Satellites, Cows and Penguin Poop

English: King Penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus...

English: King Penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus patagonicus), West Falkland. Français : Un Manchot royal. Photo prise sur l’île de Falkland occidentale (ou Grande Malouine), dans les Malouines. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many people worry about all the satellites up there pointing cameras down here but for scientists as well as governments they can be invaluable – particularly if you need to p p p pick up a penguin, or 9,000.

In recent years wildlife researchers have used satellite and aerial imagery to watch animal movements and behaviour.  Dr Sabine Begall, from the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany who had been studying magnetic sensing in animals, initially mole rats, decided to see if larger animals might have the same.  Dr Begall and colleagues used Google Earth to examine how cows stand in fields across the world (to rule out weather effects) and found that the majority faced north or south only, the effect was also seen in deer in the Czech Republic.

In 2009 a group monitoring how penguins were coping with changing environmental conditions wanted to confirm the location of breeding grounds.  Using satellite images, which didn’t have sufficient resolution to see individual birds, they were able to identify colonies due to the staining of the ground by guano – the penguins stay at the colony for around eight months.  The work confirmed the location of 26 colonies and found 10 more.

Then in December last year a team of Belgian and Swiss explorers visited one of these colonies, finding around 9,000 birds.  The article at The Atlantic has the photos.

Nature, Outdoors, Tech

Planted Tech

My Garden

My Garden (by Andy Vickers)

I often miss the garden I had where I previously lived, before I moved to the town centre surrounded by concrete, roads, car parks, oh and a river and fields at the back.  Anyway, my garden was a wedge of land with a patio at one end and rows of flowers and plants.  I’d go and buy new plants at the weekends, once I planted a substantial shrub and was livid to find that slugs had defoliated it entirely overnight.

If I still had my garden I could perhaps combine it with my geek side and buy a gadget from Parrot to be released later in the year.  Known for their AR Drones this isn’t a slug-busting mini helicopter with slime-seeking missiles – brings a whole other meaning to the SALT treaty.  The Flower Power device measures sunlight, humidity, temperature and nutrient levels and can be customised to most types of plant so you can individually, and remotely keep track of the conditions your flowers are living with from the comfort of your sofa.

Now, engineers of Parrot, bring me my anti-slug drone.

Science, Society

Unpredictability on Trial

L'Aquila, Abruzzo, Italy. A goverment's office...

L’Aquila, Abruzzo, Italy. A goverment’s office disrupted by the 2009 earthquake (’Aquila_earthquake ) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This week six scientists and an ex-official were convicted of manslaughter in Italy because, it was said, they had given misleading and falsely reassuring advice to government officials.  Following a tremor in the L’Aquila area in 2009 scientists told officials that a further quake was not impossible but not likely.  In this region people would usually stay outside following a smaller quake but taking the advice as meaning they were safe many went home and when a larger quake occurred many were tragically killed.

Scientists have been trying to find some pattern, some definite precursor effect that will indicate an imminent earthquake for decades but aside from the theory that earthquakes can process along fault lines as movement during one can move the geological stress further along the ability to say when one will occur still eludes them – therefore the best they can say is that one may occur.

The Fortean literature is full of stories of Earthlights – small balls of glowing plasma – floating over fault lines and animals leaving the immediate area in the hours before quakes but again these effects haven’t been documented or proven.

If the authorities had said “there is a possibility that this smaller quake could lead to a massively destructive one” and evacuated every time there was a quake in a seizmologically active area it would cause chaos and cost a fortune, and how long do you tell people to stay away?  A follow-up quake could happen the day everyone returns.

The L’Aquila verdict will have an effect on science, as many are already saying; the journal Nature called the verdict “perverse and the sentence ludicrous” and called for protests, and the head of Italy’s disaster body has resigned stating that the commission could not work under such pressure in the future.  It will make scientists more weary about telling anyone about their discoveries, or offering any advice at all just in case one time something goes wrong.

[BBC News Magazine, BBC News, BBC News]

Funny, Random, Science

Ever Decreasing Circles

English: Tree Stump, near to Langbank, Renfrew...

English: Tree Stump, near to Langbank, Renfrewshire, Great Britain. Looking past the tree stump and silage pit over the River Clyde to the west side of Dumbarton. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most people have at one point said “I’m going round in circles” but many experiments have shown that a blindfolded person, when told to walk in a straight line, will end up walking in a curve to one side.  On the edition of QI tonight Jack Dee suggested this may be some kind of self-preservation response but nobody really knows why it is.

On the same programme the example of the experiment described involved a man who set off across a field blindfolded and spiralled right in smaller circles until he fell over a tree stump.  This proves one of two things however – humans can detect minute changes in the Earth’s magnetic or gravitational fields caused by things like tree stumps and are drawn towards them, or the universe has a sense of humour.