Tag Archives: Smith’s

Spying on Whales – Nick Pyenson

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Spying on Whales
The Past, Present, and Future of Earth’s Most Awesome Creatures
Nick Pyenson

Genre: Nature

Price: $13.99

Publish Date: June 26, 2018

Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group

Seller: PENGUIN GROUP USA, INC.


A dive into the secret lives of whales, from their evolutionary past to today’s cutting edge of science Whales are among the largest, most intelligent, deepest diving species to have ever lived on our planet. They evolved from land-roaming, dog-sized creatures into animals that move like fish, breathe like us, can grow to 300,000 pounds, live 200 years and travel entire ocean basins. Whales fill us with terror, awe, and affection–yet there is still so much we don’t know about them. Why did it take whales over 50 million years to evolve to such big sizes, and how do they eat enough to stay that big? How did their ancestors return from land to the sea–and what can their lives tell us about evolution as a whole? Importantly, in the sweepstakes of human-driven habitat and climate change, will whales survive? Nick Pyenson’s research has given us the answers to some of our biggest questions about whales. He takes us deep inside the Smithsonian’s unparalleled fossil collections, to frigid Antarctic waters, and to the arid desert in Chile, where scientists race against time to document the largest fossil whale site ever found. Full of rich storytelling and scientific discovery, Spying on Whales spans the ancient past to an uncertain future–all to better understand the most enigmatic creatures on Earth.

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Spying on Whales – Nick Pyenson

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Where Did the Aztecs Get Their Turquoise?

New analysis shows the blue-green mineral found in Aztec art was likely mined in Mexico, not the American Southwest as previously believed

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Where Did the Aztecs Get Their Turquoise?

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Netherlands Will Welcome Its First Community of 3D-Printed Homes

Five concrete houses designed to look like “erratic blocks in a green landscape” will populate Eindhoven community

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Netherlands Will Welcome Its First Community of 3D-Printed Homes

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Is the Mysterious Planet Nine Just a Swarm of Asteroids?

Researchers investigate alternative explanations for wacky orbits of objects in our solar system

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Is the Mysterious Planet Nine Just a Swarm of Asteroids?

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Is This Backwards-Orbiting Asteroid an Interstellar Visitor?

The space rock could have been captured from another star system during the early days of our solar system

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Is This Backwards-Orbiting Asteroid an Interstellar Visitor?

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These Lizards Evolved Toxic Green Blood

The strange trait has developed four separate times and may protect the skinks from certain malaria strains

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These Lizards Evolved Toxic Green Blood

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California Now Requires Solar Panels on Most New Homes

It is the first state to implement a solar panel requirement

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California Now Requires Solar Panels on Most New Homes

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Diamonds Trapped in Strange Meteorite Came From Solar System’s Earliest Planets

Impurities in the diamonds could only have formed within a planet the size of Mercury or Mars

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Diamonds Trapped in Strange Meteorite Came From Solar System’s Earliest Planets

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A Country Year – Sue Hubbell

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A Country Year

Living the Questions

Sue Hubbell

Genre: Nature

Price: $11.99

Publish Date: January 24, 2017

Publisher: Open Road Media

Seller: OpenRoad Integrated Media, LLC


A “delightful, witty” memoir about starting over as a beekeeper in the Ozarks ( Library Journal ).   Alone on a small Missouri farm after a thirty-year marriage, Sue Hubbell found a new love—of the winged, buzzing variety. Left with little but the commercial beekeeping and honey-producing business she started with her husband, Hubbell found solace in the natural world. Then she began to write, challenging herself to tell the absolute truth about her life and the things she cared about.   Describing the ups and downs of beekeeping from one springtime to the next, A Country Year transports readers to a different, simpler place. In a series of exquisite vignettes, Hubbell reveals the joys of a life attuned to nature in this heartfelt memoir about life on the land, and of a woman finding her way in middle age.   “Once in a while there comes along a book so calm, so honest, so beautiful that even the most jaded or cynical readers have to say thank you. . . . This is such a book” ( The San Diego Union-Tribune ). “Steadily eloquent, not just of her life but of all life.” — The Washington Post   “Oh, my, can this lady write.” — Sports Illustrated   “A calm, clear-eyed record of a country year and its beauties.” — Los Angeles Times   “Sue Hubbell’s writing is like butter, for it tantalizes, enriches and satisfies.” — The Atlanta-Journal Constitution   “[Hubbell’s] delightful, witty book will appeal to all those who are intrigued by the natural world.” — Library Journal   “This is a book one wants to quote from beginning to end. . . . Stirring—and more richly alive than any PBS nature film.” — Kirkus Reviews Sue Hubbell is the author of eight books, including A Country Year and New York Times Notable Book A Book of Bees . She has written for the New Yorker , the St. Louis Post-Dispatch , Smithsonian , and Time , and was a frequent contributor to the “Hers” column of the New York Times . Hubbell lives in Maine and Washington, DC.

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A Country Year – Sue Hubbell

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Engineers tried to tame the Mississippi River. They only made flooding worse.

This story was originally published by Wired and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Scientists, environmentalists, and anyone who lives within a hundred miles of the winding Mississippi River will tell you — have told you, repeatedly, for 150 years — that efforts to tame the river have only made it more feral. But scientists would like more than intuition, more than a history of 18th-century river level gauges and discharge stations, more than written and folkloric memory. They would like proof.

Luckily, rivers inscribe their history onto the landscape. Which is why Samuel Muñoz, a geoscientist from Northeastern University, found himself balancing on a pontoon boat with a hole in the middle, trying to jam 30 feet of aluminum irrigation pipe into the muddy bottom of a 500-year-old oxbow lake. Muñoz and his team thought that if they could just pull up good cores of that mud, the layers would be a chronology of forgotten floods — a fossil record of the river’s inconstancy made not through petrification but implication.

Basically, the Mississippi meanders. Sometimes the river curves around so tightly that it just pinches off, cutting across the peninsula and leaving the bigger curve high, if not dry. That parenthesis of water alongside the main channel is an oxbow. In a flood, water churns up chunks of sediment and spreads into the oxbow. When the flood waters recede, the layer of coarse sediment sinks to the oxbow’s bottom, where it remains.

So Muñoz’s team humped their pontoon boat all the way from Woods Hole, Massachusetts to three oxbows whose birthdates they knew — one from about 1500, one from 1722, and one from 1776 — and jammed pipe into the lakebed with a concrete mixer. “It vibrates so hard, your hands fall asleep,” Muñoz says. “And then you have 300 or 400 pounds of mud you’re trying to get back up.” But it worked.

The cores were a map of time, with today at the top and the oxbow’s birthday at the bottom. In between: A peak of the radioactive isotope cesium-137 marked 1963, when humans started testing nuclear bombs. Using technique called optically stimulated luminescence to date, roughly, when a layer was last exposed to sunlight, they spotted classic floods, like 2011, which caused $3.2 billion in damages, and 1937, which required the largest rescue deployment the U.S. Coast Guard had ever undertaken.

The important part, though, was that the characteristics of the layers for floods they had numbers on could tell them about the magnitude of floods they didn’t. They got 1851, 1543, and on and on.

Then Muñoz’s team checked their work against another record: tree rings. Inundate an oak tree for a couple weeks and that year’s growth ring will show damage at the cellular level. So they took core samples from trees, living and dead, in the Mississippi flood plain — the oldest going back to the late 1600s. The ring damage matched. Not exactly, maybe, but close enough. They knew they were seeing floods for which no one had numbers. Muñoz’s team had created a record of Mississippi River floods two centuries older than any other. They published that work in the journal Nature on Wednesday.

Here’s where the fun part starts. Muñoz’s team then compared those floods with meteorological data — hunting for some link between flooding and climate. They especially looked at temperature changes on the oceans — El Niño events in the Pacific and Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation. “There’s this really obvious increase in both how often the river has been flooding over the last century and how big those floods were,” Muñoz says. “The default explanation is that there’s something going on with the climate that would explain that.” There was: More El Niño meant more floods.

So climate change causes floods, right? Hah! Too easy. Muñoz’s group ran a statistical model, based on the climate over the entire period of time they now had flood records for, estimating how much more worse flooding should have gotten based on climate change alone. “It comes up with a little bit of an increase, like a 5 percent increase in how big the biggest floods should be,” Muñoz says. “But not all the increase.”

Overall flood risk has gone up 20 percent, the team says. But 75 percent of that risk comes from human engineering of the Mississippi for navigation and flood control. In other words, it’s our fault.

After a particularly devastating flood in 1927 — 637,000 people lost their homes, perhaps up to 1,000 killed, $14 billion in period-adjusted damage — human beings deployed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to wage all-out war on nature to protect industry, farms, and trade. People tried to warn the government even as construction began on the Mississippi’s infrastructure — channelization, dredging, dams in the upper stretch, and along the middle and lower levees, concrete mats along the banks called revetments, and gates.

“All that increases the amount of water and the speed that water goes during a flood. What we’re saying is, we can’t explain the increase we’re seeing with climate alone,” Muñoz says. “But for the first time, we can go back further, to a state in which the river wasn’t dominated by human activities. We can really show that the way the river behaves today is not natural.”

Even that look at the prelapsarian Mississippi may not change much. Warnings that flood control would lead to uncontrolled floods date back to at least 1852, when a famous engineer named Charles Ellet warned in a report to Congress that the whole idea was going to lead to disaster. Yet the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Mississippi River and Tributaries Project remains in full, multi-billion-dollar effect. (Representatives for the Corps of Engineers did not return multiple requests for comment.)

Now, Muñoz’s inferential datasets don’t convince every river researcher. Bob Criss, a hydrogeologist at Washington University at St. Louis, says he doesn’t completely buy Muñoz’s team’s particle-size correlations and tree-ring cell biology. “It’s just a bunch of voodoo and sound bites,” Criss says. “I certainly don’t object to his conclusion. But I don’t think it’s robust.”

Criss definitely does buy the idea that engineering has made flooding worse, though. He says straight-ahead numbers like stage measurement (the height of the river) are enough to tell you that. Levees upriver send more water downriver. Revetments move that water faster. What might have been slow-spreading floodwaters when they were unconstrained turn into neighborhood-destroying mini-tsunamis when they burst all at once from behind failing levees.

“That’s what Charles Ellet was saying 160 years ago. This is the problem with the Army Corps. It’s like a protection racket. They just squeeze the river, make more floods, and then say, ‘Oh, let us help you, you need more help, the floods are worse,’” Criss says.

To be fair to Muñoz’s measurements, paleoflood hydrology on the Mississippi ain’t easy. (Hence the pontoon boats.) Rivers in the American Southwest that run through bedrock and canyons, for example, leave much more evident traces — sediments and other stuff that researchers can more easily excavate. That’s how paleohydrologists like Victor Baker, at the University of Arizona, can produce a 2,000 year record of Colorado River floods and a 5,000-year record of floods on river systems in Arizona. (Perhaps it will not surprise you to learn that attempts to regulate those floods has worsened them, as has climate change.)

And Baker buys what Muñoz has come up with. “Levees protect against little floods. If you have a super big flood that exceeds the capacity of the levee, the levees make that worse,” he says. There have been bigger floods than people remember — but the landscape recorded them. And if humans learn to play those recordings back, maybe we can find a new way to get ready for the waters yet to come.

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Engineers tried to tame the Mississippi River. They only made flooding worse.

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