Posts Tagged ‘science’

Thursday, March 10, 2011

State Museum Camera Trap Photos Online

A New York State Museum scientist has collaborated with Smithsonian colleagues to make more than 202,000 wildlife photos available to the public for the first time through a new searchable website called Smithsonian Wild.

The new website allows the public to see exactly what scientists see in their research — photos of wildlife captured at close range. Three of the nine photo sets available on the site come from research in the Adirondacks and other locations, conducted by Dr. Roland Kays, the State Museum’s curator of mammals. The site operates off of a database that was created as part of Kays’ National Science Foundation funded research. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Almanack Welcomes A Philosphy Contributor

I’m pleased to announce Adirondack Almanack‘s newest contributor, North Hudson’s Marianne Patinelli-Dubay. Marianne is a philosopher dedicated to understanding Adirondack issues at the intersection of environment and culture. She began The Forgotten Muse Project as a forum for deepening the Adirondack discourse and cultivating a practical style of philosophy. Her work on the Project includes designing and teaching seminars and workshops for university students and the general public, consulting on new institutional initiatives as well as writing and teaching undergraduate and graduate curriculum. The Project includes the Adirondack Society for Applied Philosophy, which also welcomes members interested in the integration of thoughtful inquiry and philosophical agency.

The majority of Marianne’s teaching has focused on the philosophy of science, eco-phenomenology, social and environmental justice, Adirondack land-use ethics and the ethics of environment and culture. She is on the National Editorial Review board of Philosophical Practice, the American Philosophical Practitioners Association’s peer reviewed journal, and is an active member of the American Philosophical Association and the International Association for Environmental Philosophy. She is currently at work on her PhD thesis, working title Transgressing the Blue Line: Toward an Inclusive Narrative of Adirondack Wilderness.

Please join me in welcoming her as our latest contributor. Her first post will appear at noon today.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Berry Pond Tract: Headwaters of West Brook

Purchased in 2008 by the Lake George Land Conservancy, the Berry Pond Tract protects 1,436 acres within the towns of Lake George, Warrensburg, and Lake Luzerne. This tract of land contains ecologically important wetlands, ponds, vernal pools and the headwaters of West Brook. The purchase was made possible in part through a loan from the Open Space Conservancy (OSC) and funding provided by the Helen V. Froehlich Foundation.

The Berry Pond Tract is home to many forms of wildlife. There are several active beaver populations and a small Great Blue Heron rookery. This purchase provides expanded outdoor recreational resources including some amazing views of the lake. It also connects nearly 10,000 acres of protected land and protects the headwaters of West Brook, the single largest source of contaminants to the South Basin of Lake George.

West Brook is one of the largest, most polluted streams in the Lake George Watershed. A substantial section of the downstream portion has impervious surface streamside, which contributes large amounts of stormwater runoff. Studies have indicated high readings of specific conductance (indicator of instream pollution), excessive amounts of Nitrogen and Phosphorus as well as substrate covering algal blooms. West Brook is important habitat for wildlife and spawning fish, however most of the downstream substrate is silt and sand. The streams course has been altered and channalized, thus speeding up the current. There is very limited riparian cover along the downstream portions, most being of non-native species. The lack of cover results in higher water temperatures and lower dissolved oxygen levels.

Protecting the headwaters of a stream is important to the overall health of the stream, however what takes place in the downstream sections can adversely impair the lake. That is why the West Brook Conservation Initiative was formed. This project to restore and protect Lake George is a collaborative campaign between the FUND for Lake George, the Lake George Land Conservancy and the Lake George Association. The main goal is to eliminate the largest source of contaminants to the South Basin. For more information on the West Brook Conservation Initiative and the science behind West Brook, visit the FUND for Lake George website.

Access to the Berry Pond Tract hiking trails is via the Lake George Recreation Center Trail System. For more information on the Berry Pond Tract, check out the Lake George Land Conservancy website at: http://lglc.org or join me in a snowshoe during the Winter Warm Up, at the Lake George Recreation Center on Saturday March 12, 2011 from 10am till 2pm. Bring your family and friends to this free event hosted by the Lake George Land Conservancy. Warm up by the bonfire; enjoy tasty treats donated by local businesses and take part in a guided snowshoe or other activities for all ages.

Come out and join me during the snowshoe and learn more about the Berry Pond Tract and West Brook. I hope to see you there.

Photo: “All” West Brook, Lake George NY. Compliments Blueline Photography, Jeremy Parnapy.

Corrina Parnapy is a Lake George native and a naturalist who writes regularly about the environment and Adirondack natural history for the Adirondack Almanack.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The State of Nature-Based Education

Uncle Sam Green smlRecently Governor Cuomo gave his first State of the State address and President Obama delivered his third “State of the Union.” New endeavors, or a new year, are popular times to “take stock and look forward”. As we begin to build programmatic structure for the Adirondack Interpretive Center, where natural history and ecology are a foundation of our content, it seems appropriate to consider the State of Nature-based Education.

Nationally, nature-based experience – formal and informal, rural and urban – is increasingly recognized for the critical role it plays in the healthy physical and mental development of children and the on-going health of adults. This role is being supported by peer-reviewed research from diverse academic fields, including medicine, education and ecology. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Dave Gibson: Common Road Salt is Toxic

Outside my house, and in the forest back beyond the land is carpeted with crystalline beauty, affording quietude, serenity, thermal shelter for critters, and some nice ski runs. Out on the county road, just two hours after the recent storm the pavement is bare – right on schedule with transportation departments’ standard for road maintenance and safety. To accomplish it, a corrosive pollutant will be laid down in quantity – 900,000 tons of road salt will be used across the state this winter according to the Department of Transportation (DOT) website. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Commentary: ORDA Needs A Climate Plan

Ice Fishing Season has begun around the North Country, meaning you can now legally catch fish with a tip-up from the ice. The problem? No ice.

Thin ice is just one of the climate related impacts we have come to expect in this era of declining Adirondack winters. According to a 2000 article in Science, over the past 150 years in the Northern Hemisphere lake “freeze dates averaged 5.8 days per 100 years later, and changes in break-up dates averaged 6.5 days per 100 years earlier.” Those numbers are born out in the Adirondacks where the warmest years on record have nearly all occurred since 1990. A 2009 study of Mirror Lake showed ice now forms “14-15 days later and melts 3-4 days earlier than it did in the early 1900s, thereby reducing seasonal ice cover duration by slightly more than two weeks.”

What does that mean for us? If you are among the estimated 20% or so of Adirondack residents employed in climate sensitive business, it means a lot. According to Jerry Jenkins, author of Climate Change in the Adirondacks, “No town can really prosper without a year-round economy, and no Adirondack town can have a year-round economy without winter recreation.” Jenkins provides an overview of our winter economy:

Area skiing takes place on over 300 miles of groomed trails at 29 different ski areas. Backwoods skiing uses several hundred miles more. Snowmobiling uses 800 miles of groomed trails on state land and several hundred miles of trails on private land. Ice climbing takes places on over 100 routes on 13 major cliffs. Ice fishing… is done locally on most lakes. To support this activity requires several hundred businesses to run facilities and feed, house, and equip participants.

Jenkins looked in detail at the Old Forge area and found that the Town of Webb issues about 10,000 snowmobile trail passes a year alone and benefited from an additional three local ski areas. He found that 78 of the 94 restaurants and inns were open in winter, six businesses sell, repair, or rent snowmobiles, 20 more sell equipment and other merchandise. Jenkins believes that 500 to 1,000 people are employed by the winter economy in the Old Forge area alone.

One thing seems clear now about climate change. Leaders in the climate sensitive sectors of our local economies should already understand the temperature change our region faces and be planning ways to lessen the impacts of local warming.

During the recent Wintergreen event it became clear to me that the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) fails to appreciate the impact of warming on our winter sports economy.

What convinced me that ORDA was behind the ball? Considering the state’s budget woes that seem to threaten ORDA’s very existence, I would have thought the agency’s president and CEO Ted Blazer would have come to the Wintergreen conference armed for bear. I would have thought he’d be rolling out numbers showing the economic importance of local winter sports and ORDA’s important role in perpetuating them. Instead participants at Wintergreen were offered a litany of energy saving projects, mostly at Whiteface, that left a number of participants I spoke with concluding that Blazer just didn’t get it – that ORDA had no plan.

During a break I found Blazer at the back of the room with Whiteface General Manager Bruce McCulley, the brother of vocal motorized access advocate James McCulley, who was sitting in for a representative of the Ski Educational Foundation. I asked Blazer if ORDA had a plan. “We’re using common sense and internal initiatives,” he said. The plan? No plan.

Mount Van Hovenberg and Gore Mountain, ORDA’s oft-forgotten stepchildren, were not even represented at the meeting, the first to offer hard numbers on what climate change will mean to our winter economy. Repeated requests to ORDA’s press office inquiring whether the agency’s facilities even tracked snow cover, temperature and other climate change phenomenon went unanswered.

ORDA has a uniquely important leadership role in addressing the challenges we face from global warming. ORDA’s national and international role in winter sports and winter sports culture represents a significant investment, not just by locals, athletes, and their organizations, but by all taxpayers. Forget for a minute ORDA’s $20 million Olympic Conference Center project, think of ORDA’s “continued decline in revenues” according to WNBZ Jon Alexander, that “shows no prospects of the authority getting out of the red anytime soon.”

ORDA’s operating budget for fiscal year 2010-2011 is $32.4 million, which anticipates a $600,000 decline in facilities revenues. According to Alexander, “the operating losses balloon to $13.4 million once $7.5 million in depreciation is included.” About half of that shortfall is expected to be recouped with $7.14 million in state taxpayer-funding.

ORDA seems to understand that their revenues are in steady decline, but it’s not clear whether ORDA leadership knows whether or not the shortened natural snow season, and the additional costs of snow-making and grooming, has anything to do with that decline. “The 2010-2011 budget anticipates a continued revenue decline at Whiteface, with the facility making $1 million less than this year, but also projects a $200,000 increase at Gore,” Alexander reported. Those numbers include increases in ticket prices and advertising revenues.

Attendees at the Wintergreen conference learned some startling numbers about the impact of our winter sports economy, among them that fact ORDA has about 1,200 local employees. According to five year old report [pdf] ORDA contributes about $300 million to the local economy. In 2006, Lake Placid’s sports and tourism venues received more than $40 million in state subsidies according to a report by NCPR’s Brian Mann (about $15 thousand for resident of the Village of Lake Placid). Those are significant investments in our winter economy, investments we need to safeguard.

I can’t forget what Blazer told me when I asked him about a plan to deal with warmer winters impact on ORDA’s bottom line: “We’re using common sense and internal initiatives.”

Common sense tells me that with so much at stake, ORDA needs a thoughtful plan to address the impacts of climate change on its – and one of our region’s – core businesses.

Photo by John Warren: Whiteface Mountain on November 12th.


Saturday, October 16, 2010

18th Annual Conference on the Adirondacks

The Adirondack Research Consortium is seeking abstracts for panel or poster presentations at the 18th Annual Conference on the Adirondacks to be held May 18th and 19th, 2011 in Lake Placid. Research presentations can involve any topic of relevance to the Adirondack region including the natural sciences, economic and community issues, social sciences, arts and the humanities.

For more information and a 2011 Abstract Submission Form go to the Consortium’s webpage or call Dan Fitts on the Paul Smith’s College Campus at 518-327-6276. The Consortium will review all submissions to determine acceptance for presentation at the conference and scheduling. The Consortium expects that presenters will register for the conference.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

LGLC to Host ‘Observe the Moon Night’

The Lake George Land Conservancy (LGLC) is hosting an event for International Observe the Moon Night at its office in Bolton Landing, September 18, 2010, at 6 – 8 pm. LGLC is currently the only event host site in upstate New York.

International Observe the Moon Night (InOMN) 2010 is hoped to be an annual public outreach event dedicated to engaging the lunar science and education community, amateur astronomers, space enthusiasts, and the general public in annual lunar observation campaigns that share the excitement of lunar science and exploration.

Those joining LGLC in Bolton will hear from lunar scientist, Rosemary Millham, Ph.D., observe the Moon through telescopes, simulate their own lunar impacts, and more.

Dr. Millham is currently the science coordinator for the secondary science education program and assistant professor at SUNY New Paltz, and works part-time for NASA GSFC in science writing and curriculum development.

Participants should meet at the LGLC Macionis Family Center for Conservation, at 4905 Lake Shore Drive, for a lunar presentation and explanation of the project, from 6-7:00 pm. The group will then go outdoors (may be at the Center or a short distance down the street) to view the moon. Dr. Millham will lead the group in lunar observations and conduct activities from 7:30-8:00. Participants are then invited to return to the Center for light dessert refreshments.

Participants may wish to bring a camera and their own binoculars or a telescope, should wear sturdy shoes and dress for cool evening temperatures.

This is a free event and for all ages. Registration is not required but is appreciated. Please call 644-9673 or email [email protected] to sign up.

For more information about InOMN and the moon, including how to get downloadable flyers and moon maps, visit http://observethemoonnight.org.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Bill Porter: Friend of Wildlife, Ecology, and Education

The weather was pleasant at the Long Lake pavilion, and the dialogue at this year’s Common Ground Alliance stimulating enough. Then, my thoughts strayed to the fire tower on top of Goodnow Mountain, and what I could see from it. So, off I went. This being my first hike of the summer, I took my time and climbed the fire tower just as dramatic clouds and welcome summer rains moved in, allowing glimpses of the scintillating lake country, and High Peaks Wilderness to the north. Out below me was Lake Harris, the Newcomb VIC, Rich Lake, Arbutus and and Catlin Lakes on the 14,000-acre Huntington Wildlife Forest, one of the world’s best and longest running experimental forests.

Some of my most interesting moments in the Park have been in the Huntington Wildlife Forest with Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) faculty who helped me gain some understanding of dynamic predator-prey interactions in the central Adirondacks. A lot of the prey constitutes tasty Adirondack hardwoods, consumed by its predator, white-tailed deer, which in turn faces its great killer each winter – deep, long snowpack. Dick Sage, Ranier Brocke, and Bill Porter generously provided us with many ecological insights, such as how to do shelterwood cutting of forests on private lands to benefit wildlife, insights from decades of faculty-student work at this unique wildlife field station.

Indeed, those three stalwarts from ESF might remind us that we could have more “common ground” in the Adirondacks if we consciously recognized our collective fascination with the Park’s wildlife, and thought about working together to benefit from this common passion.

I especially wish to thank Professor Bill Porter, who will soon leave his professorship at ESF for new adventures at the University of Michigan. I was fortunate to join the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks when four of its board leaders considered visits to Huntington Wildlife Forest as essential background education for any staff that sought to protect the Forest Preserve and the Park. Prof. Bill Porter not only welcomed these engagements with advocates for the Park, he pushed his small staff to schedule as many as possible.

The very first speaker I ever invited was Bill Porter, at Paul Schaefer’s behest, in 1987. Bill spoke about the fact that the central Adirondack black bear, that lover of berries and veggies, was also adept at catching and eating white-tailed deer fawns in the spring. He presented an image most of us had never thought about, the black bear as ambusher and meat-eater. It was the first of many presentations about Adirondack wildlife that made people sit up and take notice. It dawned on me that to get people into a stuffy room and out of the beautiful Adirondack outdoors, make wildlife your topic.

As Bill’s responsibilities increased, he pushed all the harder on his public communications. He went on to chair the Adirondack Research Consortium, and made the College’s wildlife research more accessible. His presentations on wildlife ecology were fun and interesting. Remember the gas molecule theory in high school, he would ask his audience? Most people would squirm uncomfortably. Well, forget it when it comes to deer biology. Ah. We relaxed. Deer, Bill informed us, do not simply disperse from areas with lots of deer to fill the least concentrated areas of their habitat. Females, or does have a complex social structure called kin groups which greatly effects their affinity for an area, and includes their faithfulness to the places where they were born. So, deer are not distributed uniformly on the landscape at all. Central Adirondack deer societies, like our politics, are local.

Bill Porter’s ability to convey the broad story lines and myriad details of Adirondack wildlife ecology have never failed to amaze me. Later, I learned what an excellent strategist he is. Porter had long believed NYS DEC was flying blind when it came to managing the Forest Preserve because they lacked a thorough digital inventory using GIS (geographic information systems). ESF had the equipment and skilled students to help digitize the data and train DEC in how to access it for more informed public lands management. What Bill needed were advocates to push DEC and the Governor’s staff to fund the work, and make use of the data. With Audubon, the Association, ADK, WCS and Adirondack Council, Bill found his advocates. Here was a partnership to improve understanding and management of the Park’s Forest Preserve we all could believe in. In the last ten years, the GIS project has resulted in greatly improved State Land inventories and much stronger working relations between academia, DEC and private advocates for the Forest Preserve.

This success was followed by Bill’s visionary creation, backed by ESF President Neil Murphy, of SUNY ESF’s Northern Forest Institute, acquisition of Masten House above Henderson Lake as a future wilderness training center and ESF’s decision, announced last month, to manage the Newcomb Visitor Interpretive Center in 2011.

So, thank you, Prof. Bill Porter. I will miss you. You have made my Adirondack experience so much more meaningful. You have made partnerships for the more than human world tangible and productive. Thanks to your efforts, young people with your thirst for knowledge and passion will be communicating in new and exciting ways about Adirondack wildlife for years and years to come at the Northern Forest Institute, the Masten House, and the Newcomb VIC.

Photo: The view from Goodnow Mountain, Rich Lake in the foreground.


Saturday, May 8, 2010

Adirondack Public Observatory Lectures at The Wild Center

The Adirondack Public Observatory (APO) returns to The Wild Center on Friday nights in May with a series of free public astronomy lectures beginning at 7:00pm.

The Adirondack Public Observatory encourages everyone to share the wonders of the universe from the dark skies of the Adirondacks. The APO works to enhance public awareness and advance the science of Astronomy, integrate with area schools, colleges and universities, encourage and support amateur astronomers of all generations young and old, and provide families, civic and community groups the opportunity to view the night sky with various telescopes.

On Friday, May 14th is Freeze Frame: How do they get those wonderful pictures? with Marc Staves, Adirondack Public Observatory. Colorful images of planets, galaxies, nebulae, star clusters and other celestial objects can be found everywhere. Did you know that many of the objects in those photographs are not even visible to the naked eye? Some of them are difficult to see even with a telescope. Experienced amateur astronomer, Marc will show you how he transforms those faint celestial objects through the art of astrophotography.

Marc Staves works for the Village of Tupper Lake Electric Department and to some of us he is known as the “Techno Wizard” because of his technological expertise. An experienced amateur astronomer Marc is also the president of the Adirondack Public Observatory.

On Friday, May 21st is Mars: What Have We Learned About the Red Planet? with Jeff Miller, St. Lawrence University. We have long been fascinated by Mars: its reddish hue, its brightness in the night sky, the strange way it appears to move amongst the background stars. Was there water on Mars in the distant past? And did any form of life exist there? We’ll discuss the history of our love affair with the Red Planet, and discuss some of the more recent discoveries made by robotic explorers.

Jeffrey Miller is an astronomy and physics instructor at St. Lawrence University. An avid astronomer and trustee of the Adirondack Public Observatory, Jeff has had the opportunity to visit the Mount Palomar Observatory in California and the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

On Friday, May 28th is Venus Unveiled with Aileen O’Donoghue, St. Lawrence University. Venus…our sister planet. About the same size as Earth, can it really be called Earth’s twin? Could there be life? We’ve all seen the science fiction movies and stories about Venus and for a long time, people could only imagine what was beneath the clouds that completely hide this mysterious planet from our view. We’ll take a closer look at our neighbor and separate fact from fiction. Discover a world that in some ways is similar to our Earth but unique among the planets in our Solar System.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Newcomb VIC To Host Geology Festival Saturday

The history and culture of rocks in the Adirondack Mountains will be celebrated on Saturday, August 15 during the second annual geology festival, Rock Fest 2009, from 10am to 4pm at the Adirondack Park Agency Visitor Interpretive Center (VIC) in Newcomb. The VIC staff has teamed up with the Adirondack Museum and SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry’s Adirondack Ecological Center to present lectures, field trips, exhibits, and children’s activities. Free and open to the public, Rock Fest was designed to be a day-long exploration to increase appreciation and understanding of regional geology.

Exhibits and lectures at Rock Fest will focus on the geological history of the Adirondack Mountains and man’s relationship with natural resources of the Adirondack Park. Mining history will be presented by Adirondack Museum educators.

Here are the Rock Fest 2009 lectures and field trips:

10am Lecture: Adirondacks- Geology in the Park, with William Kelly, State Geologist, NYS Geological Survey

10:30am Lecture: Rocks as Resource with Steve Potter, Division of Mineral Resources, NYS DEC

11:15am-12:30pm Field Trip: Rocks in Place, with William Kelly and Steve Potter

1:15pm-2:15pm Lecture: Out of the Earth: Mining History of the Adirondacks, with Christine Campeau, Adirondack Museum

2:15pm Field Trip: Of Mines and Men: The McIntyre and Tahawus Mines, with Paul B. Hai, SUNY-ESF’s Adirondack Ecological Center

Exhibitors (10am to 2pm) will include: The Adirondack Park Institute, the Adirondack Museum (making sandpaper with kids), Natural Stone Bridge and Caves, High Falls Gorge, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and New York State Geological Survey.

The Newcomb VIC is located 12 miles east of Long Lake on Route 28N. For more information about the VICs, log on to the centers’ Web site at www.adkvic.org.


Sunday, August 9, 2009

‘Mapping the Adirondacks’ at the Adirondack Museum

Adirondack Museum Librarian Jerry Pepper will present an illustrated presentation entitled “When Men and Mountain Meet: Mapping the Adirondacks” at the Adirondack Museum at Blue Mountain Lake on Monday, August 10, 2009. Part of the museum’s Monday Evening Lecture series, the presentation will be held in the Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. There is no charge for museum members. Admission is $5.00 for non-members.

A contested terrain amid warring nations, a frontier rich in timber and minerals, a recreational and artistic paradise and a pioneering wilderness preserve, the Adirondack Mountains are an intensively mapped region. Using rare and rarely seen maps, drawn from the over 1400 historical maps and atlases in the Adirondack Museum’s collection, “When Men and Mountains Meet: Mapping the Adirondacks” will chart the currents of Adirondack history, as reflected through the region’s maps.

The Adirondack Museum introduced a new exhibit in 2009, “A ‘Wild, Unsettled Country’: Early Reflections of the Adirondacks,” that showcases paintings, maps, prints, and photographs illustrating the untamed Adirondack wilderness discovered by early cartographers, artists, and photographers. The exhibition will be on display through mid-October, 2010.

Jerry Pepper has been Director of the Library at the Adirondack Museum since 1982, he holds Master degrees in both American History and Library Science.

Photo: “A New and Accurate Map of the Present War in North America,” Universal Magazine, 1757. Collection of the Adirondack Museum.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Famed Comet Hunter To Appear At The Wild Center

On July 23rd, 2009 The Adirondack Public Observatory will host famed comet hunter David Levy at The Wild Center in Tupper lake for his presentation “A Comet Discoverer and Starwatchers Journey” in the Flammer Theatre at 6:30 pm. David H. Levy is one of the most successful comet discoverers in history. He has discovered 22 comets, nine of them using his own backyard telescopes. With Eugene and Carolyn Shoemaker at the Palomar Observatory in California he discovered Shoemaker-Levy 9, the comet that collided with Jupiter in 1994.

David Levy is the science editor for Parade Magazine and regular contributor for Sky and Telescope and Skynews Magazine. He is the author or editor of 35 books including David Levy’s Guide to the Night Sky and Guide to Discovering and Observing Comets. He won an Emmy in 1998 as part of the writing team for the Discovery Channel documentary, “Three Minutes to Impact.” He has appeared on the Today Show, Good Morning America, PBS, the National Geographic special “Asteroids: Deadly Impact”, and hosts a weekly radio show Let’s Talk Stars which is available worldwide. David Levy is currently involved with the Jarnac Comet Survey, which is based at the Jarnac Observatory in Vail, Arizona. Reception and book signing begins at 6 pm and again following his lecture. Weather depending, star gazing with the Adirondack Public Observatory will follow in The Wild Center parking lot. This evening event is free and open to the public.

Photo: David and Wendee Levy with the Palomar 18-inch Schmidt camera used to discover 13 comets.


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Biomimicry, Nature’s Solutions Focus at Wild Center

A new exhibition at The Wild Center looks at how humans are tackling problems by uncoding natural solutions to problems in the wild. From MIT to the University of Tokyo scientists equipped with new tools that let them look into the nano structure of nature are discovering the secrets to some of the most elusive tricks in the world. Their sights are aimed at everything from making energy from sunlight to replicating the way spiders forge a material stronger than steel at room temperature.

David Gross, head curator at The Wild Center, which will showcase some of the breakthroughs this summer, has spent more than a year researching where the new science is headed. Gross is a biologist, and his lifetime of observing animal behavior turned him on to the bio-based discoveries. “Most of these new breakthroughs are happening because people saw something in nature, and were curious about how it happened. How do spiders make silk? How does a burr stick to a dog’s fur? In the last decade we have developed the tools to see and work at tiny scales, where nature works, so we can start to build things in a revolutionary new way.”

This relatively new science, coined biomimicry, (from bios, meaning life, and mimesis, meaning to imitate) studies nature’s best ideas and then imitates these designs and processes to solve human problems. The core idea is that nature, imaginative by necessity, has already solved many of the problems we are grappling with. Basically, after 3.8 billion years of research and development, failures are fossils, and what surrounds us are the secrets to survival.

Biomimicry is gaining in recognition throughout the world. A recent article in the United Kingdom’s Daily Telegraph highlighted this truly international movement. A fast, ultra-broadband, low-power radio chip, modeled on the human inner ear that could enable wireless devices capable of receiving cell phone, internet, radio and television signals has recently been developed by scientists at MIT. A National Geographic article highlighted biomimetics in April 2008.

Here are some examples of how looking at nature can help solve some of the problems of humanity.

Locusts Don’t Crash
Locusts fly in swarms but never crash. How do they avoid having multi-locust pile-ups? Car manufacturers like Volvo and Nissan are studying locusts, and other insects like bees, to discover their crash-avoidance systems to see how they can be incorporated into our vehicles, making our roads safer.

Frozen Frog Hearts
Organs used for transplants can last as little as five hours. Keeping hearts and other organs on ice can significantly damage the tissue making the organs not viable. So how does the wood frog manage to freeze in the winter and thaw itself in the spring with no damage to its internal organs? Scientists are working on ways to mimic their non-toxic antifreeze to prolong the life of transplant organs.

Shine a Light on Moths and Butterflies
Moths, unlike cats, have very non-reflective eyes, a trait that protects them against nocturnal predators and helps them see at night. Their eyes have a series of bumps that help keep the light from reflecting. Using a silicon coating on solar panels that resembles the texture of moths’ eyes improves the solar collecting efficiency of solar panels by as much as 40 percent, bringing the price of solar down.

Scientists recently discovered that butterflies harvest the warmth of the sun through small solar collectors on their wings. Their wings are covered with an intricate array of scales, arranged in such a way that the light reflects off of other scales rather than bouncing off the wing where the warmth would be lost. Chinese and Japanese researchers designed a solar cell based on the butterfly’s intricate design and converted more light to energy than any existing solar cell at a lower fabrication cost.

The Whale’s a Fan of the Owl
Plane’s wings have streamlined edges so they can cut through air more efficiently, right? One of the biggest animals in the world, the humpback whale has extremely unstreamlined edges and can still fly through the water. Scientists have determined that the tubercles, or bumps, on the edge of the flippers produce more lift and less drag than sleek flippers. This discovery has implications for wind power and ceiling fans. Owls fly silently through the night, stealthily approaching their prey before capturing their next meal. Would mimicking the design of owl’s wings silence the noise of the fan in your computer? Engineers are studying the tips and curvature of owl’s wings and have created a quieter and more efficient fan blade design.

Gross says the promise of this kind of science is huge. “I’ll use the spider example. They can make seven different kinds of thread, do it all at room temperature, and it’s not just stronger than steel, it’s stronger than anything we have invented. And at the end of the day the spider can eat its own web and recycle the material. Imagine if we could make buildings out of tiny beams that required no mining, no smelting, and minimal energy, and could be entirely recycled again at room temperature? Or if we could figure out how plants photosynthesize, we could solve all of our energy needs.”

Why the Adirondacks? “One thing about these inventions is that you need to be able to watch nature to see what it’s up to, and it makes the Adirondacks a living lab. You can see the wood frogs that freeze solid and thaw, right here at The Wild Center. If you pay attention at The Wild Center you can begin to look at things differently when you’re outside and learn from them.” Gross says the inventions are everywhere. “The real breakthrough is that we can start to see the molecular structure and even the chemistry lab inside a spider, that’s what is fueling the breakthroughs.”

On a walk at The Wild Center Gross points out subjects under study. A bee buzzes by. “We know they vote. They can come into a hive and present a case for a new hive location, and elect which option to choose, and the bees all head to the new location. Computer companies are trying to figure out how so much information is shared and acted on so accurately and quickly.”

The Wild Center’s exhibit, throughout the 31 acre campus, is the first of its kind in the world. It will feature 51 stories of how humans are studying nature and discovering a better way to do things. How does nature make colors without using toxins? How do loons desalinate salt water? How can dogs detect cancer cells just from sniffing a person? A trained sniffing dog, a robot that can scurry over almost any object based on a cockroach and a silent fan modeled on an owl’s quiet flight will be on display. From the moment visitors enter the parking lot, until they leave, they will discover amazing ways that nature has solved its own challenges without using high heats, harmful chemicals or overusing its own resources.


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Bloom Index, Part II

It’s a fresh new month and time for an update to our bloom-dates table. But first, my friend Gerry Rising, Nature Watch columnist for the Buffalo News, reports that phenologists are asking regular jamokes to share their observations of trees and wildflowers. You can become a citizen scientist by noticing when chokecherries or even dandelions bloom in your back yard.

Two Web sites collect this information: the National Phenology Network and Cornell University’s Project Budbreak. Plant and animal life cycles can be susceptible to climate variations, so phenologists (the people who study seasonal patterns) are interested in your observations.

Following are median bloom dates for June from Mike Kudish’s Adirondack Upland Flora. Mike says the dates are most accurate for 1,500-to-2,000-foot elevations (the “Adirondack upland”).

June 1: Jack-in-the-pulpit, chokecherry, Solomon’s plumes
June 2: Low sweet blueberry
June 3: Wild sarsaparilla
June 5: Clintonia, bog rosemary
June 6: Bunchberry and white baneberry
June 7: Canada mayflower and bog laurel
June 9: Starflower and black chokeberry
June 10: Fringed polygala, three-leaved false Solomon’s seal, nannyberry
June 12: Labrador tea, Indian cucumber, small cranberry
June 13: Pink lady’s slipper
June 14: Hooked buttercup (Earliest sunrise, 5:13 a.m.)
June 15: Blue-eyed grass
June 17: Wild raisin, common cinquefoil
June 20: Sheep laurel
(June 20-23: Longest days of the year, 15 hours, 41 minutes)
June 26: Bush honeysuckle and tall meadow rue
June 27: Wild iris
June 29: Wood sorrel

The late naturalist Greenleaf Chase made a list for the Nature Conservancy of rare blooms on some of its Adirondack protection sites. On alpine summits he found Lapland rosebay aflower in early June, Diapensia, Labrador tea, bog laurel and mountain sandwort in late June. Greenie would visit the Clintonville pine barrens in early June to see Ceanothus herbacea (prairie redroot). Viola novae-angliae (New England blue violet) also flowers in early June on the Hudson River ice meadows near North Creek; Listera auriculata (a native orchid called auricled twayblade) blooms there in late June.

Lastly is a list of plants that amateur botanist and hall-of-fame pitcher Christy Mathewson identified around Saranac Lake in June 1922: wild carrot, bunchberry, mountain laurel?, sheep laurel, wintergreen, trailing arbutus, labrador tea, star flower, moss pink, forget-me-not, heal-all, ground ivy, bluets, ox-eye daisy, dandelion, hawkweed, Canada hawkweed, spring beauty, yellow pond lily, live-for-ever, horsetails, blueberry, twin flower, red berry elderberry, hop clover, harebell, yellow wood sorrel, sundrop, dewberry, wild red raspberry.

Boys, take note: being good at sports is nice. Being good at sports and knowing your wildflowers? That’s hot. Special thanks to Adirondack Daily Enterprise columnist Howard Riley for finding Mathewson’s handwritten list in the Saranac Lake Free Library archives and sending me a copy.



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