'Rising Seas,' long-form radio doc on climate change by Alex Chadwick and 'BURN: An Energy Journal'

My friend, former NPR colleague, and longtime journalism mentor Alex Chadwick has an incredible new radio documenting hitting the public radio airwaves this week. We're sharing it here on Boing Boing before it hits the radio-waves. I asked Alex to tell us a little about 'Rising Seas.' He explains:

The Rising Seas project grew out of an encounter at an MIT energy seminar almost a year ago. I met an Americanized Brit, Dr. Len Berry, from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. He's been speaking forcefully and clearly about the threat that rising seas present. At the end of his talk, I asked if Miami is a viable city. He smiled and answered, 'well, it is right now'.

And then I asked about the end of the century. He smiled again, but said nothing.

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Giant, rare "sea serpent" dragged to shore in California

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Jasmine Santana of the Catalina Island Marine Institute was snorkeling off the coast about 20 miles southwest of L.A. when she spotted an 18-foot-long oarfish. It was dead. From the AP:

"We've never seen a fish this big," said Mark Waddington, senior captain of the Tole Mour, CIMI's sail training ship. "The last oarfish we saw was three feet long."

Because oarfish dive more than 3,000 feet deep, sightings of the creatures are rare and they are largely unstudied, according to CIMI…

The carcass was on display Tuesday for 5th, 6th, and 7th grade students studying at CIMI. It will be buried in the sand until it decomposes and then its skeleton will be reconstituted for display, Waddington said.

"18-foot-long sea creature found off Calif. coast"

Iceland resumes whale hunting, endangered Fin Whale killed


"Kristjan Loftsson, CEO of the the company Hvalur hf." Photo: News of Iceland.

Icelandic news outlets are reporting that an Icelandic whaling company, Hvalur hf, "caught its first fin whale yesterday evening," after sailing out yesterday with two boats, both due back in port today.

Fin whales are the second-largest whale, and are classified as an Endangered species.

From News of Iceland:

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Real shell as iPhone loudspeaker

Earlier this month, the Minneapolis College of Art and Design kindly brought me out to meet with grad students and attend the annual MCAD Art Sale where I was happily overwhelmed with a fantastic collection of student and recent graduates' work at affordable prices. Within minutes of walking in, I was drawn to two pieces at opposite ends of the building. The first was a painting created by a CNC milling machine outfitted with a pen. (That painting and its brethren in the series will be the subject of a later post here.) The second piece is what you can see above, the Shellphone Loudspeaker. Amazingly, it turned out that both the CNC painting and the Shellphone were created by the same young artist/designer/maker, Andrew Vomhof. The Shellphone Loudspeaker, made by Andrew with collaborator Karl Zinsmaster, is absolutely wonderful and I purchased one immediately. It's a real Whelk shell hand-carved to perfectly sit an iPhone (4 or 5). The shell acts as a natural amplifier for the iPhone's speakers.

Now, this thing doesn't come close to the output of powered speakers. Duh. But it does increase the volume quite a bit and layers the sound with a subtly echoey and organic vibe. But that isn't really the point. It's a wonderful curiosity at the intersection of nature, art, and technology. And it's beautiful to boot. Vomhof and Zinsmaster have launched a Kickstarter to bring their prototype design into full production. Pledge $60 and, if they hit their goal of $10,000, you'll receive your own Shellphone Loudspeaker early next year.

Shellphone Loudspeaker

Halloween greetings from Antarctica

Henry Kaiser is kind of our man on the inside in Antarctica. He works there every year as a film maker, turning science into movies. He sent this awesome Halloween greeting from underneath the sea ice.

Bonus: He also sent us a video taken at the same spot — only this has 100% fewer wacky masks and 100% more sea anemones.

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The science of Aquaman

When it comes to powers, he's no Superman. And he lacks Batman's popularity. But at the Southern Fried Science blog, perennial also-ran superhero Aquaman is at least able to inspire some fascinating discussion of science.

Marine biologist Andrew Thaler is on his second post about the science of Aquaman. Besides being just fascination information about the ocean and the creatures that live there, the posts also build a pretty good case for why we—the comic-book reading public—should care about Aquaman in the first place.

If Superman existed to show us how high the human spirit could fly, and Batman to show us the darkness within even our most noble, Aquaman is here to show us the world that triumphs in our absence. The ocean is not ours, and no matter how great our technology, we will never master it as we have mastered land, but Aquaman has. Through this lonely ocean wanderer, we can experience a world that we can never truly command.

...Aquaman is, for all intents and purposes, a marine mammal. And, with the exception of a healthy mane in later incarnations, he is effectively hairless. As a human, we would expect his internal body temperature to hover around 99°F, or about 37°C. Even at its warmest points, the surface temperature of the ocean around the equator is only about 80°F/27°C. At the poles ocean temperature can actually drop a few degrees below freezing. In the deep sea, ambient temperature levels out around 2 – 4°C. The ocean is cold, and water is a much better thermal conductor than air. Warm blooded species have evolved many different systems to manage these gradients, including countercurrent heat exchangers, insulating fur, and heavy layers of blubber.

Aquaman is not just a human, he is an incredibly buff human. Look at his picture. If the man has more than 2% body fat, I’d be shocked. In contrast, warm-water bottlenose dolphins have at least 18 to 20% body fat. Anyone who SCUBA dives knows that, even with a 12 millimeter neoprene wet suit, after a few hours in 80°F water, you get cold. Aquaman, lacking any visible insulation, should have slipped into hypothermia sometime early in More Fun Comics #73. He is better built for the beach than the frigid deep.

Read on for ocean science, superpowers you didn't even know existed, and quotes from Byron.

And here's part 2

Edit: This is actually the third time Andrew Thaler has written about the science of Aquaman. Here's the post I missed.

Via David Manly

Titanic Tales: The Costa Concordia

Photo: An oil removal ship is seen next to the Costa Concordia cruise ship as it ran aground off the west coast of Italy at Giglio island, January 16, 2012. Over-reliance on electronic navigation systems and a failure of judgement by the captain are seen as possible reasons for one of the worst cruise liner disasters of all time, maritime specialists say. (REUTERS/ Max Rossi)

When I read hastily the headlines on Jan 14—a shipwreck in Italy, seventy missing, three known dead—I immediately thought: it must be the Africans again. The refugees, the clandestine, the invisible, the nameless, the unwanted… Those "less-than-human" people coming from all over the world to the Italian coast, looking for a safe haven from dictatorships, from hunger.

My Somali Italian friend Suad, who works with her community In Italy now, urges her people in Somalia NOT to take that dangerous ride: even if you survive the trip, what waits for you in Italy can be fatal. Italy is in deep economic crisis today, on the verge of bankruptcy and social disorder. The new government struggling to remain a G8 power while the euro and United Europe are at stake. Italy also struggles to overcome a big moral value crisis after twenty years of Berlusconi's reign of sexism, racism, indolence and corruption.

But I was wrong about the Africans. It was a fancy cruise ship full of wealthy foreigners that wrecked unexpectedly near the island of Giglio.

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Watch starfish flee an icy finger of death

This clip from the BBC's Frozen Planet is one of the most amazing things you will ever see.

"Brinicle" is a clever portmanteau for an icy finger of death that forms naturally in the very cold seawater one finds around Earth's poles. A crust of sea ice can form on top of this water, and that's the first step to making a brinicle. Here's how polar oceanographer Mark Brandon explained the process in an article on the BBC website:

In winter, the air temperature above the sea ice can be below -20C, whereas the sea water is only about -1.9C. Heat flows from the warmer sea up to the very cold air, forming new ice from the bottom. The salt in this newly formed ice is concentrated and pushed into the brine channels. And because it is very cold and salty, it is denser than the water beneath.

The result is the brine sinks in a descending plume. But as this extremely cold brine leaves the sea ice, it freezes the relatively fresh seawater it comes in contact with. This forms a fragile tube of ice around the descending plume, which grows into what has been called a brinicle.

Check out that BBC website link for more information on how the Frozen Planet videographers captured this footage. That's also where you should go to watch the video when this YouTube version is inevitably taken down.

Thank you, Brittany. Truly freaking amazing.

Video Link

Observation tube under the Antarctic sea ice

One more incredibly cool video from research diver, musician, and filmmaker Henry Kaiser. Henry says:

"Since support workers in town cannot make their usual recreational trips out onto the sea ice, the powers-that-be at McMurdo Station installed the OB TUBE within walking distance of town.

Anyone can climb down the ladder and watch us divers at work under the ice. The snow was bulldozed off of the sea ice around the observation tube, creating a very light environment; which seems to have attracted an enormous population of larval and juvenile ice fish that form great clouds around the tube."

Suddenly, I wish I were washing dishes in Antarctica.

Video Link

Love the ocean? Check this out

The Scuttlefish, former-Gizmodo editor Brian Lam's newish blog about all things awesomely ocean, is looking for writers and interns.

Here be giant amoebas

In the deep sea, there dwell amoebas of unusual size. Of course, "gigantic" is relative. Although they would dwarf other amoeba species, the biggest xenophyophores are a little more than 4 inches across. (Via A Moment of Science, which suggests, rightly, that this would make an excellent Halloween costume.)

Surfing the red tide

Phytoplankton are tiny, plant-like organisms that live in the ocean and are, basically, at the very bottom of the food chain. But, sometimes, they get their revenge. When lots and lots and lots of phytoplankton get together, they can form what we call a "red tide," a discoloration of the water at a particular point where the plankton have become densely concentrated.

Some red tides are natural. Others happen when nutrient runoff from farm fertilizers creates a massive buffet for plankton. Some red tides can kill, as the plankton can produce toxins and their deaths reduce the oxygen content of the water. And sometimes, red tides glow in the dark.

The phytoplankton in this red tide off a California beach are bioluminescent. Their cells produce a chemical reaction that creates a soft, blue-green glow. It's basically the same thing that makes lightning bugs light. In this video by Loghan Call and Man's Best Media, you can see plankton light up in the beach (and a few surfers).

Video Link

Via Jennifer Ouellette

How tide predicting, analog computers won World War II

Without Lord Kelvin, there would have been no D-Day.

There's some very cool science history in the September issue of Physics Today, centering around a collection of analog computers, developed in the 19th century to predict tides. This was a job that human mathematicians could do, but the computing machines did the job faster and were less prone to small errors that had big, real-world implications. David Kaplan, an assistant professor in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee physics department, sent the links over. He says that these machines ended up being crucial and are a big, in-your-face reminder of the complications of living in a world without calculators:

"... it was particularly important during WWII in order to properly plan beach landings, but even without the war part I found it fascinating. We take this so for granted now, that we can crank out sin() and cos() values instantly, but that was not always the case."

We're talking about predictions a bit more precise than simply saying, "the water is low" or "the water is high." Physics Today explains why the behavior of tides was so important at D-Day and why the tide calculators were so important to Allied success.

As an Allied cross-channel invasion loomed in 1944, Rommel, convinced that it would come at high tide, installed millions of steel, cement, and wooden obstacles on the possible invasion beaches, positioned so they would be under water by midtide.

The Allies would certainly have liked to land at high tide, as Rommel expected, so their troops would have less beach to cross under fire. But the underwater obstacles changed that. The Allied planners now decided that initial landings must be soon after low tide so that demolition teams could blow up enough obstacles to open corridors through which the following landing craft could navigate to the beach. The tide also had to be rising, because the landing craft had to unload troops and then depart without danger of being stranded by a receding tide.

There were also nontidal constraints. For secrecy, Allied forces had to cross the English Channel in darkness. But naval artillery needed about an hour of daylight to bombard the coast before the landings. Therefore, low tide had to coincide with first light, with the landings to begin one hour after. Airborne drops had to take place the night before, because the paratroopers had to land in darkness. But they also needed to see their targets, so there had to be a late-rising Moon. Only three days in June 1944 met all those requirements for “D-Day,” the invasion date: 5, 6, and 7 June.

You can read more about tide predicting machines on Wikipedia, and try out a Java simulation of Lord Kelvin's tide predicting machine at the American Mathematical Society website.

Volcanic vent surprise

What are all those frothy bubbles rising from the sea floor and coating the submersible craft in this video? Why, it's liquid carbon dioxide, venting off an underwater hot spring connected to Eifuku volcano in Japan's Volcano Islands.

Better yet, life can still survive, even in an environment this extreme. Check out what blogger Caleb Scharf spotted:

... pay attention at 38 seconds into the show. With utter disregard for the extraordinary environment a shrimp-like creature swims purposefully under the robot and exits stage lower right. It may not live in liquid CO2, but it doesn’t seem bothered by it in the slightest. We must also assume that it’s finding plenty of food within this bubbling environment.

Video Link

Via Ed Yong

A submarine named Alvin

I've been traveling for the last couple of weeks. One key stop: Woods Hole, Mass., where I got up close and personal with everybody's favorite research submarine. Originally commissioned in 1964, Alvin is currently disassembled as part of a regular maintenance inspection and overhaul. I got to go behind-the-scenes to check out Alvin and the RV Oceanus—a research ship also operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. This is a window on Alvin's old manned pod, a massive sphere that can hold two scientists. It's being replaced in the current retrofit, and this sphere will go to the Smithsonian. More photos to come ...