Readers’ wildlife photos and video

May 22, 2021 • 8:00 am

We have a Saturday potpourri of videos and photos today, with all contributors’ captions indented. Click on the photos to enlarge.

First, a bunneh from Graham Martin-Royle:

As you’re getting short of photos I thought I’d send this one in. Prey animals quite often freeze when they think they’re in danger in the hope that they don’t get spotted (I know you know this, I’m just trying to explain this photo). This rabbit saw my friend and I approaching in this dry gulley in southern Utah, back in 2018 and froze, allowing us to get up pretty close.

Can you spot the rabbit?

Visiting foxes from Randy Schenck:

First, an adult in April:

Jerry,  Foxes in the front yard about 7 am. today.  There were three all together, two adults and one about half grown.  Wish I could have gotten a picture of all three but no luck.  Not a good window looking out front for photos.

This is urban Wichita, Kansas.

So all three foxes were back today, May 1, 2021.  Arrived about 7 am and stayed maybe ½ hour.  This is probably because we put out some food (five big dog biscuits) for the foxes.  The first two photos are of the pup or smaller fox.  The second photo also shows he is carrying one of the dog biscuits.  Having the food out there really did the trick and we will probably try again tomorrow.

A balancing rock from Bryan Lepore:

I am sharing a photo of Balance Rock in Pittsfield State Forest, MA (easy to read about on the Internet). I am sharing this because the rock is amazing, and also because photos I found on the internet are rather weak :

And from Bryan Tarr: a mother and ducklings in Poland. This warms my heart; I wish only that my own ducklings were so well behaved. I count ten.

I had the good fortune to see a mother with her ducklings recently, this time in Radzyń Podlaski near a small stream. I managed to grab my phone just in time to catch the second half of their hurried journey past me.

How tall is Mount Everest?

October 1, 2020 • 1:30 pm

If you asked me the height of Mount Everest, I could tell you without missing a beat: 29,029 feet (I don’t know it by heart in meters, but it’s 8,848 m).  That’s been the accepted height since the 1954 Survey Of India, which established the height using a number of observation stations and triangulation (trigonometry). Since then, there have been a few other measurements, all yielding heights close to the 1954 data: a 1999 National Geographic measurement gave 29,035 feet (seven feet higher), while a 2005 Chinese survey yielded 29,017 (that was the rock height, neglecting the roughly ten feet of ice and snow covering the summit).

There’s no doubt that Everest’s summit is the highest spot on earth measured from sea level (Chimborazo in Ecuador, however, is the highest mountain measured from the Earth’s center), but people want an exact figure. This article in the new National Geographic (click on screenshot) shows the difficulty of actually getting that figure.

First of all, the height of Everest keeps changing, both rapidly and slowly. Slowly because it’s still rising as the Indian tectonic plate collides with the Asian one—the event that created the Himalayas to begin with. That rise is about 0.5 centimeters per year. The more rapid changes are due to earthquakes: one in 1934 is supposed to have lowered the mountain by two feet. Then there’s the decision about whether to count the ice and snow blanketing the peak in its total height, for that blanket can be up to ten feet thick. (Triangulation of course includes that.)

Finally, there’s the tough decision about the baseline, taken as “sea level.” The problem is that calculating “sea level” is hard because it varies from place to place and time to time due to irregularities in the Earth’s shape, and so what they’d like is “what the sea level would be under Mount Everest if there were sea under Mount Everest”.  That involves making two models, as depicted in the figure below from the article, and it’s apparently the sum of the geoid height and the ellipsoid height is the mountain’s height. (It’s a bit complicated, and I can’t say I understand it fully, because sometimes the geoid height looks to be negative.)

The first of two recent sets of measurements were taken by a Nepalese survey team that climbed Everest in 2019, summiting in the middle of the night to avoid the rush of climbers.  Laser trigonometry as well as GPS technology established the summit height. They also used a method to determine the thickness of ice and snow on the summit. That “official” height is now known but hasn’t been revealed, for the Chinese get a say as well: the border between China and Nepal runs right through the summit, and so this spring, when all expeditions were canceled because of the pandemic, the Chinese used a combination of climbers and a surveying plane to get their own height (see below).

And politics are involved as well:

“There’s a lot of history here,” says Ed Douglas, a respected Everest historian who recently published a history of the Himalaya. Douglas notes that, like Nepal, China has long used Everest as a symbol of national identity. In 1960, Mao Zedong ordered a large state-run expedition of Everest. That team made the first successful ascent from the Tibet side of the mountain. During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China imposed restrictions on climbers on the Tibet side of the mountain so that an official expedition could carry the Olympic torch to the top without incident.

Nepal, one of the poorest nations in Asia, has numerous reasons to keep its wealthy and powerful neighbor happy. During the last fiscal year, some 90 percent of foreign direct investment in the nation came from China, and during his state visit, Xi pledged $500 million in financial aid. This comes in addition to the millions of dollars China has invested in Nepali infrastructure projects, including new airportsrailways, and hydropower plants.

There is precedent for Nepal and China coordinating on the issue of Everest’s height. After the Chinese completed their 2005 survey, Nepal and China announced a joint agreement to recognize both the new Chinese survey of the highest point of rock and the 1954 Survey of India elevation, which included the snowcap.

So we’ll have at least two new heights, and they’re very unlikely to be identical. But it doesn’t really matter, as Everest will remain the highest spot on Earth—calculated from an estimated sea level. That’s why I trekked in to see it twice, and why so many have tried, and many have died, trying to stand on the roof of the Earth. It’s a beautiful place to visit, and an excellent trek, and I’m content to not have climbed it. Seeing it was enough, for, believe me, you may think you’ve seen high mountains, but, like Crocodile Dundee’s knife, this is a mountain! I wish I could embed some of the photos I took on my trips, which are on 35 mm Kodachrome slides.

Here are two photos from recent measurement efforts. Photos and captions are from National Geographic:

In 1999 an American expedition put a GPS receiver on the summit of Mount Everest to calculate a new elevation. PHOTOGRAPH BY TRIMBLE

From the recent Chinese expedition:

A member of a Chinese survey team sets up a marker on the summit of Mount Everest on May 27, 2020. With the mountain closed to virtually all other climbers due to COVID-19 during the spring of 2020, China sent an expedition to remeasure the mountain, which is known to Tibetans as Qomolangma. PHOTOGRAPH BY XINHUA, ALAMY

Below is an informative but scary chart from the Encyclopedia Brittanica, showing the peril of trying to climb it. Even I got cerebral edema climbing the small peak next to it, Kala Patthar, which is only 18,519 feet (5,644 m). That, and not base camp, is where you get the view of Everest in all its glory. (You can’t see anything from base camp.)

I made it up and down Kala Patthar on both treks, but the second time I got cerebral edema, wanted to lie down and sleep (my companion stopped me from that, knowing I’d die) and I repeatedly stumbled trying descend. I stopped at the Trekker’s Aid Post nearby for a checkup, and they told me what I had and that it would go away when I descended. (A doctor inhabits a quonset hut during the trekking season.)  I hiked down to 15,000 feet, and then I was fine.

Here, from Wikipedia, is the view of Everest from Kala Patthar. On both days I climbed the small mountain, it was perfectly clear like this, and the view was stupendous. (There was also plume of snow from Everest’s summit, showing high winds.)

h/t: Andrew Berry, a fellow Everestphile

Stunning volcanic eruptions filmed in real time

September 12, 2020 • 2:30 pm

Here we have some pretty amazing shots of the Ecuadorian volcano Reventador erupting between January 5 and 7 of this year, and filmed by Martin Rietze. It’s quite active, and there are two sites reporting the activity (here, and a better one here).  The curious thing is that, as the second site reports, January 2020 wasn’t a particularly active time—even though there were daily explosions! From the second site:

Volcanism in January 2020 was relatively low compared to the other months of this reporting period. Explosions continued on a nearly daily basis early in the month, ranging from 20 to 51. During 5-7 January incandescent material ejected from the summit vent moved as block avalanches downslope and multiple gas-and-steam and ash plumes were produced (figures 120, 121, and 122). After 9 January the number of explosions decreased to 0-16 per day. Ash plumes rose between 4.6 and 5.8 km altitude, according to the Washington VAAC.

Here’s the location:

 

. . . and the YouTube notes, showing it in real time, but during several periods. The noise is amazing, as are the lava flows. At 45 seconds in, you can see the shock wave spreading through the atmosphere before the big blow.

Reventador volcano, Ecuador. Activity documented between 5.-7.Jan.2020. Filming in real time (including nighttime with near full moon). Rare highres material showing vulcanian and strombolian with volcanic lightning and shockwave. Now with real sound! Filmed from observation point in 4,5km distance east of the main summit cone.

If you film it, it’s about 11 seconds from the visible explosion to the sound, or a bit less than 4 km of distance, comporting with the description, though the sound probably started before the large eruption.

Reader’s wildlife photos

March 28, 2020 • 8:00 am

Today’s photos are a bit different in that they’re not of wildlife but of rocks. These lovely pictures come from Tony Eales of Queensland, who usually sends us insect photos. His notes are indented:

I thought I’d send something a little different.

Over the years as an archaeologist/anthropologist I’ve had the privilege to see some Aboriginal rock art in remote places around the state of Queensland. Here’s a few from places near the towns of Barcaldine, Mt Isa and Winton.

I can’t add too much about them regarding interpretation. It’s not really my place and interpreting art is hard at the best of times, let alone when the artists’society didn’t have writing. These are fairly representative of the kind of art one finds in western outback Queensland. Hand prints are ubiquitous and “emu tracks” are nearly as widespread, nets and boomerangs are also very common. You can also find anthropomorphic figures and many symbols of esoteric meaning. Age-wise, some individual engravings in the large palimpsests may be quite old, thousands or even tens of thousands of years. The paintings, on the other hand, are probably less than two hundred years old given how fragile the rock on which they are painted is. You can also notice that many of these sites are heavily graffitied. This practice of defacing the art goes back to the 1800s in some places.

The first six photos are labeled “Barcaldine”, and the rest “Mt. Isa”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My short intro to the genetics of speciation

July 11, 2018 • 2:45 pm

UPDATE: If you want a pdf of my article, which seems to be behind a paywall, just inquire judiciously.

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The journal Molecular Ecology is producing a special issue on “Sex chromosomes and speciation”, which will contain about 17 papers. Some of these have already been published online, and though there’s not yet a central link, some of the papers are here.

Since my lab more or less kickstarted the area by reviving interest in Haldane’s Rule and its probable cause by sex-chromosome evolution (see the paper for an explanation), I was asked to write a personal and historical introduction to the field to open the issue. My short paper can be seen by clicking on the screenshot below, which will lead you to a pdf of the manuscript—very close to the version that will be published.

I tried to write this paper so it would be accessible to not only general biologists, but also laypeople who are scientifically interested and a bit informed about evolution. I don’t know if I’ve succeeded, but, like Maru, I do my best.

This may be the next-to-last scientific paper I’ll ever publish, although it’s a short review rather than a data paper. However, a few colleagues and I are writing what may be the last real paper I’ll publish, chock full of data and, if I do say so myself, a nice piece of work. I think it’s a good way to go out. It’s been in the works for about a decade, since it took a long time to do all the morphological analyses and DNA sequencing, but I’ll say more about that later.

When the Big One hits the U.S.

July 20, 2015 • 11:00 am

Professor Ceiling Cat has an article that he highly recommends you read. It’s in the latest New Yorker, and is called “The really big one” by Kathryn Schulz (subtitle: “An earthquake will destroy a sizable portion of the coastal Northwest. The question is when.”). It’s a superbly researched and written account (also free to access) of what’s going to happen when the Big Earthquake hits not California, but the Pacific Northwest.  The scenario is not pretty, with at least 30,000 deaths and massive destruction of the infrastructure. Here’s a short excerpt:

When the next very big earthquake hits, the northwest edge of the continent, from California to Canada and the continental shelf to the Cascades, will drop by as much as six feet and rebound thirty to a hundred feet to the west—losing, within minutes, all the elevation and compression it has gained over centuries. Some of that shift will take place beneath the ocean, displacing a colossal quantity of seawater. (Watch what your fingertips do when you flatten your hand.) The water will surge upward into a huge hill, then promptly collapse. One side will rush west, toward Japan. The other side will rush east, in a seven-hundred-mile liquid wall that will reach the Northwest coast, on average, fifteen minutes after the earthquake begins. By the time the shaking has ceased and the tsunami has receded, the region will be unrecognizable. Kenneth Murphy, who directs FEMA’s Region X, the division responsible for Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Alaska, says, “Our operating assumption is that everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast.”

In the Pacific Northwest, everything west of Interstate 5 covers some hundred and forty thousand square miles, including Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, Eugene, Salem (the capital city of Oregon), Olympia (the capital of Washington), and some seven million people. When the next full-margin rupture happens, that region will suffer the worst natural disaster in the history of North America. Roughly three thousand people died in San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake. Almost two thousand died in Hurricane Katrina. Almost three hundred died in Hurricane Sandy. FEMA projects that nearly thirteen thousand people will die in the Cascadia earthquake and tsunami. Another twenty-seven thousand will be injured, and the agency expects that it will need to provide shelter for a million displaced people, and food and water for another two and a half million. “This is one time that I’m hoping all the science is wrong, and it won’t happen for another thousand years,” Murphy says

In fact, the science is robust, and one of the chief scientists behind it is Chris Goldfinger. Thanks to work done by him and his colleagues, we now know that the odds of the big Cascadia earthquake [magnitude 8.0-8.6] happening in the next fifty years are roughly one in three. The odds of the very big one [magnitude 8.7-9.2]  are roughly one in ten.

. . . Together, the sloshing, sliding, and shaking will trigger fires, flooding, pipe failures, dam breaches, and hazardous-material spills. Any one of these second-order disasters could swamp the original earthquake in terms of cost, damage, or casualties—and one of them definitely will. Four to six minutes after the dogs start barking, the shaking will subside. For another few minutes, the region, upended, will continue to fall apart on its own. Then the wave will arrive, and the real destruction will begin.

Don’t miss this article. If you live west of Interstate 5, you may want to move, as the quake is way overdue.

h/t: Diane G.

Google doodle celebrates Inge Lehmann

May 13, 2015 • 7:30 am

Today’s animated Google doodle celebrates the 127th birthday of Inge Lehmann. Most of you, like me, won’t know who she is, but Google is trying to bring to our attention accomplished but unsung women scientists. Lehmann (1888-1993; she lived to 104!) should certainly be of note, for she discovered the nature of the Earth’s core. As Wikipedia notes:

Inge Lehmann (ForMemRS; May 13, 1888 – February 21, 1993) was a Danish seismologist and geophysicist who discovered the Earth’s inner core.In 1936, she postulated from existing seismic data the existence of an inner core with physical properties distinct from the outer core’s and that Earth’s core is not a single molten sphere. Seismologists, who had not been able to propose a workable hypothesis for the observation that the P-wave created by earthquakes slowed down when it reached certain areas of the inner Earth, quickly accepted her conclusion.

Inge Lehmann
Inge Lehmann

Vox has a great explanation of how she used fast seismic waves (P waves) to discover that, contrary to what people thought, the Earth wasn’t just a mass of rock surrounding a fully molten core, but that the core itself had a solid inner nucleus:

Over the next few years, she closely analyzed this and other data sets. In the pre-digital age,her cousin later recalled, Lehmann would record the data on pieces of cardboard torn from boxes of oatmeal, and sometimes sat surrounded by them in her garden, puzzling over the numbers. Eventually, she had an idea: a solid inner core inside the soft, molten outer core, which would reflect some P-waves, causing them to end up in the shadow zone.

Her subsequent calculations, published in a 1936 paper simply titled P’ (as P-waves were then called), confirmed that the idea. “I then placed a smaller core inside the first core and let the velocity in it be larger so that a reflection would occur when the rays through the larger core met it,” she wrote, years later. “The existence of a small solid core in the innermost part of the earth was seen to result in waves emerging at distances where it had not been possible to predict their presence.”

And she lived long enough to do this as well:

In her later years, she used seismological data on underground nuclear explosions to discover another, subtler discontinuity in the upper mantle, at roughly 136 miles below the surface. Scientists still don’t fully understand this boundary, now called the Lehmann discontinuity.

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She faced the usual barriers to women in science, and even in the 1950s they wouldn’t appoint her as a professor in Copenhagen. As Time Magazine notes:

Lehmann was educated at a progressive school that valued equal treatment between genders. But when her professional career took off she often faced discrimination for being a woman, once being quoted as saying, “You should know how many incompetent men I had to compete with — in vain.”

Click on the screenshot below to see the animation:

Screen Shot 2015-05-13 at 7.02.35 AM

 

Readers’ wildlife photgraphs

February 1, 2015 • 8:15 am

Today we’re stretching the boundaries of “wildlife” again, so that this time it includes geology.  Reader Jonathan Wallace encloses some nice photos of the English coast that give some history:

These were taken from a coastal dune system a little way north of where I live in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.  During the last ice age there was a continuous land bridge across to the continent but this was broken when sea levels rose after the ice melted and there has been continual erosion of the east coast of England since then.  The current coastline was therefore in prehistoric times some distance inland, and the erosion of the dunes at this place revealed a band of peat beneath the sand created through the infilling of a fresh water mire.  Because of the anoxic conditions in the peat, wood and other organic material falling into it were preserved and, as can be seen in the pictures, there are lots of logs and bits of tree branch embedded in the peat and eroding out.  I believe the top of the peat layer has been dated to around 800 BC so a bit less than three thousand years old and the bottom layer is considerably older.  ‘Bog oak’ is commonly dug out of peat workings in Ireland and elsewhere and is often sufficiently well preserved to permit its use as a sought after wood carving material.

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The remains of trees preserved in peat:

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Finally, if you want your ration of critters, here are some lovely photos sent in by a new contributor, Keira from Australia:

Here are ravens from Matilda Bay on the Swan River, Perth, WA [“Western Australia”]:

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A raptor:

Here is a newcomer to the neighbourhood – a hobby falcon [JAC: probably the brown falconFalco berigora]. It was really windy and I don’t have a fantastic zoom lens. I think he’s a juvenile looking to establish a territory around here, ’cause he’s been here on 3 occasions.  I’m in the inner city – not at all rural.

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Finally, here’s Keira’s cat, a female named Fattee Cattee,  also described on her website:

I like this portrait of my fluffy girl – she looks very serious:

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Yesterday’s spectacular eruption of Volcán de Colima in Mexico

January 22, 2015 • 10:08 am

Reader Stephen Q. Muth (Butter‘s staff) sent me a link to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s video and report of a big eruption of the Colima volcano (Volcán de Colima) in southwest Mexico. It’s erupted several times in the last year, and the Spanish title of the video notes that this eruption happened yesterday. The ABC’s notes:

The active but isolated volcano is located approximately 500 kilometres west of the capital Mexico City and has erupted at least 30 times since 1585.

The vision was recorded on a permanent fixed webcam operated by Webcams De Mexico, which had placed a series of cameras in the area since the volcano’s last major eruptions in 2013 and 2014.

Colima experienced several significant eruptions in the late 1990s and scientific monitoring of the site began two decades ago.

Ash fell on towns up to 25 kilometres away from the volcano, but no lives or properties were under immediate threat.

Note what appears to be a pyroclastic flow moving down the volcano’s flanks. Nothing could survive that avalanche of hot gas and debris.

I’d dearly love to see something like this. I’ve watched the red molten lava from the volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island flow into the sea, making a huge cloud of steam and building up the island, but it wasn’t nearly as dramatic as the video above.