Deadly Lightning Strikes! What Does Mother Nature Have Against Santa?

Reindeer killed by Lightning in Norway

Hundreds of reindeer killed by lightning in Norway

Lightning Kills Reindeer

On August 26th, in a tremendous storm, mother nature threw a series of lightning bolts on the Hardangervidda mountain plateau in Norway. Disturbingly, the electrical bolts struck a herd of reindeer and killed 323 of them including 70 calves. Reindeer often huddle together in bad weather either for protection or for solace — a strategy that backfired this time. The strikes dropped the herd where they stood sadly producing a field of dead animals. Unfortunately, authorities did not say whether any other wildlife was affected

Field of Corpses

A representative of Norwegian Environment Agency, Kjartan Knutsen, informed the press that wild animals are commonly hit by lightning but what makes this event unusual is the large number of big animals that were killed at once. While the agency normally leaves dead wild animals lay and allows nature to take it’s course, the sheer mass of dead animals makes this questionable. They are still debating what to do with the carcasses.

I don’t know what the roads up to this area are like, but I’d suggest sending refrigerated trucks up there and giving as many carcasses as possible to zoos. Zoos spend a large portion of their budgets feeding carnivores. The agency could help animal parks and zoos greatly with such a donation. If the agency doesn’t remove many of the carcasses, scavengers including insects and bacteria will eventually consume them. It will be a scentsational experience… if you know what I mean!

So if Santa is late next year – we’ll all know why… (froak-joke!)

Froggie Factoids:

2 reindeer foraging

Reindeer aka caribou in happier times

Reindeer

  • Scientific Name of Reindeer: Rangifer tarandus
  • Status: Vulnerable due to recent 40% declines in population from about 4,800,000 to 2,890,410
  • Location: Circumpolar or surrounding the Arctic, Subarctic, tundra, boreal and mountains
  • Called Caribou in the Americas
  • Food strategy: herbivore
  • Lifespan: 14 years
mutiple forks of lightning

Multiple lightning strikes like the ones depicted here may have killed the reindeer herd

Lightning:

  • Lightning happens when charged particles in atoms get separated with positive ions going higher in the sky and negative ions closer to the ground. Eventually, the less-negative neutral charge on the ground attracts the negative ions producing a strike
  • A lightning strike releases 630 million ergs of energy
  • Lightning can flash within a cloud or from ground to earth
  • An average of 75 electrical discharges hit the earth per second worldwide
  • A bolt from the blue describes a lightning strike, comprised of positive ions, from the top of the cloud to the earth up to 20 miles away from the storm. These strikes carry more energy than normal

Sources: National Weather Service, SWO Fire Data, Blue Planet Biomes, IUCN Redlist, CBS News

Bureaucratic Wait Times Threaten Endangered Species

pictures of the long-eared bat and the parachute penstemon both threatened on the Endangered Species List

Is the long-eared bat cuter than the parachute penstemon?

Endangered Species List Wait Times

Researchers at the University of Missouri released a report detailing the unequal wait times to get at-risk species on the Endangered Species List. The wait-times for listing appear to be biased based on scientific divisions. The process, which congress intended to have a 2-year timeline, takes over 12 years to complete on average, but there’s a lot of variation in the range. Vertebrate animals such as mammals, reptiles, fish, amphibians and birds can be listed in under 2 years – some as short as 6 months. Plants and invertebrates, on the other hand, can take much longer with some flowering plants taking almost 38 years to list!

“While the Service can account for species groups in its prioritization system, it’s not supposed to be mammals versus insects versus ferns but, rather, how unique is this species within all of the ecological system,” Puckett said. “However, our findings suggest some bias that skews the process toward vertebrates.”

The Effects of Listing Times

These long wait times can have catastrophic effects on the species survival. Some species go extinct before they get listed. Some swiftly-listed species recover and are delisted before other species get listed at all. Swift listing of a species as endangered affects successful species recovery and even later delisting.

Often, biologists lament the ‘cute’ factor when trying to save a species — IE it’s easier to get an eagle listed than a worm. Zoos, bastions of captive breeding, often focus on attractive animals that visitors enjoy watching. The Arabian oryx exemplifies this phenomena. This oryx went extinct in the wild, but zoos managed to breed sufficient quantities to release them back into their natural environment. The re-introduced oryx survived and bred – establishing several stable populations. So cuteness influences how much money, time and effort people put into saving a species. But according to the new review from UofM of the Endangered Species listing, cuteness seems less important than being perceived as a higher life-form.

Herd of Arabian oryx an Endangered Species

Zoo breeding programs saved the Arabian oryx.

Politics

Nothing is without political influence in America. A local natural resource affects the difficulty of listing a plant or animal on the Endangered Species List. Sometimes, lumber companies, mining companies and developers pressure Fish and Wildlife Services to delist a species early. The Fish and Wildlife Services must determine if delisting a particular plant or animal will lead to the recently recovered species from becoming endangered again.

It’s not difficult to see the prejudice of the Fish and Wildlife Service. On their website, they list the endangered species in the exact order that the authors from UofM cite. Low-wait-time species appear on the left moving category by category to longer-wait-time species to the right. Many factors affect whether a species category moves from Threatened to Endangered. Influential factors include whether their habitat is threatened, speed of population drop, long reproduction times, diseases, and man-caused pressure etc. – but is cuteness also a factor? Do you think the long-eared bat is cuter than the parachute penstemon and should that affect our conservation efforts?

Froggie Factoids:

  • Scientific name of the long-eared bat – Myotis septentrionalis
  • Scientific name of the parachute penstemon – Penstemon debilis
  • Scientific name of the Arabian oryx – Oryx leucoryx
  • There are still six times more Arabian oryx in zoos (6000-7000) than in the wild (1000+)
  • Long-eared bats are insectivores eating flying insects such as moths, flies, leafhoppers, caddisflies, and beetles.

Read More on Endangered Species legislation

Sources: Fish and Wildlife Services, University of Missouri, Scientific American

Photo Sources: Discover Life ,Colorado Canyon Wilderness, Biosphere Expeditions,

New Study Shows Bisphenol S (BPS) Worse than BPA

As you may know, Bisphenol A (BPA) has many bad qualities. Plastic manufacturers use BPA to harden plastics such as those used in plastic water bottles, canned goods such tomato products, and items used for babies. Additionally, plumbing suppliers line water lines with BPA! In fact, Bisphenol A was used in most food grade plastics for over 40 years.

BPA acts as a hormone (estrogen) mimic leading to abnormal levels of hormones within our bodies. Scientists suspect that it can affect the brain – especially of babies and children – as well as increasing heart disease and having possible links to obesity, cancer and diabetes.

Bisphenol S

Chemical structure of Bisphenol S

The structure of Bisphenol S focuses on a central SO2 group.

After pressure from the FDA and consumers, the plastics industry has switched many products to Bisphenol S (BPS) instead. The difference between the S and the A version is what molecule holds the two halves of the molecule together. In Bisphenol S it’s a sulfone group (SO2) whereas Bisphenol A it’s a dimethylmethylene group (C(CH3)2). So if the problem is the dimethylmethylene group substituting a sulfone group would solve the problems… only it looks like that’s not fixing the issues.

Bisphenol A chemical structure.

Bisphenol A chemical structure where the two arms represent the dimethylmethylene group (C(CH3)2)

New Research on BPS

In a new paper published in PLOS Genetics by UCLA researchers warns that not only does BPS still damage a woman’s eggs like BPA, it does so at a lower concentration! While researchers, led by Yichang Chen, worked with worms, the results should apply equally to humans.

“This study clearly illustrates the issue with the ‘whack-a-mole’ approach to chemical replacement in consumer products,” said Patrick Allard, assistant professor of environmental health sciences at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, and the study’s senior author. “There is a great need for the coordinated safety assessment of multiple substitutes and mixtures of chemicals before their use in product replacement. But the good news is that a number of governmental programs and academic labs are now moving in that direction”.

Bullfrog says:

  • Get a BPA and BPS free reusable water bottle and use it
  • Use fresh vegetables when possible or frozen veggies most the time. If you have to use canned vegetables, look for jarred versions especially for acidic foods such as tomatoes and pickled foods which almost always have BPA lined cans.
  • Make fresh soups!
  • Use silicone, ceramic, stainless steel or glass storage containers
  • If you have to buy bottled water – don’t reuse the bottle for potable purposes
  • Never heat plastic containers – if your water bottles got hot in the car – toss them.

Sources: WebMD, UCLA

Watering Lawns Elevates Nighttime Temperatures!

a grass lawn replaced by creeping thyme will lower temperatures

A low-water thyme lawn charms with scent as well as beauty.

Lower Our Nighttime Temperatures!

Falling under the darned if you do and darned if you don’t philosophy, recent research shows that planting your yard with drought-tolerant species of plants leads to elevated daytime temperatures but lowers critical nighttime temperatures by more than expected.

A USC study out of California, where a long-term drought is ongoing, conducted by George Ban-Weiss along with Pouya Vahmani shows that xeriscaping – growing plants with low water requirements – leads to increasing daytime temperatures in the range of 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s because people would water their lawns less and therefore there would be less evaporative cooling. But conversely, nighttime temperatures may drop as much as six degrees Fahrenheit. Dryer soil reduces heat movement from the subsurface soil to the air.

Daytime vs. Nighttime Temperatures

While increasing daytime temperatures might seem like a bad thing in this age of global warming, research shows that it is elevated nighttime temperatures which lead to severe health issues and even death especially among the elderly and weak. Homeothermic animals – such as humans – need those cooler nights to allow their bodies to recover from high daytime heat. Our bodies work very hard when temperatures get too high to try to regulate our internal temperatures so that our chemical processes can work right. Those mechanisms need to rest at night to reset themselves to function the next day. It’s like a single line bucket brigade with no way to return the buckets for refilling without taking a break.

Water Vapor is a Greenhouse Gas

Not all greenhouse gases – i.e. those gases which help keep Earth’s atmosphere warm – are toxic. Water vapor causes the majority of global warming but carbon dioxide and many man-made gases contribute to our cloud blanket. Both CO2 and water vapor are harmless at the Earth’s surface but contribute to heat-retention in the upper atmosphere.

lower nighttime temperuatures by planting Ice plant shown in bloom

Ice Plant requires little water and blooms for a long time.

Replace High-Water Plants!

We would all be better off to replace plants with high water needs with those with lower water needs. This is especially true in turf-grass lawns which are now the number one cultivated plant in the US based on acreage (63 thousand square miles.) Allowing northern grass to sleep during low rain periods is better than watering it and keeping those nighttime temperatures high. Better yet is to replace your lawn with native plants that need little to no watering. The biggest change may need to be one of color fashion as green lawns give way to silver-blue or grey-green drought resistant plants.

Definitions:

  • Xeriscape – using plants with low-water requirements
  • Evaporative Cooling – as water (or any liquid) transitions from a liquid to a vapor it needs to absorb energy which it takes from the environment in the form of heat. We use evaporative cooling when we sweat.
  • Homeothermic – maintaining a steady body temperature despite external temperatures. Humans and most other mammals, most birds, and likely dinosaurs are all homeotherms while animals like snakes and insects – whose body temperatures vary with the environments temperature – are poikilotherms. Heterotherms such as bats and hummingbirds use both homeotherm and poikilotherm strategies.
  • Greenhouse gases are primarily water vapor, ozone, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane. These gases protect the planet from becoming a giant ice cube by holding heat within the atmosphere. However, like all good things, moderation is key. An over abundance of greenhouse gases causes global warming which threatens human survival. Much like a teeter-totter that is perfectly balanced, you can move one side or the other with a single finger. Mankind produces enough greenhouse gases to move the protective covering out of balance much like having too many blankets on a warm night.

Sources/Further Reading: Science Daily, Evaptainers, Colorado State University, Huffington Post

Image Sources: Dave’s Garden, Hobby Farms

Australia’s New Government Decides to Reinstate Climate Research

Dramatic differences seen from photo taken before and after bleaching of the great barrier reef

Before and After Bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef

Australia and Climate Change

Politics and climate change research are interlocked in a deadly dance with country heads leading and research being spun across the dance floor at a spastic pace. At one time, Australia lead in climate research with significant money and political will being thrown at the problem under the Gillard government. His party passed a successful carbon tax in 2011 and Australia’s carbon footprint had dropped. But this tax was repealed  in 2014 under the Abbott government. A climate change denier, Abbott did significant damage to Australia’s research community and country outlook on climate change. Australia changed leading party again in late 2015 and Trumbull now acts as prime minister. Under Trumbull, Australia signed the Paris agreement.

Fighting Climate Change

Prime Minister Malcolm Trumbull, formerly Australia’s Environment minister supports climate change research. He, along with the new Science minister Greg Hunt, appear to be reversing Australia’s climate change research reductions that Hunt announced earlier this year.

According to Phys.org, “Hunt, who was environment minister for a decade before moving to the science portfolio after last month’s national elections, said 15 new jobs would be created and Aus$37 million (US$28 million) injected into climate research at CSIRO over the next decade.”

Read more at:

Previously, Hunt remained publicly silent about the cuts that were announced in February.

According to Science.Org, “The new directive came as a surprise, given Hunt—environment minister until a recent reshuffle after the 2 July federal election—did not oppose the cuts [editor’s note: previous cuts initially eliminated 350 jobs, including 110 climate science positions but the cuts were reduced to 295 positions, including more than 60 climate and marine scientists] when they were first announced. However, he today told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) “both the prime minister [Malcolm Turnbull] and I have clear and strong views” on the importance of climate science.”

It is not clear yet whether the formerly announced cuts would be frozen but people are hopeful. Despite this possible reprieve, many highly skilled scientists already obtained other positions and will be leaving their current positions with the government.

These upheavals come at a time when reports of the die-off of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef due to bleaching rivet the public’s attention. Can Australia afford to lose a cadre of marine scientists considering increasing global temperatures are threatening the Great Barrier Reef?

Source: Physics.org

Information and Photo Source: Science.org

120 Million Acres of Polar Bear Habitat Protected!

Recently there was great news for the polar bear and other arctic species! Previously, the areas were protected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department but a lower court had put that at risk. According to BiologicalDiversity.Org

A federal appeals court today upheld the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s designation of more than 120 million acres as critical habitat in Arctic Alaska for imperiled polar bears. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling reverses a 2013 lower court decision that shot down the habitat designation.Polar bears Photo courtesy USFWS. Today’s decision offers polar bears the full protection of critical habit they truly need, according to three environmental groups (the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and Greenpeace) that intervened in the case to defend the habitat designation against challenges from oil companies and the state of Alaska.

 

Polar bear swimming under the water

Polar Bears can swim underwater for short periods of time.

Climate Change Impact

Polar bears are often considered the poster child for how climate change is affecting vulnerable species. Their natural habitat consists of ice flows, ocean and coastal edges. As temperatures increase, polar ice cover shrinks reducing the polar bear’s habitat. There are 25 thousand individuals left in 19 groups distributed around the arctic circle. When the female is four or five years old, she usually has two cubs and raises them without the help of the male. The cubs stay with the mother for two and a half years being taught how to hunt and getting heavy enough to break through the ice by themselves before venturing out on their own.

Froggie Factoids:

  • Scientific Name: Ursus maritimus
  • Conservation Status: Vulnerable
  • Population: 20,000-25,000
  • Lifespan: 20 – 25 years
  • Size: M 8-9 feet long, 1300 lbs F 6-7 feet long, 600 lbs
  • Food Strategy: Mandatory Carnivore – Seals

Polar Bear Factoid: Spends so much time at sea that it’s considered a marine mammal.

Cute Factor: 10

Source: Federal Appeals Court Reinstates 120 Million Acres of Critical Habitat for Polar Bears

Image Source: R.I.T.