Monthly Archives: July 2011

Why shrews are interesting

It has been said that our most distant primate ancestors, the mammal that gave rise to early primates but itself wasn’t quite a primate, was most like the Asian tree shrew, which is neither a shrew nor does it live in trees. This is, of course, untrue. When the average American sees a shrew native to the new world scurrying past, he or she usually thinks of it as a form of mouse. Which it isn’t. (In fact, there are no “mice” native to the new world, but even if we give our hypothetical observer the concept of “rodent” as in “eeek, a rodent” the shrew is not that either.) If you spend any time hanging out with the Efe Pygmies of the Ituri Forest, eventually there will be a sudden movement on the forest floor, a quick snap of a machete or other similar implement, and … elephant shrew will be on the menu. And, most interesting, all three of the aforementioned shrews do not belong comfortably together in a single taxonomic group. The closest non-shrew relative to the most common North American shrew are moles, the closest non-shrew relative to the Asian tree shrew are flying lemurs, bunnies, primates, and rodents; and the closest non-shrew relative to the African elephant shrew could be, astonishingly, an actual elephant! (Or hyraxes, goldem moles, sea cows or the Aardvark.)
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Minnesotans for Sanity in Climate Change Policy!

MN 350 is planning an event for September 24th, and would like you to help get it off the ground, or at least, show up!

This September, people all around the world are joining together for Moving Planet–a worldwide rally to demand solutions to the climate crisis. In Minnesota we’ll gather on the State Capitol lawn to send the message: It’s time to move beyond fossil fuels.

We’ll come on bikes. We’ll march with our faith communities. We’ll rally with our neighbors. And we’ll send a strong message that we stand for climate justice.

Details here.

Eyes, Brains and Latitude

Two things have been known for some time now: Human brains get bigger as you go north, and the volume of the primate eye and the primate brain are correlated.

This COULD mean, and this may not be true, that as you go north in human populations you’ll get larger brains (for thermoregulatory reasons) and you’ll therefore get larger eyes (because eyeball and brain size is somehow correlated). But a new paper suggests a different model: Large eyes evolve at high latitudes because there is more dark, and the larger eye demands a larger brain.

Maybe, but I doubt it. the largeness of high latitude brains is way higher in magnitude than could be explained by even a two digit increase in the volume of optical processing of data. But maybe. On the other and, the relationship between orbit size and brain size demonstrated some years ago by John Kappleman (but at first ignored for reasons that I’ve never understood) is cross species an may not apply within species (many such relationships don’t). So, it is all rather mysterious for the present.

In any event, the new research could be of interest.
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Global warming denialism? It ends now.

Somewhere around 1990 I wrote an article for a monthly paper on global warming. My intention was to explain the idea behind it (the greenhouse phenomenon) and to make clear the distinction between depletion of the ozone layer and greenhouse effects (the two were getting confused on a regular basis in those days). The reason I mention this is that there was virtually nothing in that article that would not pertain today, and other than the addition of piles and piles of data, there has been almost no change in the science of greenhouse effects that has occurred since then. And by that, I specifically mean the working models for the dynamics of atmospheric response to the release of fossil carbon into the atmosphere that existed then are merely simpler versions of, but not fundamentally different from, those that are used today.
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NASA Sets Launch Coverage Events for Mission to Jupiter

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA’s Juno spacecraft is set to launch toward Jupiter aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on Aug. 5. The launch window extends from 11:34 a.m. to 12:33 p.m. EDT (8:34 to 9:33 a.m. PDT), and the launch period extends through Aug. 26.

The spacecraft is expected to arrive at Jupiter in 2016, on a mission to investigate the gas giant’s origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere. Juno’s color camera will provide close-up images of Jupiter, including the first detailed views of the planets’ poles.

NASA will host a prelaunch news conference in the News Center at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Wednesday, Aug. 3, at 1 p.m. EDT

More info here.

Nyiragongo Volcano

I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Goma Congo (Zaire), trying hard to stay out of trouble, and I’ve flown around this mountain and driven around this mountain or its sister volcanoes, and the very existence of this volcano field has a lot to do with some of the research I’ve done. Oh, and for a while I had a truck with seats fitted to it that were taken from one of the many aircraft that had met its demise on the slopes of these cinder cones.

The reason I mention this at all is because NGS has a feature article with some amazing photos on Nyiragongo Volcano. Go have a look.

Looking back at what I’ve written here, it occurs to me that I’ve mentioned the Goma/Virnuga volcanoes a few times:

The Pre-Clovis Debra L. Friedkin site

ResearchBlogging.orgButter Milk Creek is a Texas archaeological site and an archaeological complex located rather symbolically a couple of hundred miles downstream from the famous Clovis site in New Mexico. It is the most recently reported alleged manifestation of a “pre-Clovis” archaeological presence. The most important thing about this site is probably this: It is well dated (though the dates need to be independently verified or otherwise run through the gauntlet of criticism dates of important sites are always subjected to) and there are a lot of artifacts at the site. The importance of the number of artifacts is two-fold: It means that the site is unambiguously evidence of human activities and not of the activities of, say, a ground squirrel burrow into which a random artifact from a later time fell, and it means that researchers will be able to say something interesting about the lithic (stone tool) technology represented there.

In order to understand why a “pre-Clovis” site is interesting, one needs to understand the peculiar nature of American archaeology and its conceptions of prehistory.
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Cool Idea: Community group for climate change information

Cool Planet is a community science-oriented organization located in Edina, Minnesota which “… strives to strengthen and empower the community of Edina by providing fun and engaging opportunities for citizens to join together in local homegrown solutions to climate change.”

Interesting idea. If you are in the Edina Area or are just interested in local community organization and science, check out their home page.