Daily Archives: January 4, 2012

Japan Nuclear Disaster Update # 42: A River Runs Through It

In the beginning of the Fukushima Nuclear Crisis, in the hours and days after the earthquake and tsunami struck, nuclear power experts assured us that no matter how bad it seemed, nuclear material would stay in the reactors. It was unlikely that the reactors would melt down, and if they did melt down a little, that would be OK because the melted down stuff would stay within the reactor vessels. No problem. What actually happened, however, is that the nuclear material in three of the reactors totally melted down, and then melted through in perhaps two or three of the reactors, but at least, probably, did not reach “China Syndrome” levels of out-of-control.

What actually did happen, though, may have been worse.
Continue reading Japan Nuclear Disaster Update # 42: A River Runs Through It

Jean Baret was a Girl!

As you certainly know, Jean Baret was a famous botanical explorer of the 18th century, travelling on Louis Antoine de Bougainville’s expedition and circumnavigating the world collecting and discovering new plants. But Jean was Jeanne, a female, who at first pretended to be a man, then later changed her story slightly to being a Eunuch, to stay on board after others had become suspicious of her gender identity. She was actually married to her boss, who presumably knew her secret.

Very recently, Glynis Ridley wrote a biography of her life (The Discovery of Jeanne Baret: A Story of Science, the High Seas, and the First Woman to Circumnavigate the Globe), and more recently, scientist Eric Tepe has named a recently discovered plant after her. Jill Pantozzi at Mary Sue has the story in detail, illustrated. I think it is entirely appropriate and very cool at the new plant is a member of the Solanaceae family. It is called Solanum baretiae

Russian Rivers and Arctic Salinity: Climate Variation Better Understood

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.orgThe sun heats the earth, but unevenly. The excess heat around the equator moves towards the poles, via a number of different mechanisms, the most noticeable for us humans being via air masses. That’s what much of our weather is about. Heat also moves towards the poles, in the ongoing evening-out of energy distribution on the planet’s surface, via ocean currents.

One of the interesting things that happens with ocean currents is this: Warm water tends to move from equator towards polar regions across the surface, then cools down and drops to the deep sea, where it moves back south again, often in a kind of loop that we call a "conveyor." Becuase of some quirky historical stuff, the continents on this planet are mostly in the norther hemisphere, so the loops of ocean water that mariners have long called "currents" are extra strange in the north, and as it happens, there is a big loop of warm water or two that go way farther north (as warm water) than usual, where increased evaporation and cooling cause the water to a) loose it’s heat to the air and b) sink rather dramatically to the bottom of the sea. The sinking helps direct the north-moving surface currents, maintaining the loop. The release of heat keeps England from looking like Canada and Norway from looking like Greenland, as much of this heat leaves the North Atlantic and traverses Europe first. By the time that energy gets around the world all the way back to Greenland, well, it isn’t helping to melt glaciers very much, bit it does in fact have an effect. Without this warming, there would probably be continental glacial masses on Europe and Canada, rather than scattered and small mountain glaciers. In other words, there would be an ice age.

Did I mention the evaporation as a driving force in the conveyor? Yes, of course I did. And the reason this works is that when the warm surface water evaporates, it becomes more saline relative to the rest of the ocean, and sinks, because salty water is denser than fresh water. We believe that there have been times in the past when fresh water being added to the northern seas has mixed with a conveyor, caused the water to be less salty, turned off the flow of warm water to the northerly latitudes, and ushered in a mini-ice age, or perhaps a maxi-ice age. Indeed, there are some theories about paleoclimate that suggest, very strongly, that this is exactly the mechanism that triggers an ice age.

Continue reading Russian Rivers and Arctic Salinity: Climate Variation Better Understood

May I Direct Your Attention to Ring Number Two!

… of my bloggy three-ring circus.

Over the years, I’ve blogged quite a bit about election politics, with increasing attention paid at appropriate times, including the Minnesota Recount (winner: Al Franken!) and other timely issues. As of last night, the 2012 election season is officially up and running, and for general election commentary, I’ll be blogging mainly at The X Blog, and I just wanted to draw your attention to that. For example, we have what I said before the Iowa Caucuses (The Meaning and Significance of Tonight’s Iowa Caucuses) and what I said after the Iowa Caucuses (Bachmann Moves Ahead “Full Steam” after Iowa Victory …)

This does not mean that there will not be election related blogging here. After all, the current “front runner” for the Republican Party seems to be Rick Santorum, and he may be the most denialist of the denialists with respect to Anthropogenic Global Warming in the race. So we will be addressing that and other issues here, of course.

Bachmann Quits Presidential Bid

Only hours after indicating that she would take the fight to New Hampshire, we now hear that Michele Bachmann will suspend her presidential bid today. She is expected to make the announcement soon from West Des Moines.

This is a surprise and a disappointment. Michele told us that both God and her husband thought she should run for president. The de facto founder of the Tea Party hast quit after the first real contest, which in turn followed a hollow victory at the Sraw Poll. The Tea-Tossing Patriots of the American Nation had a surprise victory at Lexington and Concord followed by a trouncing at their first real contest, at Bunker Hill, but they did not quit. No. They continued the fight, dragging cannons over the snowy Berkshires and training the weapons on the British Fort in Boston, driving them out. Then they went on to win the American Revolution and found the greatest nation ever.

But Michele Bachmann has encountered one significant loss and is quitting the race. This is very, very disappointing for many reasons.

Including, and especially, the fact that this probably means she will run for re-election to congress in Minnesota’s 6th district. Which I can see from my living room. Damn.

Iowa Caucuses FTB Linkfest

An older post suddenly turned very current, by Jason Thibeault, on Santroum’s wife’s abortion, a laser-like analysis of last night’s numbers by Pharyngula’s PZ Myers, a commentary on Bachman thinking (or not) on her feet, or not, by Ed Brayton, Zingularity on The Iowa Afterbirth, Greta Christina summarizes the Twiterverse’s Titilating Tweeting about Santorum surging from behind, and my own insightful analysis in which I liken Iowa and New Hampshire to a long married couple deciding where to have dinner.

From Iowa to New Hampshire. What to look for and what it means. (Updated)

We’ll get to the big picture in just a moment, but first a fair well to our home-girl, Michele. Today’s headline could have been Bachmann Moves Ahead “Full Steam” after Iowa Victory … … by the other guy” but in the end, she appears to have dropped out.

It is … difficult to see such a path for Bachmann, given her last-place finish and the fact that her campaign strategy had been premised on a strong launch in Iowa, the state where she was born and where she won the GOP straw poll in Ames in August.

At first her campaign manager, Keith Nahigian, said Bachmann is going ahead “full steam.”*

But hours later she dropped out of the race. And speaking of the race, let’s have a quick look at the final tallies:

Mitt Romney 30,015 (25%)
Rick Santorum 30,007 (25%)
Ron Paul 26,219 (21%)
Newt Gingrich 16,251 (13%)
Rick Perry 12,604 (10%)
Michele Bachmann 6,073 (5%)

John Huntsman also relieved a few votes, so technically, he came in last behind Michele. (See this insightful analysis of the numbers by Pharngula’s PZ Myers.)

And now, the meaning of it all… Continue reading From Iowa to New Hampshire. What to look for and what it means. (Updated)