Do People Really Walk in Circles?

sciam…from Scientific American

“Yes, people do really walk in circles—but only when stripped of important visual clues, such as the sun or moon, according to a paper published online today in Current Biology.

“To test the common wisdom, Jan Souman, a research scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, and his team sent test subjects out into a German forest and the Sahara Desert to see if they could follow directions to walk in a straight line—some on sunny days others on cloudy days or at night. Subjects were monitored via GPS over the course of hours (and followed by an experimenter for safety).”

Willie Smits: How We Re-grew a Rainforest

By piecing together a complex ecological puzzle, biologist Willie Smits has found a way to re-grow clearcut rainforest in Borneo, saving local orangutans — and creating a thrilling blueprint for restoring fragile ecosystems.

Smits, trained as a forester, has also founded a university in Indonesia; trained hundreds of forestry PhD students; and runs a forestry research center and remote sensing field station, Samboja Lestari, where he and his colleagues have been working since 2002—restoring a tropical rain forest from a parched grassland area using an integrated agroforestry and native plant development strategy.

Willie Smits is a respected conservationist and educator devoted to preserving habitat for orangutans. His dedication to the primates led Smits to establish Borneo Orangutan Survival (BOS). This remarkable group has international chapters and operates the largest “shelters” and orangutan rehabilitation areas in the world. In addition, he has focused on addressing the root social causes of orangutan habitat loss, giving local workers alternatives to short-term forest exploitation. To learn more about Smits’ orangutan conservation efforts, visit Orangutan Outreach and TED.

smits_smIn 2007, his Masarang Foundation opened a palm-sugar factory that uses geo-thermal energy to process the daily tapped sugar palm juice of thousands of traditional palm tappers into sugar and ethanol, providing cash and power to the community—moving toward a better future for the people, forest, and native orangutans, while saving 200,000 trees per year from being cut down as fuel wood.

“My lifelong goal is to save as much as possible from our global environment for future generations by providing real-life examples of harmonious living in balance with nature. I also believe that we cannot save the environment if we do not simultaneously take care of the people’s needs.”

GIS in Polar Regions

polar_bpESRI has released a new GIS Best Practices e-book titled “GIS in Polar Regions.”

Stories in this new e-book include:

  • Amongst the Icebergs, GIS Innovation Aids Antarctic Research
  • Scientific Research Uses GIS in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica
  • Access Antarctica: The New Zealand Antarctic GIS
  • Long-Term Environmental Monitoring at McMurdo Station, Antarctica, Supported With GIS
  • Mapping the Ayles Ice Shelf Break
  • Traditional Knowledge Meets New Tools

Read it now

Best Science Visualization Videos of 2009: A Simulated 7.8 Earthquake in Southern California

…from Wired Science

“Some of the most impressive images in science are produced when researchers take numerical data and represent it visually through modeling and computer graphics. The Department of Energy honored 10 of this year’s best scientific visualizations with its annual SciDAC Vis Night awards, at the Scientific Discovery through Advanced Computing conference (SciDAC) in June. Researchers submitted visualizations to the contest, and program participants voted on the best of the best. From earthquakes to jet flames, this gallery of videos and images show how beautiful (and descriptive) visual data can be.


“This visualization illustrates some of the rupture and wave propagation phenomena of a magnitude 7.8 earthquake on the San Andreas fault in Southern California. It shows how an earthquake originating 60 miles south of Palm Springs can end up shaking Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara minutes after the original fault rupture. The animation captures more than four minutes of complex dynamic rupture and wave propagation. Nearly 12 terabytes of earthquake simulation data was used to generate the animation.

“Video: DOE SciDAC Program/Amit Chourasia, Kim Olsen, Steven Day, Luis Dalguer, Yifeng Cui, Jing Zhu, David Okaya, Phil Maechling and Thomas H. Jordan”

Adding Layers of Skills to a Science Background

nytlogo152x23…from the New York Times

“In good times or bad, the pace of technological change never seems to let up. This relentless engine of innovation, economists agree, is the wellspring of the nation’s long-run prosperity. But it presents a daunting challenge to science and technology professionals who are trying to stay ahead, seeking a career that is unlikely to become outsourced, automated or obsolete.

“The sour economy has only intensified those pressures. So colleges across the country are reporting a surge in applications since last fall, up as much as 50 percent, for continuing education programs intended for people with science and engineering backgrounds. The offerings, in classroom settings and online, range from short courses of a few days to graduate degree programs that span years.”

Scientists Create First Three-dimensional Global Map of Electrical Conductivity in Earth’s Mantle

e_conductivity_fAs tags on household appliances warn, water conducts electricity extremely well. Now, scientists have found that enhanced electrical conductivity in parts of Earth’s mantle may signal the presence of water far below our planet’s surface.

The researchers created the first global three-dimensional map of electrical conductivity in the mantle. Results of their study are published this week in the journal Nature.

The areas of high conductivity coincide with subduction zones–places where tectonic plates are being subducted beneath the Earth’s crust, say the Oregon State University (OSU) scientists who performed the research. They used electromagnetic induction sounding of the Earth’s mantle in the study. The method is very sensitive to interconnecting pockets of fluid in rocks and minerals.

“This work is important because it complements global 3-D seismic imaging of Earth’s interior, which uses sound waves generated by earthquakes,” said Robin Reichlin, program director in the National Science Foundation (NSF)’s Division of Earth Sciences, which funded the research. “Scientists may be able to combine these two methods to tease out a more detailed understanding of variations in Earth’s inner composition, water content and temperature.”

Subducting plates are comparatively colder than surrounding mantle materials and should be less conductive, geologists have believed. However, the OSU scientists suggest, conductivity in these areas may be enhanced by water drawn downward during the subduction process.

“Many earth scientists thought that tectonic plates are not likely to carry much, if any, water deep into the Earth’s mantle,” said Adam Schultz, a geologist at OSU and a co-author of the Nature paper. “Our model, however, clearly shows a close association between subduction zones and high conductivity. The simplest explanation is water.”

The study provides new insights into the fundamental ways in which our planet works, Schultz says. Despite advances in technology, scientists are still unsure how much water lies beneath the ocean floor–and how much of it makes its way into the mantle.

The implications are myriad. Water interacts with minerals differently at different depths, and small amounts of water may change the physical properties of rocks, alter the viscosity of materials in the mantle, assist in the formation of rising plumes of melted rock, and ultimately affect what flows out on the surface.

“In fact, we don’t really know how much water there is on Earth,” said Gary Egbert, an oceanographer at OSU and co-author of the paper. “There is some evidence that there is many times more water below the ocean floor than there is in all the oceans of the world combined. Our results may shed some light on this question.”

There may be different explanations for how the water–if indeed the conductivity is reflecting water–got there.

“If it isn’t being subducted down with the plates,” Schultz said, “is it primordial, down there for four billion years? Or did it come down as the plates slowly subduct, suggesting that the planet may have been much wetter a long time ago? These are fascinating questions for which we don’t yet have answers.”

Anna Kelbert, a post-doctoral researcher at OSU and lead author of the paper, says that the next step is to replicate the experiment with newly available data from both ground observatories and satellites, then conduct further research to better understand the water cycle and how its interaction with deep-Earth minerals works.

Ultimately, the scientists hope to produce a model quantifying how much water may be in the mantle, locked up in its rocks.

Their work is also supported by NASA.

Press release