With the wind chill here on the Maine coast hovering around minus-20 to minus-30, let's think about something warmer: summer, for instance, or today's weather forecast on Venus (800 degrees under a heavy cover of toxic sulfuric clouds), or maybe just South Carolina.
In October a naturalist from South Carolina—let's call it the Palmetto State, which sounds warmer—emailed Pamelia and me and asked if he and a group of location scouts from a group called Family Nature Summits might stop by The Naturalist's Notebook during their visit to Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park. His name is Bruce Lampright and he attached photos of yellow alligators and a roseate spoonbill just to give us a feel of the nature at Brays Island Plantation, the former cotton, indigo and rice plantation where he works.
Pamelia and I had never heard of Family Nature Summits—it turns out to be a hugely popular annual event for all ages launched by the National Wildlife Federation in the 1970s—but we welcomed Bruce and a wonderful group of other amateur and professional naturalists to the Notebook one Friday night and had a GREAT time. The naturalists had flown in from all parts of the U.S. to see what daily activities they might schedule for the 2013 Family Nature Summit, scheduled for this July. (Answer: loads of great activities.) I'm inserting photos (above and below) of an event postcard, which explains the Summit better than I can. We're eager to see the Summit folks again when they and the 200 or more other participants take over the Atlantic Oceanside Hotel in Bar Harbor and spend a fun week exploring the trails, mountains, shoreline and other features of Mount Desert Island.
It's not too late for you to sign up for this beloved, multi-generational event, which has become a tradition in many families. Some people have taken part in it every year for more than 30 years. Check out the website at http://familysummits.herokuapp.com.
Here are some of the photos that Bruce sent along to the Notebook blog to warm up our 26-below-zero wind-chilled nights. He or his fellow photographers shot all of them in South Carolina:
A Brief History of Wind Chill I was curious so I looked it up. Antarctic explorers Charles F. Passel (a geologist) and Paul Siple (a geographer) developed the concept of the wind-chill factor in the 1940s. Both men were part of Byrd expeditions. As noted on Wikipedia, the initial scale "was based on the cooling rate of a small plastic bottle as its contents turned to ice while suspended in the wind on the expedition hut roof, at the same level as the anemometer."
Here is an interesting summary of the wind-chilling tale, written by Steve Roark, from the Forestry Division of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, in a post on claiborneprogress.net:
"The original [wind chill] formula used to determine wind-chill temperature was developed from research done in the 1940s. To determine rates of heat loss, scientists sealed a thermometer in a plastic bottle of water and timed how long it took the water to freeze under a variety of wind speeds and air temperatures. The freezing times were later converted into a chart of temperature equivalents. The problem was that the whole point of wind chill is how it impacts your comfort, and the thermal properties of a plastic bottle do not resemble those of human flesh.
"To resolve this, a scientist named [Randall] Osczevski literally stuck his head in a refrigerated box with sensors on his cheeks until his skin temperature came close to the freezing point. His reasoning was that any attempt to revamp wind-chill should start with the face, which is the most exposed part of the body, and therefore most vulnerable to frostbite. In 2000 Osczeyski created a mathematical model of heat transfer in the human face and tested it with volunteers who braved fierce strong winds in a wind tunnel.
"The result is a gentler wind-chill that you now get with the forecast. A 20-degree day with a 10 mph wind now has a wind-chill rating of 9 degrees instead of 3. It turns out that there is not much difference between the old and new formulas at low wind speeds, but at higher speeds the new formula is quite a bit warmer. The Weather Service has adopted the new calculation method, and so less teeth chattering temperatures are given.
"For the record, the normal temperature of the skin is 94 degrees F. Exposed skin becomes uncomfortable when it cools to around 59 degrees, and painful at 50 degrees. Below that skin temperature it starts to become numb, and under certain conditions, frostbite can occur within minutes. Skin freezes at 23 degrees."
Biggest Science Stories of the Last Year (Cont.) What was the most significant science news in 2012? On we go with the blog's countdown of Discover magazine's top 100 stories:
39: The heated debate over changes in the so-called psychiatrists' bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. In the view of some critics, the new edition of the book—which, in Discover's words, "influences everything from insurance reimbursements to legal definitions of mental illness in court"—excessively lowers the thresholds for diagnosing some forms of that illness, including ADHD and depression, potentially leading to more diagnoses.
38:The creation in labs in both Europe and the U.S. of artificial DNA, suggesting, according to Discover, "that the earliest life on Earth did not necessarily rely on DNA or its cousin, RNA [to give genetic instructions to growing cells], since other molecules also perform the same tricks."
37: The discovery that Titan, the largest of Saturn's many (arguably as many as 62) moons, "has a global ocean buried beneath the icy surface," as Discover puts it. The revelation came from information gathered by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. (Those of you wishing to travel to this moon might check out Kurt Vonnegut's sci-fi classic The Sirens of Titan.)
36: The launch of the Human Connectome Project, which aims to map all the connections in the human brain.
35: The success of a Russian scientific team—after 20 years of drilling through 12,366 of ice—in reaching Antarctica's Lake Vostok. Vostok is one of 250 lakes buried under Antarctic ice (it has been sealed under the ice for 15 million years) and researchers hope to discover whether any microbes have been living in the lake. If they have, it increases the possibility that life could exist in ice-buried oceans on other planets or moons, such as Jupiter's moon Europa and, of course, Saturn's moon Titan.
34: The development at MIT of a mathematical technique to substantially speed up data networks. The beneficiaries will include not just computer networks but also GPS devices and MRI scanners.
33: The unearthing of a small room in Guatemala whose walls were covered with astronomical tables and calculations. This "Mayan astronomy office," as Discover calls it, referenced "dates 2,000 years into the future, showing the Mayans were quite confident that the clockwork of time would keep going just fine."
32: Progress in the fight against cancer, based on genetic researchers' identification of cancers by their mutation types, rather than by the part of the body in which they originate. This approach leads to more targeted treatments. Scientists in the Cancer Genome Atlas project have found, for example, four genetically different types of breast cancer, including one that "resembles ovarian cancer and so could be treated similarly." Says a lead scientist on the project, Ramaswamy Govindan, "Lung cancer will turn out not to be one disease but dozens."
31: The acceleration of the melting of Arctic Ice, which shrank to its smallest size in recorded history in the summer of 2012. It was 18 percent smaller than the previous record, set in 2007.
30: The construction of an ultra-high-speed supercomputer designed to make use of the complex laws of quantum physics. The computer is so small it is encased in a gap between carbon molecules in a diamond.
Keep Those Birds Fed! Just a reminder that as cold as we feel in this harsh weather, small birds have it a lot tougher and need to take in as many calories as they can to survive. So load up the feeders.
Answers to the Last Puzzlers 1) The fish in the photo is an Eastern brook trout. 2) The world's only two "double-landlocked" countries are Uzbekistan and Leichtenstein.
Today's Puzzler Last week a naturalist friend in Oregon sent this photo of a plant blossoming outside her home. What type of plant is it? Hints: It is known as one of the few large plants to blossom in winter's chill, and the plant's name includes a woman's name.