Science from Away: Bumblebee tongues, climate and frogs

RMG file photo
RMG file photo

by MARK M. GREEN

    Bumblebees can sport long tongues or short tongues. Scientists working in the Colorado Mountains find that the long tongues species are declining as the number of flowers with long petal tubes are declining compared to the general run of the mill flowers with short tongue accessible tubes. Warming summers are assigned the source of the change.

    University of Texas researchers inform us that how female frogs choose their mates and how we choose to buy a car are related. This is the decoy effect apparently known to car salesmen. A buyer will often choose one car of two offered until a third car is presented, causing the buyer to buy the other of the originally offered cars. Female frogs presented with two males prefer the one with low frequency longer lasting calls but change their choice to the other of the original two when a third frog is presented.

    Canadian researchers tell a story of ancient Egypt in which a person’s heart after death is supposedly weighed and if light enough to signify a moral/good life the person went to paradise. However a too heavy heart is grabbed by a crocodile demon to be devoured, destroying the soul. This inducement to be moral to satisfy the gods is claimed to parallel the onset of complex societies. Before this time, the deities did not pay much attention to such details of how we lived our lives. The researchers propose that the onset of a moralizing religion came about as societies became more cooperative and complex, requiring therefore people to pay attention to social norms – to the feelings of others.

    A congressman from Texas, Lamar Smith, has called for an investigation of possible fraud as the basis of a paper published by a team of researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The paper offers evidence that the perceived pause in global warming trends is incorrect and that global warming is continuing in contrast to political arguments to the contrary. Watch out for the coming inquisition warns (in other words) several prominent scientific organizations.

    The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) warns in a report issued at the recent Paris conference that food security around the world is threatened by climate change with an impact particularly in poor and tropical areas. They see increasing pests, diseases, and extreme weather, bringing drought, wildfires and deluge. An organization with the USDA has been set up to advise US farmers on ways to adapt to climate change.

    According to researchers in Fairbanks the Dalton Highway, a major Alaskan roadway that serves the North Slope oil fields, appears to be subjected to an ice field slipping down from higher ground and moving at about 1.4 cm every day. The slippage of these frozen debris lobes (FDLs) is ascribed to melting permafrost. Temperatures apparently have been reached so that the pressure under the surface is adequate to melt the ice allowing the observed slippage that is threatening to block the road and even disrupt the oil pipeline that runs parallel to it. Right now one sees a 20 meter-high-slide bulldozing its way to within 40 meters of the north bound lane of the road according to a report in the September, 11 issue of “Science.” No one knows quite what to do about what is called a “Cold, creeping menace.”

    Anthony J. Marchese of Colorado State University has determined by measurements and computer models that natural gas operations are losing significantly more methane to the atmosphere than claimed. The estimates raise the loss of methane from oil and gas production from 1.3 to 1.5% and enough gas the researcher claims “to fuel 3.2 million households.” Methane is far better than coal with regard to causing climate change: each carbon atom of methane has more hydrogen atoms than each carbon atom of coal therefore producing less carbon dioxide and more water when burned. However, methane is far better than carbon dioxide with capturing heat from the sun. The Environmental Protection Agency claims that if 3% of methane is lost to the atmosphere, then the advantage over coal is lost.

Mark M. Green is a chemist, writer and professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the New York University Tandon School of Engineering. This column is derived from blog posts on his blog Science from Away found here: http://blogs.poly.edu/markgreen.

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