Archive for the ‘environment’ Category

Montreal, where I come from, looks like this today:

The office courtyard here looks like this:

The temperature here is about 7 C (45 F), while it’s -2 C in Montreal (28 F).


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Eureka contaminated sites

Another useful Google Earth feature today: the Contaminated Sites layer from Terradex. This company compiled, and makes available free online, a list of USEPA Superfund and RCRA Cleanup sites, and state sites including California, Oregon, Washington and New Jersey.

The layer requires the use of Google Earth 4 or later. When you click on individual sites, the description includes links to websites and a comment box to provide feedback on the sites. There are 130,000 sites shown, and zooming into regions will reveal more sites.

It’s quite interesting if you like to find out what goes on in your community and know about the quality of your environment. Alas, I don’t think it’s been updated in a while; some of the site clean-ups marked as still open may have been completed by now.

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NASA, AS17-148-2272, taken from Apollo 17 mission on December 7, 1972, at 5:39 a.m. ESTWe live on a beautiful, fragile yet amazingly resilient world, which we celebrate on April 22.  It’s the third planet from our star, the sun, formed over four and half billion  years ago from accreting stellar matter, along with the rest of our system.  Life developed rapidly on the new planet, taking merely half a billion year or so, maybe a little more, but took another two billion before jumping to a multicellular arrangement.  All the time, it has branched and multiplied, trying all sorts of crazy strategies to get the edge in survival.  The whole system is an intricately interconnected web stretched around a lovely blue marble.

To the right is the most famous photo ever taken of our world, NASA’s image no. AS17-148-2272, taken from the Apollo 17 mission on December 7, 1972, at 5:39 a.m. EST.  We’re more used to see it reversed, with the South Pole at the bottom.   It was the the first clear image of an illuminated face of Earth we ever received — this was a new trajectory never used before by an Apollo mission — and is sometimes described as the most reproduced image of all times.  (That’s an unverifiable claim, but it’s true that this is a widely known, iconic image.  I posted the South-Pole-up version rather than the more familiar reversed version to remind myself that up and down, north and south, are entirely relative to our frame of reference.

I think I’m going to go listen to Vangelis’ Albedo 0.39 now.

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Here are a few sites I want to gush about, as educational resources, as entertainment, and as serious technical and scientific resources. Not only can they be used in the classroom, or browsed for the sheer enchantment of discovery, but they are pure gold for for professionals in the environmental fields as well.

NatureServe Explorer

A huge online database of species, NatureServe Explorer is a collaboration between natural heritage programs and conservation data centers operating in all 50 U.S. states, 11 Canadian provinces and territories, and 20 member programs in Latin America and the Caribbean. The database provides information on the conservation status of species throughout the territory covered, their vulnerability, ecology and life history, etc., and provides techinal references to learn more.


The visual tool Lifemapper is the work of a University of Kansas team with support from all over the world. It uses an advanced geographical database to display where species are found and documented, and to predict where we might expect to find them. This tool also allows users to create Google Earth maps with the data. Note: You need to supply the scientific (Latin) name of the species to search.


The Integrated Taxonomic Information System, or ITIS, provides taxonomic information on plants, animals, fungi, and microbes of North America and the world. ITIS is a cooperatice project between Canada, the U.S., and Mexico. Hey, here is a good place to look up scientific names so you can query Lifemapper!

PLANTS Database

Created and maintained by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the PLANTS national database contains life history, range, and taxonomic information, photos, native/non-native status, and much more. It can be searched using either common names or scientific names.


Another product of international scientific cooperation, the FishBase information system provides images, life history, distribution, taxonomic status, and much more for over 31,000 fish species. It can be searched using either common names or scientific names.


Much more subdued, regional, and low-tech, BirdWeb is nonetheless a work of love and excellence, offering carefully gathered information and on-the-ground observations. It’s the work of the Seattle branch of the Audubon Society, and the information it contains is useful for a large part of our ecoregion.

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GodwitGodwit Days will be upon us April 16 to 22 — a week of birding and art in and around Arcata.

The marbled godwits arrived a little while ago already, along with American avocets, black oystercatchers, willets, several kind of plovers, etc. Birding has been good at the Arcata Marsh and along the shores of Humboldt County.

The 14th annual Godwit Days event offers over 110 bird-viewing activities regionally, many of them free and many more very inexpensive, as well as an Art Fair in Arcata.

I’ve met people who come from all over the country, paying a pretty penny despite not being rich, to fly here and see these birds for a few days. And we get to see them so often we take them for granted.

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On Monday I talked about the North Coast Geotourism project and how the public can submit sites. There is only one potentially slightly tricky question in the form for submitting sites: you need to provide the latitude and longitude of the site you’re submitting.

Gulp! The what? How do I do that? Well, as a first option, the North Coast Geotourism site sends you to a very handy tool, Geocoder.us (or Geocoder.net, which gets you to the same place). In Geocoder, you only need to enter the street address for most locations, and you will receive the latitude and longitude coordinates.

But what if you’re looking for the coordinates of a beach, or a waterfall, or some other site that doesn’t have a street address? Well, there are map-based solutions, primarily based on applications like Google Maps and MapQuest. One example is iTouchMap.com. To obtain the coordinates of any point:

  1. Use the map to navigate to the location of your choice (more on this in an upcoming post);
  2. Zoom in as much as you need to;
  3. With your mouse pointer, click to place a blue marker in the right spot.
  4. You can then click on the marker and the coordinates will be listed in a pop-up window.
  5. You can use your mouse cursor to highlight (select) the coordinates;
  6. By using the keyboard shortcuts (Ctrl + C for PCs) or by right-clicking with the mouse and using the context menu, you can copy the coordinates;
  7. Then go paste them (Ctrl + V) in the form.

There are other similar sites and other options, address- or map-based, such as the ones listed on Where Am I?

Finally, the most scrumptious toys of all are virtual globes like Google Earth and NASA’s World Wind. With these, you can navigate to the location of your choice and directly get coordinates, as well as a slew of far more interesting information, but they require installing the software to your computer and they are far more than you need if all you want is coordinates.

(In Google Earth, you can read the coordinates of your mouse cursor in the lower left-hand corner of the view pane; and you can obtain a point’s exact coordinates by right-clicking on its name in the left-hand panel and selecting “Properties”. You can then copy and paste the coordinates.)

Note that some sites, like iMapTouch.com, give decimal values in fractions of degree (e.g., 40.777162, -124.220695), while others provide a value in degrees, minutes, and seconds (40°46’37.78″N, 124°13’14.50″W). The North Coast Geotourism form will accept either.

Coming up: How to navigate a map

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I read an article yesterday on John Waylon, a.k.a. Plasma Boy, a tinkerer who fitted 1972 Datsun body with not one but two electric engines — forklift engines — powered by battery packs. His team takes the car racing on public tracks and with its instant acceleration, the car does wonders on the quarter-mile drag races.

The Oregon Public Broadcasting video below shows the car — named White Zombie — leaving Corvettes, BMWs, and other muscle cars on the starting block.

Links of interest:

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