Archive for the ‘Climate’ Category


Monday, January 2nd, 2017

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

Christmas Bird Counts, that is. You can read about the history of the Christmas Bird Count, but in short, for 116 years, people have gone out and counted all the birds they could find around Christmas time and recorded the data. From December 14 through January 5, birders go to count circles — 15-mile diameter circles that have been established for this purpose- and count all the birds they can hear or see during a particular day. The data provide one of the longest-term longitudinal sets of information about the distribution and abundance of wildlife. Not to put too fine a point on it, you can see the effect of, for instance, climate change on the birds.

Changes in bird ranges

The count period goes 23 days. There are a couple of people who have committed themselves to doing a count every day for this period in a given year — Kelly McKay is one, and I saw him at the Mingo count yesterday. I wouldn’t stay married for long if I tried that, but I did four counts this year: Big Oak Tree, Union County, Horseshoe Lake, and Mingo.

Take Big Oak Tree as an example. The circle includes Big Oak Tree State Park and Ten Mile Pond and Seven Island conservation areas. On December 15, we met at 6:30 AM at Boomland in East Prairie for breakfast and area assignments. There were about a dozen of us, most from the Cape Girardeau/Jackson area. The Boomland breakfast is cafeteria style;I stuck with scrambled eggs and a cinnamon roll. But I know some of my birding friends look at this as their one opportunity of the year to eat biscuits and gravy.

By the time we finished breakfast, it was getting light, and my friend Mark and I drove south toward our usual piece of the circle — Big Oak Tree SP and Seven Island. Along the way, we pulled off for each little county road, getting out and counting the birds we saw and heard.

Big Oak CBC

Best birds of the day were a group of Lapland Longspurs in a field, and a surprise Merlin at a farmhouse on State Road 102. No pics of either, but I did get one of the little cemetery next to the farmhouse.

Little cemetery on Hwy 102


Friday, March 18th, 2016

Mourning Cloak

Early this month when I was at Ball Mill Resurgence Conservation Area, I noticed that there were a few butterflies around. This one was cooperative enough to land on a branch in the sun and let me photograph it. I didn’t know what kind it was, but I was surprised to see how worn it looked. Clearly this butterfly didn’t just emerge from a pupa.

I looked through my butterfly books, but couldn’t find it; I later realized that was because they’re much yellower when freshly emerged, fading to more white later. I posted it to the Butterflies of the Eastern US Facebook group, and within about 10 seconds I had a response; “Mourning Cloak”. And someone added, “they overwinter as adults.”

I was intrigued. In fact, I was shocked.  I realize that insects have to get through the winter somehow; beetles have larvae — grubs — that burrow in the ground, maybe some survive as eggs, that sort of thing.*  But an adult butterfly? Surely it would freeze. Even here it gets down into the single digits Fahrenheit — over 10 degrees C below freezing. How can they do it?

Not content to just wonder, I hit the literature. First I read about “freezing-intolerant” and “freezing-tolerant” insects. These were the accepted categories for overwintering insects at least into the early 1990s.    What I got from work by W. Block and K.B. Storey was that the former use antifreeze compounds to lower the freezing point of their cell contents, and survive as long as the temp doesn’t get below their supercooling point (SCP). The latter use nucleation compounds in their extracellular hemolymph to allow it to freeze while keeping the intracellular material from freezing.

But it turns out that it’s more complex than that. More recent work, summarized in 1999 by Brent Sinclair, puts all of these on a continuum. Most insects use both antifreeze compounds and ice-nucleating compounds in some combination. They lower their freezing temperature, but then they may also be able to survive below the SCP when actually frozen.

The butterfly in the photo, the Mourning Cloak – Nymphalis antiopa, is a member of the family Nymphalidae. While most Lepidoptera overwinter as larvae or in some cases eggs, many Nymphalids overwinter as adults. They crawl under leaf litter or under loose bark and wait for spring.

The Mourning Cloak doesn’t freeze until -20 C, and it can survive temps down to -34 C — well below any recorded temp in this area. To me it’s pretty astounding. These guys sit there and freeze solid in a cold winter. Then when it warms up, they thaw out, crawl out of where they were hiding, and fly away.

So which of the butterflies you’re seeing sat out the winter as adults?  “Hibernal Diapause of North American Papilionoidea and Hesperioidea,”** a 1979 review by James Scott, includes a handy table  listing each species’ hibernal diapause stage as E, L, P, or A (egg, larva, pupa, adult), with references to back them up.  For me in Southeast Missouri, the take-home message of the table is that Red-Spotted Purples and most Fritillaries overwinter as larvae, Swallowtails overwinter as pupae, and Brushfoots mostly overwinter as adults.  So the adults that overwinter that I’m likely to see include the Mourning Cloak; genus Polygonia – the Comma and the Question Mark; and genus Vanessa – Painted Lady, American Lady, and Red Admiral.

Question Mark

Polygonia interrogationis, the Question Mark

Eastern Comma

Polygonia comma, Eastern Comma

Red Admiral

Vanessa atalanta
, Red Admiral

Butterfly on lantana

Vanessa cardui, Painted Lady

*The process of getting through a cold winter by slowing down body processes and waiting somewhere is loosely called “hibernation” in insects.  More properly, it’s referred to as “hibernal diapause”.  Some insects have a quiescent stage when it gets too hot as well, which is “estival diapause”.

**The Papilionoidea superfamily includes all the butterflies except the skippers, which are in the Hesperioidea.  So together those superfamilies constitute “butterflies”.

NOTE: One more local butterfly that overwinters as an adult is the Sleepy Orange, Eurema nicippe.

Why drilling is the wrong answer

Monday, July 14th, 2008

2006 US Oil consumption 20,687,000 bbl/day
2006 World Oil production 87,000,000 bbl/day
US Oil production 5,102,000 bbl/day
(Source: DOE)Potential increase from offshore  and ANWR drilling: 3,000,000 bbl/day
Potential decrease in demand from higher fuel efficiency standards:  2,500,000 bbl/day
(Source: Newsweek)

So here’s the deal:

a) Our oil production is a relatively minor part of world oil consumption.
b) Increased exploration and drilling won’t result in more production for at least 5 or 10 years
c) We can get about as much effect more quickly by increasing fuel efficiency standards
d) Not to mention just driving less
e) Not to mention alternative energy sources
f) Oil is a finite resource that has many uses besides burning it
g) We’re going to be sorry if we burn the stuff up now and don’t have it later
h)  We’ll probably find safer ways to extract oil from sensitive places later

So we should spend our time and resources on conservation and alternative energy sources instead of frantically trying to find ways to use up an irreplaceable resource as fast as possible.

Yeah, the Newsweek article cited above presents an argument for more drilling as a stopgap to tide us over.  It’s a shortsighted answer to a long-term problem.  Get a bike.

More on my new Surly Long Haul Trucker

Sunday, September 9th, 2007

So I went for a 30+ mile ride today.  The road was wet, as it’s been raining for a couple of days now.   The fenders, though, worked great.  A little spray around the ankles, but otherwise dry.  I rode out to Oak Ridge, then turned north on highway B, because it looked rainy to the south.  Good choice.  It cleared up some, the sky was blue, the sun even peeped out occasionally.  I made a loop by taking KK to D and D back to Oak Ridge.

When I got to the hill entering Pocahontas, I shifted onto the smallest chainring in order to be ready for the dog.  He wasn’t out, though.  The other day I was on that hill and the dog came running out barking, got halfway across his yard, and just stopped dead and turned around.  I don’t know if he was daunted by my having squirted him with my water bottle last time he came after me, or if he could sense that I’d bought Dog Mace.  In any case he hasn’t actually come close enough to me to get pepper-sprayed since I bought the stuff, so I’m happy.

I did find out, though, that in the lowest gear combination (30 x 32) the chain rubs on the front corner of the rear fender.  I’m going to have to customize it a bit.

Otherwise, looks great.  I’m planning to ride to work tomorrow and then ride in the Fair Parade with the SEMO Climate Protection gang.

Is it warm in here?

Thursday, May 3rd, 2007

Here’s a nice animation from the National Arbor Day Foundation showing changes in gardening “hardiness zones” from 1990 to 2006.

Global warming at the ice company

Tuesday, February 6th, 2007

Walt came in my office today and proposed a 2-PhD outing. These are occasional jaunts we take when some vital research activity come up that requires two PhDs to drive somewhere, such as going to Lowes to buy Scrubbing Bubbles*, going to FedEx to mail a package, or, in this case, going to the ice company to buy dry ice for shipping. Naturally, the alternative being staying in my office and working, I put on my coat.

I really have to take a picture of the ice company sometime. It must have been in the same building since people used iceboxes rather than refrigerators. The windows are cracked, the paint is almost absent, and there’s a little canvas awning sheltering the front entrance that is more holes than canvas. It’s adorable. Anyway, you go into this tiny little cluttered office and tell them you want 5 pounds of dry ice, and the secretary/receptionist/bookkeeper comes out from behind her desk, grabs a pair of gloves, and squeezes past you out the front door. She goes in the plant through another outside entrance and eventually emerges with some dry ice, which she weighs back in the office.

Today, while this was going on, there were a couple of other guys there, and we were chatting. It came up that we worked at the university, and he started talking about global warming, for some reason. First he wanted us to agree that, as professors, we wouldn’t give better than a D to a student who measured climate change without a baseline. We were both a bit confused by that, but it came out that he’s saying that we don’t know what climate was like in the past, so how do we know this isn’t just a natural cyclical change.

Usually I’d blow this sort of thing off, nod, smile, and go back to the office, but the IPCC’s new summary report just came out, and I’d been reading it since the day before. So I pointed out that we do have good evidence that it’s now warmer than at any time in the last 1300 years. And that you can make computer models of what temps should be with just natural effects such as changes in solar intensity and volcanic activity, and then other models that use those effects plus human contributions, and the natural ones don’t fit the observed data. The ones with human-produced CO2 do fit the data, and the data show a lot more warming than you’d expect from natural causes.

And so on. He asked for my email address, and he’s going to send me a link to some site that says Mars has global warming too, so it can’t be our fault.** We eventually left, and now I’m back here stewing.

See, the IPCC summary is clear. It’s getting warmer, and human-produced CO2 (and other gases) are a large part of the reason. And I’m reading lots of responses and discussion online from relatively well-informed people. But some nutcase web site, or Fox News, seems to the voting public to be just as authoritative, even though there are essentially no studies in the scientific literature that disagree with the basic conclusions any more.  Worse, the oil companies are paying people to put out dissenting views, just like the  tobacco companies used to sponsor “research institutes” to deny that cigarettes cause cancer.
When will the voting public be convinced? When it’s too late to do anything about it. It’s already too late to prevent some major problems, although we can mitigate them significantly if we reduce emissions now.

I’m depressed.

*Walt’s the Radiation Safety Officer on campus.  Turns out that Scrubbing Bubbles is the cleaning product of choice for removing radioactive contamination from stuff.

**Mars is warming, at least at the poles; like the Earth, changes in its orbital tilt affect how much sun gets to it, and it’s apparently coming out of an ice age.  It’s totally unrelated to climate change here, as our orbital tilt isn’t related to the orbital tilt of Mars.