Thoughts on the ocean, the environment, the universe and everything from nearly a mile high.

Panorama of The Grand Tetons From the top of Table Mountain, Wyoming © Alan Holyoak, 2011

Saturday, April 21, 2012

What's Woola? (Movie monster exposed)

Not too long ago I saw Disney's "John Carter", and I have to say that I really liked it...even the second time I saw it.  One creature in the film is actually quite's Woola.

Check out the following clip if you're not familiar with the movie or the creature.  It's got a large head, broad face, and 3 pairs of legs.

Like most other Hollywood movie monster/alien creatures, Woola is a mixture of other living things because, frankly, we're not all that creative...sigh.  To me Woola is a mix of salamander, bulldog, and water on.

If you look at the video again you will see the shape of Woola's skull is clearly giant salamander (these live in Japan).

The inside of Woola's mouth is also VERY amphibian-esque.  Amphibians (and many fishes) have teeth that line the jaws plus vomerine teeth.  These are prickly extensions of the bones that make up the roof of the mouth.  You can see both kinds on the upper jaw and roof of the mouth of a couple of kinds of salamanders. 

The image below shows the inside of Woola's mouth, complete with vomerine teeth - but while amphibians have these teeth only on the roof of their mouths, Woola has them top and bottom:

What about the rest of Woola's body?  It's eyes are WAY bigger than those of a salamander, and it has a profile that reminds me, at least, of a bulldog.

The flat face, the split jowls, protruding teeth, and apparently smiling face...pure bulldog, and pure Woola!

OK, the salamander/bulldog combo explains the head...what about the rest of the body?

To me the rest of the body resembles a microscopic animal called a "water bear" (a.k.a. Tardigrade).  A tardigrade has four pairs of appendages and lives in water, even thin layers of water on mosses.  Here's what tardigrades look like:

All you have to do is remove the last pair of legs, add a tail, a salamander skull, the modified face of a bulldog, leathery skin of a dinosaur, and you've got Woola!

Don't get me wrong...Woola rocks!

Friday, April 20, 2012

We are FAT!!!

A number of years ago I spent a couple of years living in Japan.  I remember walking off of the plane in the Narita International Airport, looking around and being struck by the thought, "Everyone here is Japanese!"  "Helloooooo! It's Japan!!!

Anyway, two years later (and without any trips back to the USA in the meantime) I boarded a plane without even noticing that everyone around me was Japanese...I'd gotten used to that fact long before.  I flew non-stop to San Francisco.  When I walked out of the jetway and into the terminal I looked around and my first thought, and it was a true shock, was, "Everyone here is FAT!"

I wasn't prepared for that!  And you know what?  Things have only gotten worse along our national waistline since then.  

Where did this thought come from?  Earlier today I was looking over some data from the UN Population Division and the World Health Organization (WHO).  

The WHO reported the following numbers for adults globally who are "overweight":

While the number of overweight adults was increasing so was the total global population, so I was hoping that the percentage of people overweight was not changing.  Here's what I found out:

Year             Global Population            Overweight Adults       Percentage
2002                   6.2 billion                         1.454 billion                  23.5%
2005                   6.5 billion                         1.602 billion                  24.6%
2010                   6.97 billion                       1.934 billion                  27.7%

Argh!!!!  We are getting fatter and fatter even as our population is growing!

That's a snapshot of the world, but what about the USA?  How are we doing?  

Are we really as fat as I thought we were when I walked off of that airplane way back when?

Here are some national data from the WHO.  These data show the percentage of the population that is overweight in the ten richest countries and the 10 poorest countries in the world:

All I can say is that Americans like to be winners, and there we are, the 6th richest country in the world, and we have the highest percentage of overweight adults of any of the countries listed.

So, yes, we are FAT!!!!!

How are you doing?  How can you know if you are overweight?  

You can check that out by looking at a chart showing BMI values.  That's "Body Mass Index".  It's a function of your height and mass.  These values are calculated using this formula (if you start with weight in pounds and height in inches):

Here's a BMI chart for men:

Here's a BMI chart for women:

It's actually a very strange conundrum.  Americans praise and admire people who are fit, trim, lithe.  But as a people we are...FAT...FAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT!!!.  How did this happen?  It's no real mystery.  Over the years we have become less active and we have had access to increasing amounts of fatty, salty, sugary, rich processed foods that we have helped ourselves to again and again and again.  So now we are FAT.

What's the solution?  There's really only one sure-fire way to become un-FAT.  That's to burn more calories than you take in.  The most reliable way to do this is to make lifestyle changes...changing diet and activity levels.  

Here's to reversing the trend!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

March and Winter 2012 Weather Summary - Thanks Lee!

The data below are excerpts from the March 2012 monthly weather summary by Lee Warnick for Rexburg, Idaho.  He is a member of the Faculty at BYU-Idaho, a National Weather Service (NWS) weather spotter, and avid amateur weather observer.  He compiles and emails these data to people who signed up to receive it (you can find links to the group at the end of this posting).  

The data come from the NWS and his own weather station.  


••• March 2012 almanac •••
Average highs: 50.0     Normal: 44.9     Departure: +5.1
  Notes: 8th mildest March highs in 41 years and mildest since 2007;
breaks run of 4 cooler-than-normal Marches; 4th straight month overall
with above-normal highs

Average lows: 29.0     Normal: 23.7     Departure: +5.3
   Notes: 2nd mildest March lows in 41 years, next only to 1986
(29.1); 3rd consecutive month overall with above normal low temps

Highest temperature: 72 on the 31st
Lowest temperature: 1 on the 2nd

Precipitation: 1.17     Normal: 1.00     % of normal: 117
     Notes: 3rd of past 4 Marches with above normal precip

Snowfall: 7.5     Normal: 5.9     % of normal: 127
     Notes: 11th most March snowfall in 41 years and most since 2008;
breaks run of 3 Marches and 4 months overall with below normal snow

Days with measurable precipitation: 13     Normal: 8.2     % of
normal: 158
High precipitation day: 0.32 inch on the 16th
Days with measurable snowfall: 4
High snowfall day: 2.5 inches on the 1st

Lowest wind chill: 1 degree on the 2nd
Highest wind gust: 48 mph on the 31st
Number of windy days: 14
Days at zero or below: 0     Normal: 0.4
Number of days: cloudy, 6; mostly cloudy, 14; partly cloudy, 4; fair,
Heating degree days: 791     Normal: 950
     Notes: 16.8 percent lower heating demands than normal in March

••• March monthly records •••
Highest high temperature, March: 72 on the 31st
     Ties record from March 28, 1986; and March 30, 1986

Highest low temperature, March: 45 on the 31st
     Breaks record of 43 from March 11, 1995; March 24, 1998; and
March 31, 1978

••• March 2012 daily records •••
High temperature: 24th     68     Breaks record of 66 from 2004
High temperature: 25th     69     Breaks record of 68 from 1999
High temperature: 31st     72     Breaks record of 71 from 2004
Highest low temperature, 14th     40     Breaks record of 37 from 2003
Highest low temperature, 15th     41     Breaks record of 33 from 2009
Highest low temperature, 16th     41     Breaks record of 38 from 2009
Highest low temperature, 17th     37     Ties record from 2009
Highest low temperature, 30th     40     Breaks record of 37 from 1978
Highest low temperature: 31st     45     Breaks record of 43 from 1978

No precipitation or snowfall daily records were set or tied in March

••• Annual scoreboard •••
2011-12 water year precipitation – through 6 months: 5.46
Normal: 5.95     % of normal: 92

2009 annual precipitation – through 3 months: 2.89
Normal: 2.80     % of normal: 103

2009 precipitation days: 29     Normal: 26.1     % of normal: 111

2009 heating degree days: 3146     Normal: 3539
   Notes: 11.1 percent higher lower demands than normal to date this

••• March 2012 highlights •••
     • Last month I noted that the “high pressure” days had dropped
from 81 percent in December to 71 percent in January, to 52 percent in
February. The percentage plummeted to 23 percent in March, with high
pressure in place no more than three days in a row. We had plenty of
storms pass through the region.

     • Those storms increased in frequency as the month progressed.
Our first two storms were classic Pacific systems that brought
primarily snow. About mid-month the storms started rolling in from a
more southerly orientation and brought mostly rain. And that precip
came in swarms – six straight days of measurable precip from the
14th-19th, and then after a six-day break we closed the month with
measurable precip on five of six days.

     • With the southerly flow came milder temperatures, particularly
at night. We broke daily records for mildest minimum temps on four
straight days (14th-17th), later basked in four consecutive days of
mid-to-upper 60s that included two record-breakers (24th-25th) and
finished March with two more record-breaking days. The 31st was the
mildest March day on record in Rexburg, with a high of 72 (tying a
record set in 1986) and low of 45 (breaking a March record by 2

     • Not surprisingly with all these rceords, we were a scant 0.1
degree from breaking the March record for highest average minimum
temperatures. Our maximum temps were above average by more than 5
degrees from the monthly record.

     • Yes, it also was windy, but at 14 windy days still two short of
the March record. So far in 2012 we have recorded 25 windy days. At
this pace we’ll end up with 100; the record, set both in 2010 and
2010, is 95 days.

••• Winter of 2011-12 summary •••
Average temperature: 28.55     Normal: 25.88
Rank: No. 7 mildest in 41 years and mildest since 2002-03
Past four winters: 24.93 (2010-11), 24.57 (2009-10), 26.40 (2008-09),
23.88 (2007-08)

Seasonal snowfall: 30.0     Normal (through March): 55.3
Rank: No. 6 lightest in 41 years and least since 2002-03
Past four winters, through March: 75.9 (2010-11), 52.0 (2009-10), 65.4
(2008-09), 83.6 (2007-08)

Days at zero or below: 5     Normal: 17.6
Rank: No. 2 lowest total in 41 years, next only to 2002-03 (3)
Past four winters: 15 (2010-11), 22 (2009-10), 12 (2008-09), 17

General snow cover: Dec. 31-Jan. 10 (11 days)
     Notes: This is tough to determine, for we didn’t have consistent
snow cover most of the winter. This was the longest period with
general snow cover.
Final snowmelt from my yard: Feb. 21
     Notes: Again, tough to tell, but this is when all but human-
created piles of snow had departed.
Maximum snow depth: 4 inches on February 1

   Summary: This was far from the La NiƱa-influenced winter we
anticipated. Like much of the rest of the country, we enjoyed mild
temperatures and light snow – barely half the normal amount through
March. November’s and December’s close-to-normal temperatures morphed
into well-above-normal (in January and March) and moderately above
normal (February) temps the rest of winter. After flirting with
records for least amount of seasonal snow through January, we’ve had
near-normal snow since then, though it didn’t usually stick around

••• A strange year, indeed •••
     Exhibit 1: A few weeks ago I was listening to an internet stream
of WBUR from Boston. I thought I heard the announcer state a current
temperature of 82 degrees – in late March! Not possible! I looked it
up on the NWS’ web site, and sure enough, Boston was above 80 a few
days removed from winter. The official high that day was 84 degrees!

     Exhibit 2: I read a story the other day announcing that the
United States was an average of 8.6 degrees above normal for March.
(We in Rexburg didn’t quite pull our weight, coming in at just 5.2
degrees above normal.) This was the warmest March on record
nationally, and not by a small margin.

     Exhibit 3: The wildfire season is starting not in Arizona and
Texas but the Northeast. That’s right – the nation’s biggest blazes
right now are burning in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut and New
York, places that might not see major wildfires once in a generation.

••• Looking ahead •••
     Mid-range forecasts have us high (in temps) and dry for the next
few weeks. The latest 30- and 90-day predictions don’t see strong
tendencies in temps but move us toward a dry late spring and early
summer. The long-lead forecasts trend toward a warmer than normal
summer, with lesser tendencies leaning toward drier than normal.

     And one parting note: Our brief appearance on the national
Drought Monitor map is over with for the time being. However, most of
northern Utah still is listed as D1 (Moderate Drought).

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

First mosquito of the season (what the !?)

This is just a short note, but this afternoon I was out picking up some stuff that blew into our yard (if you live in SE Idaho, you know this is a COMMON occurrence), and while I was doing that I got buzzed by a mosquito for the first time this spring!

A mosquito on April 11th?  In Idaho!? In years past we are often still in winter snow-melt mode about now, but this spring instead of snow melting I was getting buzzed by a mosquito and playing a couple of rounds of disc golf at our local course in 79oF weather!

You bet it's warmer than usual out there.

What's it like where you are?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

March 2012: The warmest on record

Is it global warming?  Is it an isolated temperature spike?  Whatever it was, it was amazing!  March 2012 was the warmest March in the lower 48 states since we started collecting temperature data - 118 years ago.

Click on the link below to watch a report on this story from

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirmed the new monthly record high.  How warm was it?  March 2012's average temperature was over 8oF warmer than the historical average for March. That's huge!

How widespread was the warming?  The number in each state on the map below shows how March 2012's average temperature ranked among the 118 monthly averages we've got between 1894 and now.  A "118" means it was the warmest March ever...a "117" means it was the the second warmest ever, and so on.  Twenty-five states had all time high average monthly temperatures.  Washington, Oregon, and California were the only states NOT at least in the upper half of their historical averages.  Wow!
(Image credit: NOAA)

If that's not enough to blow your mind, over 15,000, yes, that's fifteen THOUSAND record high temperatures were tied or broken last month!  Double wow!

(Image credit: NOAA)

Each of the red dots (15,292 of them) show the 7,775 daytime highs and the 7,517 nighttime high temperatures that tied or exceeded previous records!  According to NOAA, 21 of the nighttime high temperatures exceeded the former daytime high temperatures on those dates!  Yow!

The March average annual temperatures for the past 118 years are shown below.  There is a lot of variability (also called noise) in the data.  FYI - The flat black line is the average of all data in the set, so about half of the observations will be below the line, and half will be above the line.  The blue dots and lines represent individual average March temperatures.  The green line represents a rolling average of the data (well, sort of, it's a filter that smooths the data so we can see longer-term trends), and the red line shows the overall trend in the entire data set.

If you look at the green rolling average again, you'll see that between the late 1800s and the 1970s there was a lot of variability, but if anything a very slight cooling trend.  Then between 1970 and today you can see a more or less steady rise in the average temperatures.

(Image credit: NOAA)

All right.  The elephant in the room, i.e., the big question is this, "Was the observed extreme high average temperature in March 2012 caused by global warming?"  

That's a tough call.  It is difficult statistically to connect an isolated weather event, like a high monthly average temperature, with global warming. But, given the warming trend that started in the 1970s and that we see continuing today, it is fair to say that as the planet continues to warm it is more likely that these types of warming events will take place.  That's about as far as we can go in answering that question.

It'll be interesting to see what April brings.  As for where I live, the forecast high temperature for today is 74oF, 18oF higher than the monthly average for April.  

Happy spring everyone!