Monthly Archives: October 2016

The Science of How a Hurricane Works

Through science, the human race has achieved many great things. Ancient Egyptians built astonishing pyramids, Einstein dreamed up the Theory of Relativity, and modern humanity has even traveled to the moon. These are just three of humanity’s greatest achievements. The evidence that the human race will one day rise far above where we are today, creating technologies that would today baffle the world, is clear, and it is sometimes documented in laboratory notebooks.

However, for all of the incredible discoveries on Earth, we still struggle to understand the weather. We know a lot about weather, such as how patterns influence it, how humans influence it, and how it can influence us, yet we still cannot perfectly predict what will happen when it occurs.

Intense weather certainly seems to be more common, especially when it comes to hurricanes – but is that true? What’s really going on inside these types of storms that seem to plague coastal towns across the country all too often?

Hurricane Season

Hurricane Basics

Understanding how a bit of rain and wind goes from a small storm to a giant, roving hurricane starts with understanding hurricane basics. First, the word hurricane can be a bit of a misnomer – tropical cyclone is a much more accurate term. The term cyclone in meteorology refers to the fact that the storm spins around a low-pressure center.

All hurricanes begin over the seas in and around the equator, where warm water gives rise to warm, very moist air. That warm, moist air mixes with cooler, upper-level air, producing thunderstorms and causing winds to pick up quickly. The warmer the water, the greater the storm – this is why most hurricanes begin in the summer or fall.

Often, an area of ocean will experience multiple thunderstorms in a small cluster. Gentle upper-level crosswinds eventually draw them together, creating one massive storm instead of several smaller systems. Then, convection helps to make the storm stronger.

The Role of Convection

Once a large thunderstorm exists over the tropical ocean, convection comes into play. Convection refers to the fact that, as warm air rises, it cools and then falls back to the earth. This process creates pressure around the storm. As the warm air rises, more air rushes in from the outside toward the center.

This, combined with the natural rotation of the Earth itself, is what produces a hurricane’s spin. As long as the waters remain warm, this process will continue to build on itself, and eventually the entire storm will spin faster and faster. It’s then that the “eye” of the storm is fully formed.

The stronger the storm, the larger the eye. Though the weather within the eye tends to be calm, the area directly around it – known as the eyewall – is also the most dangerous. This is the area that meteorologists spend the most time studying, jotting down information in scientific notebooks in an attempt to track patterns over time.

The Eyewall’s Power

As pressure builds and contrasts within the storm, the area directly around the eye becomes extremely powerful. Because the storm sucks up warm air from the center, the eyewall surrounding it contains the strongest rainstorms and the most downward pressure. Think of a straw filled with water; when you suck the water up, it comes up the straw and spills back down over its sides; it’s the same for hurricanes. This is the area of a hurricane that causes the most damage, although lesser rainfall and high winds can occur as far out as the outer edges of the storm.

Cooling Process

Fortunately, and, sometimes, unfortunately, most hurricanes do eventually get pushed out of tropical waters and onto land, as is documented by meteorologists. This is where much of the damage from storms like Hurricane Matthew is sustained. As the tropical cyclone moves away from warm ocean air, it loses some convection, and pressure begins to balance out once again.

The cool air reduces spin and wind speeds but doesn’t really impact rainfall specifically. That’s moderated by the fact that the storm can’t pick up as much moisture traveling over land. Eventually, the eye will collapse, and the storm dies down further, dropping out of hurricane status to become a tropical storm, and then melting back into thunderstorms and, eventually, just rain.

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How a Hurricane Works

Benefits of a Music and Science Partnership

Music and science are a bit like bread and butter; delicious on their own, but incredible once they come together and things start to heat up. Research is proving yet again what scientists from several decades ago always suspected. Music training and enjoyment of any kind can, in fact, make us smarter and more capable of understanding complex scientific concepts later in life.

We can attribute the fact that we know this to the dedicated researchers who spent countless hours huddled over a lab notebook, dissecting information to identify patterns found in testing. What exactly is it about this magical music that makes it so absolutely enchanting and so healthy for the brain? It has to do with the neurology of the brain.

Benefits of a Music and Science

How Music Influences the Brain

It’s not really news to anyone that music can be enjoyable. Crank up your favorite tunes and dance it out or play some soothing classical, and you can feel the difference in your mood. In some ways, listening to music is just another form of altered consciousness – albeit one without any real negative effects, unless you happen to listen a bit too loud.

It can motivate you and tell your brain to release adrenaline and endorphins, relax you when you’re a bit too wired up, and may even cause a select group of individuals with a condition called synesthesia to perceive colors, shapes, or numbers associated with it.

If music were a drug, we’d call it a potent psychoactive, but, unlike medications, music also has the ability to make us wiser because of the way the brain processes it.

Why Music Makes You Wiser

The first step in understanding why music is so influential is to understand that the same neurological activity and areas of the brain are used in memorization, memory recall, and even language. These are the areas that help us recall faces, study for exams, or even memorize test results when engaging in research. The difference is that music has both a logical formulaic function and an emotional tie, and this can persuade your brain that the information it is taking in is more important and should be held for later use.

This fact also explains why it’s easier for us to remember song lyrics than, say, a telephone number or the name of someone we’ve only just met. It also explains why taking study topics and turning them into songs allows the brain to more easily retain that information.

Long-Term Benefits to Scientists

Simply listening to music while you work, whether you’re studying or writing up reports on your cleanroom notebook or engaging in an incredibly delicate test, can help you to stay focused and in tune with what you’re doing, and may even help you to retain any new theories you discover as you go.

The benefits don’t stop once you turn the music off; a study by the University of Kansas is illustrating the fact that musical training of any kind has long-term cognitive benefits to the brain. They tested participants on their cognitive ability after sorting them into groups representing how much musical experience they had. The result? The more musical experience a participant had, the better they did on the test.

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Music Influences the Brain

Colorful Coral Reef Pulses with Life

Human evolution and the pursuit of knowledge – two things that drive the human race to explore, discover, and branch out, either here on Earth or deep into the skies. It is that unquenchable thirst to know, explain, identify, and catalog every detail in a research notebook that drives biological scientists to unearth amazing creatures on land, like the star-nosed mole or Rabb’s tree frog. They discover creatures long dead before humans ever set foot on the dusty earth, and predict future evolutions well before they even occur.

Colorful Coral Reef

Imagine a world without animals or plant life – stark, barren, and, most importantly, completely incapable of supporting human life.

As time goes on, we discover more and more acutely just how precious and important each individual creature is to the health of the Earth itself. Nowhere is this more important than within our oceans, the majority of which remains untouched and unexplored.

An incredible video of coral pulsating and undulating under the sea showcases just a few of the species humans don’t see on a regular basis. Stunningly beautiful and deeply complex, these sea creatures live out their entire lives deep under the water, where their beauty and amazing colors are witnessed only by the creatures that call the sea home.

Why So Stunning?

Filmed by Barcelona photographer Antonio Rodriguez Canto, who also admits to post-processing and tweaking the colors just a bit, this rich and life-filled video has quickly become a viral sensation, but, despite the smooth, effortless transitions, what you’re seeing is really not a video at all – it’s a series of macro photographs painstakingly stitched together. Canto wove together some 25,000 different photographs to create something impactful, incredible, and moving.

Because the human eye doesn’t process information in the same way, instead using a continuous flow of information to the brain, we’re unable to detect the slight choppiness between frames. Thankfully, the frame rate is high enough that your brain can compensate and interpret the information as movement. Through this process, you can suspend belief and see the continuation of frames as real, live movement, if just for a moment.

The Creatures

Canto’s video features a cacophony of creatures, from the big and mighty giant clam at the end to the far more demure brain coral featured throughout. Suggesting that the video contains “coral” is much too broad; after all, scientists estimate there to be as many as 2 million or more known species in existence today. Some of the specific species found in Canto’s video include:

  • Fungia – a plate or disc coral technically, but that’s also technically a mushroom
  • Trachyphyllia – also known as brain or folding brain coral
  • Heteropsammia – a coral type that enjoys symbiosis with the commensal sipunculid worm
  • Acanthophyllia – better known as meat coral for its meaty surface appearance
  • Physogyra – called pearl bubble coral for its mother-of-pearl iridescence
  • Zoanthus – a colony polyp with brilliantly-shaded flower-like blossoms

It’s amazing to think that each of these creatures exists in a delicate balance within reefs all across the world. Lose one, and you risk losing them all. Canto’s video is a remarkable representation of the world below us. It’s also a work of art in its own right, and a vibrant source of behavioral information for researchers tapping away at lab notebooks all across the globe.

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Coral Reef Pulses

The Rabbs’ Tree Frog Just Went Extinct

If the last tree frog of its kind slips away, does the world notice? It’s a question weighing heavily on the minds of all who were familiar with Toughie, the last Rabbs’ Fringe-Limbed tree frog known to be alive on Earth today.

Captured by Amphibian Conservation Coordinator Mark Mandica after a fungus began wiping the creatures out in Panama prior to 2005, “Toughie” was aptly named and managed to survive – albeit perhaps maybe not thrive – in captivity for an astonishing 10 years.

Mandica was dedicated enough to record every detail of Toughie’s existence in his research notebook and files, but for the little Rabbs’ tree frog, it was simply too late.

Rabbs’ Tree Frog

Surviving is not living, and Toughie – a frog who should joyfully sing most of his days away in search of a mate – stopped singing shortly after he was captured and never made a peep again. There he sat on his log, in silence, waiting for what could only be the untimely end to his entire species.

Helping Frogs

Although there is little we can do for Toughie’s brethren now that they’re gone, what we can do is make sure the world understands what led to the decline in the first place – the fatal chytrid fungus, better known to scientists as chytridiomycosis. This fungus doesn’t just prey on the Rabb’s tree frog; it also attacks a number of other amphibians, including other frogs, toads, salamanders, and various aquatic creatures.

What Is Chytridiomycosis?

Chytridiomycosis is caused by a bacterium by the name of batrachochytrium dendrobatidis. This rather foul little fellow has both hair-like rhizoids and tentacle-like sporangia, and embeds itself into the keratinous layer of tissue on an amphibian’s skin. Because it specializes in keratinized amphibian skin, it doesn’t affect humans or other mammals directly – at least, not yet. It impacts the host and spreads itself via cysts under the skin that eventually burst or drain. Chytridiomycosis is extremely contagious because, as a pathogen, it is soil borne, water borne, parasite borne, and capable of transfer via direct contact. All a frog needs to do is swim in an infected waterway, and they are at risk. Furthermore, even if cysts drain and never reach another frog, they can re-infect the host, eventually leading to far too much tissue damage for the frog to survive.

A Potential Cure

Fungus is one of the most quickly-growing threats to the animals in our world. Heightened temperatures due to climate change and humidity provide the perfect breeding ground for most fungal diseases, allowing them to proliferate in a very short period of time. White nose syndrome in brown bats is another example; in some areas of the Northern United States and southern Canada entire populations have died off due to the disease.

Fortunately, scientists like Mark work hard, trusty lab notebook and plenty of patience in hand, to discover cures that preserve the diversity found here on earth, saving animals and allowing them to thrive long into the future.

Recently, the Imperial College of London stumbled on a cure: environmental sterilization and antifungal treatments in tandem. With this approach, they were able to cure almost an entire localized population of Mallocran midwide toads.

It may be too late for Toughie and his bloodline, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue this valuable research; in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. The better we understand amphibians and the fungal diseases that impact them, the more likely it is that the world will be able to preserve their extremely important spot in natural ecologies for centuries to come.

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Tree Frog