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UC Santa Barbara
Department of Geography
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Department of Geography
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UC Santa Barbara Geography / News & Events / Department News

September 26, 2014 - If Trees Could Talk: Forest Research Network Reveals Global Change Effects

The following is a Public Release by, dated September 25 and with the title above:

Permafrost thaw drives forest loss in Canada, while drought has killed trees in Panama, southern India, and Borneo. In the U.S., in Virginia, over-abundant deer eat trees before they reach maturity, while nitrogen pollution has changed soil chemistry in Canada and Panama. Continents apart, these changes have all been documented by the Smithsonian-led Center for Tropical Forest Science-Forest Global Earth Observatory, CTFS-ForestGEO, which released a new report revealing how forests are changing worldwide. "With 107 collaborators, we've published a major overview of what 59 forests in 24 countries, where we monitor nearly 6 million trees teach us about forest responses to global change," said Kristina Anderson-Teixeira, first author of the report and CTFS-ForestGEO and ecosystem ecologist based at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute [Anderson-Teixeira, K.J., Davies, S.J., Bennett, A.C., et al. 2014. CTFS-ForestGEO: A worldwide network monitoring forests in an era of global change. Global Change Biology, in press].

Many of the changes occurring in forests worldwide are attributable to human impacts on climate, atmospheric chemistry, land use, and animal populations that are so pervasive as to warrant classification of a new geologic period in Earth's history—the Anthropocene, the Age of Humans. Measuring and understanding the effects of all these changes—collectively termed "global change"—are easier said than done. Some of the best information about these global-scale changes comes from CTFS-ForestGEO, the only network of standardized forest-monitoring sites that span the globe.

Since the censuses began at the first site on Barro Colorado Island in Panama in 1981, atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased by 16 percent. The forest sites in the network have warmed by an average of over 1 degree F (0.6 degree C) and experienced up to 30 percent changes in precipitation. Landscapes around protected sites experience deforestation. The plot network now includes forests from Brazil to northern Canada, from Gabon to England and from Papua New Guinea to China.

In addition to identifying, mapping, measuring, and monitoring trees, researchers describe the relatedness of trees, track flower and seed production, collect insects, survey mammals, quantify carbon stocks and flows within the ecosystem, take soil samples, and measure climate variables like rainfall and temperature. The thorough study of these plots provides insights into not only how forests are changing but also why.

Climate change scenarios predict that most of these sites will face warmer and often drier conditions in the future—some experiencing novel climates with no modern analogs. Forests are changing more rapidly than expected by chance alone, and shifts in species composition have been associated with environmental change. Biomass increased at many tropical sites across the network.

"It is incredibly rewarding to work with a team of forest scientists from 78 research institutions around the world, including four Smithsonian units" Anderson-Teixeira said. "CTFS-ForestGEO is a pioneer in the kind of collaborative effort it takes to understand how forests worldwide are changing." "We look forward to using the CTFS-ForestGEO network to continue to understand how and why forests respond to change, and what this means for the climate, biodiversity conservation, and human well-being," said Stuart Davies, network director.

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ForestGEO Map. In 35 years, this network of long-term, large-scale forest monitoring plots has grown from a single site in Panama to 60 sites around the world (graphic credit: CTFS-ForestGEO; from the Public Release)
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Measuring Heart Rot in a Tropical Tree. In addition to identifying, mapping, measuring and monitoring trees in the CTFS-ForestGEO study plots, researchers describe the relatedness of trees, track flower and seed production, collect insects, survey mammals, quantify carbon stocks and flows within the ecosystem, take soil samples and measure climate variables like rainfall and temperature. The thorough study of these plots provides insights into not only how forests are changing but also why (credit: STRI; photo credit: Beth King, STRI; Ibid.)

September 26, 2014 - US Creates Largest Marine Sanctuary in the World

The Pew Charitable Trusts applauded President Barack Obama’s decision today [September 25] to expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, a group of five highly protected reserves that is home to some of the nation’s most important ocean wilderness (source: Pew Press Release, titled "Obama Administration Expands Protection of U.S. Ocean Treasure: Decision significantly advances global ocean conservation"):

The president extended the boundaries around three of the monument’s five marine reserves—Johnston Atoll, Wake Atoll, and Jarvis Island—from the area 50 miles from shore, designated by President George W. Bush in 2009, to 200 miles from shore. Taken together, the expanded protections for the waters around these atolls and islands—which are not contiguous—provide approximately an additional 408,000 square miles (approximately 1,050,000 square kilometers) to the monument. This action is the latest in a global movement to create large, highly protected marine reserves to counter the dramatic declines in ocean health caused by overfishing, pollution, and development, as well as the emerging challenges associated with climate change.

“This marks an important day for ocean conservation in this country,” said Matt Rand, who leads Pew’s Global Ocean Legacy project, which advocates for establishment of the world’s great marine parks. “The expansion of these marine reserves will greatly enhance the footprint of protection already there and with it, support a vast array of sea life that inhabits one of the most pristine ocean systems remaining on Earth.”

With this announcement, the amount of U.S. ocean territory highly protected has more than doubled, from about 6 percent to 15 percent. The expanded Johnston Atoll, Wake Atoll, and Jarvis Island marine reserves rank third, fourth, and sixth in size, respectively, among the world’s highly protected marine reserves. Research shows that highly protected marine reserves are essential to rebuilding the abundance and diversity of ocean species and increasing the resilience of habitats and ecosystems to climate change. Healthy oceans also have a greater ability to sequester carbon dioxide and generate oxygen.

“Today’s action by the president protects some of the world’s most important ocean habitats and provides sanctuary for rare and endangered sharks, seabirds, turtles, and marine mammals,” said Rand. “We hope the steps taken today by the U.S. government will accelerate similar actions by a growing list of coastal nations to protect more of the world’s great ocean treasures.”

Spread over a swath of ocean thousands of miles southwest of the Hawaiian Islands, the island and atoll areas that make up the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument are distant, uninhabited, and teeming with wildlife. A unique ocean environment, these waters are home to hundreds of seamounts, or undersea mountains, as well as spectacular coral ecosystems that provide vital breeding, nursery, and feeding grounds for whales, sea turtles, fish, and millions of seabirds.

President Obama announced on June 17, 2014, that he planned to expand protections for the monument President Bush had designated five years earlier under the Antiquities Act. The U.S. government’s public consultation this summer saw strong public support for expanding and fully protecting these waters. More than 135,000 U.S. citizens, including Hawaiian residents, business owners, and nonprofit organization representatives, sent messages supporting the plan. Many Hawaiian and Pacific leaders also voiced strong support.

Over the past decade, the Global Ocean Legacy project has worked around the world with governments, scientists, fishermen, and residents to create the first generation of great marine parks. Those efforts have resulted in the protection of nearly 1.4 million square miles (nearly 3.6 million square kilometers) of ocean. In recent years, historic marine conservation decisions have been made by the United States in designating the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands in 2006, by the United Kingdom in establishing the Chagos Marine Reserve—the world’s largest—in the Indian Ocean in 2010, and by Australia in designating the Coral Sea Marine Park in 2012.

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President Obama signed a proclamation on September 25, 2014, designating the largest marine reserve in the world. The proclamation expands the existing Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, one of the most pristine tropical marine environments in the world, to six times its current size, resulting in 370,000 square nautical miles (490,000 square miles) of protected area around these tropical islands and atolls in the south-central Pacific Ocean. Expanding the Monument will more fully protect the deep coral reefs, seamounts, and marine ecosystems unique to this part of the world, which are also among the most vulnerable areas to the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification (Wikipedia: Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument)
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The previous (2011) boundaries of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument are outlined in light blue. The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument is a group of unorganized, mostly unincorporated United States Pacific Island territories managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service of the United States Department of the Interior. These remote refuges are "the most widespread collection of marine- and terrestrial-life protected areas on the planet under a single country's jurisdiction". They protect many endemic species including corals, fish, shellfish, marine mammals, seabirds, water birds, land birds, insects, and vegetation not found elsewhere. (Ibid.)
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Susan White, Monument Superintendent, holding a young red-footed booby, 2014. The islands have no indigenous inhabitants. Wake had a population of ca. 150 military personnel in 2009. Johnston Atoll had a peak population of 1,100 military and civilian contractor personnel in 2000, but it was evacuated by 2007. Four to twenty Nature Conservancy and U.S. Fish and Wildlife staff live at Palmyra Atoll. The four other islands are usually uninhabited. Public entry to the islands is by special-use permit from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and is generally restricted to scientists and educators. Only Palmyra Atoll has a serviceable runway; Baker Island, Howland Island, and Johnston Atoll had airstrips in earlier times but they have since been abandoned and are no longer operational (Ibid.)

September 23, 2014 - Astonishing New Rock Formation Discovered in the Colorado Rockies

According to a news release by The Geological Society of America, titled “Researchers Reveal New Rock Formation in Colorado,” “an astonishing new rock formation has been revealed in the Colorado Rockies, and it exists in a deeply perplexing relationship with older rocks. Named the Tava sandstone, this sedimentary rock forms intrusions within the ancient granites and gneisses that form the backbone of the Colorado Front Range. The relationship is fascinating because it is backward: ordinarily, it is igneous rocks such as granite that would that intrude into sedimentary rocks.”

“According to authors Christine Smith Siddoway and George E. Gehrels, to find sandstone injected into granite is utterly uncommon — the extensive system that is found in Colorado may be unique in the world. There is evidence that the process of formation involved very large earthquakes, or possibly another type of catastrophic event, causing liquefaction of sediment, what they call ‘natural fracking’ in a certain sense! Equally astonishing is the time of formation of the Tava sandstone, determined from detrital zircon analysis: the Tava proves to be from a time period ~750 million years ago, which was not known to be represented in the Colorado Rockies: the Cryogenian Period.”

Reference: Basement-hosted sandstone injectites of Colorado: A vestige of the Neoproterozoic revealed through detrital zircon provenance analysis; Christine Smith Siddoway, Dept. of Geology, The Colorado College, Colorado Springs, Colorado 80903, USA; and George E. Gehrels Dept. of Geosciences, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona 85712, USA. Published online ahead of print on 22 Aug. 2014;; pdf of the full article in Lithosphere here.

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Tectonostratigrahpic diagram of the Colorado Front Range; from Figure 3 of Siddoway and Gehrels.
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Hand sample of Tava sandstone; from Figure 2 of Siddoway and Gehrels.

September 22, 2014 - An Evening with Jean-Michel Cousteau

"Jean Michel-Cousteau of Ocean Futures Society and the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum are teaming up in support of UCSB Geography alumnus and Olympic hopeful, Willie McBride, who, with teammate Dane Wilson, hopes to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro in the sport of sailing. Ticket sales will benefit the McBride.Wilson Olympic Campaign as well as the Ocean Futures Society, and information can be found below.

Peer out over the local waters of Santa Barbara and you’ll likely see two young sailors training on one of the most unusual and fastest mono-hull sailboats on the planet. The 49er is challenging to even the most seasoned sailor. Developed in New Zealand and known as a “skiff” because it planes over the surface of the water, the 14-foot hull is nearly overwhelmed with sail area and reaches speeds of 25 knots or more.

McBride Wilson is comprised of Dane Wilson (19) and Willie McBride (23). Both athletes have had a lifelong love affair with the ocean and are on a mission to share that experience with others. Their plans are to compete for an Olympic medal and through the process of training, fundraising, coaching, and competing they are endeavoring to include an environmental component that teaches the next generation stewardship of the ocean.

Both athletes grew up on the water and spend as much time in and around it as possible. When not in the midst of training, going to school or working, they relax by surfing, kiting, and free diving in the local waters. “It sounds crazy, but it’s the ocean that revives us,” says Dane Wilson. “It’s another significant part of the campaign we are working to create. We want other young people to fall in love with the ocean as well and learn how best to take care of it and respect it.”

Currently, the duo is competing in Santander, Spain at the Sailing World Championship, where over 50 countries are represented as part of the qualification process for the Olympics. To learn more about their campaign visit,

McBride and Wilson are thrilled to have Jean-Michel Cousteau as the keynote speaker for their fundraiser at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum. Jean-Michel Cousteau is an explorer, environmentalist, educator, and film producer. He has dedicated himself and his vast experience to communicate to people of all nations and generations his love and concern for our water planet. Cousteau is the Founder of The Santa Barbara based Ocean Futures Society, a non-profit marine conservation and education organization.

Drawing from over 50 years of experience exploring the world and studying the ocean realm, environmental speaker Jean-Michel Cousteau provides a wealth of stories and knowledge from his adventurous life with his father, Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his team. Everything is connected, and, as such, everything has a value in promoting the fantastic complexity that keeps the entire communities functioning, keeps our ocean planet habitable. Through personal stories and exploration, Mr. Cousteau will share some the threats facing the long-term sustainability of our water planet and will showcase the stories of hope with ocean conservation success stories from his travels from around the world." (Text provided by Tracy Hulett, event coordinator.)

Event Details: Thursday, October 16, 2014; 7 to 9 pm; Santa Barbara Maritime Museum; Wine & appetizers 7pm; Keynote Speaker Jean-Michel Cousteau 7:30; Tax Deductible Donation $125; Tickets available at

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Cousteau diving with sea turtle; event details
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McBride Wilson sailing in the Columbia River Gorge (photo credit to John Kelsey Photography)
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McBride Wilson posing in the Columbia River Gorge (photo credit to John Kelsey Photography)
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McBride Wilson in Hood River Oregon (photo credit: John Kelsey Photography)
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Event poster
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McBride (right) graduated in 2012 with Outstanding Achievement as a Geography Major (awarded to students graduating with a grade point average of 3.5 or higher). He is seen here with Geography graduate student Tom Pingel filling their homemade Mylar balloon with helium for a test flight (from the June 29 2011 Geography News article; photo credit: Bill Norrington)

September 22, 2014 - Gotta Keep Those Lovin Good Vibrations A-Happenin

The following is a public release by the Emory news center on September 19, titled “Evolution of responses to (un)fairness”:

The sense of fairness did not evolve for the sake of fairness per se but in order to reap the benefits of continued cooperation, so say Frans de Waal, PhD, and Sarah Brosnan, PhD, co-authors of a review article about inequity aversion (IA), which is defined as a negative reaction to unequal outcomes. The review is published in Science.

Their conclusion comes after the co-authors reviewed more than 35 IA-related studies to address their hypothesis that it is the evolution of forestalling partner dissatisfaction with obtained outcomes and its negative impact on future cooperation that allowed the development of a complete sense of fairness in humans.

de Waal is director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University, and a C.H. Candler Professor of Psychology at Emory. Brosnan is associate professor in the Departments of Psychology and Philosophy, and a member of the Neuroscience Institute and Language Research Center at Georgia State University.

The authors focused on literature related to IA in humans and other animals within an evolutionary framework of cooperation, social reciprocity and conflict resolution. They further divided IA into sub categories of disadvantageous or first-order IA, to represent reactions to divisions detrimental to the subject, and advantageous or second-order IA, reactions to divisions that are beneficial to the subject. First-order IA, the co-authors say, is the most common in humans and animals, and it emerges earlier and is more pronounced in humans.

Also among their findings is that there is less evidence that nonhuman species seek to equalize outcomes to their own detriment, that inequity responses are most pronounced in animals that cooperate outside of the bonds of mating and kinship, and that proximity, rank, gender and relationship quality affect outcomes.

"Our review relates IA to cooperation by showing how the reaction is stronger in cooperative animals, and how it fosters future cooperation by keeping the partner happy," says de Waal. "We don't think animals or humans are necessarily interested in fairness per se. They are interested in keeping good relations, which is why they pay attention to reward division," de Waal continues.

This is not the first time de Waal and Brosnan have collaborated on a fairness-related project. It was their research with capuchin monkeys in 2003 that led to the discovery of IA. In that study, they showed monkeys work well on a simple task if both get cucumber (a perceived lower-value item) or both get grapes (a perceived higher-value item), but that the animals' responses become erratic if one gets grapes and the other cucumber. The one with the lesser reward stops performing, starts to refuse rewards and becomes agitated, actively rejecting and throwing away its food.

According to de Waal, "When the study was published in Nature, some scientists found it outrageous that monkeys might have a sense of fairness while others tried to conduct their own studies to prove it true. It became quickly clear that studies in which monkeys received food without working on a task did not find the same effect because the actual task was part of the equation." Since then, the effect has been confirmed for other monkey species as well as for chimpanzees (great apes), dogs and crows, and, de Waal says, is now thought to be a fairly general pattern.

de Waal also adds, "Our research continues a long tradition of cooperation studies at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center. As noted in our review, the first experimental study of cooperation in primates dates to 1936 with a Yerkes-based experiment of cooperatively pulling chimpanzees."

Within the fields of microbiology and immunology, neurologic diseases, neuropharmacology, behavioral, cognitive and developmental neuroscience, and psychiatric disorders, the center's research programs are seeking ways to: develop vaccines for infectious and noninfectious diseases; understand the basic neurobiology and genetics of social behavior and develop new treatment strategies for improving social functioning in social disorders such as autism; interpret brain activity through imaging; increase understanding of progressive illnesses such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases; unlock the secrets of memory; treat drug addiction; determine how the interaction between genetics and society shape who we are; and advance knowledge about the evolutionary links between biology and behavior.

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A new research paper states that primates as well as humans have a preference for fairness or justice. The aim of the research was to examine fairness among primates as it is a social idea that cannot be measured by standard analysis (source:
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Fairness is a social ideal that cannot be measured, so to understand the evolution of fairness in humans, Dr. Sarah Brosnan of Georgia State's departments of Psychology and Philosophy, the Neuroscience Institute and the Language Research Center, has spent the last decade studying behavioral responses to equal versus unequal reward division in other primates. In their paper, published in the journal Science, she and colleague Dr. Frans de Waal of the Yerkes National Primate Research Center and the Psychology Department at Emory University, reviewed literature from their own research regarding responses to inequity in primates, as well as studies from other researchers. Although fairness is central to humans, it was unknown how this arose. Brosnan and de Waal hypothesize that it evolved, and therefore elements of it can be seen in other species (source: )
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Established in 1930, the Yerkes National Primate Research Center paved the way for what has become the National Institutes of Health-funded National Primate Research Center (NPRC) program. For more than eight decades, the Yerkes Research Center has been dedicated to conducting essential basic science and translational research to advance scientific understanding and to improve human health and well-being. Today, the Yerkes Research Center is one of only eight NPRCs. The center provides leadership, training and resources to foster scientific creativity, collaboration, and discoveries, and research at the center is grounded in scientific integrity, expert knowledge, respect for colleagues, an open exchange of ideas and compassionate, quality animal care (from the press release; logo from Emery web site)

September 20, 2014 - The beaches where I use to fish as a boy are under water

Christopher Loeak is president of the Marshall Islands. This moving speech was delivered in a video address to world leaders in the week before the UN’s climate summit on 23 September, 2012 and was re-aired on 18 September 2014, a week before the upcoming summit in New York:

Out here in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, climate change has arrived. In the last year alone, my country has suffered through unprecedented droughts in the north, and the biggest ever king tides in the south; and we have watched the most devastating typhoons in history leave a trail of death and destruction across the region.

Lying just two meters above sea level, my atoll nation stands at the frontline in the battle against climate change. The beaches of Buoj where I use [sic] to fish as a boy are already under water, and the fresh water we need to grow our food gets saltier every day. As scientists had predicted, some of our islands have already completely disappeared, gone forever under the ever-rising waves. For the Marshall Islands and our friends in the Pacific, this is already a full-blown climate emergency.

Some tell us that we should begin planning to leave. But how can we? And why should we? These islands are our home. They hold our history, our heritage and our hopes for the future. Are the world’s polluters asking us to give up our language, our culture, and our national identity? We are not prepared to do that – we will stay and fight. If the water comes, it comes.

Brick by brick, I built the seawall behind me with my own hands. But even this is barely enough to protect my family from the encroaching waves. Last year, after returning from a visit to the United Nations in New York, I was so shocked by the damage from the rising tides that I added another foot of bricks to the wall.

In the Marshall Islands we have a saying – “Wa kuk wa jimer”. It means that we are all in the same boat together. What is happening here is a mere preview of the havoc that awaits if we continue with our polluting ways. If my country goes, others will surely follow. We are the canary in the coalmine.

The climate crisis is forcing us to take matters into our own hands, both at home and on the international stage. Last year the Marshall Islands hosted the largest ever Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ meeting in Majuro, and it remains one of the proudest moments of my Presidency. The big outcome was the Majuro Declaration for Climate Leadership, a powerful message from the world’s most vulnerable countries to the big emitters that surround us that the time for talk is over, and the time for action is now. Our efforts had an impact with the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Mexico, and Japan all committing to be climate leaders and to do more to tackle climate change.

At this time last year, I presented the Declaration to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and promised to bring the spirit of Majuro to his Climate Change Leaders’ Summit in New York, which is now less than a week away. The Summit comes not a moment too soon. It is the first gathering of world leaders on climate change in nearly five years, and just over a year before our deadline to sign a new global treaty on climate change in Paris at the end of 2015.

Paris cannot be another Copenhagen. The world has changed too much. The science is more alarming, the impacts more severe, the economics more compelling, and the politics more potent. Even the world’s two biggest polluters – China and the United States – are working together to find a pathway to a new global agreement.

But there are still some that seek to slow us down. To my fellow world leaders I say “next week’s Summit is a chance for all of us to be the leaders we were elected to be”.We must send a strong and united message to the world – and to the people that we represent – that we are ready to do a deal next year. And to avoid the worst impacts of a warmer world, this new deal must capture a vision for a carbon-free world by the middle of the century. Without it, no seawall will be high enough to save my country.

Together, we must find the courage to rise to this challenge. It is time to build the greatest climate change alliance the world has ever seen. My people are counting on it, as is all of humanity.

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Loeak stands by a sea wall he built himself to stop the rising oceans flooding his land (, op. cit.)
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Christopher Jorebon Loeak (born 11 November 1952) is the President of the Marshall Islands. He was elected by parliament as President in January 2012, following the 2011 general election (Wikipedia: Christopher Loeak)
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The Marshall Islands, officially the Republic of the Marshall Islands (Marshallese: Aolepān Aorōkin M̧ajeļ), is an island country located in the northern Pacific Ocean. Geographically, the country is part of the larger island group of Micronesia, with the population of 68,480 people spread out over 24 low-lying coral atolls, comprising 1,156 individual islands and islets. The islands share maritime boundaries with the Federated States of Micronesia to the west, Wake Island to the north, Kiribati to the south-east, and Nauru to the south. The most populous atoll is Majuro, which also acts as the capital (Wikipedia: Marshall Islands)
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From 1946 to 1958, as the site of the Pacific Proving Grounds, the U.S. tested 67 nuclear weapons in the Marshall Islands, including the largest nuclear test the U.S. ever conducted, Castle Bravo. In 1956, the United States Atomic Energy Commission regarded the Marshall Islands as "by far the most contaminated place in the world." Nuclear claims between the U.S. and the Marshall Islands are ongoing, and health effects from these nuclear tests linger. From 1956 to August 1998, at least $759 million was paid to the Marshallese Islanders in compensation for their exposure to U.S. nuclear testing (Ibid.)

September 17, 2014 - Telltale Signs That the Ozone Layer Is Recovering

The following is a September 10, 2014 news article on the NOAA Research site with the title above and subtitled “NOAA helps lead latest analysis of Earth's protective shield”:

Nearly 30 years after the protections of the Montreal Protocol were put into place, there’s more evidence that the international agreement to protect Earth’s ozone layer is working, according to a new scientific report released today at the United Nations headquarters in New York. The abundances of most ozone-depleting substances in the atmosphere have dropped since the last assessment, in 2010, and Earth’s protective ozone layer may be showing some signs of recovery, according to the “Assessment for Decision-Makers,” part of a larger report to be released early next year.

“There are telltale signs of ozone recovery in the upper part of the stratosphere,” says A.R. Ravishankara, who is a NOAA emeritus scientist, professor at Colorado State University, and a co-chair of the panel that prepared the new report. The new report also emphasizes the complex connections between ozone layer recovery and climate change, he said. For example, some of the replacements for ozone-depleting substances are safe for the ozone layer but cause climate warming.

The report is the latest in a series produced every four years by the international scientific community, led by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and co-sponsored by NOAA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the European Commission. Decision-makers rely on these scientific updates and have used them to strengthen protection of the ozone layer, banning or restricting the use of ozone-depleting substances, for example.

Most ozone is found in the stratosphere, miles above the Earth. The ozone layer acts as a shield, absorbing ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the Sun and protecting the Earth’s surface from harmful amounts of UV. In the 1970s, NOAA scientists and colleagues around the globe began to understand that some chemicals, including chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and halons, used widely in cooling and firefighting, could reach the stratosphere and trigger reactions that destroy ozone. When researchers discovered in 1985 that a seasonal “ozone hole” was forming in the Antarctic spring, NOAA scientists played a leading role in showing that those same chemicals were causing the hole.

Because of the Montreal Protocol, many ozone-harming chemicals have been replaced by substances that don’t destroy ozone. However, some of the new chemicals, including the CFC-substitute hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), are potent greenhouse gases and could contribute substantially to climate change in the coming decades. Scientists from NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory play a critical role in this area, testing proposed new substances to see if they are safe for the ozone layer, climate, and the environment. Scientists from several labs throughout NOAA as well as at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) have also played key roles in advancing the understanding of the ozone layer, including its links to climate change.

With continued adherence to the Montreal Protocol, ozone levels over most of the globe will likely recover (toward 1980 benchmark levels) before 2050, Ravishankara says, but the ozone hole over the South Pole will take longer to recover, no longer forming by about 2070. Still, he notes, an important problem that remains is the potential for the ever-increasing use of HFCs to cause climate warming. But the new report points out that alternatives to these HFCs that will reduce climate impact are available.

Today’s Assessment for Decision-Makers, released by the UN Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organization, distills policy-relevant information from the full report—the Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion: 2014—expected in January 2015. UNEP will celebrate September 16th as the 2014 International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer, recognizing the anniversary of the day in 1987 the Montreal Protocol was open for signature.

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The image shows the Antarctic ozone hole on September 12, 2014, as observed by the Ozone Monitoring Instrument on the Aura satellite. NASA image by Jesse Allen, using imagery from Ozone Hole Watch.
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GOME (Global Ozone Monitoring Experiment) is a nadir scanning ultraviolet and visible spectrometer that was launched aboard the European remote sensing satellite (ERS-2) in 1995. Starting in July 2003, GOME lost global coverage due to a failure of the on-board tape recorder. The coverage was initially limited to the European Atlantic sector. With the addition of additional ground stations, the coverage has been incrementally increased. SCIAMACHY (SCanning Imaging Absorption SpectroMeter for Atmospheric CHartographY; Greek: σκιάμάχη: analogously: 'Fighting shadows') is one of ten instruments aboard of ESA's ENVIronmental SATellite, ENVISAT. It is a satellite spectrometer designed to measure sunlight, transmitted, reflected and scattered by the earth's atmosphere or surface in the ultraviolet, visible and near infrared wavelength region (240 nm - 2380 nm) at moderate spectral resolution (0.2 nm - 1.5 nm). has provided measurements since August 2002 (Wikipedia: GOME and SCIAMACHY)
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Researchers measure the global warming potential and ozone depleting potential of chemicals that various industries are considering as replacements for known ozone-depleting chemicals. (NOAA)

September 17, 2014 - California King Fire Triples in Size

According to a NASA news release, California's King Fire tripled in size from Monday, September 15 to Tuesday morning, September 16, and current weather conditions are doing nothing more than helping it along. The hot, drought conditions and winds have produced over 12 major fires that still burn all over California. The King Fire is just one of them. It is located east of Sacramento in the Pollock Pines community. Residents have been given mandatory evacuation orders and over 1,600 homes are currently threatened by this fire. It began Saturday September 13 and has spread rapidly through the area fueling itself with heavy timber and undergrowth. The fire is expected to spread to the east, north and west with the fire well-established in several canyon bottoms burning uphill to the ridges above. The cause of the fire remains under investigation. It is currently 5% contained.

Update: A state of emergency has been declared for Northern California counties hit by the fires as of September 18. See more here; current information for all California fires is available here.

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This natural-color satellite image was collected by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Aqua satellite on September 16, 2014. Actively burning areas, detected by MODISís thermal bands, are outlined in red. NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team. Caption: NASA/Goddard, Lynn Jenner with information from Inciweb
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Model indicating where potential smoke may spread to by 7 am Wednesday morning. #Kingfire #CAwx
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The Suomi NPP satellite caught this view of the King Fire burning in Northern California on Sept. 17, 2014. Credit: NOAA

September 16, 2014 - Torture Numbers, and They Will Confess to Anything

Geography graduate student Antonio Medrano recently came across an article that might make you think twice when you hear about the “average” this or that. Antonio was reminded of a recent Geography article, “Geography in the Workforce: Good News to Share,” particularly a reference to “10 jobs with above average salaries” which was cited by the author of the article, Jerome Dobson.

“Using the Mean in Data Analysis: It’s Not Always a Slam-Dunk” was posted on March 9, 2012, by Michell Paret on her Minitab blog: “We always hear about the ‘average’ of this and the ‘average’ of that…the average temperature, the average price of gasoline, the average number of children per household, etc. In fact, I just saw an article on average student math scores by country.

If you're a college grad, take a minute to recall when you were choosing your major. For those of us with aspirations of making big bucks, studying to become a doctor, lawyer, or CEO are some of the more lucrative career paths that may have come to mind.

Well, what if I told you that back in the mid-1980's at the University of North Carolina, the average starting salary of geography students was well over $100,000? Knowing that, would you have considered making a career change?

But what if I also told you that basketball great Michael Jordan—formerly the world’s highest paid athlete—graduated from UNC with a degree in geography? Now do you believe me?

Maybe the mean isn't always a slam dunk.

In the case of Michael Jordan and fellow UNC geography graduates, the average is not a good representation of the true center of the data. Jordan's earnings from his athletic career raises the ‘average’ salary for geography graduates in a way that doesn't accurately convey what graduates are likely to earn. By almost any measure, Jordan's earnings would be an outlier.

How could we have identified this anomaly, and potentially averted wishing we had chosen a different career path? (Geography, that is—not NBA superstar.)”

Michelle Paret goes on to enunciate three rules for dealing with such possible anomalies – read the rest here. And apologies from Antonio and the editor if we seem to be playing devil’s advocates!

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Michael Jeffrey Jordan (born February 17, 1963), also known by his initials, MJ, is an American former professional basketball player, entrepreneur, and principal owner and chairman of the Charlotte Hornets. He played 15 seasons in the National Basketball Association (NBA) for the Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards. His biography on the NBA website states, "By acclamation, Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time" (Wikipedia: Michael Jordan). According to, Jordan currently has a net worth of $1 billion.
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Michael Jordanís undergraduate academic record from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The transcript was auctioned off for nearly $19,000 at the 2014 Goldin Auctions (

September 13, 2014 - California Blue Whales Have Made an Historic Comeback

In a September 5 University of Washington News and Information article titled “California blue whales rebound from whaling; first of their kin to do so,” Sandra Hines states the following:

“The number of California blue whales has rebounded to near historical levels, according to new research by the University of Washington, and while the number of blue whales struck by ships is likely above allowable U.S. limits, such strikes do not immediately threaten that recovery. This is the only population of blue whales known to have recovered from whaling – blue whales as a species having been hunted nearly to extinction.

Blue whales – nearly 100 feet in length and weighing 190 tons as adults – are the largest animals on earth. And they are the heaviest ever, weighing more than twice as much as the largest known dinosaur, the Argentinosaurus. They are an icon of the conservation movement and many people want to minimize harm to them, according to Trevor Branch, UW assistant professor of aquatic and fishery sciences.

‘The recovery of California blue whales from whaling demonstrates the ability of blue whale populations to rebuild under careful management and conservation measures,’ said Cole Monnahan, a UW doctoral student in quantitative ecology and resource management and lead author of a paper on the subject posted online Sept. 5 by the journal Marine Mammal Science. Branch and André Punt, a UW professor of aquatic and fisheries sciences, are co-authors.

California blue whales are at their most visible while at feeding grounds 20 to 30 miles off the California coast, but are actually found along the eastern side of the Pacific Ocean from the equator up into the Gulf of Alaska. Today, they number about 2,200, according to monitoring by other research groups. That’s likely 97 percent of the historical level, according to the model the co-authors used. That may seem to some a surprisingly low number of whales, Monnahan said, but not when considering how many California blue whales were caught. According to new data Monnahan, Branch and another set of co-authors published earlier this summer in PLOS ONE, approximately 3,400 California blue whales were caught between 1905 and 1971.

‘Considering the 3,400 caught in comparison to the 346,000 caught near Antarctica gives an idea how much smaller the population of California blue whales was likely to have been,’ Branch said. The catches of blue whales from the North Pacific were unknown until scientists – in particular Yulia Ivashchenko of Southern Cross University in Australia – put on their detective caps and teased out numbers from Russian whaling archives that once were classified as secret but are now public. The numbers Russian whalers had publicly reported at one time were incomplete and inaccurate - something that was admitted in the late 1990s – but there wasn’t access to the real numbers until recently.

For the work published in PLOS ONE, the scientists then used acoustic calls produced by the whales to separate – for the first time – the catches taken from the California population from those whales taken in the western Northern Pacific near Japan and Russia. The two populations are generally accepted by the scientific community as being different. Places where acoustic data indicated one group or the other is present were matched with whaling catches. In the subsequent Marine Mammal Science paper just out, the catches were among the key pieces of information used to model the size of the California blue whale population over time – a model previously used by other groups to estimate populations of hundreds of fish and various other whale species.

The population returning to near its historical level explains the slowdown in population growth, noted in recent years, better than the idea of ship strikes, the scientists said. There are likely at least 11 blue whales struck a year along the U.S. West Coast, other groups have determined, which is above the 'potential biological removal' of 3.1 whales per year allowed by the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act.

The new findings says there could be an 11-fold increase in vessels before there is a 50 percent chance that the population will drop below what is considered “depleted” by regulators. ‘Even accepting our results that the current level of ship strikes is not going to cause overall population declines, there is still going to be ongoing concern that we don’t want these whales killed by ships,’ Branch said.

Without ship strikes as a big factor holding the population back – and no other readily apparent human-caused reason (although noise, chemical pollution and interactions with fisheries may impact them) – it is even more likely that the population is growing more slowly because whale numbers are reaching the habitat limit, something called the carrying capacity.

‘We think the California population has reached the capacity of what the system can take as far as blue whales,” Branch said. “Our findings aren’t meant to deprive California blue whales of protections that they need going forward,’ Monnahan said. ‘California blue whales are recovering because we took actions to stop catches and start monitoring. If we hadn’t, the population might have been pushed to near extinction – an unfortunate fate suffered by other blue whale populations. It’s a conservation success story.’”

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A California blue whale 65-feet-long swims off Baja California. California blue whales are also known as eastern North Pacific blue whales. J Gilpatrick/M Lynn/NOAA; from the University of Washington article
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California blue whales Ė the cow is 76 feet long and the calf is 47 feet Ė swim near the California Channel Islands. J ilpatrick/M Lynn/NOAA (Ibid.)
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A blue whale skull measuring 5.8 metres (19 ft) in the collections of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History (Wikipedia: Blue whale)
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As one of only five complete Blue Whale skeletons in the United States, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural Historyís iconic 73-foot long phenomenal specimen is more than just a noted Santa Barbara landmark, it also represents a rare opportunity for children and adults to gain first-hand exposure to, as well as an appreciation of, the worldís largest animal. After a few decades of being on display and exposed to the elements, the skeleton had deteriorated and required some much needed "R&R" (repair and restoration). On March 12, 2010, the Blue Whale skeleton was dismantled for a "migration" north to exhibit design company Academy Studios in Novato, CA, where it underwent a thorough restoration. Only the skull remained as it had deteriorated beyond repair. The Museum replaced the "old" skull with a harvested "new" skull from the first 2007 Blue Whale stranding. After nearly nine months of meticulous restoration by Academy Studios in Novato, California, and preparation of a new skull and mandibles by staff from the Museumís Vertebrate Zoology Department, the Museumís Blue Whale skeleton returned on Monday, November 10, 2010. Articulation and installation of the skeleton was completed on Friday, November 19, 2010, and it is the most anatomically correct Blue Whale skeleton display in the world. The restored skeleton, which weighs nearly 7,700 pounds, is 98% real bones and is a composite of four specimens.
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