Forget Trump – What About Fukushima?

(Originally posted on Read With The Gringa 7/27/2017)

While the world has been distracted with all things Trump, everyone seems to have forgotten that the world’s worst industrial disaster is still unfolding. Yeah, remember Fukushima? That nuclear reactor that had 3 cores melt down after a 9.0 earthquake triggered a 15-meter tsunami that devastated Japan? Would you, dear reader, like the gringa, like to know what the heck is still going on? Well, Ima gonna tell ya. First, the basics on the history:

March 11, 2011: After said earthquake and tsunami, 3 of the 4 cores of the Fukushima Daiichi reactors melted down over the course of three days. 

The World Nuclear Organization (WNO) rated the disaster a 7 on the INES scale. What the heck is that, the dear reader asks? And what the heck does it mean? 

The INES is an international standard used to measure the significance of a nuclear event primarily determined by the amount of radiation ionization exposure. There is no higher rating than a 7. That being said, the gringa would like to know is Fukushima a true 7 or is it listed as a 7 simply because there is no higher rating to assign? I mean, would an INES rating of 9 or 15 or 28 be a  more honest reflection of what happened? But I digress. Back to what a 7 actually means as we know it.

Fukushima was given a 7 because during days #4 through #6 a total of 940 PBq (1-131 eq) was released of radioactive material.  But what does that mean? 

PBq does not stand for “Please Be Quiet” with regard to Fukushima. It refers to the metric measurement of radioactivity. It is shorthand for Petabecquerel. It’s root word, becquerel, is defined as:

“… the activity of a quantity of radioactive material in which one nucleus decays per second.”

When the prefix “peta” is attached it becomes a measurement equal to 10 to the fifteenth power becquerels. In other words, one-thousand-billion. Crazy number, huh? So Fukushima released 940 thousand billion radioactive nuclei into the sea and atmosphere. Sounds pretty awful, right? So why is the world’s media and national leaders seemingly unconcerned? Are they correct in their “no big deal” assessment? Should we just move on and continue letting the Trump circus and side-show dominate our attention?

Fukushima’s atmospheric radioactive releases had 2 primary contaminants: volatile iodine-131 and caesium-137. The iodine has a half-life of 8 days. No big deal there. The caesium, on the other hand, is a really big deal. It is easily carried throughout the atmosphere, has a 30-year half-life, so wherever it finally lands it’s going to be there for a very long time, a silent and invisible invader. But is it deadly?

Caesium is soluble. That means the human body can absorb it. The good news is that it does not concentrate within internal organs. After about 70 days the body is rid of the substance. 

The most highly concentrated atmospheric releases were detected around the end of March 2011. The good news is that in mid-March Japan had already anticipated this problem and taken preventative measures. 

A dust-suppressing polymer resin had been applied around the nuclear plant to suppress fallout, preventing the iodine and caesium from becoming mobile through wind and rain. By 2012, effective permanent covers were in place to contain fallout from atmospheric releases. Nearby crops of rice have been tested and reveal that caesium levels are one-quarter of the allowable limit. That means there is Fukushima rice for sale. Yum.

The worst news from Fukushima is that run-off of contaminated water into the sea was profuse and well above allowable levels of radionuclides. Although storage tanks for contaminated water were eventually erected, they began leaking in 2013. In addition to this is the more than 10,000 cubic meters of “slightly” contaminated water purposely released into the sea by Japan. This was a deal with the devil. They had to release less-contaminated water in order to make room for storing highly-contaminated water.

All sorts of new technology has been quickly developed by innovators eager to help Japan clean-up radioactive water quicker and more effectively. The gringa finds it sad how catastrophe inspires innovation. But I won’t knock it. Better to be desperate and have options than to be desperate and hopeless.

Concrete panels were constructed to prevent further leakage of contaminated water into the harbor surrounding Fukushima. These were later reinforced with steel shielding that extends one kilometer through rock strata. Testing of harbor waters in 2013 indicate that contamination levels are below acceptable standards. But is this good news? Who decides what is safe when it comes to contamination?

When it comes to interpreting contamination results for the harbor, Japan refers to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) standard for drinking water. The harbor surrounding Fukushima tests consistently lower for caesium contamination that the WHO requires for safe drinking water. Sounds pretty safe to me. But what about the fish and stuff? Can you eat what you catch?

The gringa thinks so. You see, prior to 2012 the Japanese national standard was for food sources not to exceed 500 Bq/kg of caesium contamination. After the disaster, this standard was dropped to 100 Bq/kg. What this means is that although they dropped the measurement standard they raised the standard for expectations. In order for fish caught off of Japan’s shores to be eligible for sale and dining pleasure, they have to test for less caesium now than before the disaster. And what do the fish say?

Within the months immediately after the disaster, more than 50% were too contaminated to eat. By the summer of 2014 things had changed dramatically. In about 3 years 99.4% of fish caught in the harbor surrounding Fukushima were safe to eat. Not bad, Japan, not bad.

But what about the doom and gloom reports about a wave of sea-borne Fukushima radiation that is finally reaching the shores of other nations? Well, first keep in mind that there are pre-existing levels of caesium radiation in the earth’s oceans. That would be the caesium-137 isotope contamination caused by nuclear weapons testing decades ago. Thanks, United States. 

But there is another caesium isotope, #134, floating around the Pacific. It can only have originated from Fukushima. The good news is that instead of having a half-life of 30 years, like #137, it only sticks around for about 2 years. But here it is 2017, 5 years after the disaster. Why is it still floating around in the Pacific? Well, to understand that you have to understand what half-life means. 

Having a 2-year half-life doesn’t mean that #134 will disappear or become non-radioactive in 2 years. It means that it takes 2 years for it to lose half of its radioactive value. So, let’s do the math:

  • 5 years ago # 134 is full strength
  • 3 years ago #134 is half strength
  • 1 year ago up to present #134 is one-quarter strength

But is the Pacific Ocean deadly? The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has regularly tested and monitored west coast waters, fully aware of the potential for deadly radioactivity due to Fukushima. The results of Fukushima radiation off the coast of California average to about 2 Becquerels per cubic meter. 

Since 7400 becquerels per cubic meter are the standard for safe drinking water, it seems California beach bums are safe. Even if a beach bum stays in the water non-stop for an entire year, their radiation exposure would be about the same as sitting for an x-ray at the dentist. So surf at your pleasure, beach bums.

So what does all of this mean? The worst man-made/natural combo disaster a human could imagine occurred 5 years ago. Amazingly enough, human ingenuity was up to the task. Fukushima is not going to kill the planet. And according to the latest findings recovered by robotic explorers, Fukushima will most likely be officially de-commissioned. Now who is inspired to become a scientist?


World Nuclear Organization

International Atomic Energy Agency

IFL Science

Image Credit: Suffolk University Blogs

Video Credit: New Scientist

Life On The Fog Farm

Water is at the heart of climate change. As the world continues to transform, water, in one way or another, is significantly related to the resulting effects. For example, water levels of our oceans and seas are expected to rise. Water contained in massive rainfall in the major storm systems that rage, fed by the cyclical effects of climate change’s higher temperatures that increase evaporation of water resources. And then there are the regions that will become deserts, lacking water entirely. How will these areas feed their populations? Will they have to be abandoned altogether? Thanks to some Star Wars inspiration, nope.

Remember how the people who live on Tatooine used “vaporators” to irrigate their desert farms? Guess what? That technology, imagined in the 70’s, is real in the here-and-now of 2017. Yep, the technology has been developed to literally make water appear out of thin air. Like magic!

Even the most arid desert has some humidity within its immediate atmosphere. The trick is in trapping and condensing those tiny particles of humidity. Today’s “vaporators” work on the same principle that takes place when droplets of water start sliding down your glass of iced tea.

That cold drink is cooling down the immediate atmosphere around the glass. When that happens, humidity within that tiny area is no longer trapped within the warmer air. It is free to attach itself to the surface of your glass. That’s also how rain is formed. So, in a sense, the “vaporators” of Star Wars are actually air conditioners, cooling the hot, desert air so water droplets form.

But it would seem like it would take an awful lot to produce enough water to be helpful. Is this technology even practical? Well, let’s take a look at what Chilean & Peruvian farmers are doing, who farm in the dry, arid regions of the high Andes. They have a steel mesh contraption, kind of like a net. Covered in a special coating to attract the molecules of water within the air, they basically harvest fog.


Is fog-catching making a difference? A single fog-catcher, about one-meter square, produces about 5 litres of water daily. An improved design hopes to up water collection to about a dozen litres daily. Either way, the technology being used has meant the difference between harvest success over crop failure for the artichokes, avocados and grapes commonly grown.

Even greater than creating water out of thin air, the technology is sustainable, portable and powered by nature. So don’t be surprised if the next big thing in agricultural areas are rows of tiny billboard looking thing-a-ma-jigs. But since you read with the Gringa, you’ll just shrug and say, “Hey, look. It’s a fog farm!”


New Scientist

Image Source:  Design We Need


Video Source:  Makeshift

Today’s Alternative News

Death By Ice Melt

When fretting over the future effects of climate change, one may be worrying about just how hot it will get, how many coastal cities and islands will be lost to rising oceans or the massive loss of life through drought and famine. But what about mystery diseases? Yep. Add one more thing to your climate change related anxiety list. Mystery diseases.

You see, frozen in the Arctic and Antarctic tundra and ice sheets are pathogens that have been imprisoned for more than a millennia. And climate change is going to bring about the big thaw that will set them free. Many of them have never before been encountered by modern man. Remember what happened when Europeans introduced strange pathogens to indigenous peoples in their invasive travels? Yeah, without natural resistance, those native populations were decimated with disease.

So what exactly is lurking in the permafrost and ice?

–   Example:   August, 2016, remote Siberian tundra region of the Yamal Peninsula, a 12-year-old boy dies and 20 other people hospitalized with anthrax infections.

Now, a conspiracy theorist would point the finger at the Russian government, accusing it of using these poor folk as guinea pigs in bio-terror weapons research. The reality is, as determined by medical researchers, that the anthrax was a 75-year-old reindeer strain.

A quarter of a century ago the dead reindeer were covered with permafrost where they died. The heatwave that occurred in the area in 2016 exposed the contaminated corpses. The soil was then contaminated, thus the grassland being currently grazed upon was contaminated as well. The pathogens also washed into natural water supplies during periods of rainfall.

Final result? About 2,000 head of local reindeer grazed on the infected grassland. They, in turn, infected their human herds-people. This is the future of mystery disease due to climate change. Especially since there are more than a million reindeer carcasses infected with anthrax in Arctic regions that are buried close to the surface because you can’t dig deep graves in frozen ground.

In addition to anthrax, scientists also suspect strange varieties of influenza will be released. In Alaska, there have been discovered intact viruses of Spanish flu dating back to 1918. What else might be buried in shallow graves in frozen ground around the world? Corpses infected with active strains of smallpox and bubonic plague.

One Siberian town has a mass grave containing about 40% of its population that died in a smallpox epidemic in the 1890s. Already the permafrost layer is melting and washing away. Not only will this lead to contamination in the old town’s immediate area but any part of civilization the waters of the nearby Kolyma River contact will also be in danger of infection.

And pathogens can live longer than a couple of hundred years. Back in 2005 NASA researchers were successful in resurrecting bacteria removed from a frozen Alaskan pond. The microbes were 32,000 years old.

In 2007 scientists brought back to life bacteria that was 8 million years old and another sample that was 100,000 years old. They retrieved them from a glacier in Antarctica.
But do they have the strength to be virulent after a period of dormancy that long? For the answer, just refer to the findings of French evolutionary biologist Jean-Michel Claverie of Aix Marseille University. In 2014 Claverie resurrected two viruses from Siberia’s permafrost that were 30,000 years old. Once alive again, they quickly took on infectious status. Claverie’s conclusion:

“… these ancient layers could be exposed… If viable virions are still there, this could spell disaster.”

The most dangerous virions are called  “giant viruses”. These are the ones that can survive being buried in ice, dormant for eons, and become active again. It’s because, unlike a regular virus, a giant virus has a tough genetic make-up that can survive outside a host cell. Think of it like the virus having a protective shield around its DNA that prevents biochemical degradation.

And it gets worse. It’s not just ice melt we modern day humans have to worry about. Crystals, as old as 50,000 years, dug out of a Mexican mine were found to harbor microbial bacteria, a bacteria that has not seen the surface of the earth for over 4 million years. Studies have determined that this particular bacteria is resistant to 70% of current commonly used antibiotics. Great. The gringa says, “Stop all that digging!”

How does a super-bacteria like that come about? Well, there’s not much for it to eat in a cave, isolated from water, light, etc. To survive, an organism has to be ruthless in competition with other organisms for whatever means are available for nutrition.

What the heck is being done about this? Well, the gringa would like to provide some measure of relief. This all means that the diseases that riddled Neanderthals, our ancestors, may all come back to haunt us. But thanks to scientists like Claverie the diseases our ancient ancestors suffered from are being discovered and vaccines are being created.




Image Credit: BBC

Video Credit: Seeker

Evolution & Climate Change

(Originally posted 3/9/17 on Read With The Gringa)

Climate change, now, more than ever, is quite a hot topic, pardon the pun, if you will. Some people think we shouldn’t be so grave and serious about the contributions mankind’s industrialization makes to the Earth’s carbon budget. Climate change naysayers say concerned scientists are simply trying to rally support to fund their research with fear-mongering tactics. They claim that well-meaning citizens are responding with emotions rather than really examining the facts. They claim that the Earth goes through climate change cycles on a regular basis. They say this is just the normal way of nature. They also claim that pollution is really not that big of a deal because the Earth, like any living organism, is capable of adaptation as a survival instinct. This would mean that the Earth would simply “clean herself up”. 

Is such a perspective true? To find out let’s take a look at one of the all-time worst environmental disasters, the Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster. It’s been 30 years since a Ukrainian nuclear plant melted down and contaminated a 1,000 square mile area in Eastern Europe with high levels of deadly radiation. Medical experts and scientists expect it will be close to 20,000 years before humans can safely inhabit the area. Journalists and researchers can only visit for very brief periods or else risk exposure to a lethal dose of radiation. Yet, still, hundreds of people, mostly old folks who are unable or unwilling to relocate, survive in nearby villages, although there are very high rates of deadly forms of cancer. 

But what about the local flora and fauna? How well has the Earth done at surviving and cleaning itself up? How is nature faring in that neck of the polluted woods? Is it a wasteland of scorched earth and fried animal remains? Are there glowing rabbits and three-headed wolverines? Have talking plants begun to grow?

Well, within the most immediate radius of the nuclear plant’s site, about 10-15 miles out, it is considered by scientists to be a “clean zone”. No, that doesn’t mean it’s clean of pollution or ill effects. It means clean of practically all life as we know it. But go a bit further and you find a radioactive region teeming with wildlife who is enjoying life unmolested in an area uninhabited by man. 

You may have always wondered if the joke about cockroaches being the only thing to survive a nuclear holocaust is true. It is. In fact, insects seem to have superpowers when it comes to radioactive disasters. And because the bugs survive and thrive, the birds do as well! And so on, and so on down the wildlife food chain. Mankind may one day disappear, leaving behind the bugs and birds and mammals to rule the world.

However, judging from the spider-webs, it seems that bugs may suffer cognitively. Webs of affected spiders show erratic patterns that deviate significantly from their uncontaminated counterparts. So, a post-climate change world bereft of man, may be overrun by insane insects, mutant birds and an abundance of fat mammals.

Wolves have always been synonymous with Eastern Europe. That is probably why they were selected to be studied by biologists to see what their radioactive survival story is. What has been discovered is that wolves are thriving. That can only mean there are plenty of other large and medium sized mammals for them to prey upon. Wild Przewalski’s horses are recovering even though they are considered a rare and endangered species. Beavers are happily gnawing away at the wild forest growth. Bears forage happily and wolves are always looking on for an opportunity at a good meal.

Researchers are recording things like high rates of cataracts, higher occurrences of albinism, and curious physical mutations. However, despite these ill effects, the overall report from scientists and researchers is that, considering the devastation of a nuclear disaster, the wildlife actually seems to be rebounding and doing well. So well, in fact, that around Chernobyl a greater concentration of wolves can be found as compared to Yellowstone National Park!

What does that mean? Should we stop fussing about climate change? The gringa supposes we could if we don’t mind the humans of tomorrow looking very different than the humans of today. Here are some of the theorized adaptations that might happen to humans who evolve in order to survive the rising temperatures of climate change and effects of more solar radiation trapped within our atmosphere:

  • We get shorter and skinnier. Decreasing mass while maximizing surface area makes us more efficient at venting heat.
  • Our eyes grow larger because we become nocturnal, active during the cooler period when the sun is down.
  • Babies have lower birth weight because we engage in less exercise thus require fewer calories.

If the world is over-radiated, humans will need to avoid contamination. They have to avoid more than just exposure to invisible radiation in the air. Radiation is also passed through the food chain. That means more than just avoiding eating vegetables that have grown in over-radiated soil. It also means not eating any meat from an animal that may have fed upon animals or plants that were contaminated somewhere along their own natural food chain. This limitation on the human diet would contract our dietary options which would also result in a “skinnification” of mankind.

Funny thing is the gringa is already pretty skinny and does have rather large eyes. Maybe it’s already happening and the gringa is well on her way to transforming into a new human species! Our generation could be what scientists call, thousands of years from now, the “missing link” or a “bridge species” between the humans of yesterday and the humans of tomorrow!

Sources & Video Credit: 

National Geographic

New York Times

The Atlantic

Mental Floss

Documentary/Documentaries HD

Image Credit: NBC News

Wearable A/C

The gringa considers nudity to be part of the climate change solution. It could solve lots of problems:

  • Conserve water.
  • Reduce emissions with less marketable goods requiring shipping.
  • Reduce energy usage to cool homes in warm climates.

However, some innovators in the fashion industry may have come up with a cool, pardon the pun, solution that will allow everyone to keep themselves covered and still be comfortable despite the heat.

With the invention of plastic based textiles, cooling is all part of the design of a new, innovative fabric that engineers have developed at Stanford University. Combining the disciplines of chemistry, nanotechnology and photonics with an old-fashioned cotton fabric, sweat and body heat pass right through.

Believe it or not, current “breathable” fabrics are simply not breathable at all. People get hot wearing clothes because invisible waves of infrared radiation produced by our bodies are trapped under the clothes we wear. In research studies comparing standard cotton with the new fabric, scientists discovered that good, ol’ “breathable” cotton raised the temperature of skin surface by nearly 4 degrees Fahrenheit (or 2 degrees Celsius). For the gringa, that would make all the difference in the world. I could keep my A/C off and my family clothed in cooling fabrics.

The gringa only sees one problem, the plastic connection. Plastic is, of course, a petroleum based product. Isn’t dependence on petroleum the bane of human existence? Isn’t it at the heart of climate change? Is it not the object of war for profit? So has the science community really come up with a practical solution to help contribute one tiny bit to the climate change solution or has it simply opened a Pandora’s Box for the future of petroleum wars? Will nations continue to slaughter one another in order to control oil fields that will be necessary to keep people clothed in fabrics that will help them survive the catastrophic heatwaves of the future?



Image Credit:


Climate Change, Laundry & A/C

Many people interested in climate change may think this is a new phenomena brought on by global population expansion, increased use of technology, higher agricultural demands ravaging the Earth’s ecosystems and increased usage of fossil fuels. The truth is this has been going on for about two hundred years. Yep, since the beginning of the industrial era.

When factories began firing up their furnaces in the early 1800s, long before fossil fuels had really made their mark, the continents and oceans of the Earth began warming. Scientists can detect changes that far back as they study ice samples from the Arctic. And it’s not only ice cores that reveal this tragic timeline. Australian researchers have pored over 500 years’ worth of data collected from tree rings and coral in addition to the ice core studies.

The gringa thinks it’s safe to say that scientists from 200 years ago were probably laughed at by their peers for doing such silly and useless things as recording climate temperature measurements. I’m sure they never dreamed that today they would be considered pioneering heroes. Without their foresight and dedication we would not know just how long we humans have been spitting in the face of the one and only planet we can call home.

As early as 1830 increased greenhouse emissions were already causing the temperatures of tropical seas to creep upward. The Northern Hemisphere began to experience higher than average climate temperatures around the same time. At first, the scientists of that era thought this was a natural cycle. They believed that after a period of volatility upon Earth where volcanic ash and dust particles had caused global cooling effects that it was only natural for things to bounce back the other direction.

They had no idea that what had happened millennia ago was not the catalyst. They were clueless that they were witnessing the onset of a human induced global catastrophe that would culminate hundreds of years later. No one was sounding any alarm bell. The factories were being erected as fast as manufacturers had the cash to expand. As industry grew, individual wealth grew. It soon became every person’s dream to own a car and zip about willy-nilly just for the sake of being seen. Little has changed since 1830. Even though we know we are killing our planet (and, hence, ourselves), industry still expands and consumers are still obsessed with consuming and being seen with their latest procurement so that everyone knows they have “arrived”.

In such a state of smug self-satisfaction we humans do not like to be reminded that we should, rather, trade in that latest state-of-the-art washing machine for a non-electric hand-crank model. It is beneath an ambitious individual’s self-worth to be expected to toss out an electric dryer and opt for grandma’s tried and true method of wringing out the wet laundry and hanging it out on the line. As for surviving without air conditioning and heating, surely you jest. Oh, yeah, sure, previous generations got by but certainly such a primitive lifestyle should not be expected by an advanced civilization like this current generation of humans. After all, with global warming who can survive such temperatures? Oh, but you see, your air conditioning is also contributing to the problem that you want relief from. We seem to be caught in a catch 22. Whatever shall we do?

So, who wants to join the gringa in the slow, very ungraceful transition to an off the grid lifestyle? Are there enough people in the world for such sacrifices to even matter? The gringa can’t say. I only know that on Tuesday my non-electric hand-crank washing machine arrived and I have committed to not replacing my slowly dying electric dryer with an equivalent. The caveman thinks I’m mad but I kindly remind him that he is, after all, a caveman. Such lifestyle changes should suit him perfectly.

I still don’t know what to do about air conditioning. When I’m home alone I am quite happy with 80 degrees Fahrenheit. I can even manage to handle 85 with the right incentives, no clothes and plenty of ice water and a splash of beer. Despite living in the incredibly warm climate of the Texas Gulf Coast, I, personally, can get by with using the A/C only during the hottest parts of the afternoon in June, July and August. But whenever the caveman or one of our demanding, unruly, but adorable children or grandchildren are here, they scream, “Do you even have the air conditioner ON?!”

I implore them to embrace nudity as an alternative but so far the gringa has gotten no support for a shift toward nude living as another aspect of living off the grid. I mean, after all, it would also create less demand in the laundry area, thus providing further conservation of water and energy.

I mean, doesn’t the dear reader see the strong correlation between climate change, laundry, and air conditioning? Perhaps that is the solution. If people living in warm climates would simply go nude, or at least opt for bikinis or sheer Romanesque body drapes, think of all of the textile and clothing factories that would no longer be necessary, close down and no longer contribute to human induced climate change. Think of all of those dresses and jeans and pajamas no longer contributing to fossil fuel emissions when shipping and trucking of apparel is no longer needed.

I do believe the gringa is on to something. Nudity could very well save the world. Unless, of course, you live in Siberia. But winter wear is a subject for another post.


Image Credit:



Drones, UFOs, and Saving The Planet… They Are ALL Connected

UFO enthusiasts got a thrill recently when news agencies all over the United States were sounding the alarm of a strange light seen hovering, then moving about, near the famous St. Louis Arch. The YouTube video posted below, sourced from streetview citycams, begins by speeding up the video 1000 times so as not to bore the viewer with several minutes of nothingness. Throughout the hi-speed progression lightning can be observed. As viewers watch, they can see the light dim and sometimes disappear because of cloud cover. The video records a strange light approach the Arch from the left side of the screen and do some interesting acrobatics. The gringa has provided a play by play script to refer to as the dear reader views the video.

Video begins 2:19:49 streetcam time (SCT)/0:00 YouTube Time (YTT).

2:25:13 SCT/0:15 YTT First arrow indicates the appearance of the light in the top middle portion of the screen with light becoming visible at 2:25:19 SCT/0:17 YTT and approaches the Arch.

2:26:20 SCT/0:39 YTT Light appears to hover over the Arch, “wink out” a couple of times only to reappear in relatively the same place, indicating it was hovering the entire time.

2:26:41 SCT/0:46 YTT Light winks out.

2:28:06 SCT/0:52 YTT Light reappears as indicated by arrow and seems to be in same position above the Arch which would make it seem that it was hovering the entire time it was not visible.

2:28:54 SCT/0:56 YTT Light appears to be hovering above the Arch.

2:29:36 SCT/1:00 YTT Light winks out.

2:30:01 SCT/1:02 YTT Arrow directs attention to higher point above the Arch, indicating that the light has climbed higher. However, it is not visible.

2:31:00 SCT/1:08 YTT Another arrow indicates the light to be in the upper left corner of the screen but the gringa does not see it appear.

2:31:18 SCT/1:14 YTT The gringa begins to click through each second at the rate of 2 clicks per second so I get to see half of a second in each frame. I see a flash of the light at a higher point above the arch as I begin my second click of 1:15 YTT, going into my first click of 1:16 YTT. There is no arrow used in the video here to direct you to the flash of light. If you are not prepared you will miss it.

2:32:08 SCT/1:22 YTT Arrow again indicates that the light is seemingly flashing in the top left corner of the screen. Then there is a clear winking on and off of a light in the far left top corner of the screen as the light begins a rapid descent, disappearing behind cloud cover, but can clearly be seen descending.

2:32:25 SCT/1:28 YTT The arrow draws the viewer’s attention to the light whose rapid descent has been abruptly arrested and it once again begins to hover.

2:32:39 SCT/1:33 YTT Light brightly blinks out after a short rapid descent. If you begin once again to click through frames, 2 clicks per second/frame, the light can be seen faintly descending, angling off to the left, then hooking sharply right and descending quickly and can be viewed practically all the way to its landing on the ground in the lower left portion of the screen, its final landing at about 2:32:47 SCT/1:36 YTT.

Summary of the mystery light’s activity:

  • About 45 seconds of hovering above the Arch.
  • For about 1 minute the light continues to climb and hover above the Arch.
  • Within about 50 seconds the light manages to travel the distance in the view screen from seeming to hover above the Arch to the upper left corner of the view screen.
  • Within 30 seconds light makes a rapid descent that includes a brief hover before two radical left/right maneuvers, like a zig-zag, and appears to land on the ground.

So what was it? The gringa believes it was a drone, not an extra-terrestrial vehicle. It is pretty obvious by the final descent and apparent landing on the ground that it is a very small vehicle and very much Earthling technology. The gringa doesn’t know all the details on speed and distance relative to the camera and the Arch, but that doesn’t change my mind that it is a drone. And the gringa warns her dear readers to be on the lookout for many more videos and hoaxes to come with drone technology becoming more and more affordable for technology enthusiasts.

Other than making interesting UFO hoax videos, what are some actual practical uses for drones? Well, for one thing, drones may very well help save the world, and the gringa’s not talking about how military personnel are already putting them to use in battle. Using them to target and kill fellow human beings is not the gringa’s idea of saving the world.

Using them as a research tool to monitor dolphin and whale populations is more what the gringa considers saving the world. And that is just what marine biologists are doing in Hawai’i. Ocean Alliance is taking advantage of how drones can monitor wildlife without intrusion by humans. With drones capable of being equipped with high resolution cameras, researchers can get close up views and real time video of what dolphin pods and whale families are doing. Even if weather is bad and ocean conditions rough, the drones can still go out and do their job when a human outing would otherwise get postponed.

Drone technology has allowed researchers to compile a more accurate catalog of whale groups and monitor their health conditions with more detailed analysis. Results from boat-based surveys simply do not compare and marine biologists are excited to go even further with drones.

Now, while some people may be excited at the thought of drones delivering pizza or their mail order of retail goods, the gringa is more excited about drone delivery of medicine to hard to reach vulnerable people around the world.

With successful deliveries to earthquake ravaged Haiti in 2012, Doctors Without Borders were inspired to test drone delivery of  a group of dummy TB test samples in remote villages in Papua New Guinea. The Mayo Clinic recently announced that drone medical delivery is poised to take off and revolutionize healthcare for people around the world where access has continued to be a problem.

So what might be the niche technology career of the future for our youth interested in STEM? Development of drone technology and drone piloting. So, don’t get left behind! Get on board to save the world with a joy-stick, a laptop and a map! That’s all you need today to be a superhero!


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Anyone Can Be A NASA Scientist

If the gringa were to attend a NASA recruitment conference, she would be sitting front and center. When the question was asked who would like to work for NASA the gringa would be the first to raise her hand and wave it like a madwoman. When the next question was asked, which would most certainly have something to do with appropriate qualifications and credentials, the gringa would then have to shamefacedly shrink into the background. No prestigious college degree here. But do all of us science fans have to live a life of utter disappointment and complete disenfranchisement of being a contributor to the world’s bank of scientific studies? The gringa is happy to announce that, no, we science buffs who, for whatever reasons, never achieved the glory of a diploma can still participate. NASA has many “citizen scientist” programs from astronomy observances to laboratory inventions of innovative technology. Take your pick. And, if you happen to live in the northeastern United States, you can be a part of a program that monitors algae blooms that develop in Lake Erie.

Your point of contact would be NASA’s senior scientist, Dr. Rafat Ansari. As the originator of the citizen science campaign, Ansari, along with airplane pilot Terry Schubert, work to mobilize citizen volunteers to monitor Lake Erie’s water quality as well as its coastline and conditions in related tributaries and waterways.

The goal of the program is to alert the coastal communities surrounding Lake Erie of conditions that contribute to algae blooms when they are in the early stages of development. Who could be a citizen scientist and participate in scientific service to their community?

  • Pilots
  • Folks handy with a GPS
  • People who can operate wing mounted, infrared cameras
  • Detail whizzes that can collate data
  • Computer savvy geeks for uploading data
  • Anyone who has a cellphone with a camera and likes to take nature walks

Who, in particular, uses the data collected from the images?

  • Students
  • Teachers
  • Researchers
  • Water quality experts
  • Legislators

What’s the point? I mean, the gringa likes to look at cool pictures and read interesting facts and trivia, but how is the data actually useful?

  • Determine quality of a community’s water source
  • Predict if fish and game need protective measure to be taken to preserve environmental integrity and their survival
  • Alert the public if water conditions are unsafe for recreational use

Why is a citizen scientist program preferred to the amazing technology of satellites in orbit? The real time factor is the main reason. It takes data about three days to travel from satellites to Earth. Then there is more time involved in disseminating the data into usable information. Citizen scientists in low flying aircraft and on the ground can provide usable information within hours. They can also obtain images at lower altitudes that escape the abilities of orbiting satellites. Volunteers can also reach areas in rivers and streams that are simply not on a satellites “radar”, so to speak.

So, if you feel the need to contribute, this is a great opportunity. Even if you are not a pilot and don’t know any pilots to partner with, if you have a cellphone with photo capability, you are sufficiently equipped to engage. If you have snorkeling or scuba gear along with an underwater camera, that, too, is an angle of participation. For more information visit the NASA page for this program. Dear readers can take their time and read all the interesting information posted and then scroll down to the bottom for contact information to begin your new adventure as a citizen scientist.

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The Eastward Wobble, The Dance of the Earth

In April of this year NASA released findings related to the Earth’s melting ice sheets. Often when the gringa things about climate change, warming temperatures and melting ice sheets, the only thing I consider is how sea levels will rise. It never occurred to me that ice sheet disintegration may result in a more wobbly world.

Think about the traditional children’s toy, the spinning top. It’s a bit like our world. As it slows its spin it begins to wobble. As ice sheets melt and the balance of Earth begins to shift, we will, indeed, experience a global wobble. Scientists officially define this as a “periodic wobble and drift of the poles”. All the gringa wants to know is, “What exactly does this mean for me? Am I going to fall on my patootie trying to walk to my car?”

NASA asserts that over the past sixteen years Antarctica and Greenland, combined, have averaged about 400 billion tons of ice loss annually. Before the year 2000, as Earth spun on its axis it had a gentle drift toward Canada (westward). Because of ice loss, now the drift is about 75 degrees in the opposite direction, eastward. This happens because as ice converts to water and moves elsewhere, the distribution of Earth’s mass changes. What this means exactly is that the location of the North and South poles will change. In other words, Earth’s axis is relocating.

Now, the traditional location of Earth’s North Pole may have to be renamed to the Northeastern Pole. Earth’s axis is like an invisible pin stuck through the Earth from North to South. The Earth spins on the tip of the pin, rotating with a slight wobble that is normal. However, if the geographic location of the Poles change, complete topographical and satellite telemetry systems have to be adjusted to accommodate this change. For the average person, this means that your GPS is going to deliver you to the wrong place!

Scientists have long known that the Poles shift by a few centimeters from time to time as a part of Earth’s natural climate adjustment cycles. But what we are dealing with now is much more dramatic. Experts estimate that the shift is averaging about ten centimeters Eastward annually. Our great-great-grandchildren may have to adjust Christmas stories to have Santa Claus living in Russia or Norway.

Although scientists understand that as ice continues to melt the Earth will adjust by shifting its axis to the place where it has lost mass, even their best predictions are really just a guess. This is an extremely complex problem. It’s not just melting ice sheets that affect the process but also loss of groundwater in above ground reservoirs and underground aquifers (which underground aquifers cannot be accurately measured) as well as glacier melt and glacier movement. Many glaciers float about the ocean as they please.

The Earth’s ice and water storage formula affects polar drift. Yet many of the variables in the formula cannot be measured or can change their individual affect. So, scientists are left scratching their heads, doing the best with what they’ve got, and hazarding their best guess on what humanity can expect.

Ice melt is not the only thing that can bump the North Pole to a different location. Enormous earthquakes and devastating tsunamis can do the job as well. Indonesia’s great earthquake moved the North Pole eastward by about 2.5 centimeters and also lengthened Earth’s day cycle by 2.68 microseconds. No wonder I’ve been so tired lately! The gringa is filled with wonder at how humans remain at the mercy of nature despite all of our technological advances.


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Life In A Bubble

There are many different reasons to be interested in the science of climate change. Maybe you are a lover of nature, like the gringa. Maybe you are a doomsday prepper, anticipating worldwide failures of critical natural resources necessary for humanity’s survival. Perhaps you are a problem solver, interested in creating solutions to help us all survive. Or you could be an author of science fiction and fantasy and the realities of climate change provide a plethora of creative resources. Whatever the reason, then you will find the possibility of life in a bio-sphere bubble interesting to ponder.

Tucson, Arizona was recently host to an environmental event sponsored by One Young World, a group of leaders in innovative climate change survival solutions, particularly Biosphere 2 (Earth is #1).  The event featured experts in science, international diplomacy, political science and commercial industry who are all interested in humanity’s need for sustainable sources for food and energy. The speakers whom event attendees were, perhaps, most interested in were probably the former astronaut and individuals who have been living in Biosphere 2.

If a person was to take a tour of Biosphere 2, you might be expecting a sterile, technical, enclosed life support environment like the International Space Station. However, you will probably be pleasantly surprised to find a faux ocean the size of an Olympic swimming pool surrounded by a bamboo forest. As you continue exploration, you will stumble across a desert recreation complete with species of ants and cockroaches.

The Biosphere idea was birthed more than two decades ago. In 1991 the dream was realized when eight individuals, four women and four men, donned their uniforms and entered the three acre terrarium smack dab in the middle of an Arizona desert where they would live confined for twenty-four months.

The habitat was constructed thanks to the generosity of a wealthy Texan who wants a place of safe retreat when the Apocalypse crashes down around our ears. He shelled out about $150 mill to recreate miniaturized versions of South America’s rainforest, the African Savannah, and a single ocean. The Biosphereans worked for two years to determine if this earthly microcosm would interconnect, survive and become a self-sustaining world producing oxygen and food.

Beneath the multiple geodesic domes of steel, glass and plastic transplanted nature began to fail the moments the doors were sealed. Precious oxygen was leaking and making its escape to the outside world. Despite the threat of suffocation, the Biosphereans soldiered on. They planted crops near the ocean. A sophisticated underground bellows system created wind. But small crops of oxygen producing plants and man-made breeze were not enough to make the habitat a survivable, much less pleasant, environment. For the sake of science the Biosphereans persevered through two years of oxygen deprivation yet finally called it quits when survival was only possible by pumping in outside-sourced oxygen.

But was this experiment really a failure? Of course not. It was a very valuable learning experience. Think of all the research that was accomplished on learning how vegetation, geography, water and air movement, and fresh water sources can all be successfully recreated and the knowledge of certain mistakes not to repeat in the process.

The Biosphere 2 is not a total physical loss either. The University of Arizona will continue studies on how to succeed in a biosphere lifestyle. Part of the property will be open to the public and re-christened “Land Evolution Observatory”. The university will launch a project that, over the span of a decade, will attempt to perfect the methods the Biosphereans began. The gringa considers these self-sacrificing and brave Biosphereans to be the pioneers of the Millennia.

The Biosphere story also has a romantic twist. The gringa, madly in love with her caveman, loves a good romance and is happy to learn that two of the individuals fell in love during their confinement together and married as soon as they had regained their freedom to the outside world. The couple, speaking to the Tucson audience, explained how profound their sense of inter-connectedness to their environment became. Daily they tracked carbon and oxygen levels, strongly aware that their survival depended on the right balance.  They felt aware, moment by moment, of each breath they took and each CO2 exhalation they made. The reality of the co-dependence the humans, plants, animals and insects all had with one another was always at the forefront of their mind.

When former astronaut Ron Garan addressed the audience, he discussed his six month stint enclosed in the self-sustained environment of the International Space Station. It was a profound experience that increased his environmental awareness and how tiny, fragile and singular our Earth is. His individual life perspective was completely changed as he worked beside the two Russian cosmonauts he shared duties with. Upon his return to Earth, he dedicated himself to collaboration with projects that will promote the survival of humans and the planet we call home. The only planet, mind you, that we have.

He recounted one of his most poignant experiences. It was the moment he returned to Earth. He peeked out the window of the capsule, saw a landscape of rocks, flowers and grass. His immediate mental and emotional response was, “I’m home” despite the fact that this American was actually in Kazakhstan. Once you’ve been off world, any square inch at any spot on the globe is home, regardless of politics, religion, nationality or ethnicity. The gringa finds this philosophy beautiful and inspirational. And I hope that we all figure it out together, how to save our home.

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