Adam Volland of NASA’s Earth Observatory program came up with an
interesting idea. Looking over satellite images, Adam has found
every letter of the alphabet formed by Earthly features, mostly
Whoever knew that Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge in
Arkansas forms the letter “B”
if you include a nearby section of the Arkansas River?
He found the letter “C”
in a man-made island in the southern part of Bahrain, an island
country in the Persian Gulf.
What I also like about Adam’s project is the narrative he has
written about each letter, describing the names of relevant
features, animals and objects that start with the particular
letter, including links to learn more about those features.
Here’s what he wrote for the letter “Z”:
“What begins with Z? Zenith and zooplankton. Zillions of smoke
particles zipping, zooming and zigzagging above Canada!”
And it all ties together, since Adam’s Z is an image of wildfire
smoke over Canada. As the caption explains (and all images are
explained), the image for “Z” was captured with a “moderate
resolution imaging spectroradiometer” (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua
Considering all the associated links, this was a big project to
create. It is also a great way to organize a lot of educational
material. It reminds me of when I was in junior high school and
decided to read the entire “World Book Encyclopedia.” I started at
the beginning of the first book, a thick one that contained all the
“A” words. I read for an hour or two each night after doing my
regular homework. After many weeks, I was about halfway through the
“A” words before I shifted my attention to other reading
I’m sure it won’t take nearly as long to read through Adam’s
letters and all the linked materials. I’ve begun reading “The ABCs from
space” with the letter “A” and expect to learn a lot about
things on Earth.
When I saw this amazing photo of our water planet, I knew I had
to share it with readers of this blog. NASA is offering a high-resolution
image (click to enlarge) on its website.
The composite photo was taken from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance
Orbiter, which orbits the moon and can see the Earth rising and
setting above the moon’s horizon.
“The image is simply stunning,” said Noah Petro, deputy project
scientist for LRO at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in
Greenbelt, Maryland. “The image of the Earth evokes the famous
‘Blue Marble’ image taken by Astronaut Harrison Schmitt during
Apollo 17, 43 years ago, which also showed Africa prominently in
LRO experiences 12 Earthrises every day, but its instruments are
normally focused on the lunar surface. Images of Earth are captured
rarely when LRO’s camera is turned away from the moon to study the
extremely thin lunar atmosphere or to make calibration adjustments,
according to the news release, which explains the entire
The image above was composed from a series of photos taken Oct.
12, when the spacecraft was about 83 miles above the farside of the
Astronauts on the moon can never see the Earth rise or set.
Since the moon revolves around its axis at the same rate as its
rotation around the Earth, it always appears in the same spot in
the moon’s sky. That location varies by where the observer is
standing on the moon’s surface, and there is no Earth visible from
the farside of the moon. Where the Earth is visible, the view of
the planet is constantly changing, as continents rotate into view —
unlike the view of the moon’s surface from Earth, which never
Winners in this year’s National Wildlife Photo Contest range
from an image showing a vast school of fish dwarfing a human
swimmer to a picture catching the gaze between a female gorilla and
Now in its 45th year of competition, the contest garners
thousands of entries from throughout the world as well as from
people’s own backyards. I am always pleased to feature the winners
of the contest, which is sponsored by “National Wildlife” magazine
and National Wildlife Federation.
Judges base their selections on originality, technical execution
and true-to-nature accuracy.
The first picture on this page, taken by Chris Schenker of
Hopkinton, Mass., took first place in a category called “Connecting
people with nature.” Schenker caught the image of the swirling mass
of bohar snappers off Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. The diver, who was
taking pictures of the fish, added an appropriate perspective to
“The fish come to these waters in massive schools every year to
mate,” said Schenker, a college student who was quoted on the
“National Wildlife” website. “It was an absolutely thrilling
At the other end of the size scale, a black-capped chickadee was
caught getting a drink from a garden hose by photographer Linda
Krueger. Krueger was washing her car when she noticed several birds
flying in. She propped up the hose and grabbed the shot when the
bird landed on the end of the hose. The photo took second place in
the “Backyard habitat” category.
Krueger and her husband Kevin participate in the
Certified Wildlife Habitat program, sponsored by National
Wildlife Federation. They own 20 acres with native plants, bird
feeders, nest boxes and a backyard pond in Hastings, Minn.
Lois Settlemeyer’s photo of the Aurora Borealis shining among
the trees in northern Alaska won first place in the “Landscapes and
plant life” category.
“It was a night I’ll never forget,” said Settlemeyer, a retired
corporate technician who lives in Camas, Wash. “As the clouds
parted briefly, I was able to take one good shot of the dancing
Being able to measure a killer whale’s girth and observe its
overall condition without disturbing the animal is an important
advancement in orca research.
By running a small hexacopter, also known as a drone, at a safe
level over all 81 Southern Resident killer whales last month,
researchers came to the conclusion that most of the orcas were in a
healthy condition. Seven whales were picked out for further
observation, including a few suspected of being pregnant.
I was especially intrigued by the idea that researchers could
track the progress of a pregnancy. It has been long suspected that
the first calf born to a young female orca often dies. A possible
reason is that the calf receives a dangerous load of toxic
chemicals from its mother. With this “offloading” of toxic
chemicals from mother to first calf, later offspring receive lesser
amounts of the chemicals.
Miscarriages and even births often go unnoticed, especially in
the winter when the whales travel in the ocean far from human
observation. If the young ones do not survive until their pod
returns to Puget Sound, we may never know that a young whale was
lost. Now, this remotely operated hexacopter may provide before and
after pictures of a pregnant female, offering evidence when
something goes wrong with a calf.
Images of the whales can be combined with skin biopsies and
fecal samples collected by boat to provide a larger picture of the
health of individual whales and the overall population.
Images of the whales collected this fall can be compared to
those collected by conventional helicopter in 2008 and 2013 to
assess any changes in the animals. Because of the noise and prop
wash of a conventional helicopter, pilots must stay at a higher
elevation to keep from disturbing the whales. There seems to be
general agreement that drones are the way to go.
John Durban of NOAA Fisheries, who piloted the drone on 115
flights over the Southern Residents, said he was encouraged that
their overall condition appeared better than in the past few
“Most individuals appear to be fairly robust this year, which is
good news, but it’s also very important baseline information to
have if the next few years turn out to be difficult for salmon and
their predators,” Durban said in a
Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research has a somewhat
different take on this new tool. The high rate of miscarriages and
neonate deaths have long been known, Ken told me in an email. It is
the only way that they are able to control their population within
the carrying capacity of their food supply.
“I am more excited about five whales being born and surviving
since last December than I am about an unproven morphometric
surmise that additional whales are in some stage of a
seventeen-month pregnancy,” he said. “It is not wise to ‘count your
chickens before they hatch,’ as the saying goes.”
The goal should be to recover the population, Ken said. When it
comes to recovering salmon and killer whales, resource management
has been a dismal failure. His suggestion: Remove the Snake River
dams and allow the salmon numbers to rebuild naturally while fixing
Canada’s Fraser River.
“With climate change well underway,” Ken wrote, “we cannot
fritter away golden opportunities to restore viability in what
little is left of a natural world in the Pacific Northwest while
counting unborn whales.”
Other aspects of this new effort involving the hexacopter were
well covered by news reporters this week. Check out the list below.
The new video with John Durban and NOAA’s science writer Rich Press
can be seen above. Last month, I provided other information and
links about the new tool. See
Water Ways Sept. 9.
Nudibranchs, soft-bodied mollusks often called “sea slugs,” are
among the most ornately decorated creatures in the sea. With about
3,000 species of nudibranchs coming in all shapes and colors, I
thought it might be fun to track down some of these animals.
Nudibranchs are found in all the world’s oceans, but you don’t
need to go beyond Puget Sound to find some of the most beautiful
ones. I’m grateful to Dan Hershman, a retired Seattle teacher,
part-time musician and underwater naturalist, who shared some of
his best photos of sea slugs from this region. Check out Dan’s
The word nudibranch (pronounced nude-eh-brank) comes from the
Latin word nudus, meaning naked, and brankhia, meaning gills. So
these are animals with naked gills, which often grow out of their
backs and sides. These creatures can be as small as a quarter-inch
or as long as a foot or more.
Nudibranchs are carnivores, eating things ranging from algae to
anemones, barnacles and even other nudibranchs. They can pick up
coloring for camouflage and even poisons from the prey they eat,
using the chemicals in defense against predators.
Hermaphrodites with reproductive organs of both sexes, these
animals don’t normally self-fertilize. But they are prepared to
mate with any mature individual of the same species. Eventually,
they will lay masses of spiral-shaped or coiled eggs.
The U.S. Department of Interior maintains a large photo album of
incredible outdoor pictures taken at national parks and other
federal lands throughout the United States. I look forward to
checking these pictures each day to see what stunning views have
been newly posted.
The picture at right shows the Potomac River where it rushes
through a narrow gorge before flowing past Washington, D.C. This
photo, by Yin Lau, was taken on the Virginia side of the river.
Time-lapse photography can add a new dimension to the way we see
things. When done well, these speeded-up videos not only help us
see things in a new way but also call us to remember feelings about
special places and natural wonders.
On their first visit to Olympic National Park, brothers Will and
Jim Pattiz captured images from various park locations for what
would become a captivating video for the series “More Than Just Parks.”
They traveled to some prime locations that many of us have visited,
but their careful use of time-lapse equipment create a new sense of
inspiration for familiar places.
So find a quiet moment, sit back and enjoy their video
full-screen on your computer if not your TV.
If you’d like to learn more about the video project and what the
brothers learned about Olympic National Park, read the interview on
Exotic Hikes website, or check out the background on “More Than Just
One of my all-time favorite time-lapse videos was shot in
Yellowstone National Park, where photographer Christopher Cauble
captured the rhythms of nature in a place where geysers, streams,
clouds and even the animals move with a natural fluidity. I
especially like the sections where the video slows down to remind
us about the normal pace of events — something not seen in most
The last video on this page shows Mount Rainier in a time-lapse
video by West Coast
Time Lapse, a company of Nate Wetterauer and Chase Jensen. Like
the Olympic National Park video, this one about Mount Rainier was
posted within the past year.
Brown bears are still actively fishing at Brooks Falls in
Alaska’s Katmai National Park and Preserve. I wish I had more time
to sit and watch them, as there is almost always something going on
at this time of year — although the salmon run is expected to
decline soon. See live video from three cameras on
The looping video on this page was captured from one of the live
cameras by national park staff, who posted the action with this
note: “Wow, fishing gets intense! Bear brawl!”
For this and other live wildlife cams from across the country,
check out my “Amusing Monday” blog post in
Water Ways from June 29.
Old photographs can help us grasp human ways of life, long ago
supplanted by new ways of thinking, acting and living in the modern
Photographs don’t judge; they just depict a truth about how
things were at one point in time. At least we can hope for a
certain honesty from pictures that predate Photoshop.
As they say, a photograph is worth a thousand words, but it
still takes a few words to capture a deeper meaning in the images
we see, especially when they are far removed in time and place from
our own experiences.
I’ve been looking through collections of “historical”
photographs compiled in various galleries on the Internet. I
especially like the one posted by writer Justina
Bakutyte on the “Bored Panda” website. She calls the gallery
Must-See Photos from the Past.”
I learned from these photos that a woman’s one-piece bathing
suit was once a scandal that could get you arrested, while a
two-piece suit was the norm. The first photo on this page shows the
scandalous one-piece worn by Annette Kellerman in 1907.
It didn’t take much digging to learn how Kellerman became a
competitive swimmer as a child, after she had difficulty walking.
Kellerman later became a Vaudeville performer, developing her
aquatic artistry as a water spirit.
Kellerman gained world attention when she was arrested for
indecent exposure after spurning the cumbersome bathing dress,
which was the norm at the time. Instead, she appeared on Revere
Beach in Massachusetts in a one-piece, form-fitting bathing suit.
Her action sparked other women to redefine their gender, according
to an article in “The
Encyclopedia of Women and Leadership in 20th Century
Another water-related photo shows Annie Edson Taylor, the first
person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. The feat took place on
Oct. 24, 1901, as shown in the photo.
History.com, one man had survived a jump from the falls on the
Canadian side in 1829. But Taylor wanted to follow 72 years later
with something that would gain even more attention. She strapped
herself into five-foot-long pickle barrel padded on the inside.
After a wild 20-minute ride, she came to shore battered and
bruised. She soon became famous, but she never earned the fortune
she had hoped for.
I was also intrigued by a photo of a young girl wearing a
breathing apparatus while lying in a hospital bed. She is smiling
as she gazes at a small pool next to the bed, in which four baby
ducks are swimming. The caption says “Animals being used as part of
medical therapy, 1956.”
An article by registered nurse Lorraine Ernst in
“Annals of Longterm Care” says Florence Nightingale was one of
the first people to recognize the therapeutic benefits of animals
in medical treatment.
While attending Washington State University in 1975, I had the
honor of interviewing the late Dr. Leo Bustad, dean of the College
of Veterinary Medicine. We talked about the important role that
animals can play in the recovery of patients and how pets can lead
to a healthier physical and mental condition among the aging.
Two years later, Bustad co-founded
the Delta Society, which studied and promoted the human-animal
bond. In 1989, the society developed a certification program, which
allows animals to visit hospitals and nursing homes to aid patients
with their companionship.
As I noted earlier, every picture has a story. I may never find
out the identity of the little girl or the benefits of her therapy,
but it is interesting to uncover the connections. For me, Lorraine
Ernst’s article added information about new discoveries in
animal-assisted therapy and what Dr. Bustad helped to bring
Another worthwhile gallery, posted on the Buzzlamp
website, is made up of 116 historical photos and documents,
including a letter written to Adolph Hitler from Mahatma Gandhi in
1939. While this gallery is not especially focused on a war theme,
many of the images are not for faint of heart.
Cameron Teller of Seattle, a former Kitsap County resident, is
the Grand Prize winner in the
“Share the Experience” photo contest — which means his touching
photo of a polar bear and her cub will receive prominent display on
next year’s annual pass for entrance into national parks and other
Cameron’s photo was among 22,000 images submitted last year in
the annual contest, which provides a $10,000 prize to the
Cameron snapped the shot from a boat a good distance away, just
as the cub reached its mother. The amateur photographer had gone
out on the boat as part of a six-person tour to Alaska’s remote
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where the group was focused on
seeing polar bears and Northern Lights.
“I love going on trips to faraway places and taking
photographs,” Cameron told me.
The group had flown from Fairbanks to Deadhorse, Alaska, then
onto Kaktovik, the only village inside the wildlife refuge. A guide
took them out on a fishing boat, where they spent the day
photographing wildlife and scenery.
“The captain was a local resident,” Cameron said. “We went out
early in the morning. It was awfully foggy that morning, then it
started clearing up. The sun came out and it was a great day for
The trip occurred at the beginning of winter last year, just as
the sea ice was freezing up. In fact, he said, the ice had grown so
thick around the dock where the group departed that the captain had
to choose a different landing site to get the group back to
Cameron said there is nothing like seeing mothers and their
babies, and it was a special moment when the polar bear cub walked
over and reached up to its mother.
“I still can’t quite believe I won,” Cameron told me. “There
were some amazing photos that were entered. I think one of the
reasons this appealed to the judges is the whole topic of global
warming and protection of the National Arctic Wildlife Refuge.”
Of course, polar bears have become a symbol of the melting ice
caps in the polar regions, where the bears are threatened with
extinction because of declining habitat.
Cameron moved to Bremerton from Kansas City about 13 years ago
to work for Parametrix, an engineering firm with an office on
Kitsap Way. He lived in Manette a short time before moving to
Bainbridge Island, where he resided for 11 years. For the past two
years, he has lived in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood.
Cameron said the $10,000 prize will help fund his ongoing
adventures. He visited Kenya about two years ago and plans to
travel to Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido next January.
It has been a good year for Cameron, who also won “Outdoor
“American Landscape Contest” with a photo of El Capitan, a
vertical rock formation in Yosemite National Park.
The polar bear photo will be featured on next year’s America the
Beautiful pass, an annual pass that gets visitors into more than
2,000 public recreation sites on federal land. About 300,000 people
purchase the pass each year.
The annual “Share
the Experience” contest is sponsored by the National Park
Foundation, Active Network, and Celestron in partnership with the
National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of
Reclamation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S.
Photographs are now being accepted for next year’s contest,
which requires pictures to be taken during 2015 and submitted by
the end of the year. Winners will be announced by May 1, 2016.
Weekly winners are recognized.
Other winners announced last week in the “Share the Experience”
contest include Eric DaBreo of Chico, Calif., second place for his
photo of the Golden Gate Bridge taken at sunset from Marshall
Beach, and Jordan Moore of San Marcos, Texas, for his photo of a
bison at the edge of Yellowstone Lake.
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said she hopes the
contest helps inspire people to enjoy the country’s “unrivaled
public lands and waters” and share the feeling with others.
“Taking pictures is one of the many ways to enjoy the splendor
of our nation’s stunning landscapes and share those treasured
moments with friends and family, as well as inspire others who may
have never visited to get out and explore their public lands,” she
said in a