It’s been nearly a year since the opening of Verruckt, the
tallest water slide, located at Schlitterbahn Waterpark in
Kansas City, Kansas.
Numerous videos reveal a thrilling ride, as three people are
strapped into a raft and fly down a 60-degree incline from 168 feet
up — higher than Niagara Falls — reaching speeds up to 65 miles per
hour. The German word “verruckt,” which means crazy or insane,
seems to fit, but I’d love to hear from anyone who has gone down
A year ago, just prior to opening, more than a few people were
alarmed by the continuing delays, caused in part by safety
concerns. During practice runs, before any person went down the
slide, rafts loaded with sandbags kept flying off the slide in
A little less water on the slide slowed the speed and kept the
rafts more stable. Still, to this day, riders report that they can
feel the raft rising off the slide and going into free fall. The
first video shows the initial trip taken by any human. On board
were park designer Jeff Henry and ride engineer John Schooley.
Schooley admitted to Astead Herndon, reporting for CNN
News, that the ride was more than a little nerve-racking.
“It was terrifying,” Schooley said. “It was great fun, but it
was actually terrifying.”
Before the ride was finally opened to the public, most of the
slide was enclosed with netting as an added precaution. Read
“LiveScience” to see how they can make adjustments to the speed
The feeling of height and speed is shown well in a promotional
video for Garmin action cameras (shown in the second video player
on this page),
Another good depiction of the wild ride was shown by reporter
Matt Gutman of
ABC News. He was one of the first regular folks to go down the
Verruckt is listed by Geobeats in the 10th position among the
“World’s 10 Most Amazing Water Slides,” shown in the last video on
this page. They all look more than a little crazy.
After much success in cleaning up streams in Kitsap County,
pollution investigators for the Kitsap Public Health District plan
to turn their backs on most state and federal grants and reorganize
their approach to local waterways.
I’m talking about the folks who literally wrote the book on
pollution identification and correction, or PIC, a strategic
approach to tracking down bacterial contamination and eliminating
the sources. A 2012
“Protocol Manual” (PDF 10.6 mb) and a 2014
“guidance document” (PDF 4.3 mb) — both developed by Kitsap’s
pollution investigators — are now being used by local health
departments throughout the state.
That’s why I was surprised to hear that the health district
plans to change course for its pollution-cleanup program this fall
— especially the part about reducing reliance on state and federal
grants. For many Puget Sound jurisdictions, these grants provide
the major sources of funding, if not the only funding for their PIC
Kitsap County is fortunate to have a stormwater fee collected
from rural property owners. For single-family homeowners, the fee
will be $82 this year. The money goes into the Clean Water Kitsap
program, which funds a multitude of clean-water projects —
including street-sweeping, improving stormwater systems and
restoring natural drainage.
The fee also supports the health district’s ongoing monitoring
program, a monthly sampling of more than 50 Kitsap County streams,
along with lakes and marine waters. The program has successfully
reported improvements in various streams while providing
early-warning signs for water-quality problems. The program was
started in 1996.
None of that will change, according to Stuart Whitford,
supervisor for the health district’s PIC Program. While state and
federal grants have been helpful in tracking down pollution
problems, most of the major problems have been identified, he
“We know what we have, and the patient has been stabilized,” he
The problem with grants is that they require specific
performance measures, which must be carefully documented and
reported quarterly and in final reports.
“The administrative burden is heavy, and the state grants don’t
fully pay for the overhead,” Stuart said. “Looking out into the
future, we think state and federal grants will be reduced. We are
already seeing that in the Legislature. So we are going to wean
ourselves off the grants.”
Future efforts need to focus on identifying failing septic
systems and sources of animal waste before they become a serious
problem, Stuart told me. The process of doing that is firmly
established in local plans. Work will continue, however, on nagging
pollution problems that have not been resolved in some streams. And
he’s not ruling out applying for grants for specific projects, if
the need returns.
To increase efficiency in the ongoing program, health district
staff will be reorganized so that each investigator will focus on
one or more of the 10 watersheds in the county. In the process, the
staff has been cut by one person. The assignments are being made
now and will be fully implemented in the fall.
“The stream monitoring will remain the same,” Stuart said. “But
each person will be able to do more intensive monitoring in their
Having one investigator responsible for each watershed will
allow that person to become even more intimately acquainted with
the landscape and the water-quality issues unique to that area.
Because of the extensive problems in Sinclair Inlet, two people
will be assigned to that drainage area, which includes a good
portion of South Kitsap and West Bremerton.
Dave Garland, regional water-quality supervisor for the
Department of Ecology, said he, too, was surprised that the Kitsap
Public Health District wishes to avoid grants, but he is confident
that Stuart Whitford knows what he is doing.
“They are definitely leaders in the state and have been very
successful in their approach,” he said. “We wish more health
districts and surface water departments would be more like Kitsap.
They are improving as they go.”
Garland said Kitsap County officials have done more than anyone
to remove streams and waterways from the “impaired waters” list
that Ecology compiles. The list — also known as 303(d) under the
federal Clean Water Act — is part of Ecology’s
“Water Quality Assessment,” now being finalized for submission
to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
In 2008, Kitsap County had 69 stream segments listed as
“impaired.” As a result of work over six years, now only 7 are
proposed for the upcoming list. Many streams were removed when they
came under state cleanup plans for Dyes and Sinclair inlets,
between Port Orchard and Silverdale, or in Liberty Bay near
Poulsbo. Those state plans identify cleanup efforts to reduce
pollution loading and bring the waters into conformance with state
water-quality standards. They are called TMDLs, short for total
maximum daily loads.
Because the Kitsap County PIC Program has been so successful,
Ecology has allowed the local program to substitute for TMDL
studies for many streams where stormwater outfalls are not an
issue. Under the Clean Water Act, the local program comes under
Category 4B (for local planning), as opposed to 4A (the state’s
“No one has done a more thorough job,” Dave said of Kitsap’s
effort. “It is very impressive to see that they have gone to TMDLs
or to 4B. That does not mean the waters are clean, but it means
they are under a plan.”
Of the remaining seven “impaired” water bodies, some should be
removed because of Kitsap’s cleanup plans, Stuart said. They
include Anderson Creek and Boyce Creek, which flow into Hood Canal,
and Murden Creek on Bainbridge Island, which is undergoing a
special study. Phinney Creek in Dyes Inlet is already part of a
TMDL, and an area in southern Hood Canal should not be on the list
because it meets water-quality standards, he said. Stuart hopes to
get those changes made before the list is submitted to EPA this
Currently, nothing is being done with regard to Eagle Harbor or
Ravine Creek, two “impaired” water bodies on Bainbridge Island. The
health district’s program does not extend to cities, although
Bainbridge could contract with the health district for monitoring
Eagle Harbor could become subject to a TMDL study by the
Department of Ecology, but it is not currently on the state’s
priority list. As a result, work is not likely to begin for at
least two years.
The Environmental Protection Agency has finally completed a new
rule that defines which waterways across the country fall under
federal jurisdiction for clean-water permits.
Enforcement of the federal Clean Water Act has been stuck in a
state of confusion since 2006, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled
that the Army Corps of Engineers was overreaching by requiring
permits for all sorts of waterways beyond the agency’s
jurisdiction. For background, check out my
Water Ways post from March 25, 2014, in which I describe the
court’s interpretation of “waters of the U.S.” — the key phrase in
The EPA requisitioned a scientific report about hydraulic
connectivity, concluding that even small streams can affect
downstream waters. The final language in the rule, designed to
reduce judgment calls by federal regulators, says tributaries would
come under federal jurisdiction only if capable of delivering
significant pollution downstream. Such tributaries would need to
have flowing water or related features — such as a streambed, bank
or high-water mark.
The rule has worried farmers, who want to make sure the federal
government does not try to regulate ditches designed for irrigation
and drainage. Language in the final rule says ditches will not be
regulated unless they are shown to be a remnant of a natural stream
that has been diverted or altered.
Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary for the Army, said the rule
represents a “new era” for the Clean Water Act. As she stated in a
“This rule responds to the public’s demand for greater clarity,
consistency, and predictability when making jurisdictional
determinations. The result will be better public service
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said the rule is grounded in
science and law. For downstream waters to be clean, upstream waters
also must be clean, she said.
McCarthy said the language was revised significantly since the
first proposal, taking into account more than a million public
comments and discussions in 400 meetings across the country. As she
told reporters in a telephone conference call:
“I think you will see that we have made substantial changes that
basically made this rule clearer, crisper and did the job we were
supposed to do. And I’m very proud of the work we have done
McCarthy also told the reporters that climate change increases
the importance of protecting water resources:
“Impacts from climate change — like more intense droughts,
storms, fires and floods, not to mention sea-level rise — affect
our water supplies. But healthy streams and wetlands can help
protect communities by trapping flood waters, retaining moisture
during drought, recharging groundwater supplies, filtering
pollution and providing habitat for fish and wildlife.”
The new rule was applauded by many environmental groups,
including the Sierra Club. Michael Brune, executive director,
“No longer will the Supreme Court’s confusing decisions on the
issue allow dirty fossil fuel companies to threaten people’s health
by dumping toxins into our lakes, rivers, and streams.”
Still, plenty of people contend that the EPA and Army Corps have
contrived this new rule to continue their over-reach into streams
that should be beyond federal jurisdiction. House Speaker John
Boehner, R- Ohio, issued
this statement in response to the EPA’s release of the new
rule, sometimes called “WOTUS” for “waters of the U.S.”
“The administration’s decree to unilaterally expand federal
authority is a raw and tyrannical power grab that will crush jobs.
House members of both parties have joined more than 30 governors
and government leaders to reject EPA’s disastrous WOTUS rule. These
leaders know firsthand that the rule is being shoved down the
throats of hardworking people with no input and places landowners,
small businesses, farmers and manufacturers on the road to a
regulatory and economic hell.”
The House has already passed a bill, HB
1732, that would put the brakes on implementation of the new
rule and send the EPA back to the drawing board for new language.
As you could expect, the vote was mostly along party lines. If the
Senate approves the bill, it is likely to be vetoed by the
The new rule is scheduled to go into effect 60 days from its
publication in the Federal Register. For more details, visit the
EPA’s website “Clean
This year’s research project tracing the movements of Southern
Resident killer whales has ended after 96 days of tracking L-84, a
25-year-old male named Nyssa.
It was the longest period of tracking among the Southern
Residents since the satellite-tagging studies began in 2012. The
transmitter carried by L-84 lasted three days longer than a similar
deployment on K-25 in 2013. The satellite tags, which are attached
to the dorsal fins of the whales with darts, often detach after
about a month.
The nice thing about this year’s study is that it covered the
entire month of April and much of May, according to Brad Hanson,
project supervisor for NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center.
That tells the researchers something about the movement of the
whales later in the year than previous deployments have
A satellite tag on J-27 (Blackberry) in late December extended
the total tracking period to more than four months.
Looking back through the
tracking maps since February, it is clear that L-84 and his
entourage have spent much of their time moving up and down the
Washington and Oregon coasts. They seem to favor hanging out near
the mouth of the Columbia River. On a few occasions, they have
ventured into Northern California.
On May 6, they took their only jaunt north into Canadian waters,
reaching Estavan Point (halfway up Vancouver Island) two days
later. They continued north another day, nearly reaching Brooks
Peninsula (about three-fourths up Vancouver Island) on May 9. Then
they headed back south, ending this year’s tracking program near
the Columbia River.
Just before the satellite tag fell off, biologists from Cascadia
Research Collective caught up with the whales on May 21 south of
the Columbia River. The researchers noticed that the tag was
loosening, and no further satellite signals were picked up.
The tracking studies, combined with efforts to collect samples
of feces and fish remains, are designed to identify where the
whales are spending their time in winter months and what they are
finding to eat when salmon are more scarce. All of this could lead
to a major expansion of their designated “critical habitat” and
increased protections in coastal waters. As of now, critical
habitat for the whales does not extend into the ocean, and NOAA has
concluded that more information is needed before changing the
designated protection area.
Within the next month or so, all three Southern Resident pods
should head into Puget Sound, congregating in the San Juan Islands,
as chinook salmon return to Canada’s Fraser River and other streams
in the Salish Sea.
Meanwhile, J pod seems to be hanging out in waters around the
San Juans, possibly waiting for the other pods to show up. Plenty
of observers have been filing some great reports and related photos
That link also includes recent reports of seal-eating transient
killer whales that have traveled as far south as the
Bremerton-Seattle area, perhaps farther. A few humpback whales have
been sighted in northern Puget Sound.
Bremerton has another winner in the Wyland Foundation’s National
Mayor’s Challenge. Teacher Bobbi Busch and her seventh and eighth
grades classes at Mountain View Middle School were declared the
Northwest regional winner in the Classroom Edition of the
The 100 or so students in Busch’s three seventh-grade and two
eighth-grade classes joined the competition simply by going online,
taking the water pledge and listing their teacher.
Busch said she heard about the contest from Bremerton’s Kathleen
Cahall during a meeting of science and math teachers. One winner
was chosen at random from each region of the country. Thanks to the
effort, Busch will receive a $250 gift card for purchasing supplies
for her classroom, and the school principal will receive an
identical $250 card to buy something for the school.
Bremerton came in third this year in the National Mayor’s
Challenge for Water Conservation, a contest that encourages people
to take a pledge to save water.
Third place is a very good showing, but not as good as the past
two years, when Bremerton took the first-place spot in the nation.
In 2012 — the first year of the contest — Bremerton came in third
as well. That makes Bremerton the only city to place among the top
three for its size in all four years of the contest, noted Kathleen
Cahall, Bremerton’s water resources manager.
The two cities that exceeded Bremerton’s efforts this year were
Ponway, Calif., in first place, and Hot Springs, Ark., in second.
Each had more people, by percentage, who took the pledge than those
lower on the list. Olympia, which is in the same population
category as Bremerton (30,000 to 100,000), came in ninth, not a bad
showing at all.
Seattle came in eighth among cities with populations of 600,000
and more. No other cities in Washington state made the list of the top
If Bremerton area residents carry through on their pledges, they
will save enough water to fill 24 Olympic-size swimming pools each
year, according to a news release from the
Wyland Foundation (PDF 360 kb), which sponsors the competition.
That’s 15.6 million gallons.
Beyond the water savings, Bremerton area residents agreed to
reduce their use of disposable water bottles by 46,424 bottles,
according to the report. Other proposed actions could save 495,000
pounds of trash going to the landfills, 138,000 gallons of oil and
75 million pounds of carbon dioxide.
In all, residents from more than 3,900 cities signed more than
391,000 online pledges to save water. As in last year’s contest,
residents from the winning cities will be entered into a drawing
for more than $50,000 in prizes.
Kathleen Cahall and city employees Lisa Campbell, Teresa
Sjostrom and Kelsie Donleycott did a good job getting the word out
about this year’s challenge, and many local businesses provided
information to their customers. As always, Mayor Patty Lent’s
personal involvement and interest in water resources helped
generate support for Bremerton’s high standing in the contest.
On a somewhat related topic, state and local water-quality
officials have been spreading the word this month about using
commercial car washes to recycle washwater from vehicles. The goal
is to save water and prevent pollution from going into storm drains
that flush into streams and bays.
The 3 million cars in the Central Puget Sound region can
contribute nearly 10,000 gallons of gasoline, diesel and motor oil
to waterways each year, along with 19,000 pounds of phosphorus and
nitrogen, 2,900 pounds of ammonia and 1.4 million pounds of solid
waste, according to a news release from the
Puget Sound Car Wash Association.
School and other nonprofit groups can sell tickets to car washes
— an alternative to holding car washes in parking lots that lack
adequate controls for pollution. In Kitsap County, check out the
Wash Program. One can also contact local car wash operators
directly, or view a list of operators in
the Puget Sound region that have joined the PSCWA program.
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.
A couple weeks ago, I wrote about a a new deep-sea observatory
being built off the West Coast. I noted that Washington and Oregon
researchers are thrilled to monitor the eruption of an underwater
volcano called Axial Seamount.
Soon, new equipment and a fiber optics cable will allow these
researchers to widely share discoveries involving the unique
geology and unusual plants and animals living at the bottom of the
ocean. People will be able to watch in real time via the Internet.
Water Ways, May 6.
Now, a new lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity
has me thinking about the commercial value of the deep ocean. Can
society safely mine the seafloor for valuable minerals used in a
wide variety of consumer products? Can huge mining equipment
operate in water two or three miles deep without destroying the
unique ecosystem at the bottom of the ocean?
For decades, researchers have been aware of high concentrations
of minerals lying on and beneath the sea floor. But nobody was
worried about the environmental damage of mining, because the costs
of commercial recovery were too great.
The high profitability of mining sector companies;
A decline in the tonnage and grade of land-based nickel, copper
and cobalt sulphide deposits; and
Technological advances in deep seabed mining and
The new technology involves giant robotic machines that either
excavate the seafloor or scoop up clumps of polymetallic nodules.
Over the past few years, 26 permits have been issued to mining
corporations, mostly for operations in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone
of the Pacific Ocean, about halfway between Hawaii and Mexico.
“Deep-sea mining is an emerging threat to our oceans that has
the potential to irreparably harm underwater ecosystems before we
even have a chance to fully study its impacts,” declares the
Center for Biological Diversity, adding:
“Life on the deep ocean floor is still a mysterious realm that
scientists have only just begun to fully understand and inventory…
What mountaintop-removal coal mining has done in Appalachia,
deep-sea mining has the potential to do in the Pacific Ocean,
affecting the ecosystem and food web in ways that scientists say
they don’t yet fully understand.”
Last week, the environmental group filed a
lawsuit (PDF 162 kb) against the U.S. government for issuing
exploratory permits without the requisite environmental studies.
Said Emily Jeffers, the attorney who filed the case:
“Deep-sea mining should be stopped, and this lawsuit aims to
compel the government to look at the environmental risks before it
leaps into this new frontier. We need to protect the ocean wildlife
and habitat, and the United States should provide leadership for
other nations to follow before more projects get underway.”
The lawsuit, filed in Washington, D.C., challenges two
exploratory permits issued to OMCO Seabed Exploration, LLC, a
subsidiary of Lockheed Martin, the defense contractor. The original
permits for work in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone expired in 2004.
Jeffers says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
should have considered the environmental effects of the mining plan
before renewing the permits in 2012.
“If we aren’t careful, this new gold rush could do irreparable
harm to the basic building blocks of life. The federal government
has a moral duty, as well as a legal one, to understand the full
environmental impacts before the mining industry scrapes away our
Besides tearing up the sea floor, mining operations can stir up
sediment, which can smother organisms living on the bottom,
according to the lawsuit. Cloudy water can reduce productivity, and
clouds of sediment may contain toxic metals that reduce
reproductive success of sea life. Light and noise from ships and
vessels can disrupt seabird behavior and affect whales and other
marine mammals, the suit claims.
Other permits have been issued to various countries in Europe
and Asia by the International
Seabed Authority, which hopes to approve environmental
standards by the end of next year. The U.S. is not subject to those
rules and cannot demand compliance from other countries, because
the U.S. has not ratified the United Nations’ Convention on the Law
of the Sea, a treaty that establishes the International Seabed
Bill Dance, who learned how to fish from his grandfather on
Mulberry Creek near Lynchburg, Tenn., is one of the most recognized
sport fishermen in the country.
With 23 national bass titles to his name, Bill Dance retired
from competitive fishing in 1980 at the age of 39. His television
show “Bill Dance
Outdoors” has been on the air since 1968, with more than 2000
programs to date. It’s an amazing career, and it appears this man
is still out on the water with his fishing pole.
With all the fishing Bill has done through the years, it is
inevitable that he has had a few misshaps along the way. Six years
ago in this blog, I rounded up some of the amusing moments this
fisherman has lived through. Since then, Bill has enhanced his
YouTube channel and compiled five “blooper videos” that show the
variety of ways that Bill, his friends and his camera operators
have managed to get wet.
I’ve posted my favorite compilation video from the Bill Dance
collection on this page. Four other humorous videos can be found
under “Bloopers, Goof Ups & Funny Moments” on the “Bill
Dance Fishing” channel on YouTube.
It was the clever headline that caught my attention: “April
flowers bring May showers?”
But it was the latest research about pollen from the University
of Michigan and Texas A&M that got me digging a little deeper
and eventually arriving at the subject of clouds and climate
The bottom line is a possibility that pollen from trees and
flowers can break apart during a rainstorm. The broken pieces can
then float up into the air and seed the clouds for the next
Allison Steiner, associate professor of atmospheric, oceanic and
space sciences at U-M, began exploring how pollen might seed the
clouds after sweeping a layer of pollen off her front porch one
morning and wondering what happens after the pollen drifts into the
Atmospheric scientists have never paid much attention to pollen.
It is generally believed that pollen grains are too large to seed
the clouds. Instead, most attention has been focused on man-made
aerosols, such as particles from a coal-fired power plant. High in
the atmosphere, the particles can encourage moisture in the air to
condense, the initial step in the formation of rain.
But people with allergies may recognize that their symptoms grow
worse after a rainstorm when the air begins to dry out. As Steiner
explains in an
M-I news release:
“When we were looking in the allergy literature we discovered
that it’s pretty well known that pollen can break up into these
tiny pieces and trigger an allergic response. What we found is when
pollen gets wet, it can rupture very easily in seconds or minutes
and make lots of smaller particles that can act as cloud
condensation nuclei, or collectors for water.”
In a laboratory at Texas A&M, Sarah Brooks, a professor in
atmospheric sciences, soaked six different kinds of pollen in
water, then sprayed the moist fragments into a cloud-making
chamber. Brooks and her colleagues found that three fragment sizes
— 50, 100 and 200 nanometers — quickly collected water vapor to
form cloud droplets, which are 10 times bigger than the particles.
(It takes about 6 million nanometers to equal a quarter of an inch,
so we’re talking about very small particles.) Brooks noted in a
Texas A&M news release:
“Scientists are just beginning to identify the types of
biological aerosols which are important for cloud formation. Our
results identify pollen as a major contributor to cloud formation.
Specifically, our results suggest that increased pollen could lead
to the formation of thicker clouds and longer cloud lifetimes.”
The effect of cloud formation on global warming may be the most
important mystery in climate science today, according to Jasper
Kirby, a particle physicist who is leading a team of atmospheric
scientists from 15 European and U.S. institutions. Consequently,
the effect of aerosols on cloud formation must be equally
Clouds are known to cool the planet by reflecting sunlight back
out to space, but they can also contain heat at night, so cloud
formation plays a critical role in determining the rate of global
warming. To better predict global warming, one has to better
understand when and how clouds are formed at a “very fundamental
level,” Kirby told reporter Rae Ellen Bichell in
“Yale Environment 360.” Kirby added:
“By fundamental, I mean we have to understand what the gases
are, the vapors, that are responsible for forming these little
particles. And secondly, we have to understand exactly how quickly
they react with each other and how they form the aerosol particles
which … constitute the seeds for cloud droplets. And this process
is responsible for half the cloud droplets in the atmosphere. It’s
a very, very important process, but it’s very poorly
In the upper atmosphere, aerosols can directly reflect sunlight
back into space. These include man-made aerosols from industrial
pollution as well as natural aerosols, such as volcanic eruptions
and desert dust and now possibly pollen. Check out NASA’s webpage
Steiner, who is doing the pollen experiments, said understanding
natural aerosols is critical to understanding climate change:
“What happens in clouds is one of the big uncertainties in
climate models right now. One of the things we’re trying to
understand is how do natural aerosols influence cloud cover and
precipitation under present day and future climate.
“It’s possible that when trees emit pollen, that makes clouds,
which in turn makes rain and that feeds back into the trees and can
influence the whole growth cycle of the plant.”
For people more interested in the allergy aspects of this story,
I found a website called pollen.com, which
identifies a variety of ways that weather can affect pollen and
A mild winter can lead to early plant growth and an early
A late freeze can delay pollen production in trees, reducing
the risk of an allergic reaction,
Dry, windy weather increases the spread of pollen and worsens
Rain can wash pollen out of the air, reducing the risk of
exposure to pollen, but
Rain can also increase the growth of plants, especially
grasses, increasing the pollen levels.
An odd little fish that attaches tightly to rocks could play a
role in developing underwater suction cups that won’t let go even
under the harshest conditions. I found the video amusing, but there
is a serious side to this discussion as well.
University of Washington scientists studying biological
attachment say the northern clingfish can hold up to 150 times its
own weight, thanks to a growth on its underside that works like a
suction cup. Unlike a standard suction cup, however, the
clingfish’s sucker works even better on rough surfaces. The
researchers are just beginning to imagine the possible applications
One idea is to develop a super suction cup that could attach a
satellite transmitter to a killer whale or other marine mammal. The
current method for long-term attachment is to use a sharp barb to
penetrate the skin. Standard suction cups are commonly used for
short-term monitoring with small instruments, but they tend to fall
Suction-cup attachments could be developed for laparoscopic
surgery, allowing doctors to move organs around without risk of
puncture. Other applications could be anywhere a temporary tight
bond is needed under wet conditions, such as the wall of a shower
or swimming pool.
“Northern clingfish’s attachment abilities are very desirable
for technical applications, and this fish can provide an excellent
model for strongly and reversibly attaching to rough, fouled
surfaces in wet environments,” said Petra Ditsche, a postdoctoral
researcher working with Adam Summers and
his team at Friday Harbor Labs in the San Juan Islands. (See
UW news release.)
In April, Ditsche found an interested audience at a meeting of
Adhesive and Sealant Council, which studies, promotes and
markets various forms of attachment.
So how are clingfish able to hold on so tightly? The secret lies
in the tiny hairlike structures called microvilli formed in layers
around the suction-cup growth on their bellies. The microvilli help
form a tight seal on rough surfaces, and they flex to maintain the
seal even when wiggled back and forth. A standard rubber or plastic
suction cup can rapidly lose its seal from distortion or movement,
which allows air or water to seep underneath.
For a detailed discussion about biological attachment of all
sorts, check out a paper by Ditsche and Summers called “Aquatic
versus terrestrial attachment: Water makes a difference” in the
Journal of Nanotechnology.
About 110 species of clingfish have been identified, and the
northern clingfish is found from Mexico to Alaska.