Friday, September 30, 2016

Hoyt Lake Closed to Recreation

According to the news, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC) has confirmed the presence of a harmful algae bloom in Hoyt Lake at Delaware Park. Yesterday, Buffalo's Department of Public Works began installing signs in Delaware Park notifying park patrons that "recreational water activities have been suspended until further notice. That includes no swimming, no boating, no fishing and no pets in the water."

First question - who in their right mind would have been trying to swim in Hoyt Lake even *before* they announced the existence of the algal bloom?? The dead fish and the horrible smell at the Forest Lawn end of the lake should have put anyone off long before this.

And then WIVB had this puzzling statement "The algae still has to go, but fixing the water in Hoyt Lake will require fixing the Scajaquada Creek, which no longer runs continuously through the city."


I have no idea why this Google map image shows the Lake as dark brown. That is really, really weird.

The creek still runs through the city - I took the bridge right over it this morning on the way to campus. I assume that this is an utterly mangled reference to the fact that Hoyt Lake is an artificial feature that is disconnected from the creek. The Scajaquada flows through Forest Lawn Cemetery then enters a short tunnel through a debris-collection grate. The tunnel runs through the park, bypassing Hoyt Lake, and the creek reemerges at the western end of Hoyt Lake, where is separated from the Mirror Lake section of the Lake by a cement wall. During high precipitation events water from the lake overflows the wall into the creek.

Smelly section of creek where it enters the tunnel that goes under the park

Apparently when Frederick Law Olmsted originally designed 'The Park' his 'Gala Lake' feature was connected to the creek and there were small wetlands at either end. But during construction of the 198 expressway (I think - the story is actually quite hard to follow) the Lake was cut off.

Aerial view of Delaware Lake and North Bay in 1938, before
reshaping and construction of the Scajaquada Expressway

A $50k fountain was installed at the Forest Lawn Cemetery end of the lake in 2013, partly in order to help aerate the water in the lake. It is refilled using a fire hydrant when the water level drops so there is extremely limited flow in the lake. However, the pump for the fountain broke (again) this summer which lead to an earlier period of algae and stink.  The lake was reportedly blue again at the end of August, but now - more algae.  I confess - I usually don't notice if the fountain is going or not.  I am usually to busy paying attention to traffic there so most of this summer's drama played out unnoticed by me.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Over 400ppm permanently ?!?!

Just noticed this depressing news - CO2 readings from the Mauna Loa Observatory for the month of September haven't dropped below 400 part per million. If you remember the Keeling Curve, the graph that shows how carbon dioxide levels fluctuate with the seasons but overall are increasing through time, you might already understand how this is important.
Keeling Curve
Normally near the end of September measured CO2 readings reach their annual low point. The low point reflects the annual transition between summer and fall, when the uptake of CO2 by vegetation slows and is overtaken by the release of CO2 from soils.

This year - with only a day to go - CO2 levels have remained above 400ppm (the daily average or yellow circles - not the red dots which are hourly averages and vary greatly over the course of the day).

Though it is highly unusual, there have been 4 years (2002, 2008,  2009, and 2012) in which the monthly value for October was actually lower than the value for September. However, the decrease from September to October those years was at most 0.45 ppm, which probably isn't enough to pull the overall average for October below 400ppm. So, um, EEK!  Because this probably means that we are now permanently above 400ppm. Not good news.

And in related EEK!

NASA Global Climate Change reported today that 2016 is on track to set a new global temperature record.

Swell news, huh.

For more information see:

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

I get to be a Cybils Elementary/Juvenile Non-Fiction Judge

Yippee!  I can now announce that I have been chosen to be a Round 1 Elementary/Juvenile Non-Fiction Judge! This is such a great honor, and an unexpected one really since I haven't been very active on the blog since last years Cybils.  Work took over my life I and just had no energy for blogging. I am trying to fix that now. 

This category is a bit different than in the past few years. Middle grade has been split off and grouped with Young Adult Non-fiction, though thankfully two Cybils will be awarded - one for a middle grade book and one a YA book.

The Elementary/Juvenile Non-Fiction group will also give two awards one for Elementary Nonfiction and one for Juvenile Nonfiction. Overall I am really glad about the changes. From my perspective, I think that the middle grade titles were getting overwhelmed in our old grouping and partly due to that I believe Guts & Glory: The Vikings by Ben Thompson got robbed last year. I thought it was the best book we read in terms of content plus kid accessibility. On the other hand, now I don't get to read the middle grade books!  Pout!

The Elementary/Juvenile Non-Fiction Category Description is as follows ... 
Kids are curious about the world around them and nonfiction is the perfect way to introduce them to that amazing world. History? Biography? Art? Science? Math? Animals? Sports? It's all here and more besides! We love text and illustrations or photographs that will wow kids and adults alike and topics so fascinating that kids will want to go digging for more, more, more nonfiction!

Nonfiction Elementary/Juvenile includes titles with factual content and informational titles. At least 50% or more of the book should be narrative nonfiction (as opposed to experiments, activities, instructional, or collections of facts without a strong narrative thread like encyclopedias). Mythology, folklore, poetry, graphic novels (including nonfiction), and historical fiction should be nominated in the appropriate category (which isn’t this one). We are currently accepting nominations only in print (no ebooks or books containing additional materials like kits) for this category.

How do I decide which category to nominate in?

Elementary Nonfiction
Intended for preschool through beginning readers (picture books, easy readers,
 and early chapters).

Juvenile Nonfiction
Intended for elementary age readers up through 5th grade. May include picture
 books with more complex text and themes and chapter books.

I love reading the entries - there are some really great non-fiction books out there for kids and they deserve to be celebrated.

Nominations for all Cybils categories open October 1st and close on the 15th. The guidelines are here.

Submissions from publishers and authors will be accepted October 16-26 and information for that is at the publisher section.

The mission of these awards is as follows ... "The Cybils Awards aims to recognize the children’s and young adult authors and illustrators whose books combine the highest literary merit and popular appeal. If some la-di-dah awards can be compared to brussels sprouts, and other, more populist ones to gummy bears, we’re thinking more like organic chicken nuggets. We’re yummy and nutritious.

So if you have read a great picture book, early reader, chapter book, middle grade or young adult novel, graphic novel, poetry or nonfiction book this past year please nominate them!

This year, the Elementary/Juvenile Non-Fiction Chair is Jennifer Wharton Jean Little Library (Yeah!  Woot! Woot! Go Jennifer!) 

The First Round Judges are (in alphabetical order):
  • Sara Ralph                     Two Nerdy Sisters                             @sralph31
  • Joanne Roberts            Bookish Ambition                               @BookishAmbition   

The Second Round Judges are:
  • Terry Doherty           The Reading Tub           @readingtub                    
  • Michelle Leonard   The Winged Pen               @MGYABookJunkie and @WingedP
  • Debbie Tanner      The Booksearch                @imtanner2

So Excited !  I hope you all have some amazing nominations to make!  

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Arctic Sea Ice Reaches Second Lowest Yearly Minimum Ever Recorded in the Satellite Record

Each summer the ice cap in the Arctic melts to a point of lowest annual extent or "minimum" before the temperature once again drops, the sun falls below the horizon in the Arctic, and the sea ice once again regrows during the frigid fall and winter months. This first six months of this year have been the warmest in the recorded history of surface temperatures, a record that extends back to 1880. And relatively speaking, data shows that the increases in Arctic temperature are larger than the rest of the globe.

As a result, this year the Arctic sea ice appears to have reached its minimum on September 10th, decreasing to roughly 1.60 million square miles (or 4.14 square kilometers), or roughly 911,000 square miles below the 1981-2010 average, effectively tying with 2007 for the second lowest yearly minimum ever captured in the satellite record, which goes back to 1978.

The 2016 Arctic sea ice summertime minimum, reached on Sept. 10. 
The 1981-2010 average minimum sea ice extent is shown here as a gold line.
Credits: NASA Goddard's Scientific Visualization Studio/C. Starr

It is even more striking in this animation ...

which shows the Earth rotating slowly as the Arctic sea ice advances over time from the prior sea ice maximum on March 24, 2016, through September 10, 2016 when the sea ice reached its annual minimum extent. 
Credits: NASA Goddard's Scientific Visualization Studio/C. Starr

For more information visit

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

New Office - again - in new Building this time

So, last September I posted about how I had become department chair and moved into the Chair's office?  I didn't even get to keep that particular office for a whole year. Over the summer we had to move everything, and I do mean EVERYTHING, out of the old Science Building and into the newly renovated Science and Mathematics Complex (Phase 2). The department office, my faculty office, my laboratory, and everything else had to vacate because the old building is coming down to make way for Phase 3. 

The new department offices are pretty good - here is the Chair's bit of the Earth Sciences and Science Education office ...

Too little shelving space and the layout is weird. I sit on one side of the room and the motion detector for the light is on the other side of the room, so the lights are always turning off on me, which is really annoying. And I am doing a bunch of class prep so the surfaces are completely covered.

I do think that our department office has the coolest office wallpaper though ...

All the offices have discipline relevant gray-scale wallpaper, like equations or molecules. We have the a view of the Lake Ontario shoreline at Chimney Bluffs State Park. Much cooler!  In my biased opinion at least. They tried to get us to put up a picture of Arizona (O.o) or a bunch of leaves (O_O). Local rocks, water and wind is much better for an Earth Sciences Department. 

August was the hottest August on record - like, ever

According to the scientists at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (which has the unfortunate acronym GISS which sounds more like a gas leak than a science agency) August 2016 globally was the warmest August on record out of the 136 years of record-keeping.  Last month also tied with July 2016 as the warmest month ever. This is hard to comprehend, but this graphic from NASA Earth Observatory helps put it into perspective.  Um, eeeeeeekkk ! 

NASA Earth Observatory chart by Joshua Stevens, based on data from the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Locally, August 2016 also manged to be the hottest August on record, beating the old record by roughly half a degree. And there were way more 80° days last August than any other August in Buffalo - 28 of them in all.

Twenty-eight days with temperatures of 80 degrees or higher in Buffalo set a record this August. (xmACIS2)

However, unlike with the global average, August 2016 fell short of tying for Buffalo's warmest month ever. July 1921 retains its title with an all-time high average temperature of 76.2° and July of 1955 is still in second place at 76.0°. August 2016 goes down as Buffalo's third warmest month ever with an average temperature of 75.5°.

Strangely enough, February 2015 was the coldest month on record in Buffalo, ever. This is quite the temperature swing for just 18 months time.  Weather is weird and climate change downright scary!

 If you haven't yet, you should check out Monday's XKCD A Timeline of Earth’s Average Temperature

Monday, September 12, 2016

Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke - mini review

Mighty Jack 

Published by: 1st Second
Publication Date: September 6, 2016
Format: paperback
Pages: 208
Genre: Graphic Novel - Children's
Source: purchased book

Book blurb from Amazon, but here is the author's website just for good measure: 
Jack might be the only kid in the world who's dreading summer. But he's got a good reason: summer is when his single mom takes a second job and leaves him at home to watch his autistic kid sister, Maddy. It's a lot of responsibility, and it's boring, too, because Maddy doesn't talk. Ever. But then, one day at the flea market, Maddy does talk—to tell Jack to trade their mom's car for a box of mysterious seeds. It's the best mistake Jack has ever made.

What starts as a normal little garden out back behind the house quickly grows up into a wild, magical jungle with tiny onion babies running amok, huge, pink pumpkins that bite, and, on one moonlit night that changes everything…a dragon.

The first thing I have to say is AARRRGGHHHHHH!!!!!  Cliffhanger!!!!  You are now forewarned. 

This is a fairly challenging book. Things are not simple and you find yourself both in sympathy with the characters at the same time you are questioning their motivations. Definitely the sort of story that is worth a re-read or two, or more. There is a magic garden, turns out that it isn't all fun and fairly quickly Jack and Maddy are in over their heads.

If you are a fan of the Zita the Spacegirl books, you will need to read this book, there will be some familiar faces and you are going to wonder just what the heck they are up to and where this fits in the universal timeline.

This bit is from the authors website:
"1. It's a graphic novel! (Or whatever we call comic books these days). It's a modern kinda-sorta retelling of the Jack and the Beanstalk story featuring a boy named Jack, his little sister Maddy, and a wild homeschooled girl from down the road named Lilly. The three kids plant a whole gardens worth of strange seeds from a local flea market, and the plants that rise up from the seeds are clearly not from this world. Adventures ensue.

2. It's only the first part of a two-book story! I feel it's very important to warn you, my readers, that this book ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. Or, at least, it ends on an unresolved dramatic moment. which is, okay, the same thing as a cliffhanger. The second book (which is almost finished!) will be out next year at this time."
I wish I had seen #2 earlier, it would possibly have spared me the embarrassment of yelling "AARRRGGHHHHHH!" out loud at a restaurant. 

Anyhow - thumbs up and now I have to wait patiently for part two!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

The Invisible Library
by Genevieve Cogman
Published by: Roc
US Publication Date: June 14, 2016
Format: paperback
Pages: 351
Genre: Speculative Fiction ??
Source: purchased book

From the author's website:

Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, which harvests fiction from different realities. And along with her enigmatic assistant Kai, she’s posted to an alternative London. Their mission – to retrieve a dangerous book. But when they arrive, it’s already been stolen. London’s underground factions seem prepared to fight to the very death to find her book.
Adding to the jeopardy, this world is chaos-infested – the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic. Irene’s new assistant is also hiding secrets of his own.
Soon, she’s up to her eyebrows in a heady mix of danger, clues and secret societies. Yet failure is not an option – the nature of reality itself is at stake.

No brain power for a real review, other than I really enjoyed the book and can't wait to grab a copy of The Masked City which just came out yesterday. I liked the protagonist, I liked the world building and I had a blast reading it. I also liked the antagonist "mean" girl relationship was rather more nuanced and interesting than the typical 'she just hates me and is an evil person' kinda thing.  Not super deep or anything but definitely a fun ride.

I got to visit Cape Town South Africa!

View down into Cape Town from the road up to Table Mountain

I got to visit Cape Town, South Africa !  Happy dance!  Unfortunately it was a flying visit for a conference so I didn't get to see or do nearly enough.

I was there to present a talk entitled Portable X-ray Fluorescence (PXRF) Spectrometry of Soils: Method Limitations at the 35th International Geological Congress held in Cape Town, South Africa as part of the special 5th International Conference on Criminal and Environmental Soil Forensics session. The talk was more exciting than the title makes it sound. Seriously. 

I did play hooky for part of a day with a friend from Italy and we went out to hike up Table Mountain.  Amazing place though I was rather disappointed to figure out that I flew 12+ hours then another 9+ only to land on rocks that were Ordovician and Siluro-Devonian rocks - same age as home. We had a great time hiking around and enjoying the breathtaking view.  Very windy but the sun was out and it was a gorgeous day.

Good thing we snuck out too, since this is what it looked like the next day ...

Seriously cloudy.  Couldn't see a thing.  Everyone there was complaining about how cold it was (winter in the Southern Hemisphere) but I thought it felt wonderful!  Way nicer than the 85°F+ temperatures we have been having around home.