Friday, September 25, 2009 5:21 PM
Australian Professor Thomas Parnell’s Pitch Drop Experiment has been occurring since 1927—just ever-so-slowly, and unseen by anyone. Cabinet reports that the professor wanted to illustrate to his class that even though some substances seem to be solid, they may actually be fluid, so he rigged up a glass container with a heated sample of pitch, a petroleum substance, and let the magic begin. Unfortunately, none of his students have been able to observe the lesson. It took eight years for the first drop to fall through the funnel-shaped container, and subsequent drips have taken between seven and 12 years to fall. Eight drops have fallen so far, and in 2000, “the viscosity of the pitch was finally calculated to be roughly one hundred billion times that of water.”
“The closest anyone has ever come was in April 1979 when Professor John Mainstone, who now maintains the experiment, came to work on a Sunday afternoon. He noted that the pitch drop was just about to touch down, but he did not have time to say and watch. On returning the following morning, Mainstone saw, much to his chagrin, that the drop had fallen. Even modern technology has been foiled in its attempt to capture direct evidence of the pitch’s clandestine maneuvers; a video camera placed to monitor the experiment happened to fail at the very moment the eighth drop fell.”
Image by AMagill, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, April 30, 2009 4:30 PM
In Australia dwells a nearly extinct creature called the boodie, an omnivorous and nocturnal burrowing animal “like a kangaroo no bigger than a modest teddy bear” with “a particular appetite for underground fungi,” writes Tim Winton in “Repatriation: Travels Through a Recovering Landscape” in the beefy environmental lit journal Ecotone (Vol. 4, No. 1&2; article not online). Traveling the desert lands of northwestern Australia in the boodie’s former range, Winton also traverses the puzzles and paradoxes of Australian conservation in this engaging and decription-rich essay. Naturally “leery of wealthy do-gooders,” he nonetheless comes to see promise in privately funded efforts to preserve prime boodie habitat. Part of the fun of the essay, I’ll admit, is the Australian animal names. Winton writes about one researcher, Alexander Baynes, who has
“produced a roll call of troubled species that includes not just the boodie and the woylie, but the elusive wambenger, the chuditch, the short-beaked echidna, and several species of dunnarts, bandicoots, bats, wallabies, and mice.
“Creatures with names like these would be at home in a satire by Jonathan Swift, so it should be no surprise to discover that … coordinates put Gulliver hereabouts. At the time Swift was writing, there was indeed an austral island teeming with creatures more strange and marvelous than even he could imagine, but so quickly have they disappeared from view or from existence altogether that they can sometimes seem a product of mere fancy.”
Winton's article was previously published as "Silent Country" in the Australian magazine The Monthly. Read it in full (pdf) on the website of the Australian Wildlife Conservancy.
Sources: Ecotone, Australian Wildlife Conservancy, Shark Bay World Heritage Area
Image courtesy of DEC / Babs and Bert Wells.
Thursday, February 14, 2008 9:51 AM
The Australian government’s recent apology to the Aboriginal people for historic wrongs could benefit people’s health, Rachel Nowak reports for the New Scientist. The Aboriginal people currently struggle with high rates of alcoholism, depression, and other physical and mental health issues. Prime Minister Paul Rudd’s apology for forced “assimilation” programs that ended in 1970 has been called “tremendously significant in mental health respects,” by medical policy researcher Marlene Kong. “It will help the healing process, and that in turn will contribute to physical well-being.”
Native Americans in the United States struggle with some of the same issues of substance abuse and depression, yet “the United States has no general program of reparations for Native Americans and no prospects for adopting one,” David C. Williams writes for Cultural Survival Quarterly. Williams believes that Americans’ aversion to guilt is holding up the reparations processes, no matter what the potential benefits could be.
Even with the formal apology, experts quoted by the New Scientist recognize that Australia has a long way to go toward closing the health gap between Aboriginal people and the rest of the country. A 17-year differential in life expectancy currently exists between some Aboriginal communities and Australia as a whole. The government has pledged to close that rift within a generation, but experts agree that greater resources are needed to address the problem.
Photo by Douglas Kastle, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, December 13, 2007 4:05 PM
A new tool in the fight against global warming might be hopping around the Australian outback. A recent report (PDF) by Greenpeace suggests that using kangaroos, instead of cows, as a source of meat could make a substantial impact on Australia’s carbon footprint. Eating cuddly marsupial for dinner might sound unnatural to Americans, but kangaroo has been a part of Australian cuisine from time immemorial. It fact, the practice fits perfectly with many established ideas of green living: eat local, free-range meats; raise animals that help sustain the land; cultivate indigenous plants and animals. Most importantly, according to Greenpeace, kangaroos don’t release as much methane gas as cows do.
(Thanks, Shameless Carnivore.)
Tuesday, November 13, 2007 5:55 PM
Article Posted: 11/14/07
Imagine sticking a piece of beef jerky into a food dehydrator, and you'll have a good idea of what global warming is doing to Australia. The already arid continent has been hit by a drought of such epic proportions that the surf-loving Aussie civilization is threatened. The country, which is so dry that 90 percent of its population clings to its wet coastal regions, has been getting even more parched than usual: Rainfall is pegged to drop 10 percent by 2030 and percent by 2070, reports Science News. Global warming is the likely culprit. The Murray-Darling river basin, on which 40 percent of Australia's agriculture relies, is shriveling up like a grape left in the sun:
The 2006-2007 growing season was the basin's driest in the 116 years for which records exist, according to an August 2007 report by the Murray-Darling Basin Commission. Computer models that predict weather patterns give a 75 percent chance that storage levels will remain low through May. "The system is really running on empty," [Mike] Young, [professor of water economics and management at the University of Adelaide,] says. "We're now borrowing water from the future."
The massive threat to the antipodes does have its bright side. It's encouraging Australians to go green. And fast. According to a poll by the Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs, 92 percent of Australians think that they should fight global warming, the largest percentage of countries surveyed. This is not just empty rhetoric. Australian cities are imposing stiff water restrictions. In Brisbane, for instance, people can only water their lawns every other day for only a couple of hours, and stiff fines are imposed on households breaking an 800-liter-a-day limit on water use. (The average American household uses 1,325 liters a day.)
Seed reports that there's a flood of enthusiasm for new technology to fight Australia's Big Dry, including gray water systems to water gardens and ambitious computer modeling programs that might help farmers plan for coming droughts. These efforts might light the way for other countries that might be forced to follow in Australia's footsteps as the world's climate shifts.
But the drought hasn’t broken for Australia yet. John Howard, the conservative prime minister, has still not ratified the Kyoto Protocol. And though the upcoming election might end Howard's decade-long reign, the experts aren't too impressed with any of the pols' lackluster plans to go green, reports the Melbourne-based Age’s Jo Chandler. The Labor party recently got some egg on its face when it back-flipped on its election pledge to unequivocally sign an international climate accord when the Kyoto Protocol runs out in 2012. Will Kevin Rudd, the Labor candidate, win the next election and turn Australia into a green haven, or will the sunburnt country just dry up? Time will tell. —Brendan Mackie
UPDATE: Kevin Rudd and his Labor party "emphatically" swept the Australian election this Saturday. The conservative Coalition were trounced so badly that John Howard, the outgoing Prime Minister, might have even lost his seat in Parliament. At the time of writing, the Green party could win enough seats to hold the balance of power in parliament. Global warming policy was one of the issues that sealed Rudd's historic win. Hopefully this bodes well for coming elections.
(Image licensed under Creative Commons attribution 1.0.)
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