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Category Archives: water

Joshua trees

Often used by Hollywood, this bizarre looking member of the mostly subtropical agave family provides a striking silhouette standing tall with rigid arms extending in every direction against the orange Mojave Desert sky.

Named by 18th century Mormons after the biblical prophet Joshua, the plant also known as a yucca had special meaning for those wandering across the parched high desert in search of the Promised Lands. Its arms pointing towards heaven, as the story goes, confirmed that they were on course.

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Dr.Reese Halter, Los Angeles Global Elephant, Rhino, Lion March September 2014

The mighty oak is truly a remarkable tree. Oaks have sustained humans for more than six thousand years. Oaks have often been referred to as: generous, hospitable, scholarly, surveyors and long-lived.

From Vancouver to Caracas, from Miami to Dublin, from Lisbon to Jakarta and from Seoul to Tokyo there are about 425 species of oaks. Their lineage dates back some 65 million years. They are genetically rich and an incredibly flexible genus surviving geologic upheavals and many climate changes.

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Eagles 3

The oceans are teaming with life and full of washed-up treasures. Whenever walking along the seashore invariably I return home with driftwood, seashells and smooth rocks.

What we were really picking-up from the beach is more correctly referred to as flotsam and jetsam. Flotsam is articles found floating on or slightly beneath the ocean’s surface. Jetsam is whatever is jettisoned into the water including cargo containers and their contents, plastic soda bottles, styrofoam fishing net floats or rubber ducks. If it floats, jetsam then becomes flotsam. If it sinks to the ocean floor, it becomes lagan; where there are many ancient shipwrecks in their watery graves amongst Davey Jone’s locker.

Throughout the ages humans have always been interested with flotsam. Perhaps one of the most sought after floating treasures was ambergris.

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Dragonflies and their ancestors have survived on Earth for over 300 million years. Fossils show that ancient dragonflies had wing-spans of over 28 inches (70 centimeters). Today there are more than 80 different species that occur throughout the West.

The name dragonfly comes from the Greek word for tooth, likely because of their very impressive chewing mouthparts. Dragonflies are harmless to humans. They have an unwarranted reputation that has instilled fear into people.

There are about 5,500 different species of dragonflies worldwide. Some are as colorful as birds and butterflies with iridescent, metallic green and crimsons.

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beaver lodge, Utah

Beavers are formidable harvesters. They can drop a 10-inch diameter tree within minutes. Yet, they also know how to regrow forests and promote water conservation.

Beavers are the largest of all North American rodents, weighing a whopping 44 pounds. They move slowly and awkwardly over land and so they’ve mastered the path of least resistance – floating through the forest. In fact, they are experts in the world of fresh water.

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Exquisite bounty from an orange tree, Los Angeles, California.

Sierra Madre Tattler 22, 2013

In the early 1990s I cut my teeth in tree root physiology at The University of Melbourne, Australia, with one of the top tree physiology laboratories on the globe headed by Professor Emeritus Roger Sands (link).

Fresh water is indeed the lifeblood of planet Earth and thrifty trees provide tremendous insight to a perfect water-use model for humans to adopt especially in a warming, drier world.

Since my article on September 3, 2013 (link) Sierra Madre tapped into disinfectants from San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District full of chloramines. The color and smell have the community in an uproar. But what about the safety issues at hand?

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Story ran in Huffington Post July 13, 2012

Ever wonder why ice cream at the bottom of the carton is chewy and filled with frost? With U.S. sales in 2010 at over $10 billion and more than 1.5 billion gallons of U.S. ice cream produced in 2011, Nestle – the world’s largest food company wants answers.

Nestle scientists are looking to nature for help in revealing exactly which mechanism within ice crystal dynamics is responsible for taking the fun and flavor away from ice cream as it ages in home-freezer’s.

If you are now wondering about ice crystals within ice cream, it turns out that one of nature’s fiercest winter events – avalanches – hold many answers to making tastier ice cream.

Avalanches kill more than 150 people a year around the globe – mostly snow mobiliers, skiers and snow boarders. Imagine a massive slab of snow breaking loose from a mountainside, shattering like broken glass, moving in excess of 80 mph within 5 seconds, and carrying 20 football fields, 10 feet deep with snow. It’s a backcountry enthusiast’s worst nightmare.

So what causes avalanches? And why exactly would Nestle food scientists be interested in them?

Snowpacks are made up of layers of accumulated winter snow. Each layer contains ice grains constantly changing from smaller to larger crystals. Larger ice crystals are weaker because they have fewer bonds compared to smaller more rounded crystals, which are packed snuggly together (just like ice cream when it’s first made and frozen).

Avalanches occur when snowstorms or rainstorms add heavy weight causing instability within existing snowpack layers. In fact, rain in the mountains acts like a lubricant facilitating layers within a snowpack to unlock and slip-slide away.

Avalanche research over the past half century has closely examined the life history and growth of ice crystals as influenced by temperature.

The Institute for Snow & Avalanche Research in Switzerland (SLF) at Davos uses the world’s only x-ray tomography machine to time lapse study ice crystals at temperatures between 32 and minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit. Coincidentally, most home-freezer settings are maintained at the lower end of this range.

The dynamics of ice cream crystals are in many ways similar to the ever-changing ice crystals within mountain snowpacks. So it seemed very logical that Nestle scientists in Vevey, Switzerland should partner with their SLF brethren in Davos, and that’s exactly what they did.

Ice crystals grow because temperatures fluctuate. Home-freezer’s may be set at 0 degrees Fahrenheit but they, too, vary by a couple degrees on either side. Or, when you take the carton out of the freezer to get a few scoops, the ice cream is exposed to room temperature for a minute or so. When this occurs ice cream slightly melts then it refreezes. When ice cream ages the ice separates from the original ingredients of cream and sugar. Over time, ice cream becomes chewy because it looses water and air, or it becomes frosty (due to crystals growing larger similar to conditions in a snowpack) and harder to scoop.

The Nestle scientists are using the non-invasive x-ray tomography to investigate the shape and size of ice crystals and air bubbles in ice cream cartons under home-freezer conditions. By identifying the main mechanism for growth of crystals within ice cream, Nestle scientists will be able to slow it down by altering their receipt, thereby making yummier ice cream that lasts longer.

Coming soon in your favorite ice cream (and Vanilla still remains the most popular followed closely by Chocolate Chip Mint and Cookies & Cream) a tiny mouthful of nature’s avalanche.

Australia, Radio 1, National: Ockham’s Razor

Earth Dr Reese Halter is an award-winning broadcaster and distinguished biologist. His latest books are The Insatiable Bark Beetle and The Incomparable Honeybee

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Text © by Dr Reese Halter 2013. All rights reserved.

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