Archive | April 2013

Schools Getting Smart about Energy

You probably turn off lights, shut off the TV, and put the computer to sleep when you leave a room at home. Some schools are doing all that and lots more. See how smart energy strategies are saving some big bucks for schools in my new story on Midwest Energy News:

(Photo courtesy John Gladden, Cloverleaf Local Schools)

(Photo courtesy John Gladden, Cloverleaf Local Schools)

In Ohio, schools reap benefits of energy-efficiency push

by Kathiann M. Kowalski

Ohio leads the nation in energy-efficient LEED schools, saving millions of dollars on energy costs statewide. And cash-strapped districts are hoping voters appreciate those financial benefits as they make their cases for levy approvals.

Troubled Waters

Check out my latest article on Great Lakes Echo, April 17, 2013:

Troubled waters: Big, bad algal blooms could become new norm for Lake Erie

By Kathiann M. Kowalski

Lake Erie faces a greener future—and that’s bad. Scientists say harmful algal blooms like the one from 2011 will strike more often. More extreme weather and warming trends could also extend bad blooms’ duration.

As a result, Lake Erie’s aquatic life and wildlife in nearshore areas face more frequent exposure to toxins. Food webs face disruption. Fisheries will suffer. Lake Erie’s persistent dead zone will expand. And water chemistry will change.

The reason is that all trends that caused Lake Erie’s 2011 algal bloom show signs of continuing. Read more….

Photo: Tom Archer.  Courtesy of University of Michigan News Service

Photo: Tom Archer.
Courtesy of University of Michigan News Service

The Lyrids Are Coming!

This weekend we’ll see the return of the Lyrids meteor shower. What will the weather look like in your part of the country? Check this map from AccuWeather to find out.

Map: AccuWeather.com

Map: AccuWeather.com

Of course, the best places to watch are out in the country, away from city lights. If the shower is active enough, though, you should still spy some shooting stars from most areas–as long as the skies are clear.

Happy meteor watching!

Watch Out for Water-hating Chemicals

People talk about water as being the universal solvent, but it turns out that some chemicals hate being in it. Yup, chemicals can be hydrophobic. And some of them might cause serious problems:

Toxic chemicals turn up in Great Lakes plastic pollution

By Kathiann M. Kowalski, Great Lakes Echo, April 9, 2013

Toxic chemicals clinging to plastics could cause health problems for fish and other organisms in the Great Lakes.

They were discovered in samples from the first-ever Great Lakes plastic survey in Lake Erie, Lake Huron and Lake Superior last summer, Lorena Rios Mendoza, an assistant chemistry professor at the University of Wisconsin – Superior, announced Monday.

And instead of just sitting in sediments as some scientists previously thought, those pollutants might be traveling with plastics to other parts of the Great Lakes.  Read more…

Lorena Rios Mendoza aboard the tall ship Niagara during last summer’s first plastics pollution survey of the Great Lakes. Image: Courtesy Lorena Rios Mendoza

Lorena Rios Mendoza aboard the tall ship Niagara during last summer’s first plastics pollution survey of the Great Lakes.
Image: Courtesy Lorena Rios Mendoza

Monkey Business

Remember the CareerBuilder Super Bowl ads? One beleaguered guy struggles to do his job amidst a passel of chimpanzees. Although the ads’ human star groused about working with “a bunch of monkeys,” chimps are not in fact monkeys.

Now, though, it seems monkeys can teach us a thing or two about business. Research from the University of Manchester and the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Integrative Biology found that macaques in the middle of the social hierarchy had the highest level of stress hormones. The source of their stress was social conflict.

Mother and baby Barbary macaque.Credit: Trentham Monkey Reserve

Mother and baby Barbary macaque.
Credit: Trentham Monkey Reserve

“What we found was that monkeys in the middle of the hierarchy are involved with conflict from those below them as well as from above, whereas those in the bottom of the hierarchy distance themselves from conflict,” explains the University of Manchester’s Susanne Schultz. “The middle ranking macaques are more likely to challenge, and be challenged by, those higher on the social ladder.”

Lead author Katie Edwards from the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Integrative Biology collected data. Among other things, she observed female Barbary macaques at Staffordshire’s Trentham Monkey Forest for nearly 600 hours. The work sheds light on the social behavior of an endangered primate. Edwards thinks the research could also help explain why human middle managers feel the most stress in the business world.

“People working in middle management might have higher levels of stress hormones compared to their boss at the top or the workers they manage,” says Edwards. “These ambitious mid-ranking people may want to access the higher-ranking lifestyle which could mean facing more challenges, whilst also having to maintain their authority over lower-ranking workers.”

Whether you’re human or a macaque, it seems it’s no fun being the monkey in the middle.