Counting bats on a Saturday evening

While most normal people spend their Saturday evenings going out to dinner followed by either a movie or a show, I spent this past Saturday doing something entirely different: counting bats!

There is a local cave here in the Tucson area that is a maternity colony for one species of bats. During the summer the females gather here to gossip and then give birth to their babies, after which they move on until next year. Because of a desire to help these bats, a few years ago the managers of the cave decided to close it during the summer months. This way humans wouldn’t be there to disturb the mothers during their labor.

The managers also decided to do regular bat counts of the bats leaving the cave each evening to feed, in order to get an estimate of the population size. To everyone’s delight they found the numbers rising year-to-year, following the summer closure. The total population of bats isn’t actually going up, but it appears that bats are finding this cave to be a good place to give birth, so more and more of them are making it their summer residence.

In the end the situation will contribute to an actual rise in population, as providing the maternity colony a safe haven will allow for more successful births and more babies.

In the past three years the bat count numbers over each summer would exhibit a typical bell curve, going up and then declining as the summer progressed, with the largest numbers ranging between 75 to 150 each night. However, last year there was one evening in which no bats left the cave. The bat biologist leading the bat count, Sandy Wolf, has theorized that this might be because the mothers are synchronizing their labor so that everyone gives birth at the same time and, because of that, on that night no one exits for feeding.. She knows that some species do this, but for this particular species such behavior has never been documented.

Anyway, she decided to find out. This has required that someone be at the entrance counting the bats at least every other evening. (In past years the counts were only done about once a week.) This has required more help, and thus Sandy has called for volunteers to do the work.

And that is how I and fellow caver Jerry Isaman ended up hiking up the hill to the cave with digital camera, infrared lights, and monitor this past Saturday.

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Bee die off hasn’t happened

The uncertainty of science: Despite numerous claims by environmentalists and scientists in the past decade that the bee population was dying off, new data from the Agriculture Department suggests that bee populations are now at a 20 year high.

The reason? It appears that beekeepers have been very innovative and creative when faced with disease or other problems that hurt bees. Driven by the profit motive and competition and free to act, they have come up with solutions.

The Russians have confirmed that their scientists have successfully drilled into Lake Vostok in Antartica.

The Russians have confirmed that their scientists have successfully drilled into Lake Vostok in Antarctica.

Still no results, but this is not surprising, as these scientists will need time to analyze their data.

Update: More details from Science:

On Saturday, the drill had encountered water at about 3766 meters depth, but the team determined that it was a water lens sitting above the surface of the lake rather than the lake itself. The team collected water samples from the lens, and then kept drilling until reaching the lake surface itself. As expected, the pressurized water of the lake rose about 30 to 40 meters through the borehole and froze, plugging the borehole; the team will return next fall to retrieve the plug and examine it for signs of life.

Unconfirmed reports in the Russian press today claim that the drilling team in Antarctica has successfully reached Lake Vostok more than two miles under the icecap.

Unconfirmed reports in the Russian press today claimed that the drilling team in Antarctica has successfully reached Lake Vostok, more than two miles under the icecap.

No results yet. And since the story above spends more time talking about old silly stories about a hidden NAZI hideout in Antarctica than it does the Russian science effort there it should be taken with a grain of salt.

UN treaty language threatens to ban all “climate-related geoengineering”

Treaty language being written at a United Nations conference on biodiversity is so vague it threatens to bar almost all new development. Here is the language, via Science:

8 (w) Ensure, in line and consistent with decision IX/16 C, on ocean
fertilisation and biodiversity and climate change, in the absence of science-based, global, transparent and effective control and regulatory mechanisms for geo-engineering, and in accordance with the precautionary approach and Article 14 of the Convention, that no climate-related geoengineering activities (1) that may affect biodiversity take place, until there is an adequate scientific basis on which to justify such activities and appropriate consideration of the associated risks for the environment and biodiversity and associated social, economic and cultural impacts, with the exception of small scale scientific research studies that would be conducted in a controlled setting in accordance with Article 3 of the Convention, and only if they are justified by the need to gather specific scientific data and are subject to a thorough prior assessment of the potential impacts on the environment.

(1) Without prejudice to future deliberations on the definition of geo-engineering activities, understanding that any technologies that deliberately reduce solar insolation or increase carbon sequestration from the atmosphere on a large scale that may affect biodiversity (excluding carbon capture and storage from fossil fuels when it captures carbon dioxide before it is released to the atmosphere) should be considered as forms of geoengineering which are relevant to the Convention on Biological Diversity until a more precise definition can be developed. Noting that solar insolation is defined as a measure of solar radiation energy received on a given surface area in a given hour and that carbon sequestration is defined as the process of increasing the carbon contact of a reservoir/pool other than the atmosphere. [emphasis mine]

This language is so broad that, if agreed to by the United States, it could easily put almost any activity that affects the environment, including technology, business, property, recreation, or practically anything at all, under the control of UN regulators.

But wait, there’s more. The goal of this UN conference, to quote their own webpage, is to achieve “a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss at the global, regional and national level as a contribution to poverty alleviation and to the benefit of all life on Earth.” Obviously, this UN group is not merely interested in protecting the biodiversity of life on Earth, but to also redistribute the wealth so as to help poorer nations.

God help us if our government agrees to this.

Plastic pollution down

Despite increasing use by humans, the plastic pollution floating in the North Atlantic ocean has not increased over the last two decades,and scientists don’t know why. From the Science press notice:

The authors propose a handful of possible explanations for why more discarded plastic is not appearing out in the open Atlantic Ocean. It may break up into pieces too small to be collected by the nets, or it might be sinking beneath the surface. Or, it might be consumed by marine organisms. More research will be necessary to determine the likelihood of each scenario.

Bat extinctions

An article today in Science describes how scientists now believe that white nose syndrome is probably going to cause the extinction of the little brown myotis bat. Key quote from the press release:

The researchers determined that there is a 99 percent chance of regional extinction of little brown myotis within the next 20 years if mortality and spread of the disease continue unabated. They note that several other bat species may also face a similar risk.