Enjoying the Backyard Environment During COVID-19 Pandemic

The deadly Covid-19 virus has most everyone staying home for social distancing to flatten the curve. Many national and state parks are closed, beaches are closed, and some states have stay-at-home orders.

The situation is stressful for the healthy--even more so for those who are sick, or have loved ones who are sick. And especially for those who have lost someone.

Getting a dose of nature can help relieve that stress, even if it's just looking out the window.

If you have a yard or a patio, try watching the backyard birds, lizards, squirrels, and other neighborhood critters. (Just be sure to stay at least 6 feet away from the neighbors). Enjoy the fresh air. Look up at the clouds.

And if you can't get outside, studies show just looking at photos of nature can help you relax.

How You Can Help Save the Endangered Right Whales

The North American right whales are the most endangered large whale species. Less than 400 of these majestic whales remain.

The coastal waters off Georgia and Florida are the only known calving areas. In fact, the first right whale calf of the 2018-2019 season was spotted on December 28 near the mouth of the St. Johns River, swimming north.

Right whales were nearly hunted into extinction, but today the major threats are from ship strikes or becoming entangled in fishing gear.

Aerial surveys are conducted by the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute from December through March to help reduce ship strikes, but whale spotters can relay information to a central number to notify boaters, harbor pilots and ships' captains of their locations.

Become a Right Whale Spotter
The Nassau County Sierra Club and the Amelia Island Right Whale action group have arranged training sessions in Nassau County for right whale spotters. Julie Alpert from the Marine Resources Council of Palm Bay will conduc…

A Setback for Cleaning the Ocean of Plastic

My last blog post was about The Ocean Cleanup, a massive project for removing plastic debris from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP).

After successfully completing Pacific trials in September 2018, the long trip to the GPGP began. On October 16, 2018 System 001, nicknamed "Wilson," was deployed.

After tweaking and testing Wilson through November and December, it appeared the system was attracting and concentrating plastic, but could not retain it. At the end of December, the crew found that an 18-meter end-section of the system became detached.

The December 31, 2018 Project Update noted the crew planned to return to port earlier than planned, and as soon as weather permitted. This allows them to make necessary upgrades to the system.

Even with the malfunction, Wilson and the crew are bringing back 2,000 kilograms of plastic recovered by the system and from ghost net fishing.

Some setbacks are to be expected for a huge and important project like this, using new technolog…

The Most Ambitious Project To Rid The World's Ocean Of Plastic--An Update

I've talked about The Ocean Cleanup before on this blog.

The Ocean Cleanup is the most ambitious project of its kind. The goal is to clean up 50 percent of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP), the largest accumulation of ocean plastic in the world. Located between California and Hawaii, it's one of five gyres (circular systems of ocean currents) that accumulate plastic garbage. Once the plastic is retrieved, it's hoped that most of it can be recycled.

The GPGP is twice the size of Texas and contains an estimated 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic with a total weight of about 80,000 tons.

The Ocean Cleanup technology includes passive floating barriers to concentrate and capture the debris. Natural ocean forces are used to capture the debris. Electronics used for monitoring and controlling the system are all solar powered. The system is modular, allowing improvements to be made based on experience and funding.

What's Been Completed?

The successful Mega Expedition to the E…

Watch the Christmas Comet--This Year's Brightest Comet

Just a quick post to let you know about this year's brightest comet.

On December 16, 2018 Wirtanen, also called Comet 46P, will be closer to the earth than it has been for over four centuries.

It will be a mere 7.1 million miles away, or about 30 times the distance of the moon. Wirtanen may be visible to the naked eye, but ambient light and the nearly full moon could make it hard to see. Binoculars or a telescope would be better.

Check the website Time and Date to find out the best time to view the comet. Wirtanen will appear as a diffuse green object.

If you can't get outside to watch it, go to The Virtual Telescope Project to watch it online!

How To Be Part Of NASA's Juno Mission To Jupiter

On December 21, 2018, NASA's Juno spacecraft will mark its halfway point for collecting data on the planet Jupiter. Juno is soaring over Jupiter's clouds in an elliptical orbit around the north and south poles.

Juno was launched August 5, 2011 and reached Jupiter on July 4, 2016. The goal is to discover more about the planet's structure, origins, atmosphere, and magnetic fields. Juno's already provided a first photo of Jupiter's ring, and scientific data on its radiation belts.

But what makes this mission so special to me is the JunoCam Community

The JunoCam community encourages the public to actively participate in this mission!

Yes, you can take part in this historic, scientific, and extremely cool project. The JunoCam website gives you all the information you need to participate in planning, discussion, decision making, image processing, and analysis.

As part of planning, amateur astronomers are invited to upload their data and telescopic photos of Jupiter to p…

How a Jellyfish Park Highlights Plastic Pollution

The Problem with Plastic

Plastic makes many of our daily tasks much easier. We can make a single cup of coffee in the morning using a plastic coffee pod.We can grab a bottle of water on the way to exercise class. Small plastic grocery bags are lighter load in the car. And we don't have to wash disposable diapers when they're dirty.

But plastics have a dark side. Too often, they end up as litter on our beaches, in our parks, and on roadways where they end up in drainage systems. They congregate in our oceans, lakes, and rivers, harming aquatic life. Even plastics disposed of in the garbage clog our landfills.

Single-use plastics--those that are used once and thrown away--are especially problematic due to the volume of waste. According to an article on, we're buying a million plastic bottles per minute, worldwide--and only 9 percent of plastic is recycled. An article on the website Bad Plastics notes that "single-use plastics are one of the most powerful symbo…

Inspired by the Photo Ark

I've let this blog languish with the usual excuses--too busy, too distracted, too many other priorities. But a recent 60 Minutes segment on Joel Sartore inspired me to bring Environment Discovery back to life.

Sartore is a National Geographic photographer, though I'm most familiar with him through several online photography courses I took. (He's a great instructor, too, and just a very nice guy).

He's also the founder of the Photo Ark, a 25-year project to document every species in captivity. The Photo Ark's goal is to get people to care that half of all the species in the world could vanish by the turn of the next century.

The portraits are made with clean black or white backgrounds, allowing us to look into the animals' eyes, to see their intelligence and beauty. Over 12,000 animals are in captivity, and Sartore has taken portraits of over 8,000 during the last 12 years. In the portraits, the tiniest species appear as the same size as the largest. To Sartore, …

Air & Weather: What Does the State of the Climate in 2016 Report Mean to You?

I've been hearing a lot lately about the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA's) State of the Climate Report for 2016. This is an international, peer-reviewed, annual report summarizing global climate issues. It's assembled by NOAA at the National Centers for Environmental Information. Nearly 500 scientists from around the world contribute data for the report, including air and sea temperatures, ice pack conditions, humidity, number and strength of storms, drought conditions and more. The comprehensive report is then published as a supplement to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS).

You can download the full report here, or from the link above you can download individual chapters if you prefer.

A summary of the report is available on NOAA's BAMS site, plus copies of all the past reports for the last 27 years. An interesting PowerPoint presentation on the report contains good graphics that visually show the report results.


Air & Space: Are You Ready for the 2017 Solar Eclipse?

The 2017 total solar eclipse has been generating a lot of excitement! On August 21, 2017, we'll be treated to the first total solar eclipse in the continental U.S. in 38 years.

Per NASA, an eclipse is a special type of transit where one planet passes in front of another. For the total solar eclipse, the moon will completely block the sun, leaving its atmosphere, the corona, shining around the perimeter.

Everyone in the country will be able to see at least a partial eclipse. The path of totality will range from Madras, Oregon to Columbia, South Carolina. The time of the eclipse depends on where you live, but starts at 9:06 AM Pacific Time in Oregon and ends at 4:06 Eastern Time in South Carolina. Totality only lasts 2 - 3 minutes, but the eclipse from start to finish lasts about 2 1/2 to 3 hours in the path of totality.

If you want to watch the eclipse, heed the safety requirement and wear solar eclipse glasses. You may be able to get a pair for free at libraries or events. Or you…