This week, whale watchers went bananas over sightings of about 250 northern right whales in the plankton-rich waters around Cape Cod. The pods represented half of the total population of these critically endangered cetaceans, one of the world’s rarest animals. Now, in the first assessment since the end of the 19th century whaling era, the British Antarctic Survey and other institutions found that southern right whales’ recovery to pre-whaling levels will likely take decades.
In a new study, researchers at the University of Arizona are the first to use records of shipwrecks in the Caribbean to gain insight into historical hurricane activity.
The paper, published in Proceedings of the National Academies of Science this week, reported a 75 percent reduction in the number of Caribbean hurricanes between 1645 and 1715, coinciding with a period of decreased solar activity and cooler-than-average climate. The researchers also compared tree-ring data during this period, obtained from a site in the Florida Keys, that indicated a dip in hurricane occurrence. Continue reading
For Smithsonian.com, I wrote a profile of Alexander Hamilton’s widow, Elizabeth Hamilton. Now a memorable character (played by Phillipa Soo) in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash Broadway musical “Hamilton,” Elizabeth was far more than a bit player at the founding of American democracy. After Alexander died in his famous duel, she founded and led New York City’s first orphanage, which is still in business. She collected her husband’s papers and ensured that Hamilton’s political legacy would be preserved. She helped Dolley Madison raise money to build the Washington Monument on the National Mall. And, she was the toast of the Capital, dining with presidents and hosting VIPs in her H Street parlor.
Most excitingly for me, I got to interview Ron Chernow, Pulitzer-winning author of the definitive biography of Alexander Hamilton, which inspired the musical. In an entertaining phone call, we both lamented the fact that Elizabeth “edited herself out of the story” in favor of her her husband’s legacy–and as a result, little remains of her own letters, diaries or inner thoughts. I hope my story will introduce more readers to this powerful, inspirational lady.