My story in the May 2017 issue of Scientific American explores the evolution of bird nest shape. Most researchers believed that the common cup style, like the kind robins build under your porch eaves, evolved first, followed by the more complex and time-consuming roofed style. But one team of scientists has found that it happened the other way around. Most ancestors of today’s songbirds built nests like Fort Knox, while the open bowl style came about later. I know I will never look at a blue jay or osprey nest the same way again. Check out the story here!
I wrote a blog post for Scientific American’s Observations blog about a video that shows how scientific inventions over the past two millennia led to the population explosion we have today. On a digital map of the world, the video adds a yellow dot every time another million people are added to the Earth. The dots are slow to appear for most of the video’s running time, even with the help of inventions that spread civilizations across the globe–like the magnetic compass and nitrogen-based fertilizer. Occasionally they disappear–several are snuffed out in Europe during the Black Death. But after the industrial revolution, the dots pop and sparkle like the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. Check out the post and watch the video here.
My latest story, “250-Year-Old Eyewitness Accounts of Icier Arctic Attest to Loss of Sea Ice,” has just been posted on Scientific American‘s website. This marks my debut for the nation’s most prestigious science magazine!
My story looks at ARCdoc, the research project based at the University of Sunderland, that data-mined old ships’ logbooks for weather information. The books came from the Royal Navy, Hudson’s Bay Company, and commercial whaling voyages, and all focused on Baffin Bay and Davis Strait in the North Atlantic. The team proved what many climatologists had theorized: that the region was significantly stormier and colder prior to anthropogenic climate change, and sea ice extended much further across open water.
Scientists can now look at ARCdoc’s reconstruction of this polar region before human-influenced warming, and draw conclusion about the current and future state of the Arctic.
I’ve followed ARCdoc’s progress for more than two years–since I came across an article in the Sunderland Echo that described the use of my third-great uncle William Scoresby’s whaling logbooks to create a sea ice dictionary. The story, and the project, spurred me to frame my biography of this unfairly forgotten explorer within his contributions to modern climate science.
I’m so proud to have my story about ARCdoc’s results, and Scoresby’s role in them, appear in Scientific American. It’s one step toward my goal of restoring Scoresby’s reputation as a polar pioneer.