UWMadScience https://uwmadscience.news.wisc.edu Behind the science & research that makes the news at UW–Madison Fri, 14 Sep 2018 16:52:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.8 Most of the world does not refrigerate their eggs. So why does the US? https://uwmadscience.news.wisc.edu/animals/most-of-the-world-does-not-refrigerate-their-eggs-so-why-does-the-us/ https://uwmadscience.news.wisc.edu/animals/most-of-the-world-does-not-refrigerate-their-eggs-so-why-does-the-us/#respond Wed, 12 Sep 2018 16:44:01 +0000 https://uwmadscience.news.wisc.edu/?p=3203

An open-air market displays large stacks of eggs.

Egg sellers throughout the world display their eggs in open-air markets like this one. Photo by Creative Commons.

If you’ve ever travelled abroad and visited a food market, you might’ve found a peculiar sight: open stands with shelves of unrefrigerated, unwashed eggs on display. In the U.S., this would be unthinkable. So why do we take such care to wash our eggs, transport them in temperature-controlled trucks, and then display them in the refrigerated section of the supermarket?

According to University of Wisconsin–Madison faculty associate and poultry specialist Ron Kean, we require that our eggs be washed because of bacteria that may live on the shell of the egg.

“There are two benefits of washing eggs: one, it gets rid of any surface contaminates, and two, it provides a cleaner, nicer looking egg,” Kean says.

So then why chill the eggs? It turns out, washing an egg removes a protective barrier called the cuticle. Removing this cuticle makes the egg more porous, which reduces its shelf life and lets bacteria enter the egg.

Refrigerating eggs, Kean says, is a necessary step in protecting the egg after it’s been sanitized: “chilling prevents diseases like salmonella from multiplying and it maintains the quality of the egg.”

Ron Kean, faculty associate and poultry specialist for UW - Madison.

Ron Kean, faculty associate and poultry specialist for UW – Extension.

The many countries that do not refrigerate their eggs are able to do so because they maintain the cuticle. Some U.S. processors coat their eggs in mineral oil after washing them, which greatly extends the shelf life of washed eggs, and this coating in combination with refrigeration can extend the freshness of eggs by at least a month.

He explains that as eggs get older, their albumen (the egg white) becomes thinner and runnier, which is why older eggs will run clear across a pan when cracked open. And the yolk of fresh eggs sits taller and doesn’t break as easily. But the yolk also generally degrades at warmer temperatures whether the cuticle has been washed off or not.

Since the U.S. requires all processors to wash their eggs, should you wash your own eggs if you own chickens? Interestingly, the United States Department of Agriculture says ‘no’. The USDA reasons that only by using large-scale manufacturing equipment can eggs be properly sanitized without exposing them to other bacteria.

Egg processors have mastered the process of washing eggs at precisely the right temperature to kill salmonella without cooking the egg, as well as transporting and storing them without exposing them to pathogens. Consumers are advised against washing their own chickens’ eggs as this may inadvertently force water and bacteria into the pores once the cuticle is removed.

Additionally, once eggs are refrigerated, they must stay that way until they are consumed. This is because a chilled egg left out at room temperature will begin to sweat, which may facilitate the movement of bacteria on the shell into the pores.

While washing eggs is a key step in preventing salmonella from occurring on the outside of the egg, the bacteria can still be found within the egg.

A grocery store in Johannesburg, South Africa displays their eggs on room-temperature shelves. Photo by Kelly Tyrell.

A grocery store in Johannesburg, South Africa displays their eggs on room-temperature shelves. Photo by Kelly Tyrell.

“[Salmonella] can pass from the cloaca (the rear opening of the hen), up the oviduct, and then to the ovary,” Kean says.

An ovary infected with salmonella can produce eggs that contain the bacteria within the yolk. That’s why the USDA advises that all eggs be cooked until the yolks are firm, and dishes containing eggs should be cooked until they reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Kean also mentioned that if everyone cooked their eggs completely, they’d “destroy the salmonella and we wouldn’t have an issue.” Thankfully, salmonella-related outbreaks have been increasingly rare in eggs, largely in part due to the USDA’s rigorous requirements.

In addition to washing eggs, egg producers are also required to vaccinate their hens and prevent them from encountering other animals which may harbor salmonella, like rats. This combination has resulted in an incredibly low infection rate. Only 1-in-every-20,000 eggs contain salmonella these days.

Kean wagers that some countries prevent producers from washing eggs to encourage them to produce a higher quality, cleaner egg from the start. Technically, both methods of storing eggs are safe if the eggs are cooked thoroughly, but U.S. producers are required to take special precautions to keep all possible infections from eggs at a minimum.

Header photo by Creative Commons.

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Dragons and turkeys and insects, oh my! A day in the life of an animal control specialist https://uwmadscience.news.wisc.edu/animals/dragons-and-turkeys-and-insects-oh-my-a-day-in-the-life-of-an-animal-control-specialist/ Tue, 07 Aug 2018 20:01:56 +0000 https://uwmadscience.news.wisc.edu/?p=3187 When a foot-long bearded dragon appears on a rock near Bascom Hill, or a turkey flies through a stained-glass window in Science Hall, who do you call? It turns out, the answer is almost always Richard Ness, an animal control specialist for UW–Madison’s Facilities Planning and Management.

To find out what a day in the life of a campus animal control specialist looks like, I talked to Ness about some of his more unusual encounters. Later, I joined him as he responded to calls.

An alumnus of the university, Ness has both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in entomology, and these days, insect calls make up much of his work around campus. However, he occasionally gets oddities like the sun-basking bearded dragon, spotted just after students left for summer.

“It really was like any other call, and it really wasn’t hard to find,” says Ness. “Usually lizards are really quick, but it just sort of sat there.”

Found just outside of Bascom Hall, this foot-long bearded dragon seemed quite calm as Ness gently captured it.

Found just outside of Bascom Hall, this foot-long bearded dragon seemed quite calm as Ness gently captured it. Photo by Mason Muerhoff.

To catch it, Ness waved a butterfly net to distract the lizard as he approached, but it sat so calmly that he was able to gently grab the lizard from its warm, sunny rock.

“It was so easy to catch, it didn’t even flinch,” Ness recalls.

Originating from Australia, bearded dragons are often kept as pets due to their hardy nature and easy care compared to other exotic reptiles. Ness assumes this one was a pet released by a student that was moving out.

The turkey, however, was not so calm. After flying through a stained-glass window in Science Hall, the disgruntled bird – ostensibly upset that a glass window had got in its way – stormed around the lobby of Science Hall as Ness tried to shoo it out the front door. Finding no luck in this strategy, Ness eventually grabbed the shrieking turkey and released it outside, where it strutted off to be annoyed by something else.

A simpler call involved a flying squirrel that somehow found its way into a campus office.

“A lady called and nonchalantly said: ‘Hey can you come by the office, I have a flying squirrel here,’” Ness recalls.

Seeing as the woman had already caught the squirrel and placed it in a box, Ness was tasked with finding a suitable place to release the animal.

He phoned David Drake, a professor and extension wildlife specialist for the UW–Madison Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, who recommended Ness release it near any forested-area off campus. These animals are native to Wisconsin.

Ness’s job also includes taking calls about animals people often try to avoid.

“I get bat calls fairly frequently, but they’re easy to catch,” he says. “The things that keep me busy are mice, roaches and ants.”

On our ride-along, I gained a better understanding of what a typical day looks like for Ness. Insects were the subjects of two calls.

The first involved an ant colony that infested an electronic parking meter. When we arrived, the parking meter had already been shut off and a few ants crawled around the face of the machine.

The invading ants found a particular clear tube as a suitable place for their eggs. Photo by Tyler Fox.

The invading ants found a particular clear tube as a suitable place for their eggs. Photo by Tyler Fox.

However, when the service door was opened, hundreds of ants poured out of the machinery and crawled out of the many nooks and crannies. Using a flushing spray, Ness forced the ants out of their metal residence.

Suspecting the species to be odorous house ants, Ness collected some samples and took them to the university’s Insect Diagnostic Lab, which confirmed his intuition. The name comes from a unique coconut smell given off by the ants when they’re crushed.

The next call involved cockroach sightings in a nearby campus building, a call he receives frequently. Ness explained that one of the easiest ways for cockroaches to get into campus buildings is through abandoned drain or sink pipes.

Once the water evaporates in the plumbing, roaches living underground follow the air current up to the surface, which often leads them to forgotten sinks and drains.

Exploring the basement of the building in question, Ness couldn’t locate any primary sources of intrusion for the roaches. However, he did spot some rather large roaches and subsequently exterminated them, while I observed quite a distance away.

These are just some of the experiences that make Richard Ness’s job so unique, and campus couldn’t function without his help. I thank Richard for allowing me to accompany him on his journeys for a day and I wish him good luck in his future animal endeavors.

Header image courtesy of Aaron Mayes/UW-Madison. 

Mars is at opposition, so what does that mean? https://uwmadscience.news.wisc.edu/astronomy/mars-is-at-opposition-so-what-does-that-mean/ Tue, 31 Jul 2018 22:01:15 +0000 https://uwmadscience.news.wisc.edu/?p=3177 By Jim Lattis, Director of UW Space Place at the University of Wisconsin–Madison

You may have heard that Mars reached opposition on 27 July 2018. But what does that mean? It means that Mars is bright and easy to find in the night sky. It’s called opposition because that’s when Mars is 180 degrees away from – so directly in line with – the sun. When the sun is setting, Mars is rising and will cross the sky all night, setting at sunrise.

Opposition is also when the planet’s distance to the Earth reaches a relative minimum. Because it’s closer, it appears bigger and brighter in our sky. Already since spring, we’ve seen oppositions of Jupiter (9 May), then Saturn (27 June), so it’s been a good summer for planet viewers. (Uranus, Neptune and Pluto have also reached opposition this year, but they are all dim enough that most casual star gazers won’t see them at all.)

Planetary orbits drive opposition and oppositions of Mars are a bit more complicated than those of others because the Martian orbit is much more elliptical than the orbits of planets such as Jupiter and Saturn. As astronomer Johannes Kepler described in the early 1600s, planets follow elongated circular paths – ellipses – rather than perfectly-circular paths around the sun.

A diagram of Mars' elliptical orbit around the sun, relative to the Earth at opposition

Mars at opposition. The Red Planet has a more elliptical orbit than other planets, which means its distance from the Earth at opposition can vary greatly. Image: Jim Lattis, UW–Madison

When opposition occurs near Martian perihelion (when Mars is at the nearest point in its orbit to the sun), Mars is also quite close to Earth. But when opposition occurs near Martian aphelion (when it is at its farthest point from the sun), it is likely to be a relatively great distance from Earth. Those differences in distance can be dramatic.

For example, Mars is near perihelion for this year’s opposition  – a so-called perihelic opposition – and at its closest it came within 58 million kilometers of Earth. Compare that to the opposition of March 2012, an aphelic opposition, when Mars was never fewer than 100 million kilometers from Earth. Because of that difference in distance, Mars at this year’s opposition is nearly three-and-a-half times brighter for the Earthbound observer than it was at opposition in 2012.

However, even perihelic oppositions effectively never happen precisely at perihelion, so there are small differences from one event to the other. For instance, at the opposition of 27 August 2003, the minimum Earth-Mars distance was just shy of 56 million kilometers. That means Mars appeared up to 10 percent brighter in 2003 than in 2018.

This is nothing to get excited about, really, but it excited people nevertheless. It turns out the opposition of 2003 brought it slightly closer to Earth than in all previous Mars oppositions in the previous 60,000 years. This slight edge in “favorability” of that opposition was responsible for a frenzy of interest among astronomy enthusiasts around the world. But the dramatic nature of that event was more about its historical context than its intrinsic virtues.

Headlines declaring the closest opposition in 15 years – which would be this year’s – just don’t get the same amount of attention.

Illustration of Mars at opposition. Note that the sun, Earth and Mars align, with the Earth in the center

Artist’s illustration of Mars at opposition. Note that the sun, Earth and Mars align, with the Earth in the center. Not to scale. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Despite the favorability of both the 2003 and 2018 oppositions, neither one was particularly easy to observe for would-be viewers in the northern temperate regions of the Earth. The perihelion of Mars’ orbit lies in the direction of the southern parts of the ecliptic (the plane of Earth’s orbit), roughly toward such constellations as Capricornus and Aquarius. Hence, perihelic oppositions favor southern observers and always occur low in the sky, near the horizon, relative to us northerners.

In 2003, Mars at opposition was nearly 16 degrees south of the celestial equator, making it inconveniently low on Wisconsin horizons, and in 2018, Mars at opposition is more than 25 degrees south, so far worse than it was in 2003. In practical terms, this means that even the best of (northern) telescopes look at Mars through our dense and unsteady atmosphere, making the reddish disk blurry and unsteady even on a good night. The really good Martian oppositions favor the southern hemisphere, while we northerners get the best views of the far less-favorable aphelic oppositions, which occur in northern parts of the ecliptic, out in the direction of constellation Leo, for example.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look for an opportunity to see Mars this summer, of course, but if Mars viewing is a priority, pack up your telescope and make for parts closer to the equator! But also make a note of October 2020, the next opposition of Mars. While it won’t be a record-breaker by any means in terms of distance, it will happen considerably farther north, about 5 degrees north of the celestial equator. Even if it will be a bit farther away, in the clear skies of October views of Mars should be breathtaking.

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope photographed Mars on July 18, 2018, near its closest approach to Earth since 2003. The planet was observed near opposition, when the Sun, Earth and Mars are lined up, with Earth sitting in between the Sun and Mars. This proximity gives the Red Planet its brightest appearance in the night sky since the 2003 opposition.

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope photographed Mars on July 18, 2018, near its closest approach to Earth since 2003. The planet was observed near opposition, when the Sun, Earth and Mars are lined up, with Earth sitting in between the Sun and Mars. This proximity gives the Red Planet its brightest appearance in the night sky since the 2003 opposition. Credit: NASA

In Madison, honoring Nelson Mandela https://uwmadscience.news.wisc.edu/geology/in-madison-honoring-nelson-mandela/ Wed, 18 Jul 2018 22:52:29 +0000 https://uwmadscience.news.wisc.edu/?p=3150 Today is Mandela Day. It is a worldwide event to celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela, a once-political prisoner in South Africa who went on to become the president of that nation and help it cast aside its system of racial oppression called apartheid. Mandela passed away in 2013 but today would have been his 100th birthday. Mandela lived a life devoted to improving the world, and to improving individual lives.

Last year, as part of a storytelling project that brought us to South Africa – Origins – UW–Madison photographer Jeff Miller and I visited the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa. We wanted to better understand apartheid, what led to its rise in the late 1940s, and to honor the actions of those who stood firmly against it. Apartheid was dismantled beginning in 1991 thanks to people like Nelson Mandela.

What follows is a visual journey of our experience. It was moving and profound and deeply influenced the stories that we shared.

Apartheid Museum 2017

Read more about our trip to South Africa here, here and here.

Zebra mussels in Lake Mendota: the new kid in town https://uwmadscience.news.wisc.edu/water/zebra-mussels-in-lake-mendota-the-new-kid-in-town/ Tue, 17 Jul 2018 20:45:43 +0000 https://uwmadscience.news.wisc.edu/?p=3126 On June 7, the summer’s first blue-green algae bloom turned much of Lake Mendota a thick, putrid green color. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin–Madison Center for Limnology concluded that several factors — including run-off from local farms, multiple days with hot temperatures, and low winds — created near-perfect conditions for an algae bloom to occur.

Captured at a deep-water buoy on Lake Mendota, the algae bloom could be seen spanning the entire lake.

Captured at a deep-water buoy on Lake Mendota, the algae bloom could be seen spanning the entire lake. Photo by undergraduate researcher Anna Schmidt.

But there was a new suspect too: invasive zebra mussels, first found in Lake Mendota in 2015, are the latest blow to a lake buffeted by stresses.

“The invasion of zebra mussels into Lake Mendota and the downstream lakes is a game changer for these ecosystems. How the lakes respond to stressors will be fundamentally different than before,” says Jake Vander Zanden.

Vander Zanden is Director of the Center for Limnology and has been studying invasive species for two decades.

“I’m concerned that zebra mussels could be making blue-green algae blooms worse,” he says.

Zebra mussels are filter feeders that consume microscopic free-floating algae in the water. They attach to hard surfaces in lakes and reproduce extremely quickly.

“If you pull anything solid out of Lake Mendota, it’s going to be covered in mussels,” says Adam Hinterthuer, an outreach specialist for the Center for Limnology.

A bicycle pulled from Lake Mendota near Alumni Park. The bike is coated wheel-to-wheel in mussels.

A bicycle pulled from the lake near Alumni Park. The bike is coated wheel-to-wheel in mussels. Photo by Mason Muerhoff.

Because they process and filter so much water — each mussel can filter one liter of water per day — a temporary benefit of the mussels is that they can cause lakes to appear much clearer. However, they prefer not eat the blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria , that make up potentially-toxic blooms in the summer.

With zebra mussels essentially clearing the water for cyanobacteria, conditions were perfect for their population to explode overnight in early June. The spring’s above-average rainfall carried phosphorus from nearby farms into Lake Mendota, feeding the algae. Then a spike in temperatures ignited the situation like a match.

“If anything wants to grow here, it’s got plenty of nutrients,” says Hinterthuer.

Lake Mendota is considered a eutrophic lake, meaning that it has an excess of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus, which allows for an overabundance of aquatic life. Zebra mussels were found in Lake Mendota much later than in other nearby lakes, but researchers knew it was only a matter of time before the invasive species found its way into one of the most studied lakes in the world.

“It’s boaters,” says Hinterthuer.  “The closer a lake is to a major road and the number of boat launches in it, greatly increases the likelihood that it gets infested.”

The Center for Limnology echoes the “Clean Drain Dry” mantra of education campaign Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers! when using boats of any kind on lakes to limit the spread of invasive species that hitch a ride on boat trailers, bilge water or live wells.

“It is critically important to stop these species from spreading to our lakes in the first place,” says Vander Zanden.

Once established, zebra mussels are some of the hardest invasive species to control. Their microscopic larva, called veligers, can float in water for several weeks before finding a hard surface, making it easy for them to hide until boats are launched again in a new lake.

Other species can spread even without water. The spiny water flea is another invasive species first found in Mendota in 2009. Their eggs can survive in lake mud as long as it remains wet, so cleaning things like muddy anchors is also crucial to preventing species invasion.

Hinterthuer also cautioned that several species often closely follow zebra mussel invasions. Round gobies, which are predators of zebra mussels, have yet to be found in Mendota but are already in the Great Lakes and have moved into several Wisconsin streams. Gobies can compete with native fish for food sources and are voracious predators of fish eggs of other species.

Quagga mussels are another mollusk that have followed the invasion of zebra mussels.  And while zebra mussels’ spread is often limited by the number of hard surfaces in lakes, quagga mussels are much hardier and could adapt more easily to the soft bottom of Mendota.

While not yet found in Mendota, researchers are examining if  we’ll see these mussels in local lakes soon. They haven’t been found in inland Wisconsin lakes but are prevalent in Lake Michigan.

“They can grow on each other, and they’ve carpeted almost the entire bottom of Lake Michigan,” says Hinterthuer.

Studying lakes can be a difficult and unpredictable task, Hinterthuer says: “Imagine if everything we knew about the forest, we knew because we had stood at the edge and tossed a trap in it and dragged it out.”

Yet despite these challenges, Lake Mendota remains one of the most studied lakes in the world, and work persists to better understand what’s next for the lake’s inhabitants.

Header image courtesy of Jeff Miller/UW-Madison. 

Speeding up the sky: Dramatic timelapse video shows weather in high speed https://uwmadscience.news.wisc.edu/atmospheric-science/speeding-up-the-sky/ Thu, 24 May 2018 17:44:40 +0000 https://uwmadscience.news.wisc.edu/?p=3116 (Video below)

One night, Pete Pokrandt, was out walking his dog when he witnessed a meteor streaking through the sky over west Madison. It broke through the atmosphere in a stunning flash of light.

When he returned home, he realized there was probably video footage of the event – and he had access to it. Pokrandt is the computer systems administrator for the University of Wisconsin–Madison department that boasts one of the tallest buildings in Madison – Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences – and he manages a series of cameras on the building’s roof.

Situated atop the building on Dayton Street, the cameras point in every cardinal direction and record daily weather above the isthmus for 16 hours a day.When Pokrandt got into work the next day, he checked the feed. Sure enough, the cameras recorded the meteor as it blazed across the sky above Camp Randall Stadium, followed by a brief flash of light.

He wanted to share it, so he stitched the footage into a timelapse video that he posted to YouTube. The next day, he spent hours fielding calls from reporters asking permission to use the footage in their own stories about the meteor. The clip was even featured by the Washington Post.

Pokrandt’s love for weather began when he was in the second grade. The meteorologists from Milwaukee’s TMJ4 came to his school and showed his class satellite photos of weather events and played games with the class.

After nearly four decades, including some adventures storm chasing across the Great Plains, Pokrandt still gets excited about weather. “Every day there is something interesting to see outside,” he says.

He also enjoys helping other people get excited about weather, too, which is why he now makes it a point to share all kinds of footage from the rooftop cameras on the 15-story AOSS building, which also houses satellite dishes and instruments that record temperature, moisture, pressure, precipitation and solar radiation.

The cameras record still photographs of the sky every ten seconds and when Pokrandt sees or hears about an interesting cloud formation, storm front, or water spout, he records the time, reviews the footage and stitches the still photos together into a timelapse. He then posts those timelapses to his department’s YouTube page. There is also an archive of all the footage, available to the public.

“It’s interesting to be able to see something in the data and watch what happened as that change went by, or vice versa,” Pokrandt said. “There’s some property of the atmosphere that caused that to happen, and having those collocated observations and cameras let’s you see that.”

The results are a moving tapestry of the changes that occur above our heads every day.

Pokrandt also sees the timelapse videos as a vehicle for public education about weather.

“When I do post videos to the YouTube channel, I try to give some indication of what it is that you’re looking at and some of the meteorology behind it,” he says.“I do try to make it educational in that sense, too, where there’s some description of what you’re seeing rather than just ‘Wow, this is a pretty cool loop!’”

The rooftop cameras are a joint effort between the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences and  the Space Science and Engineering Center, which contributes funding and technical assistance.

Video produced by Craig Wild, University Communications



Melting Arctic sea ice is opening up trade routes https://uwmadscience.news.wisc.edu/atmospheric-science/arctic-shipping/ Mon, 21 May 2018 16:54:49 +0000 https://uwmadscience.news.wisc.edu/?p=3107 As the executive officer of an ice breaking vessel on the Great Lakes for two years, Collin Tuttle learned that he really loved ice. His ship, a 140-foot U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker, kept federal waterways open for shipping and transportation throughout the winter months by keeping routes clear of ice.

Today, he researches ice. As a graduate student in the University of Wisconsin–Madison Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, Tuttle has spent the last two years investigating how climate change is affecting known sea shipping routes through the Arctic, and whether or not the ice is responding to the changes in a way that makes travel through it more viable.

“Shipping companies stand to save a lot of money by shipping through the Arctic versus traditional routes through the Suez canal or the Panama canal,” Tuttle says. “So with the loss of sea ice, there’s really a lot for them to gain by being able to utilize these Arctic sea routes.”

To time shipments across Arctic routes, companies must be able to accurately predict ice thickness and ice concentration. Both of these can hamper vessel traffic and pose risks to ships.

Some vessels, like the nearly 400-foot polar ice breakers that the Coast Guard uses, have no trouble breaking thicker ice. But smaller vessels can run into a lot of trouble if they run into thick ice.

Photo from Michigan Radio

Photo from Michigan Radio

To make a judgement about whether or not to proceed through a certain area, the crew of a vessel must determine the Ice Numeral, a calculation that takes into account the thickness and concentration of ice, the type of ice present in the waters, and the type or class of ship wishing to travel through a given route.

The Numeral is less of a scientific quantity and more of a practical tool for navigators, Tuttle says. Navigators take into account the ice concentration around them, ice thickness, and how capable their vessel is.

“And then they would just calculate it right there on the bridge of their ship,” Tuttle says.

The output from the calculation is always one number, either positive or negative. A positive value means the vessel can proceed. A negative value means that the shipping route is too dangerous for the vessel to travel through.

Calculating the Ice Numeral becomes more complicated when trying to predict conditions into the future. In order to do this, Tuttle uses a fully-coupled climate model, a computer program in which, “the atmosphere, the ocean, the land and sea ice are all interacting with each other,” Tuttle says.

“If you’re trying to represent the entire Earth system, you want a fully coupled model,” Tuttle says.

Using this model’s outputs for ice thickness and concentration, Tuttle can plug his Ice Numeral calculations into around 40 different climate change scenarios, for any specific vessel, up to the year 2100.

Sea ice thickness and concentration are typically at their lowest in the month of September, and Tuttle has found that this trend doesn’t change much from scenario to scenario. This could be good news for companies trying to determine when they can plan shipments through Arctic routes.

The model also shows that, into the future, Arctic ice is expected to be thinner than it is today. But this isn’t necessarily good news for shippers.

“Our big takeaway from that is that even though, on average, routes are becoming more accessible, we are getting into this period where ice variability between each year is increasing, which kind of contrasts with the opening of the routes.” Tuttle says. “You can have one year where there’s very little ice, but don’t get your hopes up, because next year might be very different.”

Tuttle is an active duty U.S. Coast Guard officer, and the Guard sponsors his research.

What’s next for the Kilauea volcano? https://uwmadscience.news.wisc.edu/geology/whats-next-for-the-kilauea-volcano/ Thu, 17 May 2018 19:10:58 +0000 https://uwmadscience.news.wisc.edu/?p=3090 UPDATE: May 24, 2018

Since May 17, when this blog story was posted, the fissures that opened up in the Kilauea volcano’s Eastern Rift Zone have begun spewing rivers – yes, rivers of lava – out of the ground and towards the Pacific Ocean.

According to the United States Geological Survey, some of the central fissures are producing “lava fountains,” and are the source of the most explosive activity. “Elevated earthquake activity” continues as well. Small explosions continue to emit ash from the summit. One man was reportedly hit by a “lava bomb,” – a flying glob of lava and molten rock –while trying to defend his home from the lava. 

And to make things even more interesting, the burning methane from buried vegetation is creating blue flames streaking along the Earth. Watch the video from the USGS below.

The eruption is expected to continue, with additional ground cracking and lava emissions.


The Kilauea volcano, situated 4,000 feet above sea level on Hawaii’s Big Island, emerged from the ocean around 100,000 years ago. Now, the volcano is currently experiencing its first explosive eruption since 1924.

Although the volcano has been actively erupting on a smaller scale for three decades, earlier this May, fissures began to open up in the ground around the residential neighborhood of Leilani Estates along the island’s southeast coast, spewing molten lava across yards and into sleepy vacation homes, forcing the evacuation of 2,000 residents.

Preceded by several small earthquakes, the early stages of the latest eruption caused more than 15 fissures to break open in the volcano’s Eastern Rift Zone, which sits underneath the Estates. According to Hawaii Public Radio, the lava covered 100 acres of land and destroyed 30 homes.

On May 16, a small ash cloud appeared from the Halemaumau crater on Kilauea, prompting the USGS to warn airplanes in the area that routes above the volcano are now too dangerous for air traffic. An “ash fallout” warning went into effect, to urge residents in the path of the ash cloud to take shelter.

And today, May 17, an explosion from the Halemaumau crater before dawn sent an ash cloud into the air, reaching as high as the cruise altitude of a passenger jet, about 30,000 feet. The volcano also began ejecting “ballistic rocks,” some the size of microwaves. On May 9, the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory reported that eruptions could send rocks up to the size of automobiles flying into the air around the volcano.


Photo of the ash cloud from the Halemaumau crater. Photo from USGS.

All of these signs point to a much larger eruption event on the horizon.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve had anything like this,” says Shane Hubbard, a researcher with the Space Science and Engineering Center at the University of Wisconsin Madison, who has 15 years of experience working during disasters and evacuating residents, like the flooding in Iowa in 2008. His research focuses on spatial decision making during and after disasters.

“There aren’t any preventative measures to keep the hazard out,“ Hubbard says of the lava that is bulldozing the southeast areas of the Island. “You know hurricanes, wind, all these things you can come up with measures. You can put shutters on your windows, you can put a sandbag wall up.”

“For this, you can’t,” Hubbard says. “You can’t put a wall up to keep lava away.”

Local officials are currently weighing road closures, transportation diversions and evacuations. Keeping people safe, says Hubbard, is the priority.


A lava flow oozing from a fissure in Leilani Estates. Photo from USGS.

But the physical structure of the volcano complicates the risk management strategies. Kilauea is what is known as a “shield volcano,” elongated and more gently sloping than the conically shaped volcanoes that exist in subduction zones, where two tectonic plates are colliding and thrusting the Earth upwards.

Kilauea is situated within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, a 505-square mile area ranging from sea shores to the summit of Mauna Loa, another active volcano on the island, whose summit rises to 13,000 feet above sea level.

The elongated shape of it causes the flanks of the volcano to be more brittle, creating rift zones like the one resting underneath Leilani Estates. In these areas, the ground gets pulled apart and magma finds its  way to the surface, instead of traveling to one exit point.

The fissures have also been leaking sulfur dioxide alongside the lava, a colorless gas that is harmful to humans and can cause acid rain. Residents can smell a slight stench of rotten eggs, indicative of the sulfuric gas in the air.

According to Michael Pavolonis, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist at the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies in Madison: “The gas emissions could increase in response to the opening of new fissures.”

Pavolonis says that the situation is currently being monitored using ground-based and satellite instruments.

The unstable rift zones have been the focus thus far in the eruption, which began 12 days ago. But at the Halemaumau crater atop the Kilauea Volcano, the “lava lake” has been dropping down into the ventilation shaft underneath it, potentially causing a blockage that would cause pressure to build, leading to a more violent release than we have yet seen. Activity like this may have caused today’s early morning explosion.

The USGS warns that at any time, activity at the volcano may become more explosive, increasing the intensity of ash emissions and ballistic projectiles from vents.

Screen Shot 2018-05-17 at 1.56.14 PM

Sulfur dioxide plumes rising from a volcanic fissure. Photo from USGS.

“The question is, what is going to disrupt what’s happening and cause it to either stop, or get worse?” says UW-Madison seismology professor Cliff Thurber, who first studied Kilauea in 1983. His research began on the same day that the current 35-year stretch of eruptions at Kilauea began.

The current eruption is one of the few from Kilauea that has affected areas this far away from the summit, Thurber says, and for unknown reasons. That is why these series of eruptions have been more destructive, because they have made their way into neighborhoods and residential areas, whereas others have stayed away from populated areas.

There have been no deaths or injuries reported during the eruptions thus far.

On a lot of residents’ minds are the lava flows crawling across the landscape onto their properties. But, unfortunately, for those that now have lava on their doorstep, cleanup is out of the question.

“You can’t clean up (the lava),” says Thurber. “When we’re talking about meters of fresh, sharp lava. You can’t build on it, you can’t do anything with it until hundreds of years pass by and nature restores itself.”

April showers bring may flowers (and allergies) https://uwmadscience.news.wisc.edu/uncategorized/april-showers-bring-may-flowers-and-allergies/ Tue, 08 May 2018 20:55:31 +0000 https://uwmadscience.news.wisc.edu/?p=3079 It’s finally spring – rain is falling, flowers are blooming, and trees are budding. At least, that’s what’s on the mind of someone without seasonal allergies.

On the other hand, those with allergies know that the buds and blossoms actually signal the forthcoming itching, sneezing, coughing, runny noses and puffiness — an annual event throwing some into a sniffly despair, while others remain blissfully unaware.

It’s full-blown allergy season now, so let’s break down the science behind it.

What are allergies?

Allergies are one of the most common diseases – one in five people have them – and they occur when the body overreacts to a substance. People are allergic to all kinds of stuff, like pet hair, pollen, dust, insect stings, certain foods like shellfish and nuts, and even drugs, such as penicillin.

Those substances, called allergens, cause your body’s immune system to try to expel the particles from your body through an allergic reaction. Those coughing and sneezing fits we all know and love are your body’s way of trying to get rid of or neutralize something that it thinks is damaging.

What makes an allergen an allergen is not the substance itself, but the presence of an allergy to that substance. Allergens are usually harmless – pollen rubbed under the nose of someone who is not allergic to pollen does nothing.

Pollen only becomes an allergen when your body’s immune system misidentifies the substance as an invader. Lymphocytes, or white blood cells, are the ones that do the identifying. It is their mistake that makes you suffer.

The misidentification happens when a B-cell, one of two types of lymphocyte, finds an allergen in the body and begins to produce the appropriate antibodies to fight it. That way the second time that allergen is contacted, the body has a store of antibodies ready to deploy against it.

A human b-cell.

Antibodies, called immunoglobulins, come in five different subsets. But only immunoglobulin-E, or IgE, is involved in allergic reactions.

During an allergic reaction, IgE antibodies that are attached to mast cells and basophils – cells containing allergy mediating chemicals like histamine – find and attach themselves to an allergen. That attachment creates a cascading effect that ultimately destroys the cell, leading to their release of histamine, ultimately causing itching and swelling.

A severe allergic reaction, which involves the whole body and results in the dilation of your blood vessels, is called anaphylaxis. This is dangerous because when your blood vessel dilate there is a corresponding drop in blood pressure and sometimes difficulty breathing, which in serious cases can be deadly.

But why does spring suck so much?

Fair question. Spring allergies, sometimes called hay fever, are most commonly caused by pollen, coming from flowers, trees or even grass when they bloom in the springtime. And yes, there are some poor souls out there that are allergic to grass.

The wind whips up the pollen grains and carries them on the breeze, transporting all those pesky allergens near and far. Pollen counts are conducted to tell you how much pollen is in the air on any given day. In the springtime, those with flower pollen or tree pollen allergies will have it the worst.

After the spring allergy season dies down in mid summer, the ragweed plants start to produce their allergens, continuing the allergy season into the fall. Those with grass allergies and ragweed allergies tend to find the mid to late summer season the worst.

What can we do?

Unfortunately, there isn’t really a cure for allergies. Medications exist to help quell your symptoms, and epinephrine can help stop an allergic reaction, but nothing can take away your body’s response to allergens it sees as harmful.

Allergy shots, an injection of a concentration of allergens specific to you, can increase your tolerance to those allergens and lessen your symptoms. They are administered once every three to five years, and some say even after stopping the shot treatment their symptoms never return. Some must keep taking the shots to suppress their reactions.

But if you have allergies, you know that you would do almost anything to fix them. For some, that really means anything – including ingesting hookworms, a small parasite that can suppress the immune system, and by doing so, your allergy symptoms.


The worms live in your stomach and latch onto your small intestine where they suck out a drop of blood a day. With their saliva, they shut down their host’s immune system in order to protect themselves, but doing so can also prevent the body from having immune system reactions to allergens.

The worms don’t live inside you forever. You can kill them whenever you want by taking certain medications. According to NPR, one man who tried it out said that his hay fever went away completely, but only for a time.

Why me?

Yes, cruel fate has bestowed upon us the burden or itching and sneezing. Why not someone else, you may wonder. That question is a little harder to answer.

Scientists have been studying allergies for a long time, but are still discovering why exactly some people’s immune systems treat harmless pollen and ragweed as a dangerous invader. Some people even develop allergies later in life, after years of exposure to similar materials to the allergen that finally broke the camel’s back.

Genetics are probably part of it. Families often contain members with similar allergies. Others say they’re caused by living in such a clean, sterile environment. That lack of exposure to everyday dust and dirt can lead to the development of allergies.

So the bottom line is until we have definitive solutions, for now you’re just unlucky.













Photos courtesy of Flickr and Wikimedia Commons

Combating ticks and mosquitoes in the Midwest https://uwmadscience.news.wisc.edu/bugs/combating-ticks-and-mosquitoes-in-the-midwest/ Tue, 01 May 2018 21:25:44 +0000 https://uwmadscience.news.wisc.edu/?p=3065 Between 2004 and 2016, the number of people who acquired diseases from mosquitoes, ticks and flea bites tripled in the United States. These include Lyme disease, West Nile and dengue fever. Nine new diseases spread by mosquitoes and ticks, including Zika virus, were discovered or appeared here during that time.

These statistics were issued May 1, 2018 in a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in an effort to bring attention to the threat these diseases present to people across the country. The agency also reported that, as a nation, we are ill-prepared to address these challenges. Fewer than 20 percent of state and local organizations are equipped to adequately address prevention and spread of diseases by mosquitoes, ticks and other insect vectors.

However, we are fortunate here to have the CDC-funded Midwest Center of Excellence for Vector Borne Disease, led by UW–Madison medical entomologists Susan Paskewitz and Lyric Bartholomay. The Center, one of five consortia funded by the CDC to combat infectious diseases transmitted by ticks and mosquitoes, pulls together expertise from across Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota.

“We are working together with universities, public health agencies, and mosquito control districts across a five-state region to improve public health associated with vector-borne disease,” says Paskewitz, a professor in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. “These groups combine expertise to train the next generation, identify and validate innovative control methods, provide a stronger evidence base for currently available pest management tactics, and respond quickly to emergent issues.”

She further explains that the task is to respond to: 1. the invasion of exotic diseases and new vectors; 2. periodic and epidemic emergences of known viruses, like West Nile; and 3. the increase and expansion of tick-borne illnesses, like Lyme Disease.

Wisconsin is, in fact, a hotspot for Lyme Disease and other tick-borne pathogens, ranking in the top 20 percent of Lyme Disease cases in the U.S., according to the new CDC report. More than 33,000 cases of Lyme Disease were reported in the state between 2004 and 2016, and the number of actual cases (unreported) is likely to be higher.

Disease cases from ticks (2004-2016, reported), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Map shows case counts, not disease risk.

Disease cases from ticks (2004-2016, reported), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Map shows case counts, not disease risk.

“Every state is vulnerable to vector-borne disease,” says Bartholomay,” but as Wisconsinites we are very much aware of vector-borne diseases like Lyme disease, West Nile fever and LaCrosse encephalitis.”

The CDC report found that while the U.S. overall is not yet doing enough to address control of mosquitoes and ticks, or to protect Americans from the diseases they carry, the agency also remains optimistic. In a call it hosted with reporters and public health experts across the country on May 1, CDC Director Robert Redfield called local agencies the “first line of defense” and called for greater investment in their ability to control and prevent vector-borne illness.

To do so, the agency recommends:

  • Building and sustaining public health programs that test and track germs (pathogens) and the mosquitoes and ticks that spread them.
  • Training vector-control staff to conduct prevention and control activities, which includes five so-called core competencies: 1. Routine mosquito surveillance using standardized trapping methods and species identification; 2. Making treatment decisions using surveillance data; 3. Using approved chemicals to control ticks and mosquitoes at various stages of their life cycles; 4. Performing routine vector control activities, like eliminating sources of breeding habitat; and 5. Testing for pesticide resistance.
  • Working with the public to provide education for preventing mosquito, tick and flea bites and control the germs they spread.

This is indeed what the Midwest Center of Excellence is focused on achieving across the upper Midwest. “We are tackling the growing threat of vector-borne disease by finding new ways to control ticks in backyards, by expanding the ways that we look for vectors and diseases they transmit, by critically testing methods for mosquito control, and by training students to be able to collect, recognize and control mosquitoes and ticks,” says Bartholomay, a professor in the School of Veterinary Medicine and the Global Health Institute.

A mosquito feeds on UW–Madison entomology professor Susan Paskewitz's hand. Wisconsin-Madison entomology professor. She was collecting live mosquitoes and checking mosquito traps while conducting field research near the UW Arboretum

A mosquito feeds on UW–Madison entomology professor Susan Paskewitz’s hand. She was collecting live mosquitoes and checking mosquito traps while conducting field research near the UW Arboretum. Photo by: Jeff Miller

Continuing to fund the Midwest Center of Excellence promises to advance progress when it comes to improving our ability to prevent and respond to diseases.

“The Centers of Excellence are a new strategy for organizing and enhancing efforts from the national to local level,” says Paskewitz. “However, boom and bust cycles of funding have hindered our ability to respond to emerging and persistent vector-borne disease. We geared up when West Nile Virus came along, and then lost that expertise by the time Zika entered the scene. We know dengue and chikungunya as well as new tick-borne infections will occur and we must retain readiness.”

Read more about the Midwest Center of Excellence for Vector Borne Disease:

Award announcement – https://news.wisc.edu/cdc-awards-10-million-for-insect-borne-disease-center/ 

Efforts to combat mosquitoes after Hurricane Harvey on 2017 – https://news.wisc.edu/uw-madison-students-in-houston-to-aid-post-harvey-mosquito-control/