Phytoplankton Blooms

This image, from the NASA SeaWiFS project, shows the striking green colors produced by phytoplankton.

You probably already know that a hurricane has an eye, but did you know that hurricanes might actually display a preference for certain colors? New research from the U.S. Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, New Jersey suggests that hurricanes may be more likely to travel over green areas of the ocean than over more clear, blue areas. The ongoing study is attempting to improve hurricane forecasting models by looking at variables like ocean color which are not usually considered in tracking programs.

The study looked specifically at storms in the northern Pacific Ocean, where the predominant surface water color is green due to blooms of tiny plants called phytoplankton. These plants absorb sunlight, which increases the water temperature in that area. Increased surface temperature means increased “fuel” for hurricanes, which gain strength over warm water and lose strength over cooler water or land.  The researchers used a computer program to model what would happen to hurricane paths if the phytoplankton were reduced in number, thus changing the water color. As the water became clearer, the number of hurricanes traveling over that region of water was reduced by two-thirds.

These results suggest that if phytoplankton populations decrease, fewer hurricanes may travel north to highly populated areas like Japan or the East Coast of the United States. Several studies have suggested that in fact this may already be happening, as global warming has made some areas of the ocean less hospitable to phytoplankton. However, other studies have suggested that global warming is actually increasing phytoplankton populations, so more research is needed in this area. And of course, while it would be great to not have to worry about hurricanes outside of the tropics, removing phytoplankton could have a severely negative effect on marine environments that rely on the plants for energy.

The researchers are now planning to move their study into the real world by looking at actual hurricane paths and satellite imagery of real-time ocean colors to see if their preliminary results match up with real storm paths. In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about hurricanes and other types of storms, visit Morehead Planetarium and Science Center to see Science 360: Predicting Severe Weather when it comes back on our Fall schedule September 4.

Casey Rawson is the Science Content Developer for Science 360.

The seventh video in our Science 360: The Truth Behind 2012 series focuses on solar eruptions. Some people think a massive solar eruption will engulf our planet in radiation, wiping out all life on Earth. Are scientists worried? Watch and find out…

Jay Heinz is Morehead's Digital Production Manager.

Festival coordinator, Julie Rhodes, sharing exciting news with the rest of the planning team.

As you can imagine, things are pretty hectic around here as we count down to the start of the NC Science Festival.   It’s LESS THAN ONE MONTH AWAY!  And, while it’s hectic, it’s also so much fun.  I’ve done things (have tea with a Nobel Laureate; call Adam & Jamie to invite them to NC) and said things (“Can you park your NASCAR car here?” and “Do you mind if we chunk pumpkins through the center of campus?”) that I NEVER would have had the opportunity to say and do without the Festival.  So, thanks to everyone for enriching my life over these last few months.

And, that’s the whole point of the Festival – to enrich YOUR life by getting you involved in science, technology, math and engineering.  We are putting finishing touches on many things – including schedules and maps – so you’ll know when and where to show up for some awesome science action!  Take a look at the Festival schedule to see what I mean.  There are over 300 events taking place across the state between Sept. 11-26.

We want to invite you to attend as many events as possible during the Festival.  And we would love to see you in Chapel Hill on Sat., Sept. 25 for the UNC Science Expo.  There are literally hundreds of cool things taking place this day – demos, lab tours, talks, performances.  You name it – we’ve probably got it!

I look forward to hearing about your science adventures in September!

Denise

Denise Young is Morehead’s director of education and planning and co-founder of the NC Science Festival. She proposes skipping the rest of August so we can get on with the Festival!

If you have watched the early evening sky over the past weeks, you may have noticed Venus, Mars, and Saturn engaging in a slow planet dance.

On August 12 and 13, the Moon joins the party. Look for this striking sight soon after sunset in the same direction the Sun went down. You will likely see the crescent Moon and super bright Venus first. As the sky darkens further, notice Mars and Saturn near Venus. (Mercury will be lower, dimmer, and much harder to spot.)

If you’d like to see these celestial objects through a telescope, join Morehead for our skywatching session this Thursday, August 12, from 9 to 11 p.m. Weather permitting, we’ll be at Jordan Lake, Ebenezer Church Recreation Area. Come near the beginning of the session to view the Moon and planet trio. Then stick around for a chance to see some Perseid meteors.

If the skywatching session is canceled, we will post a message around 4 p.m. at the Morehead Web site — please check before you head out to Jordan Lake.

Amy Sayle hopes to spot a few Perseid meteors from Jordan Lake during Paddling Under the Stars. Although the paddle is sold out, the skywatching session is free and open to all.

Less than a month to go before the North Carolina Science Festival kicks off on September 11. We’ve been working hard getting everything ready and just finished up a commercial that’s going to be airing on WRAL and TimeWarner Cable for the next few weeks. It features some employees and friends of Morehead that you might know and was totally produced in-house. Enjoy.

Jay Heinz is Morehead's Digital Production Manager.

The sixth video in our Science 360: The Truth Behind 2012 series focuses on magnetic pole reversals. Some people think a virtually instantaneous reversal of the magnetic poles on Earth could cause all kinds of havoc. What do you think? You guessed it – it’s not true. Even if there was a magnetic pole reversal, it would take tens of thousands of years to take place and it’s already happened tens of thousands of times on Earth already. Bottom line is that you don’t have to pack up the house and get on the next transport out of here. Check out this video to get the real science behind the hype.

The Truth Behind 2012: Magnetic Pole Reversal!

Jay Heinz is Morehead's Digital Production Manager.

03 Aug 2010
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There’s a popular vampire drama on cable TV that’s built around the concept of synthetic blood. Interesting concept … if you’re a TV vampire. But there’s no such thing in real life, right?

Wrong. Researchers are developing synthetic blood as part of a new wave of nanotechnology-based strategies against disease.

Dr. Joseph DeSImoneHow are these new technologies going to affect the way we treat cancer and other diseases?

Come learn some of the possibilities when Dr. Joseph DeSimone speaks at Morehead’s Current Science Forum on Thursday, Aug. 5, at 7 p.m. It’s a free program.

If you search for "synthetic blood," Google currently lists 62,900 results.

The fifth video in our Science 360: The Truth Behind 2012 series focuses on the supposedly hidden Planet Niburu. Some people think a rogue planet called Niburu that has an extremely long orbit will swing around and collide with the Earth. Guess what? This 2012-doomsday scenario also has a lot of scientific evidence against it. Check out the video and find out why it’s just as likely that the DeathStar is going to destroy the Earth.

The Truth Behind 2012: The Planet Niburu!

Jay Heinz is Morehead's Digital Production Manager.

The fourth video in our Science 360: The Truth Behind 2012 series focuses on the galactic center alignment. Some people think that the Earth, our Solar System and the center of the Milky Way Galaxy will align and the resulting gravitational forces from the black hole in the center of the galaxy will destroy the Earth. Once again, this 2012-doomsday scenario has a lot of scientific evidence against it. Check it out and find out why it won’t happen and even if it did, it wouldn’t be a big deal.

The Truth Behind 2012: Galactic Center Alignment

Jay Heinz is Morehead's Digital Production Manager.

15 Jul 2010
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We’ve been recruiting museums, parks and other sites all around North Carolina to host activities during the first-ever North Carolina Science Festival, scheduled Sept. 11-26.

So far, the schedule is pretty impressive. We’re aiming for 100 unique activities and events, and we’re getting close.

But we may have just scored the biggest event possible for this year. Adam and Jamie, the hosts of the Discovery Channel’s popular MythBusters TV show, are coming to do a special program at UNC. And people are thrilled.

From the moment we posted the news on our website, Facebook page and Twitter feed, the excitement became building. It’s going to be a big event, so big that it’ll be in the Smith Center (aka basketball heaven, most years) on UNC’s campus.

Tickets are limited. In fact, since the stage set-up is in the middle of the floor, rather than at the end, we’ll only have access to fewer than one-half of the seats. We don’t know if it will sell out, but as a safeguard in case it does, we’ve set up a way for Morehead members to buy tickets early through a special presale opportunity.

If you’re already a Morehead member, you’ll get information about the presale through e-mail (be sure the membership office has your e-mail address!). If you aren’t a member yet, this could be a really good time to join. And you’ll get to enjoy all of the other membership benefits (free admission to fulldome planetarium shows, gift shop discounts and more) throughout the year.

So join. Come see Adam and Jamie. And check out all of the other cool activities during the NC Science Festival. It just keeps getting more amazing!

What myths have you busted lately? (Keep it family-friendly, please!)