Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Blue's Clue

It's cool to be blue. According to Digital Trends, Instagram posts that contain majority blue objects or backgrounds get 24 percent more likes than any other color. Blue is a fascinating color that has played a role in science, religion, fashion, art, history, music, politics, culture, marketing, and even pants. Blue is seen as the color of comfort, harmony, and confidence. Blue is also seen as the color of sadness, masculinity, intelligence, concentration , mourning, and coldness. Blue is the world's favorite color (and mine), winning 23 to 33 percent of the vote. There's many reasons why blue is a miraculous color that's not the same as the others.
     Color comes from the electromagnetic spectrum and from natural resources. Visible light, which contains the rainbow, is the only wavelength that humans can see. While the spectrum is how we see blue, pigments and dyes from flowers, rocks, and the roster of the periodic table is how we make it. Blue also gets free advertising from the sky and oceans. In reality, the sky is purple, but because of "Rayleigh scattering" and our brains, it appears blue to our eyes.
     According to AC Lens, an estimated 8 percent of the world's population has blue eyes. Blue eyes are frequently found in people with northern European ancestry. Many scientists believe that blue eyes formed from a genetic mutation that affected the "OCA2" gene, which is involved in melanin production and eye, skin, and hair pigmentation. Blue eyes also aren't really blue - they appear blue because of the Tyndall effect, which is similar to Rayleigh scattering. The iris is the colored part of the eye, which is made up of two layers: the stroma and the epithelium. The epithelium contains black-brown pigment while the stroma is colorless collagen. People with blue eyes lack melanin in their stroma, which means that light is not absorbed in the iris. Instead, light is scattered, and like the sky, it's blue wavelengths that win. So there you have it, blue eyes aren't technically blue at all, who knew? "Atmospheric perspective" is another similar concept which explains why mountains in the distance appear blue. 
     Blue animals are rare. How many true blue animals can you name? There's blue jays, dart frogs, butterflies, crabs, peacocks, jellyfish, and Dory, but then it starts to get hard. According to Mother Nature Network, while plants can produce blue pigments due to anthocyanins, most animals cannot make blue pigment. Animals that do appear blue, such as the blue jay, is typically the result of structural effects such as reflection and iridescence (why bubbles appear multiple colors). The Bangor Daily News agrees: cardinals are red in the sense that their feathers really contain red pigment - carotenoids (which is also why carrots are orange). Yet blue jays are blue because of structures in their feathers that filters certain light, not because their feathers have blue pigment.
     Blue pigment is also a hard color to find in food and coloring. Strawberries and cherries give off red. Peaches, bananas, lemons, and pineapples are yellow. Leafy greens, limes, and broccoli squeeze out green. Blueberries? While the berry may be blue, the juice is not. 23 years after introducing blue M&M's, Mars Foods is still trying to find a suitable natural blue dye for them. There is a search for one for Trix cereal too. In 2009, a grad student at Oregon State University accidentally discovered a new kind of blue pigment in the lab after mixing and heating chemicals, the first discovery in 200 years. Crayola has now introduced that new blue to their famous 24 pack, kicking out dandelion yellow.
     One crazy thing that makes blue unique is that it is believed that it didn't "exist" to most people until modern times. As stated, blue is rarely found in nature, and even the sky isn't really "blue." And if you have no idea of what "blue" is, then is it really blue? Matter of fact, the mention of blue in language hasn't been found in texts older than 4,500 years old. In "The Odyssey", Homer describes the ocean (?) as "wine-dark." In 1858, William Gladstone analyzed "Odyssey" and found oddities such as honey being described as "green" and sheep as "violet." The color black was mentioned near 200 times and white 100 times. Red was mentioned fewer than 15 and yellow and green fewer than 10. Yet, no mention of blue. The word "blue" didn't really exist, which isn't that crazy considering how rare blue is in nature.
     A philologist (studies languages) named Lazarus Geiger studied other cultural texts, such as Chinese, Arabic, Icelandic, and Jewish, and blue as we know it was not mentioned. Other than the Egyptians who had blue dye, blue was the last color to start to appear to be mentioned in cultures.
     According to Business Insider, a study was done with the Himba tribe in Namibia who have no word for blue and don't distinguish between green and blue. They were show 12 squares: one blue and eleven  green. None of the members of the tribe could immediately pick out the blue square, yet when shown 12 green squares, they could pick out the one that was subtly different than the rest. To put it another way, while we can differentiate between "true green" and "light green", the Himba tribe and many of our ancestors probably registered blue as just another shade of green instead of it's own color since they didn't know the concept of blue. Welsh, Japanese, and Chinese cultures also had words for the color "grue", but not blue itself. To everyone, it was just another shade of green
     Another study done by MIT in 2007 showed that native Russian speakers who don't have a word for blue, but yet do for "light blue" and "dark blue" can pick out shades of blue much faster than English speakers. So basically, even if your eyes can see millions of colors, the language you speak can determine how you recognize color.
     Blue may be just another wave on the length, but it's a special one, and not just because I'm bias. Don't take blue for granted. Those "blue eyes" you use to see "blue jays" zooming across that "blue" sky right before the "blue" moon could just as easy be one of the other ugly, not-blue colors.

*AC Lens, Live Science, NPR, WBUR, Science Alert, Wikipedia, You Gov, Mother Nature Network, Bangor Daily News, Business Insider, IFL Science, New Scientist, The Conversation, New York Times, Digital Trends

Thursday, May 3, 2018

World War Bacon

     Bacon has been involved in a heavily contentious war for ages, and not just between carnivores and herbivores. The health community has been divided on whether bacon is a good, healthy food, inside and outside of breakfast. While the consensus used to lean towards bad, it seems the good side has had the stronger pull lately.
     Everyone is aware that bacon contains fat, but as we've learned, not all fats are created equal. The three main types of fat are saturated fat, unsaturated fat, and trans fat. Trans fat is man made fat and is considered the big no-no by everyone. Unsaturated fat can be found in nuts, seeds, and fish, and is universally agreed on being the fat that your body always needs. Saturated fat, typically found in meat, used to be considered the devil, but now it is becoming more agreed upon that natural saturated fat shouldn't be actively avoided, though you shouldn't consume it as heavily as you would unsaturated fat. As it turns out, bacon is full of unsaturated and saturated fat, but contains no trans fats. This acceptance of saturated fat has led to an acceptance of bacon. According to Healthline, 50% of the fat in bacon is monounsaturated or "good" fat, which is also found in olive oil. 10% is polyunsaturated, which is also considered healthy, and the remaining 40% is saturated fat. The cholesterol in bacon is also not seen as negatively today as it used to be.
     Nitrites and nitrates have been a concern, but according to Healthline, bacon contains less nitrosamine, a known carcinogen, than it did in the past. Vitamin C being added to bacon has also reduced the presence of nitrosamine, though it can still be dangerous in high quantities.
     Another issue typically raised with bacon is the sodium. Because most commercial bacon is cured to preserve the meat, a lot of salt is used. Yet just like fat, the evils of sodium aren't seen as strongly today as in the past. You shouldn't eat a bowl of salt for breakfast, but completely steering clear of it is not good for you either. Sodium helps the brain, muscles, heart, and skin, and it helps your body remove carbon dioxide. That said, too much sodium can cause high blood pressure, water retention, bone loss, and more. Uncured bacon is out there if you want to avoid the sodium as much as possible, though taste may vary.
   Typically not talked about by the anti-bacon coalition, bacon contains vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, phosphorous, and selenium. Iron, magnesium, zinc, and potassium can also be found in bacon. All are nutrients that your body needs. According to Bacon is Magic and Bacon Today, bacon also improves your mood, protects your heart, fuels your brain, and can even power your car. HealthWire claims that bacon can stop food cravings, provide you a low carb meal, and raise good cholesterol.
     While things are looking up for bacon, there are still some studies that say not so fast. One study claims bacon and other processed meats could be linked to a lower sperm count. Another study claims that factory farmed pigs are more likely to get you sick than free range, which is an issue considering many consumers don't take the time to compare brands. And a study from the University of Zurich believes bacon could still contribute to heart disease and cancer.
     Bacon also needs to be cooked to perfection, aka done. Overcooking bacon can form polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heterocyclic amines or PAH's, which can increase cancer risk. Undercooking the bacon can expose you to pathogens, viruses, and foodborne illness. If you cook the meat fully, then you have nothing to worry about.
     If pork isn't your thing, but bacon still is, luckily bacon doesn't only have to come from pork. There are many alternatives to pork bacon, made from both meat and non-meat sources. Turkey bacon contains less fat than pork bacon, nor does it shrink. Conversely it doesn't have the same crunch or "bacony" taste. Lamb bacon comes from the belly like pork bacon, but the bacon strips are narrow and don't get too crispy. Duck bacon is very salty, but it's full of flavor, but it can also be tough as a carpet if it's overcooked. Pancetta is cured in salt, but it isn't smoked. Shiitake bacon and tempeh bacon are BINO's (bacon in name only). Made for vegetarians and vegans, shiitake bacon is made from shiitake mushrooms and roasted or fried. Tempeh bacon comes in strips, but it's not strips of meat. Tempeh is made from soybeans and the bacon is marinated in savory and sweet sauce. While you won't get that authentic bacon taste from these non-meats, I guess it's better than no bacon at all.
     While bacon is better than it was once believed to be, it's still a processed meat, so you still shouldn't order a big rig full of it to your house. Yet in moderation, bacon is a healthy treat and is much healthier than it looks when it's sizzling in a pool of fat. If you want to make brinner, go right ahead. If you want to journey to an all-bacon restaurant, sure, do it. Just...don't order bacon as the entree and the side.

*My Recipes, HealthWire, Healthline, Bacon Today, Bacon is Magic, Good Housekeeping, Prevention, Huffington Post, Eater, NCBI

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Happy Feet

    Picture this: you're sitting somewhere, waiting for a train, a plane, a class to start, or the doctor to come poking into the waiting room. You put in some headphones to pass the time and play your favorite Spotify playlist. About 15 seconds go by and you notice you're already tapping your feet, humming loudly, and nodding your head. You don't want to draw attention so you stop. 20 seconds later you're back at it again. Why do we do this? Are Metro's beats really that good?
     Turns out that when you listen to music, quite a few things happen. Your heart rate increases, you feel desirable emotions, and multiple areas of the brain are stimulated. One study done at McGill University showed that listening to music can release dopamine, the chemical that is responsible for making you feel good. Dancing is believed to have evolved from rhythmic movement, such as tapping feet.
     According to a study posted in Science Daily, moving to music is a part of a human cognition called "motor theory of perception." According to the theory, when we listen to music, we have a habit of actively simulating the body movements that we believe went into making that sound. Researchers at the University of Oslo also determined that people make sense of what they hear by mentally simulating it to make sense of it.
     There's nothing wrong with being an incessant foot tapper. According to one study, fidgeting helps burn calories, up to 350 a day, and we hate those, right?
     So tapping feet is cool and all, but what's up with humming? Well it's believed that humming has evolved over time and used to be the "contact call" of humans, which is a way animals communicate. Humming is also believed to be a type of relaxer for humans, since sitting in complete silence can be uncomfortable and seen as a sign of danger. Like breathing and putting our fingers in our mouths, humming seems to be something we do unconsciously without much thought.
     An earworm, or "stuck song syndrome" is the habit of humming or moving to a song that you're no longer listening too. You can easily "catch" an earworm: after listening to your new favorite song, seeing the same annoying commercial, or watching the intro to your favorite 90s sitcom. Even seeing something that reminds you of the sound. Who hasn't hummed the Disney theme after popping in the Lion King VHS tape?
    No one knows what causes them, though it's believed that 98% of people experience them. One study found that lyrical songs may account for 73.7% of earworms, while instrumental music may only account for 7.7%. A piano piece, or Bruno Mars? Hmm. It's also believed that musicians and people with OCD suffer the most earworms. Earworms typically don't last more than 30 seconds and they're very forgettable. Humming is also believed to be contagious, just like yawning, and is also believed to have benefits on the body and mind.
     Tapping your feet and nodding your head is natural. Music influences us and moving to it is what we're supposed to do. If tapping your feet or nodding your head does annoy you though, well hey it's at least better than tinnitus.

*Fast Company, Washington Post, Science Daily, Psychology Today, Skyword, Scientific American, The Straight Dope, Quora, Rejuvenation Lounge, Joseph Jordania "Time to Fight and Times to Relax: Singing and Humming at the Beginnings of Human Evolutionary History."

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Arguing over Peanuts

     Peanut butter is a world delicacy. According to the American Association of Agronomy, we spend over $800 million a year on it. The average American child has 1,500 PB&J's before high school graduation. January 24 is National Peanut Butter Day in the US. We take peanut butter so seriously that according to Atlas Obscura, Stuart Parnell, the former CEO of the Peanut Corporation of America, was sentenced to 28 years in prison after knowingly shipping salmonella-tainted peanut butter in 2009. According to Ad Age, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups are the most popular chocolate candy in America. Snickers, the world's #1 brand, contains peanuts as a main ingredient. FiveThirtyEight also ranked Reese's as the top Halloween candy. And I mean, come on, it makes sense. Chocolate and peanut butter is the world's best match up. Name a better one, I'll wait. You can even get peanut butter colored paint and interior in your car.
     As it turns out, for peanut butter to be considered "peanut butter" in the United States, it has to contain at least 90% peanuts. While that seems like common sense, it didn't always used to be that way.
     In 1959, the FDA revealed that items labeled as "peanut butter" only contained 75% or so peanuts. Consumers weren't happy about it and started referring to peanut butter as "peanut flavored face cream." Manufactures were altering recipes to cut costs, such as hydrogenated oils being used instead of peanut oil and using alternative sugars. For the next 12 years, the FDA and the peanut butter industry fought back and forth over how much peanut is enough peanut.
     According to Atlas Obscura, the FDA wanted peanut butter to be 95% peanuts. Jif, Peter Pan, Skippy, and the rest of the brands said no. The FDA then said 90%, the PB industry said 87%. In 1964, both sides finally met to try to compromise in what was called the "Peanut Butter Hearings." A few years of peanut butter corporate legal jargon and 8,000 transcript pages later, the hearings ended in favor of the FDA. Regardless, peanut butter moves slow as it took 5 years until the 90% peanut became standard in 1971.
        Ruth Desmond was fundamental in the FDA landing the win. She was instrumental in getting changes implemented after the 1959 Cranberry Crisis that included cranberry sauce contaminated with weed killer. She eventually became known as "Peanut Butter Grandma" for her persistent fight.
    The FDA is now more into fighting for accurate labeling than fighting for accurate food. Regardless, what exactly is in our food has become a hot topic as consumers have became more educated about food health.
     From lies and misconceptions about the sugar content in cereal, to natural food being all-natural, to gluten-free always being a healthier alternative, the list goes on with instances of consumers being misled. While peanut butter being 90% peanut vs 87% might seem like a silly difference to argue over, it's the principle about not letting consumers be purposefully misled, and in that case, the FDA made the right push, no matter how silly "Peanut Butter Hearings" sounds.
     If you're not a big peanut butter person, but still want to experience the peanut butter life, you can pick up some peanut spread instead, which is less than 90% peanuts.
     And a peanut butter international fun fact: in the Netherlands, peanut butter cannot be called "peanut butter", because by law, butter has to be actual butter. Instead, it's "peanut cheese." Not kidding.

*sources: Atlas Obscura, photo from Wonderopolis, American Association of Agronomy, Business Insider, FiveThirtyEight, Healthline, The Atlantic Online, Marketplace.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017


     M&M's are America's second favorite chocolate. With milk chocolate, peanut, almond, and other delicious flavors, M&M's are a true assortment of delicious. Did you know though that M&M's have had a pretty colorful history? And much of it is due to science.
     M&M's were introduced in 1941 by Mars and became a hit with Army soldiers. After World War II, they were here to stay. The original colors of M&M's were brown, yellow, green, red, and purple. In 1949, purple M&M's vanished and were replaced by tan. Red M&M's disappeared in 1976 and were replaced by orange. The popular red didn't return until 1986. And in 1995, tan M&M's bowed goodbye as they were replaced by blue.
      The 1970's saw a surge of new public concerns over personal, common, and global health. The Environmental Protection Agency was formed in December 1970, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission formed in 1972. The Marine Mammal Protection Act ('72), Endangered Species Act ('73), Safe Water Drinking Act ('74), Clean Water Act ('77), and the Wilderness Act ('78) were all passed. Aerosols and lead-based paint were banned in 1978. Anti-smoking campaigns were full steam ahead. Red is a popular color and is commonly seen in food, so what was the big deal over red M&M's? Turns out it was all due to chemistry. In 1976, the FDA pulled red dye no.2 over carcinogen concerns, and Mars pulled red M&M's in response. 
     The dye was linked to cancer in a 1971 Russian study, and then after the FDA did their own study, decided to ban the dye in 1976. Turns out though, the red dye that was so controversial, actually wasn't used in M&M's, but to make consumers feel better and to quell any confusion, Mars pulled the red candies anyway. Orange replaced red, and then ten years later after the red dye panic had died down, Mars brought red back, but decided to keep orange along.
     There's a saying that "today's kids will never understand..." and it's true. As a 90's baby, I shake my head at all of the great things in my youth that today's youth will never get to experience, such as Windows XP, flip phones, green and blue ketchup, Game Boy's and Nintendo 64's, Disney movies on VHS tapes from Blockbuster, Lite Brites, and actually good cartoons on TV - and not watching them on 46'' flat screens either. Well that's how 70's and 80's kids feel about tan M&M's.
     Tan M&M's were dropped by Mars in 1995 after a contest was held to bring in a new color, which blue won by a large margin. Yet unlike orange and red, tan M&M's didn't get to stick around when blue arrived. It seemed redundant to have brown, tan, and orange all in the same bag. Plus blue is such a better color anyway. Well why keep tan all those decades, then just dump it? Well that's the world of marketing. Sometimes brands need a refresher, so contests are held to bring a new face. Here's an M&M commercial from 1995 where the end began.
     Organic chemistry is a real thing in the world of food. As Mars and other companies move to replace "artificial" colors with "natural" colors, more suitable ingredients have to be found. As it turns out, blue is not an easy color to find in the wild. A blueberry is actually more red than blue, for instance. Even General Mills ran into the same problem, as they have not yet been able to find suitable blues and greens for Trix, and now have been forced to bring them back
     Mars has looked into using spirulina algae to create natural blue, but they have hit roadblocks, from poor taste, poor coloring, and not enough spirulina. Other ingredients being considered to help make natural blue are red cabbage, berries, flowers, bacteria, fungi, sea sponges, and aged red wine. While blue dye has been a debacle and debate, some scientists think it should be given even more attention. In 2009, University of Rochester researchers claimed that blue dye in M&M's could possibly help cure spinal injuries, after running trials in rats. The only side effect was well, it temporarily turned the rats blue.
     Not only does changing colors take a visual adjustment, as with Trix, but getting consumers on board with new taste can be a challenge - even if there wasn't actually a change in taste. It has been shown that colors in food can make us think we taste things that aren't really there. One 1980 study showed that adding red coloring could make food taste 10 percent sweeter. In the same study, a drink was given red dye and some subjects claimed to taste cherry. They were given the same drink with green coloring, and there were claims of a lemon-lime taste. Our brains have evolved to appreciate colors, so even the slightest change to our blue M&M's could create displeasure among consumers.
     Making colorful candies takes more than just painting some rainbows on them. A lot of chemistry goes into M&M's and other candies, and there is a psychological science as well. "Sensory-specific satiety" is the scientific phenomenon that the more variety in flavors or colors in food, the more you're going to eat and the more appealing it looks. This is possibly a reason Mars decided to give tan the boot in favor a more eye-popping and visually pleasing blue, pink, or purple.
     While there may be a shortage of blue dye, and a complete shortage of tan M&M's, you won't ever have to worry about M&M's running out. The New Jersey factory makes 2 billion M&M's every 8 hours, or 69,000 every second, enough to fill every seat in the New England Patriot's football stadium. No wonder Tom Brady won't retire.

*NBC News, Live Science, Mental Floss, M&M commercials Youtube, Bustle, Washington Post, CNN, NJ.com, New England Patriots, Movieclips Youtube, New York Times

Friday, October 27, 2017

Lucky Strikes

     Recently it was revealed by the World Meteorological Association that the longest recorded lightning bolt to strike the world was half a mile short of 200 miles (322 km) long, occurring in Oklahoma. The June 20, 2007 bolt was so long, it spanned nearly three-fourths of Oklahoma - the 20th largest state by area. The organization also announced that the longest living strike ever recorded occurred in France on August 30, 2012, at 7.74 seconds long.
     Lightning is one of the most fascinating phenomenon in the Solar System, but what is it? It's an electrostatic discharge. The same stuff that zaps you when the carpet and your socks get too comfortable.
   First off, you need warm and cold air, which help form clouds. Water droplets, ice crystals, and graupel (soft hail) collide in the cloud, creating positively charged particles at the top of the cloud and negatively charge particles at the bottom. An electric current called a stepped leader finds a path through the particles and the process of a lightning strike begins. The average lightning flash is 0.2 seconds and is made up of several shorter strokes, which last less than a millisecond.
     70% of all lightning occurs in the tropics, and cloud-to-ground lighting, the most dramatic, is only about 25% of the lightning that occurs on Earth. 
     Lightning strikes the United States an average of 25 million times a year and the Democratic Republic of the Congo experiences the most strikes on Earth. Even the Empire State Building averages 23 strikes a year. An average of 49 people are killed in the United States every year by lightning. While the odds of getting struck by lightning in your lifetime is only 1 in 13,500 according to NOAA, you still shouldn't press your luck. Most people that are struck survive, but typically suffer permanent, life-long damage. Lightning may be cool to look at, but that's about all you want to do with it.
     Since lightning moves at the speed of light, which is too fast for our eyes and brain to process, the strikes that we see are actually the reflections of the initial stroke. We typically perceive lightning as blue-white, but in reality lightning can be blue, red, yellow, purple, green, etc. The color of lightning depends on what is in the air, such as water vapor, hail, dust, pollution, etc. Latitude, humidity, winds, elevation, and seasons can also effect lightning. Lightning strikes are also around 5 times hotter than the surface of the Sun at around 54,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
     You actually have a better chance of getting struck by lightning twice than winning the Powerball, and whoever told you that lightning can't strike twice lied to you. Not only can lightning strike twice - it usually does. Have you ever heard of Roy Sullivan? Probably not, but he holds the record for "the most amount of times to be struck by lighting" with seven. Yes, seven times over 35 years. Even his wife was struck once in his presence. Roy worked at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, so working around so many trees, which are lightning magnets (my neighbor's tree actually exploded from a strike), it makes sense. Still, the odds of getting struck seven times as he claimed? 4.15 in 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.
     As stated earlier, lighting not exclusive to Earth. Lightning has been observed on Mars, Jupiter,  Venus, and Saturn. Lightning does not exist on Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun, because of it's lack of a significant atmosphere. Scientists think they've even recorded lightning on exoplanet HAT-P-11b. In 2009, a lightning storm was observed on Saturn that had been going on for 9 months. And while it's very rare for lightning to strike the north and south poles of Earth, lightning has been clearly observed on Jupiter's. Lightning in the gas giants are believed to be hundreds to thousands of times more powerful than Earth's.
     Ever heard of sprites? No not the soda, but the lightning? Sprites are electrical discharges that happen high above thunderstorms. Sprites typically appear reddish-orange, not lemon-lime, and occur in clusters 30-60 miles (50-90 km) above Earth. Elves and blue jets can't be left out either. All three are different forms of upper-atmospheric lighting. Blue jets are shaped like a cone and project from the top of cumulonimbus clouds 25-30 miles (40-50 km) above the Earth. Blue jets weren't recorded until 1989 and they are considered rare as less than 100 were seen between then and 2007. Elves are typically dim and flat, and last for a millisecond. They occur in the ionosphere, 62 miles (100 km) above the Earth. So are auroras technically lightning? Actually no, auroras are caused by solar wind in the magnetosphere, but I agree they look just as cool. 
     Heat lightning is actual lighting, the only difference is it is too far away for you to hear. You've most likely seen heat lightning before, even if you don't recall. And while we typically associate lightning with thunderstorms, it can actually form from volcanic eruptions and snow as well.
     So remember, you may enjoy looking at lightning, but you don't want to go farther that. There are many myths out there about lightning, so study up and stay safe thanks to the NWS, How Stuff Works, and NBC News.

*Live Science, WNCN, Mental Floss, Space, Science News For Students, National Geographic, OSU Volcano World, Encyclopedia of atmospheric science, Wikipedia, Museum Victoria, NWS, NBC News, Hyperphysics, How Stuff Works, University of St. Andrews, Astrology Today, Mental Floss, Colour Lovers, CBS North Carolina, NASA, picture from Weather Underground Pinterest

Monday, May 15, 2017

Volcanoes 101

     Nothing on Earth has more awesome might than a volcano. Eruptive, hot, and violent, volcanoes have the ability and the power to shape, mold, create, and destroy our landscape, whether directly or indirectly. Volcanoes are typically mountains, hills, or bowls, but always include ruptures in Earth's crust that allows magma from the mantle to get through.
     Ever wonder why there are no volcanoes hanging around New York or London? It's all because of plate tectonics. Volcanoes are located on major diverging and converging fault lines, or at hot spots. Neither are anywhere near New York or London, or the entire eastern United States for that matter. They can be found in western Europe, but not near the UK.
     One way to think of volcanoes, although not a pretty way, is as a zit. The Earth's crust is like your skin, and a volcano is a zit. The same way you squeeze your zit to pop it, pressure from the heat squeezes magma under the crust until it becomes too much, and the volcano erupts. I know that wasn't a pretty analogy, but it works.
      We tend to think of volcanoes as cone-shaped mountains that spew lava, but there are actually a few different types. Cinder cone volcanoes are the most common type and are the smallest. Stratovolcanoes look like cones, but are much larger, rising up to 8,000 feet. Stratovolcanoes typically have the most violent eruptions. Shield volcanoes are gently sloping and are typically several miles in diameter. Calderas are bowl-shaped depressions. They do not look like your average volcano and typically form from previous catastrophic eruptions.
     Over 70 percent of the Earth is covered in ocean, yet we tend to forget what's under it. Volcanoes are not restricted to land; there are undersea volcanoes as well. Those undersea volcanoes are how Hawaii and many other sea islands were and are formed. Just last year a new island was formed in the South Pacific thanks to the eruption on an undersea volcano called Hunga Tonga.
     Volcanic eruptions have shaped our planet over time. Mount Vesuvius is a famous volcano in Italy that has erupted at least 30 times. Vesuvius buried the famous ancient city of Pompeii in 79 AD. Krakatoa erupted in 1883 in Indonesia with the power of 13,000 atomic bombs. Krakatoa's explosion is considered the loudest sound in history and was heard over 3,000 miles away on the African coast. Krakatoa's explosion was so powerful, it was suicide. The original volcano ended up sliding into the ocean. Mauna Loa, the worlds largest volcano, is a synonym for Hawaii. Mauna Loa is located in the middle of Hawaii's Big Island and is 13,700 feet high and last erupted in 1984. The city of Hilo, Hawaii is partly built on 19th century lava flows from Mauna Loa. Eyjafjallajokull is a volcano in Iceland that erupted in 2010 and cost the airline industry over $1 billion in interruptions. Mount Pelee in the Caribbean erupted in 1902 and miraculously killed 29,933 of the island's 29,937 residents.
     Mount Saint Helens is arguably the most famous volcano in the United States. Mount St Helens' last eruption was in 1980, so many Generation Xers and Baby Boomers likely remember it well. Geologists were aware that Mount Saint Helens would likely soon erupt, but they were not aware that it would be caused by a 5.1 magnitude earthquake, which created a landslide on the volcano, allowing built up pressure to escape and the volcano to erupt. The Mount Saint Helens eruption was so spectacular that the northern face of the mountain was blown off. Mount Saint Helens' elevation dropped from 9,677 feet to 8,363 feet. Mount Saint Helens also produced the worlds largest landslide.
     Other famous volcanoes include Mount Fuji, Mount Rainier, Mauna Kea, Mount Tambora, Cotopaxi, and Yellowstone.
     Yellowstone does not look like your average volcano. It is actually a caldera shaped supervolcano. Legend has it that a Yellowstone eruption could wipe out all life on Earth. It turns out that that is false, but that doesn't mean that an eruption wouldn't come with consequences. A Yellowstone eruption would be catastrophic for the world's health, agriculture, economy, and climate: Earth's average temperature could drop for a decade. Luckily, this is something we likely will not see in our lifetimes.
      And volcanoes are not restricted to Earth either. The largest volcano in the Solar System can actually be found on Mars: Olympus Mons. Olympus Mars is an estimated 72,000 feet high, or 13.6 miles, and is around the same size as Arizona.
      Volcanoes are interesting things. They can create lightning, trigger tsunamis, mudslides, and even earthquakes, and they have the ability to change our climate. Some volcanoes erupt every millions of years, while others have been continuously erupting. Every day there are an estimated 20 volcanoes erupting at once, with the majority happening under the ocean.
     If you're ever in Iceland and have $400 to spare, you can even join a tour and go inside a volcano. Now that's what you call hands on.

*TIME, Active Wild, Live Science, BBC News, Do Something, Universe Today, Wikipedia, Space, Extreme Iceland