(Note: I drafted this post on Tuesday, February 5 so it is slightly outdated.)
It has snowed in Seattle and the whole city has shut down. For the last two days, the schools and universities have been officially closed, the busses have been on their “snow route” and people (including me) have been penguin-waddling along the ice-ridden sidewalks.
So while the extreme colds of the Polar Vortex in the Midwest of the US seem to have passed, and the snow in Seattle is slowly starting to melt, I thought I’d check in on the snowiest and coldest places. I told you some time ago that Seattle is not the rainiest city in the US. Nor is it the snowiest, or the coldest. But which city is?
The top three snowiest (major) cities in the US, based on data from 1981 to 2010,* are Rochester (NY), Buffalo (NY), and Cleveland (OH) respectively with 252.7, 240.5 and 173.0 cm of yearly snowfall on average. You don’t get that in inches, sorry you imperials. Seattle averages on a meager 17.3 cm.** However, US cities get practically no snow at all compared to Aomori City in Japan, where an average of 8 meters of snow falls every year (presumably based on data from 1953 to 2016).
If we take a look at coldest cities in the US, Fairbanks (AL, as you’d never have guessed), Grand Forks (ND) and Williston (also ND) make up the top three with -27.2, -19.5 and -17.7°C respectively. In fact, this morning my colleague walked in on high heels, on which I commented: “How do you do that in the ice?” Her reply was simply that she was from North Dakota, she’s used to it.
By the way, Fargo (ND) comes in on number four, deserving an honorable mention because of the awesome movie. And series. Well, I’ve only seen season one, but that was great.
The coldest inhabited place on Earth is considered to be Oymyakon, Russia (-50°C on average, a temperature I can’t even fathom). On Antartica, the coldest ever temperature to be measured was -92°C (even less fathomable).
And apparently, the coldest place in our solar system might not even that far away. The permanently shadowed craters at the moon’s south pole have shown a minimum temperature of -238.3°C, colder than some of the temperatures measured on the surface of Pluto. However, we have yet to measure temperatures at the polar, always shadowy regions of other planets, so it is possible that the Dark Side of the Moon is not the coldest place in our corner of the universe after all.
Anyway, I’m not complaining about living in a mild climate (at least not at this very moment), because it allows me to go on some really nice walks even in February. Last weekend, I walked on the apparently iconic Seattle viaduct, which is going to be demolished. I’m not attached enough, nor a proper Seattelite, to have an opinion on the demolition, but it was pretty cool to walk through the new tunnel (that opened two days later), the old tunnel (that will be filled in) and the viaduct.
* So I should point out that this might have shifted a little in the last 9 years.
** From Seattle’s Wikipedia page, it’s unclear over which time range this was measured.
Water bears. Moss piglets. Those are just two examples of “cutesy” names for tardigrades (literally “slow stepper”; because they look like they do everything in slow motion), some of the most amazing animals in existence (IMO). These little animals, averaging 0.5 mm when fully grown, are almost cute with their short, plump little bodies, eight legs and looking a bit like a tiny Michelin guy.
Water bears are water-dwelling tiny animals that mostly live in mosses and lichens (top tip – get yourself a pet tardigrade by soaking some moss in water), but basically can be found anywhere (#GlobalCitizen).
And I mean everywhere. Some tardigrades live on the highest mountaintops. Others in the deepest trenches in the sea. They have been found in rainforests as well as in Antarctic regions. This is because tardigrades are so awesome. While they are not exactly extremophiles (organisms adapted to survive extreme conditions such as extreme temperature and pressure), they are able to survive extreme conditions for a certain length of time. Expose them for too long, and they will die, unfortunately. But expose them to extreme conditions, including very high or low temperatures, incredibly high or low pressure, air deprivation, dehydration or starvation for (depending on the system) a lot longer than what humans would survive, and they will bounce back! Some tardigrades have gone without water for more than 30 years, just to rehydrate and get back to living.
I mean, tardigrades can survive space! Tardigrades have been exposed to open space and solar radiation combined for 10 days and have lived to tell the tale. This makes them the first known animal to survive in space.
Just to give you a few more examples of the extreme conditions tardigrades have survived in:
Tardigrades have survived extreme temperatures, such as a few minutes at 420 K (151 °C) or 1 K (-272 °C) at the other extreme. Put one in -20 °C and it could survive for 30 years.
As well as surviving the extremely low pressure of a vacuum, they can withstand very high pressures such as 1200 times the atmospheric pressure (or even 6000 times for some species).
The longest that living tardigrades have been shown to survive in a dry state is nearly 10 years.
Tardigrades can survive 1000 times more radiation than other animals.
Basically, they could survive global extinctions. In fact, they are one of the few groups that have survived Earth’s five mass extinctions.
So after the end of the world, whether human-inflicted or natural, we can at least count on these amazing little creatures to survive the apocalypse. Maybe they will even evolve to giant, sentient, space-travelling (no spaceship required) giant water-bears.
Actually, giant water bears would be terrifying. Let’s not think about that.
Most (read: all) of this was found on wikipedia, the ultimate internet information hub that we all love to hate. I found the images at some point while browsing imgur, they’ve been on my phone waiting to be used for ages. I can’t find their original source.
Over the past two months I have collected pictures, taken with my not-always-so-smart phone, of views on the Tay Bridge from the top floor of my building. I mainly wanted to characterise the different types of suspended water particles based on how limited the resulting view was. However, in the mean time, the clouds have lifted, or at least occasionally, so I was unable to gather all the reference pictures needed for my mist-classification project. It was going to range from “I cannot even see the church tower” to “wooooow”. Instead, I was treated on some colourful sunrises. Hardly something to complain about.
Here is a mini subcollection of those pictures, including one from yesterday showing the hint of snow we have received:
However, the mist started to clear…
… so I couldn’t complete my project.
(The sun’s out and the haar looks like cotton)
However, the view on Tay Bridge is a wonderful sight.
Already a hint of the Dundee morning colours.
*angelic choir noise*
*angelic choir noise intensifies*
One last one, just to show that it has snowed!
So, before January ends and I sound like a complete div: Happy New Year. May it be filled with beautiful sunrises and other things people wish each other.
After two weeks of a semi-intensive microscopy workshop, I have learned several interesting things. Additionally, I have also learned some valuable life lessons.
You’re never too old to be a crazy scientist. I know this because putting dry ice into a glass of lemonade is completely irrelevant but totally cool. Never grow up.
The whole point of microscopy is to make pretty pictures². There are multiple ways of achieving this – obviously I am now an expert after this course – but if you want to be published, the end result just has to look amazing.
This looks absolutely incredible, right? It is a tiny embryo octopus, but don’t you just want to own it and train it and use it to be the very best? Of course you do!
Sometimes not only the imaging technique, but the whole point of creating a structure is just to have something pretty, like this nanoflower. I’ve got to admit, giving me that on a first date would definitely work in your favour.
However, at this very moment; all I’m able to image are things like this:
Just look at those phase rings! And the bad resolution! Awful!
But at least this collection of cells looks pretty peaceful, so that’s something.
² Footnote (it is number two because of simplicity, ² is on my keyboard): this obviously isn’t true. The point is to make images that have the right quality to show what you want to know. It’s just more fun if they turn out to be pretty (and) awesome.