Explore: May 2012

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8 posts from May 2012


Venus Transit: There's a Little Black Spot on the Sun Today


Did you invest in eclipse glasses to watch the May 20 annular/partial solar eclipse? If so, you are set for the Venus transit on June 5.

Venus passing in front of the sun as seen from Earth is a very rare occurrence and will not happen again until December 2117. The event begins when the spherical shape of the Goddess of Love edges in front of the sun, blocking out a bit of its rays. Through eclipse glasses, you will see a small black dot passing in front of the giant orange orb of the sun. If you don't have eclipse glasses, you can visit a local observatory, buy a solar filter for your telescope, or if it's cloudy you can watch one of the many web sites with a live feed of the event. (One to try is the Keck Observatory.)

In the United States, the transit occurs on June 5, while the Eastern Hemisphere will see the event on June 6. In the U.S., the event occurs near sunset, while in most of Europe, Africa, and western Asia, the event will be in progress at sunrise. Venus’s procession across the sun is slow, taking 6 hours and 40 minutes to traverse the northern half of the sun.

First contact (when Venus appears to touch the limb of the sun, also called ingress) occurs at 22:09:29 UT, which translates to 5:09 p.m. Central Time. Greatest contact will be at 1:29:28 UT, or 8:29 p.m. Central Time, which is about the time of sunset. For observers farther west, in San Francisco for example, the transit begins around 3:09 p.m. Pacific Time, with greatest contact right around 6:30 p.m., and the sun setting at 8:30 before the event completes at about 9:45 p.m.

Continue reading "Venus Transit: There's a Little Black Spot on the Sun Today" »


Injured Florida Panther Kitten in Rehab

Injured pantherThis endangered Florida panther kitten was rescued after apparently having been struck by a car in the southwestern part of the state. The 12-week old male was taken to the Animal Specialty Hospital of Florida in Naples; while it has no major broken bones or internal injuries, trauma to its head probably means that it will never be released to the wild. Another male panther kitten, believed to be the brother of this one, died of injuries from a car strike on April 7.

2012 has been a brutal year for Florida panthers, with at least 12 perishing so far this year out of total population of 100 to 160. As Tristram Korten reported in Sierra, roughly 20 percent of the entire population of Florida panthers is killed each year--many by collisions with cars, but equally as the result of "intra-species aggression," as panthers contend for increasingly small segments of suitable habitat.

"If you bring new people and cars into panther habitat, you'll kill panthers," says Frank Jackalone, the Sierra Club's senior organizing manager for Florida. "It's as simple as that."

PEER, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, is blaming the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service for failing to outline critical habitat for the panther, failing to block sprawling development in panther country, and for opening prime panther areas like the Big Cypress National Reserve to ORV traffic. “Soon," says PEER executive director Jeff Ruch, "the only place the Florida panther will be seen is in a zoo or adorning a personalized license plate.” Or, one might add, an animal hospital.


Image and video courtesy Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

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PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdated Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress. Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and father of two. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber.


Rock Climber Chelsea Griffie Inspires Youth

Rock Climber Chelsea Griffie

Chelsea Griffie's life wouldn't be the same if it weren't for her determination to follow her childhood dreams. Chicago, where she was raised, lacked the mountains she craved, so she left to find them. Her pursuit of an outdoor lifestyle led her to excel in rock climbing and backpacking, which landed her in the hotbed of both — Yosemite. In 2001, she became the first African American woman to climb El Capitan.

Her passion for the outdoors then led her to work with youth in California cities. From 2006 to 2011, she was the program director of Bay Area Wilderness Training (BAWT), which teaches adult trip leaders how to safely guide outdoor excursions for kids and also provides them with gear.

With her inner child's determination still driving, she brought the BAWT model to Los Angeles, where became founder and executive director of Los Angeles Wilderness Training (LAWT). Just before heading into the field for a five-day Wilderness Leadership Training course, Chelsea answered a few of our questions on her accomplishments and future goals.

Sierra: How did you become fascinated with the mountains and camping?

Chelsea Griffie: The truth is, I’m not totally certain myself. My mom was a nurse, and we went to the Girl Scout camp. As a little kid — I was probably a teenager, I knew I wanted more. I knew I wanted more mountains and backpacking. And then two things on TV — mind you, this was a long time ago — were Grizzly Adams and Escape to Witch Mountain. For my first camping experience, I went on a solo motorcycling trip and I couldn’t convince anyone else to go with me. My first night I didn’t bring a sleeping pad because I thought those were for wimps. I quickly learned I was a wimp and got one the next day.

Continue reading "Rock Climber Chelsea Griffie Inspires Youth " »


Follow Water Quality Robots on Twitter

On May 9, 2012, UC Berkeley researchers launched a fleet of 100 water quality sensors into Northern California's Sacramento River.  Designed to track water contamination, salinity, and levels within the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the sensors were actually floating, tweeting robots, which researchers hoped would gather high-resolution data on contamination and direction in which salt water flowed. 

"Responsible stewardship of inland water requires detailed information about the mixing and transport of various constituents in the water itself," says project manager Andrew Tinka.  He says that the finalized Floating Sensor Network robots will help accomplish this because they can be rapidly deployed to new locations to track unexpected pollution, a necessity for public safety and planning.  This is especially true in areas with a variety of stakeholders, such as the Delta, which is an endangered habitat and a major drinking water and irrigation source.

What is also effective about using social and mobile media technologies like tweeting robots (beyond the cute factor) is that end-users can sometimes participate in and benefit from this information, which can help increase awareness and support.  

Floating sensorsFor example, there is the Sewage Alert Service, whose text messages offer information on 200 beaches in England, and which, according to Drift Surfing, has helped change the behavior of an astounding 94 percent of beachgoers, surfers, and swimmers that subscribe.  

Another example is Creek Watch, a crowd-sourcing application for iPods and iPads, which Microsoft developed to gather first-hand observations to share with water control boards. (Data on water levels, speed, and trash are collected into an observable table to help agencies track pollution, manage water resources, and plan conservation programs.)

Tinka agrees with this modernized way of leveraging social networks and moving beyond static water trackers. "Those of us who love exploring and spending time in the outdoors have a special motivation to see these ecosystems safeguarded and maintained," he says. "Good decisions require good information, and technologies like the FSN can help us make the right choices in the future."

Benita headshotBenita Hussain is a Sierra editorial intern and writer whose work has also appeared in GOOD,Women's Adventure and Matador Sports, among others. With degrees from Cornell University and Fordham Law School, she's also a part-time lawyer and yoga teacher who surfs, climbs and travels to do both. Twitter:@hussainity

Year in Yosemite: Closure

Yosemite fallen giantIn my very favorite mystery series, the heroine, a Ms. Maisie Dobbs, revisits every site and person she encountered in the solving of the crime. Psychic and able to take on the "energy" of a person or place, she does it as a form of closure, a way to lay the energy to rest. Now that we're leaving our Yosemite home in just six weeks, I find myself following her lead.

And so, days that should be filled with organizing and packing, often find me visiting my favorite places.

But unlike Maisie, I don't want to lay the energy to rest; I want to imprint it on my soul. That's because all the mysteries I solved while living here were of the internal kind. During our three-year stay, I learned more about myself than I had in the previous three decades.

So what's become sacred to me in the time that we've lived here? Here's my top ten:

1. Walking down Chilnualna Falls Road in Wawona to the Pioneer Village, across the Vermont-inspired covered bridge to the post office. It may not sound like much, but for three years I’ve done it almost daily, usually in the company of good friends.

Continue reading "Year in Yosemite: Closure" »


Getting the Shot: Photographer Lyle Madeson

Photo 2

When Kelseyville, California-based photographer Lyle Madeson made plans last spring to capture images of osprey hunting spawning fish, he leaned, oddly enough, on lessons learned from a past hobby: growing hybrid flowers.  

Photo 1

"You have to learn your subjects and their genetics," he explains.  "You have to become one with them know what to expect and to increase your chances of getting the best photograph."

It was through his research that 63-year-old Madeson knew which two weeks Clear Lake’s indigenous fish would migrate to spawn and which ripples of water they'd rest in before continuing on. 

He knew that the osprey would hover over those ripples before diving feet-first for their prey, undistracted by him and his 14-pound camera and tripod. 

But when a successful osprey then charged at him, he didn't know what the blur was across his viewfinder when he instinctively tried to capture the head-on shot.  

"These moments don’t last long," Madeson says, "But once in a while, if you hit the shutter enough, something gets in the way."

Photo 3That “something” happened to be a red-tailed hawk, a bird that rarely eats fish unless it can steal it from another predator. 

The interloping star of his untitled photograph (top), part of a 5-shot sequence that occurred in less than 2 seconds, helped make the image the Department of Fish and Game's California Wildlife Photograph of 2012. 

(Madeson discloses that after the struggle between the hawk and osprey, the fish — a Sacramento hitch — kerplunked back into the water, leaving both raptors empty-taloned.)

Helped by the $200 cash prize from the competition, Lyle and his wife Deanna are taking a photographic expedition to Botswana's Okavango Delta next month.  "Like raptors," he laughs, "I guess I'm also an opportunist."

SIERRA HEADSHOTBenita Hussain is a Sierra editorial intern and writer whose work has also appeared in GOOD, Women's Adventure and Matador Sports, among others. With degrees from Cornell University and Fordham Law School, she's also a part-time lawyer and yoga teacher that surfs, climbs and travels to do both. Twitter:@hussainity


Outrageously Detailed 1931 Map of Yosemite

Jo_mora_yosemite_map (1)Here's a treat, courtesy of Rocky Thompson at The Goat: A 1931 pictorial map of Yosemite Valley by Joseph Jacinto Mora, a Uruguayan-born cartoonist for the Boston Herald. In the early years of the 20th Century Mora lived among the Hopi and Navajo in Arizona and New Mexico, painting and taking photographs. (More on his biography and oeuvre here and here.) He is best known, however, for his intricate maps (or "cartes," as he called them) of Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, California, and the town of Carmel. You'll have to view an expanded version to appreciate the detail and gentle humor that went into it (just click on the image at right).





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PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdated Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress. Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and father of two. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber.


Climber Chris Sharma Fights for His Home Park

In May 2011, California's Department of Parks and Recreation announced that during the following fiscal year, it would be closing 70 of its 279 state parks. Hoping to achieve an $11 million reduction in the state's already overextended budget, Secretary John Laird admitted the cuts were unfortunate.

Well, the end of the 2011 fiscal year is nigh, which means that starting in July, countless Californians and outdoor recreationalists will be out of a campground, a hike, and for some famous ones, a climb.

Slated for closure is Castle  SharmaRock State Park in Santa Cruz, CA, where native son and top boulderer Chris Sharma began his career. Refusing to see his turf closed for those who he's inspired, he has begun a campaign to save the park, which is also home to the famed and aptly-named V10 Eco-Terrorist.

Sharma will be hosting a series of fundraising events throughout the Bay Area this month, including a triple header of media presentations in Emeryville, CA and Santa Cruz during the weekend of May 17th. Tickets are available online, but those who are interested in the statewide parks campaign can support the California State Parks Foundation, which also recently began offering partners "operating grants" to help share the costs of parks management.

And for those who just want to check out Sharma's greatest hits, it'll be worth a trip to the East and South Bays. Check out some of his climbing highlights above.

Benita headshotBenita Hussain is a Sierra editorial intern and writer whose work has also appeared in GOOD, Women's Adventure and Matador Sports, among others. With degrees from Cornell University and Fordham Law School, she's also a part-time lawyer and yoga teacher that surfs, climbs and travels to do both. Twitter:@hussainity.

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