Monday, October 29, 2012

Preparedness: Hurricane Sandy & Mr. Jefferson's University

Sunday morning, Oct. 29, 2012, I walked our dog around the neighborhood, observing much anticipated Hurricane Sandy brewing up ill-foreboding clouds. The wind picked up. Brown leaves were falling like snowflakes, densely covering the street. I wondered whether we had enough batteries, water, food and other supplies for the coming days. My most useful acquisition seems a safety preparedness radio endorsed by the American Cross which can be charged with a hand crank. I was reminded of Hurricane Katrina whose destruction I could witness first hand in Washington Parish outside New Orleans on a volunteer cleanup foray that students at Vanderbilt University had organized. The memories filled me with anguish again.

Without doubt, the disaster response to Katrina was the greatest failure in catastrophe management I experienced in my life. In short, the preparation for the catastrophe was a catastrophe.

Local, state and federal governments were made aware of the dangers Katrina would pose well ahead of time. The then Director of the National Hurricane Center Max Mayfield was publicly exasperated that nobody in charge seemed to take his warnings seriously enough. Despite his urgent warnings, public institutions failed to organize adequate evacuation of New Orleans and provide shelter and protection for its inhabitants.

In the wake of Katrina, roughly 2,000 people perished on the gulf coast. The government was unable to collect even the dead in a timely fashion. Corpses were lying in the streets of New Orleans for days. How could this happen to the nation that prides itself the wealthiest in the world?

Seven years later, several hundred million dollars have been spent to upgrade the levee and dyke system around New Orleans. The city withstood this year's Hurricane Isaac, while outlying areas were severely flooded. New Orleans has recovered only two-thirds of its pre-Katrina population. Health care and schools still remain wanting.

Katrina served as a wake up call for the nation. Today, the advance warnings and public calls for preparation are broadcast by the media early and with more drama and urgency. Hopefully, the stronger measures taken in anticipation of Hurricane Sandy will help to prevent the worst.

How do my thoughts about disaster preparedness relate to the crisis in higher education symbolized by last summer's leadership debacle at the University of Virginia

Similar to the government's ill-preparedness to adequately respond to Katrina's impact despite prior warnings, some institutions of higher learning in this country seem unable to act preemptively to meet the challenges they face in the near future:

  1. Public Schools do not appear to have developed strategies that will address the enormous turnover in faculty in the wake of the retirement of the baby boomers. 
  2. Public schools seem ill-prepared to address dwindling state support. Returns from high-risk endowment investments have proved fickle, as the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008 profoundly illustrated, and won't fill the gap.
  3. Federal funds for research are drying up. They have substantially underwritten the salaries of faculty members in the past and provided the schools with additional income from overhead recovery.
  4. Teaching hospitals operate with mounting losses, while the bond obligations for the extravagant infrastructure expansions of the past decade need to be met.
Accordingly, the budget deficits at our institutions of higher education are mounting. The leadership crisis at the University of Virginia strikingly uncovers that confronted with impending insolvencies universities are having difficulty in reaching consensus on solutions. Short-term measures, like increases in tuition and fees represent no long-term solution. The attempted ouster of the president of the University of Virginia by select board members is emblematic of a perceived existential institutional crisis in which board and university leadership obviously do not share the same visions.

I fear that institutions of higher learning that are seemingly oblivious of developments certain to unfold and unable to act proactively after open deliberation in their engagement of issues of importance may not be able to educate our children to be proactive about their own future. In the spirit of Mr. Jefferson, we expect that our premier universities prepare the next generation of competent leaders, enabling them to make informed, deliberate decisions in anticipation of previsible adversity ahead.

We expect that they learn to respect Murphy's Law reminding us to be ready for all eventualities as unlikely as they may seem. Anything that can happen will eventually happen. How will the universities be able to prepare the next generation for the shoals of destiny, if they themselves are unprepared?

Further Readings
  • The Daily Progress covered the leadership crisis at the University of Virginia in great depth. The newspaper published a timeline of events leading up to the university president's attempted ouster by select members of the board under the headline "Timeline of Sullivan's ouster and return" online Jun. 26, 2012.
  • The Washington Post's Jenna Johnson alerts us to some ramifications of the University of Virginia's governance crisis that jeopardize the institution's regional accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in her article with the title "U-Va. accreditation still at risk as questions linger about failed presidential ouster" published online Oct. 23, 2012.
  • The Washington Post's Nick Anderson posted the thoughts of the president of the Association of American Universities Hunter R. Rawlings III on the relationship between the governance crisis at the University of Virginia and the national crisis of higher education under the headline "Head of major university group weighs in on U-Va." Oct. 25, 2012.
  • Hurricane Sandy became one of the most devastating natural disasters on record to strike the Northeastern Seaboard of the US. To date, the storm cost roughly 200 lives in toto. The flood surge destroyed thousands of homes on the Jersey Shore and in New York City's waterfront communities. The city's infrastructure and public transportation was heavily damaged and may remain crippled for months. Millions of people lost power, and tens of thousands still remain disconnected from the grid today. New York's Governor Cuomo was dissatisfied with the utilities' lack of preparedness and inadequacy of response to such extent that he launched a state investigation into their performance yesterday (11/14/2012).
Governor Cuomo's executive order (source: Reuters Live). 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Science & Fortuity

The historical account below is published with the author's permission. I annotated two typographical errors. The document is best read with fullscreen view. The reader may find this option at the right-hand corner of the task bar at the bottom of the text window or may open a new window, using this link

The lecture revisits the development of the fluorodeoxyglucose method for the imaging of the brain's metabolic activity. The author, whose contribution was instrumental in the endeavor, presented the lecture via video at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) Oct. 19, 2012. The occasion was a symposium convened to celebrate the designation of BNL's chemistry department by the American Chemical Society as a historical site in recognition of its pivotal role in the adaptation of the method to the non-invasive use in humans.

The history of the fluorodeoxyglucose method represents a striking example for the value of basic research. It demonstrates that the translation of discoveries from bench to bedside involves unrelenting dedication and, at times, serendipity. Furthermore, this example shows that the process may require decades of continued funding, before the investment eventually comes to fruition. None of the investigators who embarked on this endeavor in the 1940s fathomed that their efforts would lead one day to the most widely used diagnostic tool for the staging of cancer anywhere in the body.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Morat to Fribourg 2012: Free Will Lives!

The winners of the 79th race (2012) from Morat to Fribourg are:

both from Kenya. Congratulations!!!

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Friday, October 5, 2012

Autism & Feral Children

The diagnosis for autism is based on behavioral differences, the first signs of which can be observed in infants. Autism is classified as a spectrum disorder. That is, its diagnosis covers a spectrum of abnormal behaviors that differ in severity, ranging from people who repetitively self-injure and may be considered mentally retarded to individuals who score extremely high on intelligence tests and may develop an intense, obsessive passion for a particular subject, but profoundly lack social skills. The Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger was the first to recognize the latter as a distinct group of patients (Asperger's syndrome), and autism has been classified as a spectrum disorder with repetitive behaviors and difficulty with empathy as common symptoms.

Genetic modifications
The heritability of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is high. ASD may run in families. The odds of developing autism are enhanced for a twin whose sibling is diagnosed with the disorder (Hallmayer and others, 2011). Gene sequencing has implicated a plethora of genes modified during late pregnancy. In addition, a recent genome-wide study showed that in sperm new genetic mutations known as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) increase with male age, increasing the odds of SNPs to effect developmental disorders like autism and schizophrenia in children sired by older fathers (Kong and others, 2012). In particular cases of familial autism, genetic deletions have been identified, the precise role of which needs to be elucidated (Morrow and others, 2008).

Cellular and molecular modifications
People with ASD show no striking differences in gross brain anatomy, except for a modest diminution in the size of the corpus callosum (see review by Booth and others, 2011). The nerve cell connections between the cerebral hemispheres travel through this structure. The precise cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying the disorder remain poorly understood. However, a particular type of nerve cell in cerebral cortex, which Constantin von Economo called spindle cells, has recently been found associated with empathy (see my post with the title "Constantin von Economo's Spindle Cells & The Mind" published on Aug. 21, 2009) and may play an instrumental role in asocial behavior.

On the molecular level, the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate and its receptors, notably the ionotropic N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor, have been shown to be crucial for the plasticity of nerve cell connections important to learning and memory. The receptors, which are composed of voltage-gated calcium channels, help strengthen connections of nerve cells that are most active together. The American psychologist D.O. Hebb postulated this strengthening based on his observations on animal learning (see my post with the title "Cortical Development & Schizophrenia" published online Aug. 14, 2008).

Nerve cell connections in the developing brain undergo a period of exuberance during which nerve cells grow a multitude of arbors, seeking contact with other nerve cells (see my post with the title "Genes, Brain Plasticity & Memory" published online May 7, 2009). However, idle connections are subsequently pruned, while those that are used strengthen and endure as Hebb suggested. The survival of these connections depends on excitatory sensory input and is experience-dependent.

Potential treatments
Developmental mental disorders are thought to result from disruptions of Hebb's mechanism. Fragile X syndrome (FXS), which leads to behavior that can be considered autistic, may serve as example. The gene mutation involved in FXS blocks the synthesis of a regulatory protein, permitting excessive protein biosynthesis that leads to abnormalities in the development of glutamatergic nerve cell connections. Recent clinical trials have shown that some FXS patients improve with drugs affecting the glutamatergic nervous system (Berry-Kravis and others, 2012).

However, despite progress addressing the needs of specific groups of the spectrum, autism remains a disorder with manyfold causes affecting numerous molecular pathways in varied fashion. The effect of each genetic modification may be inconspicuous. Yet, molecular pathways crosstalk and their multiplexed interactions combined may decisively skew the experience-dependent development of cerebral nerve cell connections. In ASD, the synergism of the modified molecular pathways may diminish or defocus brain plasticity during a period in which the shaping of nerve cell connections peaks and the brain seems most susceptible to stimulation.

Because glutamate is the most prevalent neurotransmitter in the brain, the effects of the pathway modifications can be expected to be wide-spread, though the brain's most plastic structures may be particularly vulnerable. The latter include the hippocampus, which plays an instrumental role in memory, and the amygdala involved in fear responses. However, glutamate's ubiquitous role renders the development of a universal drug therapy specifically targeting autistic behavior difficult. Rather, each spectral subgroup's peculiar causes must be identified and therapies need to be developed that target these peculiarities.

ASD may not be based on genetic mutations alone. The famous feral child Kaspar Hauser, who was left in social depravity for years (see my post with the title "Theory of Mind I: Feral Children & Language Development" published online Dec. 31, 2008), might have well been diagnosed with ASD today. Despite his delayed entry into civil life, the adolescent Kaspar was able to learn language, calculus, fine arts and social skills from various caretakers and a professor, in whose hands he seemed to have thrived. In his time, Kaspar was cast as a devious, good-for-nothing 'idiot'. By contrast, with emerging expertise in child psychology and special education, modern-day children on the spectrum may reap benefit from early behavioral interventions that stimulate and strengthen nerve cell connections mediated by our own endogenous neurotransmitters and neuromodulators without the need for genomic sequencing and psychoactive drugs (Dawson and others, 2009).


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Friday, September 7, 2012

The Value of a Ph.D. & The Mind

The value of higher education is hotly debated in this country. Particularly the worth of doctoral degrees in philosophy is highly questioned. Only a week ago, that is on Aug. 31, the Slate published Daniel Lametti's post, posing the question in the title "Is a Science Ph.D. a Waste of Time?"

Dr. Lindemann's Ph.D. certificate.
The other day, I happened upon the document shown above. In the document, Dean Carl Blomeyer of the University of Jena awards Curt Lindemann the Ph.D.-degree in law cum laude. Its Latin phrasing on heavy-weight paper and simple design remind us of the university's founding in the 16th century, portraying a great academic culture long past and somewhat missed. Particularly, however, the date of issue, Oct. 1, 1932, caught my eye.

Dr. Lindemann was born into a Jewish family in the small Thueringian town of Arnstadt. In Wolfgang Tittelbach-Helmrich's town history with the title "Arnstadt's Jewish Citizens", Dr. Lindemann's birth year is listed as 1909.

If that birth year is correct, Dr. Lindemann was bestowed doctoral honors at the tender age of 23. Any German doctorate requires completed course work, exams, a dissertation (thesis), and a defense to this day. The short time he needed to successfully complete his doctorate represents an astounding accomplishment.

Roughly half a century later, German doctoral certificates have changed drastically. The heavy paper, the gothic font Latin, and the mention of ancient benefactors are long gone. Most importantly, it took this modern-day student until the ripe age of 31 to cross the finish line, that is almost a decade more than Dr. Lindemann. Caps off for Dr. Lindemann!

In1939, Dr. Lindemann was forced to leave Germany because of Nazi persecution. He emigrated to the United States, joining a torrent of hundreds of thousands of highly educated, talented, hard-working Europeans who had to flee the continent because of their political convictions, believes, or ethnicity. The immigrants would help the United States in no small fashion to emerge from the Great Depression, defeat the fascist menace and prevail in the Cold War, propelling the nation in less than two decades to the world's highest standard of living.

According to the List of Nobel Laureates by Country, Germany has garnered 102 of the 853 Nobel Prizes awarded. Almost half, that is 45, were won before the end of World War II. By contrast, the United States has claimed 331 prizes, of which 304 were won after the end of that war. What other proof do we need?

  • Today the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded this year's Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to John B. Gurdon from Great Britain and Shinya Yamanaka from Japan for their successes in converting differentiated cells into pluripotent stem cells, a keystone of regenerative medicine on which discussed on this site (10/08/2012).
  • This year's Nobel Prize in Physics went to Serge Haroche from France and David Wineland from the US for their pivotal contributions to quantum mechanics (10/09/2012).
  • This year's Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Robert Lefkowitz and Brian Kobilka, both from the US, for their work on G-protein-coupled receptors. These metabotropic receptors loom large in the development of targeted drug-treatments of mental disorders discussed on this site (10/10/2012).
  • This year's Nobel Prize in Literature goes to Mo Yan from China (10/11/2012).
  • Today, finishing up this year's round the Nobel Prize in Economics was award to Alvin Roth and Lloyd Shapley, both from the US, for their work on market design and matching theory (10/15/2012).
In sum, five of the nine prizes were won by scientists and scholars from the United States! Related Posts

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Fukushima Anniversary, Mar. 11, 2012

It has been a year that the fuel cores of three reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station on the northeast coast of Japan melted down in the wake of the the great Tōhoku-Chihou-Taiheiyou-Oki Earthquake and Tsunami of March 11, 2011.

The scale of this accident is rivaled only by those at Chernobyl, 1986, and at Three Mile Island, 1979. The precise amounts of the radioactive material released into air, land, and sea seem to rank second only to the releases at Chernobyl. Roughly 80,000 residents who used to live in the vicinity of the power station still can only return home for a few hours on occasion. The power station operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. constructed new cooling water loops for the damaged reactors, barely maintaining the water temperature below boiling. Clean-up operations are ongoing. The company estimates that the decommissioning of the obliterated reactors may take 30 years or more (press release entitled "Mid-and-long-Term Roadmap towards the Decommissioning of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Units 1-4, TEPCO" Dec. 21, 2011).

Over the past twelve months, I have published ten essays on the accident in an attempt to illuminate the social, medical, and technical implications of this disaster. On the occasion of its first anniversary, I compiled a small Kindle book with a collection of the ten extensively annotated, re-edited, and revised essays. New references, preface, prologue and epilogue were added.

The book with the title "Fukushima Ten Essays" is available through As a whole, the collection provides a more comprehensive view of the first year of the reactor crisis with the hope that the reader will glimpse the severity of its consequences.

The tragedy of the March 11 quake and tsunami resulted in the most horrific loss of life afflicting post-war Japan. Roughly 20,000 people perished, and my thoughts are with the victims and their families.

Watch "Japan's year of struggle, in 60 seconds" by Reuters, Mar. 9, 2012.

The reactor meltdowns have reportedly caused no casualties to date. Despite, the widespread contamination of land and sea with long-lived radioisotopes emanating from the stricken reactors will impact life in Japan for decades to come.
One year ago this view looked different! Things Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station seems peaceful.
We must be grateful to the men who have been toiling at the nuclear power station exposed to no small levels of ionizing radiation, wearing filter masks and protective suits in summer heat and winter cold. They risk their lives every day in the effort of curbing this disaster and cleaning up the consequences.
A few minutes before 14:46 on March 11, 2012, Mount Fuji shrouded his head (view from Oshino Hakkai, courtesy fujigokoTV).

Furthermore, I extend my heart-felt sympathies to the people of Fukushima who must muster the courage every day to confront a future of crushing uncertainty. I wish them the best.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Plutonium & A Fukushima Mother's Fears

Almost a year ago, three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station on the northeast coast of Japan incurred fuel core meltdowns in the wake of the Tohoku-Chihou Taiheiyo-Oki Earthquake and Tsunami, releasing massive concentrations of highly radioactive material into air, land and sea. A few weeks later, a Fukushima mother composed a moving letter to the world, sharing her fears that the toxic pollutants would pose hazards to the environment and human health in Japan as well as in the world at large, and she apologizes for the trouble this incident may cause for everyone. I re-published a translation of her letter on May 27, 2011.

Among the radionuclides released from the stricken power station, the gamma-radiation emitters iodine-131 and cesium-137 have been of foremost concern. Iodine-131 with an eight-day half-life posed the greatest public health thread in the first two months immediately after the reactor accidents and has decayed. The effects of iodine-131 accumulated in the thyroid of residents of all ages living in the vicinity of the power station remain to be seen. Japanese health officials are still trying to determine the exact effective radiation absorbed doses people may have received.

Furthermore, Japan has continuously been grappling with pervasive, ubiquitous cesium-137 contaminations. Cesium-137 with a half-life of 30 years has been accumulating on the ground in hot spots and has been concentrating in plants and animals, contaminating crops and lifestock (Aya Takada and Yasumasa Song's post with the title "Beef Contamination Spreads in Japan as Straw Tainted" published online on Bloomberg Jul. 15, 2011), as well as seafood (Mark Willacy's post with the title "Toxic caesium found in fish off Japan" published online on ABC News May 25, 2011). Wind, precipitation and human activity (see post on JAPANTODAY with the title "Radioactive crushed stone may have been used in over 80 buildings, METI says" published online Jan. 23, 2012) have spread cesium-137 across the country. Radioactive cesium contamination will pose risks to public health in Japan for decades to come.

The Fukushima mother, however, was most concerned with plutonium in her letter. The plutonium isotopes that occur in commercial nuclear power reactors comprise plutonium-238 (half-life: 88 years), plutonium-239 (half-life: 24,110 years), plutonium-240 (half-life: 6560 years) and plutonium-242 (half-life: 373,300 years). Decaying into uranium isotopes with the mass numbers 234, 235, 236 and 238, respectively, these isotopes predominantly emit high-energy alpha-radiation, that is helium nuclei that travel a short range because they readily interact with atoms and are rapidly absorbed in the materials they penetrate. Therefore, they pose the greatest threat to health when inhaled or ingested. Plutonium concentrates mainly in the lungs when inhaled and in bone-marrow and in the liver when ingested. Though no plutonium toxicity-caused fatalities have ever been reported, alpha-emitters are known to cause lung cancer, e.g. in uranium miners, and can lead to acute radiation syndrome, e.g. polonium poisoning.

Uranium oxide containing uranium-238 and, in small amounts, uranium-235 represents the most common fuel used in nuclear power reactors. Uranium-238 decay produces plutonium-239 which decays into plutonium-240. Plutonium-242 is the product of successive neutron capture of the other plutonium isotopes with rising mass number beginning with plutonium-239. Therefore, spent nuclear fuel contains a mixture of the four plutonium isotopes discussed.

Uranium and plutonium can be extracted from spent fuel, recombined into a mixed oxide fuel, or MOX fuel for short, and reused in commercial light water reactors with the idea of improving the total burn-up. According to Table IV-3-1 in the update of the Government of Japan to the International Atomic Energy Agency with the title "Report of Japanese Government to the IAEA Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety - The Accident at TEPCO’s Fukushima Nuclear Power Stations- submitted to the International Atomic Energy Agency Jun 7, 2011", 32 of the 548 fuel assemblies loaded in the reactor of Fukushima Daiichi Unit 3 and 52 unused assemblies stored in its spent fuel pool consisted of MOX fuel last March when the meltdown unfolded. On Mar. 14, 2011, Unit 3 incurred the most damaging hydrogen explosion of the three operating reactors. Therefore, it is possible that plutonium may be found outside the reactor.

The operator of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), has repeatedly tested dry soil samples for plutonium-238, plutonium-239 and plutonium-240 in various locations on the station premises, and found the isotopes to be present in minut concentrations close to the detection limit. The locations with positive identification are shown in the map below.
Sampling locations at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, where plutonium was detected (TEPCO).
The results must be compared to the concentrations that already existed before the accident. Traces of plutonium-239 and plutonium-240 occur naturally, produced by rare spontaneous uranium-238 fission. Atmospheric and underwater nuclear bomb tests as well as accidental releases added small amounts to these concentrations. As a rule of thumb, the historic ratio between the concentration of plutonium-238 and the sum of the concentrations of plutonium-239 and plutonium-240 has equaled roughly 0.026 in Japan. The Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) conducted a comprehensive study from 1987 to 2008, producing an average ratio of 0.033. Finding a value in excess suggests that extra shorter-lived plutonium isotope is present, possibly released from the damaged reactors.
The table is composed of data TEPCO collected at the three locations shown on the map above on Mar. 21, 2011, and on Feb. 6, 2012 (※: MEXT environmental radiation database 2008 - 1978).
The table above shows TEPCO's findings at the three sampling locations with positive results, that is the athletic field, the Forest of Wild Birds and near the industrial waste disposal site, surveyed Mar. 21, 2011, and Feb. 6, 2012. Each location is situated at a distance of about 500 meters from the stack between Units 1 and 2. The company found excessive isotope ratios at each location. On the athletic field, excess was observed on both sampling dates.

Though the amounts of reactor plutonium TEPCO detected so far may seem small, the results strongly suggest that the Fukushima mother's fears were not unfounded.


I wish to express my deep sympathies for the Fukushima mother who wrote her letter to the world. I am indebted to the contributors of who are my sources in this matter.

  • Accident-related increases in plutonium concentration have not been restricted to the premises of Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station. On July 13, 2011, a Fukushima Prefecture radiation survey team found a [Pu-238] / [Pu-239+240] ratio of 0.214 in a dry soil sample collected in Ottozawa, Okuma District, in the immediate vicinity of the station southwest of its main gates (reference line 4 in the second table of attachment 1 to the Prefecture's report with the title "Radiation monitoring of soil in Fukushima Prefecture (plutonium). Survey results (preliminary report)" released Nov. 29, 2011). On September 16, 2011, the team found the second highest ratio in their survey, that is 0.0532, in Fuju, Minamiaizu District, nestled in the mountains 68 miles west of the station (attachment 1 of the report; first table, row 33)(06/17/2012).
  • The government's plutonium finds made it into the Japanese press yesterday. According to a Jiji Press report with the title "Plutonium Detected at 10 Locations in Fukushima", plutonium attributable to the reactor accidents at Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station has been positively identified at 10 locations in Namie, Okuma, Iitate and Minamisoma municipalities of Fukushima Prefecture. The findings are contained in the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology report with the title "Nuclide Analysis for Plutonium-238, 239+240 and 240 (Second Investigation)" (08/22/2012).
  • NHKWorld reports in a post with the title "Town in Fukushima adopts 5-year no-return policy" published online today that most residents of Okuma directly adjacent to Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station will not be permitted to permanently return to their homes for five years because of persistently high doses of ionizing radiation. The the ordinance adopted by the municipal council based on government recommendations covers 95 percent of the town's area (09/21/2012). 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Groundhog Day 2012

Punxsutawney Phil divined six more weeks of winter today (read more in the CNN news blog post with the title "More winter weather, Punxsutawney Phil predicts" published today).

It is 60.8 ℉, or 16 °C, in central Virginia. The daffodils are in bloom!
Today, Sunday Feb. 19, 2012, it seems Phil was right!
I seem not to be the only one who finds this winter's weather peculiar. In accord with Lisa Foderaro's article with the title "Much to Savor, and Worry About, Amid Mild Winter’s Early Blooms" published online in today's New York Times, the snow melted a day later in my neck of the woods. The daffodils escaped unharmed (added 02/27/2012).

Phil was correct one more time Monday Mar. 5! This time, the snow lasted only the morning.

Daily mean temperatures (tick marks) and ranges (bars) [℉] in Charlottesville, VA, during the six weeks (blue bars) covered by Phil's prediction (source: NOAA). The blue dashed line indicates freezing temperature, that is 32 ℉. The arrows designate the only two snowy days. The photographs above were taken on those days (graph added Mar. 24, 2012).

In Charlottesville, VA, the average temperature was 46.18 ℉, or 7.88 ℃, during the six weeks of winter Phil predicted. Poor Phil!

The groundhog Marmota monax is no resident of Western Europe. However, its cousin the alpine marmot Marmota marmota represents a familiar sight in the Alps. Follow the link to the related post below for more on the origins of this tradition.

  • Last year would turn into the hottest year in the recorded history of the United States. That is, the average temperature in the lower 48 states registered at 55.3 ℉ (see Matt Smith's CNN article with the title "NOAA: 2012 broke U.S. heat records" published online Jan. 8, 2013)(01/09/2013).
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