Science Sunday: Arctic Ice, CU Veggies in Space, Fat Is In

New Low for Arctic Ice

The extent of Arctic sea ice reached a record minimum by August 9 this year, with at least a few more weeks of the melting season still to come. In previous years,  minimum sea ice extent hasn’t been reached until mid-September.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder is one of several agencies that tracks sea ice extent. The loss of Arctic sea ice is believed to be one of the most tangible effects of global climate change.In April the agency reported:

Arctic sea ice is melting at a significantly faster rate than projected by the most advanced computer models.

The Arctic is highly sensitive to global warming.  However, the study shows that Arctic ice retreat is happening more quickly than any of the computer models used to evaluate the future changing climate have indicated.  “This suggests that current model projections may in fact provide a conservative estimate of future Arctic change, and that the summer Arctic sea ice may disappear considerably earlier than IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) projections,” said NSDIC scientist Julienne Stroeve.

According to the scientists at RealClimate, the amount of ice lost from the minimum in 1979 to the one this month is about …

… 1.2 million square kilometers (746,000 square miles) of ice, a little bit larger than the size of California and Texas combined.

CU biology in space

The space shuttle Endeavour docked with International Space Station at about noon on Friday (MDT) carrying a number of experiments from the University of Colorado “in an educational effort involving thousands of K-12 students around the world,” according to a CU release.

The experiements will monitor the growth of tomato plants, yeast cell genes and a crystal “garden” in the weightlessness of outer space. Students in schools around the country will be able to compare their own experiments with the CU efforts on the space station.

Endeavour astronauts might be forgiven for having other worries, though. Nine pieces of foam insulation are thought to have broken away during launch. Before docking, the shuttle did a back flip on approaching the space station so that it’s underside could be photographed to hunt for damage.

Fat is the new black

It’s become socially acceptable to pack on a few pounds, so American women are willing to do their part, according a study in the journal Economic Inquiry.

The researchers studied body weights among American women in the 30- to 60-year-old age bracket from 1976 to 2000. Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, they found that the weight of the average woman increased by 20 pounds, or 13.5 percent, during that period. There was disproportionate growth among the most obese women as the 99th percentile weight increased a hefty 18.2 percent, from 258 to 305 pounds.

They also looked at self-reports of women’s real weights and desired weights. In 1994, the average woman said she weighed 147 pounds but wanted to weigh 132 pounds. By 2002, the average woman weighed 153 pounds but wanted the scales to register 135 pounds.

The fact that even the desired weight of women has increased suggests there is less social pressure to lose weight. A previous study found that 87 percent of Americans, including 48 percent of obese Americans, believe that their body weight falls in the “socially acceptable” range.

Good romance news for geeks

Women view macho men as a bad risk for long-term romance, according to a British study.

Men and women were asked to predict personality traits including sexual behavior and parenting skills based on electronically altered photographs.

Men with masculine faces and features such as a square jaw, larger nose and smaller eyes, were classed as significantly more dominant, less faithful, worse parents and as having personalities that were less warm, compared to their ‘feminine’ counterparts, who had finer facial features with fuller lips, wide eyes and thinner, more curved eyebrows.

Professor David Perrett from St. Andrews University says, “Our research also found that it is men’s health that conveys all round good qualities for partnership and personality. Our results contradict claims that machismo denotes fitness and disease immunity. Masculinity may buy you dominance but not necessarily tip top physical condition. Instead women see a healthy guy as the source of wealth, and fit for family life.”

The study is published in the current edition of Personality and Individual Differences.