The Biodiversity Heritage Library

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The Biodiversity Heritage Library has a wonderful collection of resources about our shared biodiversity online. What is “biodiversity”? Wikipedia explains it as follows:

Biodiversity, a contraction of “biological diversity,” generally refers to the variety and variability of life on Earth. One of the most widely used definitions defines it in terms of the variability within species, between species and between ecosystems. It is a measure of the variety of organisms present in different ecosystems.

The goal of the Biodiversity Heritage Library is to improve “research methodology by collaboratively making biodiversity literature openly available to the world as part of a global biodiversity community”.

A Sperm Whale

It is a remarkable resource, especially for school projects and for all you science geeks. One of the best parts of the Library is its extensive Flickr collection which has an enormous collection of scans and imagery.

The Library “serves as the foundational literature component of the Encyclopedia of Life” which you can find here. What is the Encyclopedia of Life?

Our knowledge of the many life-forms on Earth – of animals, plants, fungi, protists and bacteria – is scattered around the world in books, journals, databases, websites, specimen collections, and in the minds of people everywhere. Imagine what it would mean if this information could be gathered together and made available to everyone – anywhere – at a moment’s notice.

Its mission:

To increase awareness and understanding of living nature through an Encyclopedia of Life that gathers, generates, and shares knowledge in an open, freely accessible and trusted digital resource.

Between the Library and the EOL, these are wonderful biodiversity resources. Definitely worth bookmarking for all those school projects and personal exploration. I’ve added both sites to our Sources page.

Image credit: Biodiversity Heritage Library

What happens when lightning strikes an airplane?

This morning our daughter asked me what happens when lightning strikes an airplane. She is a little afraid of storms and she was concerned about the passengers of airplanes when there are lightning strikes.

Understanding lightning better

Lightning is, at the same time, an awesome and terrifying phenomenon. It seems to affect us on a very primal level. Understanding it better helps us appreciate its awesome beauty while making sure we are safer during lightning storms. I found a great video from SciShow Kids about lightning:

National Geographic also has a great video that explains lightning:

Lightning moves pretty quickly so we don’t always see lightning in more detail. I found this terrific video on Wikipedia (your browser may not play the video if it doesn’t support .ogv formats):

So what happens when lightning strikes an airplane?

The prospect of lightning striking an airplane can be scary. I was fascinated to learn that planes are engineered to handle lightning strikes in an interesting way. Here is a video from the Smithsonian Channel:

If you are interested in reading more about how airplanes are engineered to withstand lightning strikes, also read an article on Scientific American titled “What happens when lightning strikes an airplane?”. Here is an extract from the Scientific American article that answer my daughter’s questions about passengers’ experience of a lightning strike:

Although passengers and crew may see a flash and hear a loud noise if lightning strikes their plane, nothing serious should happen because of the careful lightning protection engineered into the aircraft and its sensitive components. Initially, the lightning will attach to an extremity such as the nose or wing tip. The airplane then flies through the lightning flash, which reattaches itself to the fuselage at other locations while the airplane is in the electric “circuit” between the cloud regions of opposite polarity. The current will travel through the conductive exterior skin and structures of the aircraft and exit off some other extremity, such as the tail. Pilots occasionally report temporary flickering of lights or short-lived interference with instruments.

Thunderstorms are impressive and powerful natural phenomenon and it’s usually a good idea to keep your distance, regardless of your mode of travel. At the same time, it is good to know what even when you are suspended in the air, traveling through a storm, you are probably safe.

Featured image credit: Pixabay

Better storm prediction by knowing more about raindrops

The GPM satellite studying raindrops
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Did you know that knowing the size of raindrops in clouds can help meteorologists more accurately predict rainfall? A new joint American and Japanese mission promises to help scientists make even more accurate predictions based on the size of the raindrops in clouds. This next video is a great overview of the mission:

According to NASA’s Goddard Media Studios blog post titled “GMS: Why Do Raindrop Sizes Matter In Storms?”:

Not all raindrops are created equal. The size of falling raindrops depends on several factors, including where the cloud producing the drops is located on the globe and where the drops originate in the cloud. For the first time, scientists have three-dimensional snapshots of raindrops and snowflakes around the world from space, thanks to the joint NASA and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) mission. With the new global data on raindrop and snowflake sizes this mission provides, scientists can improve rainfall estimates from satellite data and in numerical weather forecast models, helping us better understand and prepare for extreme weather events.

If you are curious about the spacecraft that is conducting this amazing survey work, here is a helpful explanatory diagram:

The GPM spacecraft

Here is a great video that explains how the size of raindrops can help better understand storm behaviour:

A transcript of the video is here.

NASA also published a great comic for kids about the mission titled “Raindrop Tales – GPM Meets Mizu-Chan” which you can download and print or read online.

NASA’s GPM mission site has a wonderful collection of videos, images and other information about the mission. Another great video is this one titled “NASA | GPM: One Year of Storms”:

This is a fascinating mission. I didn’t realise just how much storm prediction can be improved by understanding how big raindrops are.


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What are volcanos? There is quite a lot to know about volcanos and here is a starting point. According to an explanation in the Wikipedia volcanos portal:

A volcano is an opening, or rupture, in a planet’s surface or crust, which allows hot, molten rock, ash, and gases to escape from below the surface. Violent explosive eruptions from such vents often produce craters or calderas and coat extensive areas in volcanic ash, while the lava from comparatively gentle effusive eruptions may eventually form large plains, cones or mountains.

Volcanoes are generally found where tectonic plates are pulled apart or come together. A mid-oceanic ridge, such as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, hosts volcanoes caused by divergent tectonic plates pulling apart; the Pacific Ring of Fire contains many volcanoes caused by convergent tectonic plates coming together. By contrast, volcanoes are not commonly created at transform boundaries, where two tectonic plates slide past one another.

We found a great playlist on National Geographic Kids about volcanos:

SciShow Kids also has a great video about volcanos for kids:

While we were looking up volcano information on Wikipedia, we saw some great explainer images. This one shows the anatomy of a volcano:

Volcano anatomy by MesserWolan, licensed CC BY SA 3.0
Volcano anatomy by MesserWolan, licensed CC BY SA 3.0

We also found this great view of an erupting volcano from the perspective of a satellite passing overhead:

Volcano eruptions can be pretty dangerous for aircraft too. You may remember the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano. National Geographic has an interesting report on the dangers of volcanic ash titled “Volcanic Ash Stops Europe Flights—Why Ash Is Dangerous“.

Other resources:


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According to Wikipedia:

A tsunami (plural: tsunamis or tsunami; from Japanese: 津波, lit. “harbor wave”;[1] English pronunciation: /tsˈnɑːmi/[2]) , also known as a seismic sea wave, is a series of waves in a water body caused by the displacement of a large volume of water, generally in an ocean or a large lake. Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and other underwater explosions (including detonations of underwater nuclear devices), landslides, glacier calvings, meteorite impacts and other disturbances above or below water all have the potential to generate a tsunami.[3] Unlike normal ocean waves which are generated by wind or tides which are generated by the gravitational pull of the Moon and Sun, a tsunami is generated by the displacement of water.

I found great videos for the kids on YouTube (the challenge with teaching kids about tsunamis is that they are pretty devastating phenomena so I try to be careful about which videos I show them.

How tsunamis work – Alex Gendler

What is a Tsunami? Facts & Information | Mocomi Kids

I also found this great illustration of how an earthquake triggers a tsunami on Wikipedia (Link).

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