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Additional Notes - Where Giants Roam

Original Article - Where Giants Roam.

The subject of plate tectonics was one that I was eager to start reading about, and I found it hard to stop researching and start writing about. As I’ve mentioned in the article, I learned about this subject in high school, and also a bit in college. Still, I was under evaluating how interesting it could be. I got the kickstart I needed once I heard that we don’t know of other planets that have plate tectonics. This fact has immediately turned the subject into an urgent question in my mind.

I’ll take this chance to say that while we don’t know of any other planets that currently have plate tectonics, some planets have shown signs of having tectonic activity in the past. And also, here are a couple of articles about what might prove to be tectonic activity on mars and on Europa, Jupiter’s moon.

This might have been the topic I’ve done the most research about so far. As always, I have a few extra tidbits, if you are still interested.

So, we now accept that the plates are moving. I mentioned in the article that the movement is slow. Well, it is hard to grasp how slow it really is. Some plates are faster than others, but even the fast ones are not impressively quick. The average speed is about 2-5 centimeters a year. That is comparable to a normal person’s nail growth rate. You know how sometimes people prank their friends by moving all the furniture in their friends’ living room by a few centimeters? Usually, these few centimeters of movement go unnoticed. And they don’t happen over a year. What I’m saying is, there’s no way that you’ll wake up one day and be surprised at how far the plates have gone since you last looked.

The movement of the plates may be slow, but it’s been happening for a long time now. On a geological timescale, the movement is definitely noticeable, and we can try to estimate where will the continents in the future. Spoiler alert: Don’t base your plans for the future on the fact that your house is going to be in the same place for the next few millions of years. According to estimations of the Plaeomap Project, Europe and Africa will collide, closing the gap that is the mediterranean sea, and creating a long mountain range in about 50 million years. It is believed that new subduction zones will appear at the coasts of North and South America, leading to the formation of new mountain chains along these coasts. At about 100 million years from now, the continents will begin to move towards each other again. Thus, in 250 million years, North America will collide with Africa, South america will wrap itself around the mass of land that will form, and a new supercontinent, Pangea Ultima, will be formed. There’s a great clip on youtube, that shows how the surface of the Earth looked in the past and will look in the future.

Here’s some cool information about mountains. I mentioned that most mountains on Earth are being raised due to interactions between plates. If you measure mountains from base to peak, instead of the usual water surface to peak, the tallest mountain on earth is Mauna Kae, in Hawaii, at 10,203 meters (33,476 feet). This may seem impressive, but compare it to the tallest mountain on a planet in the solar system and suddenly it seems like a dwarf. The tallest mountain is located on the western hemisphere of Mars, and its name is Olympus Mons. I thought that name was taken, but I guess if it’s on another planet... Anyway, the martian Olympus  reaches a towering 21,287 meters, or 69,841 feet.

Most mountains on mars are formed by a different mechanism than those on Earth. The major factors for mountain formations on earth are plate tectonics and liquid water erosion, which Mars does not have. The major factor for mountain formation on Mars is wind erosion, that is why most mountains on Mars appear inside craters - the wind blows away any light materials and the heavier ones stay put. But Olympus Mons is a shield volcano, which is a different type altogether.

We have shield volcanoes here on Earth - Mauna Kae and the hawaiian islands are a chain of shield volcanoes. You see, the volcanoes in Hawaii are not near plate boundaries, like you might expect, but they are very near a hotspot. The Hawaii hotspot, to be exact. A hotspot is an area in the mantle that is irregularly hot, so it experiences relatively frequent volcanic eruptions, even if it is far away from a plate boundary. What makes these volcanoes a shield type volcanoes is the fact that they usually erupt in a very fluid form. That means that lava flows and does not dramatically explode. It then cools down and harden. After many eruptions, the hardened lava accumulates and forms a wide, usually short, mountain - kind of in a shape of a shield.

The difference between Olympus Mons and the Hawaiian volcano chain is, again, plate tectonics. The Pacific plate moves over the Hawaii hotspot, which erupts occasionally, and creates a chain of volcanoes. Olympus Mons is not on a moving plate, and so the eruptions always take place on the same relative location. Eruption after eruption accumulates more hardened lava, which add to the impressive height of the tallest mountain on a planet in our solar system. On earth, the weather would have carved through the mountain, given enough time.

As usual, there is still much more to say about this subject - much more than I could fit in an article and an additional notes post.

I hope you found this interesting!

D.S. Cyprus

Sun Arise, Roll out the Chorus of the Dawn

I always thought that a sunrise is more magical and impressive than a sunset. My supporting argument is twofold:

  • First, I believe that most people, myself included, witness sunrises much more rarely than they do sunsets. This makes them more special and harder to take for granted. The fact that everyone is still up and busy around sunset hours makes it so that, unless you go to a secluded area to watch the sunset, you are probably surrounded by noise. During sunrise hours, most people are asleep and it is still quiet mostly everywhere.
  • Second, being awake to see a sunrise usually includes some effort on my part. I either stay awake through the night or wake up early specially to see it. This specific attempt to see a sunrise makes it easier to appreciate. This also means that when I'm watching a sunrise, I've either just woken up and I know breakfast is due, or I know that I'm going to snuggle in my bed and fall asleep without warning soon.

To add to that, a sunrise has another endearing feature to it - Dawn Chorus. That is the official name of all the bird-singing that you can hear in the morning. Nothing fits a cool, calm morning better than some bird-caroling.

I have noticed multiple times that you can hear birds singing even before the sun is noticeably rising; I recently heard a theory that might explain this- it's a cute one, but prepare your grains of salt nonetheless. First, allow me to shortly explain why dawn chorus is a thing in the first place, and why in the morning, anyway.


Let's start by mentioning that, like a rooster crowing at dawn, it is usually the male that makes all the noise, and he's not doing it for fun - singing to himself as he gets ready for a day of bird business and engagements. The role that the singing plays is to help the birds assert themselves - they make noise to keep other males out of their territories, and also to try and entice females to partner up and mate. In a way, the birdsong strikes two birds with one stone (I would like to apologize for that joke).

The reason why birds sing early in the morning is because of the perfect conditions. Usually, as I said before, mornings are the quietest time of the day. Everything is calm and there is no less wind, which makes the sound carry the farthest. This is simply the most efficient time to be noisy. It's a good thing that we consider it to be a nice sound rather than an annoying one.

Now, why do birds sometimes start chirping before the sun is even rising? Well, that, theoretically, is because birds don't want to be late to chorus practice. You see, the sun rises at different times in different places, depending on latitude (relative distance from the equator). The sun rises earlier in higher latitudes, farther from the equator. For example, let's take a look at Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and Phoenix, Arizona, USA - they are both just about on the same longitude, or meridian, but Edmonton is much farther north. Thus, today the sun has risen at 5:05 AM in Edmonton, and at 6:20 AM in Phoenix (after converting to the same time zones). That is a 1:15 hours difference. Even comparing Edmonton to Calgary, Alberta, Canada, which is much closer, shows a 15-minute difference in sunrise commencement time.

So birds up north, in Edmonton, wake up and start chirping at sunrise. Then, birds that are a bit more to the south of Edmonton hear their neighbors to the north proclaiming their territories and calling for mates. This starts a wave of birds waking up early to not miss out on the competition and join the chorus line. This wave travels fast enough that it gets to Phoenix before the sun has started rising over the Sonoran Desert, and so the birds start singing before the sun is even showing the first signs of climbing over the horizon.

At least that is what I have heard.

Also, I have to mention this cool fact - I spent the last couple of days working on this article, which revolves around the sunrise. I just had a reminder that I set up a few years ago, to remind myself that today, June 24th, is the anniversary of the release date of Opeth's 'Morningrise' album, one of my personal favourites.

Coincidence? Yes.

Thank you for reading this, I hope you found it interesting.

Daphne Semus Cyprus.

Additional Notes - A Brief History of the Science of Naming Things.

Today, we can look back at the history of taxonomy, see how far it has gone and truly appreciate it. Still, it is hard to predict where it will go next. As a field of science, taxonomy really exemplifies what makes science reliable in the long run. We see a problem and we fix it. Again and again. The progress may be slow, but we keep trying to improve every bit of it. Mostly, these improvements don’t hold up, or are simply completely wrong, but every once in a while we strike gold. It sometimes seem as if it is a futile strategy, shooting in all directions like that. But humans are a creative bunch, and sometimes a bright new idea comes up that gives the whole process a boost. It seems to be working for us, so far.

As a student of a scientific field, reading about taxonomy’s history  felt important. I have had to use and rely upon many of these binomial names before, they make work much smoother. And so knowing about the origins of the system, how long it has been developing and the amount of thinking that went into this, really solidifies its place in science, in my mind. I took it for granted - it was another tool that science use to do greater things. But now, this system is a great thing on its own.

In the article I mention a few taxonomic ranks, such as genera or species. I wanted to show an example of a full classification of a species, going through all of its levels. For example, let’s look at the Mus musculus more closely. I’ll trace its taxonomical rankings from high to low. The highest ranking is Domain. There are three domains - Eukarya, Bacteria and Archaea. The latter two contain single-cell organisms, which automatically puts the house mouse in the Domain Eukarya. The next highest level of ranking is Kingdom. Examples for kingdoms are animals, plants and fungi. Under the kingdom Animalia, there is the phylum of Chordata - these groups many animals (fish, birds, mammals) that possess a few common properties. Under Chordata, there’s the class Mammalia - that is, all mammals. Under Mammalia comes the class Rodentia which includes all rodents. Under Rodentia, there is the family Muridae, which is the biggest family in the Rodentia class. In the family Muridae, there is the genus Mus, which is the largest genus of mice, containing over 700 types. Under the genus mus, there is the species musculus, which is the specific type of mouse we were talking about. By the way, guess who coined the term Mus. Yup, Linnaeus did.

In my last blog post, ‘Along came Boom-Bob’, I left a riddle as a clue about the subject of this article. It’s such a specific riddle, that makes it hard to solve. Solving the riddle will give you a clue about the subject of the article, but the article does not solve the riddle. Here’s the riddle: What do Abe Lincoln, Julie Andrews, Marie Curie and Pope John Paul II have in common? Surprisingly, though, Sir David Attenborough does not share this trait.

The answer is - there are roses named after the four people I mentioned:

There are hundreds of roses named after famous people. Sir David Attenborough does not seem to have a rose named after him, which is surprising because many other species are named after him. Here are some examples:

I like that there are so many species named after celebrities. There are so many species to name and you have to be creative. Some of these are really fun names. Albunea groeningi, for example, is a mole crab with a name that honors Matt Groening, the creator of the Simpsons. There are two species of extinct arthropods that are named after ACDC’s Angus and Malcolm Young - Maldybulakia angusi and Maldybulakia malcolmi. The most interesting species name that I found  is Tianchisaurus nedegoapeferima, can you guess the origins of this name? I'll give you a clue - it's a name of a dinosaur. Well, it is actually named after the cast of jurassic park: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Bob Peck, Martin Ferrero, Ariana Richards, Joseph Mazello. If any of you ever get to name a species of kumquats, please consider naming it after me, it would be amazing.

You might also want to visit the wikipedia page for organisms named after the Harry Potter Series. It’s currently not a long list, but I love the fact that there are 3 species named after Aragog.

For a more detailed history of taxonomy, you can check out Mariette Manktelow’s ‘History of Taxonomy’.

For a more detailed paper about the legacy of Linnaeus, check out Marta Paterlini’s ‘There shall be order. The legacy of Linnaeus in the age of molecular biology’.