ocean

Posted by Ellen

This past week, the Bell Island ferry out of Newfoundland's provincial capital of Saint John's was trapped by unusually late pack ice, requiring the ice-breaking assistance of Canadian Coast Guard vessel Earl Grey.

The heavy ice around Newfoundland is actually a product of global warming. Record-breaking thaws this past winter along the west coast of Greenland–including a first-ever hurricane that drenched Greenland in January–disrupted normal patterns of ice circulation on the surface of the North Atlantic.

Greenland's fast-melting glaciers spit out icebergs four months early this year, which have clogged shipping lanes. Ocean currents and winds usually break up Newfoundland's pack ice early each spring, but the unusual flow from Greenland has kept this past winter's ice trapped in harbors and coastal waters.

Posted by Ellen

This is the time of year when, in many places, the first springtime crop of mosquitoes takes to the air at once and . . . swarms.

The Alaskan tundra and other Arctic-like regions are notorious for huge dark clouds of skeeters, hovering hungrily and buzzing, whining--call it screaming for blood.

But this photo was taken last week in Portugal, in the salt marshes near Vila Franca de Xira. The swarm affected the shape of a tornado, and perhaps inspired a bit of the fear associated with tornadoes. But it wasn't really a cyclone; the flight pattern of the little bloodsuckers wasn't rotational, just the usual brownian motion within the overall swarm. And the top of the swarm was much closer to the viewer than the bottom, which is why it appears wider.

We are told that outside of the tropics, people don't really die from mosquito bites, even if they get hundreds of bites, as in a serious swarm. They don't die; they just wish they would.

Posted by Ellen

Vitamin, at left in the brown cardigan, and Fivla, at right, wearing red, play starring roles in a new ad campaign urging everyone to visit Scotland in general and the Shetland Islands in particular.

Vitamin and Fivla are classic Shetland ponies, wearing traditionally patterned Fair Isles sweaters custom-knitted by Shetland native Doreen Brown, from yarn spun from the wool of Shetland sheep, and they are posed all warm and cozy on the windswept moor of a scenic Shetland isle, and if this picture doesn't get you to go there then nothing will.

Posted by Ellen

World's End is the name of a state park in Pennsylvania, a knob in the marshland near Boston, an off-the-map locale for the weakest sequel to Pirates of the Caribbean, and a major site of action for World of Warcraft. But the World's End that this kayaker is nearing is the southern end of Tjøme Island, near the outlet of Norway's Oslo Fjord.

Posted by Ellen

"I send you two pictures of Tahiti," writes my brother, Chuck-the-nuclear-astrophysicist. "Captain Cook was sent to Tahiti to observe the 1769 transit of Venus (Venus passing in front of the sun). He then had secret orders to search for Australia, which he found.  I saw the 2012 transit from Point Venus, a beautiful sandy beach on the northwest corner of the Island, where Captain Cook observed the 1769 transit.  It was a magical festival with lots of natives.  

"The surfing scene is from the north side of the island not far from Point Venus, while the other picture is from the opposite side of the island, on the south side of the Tahiti Iti peninsula, where the road ends."

Chuck spent a week in Tahiti, doing his scientific thing, and then he had to fly back home so he could get ready for a conference in Italy. It's a tough life, nuclear astrophysics, but somebody's got to do it.

Posted by Ellen

Two winters ago around this time, when this picture was snapped, there was no snow along the southwest coast of Maine, though somehow the color of the water suggested some seriously shivery cold. This year, I understand that there's a bit of snow on the ground in Maine; here in Philadelphia, however, we've had only a flurry or two. It's raining as I type.

This stretch of cliff near Kettle Cove in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, faces south more than east, allowing a glimpse of winter sunset over the water.

Posted by Ellen

He had driven a thousand miles for the chance to set up his scope at Deception Pass, on Puget Sound about an hour north of Seattle. But the notebook in his left hand received no new entries; he saw birds, to be sure, but he'd seen them all before. The only thing he saw that day of even mild ornithological interest was the long line of black dots way out at sea–they were grebes, he told us, a very common waterbird, but a kind that didn't usually flock together so massively; there were hundreds of grebes out there on the tide, he estimated, bobbing and diving, more by far than he'd ever seen in one place before.

The Audubon Society reports that grebes are pretty standard inhabitants of Deception Pass and thereabouts, along with mergansers, cormorants, black oystercatchers, alcids, and common and Pacific loons. But the big ornithological draw, especially in the wintertime, is the red-throated loon. Maybe this birdwatcher will schedule another trip when the weather is a whole lot worse.