Tuesday, September 27, 2011

IMAX Tornado Alley 3D Preview with Dr. Karen Kosiba Benefits Red Cross

Dr. Karen Kosiba, seen above in the Doppler on Wheels truck, will be at the Tennessee Aquarium IMAX 3D Theater to introduce the film during a special FREE preview of Tornado Alley 3D on Thursday, September 29th at 7:00 pm. Seating is limited and available on a first-come basis. Donations will be accepted at this screening for the Chattanooga Red Cross to help our community be better prepared for future storms.

Kosiba and an army of scientists from VORTEX2 are featured in Tornado Alley 3D. The most ambitious scientific mission of its kind, VORTEX2 was comprised of more than 100 severe-weather researchers from around the world, a fleet of radar trucks, mobile weather stations and the most sophisticated weather-measuring instruments ever created. The mission: probe nature’s most violent storms to better understand how tornadoes form and develop. The Tennessee Aquarium (TA) had a chance to interview Dr. Kosiba before her visit. Here's a portion of that Q&A session:

TA: Was there an event that spiked your interest in severe weather?

Kosiba: I’m a physics nerd….as a kid I was always fascinated with lightning. It was always amazing that nature can cause so much damage, and the field of meteorology is filled with unknowns waiting to be discovered.

TA: For the non-scientist, people may question why researchers say something like, "This is going to be a 'good day' for storm chasing. Is there a strange mix of emotions: science versus excitement?

Kosiba: People are fascinated with extremes. When we are out in the Plains States, most tornadoes are not impacting anyone. They are over open land and they are spectacular. But when a tornado does impact someone, it’s important to be there documenting it. It's how we gain knowledge to improve the warning process. This past year was unusual because of the number of populated areas that were impacted.

TA: What was the main objective of VORTEX 2?

Kosiba: The over-arching goal was gaining a better understanding of how tornadoes form which will help improve tornado warnings. On average, people only get 10 minutes lead time before a tornado. That's for ALL tornadoes.
Potentially you will have more lead time with big tornadoes and long-track tornadoes. What we’re trying to do is warn BEFORE a storm produces a tornado. Currently, when a radar signature appears that indicates a tornado is forming, but 75% of those storms don’t produce tornadoes. So we need a better discriminator to more accurately issue those warnings.
TA: Are there any preliminary results from VORTEX 2? Or any new insights from this project?

Kosiba: There was a huge amount of data gathered that will take literally years to fully analyze. We got some really good data on about 60 storms. This has produced some ideas about temperature fields and wind fields and how they interact. For example, how the downdraft wraps around and a potential discovery related to a radar signature that’s linked to the strengthening of one tornado that we observed. We'd like to examine more data to see if these signatures are present in non-tornadic storms.

TA: In addition to collecting indirect measurements from within the Doppler on Wheels, you also organize the placement of weather instruments for direct measurements. That must be challenging.

Kosiba: Getting instrumentation inside a tornado isn’t a new idea, but getting instruments inside a tornado is incredibly difficult. The TIV has the ability to keep adjusting, but placing stationary instruments is not. We have 16 tornado pods in an array. So we’re increasing our odds with numbers, but as you see in the film, it is quite a challenge to get a direct hit.

TA: What information can measurements inside a tornado provide?

Kosiba: The direct measurements on their own are not that useful, but when compiled with all of the data it is very helpful. We are able to link what we are seeing above ground level on radar and at the surface to understand how they are correlated. 

Right now there's a real gap in the wind speed measurements correlated to the damage. We want to know what’s the difference between experiencing 100 to 120 mph for 3 or 4 seconds or 170 mph wind for one second? Is is duration or peak wind velocities causing the majority of the damage? That's important for designing structures, load bearing walls and tying walls to roofs.

TA: Have you ever been concerned for your own safety while inside the Doppler on Wheels?

Kosiba: My "yikes!" moment was in Hurricane Frances in 2004 during a nighttime landfall. We are really interested in how winds transition between the ocean and moving over land. We were perched near a cliff and the cliff started eroding during the night. We couldn't figure out why we were having trouble leveling the truck.  We saw that one of the stabilizing legs was hanging over the edge the next morning.
TA: Could you be called out on hurricane duty with the Doppler on Wheels this year?

Kosiba: We are on standby for hurricane season, but we haven’t actually gone out since 2008. The last tropical storm I worked was Hurrane Ike on Galveston Island. It was actually strengthening as it made landfall. We got some great data in the eyewall and as the winds were transforming from the ocean to land. We documented eyewall meso-vorticies for the first time in IKE.

TA: What do you hope people learn from Tornado Alley 3D?

Kosiba: Appreciation and awareness. I hope people get a better understanding of the science by actually seeing people out there trying to find the answers to problems. And they are tough problems. We’re still learning and there’s a lot we still don’t know about how tornadoes form, and just as important, why some storms don’t produce tornadoes.

TA: Will there be a VORTEX 3?

Kosiba: I hope so. As we learn more, we formulate better questions. And the technology improves leading to new research opportunities.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Save Vanishing Species Stamps Now On Sale

If you enjoyed the joyful scenes of baby orangutans and baby elephants in Born to be Wild 3D, then you'll appreciate a new stamp that's being unveiled today. (If you haven't seen the IMAX film yet, make sure you don't miss this outstanding movie.) The Save Vanishing Species stamp features an Amur tiger cub, as seen above. Even though a tiger was chosen as the face of conservation for this effort, a total of five species will benefit from the sales of this stamp. Here's how:

Net proceeds from sale of the Save Vanishing Species stamp directly support international wildlife conservation efforts to save beloved species like rhinos, elephants, tigers, marine turtles, and great apes – at no cost to American taxpayers.

The Save Vanishing Species stamps will now be available at Post Office locations nationwide and at USPS.com.  They will sell for 55 cents – 11 cents greater than a First Class Mail stamp – and $11 for a sheet of 20.

The Save Vanishing Species stamps will directly provide funding for projects supported by the Multinational Species Conservation Funds (MSCF), which are administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conserve tigers, rhinos, great apes, marine turtles, African elephants and Asian elephants. The stamp was created through federal legislation which was signed into law in September 2010. Passage of the law was spearheaded by the Wildlife Conservation Society and was supported by the 33 organizations of the Multinational Species Coalition, including the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

“This stamp marks the fourth semipostal issued by the Postal Service. These types of stamps provide an extremely convenient way for the American public to contribute to help protect threatened and vanishing species,” said Deputy Postmaster General Ron Stroman. “We look forward to working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Multinational Species Coalition to make this stamp a resounding success.”

“The stamp provides a unique opportunity for the American public to work with the federal government to contribute to saving some of our most beloved threatened species,” said Herb Raffaele, Chief of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Division of International Conservation. “A commitment to the stamp will demonstrate that Americans really care about wildlife conservation abroad.”

Whether it's a virtual meeting of the elephants and orangutans in "Born to be Wild 3D," or having the opportunity to observe "Stewie" and "Oscar," the Aquarium's two green sea turtles up close, people care about the status of these charismatic animals and their wild counterparts.
We hope everyone considers purchasing these stamps to help the organizations working diligently to ensure the survival of these animals. At the same time, we hope you'll consider making a contribution to support the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute's field work. Lake sturgeon, logperch, darters, hellbenders and topminnows may not be as adorable as a baby tigers, but the challenges these aquatic species face are every bit as real.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Peanut - The Tennessee Aquarium's Football Pickin' Possum

"Peanut," one of the Tennessee Aquarium's Virginia opossums, is a visitor favorite at Ranger Rick's Backyard Safari. In the picture above, Thaddeus Taylor coaxes Peanut out of a hollow tree by shaking a container of treats. It's like ringing a dinner bell for this food-motivated marsupial. "He's hungry ALL the time," said Taylor.
 Taylor and senior educator Susie Grant have been "coaching up" this new animal star during regular animal training sessions. "We try to show our visitors natural behaviors in Ranger Rick's Backyard Safari," said Grant. "Possums have several great adaptations that help them survive in the wild, including a highly developed sense of smell." Since Peanut can follow his nose to find food, Aquarium staff give him enrichment activities where he can search for a meal. In this case, fishy treats are placed under light boxes for peanut to find. Equal amounts of treats were placed under the boxes to see if Peanut would follow his nose to pick the winners of upcoming football games.
Look for Peanut, the football pickin' possum, beginning Friday September 16th on WDEF-TV's Prime News at 7:00 pm. Peanut's picks will be shown with a recap on the following Monday.

We don't know if Peanut has a nose for football, but he knows how to find food. Although a variety of college and NFL teams were used for this demonstration, the Cavaliers were disqualified. After all, Peanut is a Virginia opossum.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Serve & Protect: A New Way to be a Locavore

A New Way to be a Locavore - by Ashford Rosenberg, Tennessee Aquarium sustainability coordinator

The “locavore” movement started in 2005, but the concept of eating local is nothing new. In the past, people either had to grow their own food, or buy it from a local farmer. Globalization made once exotic foods more readily available. Now, with concerns of green house gas emissions resulting from shipping food, many people are again sourcing from local farmers.

There are several farms within 100 miles of Chattanooga, and many of them are present in area farmers’ markets. Anyone who has been to the Chattanooga Market on a Sunday, or the Main Street Farmer’s Market on Wednesdays, is familiar with the variety of produce available from different farms. But did you know there is a way to source seafood locally?

Rainbow trout, while technically a freshwater fish, are a healthy source of seafood. They are similar in taste and health benefits to salmon, and the farming methods of trout have less environmental impacts. Salmon are often farmed in open net pens, which are contained areas that float in a body of water. The waste and excess food from the pen is washed directly into the environment, degrading water quality and transferring parasites and disease to wild fish. There is also a concern about escapees from the farm breeding with wild fish. Trout, on the other hand, are farmed inland in closed systems. These closed systems alleviate the fear of disease, parasites, and escaped fish affecting the wild populations.

Now for the best part. Trout is local! Not only is there a rainbow trout farm in the next county (Pickett Trout Ranch in Dunlap, TN), but many streams in the area are stocked with rainbow trout for anglers. Check TWRA regulations to find the trout stream closest to you. Brown trout and the native Brook trout also inhabit Tennessee streams. (All three species can be seen in the Tennessee Aquarium's Cove Forest exhibit.) Catching your own fish for dinner is the most sustainable eating habit, with sourcing from local farms not far behind.

Many restaurants in the Chattanooga area serve trout. Look for it on the menu, and enjoy a delicious, healthy, and sustainable dinner. Or, try Alton Brown's Serve & Protect Pecan Crusted Trout recipe. Bon App├ętit!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

All Aboard! Labor Day Fun in Chattanooga

There is a ton of fun to be found in Chattanooga during the Labor Day weekend. We hope you have time to enjoy it all!

Happy Jack, the double yellow-headed Amazon parrot, has been a big hit with Tennessee Aquarium visitors. He's such an entertainer that he will be taking his show on the road after his Labor Day weekend appearances in Ranger Rick's Backyard Safari. Every time I've seen Jack, he's made me smile. EVERY TIME. Don't miss this perky parrot this weekend!

RAILFEST 2011: Train fans will love the 50th Anniversary celebration of "Iron Horses" at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum. Train rides, special railroad displays, music and fun for kids all weekend long.

FREE MUSIC: Check out "The Barefoot Movement" at the Chattanooga River Market on Saturday, Sept. 3rd.

Later that evening, head downtown for Riverfront Nights. You'll love the sounds of Vieux Farka Toure - African guitar master and World Music Legend.

There's a special late night Dance Jam with Space Capone performing at 9 PM to welcome back UTC students. (But you don't have to be a MOC to enjoy the extended music on the Riverfront.)

And paddlers, get out on the water for "Paddler's Night." 

Speaking of paddling.........don't miss out on the final showings of "Ultimate Wave: Tahiti 3D" at IMAX. You'll witness some of the world's best surfers and paddleboarders on GINORMOUS waves on the six-story screen. Coming September 30th: "Tornado Alley 3D."

Adorable is the word for the baby orangutans and elephants starring in "Born to Be Wild 3D" at IMAX. Now through September 30th, parents should look for the Born to be Wild 3D sign when visiting Chattanooga area SUBWAY restaurants. They’ll get a Born To Be Wild 3D activity sheet with any six-inch sandwich or kid’s meal. Complete the activity and bring it to the Tennessee Aquarium IMAX 3D Theater for half-off children’s admission.

Want to get out on the water and enjoy nature? Our naturalists will show you the natural wonders of "Tennessee's Grand Canyon" aboard the River Gorge Explorer. Reserve your cruise today.

That's just a sampling of what's happening in Chattanooga. We hope to see you! Happy Labor Day!