Pretty Map of Total Precipitable Water

Nerd cartoonist extraordinaire Randall Munroe of XKCD recently began a “What If?” section to his site, in which he answers readers’ questions with SCIENCE. The thoroughness of the answers to seemingly silly questions is impressive, as is the breadth of the man’s ken. My favorite so far is “What would happen if you were to gather a mole (unit of measurement) of moles (the small furry critter) in one place?” which actually came up in a discussion of stoichiometry the other day in the lab.

A recent question, “What if a rainstorm dropped all of its water in a single giant drop?” necessitated an explanation of Total Precipitable Water, which Wikipedia defines as “the depth of water in a column of the atmosphere if all the water in that column were precipitated as rain.” Here’s the diagram from XKCD:

Munroe mentions that satellites measure water vapor and produce some truly beautiful maps, and boy is he is correct. There are more at this site, but below is a GIF that I grabbed at random from their archive:

It’s like the ocean is a lava lamp. Science is beautiful and entertaining.

Monitoring Primates with Aerial Drones

Researchers Lian Pin Koh and Serge Wich are using unmanned airplanes to monitor biodiversity in Sumatra. They demonstrate the use of the system for “real-time mapping of local land cover, monitoring of illegal forest activities, and surveying of large animal species.” The Open Access article in Tropical Conservation Science is freely available here, and the test missions section of their site is definitely worth checking out for videos, pictures, and technical details. Below you can see an orangutan their drone spotted in Aras Napal, Sumatra: