BBC BLOGS - Gregory's First Law

It's not goodbye, it's au revoir

David Gregory | 13:33 UK time, Tuesday, 2 April 2013

The BBC has moved my blog to a new system and expanded its brief to include environment as well as science. You can read the first post here and find the new blog at bbc.co.uk/davidgregorykumar This version will no longer be updated, thanks for reading and see you at the new place!

Climate change, the ozone layer and seaweed

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David Gregory | 18:27 UK time, Wednesday, 20 February 2013

NASA global hawk robot drone

If there's one thing science reporters know it's that you don't confuse stories about climate change with stories about damage to the ozone layer.

But at the University of Birmingham researchers think it is possible that the two may be linked and that climate change could cause damage to the ozone layer thanks to a natural chemical produced by seaweed.

To find out more they're looking to gather data from both ends of the problem. Working with NASA they will be using a robot drone to gather data some twenty kilometres in the sky, that's twice the height of a commercial jet.

BAe 146 FAAM research aircraft. One previous old lady owner.

Meanwhile just above sea level a British plane will be carrying out the same measurements although this time there are no robots but rather a staff of around fifteen researchers on board.

What the scientists will be looking for is a natural chemical given off by seaweed. A chemical that can damage the ozone layer when it gets up there. The big question is whether or not climate change is driving more of this chemical into the sky.

Combining data from the drone and the aircraft will allow the University of Birmingham scientists to improve their climate models and learn more about this fascinating seaweed problem. It's unlikely seaweed will cause the kind of holes in the ozone layer pollution did. But the researchers say any damage at all will be a sign of the unpredictable effects climate change could have.

Meanwhile it seems robot drones are set to revolutionise this sort of work. Until now you've needed to rely on very brave pilots wearing something closer to a spacesuit than a traditional flightsuit. Pilots need to retreat from very high altitude for rests during a flight, drones of course have no such problems.

Mind you the British plane doing the sea level work is also pretty cool. The aeroplane was originally a flight test prototype, but was completely rebuilt for this role - fitting over 4 tonnes of special equipment, as well as uprated systems and engines and a strengthened fuselage. Typically it flies with over 20 computers and over 50 specialist instruments on any flight, as well as a crew of up to 22.

This is a long term project which will take several years to complete, but it should give us a much better idea of what's going on in the atmosphere right over our heads.

UPDATE

George asks for more detail in the comments about these chemicals. There's a very good article from Nature about all this. Subscription only unfortunately. But basically these are bromine compounds which the researchers say have an impact on the ozone layer. So they're the naturally produced equivalent of the ozone-damaging compounds made to be used in fire extinguishers.

UPDATE II

Added in extra and more accurate detail about the British aircraft courtesy Dr Guy Gratton.

The science of sticky tape

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David Gregory | 12:59 UK time, Monday, 28 January 2013

Today my colleagues at Radio Shropshire are going to attempt to beat the world record for "shortest time to duct tape a person to a wall". Apparently this is a real thing and you can see some videos here.

You'll notice that it doesn't take much tape to actually stick someone to a wall so that they are suspended off the ground for at least a minute. That's because this broad silver and white tape is in fact incredibly strong.

The always excellent Mythbusters in America have done several tv specials looking at all the fun you can have with gaffer tape. They've made everything from shoes and a canoe to a bridge that successful crossed a 100 foot gap.

But all this is nothing compared to the Alaskan pilot who's light aircraft was mauled by a bear and who repaired and flew his plane using duct tape. Amazing pictures can be found here.

So given all that it is perhaps no surprise it's not going to be hard to stick BBC staff to the odd wall.

Of course humble sellotape still beats duct tape at some things. If you peel a roll of sticky tape quickly in a darkened room you will see small flashes of light. You'll see the same effect opening self-sealing envelopes or crushing extra-strong mints with pliers.

This is triboluminescence. An effect we don't fully understand and it's more than a pretty light show. If you unroll sticky tape fast enough you could in theory generate x-rays powerful enough to take an image of your finger.

Don't worry, ordinary use poses no risk. But all this is a reminded just how amazing these office and workshop standbys can be.

Which lead to my favourite joke of all time. Why is duct tape like the Force in Star Wars? Because it has a light side and a dark side and it binds the universe together.

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