Friday, October 17, 2014

The Next Wave

The Next Wave: The Quest to Harness the Power of the Ocean (Scientists in the Field)
by Elizabeth Rusch
80 pages; ages 10-14
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014

 Elizabeth Rusch takes us to Oregon's wave-battered coast to check out the newest technological research in renewable energy. In this book we find surfer scientists and engineers working to transform the energy in ocean waves into electricity. We meet the Mikes and Annette von Jouanne, the AquaBuOY, and a team of Columbia Power engineers.

The pages are jam-packed with photos of waves, boats, surfers, bigger waves, and turbines of all types and sizes - including the Mikes' prototype turbine constructed of plastic spoons from a fast-food joint. There are diagrams and graphs that help explain wave motion and watts, and plenty of sidebars that delve more deeply into the issues surrounding wave energy technology.

One question is what happens to sea life when you harness waves for energy. Rusch notes that because the technology is so new, "no one really knows how it will affect marine animals or the environment." Buoys and other machinery could introduce new sounds and electromagnetic fields into the sea and set cables to thrumming, like guitar strings. Devices that capture wave energy will remove that energy from the waves, and reduced wave power could affect sand movements, water temperature, and water mixing near the shore. Scientists don't think they'll increase beach eroion, but they might affect the lives of tiny creatures. If you are interested in learning more about potential environmental impacts, check out the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the US Department of Energy Report to Congress (downloadable pdf).

Rusch does a good job of taking us behind the scenes in a growing energy technology field. Some countries are beginning to use wave energy - in small experimental situations. So if you've got kids who are interested in renewable energy, waves are the next big thing to watch. And that calls for a field trip to the ocean, right?

Today is STEM Friday! Head over to the STEM Friday blog to see what other people are reviewing. On Monday we'll join the roundup over at the Nonfiction Monday blog where you'll find even more book reviews. Review copy provided by publisher

Friday, October 10, 2014

Chasing Cheetahs ~ Saving Africa's Fastest Cats

Chasing Cheetahs: The Race to Save Africa's Fastest Cats (Scientists in the Field)
by Sy Montgomery; photos by Nic Bishop
80 pages; ages 10- 14
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014

A full-grown cheetah weighs about 90 pounds and can run 70 miles per hour - as fast as a car driving on a highway. It can go from zero to 40 in three steps, but after a few hundred yards it has to stop for a rest, or it will overheat.

These fast cats live in one place: Africa. But they are endangered and, without help, may go extinct. This book shows how Laurie Marker - and other scientists working with the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia - is working to preserve remaining cheetah populations. Saving cheetahs, she says, is about more than saving the big cats. "It's about antelopes and birds, leopards and giraffes, soil and trees, dogs and goats." That's because, if you save the cheetahs you end up saving all of the other plants and animals in that ecosystem.

One strategy is to use dogs to save cats. Farmers shoot cheetahs because the big cats take goats from their herds. But in cases where herds are protected by large dogs, cheetahs don't bother the livestock. Instead, they chase down wild game. So Laurie's strategy: give a dog to every farmer, and teach them how to protect their flocks so both wild and domestic animals can share the landscape.

In one chapter Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop take us on a forensic expedition to determine which cheetahs have been in an area, and what those cheetahs are eating. Using DNA from scat and hairs left behind, scientists can figure out whether cheetahs are dining on gazelles or goats. They also check in with a wildlife vet for some hands-on lessons on cheetah health.

I particularly like how the book ends with Laurie's "advice for saving the world". Her first (and most important) bit of wisdom: "Don't wait for 'somebody' to do it." If you're ever thinking that "somebody should do something", then that somebody might be you. Her last and just-as-important words of advice: "We can save the world. There's no reason we can't. But we have to actively do it." Everyone- even kids- can do something to make this world a better place.

Today is STEM Friday! Head over to the STEM Friday blog to see what other people are reviewing. On Monday we'll join the roundup over at the Nonfiction Monday blog where you'll find even more book reviews. Review copy provided by publisher