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Bill Macfadyen: Who Knew That Mapping the Great Lakes Was a Direct Route to Noozhawk?

Sonic booms, ancient Roman coins, More Mesa and a Saudi developer, and unfulfilled Maya 'prophecy' round out this week's Top Five

Not to brag or anything, but I’m in Hawaii. Did the world end?

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Just in case it didn’t, what were you reading on Noozhawk this past week?

1. UCSB Scientist Involved in Environmental Mapping of Great Lakes

When Californians think of great lakes, our minds wander to Cachuma, Nacimiento, Powell, Tahoe and, my favorite, Huntington. In the middle of the country, however, there are actual Great Lakes, and they’re being studied by a researcher from, of all places, UC Santa Barbara.

Ben Halpern
Ben Halpern

Ben Halpern of UCSB’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis is a principal investigator in an ambitious effort to map and cross-compare the human impact on the five Great Lakes: Erie, Huron, Michigan, Ontario and Superior.

The scientists are trying to figure out the extent of environmental stresses on the lakes as well as the ecological services they provide. The result, published in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is a comprehensive map of the environmental stressors of the Great Lakes.

“This work represents the first time that two relatively new tools for resource management have been brought together: mapping of the cumulative impact of human activities and mapping of the provision of services to people from natural systems,” said Halpern, who also directs UCSB’s Center for Marine Assessment and Planning.

“Each approach, by itself, offers a lot of insight into how to better manage and restore ecosystems and the benefits we derive from them; together, the approaches offer unprecedented opportunities.”

So, in the end, lessons learned in the Great Lakes could have application to lakes closer to home.

2. Air Force Jet Caused Quake-Like Rattling Along Central Coast

A series of window-rattling disturbances shook the South Coast the morning of Dec. 20, but what was thought to be small earthquakes turned out to be the result of an Air Force F-22 flying at supersonic speed out over the Pacific Ocean.

The tremors were felt between 9:30 and 10:05 a.m. and were strong enough to set off burglar alarms. Puzzled seismologists said they weren’t earthquakes, however, and suspicion then fell on military aircraft.

Vandenberg Air Force Base spokeswoman Jan Kays confirmed an F-22 from Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert was running supersonic flight tests 50 miles off the coast.

“Because of atmospheric conditions,” the traditional sonic booms associated with such speed were not heard, she said.

3. Cleaning Ancient Coins a Lesson in History, Physics for Freshmen at Providence Hall

Providence Hall freshmen recently rolled up their sleeves to clean ancient Roman coins, relying on the principles of electrolysis to restore their shine.

Thanks to the principles of search engine optimization, the good folks at TreasureNet, “the original treasure-hunting website,” discovered our story and shared it with their members. The result was a horde of new readers who quickly propelled the article to third place in this week’s tally.

Of course, that wasn’t the intent of humanities teacher Bruce Rottman and science teacher Laura Schultheis, who livened up the study of ancient history with a lesson in oxidation and the attraction of positive and negative charges in an ionic electrolytic cell.

Students at the private, Christian college-preparatory school found the experiment valuable.

“I thought it was really fun to do an experiment and to actually use coins from thousands of years ago,” said freshman Maddy Niessen. “It was really awesome that when we finished cleaning the coins, we could see the faces on them.”

4. More Mesa Parcels Sold to Saudi Developer for $25 Million

More Mesa is one of the most quietly beautiful areas on the South Coast. For years, the 265-acre property has been at the center of a wary standoff between would-be developers and local residents who want to keep it just the way it is. Unlike Ellwood Mesa and the old Wilcox Property, local attempts at purchasing the land for preservation have come to naught.

An outside attempt was successful, however. In a $25 million deal, which is $10 million below the asking price, Sun Mesa Co. has sold six parcels to Khalid S. Al Shobily LLC, a Saudi Arabia-based real estate developer, Noozhawk’s Giana Magnoli reported Dec. 19.

Sun Mesa officials say the new owners will keep a significant portion of the land as a public park and nature preserve with public trails and beach access. The Saudia Arabia-based real estate developer could not be reached for comment.

5. Anabel Ford: Will the World End on Dec. 21? What Do the Maya Really Say?

Anthropologists have long pointed to the Maya as an advanced civilization. It turns out that the ancients’ purported prowess at predicting the future is as bumbling as, well, modern-day pollsters.

Signs of the apocalypse are plentiful — such as the San Francisco giants’ second World Series championship in three years (thank you, Frankrupt McCourt, and good riddance) — yet the latest overhyped doomsday scenario peddled by my fellow journalists came and went with a whimper Dec. 21.

But none of us knew that Dec. 15 when my friend, Anabel Ford, director of UC Santa Barbara’s MesoAmerican Research Center, wrote about her experience digging in to Maya history at El Pilar, an ancient city on the border of Belize and Guatemala.

Ford never bought the prophecy, and she tipped Noozhawk readers to the fact that the Maya actually put more stock in winter solstice and had numerous significant other dates penciled in on their calendars. Ford is at El Pilar now, and soon will be filing a new dispatch regarding the new world order.

Trailing close behind Ford’s column by less than a dozen reads was Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton’s story about a far more primitive subject, the sexual assault of a Santa Barbara City College student in Isla Vista.

The attack occurred about 2 a.m. Dec. 15 at Del Playa Drive and Camino Pescadero, and the suspect fled when bystanders rushed to woman’s rescue. The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department and UCSB police are still hunting the suspect, who was described as an older Hispanic man wearing a dark-colored jacket with a hood.

If you have any information, call UCSB police at 805.893.3446.

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