Time to Eat the Dogs

On Science, History, and Exploration

Archive for Expeditions

Episode 5: The Mystery of the Franklin Expedition

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In 1845, two British naval ships left England with 129 men in search of the Northwest Passage. They were never heard from again. The disappearance of the Franklin Expedition shocked the world. Dozens of expeditions set sail into the Arctic looking for the missing explorers.

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Russell Potter talks about the Expedition and the reasons why it continues to fascinate people around the world. Potter is professor of English and Media studies at Rhode Island College. His book, Finding Franklin: the Untold Story of a 165-year Search, came out in 2016 with McGill-Queens University Press.

Listen on iTunes

Potter’s website with Franklin links

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Episode 4: The Ascent of Women Climbers

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Ashley Cracroft, climbing a new route in Southern Utah. Photo credit: Irene Yee. Courtesy of Climbing Magazine, 2017.

For decades, the sport of climbing seemed to be “a guy thing” until a group of elite women climbers in the 1990s changed the landscape of the sport forever.

Free-lance journalist and climber Noël Phillips discusses the growing popularity of climbing for women at all levels. Her article, “No Man’s Land: The Rise of Women in Climbing” was recently published in Climbing Magazine.

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Listen on iTunes

Episode 3: The First Americans on Everest

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Ten years after the first summit of Everest by Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary, a team of 19 Americans and hundreds of Sherpas, attempted to do it again. The American expedition would be different from Norgay and Hillary’s. It combined high altitude climbing with scientific research. The climbing party included a glaciologist, sociologist, biophysicist, and psychologist.

I talk with Phil Clements, historian at California State University Chico about this strange expedition. It is the subject of his new book Science in an Extreme Environment: the 1963 American Mount Everest Expedition.

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Listen to Phil Clements on iTunes

Press website for Science in an Extreme Environment

Episode 2: Rise of the Megafire

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In the 1980s, fires burned an average of two million acres per year. Today the average is eight million acres and growing. Scientists believe that we could see years with twenty million acres burned, an area larger than country of Ireland. Today Michael Kodas talks about the phenomenon of megafires, forest fires that burn over 100,000 acres, and why the number of these fires is increasing every year.

Kodas is the deputy director of the Center for Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado-Boulder. He is also an award winning photojournalist and reporter. We spoke about his new book Megafire the week after the outbreak of massive fires in Northern California. Those fires killed 42 people, consumed 8400 homes and led to one billion dollars in damages.

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Listen (below) or on iTunes

Episode 1: The Science of Running

regulyarnyj-beg_000_2The sport of running has exploded in the last three decades with some runners pushing the envelope of the extreme. But what do we really know about running and its effects?

  • Is there a running type?  
  • Does running affect men and women differently?
  • What do we know about extreme runners – people running races of 50 miles or more?

I talk with Dr. Beth Taylor about the science and psychology of running.  Taylor is an Associate Professor of Kinesiology at the University of Connecticut. She also serves as the Director of Exercise Physiology Research at Hartford Hospital. 

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Listen here or subscribe through iTunes

For more on Taylor’s work on running, see her website:

http://kins.uconn.edu/beth-taylor/

And some of her recent publications:

Physical activity intensity and subjective well-being in healthy adults. Panza GA, Taylor BA, Thompson PD, White CM, Pescatello LS. J Health Psychol. 2017 Feb 1:1359105317691589. doi: 10.1177/1359105317691589. [Epub ahead of print]

An update on the Boston Marathon as a research laboratory. Panza GA, Taylor BA, Zaleski AL, Thompson PD. Phys Sportsmed. 2015 Jul;43(3):312-6. doi: 10.1080/00913847.2015.1039923. Epub 2015 Apr 27. 

Influence of chronic exercise on carotid atherosclerosis in marathon runners. Taylor BA, Zaleski AL, Capizzi JA, Ballard KD, Troyanos C, Baggish AL, D’Hemecourt PA, Dada MR, Thompson PD

Effect of marathon run and air travel on pre- and post-run soluble d-dimer, microparticle procoagulant activity, and p-selectin levels. Parker BA, Augeri AL, Capizzi JA, Ballard KD, Kupchak BR, Volek JS, Troyanos C, Kriz P, D’Hemecourt P, Thompson PD.Am J Cardiol. 2012 May 15;109(10):1521-5. doi: 10.1016/j.amjcard.2012.01.369. Epub 2012 Feb 18.

Effect of air travel on exercise-induced coagulatory and fibrinolytic activation in marathon runners. Parker B, Augeri A, Capizzi J, Troyanos C, Kriz P, D’Hemecourt P, Thompson P.Clin J Sport Med. 2011 Mar;21(2):126-30. doi: 10.1097/JSM.0b013e31820edfa6.

Time to Eat the Dogs Podcast

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Time to Eat the Dog is going live! Listen to my weekly podcast about exploration, science, and extreme environments. In the first four episodes:

  • Michael Kodas talks about the growing menace of “megafires”
  • Dr. Beth Taylor investigates the science of running
  • Phil Clements discusses the 1963 American Mount Everest Expedition
  • Noel Phillips talks about the rise of women climbers

These episodes are now freely available on Itunes and other podcast platforms. Subscribe to the show wherever you get your podcasts. When you do, please take a few moments to rate and review it. I’d like to hear what you think. If you have an idea for a guest or just want to get in touch, email me at timetoeatthedogs@gmail.com. You can also find episodes links, blog posts, and a lot of exploration-related stuff here.

Here’s a preview of my interview with Dr Beth Taylor on the Science of Running:

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Darwin’s Polar Bear

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L’ours de mer, the Comte de Buffon’s “sea-bear,” from his Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière, 1776. The French polymath paved the way for theories about speciation. (Université de Bordeaux)

By Michael Engelhard

Originally posted on Dispersal of Darwin

Any high school student knows (or should know) how the beaks of Galápagos “finches” (it was in fact the islands’ mockingbirds that were influential)—of species confined to different islands—helped Darwin to develop his ideas about evolution. But few people realize that the polar bear too, informed his grand theory.

Letting his fancy run wild, in On the Origin of Species, the man used to thinking in eons hypothesized “a race of bears being rendered, by natural selection, more and more aquatic in their structure and habits, with larger and larger mouths, till a creature was produced as monstrous as a whale.” Darwin based this speculation on a black bear the fur trader-explorer Samuel Hearne had observed swimming for hours, its mouth wide open, catching insects in the water. If the supply of insects were constant, Darwin thought, and no better-adapted competitors present, such a species could well take shape over time.

Systematic approaches to animals and their respective niches had long fertilized the intellectual landscape. Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, in his Histoire Naturelle (published serially between 1749 and 1788) clearly distinguished a “land-bear” from a “sea-bear.” But his land-bear category was still muddled: it included a “white bear of the forest” as well as a white sea-bear. The count would have likely become aware of polar bears in the boreal forests of Hudson Bay by 1782, when France occupied Prince of Wales Fort at the mouth of the Churchill River. In a 1785 German edition of the Histoire Naturelle, Buffon’s white land-bear looks different from his sea-bear, clearly showing the shorter neck and snout characteristic of brown bears and black bears. Perhaps the count knew about British Columbia’s white black bears or “spirit bears,” which could have confused him. (Other contributions by Buffon were significant. He discovered the first principle of biogeography, noticing that despite similar environments, different regions have distinct plants and animals.) 


Buffon’s classifying of animals by region or habitat—as in the case of the two “different” white bears—prompted later naturalists to try to explain their origins and distribution as resulting from the characteristics of a place. Long before the idea of “habitat” began to infiltrate scientific discourse, the polar bear’s range and that of its prey had been linked to environmental conditions. Synthesizing the work of the Comte de Buffon and other naturalists, the Anglo-Irish Romantic writer Oliver Goldsmith thought the “Greenland bear” exceptional, because it is “the only animal that, by being placed in the coldest climate, grows larger than those that live in the temperate zones. All other species of animated nature diminish as they approach the poles, and seem contracted in their size by the rigours of the ambient atmosphere. . . . In short, all the variations of its figure and its colour seem to proceed from the coldness of the climate where it resides and the nature of the food it is supplied with.” Food availability does play a role in body mass, as does a region’s mean annual temperature, and while polar bears are not the only compact animal thriving in the Arctic such biogeographic observations anticipated the theory of evolution and principles of ecology.

On Svalbard expeditions in the summers of 1858 and 1859, the Scottish nobleman-explorer James Lamont watched polar bears frolic and dive. Intuiting that the animal had become what it is by living on seals, he deduced that the seal and the walrus must have originated first. Lamont assumed that polar bears had evolved from brown bears, “who, finding their means of subsistence running short, and pressed by hunger, ventured on the ice and caught some seals . . . so there is no impossibility in supposing that the brown bears, who by my theory were the progenitors of the present white bears, were accidently driven over to Greenland and Spitzbergen by storms or currents.” The palest brown bears with the greatest amount of external fat, Lamont thought, would have had the best chance to survive and therefore, reproduce. Upon his return, he wrote to Darwin, whose On the Origin of Species had been published in 1859. Encouraged by Darwin’s response, Lamont elaborated upon walrus and polar bear evolution in his 1861 travelogue, Seasons with the Sea-horses. Darwin approved of Lamont’s hypothesis and because Lamont’s thinking on the subject predated the publication of On the Origin of Species, he later credited Lamont (as he did Alfred Russell Wallace) with independently conceiving the theory of natural selection.

The oldest polar bear fossils found are from Svalbard and northern Norway and have been dated at 115,000–130,000 years old, before the beginning of the last Ice Age. But some biologists think that polar bears diverged from brown bears as early as 600,000 years ago. According to current research, polar bears evolved from brown bears that ventured onto the frozen ocean to stalk marine mammals, possibly after climate separated them from the main population descended from a common ancestor. This was not a single, clean-cut departure, and repeated pairings between both species have turned the family tree into a thicket. Shrinking sea ice could force polar bears to mingle with their southern cousins again, particularly as the latter now travel farther north. In coastal Arctic Alaska, grizzlies have been observed feasting on bowhead whale carcasses, sometimes in the company of polar bears and interbreeding has been documented.

After he had been ridiculed for his musings on a future, insect-eating cetacean bear, Darwin altered that passage in the second edition of Origin and removed it from subsequent ones. “The Bear case has been well laughed at, & disingenuously distorted by some into my saying that a bear could be converted into a whale,” the responded to the Irish algae specialist William Henry Harvey. Still, Darwin insisted that “there is no especial difficulty in a Bear’s mouth being enlarged to any degree useful to its changing habits,—no more difficulty than man has found in increasing the crop of the pigeon, by continued selection, until it is literally as big as whole rest of body.” Lamont’s observations and theorizing as well as the later findings about polar bear evolution vindicated the eminent naturalist and his thought experiment.

Michael Engelhard is the author of Ice Bear: The Cultural History of an Arctic Icon (University of Washington Press). Trained as an anthropologist, he now lives in Fairbanks, Alaska and works as a wilderness guide in the Arctic.