The Ravaging of Puerto Rico’s Forests by Hurricane Maria

Based in Westbury, NY, Valerie Varnuska has a wide range of interests that include stargazing, and attending the theater. Additionally, Valerie Varnuska keeps informed on nature issues around the globe.

Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico in many ways, but scientists have found that the destruction wasn’t limited to the country’s urban areas and infrastructure. The damage of the forests could be a bellwether of more catastrophic things to come. According to an article published in the journal Nature Communications, some of Puerto Rico’s oldest and most storm-resistant trees were destroyed by Maria.

If the current track of climate change isn’t altered, hurricanes are projected to become more and more severe. The results could be disastrous – a complete altering of the growth dynamics in forests, and eventually, the creation of an environment in which trees give off more atmospheric carbon than they absorb. This cascade effect would accelerate climate change and forever alter the way forests function in hurricane-affected areas.


Research Shows Exposure to Nature Boosts Health

Stargazing for Beginners pic

Stargazing for Beginners

Based in Westbury, NY, Valerie Varnuska enjoys a variety of interests, including art, dance, and opera. Also interested in the outdoors, Valerie Varnuska enjoys stargazing and going for walks in nature.

Studies have connected spending time in nature with a number of health benefits. The following research studies are just a few examples.

One Korean study showed research participants pictures of urban versus natures scenes. Researchers used MRI to examine participants after. Those who viewed urban scenes showed a heightened activity level in the anterior temporal pole, or the part of their brain responsible for negative emotions. In contrast, participants who viewed rural photos exhibited increased activity in the areas of the brain associated with pleasure, emotional stability, empathy, and love.

Additional studies have shown that being in nature, or even thinking about nature, can lead to better recovery from stress, as the body’s blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension decrease. Similarly, research shows that the greater the amount of green space a person lives next to, the greater their ability is to recover from stress.

Paleontologists Discover Large Lizard Fossil in Antarctica

Antarctanax shackleton pic

Antarctanax shackleton

Valerie Varnuska possesses a strong interest in multiple subjects, including astronomy and the natural sciences. A resident of Westbury, NY, Valerie Varnuska enjoys learning about new discoveries in paleontology.

To understand the biodiversity that thrived in Antarctica more than 250 million years ago, paleontologists brave the inhospitable environment to unearth fossils. Many of the specimens date back to the period following the end-Permian mass extinction, which killed more than 90 percent of the animals on earth.

In the January 2019 edition of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, a team of South African and American researchers published their discovery of an Antarctic lizard fossil. The iguana-like Antarctanax shackleton, a distant ancestor of dinosaurs and modern-day crocodiles, proliferated in Antarctica after the mass extinction.

By analyzing bone samples, the scientists theorize that Antarctanax shackleton was a carnivore that ate small animals and insects. The discovery suggests that Antarctica’s once-lush ecosystem served as a habitat to a more diverse group of reptiles, mammals, and insects than previously thought.

Astronomers Find Solar System’s Most Distant Dwarf Planet


2018 VG18 pic

2018 VG18

A resident of Westbury, NY, Valerie Varnuska has a passion for science. Valerie Varnuska enjoys spending much of her free time star gazing and studying astronomy.

On December 17, the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center announced the discovery of a pink dwarf planet that exists roughly 120 astronomical units (AU) from the Earth, which is the equivalent of 120 times the distance between Earth and the sun. The planet was officially named 2018 VG18, but was also given the nickname Farout due to its being the most far out planet observed in the solar system to date. Pluto, by comparison, orbits at 34 AUs, while Eris, which was previously the most distant object observed in the solar system, is 96 AUs away.

The planet was first observed in November via the Hawaii-based Subaru 8-meter telescope, and its existence was later confirmed by the Magellan telescope at Chile’s Las Campanas Observatory. It is estimated to be 310 miles in diameter, which is one-third the size of Pluto. Its pinkish hue leads researchers to believe it is covered in ice.

Recent Paleontology Discoveries Center on LUCA, Fish Skeletons

 Last Universal Common Ancestor pic

Last Universal Common Ancestor

A resident of Westbury, NY, Valerie Varnuska enjoys the fitness benefits of the natural world and has a passion for watching the stars. Another of Valerie Varnuska’s interests is paleontology, which focuses on the fossil record of plants and animals and provides a better understanding of the earth’s past.

A recent Forbes article brought attention to landmark discoveries of 2018, including the positing of a Last Universal Common Ancestor (LUCA). A single-celled organism that likely resembled a bacterium, LUCA cannot be less than 3.9 million years old, as this is the moment at which key splits encompassing 102 species and 29 genes first occurred. At the same time, LUCA may be significantly older than 3.9 million years and may indeed extend to 4.5 billion years and the formation of Earth.

Another study involved building a database spanning 3,000 fish fossils from between 480 to 360 million years old. A key finding was that the oldest vertebrate fossils developed in environments close to the shore, including lagoons and tidal zones. Their descendants then fanned out across the ocean. One impetus for this evolution may have been waves constantly crashing along the shore, which necessitated stronger skeletons and a backbone.