Science Lesson

How the OPAL Climate Survey is enlisting the observatory powers of the British public: The OPAL Climate Survey and roadshow

Turn off the lights. Half fill the kettle. Have a shower instead of a bath. Whatever you do in your daily life, you probably don't feel like you're making all that much of a difference in the fight against the relentless march of climate change – which is where the OPAL Climate Survey steps in.

Cold Rush: Arctic ice caps, hidden mineral reserves and a 21st century gold rush

As the world warms and the Arctic's ice caps melt, the region's hidden oil, gas and mineral reserves are slowly being opened up for exploration, causing international rivals to begin jockeying for position. Viel Richardson examines the causes and consequences of a 21st century gold rush

2010: The year of extremes: Extreme weather events from across the globe in 2010

Record highs and drought

Although the 2009/2010 European winter saw some exceptionally cold and snowy periods, the Arctic polar regions and Canada experienced unusually mild winter conditions. Northern Europe experienced its coldest winter for nearly 30 years, while temperatures in some places in the Arctic and Canada reached +6°C above the long-term average and Canada experienced its mildest winter on record.

The winning question: How was the first thermometer calibrated?

The winning question (or, to be accurate, questions) in our Ask the Experts competition has been announced. Congratulations to Richard Ware for soundly testing their knowledge. Just to clarify, the image above is of Galileo, not Richard.

Question

a) How was the first thermometer calibrated?

b) What did Galileo use as a reference? Did he just get his pencil out and start marking the side of the thermometer ""10 ... 20 ... 30 ... 40"" etc?

c) Why did everyone (presumably) accept his findings as pukka? Did anyone query them?

Behind the folklore: cows lying down: Do cows really lie down when it rains?

If a well known piece of old countryside folklore is to be believed, a sure sign of the imminent arrival of rain is the sight of a herd of cows sitting down in a field. But then again, if old countryside folklore is to be believed, black dogs are devils and Londoners can't be trusted, so it's a claim that cries out for further examination.

Behind the folklore: swallows flying high: Do high-flying swallows mean dry weather?

Swallows high – staying dry

Are birds really any good at forecasting the weather?

Before you get all outraged and start demanded my dismissal, what follows is not the ranting of some boorish Richard Keys-alike dinosaur railing against the increasingly high profile of women within the Met Office – it's a simple question about avian behaviour.

If English folklore is to be believed, some of our native birds make for reliable oracles of future weather conditions. The most common form of this particular branch of folklore comes in a neat little rhyming aphorism:

Behind the folklore: red sky at night: Is red sky delightful for shepherds?

Red sky at night, shepherds' (or sailors') delight

Red sky in the morning, shepherds' (or sailors') warning

Other than the prolonged absence of female company, there hasn't been much that has united shepherds and sailors throughout history. But if the two most common forms of this age-old rhyme are to be believed, a mutual love of nocturnal red skies and antipathy towards red-tinged mornings binds these two ancient professions together.