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Articles by Kip Keen

Kip Keen writes about science and the environment from his home in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Featured Article

Raise a toast to solar radiation.

The director of the Zurich-based World Radiation Monitoring Center, the organization that measures the amount of solar radiation hitting the ground around the globe, has a strange talent. Give Atsumu Ohmura a glass of white wine and tell him only its vintage, and he’ll swish a mouthful and — without referring to legs, bouquets, or mango backgrounds — announce where the grapes were grown.

His trick? The sweetness of white wine grapes is a function of solar radiation. The more sun a grape plant’s leaves absorb, the more sugar the plant produces and the more sweetness it infuses into the fruit. So if you pay really close attention to the global meteorological records, and in particular the geographic distribution of solar radiation, then when you sense a wine’s sweetness, you can infer its region of origin. “I really trained my tongue for that!” Ohmura exclaims.

Now, maybe you don’t believe him. You might think that the director of the World Radiation Monitoring Center has spent a little too much time baking in the sun. Take it easy, Ohmura; go sit under... Read more