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OpenLearn Live: 27th January 2016

Updated Wednesday, 27th January 2016

The straight-edge storm that's like a sideways tornado. Then more free learning across the day.

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OpenLearn Live brings the world of free learning into the heart of your world. This page will be updated across the day.

Yesterday, we focused on government school policy and explored Mercury

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Today's posts

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day

Toxic fumes

There's been a lot of concern at the quality of air in airplanes - and there's calls today for a proper investigation. Dr Gini Harrison, a Lecturer in Psychology at The Open University, and Dr Sarah Mackenzie Ross of UCL (University College London) have written in the Cortex journal:

Dr Harrison said: “While the existence of a relationship between contaminated cabin air and ill-health may be a potentially expensive and inconvenient truth; the costs of ignoring the possibility of such a relationship are too high to ignore.”

The issue was brought to the fore last year as a coroner investigating the death of airline pilot Richard Westgate, who believed he'd been poisoned by repeated exposure to contaminated air, called for urgent action from British Airways and the Civil Aviation Authority to minimise any future risk of harm. Both organisations responded that no link between exposure to contaminated air and long-term health effects was established – although they noted that such a link can’t be excluded.

Read the full story: Toxic air fumes in aircraft

Read more on the risks of air pollution

We're #1

If you'll forgive us blowing our own trumpets for a moment, MOOCLab, which measures a bunch of metrics for online course providers, has placed OpenLearn at number one in the Open Courseware Providers league table. Our average score was 4/5 across a range of measures, including user interface and number of courses.

On iPlayer now: Thinking Allowed

We're excited here at OpenLearn that one of our partnerships - one even older than the brand itself - has sprung back into life today as we renew our vows with Thinking Allowed. The first programme in the new run went out at 4 this afternoon, and has just appeared on iPlayer. And it's got Angela McRobbie on it, too, which means it keeps getting better. The programme looks at the creative economy - isn't it a bit risky for those involved in it? - and what happens when we spend money on things we don't want to, like security.

Listen to Thinking Allowed on iPlayer

Download the programme as an mp3

See more about the programme

Weather curiosities: Derechos

This week, we're starting up each day with a close look at some strange weather. Yesterday, we heard how heat bursts can suddenly spike temperature. Today, we're staying with storms to explore the derecho.

Derecho Strikes the Eastern United States Creative commons image Icon NASA Goddard Space Flight Center under Creative Commons BY 4.0 license This photo, also available from the NOAA storm summary, was taken in LaPorte, Indiana, on the afternoon of June 29, 2012. It shows a shelf cloud on the leading edge of the derecho.

So, what is a derecho? Effectively, a derecho is a bit like a tornado which, instead of spinning round and round, has been unrolled and crossed the land in a forward-moving straight line. It may have the power of a tornado, but works more like a bulldozer.


To be officially classed as a derecho, the storm must have a damage footprint which extends for more than 240 miles; include gusts of at least 58 miles per hour along most of its length; and include a number of sustained gusts above 75 miles per hour.

As you'd expect, that sort of wind power can do serious damage - a 1980 derecho event in Ohio (the More Trees Down derecho) left six dead and over sixty people seriously injured as trees came down, mobile homes overturned and boats were upended; in 2012, a derecho left over three and a half million without electricity for five days.

It's unlikely that climate change will cause more, or stronger, derechos, according to the US storm prediction service, but where they occur might change - it's likely that as the planet warms, the derecho events will start to occur closer and closer to the poles, following the shift in the jet stream.

Try our free course Watching The Weather





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