Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Horsehead Nebula: Herschel telescope images astronomical classic....

One of the classics of astronomy, the Horsehead Nebula, has been re-imaged by Europe's soon-to-retire Herschel space telescope.
Europe's Herschel space telescope has imaged one of the most popular subjects in the sky - the Horsehead Nebula - and its environs.

The distinctively shaped molecular gas cloud is sited some 1,300 light-years from Earth in the Constellation Orion.

It is in a region of space undergoing active star formation - something Herschel has been most keen to study.

The Hubble space observatory has also returned to the Horsehead scene, to celebrate 23 years in orbit.

Together, these two great facilities give scientists a much broader insight into what is taking place in this familiar patch of the heavens.

Hubble's new view of the Horsehead Nebula Hubble's new view of the Horsehead Nebula, a large cloud of hydrogen laced with dust

"You need images at all scales and at all wavelengths in astronomy in order to understand the big picture and the small detail," said Prof Matt Griffin, the principal investigator on Herschel's SPIRE instrument.

"In this new Herschel view, the Horsehead looks like a little feature - a pimple. In reality, of course, it is a very large entity in its own right, but in this great sweep of a picture from Herschel you can see that the nebula is set within an even larger, molecular-cloud complex where there is a huge amount of material and a great range of conditions," the Cardiff University, UK, researcher told BBC News.

To provide a sense of scale, the Horsehead Nebula, also known in the catalogues as "Barnard 33", is about five light-years "tall".

Hubble sees the Horsehead in near-infrared light. Herschel, on the other hand, goes to much longer wavelengths. This allows it to see the glow coming directly from cold gas and dust - the material that will eventually collapse under gravity to form the next generation of stars.

Scientists are particularly keen to understand the mechanisms that drive the production of the biggest stars - objects much more massive than our own Sun that form relatively fast, burn bright but brief lives, and interact strongly with their environment, influencing the next round of star formation.

Herschel Space Telescope
 Herschel mirror
  • Herschel is one of the largest space telescopes ever launched; its 3.5m diameter mirror perfectly captures infrared light
  • Infrared shines through gas and dust clouds that can block visible light - Herschel can see deep into dusty star-forming regions
  • The telescope is named after the astronomer William Herschel who discovered infrared radiation while studying the Sun in 1800
  • The Earth's atmosphere absorbs infrared, so Herschel was launched into space in 2009 to get a clear view of the infrared Universe

The Orion Molecular Cloud Complex is one of the best and nearest regions in space to study this activity.

Prof Griffin explained: "You can see all the things we look for in Herschel images - the filaments, the bubbles; the wispy material, the reddish material that hasn't yet actually started to form stars.

"You can also see nebulosity where material has been lit up from inside by stars; and features like the Horsehead Nebula where that star formation has yet to really get going."

Hubble's new view was acquired by its Wide Field Camera-3 instrument, which was installed by astronauts on the last shuttle servicing mission in 2009.

The image was taken to celebrate its 23rd birthday in orbit. It was launched on 24 April 1990.

The much shorter wavelengths at which Hubble works means it can produce finer, sharper detail than Herschel.

It illustrates particularly well the way the ultraviolet glare and stellar winds from nearby stars are sculpting the dusty stellar nursery.

Hubble hopefully has quite a few years of operations left in it. Herschel does not.

Scientists are expecting to lose the telescope any day now.

The superfluid helium it uses to cool its instruments and their detectors is all but gone. When the supply runs completely dry, Herschel will warm from its ultra-low functioning temperature and go blind.

A scholarly paper describing Herschel's investigation of the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex has been published in the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Vexillology or Fun With Flags: Northern Mariana Islands....

Northern Mariana Islands
The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands is one of two Commonwealths of the United States; the other is Puerto Rico.
Capital: Saipan
National anthem: Gi Talo Gi Halom Tasi
Government: Representative democracy, Presidential system
Population: 61,174 (c.2011) World Bank
Official language: English Language, Chamorro Language, Carolinian Language

The Flag of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands was adopted on July 4, 1976. In common with other states of the Pacific, such as the Marshall Islands and Nauru, the flag for the Northern Mariana Islands (NMI) shows a blue field and a white star. The decorative wreath or mwarmwar was added in 1981, and maintains the link between the islands and its sacred history and customs.

Located to the south of Japan and to the north of Guam, the Northern Marianas consist of 14 islands with the main ones being Rota, Saipan and Tinian. All of the islands were originally volcanic and each one boasts a variety of scenery including stunning bays, spectacular cliffs, fascinating caves and imposing mountains. The Marianas played a significant part in World War II and visitors will find there are a great many shipwrecks which bear witness to this. Along with these wrecks, an abundance of coral reefs and tropical fish make diving in the clear waters particularly good.

Out of all of the islands, Saipan has been developed specifically towards tourism and houses museums, parks, memorials and countless natural attractions. The beaches surrounding the island are brimming with pristine white sands, crystal clear waters and a whole host of water and beach sports. Many of the attractions are geared towards Japanese and Korean tourists as they are the majority of visitors, but there are many Western attractions and restaurants located throughout. You will find a number of hotels, both by the beach and inland. They vary in standard with some of the area’s most luxurious hotels lining the coastal road. Regardless of star rating, the hotels offer excellent service and good facilities.

Tinian and Rota are fairly quiet in comparison and have been much less developed. They are ideal for a quiet getaway where you can forget all about your daily life and chores. They boast stunning beaches and scenic parks as well as many WWII wrecks in the surrounding waters. Tinian is famous for being the launch point for the Hiroshima bombings as well as being a base for the Japanese military. You will find countless reminders of the war such as cannons, memorials and artillery on display. Both islands offer ample accommodation and some good quality hotels, although you won’t find the range that there is on Saipan.

Much of the islands’ history is based on WWII and while you will find many sites dedicated to the memory of soldiers who lost their lives, and museums telling stories of the war, there is much more to all three islands. They offer visitors the chance to see natural beauty at its best and indigenous wildlife in the countryside surrounding the towns. If you have children, they will not fail to be impressed by the beaches, parks, zoos and nature reserves on offer.

However old you are and whatever your tastes, a visit to one of the Northern Mariana Islands will ensure a relaxing break in one of the most beautiful areas in the world. The local people are incredibly proud of their country and try their hardest to ensure that every visitor experiences a trip of a lifetime.


Throughout the whole of the Northern Mariana Islands, temperatures throughout the year are invariable. Saipan is in The Guinness Book of Records for experiencing the world's most constant temperature, averaging 27°C all year round.

Throughout the islands, humidity is always high but because temperatures rarely reach above 30°C and also because of the daily sea breezes, conditions are rarely unbearable. Whenever you visit, you can be guaranteed sunshine, even in the notorious rainy season.

The rainy season lasts from July through until November and despite seeing a great deal of rain, there are still intermittent blue skies. One thing to watch out for however is the typhoons. These will undoubtedly wreak havoc and cause devastation as well as injuries. If you are travelling during typhoon season, be sure to heed all advice if one hits. The dry season generally lasts from December through until June, although it is still possible to see some rainfall, especially as the humidity builds. It is advised to always take rainwear, regardless of when you go.


The first European to arrive on the islands was Ferdinand Magellan who arrived in 1521. He landed on nearby Guam and claimed all of the islands for Spain. Magellan was met offshore by the native Chamorros who were very hospitable, offing refreshments and kindness. Unfortunately, relations soon to a turn for the worst as in Chamorro culture, there was no such thing as private property and a small fishing boat that belonged to Magellan was taken and used. It was not robbery or a crime in the Chamorro culture. The Spanish did not see it this way and dozens of locals were killed and a village of 40 homes burned before the boat was retrieved.

The islands immediately earned their title ‘Islas de los Ladrones’ (or ‘Islands of the Thieves’) and because of clashes of culture, Magellan fled the archipelago under attack just three short days after his arrival.

From this point on, the islands were considered to be annexed by the Spanish and were left under the control of the Philippines as part of the Spanish East Indies. In 1668, the archipelago’s name was changed to Las Marianas. Nearly all of the islands' native population died out under Spanish rule, but new settlers from the Philippines and the Caroline Islands were brought in to raise numbers again.

The Marianas came under German control for a brief period when Spain sold them to Germany, without Guam, but in 1919, the Japanese invaded and were eventually awarded them by mandate.

The Japanese used the islands as a military outpost and did not treat the natives well. At the time, they were allies to Nazi Germany and as such, they believed themselves to be a superior race. The Japanese tortured and killed many natives from the newley named Northern Marianas.

On 15 June 1944, US Marines landed on the islands and eventually won the bitterly fought three-week Battle of Saipan. This however was not the end of war in the Marianas as Saipan was the launching point for the bombing of Hiroshima. After Japan's defeat in WWII, the islands were administered by the United States as part of the United Nations Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. Defence and foreign affairs became the responsibility of the US which suited the locals and independence was not sought. A commonwealth in political union with the US was established in 1975 and a new government and constitution went into effect in 1978.

In the early 1990s, workers from all across Asia were drawn to Saipan with the promise of high wages and American citizenship. This was not the case and instead, they found sweatshops. In 1999, hundreds of workers filed law suits against several American clothing designers and retailers.

The clothing industry was once Saipan’s biggest earner, but in 2006, lost out to gambling revenue. Poker machines can be found in every village and the increase in gambling has increased social problems among many locals. It is one influence from the US that many are desperate to keep their distance from.

The Northern Mariana Islands may not boast dozens of theme parks or exciting children’s museums, but they are home to some wonderful wildlife, stunning beaches and warm waters. Kids will love getting close to nature at one of the many beaches and parks found all across the islands, while for those looking to get closer to animals; you will be in your element at Saipan Zoo.

People love spending time at the beach and Saipan’s beaches are regarded as the best in Micronesia. The most popular beach is Micro Beach, a one kilometre stretch of white sand with a play park and water sport facilities for children. Lau Lau Beach is great for swimming, while Obyan Beach offers spectacular views of Tinian Island. The island of Tinian boasts a wide array of water sports, suitable for any age group, and many places for family picnics.

Saipan Zoo

Saipan Zoo is a great place to bring the kids to teach them about indigenous animals as well as animals from all across the world. You will find lions, tigers, monkeys, black bears, racoons, foxes and parrots as well as many more animals each in their own enclosures housing information and fun facts. There is also an on-site café and souvenir shop for some treats when you have finished.


While your children will be too young to scuba dive, snorkeling in the shallow waters will allow them to see many wonderful sights and dozens of species of tropical fish. The warm waters are incredibly welcoming and full of fascinating finds. Always make sure you heed instructions with regards to undercurrents and safety.


Water sports can be found in abundance across all of the islands, especially the three main ones: Saipan, Tinian and Rota. Jet skiing is popular as it allows speed freaks to make the most of the ocean and certainly gets the adrenalin pumping. The gentle trade winds that blow inland offer good conditions for windsurfers. The winds blow in all year regardless of the time of year. For those who would like to experience panoramic views, parasailing offers a unique opportunity to see the islands from the 30 metres above land. You are guaranteed never to have a view like it and it takes no experience to try it. Water skiing however requires a little bit of experience otherwise the chances are that you will never stand up. Once you are standing however, you will be sure to enjoy an adrenaline pumping ride.

The Northern Mariana Islands offer world class scuba diving with an abundance of coral reefs, caves and caverns, tropical sea life and fascinating wrecks. Saipan boasts over 18 different dive sites, including ‘The Grotto’, which was voted the number two cavern diving site in the world. There is a steep climb down of 103 steps leading to an impressive underground cavern with a high dome ceiling. The waters of Tinian are full of WWII relics which make for fascinating dives while Rota is home to a number of wrecks to explore including a Japanese WWII freighter. All three islands offer excellent snorkeling for those who cannot dive.

The islands offer a multitude of opportunities for golf fanatics. Saipan’s courses offer something for every level of golfer, ranging from beginner to professional. The courses all boast stunning ocean views and most have excellent facilities. You do not have to be a member to enjoy a round of golf on any courses across all of the islands, although booking in advance is advised.

U.S. microbreweries on the rise....

With so many choices, we take the guesswork out of buying craft beer....
The craft beer business is booming, according to recent statistics released by the Brewers Association. With nearly 2,000 microbreweries operating in the United States, the selection of beers can be overwhelming. We explored the world of craft beer to help you make sense of the thousands of choices now available.


The Brewers Association defines an American craft brewer as a “small, independent, and traditional” brewery, which produces six million barrels of beer or less per year. The craft brewing movement began in the 1980s as a response to the domination of big-business beers over the brewing industry, according to the brewers association. The group cites big-industry marketing campaigns “that changed America’s beer preference to light-adjunct lager.”

Craft beers, meanwhile, are characterized by “better ingredients and a wider variety of styles,” says Natalie Phillips, beer manager at Belmont Party Supply in Dayton.

Craft beer’s focus is on perfecting more flavorful varieties like porter, pale ale and bock. Plenty of craft lagers are out there, too, but usually bear little resemblance to their mainstream cousins.

Smaller breweries have more control over their offerings and generally boast a wider selection than larger operations. Steve Hill of Magic Hat Brewing Company in South Burlington, Vermont describes the brewery’s quirky offerings.

“At any given time of year, we have about seven different beers in market,” he said. “We also have a little room to experiment with beer for special events like the Vermont Brewer’s Festival and the Great American Beer Festival in Denver.”

Despite their small size, many craft breweries, including Magic Hat, offer many of their beers nationally.


Closer to home, several craft beer companies are brewing up success. The Dayton Beer Company, which opened in Kettering in May, offers a growing selection of flavorful brews, including Broken Trolley Blonde Ale.

“I started The Dayton Beer Company through my love for tasting and creating great beers,” says owner Pete Hilgeman. “And want to both bring those creations to people and revive the forgotten brewing tradition that Dayton was known for.”

In Cincinnati, Mt. Carmel Brewing Company offers up beers to Ohioans and a lucky few in Northern Kentucky. Small but mighty, the company brews about 4,800 barrels of beer per year, which includes “five year rounds, four seasonals, and a few specialties,” according to spokesman Mike Dewey.


It’s easy to be seduced by the eye-catching labels and tongue-twisting titles that craft brewers are known for, but what’s in the bottle beneath the work of art?

“There are two different categories of beer: lager and ale,” explains Phillips. Ales are top-fermenters, which brew at warmer temperatures. Lagers are bottom-fermenters and brew at cooler temps. Lagers are generally crisper and don’t linger on the palate, says Phillips. By contrast, the ale family – including stouts, porters, and IPAs – can have a bitter or “hoppy” flavor, she said.

You’ll find a lot of variety from brewery to brewery, but here are some general rules of thumb. If a label says:

Smooth: It is a crisp beer with little bitterness.

Robust/Dark/Full-Bodied: It usually refers to “stouts and porters, which are brewed with darker malts,” says Phillips.

Hops: This indicate a bitter taste, and malt gives beer a sweetness.

Seasonal: These beers are available in limited release and often brewed with fruit or spices. For example, available now are Bell’s Oberon, Magic Hat’s Elder Betty, or Saranac’s Summer Ale.


Dewey suggests new drinkers “try lower alcohol ales such as blondes, ambers and pales. Lagers tend to be on the sweet side, and ales can have a tremendous amount of complexity while still being very sessionable beers.”

You might surprise yourself, said Hilgeman.

“Keep an open mind,” says Hilgeman, “and try as many different styles and beers as you can. You may end up liking a style or beer that you never would have thought you could enjoy.”

Hill suggests those new to craft beers start slow, “especially if you’ve been raised on the adjunct lagers like Bud and Miller.” Since most mainstream beers are indeed lagers, start there. Keep in mind though, not all lagers taste exactly the same.

Pale ales are an acquired taste for most. Hill says “some folks can just grab a double IPA and jump right in there,” but the bitterness factor usually takes some getting used to. Magic Hat’s signature brew, #9, billed as the “not quite Pale Ale,” is the perfect way to dip your toes in the Pale Ale pool.

Guinness fans might like a coffee, milk, or chocolate stout or a flavored porter like Breckenridge Vanilla Porter.

Some milder ales to try include Brooklyn Brown Ale by the Brooklyn Brewing Company, Goose Island’s Matilda, and Nut Brown Ale by the Mt. Carmel Brewing Company of Cincinnati.

Whatever beer you choose, heed Hill’s words of wisdom.

“Make sure there’s a craft beer-loving friend around who will make sure it doesn’t go to waste if you don’t like it,” Hill said. “Try as many different styles and ingredients as possible. Craft brewers can brew with anything from green tea to kombucha to chocolate and ginger. There’s something for everyone.”

Craft beer lingo

IPA – India Pale Ale, not to be confused with “light” beer. A very bitter ale with citrus notes.
Hops – bitter herb used to preserve ales and balance the sweetness of the malt
Malt –often barley, but sometimes wheat or rye, dried by a special process that creates sweetness
Lager – a popular, smooth beer style. The lager family includes bock and pilsner.

EU member states see boost in renewables use....

The 27 EU member states increased their consumption of renewable energy by 13% in 2011, according to the recent figures by Eurostat.
The EU’s statistical office states that over the past two years, most European countries have increased their production of energy from renewable sources.

Although Sweden, Latvia, Finland and Austria had the highest absolute shares, the EU has set different goals for each nation according to their individual characteristics and circumstances. Estonia was the first to reach its target of 25% of renewables in the final energy production.

It is always nice to be among the leaders”, said the Estonian Liberal MEP Kristiina Ojuland, “but I think that we were able to achieve this because of a very clear governmental policy and commitment to investments in the sector.”

She added, Also the Estonian people are mentally very open to renewable energy. Being a small country, it is easier to get something done when there is a political will.”

Estonia’s growth in production of renewables has been consistent: from 18% in 2008, to 24% in 2010 and 25% in 2011.

Meanwhile, the UK has one of the lowest shares of renewables, which made up just 3.8% of its gross final energy consumption in 2011. With a 2020 target of 15%, it has a long way to go.

Indeed, only a small minority of renewables firms in the UK believe this target will be met, with 96% of the industry apprehensive about it, according to a recent confidence survey conducted by trade body the Renewable Energy Association.

An Australian report suggested this week that China is on track to meeting its climate targets after ramping up investment in clean energy.

Cook Something Different: Halvah Shortbread....

Halvah Shortbread :


  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • ½ cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • pinch of salt
  • 1¼ cups brown sugar
  • 2 cups unbleached pastry flour
  • ½ cup toasted pecans or walnuts, chopped or ground
  • a few pecan or walnut halves


  1. Preheat oven to 375° F .
  2. Cream the butter with the tahini, using a food processor or electric mixer, or by hand. Add the salt and brown sugar, and blend until smooth.
  3. Sprinkle in the flour, blending well. Mix in the chopped or ground nuts. The dough will be very stiff.
  4. Lightly butter two 7-inch pie plates or shallow baking pans. Press the dough to evenly cover the bottom of the pie plates to a thickness of no more than 1 inch. Press a few nut halves into the surface to decorate.
  5. Bake for 15 minutes. Check the short-bread frequently, and remove it from the oven as soon as the edges are golden-brown.
  6. While it is still warm, cut each short-bread into 8 or 10 wedges in the pan (if you wait until it is cool to cut it, it will crumble).

The Case of the Missing Carbon.....

Alone in a sealed jar, a mouse would die from exhaled CO2. But as scientist Joseph Priestley observed in 1771, adding a mint plant allows the mouse to thrive. In this proof of photosynthesis, the mint absorbed CO2, retained carbon for growth, and released oxygen. Two centuries later humans tried—and failed—to survive in a sealed environment in Arizona's Biosphere 2.

It's there on a monitor: the forest is breathing. Late summer sunlight filters through a canopy of green as Steven Wofsy unlocks a shed in a Massachusetts woodland and enters a room stuffed with equipment and tangled with wires and hoses.

The machinery monitors the vital functions of a small section of Harvard Forest in the center of the state. Bright red numbers dance on a gauge, flickering up and down several times a second. The reading reveals the carbon dioxide concentration just above the treetops near the shed, where instruments on a hundred-foot (30-meter) tower of steel lattice sniff the air. The numbers are running surprisingly low for the beginning of the 21st century: around 360 parts per million, ten less than the global average. That's the trees' doing. Basking in the sunshine, they inhale carbon dioxide and turn it into leaves and wood.

In nourishing itself, this patch of pine, oak, and maple is also undoing a tiny bit of a great global change driven by humanity. Start the car, turn on a light, adjust the thermostat, or do just about anything, and you add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. If you're an average resident of the United States, your contribution adds up to more than 5.5 tons (5 metric tons) of carbon a year.

The coal, oil, and natural gas that drive the industrial world's economy all contain carbon inhaled by plants hundreds of millions of years ago—carbon that now is returning to the atmosphere through smokestacks and exhaust pipes, joining emissions from forest burned to clear land in poorer countries. Carbon dioxide is foremost in an array of gases from human activity that increase the atmosphere's ability to trap heat. (Methane from cattle, rice fields, and landfills, and the chlorofluorocarbons in some refrigerators and air conditioners are others.) Few scientists doubt that this greenhouse warming of the atmosphere is already taking hold. Melting glaciers, earlier springs, and a steady rise in global average temperature are just some of its harbingers.

By rights it should be worse. Each year humanity dumps roughly 8.8 billion tons (8 metric tons) of carbon into the atmosphere, 6.5 billion tons (5.9 metric tons) from fossil fuels and 1.5 billion (1.4 metric) from deforestation. But less than half that total, 3.2 billion tons (2.9 metric tons), remains in the atmosphere to warm the planet. Where is the missing carbon? "It's a really major mystery, if you think about it," says Wofsy, an atmospheric scientist at Harvard University. His research site in the Harvard Forest is apparently not the only place where nature is breathing deep and helping save us from ourselves. Forests, grasslands, and the waters of the oceans must be acting as carbon sinks. They steal back roughly half of the carbon dioxide we emit, slowing its buildup in the atmosphere and delaying the effects on climate.

Who can complain? No one, for now. But the problem is that scientists can't be sure that this blessing will last, or whether, as the globe continues to warm, it might even change to a curse if forests and other ecosystems change from carbon sinks to sources, releasing more carbon into the atmosphere than they absorb. The doubts have sent researchers into forests and rangelands, out to the tundra and to sea, to track down and understand the missing carbon.

This is not just a matter of intellectual curiosity. Scorching summers, fiercer storms, altered rainfall patterns, and shifting species—the disappearance of sugar maples from New England, for example—are some of the milder changes that global warming might bring. And humanity is on course to add another 200 to 600 parts per million to atmospheric carbon dioxide by late in the century. At that level, says Princeton University ecologist Steve Pacala, "all kinds of terrible things could happen, and the universe of terrible possibilities is so large that probably some of them will." Coral reefs could vanish; deserts could spread; currents that ferry heat from the tropics to northern regions could change course, perhaps chilling the British Isles and Scandinavia while the rest of the globe keeps warming.

If nature withdraws its helping hand—if the carbon sinks stop absorbing some of our excess carbon dioxide—we could be facing drastic changes even before 2050, a disaster too swift to avoid. But if the carbon sinks hold out or even grow, we might have extra decades in which to wean the global economy from carbon-emitting energy sources. Some scientists and engineers believe that by understanding natural carbon sinks, we may be able to enhance them or even create our own places to safely jail this threat to global climate.

The backdrop for these hopes and fears is a natural cycle as real as your own breathing and as abstract as the numbers on Wofsy's instruments. In 1771, about the time of the first stirrings of the industrial revolution and its appetite for fossil fuel, an English minister grasped key processes of the natural carbon cycle. In a series of ingenious experiments, Joseph Priestley found that flames and animals' breath "injure" the air in a sealed jar, making it unwholesome to breathe. But a green sprig of mint, he found, could restore its goodness. Priestley could not name the gases responsible, but we know now that the fire and respiration used up oxygen and gave off carbon dioxide. The mint reversed both processes. Photosynthesis took up the carbon dioxide, converted it into plant tissue, and gave off oxygen as a by-product.

The world is just a bigger jar. Tens of billions of tons of carbon a year pass between land and the atmosphere: given off by living things as they breathe and decay and taken up by green plants, which produce oxygen. A similar traffic in carbon, between marine plants and animals, takes place within the waters of the ocean. And nearly a hundred billion tons of carbon diffuse back and forth between ocean and atmosphere.

Compared with these vast natural exchanges, the few billion tons of carbon that humans contribute to the atmosphere each year seem paltry. Yet like a finger on a balance, our steady contributions are throwing the natural cycle out of whack. The atmosphere's carbon backup is growing: Its carbon dioxide level has risen by some 30 percent since Priestley's time. It may now be higher than it has been in at least 20 million years.

Pieter Tans is one of the scientists trying to figure out why those numbers aren't even worse. At a long, low National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) laboratory set against pine-clad foothills in Boulder, Colorado, Tans and his colleagues draw conclusions from the subtlest of clues. They measure minute differences in the concentration of carbon dioxide in air samples collected at dozens of points around the globe by weather stations, airplanes, and ships.

These whiffs of air are stacked against a wall in Tans's lab in 2.6-quart (2.5-liter) glass flasks. Because the churning of the atmosphere spreads carbon dioxide just about evenly around the planet, concentrations in the bottles don't differ by more than a fraction of a percent. But the differences hold clues to the global pattern of carbon dioxide sources and sinks. Scientists calculate, for example, that carbon dioxide should pile up in the Northern Hemisphere, which has most of the world's cars and industry. But the air samples show a smaller than expected difference from south to north. That means, Tans says, that "there has to be a very large sink of carbon in the Northern Hemisphere."

Other clues in the air samples hint at what that sink is. Both the waters of the ocean and the plants on land steal carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But they leave different fingerprints behind. Because plants give off oxygen when they absorb carbon dioxide, a plant sink would lead to a corresponding oxygen increase. But when carbon dioxide dissolves in the ocean, no oxygen is added to the atmosphere.

Plants taking in carbon dioxide also change what they leave behind. That's because plants prefer gas that contains carbon 12, a lighter form of the carbon atom. The rejected gas, containing carbon 13, builds up in the atmosphere. The ocean, though, does not discriminate, leaving the carbon ratio unchanged. From these clues, Tans and others have found that while the ocean is soaking up almost half the globe's missing carbon—2 billion tons (1.8 billion metric tons) of it—the sink in the Northern Hemisphere appears to be the work of land plants. Their appetite for carbon dioxide surges and ebbs, but they remove, on average, more than 2 billion tons (1.8 billion metric tons) of carbon a year.

Forests like Wofsy's are one place where it's happening. For more than a decade his group has monitored the carbon dioxide traffic between the trees and the air. Instruments on his tower track air above the treetops as wind and solar heating stir it. As each waft of air passes the tower, sensors measure its carbon dioxide content. The theory is simple, says Wofsy: "If an air parcel going up has less carbon dioxide than an air parcel going down, you have carbon dioxide being deposited onto the forest."

The amount changes fast. "Sunshine, perhaps the temperature, rainfall over the past week—all those factors affect what the forest does on an hour-to-hour basis," he says. Even a passing cloud can dampen photosynthesis, spoiling the trees' appetite for carbon. In winter, when leaves fall and decay, more carbon dioxide—a by-product of plant respiration and decomposition—seeps back out of the forest and into the atmosphere. Still, over more than ten years, the bottom line of billions of measurements has been positive. On balance, Harvard Forest is sieving carbon from the atmosphere.

It shows in the trees and on the forest floor. To check that their high-tech air measurements weren't somehow being fooled, Wofsy's group strapped calibrated steel bands around trees to measure their growth, gathered and weighed deadfall, and set up bins to collect fallen leaves. The idea was to measure just how much carbon-containing wood and other organic matter was building up in the forest, and to see if it matched the gas measurements. It did. Each acre of the forest has been taking roughly 0.8 ton (0.75 metric ton) of carbon out of the atmosphere annually, doing its humble part to counteract greenhouse warming.

Worrisome signs begin on the aircraft approach to Anchorage. As the route skirts the hundred-mile-wide (161-kilometer-wide) Kenai Peninsula, ugly gray gaps appear in the dark green canopy of spruce below. Since the early 1990s bark beetles have been on the rampage in the Kenai, killing spruce on more than 2-million acres (809,000 hectares) there. Farther south in the Kenai, says Glenn Juday, a forest ecologist at the University of Alaska, skeletal trees stretch from horizon to horizon.

"It's the largest single area of trees killed by insects in North America," says Juday. "No outbreak this size has happened in the past 250 years."

The vast tracts of dead trees will ultimately send their carbon back to the atmosphere when decay or fire consumes them. A warming climate is likely to blame, Juday and others believe. Warmth favors the beetle by speeding up its life cycle and improving its chance of surviving the winter. And as Juday has found in his study area, warming also stresses the hardy northern trees, making them less able to fight off infestation.

Two hundred seventy miles (434 kilometers) north of the Kenai, on a hillside just west of Fairbanks, the Parks Loop Stand appears to the unschooled eye to be thriving. But Juday, who has worked in this grove of hundred-foot-tall (30-meter-tall) white spruce for 15 years, knows practically every tree's biography—and he is concerned. Heavier, wetter snowfalls have broken off branches and crowns.

The trees have also been assaulted by a pest new to northern Alaska, the spruce budworm.

The first outbreak of spruce budworm in this region was recorded in 1989, and Juday thinks the warmer climate is again to blame. Sickly orange branches high in the trees and ragged spruce seedlings festooned with black pupae show that the budworm is still at work. "This was a healthy, beautiful white spruce stand," says Juday. But so many trees have died that the formerly dense canopy has opened up, and the moss that carpeted the shadowy floor has given way to sun-loving grasses.

It's not just the snow and the pests. On the jagged stump of a recently fallen tree Juday points to another fingerprint of warming. The 200-year-old tree's growth rings are thick at the core of the stump, but the outermost rings, representing the tree's last few decades of life, are as thin as puff pastry layers. Juday believes the tree's growth has been slowing because of hotter summers. Thin rings are a sign that the trees are undergoing stress, running short of water in the heat.

Since that finding, Juday's group has examined cores from black spruce, another major tree type in interior Alaska. It too grows more slowly in warmer years because of moisture stress. The future of the northern forest could be bleak. Assuming that Alaska continues to warm at the rate some climate models predict, Juday's analysis points to "zero white-spruce growth" by 2090. If that happened, the boreal forest as we know it would be no more. A smaller carbon storehouse could take its place—perhaps a grassy parkland dotted with aspen groves, Juday suggests. Substantial amounts of carbon dioxide could be released into the atmosphere from the corpse of the old forest.

Across the far north a still bigger pulse of greenhouse gas could come from the soil. In a somber grove of black spruce on the broad floodplain of the Tanana River south of Fairbanks, Jamie Hollingsworth, who manages an ecological research site at the University of Alaska, sinks a 4-foot (1.2-meter) steel probe into a damp carpet of moss. It slips in easily at first, then stops abruptly about three feet (one meter) in. Hollingsworth digs through a foot-thick (0.3-meter-thick) layer of moss, roots, and decaying needles, then scoops aside the silty soil below until his shovel grates on the hard permafrost that defeated the probe. Chipping off a clod or two, he reveals silvery veins of ice.

That eternal ice is in jeopardy across much of the far north. Near Fairbanks, at the heart of Alaska, the soil has warmed as much as 3 degrees Fahrenheit (5.4 degrees Celsius) over the past 40 years, putting large tracts of permafrost in danger of thawing. Here and there—even at spots on the university campus—it has already crossed the threshold, and melting has left the ground unstable and boggy.

Farther north there's a larger margin of safety.

Fires can speed up the melting. In the summer of 2001 a fire raced through a hundred thousand acres (40,000 hectares) of floodplain forest along the Tanana. The charred snags now stand on bare sand and silt, in many places burned clean of the usual thick moss carpet. The moss is critical to the permafrost: It insulates the soil, keeping it at subfreezing temperatures and helping preserve the ice through the summer. Any permafrost in the fire zone is now in danger of thawing—and hotter summers have made fires more common in many parts of the north, including Siberia and western Canada.

Climate experts keep a worried eye on the permafrost because vast reserves of peat and other carbon-rich organic material are frozen into it—a global trove of carbon estimated at 200 billion tons (181.4 metric tons). For hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years low temperatures entombed it. Now, says Terry Chapin of the University of Alaska, "it's potentially a very large time bomb."

The permafrost's full megatonnage isn't certain. Some of the subterranean ice would create bogs when it melted, and the oxygen-poor waters of bogs can inhibit decay and keep the carbon locked up. But northern warming could well bring a drier climate, and that could open the way to a worst-case scenario, says NOAA's Tans. "If, due to warming in the Arctic, the permafrost warmed up and dried out, most of that carbon could be released." The atmospheric level of carbon dioxide could jump by a hundred parts per million as a result, he says—more than 25 percent above current levels.

So where in nature can we look for salvation? Until recently climate scientists hoped it would come from farther south. In temperate and tropical vegetation, they thought, a negative feedback effect called carbon fertilization might rein in the carbon dioxide rise. Plants need carbon dioxide to grow, and scientists have found that in laboratory chambers well-nourished plants bathed in high-carbon dioxide air show a surge of growth. So out in the real world, it seemed, plants would grow faster and faster as carbon dioxide built up in the atmosphere, stashing more carbon in their stems, trunks, and roots and helping to slow the atmospheric buildup. Such a growth boost could, for example, turn mature tropical forests—which normally don't soak up any more carbon than they give off—into carbon dioxide sponges.

Alas, it appears not to work. At Duke University's forest in North Carolina, William Schlesinger and his colleagues have been giving hundred-foot-wide (30-meter-wide) plots of pines a sniff of the future. Over each plot a ring of towers emits carbon dioxide at just the right rate to keep the concentration in the trees at 565 parts per million, the level the real atmosphere might reach by midcentury. When the experiment started seven years ago, the trees showed an initial pulse of growth.

"These trees woke up to high carbon dioxide and were able to make good with it for a couple of years," says Schlesinger. But then the growth spurt petered out, and the trees' growth has slipped most of the way back to normal. That's not to say that high carbon dioxide didn't have some long-term effects. Poison ivy, for some reason, "is one of the winners," says Schlesinger, with a sustained growth rate 70 percent faster than normal. And allergy sufferers will not be pleased to learn that the carbon dioxide-fertilized pines produced extravagant amounts of pollen.

To take advantage of a carbon dioxide bonanza, it seems, most plants also need extra nitrogen and other nutrients. Schlesinger's experiment is one of many to show lately that in the real world, more carbon just means plants will probably run short of something else essential. Resurgent forests are soaking up plenty of carbon now, but we owe that mainly to our ax-wielding forebears, who cleared the land in centuries past. That land sink is not likely to increase by much, say scientists. And it will eventually saturate as today's young forests mature. "We can expect this sink to disappear on the order of a hundred years," says Princeton's Pacala. "You can't count on it to keep getting larger, like manna from heaven, the way a carbon-fertilization sink would."

The outlook for an increased ocean sink is no brighter. Taro Takahashi of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory has spent decades on oceanographic research ships, making thousands of carbon dioxide measurements just above and just below the water surface to track the exchange of gas between the ocean and the atmosphere.

The North Atlantic and the southern oceans have cold, nutrient-rich waters that welcome carbon dioxide, Takahashi has found. Carbon dioxide dissolves easily in cold water, and the nutrients foster marine-plant growth that quickly uses up the dissolved carbon dioxide. When the plants and the animals that feed on them die and sink into the abyss, their remains carry away the carbon and make room for more.

The traffic mostly goes the other way in warmer, less biologically rich seas. But the global balance is favorable, for now at least. More carbon dioxide dissolves in the oceans than is given off. Takahashi's measurements confirm that the oceans take up nearly as much carbon as the regrowing forests and thickening brush on land: an average of 2 billion tons (1.8 billion metric tons) a year. "One-half of the missing carbon is ending up in the ocean," Takahashi says.

That may be as good as it gets," he adds. "My major question is whether this ratio is going to change" as global warming raises the temperature of surface waters and carbon dioxide continues to build up in the atmosphere. "The prognosis is not particularly bright," Takahashi says. A warm soda fizzing over the rim of a glass illustrates one effect: carbon dioxide is less soluble in warmer water. What's more, dissolved carbon dioxide can easily slip back into the atmosphere unless it is taken up by a marine plant or combines with a "buffer" molecule of carbonate.

But the ocean's supply of carbonate is limited and is replenished only slowly as it is washed into the ocean by rivers that erode carbonate-containing rocks such as limestone. In absorbing those two billion tons of carbon from the atmosphere year after year, the ocean is gradually using up its buffer supply. Jorge Sarmiento, an oceanographer at Princeton University, has been trying to predict the impact of such changes on the ocean's ability to act as a carbon dioxide sponge. He expects that over the next century, its carbon appetite will drop by 10 percent—and it may ebb much further in the long

With no new help from nature in sight, perhaps it is time for us to think about creating our own carbon sinks. Scientists have dreamed up plenty of possibilities: planting new forests, for example, which the Kyoto climate treaty would encourage. The approach has already taken root on a grand scale in China, where the government has planted tens of millions of acres since the 1970s. The bureaucrats set out to control floods and erosion, not stem global change, but the effect has been to soak up nearly half a billion tons (.45 billion metric tons) of carbon.

Steve Wofsy sees another possibility in his forest studies. Young forests like his study plot are hungry for carbon right now because they are growing vigorously. So why not try to keep a forest young indefinitely, by regular thinning? "You manage it so that every year or every ten years you take out a certain amount of wood" to be used in, say, paper, housing, and furniture, Wofsy says. "You might have a situation where you could make the landscape continue to take up carbon for a long time—indefinitely."

Then there's the siren call of the sea. Although as Sarmiento points out the ocean's natural uptake is dwindling, scientists have tried to find a way to give a boost to its carbon appetite. In the 1980s oceanographer John Martin suggested that across large tracts of ocean, the tiny green plants that are the marine equivalent of forests and grasslands are, in effect, anemic. What keeps them from flourishing—and perhaps sucking up vast quantities of carbon dioxide—is a lack of iron. Martin and others began to talk of a "Geritol solution" to global warming: Send out a fleet of converted oil tankers to sprinkle the oceans with an iron compound, and the surge of plant growth would cleanse the air of industrial emissions. As the plants and the animals that grazed on them died and sank, the carbon in their tissues would be safely locked away in the deep ocean.

Reality has not been quite so elegant. Experiments have shown that Martin was partly right: A dash of iron sulfate does cause the ocean's surface waters to bloom with patches of algae tens of miles long, so vivid they can be seen by satellites. But oceanographers monitoring what happens in the water have been disappointed to find that when the extra plants and the animals they nourish die, their remains mostly decay before they have a chance to sink and be buried. The carbon dioxide from the decay nourishes new generations of plants, reducing the need for extra carbon from the atmosphere.

Nature is just too thrifty for iron fertilization to work.

Perhaps carbon can be deep-sixed without nature's help: filtered from power plant emissions, compressed into a liquid, and pumped into ocean depths. Ten thousand feet (3,000 thousand meters) down, water pressure would squeeze liquid carbon dioxide to a density great enough to pool on the seafloor, like vinegar in a bottle of salad dressing, before dissolving. At shallower depths it would simply disperse. Either way environmentalists and many scientists are wary of the scheme because injecting vast quantities of carbon dioxide would slightly acidify the deep ocean and might harm some marine life. Last year protesters forced scientists to cancel experiments meant to test the idea, first near Hawaii and then off Norway.

But Peter Brewer, who is studying the scheme at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, says it's too early to write it off. Rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will acidify the ocean's surface waters in any case, he points out, and pumping some of the carbon into the ocean depths could slow that process. "Why would you want to take this off the table before you know what it does?" he asks.

The most fitting end for the carbon that human beings have tapped from the Earth, in coal, oil, and gas, would be to send it back where it came from—into coal seams, old oil and gas fields, or deep, porous rock formations. Not only would that keep the carbon out of the atmosphere, but the high-pressure injection could also be used to chase the last drops of oil or gas out of a depleted field.

In fact geologic sequestration, as it's called, is already under way. One field in the North Sea, for example, yields gas that is heavily contaminated with natural carbon dioxide. So before shipping the gas, the Norwegian oil company Statoil filters out the carbon dioxide and injects it into a sandstone formation half a mile (0.8 kilometer) below the seafloor. The U.S. Department of Energy plans to start its own test project, which would drill a 10,000-foot (3,000-meter) well in West Virginia and pump carbon dioxide into the deep rock.

No one knows yet how well such schemes might work in the long run. Tapped-out oil and gas fields are, by nature, full of man-made holes that might leak the carbon dioxide. Even if the stored gas didn't leak straight to the surface, it might seep into groundwater supplies. But the North Sea project seems to be working well eight years after it began. Seismic images that offer views beneath the ocean floor show that the thick layer of clay capping the sandstone is effectively sealing in the 6 million tons (5.4 million metric tons) of carbon dioxide injected so far.

That's encouraging news for researchers who are working on schemes that would allow humanity to keep burning fossil fuels without dire consequences for climate. Researchers at Princeton, for example, are exploring a technology that would take the carbon out of coal.

In a multistep process coal would react with oxygen and steam to make pure hydrogen, plus a stream of waste gases. The hydrogen could be burned to produce electricity or distributed to gas stations where hydrogen-powered cars—emitting nothing but water vapor—could fuel up. The waste, mostly carbon dioxide but also contaminants that coal-burning plants now emit, such as sulfur and mercury, would be buried. The scheme, says Princeton energy analyst Robert Williams, "could make coal as clean as renewable energy, and you can exploit the low cost of coal."

Or maybe the future lies in fields of solar panels, armies of giant wind turbines, or a new generation of safe nuclear reactors. No one knows, but that gauge in Wofsy's shack tells us that we don't have long to dither. The trees are doing their best, but year by year the flickering red number is climbing.

How do I sell expensive crafts online? Practical advice from 11 experts.....

More and more designer makers are selling their work online – via their own website, with specialist online boutiques and shops, or with one of the popular online market places like Etsy, Folksy or others.

But what do you do if your work is high end, high quality and unique? Will people buy expensive crafts and handmade products online without seeing it?

We asked this question to 11 creatives, online selling experts, various online market places, an art expert, and various online shops and boutiques. A wide variety – from individual creatives to some of the largest online market places in the world. Although some of the advice obviously overlaps it is great to see their advice from their own perspective.

Some great learning: what might be ‘expensive’ to one person on one online market place, isn’t expensive at all to somebody else on another site!

You get here a real wealth of practical advice that you can use if you want to sell more expensive, high value crafts online.

Sidsel Dorph – Jensen, silversmith & creative business adviser
Sidsel Dorph-Jensen‘As a former silversmith (only doing large scale work) I completely understand the issue here. Selling expensive items online is really difficult because people are scared of being cheated on the internet.
With expensive sales, one of the key components is trust, and usually trust is build between a maker and a customer when they meet in person, and the customer gets to take the piece home when they purchase it. Handing over large amounts of money via the internet to somebody you haven’t met is very intimidating for most people. What you need to do is handle all their worries up front to create a level of trust.
Here are my five steps to creating a sales page for high value items on your website:
Step 1: Photography The most important part of selling anything online are the photos. Make sure you have good quality images, that tell the story of your work. Show your work from different angles, or photograph in the perfect setting or just a really simple beautiful photograph.
In my experience you can sell your work online – no matter how expensive – on great photographs alone. But there are a few other things you want to consider as well.
Step 2: Describe the item they are buying. This might seem obvious, but I see quite a lot of online shops where it just says ‘silver vessel’.
You need to be as specific as you can, include material, size, weight, manufacturing method, year made and everything that could possibly be of interest to a buyer.
Step 3: Be transparent about the process of buying. Write out exactly how the process works, so: What happens after they click the button? Do they pay up front or in installments? How is the money paid, via cheque, bank transfer or credit card? When do you ship the item and how is it handled?
Often customers a wary about shipping of expensive items – and last what your return policy is.
Step 4: FAQ If you have questions that customers ask on a regular basis, make sure to include them on your website, as your potential customer probably have the same questions. It could be cleaning advice, if you take commissions, where else they can buy your work or what ever you get asked all the time.
Step 5: Testimonials We love to buy something other people have tried and vouched for first, so if you have customer testimonials put them on the site.
On my website I have got a page about how to commission from me which includes all the above details. You are free to have a look and take away anything you can use from it.
Answering questions before they have been asked makes potential clients feel safe when buying and it gives you credibility.’

Susannah Bradley, Seller Development Specialist, Etsy UK
sbradleycroppedSusannah recently started as the Seller Development Specialist at Etsy UK, the world’s largest online selling platform for designers and makers. Susannah says:
1. Perfect the basics
 Make sure your photography is both beautiful and detailed.
Answer all your buyers’ questions in your imagery, including the quality of the materials and handicraft, and how the item will fit into the buyer’s life. Including a close up can show off your items texture as well as your craftsmanship.
Although this Etsy video about successful photography is aimed at beginners, it has excellent photography suggestions for everyone to remember.
Request feedback from all your satisfied buyers to beef up your credibility. Include their comments on your reviews or testimonials page.
Have excellent craft shop policies that support you and make your buyer feel comfortable. You will find great tips on the Etsy blog (available to everybody) on creating online shop policies that work.
2. Gather information
Research the market. Find out information on your product, its market and your competitors. Use this information to your advantage when designing your brand. Make conscious decisions about how you will be the same as the rest of the market and how your business will be unique.
While you are building your brand and figuring out what works best, don’t be afraid to experiment! Try out different photo styles, tags, advertising, packaging, etc. Keep track of all your options and the results of each test.
This will help you hone your brand into something that really works.
If your sales seems to be stuck and you have a mailing list, send out an optional survey to your previous buyers. Ask for their feedback on the product, your packaging, customer service, website, etc. Take their opinions into consideration when making your next moves.
3. Write up a solid marketing strategy
 Know your buyer. This means knowing what they respond to and where they are looking for items or advice.
Many savvy craft sellers sign up for a feature on a blog or an advertisement on someone else’s website to drive traffic into their online shops, no matter where they are hosted. When choosing these opportunities, make sure it is for a blog or site that attracts your specific buyers and make sure your ad will appeal directly to them. This article from Etsy’s Seller Handbook has ideas on how to approach blogs that resonate with your brand.

Word-of-mouth advertising is worth so much in the higher-value craft market, so make sure every purchase is a positive experience and follow up with your buyers.
When someone makes a purchase, ask your new buyer if they’d like to join your newsletter or Facebook Page. You can offer incentives for referrals like coupons or other special offers.’

Claire Hughes & Polly Dugdale, online marketing & selling experts Handmade Horizons
pollyclairecropClaire and Polly are two friendly online marketing and selling experts who work especially with female makers to advise and coach them to take their handmade business to the next level.
They run a really practical online course and coaching programme called Handmade Horizons, which The Design Trust has reviewed.
1. Think about where you are promoting your products
Establish what kind of customer buys your product, and seek promotion wherever they are.
E.g. for higher value product ranges, the customers are more likely to be reading “Homes and Interiors” or “Living”, rather than “Ideal Home”.
What blogs do they read? Do they use social media?
Don’t focus exclusively on selling directly to customers. Forge relationships and partner up with people who influence them, like interior designers or boutique hotels.
2. Work out how you can get in front of the right peopleIf you have figured that out, then make sure you:
  • Have fabulous photography
  • Understand your customer – what is motivating them to buy your product? Is it self-indulgence, a reward they have been saving up for, a wedding present, a desire to be fashionable or because money is no object and it quite simply, downright gorgeous?!
  • Use your product descriptions to address their motivations – tell them why your product is exactly what they have been looking for
  • Justify the pricing – use language in your product descriptions to emphasise the quality of materials used, the exclusivity of the range, the skill involved in its creation – anything that will paint a luxurious picture and boost confidence that your product is the right one for them
  • Establish confidence and trust – Publish your telephone number and physical address, as well as an email address (ideally not a free one). Customers will then know you are not just a virtual entity and can ask questions if they want to
  • Publish testimonials from happy customers / highlight press coverage you’ve had, to bolster confidence and to demonstrate that they are onto a good thing’

Emily Barnes, Content Editor, Folksy.com

Folksy is one of the largest and most popular online market places for British contemporary design and crafts.

photo (16)1. Photography is key to showcasing your work well online
And this is even more important with high value crafts. The buyer will want to know that they are making a sound purchase so give them no reason to doubt the quality of your work.
Invest in a good photographer to take sharp, clear, beautiful images of your products. You’ll want shots from different angles as well as some close ups of the work.
Make sure you list 4 or 5 images online so potential buyers can have a really good look before committing.
2. Tell a story
Buyers love the stories that come from making your own products. What materials have you used, where was the item made, what was your inspiration and is this is one off?
This also helps buyers to understand the cost of the item. If you have sourced good quality materials & spent hours designing and making your products then let us know in your item description!3. Customer service
Choose to sell on a site that allows potential buyers to contact you with questions they may have.
Think carefully about your packaging – continue that feeling of a good quality product with fresh tissue papers, recycled paper gift boxes or pretty coloured ribbon.
Some of our sellers add little handmade keepsakes in with their parcels which really adds to the buying experience. Handmade notes of thanks also help to create a relationship with your buyers that will continue far beyond that first purchase.’

Azra Ahmed, English Community Manager based in Berlin (D), DaWanda

Azra_DaWandaDaWanda is Europe’s biggest online market place for handmade goods, and a thriving opportunity if you want to sell more towards the European market.
Azra works closely with sellers of handmade items on a daily basis, providing them with resources, tips and personalised advice on how to sell their work online, as well as identifying trends in buying and selling handmade items online and sharing these with our users. Azra advise is:

1. Take great photos of your product
At DaWanda, we’ve discovered that a high-quality image of an item will generate on average 51% more clicks and 61% more visitors than a poor-quality image of the same item.
So presenting your creations in the best light actually doubles your chances of getting them seen.
This is even more crucial with high-value items, as your buyer wants to see exactly what they’re getting if they’re parting with a lot of money.
Take lots and lots of photos from every angle so you can choose a few of the very best to highlight your product. You don’t even need expensive equipment to get a great shot: here’s how to make a light box out of a laundry basket.
2. Provide as much information about the item as possible
Buyers want to know an item’s exact dimensions (height, width, weight). They’re also interested in exactly which materials were used to create it, and which processes or techniques are involved.
The more detailed information you can provide about your item, the more authentic the story of its creation seems, which helps the buyer to trust in you as a maker/seller.
Buyers also find it easier to assess if an item is worth its asking price if they know just how many hours of labour, special skills or quality materials went into it. This is even more crucial if your item is difficult to photograph well.
3. Know your stuff when it comes to shipping
If you are sending valuables by post, choose a reliable, well-known service provider to make sure your parcels are delivered on time and with insurance, protecting both you and your buyer.
When describing your product online, make sure you add information indicating how it will be shipped. If you can promise your buyer in advance that they will receive a tracking number for their shipment, they have all the more reason to put their trust in you.
Keeping in regular touch with your buyer after the purchase, (e.g. making sure they have the URL of the page where they can track their parcel and asking them to confirm when it has been received) gives them all the more reason to come back another time.
4. Offer your buyer the chance to come & see before they buy
When it comes to really expensive items, you may wish to offer your buyer the chance to come around and inspect the item before purchase.
Even if they don’t take you up on your offer, knowing that you are willing for them to come and visit you gives your buyer more reason to trust that you are who you say you are.
5. Hone your returns policy
Ensure that your returns policy is comprehensive and easy to find in your online shop. A reasonable, well-written returns policy is essential for a buyer who feels they are taking a risk in parting with a lot of money for something they have not seen in the flesh.
6. Make sure your selling venue is the right fit
Find an e-commerce marketplace where items with a similar value and quality to yours are not only being listed for sale, but actually being sold. This might require a bit of hunting around in other people’s stores to see their sold items, but it’s worth it to ensure you are in good company and reaching the right audience.
You can take advantage of the trust and good feeling which regular users have towards their marketplace of choice, and your feedback from previous purchases will be easy for your customer to find if your marketplace has a rating system like DaWanda does. At DaWanda we also offer added customer support to ensure smooth transactions.
If you’re using a personal website to sell from, be sure to add testimonials and references from previous customers to your site – your potential buyers will be very interested!’

Pete Mosley, Creative Business Adviser, The Art of Work & The Refectory Table

Pete MosleyPete is the author of Make Your Creativity Pay and developer of the Creative Business Explorer – a unique online creative business development toolkit.
He is the Business Editor of Craft & design magazine, and has worked as a mentor and coach to creative businesses for over 20 years. His insights are based on real businesses and real people. Pete has a lively blog at Creative Musings and delivers tailor made business training for creatives at The Refectory Table.
Pete says: ‘Working on the assumption that this is high quality product with a ‘wow’ factor, illustrated with the highest quality images possible, I’d recommend the following options:
Try to leverage others to spread the word on your behalf – for example by securing editorial in good quality online lifestyle publications, influential blogs and on niche sites. If you can get features that combine a bit of biography and images of your work, so much the better. This – and strategic re-posting of the article links – helps spread the word and get people talking. One maker I know secured multiple orders for his wrought iron planters this way.
Use visuals to get a buzz going – write a blog post, pin it on Pinterest with a board of great photos – and use the peer to peer interest and recommendation to get it in front of a much wider audience. Share all this on Facebook and broadcast the blog and other posts using Twitter.
The buyers of this type of work are likely to be high net worth individuals – or maybe those who are setting up home, remodelling or trying to find high value gifts for significant occasions. Even so, you can still use non-buying fans to spread the word using the above methods.
I have known people sell high value items on day to day online outlets by funneling interest in through social media. Don’t forget that around a third of all crafts purchases are made by artists and makers themselves.
My last recommendation is one for the long haul. At the end of the day, your business is sustained by long term relationships and return buyers. High value customers, if they love your work, are likely to come back for more.
Don’t forget the power of a really good looking email newsletter going out to a well targeted list of contacts and a loyal Twitter following to keep reminding them that you are there every time you have new things to offer.’

Daniel Goode, Chief Seeker at online boutique Seek & Adore

Seek & Adore Daniel Goode‘There is no doubt in my mind that selling high-priced items online is tricky.
When investing in more expensive pieces it is natural for a customer or collector to want to see items before they make the investment, but as the public gets more savvy with online buying there are techniques a maker can use to increase their chances of selling their pricier creations.
1. Good photography
This is essential. Never, never, never undersell work with poor photography. Poor photography will undermine you at every turn and will be a poor and costly investment.
  • Always get the best you can possibly afford.
  • Ideally have your pieces taken against a pure white background for clarity and instant impact on a web page. A white background will also give greater scope for media coverage if a publication should spot you.
  • Have a minimum of 4 shots per piece – this is the industry minimum for online selling – showing the piece from different angles.
  • Make sure you include what is called ‘the lifestyle’ shot. The lifestyle shows the piece in context and to scale which is crucial for online selling.
  • Your work should look as good online as it does in real life. With substandard photography a customer can be forgiven for not taking you seriously.
  • Photography ultimately should communicate ‘I am proud of my work and I have nothing to hide’.
2. Product descriptions
  • Describe your pieces well, with clarity and precision.
  • Check for spelling mistakes and errors in the layout.
  • Ensure what you have written makes sense and presents the piece in a positive and aspirational way.
  • Poorly written product descriptions will undermine your work. A lack of detail here will suggest to the purchaser that you lack an attention to detail.
  • Remember, when someone is considering spending a great deal of money they will want their potential purchase to be described in an exciting and detailed way.
3. Free postage and packing
Include the cost of postage and packing in the price of the item. It can appear churlish to add extra costs to an item already costing hundreds if not thousands of pounds.
4. Join an online selling site
  • Join an online selling site like Seek & Adore where makers are handpicked for the quality of their work and where you will be marketed to raise your profile.
  • Sell with your peers. We are all judged by the company we keep!
  • You need to tell the world that you are here, that you make beautiful things and where you can be found. Joining an established website makes this easy.
  • If you have the time and the financial resources to market yourself all well and good but if not let someone else take the strain for you.
5. Limited editions and one-off pieces
Do limited editions of special pieces and/or one-offs to increase exclusivity. Nothing attracts a collector more than the idea that a piece is unique and unrepeatable!
6. Tell your own unique story
Nothing adds more value to work than the personal story behind it!
  • Have a page on your website to tell your story or join a site where you can do this.
  • Tell the world what inspires you and in turn why your work exists.
  • Share your passion and you will in turn engender passion in your customers.
  • When you capture someone’s imagination they are more likely to invest in you.
Ultimately, the most important thing to remember is to present yourself well at all times. When selling expensive work online you must never forget that first impressions undoubtedly count!’

Karen Nairstone, Director of Design Event and online design store British By Design

Karen Design Event NE‘More and more people are using e-commerce as a route to purchase high end craft and design. High end craft has been a slower area to benefit from e-commerce, but with the advent of integrated social media with online selling facilities makers are able to give reassurance of quality and tell the stories of their products thus engaging potential buyers.
Traditionally high end craft purchases are made after seeing and touching a piece, and it is important to convey these aesthetic properties through online means in order to convert potential buyers into actual purchasers.
1. Choosing the right e-commerce platform
It’s important that you choose the right online selling platform for your work. You can either sell directly from your own website if it has this capability, or e-commerce can easily be added; or via an online brand portal, such as our British By Design online shop that specialises in selling a similar type of work and quality to your own.
Do your research and approach sites that you feel align with your products and brand. Benefits to selling through these sites are that the marketing element is usually done for you and allows you time to focus solely on your products.
If you’re using a third party platform be sure that the products and price points align with your own work and link to the e-commerce site from your own in a clear way, so that people can easily see how to purchase your work, and are directed via your own website to make the purchase even if this is through a third party.
2. Tell the story of your product
In order for potential buyers to develop a greater understanding of the product and it’s aesthetics, it is important to tell the story of the product and convey it’s added value.
This can include information on provenance of materials, the making process and the inspiration for the piece. These can be supported by good photography or short video pieces to truly engage potential buyers and give greater understanding of the work.
3. Engage your audience with your practice
Through integrating social media with your e-commerce site it is now possible to maintain continual dialogues with potential customers and gather feedback and interest in your work.
Using twitter and facebook to show images of new materials, commissions in progress, production and finished works gives potential buyers a greater insight into your practice and also shows demand for your work.
Linking to social media and using blogs enables people to post ‘likes’ on individual works and comment on your posts.
Developing this 2-way conversation with potential customers provides reassurance of quality in your work and underlines it’s added value.
4. Present your work at its best
With craft purchases being very much aesthetically driven, it is hugely important to have good photography of your work – both of the piece as a whole, and of any detailing.
It’s a good idea to also take images during the making process and of raw materials to use in social media and to tell the story about the piece. These images also need to be good quality and consistent with other images on your site.
5. Offer reassurance of quality
By linking social media to your website you can provide regular information to potential buyers that will instil confidence and desire in your work. This can be done through enable people to ‘like’ products through social media, using social media to provide information on events and exhibitions you are participating in, and sharing information and images of new commissions which the public would not normally see as they may be private commissions.
Blogs can also be a useful tool to generate feedback and comments on articles and can be promoted through direct links from your social media. Using social media in this way enables potential customers to see positive comments from others about your work, thus reinforcing quality.’

Sophie Rees, Founder of DesignersMakers

Designersmakers Sophie Rees head shotSophie manages DesignersMakers a not for profit agency to promote contemporary design in the UK. She runs the online shop as well as regular popup events.
‘Alongside your own online web shop (I recommend SupaDupa e-commerce software ) select online retailers where your products fit in well with other designers, and are at a similar price bracket. There is no point being within an online shop where most items range between £10 – 30 if your products average at £300.
Contact some other crafts people whose work you admire, who sell to customers in the same marketplace as you – but who don’t directly compete with you. For example, if you make pottery, you could team up with a textile artist. Offer to publicise their products or services to your customers in exchange for their publicising your services to their customers. Could be as simple as a reciprocal feature and links on your respective websites.
If you are struggling to build your customer database, find someone who has the same type of customer as you, and set up a deal whereby you write an article with a link to your newsletter sign-up box in their newsletter, and they do the same in yours – that way you can each grow your databases – and your customers benefit from getting more choice.
One of the easiest ways to share a link to your shop is with an email signature. It’s fairly easy to set this up in your email programme. Include a link to your website along with a tagline and any other pertinent info you want to share. It’s standard practice and it’s a must do. Some people also include a signup box for their email newsletter.
More and more people are using Twitter as a marketing tool – simply by following other users who are in their target groups – galleries, crafts outlets, online retailers, and sending regular (once or twice a week) messages with a link to an item, page, or offer of interest.
It’s taking over from Facebook as the social network of choice when it comes to raising your profile.
It’s quick, it easy, and people do actively forward links of interest to each other – in that sense it is ‘viral marketing’ in it’s purest sense. A great place to offer discounts, competitions and promote any items to a wide audience.’

Susan Mumford, Art Dealer & Founder of Be Smart About Art

Susan 2012 low-resSusan is an expert in the commercial art world who embraces digital technology, addressing makers’ (and dealers’) concerns about selling online is paramount. Key factors that will optimise your likelihood of selling high value craft are as follows:
1. Present yourself as a professional, trustworthy maker
To achieve this, establish your credibility with quotes from existing clients, an ‘about’ page that tells the story of your practice and a maker biography that provides your career history (exhibitions, fairs, awards, clients etc).
2. Make shopping & purchasing as easy as possible for potential customers
List prices online and be clear about how to make a purchase – whether that’s with a shopping cart (best option) or by sending an enquiry via an online form.
And if relevant, enable a ‘search’ function for browsing as well as viewing by category.
3. Provide reassurance with a clear return policy
Offer a full refund or exchange for any goods that are damaged or do not meet the clients’ expectations. A tiny proportion of clients generally request a refund or exchange, and giving them peace of mind will help to close a sale.
4 Present FAQs (Frequently Answered Questions).
These will be similar to questions you already address in your practice. They might address shipping, framing, etc.’

Patricia van den Akker, Director The Design Trust

patricia portrait‘Of course I got the benefit of being the last person to give my advice on ‘how to sell expensive crafts online’ and after I read everybody else’s advice. So here are my closing comments:
1. Allow only the best photography
Nearly every single one of the experts above mentions the importance of photography. To have clear, good looking images, showing your work at its best, from all angles and with some detail shots to show off your craftsmanship.
Include some fantastic images of you at work to show your craft skills and dedication. Better even is to have a short video of you talking about your work. That really can bring across your passion and professionalism.
But I am still surprised how many people don’t follow this advice. Most of their pictures might be good, but it is often 2 or 3 images that let your entire collection down. Make sure you edit and be hyper critical of your images if you want to sell higher value crafts.
Invest in a good photographer or get a great book on how to create your own gorgeous pictures and styling.
2. Being online isn’t just about selling
Having a good online presence (either your own website, on a portfolio site or market place) is crucial. It doesn’t need to take up all your time and money – just a couple of well designed pages can make all the difference to presenting yourself professionally.Your online presence is ‘your shop window’. People might never buy from you online, but they will check you out there. This is the place where you can share your story and show your brand values. This is where you can educate people about your work, and raise your credibility and profile.
If you haven’t got a website or a professional looking website, then they will quickly dismiss you.
3. Online and off line go hand in hand
You need to market and promote yourself both online and offline, and they need to work together. Your exhibition stand, business card, website, twitter and face book all need to reflect what you are about, and present yourself in the best possible and consistent way.
Potential clients are very likely to use your website as a follow up after they have seen you in an exhibition or at a crafts fair. It might be months or years after they have first seen your work in the flesh that they will purchase from you (online or direct). Remembering your name, having a business card or post card, and then a website enables them to come back to you.
Have a subscription box on your home page where people can sign up to your newsletter or events (and basically to your ever growing database). You can then invite them to future events, or keep them informed about what you are working on or new workshops or exhibitions that are coming up.
One of my biggest marketing tips is: ‘Have always something to invite people to’. People love to get invites, they don’t like to be sold to. So make sure that you can build trust and credibility over time with people who are interested in your work.
4. Build your credibility
Your own website is the best place to share your story and present yourself at your best. This is where you have most control of how you present yourself professionally.
If you sell work that is more expensive than your website probably should look more expensive and well designed too.
Create a kind of ‘gallery’ feel about it. Think about how you can create this image of an online gallery, by:
  • showing fantastically generous images of your work, with loads of space around them
  • including full titles, year of making, materials and a statement on each piece
  • include good listings of client’s names, high end galleries or shops where you are stocked
  • sharing media and press interest in your work,
  • include listings of private or corporate collections, private and public commissions
  • quotes of clients or known people who have bought your work or are supportive of your work
Show with good images how your work has developed over time to create credibility and show your creative development.
Have a look at more established creatives who you admire, who are selling higher value crafts, and see how they present themselves online. You can learn a great deal checking this out.
5. What is expensive in one place, isn’t in another
Make sure that you select well where you show your work. This is partly because it is important to be shown with your equals and peers to support your credibility.
But one of the really interesting things that daunted on me after asking the question ‘How to sell my expensive crafts online’ was to realise that the price level that potential clients are willing to pay hugely differ.
Don’t undervalue yourself, ask the right price for your work in the right surroundings.’