Courtesy B. MayerWho hasn’t heard about the very great scientific and social problems of global warming and ocean acidification? As microbiologist Louis Pasteur noted more than a century ago, “The very great is accomplished by the very small.” Part of the answer to these very great problems can be accomplished by understanding the very small: ocean microbes, living things that are less than a hundredth of the thickness of a human hair.
Our effort to understand the very small in the ocean has just taken a big step. C-MORE Hale (Hawaiian language for “house,” pronounced hah-lay) was officially dedicated in a ceremony that took place on October 25, 2010. C-MORE, or the Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research & Education, is all about studying ocean microbes. Scientists at C-MORE are looking into microorganisms at the genomic, DNA level and all the way up to the biome level where microbes recycle elements in ocean ecosystems.
Headquartered at the University of Hawai`i, C-MORE’s interdisciplinary team includes scientists, engineers and educators from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, Oregon State University, University of California – Santa Cruz and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. As a National Science Foundation center, C-MORE is a dynamic “think tank” community of researchers, educators and students from a variety of cultural backgrounds, including native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander.
Courtesy B. MayerC-MORE Hale will be equipped completely and ready for scientists to put on their lab coats and get to work in January 2011. For now, e komo mai! (welcome!) Imagine yourself walking along this sidewalk leading to C-MORE Hale. Stop for a moment to look at the round pavers; they depict ocean microbes first discovered by 19th century zoologists on the worldwide HMS Challenger expedition. Step past these unique designs and take a tour of the brand-new building!
During the 1960s an average of 5 dams per day were built in the U.S. Many of those were licensed for thirty or fifty years of operation. So, as we approach the close of 2010, a lot of our dams are itchin’ to come down.
As you may imagine, removing a 95-year-old, 210-foot tall dam is no easy feat.
Enter Dr. Gordon Grant, research hydrologist with the USDA Forest Service and professor at Oregon State University. Gordon has worked on some of the largest dam removals in the history of the U.S. Tonight he is all set to tell us about such endeavors. Gordon will be speaking at Research at the Red Stag at 5:30pm. His talk is entitled “Out, out damn’d dam: freeing wild rivers.” It will certainly be a highlight of my November.
Courtesy Wikipedia Commons
The University of Minnesota's Raptor Center Director and former Buzz Scientist on the Spot, Julia Ponder, is heading to the Galapagos Islands to preserve the rare Galapagos Hawk.
Find out more by clicking the links and listening to the audio news story here.
If the University of Minnesota had parents, they'd hang this on the fridge with pride:
The U of MN is one of only three schools (out of 322 nationwide) to score straight As in all nine categories on their College Sustainability Report Card!
Way to go Gophers!!
Have you ever heard of ‘ocean acidification’? If not, don’t feel alone. You are in vast majority. A new study by Dr. Anthony Leiserowitz at Yale University found that that just 25 percent of Americans have ever heard of ocean acidification – the process whereby carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by human activities eventually dissolves into the sea producing carbonic acid which depresses the pH of the ocean. Ocean acidification threatens to dramatically alter marine life if present trends continue. A more informed citizenry is essential if steps are to be taken to address this threat to our futures.
The Science Museum of Minnesota and Fresh Energy on the evening of Thursday, November 4 are hosting the Twin Cities film premiere of the documentary, A Sea Change . The screening of this award-winning, 90-minute film will begin at 6:30 PM followed by Q&A with the film’s director, co-producer, lead NOAA ocean acidification scientist, and Fresh Energy’s science policy director and then concluding with a dessert reception. I hope that you will take advantage of this unique opportunity to see the film and then socialize afterwards. Go to the Science Museum's adult programs to order your tickets.
Courtesy Dana SpinkOn September 2, Dana Spink, grade 6 science teacher from Toledo, OR, became a star when she stepped aboard the oceanographic research vessel, the R/V Kilo Moana (Hawaiian for “oceanographer”) for a week of discovery. She was part of the STARS program (Science Teachers Aboard Research Ships) operated by C-MORE (Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education) at the University of Hawai`i's School of Ocean, Earth Science & Technology.
Courtesy C-MORE Ever since 1988 scientists from UH’s HOT program (Hawai`i Ocean Time-series) have been gathering monthly baseline data from station ALOHA, a deep-water site about 60 miles north of Honolulu. This data lead to the discoveries about rising sea surface temperatures and ocean acidification. Dana and two other teachers were part of this continued ocean chemistry and physics data collection, as they worked alongside shipboard scientists at station ALOHA.
Courtesy Dana Spink
Courtesy C-MORE Dana also came face-to-face with Pacific Ocean micro-critters that were captured in a plankton net. What a variety there were! Some were phytoplankton, the microscopic floating plants of the open ocean, and others were tiny animals belonging to the zooplankton. As a whole, plankton are extremely important to the oceanic ecosystems because they form the base of most food webs. Dana used dichotomous keys from C-MORE's Plankton science kit to identify the open-ocean specimens.
Want to find out more about gadgets and shipboard procedures that the STARS used, like CTDs, fluorometers, flow cytometers and other shipboard procedures? Visit Mrs. Spink's blog!
Courtesy Robert and Mihaela VicolFish and tomatoes compete for resources.
Yep, they do, and that resource is water.
The authors of a new report out in this week's issue of the journal Science are reminding folks of that fact.
John Sabo, a biologist at Arizona State University and lead author of the report told NSF News that "Humans may need to make hard decisions about how to allocate water so that we grow the right food, but still leave enough in rivers to sustain fish populations."
His comments stem from the report's findings that human actions--agricultural irrigation, dam construction, and the collective activities that lead to climate change--alter the natural variability of river flows and in the process shorten river food chains, particularly eliminating top predators like many large-bodied fish.
Courtesy Pete McBride
"Floods and droughts shorten the food chain, but they do it in different ways," Sabo explained. "Floods simplify the food web by taking out some of the intermediate players so the big fish begin to eat lower on the chain," Sabo said. "With droughts, it's completely different: droughts eliminate the top predator altogether because many fish can't tolerate the low oxygen and high temperatures that result when a stream starts drying out."
Sabo and co-authors--Jacques Finlay, from the University of Minnesota, Theodore Kennedy from the U.S. Geological Survey Southwest Biological Science Center, and David Post from Yale University--suggest that the fate of large-bodied fishes should be more carefully factored into the management of water use, especially as growing human populations and climate change affect water availability.
According to Sabo, "The question becomes: can you have fish and tomatoes on the same table?"
The Role of Discharge Variation in Scaling of Drainage Area and Food Chain Length in Rivers
John L. Sabo, Jacques. C. Finlay, Theodore Kennedy, and David M. Post (14 October 2010)
Science [DOI: 10.1126/science.1196005]
[It's Blog Action Day 2010, and this year's theme is water.]
You’d probably say, “Huh?? Hold on, what is geothermal energy anyway, and how does it work?”
Geothermal is heat from deep inside the earth. Because heat is a form of energy, it can be captured and used to heat buildings or make electricity. There are three basic ways geothermal power plants work:
(Click here for great diagrams of each of these geothermal energy production methods.)
“And what about carbon sequestration too? What’s that and how does it work?”
Courtesy Department of Energy
Carbon sequestration includes carbon (usually in the form of carbon dioxide, CO2) capture, separation, transportation, and storage or reuse. Plants, which “breathe” CO2, naturally sequester carbon, but people have found ways to do it artificially too. When fossil fuels are burned to power your car or heat your home, they emit CO2, a greenhouse gas partially responsible for global climate change. It is possible to capture those emissions, separate the bad CO2, and transport it somewhere for storage or beneficial reuse. CO2 can be stored in under the Earth’s surface or, according to Martin Saar’s research, used in geothermal energy production.
Alright. We’re back to Professor Saar’s research. Ready to know just how he plans to sequester carbon in geothermal energy production?
It’s a simple idea, really, now that you know about geothermal energy and carbon sequestration. Prof. Saar says geothermal energy can be made even greener by replacing water with CO2 as the medium carrying heat from deep within the earth to the surface for electricity generation. In this way, waste CO2 can be sequestered and put to beneficial use! As a bonus, CO2 is even more efficient than water at transferring heat.
But don’t take my word for it. Come hear Professor Martin Saar’s lecture, CO2 – Use It Or Lose It!, yourself during the Institute on the Environment’s Frontiers on the Environment lecture series, Wednesday, October 27, 2010 from noon-1pm.
Frontiers in the Environment is free and open to the public with no registration required! The lectures are held in the Institute on the Environment’s Seminar Room (Rm. 380) of the Vocational-Technical Education Building on the St. Paul campus (map).
Courtesy United States Geological SurveyAs I was so vividly reminded by the video and Google Earth image below, landscape evolution is a dynamic process – it is happening now and is not just a phenomenon of the geological past.
In fact, it is rapidly happening in our midst (well, southeastern MN) in the Minnesota River Basin (MRB).
Courtesy Karl MusserThe relatively flat landscape that is the Minnesota River Basin was initially formed by the Wisconsinian ice sheet 12,000 years ago. Then, 11,500 years ago, glacial Lake Agassiz “catastrophically drained” (drained really quickly) through the Minnesota River, an event that eroded the river bottom and, in so doing, dropped the level of the riverbed by 65 meters (!).
The Le Sueur River drains into the Minnesota River, so when the Minnesota dropped by 65 meters, a steep gradient developed at the mouth of the Le Sueur. That steep gradient has been propagating upstream in the Le Sueur and its two primary tributaries, the Maple and Cobb Rivers, for ever since (imagine waterfalls retreating upriver). As the knickpoint moves upstream, steep bluffs and ravines have developed that connect the flat uplands of the MRB with incised portions of the rivers. The bluffs and ravines are now eroding away due to the combined action of continued post-glacial landscape evolution and human-induced changes in water runoff (mostly for agricultural purposes). The land continues to retreat today.
Stephanie Day, a PhD student with the National Center for Earth-surface Dynamics (NCED) studies landscape evolution in the Minnesota River Basin and has been conducting experiments on how water erodes a landscape as it flows across. A video she made of her research is so cool (water is flowing from the left to the right),
Courtesy National Center for Earth-surface Dynamics especially in comparison to this Google Earth image of the Minnesota River Basin. Can’t you just feel the Earth slowing pulling out from under your feet when you look at these?
You might be aware of phosphorus, P, as a key ingredient in your lawn fertilizer. Or, perhaps you’ve seen “Does not contain phosphates” labels on your household detergents. If you haven’t seen these labels yet, chances are high you’ll see them soon. Why??
Phosphorus is Useful as Fertilizer and Detergent...
Courtesy Malawi MV project work
Phosphorus is a life-supporting mineral, which is why so many fertilizers contain it. Phosphates, the naturally occurring form of phosphorus, help soften water, form soap suds, and suspend particles making them choice detergents. Supporting life and keeping clean would normally be good things, but phosphorus has a dark side too.
... But, Phosphorus Causes Smelly, Dead Eutrophication
Because phosphorus is so good at growing stuff, it is actually harmful to the environment when it becomes dissolved and concentrated in bodies of water. Phosphorus-rich lakes cause algae blooms – huge increases of algae in a short period of time (kind of like the post-World War II Baby Boom, but for algae). Besides being smelly and turning water green, algae “breathe” the oxygen right out of the lake! Stealing dissolved oxygen even in death, algae create hypoxia – low oxygen, which prevents most other living things from surviving in the surrounding area. This whole process, from phosphorus-loading to algae bloom to hypoxia, is called eutrophication. There are other environmental and health risks to phosphorus, but eutrophication is what politicians are talking about around the water cooler these days.
Courtesy Felix Andrews
Seventeen States Banned Phosphorus in Automatic Dishwashing Detergents
Deciding that euthrophication was yucky, in July, 17 states, including the entire Great Lakes Commission of which Minnesota is a member, passed laws banning phosphates from automatic dishwasher detergent. That might not seem like a big deal, but automatic dishwasher detergent is said to comprise between 7-12% of all the phosphorus making it into our sewage system (source). Previous legislation has limited or banned phosphorus in lawn fertilizers and laundry detergents.
Consumers Asked to Cope
According to a recent New York Times article, some consumers are getting their feathers ruffled as detergent manufacturers re-do their formulas to comply with state laws. The primary complaint is that the phosphate-free detergents don’t clean as well as traditional formulas. Consumer Reports concurred: of 24 low- or no-phosphate detergents tested, none matched the cleaning capabilities of detergents with phosphates. It may be uncomfortable at first, but learning to cope in a low-phosphorus world is already having environmental and human health benefits.
Courtesy Becoming Green
Rest assured, industry officials still want your business and are continually improving their formulations. Indeed, the same Consumer Reports article mentioned above rated seven low- or no-phosphate detergents as “very good.” For the curious, there is a multitude of other websites reviewing phosphate-free detergents online. Pre-rinsing and/or post-rinsing have also been cited as ways to deal with phosphate-free dishwashing detergents.
Peak Phosphorus: Another Consideration
If you still aren’t convinced of the switch, consider this: we’re running out of phosphorus like we’re running out of oil. Phosphorus is a mineral, mined from naturally occurring phosphates, and we’re mining it faster than geologic cycles can replenish it. One Scientific American article cites the depletion of U.S. supplies in a few decades (world supplies may last for roughly another 100 years) given current consumption rates. Without phosphorus, world food production will plummet and with a global population soaring towards 9 billion people, that would be a very sorry state of affairs. If we succeed in limiting our phosphorus consumption, say, through eliminating it from household detergents, we may be able to continue using it in fertilizers and thus keep the human population fed well into the future.
What do you think? Is the phosphate-ban worth it?