Courtesy C-MOREThere are microbes…and then there are micro-microbes. Oceanographers on C-MORE’s BiG RAPA oceanographic expedition are finding bacteria the size of one-one-millionth of a meter in the oligotrophic (low nutrient), open-ocean of the Southeast Pacific, far from the productive waters off the coast of Chile. But that’s not all; some scientists are looking for the even smaller marine viruses in gallons of filtered seawater. Meet some of these micro-microbes in these video reports:
Courtesy Dr. Anne Thompson, MIT
Yes indeed, microbial oceanographers are taking home quite a collection from the South Pacific Ocean. In less than a week the good ship RV Melville will arrive at Rapa Nui (Easter Island), and scientists will step onto land for the first time in almost a month. They and their oceanographic samples will return to C-MORE laboratories around the U.S. The oceanographers are also returning with new hypotheses buzzing around in their heads. Now it’s time for them to take the next step in the Scientific Method: data analysis!
Courtesy C-MOREDr. Dan Repeta from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) is C-MORE’s Chief Scientist on the BiG RAPA expedition, which is conducting research off the coast of Chile. Dr. Repeta and his team of scientists are sampling the underwater microbial environment using a variety of instruments, including a water collector called a CTD (see educational resource below). Two interesting results have turned up in the CTD data:
Courtesy Eric Grabowski, C-MORE"Sea It Live" in some BiG RAPA videos. Join Dr. Angel White from Oregon State University as she demonstrates the CTD rosette. Then join Dr. Repeta for his Chief Scientist Station 1 Update .
*Educational resource = C-MORE Science Kit Ocean Conveyor Belt's Powerpoint, "Lesson 3: Using Data to Explore Ocean Processes "
Courtesy C-MOREWell, yeah, that’s right. Microbes don’t smile, and they sure don’t command an oceanographic ship. However, there are lots of microbes in the sea; in fact, they account for most of the total marine biomass. With that in mind, there’s no question about microbes being fundamental to the functioning and health of the oceans.
Courtesy Scripps Institution of OceanographyScientists from C-MORE (Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education) and the Universidad de Concepción, Chile have organized an expedition to one of the most sparsely sampled oceanic regions on the planet…the southeast Pacific Ocean. The expedition’s official name is BiG RAPA (Biogeochemical Gradients: Role in Arranging Planktonic Assemblages). It departed from Chile on November 17 on the research ship Melville and will travel almost due west, ending at Rapa Nui (Easter Island) on December 14.
Courtesy C-MOREOceanographers will conduct studies on a microbial community that exists in a very curious environment. The Melville will travel from the nutrient-rich coastal waters off Chile into the low-nutrient area known as the South Pacific Subtropical Gyre. The SPSG is the most oligotrophic, or nutrient-poor, of all sub-tropical gyres. What kind of microbes can live in such an impoverished area? How do they do it? Join the BiG RAPA’s Sea It Live Tracker and find out!
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!
Don’t worry, it’s not cruel and usual punishment. The inmates aren’t being used as guinea pigs to test new drugs or try out some new method of electroshock therapy. Instead, the incarcerated offenders are part of Nadkarni’s research team. Nadkarni holds a PhD in Forest Ecology and is on the faculty at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. The National Science Foundation (NSF) has funded some of her inmate-aided research.
For one of Dr. Nadkarni's
Courtesy Nalini Nadkarni research projects, offenders at the Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Aberdeen, Washington, helped plant seeds of rare prairie plants then recorded data during the plants growth stages. The prisoners actually enjoyed helping out with the research. Not only did it give them a sense of doing something worthwhile, it connects them to something that’s sorely lacking in the old Graybar Hotel: nature.
For another project called Moss-in-Prisons (no Thor, your hero Randy has been picked up by the Tennessee Titans), Nadkarni recruited inmates at the Cedar Creek Corrections Center in Littlerock, Washington, to help discover improved ways of cultivating slow-growing mosses.
"I need help from people who have long periods of time available to observe and measure the growing mosses; access to extensive space to lay out flats of plants; and fresh minds to put forward innovative solutions," Nadkarni said.
If successful, the research could help replace ecologically important mosses that have been stripped from old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest, a sometimes illegal tactic that seems to be a favorite among some horticulturists.
In many cases, helping with the research isn’t just a way for inmates to pass time behind the brick walls and barbed wire of their confinement. It’s also a way to inspire them. One former inmate, who had worked with Nadkarni, enrolled in a Ph.D. program in microbiology after his release from Cedar Creek, and went on to give a presentation of the research he had done there at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America.
Apparently, Dr. Nadkarni is on to something, and its importance is not lost on those still behind bars.
"It teaches me something," said one prisoner involved with Nadkarni’s prairie plant study. "It makes me work with people and it's just a new skill that I've learned."
Both science and prisoners benefit from this natural symbiosis taking place in such an unnatural setting. And other prisons have expressed interest in getting their inmates involved in Nadkarni’s research programs,
"Everyone can be a scientist,” Nadkarni says. “Everyone can relate to nature, everyone can contribute to the scientific enterprise, even those who are shut away from nature.”
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 Mark RyanToday is National Fossil Day! It’s a day set aside to raise and promote public awareness of the educational and scientific value of fossils found on public lands and elsewhere - and the importance of preserving them for future study. The day is co-sponsored by the National Park Service and the American Geological Institute, and is the first of what organizers hope will be an annual day of fossil appreciation.
Several national parks, museums, and professional organizations throughout the country are celebrating by hosting special events. Check here for national park activities, or check your favorite local museum’s website for NFD events in your area.
The Science Museum of Minnesota will have a slightly belated celebration of the day this coming Saturday (October 16) from 1pm-4pm with special fossil activities taking place in several galleries, including a first glimpse at the new mammoth skull that’s been under preparation in the paleo lab. The skull will be out on the floor in the Dinosaur and Fossils gallery.
Since the weather’s been so nice here in the Twin Cities area, I celebrated the day the best way I know how: by going fossil hunting. One of my favorite spots to collect is near the town of Cannon Falls, located about a forty-minute drive from my house in Minneapolis. I tossed my rock hammer, bags and other collecting implements (i.e. something to kneel on) into the backseat of my car and headed southeast.
Courtesy Mark RyanThere are three or four locations in the Cannon Falls area where I like to collect. One of them is quite well known, and has been used by students of all ages for fossil field trips (I first visited it in the 1970s as part of a paleontology class I took at the University of Minnesota). The site outcrops along Goodhue county road 25 at the crest of a hill just a couple miles out of town. It looks like any other road ditch, but it’s one of the best fossil sites in the state.
Courtesy Mark RyanThe fossils found there are the remains of ancient marine life that lived on the bottom of a shallow sea that covered much of southern Minnesota during the Ordovician period about 450 million years ago. The fauna includes bryozoans (both branches and gumdrop-shaped prasopora), gastropods, horn coral, brachiopods, Cheerio-shaped crinoid stem segments, trilobites and cephalopods. In the Twin Cities the same fossil-bearing strata, known as the Decorah shale, can be found all along the upper banks of the Mississippi river. Ninety feet of the fossiliferous Decorah is exposed in the quarries at Lilydale Regional Park across from downtown St. Paul. Lilydale has been a popular collecting site for many years but access to it involves buying a permit, strenuous climbing, and sometimes precarious perching to get at the fossils. (The St. Paul parks department has closed Lilydale for the rest of the 2010 season due to flooding).
In Cannon Falls collecting couldn’t be easier. The topography is essentially flat and the fossils are mostly weathered out of their matrix, making for easy pickings.
Courtesy Mark RyanI split a couple hours of collecting between two different locations: the roadside along CR25, and another site my brother and I learned about on a previous collecting trip from a curious local farmer who had stopped to ask what the heck we were doing in the ditch. I’m not ready to disclose the location of this other site just yet. But I will say it has yielded some very fine specimens in the two years I’ve been collecting there. As you can see by the photos, those few hours spent at Cannon Falls paid off well. Recent heavy rains had brought forth a whole new crop of fossils, making it one of the better field excursions I’ve made to the area in several months. It was a great way to celebrate National Fossil Day.
Courtesy Mark RyanI also celebrated another way by entering a piece in the National Fossil Day art contest. I’m happy to report that I won Third Place in my age bracket (19 & above) with my Digging Fossils graphic (see photo). You can view all the winning entries at the National Fossil Day website.
Last night, bkennedy, a couple other SMM staff members, and I attended the Bell Museum's Cafe Scientifique at Bryant-Lake Bowl in Minneapolis. Robert Twilley, a principal investigator with the National Center for Earth-Surface Dynamics, came to speak about the endangered environment of the Mississippi Delta and the BP Deep Horizon Oil Spill. I didn't expect to get a history lesson, but it's just this kind of broad-ranging perspective that will help us understand what is happening to our environment.
It was frustrating to hear Dr. Twilley recount how, as a result of the 1928 Flood Control Act, civil engineers literally remade the Mississippi River and its delta in response to severe flooding events. While this had the temporary effect of protecting area residents from flooding, the plan neglected an important quality of all coastlines: they're dynamic. As sea level has risen over the last century, diverted sediments no longer replenish key areas of the delta and vast stretches of wetland are drowning--the same stretches of wetland that would protect people in the event of a strong hurricane. As a result of the levees, regular floods no longer wash sediments into the area. To complicate matters, projects such as dams farther upstream have cut the overall sediment supply to the Mississippi by about 50 percent in the last couple centuries.
Twilley emphasized that it wasn't as if people didn't know the problems these strategies would cause; engineers who opposed flood control tried to call attention to the associated risks. But in the wake of disastrous floods, the public demanded visible public works projects and politicians wanted to please them. Engineers who supported flood control saw it as a noble enterprise to control nature and protect people. And so today we have a tricky situation in the delta area. Disasters increase in intensity, and with them, peoples' insistence on solutions grow. But Twilley cautioned that it is imprudent to act on impulse, especially due to a widespread lack of understanding about how coastal systems work, and to our tendency to favor human safety without consideration for the environment that supports our safety. In short, we undermine ourselves.
"Since 1932, the basin has lost approximately 70% of its total land area."
When Hurricane Katrina hit, the same channel intended to give port access to ships funneled the storm surge farther inland. Twilley described how this perfect storm of civil engineering amplified the devastation brought by the Category 3 hurricane. The response to this devastation, rather than stepping back to reevaluate the situation and consider new ways to accommodate both the delta's needs and humans' needs, was to build a surge barrier that does nothing to restore the natural systems that once built and sustained that landscape over centuries. Contrary to engineers' intentions, Twilley asserted that these strategies will only exacerbate rising sea level and storm surge in the future as the wetlands drown further and the coastline moves inland.
Twilley also explained how, more recently, a lack of recognition of the complex systems in the river delta and along the Gulf Coast exacerbated BP's Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. BP's front end study on the potential impacts of a spill found no cause for concern that the oil would reach the shore. And yet, in spite of booms placed along the coast, the oil did reach the shore, infiltrating wetlands already threatened by rising sea levels and weakened by lack of sedimentation. Thanks to the use of dispersants, the oil is difficult to find and we may not know the full impact of the spill for some time.
This paints a pretty grim picture of the future, but Twilley left us with cause for hope. In one of the areas to which a significant portion of sediment was diverted, the wetlands are actually growing (Atchafalaya). Twilley and his colleagues hope that this and other examples will demonstrate the importance of these natural wetland-building systems and garner support for their plain to mitigate the wetland loss. They want to add river outlets in strategically important places throughout the delta to rebuild the wetlands and help stabilize the landscape. These outlets would only operate during flooding episodes--an approach called controlled flooding (as opposed to the current strategy of flood control), siphoning off extra water and sediment to starved wetlands AND preventing flooding into human settlements. Currently, they're also involved in a project to pipe sediment to areas that need it.
Of course, the new outlet plan won't be without some compromise on the part of humans--some may have to relocate. But given projections of the area for 2100, relocation isn't far off anyway. And the long-term protective benefits of restoring the wetlands might just be worth it.
Courtesy Paige Shoemaker
Next time you look at the clouds, shake your fist and yell at those jerks for making our lives difficult. You might look crazy, but somebody needs to tell those fools.
While it's relatively easy to model temperature changes over the last century thanks to detailed records, clouds are more tricky to understand because we don't have a similar history of cloud observations, and also because they are ornery. So in order to understand how clouds work, scientists are building a body of evidence to model cloud behavior and help show how clouds will impact our weather as well as our climate in the future. I believe they also plan to show those clouds who is the boss of them.
Like a child running loose in a toy store, hurricanes have always been difficult to predict because they can unexpectedly change direction. This confounds plans for evacuation, leading some people to leave areas that are never hit, leading others to stay put and potentially face nasty weather because they don't trust the meteorologist, and leading meteorologists to keep Advil in business. But since the 90s, our ability to predict where hurricanes will make landfall has become twice as accurate. This new prescience is due to the development and use of more accurate models of how clouds work, which is in turn due to better understanding of cloud dynamics and faster computers. How about that, punk clouds?
Intensity, however, remains elusive to model. (Shh, don't let them know we have a weakness!)
"While we pride ourselves that the track forecast is getting better and better, we remain humbled by the uncertainties of the science we don't yet understand," Schott said. "This is not an algebra question where there's only one right answer."
Despite being a "forecasting nightmare," Earl ended up hitting about where it was predicted to go. This means that the right people have been evacuated to avoid injury and fatality. That's right, stick your tail between your legs, Earl.
Connecting to climate
Short-term events such as hurricanes and other storms are difficult to predict, but climate change is a whole other world of uncertainty--again, thanks to those uncouth clouds. Climate scientists are developing new tools, such as satellite technologies that show how much light different cloud types reflect and models that demonstrate localized cloud processes. These approaches look specifically at certain groups of clouds and their patterns of change to add detail to older, larger models that look at climate over larger scales.
Courtesy Nic McPhee
The problem with the older models is that they have a low resolution that doesn't accurately represent clouds because the clouds are smaller than they can show. Think of it like Google maps--at the beginning, you're looking at the entire planet, or a whole continent--this is similar to older, low-res climate models. The new models are like zooming in on a city--you can see bus stops, restaurants, and highways. But you have to zoom out to see how these small pieces relate to the larger surroundings. In a similar way, the new high-res models are helping to inform older models--this type of work is called multiscale modeling.
Researchers at the Center for Multiscale Modeling of Atmospheric Processes (CMMAP) are developing this exact type of model. You can read about their advances here. This work is important because it brings insight into questions about whether clouds will reflect or trap more sunlight, which can have a big impact on the rate of global warming. It also helps us understand whether geoengineering projects that alter clouds will really have the intended effect. Plus it's just one more way we can pwn clouds.
Courtesy Science BuzzThere seems to be something seriously messed with the Buzz point system. I say this because lately I’ve noticed my point totals have been jumping all over the place like a kangaroo in withdrawal. At first, I couldn't for the life of me figure out why. I’ve been actively contributing to the blog, doing my part, yet I seem to keep losing points rather than gaining them. But now I think I know the answer.
I’m assuming most of you are familiar with the Science Buzz point system but for those who aren’t, here’s how it works: Each time you contribute something to the blog –be it a story, a photo, or whatever - you get points. The total you’ve accumulated is shown each time you add something, and is also displayed in your “full profile” under the My Account link near the top of the page. You can also see where you rank on the leaderboard. It means nothing of course and there are no prizes for having the most points but there is a sense of satisfaction derived from having more than anyone else, especially JGordon.
Anyway, when I first noticed my points dropping earlier this year, I didn’t give it much thought. But soon my curiosity (and suspicion) was raised, so I started collecting data, which has revealed some very startling numbers. Back on March 26th, I had 1584 points. Four days later and after I had added 8 points for a new story I still had 1584. Where did those 8 points go? I don’t know. It’s a mystery. About 3 weeks later, I managed to increase my number to 1598. But just 3 days after that and after adding at least 4 points it was down to 1587. Goodness, gracious, godness, Agnes! How can that be, I wondered. But then, somehow I managed to cross the 1600-point threshold on May 24, when the total stood at 1606 points. This put me at ease, for at least a little while. And then on May 28th my heart soared when I saw I had a whopping 1619 points. That was the pinnacle, the acme, the proverbial Mount Everest of my Buzz point totals during my data collection period. All was now right with the world. But my elation was short lived, and soon after things started to go downhill. Throughout early June my points hovered around (mostly below) the 1600 mark, dipping as low as 1552 on the 30th. And July’s trend hasn’t been much better. Bottom line: my total has managed to snake its way from a high of 1619 in May to an incredible 1564 today despite posting several dozen stories, which, on average, should have added at least 6 points per post!!?? Whatever was going on, there had to be a logical, scientific explanation, so I compiled a list of possibilities.
1. A major computer program glitch.
2. Crazy mathematics
3. The numbers are tied directly to the Dow-Jones Industrials.
4. A powerful black hole resides in the center of the point system.
5. Global warming.
These are all valid possibilities, but after serious consideration none of them stood up to close scientific scrutiny. So I was left with the only other reasonable explanation: gremlins - those little tormentors who go about sabotaging machinery and causing general mayhem (click here for actual footage). Somehow the little buggers have managed to infiltrate the Buzz point system and are making my life miserable.
I think in my case the gremlins are being led by an especially devious one related to the Norse deity known as Loki. And I suspect he hangs out in the Exhibit Department here at the Science Museum. However, I don’t think he’s clever enough to act alone, so I’m almost certain he’s had co-conspirators helping him with his mischief. But now that their plot has been exposed, I can get back to some serious point accumulation. And I should add that with this post I have finally surpassed JGordon. Not that it makes any difference, mind you.