Environmental Capitalism
Friday, June 03, 2011
By Daniel de la Calle


Richard Conniff wrote a brilliant piece last year titled "What are species worth? Putting a price on biodiversity" :

Had you ever heard about Prochlorococcus, a cyanobacteria responsible for 20% of the oxygen we breathe?  It might have only been discovered 25 years ago, but was playing this vital role for all life forms during millions of them.
What about the yew tree?  After thousands of years of use as raw material to fashion bows and spear heads, the yew was simply seen as a "trash tree" until the 1960s, when a chemical in its bark and leaves, taxol, became critical for cancer treatment.  In 2009 those drug sales topped $1.6 billion.

When we cause a specie to decline we are completely unaware of how the apparently distant event is going to trickle down to us. Let's consider the case of vultures in India during the 1990s: at that time local farmers started using diclofenac with their livestock, an anti-inflammatory medication to ease pain and fever.  Unfortunately, vultures scavenging on animal carcasses accumulated large quantities of this drug and died of renal failure, which brought them close to extinction (in 15 years 96.8 to 99.9% disappeared).  Feral dogs took the niche vacated by vultures and boomed to 9 million animals, which consequently lead to a radical increase in the number of dog bites on people.  It is believed that an extra 48,000 people died from rabies, and if we were to put a monetary value to all those deaths, according to Conniff the loss of vultures cost India roughly $24 billion.

In another paragraph, while referring to the Pacific Northwest Coast, Mr. Conniff points out: "Our understanding is too primitive to say one species is important and another isn’t. Starfish are the dominant predator. So mussels normally crowd up along the high tide line, where starfish are less likely to chomp them. In one study, a biologist removed the starfish to see what would happen. The mussels soon crept down toward deeper water, crowding out other species. Within a few years, only eight of the 15 original species still lived in that neighborhood. For all their apparent cruelty, killer species can be a means of fostering biodiversity."

Ken Caldeira, Sven Huseby, some mussels and a starfish

Trying to convey the importance of nature writers and researchers have assessed the value of the Amazon jungle, of all the biomass in Africa, of the world's fisheries and its reefs (the reefs for example have been estimated to be worth $30 billion per year in tourism, fisheries and coastal protection).

As we make our choices and put price tags on regions and environments two things worry me the most. The first is Connfill's point with the mussel and starfish real fable, that we simply know too little and usually too late the intricacies amongst the network of living creatures and the environment to make any educated evaluation (keep in mind that about 1.8 million species have been described to this day, but another 10 to 50 million remain to be discovered) that will hold true through time.  The second is that we are simply and brutally missing the point.  I understand the desire to put things under a different light, to try to convey the pressing importance of our environmental concerns and efforts to that large portion of society that only wakes up from lethargy when some coins fall on the table, when we can talk business.  I worry that by attempting to filter life through the eyes of Wall Street we are perverting a noble cause and handing it to the devil, drowning in the very source of the problem, right into what has brought us here: this current sacralization of economics.  We mistakenly confuse our ability to alter the natural order of things with an immature sense of entitlement, a right to pursue in life and perceive evolution and progress solely as added comfort, luxury and wealth. Back when we could not transform nature in a broad scale our environment was respected, carefully listened to and revered; now that we have the ability to change the course of rivers, to exterminate most animal life on land and sea, to grow apples in the desert, when we have a chance to show our true colors, we fail pathetically, realize we are still in square one.
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Research News and Job Opportunities
Monday, May 30, 2011
By Daniel de la Calle

I bring you some research news and job opportunities to start the week:

    •The University of Alaska Fairbanks placed its first Ocean Acidification buoy in Alaskan waters last April.  "This is the first dedicated ocean acidification mooring to be deployed in a high-latitude coastal sea," said Jeremy Mathis, principal investigator for the project and an assistant professor of chemical oceanography at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.  "Other moorings have been deployed with ocean acidification sensors, but this is the first complete package in Alaska."
The first buoy was assembled by "our" Chris Sabine at UAF's Seward Marine Center and is floating and measuring away at the mouth of Resurrection Bay. The second one is going in the Bering Sea any day now and a third one will be placed in the Chukchi Sea this October.

Each one of these buoys contains two sets of instruments. The first measures pH levels, water temperature, carbon dioxide levels and other data at water surface, while the second collects pH levels, carbon dioxide, temperature, salinity and other information at the bottom of the buoy.  All data is sent in real time via satellite to the laboratories.

Chris Sabine and Dick Feely showing us a buoy during the A Sea Change shooting

     •An 18 month full time postdoctoral position is being offered as part of the Anillo Project ACT 132 "Influence of the near-future ocean acidification on shellfish resources: Latitudinal variations and fresh water inputs" in Chile.  Experimental work will be conducted at the Calfuco Coastal Laboratory of Aquatic Resources (Universidad Austral de Chile) about 40 kms from Valdivia, Chile.  The Postdoc felow can also make use of all the facilities and space of the Aquatic Ecosystem Functioning Lab at the EULA Center (Universidad de Concepción) in the town of Concepcion.
SALARY: The Postdoctoral fellow involves an annual gross salary of CLP$12.000.000 (Chilean pesos)

    The University of Glasgow is offering a 42 month position as Research Assistant/Associate in Ocean Acidification at the School of Geographical and Earth Sciences.  Research work will try to determine how both the protein and mineral components of the mussel Mytilus edulis respond to Ocean Acidification. 

The appointed person will also be responsible of running their experimental mesocosm facility.
SALARY: Grade 6 £25,854 – £29,099 / Grade 7 £31,798 – £35,788 per year, depending on experience.
Apply online at www.glasgow.ac.uk/jobs (Use Ref. E20098)

    Mytilus Edulis is the scientific name for the common blue mussel.  The marine environment has an abundance of bio-mineralizing organisms that are threatened by ocean acidification.  Coccoliths, corals or mollusks produce calcium carbonate structures with aragonite and calcite (Meta-stable aragonite being more susceptible to dissolving at low pH than calcite), the most common calcium carbonate polymorphs in the biosphere.  The perturbation of bio-calcification has potentially wide-reaching consequences, that is why it is crucial to understand the impact that Ocean Acidification will have on this process.
The shell of the common mussel is composed of roughly equal layers of calcite and aragonite, making it an ideal organism to determine the influence of Ocean Acidification on both calcite and aragonite in a biological system. 

Professor Maggie Cusack, of the University of Glasgow was awarded this past March a £255,234 grant to develop a research project aiming "to understand how both the protein and mineral components of M. edulis respond to ocean acidification with the identification of thresholds and tipping points in this response."

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News and a Rumor
Thursday, May 26, 2011
By Daniel de la Calle

Distilled from the World Wide Web for you:

    -The Plymouth Marine Laboratory has launched a new short film on Ocean Acidification. Its title is "Ocean acidification: Connecting science, industry, policy and public". Here it is


    -Folks at United By Blue are organizing a cleanup on Saturday June 11th in the city of Baltimore.  On this occasion the cleanup area will be at the confluence of the Armistead Run and the Herring Run main stem.  If you live in the vicinity you might want to devote some of your time to this very worthy and rewarding cause.  It is expected to run from 10am until 3 pm and people will meet at Alricks Way, near the intersection between Md Rt. 40 Pulaski Hwy and I-895 (adjacent to the Armistead Gardens neighborhood).

    -Science Watch has published a list with the top 30 research organizations and universities in the field of oceanography based on citations per paper to highly cited papers published over the past ten years (2000-2010).
Here are the first ten, the country of origin, with the number of highly cited papers (blue), cites (green) and cites per paper (red).
1    University of Otago, New Zealand    11-1,628-148
2    MIT, USA    12-1,727-144
3    NOAA, USA        23-3,092-134
4    Rutgers State University, USA    10-1,268-126
5    University of Washington, USA    21-2,662-126
6    University of East Anglia, UK    11-1,367-124
7    National Center for Atmospheric Research, USA    10-1,147-114
8    Plymouth Marine Laboratory, UK    15-1,699-113
9    Princeton University, USA    10-1,097-109
10    University of Southern California, USA    10-1,073-107
In terms of number of highly cited papers, as well as total citations, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute comes first, followed by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the University of California San Diego (by papers) or the University of Washington (by citations). Ken Buesseler of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, whose specialty is marine geochemistry, is the researcher with the greatest number of highly cited papers (10) as well as total citations to his highly cited papers (1,558).  You may review the whole list in the Science Watch link above.

    -  Young Kunal Sangani and research partner Mishka Gadwani are two students from Fayetteville-Manlius High School in Syracuse (NY) that just won first place this past week at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, the world's largest international pre-college science competition.  Their project is titled "The Effects of Ocean Acidification on Oil Spills on Emiliania Huxleyi Transparent Exopolymer Particles" and it centers on a new method for removing oil particles from the water using phytoplankton.  Research came with a different result than expected: although they were at first set out to show how phytoplankton are harmed by oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, Kunai and Mishka actually uncovered how phytoplankton "assist" in removing oil from the ocean by producing a sticky chemical that forms a network in the water and traps the oil. The network subsequently floats to the surface, where it can be collected.
There is some prize money, but much more importantly they get to have an asteroid named after each one of them and that, like their work and dedication at such an early age, is priceless.

    -Japan is easy to like: an exotic fascinating culture that praises artistic refinement, shows deep appreciation for craftsmanship, for work that aims for perfection, a nation with a religion that reveres nature…  Still, the line that separates love and passion from obsession and destruction is thinner that a shoji door and there are times when my own admiration for Japan is put to a serious test.  I am not talking about the whales now, nor about those insatiable tropical lumber imports, I am talking tuna.  Not knowing how much of it is rumors, a proven fact is that Mitsubishi Corporation has managed to control around 40% of the world tuna catch, while the part of the rumors goes that the company could be storing deep frozen stock of the oishii bluefin tuna in preparation for when it becomes (maybe by 2012) commercially extinct.  Being such a Machiavellian proposition, we have all reasons to think it is true.  For this, my friends, is exactly the problem, that many of us simply cannot drum into our heads that some very very very good business ideas are actually miserable ideas.

Dyed tako at a Tokyo street market, a bunch of years ago.
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Little Red Dots
Monday, May 23, 2011
By Daniel de la Calle


  Don't be afraid to scratch if they itch:

    Anyone who has been to the Pacific Northeast in general and to Puget Sound in particular can bear witness to its beauty and uniqueness.  An invisible contributor to this distinctiveness lies in the origin of its waters: strong currents bring cold ocean bottom waters up to the coast and consequently make them some of the most "corrosive" around the globe.  Scientists studying this phenomenon last year determined that while the average global pH in the oceans is 8.1, in the Pacific coast the figure drops to 7.7; on some places in Hood Canal it even reaches 7.4.  This obviously poses interesting questions about the future of its creatures: will it make them better prepared for lower pH levels?  Or will the opposite happen?  Are they already in such a precarious state that they could be the first ones to go?
Paul McElhany, research ecologist at the National Marine Fisheries Service in Seattle, confirms what we have heard so many times: "The ocean-chemistry changes we're seeing are happening faster than we've ever seen in history.  They can really alter the ecology of the ocean and lead to fundamental shifts in the structure of the marine food web."  These scientists are currently testing various levels of acidity on different marine organisms, like geoduck clams (the largest biomass in Puget Sound), but the next crucial stage will be to study genetic changes with University of Washington experts and to build a miniature replica of the marine environment with a San Juan Island laboratory to see what happens to the food web when multiple changes take place simultaneously.

A mighty endeavor, since the network of interdependency between organisms is extremely intricate and tends to shift in a natural manner.  Plus, we do not know how a cocktail of Ocean Acidification, pollutants and higher water temperatures will transform things either.  To exemplify this complexity, computer models at Seattle's Northwest Fisheries Science Center predict a decrease in herring population if Ocean Acidification was to reduce one type of plankton eaten by these fish, but if Acidification were to have a larger effect on another type of plankton the number of herring could actually come up.


(A Documentary on Geoduck Clams)

   NOAA has selected Dr. Elizabeth Jewett as its first first director for the new Ocean Acidification Program.  Established by Congress in 2009, the Ocean Acidification Program will plan and oversee a long-term coastal and open ocean monitoring program, lead research on the impacts of ocean acidification on marine ecosystems and the socioeconomic implications of these impacts. It will also provide educational opportunities to learn about this threat through national public outreach and coordinate activities with other agencies, nongovernmental groups and the international community. 
Elizabeth Jewett will coordinate the ocean acidification work of 70 scientists from across NOAA, as well as extramural efforts led by NOAA’s academic partners. She will also represent NOAA on the interagency working group of the Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology of the National Science and Technology Council, coordinating federal activities on ocean acidification to better understand and address how a more acidic ocean will affect life on the planet.

"I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to be the first to lead and coordinate NOAA's dynamic ocean acidification research and monitoring work,” Jewett said. “We now need to expand NOAA’s capacity and efforts to better understand and respond to this very serious threat to the world's ocean, estuaries and Great Lakes."
(Source and Credit: NOAA)

   The United Kingdom is developing along its coasts a network of Marine Protected Areas and Reference Areas.  While the first will only stop the most damaging activities, still allowing commercial and recreational fishing, the much smaller in size Reference Areas will play a key role in the success of the whole program.  These Reference Area waters will be completely protected and will allow marine life inside them a return to an almost natural state.  A study on various European reserves showed an average of over 2 1/2 times more marine life within such waters after a short period of time.  Reference Areas eventually spill out fish population into the surrounding sea and have the added benefit of being more resilient to environmental threats like pollution, warming and Ocean Acidification. 

    We can unfortunately include another negative consequence of the increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere.  Studies in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences have discovered that higher atmospheric CO2 over the past 150 years has reduced plant's stomata by 34%.  Stomata are the spores in charge of transpiration: taking oxygen and carbon dioxide in and releasing water vapor.
"The increase in carbon dioxide by about 100 parts per million has had a profound effect on the number of stomata and, to a lesser extent, the size of the stomata," confirms David Dilcher of Indiana University Bloomington.  "Our analysis of that structural change shows there's been a huge reduction in the release of water to the atmosphere.  The carbon cycle is important, but so is the water cycle. If transpiration decreases, there may be more moisture in the ground at first, but if there's less rainfall that may mean there's less moisture in ground eventually."  Keep this crucial factor in mind: water vapor released from plants makes up 10% of humidity in the atmosphere.
Above, stomata on pre-industrial age Florida plants and nowadays.
Photo by E. Lamertsma

    Spanish and French researchers have begun making bio-oil from captured CO2 and algae.  The project, developed by a company called Bio Fuel Systems over the past five years, is trying to combine CO2 captured from a nearby cement factory in the city of Alicante (transported through a pipeline to the Bio Fuel Systems facility), where it is combined in 26 foot tubes (400 of them, see below) with millions of microscopic algae to replicate in an ultra accelerated speed the natural millions-of-years-long process of fossil fuel production. 

  It is currently in an experimental phase, but engineers believe that in ten years time, a possible unit covering 50 square kilometers in the barren regions of Southern Spain would produce 1.25 million barrels per day.  They promote the system as "ecological oil", a de-pollutant, since the process absorbs CO2 that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere.
Companies, especially several in the aviation sector, have shown interest in this bio-fuel as a replacement for classic oil and kerosene.




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Interview with Sven
Monday, May 16, 2011
By Daniel de la Calle

    On this rainy morning I had the chance to meet with Sven for a cup of tea and a half hour chat in his kitchen.  We had not done an official interview for the blog since May of last year, so an update on A Sea Change and the work Barbara Ettinger and Sven Huseby do with Ocean Acidification was more than due.

D:    Sven, why don't you tell me what you have been up to over the past six months.

Sven:    In November of last year we were invited to participate in London at a gathering of NGOs, foundations and scientists who were looking at ways of building further collaboration between the funding community, the research community and the policy community in Europe and specially in Great Britain.  It was right at the time when their government had approved further funding for research on Ocean Acidification and there was the belief that there could be an increase in the number of monitoring stations and new ways to analyze the data coming in.  So that was a very hopeful kind of conference, very exciting.
From there we returned to the States.  Barbara had actually been exploring a next film project, which was going to be about the US military and sustainable energy systems.  We were working on that in the background, but in the meantime we had invitations in February and March to participate in a couple of three-day events, first at Oregon State University and then at the University of Washington
The first one was actually sponsored by their Philosophy Department and was around the topic of science, media and messaging.  We did a three hour seminar with people in the Communications Department and with graduate students in science.  We started the first day with a seminar in which we first talked about how you make a film of the kind that we made with A Sea Change.  Then we asked the group to break up into four groups and to pick an environmental topic that they would like to make a documentary about.  They were to create a narrative tale that would carry the message and organize it in such a way that they could make a pitch to a foundation to raise money for making of the film.  Barbara and I represented a foundation and were there to listen and then critique their presentations. In other words, we went through the motions that would not be unusual for the making and funding of an environmental film.



D:    Do you think scientists see a need to learn to communicate better, to transmit their findings and inform the public?

Sven:    There is no question that scientists feel that a huge challenge within (and I think that is why the philosophy department was pushing this) the science community is addressing the question of whether it is the responsibility of the scientists to speak out, to communicate, to educate around their findings.  There was a panel group that talked about this subject at a gathering.  Some felt very strongly that it was almost immoral not to speak out, others thought that the definition of a scientist was someone who continues to do the science, that it was for others to pick up what we are learning from science and bring it into the public realm.  The minute a scientist gets involved, objectivity, credibility, the scientist's value to the field of science becomes suspect, questionable.  There was one rather poignant moment when one of the scientists expressed the anger and frustration keeping such a position caused him, this impossibility to go out to a mountain top and scream about one's findings.
    When we went to the University of Washington most participants were already graduate students in the field of fisheries or aquatic studies or was an ocean scientist in general.  In that arena I would say that there was a stronger sense that there is a need to speak out.  But it is always dangerous, because the criticism you can receive for your actions becomes directed not just at you, but to the validity of the work you are doing, and therefore your scientific efforts.

D:    I think labs and science departments at universities should have a spokesperson, someone not directly involved in the research who works on its interpretation and on bringing it to the media and the public.

Sven:    I completely agree with you, I know Barbara would as well and our dream was to talk with graduate students who still have not decided what their path is going to be and see if there are some of them who will find that role very satisfying, young men and women that would already be grounded in the science, but intrigued into how do you parlay it into something else.  My impression in listening to people from various labs in the country is that they would all like to have a person like that.  Do they prioritize in such a way that it is at the top of their funding requests?  I don't think so.  If they readily had the money, would they do it? I think they obviously would.  Most of the labs that I am aware of today are struggling for resources: funding has decreased significantly in the last decade.  But this discussion we are talking about here is taking place and at the University of Washington I think there was a clear understanding that this communication is a skill set of its own.

D:    Ok, what came after that?
 
Sven:    Well, in March we were going to go back to working on this new film and at that point several things happened in our lives that made us slow down a bit:  I broke my arm in a sports injury and we had our dearest dearest friend and companion, our nearly 16 year old lab become very ill, so we returned to the East Coast and nursed him for the last two months of his life.  We are now taking a little time off to try to understand what do we do next.  
In the meantime I continue to work with foundations, to see if we can keep the pipeline open for funding in the Ocean Acidification sector.  I am also continuing to work with the government through a group that I am part of called Ocean Acidification Task Force.  It is a subgroup of the Ocean Research and Resources Advisory panel to the Intergovernmental Working Panel on Ocean Acidification.  A mouthful, yes, but essentially a group that makes recommendations to the government about where we need to be looking as we invest public resources over the next five to ten years in this sector.  Right now it is a little bit on hold; we have finished our first stated mission which was to create a fully dedicated report that was submitted and has been accepted and it's now undecided whether we are going to be reactivated in the next six to twelve months.  It has been intriguing to meet the people working in the policy sector in Washington DC.  I am highly impressed with their dedication, with their know-how.  They are dealing with a political situation where it is all about cutbacks, which makes this kind of work much more challenging.

D:     And A Sea Change, what lies ahead for the film?

Sven:    I would love it if we could figure out a way in which to move the film into countries where it still hasn't had much exposure, particularly countries with large coastal areas.  I think in South America, since we have a Spanish version of the film, it could be distributed further in Chile, Peru and Argentina.  We have contacts in all three of those countries that we need to work with in order to make that happen.  We have had some screenings in China and would love to have more; we also would like to get the film hooked up with some universities there to be used however they see fit, and if there was some way to be on television there that would be even more effective.  As always, our objective is to bring Ocean Acidification into the public discourse.

From my own personal point of view, though, the more I could do to mentor others doing this kind of work, to let them experience some success and enjoy the confidence that that breeds, that would be the greatest satisfaction I could see.  I do not feel any less energy, but I have less interest in the kind of travel schedule that this work involves.  I wish I could say it was based on principles that I would like to slow down a bit, but it's really more that I am just choosing to play a different role and return more to being the classroom teacher.  I am really eager to build the number of people that we can mentor.

D:    What have scientists told you about the film since it came out?

Sven:    The thing that they single out again and again is that here is a set of scientific findings that have been built into a narrative tale.  Because it is a story of legacy and a grandfather-grandson relationship that can be broadly identified with, it engages people with that material in a way that no scientific paper, report or scientist speaking on television could ever do.  They find that amusing and they express a tremendous amount of gratitude that Barbara was able to envision a way in which to do that and that we had the drive to move forward and breathe some life into it. 

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Ocean Acidification News on the Web
Saturday, May 07, 2011
By Daniel de la Calle

Some Ocean Acidification news for this beginning of May:
    ¤Symposium on Ocean Acidification to be held in Canberra, Australia from the 15th to the 17th of June 2011.
The event is titled Ocean Acidification and Implications for Living Marine Resources in the Southern Hemisphere and aims to: "enhance the understanding of key challenges and developments in acidification research, 
facilitate national and international collaboration and networks
, share perspectives of national and international leaders in the field, 
develop interactions with government agencies charged with addressing the issue."
Guest speakers include:
Dr Richard Feely, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), United States of America (USA)
, Dr Catriona Hurd, University of Otago, New Zealand
, Dr Chris Langdon, University of Miami, (USA), 
Dr Phil Munday, James Cook University, Australia
, Dr Yukihiro Nojiri, National Institute for Environmental Studies, Japan.
Info HERE
    ¤A University of Plymouth research group has received a €3.5 million grant from the European Commission to fund research on the effects of Ocean Acidification. Dr Jason Hall-Spencer, in charge of the project, is collaborating with scientists from the USA, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Italy, Israel, France, Spain and Monaco to discover the effects of rising CO2 levels on coastal habitats. This international team of divers is studying a series of giant underwater volcanoes, which allows the scientists to discern what dies and what can survive as coastal areas become more acidified. Aside from appearing in Elizabeth Kolbert's article on this month's issue of National Geographic, their film channel has also made a documentary called One Ocean: The Changing Sea about Mr. Hall's research into CO2 vents that has been broadcast in 167 countries. Part of the money comes from the MedSeA grant that I wrote about on a previous post.
   ¤Map from the Living Oceans Society showing the decline of carbonate in time on the Pacific West Coast.

   ¤ Krill decline is affecting penguin populations in Antarctica.  A study titled Penguins in peril: variability in krill biomass links harvesting and climate warming to penguin population changes in Antarctica by Dr. Wayne Trivelpiece of NOAA and his colleagues indicates that both adelie (or "ice-loving") and chinstrap (or "ice-avoiding") penguin populations have declined by more than 50% in certain regions of the Antarctic since the 1970s.  This could prove that lower numbers are not so much due to sea-ice cover, but more related to krill abundance.  Due to intensive whaling in the 19th and early 20th Century penguins could have had access to an extra 150 million tons of krill during that time. But rising temperatures, recovering whale and fur seal populations and the commercial krill fishery have depressed krill abundance by almost 80% in the Southern Ocean.  The Southern Ocean is also a major sink for atmospheric CO2, so those lower pH levels could already be impacting on the ability of krill to form their shells.
"Penguins are excellent indicators of changes to the biological and environmental health of the broader ecosystem because they are easily accessible while breeding on land, yet they depend entirely on food resources from the sea. In addition, unlike many other krill-eating top predators in the Antarctic, such as whales and fur seals, they were not hunted by humans," said Dr. Trivelpiece. "When we see steep declines in populations, as we have been documenting with both chinstrap and Adelie penguins, we know there's a much larger ecological problem."
These findings are specially vital for chinstrap penguins, since they breed almost solely in the area studied.
Parcial source for this news HERE.
    ¤One more short video on Ocean Acidification with Mark Green, from Saint Joseph's College, done for the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership.
   
    ¤New video about OA from MSNBC.COM

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The Tough Choice
Tuesday, May 03, 2011
By Daniel de la Calle

Let me ask you this question:  in the fight to save ecosystems and biodiversity around the globe, do you think we should begin targeting those areas and species with more chances of survival?  Or should most funding resources still go to those areas that seem more fragile, more threatened by our impact on weather, water, air and soil?
Where should the line dividing realism and idealism, utopianism and pragmatism be placed?
This question has been spinning in my head since I read an article in Newscientist.com about coral preservation.
Scientists know certain species and areas are better equipped for future scenarios of changes in temperatures, water acidity, precipitation; there is no doubt about it.  Even I noticed as a kid in my local beaches how some fish were o.k. in polluted waters while others disappeared, we know of examples everywhere.  "Coral ecologists are now arguing that such species should drop down the list of conservation priorities – even if they typify the species-rich hotspots that are the poster children of conservation efforts", the article said.
It is a fascinating question.  We have had campaigns about saving pandas, dolphins, whales; we clearly favor what we consider beautiful looking animals, preferably large, "smart" and mammal, those we empathize with.
Pandas, the symbol of the WWF, are striking, cuddly, like a chubby kid in a black and white fur costume, they're even vegetarian (= seen as harmless).  We all like pandas, they symbolize our fight to preserve nature, our love for it.  But this is sort of misleading; the reality is that yes, we are saving the pandas (barely), but we are losing the fight for biodiversity, losing big time.  I love pandas and my daughter adores them, but for the sake of argument (and hoping she does not read this), let's imagine we left the panda to its human induced fate, to sooner or later join the dodo.  Would the panda be more helpful in the defense of the environment as an extinct martyr, as the face of our global failure?  Could it be that the fragile "success" with pandas is sending the wrong signal to society, that people think that as long as they see footage of whales in the ocean, of giant, red pandas chewing on bamboo in China that we really are preserving nature, that things are dandy?
Going back to coral reefs and funding for conservation, Tim McClanahan, senior conservation zoologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society believes that it is time to reassess priorities and not focus so much on biodiversity hotspots with abundant and diverse species that tend to be less adapted to handling stress and more on areas that have already shown the ability to cope better with environmental stress.  Some scientists agree "that conservation resources need to be carefully targeted to protect as many species as possible".  But there are others, like Charles Birkeland from the University of Hawaii, who interpret this as simply giving up.
Coral polyp
McClanahan and his colleagues studied the recovery of corals in the Western Indian Ocean after the 1998 bleaching.  Some areas rebounded better than others.  They looked at long-term satellite data to determine which of the stronger spots are in areas least likely to experience long-lasting environmental stress.  It turned out that such coral areas had not really been seen as a priority in the past because they are near heavily populated regions.  McClanahan considers it "a more realistic approach".  Up until now most money has gone to protect taxonomically diverse coral reefs that lie more isolated, not taking into consideration their resistance to sea water warming, Ocean Acidification and all remaining dangers.
What do you think?  I go back and forth between both approaches, but have to admit that what primarily makes me want to continue focusing on the most threatened environments is a naïve desire to keep believing in the impossible perfect happy ending.
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Pizza Vs. Sushi
Friday, April 29, 2011
By Daniel de la Calle

Researchers believe we should prepare ourselves for a world with more anchovies and less tuna:
    Various recent studies indicate a constant decrease in the number of marine predators; from sharks to tuna, our "lions and tigers of the seas" are becoming less and less abundant.  If certain key elements do not change soon, urgently, those large fish-eating-fish might become a thing of the past.  Villy Christensen, Reg Watson and their colleagues at the University of British Columbia have conducted a study of historic records and noticed the steady loss of around 10% of top predator fish in the decades between 1910 and 1970.  It was in the last forty years though, once more advanced fishing gear and techniques were used, that numbers really plummeted to the point that the seas are now home to a mere third of the fish population of 1910. 
    Fishing activities, our global catch, escalated throughout the 20th Century:
from roughly some 16 million (metric) tons per year in the 1950s to 80 million tons in the 1990s. In these past twenty years numbers simply stagnated.  During 2006, for example, the catch was 76 million tons, or around 7 trillion fish.  If such a trend continues top predators could become in fact become rare by 2050.  This obviously does not mean that the oceans will be empty, there has actually been an increase in the abundance of small pray fish like anchovies, but neither are these the fish that people prefer to eat nor the sort and size of predator that can cap the number of small fish with the potential of damaging ecosystems.  In more plain words, we are breaking the natural balance and opening the door to an uncertain future.
    Throw a changing climate into this strained scenario and the consequences will be dire: if, as expected, more rain falls in the tropics, we could witness a freshening of the upper seas and a stratification of ocean layers that would make harder for nutrients to reach the surface.  Jorge Sarmiento of Princeton University recently showed at an American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting projections made by five different computer programs about plankton concentration in such a future scenario.  While the global nutrient drop might average 1 to 2 percent, there are areas where numbers could go down as much as 16 percent, which would obviously have a direct impact on the size of fish.  William Cheung of the University of East Anglia fed some of this information into another simulation program and initial results indicated a 10 percent decrease in fish sizes.  But it was once he included Ocean Acidification into his calculations that things got much more serious: 30 and even 40 percent growth drops were predicted.
    A warmer, more acidic ocean that makes fish move more for food and therefore need more oxygen will also see fish migrating to cooler areas, as I already mentioned on a previous post.  William Cheung believes half of the world's stocks will travel up to 40 kilometers per decade, possibly displacing fisheries from one country's waters to another's.
Snappers fly above you at the Natural History Museum, NYC.

    After all these bleak views I really want to finish the post with some hopefulness, though.  I recently read online that Eric Schwaab, administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service, delivered at the Boston Seafood show last March the extraordinary message that we might be witnessing the end of overfishing in US waters.  Strict annual catch limits were imposed in 2010 on fisheries experiencing overfishing and this year all remaining fisheries will undergo the same restrictions and caps (thanks to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act from 2007).  As mentioned above, some species remain dangerously over-fished, but the current general picture in US waters could be one of positive change, where even some beneficial results for fishermen are already visible: the National Marine Fisheries Service will increase catch limits for species with growing populations (cod, haddock and flounder to name a few) in the New England groundfisheries for the new fishing year that begins this Sunday, May 1st.

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Artistic License
Monday, April 11, 2011
By Daniel de la Calle

Creative work filters life, the natural world, history, words, even our ambiguous, volatile human emotions through the distorted prism of the artist's senses.  When done with genius this does the magic of shedding a certain light and revelation to that reality; it somehow touches us more profoundly and brings us closer to the original, the way we can only observe the sun projected through a pinhole camera.
Permeation between science and art shouldn't only be unidirectional, though.  While art is intrinsically open, limitless and free from rules, any amount of it, any subjectivity contaminating science will invalidate it. I am coming to the idea as I type this that science is in a way an attempt to dehumanize observation while preserving our inherent curiosity and analytical approach. And still, why do I feel so touched by science, by charts with numbers and figures, by topographical maps, by microscopic photography, astronomy, by the beauty and practical simplicity of lab equipment or the eerie magic of MRIs and X-rays?
The two most inspiring places I visited last year probably were the American Museum Of Natural History in NYC (a recurring visit when down in Manhattan) and my recent Parisian discovery, the History of Medicine Museum. I am not alone in this, hanging from a wall at the entrance of this hidden jewel at the School of Medicine you can find the following painting of an early attempt at blood transfusions, or art inspired by scientific research.


During its two years of life A Sea Change has inspired people to paint, sing and write about our oceans, about the fragility of pteropods, to make a call to our consciences for the end of certain practices.
Last week we received a candid email from Monica Ravreby in Cambridge, NY, who watched A Sea Change with her 17 year old daughter Taylor, last year and wanted to let us know how much they enjoyed it and had learnt from it. Just recently Monica was surprised to discover Taylor had actually chosen the subject of Ocean Acidification for an English research paper at school and had written the following poem:

I swim throughout the sea
and hardly anyone notices me.
But lately something feels wrong,
my shell is getting softer. What is going on?
Calcium Carbonate is what I need,
but it’s disappearing due to Carbon Dioxide’s greed.
My home is soaking up the greenhouse gasses,
while you all learn about my fate in classes.
Is there nothing that can be done?
Because this increasing acidity level is not fun!
Once me and my friends go extinct,
the whole food chain might start to unlink.
I am just a pteropod who wants to stay alive,
please do your best to help me survive…
Taylor Ravreby

Thank you Monica and Taylor for sharing it with us and letting us post it on the blog.

Cases of creative license abound all through the art world, whether is giving voice to a pteropod's concerns or rearranging nature for the sake of beauty or composition.  Can your keen eyes spot an example on this gorgeous panel from King Sargon II's palace in Khorsabad, housed at the Louvre?


And this, is this is a painting or a photograph?


I wish everyone a pleasant week. Here in the Northeast, where I just arrived, spring is finally fighting its way through ice and slush and people are in a trance.

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Books, Projects and PhDs
Tuesday, April 05, 2011
By Daniel de la Calle

“All truth passes through three stages: First, it is ridiculed; Second, it is violently opposed; and Third, it is accepted as self-evident." - Arthur Schopenhauer

    ¤The European Union is launching this April a new three-year project called Mediterranean Sea Acidification in a changing climate (MedSeA).  Its goal is to "assess uncertainties, risks and thresholds related to Mediterranean acidification at organismal, ecosystem and economical scales." From their website it appears that their headquarters are at the Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona, but over 16 institutions from 10 different countries are participating in the project with a total budget of € 6 million.

   ¤ If you have read previous blog posts you know that I often look for jobs and research scholarships on Ocean Acidification. This week I found not one, nor two, but three PhD projects:
1-   The British Antarctic Survey is funding a PhD research project for UK students to assess the impact of Ocean Acidification on life in the sea. The details are quite technical, so it is best if you go to THIS LINK and read further.
2-   The second PhD research project comes from the University of East Anglia and is for European students. The purpose: to characterize the calcium carbonate cycle in the Southern Ocean. Again, go to THIS LINK to learn more.
3-   The University of Exeter offers a three-year funded doctoral studentship starting this coming fall on "The Implications of Ocean Acidification in Combination with Chemical Stressors for Juvenile Fish".  Details HERE.

    ¤The Institute of Marine Research in Tromsø, Norway wants to organize a "Workshop on acidification in aquatic environments: what can marine science learn from limnological studies of acid rain?".  The goal of this workshop is to bring together experts on acid rain with those working on Ocean Acidification to facilitate "discussions focused on questions such as how AR research can inform and cross-fertilize OA research" and "the rates of change of AR and OA and how different organismal groups cope with that over different time scales". The dates: 27th-29th September, 2011.
Soon there will be more information HERE.
You can also contact organizer Howard Browman HERE.

The Tromsø we saw when shooting A Sea Change.

    ¤I am very happy to announce that we have yet another public figure lending his face and voice to defend our oceans. Joining Sigourney Weaver and Sven Huseby, actor Ted Danson has published a book titled "Oceana: Our Endangered Oceans and What We Can Do to Save Them".  Produced together with Oceana, it is said to have beautiful photographs, illustrations and numerous expert testimonies. I have ordered a copy and intend to review it for our site, but for now you can listen to a interview with Mr. Danson on Southern California Public Radio HERE and read an interview HERE if you are thirsty for more information.

    ¤There is another recently published book that has caught my eye. It is titled Deep Future, The Next 100,000 Years of Life on Earth, by author Curt Stager. I know that during those hypothetical next 100,000 years described throughout the pages he talks about Ocean Acidification, and I'll be able to hand you more detailed information in a couple weeks.  Made you curious enough?  Purchase a copy from Amazon, click HERE.

    ¤NOAA is offering a web seminar to introduce a new "Data-in-the-Classroom Module" on Ocean Acidification; it is aimed at High School science educators. It will go from 6:30 to 8:00PM Eastern Time on April 14th. You can register today HERE and read more about it HERE.


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