Back in June of 2013, I sailed across the Great Australian Bight (the area of ocean below Australia) on the RV Southern Surveyor. One cold and windy night, myself and several other scientists scrambled out onto the deck with an expensive, large, yellow, plastic float. We threw released it over the side of the boat and watched it as it disappeared into the night.
Everyone knows the importance of foraminifers transcends science. We’ve searched from the sea floor to the photic zone to bring you these calcifers that have an uncanny resemblance to your favourite Aussie stars. You’ll have to sea them to believe it!
Just recently I was given a healthy reminder that some stereotypes are really hard to break. I am very open about the fact that I was always interested in science, however when I hit 16 I was more interested in being cool. Unfortunately I had no role models that were cool scientists which led me to make some decisions that would lead me away from science* for over a decade**. And so during my time at the Research School of Earth Sciences I have gladly been involved with the university’s Equity and Diversity Unit, that most recently included participating in their ‘Who are scientists?’ workshop that was held for 14 year olds from regional school along the coast.
The 8 representative ‘scientists’ were jumbled in with other staff from our coastal campus, and when singled out the 120 kids were asked to stand if they thought that person was a scientist. Of 120, guess how many stood for me……
Australia’s new prime minister has given the green light for mining companies to destroy Australia’s natural wonder and UNESCO World Heritage site, the Great Barrier Reef.
The Great Barrier Reef stretches over 2300 km along the coast of Queensland and is home to around a quarter of all species that can be found in the world’s oceans. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1981 the reef recently faces one of its hardest battles: a changing climate.
Rising ocean acidity due to high atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and increasing water temperatures damages the corals; floods and storms flush mud, pesticides and fertilizers from farmland into the ocean and mining companies pollute the reef by dumping silt into the ocean and letting their freighters pass through. Continue reading “The Great Barrier Reef faces destruction”→
Abstract: The human brain is the only instrument that can examine itself scientifically. Here, I present qualitative data on the age-old problem of ‘what to do?’ derived from self-reflection. Findings include that the world is indeed a giant oyster, and agitators create pearls.
I’m a couple weeks shy of the 3-year PhD mark and I find myself in a position similar to one I was in 10 years ago: finishing high school and wondering what I should do with my life. It was easy then – take (almost) a year off and then reconvene. It’s quite funny how I could literally go anywhere post-PhD. Academia, public service, NGOs, even banking (yes, in a previous life I was a banker).
There are so many perks to doing a PhD in earth sciences (local & international conferences, amazing field trips, fascinating & RELEVANT research, supercool facilities…). And the opportunities are endless (so they say). One thing I’ve found though, is that like most fields, it’s so easy to live inside a bubble – the world revolves around the big names in academia and that’s whom we seek to emulate. It’s about where you’ll do your postdoc and not if you do it, because somehow leaving academia is somewhat of a betrayal. The mentors we have (if any) are from the same side of the story – accomplished academics. Academia, publishing, research is all that is in front of us and our paths seem clear cut and eerily pre-destined. “Of course you have to do a postdoc, how else will the world take you seriously as a scientist?” It feels like trying to get to the horizon – you have to go a little bit further each time. Continue reading “Tinker Tailor Soldier Scientist”→
One of the major draw cards for the Earth Sciences comes from the tantalizing prospect of field work. And for marine scientists, this couldn’t be more exciting than when field work involves a trip on a research vessel; an excursion we affectionately call going on a “cruise”*. I have not had the pleasure of sailing onboard Australia’s RV Southern Surveyor and opportunity is fading fast with the Research Vessel’s imminent decommissioning.
Instead, the Australian marine science community will set forth into our watery future aboard the RV Investigator, which in similar fashion to its namesake will be able to circumnavigate our great continent, survive battering by fierce storms and potentially be required to serve for ~70 years. But it’s not the capabilities that the two Investigatorsshare that have the oceanographers amongst us all aquiver, but the technological modifications that distinguish them. Not least the fact it has its very own blog, there is also talk of winged keels, dual polarisation weather radar and ‘work’ boats straight from the set of Baywatch (okay so they are orange, other than that they have nothing in common with Baywatch). Continue reading “Investigating the Investigator”→
Along with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch if you are a marine conservationist you have undoubtably heard of the alarming rate with which enormous swarms of jellyfish are threatening to take over a oceans. A consequence of climate change? Evidence that our oceans are becoming wastelands, fit for no other life than that of the gelatinous? Or worse…an urban myth?
A recent article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (or PNAS, pronounced PeeNAS) highlighted that this notion is based on a few scattered reports rather than a thorough synthesis of jellyfish population metrics. Using data ranging from 1790 to 2011 Condon et al claim that while a strong 20-year oscillation is apparent, there is yet sufficient proof that a significant upward trend in jellyfish populations has occurred. Continue reading “When jellyfish attack, or atleast swarm”→
This week’s interesting science news story comes deep from the sea. A 14 year old Ukrainian boy with an interest in marine science was looking at a live streaming video from an undersea camera, and saw a frightful sight – a snout showed up and slurped up the fish he was watching! The video is below:
I know I’m not the only lover of Cnidaria out there. And if you are not already enamoured by animals with specialised stinging cells to capture their prey then you will be after this. I watched this on another fabulous blog: Science-Based Life and felt I had to share. More mesmerizing than a lava lamp, and that is saying something.
Did we mention that this week is Earth Sciences week? Did we also mention that it is Ada Lovelace Day today? Well it is, read more about the origins of the day here, but in short today we celebrate inspirational women in science, engineering and technology. And seeing it is also Earth Sciences week let’s start by celebrating an up and coming Earth Scientist who also happens to be a woman.
I recently caught up with one of our brightest talents from the 2011 cohort of Honours students. And I’m not just biased because she is an Earth Scientist and a woman, Marita Smith won a University Medal for her efforts last year, so clearly I’m not the only one who thinks she’s it and a bit. Here’s what she has to say about her stellar year at uni, and her research:
“2011 was the most challenging, incredible year of my tertiary studies. My honours project involved two separate stints on the amazing Australian research vessel, the RV Southern Surveyor, research at the Netherlands Institute for Sea Research and the Université Bordeaux (France) in addition to our fantastic world-class institution, the ANU. As well as an appreciation for Dutch cheese and some serious crepe-making practice, I had the opportunity to be part of some exciting climate science.
After reading Evan‘s post on the Tsunami Debris that is now littering the North Pacific I starting thinking about signal to noise ratios. I’ve been sitting here for days looking at data from the laser ablation ICP-MS thinking about signal to noise ratios so now I see them everywhere. If the Japanese government is offering to help clean up the debris, how do they plan to distinguish the signal (tsunami debris) from the noise (the flotilla of garbage already present). And so today’s post is dedicated not to spectral analysis, but to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and how I learned to love ocean circulation.
So to answer my own question straight off the bat, I discovered that the difference is likely to be a matter of size. While the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a colourful name it conjures images of a garbage dump full of household rubbish and the odd white good. In fact there are no refrigerators floating around the Pacific (at least not to my knowledge), but there is an awful lot of plastic confetti so to speak. Plastic that is in the process of being broken down by sunlight and the action of waves, that is retained in discrete patches (yes plural, the Japanese and the Americans have one each), by the action of the prevailing currents within the North Pacific Gyre (see cartoon below). Thank-you ocean circulation, for sweeping up our mess.
Scientific writing doesn’t have to be dry. When done properly it reads like a well written story, like your favourite bedtime story. Other times it is written in a way that makes you fall asleep, which is also like a bedtime story. Hmm not such a good analogy. Nevertheless, for years my favourite article was on a study that looked at the radiocarbon signature of DNA from deep ocean microbes. The authors were able to show that the carbon that made up the backbone of that most fundamental of biological molecules didn’t come from surface waters but was incorporated by in situ production, at 700 m beneath the ocean surface!
What is the significance? This study has implications for what we understand about carbon cycling in the ocean, for what we understand about biology on earth and more importantly it really got me thinking about my work and what implications this may have for my own findings. It also got me thinking how I could design an experiment that required me to hang out on a beach in Hawaii for a few months under the guise of research… Continue reading “My favourite bedtime story”→
This is the month! My inaugural blog entry has been on my action-list for far too long. Kelly has published a fascinating take on the subject Not-so-serious Sunday 10 that pushed me to post this.
I recently saw a 3-D animation of modelled changes in global ocean salinity and water temperature. The detailed representation of the Agulhas Current leakage caught my eye. The animation, showing ocean temperature at a number of depths, depicted the advection by ocean eddies of warm surface water to the depths. These eddies march in a northwest direction across the South Atlantic. No amount of prior reading conveyed the essence of this phenomenon like this animation did. This transformation of a complex mathematical model into an understandable visualisation is truly impressive.
Just last week an excellent article appeared in Science that reported new estimates of past sea-level rise; estimates that help forecast what we might expect in the not-too-distant future. In a separate article from the same issue, there are also new projections of rapid ocean acidification in the California Current system. The main article describes the development of ocean acidification in the region as projected by a computer simulation, or model. The California Current is susceptible to acidification due to the already low carbonate saturation state of seawater*. Using two established emissions scenarios, the authors project that by 2050 much of the near-shore shallow waters and seafloor will be chronically undersaturated with the carbonate ions required for calcification for most of the year, threatening the viability of marine ecosystems.
The California Current supports a rich and diverse range of marine organisms, and along with the intrinsic importance of marine biodiversity these regional waters also support the livelihoods of many through extensive fisheries and aquaculture. In a commentary accompanying the main article, the findings are cleverly discussed in the context of an oceanographer from the region who also makes his living farming oysters.
And so the Australian Marine Science Association conference has ended. I had heard that in previous years the focus had definitely lay with the charismatic megafauna (think whales and dolphins) however this year there was a really impressive breadth of subject matter. I imagine this is largely due to the location of the event. As I have mentioned before, if you are an Australasian marine scientist -not working on tropical coral- then Hobart is the place to be. I learned so much last week, things that I am sure that I should have already known…but let us look on the bright side, I know now.
The coral records that I was presenting were taken from the Lord Howe Rise which lies in the path of the East Australian Current. While there were no other coral record to compare – except with my office mate and my supervisor – there were so many talks that provided context for my work; particularly those that discussed changing circulation patterns and the influence of climate anomalies like the ENSO cycle. I now have a list of papers I need to read, a list of tests I need to do on my data to show it is a statistically robust, and a list of samples I need to get to in the lab. Is that a whip I hear cracking? The lead up to a conference is always a very busy time….then the aftermath perhaps busier when you come to realise what you should have done (I have a few of things), and what you could be doing (I have a few more things).
While most of you are enjoying your weekend, perhaps going for a long walk, catching up with friends or catching up with a good book, I am running around with my hands waving in the air like a windmill in a hurricane. Why the melodrama? On Monday the Australian Marine Science Association conference begins in Hobart, indeed I am giving a talk on Monday morning no less. And well, I’m not quite ready. I’ve been in Hobart for three weeks now and progress is a little slower than I had allowed time for. There is a time for patience and a time for panic and I think perhaps I should have panicked a little earlier this week…..not that that sort of behaviour is helpful or useful to anyone.
It was definitely a time for panic yesterday when I discovered that I got off the bus without my laptop. Me distracted NO???? My laptop. The laptop I had been working on. The important data gets backed up in cyberspace, but the presentation and 1000 things that I had on my desk top….on my laptop. But I should just like to say that Hobartians are wonderful people, especially those called Nick. I dashed into the local store, like said windmill, and the lovely man behind the counter, Nick, rang the bus company for me who promptly got the bus driver to stop to search the bus. No laptop. Back at the store the owner arrives, I can’t recall his name but it was probably Nick. He drives me back to the original bus stop to see if I had left it there. It was an optimisitc move considering at least 20 minutes had passed and it was a main road at peak hour, but he didn’t at all mind and was terribly sympathetic. Continue reading “Time for panic?”→
It’s not quite intergalactic, more barotraumic (I don’t think barotrauma is an adjective, but work with me people). The hitchhikers in this story are not aliens to Earth, although they are still aliens to most of us. They are marine organisms that have hitched a ride on Alvin, the most famous of submersibles, and ended up in the wrong neighbourhood of the deep dark ocean. As much as I jest this is really not amusing in a scientific sense. It’s like a scene from a bad share house, someone’s not doing their dishes, or washing their pistons in this instance, and as a result foreign species are being able to colonize new habitats.
In an article posted on the Nature blog recently, researchers describe their distress to find a population of limpets that had inadvertently hitched a ride to the surface on Alvin, before being brought back down to depth some 635 km north of their native habitat. It appears that the sampling system was not properly scrubbed prior to the dive enabling the rather robust gastropods to survive. Their survival is in itself worth reporting as most specimens die when exposed to such dramatic pressure changes (known as barotrauma, the noun). However in the first instance, the possibility that routine dives could contaminate pristine sites with invasive species needs to be addressed. Continue reading “Hitchhikers guide to the deep ocean”→
Last week the Australian government announced a bold plan to expand its Australia’s Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s) beyond what was stipulated in the highly criticised draft proposal released for consultation last year. This step forward would make the network of MPA’s the largest in the world. The announcement coincided with the lead up to the United Nation’s Conference on Sustainable Development to be held in Rio this week with the Environment Minister stating: “It’s time for the world to turn a corner on protection of our oceans, and Australia today is leading that next step “.
Here, here! says the marine scientist who becomes quiet disheartened with endless commentary on exploitation, pollution, fisheries collapse and the ineffectiveness of small MPA’s. A study discussed in Nature revealed that prior to this announcement Australia ranked 19th(!) in terms of reaching the 10% target for Marine Protected Areas under the Convention on Biological Diversity. For a nation that considers our oceans part of our national identity we should hang our head in shame. However, if the new plan comes to fruition then this will see us rank 7th. No small feat if you consider that Australia has jurisdiction over 9 million square kilometres and already protects significantly more marine real estate than most other nations even rule over.
Why do I say “if” and “would”, well in a step back the Opposition has vetoed our minister from attending Rio +20. Rather than being able to demonstrate leadership on the issue, and to lobby other nations to follow suit, the Opposition are demanding that the minister stay in Australia and explain the minutia of his marine parks plan. Australia, go back to hanging your head in shame.
For a more in depth report go to ABC Online or for commentary from the ANU delegation (that is in Rio as I type) follow this link, or go the blog roll.