5 fantastic nautical science fiction novels

Popular Culture, Science FictionJanuary 27, 2014

Enterprise versus Enterprise. From ForeignPolicy.com

Enterprise versus Enterprise. From ForeignPolicy.com

One thing I’ve discovered by publishing my first work of nautical science fiction is that the field is incredibly small. There just doesn’t seem to be that many SciFi writers taking their stories out to sea. This seems strange to me, as most of the great space operas are really nautical tales. There’s a reason that TV Tropes has an exhaustive list of entries under “Space is an Ocean” (and, for that matter, “Space Whale“, because we can’t ever have enough Moby-Dick-in-Space stories). It isn’t a coincidence that the US Navy has named at least 7 ships Enterprise (FYI, the aircraft carrier CVN-80 Enterprise is actually bigger than the starship NCC-1701 Enterprise).

So here are my 5 favorite maritime science fiction stories.

Title page for 20,000 Leagues by Jules Verne

Title page for 20,000 Leagues by Jules Verne

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne.

The Grand Daddy of maritime science fiction, 20,000 Leagues still holds up. Even though the science is dated, Verne’s insight shines through, predicting the deep-sea gold rush more than 100 years before we even knew about the geologic formations that would produce seafloor massive sulfides. Considering that almost one-fifth of all deep-sea hydrothermal vents are currently at risk for deep-sea mining, Captain Nemo’s declaration that “in the depths of the ocean, there are mines of zinc, iron, silver and gold that would be quite easy to exploit” is particularly prescient.

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7 ways to make beaches safer without killing sharks

UncategorizedJanuary 26, 2014

This past weekend, the shark cull officially began in Western Australia as the first shark was killed. The scientific evidence is clear that culls do not lessen people’s risk of shark attacks, and more than 100 scientific experts from around the world have signed an open letter opposing this cull.  While the only sure way to reduce the risk of a shark bite by 100% is to stay out of the water, there are many strategies that actually can reduce someone’s risk significantly without harming populations of threatened animals.

1) Aerial patrols. Planes or helicopters flying above the beach can help identify when potentially dangerous sharks are present. The Australian Aerial Patrol has done this for decades. Though the spotting rate is relatively low and the patrols are expensive,  new technologies like drones can help reduce the cost of these patrols.

Photo via Russavaia, WikiMedia Commons

Photo via Russavaia, WikiMedia Commons

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Your help needed: Oppose a weakened shark finning ban in Maryland

fisheries, marine science, Natural Science, Science, sharks

The state of Maryland is proposing new regulations that would, among other things, weaken the state ban on shark finning by allowing fishermen to remove the fins of smoothhound sharks at sea,  as long as the ratio of the weight of the fins does not exceed 12% of the ratio of the carcasses. These “fin ratios” are already troubling and ineffective ways to enforce finning bans. Landing sharks with fins naturally attached is considered the best practice for shark fisheries management. A 12% ratio is exceptionally high (3.5-5% are common ratios worldwide) and risks enabling unscrupulous fishermen to remove the fins of not only smoothhound sharks, but other species whose fins could be passed off as such. This makes it harder for managers to track how many sharks of which species are being killed.

In New York, smoothhounds are landed with fins naturally attached. They should be in Maryland, too! Photo credit: Sonja Fordham.

Some fishermen claim that smoothhound sharks can’t be landed with fins naturally attached, but this photo from New York challenges that notion.  Photo provided anonymously for this post.

Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources is taking public comments on this policy, which means that you can help!

Please send an e-mail to [email protected] by the end of the day on Monday, January 27th containing the following information:

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Abnormal is the New Normal: Shifting Baselines, Polar Vortices, and Climate Change

climate change, Natural Science, ScienceJanuary 24, 2014

The Polar Vortex, a mass of cold air usually centered around points within the Arctic Circle, made a visit south for the second time in 2014. The Vortex brings freezing weather, snow, and ice to regions that are unaccustomed to such extreme conditions. It also brings with it a new spate of “so much for global warming” talking-points, fresh on the heals of a recent report revealing that Climate Change Denial is at an all time high.

CCD

Unfortunately for the climate change denial industry, Polar Vortices are well-understood atmospheric phenomena. They were documented as early as 1853 as currents of cold air that essentially circle the poles. High-altitude observations in the 1950′s revealed the occurrence of sudden stratospheric warming (SSW) in the Arctic Polar Vortex. These SSW’s can cause a the vortex to weaken or reverse directions, allowing it to drift off axis or split into several smaller vortices. When weakened vortices contact the jet stream, cold arctic air is forced south, resulting in anomalously cold temperatures.

The obvious next question is: Is the weakened polar vortex caused by climate change?

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Quick Tips for Graduate Student Life – Eat Good Food

Science Life

Over the last few years, I’ve written several posts on surviving graduate school, including dealing with expectations, managing your finances, coping with failure, and some more general advice. During that process, I’ve also come up with some small, helpful tips that just don’t fit into a broader theme. It seems a shame to let those tips disappear, so, for the next week I’ll be posting Andrew’s Quick Tips for Surviving Graduate School


Tip #5: Eat good food

Don’t eat like a rabbit*. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle in the midst of grad school can be extremely challenging for some people. Your schedule is often unpredictable. Your income is limited. You might have a university dining hall that just seems so convenient. You may think that you simply don’t have the time to prepare a decent meal. It seems so easy to grab a quick burger from the fast food joint down the street, grab a cheesy burrito to go from the dining hall, or pop a frozen pizza into the oven.

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Quick Tips for Graduate Student Life – Write a Book Review

Science LifeJanuary 23, 2014

Over the last few years, I’ve written several posts on surviving graduate school, including dealing with expectations, managing your finances, coping with failure, and some more general advice. During that process, I’ve also come up with some small, helpful tips that just don’t fit into a broader theme. It seems a shame to let those tips disappear, so, for the next week I’ll be posting Andrew’s Quick Tips for Surviving Graduate School


Tip #4: Write a book review

This is especially useful for new gradate students, because it helps you gain experience with the manuscript writing and submission process, gets your name in print in an appropriate journal, puts another line on your CV during a time when every line is statistically significant.

Most major scientific journals publish book reviews. I wrote one for Trends in Ecology and Evolution during my third year (and just published another, just for fun, in Biological Conservation this year). Find a journal you like (in your field, of course) and see if they do book reviews. If they do, the editor usually has a pretty decent slush pile of books to be reviewed, so find out who is in charge and send them an e-mail letting them know your research area and ask if they have any books in the backlog that would be appropriate.

Writing a book review is challenging, especially for a scientific journal. You have to do some research. You need to understand the author’s conclusions, and you need to read broadly within the field to place the book in the appropriate context. It’s an excellent exercise in research and writing. When you submit it, it will usually go through the same channels as a formal manuscript (though instead of full peer review, it will probably just be the editor who reviews it before publication).

Remember, though, a book review is not a book report. You’re not just giving a summary. A good book review should provide critical analysis, place the significance of the work in it’s proper context, and evaluate the quality of the book. Which brings up one final point: It’s probably diplomatically unwise to trash another scientist’s book early in your career. If you do a book review, review a book that you think adds value to the community. That being said, don’t shy away from being thorough and critical when warranted.

Fisherman catches cosmopolitan planktonic tunicate. You’ll never guess what various news agencies are calling it.

biology, marine science, Natural Science, ScienceJanuary 22, 2014

“Translucent fish leaves New Zealand fisherman stunned” ~UK Metro

“Shrimp-like Translucent Sea Creature Found off Northland’s East Coast” ~Science World Report

“Now that’s a jelly fish! Stunned fisherman catches wobbly shrimp-like creature” ~Daily Mail

And another half-dozen variations on translucent, fish, shrimp, and baffled.

article-2543194-1AD845CC00000578-850_634x476This creature, whose image has gone viral in the last few days, is a salp. Salps are pelagic tunicates that drift through the open ocean, sometimes solitary, but often in large aggregations. It both swims and feed by pumping water through its body, filtering out plankton and expelling a jet of water from an organ called the excurrent siphon. In the water they look quite majestic.

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Quick Tips for Graduate Student Life – Ask for Free Textbooks

Science Life

Over the last few years, I’ve written several posts on surviving graduate school, including dealing with expectations, managing your finances, coping with failure, and some more general advice. During that process, I’ve also come up with some small, helpful tips that just don’t fit into a broader theme. It seems a shame to let those tips disappear, so, for the next week I’ll be posting Andrew’s Quick Tips for Surviving Graduate School


Tip #3: Ask for free textbooks

This one is so simple it’s often completely overlook. Textbooks are expensive. They get more specialized and more expensive as you advance. If you’re lucky, you have access to an awesome library that will stock whatever you need. Sometimes, you won’t be that lucky.

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First systematic threat analysis reveals that 1/4 of sharks, rays, and chimaeras are threatened with extinction

Conservation, marine science, Natural Science, Science, sharksJanuary 21, 2014

It took a team of over 300 scientists nearly two decades, but the first systematic analysis of the conservation status of chondrichthyans (sharks, rays and chimaeras) has been completed. The results, published today (open access) in a paper titled “Extinction risk and conservation of the world’s sharks and rays,” are chilling.

“Our unprecedented analysis shows that sharks and their relatives – which make up one of the earth’s oldest and most ecologically diverse groups of animals  –  are facing an alarmingly elevated risk of extinction,” said Dr. Nick Dulvy, IUCN SSG Co-Chair and Professor at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia.

As of the writing of this paper, the IUCN Shark Specialist Group recognized 1,041 species of chondrichthyans. However,  a new species is described, on average, every two or three weeks! Out of these 1,041 species of chondrichthyans, approximately one in four are considered “Threatened” by IUCN Red List criteria;  113 species are Vulnerable, 43 are Endangered, and 25 species are Critically Endangered. 487 species are considered Data Deficient, but the IUCN Shark Specialist Group estimates that 68 of them are likely to be Threatened as well! Most alarmingly, only 23% of known chondrichthyan species are considered Least Concern, the lowest percentage out of any group of vertebrates on land or sea!

A hierarchy of IUCN Red List categories. Note that "Threatened" includes Vulnerable, Endangered, and Critically Endangered

A hierarchy of IUCN Red List categories. Note that “Threatened” includes Vulnerable, Endangered, and Critically Endangered

One of the two main factors influencing Threatened status is the size of the animal. Larger bodied species are sensitive to overfishing because they typically have a life history with slow growth, late age at maturity, and relatively few offspring. Additionally, living in coastal habitats (in other words, close to humans) makes a species more likely to be Threatened.

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Quick Tips for Graduate Student Life – Invest in a Good Navy Blazer

Science Life

Over the last few years, I’ve written several posts on surviving graduate school, including dealing with expectations, managing your finances, coping with failure, and some more general advice. During that process, I’ve also come up with some small, helpful tips that just don’t fit into a broader theme. It seems a shame to let those tips disappear, so, for the next week I’ll be posting Andrew’s Quick Tips for Surviving Graduate School


Tip #2: Invest in a good navy blazer.

We’ve all heard the line: “you can dress however you want, as long as you do good science.” This is a lie. Don’t believe it. You will, during the course of you graduate student career, actually find yourself in situations where you will, most certainly, need to dress a bit more professionally than ripped jeans, keens, and a t-shirt. Scientific conferences, professional workshops, or meeting the people who fund your grants all require at least an attempt a formality. And for that, there is the Navy Blazer*.

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