Fun Science FRIEDay – The Break-up

Our lives are a blip in the space time continuum. As a result, it can seem that the Earth is relatively static, with many of the large scale dynamic changes that shape our sphere largely unnoticeable to us occurring on geological time-scales. One such change is the movement of landmasses on earth, better known as plate tectonics.

Earth’s landmasses are not static but in constant flux. The Earth’s lithosphere (formed by the crust and the upper part of the mantle) is broken up into a number of tectonic plates that move relative to each other at varying speeds, “gliding” over a viscous asthenosphere. There is still ongoing debate about what force or forces causes this movement, but whatever the forces are they can also cause the plates to rupture, forming rifts, and potential leading to the development of new plate boundaries. When this happens landmasses break-up and new continents forms; this is currently happening in the East African Rift in southwestern Kenya.

View of East African Rift in Kenya from space (Photo credit: Google Earth. Data SIO, NOAA, US Navy, NGA, GEBCO).

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Measuring the Cultural Value of Oysters

Most people from oyster-producing regions like the Chesapeake can attest to the fact that oysters are important the the social fabric of the community. In many towns that date back to the colonial era, oyster shells literally line Main Street and form the foundation of the town. In others, they form the basis of a modern-day bar scene boasting of “merroir” of the oysters alongside terroir of the wine. When the ecosystem around these kinds of places changes (think warming waters, acidified waters, introduced species who also love oysters), the resource underpinning this aspect of culture and heritage can be threatened. What does that mean for the humans so connected to the briny bivalve?

Historic Baltimore Shucking House. Courtesy of the NOAA Photo Library

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Building robots in Papua New Guinea: update from #ROV2PNG

The view from our morning commute between Nusa and Nago.

The view from our morning commute between Nusa and Nago.

Hello from the warm, sunny island of Nago, home of the National Fisheries College field station and staging ground for Marine Ecology via Remote Observation, part of the Marine Science Short Course. My team and I arrived in Port Morseby on Friday, where we met with Jamie on her way home and and caught up with my former student, now lecturer at UPNG, Freddie Alei, who joins us for the next week of class. Another day of travel brought us to the shores of Nusa Island. We had our first chance to meet the students on Sunday, during a walk around the local beach, followed by an afternoon flying Independent Lee, one of our demonstration robots, from the Fisheries’ jetty. It was a nice warm up for an intensive week of robotics and marine ecology.

There are two major components to the #ROV2PNG portion of the Marine Science Short Course. The first, and most visible, is the construction and operation of the OpenROV, an open-source underwater robot that is incredibly adaptable and expandable. Over the last three days, students have learned how to solder, weld acrylic, test electronics, use epoxy resins, and work together to assemble the chassis, endcaps, battery tubes, motors, and brain of the robot. Excitement is mounting as we approach the moment when we can power up the ROVs for the first time.

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How to Make A Pretty Map

Cartographers of old produced maps that now hang in art galleries, living rooms, and libraries. They were works of art, embellished with the cartographer’s personality – from their handwriting to the fanciful borders of the page  and sometimes even sea creatures. Peruse for a moment this map of North Carolina (then part of the Virginia Colony) from 1636 – the ocean comes complete with ships and large toothy fish, the land depicts the western border of our country back then (the Appalachian mountains) and each tribal territory is nicely color-coded. The map not only gets its message across but says something about the mapmaker. Today’s cartography looks very different.

map from 1636 documenting tribal territories, courtesy of the NC Map Collection in the UNC library

Modern geographers are trained in geographic information systems, highly reliant on software and abundant data to make the required maps. GIS careers are in high demand from both sides – employer and employee – following the adage that a picture speaks 1000 words. Maps talk. But with this technological shift, much of the art is gone from cartography – but it doesn’t have to be. Read More

The Birth of Sustainability Science

Every once in a while, with predictable regularity, I will encounter a call to be more interdisciplinary in order to fully understand the many aspects of a given issue. The world forgot to compartmentalize its problems for ease of solution. Solutions require scientists to think big and basic at the same time – recent estimates that 7 billion people will roam the planet by the end of this year – and that creates a big demand for resources such as food, water, fuel, and fiber. Ecologists clearly have something to say on the matter and designated 2011’s meeting theme  “Earth Stewardship”, meant as a way to kick off new thinking on research process and connecting research to problem solving.

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The Pacific Divided

Challenge: find a map of the Pacific Ocean that includes both Japan and California. Or that focuses on any of the island nations in between.

One of the casualties of mapping a three-dimensional planet on two-dimensional paper is the part of the world that is split between the edges of the paper. Usually, this is the Pacific. As Sarah Palin made famous in the 2008 presidential campaign, as an Alaskan, she can see Russia from her house. While I admit that for Palin, this is an exaggeration, but for the residents of St. Lawrence Island, this view is a reality. In fact, they are as likely (if not more) to speak Russian than English and have the capability of kayaking to Russia if so desired. But your average world map makes that distance look infinite.

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Does Knowledge Equal Power?

knowledge of plants has mean money, if not power,

Foucault saw the concepts of knowledge and power as one entity, which he called “pouvoir-savoir”, based on the philosophy that knowledge and power are co-evolved. There are a number of examples where Foucault’s assertion seem to be correct. In France, a group of patients with muscular dystrophy coordinated and collected vast amounts of collective data on the rare disease by detailed recordkeeping by family members. They even held their own conferences and shared information, eventually bringing in a couple of doctors to do standard medical analysis on their data. Armed with knowledge of the disease, they were able to confront the medical establishment, which had previously ignored their cases because so little was known about the disease and the doctors did not want to look ignorant. Public attention brought by these events also brought funding to an otherwise unprofitable treatment regiment (Rabeharisoa and Callon in Jasanoff 2004). In other parts of the world, knowledge of medicinal plants and other helpful plant genotypes has been linked to indigenous rights movement through intellectual property (Whatmore 2002). Plant germplasms have become a way for communities to connect to international groups supporting biodiversity, which in turn helps secure indigenous rights over both intellectual and land properties.

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Resource Dependent Communities in a Globalizing World

perhaps the most notorious New York City bankers, Bernie Madeoff,

All people are still dependent on natural resources, but centuries of development complete with urbanization and globalization have removed a large proportion of the world’s population from the production of those natural resources both physically and psychologically. Take, for example, a New York City investment banker. He gets up in the morning, puts on his suit, grabs his coffee and bagel to go, and takes the subway to work where he will trade shares of largely transnational companies. However, each step of his day is connected to and supported by a network of natural resource-based communities: one in India that grew and spun his suit, one in Columbia that grew his coffee, one in North Dakota that grew the wheat for his bagel, and countless others that produce the raw materials for the company he trades. This process of separation means that natural resource dependent communities face both forces of marginalization and empowerment.

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Political Ecology at Home – Lessons from Abroad?

Political ecology within the First World came from a gradual realization that the definition of the field did not only apply to exotic cultures abroad, but had resonance domestically. As first defined by Blaikie and Brookfield (1987), political ecology combines “the concerns of ecology and a broadly defined political economy. Together this encompasses the constantly shifting dialectic between society and land-based resources, and also within classes and groups within society itself” (17). Scholars returning from research in the Third World observed this shifting dialectic in their own countries, complete with struggles over power and access between sectors of society.

The first call to the political ecology community to consider applying their principles to the First World came from Louise Fortmann (1996) in her article “Bonanza! The unasked questions: Domestic land tenure through international lenses.” Although she admitted there are vast differences between home and abroad, she identifies six lessons from the international land tenure debate that could have traction in the United States: property as social process, customary tenures, common property and community management of resources, gender, the complexity of tenancy relationships, and land concentration. Read More

State of the Field: Too big, too small, just right – the Goldilocks Conundrum of Conservation

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scale can really change perspective... take this fruit fly eye, for example, at scanning electron microscope scale - it looks like an army of hairs

Scale seems like a simple term with a simple definition, a concept certainly not up for debate. Well, digging just a little deeper we find that the nuances of a term that is used in almost every discipline make it important to make sure everyone’s on the same page. Furthermore, it’s important to make sure that the concept gets some attention, some time on the agenda, and some problem-solving energy.

In the world of conservation, scale mismatches are often a visible failure of policies, leading to recent calls for ecosystem-based management that trace scales of governance according to ecosystem boundaries instead of political boundaries. This has led to the existence of “peace parks” protecting wildlands that cross national borders, watershed management plans, and attention to habitat protection in environmental species conservation, to name a few examples. However, matching governance to ecosystem scale is only one type of scale adjustment that needs to occur.

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