Wonderful Waterful Wednesday: Living on the Edge

…all things are one thing and that one thing is all things—plankton, a shimmering phosphorescence on the sea and the spinning planets and an expanding universe, all bound together by the elastic string of time. It is advisable to look from the tide pool to the stars and then back to the tide pool again.

John Steinbeck (The Log from the Sea of Cortez)

Sea grass and kelp at Bodega Bay, CA
Bright green sea grass and shiny kelp at California's Bodega Head. Photo: David Liittschwager/National Geographic

I love tidepools, those bits of ocean left behind when the moon lures the water away for a while. They’re microcosms of the sea, featuring much of the diversity and spectacle that makes the ocean so extraordinary, in a tiny and accessible place. I wrote a blog post on these “sometimes oceans” a few weeks ago, which you can find here.

This week National Geographic has given me a wonderful opportunity to return to these incredible places. (All photos are from the June 2011 issue of National Geographic magazine, on newsstands May 31).

Photo: Brandon Cole/National Geographic

In “Brimming Pools,” author Mel White and photographer David Liittschwager explore the pools of the Pacific Northwest. The unique climate and geology of this region gives it the most diverse and spectacular tide pools in the world. The cold upwelling waters off the West Coast bring abundant nutrients to the shore. Frequent fogs protects exposed sea creatures from the sun and the absence of hard freezes mean the rocks are not scraped free of life in the winters.

Among the creatures described in the article is a species of Pisaster – a sea star. These creatures are remarkably strong and patient. A sea star will crawl along the tidepool floor looking for bivalves like mussels or clams.

When it finds one, it grabs onto the two halves of the shell and pulls, using its tiny suckers for leverage. When it’s pried the shell open far enough, it everts its stomachs into the shell and digests its meal. I kid you not.

Sea stars are far from the most bizarre creatures found in tidepools. Here’s a great composite of some of the creatures found in the pools of the Pacific Northwest.

The rocks and pools of the intertidal zone are home to an array of creatures fancifully named for their shapes and colors. Photo credit: David Liittschwager/National Geographic

For those so inclined, here are the names of these critters:

From top First row: red abalone, Cockerell’s dorid, ringed nudibranch, variegate amphissa, grainyhand hermit crab, ochre sea star, cabezon

Second row: red octopus, opalescent nudibranch, mermaid’s cup, smooth iridescent seaweed, San Diego lamellaria, purple sea urchin, hammerhead doto, leather star

Third row: red rock crab, calico sculpin, colorful dendronotus, stubby frond nudibranch, rough limpet, calico sculpin

Fourth row: red sponge nudibranch, chink snail, woody chiton, nereid worm, syllid polychaete, peanut worm, brown turban snail, red sea fern

Fifth row: shield limpet, sea clown nudibranch, red sea fan, monkeyface prickleback, bat star, green rope, red rock crab, flat porcelain crab

Sixth row: splendid iridescent seaweed, Farlow’s soft seaweed, blood star, six-armed star, Pacific sea comb, glycerid worm, sea palm, red gunnel, tinted wentletrap, surf grass, red sea cucumber

National Geographic June 2011 coverThis article and more can be found in the June issue of National Geographic.  Check out the article featured on the cover about how stone pillars in Turkey are inspiring anthropologists to re-examine their assumptions about when and why religion began. Enjoy!

Blogging and Writing and Blocks – Oh My!

Writing is going well. Checking in during the Round of Words in 80 Days? Not so much. I’ve come to the conclusion that Sunday blog posts are just not going to work for me. Sunday is for family and it’s really difficult to get time in front of the computer. When I do, I prefer to work on my fiction. So I’m dropping the Sunday update and focusing on Wednesday instead.

Overall, blogging has been a bit erratic lately. I’ve started a new writing project with a serious deadline – getting it up and running took up a lot of attention. I kept to at least one post a week but I prefer to do more than that.

I’ve committed to at least twice a week (“Wonderful Waterful Wednesdays” and “I’m Diggin’ Fridays”) and I’m thinking about adding a mash-up post on Mondays. An odd day for a summary, I know, but it’s the only one that fits into my schedule.

The fiction is going well. For the first time I’ve written out a synopsis before starting to write. It’s functioning as an outline, which is totally odd for me but working.

I hit a serious block about 4500 words into it. (It’s a short – I’m aiming for 10,000 to 15,000 words). What I’d written was awful. Not the first draft kind of crap – I mean totally flat. There wasn’t a single line that I liked. Not a good sign.

I took a step back and thought about the problem and realized that I just didn’t like my main characters. I didn’t get them and couldn’t write them. After some brainstorming with my husband (he’s great at it) I figured out what I needed to do; how I needed to change them.

It worked. In the last two days I’ve written 2500 words with very little effort. Whew!

And You?

Ever played in a tidepool? Touched a live a sea star? (Never gonna look at them the same way, eh?) Found your way over, under, around or through writer’s block? Let us know in the comments below! And remember to check back on Friday to see how my garden is growing – and tell me all about yours.

Danielle Meitiv is a writer, marine science geek, gardener and mother who goes barefoot whenever possible. Danielle is also a huge fan and sales affiliate for Holly Lisle’s online courses: How to Think Sideways: Career Survival School for Writers, and How to Revise Your Novel. Follow @Danielle_Meitiv on Twitter, and on Facebook: Danielle Meitiv’s Barefoot Blog, and Danielle Meitiv.

Wonderful Waterful Wednesday: the Language of Clouds

Today’s waterful blog post celebrates not the water in oceans or streams, but that which hangs out in the sky: clouds. Yes, of course you knew that clouds were masses of water droplets (or ice crystals) suspended in the air – after all, without clouds you can’t have rain.  But doesn’t it amaze you still? Hundreds of millions of gallons of water – hardly light stuff – suspended from meters to miles above our heads.

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Of course, not all clouds are alike. And with a little practice you can even learn to read them.  No, I don’t mean finding the one that looks like a bunny or a train. (My son comes up with really elaborate images, like a one-winged dragon eating an eagle that’s holding a fish in it’s claws – and winking). I’m referring to one of the oldest ways to forecast the weather. Because different cloud shapes say different things about what you can expect.

Clouds are classified on their shape and their elevation in the sky. Some common cloud terms are:

Shape:

Cirrus means ‘curl of hair’; stratus = layer; cumulus = heap; nimbus = rain. So cumulonimbus, the tall anvil-shape that signals a huge thunderstorm means “heap of rain” – ’cause that’s what’s coming!

Elevation:

Stratus clouds are found below 6,000 feet; alto from 6,000 – 20,000 feet. (Just to confuse things, stratus means sheet and can be used to describe the shape of a cloud OR it’s elevation, since stratus clouds are usually found in the lower part of the sky. Go figure).

[UPDATE: My original list was way too complicated. I’ve simplified it below].

Clouds that portend rain, snow or a change in the weather

Thin cirrus clouds are found high, high up.  These wisps usually portend a change in the weather within the next 24 hours.

Cirrostratus clouds are also high up. These are sheet-like; thin enough to see the sun or moon through. When the sky is covered by these, expect snow or rain in 12-24 hours.

Altostratus clouds create a mid-level layer that covers the entire sky with a sheet of gray. These clouds form ahead of storms of continuous rain or snow.

Altocumulus clouds are large gray puffy masses, that look like God is communicating with smoke signals. The message on a warm, humid morning is: be prepared for thunderstorms in the late afternoon.

Stratus clouds are the low thick masses that cover the sky, and make you feel like your walking under a low gray ceiling. Light mist or drizzle might fall from these, but not necessarily – they could be fair weather clouds as well.

Nimbostratus form a dark gray wet cloudy layer low in the sky. They are associated with continuous light or moderate rain or snow.

Cumulonimus clouds defy characterization by elevation because these anvil-shaped monsters can stretch from close to the ground to 50,000 feet. These proclaim “run for cover” as loudly as a thunderclap.

Clear Skies Ahead

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. No so with clouds and rain…

Cirrocumulus clouds are small rounded puffs that appear in long rows  high in the sky (beneath or round your airplane). In temperate regions, these clouds mean that you can expect cold but fair weather.

Stratocumulus are low puffy and gray. They make you want to bring an umbrella just in case, but rain is rarely associated with these clouds.  However, they can turn into their foul weather cousins, nimbostratus (above).

And last but not least:

Cumulus are the white puffy cottonball clouds that children put in their drawings – usually next to a  big bright sun. That’s appropriate because these clouds herald fair weather.

So, the next time you’re walking outside, look up and see if you can read the next day’s weather in the language of the clouds.

What’s the weather like in your neighborhood? Is the sun shining or the rain falling? What’s the craziest cloud shape you ever saw? Share in the comments below!

Writing update: A Round of Words in 80 Days

Holy smokes have I been busy! Didn’t do a blog post or ROW80 check-in on Sunday, but I have been writing. An agent friend challenged me to come up with an erotic short story. The deal was that I would send her a two-sentence summary and two paragraphs of “backcover copy” within a few days, a two-page synopsis the following week, and the completed story within a month. She doesn’t usually rep erotica (and I don’t usually write it!), but if it’s good, she’ll try to sell it for me. I needed a new challenge, something to write that would take my mind off the revisions, so there it is.

I’ve completed the first part of the challenge and the synopsis is due this weekend. So far so good – wish me luck!

Other goals? Hmm – writing is going well, both this story and the morning pages.  I’ve put aside revising for now to focus on this story, which is good because revising was making me nuts. The learning goal has stalled for a bit, but I’m eager to do some more Artist’s Way lessons and an artist’s date. Tune in on Sunday for more! In the meantime, check out everyone else’s progress here.

Danielle Meitiv is a writer, science geek, gardener, and mother who goes barefoot whenever possible. Danielle is also a huge fan and sales affiliate for Holly Lisle’s online courses: How to Think Sideways: Career Survival School for Writers, and How to Revise Your Novel. Follow @Danielle_Meitiv on Twitter, and on Facebook: Danielle Meitiv’s Barefoot Blog, and Danielle Meitiv.

Wonderful Waterful Wednesday: Carnival of the Blue & Round of Words Check-in

Who doesn’t love a carnival? The sights, the excitement, the sounds. This week I’m honored and excited to host The Carnival of the Blue, a monthly round-up of ocean-related posts from around the web.

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Carnival of the Blue # 48

Seafood at risk: Dispersed oil poses a long-term threat —  Allie Wilkinson

This April marks a year since the Deepwater Horizon spilled more than 200 million gallons of oil in the Gulf of Mexico and almost 2 million gallons of the dispersant Corexit were dumped to “clean” it up. In a guest blog at Scientific American, Allie Wilkinson asks: “With all federal waters currently reopened, the question still remains— is the government responding appropriately to ensure not only that the present levels of oil and dispersants are not toxic, but also that those levels won’t build up over time through the accumulation of toxins in the tissues of seafood, contaminating Gulf seafood for generations to come?” Great question – and the answers are far from reassuring. Check out the post here.

Marking the Oil Spill Anniversary In Washington DC — The Beacon: Oceana’s Blog

Oceana marked the one-year anniversary of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill with an event in Washington, DC featuring actress and supporter Kate Walsh (“Private Practice” and “Grey’s Anatomy”) and Aaron Peirsol (gold medal-winning swimmer). Also attending was Patty Whitney, a Louisiana resident-turned-activist whose home was affected by last year’s disaster. Couldn’t make it to my backyard to attend? You can watch a video of the event here.

Awesome Orcas All Around — Amanda Banks

Author Amanda Banks describes an exciting encounter with a pod of orcas offshore of Monterey Bay, CA. I’ve only seen orcas close up once (further north of where she was, but also with a group of whale researchers) and it’s an experience I’ll never forget. Check out her play-by-play of the amazing behavior and victorious hunt of these incredible animals here.

The Ways of Whales —  Danielle Meitiv’s Barefoot Blog: http://daniellemeitiv.com

As a complement to Amanda’s orca post, I’m including one of my own about the evolution of whales, some of their unique characteristics and the threats they face today. Check out the fabulous photos – and a link to a life-sized encounter with a blue whale, the largest creature to ever live on Earth – here.

Hiding the doomsday device: camouflage and venom in stonefish — Zen Faulkes, Neuro Dojo

Zen Faulkes writes about the stonefish one of the most venomous creatures in the sea. Interestingly, the stonefish don’t appear to use their awesome powers for anything – good or evil. They’re ambush predators, so their venom isn’t used to capture prey, but neither is it used to ward of predators. As Faulkes notes, it sounds like a good subject for a dissertation! Check it out here.

Squid Have Mirror Eyeballs — Danna Staaf, Squid A Day

Many sea creatures use camouflage to hide themselves from predators – but their eyes remain a dead giveaway. Squid use smoke and mirrors – ok, maybe just the mirrors – to hide in the open ocean. Their eyes reflect ambient light like a special kind of mirror called a ‘dielectric.’ When the light hits them a certain way, their eyes don’t appear to be there at all! Don’t take my word for it, check out Daana’s post here.

Ping-pong paddle worm — Susannah, Wanderin’ Weeta (With Waterfowl and Weeds)

Wanderin’ Weeta brings us a video of a tiny paddleworm that hitch-hiked a ride to her home in an empty thatched acorn barnacle shell. I love the music! Who knew that invert biology could be so entertaining. Watch how this critter wriggles to the music. Ok, maybe the wriggling came first, but it’s still fun to watch here.

The fun continues  – just head on over the the blogs listed above and see what these ocean authors have in store for you for May!

What are your favorite ocean topics? Let us know below!

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Round of Words Mid-Week Check-in

My progress has been somewhat inconsistent this week, but still pretty good so I’m pleased.

  1. Writing/revising: my good friend, the talented literary agent Louise Fury, convinced me to take on a cool new writing project (complete with deadlines!) so I’m psyched about that. I’m still revising my WIP and received incredibly supportive and valuable feedback from my new writers’ group. I have yet to do my ‘Morning Pages’ today – and it’s after 9pm. Sigh.
  2. Learning: Working through Holly Lisle’s How to Revise Your Novel (while I do just that), but haven’t done much on The Artist’s Way. Hope to go on an artist’s date tomorrow – Friday at the latest.  Perhaps a hike?
  3. Blogging: I’m here, aren’t I? 😉 I’m pretty happy with my new Sunday feature – a mash-up called ‘Beachcombing.” That brings me to twice weekly. I’m hoping to add a third on Fridays, but I’m not committing just yet…

Check out everyone else’s progress here.

How are your goals coming along?  Steaming along, dragging your feet?  It’s all good. Let us know so we can cheer you on – below!

Marine Mammal Poster Giveaway

I’ll announce the winner of last month’s drawing soon, I promise!  just haven’t compiled the names yet.

Danielle Meitiv is a writer, science geek, gardener, and mother who goes barefoot whenever possible. Danielle is also a huge fan and sales affiliate for Holly Lisle’s online courses: How to Think Sideways: Career Survival School for Writers, and How to Revise Your Novel. Follow @Danielle_Meitiv on Twitter, and on Facebook: Danielle Meitiv’s Barefoot Blog, and Danielle Meitiv.

Wonderful Waterful Wednesday: The Magnificent and Fragile Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is a living coral landscape stretching more than 1700 miles along Australia’s eastern shore. It is home to 5,000 types of mollusks, 1,800 species of fish, 125 kinds of sharks, and innumerable miniature marine organisms. And a wealth of coral species – more than 350 different types including branching staghorn and elk corals, fronds of waving soft corals, hard nubby domes and pancake-flat plates – all made out of calcium, seawater and sunlight.

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Credit for all photos lies with the incomparably talented David Doubilet/National Geographic. More of Doubilet’s photos of the Great Barrier Reef can be found here.

A Fragile Empire

This empire of carbonate rock was built over millions of years by coral polyps, each smaller than a grain of rice. These colonial organisms, which are closely related to sea anemones and jellyfish, live symbioticly or in partnership, with photosynthesis algae called zooxanthellae. (Not sure how to pronounce that? The x sounds like a z and it rhymes with “no more jelly” 🙂 ). The algae harvest solar energy and feed it to the corals, who in turn build living temples to the sun.

Charlie Veron, coral expert and a longtime chief scientist for the Australian Institute of Marine Science worries about the future of corals in a rapidly warming ocean. When temperatures rise to high, coral expel their zooxanthelle symbionts, a phenomenon known as bleaching because the absence of the algae causes them to appear white. Without their partners, the coral polyps will die. “Reefs for me are places for solitude and thought,” says Veron, seen admiring stony corals in the slideshow above. “But I know there is fragility in their existence. I fear what lies ahead.”

The reef is also threatened by ocean acidification, which lower ocean pH and makes it harder for polyps to build the reef material itself. The massive runoff of toxins and sediment that followed the Australian floods last year is expected to affect the reef for years to come.

Not Without a Fight

But the Aussies aren’t going to let the reef die without a fight. In 2004, strategic sections of the reef amounting to one third of its total area were set aside in marine parks were fishing is banned. The biological recovery has been faster and more dramatic than expected. If diversity is strength, then this empire has a lot more fight left in it.

For more about the great Barrier Reef, as well as wonderful articles on Yosemite’s superclimbers, saving the world’s forests, and how the people of Bangladesh deal with rising seas, check out the May issue of National Geographic, on newstands April 26.

Everything Except the Writing: Round of Words Week Three Check-in

I missed both of last week’s check-ins due to travel and the Passover holiday. But the goals are going well – everything except the writing, that is.

  • Writing: I started a new piece that I’m really excited about.  I just have a bit over one page so far but the world-building is going well. The writing – not so much.  I thought a 3000 word a week goal would work but I find that i do need a daily goal.  For the next week and a half I’m going to try one hour a day focused on writing. No word count, just a chunk of time.  I’ll let you know how that works.
  • Blogging: I missed Sunday’s check-in and Wednesday’s post came out on Thursday (a bit of a challenge when it’s usually called “Wonderful Waterful Wednesday,”) but the overall blogging endeavor is gong well.  I’ve decided to revamp the blog – focus and all – so expect a whole lotta changes in the near future.
  • Learning: I did a lot of reading on the plane to and from California including whole chapters of the Artist’s Way and the How to Think Sideways: Career Survival School for Writer course material. For my artist’s date I spent an hour and a half working on a hand-sewing project I thought up ages ago: a yoga bag made from an old skirt.  Since I’ve never actually sewn anything, it’s a challenge but also a lot of fun. One thing I’ve noticed about these dates – I have a really hard time dedicating a full 2 hours.  Will have to think about why and work on it.

There is it. To meet all the other ROW80 participants and where they’re at, check ’em out here.

Marine Mammals Poster Giveaway

This month’s giveaway is an out-of-print NOAA poster of Marine Mammals of the Western Hemisphere. Every comment left in the month of May equals one entry. Every link or reference to this blog on your site equals two entries. The drawing will be held on the 1st of May, so start your entries now!

Danielle Meitiv is a writer, science geek, gardener, and mother who goes barefoot whenever possible. Danielle is also a huge fan and sales affiliate for Holly Lisle’s online courses: How to Think Sideways: Career Survival School for Writers, and How to Revise Your Novel. Follow @Danielle_Meitiv on Twitter, and on Facebook: Danielle Meitiv’s Barefoot Blog, and Danielle Meitiv.

Wonderful Waterful Thursday(?): Life in a Sometimes Ocean

Welcome to Wonderful Waterful Thursday! WWT as I like to call it is the extra special blog post that follows what would otherwise have been Wonderful Waterful Wednesday, if I hadn’t spent an extra five hours waiting in Baltimore-Washington Airport for a flight to California…

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What is a “Sometimes Ocean”?

If you’ve ever visited the shore and poked among the rocks, you’ve seen them: shallow puddles on the edge of the sea, cut off from the great Mother Ocean for hours, even days at a time. They’re tidepools of course, and a whole host of organisms have become adapted to living in them.

Some of the marine creatures common to tidepools in North America are sea stars and urchins, snails, barnacles, and crabs. And of course various kinds of seaweed or algae thrive in tidepools, providing all important cover and shade for the creatures who live there.

Living on the Edge

Life in a tidepool is a study in extremes. Temperatures rise and fall over the course of the day. Salinity too. A water evaporates the pool itself can shrink and at times disappear. Considering that conditions are relatively constant in the open ocean, these kinds of conditions are pretty unusual for marine creatures.

And while they may seem idyllic, dangers lurk in those placid little ponds. In the sea, there’s lots of space to flee and find food. Not so in a tidepool, where you’re trapped until the next high tide, which can be hours or days away. Some parts of the intertidal zone (the area between the high and low tide levels) are only submerged at the highest of high tides, while other areas are only uncovered during the lowest of the low.

The Whys of Tides

The rise and fall of the tides is caused by the gravitational pull of the sun and the moon on the oceans. When all three celestial bodies are arranged in a line (called syzygy), we get spring tides, which are higher and lower than usual. Quadrature is when the sun, Earth and moon form a right angle. This occurs during the quarter phases/half moons. The tidal range is smallest at this time – the highs are lower than

Every shoreline has its typical tidal range determined by the shape of the basin and where on Earth it’s located. In some areas the range can be as little as a few inches a day; in others many feet. The Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia holds the record for the largest range: more than 53 feet during a spring tide!

Most coasts have semi-diurnal (twice daily) tides, but a few shores experience only a single cycle.

Tidepooling at its Best

Rocky shores like those found in New England and the Pacific Northwest are my favorite places to explore. I have a very clear memory of holding a sea cucumber given to me by a park ranger in Acadia National Park in Maine. My dream of becoming a marine biologist was cemented that day.

I also saved a couple of sea urchins from a grim fate as souvenirs, but that’s another story.

Marine Mammals Poster Giveaway

This month’s giveaway is an out-of-print NOAA poster of Marine Mammals of the Western Hemisphere. Every comment left in the month of May equals one entry. Every link or reference to this blog on your site equals two entries. The drawing will be held on the 1st of May, so start your entries now!

Have you ever held a prickly sea star, caught sight of a crab scuttling through a tidepool forest, discovered a sea star clinging to the underside of a wet rock? Share your tidepool discoveries – and any other fond seaside memories – in the comments section below!

Danielle Meitiv is an oceanographer by training, an advocate for all things marine and a writer of science fiction and non-fiction. Danielle is also a huge fan and sales affiliate for Holly Lisle’s online courses: How to Think Sideways: Career Survival School for Writers, and How to Revise Your Novel. Follow @Danielle_Meitiv on Twitter, and on Facebook: Brave Blue Words, and Danielle Meitiv.

Wonderful Waterful Wednesday: Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea

We’re Going Down!

Happy Wednesday! For this week’s wonderful, waterful post, we’ll dive to the deepest realms of the ocean to check out the amazing, bizarre, and sometimes downright creepy-looking creatures that live there. In water 3000+ feet deep, where no sunlight penetrates, fish, squid, shrimp and jellyfish make their own light to help them seek out prey, avoid predators, and find mates.

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How do they do it? These denizens of the dark create light, called bioluminescence or “living light”, through a chemical reaction. It’s similar to what happens when you break the inner tube of a glowstick: luciferin, a pigment, reacts with oxygen to produce light. The same process used by fireflies.

Most deep-sea creatures give off – and can only see – blue-green light, which travels through water better than other wavelengths (colors) of light. However, there is one family of fish, the Malacoseids or Loosejaws, that produces red light. These fish can use their light to hunt, without being seen by predators or prey!

The Better to Eat You With…

And what’s with those crazy jaws?!? While they may seemed designed to give nightmares, there is an ecological reason for those toothsome grins. Food is scarce down there. With so few prey, it takes a lot of time and energy to find a meal – once they get their jaws around something, they’re not letting go.

For more on the deep sea, check out some earlier posts, here and here, and one on climate change and the deep sea here.

These photos come from a 2002 NOAA* expedition: “Islands in the Stream 2002: Exploring Underwater Oases,” available on the NOAA Ocean Explorer website. “Ocean Explorer is an educational Internet offering for all who wish to learn about, discover, and virtually explore the ocean realm.” Check it out!

Here’s another cool resource about the deep-sea: the Deep-sea Creatures Database at Sea and Sky.

We Take Requests

This week’s waterful post goes out by request to Lisa E. Arlt, a lovely person and talented writer whom I had the pleasure of chatting with this past weekend. As Lisa reminded me, once a writer, always a writer, no matter what life throws your way. Check out her writing and travels (she’s a former foreign service officer) here.

Have an idea for a Wonderful Waterful post? Let me know in the comments section below!

Cool science calendars
One of these can be yours. Just comment or link to Brave Blue Words!

Science Swag Giveaway – last chance to enter!

For the rest of the week (through April 1st), leave a comment and get entered into a drawing for one of the fab science calendars that I picked up at the AAAS conference last month. (You can check out my posts on the conference here and here). Each comment = an entry, so feel free to check out some older posts and comment on those too. Following this blog via Facebook will also get you an entry. Linking to this site from yours will get you TWO entires per link. Act now – the giveaway ends April 1st!

Danielle Meitiv is an oceanographer by training, an advocate for all things marine and a writer of science fiction and non-fiction. Danielle is also a huge fan and sales affiliate of Holly Lisle’s online courses: How to Think Sideways: Career Survival School for Writers, and How to Revise Your Novel. Follow @Danielle_Meitiv on Twitter, and on Facebook: Brave Blue Words, and Danielle Meitiv.

Blooming Spring Comes to the Sea

Spring has sprung. Daffodils are blooming, birds are building nests and my kids are putting away the winter PJs. (I put a stop to that). I know, with colder temperatures threatening much of the northern US, it’s hard to believe it, but spring officially started last Sunday, with the vernal equinox.

Spring means new growth as plants respond to warmer temperatures and higher light levels. That’s true in the ocean, as well. In the spring, the population of phytoplankton (microscope algae) in surface waters grows rapidly, creating patches of green so large they can be seen in satellite photos. Unlike land plants, however, the algae aren’t just sitting there waiting for the sun’s warmth to return – in the ocean, there’s nowhere to sit! So what happens?

Springs Means Green – Even in the Ocean

When water is heated from above, it becomes stratified – separated into layers, with lighter warm surface waters floating above denser, cold water. A boundary forms between the warmer and colder waters, called the thermocline. This prevents mixing between the water layers. (If you’ve ever gone swimming in a deep lake or pond, you’ve probably experienced this effect, when the water around your feet is colder than at the surface).

The classic explanation for the spring bloom was that the thermocline allows phytoplankton to remain in the upper water levels, where there is enough light for them to grow and create large blooms. As they grow, populations of the critters that feed on them, microscope animals called zooplankton, grow as well.

Eventually, in late spring/early summer, the phytoplankton eat all the food in the upper layer, their population growth slows, and the zooplankton eat them at roughly the same rate as they grow. (So, even though the growing and eating is still going on, the big green patch  disappears from satellite photos). Newer research* suggests that the phytoplankton begin to bloom during the winter, and that stratification only concentrates them at the surface where our satellites can see them – and zooplankton can find them and eat them.

03/21/04. Before the spring bloom. Color scale shows concentration of chlorophyll (phytoplankton) in North Atlantic surface waters. MODIS image: NASA Aqua satellite
A month later, the spring bloom is well underway from North Carolina to Canada. 04/22/2004. MODIS image: NASA Aqua satellite

 

 

 
 

Marine Food Web

Phytoplankton are the primary producers in the marine food web – they capture energy from the sun. Zooplankton feed on the phytoplankton, and are themselves food for immature fish, shrimp, small fish such as sardines and herring, and even huge creatures like blue whales and North Atlantic right whales (who feed on tiny shrimp-like krill and copepods, respectively). Small fish feed bigger fish and so on – right onto our plates.

Just like on land, recent studies** of satellite data suggest that climate change is causing the spring bloom to occur earlier in parts of the ocean, like the Arctic.  While that may seem like a good thing (who doesn’t want winter to end sooner?), it’s not clear if the creatures that feed on phytoplankton will be able to hatch earlier in response. If the phytoplankton use up all the nutrients and begin to die sooner, before the zooplankton can hatch and eat them, then all the other creatures that depend on this annual event may suffer.

Scientists are watching the spring bloom closely, monitoring fish populations throughout the Arctic region, to see what will happen.

In spite of the impending cold front, I’ve been out in my garden, planting peas and potatoes, and harvesting greens from seeds that I put out in the late summer and fall, (and didn’t get around to harvesting during the winter). How about you? What does activity does the bloomin’ spring inspire in you? Gardening? Spring cleaning? A trip to the beach? Let us know in the comments below!

Lunch!

References:

* Behrenfeld et al. Abandoning Sverdrup’s Critical Depth Hypothesis on phytoplankton blooms. Ecology, 2010; 91 (4): 977 DOI: 10.1890/09-1207.1

** M. Kahru, V. Brotas, M. Manzano-Sarabia, B. G. Mitchell. Are phytoplankton blooms occurring earlier in the Arctic? Global Change Biology, 2010; DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2486.2010.02312.x

BONUS: Cool Science Swag Giveaway

For the rest of March, anyone who leaves a comment will be entered into a random drawing for one of the fab calendars that I got at the AAAS conference last month, shown in the photo below. Each comment = an entry, so feel free to check out some older posts and comment on those too.  Forwarding a post from the blog, RTing it on Twitter, or following this blog via Facebook will also get you an entry. Linking to this site from yours will get you TWO entires per link. One week to go – start your entries now!

Cool science calendars
Yes - one of these can be yours! Just comment, forward, RT or link to Brave Blue Words!

** LIVE WEBCAST – Clearing the Air: Managing Air Quality to Benefit Heath and Climate in India.

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 30, 2011, 10:30am – noon

http://www.sais-jhu.edu/pressroom/live.html

Dr. Sarath Guttikinda, an air quality expert from Delhi, India; Dr. William Lau, a climate scientist from NASA; and yours truly will discuss the links between air quality and climate in India, and what can be done to improve both. The event is free, open to the public, and will be webcast by Johns Hopkins University.

For more information, click here.

Danielle Meitiv is an oceanographer by training, an advocate for all things marine and a writer of science fiction and non-fiction. Danielle is also a huge fan and sales affiliate of Holly Lisle’s online courses: How to Think Sideways: Career Survival School for Writers, and How to Revise Your Novel. Follow @Danielle_Meitiv on Twitter, and on Facebook: Brave Blue Words, and Danielle Meitiv.

Wonderful Waterful Wednesday

Arctic Sunflower Stars
Subarctic sunflower stars, Prince William Sound in Alaska.Photo: NaGISA - Casey Debenham, University of Alaska, Fairbanks

Welcome to the inaugural post of a new feature here at Brave Blue Words: Wonderful Waterful Wednesday. Each Wednesday, I will feature one of the more than 1,200 beautiful and bizarrre creatures cataloged during the recently-completed Census of Marine Life. I’ve written about some of the amazing accomplishments and discoveries of the census here and here.

This week’s star (pun intended), is Pycnopodia helianthoides, the sunflower sea star. This trio was photographed in the frigid shallow waters of Alaska’s Prince Williams Sound, although they are found all along the West Coast. It’s one of the largest sea stars, and all those arms make it one of the fastest, too. Sunflower sea stars feed on their bottom-dwelling cousins (other echinoderms or “prickly-skins”), such as sand dollars, sea urchins and sea cucumbers. Their mere presence is enough to make those critters scramble for cover.

Some of my best memories of the sea come from the tidepools I’ve explored and the critters I’ve found there, including sea stars, urchins and the like. How about you? Ever hold a squishy sea cucumber? poked a seastar or scratched up your knees with barnacle kisses (ouch!)? Share your seaside experiences in the comments section below.

** LIVE WEBCAST – Clearing the Air: Managing Air Quality to Benefit Heath and Climate in India.

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 30, 2011, 10:30am – noon

http://www.sais-jhu.edu/pressroom/live.html

Dr. Sarath Guttikinda, an air quality expert from Delhi, India; Dr. William Lau, a climate scientist from NASA; and yours truly will discuss the links between air quality and climate in India, and what can be done to improve both. The event is free, open to the public, and will be webcast by Johns Hopkins University.

For more information, click here.

Great resource for writers

A shout-out to writer and awesome social media expert, Kristen Lamb. Her blog and book “We Are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide to Social Media” are musts for any serious author – and are damned funny, too!

BONUS: Cool Science Swag Giveaway

For the rest of March, anyone who leaves a comment will be entered into a random drawing for one of the fab calendars that I got at the AAAS conference last month, shown in the photo below. Each comment = an entry, so feel free to check out some older posts and comment on those too.  Forwarding a post from the blog, RTing it on Twitter, or following this blog via Facebook will also get you an entry. One weeks to go – start your entries now!

Cool science calendars
Yes - one of these can be yours - just comment, forward or RT Danielle Meitiv's Brave Blue Words!

Danielle Meitiv is an oceanographer by training, an advocate for all things marine and a writer of science fiction and non-fiction. Danielle is also a huge fan and sales affiliate of Holly Lisle’s online courses: How to Think Sideways: Career Survival School for Writers, and How to Revise Your Novel. Follow @Danielle_Meitiv on Twitter, and on Facebook: Brave Blue Words, and Danielle Meitiv.

Clear and Present Danger: Overwhelming Ourselves into Apathy

Head in Hands

After covering a AAAS session on science and the media in my blog post last week, I’d planned to focus on another titled “Adapting to a Clear and Present Danger: Climate Change and Ocean Ecosystems.” Two of the talks stood out for me: one on the potential impacts of ocean warming and acidification, and the other on coral reefs, and all the threats they face. I had all my notes, including quotes from the speakers and abstracts of their talks.  I’d even hunted down some of their earlier talks, and found cool graphics to accompany the post. Then, I sat down to write. But I couldn’t.

Why? Work’s been busy lately, especially since we’re trying to raise money for my primary project.  I’ve been neglecting my WIP (work in progress: a first person sci-fi novel), and wanted to work on that. And on top of all that was simple procrastination – or so I thought. I should have suspected that something was up. I like writing this blog, and don’t usually look for excuses not to. So why was I having so much trouble?

Some people would turn to soul-searching at this point. I turned to the web. And what do you know? It turns out that I’m not the only one who gets tired of reading (and writing) about bad news.

Wait, Don’t Tell Me

Climate change is real. So is ocean acidification, the demise of coral reefs and the destruction of rainforests. Not to mention (but I will anyway), the loss of dozens endangered species, overfishing, air pollution, ocean dumping and oil spills…

Have your eyes glazed over yet? Were you tempted to stop reading, to find something positive to check out for a change? Me too. It’s natural. No one can take a steady diet of misery – it just wears us down. Some psychologists believe that we have a finite capacity for worry and just can’t take it all in at once.* The kids are sick, I’m being downsized, the mortgage is due, there’s a tragedy in Japan – oh, and the climate is changing? Take a number. Sometime we go numb, tuning out what our brains just can’t handle.

That’s not a cop-out. Humans evolved to handle immediate threats like hungry predators, and modern-day stresses trigger same basic fight or flight response. But our bodies can’t stay on high alert all the time. After a while, the alarms stop ringing, and we go back to business as usual. Without doing anything.

If You Can’t Say Anything Nice…

That’s another problem – what can we do? The problems I’ve mentioned are so huge, is it even possible for one individual to make a difference?  Too often we scientists, reporters, bloggers and the like give folks the bad news without any ideas of what to do. Any reason for hope.  Is it any wonder people stop listening?

Some studies** suggest that people resist doing anything about climate change – and even deny that it is happening – because it contradicts their views of a “just world.” Surely, if God (or the Universe or humanity, etc) is good, things can’t be that bad. Or it will all work out in the end.  I have to admit that I fall into this camp sometimes.  I have to or else I could never keep working and writing about the issue of climate change.

So now what?

What does that mean for someone like me, who lives and breathes this stuff all the time, and tries to educate others about it, too? Some take-home lessons:

  • Stay away from the apocalyptic messages – they cause people to tune out.
  • Give people reason for hope, including things they can do and info about efforts underway to make a difference.
  • Share as much good news as possible.
  • Enjoy all the wonderful things about people, the environment, life – celebrate! Those are the REAL reasons we work so hard to save it all, right?

As I said, I do believe in a just world. I know we humans have the capacity to address the challenges of climate change in ways that will make the world a better place for having done so. And we can even have a good time while doing so.  To quote the incomparable Emma Goldman: “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” Keep fighting the good fight – and dancing all the while.

—————————-

What do you think? Does bad news about the environment cause you to tune out? Are there strategies that can help people see the threats – and the solutions? What things do you celebrate and work to save? Please share in the comments below.

BONUS: Cool Science Swag Giveaway

For the rest of March, anyone who leaves a comment will be entered into a random drawing for one of the fab calendars that I got at the AAAS conference last month, shown in the photo below. Each comment = an entry, so feel free to check out some older posts and comment on those too.  Forwarding a post from the blog, RTing it on Twitter, or following this blog via Facebook will also get you an entry. Two weeks to go – start your entries now!

Follow @Danielle_Meitiv on Twitter, and Facebook: Brave Blue Words, Danielle Meitiv, and Author Danielle Meitiv.

Cool science calendars
Yes - one of these can be yours - just comment, forward or RT Brave Blue Words!

References

* The Psychology of Climate Change Communication, published by the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions at Columbia University

** Feinberg, M., and R. Willer, 2011. Apocalypse Soon? : Dire Messages Reduce Belief in Global Warming by Contradicting Just-World
Beliefs Psychological Science 2011 22:34 Originally published online 9 December 2010 DOI: 10.1177/0956797610391911

Science and the Media, or How Science Advanced at AAAS 2011: Part I

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Most science conferences are like little in-group parties, where people who know each other’s work intimately get together to discuss their latest results, and query each other about what to do next. Don’t get me wrong – I love them. You meet interesting people, learn A LOT, and come home with new ideas, and great T-shirts or shoulder bags.  Since I am a generalist by nature, I’ve attending lots of different kinds of conferences: the Geological Society of America, the American Physics Society, the European Geophysical Union, the Estuarine Research Federation, and the Coastal Society, to name a few.

The AAAS Annual Meeting, which I attended for the first time this year, was completely different. The raison d’etre of “triple-A-S” is right there in its name: the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  I didn’t really get what that meant until now. Instead of technical talks, where experts talk to their peers about the incremental advances in their area of science, this meeting was all about the big picture. Panels of speakers addressed different aspects of a single topic, speaking broadly about what was known, where the gaps and questions were, and what they’d like to see happen next. Scientists from different fields sat in on each others’ sessions, offering all sorts of interesting and cross-disciplinary questions and comments. The meeting wasn’t only for and about scientists, either. A number of panels focused on the communication of science, and the relevant of science to society. It was amazing. There was also a two-day Family Science Fair, which my son and nephews loved.  I picked up all sorts of great science swag, including posters, bumper stickers, calendars and buttons, which I will start giving away next week.

Over the next few weeks I will report on some of these great sessions in depth, including:

  • Science Without Borders and Media Unbounded: What Comes Next
  • Adapting to a Clear and Present Danger: Climate Change and Ocean Ecosystems (I may have to dedicate two blog posts to this session, which included fabulous talks on coral reefs and ocean acidification by James Brady of MBARI, and Nancy Knowlton of the Smithsonian).
  • 2050: Will There Be Fish in the Ocean?
  • Comparing National Responses to Climate Change: Networks of Debate and Contention (focusing on the differences between how climate change is viewed in the US and India – the two countries where I do my climate change work).

First up: science and the media.

Media Unbounded

“Science Without Borders and Media Unbounded: What Comes Next,” focused on the impact of the Internet on media, and featured a panel of journalists who focus on science and environmental reporting: Tom Rosenstiel, Director of the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, Elizabeth Shogren, reporter for National Public Radio (NPR), and Seth Borenstein, reporter for the Associated Press (AP). Kerry Emanuel, a researcher in the Program of Atmospheres, Oceans, and Climate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) responded to their presentations.

Tom Rosenstiel gave a fascinating overview. The world of media is both shrinking and expanding. The editorial aspects are expanding: there is more commentary and discussion than ever. The reportorial component – where people actually go out to discover and confirm things – is shrinking. As more people get their news online, the print newspaper is fading, but publishers are not: most people still get their news from a handful of trusted sources like the New York Times, Washington Post, and others. However, since they’re not paying for it, newspaper budgets and pressrooms are shrinking. There are more readers, but fewer reporters.  This has led to the loss of specialized beats, like the environment, particularly in local papers. This also means that reporters don’t get into stories in-depth, instead sticking to breaking the news. There are fewer interviews, less follow-up. What has this done to our public square? Perhaps the world we’re exposed to is smaller, our common knowledge pool is shrinking. As readers (and listeners) we’re spending less time learning about the larger world and more time on our particular interests.

Elizabeth Shogren spoke about how the Internet has made her job easier and more interesting. She can spend more time getting the interesting stories (because that is still a priority at NPR), and can do more with them. In addition to a radio report, she can – and is expected – to present a whole multi-media story, complete with online images, and videos. She can include information that didn’t make it into the recording, and give listeners resources for more information. She noted that the Internet makes information more accessible, and has the potential to make governing more transparent. Now, even if she can’t be on Capitol Hill at 1:00 AM to follow the debate on an important bill, she can get all the information – videos and transcripts – online. In theory, this takes away one of the tactics that lawmakers have used to ‘hide’ debates they didn’t want the public to pay attention to – but only if people take advantage of the information that is out there.

The Differences Between Researchers and Reporters

Seth Borenstein spoke about the incredible access that the Internet gives him to scientific data, allowing him to dig through the databases and reports about climate change that researchers routinely put up on their websites or on government and other shared sites. (I took note of these, and you can expect to here more about specific findings and studies in future posts). He used this access to disprove a recent claim of climate change deniers:  that January’s temperature were colder than usual and therefore ‘proved’ that global warming wasn’t happening. Instead, he discovered that for the past 311 months – every month since February 1985 – temperatures have been warmer than the long-term average for that month. He followed with a statement that had all the scientists in the room groaning in disbelief. He said that IF January 2011 had been warmer, THAT would have been a story that his editor would have wanted to hear, but the fact that every month for nearly 26 YEARS had been warmer was not a story!  The facts weren’t interesting – only the controversy.  And this from a reporter who truly gets, and likes reporting on science and climate change.  Is it any wonder that so many scientists are reluctant to speak to the media?

Kerry Emanuel took up this issue in his comments. He opened with a quote from Oscar Wilde to express how many scientists see the media: “In old days men had the rack. Now they have the press.” He noted the dichotomy in the modern media (and one that journalists rarely acknowledge): the media as the fourth estate, with high ideals vs. media as a business. Scientists sometimes get tripped up by this tension. They often assume (perhaps naively) that they and the reporter have the same objective: to get to the truth. Even if languages are different, the end result is usually good. However, that is not always the case – sometimes the journalist just wants to sell the story. Sometimes journalists bend the story into something they think will sell. This makes scientists wary – they have to determine where the journalist coming from. (Shogren’s response was that scientists need to do their homework, and learn more about the journalist who is approaching them. If they don’t like the kind of things he or she writes, the researcher doesn’t have to talk).

Global Warming Deniers: Who’s To Blame?

Shogren complained that she though the global warming debate was settled, but was frustrated to hear it coming up again. Disturbingly, she blamed it on the scientists, saying that they (we) hadn’t done a good enough job explaining it to the public!  There was an immediate outcry: the science has gotten stronger, but the media keeps allowing the debate to be re-opened. She said that if there was controversy, they had to report it. Researchers said: there’s no controversy in the facts, but the media keeps giving the stage to fringe groups with vested interests in undermining the facts. Very interesting.

During the Q & A, I asked all the members of the panel how Twitter and blogs had changed the way they do their reporting, if at all. Surprisingly, there were few comments. (Perhaps they thought those venues were about information, not ‘news’).  Rosenstiel said that the Internet gave any expert access to an audience (unspoken, but implied was the critique that it also gives access to the clueless, as well).

Coming up next: Climate change and Ocean Ecosystems.

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Think that I have a clue about oceans and climate? Want more Brave Blue Words? Tune in next week for more on the latest from AAAS. And stay tuned for information about how you can win some of the great science stuff from AAAS!

Can’t wait until then? Follow @Danielle_Meitiv on Twitter, friend Danielle Meitiv, and like Author Danielle Meitiv on Facebook!

Coral reefs are vulnerable to ocean warming and acidification. Researcher Nancy Knowlton says that there's still time left to save them - but not much.