Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Benthic Community

Microscopic ecosystems are science.

The BP oil spill threatens to destroy an entire ecosystem. More than one, actually, since the coral reefs of the Florida Keys are now under threat. And the ocean floor, one mile deep, is an ecosystem as well.

But the benthic community is the ecosystem that is of the most urgent concern. The wafer-thin top two millimeters of mud in the coastal Louisiana marsh, made up of microscopic algae and invertebrates are what holds the marsh together and what provides the nutritional support for everything from shellfish, crabs and shrimp and eventually to gators and fish and ducks.

This information comes from an article printed in the Times-Picayune in New Orleans.

The tiny microscopic algae in the mud produces a sticky substance that helps bind the soils in the marsh, and thus is of huge importance as far as fighting the loss of the coastal land.

Picture credit Ellis Lucia/Times Picayune

Marine biologists estimate that 97 percent of all marine species in the Gulf of Mexico depend on the estuaries at some point in their life cycles.

Picture credit Dan Swenson/Times-Picayune

"It's an incredible engine for a wide range of life," said Kevin Carman, dean of the College of Basic Sciences at Louisiana State University.

How will it cope with the possibility of a covering of oil?

"If the toxic components of the oil kill those invertebrates foraging on the algae, then the algae will grow out of control," Carman said.

The algae eventually would form a thick mat over the marsh mud, preventing sunlight from penetrating below its surface.

"If the algae can't get sunlight, they die. If they die, the invertebrates have no food, and the whole web is disrupted."

There is no best-case scenario as far as the benthic community is concerned. Not if the oil reaches the marsh, which apparently it has, in some areas.

We will all watch, with great concern, what happens, and how the entities that are responsible and those that are responding react.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Intersex fish in Alabama waterways

The environment is science.

Parade magazine on Sunday January 31, 2010 published an article describing mysterious intersex fish appearing in increasing numbers in rivers in the United States.

Included in the study was the Mobile River Basin which covers most of Alabama.

One third of male smallmouth bass and one fifth of male largemouth bass exhibit both male and female sex characteristics.

Photo credit Parade magazine

"Lab studies are under way to isolate potential causes," lead author Jo Ellen Hinck says.

Katherine Baer of the nonprofit group American Rivers says, "We see what's happening to the fish, and the water they're swimming in is the water we are drinking."

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Symphony of Science

Music is science.

The Symphony of Science is a musical project headed by John Boswell whereby science and philosophy are delivered in musical form.

There have been four installments, and I am including all of them here. I hope you enjoy auto-tune. In my opinion, it gets better with each video.

The newest video, released yesterday, is the last in order on this page, and includes Carl Sagan, David Attenborough, and Jane Goodall. It is titled "The Unbroken Thread."

First, "A Glorious Dawn," featuring Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking.

Let me stop right here and say that the mysteries and beauty of our planet rival anything seen on Pandora, in the movie Avatar, and I love that movie. That sentiment is brought out in the next video.

OK, the next video is "We are all Connected," and features Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Bill Nye.

The third video is "Our Place in the Cosmos," featuring Carl Sagan, Robert Jastrow, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawkins, and Michio Kaku.

Finally, "The Unbroken Thread."

More information, and the lyrics are included at the link above.