Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Blast from the past.....

In the space of a single day, through the powers of Facebook, I have reconnected with 6 (yes 6) people I went to school with in Saudi Arabia. These are people I haven't heard hide nor hair of since 1991. Pretty amazing since we all span the globe too - from the UK, to the Netherlands, to Ghana to India. It's amazing to think I was so resistant to starting Facebook, but this is really the reason it caught me, the ability to keep up with distant and even long lost friends, and feel like you're a part of their daily life. I've made so many friends over the years, but my life is so transitory and busy, it's so great to have that to keep in touch.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The months ahead...

I'm so excited. A very enterprising young lady (7yr old daughter of a colleague at work) has decided to raise her own chickens and sell eggs, I am one of her first customers, and thoroughly enjoyed my two poached eggs on toast for dinner, then wholewheat crepes for dessert - yum! I love love love fresh, organic, home grown eggs, there really is nothing that tastes better! I'm probably about as excited as she is with the whole venture!

So this next month is going to be a hectic one, i'll try and update at least with a little something, but to be honest i'm going to be all over the place, so apologies if it's a little short or infrequent. Here is my schedule for the coming few months....

7th - 15th May - Maine - Interview
15th - 20th May - Ottawa, Canada - work visa interview
21st - 28th May - Woods Hole

4th - 14th June - Iceland - Deep Sea Biology Symposium

1st - 15th July - Science diver course (here in Hawaii, but 8am - 8pm everyday for 2 weeks!

~18th - 23rd July - Washington DC (Diane, Olivia - if you read this before I get a chance to email you, I am meaning to email you soon!) - meeting at NOAA

18th Aug - 3rd September - Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska - Project in the park, and a few days of kayaking!
3rd - 12th September - Juneau, Alaska - project in the fjords

So much for a quiet year for travel huh.......

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A perfect end to a busy saturday

I was in work at 8am this morning, trying to get a bunch of stuff done before the undergraduate Honors symposium this afternoon. You guessed it, it's proposal deadline time again. Luckily the proposal to go in is in better shape than I thought, so when I got a "swim call" at 5.30pm from Jenny, I absolutely jumped at it! Waikiki was packed, there was a festival going on, so we headed to the Kahala instead - a fancy resort just the other side of Diamondhead volcano.

Warm, sunny, no wind and a beautiful sunset. This is what I enjoy about Hawaii. Seeing this, i'm not sure you'd believe me if I told you it's been pouring down and nasty all week!

Hannah thought the beach rocks at Kahala were awesome!

Helping me find my parking ticket to get validated. We figured out it's a bargain, have a drink at the bar after a swim on their beautiful beach and you get valet parking for free! And there are drinks at the bar that are the same price as in town, so it's a total score!

........and then a little reorganization of Rhian's purse needed........

Friday, April 23, 2010

Climate Change, more than just warming!

Climate Change. Yes, no matter how you look at it, it is happening, it's happening fast, and you know what, we caused it. There is no "great debate", it's not a hoax. Within the sciences, it's a fact that is 99.9% supported by scientists, and only politics and media would like us to think it is something other. This short video by David Attenborough is one of my favorites in explaining why, even though climate does change naturally, what we are seeing today is both man made, and potentially devastating.

So what is the picture above? Well, it's from a paper (Fine & Tchernov, 2007) that did some nifty experiments with ocean acidification and coral. As the earth warms, and CO2 in our atmosphere increases, more of that CO2 is getting into our oceans. More CO2 means the pH of water drops, becomes more acidic, and we can actually see in some places around the globe (like the Antarctic) that our oceans are acidifying - ocean acidification. Don't panic, you won't ever go bathing and have to worry about your skin melting off, we're only talking a few pH units at most over the next thousand years, but to a little coral, the effects are as above - nakedness.

You see, corals build skeletons out of calcium carbonate, and to do that they have to be in a delicate balance - they have to have the right temperature, they have to have a good amount of food, they need a good amount of carbonate in the water around them, and they need to be in a steady, neutral to slightly basic pH water. If the water is too acidic it will start to dissolve the skeleton faster than the wee coral can build a new one, and so the result, if the coral is lucky and it survives, is a "naked" coral. Makes the fact corals and anemones are in the same taxonomic group pretty obvious doesn't it. The main problem with a coral being "naked", is that it doesn't have the self defense mechanisms that anemones do, and thus can get eaten very rapidly. So there were ups and downs to this paper - yay they survive, boo probably not for long! These are the kinds of experiments i've been doing recently, only on baby corals rather than adults.

So where does this CO2 in our atmosphere come from? The main input of CO2 into our atmosphere is from the burning of fossil fuels for either energy production or for transport, and it doesn't matter if it happens in outer mongolia, it's affecting the planet as a whole. Deforestation doesn't help matters much either - the more plants we remove, the less CO2 is taken out of the atmosphere naturally by photosynthesis.

The top 5 CO2 emission offenders - 5) Japan (4.7% global total); 4) India (5.3%); 3) Russia (5.5%); 2) USA (20.2%) and number 1 China (21.5%). The best bit is lowest on that list is Antarctica, with less than 0.1% produced there!

So what can we do? This is a tough one, as this really is a case of mass change needed. The more people on this planet, the more our energy needs and space needs go up, and few countries are really tackling alternative energy en-mass that is needed. In the spirit of "No one can do everything, everyone can do something" though, there are things you can do, that will also save you quite a wad of cash in the end too.

1) Be energy conscious - turn off anything electrical when not needed, unplug adaptors (they use energy even when plugged in), buy energy efficient big ticket items (washers, fridges etc.) - basically if you use electricity, think about how you could use even a little less.

2) Be fuel conscious - do you need to drive today? Even walking/cycling one day a week can have a huge impact. Don't leave that gas stove on too long, use public transport if it's good in your area, don't overheat/overcool and take time to inspect your house insulation (particularly around sockets) - basically, anytime you use fuel, think how to use a little less.

3) Consider carbon credits for the home and for travel. These are best done alongside the points above. Planting a tree or two in your backyard wouldn't hurt so much either.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


Terra. Our planet. Third planet from the sun, fifth largest in our solar system and 6,378Km around the the middle. Home to millions of species, and the only planet we know of (as yet) that can sustain life. Life first appeared on Earth 3.4 billion years ago, when our atmosphere was considerably different from today. Since that time our climate has changed in natural cycles, helping along the processes of evolution and speciation, creating the millions of species that cohabit this planet today.

There are around 6.8 billion humans here, sharing this planet with the birds and the bees and all that deep-sea coral. We have the ability to control not only our thoughts and actions, but also the environment around us. As we've evolved we've refined this ability, manipulated, used and even abused this green planet of ours, allowing us to become the most successful species that has ever lived on Earth. But this is all coming full circle. It is becoming abundantly clear, we are stewards here, not masters, and everyone who lives here needs to take more steps to take care of our home. It'll take a lot to reverse much of the damage we, as a species, have done, but it's not insurmountable, and each and everyone of us can make steps in the right direction.

Today is "Earth Day". Forty years ago today, around 20 million americans protested the deterioration of the environment and demanded that we all be held accountable for reducing pollution and damage to our planet. In 1990 Earth Day went global and today, virtually every country on this planet participates, pledging to give voice to the planet and raise awareness on the things we need to be doing to secure a future for our children. So take a moment today to think of the ways you are limiting your impact on the planet, and the ways you can do more to limit your impact. I know I will. And I say again, no one person can do everything, but everyone can do something.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Rubbish, Trash, Refuse, Garbage and Junk!

The "Wikipedia" definition of "Waste". Sums it up pretty nicely!

Waste drives me crazy. You see it everywhere, on the street on my walk home, in the park I run around on the weekend, on campus even in the corridors, on the beach I go swimming at, and even at the very bottom of the ocean (above, a paint can, 3000m down in the North Atlantic). Waste, created and discarded by humans is, quite literally, everywhere. It's a bit of a puzzle to me too, why do we create all these things to throw them away? Why is that 2cm pen drive packaged in a 20cm plastic square? Why are those apples packaged in a plastic box? Why does cereal come in a bag, and a box? All questions that confound me on a regular basis.

If cereal just came in a bag, and not a box, it would reduce packaging costs by a third. You can fit more bags on a pallet than you can boxes, so transport costs are cut. This medium you would have thought would be better for our wallets as well as the Earth, and if it's all thought about logically, most environmentally conscious decisions should, in theory, cost us all less. We've gone a little packaging crazy over the 100 years, with newer and better technology, meant to make those apples look that little bit more tasty. For me it's a real turn off, I can't physically bring myself to buy apples in plastic packaging, even if they are half the price, I just can't do it.

Each person on this planet puts out an average of 572.4kgs of waste per year. In the US the average is a staggering 760kgs per year, in the UK it is 560kgs per year. And population is rising rapidly, leaving us questioning where is all this waste going to go? Landfill? We're running out of room. Incineration? Well, there are good programs out there, but the majority are not. It is certainly something that should be seriously considered. Ocean? Well, there's plenty of room in the deep-sea. Don't laugh, it is actually happening.

So today, is a good day, to think about waste. Here are the three things that I try and live by -

Prevent It: Stay away from "one-time wonders" and buy only what I need, and buy good quality that will last many years to come; stay away from excessive packaging where possible; never use plastic shopping bags (I try so hard to always bring my own, but always seem to end up with the odd plastic bag maybe once a month or so).

Re-use It: Buy only things that can be reused (resuseable bags, boxes, lunch wrappers); though I don't do this significantly, there are things I will seek out used rather than new, as long as good quality and not just accumulation.

Recycle It: Everything physically possible, goes into my recycle bin. And some things that aren't on the Hawaii list (which is a lot). There's a small campaign here to load the recycle centers with other plastics they don't currently accept, so that they can a) be used in the incinerators to help the recycle process rather than ending up in a landfill in California, and b) get records on other plastics so that they can get the recycling equipment.

So day 3 of Earth Week, and today it's Waste, one of my biggest pet peeves!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


"Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink"
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Coleridge, 1798

I wonder if Samuel Coleridge ever thought way back then that this quote was soon going to be relevant to more than just mariners? This Earth Week is a good time to contemplate the water we have, the water we've had and the water we will never have.

Water is the most precious commodity on this planet, without it nothing on Earth could survive. There is not a single living thing that doesn't need water in some form or another. 70% of this planet is water, so you would think we have plenty, but consider that only 4% of that water is useable, freshwater, and you begin to realise that we need to start being a bit more concerned. The worlds population is growing, the amount of water being used is increasing and water resources are decreasing. That's not a balanced equation, even for this bear of "little math brain".

2010 sees us smack bang in the middle of the United Nations "Water for Life" program, a program started in 2005 to face the worldwide water crisis. Everyday people die from the lack of clean, safe, useable water. Alongside our increasing needs for water resources, we are seeing more intense and longer lasting droughts in more parts of the globe making many regular freshwater supplies unavailable, some forever. On top of all of this, the grasping of water resources by greedy global companies, privatizing what should be a basic human right, is meaning what clean water there is, is becoming harder, and more expensive, to obtain.

If you haven't seen Blue Gold, I highly recommend it. It opened my eyes.

So what can we do to move in the right direction? The first big, easy, one is to oppose any further privatization of water resources anywhere around the world, not just in your backyard. The other is to be careful with the water you have - mostly simple and easy, and will save money too so has a good incentive. Shorter showers (I have a 4 minute timer, and it's really plenty of time!), no running taps, fix leaks, water gardens sensibly, low flow toilets (or a brick in the tank!) - you name it. Anytime you use water, just think of how you might be able to use even a touch less.

To help, here is a cool calculator, to see how much water your household uses. I use around 71 gallons a day. Seems huge, though the average is 80-100 gallons, and in some of the poorest parts of the world, people barely have 10% of that to use everyday for drinking, cooking and washing.

Monday, April 19, 2010

No one can do everything. Everyone can do something

Welcome to Earth Week!

The volcano in Iceland, earthquakes in China, glacial tsunami in Peru, oil spill on the Great Barrier Reef - a little ironic this week is Earth Week, or maybe its come just in time..?? I've been super busy this last week, and that is unlikely to change in the next few weeks, teaching is taking up a huge amount of my time, and I have a proposal due next monday, just in time for me to start writing my job talk and getting ready for the interview!

But Earth Week is something I find important, so i'm going to try and write a little something each day. Today back to baby steps. I love the quote "No one can do everything, but everyone can do something". When you think of the environment and ways you can help, it can seem overwhelming. Everything is interconnected, everything is joined, what affects one can affect all - so where do you start?

This is where the quote comes in. It's impossible to do everything, to truly reverse climate change and bring the planet back to center, it's going to take more than individual action, it's going to take action by country, by continent, by the planet as a whole. But individual actions add up. Not so long ago it was almost impossible to find organic foods at big chain supermarkets, but people started buying and demanding it, now there are isles and even whole supermarkets dedicated to organic foods. Through more people making those choices, the supermarkets changed, and more farmers are changing - it's a cycle, all interconnected. Non organic foods will probably always be available, certainly in my lifetime, but a better balance is being created, all starting with those individual actions.

So what things should we choose to do? The answer to that is individual, no one person can dictate what works for everyone else. Most changes are simple and need little adaptation, others are more involved, but choose your priorities, tackle those head on and just make small changes in the other directions. The big hurdle I had to jump over was realizing there are things I am always going to do - drive my car, fly, use electricity - and that I just have to be good with that, and find ways to limit my impact in spite of these needs, even if they are out of my range right now (buying a hybrid, always getting carbon credits, alternative electricity sources), they are things i'm moving towards in baby steps (driving less, turning off switches, unplugging).

So what are my priorities? A big one for me is waste. I would love to live in a way I can limit my waste to almost zero (zero would be nice, but is not realistic). Recycle, compost, get only what is needed and don't accumulate "stuff" for the sake of it - this is my life goal, something i'm sure i'll be working on for a long time to come. I average one garbage bag every 1-2 weeks (~10lbs), which I don't feel is terribly good, but is certainly better than the US average of 4.4lbs of waste per person per day or even the UK average of 2.9lbs.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Tents to Haiti

Have a tent that you don't use anymore? Consider sending it to Haiti! The Haitian government has requested 200,000 tents to help house its homeless population. Despite the millions in donations given to organizations like Red Cross and others, the government is still pleading for help.

A Home in Haiti is collecting tents to send to Haiti to help as shelter for those affected by the recent earthquake. Many people are presently living in "homemade" shelters, without the money or resources to rebuild their homes any time soon.

Though "A Home in Haiti" is advertising for buying tents directly, and for cash donations, i've had word that they will accept used tents (in good condition) too. All you need to do, is wrap up the tent and send it to -

Courageous Church
1330 West Peachtree Street
Suite 560
Atlanta, GA 30309
(404) 461-9850.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


Super nice saturday today. Went down to the beach with Jenny, Hannah and Mary (Jenny's sister who's in town) and then as we walked back from our regular Starbucks stop (during which Hannah usually naps, but did not today) we noticed they were having a festival in the park, so we wandered by. Not quite what you expect in Hawaii, but fun! Then back to Jenny and Doug's house for some lunch and tile prep! Today we prepped and sealed all the tile for their kitchen - woo hoo! "Homework" is so much fun! I just got back to my place at 9pm, exhausted, but have had a really fun day, it's so nice to not think about or do work for a whole day!

A "Scottish" festival in the park, complete with highland dancing, tossing the caber, parades and even a "tea tent"!

Watching the dancing!

An interesting Scottish-Hawaiian mixer meal....

This is not to do with the festival, but just stood out as it was such a gorgeous morning (though I burned on my swim!) and I realised I haven't ever taken a photo of it. This is a war memorial and swimming pool that juts out into the ocean right by the beach that I go swimming at. This pool has been shut for a long long time, and they're talking about tearing it down. It would be such a shame, it's a real landmark, and I just wish they'd put the money in to reopen it.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

This is probably the most depressing thing I've seen in the super market recently. Are we really going down that alley, does everything these days have to be throw away??

Busy week...

Wowsers, it's thursday already and I haven't posted this week! Sorry. It's been a really busy one. I started teaching on Wednesday, so it's kind of the beginning of the end until the end of term in May. I'm teaching graduate students Biological Oceanography this semester - i've taken over the benthic biology portion, so am co-teaching with two other faculty. Benthic Biology is all the biology that lives on the seafloor, rather than things like fish and plankton that live up in the water column (they are pelagic).

The picture above is a food web for Cod in the north Atlantic - so everything that cod eats, that eats cod, and all the things that those animals eat. I used this diagram in my first lecture to really show just how everything in the ocean is connected. The red lines are all pelagic animals, and the black lines are all benthic animals. So even though when we think about conserving and protecting stocks of Cod, we really need to think about conserving and protecting many many other species too (especially those that live on the bottom!), because if you take away even one of those numbers, the whole system could collapse.

The course website is here if you want to see the lectures (scroll down, i'm right at the bottom!). The first few lectures are not my favorite, sediments and biogeochemistry, hardly my topic so i'm going to be glad when those are down and we can move onto the fun stuff like reproduction and recruitment (i'm a sucker for gonads), deep sea biology and corals. Tomorrows in particular is going to be a struggle for me, so it'll be good to get that down.

Other than that i've had things having to be shipped to cruises, students committee meetings, it was grad student talks day weds afternoon, and i've been trying to organize my trip to Maine and Canada (to renew my work visa) and also to Alaska to do some work with the National Park Service in Glacier Bay National Park. Oh, and of course, as always, it's proposal time again. Luckily the one due in 3 weeks is a resubmittal of one of the projects that was rejected with high marks last year. I'm not feeling good about that resubmittal (there have been some unavoidable collaborator changes, which none of us are happy about, but there are some new rules within the program that we're having to abide by), but it's going to go where it needs to go.

So it's been a busy one, and this weekend doesn't look any less busy. I did get to have a coffee break with Jenny and little Hannah today though, that was fun. She's taken to giggling at me whenever she sees me, it's so darn cute.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Party in the Park

Today was a party in the park for little Hannah. Despite a little drizzle, fun was had by all.

Party girl sharing her new toys.

Cutting the cake.

Little Ian enjoying a beer with daddy...:0)