Terra cognita: wind, fire, and ice

A series compiling interesting snapshots of ourselves and the planet we inhabit, courtesy of the eyes in the sky.

Typhoon Muifa [Source:  NASA Earth Observatory].

Volcanic activity at Krakatau –see also:  evidence of marine genetic recovery after its geologic mother’s epic eruption in 1883  [Source:  NASA Earth Observatory].

Calving of icebergs from the Sulzberger Ice Shelf in Antartica due to the March 2011 tsunami offshore of Japan [Source:  NASA Earth Observatory]

False color composite LandSat image showing a river delta of Guinea-Bissau [Source:  NASA Goddard Photo and Video on Flickr]



Edith Widder on bioluminescence

TED talk (CC) from Dr Edith Widder.

Be sure to also check out last year’s discovery of a new species of deep-sea worm dropping glowing ‘bombs’ to evade predators! [Original paper here.]

Fish stocks: Good news is a drop in the ocean | Editorial | Comment is free | The Guardian

There is an interesting editorial in the Guardian regarding the recent news of the beginnings of a fishery recovery off the Canadian coast.  (For those outside the paywalls of Nature, Hannah over at Culturing Science has nicely reviewed the paper here).

The gist is that despite this bit of sunlight within global overfishing, the situation is still alarming.  For example, the editors point out that:

In the North Sea, 93% of cod are fished before they can breed

The article’s worth a read.

Fish stocks: Good news is a drop in the ocean | Editorial | Comment is free | The Guardian.

Shark week and some numbers

The Discovery Channel’s annual Shark Week, a week of television programs devoted to these toothy ocean residents, began yesterday.  Shark Week has introduced many people to the wonder of these unique predators, the likes of which help to keep ocean ecosystems balanced, and usually includes bits on shark conservation and other scientific content.  If you head over to their website there’s a nifty interactive map where you can click on different regions and learn about what species of sharks frequent those areas and even what their conservation statuses are.  There’s also a shark facts page with shark conservation information and states that you are more likely to get bitten by another person than a shark.

However, in regards to the high-profile television programs themselves, many of the titles  evoke images of attacks, such as ‘Rogue Sharks’ and ‘Killer Sharks.’

Over the years, the media in general has not been kind to these animals, giving disproportionate attention to, as John Bruno over at SeaMonster puts it, “sharks behaving badly, i.e. eating stuff.”  However, the reality is that tens of millions of sharks are being killed every year, and the populations of these ecologically important creatures are declining globally.

Six fatal shark attacks were reported last year globally, according to the International Shark Attack File.  73 non-fatal attacks were also recorded.  Loss of life is tragic, and I am certainly not attempting to play down any individuals’ experiences who were harmed by sharks, but these sorts of numbers do not justify an all-out fear of these animals.  For example, in 2008 (the latest year data seems to be available), 39,000 people in the United States were killed in car accidents, and most of us view traveling by car as a reasonable risk.  For some other comparisons, you can see the Florida Museum of Natural History’s ‘Relative Risk’ page.

I’m not trying to pick on Discovery, which over the years, has gotten many people more interested in science.  Nor am I implying that you should rub seal innards on yourself and try to give one of these big fish a peck on the cheek.  But sharks need our help—that is, we need to stop decimating them.  And that does include considering the economics and motivations of the fin trade and presenting people with an alternative.

Be sure to check out SeaMonster, Deep Sea News, and Southern Fried Science for more on Sharks and Shark Week.

Image 1:  Caribean reef shark, Alfonso Gonzàlez on Flickr (CC). Image 2: Windell Oskay on Flickr (CC).  

The Kevin Spacey of octopodes

XKCD showcases the many forms of the Mimic Octopus.

The Mimic Octopus can not only impersonate other invertebrates, but also sea creatures in other taxa such as snakes and fish.  They may need more acting classes to pull off anchors though.  Find out more in this video.

[Image: XKCD, CC)

Dr Jason Hall-Spencer at the Guardian

Dr Jason Hall-Spencer has written an excellent essay on the urgency of oceanic action, fueled by the recent findings of the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO).  Make sure to check it out.

The crux of the problem is that the rate of changes in ocean systems is accelerating and outstripping what was expected just a few years ago. Destructive fishing practices, pollution, biodiversity loss, spreading low-oxygen “dead zones” and ocean acidification are having synergistic effects across the board – from coastal areas to the open ocean, from the tropics to the poles.

via A steward for our oceans | Jason Hall-Spencer | Comment is free | The Guardian.

See also:  The State of the Ocean’s site and the original full report (PDF) Dr Hall-Spencer refers to.

On the precipice

Gorgonian and dive-Doug Anderson on Flickr-CCatttr-non$

Over the next few weeks, I am/will continue to be feverishly running analyses and writing up my Masters.  So Uncharted Atolls will be on a temporary hiatus.

In the meantime, be sure to check out some of my favorite recent-ish articles in the ‘Suggested Reading’ list over there on the right. Also, here’s a short list of some excellent (if I do say so myself) sciency reading suggestions that I occasionally still find time to enjoy:

Deep-Sea News

Not Exactly Rocket Science

I’m a Chordata!  Urochordata!

Southern Fried Science

Wired‘s network of science blogs

Sea Monster

Culturing Science

If you like podcasts, RadioLab is wonderful.  And don’t forget the links in the sidebar (again, to the right)!

On my bedside table, there’s Darwin’s Armada:  Four Voyages and the Battle for the Theory of Evolution by Iain McCalman, occasionally interspersed with Stephen Pinker’s The Stuff of Thought, generously gifted by the Southern Fried Science trio (hurray for filling out surveys!).

I can be found occasionally on Twitter.

Image:  Doug Anderson on Flickr (cc)

Ove Hoegh-Guldberg speaks on climate change in the ocean

From the 2011 National Council for Science and the Environment conference in Washington, D.C.  You can find out more about Dr Hoegh-Guldberg at his laboratory site.

Video:  John Bruno on Vimeo (cc).  Via SeaMonster.