On Surviving the wettest March on Record

Contemplating ecology, San Juan Island, 2010

Contemplating ecology, San Juan Island, 2010

It's hard to think about the landslide tragedy that happened in neighboring Oso this month and not consider the mounting evidence of a changing climate.  A recent report by the USGS found that rains 150-200% greater than normal this month likely contributed to activation of the massive landslide that has so far claimed the lives of 33 people and devastated an entire community.  In the face of such massive tragedy it's hard not to wonder if these type of climate and natural resource driven calmities will continue in the future and what risks we face as a society moving forward in an age of change.  It is interesting to note that earlier this year, as the ski season got underway, concerns were that there would not be enough precipitation in the form of snowpack in the northwest this year to open a popular ski area and ward off a drought in the western cascade mountains, where Oso is situated. Now, record precipitation later in the season has triggered a landslide being compared to the one triggered by the earthquake and eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980.  What is going on over here?

It seems clear to me that it is time to start digging deeper into the climate science and stop discussing climate change as a religious or political event.  It also seems clear to me that efforts to thwart support of climate science is an effort on the part of corporations to continue earning big profits without consideration of the social and environmental context in which they thrive.  Still, although I see it this way, I want to put away conspiracy theories, political motivations, profits and spirituality and focus on what we know - what has been discovered?  What is the science and why the heck are people so afraid of science in America?

NOAA has been studying global climate for how many years now?  In 2009 they report on their findings of a changing climate: 

  • Global warming is unequivocal and primarily human induced.
  • Climate changes are underway in the United States and are projected to grow.
  • Widespread climate-related impacts are occurring now and are expected to increase.
  • Climate change will stress water resources.
  • Crop and livestock production will be increasingly challenged.
  • Coastal areas are at increasing risk from sea level rise and storm surge.
  • Risks to human health will increase.
  • Climate change will interact with many social and environmental stresses.
  • Thresholds will be crossed, leading to large changes in climate and ecosystems.
  • Future climate change and its impacts depend on choices made today.

In summary, they state, "Observations show that warming of the climate is unequivocal. The global warming observed over the past 50 years is due primarily to human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases."

Guess what they found?  Precipitation averages (daily) across the US are likely to crest an increase by 30% by 2070-2100!  Increased rain is in our future - to me that is a clear indication that they would not be surprised by the record rainfalls and landslide events in Washington this year.  

In the Pacific Northwest we are lucky to have gifted and dedicated scientists working on the problem of focussing the larger picture of global climate down on the Pacific Northwest.  The Climate Impacts Group from the University of Washington has recently released a summary of expected climate impacts and adaptations in our region.  I will read through the document this week and begin blogging about my findings in short essays this week.

More recently, the social debate on climate seems to circle back to a few key topics: 1) Is the climate really changing substantially? 2) Is it god-driven, manmade or natural? 3) Can we do anything about it? and 4) Should we do anything about it?  I get a few of emails tweets on both sides of this debate each week.  While the evidence that the climate is changing seems fairly irrefutable to me, I still hear from many people that whether the climate is changing is something they 'believe' in or not.  Is this hand over the ears response unique to the United States or is denial happening on a global scale?

I will share some of the comments I have received about climate change and expand more on my thoughts and findings next week.  

For now, I beg of anyone joining a debate on the scientific integrity of the climate change theory to focus on actually trying to understand the complex scientific principles as necessary so that we can begin to have an educated discussion on the flaws of our methods and not whether we 'believe' or want to believe in the results and what to do or not do about it.  

I am going back to the beginning my my research and hope to share with you what I find - like a good scientist - whether I like the results or not.  I think we owe it to both the victims and the survivors of the Oso landslide.

Stay tuned!

 

Occurrence of Labyrinthula spp. in seagrass of New South Wales, Australia

Black lesions in  Posidonia australis , Photo by Stacey Travathan-Tackett

Black lesions in Posidonia australis, Photo by Stacey Travathan-Tackett

I am wrapping up a rough draft of a paper detailing the research work completed in Sydney last month.  It is fun to be writing at the publication level again, though I do so enjoy this blog!  If you want to be reminded of the prior seagrass research blog I kept - read on here: http://ecologicalrestorationpnw.blogspot.com/

At this point, I am just pulling together data and seeing what it all means.  I hope to be able to post more detailed results from the tests soon.

So long Oz… perhaps there is a place like home.

All the ladies… The Forest Lodge Pub, Sydney University - See my lovely new lab coat?

All the ladies… The Forest Lodge Pub, Sydney University - See my lovely new lab coat?

One week out of Australia now and I miss it to be sure.  I didn't have time to write during my last week in Sydney in the rush to get all of the data collected and the project passed on, nor since I have been home due to other pressing projects, but I wanted to create the final post and share some last photos.

The trip to Oz was so wonderful and amazing.  Thanks to my Grandpa Ed for the most generous donation to the cause.  Also many thanks to my in-laws Reggie and LuAnn, by best friend Christie, my Aunt Denise, my Aunt Cherie, Susan, my husband, Charlie and all my friends and family for the moral support I needed to take the trip.  

Australia is a wonderful place, aptly called Oz…  I hope to have many more opportunities to pursue seagrass research in the future with Frank (and Janet!), Osu, Pete, Stacey, Erna, Linda, Katie, Casey, Peter, Tony, Nathalie and the rest of the crew.  It is wonderful people that make this important research happen.

Mwah!  I miss you all.

Good night and Goodbye

Good night and Goodbye

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

An old building, Melbourne

An old building, Melbourne

I have just returned from a sojourn to Melbourne where I met a worldly aquatic ecologist Dr. Peter Macreadie. Pete is a research fellow and advisor at the University of Technology in Sydney in the Plant Functional Biology and Climate Change Cluster (C3) group.  He works out of the Burwood campus of Deakin University.  His publishing record is really astounding.  I think I liked the title of his dissertation best as it made me think this is a study Steve and I should do together!

Pete Macreadie's dissertation

Pete Macreadie's dissertation

 I can't thank Pete enough for the tour and the enlightening and inspiring conversations about evolution and seagrass restoration strategies.  I can see there are many opportunities for us to easily pursue research, grant funding and papers together in the future.  Pete is one of these people that makes anything seem possible with a little dedication and a lot of elbow grease.  Really inspiring individual.  I look forward to returning to Australia and pursuing some of these projects with him.

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

As far as the city of Melbourne is concerned, I didn't have much time to look around because I was on a tight schedule to get back to the cultures here in Sydney.  My Dad would be happy to know there are more cranes on this skyline than I have ever seen before in my life (this is his measure for how good an economy is).  The economy must be good, even a humble house in the burbs will gather over a million dollars if sold.  The housing market is just nuts in both Sydney and Melbourne. I hear there are a lot of kangaroos and I can attest to the gorgeous landscape.  I would describe it as savannah type vegetation, made from Eucalyptus and gum trees, instead of Oak.  It is really exactly what you expect from Australia as a foreigner. It was refreshing to lose the humidity for a day.  In that regard, it felt a bit more like home. The Melbourne area has loads of kangaroos, even in Burwood.  Unfortunately, I didn't get to see any of the iconic kangaroos in person.  On the next trip, a journey up the great ocean road with Steve and Charlie is a must! 

Southern Cross Railway Station, Melbourne

Southern Cross Railway Station, Melbourne

Newer buildings, Melbourne

Newer buildings, Melbourne

Back to work tomorrow on the Labyrinthula isolations!  I left them in great shape Thursday morning. Lots of fun things going on all around in this lovely country :)

Laby in the lab is laborious

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Sorry to all that I have not had more time to report back here much this week, but between the lab work and record keeping, long bus rides to the City, and a lack of decent food and sleep - I haven't has time or energy - plus, what to report?

I am slicing, dicing, photographing, writing and recording... I now have at least three solid Laby isolates, but none yet from the Posedonia, which is a priority for our team.  I will be back in the lab Saturday morning, hopefully with lots of Laby to plate out!  My time is winding down and the pressure is on.  We have a great start here.  I just need to press on a little longer.  Can we do it?  Yes, we can!

Signing off, 

Rosie the (Laby) Riveter

May Gibbs and Nutcote House

The famous gumnut babies, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, May Gibbs

The famous gumnut babies, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, May Gibbs

Yesterday I went to the modest home of one of the most beloved children's writers ever.  Her botanical illustrations were awe-inspiring and the tales told, magical.  Her most famous works are cartoons and books featuring the characters of her garden.  In some ways, she reminded me of Beatrix Potter, and in others, she is quite unique.  For one, the stories take place in the miniature where the little 'babies' are made of small flower parts!   Janet, Linda and I had a great time.  We lunched nearby at a lovely restaurant on the water.  Nice to have a ladies day out!

Her boxwood caterpillar!

Her boxwood caterpillar!

It's really incredible how she was able to build these stories with characters derived from the native bush flora, and including some fauna (like Mrs. Kookaburra).  It is worth a google of her name.

Imaginary gardens, Nutcote House, Neutral Bay, Sydney

Imaginary gardens, Nutcote House, Neutral Bay, Sydney

Sampling at Bonne Point, Botany Bay

Photo by Stacey Trevathan-Tackett

Photo by Stacey Trevathan-Tackett

Yesterday the whole crew drove out to Botany Bay and we had a great time sampling for Posendonia australis!

Photo by David Lilje

Photo by David Lilje

The species was looking very bad.  Lots of characteristic marks of an epidemic condition. 

Photo by Stacey Trevathan-Tackett

Photo by Stacey Trevathan-Tackett

It also seems that the seagrass community composition may have changed since the map I had was created.  I plated the samples today, so expect results tomorrow. 

Lastly, I had a nice little break today with Osu's amazing family.  It was her Mum's birthday!  It was the best picnic I have ever been to, ever.  There was lots of love, laughter, games and the most delicious food you ever ate.   The picture does not do it justice, but the park is also a lovely large place along a river and the shoreline where there were lots of pick-up games like soccer and rugby, as well as a host of free roaming dogs...  Gracie would love it here! 

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I rode the ferry into Manly from Circular Quay just in time to catch the sunset.

Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera House

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I really couldn't imagine a more beautiful day.  Unless I could catch a nap somewhere in between!

Lab results positive!

What a relief!  Today we saw our first signs of Laby!  After plating our first three sites on medium without required nutrients, I was terrified we had blown it.  Time is ending here, and we're still sampling. The cultures were a little stressed from not having the ideal medium, but we got that resolved and replated the samples.  We even have positive cultures from Zostera mulleri and Halophila australis.  We also have positive signs from all three sites so far.  These results are not surprising, though compared with the work I have done in Seattle, I qualitatively observe the prevalence of thicker morphologies, and more positives from roots and soils.  I also have some positive results from a brown algae.  All this will need to be verified with a better scope this coming week, but compared to yesterday, I am totally elated!   I am curious about the store of Laby in the soil and what I observed to be potential zoospores.

Doesn't look like much with this camera, but I assure you, it is lots of much  :)

Doesn't look like much with this camera, but I assure you, it is lots of much  :)

Well, tomorrow night the team heads off to sample Posedonia at the low tide in the evening, so I may not be back in time to write much.  Will share photos of my jam packed weekend as soon as I can. Thanks for reading!

Samples plated!

Today I plated 33 samples of seagrass collected from the central coast last weekend.  I am crossing my fingers that refrigeration was successful.  The seagrasses were in such bad shape to begin with that I am nervous the true fungi will overrun the plates. 

First Australia Laby plates

First Australia Laby plates

Tomorrow I will look at the plates under the microscope and see if any Laby is growing and whether I can cut out some bits to try and get an axenic culture going.  So far I have plated Zostera mulleri and Halophila spp. 

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I am hopeful we can find some Posedonia australis in Botany Bay on Friday.  They are quite deep, but apparently accessible by snorkel in this particular bay.  It is strange to be doing this work without my mentor, Dan Martin.  We make a good team.  Plating samples just isn't the same without him!

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Well, I put them to bed in the constant temperature room (27 C) with 12 hour light period.  Hopefully something shakes!  The labs are air-conditioned and I feared they would be too cold.  I guess I will see tomorrow am.