You may have seen the news last week—derived from a new paper in PNAS—that juvenile bluefin tuna were found off the California coast, carrying detectable levels of radionuclides from the Fukushima Daichi disaster last year. In addition to the inherent interest in a story like this, the authors are at Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station and Stony Brook’s SoMAS, two places I have spent and will soon spend a lot of time, which caught my notice. Deep Sea News had a good breakdown of this ruckus on Friday; the takeaway is that the radiation was detectable, but not hazardous. This point didn’t seem to sink in at the press office at Stony Brook, though:
HIDE YOUR KIDS HIDE YOUR WIFE
The actual press release from Stony Brook makes it clear that there is no health risk posed by these tuna, but it’s buried behind a picture of a line of tuna swimming into a radioactive bullseye over a glowing-green Japan. Contrast this with Stanford’s slightly more restrained press release, which emphasizes that the radioactivity is very low-level. Not sure that there’s a larger lesson to be drawn here, other than that it’s another example of the science news cycle.
My favorite piece so far on this story is from Carl Safina, the scientist / conservationist / writer and Stony Brook affiliate. He wrote a column in HuffPo on Saturday, where he pointed out that mercury and overfishing are far bigger problems for people and bluefin than radiation. Read that one here.
So, this is happening. Seasteading—the movement to build floating libertarian cities in international waters to escape the oppressive hand of land-based governance—is holding a conference this weekend at the Le Meridien Hotel in downtown San Francisco. I’m not about to shell out for admission, but I will admit to a mild desire to hang out in the hotel bar tonight and eavesdrop on the conversations.
Some (apparently?) unforseen difficulties of seasteading were raised by Miriam over at Deep Sea News last year. And China Mieville wrote a scathing philosophical takedown of the concept a few years before that. So I don’t feel the need to get too deep into that right now. Continue reading →
As readers may remember from a few months back, I defended (successfully!) my master’s thesis at the University of Washington. More or less since then, I have been living down the coast in San Francisco, working remotely as an analyst for my old advisor. But there’s even bigger news, which I have been forgetting to reveal to the blogosphere for a while now: Last month, I accepted an offer of admission to pursue a PhD at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences of Stony Brook University, on beautiful Long Island, New York, USA.
I will be working in the lab of Dr. Joe Warren. While the details of my dissertation project remain TBD, I will be continuing in the same vein as my UW thesis—that is, using sonar to map and study zooplankton and fish, otherwise invisible underwater. There are some very cool projects “in the aether,” which I hope to write more about down the line.
In the meantime, though, I’ll be saying my tearful/joyful goodbyes to the Best Coast, including one more trip to the PNW in June, before driving back east in July. Let me know if you’ve got restaurant recommendations along I-80 or I-90. I’ve already been to that Flying J with the Denny’s in North Platte.
If you’ve ever had to throw a fish back because it was below the legal size, you are familiar with a principle that guides many recreational, and commercial, fisheries. “Keepers” are defined as fish above a certain length, and the fishery is managed to minimize catch of fish below this size. The reasoning is that small fish should be allowed to grow up and reproduce before they are caught and killed. This kind of principle has been around for a long time, and seems pretty commonsensical.
But as with many things in the natural world, human “common sense” can be misleading. Continue reading →
William Beebe (left) and Otis Barton with the bathysphere after a dive off Bermuda in 1934.
Writing the last post, I got thinking about the parallels between James Cameron’s recent dive and the first-ever human descents into the deep ocean, which were done in the early 1930’s by two men named William Beebe and Otis Barton. These parallels are actually pretty striking. In addition to the suspense of record-setting dives in an untested submersible, the story is fascinating for the tense mixture of science, celebrity, ambition, and money that defined these two men’s relationship. When these similarities become apparent, the deep-sea dive is almost secondary. Continue reading →
James Cameron's Deepsea Challenger submersible. Photo M. Thiessen, National Geographic/AP
Last weekend, film director James Cameron descended alone into the Challenger Deep of the Marianas Trench, the deepest known point in the world’s oceans. He was the third human to do so, and the first since 1960. Four days later, the British National Oceanography Center in Southampton announced it would be cutting 35 positions “at risk of redundancy” in the face of budget cutbacks. It’s an interesting juxtaposition. Continue reading →
Most of us here on earth are familiar with the blustery, buffeting noise a strong wind makes in our ears. That noise is low-frequency pressure waves in the air, caused by turbulence when it flows past our ears. There are other “winds” out there, though. One of the better-known ones is the solar wind, a stream of charged particles the Sun is constantly throwing off into space. During periods of heightened activity, such as this past week, these particles cause big auroras on Earth and can interfere with electronic communications. Until seeing this article today, though, I had never thought of what the buffeting of this wind might sound like.
They don’t actually sound like anything, since our ears hear pressure waves in air or water, not charged particles from space. But a PhD student in Design Science at the University of Michigan named Robert Alexander has made some really cool “sonifications” of the solar wind. I am not a solar physicist, but as best I can understand from this paper, he started with a series of ion measurements recorded on two NASA spacecraft over many days. From there, he converted those measurements to a sound file and played it back at a much faster rate, compressing months of data into a few seconds. In essence, he converted charged particles into airborne pressure waves. And it sounds really cool.
Kiritimati (Christmas Island) in the nation of Kiribati.
As reported in several newssources today, the island nation of Kiribati in the central Pacific is considering relocating its entire population elsewhere because of rising sea levels. President Anote Tong is in talks with Fiji to purchase land that could absorb at least some of Kiribati’s population, which is currently just over 100,000.
That’s a hard thing for a person to get their head around. I’ve been there—to Kiritimati, or Christmas Island, as a Sea Education Association student. If anything, that makes getting my head around it even harder. Kiribati is a real place: sleepy towns and friendly people and coconut plantations and outrigger fishing boats, all on low, low islands made of coral and coral rubble and sand. The islands are not quite idyllic. Some are too crowded, the waters around some are overfished, and all are quite poor. But they don’t look like a disaster area, a place resorting to desperate gambits to survive. They look like, well, a tropical paradise. And yet the people are coming up with plans to evacuate it.
I’m afraid that 100,000 people is tough number to relocate. Can so many people find places to take them, especially if it has to happen more or less all at the same time? And can so few maintain their culture if they are scattered across the western Pacific? I also wonder what number of people in the United States and the rest of the industrial world would have their lives totally uprooted by limits on fossil fuel combustion. Uprooted—as in forced from their homes, which sink underwater behind them. More than 100,000? More than 100,000, plus the populations all the other threatened Pacific island nations? The population of the coastal plains of Bangladesh?
During the early Cold War, Britain and the US used the eastern end of Kiritimati as a proving ground for atomic weapons. A collective 30 megatons of the most destructive weapons ever created didn’t budge the island. But the relentless heavy breathing of our industrial civilization might cause it to wash away. That’s hard to get your head around.