So you think you want to be a marine biologist?

Have you ever watched an epic movie about the sea and dreamed of being a “marine biologist” or “oceanographer”? Have you ever had thoughts after that thought about … what is the difference between a “marine biologist” and “oceanographer”? Marine biology, or the study of life in the sea, is actually just one branch of the oceanography tree. Oceanography is the larger discipline of describing and recording the contents and processes of the ocean. There are four branches of oceanography. Check out the difference below:

  • If you are a chemical oceanographer you might study (but, are not limited to …): the sea’s oxygen levels and their impact on marine life; toxic dumping; vents on the ocean floor; rainfalls.
  • If you are a physical oceanographer you might study (but, are not limited to …): oil spills and their travel patterns, ocean currents, alternative power, beaches, and shorelines.
  • If you are a marine geologist you might study (but are not limited to …): maps the ocean floor, volcanoes, trenches, abyssal plains, and helps predict the continental drift.
  • If you are a biological oceanographer (e.g., marine biologist) you might study (but, are not limited to …): ocean plants, animals, and all other sea life (i.e., bacteria!).

So, where do you fit in to all of these? Take this fun and informal online quiz from the New Hampshire Sea Grant to see which branch of oceanography would suit you best. My results are below! Go figure the “related fields” includes education.

What was your score? Anything surprising?

Wednesday Wisdom: Rachel Carson

Find more great ocean and conservation quotes here and please feel free to share with your friends and family!

Also, ask away! If you have a question about something you found on the beach or just something you’re curious about just send an email to info@beachchairscientist.com or tweet us!

What makes each ocean unique?

Well, it’s finally happened. My almost seven-year old is bringing on the thought-provoking questions. We talk a lot about how what we do in our house will affect our watershed and that in turn (collectively) affects the world. Well, I was snagged the other day when I said, “Well, the river goes to the lake and leads to another lake and river and then to the ocean. And, it’s the only ocean we have so we need to take care of it.” What I heard next was, “Mom, if it goes into the Atlantic Ocean isn’t there also the Pacific? Isn’t that two oceans?” She’s not alone in the confusion as I’ve had students not sure how the oceans are connected (Giant Conveyor Belt of currents!) and why do we give them all different names.

I laid it out like this: There is only one ocean, but each area of the world has a section (i.e., basin) of the ocean that has specific properties based on temperature and what type of land it is near. For instance, the Pacific Ocean is huge, has rocky shorelines, and lots of volcanoes and islands because it’s surrounded by the “Ring of Fire.” I explained that the Indian Ocean is pretty flat almost like the Gulf of Mexico because lots of rivers flow gently into it.

Here’s a quick graphic I fancied up to share on some major characteristics of each ocean basin. Click on it and then travel around to each one! I like to keep it simple so if you feel like there’s something that needs additional emphasis, please feel free to share so I can add it!

 

My new land-to-sea connection

Even if you don’t live by the ocean you should care about it and issues associated with its health. Yes, the ocean ecosystem is unhealthy. Industry, industry, and more industry popped up in the last century and brought with it increased emissions into the atmosphere causing climate change. The ocean is the largest ecosystem on the planet and is taking the hardest hit.

It’s out of sight and out of mind for most people and that’s understandable. I’ve shared reason why we should care about the ocean here, here, here, here, here, and …. I could go on and on. But, it’s truly going to be a personal connection that’s going to make anyone have an impact on actions that can restore the health of the ocean. But, are we really close to the sea even if’s we live in … say, the Midwest? I just moved to Oak Park, IL right outside of Chicago so that was a question I struggled with as I made the move. How can I leave the ocean? Well, I’m not actually. We are all connected!

Illustrating proximity to the sea is a starting point to recognizing this connection. I’m so grateful for the Michigan Environmental Education Curriculum
The Great Lakes Ecosystem
for these illustrations for my new home (I took the illustrations and made a quick gif below).

It’s no longer the acronym HOMES (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior) for me. Now to accurately follow the path of water from the top point of the Great Lakes Flow to the Atlantic Ocean it’s SMHEO (Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, Ontario). Eeeeekkk … SMHEO isn’t as neatly sounding.

The movement of creating awareness to the ocean even though you’re living far from it is known as “land-to-sea” stewardship. I’ve lived along the Atlantic coast my entire life so this Midwest vibe is so new and exciting that I’m officially having to give a name to my connection to the sea now. One organization that I’ve stumbled upon doing great work in Colorado is the Inland Ocean Coalition, a project of the Ocean Foundation. Can’t wait to be a part of how they expand to the Great Lakes region!

My favorite part about the land-to-sea movement is that even if you didn’t grow up near the ocean it causes a reason to learn about it and understand it’s importance to the larger ecosystem.

“Why is the bath still hot?” An anecdote on temperature & density

I’ve been mama-ing (i.e., SAHM) it lately to a 6yo and 3yo and with that comes some hard lessons to learn. I mean I just explained that there is one ocean but it has five spots with five separate names and now I get “Why is the bath still hot when you added so much cold water!?” (think of that one as being asked in a shrilly voice, too).

I had to keep my cool when I explained that the water on top still feels warm … but, if you could (please, please, please!) stick you toes in the tub to the bottom it will be cold and then you can mix it up.

I jazzed it up and said that when water droplets get cold they huddle together. More of them will take up the same space so it’s heavier (i.e., denser). Therefore, they’ll sink to the bottom of the tub.

In the ocean the water on the bottom is definitely colder, too. However that’s generally because sunlight isn’t penetrating past the first 200 meters (1/8 of a mile).

You see the ocean has a “thermocline.” The thermocline is a place when the temperature drastically changes. On the surface of the sea – the top 200 meters – it’s warm since it gets a lot of sunlight. Sunlight can’t really go any further and the temperature decreases for the next 800 meters. That layer where the temperature drastically changes is called the “thermocline”. After that the zone without sunlight is consistently colder. Check out the image below from NOAA Ocean Service and then this interactive and extremely up-to-date sea surface temperature map from NASA.

 

5 must-see movies on marine debris

I am so excited to be in a town that is committed to reducing the use of plastic. Oak Park, IL will be implementing a 10-cent tax starting January 1, 2018. As trustee of Bob Tucker noted in August 2017, “What we’re really trying to do is change habits.”   Change for the good lawmakers … my favorite. Why should we care about changing the way we use plastic?

  1. In the ocean there are approximately 5.25 trillion plastic particles.
  2. For every foot of coastline there is approximately five grocery bags filled with plastic, according to estimates in 2010.
  3. Six continents have microfiber washing up on their shores.
  4. Each year, 8.8 million tons of plastic goes into the oceans.
  5. On average, Americans use 220 pounds of plastic per year.

If you want something MUCH more entertaining, and probably up-to-date, than my list of quick stats above here are some must-see films that are worth downloading for the treadmill or even showing in the classroom or your next community event.

A Plastic Ocean (2016/1h 40m/Netflix): Documents the newest science, proving how plastics, once they enter the oceans, break up into small particulates that enter the food chain where they attract toxins like a magnet. These toxins are stored in seafood’s fatty tissues, and eventually consumed by us.

The Plastic Age: A Documentary feat. Pharrell Williams (2014/17m/YouTube): We all talk about the Stone Age, the Iron Age and the Bronze Age, but what era are we living in right now? People are starting to refer to us as the – far less romantic – Plastic Age.

From the Waste Up – Life Without Plastic (2013/1h 16m/Vimeo for $4 rental or $8 purchase to download): Follows the lives of 19 people as they attempt to live without plastic. It explores the concepts of consumerism, waste, and convenience as well as the great abundance in going without. Live vicariously plastic-free as you watch these families navigate through this disposable world. 

Plastic Paradise – The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (2014/1h 25m/for purchase but also available on YouTube): Thousands of miles away from civilization, Midway Atoll is in one of the most remote places on earth. And yet its become ground zero for The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, siphoning plastics from three distant continents. In this independent documentary film, journalist/filmmaker Angela Sun travels on a personal journey of discovery to uncover this mysterious phenomenon.

Bag It (2010/78m; educational version 45 and 65m): What starts as a film about plastic bags evolves into a wholesale investigation into plastic’s effects on our oceans, environment, and bodies. We see how our crazy-for-plastic world has finally caught up to us…and what we can do about it.

UPDATED:

Also, an important addition to the list I forgot about is Smog of the Sea. You can get a free download link for the film, released in 2017, here. The music and cinematography (in part) are by the musician Jack Johnson and as the film overview summarizes, “The Smog of the Sea chronicles a 1-week journey through the remote waters of the Sargasso Sea. Marine scientist Marcus Eriksen invited onboard an unusual crew to help him study the sea: renowned surfers Keith & Dan Malloy, musician Jack Johnson, spearfisher woman Kimi Werner, and bodysurfer Mark Cunningham become citizen scientists on a mission to assess the fate of plastics in the world’s oceans.”


Oh, one more here. I am hoping to catch Straws SOON … maybe I can bring it to my new town and more change will come:

Straws (2017/1h 10m): “I highly recommend STRAWS as an educational and entertaining film about plastic pollution. Its brisk and engaging storytelling uses humor, fairness and heart to inspire plastic use changes we all can do…especially no plastic straws!” – Actor and Environmentalist Ed Begley Jr.

UPDATED: I actually just requested a free download for preview purposes so I’ll post on that later this week. Thank you #strawsthemovie.

I am really hoping that since folks finally are able to let go of plastic bags and soon straws that balloons will be around the corner. Anything that’s more harm than good is not worth it … kids don’t know if they just don’t see them. Check out some alternatives to balloons at your next celebration here.

Wednesday Wisdom: Susan Rockefeller

Susan Rockefeller is the CEO and Founder of Protect What Is Precious and Editor-In-Chief of Musings Magazine.

Find more great ocean and conservation quotes here and please feel free to share with your friends and family!

Also, ask away! If you have a question about something you found on the beach or just something you’re curious about just send an email to info@beachchairscientist.com or tweet us!

July is Plastic Free Month: A dozen quick & easy ways to ditch the single use

Every year I get so frustrated with myself for not making the commitment to the challenge for Plastic Free July. This year is different since I have no tests or classes (I write this as I sit in a training for AP Environmental Science!). 

My craziness is going to be lots of travel and that I’ll have two kids in tow. But, it’s going to be a commitment for just ME this July and I’ll see what I can “challenge” them with along the way. These are the dedicated twelve ways that will help me stay focused.

  1. Choose glass over plastic (think milk containers and on-the-go drinks)
  2. Use my homemade dish detergent (borax, castille soap, essential oil)
  3. Use my homemade laundry detergent (borax, washing soda, castille soap, baking soda)
  4. Use the Preserve triple razor and toothbrushes (they’re made from old yogurt cups and they come in pretty colors)
  5. Use my favorite shampoo bar (that I didn’t make)
  6. Not purchase coffee/tea using a cup with a lid
  7. Refuse the straw
  8. Bring bags (and bags!) to the grocer
  9. No online deliveries (that bubble wrap!)
  10. Carry my own plasticware (get a carry case for a spork so you can take it home and wash it; if I have a party maybe I’ll switch to these disposable bamboos)
  11. Carry a water bottle (there are so many places that have water refill stations)
  12. Eat local and fresh and no frozen foods containers or take out (this is my least favorite!)

Just a quick FYI, you don’t need a whole lot to get started when making your own soaps and detergents but definitely get a small food processor. What’s your quick way to reduce your use?

 

World Oceans Day is June 8th, but then what? 10 ways to show the ocean love throughout the year

Acknowledging all of the movements and days of awareness can seem like a lot to keep up. Just yesterday was World Environment Day and in two days it will be World Oceans Day. Of course, I want to celebrate, support, and demonstrate a commitment to making a difference every day and especially on these special days. The first step has to be “being prepared”! So here is a guide I created for all the important days to look out for the next year. Mark those calendars, add a reminder on your phone, get ready to throw down for some serious high key awareness!

BeyondED_bcs1

July is Marine Debris/Plastic Free Month when you can take the challenge and urge people to refuse single use plastic. Why does reducing our plastic use matter? Here are two alarming facts from Scientific American:

  • Chemicals added to plastics are absorbed by human bodies. Some of these compounds have been found to alter hormones or have other potential human health effects.
  • Plastic debris, laced with chemicals and often ingested by marine animals, can injure or poison wildlife.

August 5th is National Oyster Day! Did you know oysters spawn during the summer months and therefore tend not to be as tasty. This is the epitome of the old wives’ tale on why “you shouldn’t eat oysters in months that don’t end in ‘R’.” Find an oyster festival near you here.

This September hosts the 15th Annual Sea Otter Awareness Week during September 24th-28th in 2017. Did you know that the sea otter has a fur that is not as dense as river otters?

October is National Seafood Month. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries takes this month to highlight sustainable fisheries as the smart seafood choice. Learn about sustainable choices as well as lots of recipes (someone please make the flounder stuffed with crabmeat for me, please!) from FishWatch.gov.

The 15th of November is designated as America Recycles Day. It’s a national initiative from Keep America Beautiful to learn what can be recycled in your community, recognize what can be reduced, and identify products made with recycled content. Learn more here.

December into January each year is one of the largest citizen science projects: Christmas Bird Count. Each year since the early 1900s the Audubon Society has been at the forefront of organizing this event. Get the app and see what a remarkable value you can be especially in providing data for reports such as the 2014 Climate Report.

International Polar Bear Day is February 27th. Let’s not pretend it just because they’re cute and cuddly. After all, they’re ferocious and male polar bears might eat their young if they can’t find food. This day is all about calling attention to their habitat loss (i.e., they’re in need of some serious sea ice) due to climate change.

The last Wednesday in March is Manatee Appreciation Day. These slow-moving creatures are slightly adorable and slightly gnarly. Regardless of your feelings they’re populations are going down and it’s primarily caused by human interactions.

Many people reading may know that April hosts is Earth Day but did you know that April 25th is World Penguin Day? This is the time of the year when the penguins travel north from Antarctica as winter moves in on the southern hemisphere.

May finishes the annual list with World Turtle Day on the 23rd! Did you know that if you see a tortoise, turtle, o terrapin is crossing a street, you can pick it up and send it in the same direction it was going – if you try to make it go back, it will turn right around again! Also, drive slow.

Now, when can we fit in a celebration for horseshoe crabs?

Do water molecules “surf” the waves?

It seems like water molecules might follow the path of a wave given what we know from the water cycle.

Water-Cycle-Art2A

But, if you watch a floating object like a toy boat on a wave in the open sea it won’t travel with the wave but rather bob up and down. The water molecules are actually swirling under the waves helping to move energy to the wave. This swirling motion is known to oceanographers as the “circular orbital motion”.

water-824418

doeswatersurf

Waves are mostly moved by wind. The water molecules in waves of the open ocean are not traveling along with the waves but rather under the waves in a circular motion.

When you get closer to the shore the orbital motion is non-existent because the waves touch the bottom. That phenomenon helps when you lose your boogie board in the surf zone.