How do you talk about climate change to your neighbors?

On this website I’ve written about climate change extensively over the years. Sea level rise is a settled fact and 10 justifications ocean acidification is a serious concern were posts from five years ago and still very timely topics. But nonetheless it still seems like a subject that I tend to hesitate or stall when speaking to family, friends, and neighbors. It’s not that I fear that I might stumble upon skeptics or deniers but my technique for crafting the conversation with confidence just isn’t there. As a formal educator in the classroom I tended to have plenty of confidence as I was in a setting where I could do demonstrations and present and discuss realtime data often. I was very excited to stumble upon the Climate Stewards webinar on Teaching the Science & Rhetoric of Climate ChangeStrategies, Pitfalls, and Keeping Your Chin Above Water in Turbulent Times presented Dr. Krista Hiser and Dr. Wendy Kuntz from the University of Hawaii, Kapi’olani Community College.

Sometimes I tend to make evening webinars a background while working on other projects (Shhh …!), but, I was taken and envious of the course these professors had developed. You see Dr. Hiser is a professor of Composition and Rhetoric and Dr. Kuntz is an Associate Professor of Biology and Ecology. This is a marriage made in heaven for science communication and all of their students! In the presentation for their class they discussed the importance of this relationship and is highlighted in the class overview “Climate change is complex and multi-faceted. Student learning is most lasting and positive when reinforced across disciplines.”

An important aspect of the class they talked about was a service learning project so I’ve given up hope of taking it online anytime soon. However, my amazing takeaways (i.e., as a person that wants to keep it simple for the readers here) were some ideas on how to be poised and self-assured when skirting around the discussion of climate change. The professors brought up the controversial DYK that the Associated Press states that “to describe those who don’t accept climate science or dispute the world is warming from man-made forces, use climate change doubters or those who reject mainstream climate science. Avoid use of skeptics or deniers.” When I heard this a light came on for me … I thought well in any discussion all I might need to do is erase some doubt by pointing to mainstream climate science. Sounds easy? But, any audience is going to have to have an understanding of Earth’s Energy Balance. When I think of the Earth’s Energy Balance I tend to think of the atmospheric and water cycle with man-made ingredients such as deforestation and fossil fuel emissions added. This is a relationship that is clearly unbalanced and can be linked to an increase in carbon dioxide emissions since the Industrial Revolution.

The next part of the webinar included some advice on what would be most effective in conversations with confidence. Here are five ideas that I hope to practice in my new Chicagoland home:

  • Commit to having at least 3-5 facts that you can understand and CAN REPEAT
  • Provide measurable actions someone can do
  • Create a metaphor for what climate change is to you or your local audience
  • Name some of the impacts in your local or national area
  • Define what climate change may do in 20 years in your area

Some ideas that I will plan to avoid will be:

  • Stray from green rhetoric such as “the future”, “children” and “the earth”
  • Avoid any debate

Thank you to everyone at NOAA Climate Stewards, Dr. Hiser, and Dr. Kuntz for this important and informative webinar. You can listen to the webinar here. If you have any other strategies or ideas for effective climate change discussion please share below!

Otter personalities

What kind of car do you drive in the sea? An otter-mobile.

I know that was pretty funny, I know. Here are some memes to celebrate Sea Otter Awareness Week (this September 24-30) that really illustrates the breadth of sea otters.

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Dunes: a demonstration on the importance of stability

In case you didn’t pick up on this via Instagram or Twitter I’ve recently relocated to Chicago. It’s a far cry from my Mid-Atlantic roots but actually much closer to lots of beautiful beaches and plenty of new inspiration. In fact, one place I cannot wait to visit is the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Here’s why:

Dunes are important (and you should never walk on them!) and should be rebuilt to maintain stability after any natural disaster. I mean … we don’t want to erode the beaches away. Dunes are dynamic and lend themselves as a main cause for a beaches unique features. They’re also such an indicator of the power of the ocean and wind. But, where would they be without stabilizers such as dunes grasses?

BCS_Dunes

Here’s a quick demonstration I’ve used in a high school class to illustrate 1) how wind carries materials (i.e., sand) to build dunes and 2) why we should protect grasses that stabilize dunes.

Materials: Dry, fine sand, blow dryer, twigs or branches (I have a bunch of strange fairy house trees and shrubs that make for cute miniatures), a cereal box with one side removed, eye glasses (definitely one for each student)

Prep: I create a dune without any stabilization in the center of the box. I think it’s good to make it fairly large (about six inches or so high so that something noticeable can occur.

Discussion/demo: Ask students to draw a picture of what will happen to the dune once the wind (i.e., created from the blow dryer) blows on the dune. In particular ask them what if they can predict if one side might get steeper and one side might increase its slope. I also introduce terms such as “windward” and “leeward” noting how the sand will basically blow over the leeward side of the dune. Once the demonstration is complete, and I’ve used the blow dryer on a low setting for about ten seconds about one feet away, I follow-up and ask them if the migration of the sand was the same as their prediction.

Next, I set it up again and ask them the same questions but I use the stabilizers. For the stabilizers you want to make sure that they are in firmly and won’t blow away (It’s one of those things I learned the hard way).

Outcome: The outcome should be that the students notice a difference with a dune that is stable verse one that doesn’t have vegetation. You can even mention that some dunes can be stabilized with artificial means such as rocks. Dunes that are stable can greatly improve beach erosion which is especially timely given the coastlines aren’t what they used to be. Thanks, climate change (that’s an entirely different discussion).

Note: I generally use quick introductions like this as a journal exercise to get the students thinking and warmed up. I typically ask them to break out a vocabulary section in their notes and copy down and words I might use (e.g., windward, erosion, leeward) and then set up a journal entry for the introduction to class.

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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!

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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?

Hurricane vs. Cyclone vs. Typhoon

Today is the start of hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean. Lots of times people are curious how these storms are different from, say, a cyclone or typhoon. Well, there isn’t any difference other than where they start. Each storm is a low pressure system that forms in tropical or sub-tropical latitudes. Light winds develop in the troposphere (the area closest to earth) that generally generates winds with a speed to about 75 miles per hour after a trigger such as a convergence against another front.

But, how they get their name depends on where they start. Here is a graphic from Lagoon Inside that helps to clarify.

  • Hurricane: Atlantic Ocean; Caribbean Sea; central and northeast Pacific Ocean
  • Typhoon: Northwest Pacific Ocean
  • Cyclone: Bay of Bengal, Arabia Sea; Southwest India Ocean; Southwestern Pacific; Southeastern India Ocean

Map

 

10 best in the past nine years

Sometimes it’s nice to look at the past and see what’s worked. From the past nine years of posts on Beach Chair Scientist, it seems that one post has been the “most valuable player”. 100 ocean quotes is a surefire “make you stop by BCS for the first time and join the mailing list” kinda post. It’s the Wayne Gretzky, Babe Ruth, or Micheal Jordan in terms of stats. All other posts just fall short. But in the ethos of sportsmanship, here are ten posts that also bring some well deserved worth to this little blog. Which one are you rooting for?

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My awesome, overprotective mom and horseshoe crabs

limuluslove_beachchairscientistwebNo joke. I like horseshoe crabs, but not more than my family. Especially my mom. Let me tell you a story about how incredible she was one particular evening in early June. It was probably about 2002 and I was a seasonal employee for the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife. The job was awesome in every sense. Except the hours … either really early for tagging stripers along the Delaware Bay or really late to survey HORSESHOE CRABS!

In case you haven’t heard watching the horseshoe crabs come up to the wrackline to spawn is an incredible experience (check out my post on the short and sweet of horseshoe crab spawning here). You might see some Limulus polyphemus the nights near a full moon or new moon right as the sun is going down. But, it’s not until the tide is at its highest point that the ancient fossils really come out of their hiding spots. 2.IMGP1651-Photograph-James-Bulley-1024x680My co-workers and I went about as normal for this event and used the  quadrat to estimate the amount of females and males every six steps (the females are much bigger!). We’d log the numbers on a clipboard. After the length of the beach that was our responsibility we’d head home. It was about 2am one particular morning when we finally made it back to the van. I also worked as a waitress in the summer so it had been a long day. The data sheet was my responsibility. It blew away. It’s really windy by the sea usually!

We didn’t fudge any numbers. I went back the next night … but, not alone. My amazing, overprotective mom came with me. After all, I had to drive about an hour to a small town along the Delaware Bay in the middle of the night. It was going above and beyond. I mean, she’s not a nature-type so this was in pure mama bear mode that she made the trek with me. It was incredible … my mom was totally amazed by the phenomenon too. One minute there were about fifteen horseshoe crabs and the next hour as soon as high tide occurred they were covering the beach! That night I was able to share my love of teaching and horseshoe crabs with someone I loved. She exuded such enthusiasm that I have no doubt it’s one reason I keep this blog and it’s focus of all things horseshoe crabs going. She might have been pulling my arm and thought the whole experience was really gross and icky, but parents know how to let their kids shine and that’s just fine with me.

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NOAA’S Ocean Today provides a great view of the field experience, too. Yes, I did wear a headlamp like those citizen scientists.

What citizen science projects have you participated in lately? Check out what’s going one here.

What gives a beach its unique features?

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Tides. Winds. Waves. You might think of those right away when you ask yourself “Why are beaches so different from one another?” The story of how and why beaches are unique is more than what we witness while lying in a beach chair watching the tide go out hour by hour. The personality of a beach actually started long before … depending on what type of activity occurs near it.

If a beach is on a coast with a lot of earthquakes and volcanoes than it means that coast is active. Active coasts are going to be rocky, jagged, and edgy. Think “lots of cliffs”. This is easily seen along the West coast of the U.S. On the other hand, a beach might have a gentle slope with dunes leading to the sea. Think “the picture above”. There may be earthquakes but they’re rare and no volcanoes. This would mean the coast is passive. Being an active or passive coast is the foundation of a beach. Almost like its genetics or DNA.

active_passiveSo what gives a beach its true character is what it relates with on a daily basis. Just like the people and media we interact with on a daily basis shape our true character. For instance, does a beach have an expansive estuary nearby? Does a beach have an energetic or dormant volcano nearby? If this is the case the coast would also be considered primary. Primary coasts have been created by land based factors such as drowned river valleys, glaciers, or volcanoes. On the other hand, the ocean can play an important role in shaping a coast as well. Maybe there is considerable wave erosion lapping the shore? Are coral reefs, barrier islands, or other marine depositions nearby that helped to form a shoreline? These coasts are called secondary.

Beaches are either on a passive or active foundation and each have prevailing short term factors of primary (land based erosion) or secondary (ocean based erosion). The combination of characteristics give each beach a distinctive quality. Just like each one of us each beach is valuable and precious.

Seven silly sea science words

Somewhere along the line people got the idea that science is scary and intimidating. But, like so much of this world … science is much more than what we first think. Science can be silly. Science can be fun. Science can be collecting and analyzing data. But, science is creating questions. And, science is sharing results.

Science can even make you smile. To prove it – here are some silly sounding words that make me laugh every time I say them. I actually had to have my daughter narrate this short film because “caudle peduncle” is just too much sometimes. Hopefully this clip will make you curious to explore new words and realms within science. It’s bound to make you smile at least! By the way, do you have a favorite sounding sea science word?

What's your faorite sea science word?

Seven silly sea science words Music by Colin Miller/Narrated by Winnie Miller

 

Christmas critter countdown: Harp seal

This is the fluffy creature that tugs at our heartstrings and purses to fork over donations. What should you do though if you see a seal coming up on shore and lounging like he doesn’t have a care in the world? Or, if they’ve somehow lost their adorable, cute white fur and are a patchy? Find out here.

Christmas tree countdown