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!

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?

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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?

Millions of smiles for miles at the #womensmarch

49b02a578bdcc86ebe96ffad6711045aI am proud of the way the Women’s March in D.C. was planned and executed. It was thrilling and invigorating to be with the droves of people who wanted their voice to be heard. I chatted with folks from North Carolina, Maine, and even Nevada. It was peaceful, fun, and loud at times. It made my feet hurt but I didn’t notice. I was joyful to be a part of it. I was there vibrant and strong with a chanting voice for equal rights for all those in this great country.

And, as a marine science enthusiast/ocean conservationist I was VERY hyped to many signs reminding the new administration of the reality of science and climate change. There will be more to come in posts this year urging for action for climate change. Maybe not a shout out to the federal government but for more grassroots changes. If there is one lesson learned from 2016 it’s that everyone should make more conscious choices in our daily actions – what we believe, read, share on social media to what we eat matters! For now here is a short film on some highlights from the day. Please share your favorite march moments below!

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15 facts about the Portuguese man-of-war that’ll have you saying “Didya know…?”

I won’t say it has anything to do with us … oh, wait … yes, I will. The ocean is getting warmer because of climate change. One effect of this would be that many animals that pretty much only preferred the luxurious tropical waters of the south Atlantic now find the Mid-Atlantic waters great! Oh, fun. Except in the case of the man-of-war this summer. That’s got a lot of folks sketched out and seems to be putting a damper on beach days. Well, at least there’s the opportunity to learn something new … because that’s what summer’s all about, right? Here is a list of fifteen surprising facts about the man-of-war (Number twelve is shockingly cool!):

  1. The man-of-war is not a jellyfish. They’re a siphonophore, a single animal made of a colonial of organisms working together (e.g., coral colony).
  2. The man-of-war is made up of four polyps. The top one is a brilliantly purple, blue, or pink gas-filled float. When the top polyp (i.e., “sail”) is filled with gas it looks like the 18th century Portuguese war ship at full mast.
  3. The top polyp is like an umbrella for the others polyps that are bunched under it. One is made up tentacles full of stinging cells (i.e., nematocysts). They’re used to catch prey such as smaller fish, plankton, and crustaceans.
  4. The tentacles with the stinging cells can get to be 165 feet (that’s longer than a blue whale!) long, but are more on average about 50 feet.
  5. Man-of-war are asexual. That’s right … not a man or a woman! One polyp is responsible for all that action. If you’re counting, that’s three of the four polyps. Can you guess what the fourth is responsible for? Digestion.
  6. The gas that the man-of-war is filled with is Argon. That’s number 18 on the atomic table.
  7. The man-of-war (or, man-o-war) is also sometimes called the bluebottle.
  8. People have died from trying to swim into shore after getting stung by them. However, the sting itself will most likely not kill a human.
  9. Man-of-war that have washed up to shore can still sting you. I was stung by one in Florida. While it was incredibly painful at the time, I lived to tell about it. Here is a “How Not to Get Stung” list.
  10. Man-of-war tend to travel together (up to 1000!) and drift in the wind or current (Note: They do not swim and therefore do not migrate). However, they’ll deflate if there is a threat at the surface of the sea.
  11. The eight centimeter fish Nomeus gronovii is immune to the man-of-war’s stinging cells and lives among its tentacles.
  12. The blanket octopus is also immune to them and not only eats them but also reuses the tentacles to help in hunting other animals. Check out a video of that action here.
  13. The fossil records for the man-of-war go back 600 million years.
  14. South Florida-based fine art photographer Aaron Ansarov was featured in National Geographic for his beautiful images of the man-of-war. Check them out … I am still speechless!
  15. There is a Man-O-War Cay in the Abaco Islands of the Bahamas. I’ve been to nearby Guana Cay several times, so I am quite grateful that over at Rolling Harbour the beautiful place has been described just as I remember.

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Psst … Can someone help me out with the plural of man-of-war? Is it men-of-war or man-of-wars?

From Sandy, coastal towns learn ‘dune’ diligence lesson. Is it enough?

The superstorm still affecting millions along the mid-Atlantic is a wake-up call. The damage due to flooding and fires is unmatched to any other storm in recent history. Experts say the event will not be an unfamiliar one in future decades due to an influx of people living along the coast and the impending sea level rise. As plans for restoring and rebuilding get underway, there needs to be recognition that some communities survived due to a stable dune plant community (“dunes”). For instance Avalon, North Wildwood, Harvey Cedars, Ship Bottom, Surf City, as well as my hometown of Stone Harbor were all spared a considerable amount of damage because their beaches have a healthy dune system or had recently been replenished. Even the City of Cape May with its concrete boardwalk ended up getting inundated with an influx of sand.

Should we rebuild the dunes?

The $38 billion dollar tourism industry in New Jersey relies heavily dunes to help maintain healthy and productive beaches. We know that we can rebuild the dunes and replenish the beach because we’ve done it before. City planners and municipal governments should recognize the value of dune plant communities and plan accordingly. It is striking a delicate balance of restoring for Memorial Day weekend 2013, as well as Memorial Day weekend 2113. According to Nash and Rogers, authors of The Dune Book, “dunes will not provide protection from seasonal beach fluctuation or long-term erosion”. They also noted the importance of rebuilding dunes as far landward as possible when challenged with a wide recovering area after a direct hit by a hurricane. However, there are issues to confront with this short-term solution (e.g., cost to taxpayers, property rights). I urge progressive municipalities to continue their innovation and begin doing assessments of the impacts of climate change and sea level rise to their towns, as well as the benefits of resilient design for beach front properties.

What are dunes?

As wind and waves from the sea come landward, sand is accumulated within dune grasses. Each dune plant community is distinct – even from moment to moment – sand is dynamic and the underestimated element of the earth. You may generally think of dunes as mountains of sand 12 feet tall covered in vegetation (e.g., brittle, whistling grasses or robust, waxy sea oats) that extend a quarter-mile from the nearest street to the volleyball court on the hot sand leading to the sea, but dunes can also be mountains of sand completely submerged by the ocean as Sylvia Earle discovered off the coast of the Bahamas. Dune grasses may look fragile; however their network of horizontal roots is strongly embedded deep within the beach terrain. Each buildup of sand creates a strong and more stable dune plant community. The sand build up typically runs parallel to the coastline.

What are the benefits to dunes?

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection is responsible for protecting and maintaining the dunes. Here are some of the reasons dunes are beneficial to Jersey shore communities:

  • Dunes store sand that help diminish potential shoreline erosion.
  • Dunes absorb the impact of storm surge and high waves.
  • Dunes prevent water from flooding coastal towns.
  • Dunes provide habitat and crucial nesting area for threatened and endangered species.
  • Dunes create a relaxing backdrop to any beach.
  • Dunes buffer the full force of the ocean and protect property.

What is the opposition to dunes?

One of the major concerns with replenishing beaches and rebuilding dunes is that it may not be the best long-term solution, especially as we attempt to mitigate the effects of the sea level rise. In 2001, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projected a sea level rise of 20 to 70 cm by 2100. All the while since 1986, the U.s. Army Corps of Engineers has paid $700 million to pump and dump sand on 54 miles of New Jersey coast – all to have it creep seaward an average of four feet. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, more than 85,000 U.S. coastal properties could fall into the sea in less than 50 years (2000 study). Not to mention this list of reasons dunes are looked upon as a hindrance:

  • Dunes obstruct oceanfront views.
  • Dunes make the walk to the sea a little longer.
  • Dunes shrink the available space for the beach.
  • Dunes tend to hamper an ocean breeze.
  • Dunes hinder potential private access to the beach.

How can you get involved in rebuilding and restoring the Jersey shore?

It’s clear we have a long road ahead of us. The answer(s) will not be easy. I am looking forward to witnessing some courageous new perspectives on coastal city planning as we rebuild. In the meantime we can all do our part. Here are some ways you can participate in the efforts to help victims of Hurricane Sandy:

  • Charitably: Make a donation to the American National Red Cross (Text REDCROSS to 90999).
  • Fashionably: Spend $20 and purchase a “Unite and Rebuild” t-shirt from Jetty.
  • Motivation-ally: Take a lesson from Shannon Caulfield and follow your heart to do your part. She connected with over 1,000 people on social media to organize beach clean-ups along the Jersey shore.
  • Scientifically: Participate in a beach clean-up and track what marine debris you find.
  • Athletically: Run a race of any distance this month and join the virtual race for Hurricane Sandy Recovery.
  • Realistically: Make every effort to learn more. Check out this opportunity to educate yourself on local land use (i.e., understanding the balance of preservation and development) in south Jersey sponsored by WHYY.

Author’s note: I recognize that there was extensive damage in many mid-Atlantic states, not just New Jersey. However, due to my connection to the south Jersey environment I focused on the rebuilding and restoring efforts in that state.

Sea level rise is settled fact

“Some scientific conclusions have been so thoroughly examined and tested, and supported by so many independent observations and results, that their likelihood of being found wrong is vanishingly small. Such conclusions are then regarded as settled facts. This is the case for the conclusions that the Earth system is warming and that much of this warming is very likely due to human activities … strong evidence on climate change underscores the need for actions to reduce emissions and begin adapting to impacts.”
America’s Climate Choices, U.S. National Academy of Science, National Research Council, 2011

Climate change is taking place and poses considerable risks for us. Among these risks are the detrimental impacts related to sea level rise. And for those of us along the Atlantic coast the impacts may hit sooner rather than later. According to a recently published study by researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), sea levels from Cape Hatteras to Cape Cod (a 620-mile Atlantic coast ‘hot spot’) are rising more rapidly than anywhere on Earth – at the speed of three to four times faster than the global average. The study found that since 1990, sea levels have risen approximately 0.08 inches (2 millimeters) to approximately 0.14 inches (3.7 millimeters) a year along the ‘Atlantic coast hot spot’ while the global average for the same time period was 0.6 millimeters to 1 millimeter per year.

The study also noted that sea levels will rise 9 inches by 2030, 18 inches by 2050, and four-and-a-half feet by 2100 globally. Experts at the USGS, as well as other scientists, agree that this increase is due to climate change and other factors. However, according to Asbury Sallenger, the USGS oceanographer who led the study, “sea levels will rise an additional 8 inches to 11 inches in the Atlantic coast hot spot”. Just last week the National Research Council noted that sea levels along California will rise one foot in the next twenty years. Sinking land masses along the California coast and climate change was said to be the cause of that sea level rise.

But what is the cause of the additional increase of 8 inches to 11 inches in sea level rise along the ‘Atlantic coast hot spot’? This can be attributed to the slowing of Atlantic currents by the influx of freshwater into the salty Atlantic Ocean. Melting glaciers from the Greenland Ice Sheet send freshwater into a conveyor belt current (known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation) which cause variations in temperature, salinity, and the speed of currents all of which affect sea level rise as warming oceans expand.

Ultimately, this study proves that sea levels have risen since 1990 regardless of the cause. It also provides a call for communities along the Atlantic coast to start planning for sea level rise as many densely-populated cities (Boston, Providence, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Norfolk-Virginia Beach) can be found along the ‘Atlantic coast hot spot’ and could see an increase in damages from storm surge.

Here is a list of 50 Things to Reduce Climate Change that will help reduce emissions that attribute to sea level rise. After all, it is not just the impacts from sea level rise, but our health, rainfall, agricultural crop yield, energy supply, as well as other beautiful natural ecosystems that are all affected by climate change.

USGS Researchers used long-term data from tidal gauges along the coast and computer simulations designed at calculating the effects of climate change for their study. The study was published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

 Resources:

‘Inside the Arctic Circle’: What if James Lipton interviewed a polar bear?

In honor of International Polar Bear Day, I was wondering how a polar bear – if interviewed by the esteemed James Lipton and could speak – would answer to the following questions on an episode of “Inside the Arctic Circle”. Please feel free to disagree and add in your comments.

  1. What is your favorite word? Seal
  2. What is your least favorite word? Endangered
  3. What turns you on? Conservation efforts, small or large.
  4. What turns you off? Thinking others will take care of shared problems.
  5. What sound or noise do you love? Besides my young cubs learning to hunt, it would be a room full of scientists and policy makers agreeing to do something about climate change.
  6. What sound or noise do you hate? I’d like to quote Simon and Garfunkel and say the ‘sound of silence’. People doing nothing and ignoring the fact that my population has reduced more than 30% in three generations due to climate change is disheartening.
  7. What is your favorite curse word? Coke. That company used an unflattering picture of my sister on their packages, and, frankly, the word has become synonymous with unhappiness here in the Arctic. I think they can do a lot more.
  8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? A writer.
  9. What profession would you not like to do? Mining, I don’t want to look like all those other bears.
  10. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates? Thanks for trying your best. That’s all that was needed. Balance will prevail.

Where have all the horseshoe crabs gone?

If you’ve kept on eye on the sandy shores of the Atlantic Ocean or eastern Gulf of Mexico over the past twenty years you’ve noticed a significant decline in the number of horseshoe crabs, Limulus polyphemus, covering the beach. As a marine educator and naturalist in my past life, I always said the decline was due to over harvesting for bait and pharmaceutical needs. This is only half the reason. Recently scientists also noted that climate change, with the sea level rise and temperature fluctuation, may be a cause of the decline.

Tim King, a scientist with the United States Geological  Survey, thinks that what happened during the Ice Age could happen again. With climate change comes a loss of habitat and a loss of diversity. These issues could have severe implications, not only for horseshoe crabs, but also for species that rely on them for sustenance. For instance, along the Delaware Bay the red knot eats the horseshoe crabs eggs at the midpoint of their migration. In the Chesapeake Bay, loggerhead sea turtles are struggling to find one of their favorite food sources, horseshoe crabs, and are retreating elsewhere to find food. Now that the link of a decline in the horseshoe crab population and climate change has been made fisheries managers can take this into consideration.

Images (c) Greg Breese, US Fish and Wildlife Service