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  • richardmitnick 6:14 pm on December 15, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Beth Shapiro, CALeDNA project, Ecology, eDNA-Environmental DNA, Erika Zavaleta, eSIE- Environmental DNA for Science Investigation and Education, , Two UCSC biologists receive Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor awards, UC Conservation Genomics Consortium,   

    From UCSC: “Two UCSC biologists receive Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor awards” 

    UC Santa Cruz

    UC Santa Cruz

    December 13, 2017
    Tim Stephens
    stephens@ucsc.edu

    1
    Beth Shapiro (photo by C. Lagattuta)

    2
    Erika Zavaleta (photo by Matt Kroll)

    With funding from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), biologists at UC Santa Cruz will be using biodiversity surveys and field research to get more students engaged in science.

    Beth Shapiro and Erika Zavaleta, both professors of ecology and evolutionary biology, are among a select group of innovators in science education chosen this year for funding through the HHMI Professors Program.

    Zavaleta’s proposal won her a five-year, $1 million grant to create an inclusive and coordinated pathway that will engage students in ecology and conservation biology and support them all the way through to graduation. The program will provide increased access to research-based field courses and internships, along with sustained mentoring and a supportive community.

    “We have so many awesome field courses at UCSC, and I want to make sure they’re accessible to a full range of students and link them together into a pathway that will launch a diverse new generation of conservation leaders,” Zavaleta said.

    Environmental DNA

    Shapiro teamed up with Robert Wayne, a molecular ecologist at UCLA, to win a collaborative award of $1.5 million for a program to get large numbers of students involved in biodiversity surveys using environmental DNA. Environmental DNA (eDNA) is a highly sensitive molecular approach for cataloging biodiversity in any ecosystem by analyzing the DNA fragments found in soil and other environmental samples.

    “Environmental DNA is both a powerful tool for doing cutting-edge science and a great way to get people interested in science,” Shapiro said. “It’s fairly easy for a first experience, and yet the range of questions you can address is incredibly broad. It’s a gateway to all kinds of different science.”

    Shapiro and Wayne spearheaded the UC Conservation Genomics Consortium, which Wayne directs, and their HHMI project builds on the consortium’s work. Called Environmental DNA for Science Investigation and Education (eSIE), the three-tiered program starts with getting thousands of students involved in initial sampling efforts, either independently, with guidance from online instruction modules and mobile apps, or through organized sampling campaigns called “bioblitzes” at UC Natural Reserves and other sites throughout California. The consortium has been running bioblitzes through its CALeDNA project, and recruitment efforts are already under way to broaden the participation of students, including under-represented groups.

    “We want them to go out and have a positive first experience participating in actual field work and collecting samples and data that will be used by scientists, including themselves if they want to keep doing it,” Shapiro said.

    The second tier of the program will be a biodiversity course designed for both science majors and non-majors, using eDNA as a springboard for increasing science literacy and introducing students to some of the many ways science is relevant to important issues in society. Finally, the program includes funding to support students who want to do independent research projects with faculty mentors.

    Field courses

    Zavaleta’s program aims to build existing field research courses into a more coherent pathway that will guide students interested in ecology and conservation from their freshman or transfer year to graduation. Large introductory lecture courses required early in science majors are often blamed for attrition, and under-represented groups and disadvantaged students drop science majors at much higher rates than other students. Zavaleta said inquiry-based field courses and research opportunities provide experiences that can keep students engaged and inspired.

    “By combining the emotional rewards of nature and friendship, shared experience and co-creation, field courses provide the kind of experience that led many, including me, to careers in ecology and conservation biology,” she said. “They also create the kind of immersive experience that is so important to learning and is a big part of forming an understanding of the natural world.”

    Zavaleta wants to lower the barriers that can keep some students from participating in field courses by offering scholarships to cover course fees and building more capacity and diversity among the faculty and graduate students who teach the courses. She also wants to increase opportunities for undergraduates to get research experience through paid internships. A new staff mentorship position will help students take advantage of opportunities such as scholarships and research internships and will provide guidance throughout the program. These efforts will be coordinated and funded through a new Center to Advance Mentored, Inquiry-based Opportunities (CAMINO).

    “The idea is to provide wraparound support and build a community for all kinds of students, so we avoid the situation where they get inspired by a great course and then fall of a cliff when they face the big lecture courses required before they can move on,” Zavaleta said. “It’s also important that we measure and communicate the outcomes of this effort so that we understand what works and can sustain it and scale it up.”

    The HHMI Professors Program began in 2002, and Manuel Ares, professor of molecular, cell, and developmental biology at UCSC, was among that first cohort of HHMI Professors. This year, out of 177 proposals, only 12 were chosen for funding. In addition to producing two of the funded proposals, UC Santa Cruz submitted four of the 26 finalist proposals that made it through the first two rounds of peer review.

    See the full article here .

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    UCO Lick Shane Telescope
    UCO Lick Shane Telescope interior
    Shane Telescope at UCO Lick Observatory, UCSC

    Lick Automated Planet Finder telescope, Mount Hamilton, CA, USA

    Lick Automated Planet Finder telescope, Mount Hamilton, CA, USA

    UC Santa Cruz campus
    The University of California, Santa Cruz, opened in 1965 and grew, one college at a time, to its current (2008-09) enrollment of more than 16,000 students. Undergraduates pursue more than 60 majors supervised by divisional deans of humanities, physical & biological sciences, social sciences, and arts. Graduate students work toward graduate certificates, master’s degrees, or doctoral degrees in more than 30 academic fields under the supervision of the divisional and graduate deans. The dean of the Jack Baskin School of Engineering oversees the campus’s undergraduate and graduate engineering programs.

    UCSC is the home base for the Lick Observatory.

    Lick Observatory's Great Lick 91-centimeter (36-inch) telescope housed in the South (large) Dome of main building
    Lick Observatory’s Great Lick 91-centimeter (36-inch) telescope housed in the South (large) Dome of main building

    Search for extraterrestrial intelligence expands at Lick Observatory
    New instrument scans the sky for pulses of infrared light
    March 23, 2015
    By Hilary Lebow
    1
    The NIROSETI instrument saw first light on the Nickel 1-meter Telescope at Lick Observatory on March 15, 2015. (Photo by Laurie Hatch) UCSC Lick Nickel telescope

    Astronomers are expanding the search for extraterrestrial intelligence into a new realm with detectors tuned to infrared light at UC’s Lick Observatory. A new instrument, called NIROSETI, will soon scour the sky for messages from other worlds.

    “Infrared light would be an excellent means of interstellar communication,” said Shelley Wright, an assistant professor of physics at UC San Diego who led the development of the new instrument while at the University of Toronto’s Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics.

    Wright worked on an earlier SETI project at Lick Observatory as a UC Santa Cruz undergraduate, when she built an optical instrument designed by UC Berkeley researchers. The infrared project takes advantage of new technology not available for that first optical search.

    Infrared light would be a good way for extraterrestrials to get our attention here on Earth, since pulses from a powerful infrared laser could outshine a star, if only for a billionth of a second. Interstellar gas and dust is almost transparent to near infrared, so these signals can be seen from great distances. It also takes less energy to send information using infrared signals than with visible light.

    5
    UCSC alumna Shelley Wright, now an assistant professor of physics at UC San Diego, discusses the dichroic filter of the NIROSETI instrument. (Photo by Laurie Hatch)

    Frank Drake, professor emeritus of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz and director emeritus of the SETI Institute, said there are several additional advantages to a search in the infrared realm.

    “The signals are so strong that we only need a small telescope to receive them. Smaller telescopes can offer more observational time, and that is good because we need to search many stars for a chance of success,” said Drake.

    The only downside is that extraterrestrials would need to be transmitting their signals in our direction, Drake said, though he sees this as a positive side to that limitation. “If we get a signal from someone who’s aiming for us, it could mean there’s altruism in the universe. I like that idea. If they want to be friendly, that’s who we will find.”

    Scientists have searched the skies for radio signals for more than 50 years and expanded their search into the optical realm more than a decade ago. The idea of searching in the infrared is not a new one, but instruments capable of capturing pulses of infrared light only recently became available.

    “We had to wait,” Wright said. “I spent eight years waiting and watching as new technology emerged.”

    Now that technology has caught up, the search will extend to stars thousands of light years away, rather than just hundreds. NIROSETI, or Near-Infrared Optical Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, could also uncover new information about the physical universe.

    “This is the first time Earthlings have looked at the universe at infrared wavelengths with nanosecond time scales,” said Dan Werthimer, UC Berkeley SETI Project Director. “The instrument could discover new astrophysical phenomena, or perhaps answer the question of whether we are alone.”

    NIROSETI will also gather more information than previous optical detectors by recording levels of light over time so that patterns can be analyzed for potential signs of other civilizations.

    “Searching for intelligent life in the universe is both thrilling and somewhat unorthodox,” said Claire Max, director of UC Observatories and professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz. “Lick Observatory has already been the site of several previous SETI searches, so this is a very exciting addition to the current research taking place.”

    NIROSETI will be fully operational by early summer and will scan the skies several times a week on the Nickel 1-meter telescope at Lick Observatory, located on Mt. Hamilton east of San Jose.

    The NIROSETI team also includes Geoffrey Marcy and Andrew Siemion from UC Berkeley; Patrick Dorval, a Dunlap undergraduate, and Elliot Meyer, a Dunlap graduate student; and Richard Treffers of Starman Systems. Funding for the project comes from the generous support of Bill and Susan Bloomfield.

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  • richardmitnick 7:16 pm on August 4, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Ecology, ,   

    From NSF: “NSF selects first Long-Term Ecological Research network communications office” 

    nsf
    National Science Foundation

    August 4, 2015
    Media Contacts
    Cheryl Dybas, NSF, (703) 292-7734, cdybas@nsf.gov
    Julie Cohen, UCSB, (805) 893-3071, julie.cohen@ucsb.edu

    Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis receives $3.5 million award for support of multi-site efforts

    1
    Scuba diver measures giant kelp biomass at the NSF Santa Barbara Coastal LTER site. Credit: NSF SBC LTER Site

    The National Science Foundation (NSF) has selected the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) as the site for the first national Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) network communications office.

    The largest and longest-lived network in the U.S. that focuses on ecological research, LTER scientists conduct studies that can continue for decades and span extensive geographic areas.

    The communications office will be operated by UCSB’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS).

    New challenges, new opportunities

    “The LTER program faces new challenges as it enters its fourth decade: the increasing multi-disciplinarity of ecological research, increased value of synthesizing heterogeneous data, and rapid changes in the needs for, and modes of, science communication, among others,” said James Olds, NSF assistant director for Biological Sciences.

    “The Biological Sciences Directorate welcomes a new office that brings an international reputation in ecological synthesis, strong partnerships with programs for science communication and outreach, and a dedication to consolidating education programs across the network.”

    Added Roger Wakimoto, NSF assistant director for Geosciences, “The NSF Directorate for Geosciences, which supports the LTER program through its Ocean Sciences and Polar Programs Divisions, is excited about the synergies that will arise from linking the LTER team with an experienced NCEAS team.

    “This aligns well with our commitment to long-term environmental and ecological observations, and we expect the new communications office to advance internal and external synthesis as well as education efforts.”

    Building on experience

    The new office will take advantage of NCEAS’ experience in supporting multi-site collaboration and synthetic research, graduate training and environmental science communication.

    “We want the communications office to be the linchpin that nourishes and strengthens the LTER network both nationally and internationally,” said NCEAS Director Frank Davis, principal investigator for the $3.5 million NSF grant.

    Established in 1980, the NSF LTER program currently supports 25 sites representing ecosystems from deserts to forests to coral reefs, urban areas to the open sea to the polar regions, in the continental U.S., Alaska, islands in the Caribbean and the Pacific, and Antarctica.

    UCSB’s Marine Science Institute has led the Santa Barbara Coastal LTER site since 2000, and the Moorea Coral Reef LTER site since 2004.

    “Over the past 20 years, NCEAS has had a transformative effect on the way ecological information is organized, synthesized and applied,” said Peter Groffman, chair of the LTER Science Council and Executive Board. “It is exciting to apply that experience and expertise to the LTER network.”

    Office supports network across sites

    The LTER network includes research on population and community ecology, ecosystem science, evolutionary biology, phylogenetic systematics, social and economic sciences, urban ecology, oceanography, mathematics, computer science and science education.

    A network across sites allows for continental-scale questions to be addressed, while enabling sharing of ideas and information to facilitate integrative scientific insights. Thousands of scientists and graduate students work through LTER sites to pursue research in diverse topics and disciplines.

    “These sites are doing important work that’s relevant for natural resource management, environmental restoration, climate change adaptation, public health and many other important areas,” said Davis.

    The value of long-term data extends beyond use at any individual site, so the LTER Network makes data collected by all LTER sites accessible to other investigators.

    “The new communications office will build awareness and participation in the network by developing an effective and engaging web presence,” Davis said. “We will offer such tools and services as virtual collaboration, training in data synthesis and open science, online research forums and multimedia research highlights.”

    The communications office will also support new programs and activities that encourage and promote diversity in education and training to enhance communication and outreach to the public and to local, regional and federal agencies as well as non-governmental and non-profit organizations.

    See the full article here.

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    The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense…we are the funding source for approximately 24 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America’s colleges and universities. In many fields such as mathematics, computer science and the social sciences, NSF is the major source of federal backing.

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  • richardmitnick 1:36 pm on July 17, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Ecology,   

    From NSF: “The ecology of the future and the future of ecology” 

    nsf
    National Science Foundation

    July 17, 2015
    No Writer Credit
    Research credits Below

    Researchers working with underrepresented groups to study the ecological impact of climate change and to craft citizen science tools, aim to explore pressing scientific questions while recruiting a new generation of ecology researchers.

    1
    Shaliek Morgan, an REU student from Shaw University, checks on an ant colony. Credit: Lauren Nichols, Dunn Lab, NC State University

    Biologists in North Carolina are trying to get a glimpse of the future through a project designed to shed light on how rising temperatures will affect the insects and microbial life that play critical roles in the environment. But the researchers are also hoping to shape the future, working with college students from underrepresented groups and designing citizen science tools to give middle-school students everywhere the chance to be involved in scientific discovery.

    The research revolves around a patch of forest in North Carolina. Scattered among the trees are a dozen rooms with neither roofs nor floors. Ringed with plastic ductwork that pumps warm air, these “warming chambers” allow the researchers to manipulate the temperature of small sections of forest. And for the past five years, with support from National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Dimensions of Biodiversity program, researchers have been studying those patches of forest to see how life has responded to slight increases in temperature.

    The goal of the study was to get insights into how forest ecosystems will change as a result of global climate change. And in 2014, the researchers took on a new goal: to help shape the future of ecology research itself.

    Rob Dunn, a professor at North Carolina (NC) State University and primary investigator on the project, worked with two postdoctoral researchers in his lab to get a Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) grant from NSF. NC State undergraduates were already involved in the warming chambers research project, but the REU was designed to be a collaboration between NC State and Shaw University–a historically black university in Raleigh, N.C.–for the express purpose of engaging African-American undergrads in ecological research.

    The funding, which supplemented the original biodiversity grant, allowed the NC State research team to support two Shaw undergraduates to do fieldwork on the warming chambers project during the summer of 2014.

    The REU focused on a specific research question: what impact do warming temperatures have on ant immune function? The goal was to determine how insect-disease interactions may change as a result of climate change.

    “We found that behavioral aspects of immunity in ants did change in warmer environments,” says Mary Jane Epps, one of the postdoctoral researchers in Dunn’s lab who collaborated on the REU. “For example, we found that ants spent more time grooming themselves and each other at higher temperatures. There are two papers coming out of that 2014 REU, and each of the students will be a co-author on one of them.”

    But the results of that REU extend beyond the scientific findings.

    “One of the reasons I pursued this REU is because African Americans are not well represented in the field of ecology–which is ironic, since it’s a field that studies diversity,” says DeAnna Beasley, another of the Dunn’s postdocs who collaborated on the REU.

    “Many students have a very narrow view of what science is; they think it’s something you only do in a laboratory,” Beasley says. “We were able to expose these students to wildlife ecology, and now one of them is considering graduate studies in ecology–based on his experiences with us and with Eric Butler, his mentor at Shaw.”

    The project was so successful that Dunn, Beasley and Epps were awarded a new REU for 2015, this time focusing on how insect pathogens respond to warmer temperatures. Specifically, the researchers are evaluating soil samples from the warming chambers to determine the presence and prevalence of fungal pathogens that attack insects and how that prevalence changes based on environmental temperatures.

    “One Shaw student from 2014 returned this summer, and we’re working with a new Shaw student as well,” Epps says. The researchers also plan to extend the REU project into the fall semester so that another Shaw student can be involved.

    “It’s important to note that these projects are not only about giving students from underrepresented groups a chance to get hands-on experience, or to get them excited about science. These projects are also about addressing significant questions about our environment.”

    “And we expect to get another paper out of this summer’s work,” Beasley says.

    In addition, Beasley, Dunn and the Shaw students will be working with three middle school teachers who are part of NC State’s Kenan Fellows Program to use the insect pathogens project as the basis for new teaching tools.

    The teachers are working with Beasley and the Shaw students in field and lab research looking at ant immunity and insect pathogens at both urban and forest sites. Based on this experience, the teachers will develop a project-based science lesson plan to engage middle school students in authentic scientific research.

    “We’ll work together throughout the school year to refine the curriculum, and next summer the teachers will teach the new lesson plan to 40 teachers at a professional development workshop hosted by NC State’s Friday Institute for Educational Innovation,” Beasley says.

    This work, which is funded by a grant from NSF’s Division of Research on Learning, will allow middle school teachers and students anywhere in the country (or abroad) to collect and analyze soil samples for pathogens that harm insects. Ultimately, the goal is for those middle school classrooms to plug their findings into a national database that can track the diversity of pathogens in different environments.

    “This project is not only creating opportunities for the undergrads at Shaw, but giving middle school students everywhere the chance to be part of a meaningful scientific inquiry,” Beasley says. “We’re talking about contributing to our understanding of the world around us, and hopefully inspiring future scientists while we’re at it.”

    Research Experiences for Undergraduates projects take place each summer at universities around the country. Students interested in learning more about the program can find information on the REU website.
    — Matt Shipman, North Carolina State University
    — Maria C. Zacharias, (703) 292-8454 mzachari@nsf.gov

    Investigators
    Robert Dunn
    Julie Urban
    Jenifer Corn
    Angela Duncan
    Ashlie Thompson
    Margaret Lowman

    Related Institutions/Organizations
    North Carolina State University

    Locations
    Raleigh , North Carolina

    See the full article here.

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    The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense…we are the funding source for approximately 24 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America’s colleges and universities. In many fields such as mathematics, computer science and the social sciences, NSF is the major source of federal backing.

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  • richardmitnick 9:05 am on February 10, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Atlantic Coral, Ecology,   

    From NYT: “Atlantic Corals: Colorful and Vulnerable” 

    New York Times

    The New York Times

    FEB. 9, 2015
    JAMES GORMAN

    1
    Ecosystems of deep sea corals of various shapes and hues can be compromised by bottom-fishing. Squid fishing may be regulated in the mid-Atlantic.

    A council that sets regulations for fishing off the mid-Atlantic coast will meet on Wednesday to consider protections for little known and fragile ecosystems of deep sea corals in and around 15 ocean sites.

    Environmental groups and sport fishermen are pushing for protection of these canyons and other sites, which run from Block Canyon off New York to Norfolk Canyon off Virginia, from squid fishing. They also are lobbying for other restrictions on fishing in a much broader zone.

    The squid-fishing industry is opposed to the broader restrictions and has proposed further study and more limited boundaries on four of the canyons, as well as further discussion on the other canyons.

    Some of the corals could also be affected by oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic, after President Obama said last month that he would open up the region to oil and gas leases. However, different agencies are involved in that process.

    The canyons are distributed from New York to Virginia, while the drilling leases would be granted from Virginia on south, an area that would include Norfolk Canyon, and perhaps part of another.

    Temp 0 West Atlantic Stony Corals
    West Atlantic Stony Corals

    Temp 1 Atlantic and Eastern Pacific
    Atlantic and Eastern Pacific Corals

    Temp 2 Tropical West Atlantic
    Tropical West Atlantic Corals

    Temp 3 South Atlantic
    South Atlantic Corals

    Scientists and fishermen have known about the corals for at least a century. They live hundreds of yards below the ocean surface and support diverse communities of life. The areas attract all sorts of marine animals at different times of year, including squid.

    Researchers and the fishing industry have steadily learned more about the corals since the 1950s, and particularly in the last decade or so as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has used submersibles and remotely operated vehicles to probe the depths and capture new information, images and video.

    Peter J. Auster, a marine biologist who is an emeritus professor at the University of Connecticut and senior research scientist at Mystic Aquarium, has studied the corals for 30 years and said that they had been found on steep slopes of seamounts and in canyons that were cut into the continental shelf.

    “These are incredible landscapes,” he said.

    Because the corals grow slowly, bottom-fishing for squid and fish could knock them over and the communities would not recover for many years. The canyons that are being considered for protection are, Dr. Auster said, refuges for organisms that used to be more widespread. “The choices are what we do with what’s left,” he added.

    The group that makes the choices is the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council. It is meeting in Raleigh, N.C., and the amendment under discussion would affect its regulations for mackerel, butterfish and squid fishing.

    The amendment includes a complex variety of provisions that cover depth, type of fishing and boundaries, but the main items for discussion are protection of the canyons and a set of restrictions for a broader zone.

    Brad Sewell, a senior lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s oceans program, said, “If both of these protection zones are approved and go into effect, it would be the largest protected area on the Atlantic Seaboard.”

    Squid fishermen say the restrictions would damage an industry that has been responsible and is sustainable. Greg DiDomenico, the executive director of Garden State Seafood Association, which represents New Jersey commercial fishing businesses, said his group supported protecting the corals. “There’s no denying that these creatures are extremely important,” he said.

    But he argued that the proposed amendment was not based on sound evidence. “We don’t really know what’s down there,” he said. And so he is asking for further study, and his group has recently submitted new proposals.

    The prospect of a delay disturbs some of the advocates for strong protection, including John McMurray, a sport fisherman who is a member of the fisheries council.

    The council has been working on the amendment for almost three years, he said, adding: “We’ve had multiple comment periods. The public clearly wants these corals protected.”

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 4:34 pm on January 21, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Ecology, Ice studies,   

    From NSF: “NSF-funded Antarctic drilling team is first to bore through hundreds of meters of ice to where ice sheet, ocean and land converge” 

    nsf
    National Science Foundation

    January 21, 2015
    Media Contacts
    Peter West, NSF, (703) 292-7530, pwest@nsf.gov
    Tom Parisi, Northern Illinois University, (815) 762-7464, tparisi@niu.edu
    Susan Kelly, WISSARD Education and Public Outreach Officer, sbkelly2@illinois.edu
    Leslie Reed, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, (402) 472-2059, lreed5@unl.edu

    Principal Investigators
    Ross Powell, Northern Illinois University, powellro@imcs1.usap.gov
    Frank Rack, University of Nebraska, Frack2@unl.edu
    John Priscu, Montana State University, priscujo@imcs1.usap.gov
    Slawek Tulaczyk, University of California, Santa Cruz, tulaczsl@imcs1.usap.gov

    “Grounding Zones” are key to regulating ice-sheet movement and sea-level rise, but also, surprisingly, home to an apparently thriving ecosystem

    1
    A fish swims through the “grounding zone.”
    Credit: WISSARD / NSF

    Using a specially designed hot-water drill to cleanly bore through a half mile of ice, a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded team of researchers has become the first ever to reach and sample the “grounding zone,” where Antarctic ice, land and sea all converge. Data gathered from samples of sediment taken in the grounding zone will provide clues about the mechanics of ice sheets and their potential effects on sea-level rise.

    Cameras sent down the drilling hole also revealed an unsuspected population of fish and invertebrates living beneath the ice sheet, the farthest south that fish have ever been found. The surprising discovery of fish in waters that are extremely cold at -2 Celsius (28 degrees Fahrenheit) and perpetually dark poses new questions about the ability of life to thrive in extreme environments.

    “I have been investigating these types of environments for much of my career, and although I knew it would be difficult, I had been wanting to access this system for years because of its scientific importance,” said Ross Powell, a chief scientist with the Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling (WISSARD) project and a researcher at Northern Illinois University.

    “Findings such as these–gaining an understanding of the ice sheet dynamics and its interaction with ocean and sediment, as well as establishing the structure of its ecosystem–are especially rewarding. It’s a big pay-off in delayed gratification.”

    The newest discoveries stem from the WISSARD project’s investigation of the grounding zone of Whillans Ice Stream of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS), roughly 850 kilometers (530 miles) from the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica’s Ross Sea.

    2
    West Antarctic Ice Sheet

    WISSARD is funded by NSF’s Division of Polar Programs, which also provided the logistical support needed to succeed in the challenging Antarctic conditions. The division manages the U.S. Antarctic Program, which coordinates all U.S. scientific research on the continent.

    Using the hot-water drill developed and built by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, researchers punched through nearly 740 meters (nearly 2,500 feet) of the Ross Ice Shelf on Jan. 8, 2015 local time. (U.S. researchers in Antarctica keep New Zealand time.)

    On Jan. 16, as more than 40 scientists, technicians and camp staff were working around-the-clock to collect as many samples and data as they could while the borehole remained open, the WISSARD team deployed a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) called “Deep SCINI”–(Submersible Capable of under Ice Navigation and Imaging)–to explore about 400 square meters (4,300 square feet) of the marine cavity around the borehole. The ROV was developed at University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

    The ROV discovered a variety of fish and invertebrates including numerous amphipods, or marine crustaceans, components of an ecosystem that may provide new insights into how creatures survive and even thrive in one of the world’s most extreme environments.

    “Finding fish, or any other type of life, under an ice shelf is by itself not novel,” said John Priscu, a WISSARD chief scientist and a professor of land resources and environmental sciences at Montana State University, who has studied life in and under Antarctic ice for more than 30 years.

    “However, our WISSARD data will establish for the first time sources of carbon and energy for higher trophic levels in this most southerly marine ecosystem. Our data will also provide important information on the connectivity between subglacial environments and ice-shelf productivity, allowing us to predict first responders to a warming climate,” Priscu added.

    After the initial Deep SCINI deployment, a package of oceanographic instruments, developed at Northern Illinois University, including a downward-looking camera, recorded data in the cavity over a tidal cycle and also observed many fish swimming by.

    Although life has been found previously under the Ross Ice Shelf, this site is the closest to the South Pole where such marine life has been documented. The southernmost ocean waters in the world are only 70 kilometers (43 miles) south, under the Ross Ice Shelf at about 85 degrees South latitude.

    “It is fascinating to see so much marine vertebrate and invertebrate life so far away from the open ocean and right where the West Antarctic Ice Sheet goes afloat,” said Slawek Tulaczyk, a chief scientist on the WISSARD project and a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “I have spent my scientific career studying how this ice sheet may contribute to future global sea level rise. However, I now realize that retreat of the ice sheet may also impact a unique ecosystem.”

    The grounding zone is also extremely important for the stability of the ice sheet and ice shelf. The Texas-sized Ross Ice Shelf is the world’s largest floating slab of ice. Numerous streams of ice in WAIS feed into the ice shelf, like rivers flowing into a lake.

    Scientists are particularly interested in the dynamics between the ice, glacial sediments and water in order to understand how the system may respond to future changes in climate. Some climate models predict warmer seawater may intrude into grounding zones and cause melting at the base of the ice shelf.

    A weakening or collapse of the Ross Ice Shelf would allow ice streams of WAIS to flow more rapidly into the ocean, which would raise global sea level.

    “This season we accessed another critical polar environment, which has never been directly sampled by scientists before: the grounding zone of the Antarctic ice sheet,” noted Tulaczyk. “Nobody has ever actually done direct measurements in an environment like this.”

    While going down the borehole, cameras observed rich sedimentary debris in the ice. These observations, combined with data from cores of sediment collected from the sea floor and water from the marine cavity, will add significant information to the scientific questions about how the ice sheet works and interacts with sediment and ocean waters in these settings. They can perhaps provide answers to the recent past and possible future behavior of the massive West Antarctic Ice sheet.

    This part of the Antarctic continent includes Subglacial Lake Whillans, a shallow body of water located about 800 meters (2,600 feet) below the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which periodically fills and drains upstream from this grounding zone.The WISSARD team investigated the lake two seasons ago.

    Fresh water from the lake is thought to eventually reach the seawater cavity at the present study site through a subglacial waterworks that may be similar to a coastal wetlands ecosystem–think an estuary and its surrounding salt marshes, but one that is covered by ice, and missing all the marsh grasses. The ice sheet also delivers sediment called till, to the grounding zone to perhaps influence ice dynamics and provide nutrients to this ecosystem.

    -NSF-

    See the full article here.

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    The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense…we are the funding source for approximately 24 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America’s colleges and universities. In many fields such as mathematics, computer science and the social sciences, NSF is the major source of federal backing.

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  • richardmitnick 12:48 pm on January 13, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Ecology,   

    From Brown: “Researchers study marine ecological changes at Easter Island” 

    Brown University
    Brown University

    January 13, 2015
    David Orenstein

    Late last year, Jon Witman and Robert Lamb spent three weeks studying coral and other marine life in the waters around Easter Island, part of a research project led by Universidad Catolica de Santiago de Chile. Unlike most of the world, the coral around Easter Island appears to be increasing.

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    Easter Island Coral reefs

    Despite its isolation, there has been profound change in recent decades. In the 1980s, fishermen and recreational divers reported a major regime shift from an algae-dominated state (primarily Sargassum) to a coral-dominated state.

    “It is unclear what prompted this shift,” said Robert Lamb, an ecology and evolutionary biology graduate student at Brown. “A change in oceanographic conditions facilitating coral recruitment and growth? A change in coral larval supply? A change in consumer pressures?”

    Jon Witman, professor ecology and evolutionary biology, added that he sought to determine how the small regional species pool and isolated oceanographic position of Easter Island might influence these changes. “This was a central focus of our research, since coral reefs around the world are currently in decline, whereas reefs at Easter Island appear to have been increasing in coral cover for the last several decades.”

    To try to answer these questions Witman and Lamb traveled to Easter Island from Nov. 15 through Dec. 5, 2014, on a research project led by professor Evie Wieters of the Universidad Catolica de Santiago de Chile. Witman sampled the diversity of coral-dominated communities on vertical walls to place the marine biodiversity of Easter Island in a global context and to begin studying the local (urchin grazing) and regional (number of species in the biogeographic region) processes responsible for low diversity there.

    The isolated ecosystem is susceptible to extreme events such as El Niño, as well as human impacts such as over-fishing. Importantly, Lamb said, there are no connected populations to revitalize the community after a decline.

    Witman said he has never seen so much open space (bare rock) in this type of community, which could reflect either the low number of invertebrate species in the region or intense grazing from sea urchins.

    Some of the evidence Witman and Lamb saw suggested that the urchins, voracious herbivores and grazers, are largely responsible for the predominance of bare rock where corals are absent. They eat the algae that might otherwise compete with coral.

    They observed that the urchins appear to line up like soldiers on the front of a battlefield, advancing into the algal bed. “If we imagine their slow movements sped up hundreds of times, we would see the line advancing into the algal bed,” Lamb said. “Urchins don’t appear to cross the algal line, perhaps because they can become dislodged by waves if their flimsy tube feet are attached to slippery substrates such as algae and sand. Thus, the front advances slowly, allowing corals to colonize the bare rock left behind.”

    The Witman lab assisted Weiters’ team to test this idea with experiments in which they set up the interaction to see what would happen. By their design they could examine the relative importance of structure (corals vs. no corals) and substrate (algae/sand vs. bare rock) in determining urchin feeding behavior, and they could see whether or not new feeding fronts can be established inside of algal-dominated areas, Lamb said.

    Their research will help explain how the marine communities of this remote and famous island will respond to changes in climate and diversity.

    See the full article here.

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    Welcome to Brown

    Brown U Robinson Hall

    Located in historic Providence, Rhode Island and founded in 1764, Brown University is the seventh-oldest college in the United States. Brown is an independent, coeducational Ivy League institution comprising undergraduate and graduate programs, plus the Alpert Medical School, School of Public Health, School of Engineering, and the School of Professional Studies.

    With its talented and motivated student body and accomplished faculty, Brown is a leading research university that maintains a particular commitment to exceptional undergraduate instruction.

    Brown’s vibrant, diverse community consists of 6,000 undergraduates, 2,000 graduate students, 400 medical school students, more than 5,000 summer, visiting and online students, and nearly 700 faculty members. Brown students come from all 50 states and more than 100 countries.

    Undergraduates pursue bachelor’s degrees in more than 70 concentrations, ranging from Egyptology to cognitive neuroscience. Anything’s possible at Brown—the university’s commitment to undergraduate freedom means students must take responsibility as architects of their courses of study.

     
  • richardmitnick 4:13 pm on January 12, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From Discovery: “Baby California Condor Surprises Wildlife Experts” 

    Discovery News
    Discovery News

    Jan 12, 2015
    No Writer Credit

    Biologists with the Ventana Wildlife Society (VWS) were taken by happy surprise, with their recent discovery of a previously unknown juvenile condor alongside a known breeding pair of adults in Big Sur, Calif.

    Because there are so few California condors — just 116 living in the wild in California, according to the VWS — the big vultures are closely monitored by biologists. It’s unusual, then, for a new arrival to hatch and be reared by its parents unobserved.

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    California condor in captivity

    VWS suspects the breeding pair seen with the juvenile are indeed the proud parents. The organization thinks the amorous couple, known as #209 (or “Shadow”) and #231 (or “Wild 1”), are nesting in an area of the Ventana Wilderness that is so remote it’s inaccessible to observers.

    “It’s just a sign of how well the flock is doing — that they are flying out on their own, making nests and breeding on their own,” biologist and VWS Big Sur condor project coordinator Joe Burnett told the San Francisco Chronicle.

    A cursory glance at the numbers helps underscore the enthusiasm felt by the biologists.

    By 1987 the California condor, the largest bird in North America, with a wingspan of nearly 10 feet, had become nearly extinct in the wild. The last 27 animals were captured and cared for in captivity. Habitat loss, poaching, and lead poisoning (thanks to hunters’ lead bullet fragments present in big-game waste) were among the factors that led to the condor’s dance on the edge of total extinction.

    But successful captive-breeding and wild-release programs have since boosted the California condor’s population to today’s overall count of 425, according to VWS. In addition to California, condor populations can also be found in Mexico, Arizona, and Utah.

    The recent surprise pairing marks just the third time since 1997 that California condors have mated without being observed, the Chronicle noted.

    “This is truly exciting to witness as it offers another example of condors surviving on their own,” said VWS Executive Director Kelly Sorenson in a statement.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 9:08 pm on January 2, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From NASA Earth: “The Forests of Mulanje” 

    NASA Earth Observatory

    NASA Earth Observatory

    In southern Malawi, near the border with Mozambique, the land rises sharply into a multi-lobed plateau that towers about 1,400 meters (4,600 feet) above the landscape. The feature, an inselberg known as Mulanje massif, is the highest point in south-central Africa.

    m
    Mulanje massif

    mm
    Mount Mulanje

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    Location of Mount Mulanje in Malawi

    The rock that makes up Mulanje formed some 130 million years ago, when underground magma slowly cooled into vast lobes of granite and syenite. Over time, tectonic forces pushed these erosion-resistant rocks upward. As softer rock above and around the granite and syenite eroded away, Mulanje was left behind. Today, about twenty rocky peaks are found on the plateau.

    The Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 captured [the above] natural-color image of Mulanje on October 10, 2014. Since the image was acquired during the dry season, browns and reds dominate the lower-elevation areas surrounding the plateau. Dry grassland, shrubland, and farmland appears tan; it normally greens up during the wet season. Areas with exposed soil have a red-orange hue. The bright green areas south and west of Mulanje are tea and macadamia farms.

    While the lowlands get most of their rain during the wet season, the plateau sees rain year round. Vegetation type varies with elevation. Mulanje’s lower slopes are mainly miombo woodlands. The mid-elevation and upper slopes, as well as many of the ravines, are home to afromontane forests, which have a darker green color. A few scattered groves of endangered Mulanje cypress (Widdringtonia whytei)—Malawi’s national tree—survive in certain valleys. Tussock grasslands and heath dominate the highest-elevation parts of the plateau. Large outcrops of exposed rock appear gray.

    Although conservation groups have attempted to protect Mulanje’s forests, satellite observations show that deforestation has chewed away at the perimeter of many of them over the last decade. The lowlands surrounding Mulanje are densely populated, and people regularly harvest wood for cooking and heating, explained Joy Hecht, an environmental economist and consultant.

    A wildfire is visible on the plateau in the Landsat image. “Fires are frequent and a bad sign, often set by illegal loggers,” said Hecht, who has conducted field research on Mulanje. “The mountain top is a protected forest, and there would not be prescribed burns there.” Other common causes of wildfires on Mulanje include hunting, charcoal production, escaped campfires, and arson.

    See the full article here.

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    The Earth Observatory’s mission is to share with the public the images, stories, and discoveries about climate and the environment that emerge from NASA research, including its satellite missions, in-the-field research, and climate models. The Earth Observatory staff is supported by the Climate and Radiation Laboratory, and the Hydrospheric and Biospheric Sciences Laboratory located at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

     
  • richardmitnick 11:37 am on December 31, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Ecology,   

    From NASA Earth Observatory: “Australia’s Ephemeral Lake Mackay” 

    NASA Earth Observatory

    NASA Earth Observatory

    Dec 31, 2014
    No Writer Credit

    Hundreds of salt lakes are sprinkled across the landscape of northern and western Australia. Most, including Lake Mackay, fill infrequently via seasonal rainfall that runs off of nearby lands and through minor drainage channels.

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    Lake Mackay is Australia’s fourth largest lake—encompassing 4,737 square kilometers (1,829 square miles) along the border between Western Australia and Northern Territory. The image above, acquired on September 19, 2010, by the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on NASA’s Terra satellite, shows about a quarter of the lake area. Dark areas indicate desert vegetation or algae, moisture within the soils, and the low elevations where water pools. Light browns indicate areas of higher elevation that occasionally form islands.

    NASA Terra satellite
    NASA/ASTER

    NASA ASTER  Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer
    NASA/Terra

    So, how deep is the water? That depends on when you measure. When full, some of the deeper lakes in the region can be several meters deep. Shallower lakes are less than 50 centimeters (20 inches) deep. The depth of Lake Mackay is uncertain, but is thought to be somewhere between the two extremes.

    Water can persist in Lake Mackay for at least six months after a flood; when it does, the ephemeral lake provides an important habitat and breeding area for shorebirds and waterbirds. For example, researchers spotted at least 4,400 young banded stilts during an aerial survey of the wetlands in 2001.

    References and Further Reading
    Australian Government, Geoscience Australia, Australian Landforms and their History. Accessed December 30, 2014.
    Australian Government, Geoscience Australia, Largest Waterbodies. Accessed December 30, 2014.
    Dietz, R.D. et al., (2003, April) Formation and Organization of Australian Athalassic Salt Lakes. Accessed December 30, 2014.
    Duguid, A. et al., (2005) Wetlands in the arid Northern Territory. Accessed December 30, 2014.
    NASA Earth Observatory: Natural Hazards Floods in Australia. Accessed December 30, 2014.
    NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Lake Mackay, Australia. Accessed December 30, 2014.
    Northern Territory Government, Sites of Conservation Significance, Lake Mackay. Accessed December 30, 2014.

    See the full article here.

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    The Earth Observatory’s mission is to share with the public the images, stories, and discoveries about climate and the environment that emerge from NASA research, including its satellite missions, in-the-field research, and climate models. The Earth Observatory staff is supported by the Climate and Radiation Laboratory, and the Hydrospheric and Biospheric Sciences Laboratory located at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

     
  • richardmitnick 1:29 pm on December 24, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Ecology   

    From AAAS: “China confirms its southern glaciers are disappearing” 

    AAAS

    AAAS

    22 December 2014
    Christina Larson

    Glaciers in China that are a critical source of water for drinking and irrigation in India are receding fast, according to a new comprehensive inventory. In the short term, retreating glaciers may release greater meltwater, “but it will be exhausted when glaciers disappear under a continuous warming,” says Liu Shiyin, who led the survey for the Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute in Lanzhou.

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    Midui Glacier in Tibet (Jan Reurink/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0))

    In 2002, Chinese scientists released the first full inventory of the country’s glaciers, the largest glacial area outside of Antarctica and Greenland. The data came from topographical maps and aerial photographs of western China’s Tibet and Xinjiang regions taken from the 1950s through the 1980s. That record showed a total glacial area of 59,425 square kilometers. The Second Glacier Inventory of China, unveiled here last week, is derived from high-resolution satellite images taken between 2006 and 2010. The data set is freely available online.

    Liu and his colleagues calculated China’s total glacial area to be 51,840 square kilometers—13% less than in 2002. That figure is somewhat uncertain because the previous inventory used coarser resolution images that may have mistaken extensive snow cover for permanent ice, says Raymond Bradley, director of the Climate System Research Center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who was not involved in the project.

    Methodological quibbles aside, the latest inventory flags a marked retreat of glaciers in the southern and eastern fringes of the Tibetan Plateau. “We found the fastest shrinking glaciers are those in the central upper reach of the Brahmaputra River, between the central north Himalaya [and] the source region of the tributary of the Indus River,” Liu says.

    Matthias Huss, a glaciologist at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, applauds the openness in sharing data, which hasn’t always been the norm in China. “It is highly useful that the colleagues from China have made their data set available to the community. It will feed directly into global efforts to compile a worldwide glacier inventory and is a major improvement,” he says. “It will, for example, greatly support the effort of global glacier modeling to improve our understanding of glaciers’ response to climate change.”

    See the full article here.

    The American Association for the Advancement of Science is an international non-profit organization dedicated to advancing science for the benefit of all people.

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