Monday, March 30, 2009

Book Review: Two More Books about Polar Biomes

The two year celebration of research, discovery, and social studies of the globe’s Polar Regions comes to a close. International Polar Year 2007-2009 ends March 31st. Educators and Research teams from the around the world ramped up efforts to learn as much as we can about the ends of the earth before they are changed forever by climate change.
This will be my final book review dedicated to IPY.

Title: Scary Creatures of the Arctic
Author: Penny Clarke
Publisher: Scholastic

The Arctic is a very cold and windy place, but it is teeming with life. For thousands of years the plants, animals, and people have managed to get what they need from this harsh climate by paying attention to the patterns. Presenting a combination of photographs and illustrations the book shows us arctic landscapes, wildlife, and the people who live on top of the world and how they survive. This is a perfect introductory ecology book about this biome for third-fifth graders.

Title: Ookpik: The Travels of a Snowy Owl
Author: Bruce Hiscock
Publisher: Boyds Mills Press

The author recounts the life and aim to survive of an Ookpik, the Inuit word for snowy owl. This hardy species of owl lives all-year in the Arctic, hunting in open areas and in day light. But if food resources become limited they are known to migrate some seasons. They fly south to Canada and New England. This is the story of an ookpik who spent a winter in the Adirondack Mountains of upper state New York. Much to the delight of bird watchers, that owl spent the winter in a local town and farming community reaping the benefits of abundant mice, voles, hares, and small birds. It is a delightful book with beautiful watercolor illustrations.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Diversity in Science – Celebrating Women Achievers in Science.

The second installment of the Diversity in Science Carnival has been posted at Thus Spake Zuska. I am very happy so many people continue to participate in the effort. But can you believe it; I failed to write my post in time. However, I have a post-addendum contribution to Women Acheivers of STEM: Past and Present.

Today, I honor Dr. Roger Arliner Young. The name might sound masculine; she was indeed a woman, in fact the first African-American Woman to earn a doctorate in Zoology. While an unlikely undergraduate science student, she was mentored by Ernest Everett Just, a prominent Black zoologist at the turn-of-the-other-century and for anyone familiar with African-American Black Greek lettered organizations, a co-founder of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.

Dr. Young’s story is interesting to me because I find myself particularly drawn to historical science leaders with whom I share an academic connection in this case an African-American woman who studied zoology. Her ground-breaking work was with paramecium and cells and in marine ecosystems. She is also the first African-American woman to publish in the journal Science. However, her scientific career was fraught with challenges. Her grades as an undergraduate student were unimpressive, but she was obviously brilliant. Her many mentors, prominent scientists at the time and white men saw past her grades and her life issues – she was caring for an invalid mother and had some mental instabilities. Initially she was enrolled in the doctoral program at the University of Chicago (1929) – the same institution Charles Henry Turner attended. However, she failed her qualifying exams – an important exam in Ph.D. programs. She was embarrassed and disappeared. Years later, she re-surfaced taught at Howard University, her alma mater. However, things began to go sour there, too. She was dismissed from her position in 1937, but this time she turned the tables in her favor. She used the time to try for her Ph.D. again and was successful. She received her degree in 1940 from the University of Pennsylvania.

She continued to research and teach, but moved a lot from institution to institution. Eventually her mental distress got the best of her and was hospitalized. Though she never experienced any big fanfare and success, she is very much a real Woman Achiever and Science Hero of mine. Her life is a personal testimony that hardships are not permanent barriers. That even the most ‘unlikely’ students can sometimes possess impressive scientific minds. Science is staffed by real people, sometimes fragile people who live with their imperfect lives. I realize that my slowly moving dissertation meter and the life issues I confront daily are a part of life but it that doesn’t mean I can’t accomplish my goals. I sometimes feel a little sad for myself because I am the last of my cohort who has yet to graduate. Even students who started years after me have defended and moved away and I am still here. I feel lonely and disappointed. But then I think, yes, I’m still here. I’m sticking it out. Yes, it is taking me longer, much longer, to finish than I or any of my professors intended, but like Roger Arliner Young, I am finishing. And it doesn’t matter it how long it takes. It is her indomitable spirit that I channel today and everyday and I near completion of my dissertation; and when it is complete I will dedicate it to her memory.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Wordless Wednesdays: Mole Hills

Here is a sure sign of subtarrean life - soft mounds of dirt and mud means none other than moles!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Book Review: Ice Bears

International Polar Year is drawing to a close and I am still commemorating the occasion with posts dedicated to polar ecology.

Title: Ice Bears
Author: Brenda Z. Guiberson
Illustrator: Ilya Spirin
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company

So far, this book is my early favorite for the Outstanding Children’s Book Award in Animal Behavior for this year. The author accurately describes the behavior of polar bears, focusing on a mother-twin cubs unit. The illustrations supplement the narratives. I especially like how the author uses onomatopoeia to describe some of the animal behavior like nursing and vocalizations between mother cubs. Because of the endangered nature of this species, the book serves as a perfect example of how the fields of animal behavior, ecology, and conservation blend together to help us understand how species interact with each and their environment. And be sure to check out the Arctic Ice Report following the story proper. It summarizes the state of the polar bear and other polar animals to climate conditions of the arctic region. Ice is an important environmental condition that North Pole animals like the polar bear, seals, caribou, fish, and foxes require. The need each other and they all need the ice to survive.

It’s not too late to make your voice heard. Sign the Center for Biological Diversity’s petition to save the polar bear and bring awareness of the need to protect the habitat of other polar wildlife.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Wordless Wednesday: St. Patrick's Day

Clover grass
And don't forget that today is International Polar Day celebrating Polar Oceans.
Here are some links to some stories from the National Science Foundation about the polar regions.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Book Review: Polar Worlds

This month marks the end of a two year journey of exploration, discovery, wonder, and advocacy. March 31st marks the end of International Polar Year (IPY) 2007-2009.

In fact, Wednesday, March 18, 2009 is International Polar Day celebrating Polar Oceans. The ocean or marine ecosystem is a very important part of the polar biome. The animals of the polar regions - both the north and south poles - depend on a variety of seafood species for nutrition - such as krill, fish, ocean birds, and ocean mammals. The polar food webs are complex and interesting. And a perfect text for IPY and International Polar Day - Polar Ocean is this book.

Title: Polar Worlds - Life at the ends of the earth
Author & Illustrator: Robert Bateman
Publisher: Scholastic/Madison Press

I became a fan of Robert Bateman when I read his book Birds of Prey. He is a very talented artist. All of this sketches and painting of the Arctic and Antarctic animals look very life-like, more like photographs than paintings. The book gives a very thorough introduction to all of the types of animals that call the Arctic and Antarctic home. Though both of these polar regions are cold and remote, they are very different from one another.

The Arctic region has been inhabited by people for many thousands of years. The people of these many northern nations have had to survive the cold and depend on animals such as the polar bear, caribou, sheep, whale, and water birds for food, clothing, and fuel.

The Antarctic hasn't had permanent human settlements, but human impact has been strong for a few hundred years. Sailing and whaling were once very important industries in the southern polar regions. But thanks to protective laws the oceans of the Antarctic region are now protective and refuge area for sea animals, especially whales. Bateman introduces readers to the many bird and seal species that call the South pole and its waters home.

What I especially like about Bateman's artistry is his ability to accurate portray animal anatomy. With his pen and colors he captures the shape and movement of animals very well. I also enjoy his very-easy to read text. This book is intended for young reader, intermediate school grades, he can also maintain the attention of adults, too. It's a great science book for your school or home library.

Plus, as I mentioned during Week of the Blue, marine habitats and animals are in serious jeopardy. I enjoy learning about nature and animals and I love sharing what I learn with you. I hope I also inspire in you a desire to make our world a better ecosystem for all - humans and wildlife. I hope you join with me to help protect the endangered polar bear. Encourage the United States Secretary of the Interior, (the government department responsible for protecting our common heritage resources) -Ken Salazar to put into effect regulations to provide the polar bear the legal protections it needs to survive. This is a perfect community service activity for celebrating International Polar Day - Polar Oceans. After all, polar bears depend on the polar oceans for survival.

Click here to find out more and sign the petition.

Thank you.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Beware the Ides of March - Keep your eyes open

Keep your eyes open for what?
For all of the nature that is beginning to emerge, sprout and bloom because spring is near.

Phenology is the study of timing of natural events. I'm always encouraging you to go outside and observe nature, now I'm also asking you to jot down notes of your observations (if you don't already).

Science and nature watching organizations depend on great nature-loving watchers like you to keep their data bases up-to-date. Plus, your observations help scientists determine if there may be some changes in plant and animal winter and spring transitions changes due to climate change. Remember, nothing we know about the natural world in science comes to our knowledge without lots of information to support the idea (hypothesis). So open your eyes and report your results.
The Museum of Science (Boston, Massachusetts) celebrates a second year of Firefly Watching. April 11 is Firefly Day.

Join the Firefly Watch Brigade. Observe fireflies in your hometown and report your observations to the Museum of Science database.
The National Phenology Network is an online community of scientists and citizen scientists. Join as we all catalogue our plant observations. Hat tip to Kim Hannula.
Photo by Alecia Hoyt

And please leave me a comment and let me know what you're seeing (and when) in your backyard. Keep having Urban Science Adventures! ©

***Update: Later today, 4:30 pm. Look what I noticed blooming in my frontyard.***

Plus other signs of bloom.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Week of the Blue: What's next for the Blue Whale?

The show airs again Sunday, March 15, 2009. But what happens next? What can we do to help the Blue whale and the very much threaten marine ecosystem. Can there be a balance between human needs and nature? Must we always be in conflict?

For example, how does import and export of goods across the ocean impact wildlife. As the show detailed, it does, but we're not sure of exactly how deep the impact is. The special also introduced many of us to cultures that consume whale meat. How does the consumption of seafood products - including fish and shrimp impact marine ecosystems.

I hope it is becoming apparent to you that everything in this world is connected. Nothing we do is without consequences. As ecologists often say, there are downstream effects. I do know that nothing positive happens with out knowledge. The television special was just the first step in learning more. The next move is ours.

I've put together a list of web resources to help you in your research.Many of these links come from the books I recommended to you earlier this week. (Great books,huh?)
American Cetacean Society - hear sounds of beluga whales
National Geographic Animal Pages
Cornell University Macaulay Library of Animal Sounds - Marine Collection
Ocean Research and Conservation Association

Finally, Cathy Preston, a graduate student in marine conservation at the University of California San Diego interested in Marine Policy and Conservation. Part of her research project is about sustainable seafood practices. Sustainable seafood practices might be one of the ways to balance human and nature conflicts. Her research involves asking people about their seafood consumption and choices. She has an online survey that you can fill out and only takes a few minutes. As a fellow graduate student and scientist, I know how hard it can be to get enough data. I am asking all you, my very lovely readers to participate. Here is the link to the survey.

Thank you very much.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Week of the Blue: Feeding at Sea

In the Kingdom of the Blue Whale, the researchers came across a dead blue whale while at sea. The tell-tale signs of death were all-around. The floating bloating body of the dead whale. The circling and squawking scavengers from the sky - in this case sea gulls. Finally, the feeding frenzy of blue sharks in the ocean. Death is never a pleasant sight or smell in any natural environment; however it is a part of the life cycle and the food cycle.

Dead animals provide a valuable bulk source of nutrition to the remaining animals in the food web. Meat is a very valuable source of protein, on which the sea gulls and sharks were partaking. And had the whale sank to the ocean floor, which normally happens, a frenzy of other animals would have had the opportunity to feast as well. Though the death and location of a whale is completely random, in fact there are thousands of organisms large, small, and microscopic who greatly depend on them.

However, the dead whale from the special washed up on shore. In fact, the special showed another blue whale that had washed up on shore after death. Though sea gulls and other land animals willing and capable of feasting on the whale, it won't be handled nearly as efficiently as it would have been had the carcass remained out at sea. When a dead whale washes to shore, usually people have a hard time dealing with the sight and especially smell of the decomposing animal. In urban areas this is a big problem. As a result, teams of people come to assist. Though it was sad to see the dead baby whale (which had been born to soon from the shock of its mom's death), scientists now know more about fetal and baby blue whales.
This is a great opportunity for researchers to collect samples or learn more about whale anatomy. For example the researcher interested in whale hearing behavior was able to collect an intact whale ear bone structure. Her research in whale ear anatomy may prove beneficial in helping us understand how whales make and receive sounds - from each other and the huge shipping vessels that cause whale death.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Wordless Wednesday: Blue Oceans, Blue Skies

It's Wordless Wednesday, Week of the Blue style, so it's also a Watery Wednesday.
I'm still celebrating all things marine and including a little urban marine ecology, too.
These pictures are from my trip to Florianopolis, Brazil to the International Ethological Conference (IEC) in 2003.

This is an aerial shot of Miami, Florida (USA). As one of the nation's largest cities, this coastal city is a typical urban marine ecosystem.

Florianopolis is actually an island, surrounded by beaches of the Atlantic Ocean.

A view from the center of the moderately populated town, the ocean is in the background.
Can you see it?A better view of the ocean.
I stayed in a lovely little pousada, appropriately named, Villa of the Water (translated).

This is the view from my door at the pousada. The ocean was literally only 2 blocks away.

The very cold waves crashes. It was August, and that is winter time in the Southern Hemisphere.
The island is connected to other half of Florianopolis and mainland Brazil via the Hercilio Luiz Bridge planned by Gustave Eiffel, yes, the same man who designed the Eiffel Tower in Paris (which I hope to visit at my next IEC Conference later this year).
A view of the mainland metropolis city of Florianopolis.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Kingdom of the Blue Whale

I watched the show with excitement and anticipation, both nights. But each time a close-up of a blue whale was on the screen, I tilted my head in an effort to comprehend the position and orientation of the whale.

Am I the only who looks at the blue whale and thinks, "Is it swimming up-side down?"
But it isn't. The picture (above) is of a blue whale swimming right-side-up, belly down. The thing is I have a bit of sensory bias.

When I compare the blue whale to aquatic animals I do know, there are some differences in body features. First, the fish I am familiar with have backs that are typically rounded out and the bellies are flat.

Second, the facial features of blue whales are assembled very differently than other animals, land animals, I know. Imagine the mouth is the horizontal line that divides the face into top and bottom parts. In animals like mice, birds, and dogs, you encounter the nose, eyes and top of head, in that order.
Below the mouth are the chin and lower-jaw. The top half of the face tends to be bigger than the bottom half. I call this the top/bottom face ratio.
Like other marine mammals, the whale's nostrils (nose) is located on the top of the head. The eyes are to the side, but are still above the mouth. So, everything is still on its 'proper' side of the horizontal line but moved around. But the top/bottom face ratio is completely the opposite. Blue whales have a very large bottom half of the face. This combined with the flat back are the reasons why the blue whale look up-side down to me.

But think about it, that larger bottom jaw on the blue whale comes in handy. These guys are big eaters; they can consume approximately 8000 lbs of krill a day. They need those big, fleshy jaws to scoop up as much water an krill as they can.

I commend the producers of the show for using quality film footage and three-dimensional animated graphics to detail the life and perils of the blue whale. I certainly learned about their behavior and natural history, but it seems so did the research team. Despite being the largest animal in world, we know so little about this great creature. Even the teams of scientists are trying to put the pieces together. And that's exactly what National Geographic shows us. They give us a front row seat to the scientific process. As I sometimes tell students, science is a verb --it's what you do. Through the special, we witnessed these teams of scientists in the field and the lab doing science - the waiting, the measuring, the collecting, the stalking, the re-measuring, more waiting, observing, collecting, and observing some more. Science is laborious and many times we come back with nothing. it can be sad deflating at time.

However, it makes the success of getting data even sweeter. I was so enthralled with the progression of the story that I was as excited as the scientists were when they began to meet their research benchmarks.
1. They confirmed that these animals feed all year in the tropical oceans. This was confirmed, the way all mammalogists confirm it - they collected whale poop.
2. They observed what seemed to be very convincing signs of courtship behavior among adult whales. This would suggest that those tropical waters are also important for mating.
3. They observed a baby blue whale with its mother. Capturing this infant on film was historic. I must confess, I was disappointed to not have seen the live birth, but the 3-D animation sufficed my curiosity. Again, this provides evidence that these warm seas near Costa Rica are indeed an important habitat for the conservation of this species.

It was an awesome film and it completely met my expectations. Thanks, Nat Geo!

Monday, March 09, 2009

Week of the Blue Book Review - Whales and Oceans

I have two interesting children's science books on my shelf that are perfect for the Week of the Blue tribute to Marine & Ocean Biology.

National Geographic The Kingdom of the Blue Whale television program gave all of us land-locked regular people a chance to experience the life of marine researchers - on the sea and in the lab (or hotel room lab). Hey, scientists are clever and adaptable people. Like you, we make do with the resources we have.

So, immediately after the program, I cracked open my Ocean and Marine Wildlife Books and starting reading.

Title: Face to Face with Whales
Authors: Flip and Linda Nicklin

This was truly a beautiful coincidence to have a book about whales from the same organization that brought us this television special. What I enjoyed the most was how the authors come right out and talk about whale behavior. In fact, they introduce us to two Whale Behavior Biologists - Jim Darling and Jonathan Gordon. The authors, Flip and Linda Nicklin, have spent a lot of time on whale research boats and have captured some amazing photographs of whale all kinds of whales - Narwhals, Belugas, Sperm Whales, Humpbacks, Minkes, Fin Whales, and the star of the show Blue Whales. This trade book is very easy to read and a great follow-up to the television program. Like the show, it includes references to conservation issues and concerns for all whale species and offers suggestions for how each of us can make a difference.

Title: WOW! World's of Wonder Ocean Life
Author Carolyn Franklin

Like the previous title, this was also a great follow-up read to the television show. The book introduces younger readers to marine wildlife from the deep dark ocean to the sandy shores. I give the book thumbs up for being very inclusive - it describes and illustrates plankton, all kinds of squirmy wormy and wool invertebrates, fish - small, medium, large, and extra-large, the plant life and algae, cephalopods, corals,the reptiles birds and mammals, and the sessile organisms like barnacles, starfish and anemones. The book features factoids about ocean life and ecology, particularly food chain relationships among all of the sea creatures. It is also very colorful. I was distracted by it, but I bet the school kids will love it. The book even includes a True & False question about the Mightily Beloved Blue Whale - Does it eat up to 7,900 pounds of animal plankton a day? Tick, tock. After watching the special you should able to answer that. If not, you can cheat a little here.

Now, if you missed the show on Sunday, then don't despair. It airs again tomorrow, Tuesday, March 10, 7 pm central time on the National Geographic Channel.
Check it out!

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Week of the Blue kickoff: Kingdom of the Blue Whale

Tonight, Sunday, March 8, 2009 at 7 pm (central time) National Geographic Channel will air The Kingdom of the Blue Whale. I'm very excited about this special. It marks the culmination of research and filming efforts to record the habits and movements of the world's largest animal - ever!

Whales are amazing! Large, complex, social, sensitive. I've been on whale watching tours, twice, before and each time I saw nothing - no spray, no breach, no fin, not even a good wave of water.
But still I go out of my way to get the chance to be close, to see or hear them or feel the spray of salty water.

There is much buzz about this special, Madhu at Reconciliation Ecology and Kevin Z at Deep Sea News actually pre-screened the show. Lucky devils. But I'll be watching it tonight like most you all. Sorry for everyone who doesn't have the National Geographic Channel as apart of their cable package. That really sucks. If I knew how, I'd let you splice my line Miriam. I've been rather envious of the marine bloggers lately, and now this. Darn, they sure are cool. So I'm completely switching cafeteria tables this week and hanging out with the super-cool Marine and Ocean Bloggers this week. I'll blog about Marine Biology & Ecology this week. (Plus, you all know how much I love a theme).

It's a chance for me to practice 'academic diversity', stretch my mind and present other interesting and equally valid examples of Urban Ecology. Coastal cities, harbors, shipping towns, and fishing towns are equally urban and marine. I haven't spent much time in such areas, but what little I have experienced, I will share with you. So get ready for the Week of the Blue!


The Official Show Liner

Supported by the National Geographic Society, the world's eminent blue whale scientists embark on a revolutionary mission: They'll find, identify, and tag California blue whales, use the DNA samples to confirm the sex of individual whales, then rejoin the massive creatures' stunning migration when they collect at a chimera known as the Costa Rica Dome. These experts have observed, firsthand, courtship behavior among the whales at the moving mass of krill and currents 500 miles off the coast of Costa Rica. Now, they hope to find and record the Holy Grail of blue whale science -- the breeding and calving grounds of the biggest mammals in the sea.

Come back this evening and I'll post my reaction to the program...

My quick reaction...I was GREAT. I loved how the program shared the scientific experience with the audience, the questions, the hypotheses, the methods, the waiting and getting nothing, the interpretation, and re-intepretation of results. It was great. I will get more detailed on in later posts.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

March: Celebrating Women Who Made History in Science

Happy Women's History Month!

The Diversity in Science Carnival will continue to celebrate the people of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and share their stories of triumph, success and perseverance. Last month's inaugural carnival celebrating Black History Month was a success. Science Bloggers and Education Bloggers really came through. Plus there was participation from literary and business blogs. We really hope blogs from every genre feel welcome to share their stories of Women Achievers in STEM- Past and Present! This is a great time to learn and create a new online community.

Pictures of some Amazing Women Scientists I know.

This month's carnival is hosted by the ever wonderful and examining, Zuska of Thus Spake Zuska. Get your post ready. Introduce us to an inspiring, innovating and exciting woman in an STEM field - your own field or perhaps an influential STEM teacher you encountered in school, on a field trip to the zoo or museum or a mentor. Submission deadline is Wednesday, March 25, 2009 at midnight. Zuska will pour over the fabulous entries we submit and publish the 2nd Edition of the Carnival the next day (or so).

Submit here.

Also, if you need a little prompting, this is the Year of Science and this month's Theme is Physics and Technology. Being such a Life Scientist I often don't share nearly enough physical science with my blog readers. This is a perfect chance for me to practice a little 'academic diversity' and learn something new and share it with you, my readers.

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