OCEAN 35 shares some intriguing environmental concepts: People in Maine are starting to eat invasive crabs; NYC is experimenting with old toilets to grow oysters; someone developed a thermal powered piston for controlling greenhouse ventilation and why has it taken so long to come up with edible six pack rings? You will also find breaking updates on previous articles: Bees; Hand Sanitizers and Plastic Microbeads. And we also took a closer look at the 1,000 year rainfall event in Louisiana. OCEAN is the environmental education publication of Safe Harbor Environmental Services. This newsletter is intended
for you, our readers and you have our permission to share it wherever you feel it may be useful. Gordon Peabody, Editor of OCEAN
OCEAN: RESEARCH ARTICLE
In September of 2013 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration observed thousands of walruses hauling out on a barrier island off of Alaska. On September 12th an estimated 1,500 to 4,000 individuals present and by September 27th there were approximately 10,000. While similar events have been reported, scientists say it is a recent phenomenon. Walruses generally use floating ice in the Chukchi Sea to rest while feeding at sea but due to recent climate change and melting sea ice, it is more difficult for them—and other species, such as polar bears—to find resting areas.
According to Physics Today sea ice has reached its lowest area measurements since it began being measured in 1979-with a 55% decrease (7.5 million square kilometers to 3.4 million square kilometers). While sea ice has previously been very thick, containing multiple years of accumulation, the current sea ice is much thinner, containing just ice from one season. The more transparent ice is much quicker to melt (Martin).
The effects on the individual walruses is varied and widespread. They will be exposed to more stress, depleted food levels, more energy will need to be expended to find prey, trampling caused by stampedes of spooked walruses and increased predation (Knowles). Disease also spreads much faster in populations that are overcrowded. There is evidence that certain mollusks, crabs and fish are moving northward and the shift in the food base is of a negative consequence for bottom feeders such as walrus and seal that prey on these species (Martin). The walrus is currently listed as a “Threatened” species and the increase of stressors they face may push it over the edge to “Endangered.”
Thank You to OCEAN Researcher Nicole Smith
For more information regarding the 2013 haul out, as well as previous ones visit NOAA at http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/newsreleases/2013/walrushaulout093013.htm.
Martin, Jeffries, et al. "The Arctic shifts to a new normal." Physics Today. American Institute of Physics. Web. 21 Jan 2014.
OCEAN: RESEARCH ARTICLE
This 2013 Pacific sea lion pupping season has been a dramatic one. Rehabilitation centers have been inundated with over a thousand emaciated and dehydrated pups since the beginning of 2013, making it a record year for rescuers. NOAA has declared this an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) and this is the 6th overall UME for California Sea Lions. According to NOAA, The Working Group on Marine Mammal UMEs lists 7 criteria to qualify something as a UME and an event has to meet one or more of these criteria to qualify as unusual:
- Marked increase in the magnitude or change in the nature of morbidity, mortality or strandings when compared to prior records.
- A temporal change in morbidity, mortality or strandings is occurring.
- A special change in morbidity, mortality or strandings is occurring.
- The species, age or sex composition of the affected animals is different than that of animals usually affected.
- Affected animals exhibit similar or unusual pathologic findings, behavior patterns, clinical signs, or general physical condition (e.g., blubber thickness).
- Potentially significant morbidity, mortality or stranding is observed in species, stocks or populations that are particularly vulnerable (e.g., listed as depleted, threatened or endangered or declining). For example, stranding of three or four right whales may be cause for great concern whereas stranding of a similar number of fin whales may not.
- Morbidity is observed concurrent with or as part of an unexplained continual decline of a marine mammal population, stock, or species.
This event most closely matches with item 1. above, however it likely qualifies under other criteria as well.
While the cause is currently undetermined, there are a few theories as to what is causing this mortality. The most publicized hypothesis is that due to less prey availability for these pinnipeds that the mothers are travelling further and for longer in search of food, making pups more likely to wander in search of their own sustenance. This is not only alarming for the health of the sea lion population but for the fisheries as well. Where did these fish go? What happened to cause such a drastic drop in population size? Answers to these questions are currently being sought out by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and two other organizations have already gained preliminary results to the driving force behind this mystery.
Researchers from Australian Antarctic Division and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) provide some insight to this conundrum whilst studying climate change in Antarctica. With global temperatures rising, there have been substantial changes to phytoplankton abundance, which is an integral source of food to fish and krill. They suggest that the trophic level have been and will be affected soonest, causing a chain reaction up the food chain from microorganisms to large cetaceans. This would be in agreement with what is being witnessed in California with less fish present for the sea lion population.
Thank You to OCEAN Researcher Nicole Smith
For more information on California Sea Lions and other UMEs visit this link:
"2013 California Sea Lion Unusual Mortality Event in California." NOAA Fisheries. NOAA, 30 May 2013. Web. 4 Oct 2013. http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/health/mmume/californiasealions2013.htm
Barlass, Tim. “Polar melt shakes up food chain.” The Sydney Morning Herald 7 April 2013. Web. 7 April 2013. http://www.smh.com.au/environment/climate-change/polar-melt-shakes-up-food-chain-20130406-2hdlx.html
Hillard, Gloria. “Starving Baby Sea Lions Flood Southern California Shores.” Npr.org 9 April 2013. Web. 9 April 2013. http://www.npr.org/2013/04/09/176586940/starving-baby-sea-lions-flood-southern-california-shores?ft=1&f=1001&sc=tw&utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter
Green Roofs may have been in use for thousands of years in Scandanavian countries. Birch bark waterproofing was used over a wooden roof and sod was placed on top of it to hold the birch bark in place. The natural oils in the bark maintained the water proofing.
Today's Green roofs used existing models as an end goal but needed to incorporate more flexible technology to accommodate changing architecture and materials.
Outer Cape Water Quality Initiative: ANOTHER METHOD OF PROTECTING OUR DRINKING WATER
Outer Cape Water Quality Initiative: How do grass and natural lawns affect water quality?
Pesticides seem an easy target, but they really direct us to a much larger picture.
Grass lawns don't need to be stigmatized as wrong or bad but perhaps a new balance can be considered between grass lawns and natural (indigenous vegetation) lawns. The Outer Cape's thin soil conditions are brutal, acid and nutrient poor. The natural indigenous vegetation, like the residents, seem to thrive on the weather abuse.
Grass lawns are usually seeded on top of six to eight inches of loam or topsoil. Fertilizers are added to stimulate growth and all sorts of seeds will be successful there. The leaves will be enriched, sending out chemical calling cards to insects. To reduce unwanted "weeds" herbicides may be used. To discourage insects, pesticides may be used. Frequent watering, additional fertilizers and continued use of pesticides and weed killer may be needed. Indigenous animals will find no familiar food or habitat there.
Natural (Indigenous) lawns can be seeded with conservation mix over an inch or two of indigenous compost (obtained free from local transfer stations). We usually rake the compost in a little, seed and then add a once inch layer of mulch (also free from transfer stations) to mimic natural soil profiles.
When transfer stations chip brush, branches and leaves, bacteria and microorganisms begin the decomposition process. The new material can be used as mulch and the dark final product can be used as compost. The benefit of using natural decomposition products is that they already have indigenous pH and nutrient content and host a full range of decomposers that keep on working. Keep the small chips and roots in the natural mix to protect natural diversity in the insect/decomposer community. This mix also welcomes indigenous volunteer seeds and will evolve naturally.
The benefits of natural systems include: creation of habitat for indigenous animals; natural erosion control (all grass creates runoff); naturally filters out sediment and excess nutrients with root/leaf stem systems; never needs mowing; never needs watering (except for the first growing season; never needs fertilizer; never needs pesticides; never needs herbicides. The benefits of natural lawn systems for our drinking water quality include: water conservation; pesticide free, herbicide free and fertilizer free.
A BETTER BALANCE BETWEEN NATURAL AND GRASS LAWN SYSTEMS WOULD ENHANCE CONNECTED HABITAT AND REDUCE CHEMICAL INFILTRATION INTO OUR DRINKING WATER.
OUTER CAPE WATER QUALITY INITIATIVE: UNDERSTANDING CHEMICAL TRANSPORT
If you have an interest in more detailed educational information and links regarding this topic, we have just published the booklet "Ground Water and Hydrophilic Chemicals".
Safe Harbor Environmental Advocacy Initiative
This water quality initiative advocates the protection of drinking water resources on the Outer Cape. We support educational programs that develop awareness of our aquifer, which is recharged through ground water infiltration. We also encourage collaborative local partnerships, between town boards and stakeholder groups and between Outer Cape communities, to investigate the social changes needed to reduce chemical infiltration and improve our ground water recharge systems. The following discussion points outline the basic goals of the initiative. 1. Drinking water sourced from areas where household waste is infiltrated should be identified as an areas for improvement, through education. 2. Drinking water sourced from areas where lawn and garden chemicals are infiltrated should be identified as areas for improvement, through education. 3. Reducing infiltration of known carcinogens. 4. Reducing infiltration of non-degradable pesticides. 5. Reducing infiltration of biocide cleaners. 6. Reducing infiltration of growth hormones. 7. Reducing infiltration of antibiotics. 8. Reducing infiltration of petrochemicals. 9. Reducing infiltration of nitrogen and phosphorus. 10. Developing reliable, full spectrum monitoring programs. 11. Developing alternative choices for household chemical products. 12. Developing retailer support for chemical product alternatives. 13. Reducing storm water runoff with effective ground water infiltration systems.
We encourage leaders in Outer Cape Towns to discuss and support these basic goals. Discussions should include concerned residents and the capable contributors found on Planning Boards, Boards of Health and Conservation Commissions. Protecting our drinking water resources from chemical infiltration is a common goal that can unite local groups and create regional partnerships.
We support regional environmental initiatives. These initiatives work to conserve financial resources as well as natural resources. Local and regional partnerships contribute to successful initiatives by more effectively participating in stakeholder interaction and education.
Safe Harbor, 2007 For more information contact Gordon Peabody at 508-237-3724, or firstname.lastname@example.org
Habitat Restoration Guide for Planting Vegetation on the Outer Cape
Safe Harbor’s Restoration Guide for the Outer Cape links native vegetation with specific habitats, exposures and height. Using site-specific vegetation for habitat restoration contributes to higher survivability. This “cookbook” style booklet makes choosing plants easier, by integrating numerous, earlier versions of planting lists. We are grateful to Howard Irwin for his review of this booklet.
Safe Harbor Environmental Services, 2012
Safe Harbor Environmental works with all forms of environmental permitting. Safe Harbor specializes in sustainable, coastal habitat restoration, using innovative, low cost strategies. Publications on our website that may also be relevant include: “The Dirty Dozen” Identifying and Managing 13 Invasive Plants on Cape Cod; “Steep Slope Stabilization”; and “Salt Spray Events and Coastal Vegetation” documenting the role Tropical Storm events in selecting sustainable coastal vegetation.
Safe Harbor publications may be copied, circulated, and shared for educational purposes only. This work may be cited but in no way should it be altered, transformed, built upon, or used as an endorsement of other work or for commercial purposes. Gordon Peabody, Safe Harbor Environmental, November, 2011
OUR HAITI WATER PROJECT: EXCERPTS FROM OUR PAST EFFORTS Why spend money shipping water to Haiti when we could be sending water filters so they could have their own clean water? Think sustainability...
We had several good reasons for sending water filters to Haiti: Cholera is spread through contaminated water; bottled water is heavy and very expensive to ship and the empty bottles are creating plastic mountains. People should not be compelled to beg for life giving resources. Will a $20.00 water filter change the World? probably not by itself but if we send enough filters to change a family, school, a church or a village into a more sustainable, safer place to drink water, we may begin attracting attention to a new strategy and changing one small corner of the World.
The filter our we researched and selected is affordable ($20) can provide over 40 gallons per day of drinkable water from puddles...for a year. With Haiti's shipping infrastructure in ruins, we had to create opportunities for church groups and relief workers to deliver the filters for us, directly to those in need.
For more specific information on these filters, already in use in Haiti and elsewhere in the world, use this link: http://www.justwater.me/
By Tessera Knowles-Thompson
Editor’s note: When one of our Researchers mentioned she was spending the summer in Iceland, we thought it would be interesting to have a researcher in place at this important Climate Change location, to collect anecdotal information from local fishermen and farmers about changes they were experiencing. As a further challenge, we asked Tess to see if any of the anomalies might be linked.
Crouching on the shore of Iceland’s Vatnsnes peninsula, I pick up a volcanic rock from the black sand, examine the vesicular texture and try to imagine the rapid transformation from molten lava to solid, igneous rock. Several arctic terns fly above; one dives at my head -- I duck to avoid the warning signal and I’m startled out of my geological reverie back into the present. Across the inlet, the corporeal mountain range -- absent arboreal growth -- appears to wrinkle here and stretch there along the horizon. In this moment, I am alone, I see no apparent signs of other human life, and I am filled with a sense of timelessness.[i]
ICELANDIC SURFACE CURRENTS
For the past couple months, I have been researching the impact of climate change in northern Iceland. More specifically, I have investigated the complex interplay between the atmosphere and ocean currents, and the possible effects of changing water temperature and salinity on Iceland’s ecosystems. Many changes are occurring, that is clear, but are they anomalies, or do they signal long-term trends?
The geographic location of Iceland makes it a particularly compelling case study. The Gulf Stream and Atlantic Drift Currents deliver warm surface waters to the region. As these waters are exposed to Arctic winds, they lose heat to the atmosphere and cool, becoming more dense and sinking. More warm surface water is drawn north as the denser water sinks. This process creates deep-water currents, which reappear in Tropical Oceans. This convective process is called the Thermohaline Circulation (THC). This heat exchange contributes to warmer climates in England and Western Europe, at latitudes similar to Siberia.
In recent years, influx of Greenland glacial melt water has raised concerns that lighter density fresh water blanketing denser, salt water, may alter ocean-atmosphere thermal exchange. This could prevent transition to the density required to sink into the deep currents.[ii] In Iceland’s Sixth National Communication and First Biennial Report under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change it is noted that: “deep water will be reduced when more fresh water is introduced to the Nordic seas because of melting of glaciers, thawing of permafrost and increased precipitation. With the time series available now it is, however, not possible to conclude that the flow of deep water is decreasing.”
Researchers in Iceland are particularly concerned with hydrographic variability, or the change in water temperature and salinity over a certain period of time, in the three main bodies of water surrounding the island – Atlantic water from the south, Polar and Arctic water from the Arctic Ocean and water from the Nordic Sea. Periods of increased/decreased temperature and salinity are associated with larger scale climatic variations, but since the mid-1990s, the continuous warm period has shown no signs of stopping. In the past 15 years, the waters in the south and west of Iceland have increased by 1–2°C. [iii] Because of this, certain trophic (feeding) interactions have been affected. Examining how the smallest creatures are affected by changes in their ecosystem is an important tool in understanding how those further up the food chain will react.
The decreasing number of sand eels, for example, is impacting populations of creatures further up the food chain, and because of this, fisherman, researchers and others who regularly pay attention to the presumably more valuable species, are taking note: “Increasing sea temperature and growing mackerel numbers around Iceland are having a direct impact on the collapse of sand eel populations upon which birds like Puffins and Arctic terns depend.”[iv]
Because fish contribute to a large portion of the economy in Iceland, it is not surprising that a vast majority of research is focused on the related ecosystems. With a 758,000-km2 exclusive economic zone, Iceland is the 19th largest fishing nation in the world.[v]
While working on a hostel on a farm, named Ósar for the inlets it overlooks, on a still day, I can see patches of dark water, which I’m told are large schools of mackerel. Knútur, the owner of Ósar, has called this land home since birth—as did the families of his father and his grandfather. He can trace his paternal lineage back to the first Norse settlers to arrive in Iceland thirty-two generations ago, between the years 874 and 930. As he says, things have changed in recent years. The most notable are those that have impacted the local economy. Mackerel, for instance, have gotten considerable attention recently because they were only spotted occasionally in Icelandic waters until the mid 1990s when the period of warming began. In 2007, mackerel was declared a regulated fishery in Iceland’s EEZ.[vi] Today, as noted above, they are now regularly found in large schools in the bay.[vii] The Icelandic fishing fleet uses about 200,000 tons of oil per year, and the diesel engines used by most boats release black carbon, which settles on the Arctic sea-ice. When this dark soot collects on these generally white surfaces, more heat is absorbed, leading to increased melt.
Paradoxically, the warming climate has extended the growing season in Iceland, making it possible for farmers to experiment with new crops—at least one of which could be converted into a viable alternative to diesel fuel. In 2008, the Icelandic Maritime Administration and the Agriculture University of Iceland began a project in cooperation with a handful of pioneering farmers to experiment with the cultivation of rapeseed. The oil extracted from Rapeseed (a variation of which is Canadian oil, better known as canola oil) can be converted into biodiesel, which “would mitigate the total emission of carbon dioxide from the Icelandic fishing fleet.”[viii] Knútur was one of the first to join the project, and successfully yielded 4.1 tons of 93 – 95% dry seed per hectare (~10 acres) at each harvest between 2008 and 2011.[ix]
[iii] Valdimarsson, H., Astthorsson, O. S., and Palsson, J. Hydrographic variability in Icelandic waters during recent decades and related changes in distribution of some fish species. – ICES Journal of Marine Science, doi:10.1093/icesjms/fss027.
[vi] Astthorsson, O. S., Valdimarsson, H., Gudmundsdottir, A., and O´skarsson, G. J. 2012. Climate-related variations in the occurrence and distribution of mackerel (Scomber scombrus) in Icelandic waters. – ICES Journal of Marine Science, 69: 1289–1297.
Because fish contribute to a large portion of the economy in Iceland, it is not surprising that a vast majority of research is focused on the related ecosystems. With a 758,000-km2 exclusive economic zone, Iceland is the 19th largest fishing nation in the world.[xi]
“The Arctic has experienced substantial and rapid changes in recent years [...]” the EU Arctic Organization ACCESS states, “These changes are most likely caused by a combination of natural variability of the high-latitude climate system, anthropogenic changes in the radiation balance and subsequently in atmospheric and oceanic heat transports, and feedbacks in the air/sea-ice/ocean coupled system.”[xii]
The climate system is incredibly complex, and so it is important to keep in mind the multitude of layers that exist. The model below serves as a reminder that nothing exists in a vacuum – everything, both anomalies and trends, are associated with these large-scale systems.
Lichens and moss both grow in abundance in Iceland. Lichens are “extremely versatile and often thrive in places where other vegetation has difficulty surviving”. Thus, lichens “account for an ever-greater share of mountain flora with increasing altitude, and lichens are often the first plants to colonise a freshly hardened lava field”. Some moss, I’m told, once trampled on, can take up to 100 years to grow back. [xxii]
Geological history proves that climate variations are natural, but with the unprecedented human activity of the post-Industrial Age, even the subtlest changes could signal a lasting trend. Therefore, the creatures (such as the sand eel) and plants (such as moss and lichen) most often overlooked deserve further investigation.
Without an immediate impact on our lives, or the lives of those directly connected to our web of compassion, this information remains just that: information to be filed away until another report makes headlines. The shock of a natural disaster often wakes us up, and some of us recognize the trends of increased regularity and proportions, but generally it is localized. Moreover, affected peoples and their allies remain preoccupied with the aftereffects, the immediate ramifications—mourning the loss of loved ones, rebuilding infrastructure, scavenging for or delivering food and water to those in need. Naturally, very few people pause to contemplate causes and connections to climatic events in faraway places. How could something that occurred thousands of miles away from us have an impact our lives? Even if we understand ocean currents, it is still a challenge to comprehend, let alone care enough to reflect on the ambiguous causes of these incidents, large and small, that are, perhaps, connected.
There are still many unknowns, and with the information we currently have available to us, we can make correlations, but clear causations are not yet possible. The trends, however, are indications that something has gone awry in the North Atlantic. Just like the drift current itself, the changes taking place are slow and, therefore, not easy to detect. Climate change in the Arctic is apparent, but the “drivers, evolution and ultimate impacts” remain unclear. [xxiii]
The more information we uncover about the ocean currents, the more prepared we can be for the changes that are to come. Regardless of the causes of the fluctuations in ocean temperatures, we need to know how this will affect us in the future. This includes the ways in which we are indirectly affected, which can only be understood by studying the impact that the changing climate has on the smallest of plants and animal species, and by the chain reactions that occur, ultimately leading up to us, humans.
Zofia Milligan Burr .“Climate variability, plankton and seabirds: a discussion on trophic interactions in the North Atlantic.” 2013. http://skemman.is/stream/get/1946/15673/37693/3/Zofia_Burr_L%C3%ADf38M_Final_Report.pdf
Steingrímur Jónsson. “Ocean Currents.” The Marine Research Insitute/University of Akureyri. Web. 20 July 2014. http://www.fisheries.is/ecosystem/oceanography/ocean-currents/
Ice News. “Iceland’s Sea Bird Stock in ‘Dismal Shape.’” Web. 28 June 2011. http://www.icenews.is/2011/06/28/icelands-sea-bird-stock-in-dismal-shape/
Strategic Environmental Impact Assessment of Development of the Arctic. “Climate Change in the Arctic.” Web. 15 June 2014. http://www.arcticinfo.eu/en/eu-arctic-impact-assessment-factsheets-climate-change
Strategic Environmental Impact Assessment of Development of the Arctic. “Changing Nature of Arctic Fisheries.” Web. 15 June 2014. http://www.arcticinfo.eu/en/eu-arctic-impact-assessment-factsheets-fisheries
Valdimarsson, H., Astthorsson, O. S., and Palsson, J. “Hydrographic variability in Icelandic waters during recent decades and related changes in distribution of some fish species.” ICES Journal of Marine Science 69 (2012): 816–825.
Iceland´s Sixth National Communication and First Biennial Report Under the United Nations Framework on Climate Change. Web. 14 July 2014.
[i] To be fair, I am due for an eye exam, so there is a possible discrepancy between what I see and what is actually there.
[ii] Strategic Environmental Impact Assessment of Development of the Arctic. “Climate Change in the Arctic.” Web. 15 June 2014. http://www.arcticinfo.eu/en/eu-arctic-impact-assessment-factsheets-climate-change
[vii] p. 1 Valdimarsson, H., Astthorsson, O. S., and Palsson, J. Hydrographic variability in Icelandic waters during recent decades and related changes in distribution of some fish species. – ICES Journal of Marine Science, doi:10.1093/icesjms/fss027.
Received 10 June 2011; accepted 17 January 2012.
[ix] Valdimarsson, H., Astthorsson, O. S., and Palsson, J. Hydrographic variability in Icelandic waters during recent decades and related changes in distribution of some fish species. – ICES Journal of Marine Science, doi:10.1093/icesjms/fss027.
Received 10 June 2011; accepted 17 January 2012.
[xiii] Hvitserkur is a plutonic rock, a sill from a long-ago volcanic eruption. The earth surrounding the rock has long since eroded, leaving this odd, stand alone formation.
[xiv] Astthorsson, O. S., Valdimarsson, H., Gudmundsdottir, A., and O´skarsson, G. J. 2012. Climate-related variations in the occurrence and distribution of mackerel (Scomber scombrus) in Icelandic waters. – ICES Journal of Marine Science, 69: 1289–1297.
Received 4 October 2011; accepted 4 April 2012; advance access publication 4 June 2012
[xvi] P. vii
[xvii] Knútur Óskarsson, email communication, September 10, 2014
[xxi]Rob Monroe, “What does 400 ppm look like?” Scripps Institute of Oceanography, December 3, 2013,
[xxiii] Strategic Environmental Impact Assessment of Development of the Arctic. “Climate Change in the Arctic.” Web. 15 June 2014. http://www.arcticinfo.eu/en/eu-arctic-impact-assessment-factsheets-climate-change