The anoxic coast of Oregon

Posted on August 30th, 2010 in Climage Change,ecology,Environment,Science by Robert Miller

A few weeks ago, my family and I took a vacation on the Oregon coast and found the weather to be refreshingly cool with the high temperatures in the low 60s and nights which often reached into the low 50s. Everyone understood that, in this region of the coast, the water, even in midsummer,  is too cold for normal swimming, such that the brave few who entered the water always did so in wet suits. So the most frequent form of beach activity reverted to that of waiting for low tide, at which time visitors ventured out along the rocky ocean beaches  to see the holdings of the many tide pools that were carved out of stone and stocked with invertebrates.  In that region, strong tidal forces plunge the Pacific ocean against the rocky coast which  submits by giving way to neatly carved  stone and sand tide pools that nestle along the beach and usually harbor a rich array of invertebrates.   Near the tide pools one could see photographers shooting scenes of starfish feeding on clams while unidentified, trapped  invertebrates scurried about for a place of safety or escape, usually just a high tide away. A tide pool is a microscopic world of violence, but everything seems to move in slow motion, beyond our tolerance to wait, watch or investigate more closely. Things in tide pools move as if marking with a geologic time scale. One would need the patience of an A.O. Wilson or Rachel Carson to gain an understanding of nature’s dynamics in the tide pool environment. Yet, one can’t help but feel some sense of security in knowing that life is abundant in the tide pool, that perhaps it’s a safe outpost of nature, seemingly untouched by man’s intrusion into the ocean ecosystems. But is that true? Maybe not!

Depth vs oxygen Levels along Oregon Coast

Fig 1. A description of this figure is found at the bottom of this posting

Recently I was reading about the Oregon coast and discovered that, since 2002, the region has experienced sudden periods during the summer months in which the shallow ocean water dramatically loses oxygen levels below those required to sustain normal marine life. The first occurrence of this event took place between Newport and Florence along the Oregon coast, and included Yachats, the small town where we stayed. Though I did not personally see any evidence of fish or invertebrate kills, these surges of hypoxic coastal ocean water take place further out in the shallow ocean water beyond the shores and are evident at depths up to about 50 meters or so: because of the intense wave action, tidal pools probably get effective oxygenation through wave aeration; its an excellent mechanism for mixing water and air and the Pacific ocean seems very adept at creating intense wave activity. I have always appreciated how much better the Pacific ocean is at generating large, strong waves when compared to its Atlantic cousin.

Self-evident stupidity?

Posted on August 6th, 2010 in Economy,Politics by Robert Miller

We all hope, that if for no other reason than that of promoting good mental health practices, we have some threshold mechanism operating out there in subliminal space, which serves to  separate useful public discourse, from the truly stupid ideas that get advanced periodically,  so that this imaginary “stupidity filter” keeps us from wondering whether some politicians are members of the same species.  But, however low we set the bar, members of the Republican Party find a way to gain national attention for really dumb or even dumber ideas that should have been expunged by the filter. When good elevating ideas get trumped by dumb ones, it seems like we all suffer as members of the human race, wondering whether some one of the more than 80,000 chemicals we have added to the environment didn’t finally get past the blood-brain barrier and lodge within the wrong place in the nervous system (hello Atrazine!). Instead of having our “Stupidity filter” prevent idiotic, unfettered ideas from reaching public attention and commanding an unavoidable level of discourse, the Republican machine finds a way of promoting really dumb ideas, very often coming from very dumb people. Topping the list for dumb, unfettered ideas this past week was another Republican whose budgetary genius grabbed its share of the public air waves and the naive, mainstream print media. No, it was not Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, but it could have very easily been her.  This week, however, we must take our hats off to U.S. Representative Paul Ryan, Republican (what else) of Wisconsin.

BP recruiting scientists in the Gulf to distort the picture

Posted on August 4th, 2010 in Culture,Science by Robert Miller

A disturbing, but not surprising report recently appeared in Inside Higher Ed, written by Carry Nelson, president of the AAUP who did a little investigative reporting on his own to chase down a story about how BP executives are recruiting scientists in the Gulf area who are likely to carry out research on the gulf oil spill. Scientists hired by BP cannot publish their findings until BP gives approval and may not publish them at all if their reports are damaging to BP’s interests. BP scientists cannot publish their work unless BP has access to it first and vets it for open distribution. Carry Nelson properly sees this behavior as a violation of academic freedom in which all scientists and all scientific knowledge of the spill should be available through open access and the concept of free information exchange; shared knowledge should follow the traditional rules of open access and transparency and should appear in peer-reviewed journals, not specialized oil and gas journals of dubious but certain motivation. Furthermore all knowledge generated by scientific studies should be available to the public and not purged through a BP filter, whose handling of such data will depend on their impressions about BP’s image. We should not allow scientific studies to become part of BP’s damage control. But, BP has done this before. By restricting as much scientific knowledge as possible, BP hopes to reduce its liability over long-term oil exposure and dispersant application.

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