Post-cruise update

It’s been quite sometime since I was on the DANCE research cruise, almost a year in fact!  And while I’m not involved in the project, I’ve gotten a few updates recently that may be of interest.

The DANCE project now has an official website!  If you are interested in the science behind the cruise, this is the place to start.  Alternately, if you are interested in viewing more pictures from the cruise, it is also a good place to start.

On the website, you will note that there aren’t a lot of presentations or publications at this point.  Remember how I mentioned that doing science can take a long time?  Well this is a good example.  Data from the cruise must be processed by different scientists, who all have other projects to work on and classes to teach.  Research results are shared among the group, more work is done, and eventually everything is written up and presented.  It can take a year or two before the first peer-reviewed research from the cruise is published.

Besides all the scientific publications, another important part of research is making it meaningful to the general public, which is you!  Basic research is a tough sell sometimes.  Scientists try to learn more about our oceans, and eventually that research may be applied in ways that better society, or, you know, save a city from rising sea levels.  But in the meantime, we have to convince you (and Congress) that spending money for knowledge is a worthwhile pursuit.

As part of the outreach for the DANCE project, Dan Tomaso, who was our on-board meteorologist, answered some questions about the cruise.  Check out his live, on-air interview here!

And if all this reminiscing about the good ol’ days of research cruising has made you nostalgic, you can browse posts and photos from that cruise using the Research Cruise category.


What can I do about climate change?

Last week I was invited to help lead a discussion after the movie Chasing Ice as the science expert.  In brief, it follows a photographer who documents changes in glaciers by setting up remote cameras, showing with astonishing visuals the retreat of many glaciers.  If you haven’t seen it, I strongly recommend that you do.  Not only does it have a good message, but the images are simply stunning.  (It’s currently on Netflix.)

The discussion after the movie was focused on local issues pertaining to climate change.  No surprise there – Norfolk is the second most at risk city from sea level rise in the US (the first being New Orleans).  I was a bit disappointed, as I know much more about Antarctica and ice shelves than about bike paths and public transportation effectiveness.

Then one brave soul (so glad she came!) told us that until this movie, she didn’t believe in climate change.  She was clearly reeling from the aftershock of having that huge revelation crashing down on her, and her first question was, “What can I do?”.

Honestly, I was a bit taken aback.  I’m exposed to climate impacts, trends, the latest research every day at work.  I’m surrounded by people who think about climate non-believers the same as gravity non-believers.  Belief means nothing – you’re still going to fall when you jump.

Supported by other experts in sustainability and environmental activism, I answered her as best I could.  But the question stuck with me.

What can I, one individual, do about climate change?

After stewing it over for awhile, and talking with other scientists, I came up with a list.  It’s not exhaustive, but its more than enough to get you started, and to get you thinking.


Change the way you think. You, as an individual, are primarily a consumer. And, as a consumer, you need to consider the entire life of the items you purchase to choose what best helps the environment. Take a bottle of shampoo for instance. The environmental cost of the shampoo includes the plastic manufactured to make the bottle, the extraction and combination of all ingredients, the fuel cost to ship it to your store, the dispersion of used shampoo into the water system, and the effort needed to recycle the bottle (or the landfill impact it has). That’s a lot for one product! Basically any step in the process from creation to destruction that uses energy has an environmental cost. Your goal is to choose things that minimize this cost.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.  Once you think about the environmental and energy cost of everything you buy, it can feel overwhelming.  The best way to overcome this is with the three R’s.  First, reduce the amount you buy.  Then, reuse what you already have.  Finally, if you can’t do anything else with it, recycle.  The order is key here.  If you focus on recycling and nothing else, you aren’t doing much good.  Recycling takes energy, reusing takes less, while reducing doesn’t take any extra at all.

Vote with your money.  As a consumer, the most power you have is in your wallet.  Companies take note of what you, your friends, and your neighbors buy.  They want your money, so if you won’t buy their products, they will change practices until you do.  Enough people voting with their money for environmentally friendly options can make a huge difference.  A good example is with organic bananas.  They used to be few and far between, and expensive, but there was enough demand they are now widely available at a normal banana price.

Do the research. In order to implement your now excellent plan of helping save the environment, you need to know specifics about companies and products to put your money and effort to the most good.  Start with the Environmental Working Group‘s databases of cosmetics, household cleaners, food, etc…  Then, google your favorite products, stores, and brands to find out how environmentally friendly they are.  Some will be rather mediocre.  Others will clearly be a no-go.  A select few will turn out to be pretty awesome.  Use this information to continually revise your shopping choices and make a difference.

Environmental activism.  Outside of your life as a consumer, you can participate in environmental activism.  Help clean up your local ecosystem.  Lobby local politicians to make your city or town greener.  Just spend some time chatting with your friends and neighbors about what you know and what they can do too.  Always make informed decisions, especially when “fixing” the environment.  In some cases the help you contribute can cause more harm than good.  For example, well-intentioned volunteers saving wildlife from an oil spill along a coast may inadvertently trample and destroy the habitat, when, given time, it would have eventually recovered on its own.

Take baby steps!  The final, and most important point.  You can easily burn yourself out trying to do too much for the environment.  Every little bit helps, but if you take on too much at once, get stressed out, and give up, that doesn’t help you or the planet.  Do what you can, as you can.  Let little steps become easy habits and then move on to do more.  Don’t be overwhelmed by those who eat and breathe eco-friendliness.  They weren’t born that way – they had to figure it out or be taught, just like you.

What’s the first thing you would recommend to someone who had never considered climate change before?  Where should one start when saving the planet?

Blue Crab Bowl 2015

Earlier this month, I spent all day Saturday on my feet, telling high schoolers to be quiet.  Maybe not my first choice on how to spend a weekend day, but it was all for a good cause.

Every year, in February, my university and another institution band together to host the Blue Crab Bowl.  It’s a high school trivia contest focused on all aspects of the ocean sciences, from physics and biology to marine technology and politics.  Teams from different high schools in the area come to compete in our regional bowl.  The winners are sent on to the national competition, the National Ocean Sciences Bowl, held this April in Ocean Springs, MS.

Match officials look on as two high school teams compete in the Blue Crab Bowl.  Source

To us, this competition is more than just another type of high school trivia games.  In most high schools across the US, students are not offered any courses on ocean sciences.  They can graduate without any understanding of the environment.  By holding the Blue Crab Bowl every year, we help encourage students to learn basic knowledge about ocean sciences and work to decrease the national gap in environmental studies.

Of course, our hope is that the students who participate will stay interested in the ocean and go on to have ocean-based careers.  Even if they don’t, we’ve helped prepare them for careers in any STEM subject (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics), and increased their basic understanding of science.

Check out the NOSB website and our local BCB website and Facebook page to learn more about the competition and see more pictures.

And, if you are up for a challenge, take this quiz!  It’s based on past ocean science competition questions.  How much do you know about ocean sciences?