Kevin Blakely's

Phytoplankton in big decline

In Misc. Information on 08/04/2010 at 12:42 PM

Tiny creatures form base of food web in world’s oceans

Despite their tiny size, plant plankton found in the world’s oceans are crucial to much of life on Earth. They are the foundation of the bountiful marine food web, produce half the world’s oxygen and suck up harmful carbon dioxide.

And they are declining sharply.

Worldwide phytoplankton levels are down 40 percent since the 1950s, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature. The likely cause is global warming, which makes it hard for the plant plankton to get vital nutrients, researchers say.

The numbers are both staggering and disturbing, say the Canadian scientists who did the study and a top U.S. government scientist.

“It’s concerning because phytoplankton is the basic currency for everything going on in the ocean,” said Dalhousie University biology professor Boris Worm, a study co-author. “It’s almost like a recession … that has been going on for decades.”

A half-million datapoints dating to 1899 show that plant plankton levels in nearly all of the world’s oceans started to drop in the 1950s. The biggest changes are in the Arctic, southern and equatorial Atlantic and equatorial Pacific oceans. Only the Indian Ocean is not showing a decline. The study’s authors said it’s too early to say that plant plankton is on the verge of vanishing.

Virginia Burkett, the chief climate change scientist for U.S. Geological Survey, said the plankton numbers are worrisome and show problems that can’t be seen just by watching bigger more charismatic species such as dolphins or whales.

“These tiny species are indicating that large-scale changes in the ocean are affecting the primary productivity of the planet,” said Burkett, who wasn’t involved in the study.

When plant plankton plummet — as they do during El Niño climate cycles — sea birds and marine mammals starve and die in huge numbers, experts said.

“Phytoplankton ultimately affects all of us in our daily lives,” said lead author Daniel Boyce, also of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. “Much of the oxygen in our atmosphere today was produced by phytoplankton or phytoplankton precursors over the past 2 billion years.”

Plant plankton help keep Earth cool. They take carbon dioxide — the key greenhouse gas — out of the air to keep the world from getting warmer, Boyce said.

Want to learn more about Phytoplankton?

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NATURE ON IT’S OWN

In Editorial on 05/04/2010 at 4:33 PM

Over 600 species are at risk thanks to oil contamination.

By Gary Hart
University of Colorado

One of the perennial questions we ask ourselves is whether all of nature is there for us to use and then discard or whether mankind owes a debt to nature. Many humans do have an instinct to personalize the natural world in the form of Mother Nature and to see the planet as a complex living thing… the so-called Gaia outlook. Questions like this are usually raised when a man-made disaster, such as the current Gulf of Mexico oil catastrophe, occurs.

When we, and much of the world, were agrarians, we took better care of our natural surroundings. We needed the land and water for nourishment and the air for breath itself…and we still do. But we continue to pay a heavy price for a century and a half of industrialization, much of it pursued as if the land, water, and air were free goods that would have to somehow heal themselves or that we would leave to our children to clean up. The industries that poisoned the waterways, soil, and air were almost never around to pay for the damage.

As there are born liberals and born conservatives, I’ve come to believe that some of us have an instinct to protect nature and some do not. Barring some magical transformation of human nature, that will probably always be so. But, as mankind makes war on nature as we are now doing in the Gulf, little is heard from the “drill, baby, drill” crowd, so willing to take risks at nature’s expense recently. And the president, himself recently converted to off-shore drilling, is now having second thoughts.

As, in a more perfect world, it would be civilized and mature to hold public discourse without the screams and finger-pointing of the day, so it would be helpful if to no one else but future generations and Nature herself to take into account the damage we so casually do in order to drive inefficient vehicles and burn lights in empty rooms.

For a time, as after Exxon Valdez, we will look with sorrow at the oil-coated birds and beaches and sympathize with the out-of-work fishermen. “How’s that drilly, oily stuff workin’ for ya’ these days,” no politician will cutely ask. But, not long thereafter, “drill, baby, drill” will return, and with it the scorn for those who think we all might owe Nature a little more respect.

Aquarium Therapy for Human Health

In Did you know? on 04/01/2010 at 12:24 PM

In addition to the joy, entertainment, and companionship many animals provide, it has been known for years, that animals can provide many health benefits to humans. Studies have shown that animals can increase longevity after heart attacks, lower cholesterol, and even predict seizures in people. Similarly, studies have found that watching fish in aquariums has many therapeutic effects, including: a notable and beneficial decrease in blood pressure, pulse rate, and muscle tension. In a study of patients awaiting dental surgery, it was found that aquarium watching was as effective as hypnosis, in reducing anxiety.

Purdue University researchers conducted an extensive study, which found that exposing Alzheimer’s patients to tanks of brightly colorful fish and corals, may curtail disruptive behaviors and improve eating habits. Generally, it is difficult to keep these patients calm, attentive, or awake long enough for them to eat adequately, resulting in a need for costly nutritional supplements and medications. However, when aquariums were placed in the dining room of Alzheimer’s facilities, it appeared that the stimulating combination of color, sound, and the varying, gliding movement of the fish held their attention for a relatively long time. They were more relaxed, attentive, and alert, and ate up to 21% more. As a result of eating more, the patients required less nutritional supplementation. There was also a noticeable decrease in physically aggressive behaviors among the patients. For some, even short-term memory may have been stimulated.

Have you heard of dolphins helping children with emotional disorders? Studies have shown that watching fish in an aquarium calmed children diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, ADHD. Virtually any aquarium, from large to small, will have a benefit. A large aquarium is wonderful, but if space is limited, a mini-aquarium will do the trick. Besides an aquariums obvious beauty (when well taken care of) fish tanks can improve your life in many other ways. When you come home from work, or when you finally put the kids to bed… prop your feet up and watch your fish swim serenely through your aquarium, watch the plants or the coral swaying rhythmically… relax and enjoy.

These are just a few examples, showing that in addition to both the educational and aesthetic benefits of aquariums, people who partake in aquarium keeping and aquarium watching, can reap health benefits as well.

For more on this check out this article on the science blog.

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