In the fall of 2014 a persistent weather pattern in the northeastern Pacific stopped the normal upwelling of cold water from Alaska to California. Sea surface temperatures rose 7 degrees F.
When that happened, cold water nutrients and organisms stayed too far below the surface to feed the fish, birds and animals that depend on them. Species starved throughout the food chain including crabs, sea stars, salmon, Cassin’s auklets, common murres, and sea lion pups.
This month a similar weather pattern has created a similar temperature anomaly. NOAA says it already ranks as the second largest marine heatwave in the northern Pacific Ocean in 40 years — second only to “the Blob.” (see maps above)
If the weather doesn’t change soon, if the winds don’t pick up and stir the sea, then “The Blob” will be back again and it will be bad news for everything in the northeastern Pacific.
In June 2012 just before Tropical Storm Debby began to spin off of Florida’s Gulf coast, scientists tagged a loggerhead sea turtle with a GPS tracking device. Nicknamed Eleanor, she laid eggs on the beach and returned to the sea near Sarasota. Then the storm arrived.
Would the storm hurt Eleanor? They watched her for clues.
Before the storm Eleanor saved energy for her next egg-laying excursion by resting on the seabed and only moving when she surfaced for air.
When Tropical Storm Debby arrived, Eleanor was caught in it and swept north by its current. The storm churned for four days with sustained wind speeds of 65 mph. Eleanor was active the entire time.
Instead of resting she swam, dove, and surfaced. Amazingly, this used no more energy than she would have expended on producing 2% of her next set of eggs. Meanwhile the storm pushed her 62 miles (100 km) north of her nesting beach.
When the storm was over, Eleanor swam south, found her nesting beach, and laid her next clutch just 250 feet (75 m) from her last one.
The study concluded that tropical storms don’t pose much risk to adult sea turtles like Eleanor.
Unfortunately, as researcher Maria Wilson pointed out, “Sea turtle nests are extremely vulnerable to passing storms. The storm that Eleanor easily survived destroyed almost 90% of nests on the beach where she and several hundred other female turtles had laid their eggs.”
The study concluded that when it comes to protecting seas turtles we should focus on protecting nests and helping newly hatched turtles. We don’t need to worry about the adults. They can ride out the storms.
In the American West there’s a 3-inch long katydid called a Mormon cricket (Anabrus simplex) that cannot fly but it sure can walk.
We hardly notice Mormon crickets until millions swarm and march across the landscape, advancing more than a mile a day like a Biblical plague of locusts. Naturally scientists wondered what makes them do it.
A 2006 study discovered that the swarms are driven by hunger and fear. The crickets are hungry for protein and salt so they start to migrate, but the bugs are cannibals and will eat each other if they can. Those at the back of the pack pursue the front line to catch and eat them. Fear forces the crickets to keep track of their neighbors and constantly on the move.
Despite the danger from behind, individuals sometimes double back into the crowd. If enough of them do it the whole swarm changes direction. How does this happen? What signals such a change?
We concluded that the mechanism through which locusts agree on a direction to move together (sometimes with devastating consequences, such as locust plagues) is the same we sometimes use to decide where to live or where to go out: we let ourselves be convinced by those in our social network, often by those going in the opposite direction.
We don’t necessarily pay more attention to those doing the same as us, but many times [we pay more attention] to those doing something different.
Ragweed season officially began August 15 and runs through September. I’m not allergic to it, but those of you who are may want to know the enemy and learn how to avoid it.
First, a primer on what is NOT ragweed.
Goldenrod is not ragweed. Ragweed (Ambrosia sp. on left) is a wind-pollinated plant with green flowers on thin spikes. Goldenrod (Solidago sp. on right) is a bee-and-butterfly pollinated plant with yellow flowers in a feathery plume. Don’t worry about those yellow flowers. Goldenrod is not busy spreading pollen; it’s busy attracting bees.
Ragweed (Ambrosia genus) is a member of the Aster family native to the Americas but now spread to Europe. The most common species in Pennsylvania, common ragweed Ambrosia artemisiifolia, grows easily by the side of the road and in disturbed places. It doesn’t stand out.
Common ragweed’s female flowers are nearly hidden in the leaf axils and pollinated by the wind.
The male flowers are the ones to worry about. Perched on spikes, facing downward, and loaded with pollen, a slight tap is all it takes to release a cloud of pollen. Imagine what the wind can do!
A single plant may produce about a billion grains of pollen per season, and the pollen is transported on the wind. It causes about half of all cases of pollen-associated allergic rhinitis in North America. … Ragweed pollen can remain airborne for days and travel great distances, affecting people hundreds of miles away. It can even be carried 300 to 400 miles (640 km) out to sea
Viceroy butterflies (right) mimic monarchs (left) and queen butterflies (below) because monarchs and queens taste terrible.
According to the Batesian mimicry theory, viceroys resemble inedible butterflies to protect themselves from being eaten.
But what happens when there are no monarchs or queen butterflies around and the local predators learn that viceroys are safe to eat? The viceroys change their tactics.
A 15 year study in northern Florida — where queen butterflies don’t live — found that in the absence of queens the viceroys retain a chemical in their bodies that makes them taste sour. Thus they aren’t eaten. In fact they thrive.
One advantage of botanizing the same place over and over again is that you get to know what grows where. You remember a plant that draws attention in the spring, forget it in the summer when it’s boring, then notice it again in fall. Because it’s in the same location, you know what it is.
The identity of this dangling blue fruit was a puzzle until I remembered that it’s hanging from the fringetree that put on a floral show in May.
Interestingly, Miami has more to worry about from Greenland than from any hurricane.
On 1 August 2019 CNBC wrote, “The historic heatwave that scorched Europe last week has moved to Greenland, where it’s expected on Thursday to melt away 12 billion tons of water from the ice sheet and irreversibly raise sea levels across the world. … This week’s melt alone is estimated to permanently raise global sea levels by 0.1 millimeters.”
A measurable sea level rise in only one week?! NASA Goddard modeled the future of the Greenland ice sheet in the video below. If all of it melts, the sea will rise 80% more than we expected.
Miami should be especially worried about Greenland. Not only will it add a lot of water to the ocean but it’s location will force the water to rise even more in Miami due to uneven gravitational forces around the globe. Learn more about the relationship between location and sea level rise at Which Glaciers Will Flood Your City?
Watch out, Miami! Greenland is going to make a splash.