Tegan’s Science Notes #8: Glaciers

capt_dave_ac_125Dave Rearick: As promised, here’s the second half of our Glacier Report, the first part of which with my notes, photos and videos of my trip to Fox Glacier is viewable HERE!

Today’s follow-up post, from our Earthwatch Scientist, Tegan Mortimer summarizes much of what science has learned about glaciers. Tegan knows a lot about glaciers, so I encourage you to read on and learn more about this important subject.

And if you would like to share these learnings with those younger than yourself, be sure to check out our new (and easily printable) Explorer Guide on Glaciers - or engage Tegan or I with questions via email.

So, take it away, Tegan! 

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1. The Power of Ice: Discovering the Glacial Landscape

Tegan MortimerTegan Mortimer: Did you know that Charles Darwin was a geologist? Many of the thoughts in his most famous work, The Origin of Species were influenced by early discoveries in geomorphology - a field of science which tries to explain how landscapes change based on the pressures placed upon them. Ice is one of the greatest creators of landscapes. Just as Dave described the Great Lakes being carved out by glaciers in his previous post, in that same way was Cape Cod along with many other features of my native Massachusetts coastline also carved out by glaciers. When you really look closer, it’s possible to discover much of the history of a landscape by the way it looks today.

The photo below is of a place in North Wales called Cwm Idwal (in Welsh a “w” is a vowel and is pronounced like “oo”) in the Glyderau Mountains.

cwm_idwal_560Cwm Idal in the Glyderai Mountains of North Wales

Charles Darwin visited Cwm Idwal in 1831 to study the many fossils of ancient marine life that were found in its rocks. What they showed was that this land was once the bottom of the sea! For Darwin and his fellow geologists who were trying to show that landscapes could be shaped and changed in this way, these findings were so exciting that they somehow missed something even bigger!

It was another 10 years before Darwin returned to Cwm Idwal and this time he noticed the very obvious evidence of glaciation on the landscape. Cwm Idwal is what geologists call a “hanging valley” (alternately called a cirque, or a corrie or a cwm), which is the area from which a mountain glacier originates. Below Cwm Idwal, stretches a wide glacial U-shaped valley, which reaches all the way to current sea level. Cwm Idwal and the surrounding area are a wonderful example of “typical” glacial features.

2. How glaciers change the landscape

Glaciers and ice sheets form landscapes through two methods. The first happens when glaciers erode the landscape by scraping up the soil and bedrock after which they then deposit this material in other places.

NZ_scavenger_hunt_sidebarDepending on the type of rock that a glacier is moving over, different glacial features will be left behind. Soft rocks like sandstone or limestone are easily ground up by the pressure of the ice, while harder rocks like granite are usually eroded through a process called “plucking.” What happens here is that water from the glacier melts into cracks in the rocks which than refreezes. As the ice in the glacier moves, it plucks away pieces of rock which are then trapped in the ice. Water expands when it freezes and is capable of further breaking apart rocks in what is called “freeze-thaw weathering.

(:: For a fun sidetrip, explore Fox Glacier via Google Earth by clicking on this link or the image above!)

The second method of erosion results in a roche moutonnée or a whaleback, which is an area of exposed bedrock, which has a smooth gently-sloped side and a steep vertical side. The photo below shows a few roche moutonnées which are only a few feet tall, though it is possible to see very large ones as well. Based on the direction of the sloping and angle of the sides you can tell which direction the glacier was moving. Remember that fact, as it will come up again later. The sloping side is the direction the glacier was coming from and the ice grinds down that side of the rock. The steeper sided angle is the direction the glacier was going and here is where that process called plucking happens. The tops of roche moutonnées often have scratches called striations which are horizontal scape marks from the rocks and debris in the ice.

whaleback_535
Roche moutonnées

Crag and TailAnother erosional feature is called a crag and tail which is a tall hill usually with exposed rock and a gently sloping tail of softer rock behind it. In this case, the steep side of the hill is the direction that the glacier came from. The most famous crag and tail is Edinburgh Castle (pictured to the left)  in Edinburgh, Scotland. The crag in a crag and tail is an area of very hard rock, usually a volcanic plug which forms when magma cools inside the vent of a volcano creating a column of very hard rock. When the glacier hits this rock, it can’t erode it, so it is forced to flow around the plug like water flowing around rocks in a stream. The plug protects the softer rock behind it leading to the formation of the tail.

All that eroded material has to go somewhere, so it is that glaciers leave behind particular landforms made up of all that “stuff.” Sediment left behind by glaciers is usually called till, which is made up of sand and gravel and rocks of every size. Erratics are large rocks like the photo below which are left behind by a retreating glacier. Geologists study the mineral structure of erratics to learn where they come from and learn more about the behavior of glaciers and ice sheets.

erratic_560
An Erratic

Glaciers push up ridges of material which are called moraines. These ridges can be formed at the base of the glacier which are called terminal moraines or at the edges of the glacier which are called lateral moraines. Cape Cod and Long Island on the US east coast are areas which have a series of terminal moraines formed thousands of years ago by the Laurentide ice sheet. As a glacier retreats, it can leave behind a series of terminal moraines which reflect the extent of the ice at different periods. Sometimes meltwater from a glacier will be kept from exiting a valley by a terminal moraine and will form a lake.

3. Glaciers Today

So what exactly is a glacier? Dave explained it pretty well; a glacier is essentially a river of ice. A river of ice? Since you can’t see it moving, how can that be? The fact is that glaciers are always on the move. The immense weight of the ice in a glacier causes it to deform internally, which results in unstoppable movement. Gravity and meltwater underneath the glacier can also help it to move downslope. The areas at the edges of the glacier are under less pressure so this is where great cracks in the ice called crevasses form. When pieces of a glacier fall off the base of the glacier it is call calving – which is happening lately at a much increased rate. Here is an incredible high-def clip from a recent movie called “Chasing Ice” that records the longest and biggest calving ever recorded.

We know Fox Glacier is retreating, so how then is it moving downhill? The growth of a glacier is based on something called mass balance. Snow falls on the top of the glacier and freezes while ice from the bottom of the glacier melts or breaks off, a process that is called ablation. As long as the accumulation at the top outweighs the ablation at the bottom, the glacier will grow. However, if the ablation outweighs the accumulation, then the glacier will retreat. This is the case of the Fox Glacier, and unfortunately the case for many glaciers around the world.

4. Does it really matter if the glaciers disappear?

It would most certainly be a tragedy if alpine glaciers were to disappear due to the effects of human climate change. They are majestic places to behold and also provide revenue from tourism to areas in these regions. However, and more importantly, glaciers also provide huge stores of fresh water, which are released throughout the year. For example, about 1.3 billion people depend on Himalayan glaciers for drinking water and other water needs. If these resources were to disappear, it would have devastating effects on human populations.

5. Glaciers of the Past

At times throughout Earth’s history, huge swathes of the planet have been covered by ice. We know that some of these ice sheets covered thousands of miles and could be several miles thick. Such ice ages can last for millions of years and go through a series of glacial and interglacial periods where ice cover increases and decreases. The last ice age started 2.6 million years ago and is still ongoing today. We are currently in an interglacial period called the Holocene, which started 12,000 years ago. When people talk about the “Ice Age” they are usually talking about the previous glacial period, which occurred from 110,000 to 12,000 years ago. The ice was at its greatest expanse just 22,000 years ago when most of the northern half of North America and northern Europe and Asia were covered in ice. In the Southern Hemisphere, the Andes in South America and Southern Alps in New Zealand had large ice caps as well.

glaciation_560The glaciated landscapes of North America, Europe, South America, and New Zealand were formed during this Ice Age.

6. What happens when massive ice sheets disappear?

The most important thing to remember is that ice sheets (and glaciers) hold a huge amount of water. The sea level was about 120 meters lower during the last glacial period than it is today. We still have two major ice sheets on earth, the Antarctic Ice Sheet and the Greenland Ice Sheet. If these were to melt – which they give every indication of doing, and quite rapidly, we would see increases to sea level, which would threaten many coastal cities and sea-dependent communities across the globe.

See all Dave’s photos and videos from Fox Glacier right HERE!

– Tegan

:: Tegan Mortimer is a scientist with Earthwatch Institute. For more exciting science insights, check out our BDX Explorer Guides or stop by our Citizen Science Resources page, where you can also find all of Tegan’s previous “Science Notes.”

We welcome your input or participation on our BDX Learning Discovery efforts. You can always reach us here or via email.

Glaciers – Dave’s Full Story

Fox Glacier – The Power of Ice

As some of you may recall, back in February on my layover in New Zealand, I visited Fox Glacier on the South Island. After so many years of being surrounded by water in its liquid form, the experience of being enveloped by frozen waves of water cracked open my curiosity in completely unexpected ways.

Seeing the power that glaciers had to literally move mountains and at the same time to witness firsthand the incredible speed with which they are disappearing right before our eyes was something I knew I had to further explore … both for myself, and for those of you who have engaged with us in the learning and discovery side of our adventure.

Dave at Fox GlacierDave at Fox Glacier

Though I know that what follows here (broken into two installments) is a larger than usual amount of information for the narrow confines of a blog post or an email, here’s what we’d like to share with you today!

  • In addition to our six earlier Explorer Guides, with our scientist colleague Tegan Mortimer‘s help, we’ve gathered our essential learnings on glaciers and complied them into a newly designed and easily printable Explorer Guide on Glaciers! We encourage you to check it out – and to once again … share it with the younger people in your world.

Explorer Guide - Glaciers
Here’s our new Explorer Guide on “Glaciers – The Power of Ice”

  • Given some time to reflect, I include below some new reflections of my own on the whole glacier experience. (My earlier Fox Glacier post is HERE!)
  • In addition to the glacier photos - here in slideshow format, we’ve also added five new videos to our BDX YouTube Channel from that day – each one fairly short, but each also showing some unique aspect of the glacier.

:: As this is a long post, and as Tegan has such a passion for the subject of glaciers and has so many great science findings to share, we’re following this with – Tegan’s Science Notes #8: Glaciers … which contains some very exciting and excellent insights on glaciers. She also includes a fun Google Earth Scavenger Hunt you can explore on your own!

We know it’s a lot of material … but there’s nothing small about glaciers … and as we are quickly learning, the fate of our planet is as much tied to the vitality of our glaciers as it is to that of our oceans.

So, ALL that said … let’s get rolling … !

capt_dave_ac_215Dave Rearick: Growing up on the shores of Lake Michigan, the second largest of the five Great Lakes, gave us every chance to learn about glaciers. Glaciers scoured out all five of the Great Lakes about 10,000 years ago. As they melted and retreated, they left distinctive land formations: great carved moraines, bogs, kettle lakes and wetlands, not to mention, the amazing fresh water lakes themselves.

Lake Michigan is over 300 miles long (483 km), 90 miles wide (145 km) and over 900 feet deep (275 meters) at the deepest point. What I learned in school about glaciers at the time just sounded like more ancient history and did little to prepare me for my recent visit to the Fox Glacier on the South Island of New Zealand.

For the past several years, we’ve all heard story after story about how human activity and global warming have affected glaciers around the world. Experiencing firsthand their amazing scale and force, as well as the incredible speed with which their dissolution is happening, brought those many stories to a very different level of reality for me. It also reinforced for me the amazing power and need for hands-on learning in and around nature, much like what we are trying to do through our Bodacious Dream Expedition updates that track my circumnavigation and by our now seven topic-specific Explorer Guides.

#1 - Click arrows to advance! Scroll over to read descriptions.

As you hike up the glacier, you can easily see the various markings that the receding glacier had left. Just five years earlier, in 2008, the glacier had scoured the hillsides to a height that was now clearly marked by a vegetation line, below which was barren rock, over two hundred feet above us!

The access paths to the glacier must be regularly reworked. Just a year earlier, the path was about 50 feet higher up the side of the canyon wall. We learned that the glacier was melting at the rate of 6 inches (15 cm) a day! That’s 3.5 feet a week, 15 feet a month, 180 feet a year! Glaciers don’t do anything quickly, but they sure do it steadily. They gather snowfall up in the mountains, compress it so that it must move with gravity, ever so slowly changing and sculpting the earth on its way. Natural history unfolds, and the story of the Earth is told by these slow moving rivers of ice. What looks to the casual eye to be a static natural wonder, is in fact a dynamic display of the forces of nature undergoing constant and rapid change.

 #2 - Click arrows to advance! Scroll over to read descriptions.

Each step of the hike exposed us to more wonder and amazement. There is so much beauty in the color and shape of the ice, and in tracking the constant changes brought on by the ever-flowing ice and water.

Be sure to check out our Explorer Guide on Glaciers for more amazing learnings!

I hope you enjoy the videos taken while at the glacier. They may not be of a professional travel brochure quality, but I think they offer a true and authentic entry into the story and into what you yourself might experience on the glacier if you were to go there. The rains and fogs of the day certainly added their effects as well, but to me, they all combine to show the stark beauty and harsh contrasts of this hard yet fluid environment – much like my videos of the stormy tempests at sea revealed the powerful nature of the ocean.

I hope that if one day you have the chance, you will choose to experience a glacier firsthand. If you do, I would recommend you hike rather than take the helicopter ride. I am sure the helicopter ride is beautiful, but you will land on a very static snowfield up on the higher slopes of the glacier, and you might miss the story of these fascinating indicators of our environment, that are unfolding farther down towards the terminal face.

Of all the sights I witnessed that day, the one that stood out for me was the one about this enormous boulder, about the size of a small truck, tilted up on its edge as if it might at any moment fall over.

FG_boulder_300The Fox Glacier Guides have been keeping an eye on this boulder for five years, ever since it first appeared, after having been carried down by the glacier. In those five years, they have seen the boulder reposition itself in many different angles and positions, but no one has ever actually seen it move! That is the power of the earth and nature – the capability, one drop at a time (or one wave at a time) to move a boulder or wash away a shoreline. If you’ve ever wondered just how your single life could have an impact on the larger world, I think somewhere in such a truth might be your answer.

 #3 - Click arrows to advance! Scroll over to read descriptions.

As I mentioned at the top, tomorrow we’ll follow up this post by publishing Tegan’s Science Notes #8: Glaciers … so we hope you’ll look for and check that out!

Again, thanks so much for following along … and if you should have any questions – or suggestions, don’t hesitate to drop us a line at oceanexplorer@bodaciousdreamexpeditions.com

- Dave
21.85887S, 97.30453W

P.S. I just learned about this amazing set of photos from a photographer named James Balog who has spent years taking photos of vanishing glaciers … truly outstanding and sobering images  … http://billmoyers.com/content/vanishing-glaciers-now-and-then/

The Wonder & Science of Bioluminescence

4.16.14 – The boisterous conversation between sky and sea that was supposed to last 12 hours lasted 36 instead and dealt us winds up to 35 knots … making for some fun times. While we are now riding along towards the trade winds, we’re also pushing into the waves of the previous outburst. The cloud cover has been thick, which has prevented us from viewing either the sun or the eclipse of the full moon. This morning however, I was treated to a most wonderful sunrise. 

So, while we enjoy the sunshine and mid-70’s temperatures and continue to sort our way towards the Galapagos Islands, we wanted to share our experience of the amazing bio-illumination phenomena that we’ve witnessed several times on this voyage. So, read on to get the story … first my own experience … followed by Tegan Mortimer’s terrific scientific explanation. So that said, let’s get illuminated!

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:: The Wonder of Bioluminescence

Dave RearickDave Rearick: One afternoon right around New Year’s, not long after leaving Cape Town, I crossed paths with a fishing boat – a traditional colorful wooden boat painted in bright greens, yellows and reds. As our two courses passed, the captain contacted me and we spoke for a few moments over the radio; I found his English was excellent with a smooth, lyrical accent to it. We talked of the beautiful weather and seeing that I was sailing east and away from Africa, he asked me where I was headed. New Zealand I told him … and alone! He marveled at that and wished me great luck, explaining that I should have good weather since it was now summer, and then he told me to watch for the bioluminescence which he assured me I would find very beautiful. With that, we said our goodbyes – he headed off to another fishing ground and I proceeded on my way east.

Up to that point, my direct experience with bioluminescence had been memorable but limited. But a few nights after I left the fisherman, I stepped into a world of bioluminescence that was unlike any I even knew existed. Let me tell you, that fisherman knew of what he spoke.

Bioluminescent PlanktonThe experience of sailing through a floating forest of bioluminescence steals away any words you might offer up to describe it.

It is all just so simple and elegant; a photograph would be impossible – though still we try. If I could draw you a picture, I would … but I know even that would fall short.

As I stood and looked forward, Bodacious Dream sailed along, rising up and bumping her way over the tops of small waves, sending out splashes of a wake to either side, which appeared to be lit indirectly from a light beam located directly underneath the boat – but of course there was no light down there. The glowing white froth of the wake glowed bright, artificial and surreal. As if that wasn’t enough on its own, looking back behind the boat provided an intoxicating view.

Bodacious Dream has two rudders, one on each side of the boat approximately 5 feet to each side of the centerline. From the centerline, the hydro-generator drops into the water from the stern of the boat. Standing near the mast of the boat and looking aft, the entire wake of the boat was fully aglow … tossing dancing sparks glittering across the water. Like I said, it was as if Bo had this bright swimming pool light underneath her pointing aft, beyond the transom.

Leaving the foredeck and walking toward the stern and looking over the edge, revealed an entirely different and no less spectacular show.

A couple of feet below the water, off the slender tip of each rudder, there were these luminous streamers – not unlike what you might see flying from the top of tent poles at Renaissance Fairs … long, slender and snaking back and forth in the wind. Looking further under the water, you could see they glowed white-green and extended back for maybe 12 or 15 feet beyond the boat. Wavering back and forth, the ends subdividing into three or four strips, each waving independently and criss-crossing back and forth over each other. Off the centerline and close to the hydro-generator, a plume of glowing white bubbles rose up, not as sleek and mesmerizing as the streamers, but giving a round and ruddy glow to the surrounding waters. The water above, below and all around the rudders and hydro was clear, with all their outer edges carefully defined and illuminated by thous delicate refracted light.

biolumin2_550

While on one hand, this was something I could have sat and watched for hours, on the other, something about it felt almost indecently beautiful – like something SO beautiful that you felt you shouldn’t stare at it, least it lose its genius and grow too quickly mundane to human eyes. As I continued to stare at it, I felt it expressed something so beyond the eyes of man, that I couldn’t help wonder what other surprises waited for us … out there over the horizon and beyond the stars.

And in the middle of that, I recalled what my fisherman friend had said to me, “Ahh yes … and you will surely enjoy the bioluminescence. It is so beautiful at night. Be safe my friend and have a good journey.” Yes indeed, my friend! Thank you!

 - Dave
34.1974S, 109.2991W

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:: Tegan’s  Science Notes #7 – The Science of Bioluminescence

Tegan MortimerAs Dave’s story reaffirms, bioluminescence is a truly spectacular phenomenon! Phrases like “a sea of stars” are used to describe what it looks like and that is completely accurate. If you’ve ever seen a firefly or lightning bug, you’ve seen bioluminescence!

But what is it actually? Bioluminescence is the ability for some animals to create light through a chemical process called “chemiluminescence.” Two chemicals are required for this reaction: “luciferin” and either “luciferase” or “photoprotein.” Luciferase is an enzyme that interacts with oxidized (oxygen-added) luciferin in a chemical reaction that results in the creation of light. Some animals create luciferin themselves and some acquire it by eating other animals or by having a symbiotic relationship with a luciferin-creating organism. Bioluminescent shrimp have a symbiotic relationship with luciferin-creating bacteria that lives in their guts. The shrimp gets light and in trade the bacteria get somewhere to live. That’s a symbiotic relationship: everybody wins!

AnglerfishI mentioned fireflies, but most bioluminescent organisms live in the ocean, especially in the deep sea where it is completely dark. The most famous bioluminescent animal of the deep sea is probably the anglerfish, (pictured to the left) which has a bioluminescent lure that hangs directly above its tooth-filled mouth, just waiting for smaller prey to be attracted to the anglerfish’s glowing light.

So what is Dave seeing? It’s definitely NOT thousands of anglerfish under Bodacious Dream! What Dave is seeing is bioluminescent “plankton.” There are many different types of plankton, both “phytoplankton” (little plants) and “zooplankton” (little animals) can be bioluminescent but two types: “copepods” and “dinoflagellates” are the most commonly seen. Unlike the anglerfish that uses its bioluminescence to attract prey, these tiny planktons use bioluminescence to avoid getting eaten. When they are disturbed, either by a predator, or a human diver, or even by a boat like Bodacious Dream moving through the water, they emit a light, which is thought to startle and repel whatever might have been planning on eating the plankton.

Scientists think that some species of sharks and whales put the plankton’s defensive bioluminescence to use in helping the larger creatures to hunt. Sperm whales for example will go to an area with large amounts of bioluminescent plankton. When the plankton’s predators (fish or squid) approach, the plankton’s light alerts the whale who is then able to more easily catch the fish. Neat trick!

- Tegan 

:: For more exciting science insights and opportunities, please check out our BDX Explorer Guides or stop by our Citizen Science Resources page, where you can also find all of Tegan’s previous Science Notes, Also, we welcome your input or participation to our BDX Learning and Discovery efforts. You can always reach us at …  <oceanexplorer@bodaciousdreamexpeditions.com>

:: BDX Website :: Email List Sign-Up :: Explorer Guides :: BDX Facebook

Tegan’s Science Notes #6 – Seabirds

Dave RearickSome days are made interesting merely by their simplicity. Today looks to be one of those. The last 36 hours have made for some demanding sailing. Even though we’ve made good time, it’s taken a lot of patience and effort as the wind has increased, decreased and repeatedly switched directions. Each one of these changes has required that I adjust the course or trim the sails.

Today by dawn, things had settled down and we are now sailing steadily on course, which both simplifies my life onboard and gives me a chance to catch up on other things.

It’s pretty desolate down here in the Southern Ocean. There appears to be little visible sea life other than the mysterious bioluminescence I see occasionally at night and the plethora of seabirds that accompany me on my journey. For the first few days, there were a dozen or so albatross around, floating like soft music in the wake of the boat. Yesterday, I sailed through a flock of smaller white seabirds, but there were many of them – maybe 100 or so, and they kept up with me for several hours.

so_polar_skuaToday, the crowd has moved on. In its place was one lone, dark brown bird, (I’m going to guess it’s a South Polar Skua) which circled us for quite a while. As if we had entered a courting dance, he would land on the boat, I would chase him with my camera and he would fly off … and shortly resume his same pattern – coming up from behind, drifting a bit, then swooping around behind the sails and stalling just in front of the boat before falling back along the weather side. I would follow him around the boat, probably a couple dozen times before I would give into dizziness and allow him another victory in our simple game.

hemingway_175The days move along out here. I sail, navigate, check systems, watch out for ships, eat, sleep … and repeat. I’m grateful for the routine, as it has given me time to digest some reading material … one of which has been Ernest Hemingway’s Moveable Feast, a selection of short stories of his days in Paris. Two years ago, I found myself in the Lilas Café in Paris that he mentions. I sat on his dedicated stool, watching the many comings and goings of interesting people, just as it happened back in the 1930’s.

In the meantime, our ocean scientist, Tegan Mortimer has another wonderful science note for you directly below here – this one appropriately on seabirds! I strongly encourage you to give it a read. As I watch the birds soar day in and day out, I stand amazed before their beauty and the skill they bring to their aquatic lives.

Sailing along here … oh, let’s see … at coordinates … 46.81776S, 161.104W

- Dave

Science_6_title

Tegan MortimerTegan’s Science Notes #6: Seabirds

Of about 9,700 species of birds on earth, only about 350 are considered seabirds. Think about that – 9,350 species occupy only 30% of the surface on the earth while those 350 species of sea bird ply the vast oceans which constitute 70% of the surface of the globe!

What is a seabird?

The definition of a seabird is a tricky one. Many people use the technical definition that a seabird is a bird which feeds in salt water. However, many coastal and wading birds feed in salt water, but aren’t considered seabirds because they don’t spend enough time at sea. However gulls are considered seabirds though they are strictly coastal and return to land regularly.

Sea BirdThe majority of sea birds spend the bulk of their time at sea and only return to land to nest. Therefore they depend on the marine environment for their food and float on the ocean’s surface to rest. The enormous wandering albatross will spend the first seven years of its life at sea before returning to remote islands to breed for the first time.

Who are the seabirds?

I mentioned albatrosses, which are the quintessential seabirds, and gulls which many of us who visit the coast are familiar with. The seabirds also include the petrels, shearwaters, storm-petrels, auks, pelicans, gannets, boobies, skuas, cormorants, shags, frigatebirds, tropic birds and last but certainly not least the penguins.

Many seabirds like the albatrosses and gannets have evolved strong, long wings which allow them to fly long distances without expending much energy, while other seabirds like the auks and penguins have sacrificed flying ability in favor of evolving features which allow for strong swimming ability.

Razorbill and Auk

Auks: Razorbill and Puffin

So what birds has Dave seen so far?

Dave has had some fantastic bird sightings. Unfortunately, seabirds can be very difficult to identify, especially the albatrosses of which I am sure Dave has seen more than one species. But this is the list so far of what we’ve been able to identify.

birds_1-2_named birds_3-4_named birds_5-6_named birds_7-8_named birds_9-10_named

Many of these seabirds are common and widespread in the oceans. In fact, the Wilson’s storm-petrel is believed to be the most numerous bird species in the world with around 12 to 30 million individuals! On the other hand, the gray-headed albatross, cape gannet, and African penguin are classed as endangered because they either have small geographic ranges, small populations or are experiencing significant population declines. So this makes a great list of both common and rare species. Dave spotted a white tern (actually it almost landed on his head!) off the coast of Brazil which is a very unusual sighting for that species in that area.

Dynamic Soaring

Albatross and some other seabirds use a peculiar flying pattern where they make large looping turns which take them up into the air and then they swoop down to almost touch the water and back up again. This is called “dynamic soaring” and it allows these birds to fly without expending much energy. These birds are using the difference in wind speed at different heights to soar. The wind is slower closer to the surface of the ocean due to friction and it becomes faster higher up. The bird starts by climbing up to higher wind speed, and then turns away from the wind and gains airspeed as it soars down the wind gradient. When it turns back into the wind at the water’s surface, the bird has extra energy which allows it to climb back up to higher windspeeds again. Birds which use dynamic soaring have evolved long, thin wings which they hold rigidly in the air as they soar a bit like the wings of a glider.

Dynamic Soaring

Additional Resources:

:: Source and good article: whoi.edu/oceanus/feature/a-robotic-albatross

:: Another interesting article: whoi.edu/oceanus/feature/of-wings–waves–and-winds

Seabird Conservation

While it may seem that seabirds that roam the vast oceans are less touched by human impacts that threaten other bird groups, the fact is that seabirds are the MOST threatened group of birds on earth! Of the 346 species of seabird, 101 species (that’s 29%!) are threatened globally and another 10% are classed as “Near Threatened.” And almost half of all seabirds are known or thought to be declining in population. The albatrosses in particular are the most threatened with 17 of 22 species classed as “Threatened by Extinction.” To put it into a little context, of the 10 species that Dave has seen, 30% are threatened and 70% have declining populations!

What’s happening here? Human activities are the greatest contributor. Historically, many seabirds breed on remote islands that are relatively free from land predators, so they often nest on the ground. When ships would occasionally land on these islands, pests like rats were unintentionally introduced. Rats are very destructive to ground nesting birds, eating both eggs and preying on chicks. Luckily, efforts have been made to eradicate such introduced pests from many of these islands.

Today however, other more menacing threats face seabirds. Drowning in fishing gear is one of the greatest threats to seabirds. In the open ocean, fishermen set long lines, miles of baited hooks, which unfortunately catch much more than the fish the fishermen want. Many seabirds hunt from the air, diving to catch prey they have spotted with their sharp eyes. When these baited hooks lay near the surface the birds take the bait, get hooked, and drown. This situation is bad for the birds, but the fishermen don’t want it either as that is a lost piece of bait. Organizations like Birdlife International are working with fishermen in the most affected areas to modify fishing practices to reduce this “bycatch.” The good news is that simple changes can dramatically reduce the number of birds being caught and lost in this manner.

Another threat to seabirds is marine pollution. Laysan albatross are particularly affected with 97% of chicks being found with plastic in their stomachs. The adults are attracted to plastic objects floating at the surface, likely mistaking them for fish eggs or squid. They carry them back to the colonies where they feed them to their chicks. Forty percent of chicks born each year will die due to plastic blocking their guts or other effects of consuming plastic objects. :

::The heavy cost of marine pollution: ocean.si.edu/laysan-albatross-plastic-problem

Seabirds are majestic, elusive and true ocean wanderers, the lone occupants of the air above the ocean, but they could all too easily disappear from these winds. We all have a role to play to protect the ocean and its life, whether it is learning more about marine debris, attending a beach clean up, buying seafood caught with sustainable practices or any other action which improves the ocean environment for all.

- Tegan

(Tegan Mortimer is a scientist with Earthwatch Institute. Contact Tegan directly at Tegan Mortimer <tmortimer (at) earthwatch (dot) org>)

:: For more great science insights and opportunities, please check out our BDX Explorer Guides or stop by our Citizen Science Resources page, where you can also find all of Tegan’s previous Science Notes. Also, we welcome your input or participation to our BDX Learning Discovery efforts. You can always reach us at …  <oceanexplorer@bodaciousdreamexpeditions.com>

:: BDX Website :: Email List Sign-Up :: Explorer Guides :: BDX Facebook

Tegan’s Science Notes #5 – Penguins in Africa?

With Bodacious Dream back in the water in Wellington, a quick update from Dave followed below by an earlier but previously unpublished “science note” on African penguins from our ocean scientist colleague, Tegan Mortimer. 

Dave RearickDave Rearick: Wellington, NZ has a worldwide reputation for windy weather. For the past few days though, it has instead offered up absolutely gorgeous days of clear and sunny skies with winds at less than 15 knots. This has made for perfect conditions to test sail Bodacious Dream after the recent work and refit she just underwent. So far, everything is coming together just fine. Our awesome crew has done a great job getting Bo into shape for Leg 3! (See some pics below in slideshow format.)

Today, we’ll begin the sorting and packing of the boat as forecasts are for wet and windy weather to return this weekend. Our hope after that front passes is to get the go-ahead weather window that we need to depart early next week!

Test sailing … Click the arrows to advance, and scroll over to read the captions.

While we get ready for all that and I head off to do some major provisioning, we wanted to revisit some of Tegan Mortimer’s Science Notes, we didn’t have a chance to publish before now.

We are also readying a wonderfully informative science note on “Seabirds,” which includes a list of all the seabird sightings we’ve identified so far on the voyage. But before we do that, we want to focus in on one particular seabird that holds a special interest for people all over the world – and that’s penguins!

During our post-Leg 1 Cape Town stopover in December, we were treated to the unique experience of visiting a large colony of African penguins that reside near the Cape of Good Hope (the southernmost tip of Africa.) While the overall distance from there to Antarctica is pretty substantial, it is still within the habitat range for penguins, for reasons that Tegan will explain in her excellent report. And I’ll be back soon with more.

- Dave

Tegan MortimerTegan Science Notes #5 – Penguins in Africa?

When Dave and Bodacious Dream reached Cape Town and the end of Leg 1 of his circumnavigation at the beginning of the year, he took time to explore some of the many diverse natural wonders of that region.

One of his first trips was to see the penguins. Yes, you heard that right, penguins in Africa! The African penguin is only found along the west coast of South Africa and Namibia, though it is also one of the most common species kept by zoos and aquariums.

penguins_dave_550Dave’s Photo  …

We usually think of penguins as only occurring in the snow and ice of Antarctica, but there are actually quite a few species that live in more temperate habitats along the coasts of South America, Australia, New Zealand and of course Africa. All species of penguins are native to the Southern Hemisphere, so you would never find penguins interacting with Northern Hemisphere species like polar bears and walruses.

penguins_benguela_550The areas in which penguins are found do have something in common though: cooler water. When we look at charts of surface water temperatures around South Africa, we see that there is colder water around the western coast of South Africa and Namibia, in exactly the area that African penguins are found. This is called the Benguela Current. This current carries cold water northwards and creates an upwelling zone near the coast. The South East trade winds then push the surface waters away from the coast which draws the deep cooler water up to the surface.

Cold water carries more oxygen and nutrients in it because it’s denser than warm water. When phytoplankton undergo photosynthesis, they use up nutrients and oxygen from the surface water; unless this surface water is replenished then photosynthesis will stop due to a lack of oxygen and nutrients. This is why upwelling is so important; it continually brings new oxygen and nutrient-rich waters to the surface. High levels of plankton support rich ecosystems of small schooling fish, krill and squid that then help sustain larger predators such as whales, sharks, and sea birds.

penguins_map_550

African penguins feed on small schooling fish, particularly sardines and anchovies which are supported in huge numbers by the Benguela Current ecosystem. Sardines and anchovies are some of the most important commercial fish species and are caught in large numbers throughout the world. In South Africa, penguins compete with fishermen for these precious fish.

Unfortunately African penguins are considered to be endangered. Their population has declined by about 60% in the last 30 years, which is a very rapid rate. It is thought that a lack of food is the major cause of the decline. This lack of fish is due to both the huge numbers that fishermen remove, as well as environmental fluctuations in fish numbers and distribution.

Earthwatch scientists are active in studying the nesting colonies present on Robben Island; trying to understand their rapid decline and formulate strategies, which will increase their chance of survival. One success so far seems to be the addition of artificial nesting boxes to the colony. These birds typically nest in burrows, but many of their nesting sites have had the naturally thick layer of guano removed for use as commercial fertilizer leaving nothing for the penguins to burrow into. Penguins now seem to actually prefer the nesting boxes, which allow them to be more successful at rearing chicks than if they were in a burrow or out in the open.

penguins_arkive_550

It is very easy in this instance to blame fishermen for catching too many fish, which reduces what is left behind for the penguins. It is true that many fishing practices are very destructive, both to fish populations and to the marine ecosystem, but it is also important to remember that the ocean is an ever-changing eco-system. If the lowest levels of the marine food chain (plankton and small school fish) change, we see changes in the higher levels too. Climate change is driving these changes, just as we humans are driving climate change. Everybody has the ability to make a difference by way of the choices we make every day. We all can help to save the African Penguin.

To close things off, here’s a cute internet video that shows the ups and downs of being a penguin.

- Tegan

:: Tegan Mortimer is a scientist with Earthwatch Institute. For more exciting science insights, check out our BDX Explorer Guides or stop by our Citizen Science Resources page, where you can also find all of Tegan’s previous “Science Notes.” We welcome your input or participation on our BDX Learning Discovery efforts. You can always reach us here or @ <oceanexplorer@bodaciousdreamexpeditions.com>

Fox Glacier Excursion

The South Island of New Zealand generously provided a number of amazing experiences over the week I toured it recently, but the one experience that stood out for me was a visit to the Fox Glacier, located near the coast in the Westland Tai Poutini Park near the small town of Fox Glacier.

Fox GlacierFox Glacier in New Zealand’s Westland National Park

We’ve all heard news reports that drum into us how the glaciers of the world are melting away, and what significance this might have. Getting the chance to see a glacier firsthand and up close made clear the pressing reality behind those reports. As you may know, I am a student of the world at large and especially of the natural wonders of the ocean, but nothing in my many wanderings prepared me for the transcendent beauty and force of a glacier.

DSCN2321A sample of the visions to be found. See slideshows below for much more.

The Fox Glacier moves down from a bowl area that sits higher up in the mountains where the snows collect and remain year-round. These snows pile up and compress under the weight of many years of previous snows, which turn into this massive river of ice that works its way down through the rocky passes and towards the ocean. In the case of the Fox Glacier, its terminal face, curiously enough, ends in a rainforest on the coast of the South Island.

crampons_300Upon arriving at Fox Glacier Guiding, we were fitted with boots, crampons (spikey boot attachments for walking on ice), special waterproof coats and pants, gloves and hats, after which we got special instructions and training from our guides. Once ready, the 20 of us boarded a bus for the three-mile drive to the parking area at the base of the glacier.
As we began our hike to the glacier, our guide Jess explained that the barren rock on the walls of the river canyon gave clear indications of where the glacier was as recently as 2008. Just five years ago, the ice was significantly higher up the walls of the canyon – (over 125 feet) and it reached a good deal further down towards the ocean. Maybe “significant” isn’t a powerful enough word … perhaps the photos can tell a better tale.

#1 - Click arrows to advance! Scroll over to read descriptions.

We hiked up to the terminal face and then up into the glacier itself, where for the rest of the afternoon, Jess took us past enormous holes where melting water runoff was eating away at the glacier. We hiked past caves and crevasses, up into ice canyons and through ice tunnels, all of such pristine beauty and stillness that it was hard to keep in mind the stark reality that this glacier was melting away at an alarming rate.

 #2 - Click arrows to advance! Scroll over to read descriptions.

As we came down from our last ascent, we looked across about 30% of the glacier that was too dangerous to traverse. Jess explained to us that this area was being eaten away by the river, and the unseen melt below was causing a collapse inward. From where we stood, we could see the unstable cave from which icy water rushed out. Jess further explained that by the end of this season, the entire area might well wash away and that within a couple of years, the entire terminal face of the glacier might be too unstable to access by foot.

 #3 - Click arrows to advance! Scroll over to read descriptions.

These monumental forces of nature, not unlike the ocean, do indeed work away at a glacial pace – one drop of water at a time, one blade of grass at a time, one gust of wind at a time, one wave at a time, and as they do, they slowly alter the face of the planet.

Here are some amazing facts I learned about the Fox Glacier:

· There are over 3000 glaciers in New Zealand!
· The Fox Glacier is one of the few in the world that ends in a rainforest before emptying into the ocean.
· The glacier is over 1000 feet thick (300 m) at its deepest point
· The glacier flows at the rate of 600 feet (183 m) per year
· The thickness of the ice near the terminal face is up to 100 feet (30 m) thick
· The river is about 80% melt off from the glacier.
· Measurement of the amount of change in ice thickness is done by placing long pieces of pipe called ablation poles, vertically into the glacier. They start level with the ice surface and gradually become exposed as the glacier melts. At the time we were there, one meter of pipe was showing, indicating about two weeks’ worth of change (melt).
· Estimates are that in about two years’ time, the glacier’s terminal face will no longer be accessible by foot.
· Half the glacier is contained in the upper “bowl” area where the snow collects and compresses into ice.
· The other half is called the “tongue,” which is the mass that flows down to the river area.
· The fissures and crevasses happen perpendicular to the compression stress of the glacier; closing and opening as the great masses of ice move and shift daily.

I feel humble and fortunate to have had the chance to experience these things firsthand and to share them with you. Rather than continue at this point with more words, how about we leave you review the photos of this amazing place in the three slideshows …  or view them as an album on our BDX Facebook Page - and check out this video below that shows that slow moving boulder … more videos to come soon here … and on our BDX YouTube Channel.

And also very soon too, we will have ready for you a new Explorer Guide on the Fox Glacier, so that you can read and learn more about this world landmark.

Big Thanks,

- Dave

P.S. Here are a few Wikipedia links … to Fox Glacier, located near the coast in the Westland Tai Poutini Park near the small town of Fox Glacier.

The Mystery at Farewell Spit

A quick update from Dave followed below by a very interesting new science note from Tegan Mortimer on recent mass pilot whale strandings exactly where Dave will very shortly be passing.

Dave RearickDave Rearick: We’re in sight of land now and heading up the west coast of New Zealand here. The cold front that we hoped would push us up to Farewell Spit at the northern tip of the South Island and down into Cook’s Strait dissipated and left us fighting through wind right on our nose. It was an unusual weather pattern that made for very rough seas with lots of pounding waves. I kept trying to work my way towards shore to grab the best angle north against the wind – but it was a slog with very little progress to show for a lot of effort. As my weather guy commented … It’s kind of like sailing up Lake Michigan in the Mackinac Race, getting to the bridge, and losing wind. You can see the finish; you just can’t get there!

41.1179S, 171.47621E
41.1179S, 171.47621E

Yesterday, I began to grow concerned about having enough fuel to carry me through the notoriously unpredictable winds of Cook’s Strait. I got on the radio to see about landing somewhere along the rugged and dangerous coast, when a commercial fishing boat named “Ocean Odyssey” picked up my radio signal and offered to help. Eventually, we got our boats close enough together, that I was able to tie my gas cans to a line and drop them over the side, where they picked them up and refilled them for me.

The whole operation took us about two hours, but now I am better set for Cook’s Strait, with 50 gallons of fuel intend of 5. The skipper Barry even suggested that I come onboard the Odyssey for a shower and a hot meal … but I begged off, preferring to stay crusty with a belly full of freeze-dried filler. Today is all stormy and bouncy and so I have to stay focused.  Oh well, onward we go! Looks like another great update right here from our Earthwatch scientist Tegan Mortimer  - and on a very important topic, so be sure to check it out! Be back soon with more!

Farewell_mystery_550

Tegan MortimerTegan Science Notes #4 – Whale Strandings

At the very northwest corner of New Zealand’s South Island, Dave and Bodacious Dream will round a sandy spit which stretches 16 miles out into the ocean like a great arm creating the northern shore of Golden Bay. This is Farewell Spit and it is the longest sandspit in New Zealand. Sandspits form when currents called “longshore drifts” move and deposit sediment laterally along the coastline. In the case of Farewell Spit, currents and strong winds carry eroded sediments down from the Southern Alps, the mountain range that stretches the length of the South Island. As the spit builds, it shelters the leeward  (or inward) side where additional sediment then builds up allowing mudflats to form.

farewell_mudflat_300At low tide over 30 square miles of mudflats are exposed at Farewell Spit which is an important feeding habitat for shore wildlife. Recently through the month of January, it was the site of a massive effort to rescue a pod of around 70 pilot whales which had beached themselves several times in a mass stranding event. Mass strandings of whales are a complex and still little understood behavior, which most unfortunately can be deadly for the whales. Why did it happen here?

What’s a pilot whale?

The pilot whales are actually two different species, there is the short-finned pilot whale and the long-finned pilot whale. The two species look almost identical and it is very difficult, especially where the two species’ ranges overlap in habitat, to tell them apart. Both varieties of pilot whales are toothed whales which usually frequent deep water habitats such as the edge of the continental shelf and along deep water canyons where they feed on fish and squid. Tagged whales have been known to dive to depths as much as 2,000 feet! They are highly social animals and live in pods of around 10-50 animals though groups can be of more than 100 animals. Pods keep in contact with each other through complex whistles and other vocalizations which are believed to be unique to individual pods. Animals will instinctively follow the calls of key animals such as mature older females which act as pod leaders or to the distress calls of young whales. This behavior makes pilots whales particularly susceptible to mass stranding.

Pilot Whales
Pilot Whales

Why do whales strand?

Around the same time that pilot whales where stranding on Farewell Spit, there was also pilot whales stranding in the Florida Everglades. Pilot whales together with other social and toothed whales like dolphins, killer whales, and sperm whales are the most common whales to become stranded. You might remember me talking about sea turtles stranding in my last Science Note when the turtles get washed on shore after becoming stunned by the cold water. Toothed whales seem to actively beach themselves, swimming into shallow water where they get stuck as the tide recedes. The tight social bonds between animals in a pod mean if just a few do this, then it’s likely that whole pods will follow suit and strand together. Why this occurs is a mystery and there is probably no single answer that fully explains the behavior.

There are a few causes which are often pointed to when whales strand. Individual animals may beach themselves if they are sick or injured. Other healthy animals may strand if they are unwilling to leave an injured pod member. This seems like it might have been the case of the pilot whales that stranded in Florida, they were not in very good condition and necropsies (animal autopsies) of the animals that died showed that they had nearly empty stomachs.

whales_300x200In contrast to the Florida pods, the whales that stranded on Farewell Spit were in good condition and seemed healthy, so probably they stranded from other reasons. These whales may have gotten trapped in shallow water as the tide flowed out of Golden Bay. Farewell Spit forms a long hook which can be difficult to navigate out of, which is made worse by the quick drop in sea level when the tide recedes. The soft muddy bottom doesn’t reflect the whales’ echolocation, which means that the whales can’t “see” the bottom. Essentially they don’t realize they are in shallow water until it is too late. There is also evidence that noise disturbances from seismic testing and military sonar could also be a factor in mass strandings.

Unfortunately, stranding is fatal for whales. Out of the water, whales as quickly susceptible to dehydration and overheating. Whales are designed for a weightless world, which allows them to grow very heavy. Out of the water, all this weight presses on their vital organs and can cause death in and of itself. Unless they refloat on an incoming tide there is little chance for a whale to get back to deeper waters.

whales_stranded

Luckily there are well-developed stranding response networks in many places around the world which can hastily mobilize volunteers and experts to attempt to rescue stranded whales. New Zealand has one of the best rates of successfully rescuing stranded whales. However it is still a difficult task and many whales die naturally or have to be euthanized, and even whales which are successfully moved to deeper water will return to re-beach themselves a second time.

Here are two particularly good articles about the stranding in New Zealand.
:: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11189886
:: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11191661

:: Also, if you happen to know other scientists, educators or journalists who might be interested in contributing on our Learning & Discovery side, we’d love to make their acquaintance @ <oceanexplorer@bodaciousdreamexpeditions.com>

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The Great Circle Game

For some reason yet to be determined, Dave has lost his Iridium email service. He still has phone and text capability, and is checking in frequently to let us know all is well … but for now, no email, so updates will be brief or will (as we do below) include some older updates that never got posted.

The following update was received over the phone.

“Going along real nicely here on a course headed for the northwest corner of South Island of New Zealand (Farewell Point.) We’re averaging over 8 knots the last couple days and likely for another couple of days as well. We do have a cold front weather system coming in Tuesday night, which will bring strong winds Tuesday evening into Wednesday, which should give us the push we need to take us down Cook Strait towards the southwest corner of the North Island, and into Wellington Harbor.

Cape FarewellFarewell Point, Northenmost tip of South Island of New Zealand (web image)

The bioluminescence is still around, though not to the spectacular degree I described it in the last post. Looking south towards Antarctica tonight, I can see a glow in the sky; similar to the sort of glow that a city makes when you are on the water and over the horizon. As we know there’s no civilization south of us here, so I can only think it’s the glow of the sun reflecting off the polar ice cap.

Had a fun time last night calling into the awards dinner for my friends in the Great Lakes Singlehanded Society. I spoke a bit and answered some questions. Thanks for the invite!

I know my Midwest and East Coast friends are getting hit with some dramatic weather of late … I’ll just say it’s summer down here … 55-60 out on the water. Food is getting down to final tally time. There are plenty of calories onboard … but the fun items on the menu are gone.  I’ll make up for that, when I get to Wellington towards the end of the week. Over and out!”

43.9857S, 159.55377E
43.9857S, 159.55377E

:: As mentioned above, here’s an update though from some weeks ago that never got posted. It’s a navigation-related update, and its contents are still relevant to the current leg of the voyage. Enjoy!

Sailing long passages puts you in the middle of constantly shifting set of time and distance problems. These little mathematical calculations are always running through sailor’s minds when they’re not otherwise occupied with shipboard duties. Recently, I had one of those days where I had a whole bunch of interesting problems come up relative to navigation and latitudes.

I was trying to step back and figure out just how far it is from Cape Town to Wellington, NZ. Now I have a GPS locator onboard and it can give me a distance, but it works on what’s called the “Great Circle” route, which calculates the shortest distance along the curved surface of the Earth. Our own strategy though for sailing to Wellington is to stay along a particular latitude – namely 40 degrees south. We do this to maintain the best route through the least stormy weather. But back to the questions raised by the Great Circle method, let me explain a bit and also give you an experiment you can do on your own when you have a chance.

mercator projection mapOver time, all of us spend a good deal of time looking at maps and charts of various places. These might show us our hometown, or a route to a someones’s house, or a map of the country or maybe the large world map on a classroom wall. Typically, these kinds of maps that we are so used to, are as a class called “Mercator Projections.” They represent the three-dimensional world as if it were laid out flat on a tabletop. The problem with this of course is that the world is not flat but rather beautifully round and by creating a world map that is flat and rectangular; you end up distorting the actual distances – particularly so, once you start considering areas closer to the polar ends of the earth.

Here’s an amusing video clip from an episode of the TV show West Wing that deals with how the Mercator projections distort the actual size of landmasses as they actually exist on the globe.

South Pole GlobeIf you can find a globe and look at it carefully, then turn it so that the South Pole is facing you. Now if you can find a string, a shoelace or even take a piece of paper and cut a thin strip from it, then put one end on Cape Town South Africa and the other over to Wellington, NZ, you’ll see that the shortest route goes over the Southern Ocean and over Antarctica. This is what we mean by the “Great Circle” route. If you in were a plane, you could fly that route, but in a boat, it’s not an option. There are a number of reasons why, some of which are obvious such as the continent of Antarctica and the impenetrable ice, but also, the further south you get, the colder the water and the more dangerous the weather. So, that’s why we chose the route along 40 degrees south latitude. So, to get that distance, you have to work your way along that latitude with a measure of some kind and figure out the distance.

Now, while you still have that globe out, let’s take a look at something else. I believe I told you a while ago that the degree of longitude is widest at the equator at 69.172 miles (111.321) and gradually shrinks to zero at the poles. At around 40°N or S, where we are,  the distance between a degree of longitude is 53 miles (85 km). But as you can see, at the South Pole and the North Pole, all the degrees of longitude come together into one point. That’s pretty interesting isn’t it?

Nautilus 1958Here’s an interesting story I once read. Back in 1958, when the first Navy submarine (USS Nautilus) was able to travel under the ice pack of the North Pole and once they reached the pole, what do you think the navigator said when he called out his position? He sure must have enjoyed saying this … “90 degrees North latitude and ALL points longitude.” His meaning was that all the longitudes came together in one precise point at the North Pole!

So, I spend a lot of time trying to figure out some of these things when I have time, but if you’d like to, you can do the calculations to figure out how far it is along latitude 40 degrees south from Cape Town, South Africa to Wellington, NZ.  And if you can play the Great Circle game, how much shorter is that route than the one I am taking?

I think it’s worth noting that while I wrote this soon after leaving Cape Town, now that I’m approaching New Zealand I can see that my calculations at the time are still pretty much right on target.

- Dave, Bodacious Dream and Franklin (my onboard globe for this trip.)

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Great Mother of Wonder

Another run of exceptional days out here in the Southern Ocean – two cold fronts in two days, our first lightning storms … not to mention a kelp attack, close encounters of the “bird” kind and an utterly amazing experience with bioluminescence.

The two back-to-back cold fronts began last Sunday night. The first one arrived in typical fashion, riding in on a northwest wind, but the second came in with a headwind that took forever to switch back over to the northwest, which was fine by me as it put the wind behind us and made the sailing easier. Once it did switch though, it brought along with it lightning and thunderstorms. I had not seen lightning in these squalls before, so it made for an interesting (and dramatic) night. Eventually both cold fronts and their stormy winds passed, leaving us with good winds for racking up some good miles.

45.35797S, 148.83321E1300 Miles to Port - 45.35797S, 148.83321E 

As I write this, I’m just passing under Tasmania at about 45.5 South Latitude and setting my cross-hairs on the southernmost tip of the South Island of New Zealand! That waypoint, at about 155 East Longitude is just about 600 miles away, but there’s still a lot of sailing as the course to Wellington travels up the South Island and then down the Cook Strait. By my estimate, there’s still over 1300 miles left to the end of Leg 2 … but isn’t that cool? I figure, since leaving Jamestown, Rhode Island on October 2nd, I’ve sailed over 15,000 miles! I’m still hoping by the 10th of February to be tied up at Chaffer’s Marina in Wellington, New Zealand, and celebrating my return to Terra Firma.

Now, when I say KELP attack, I probably should have said kelp “attach!” The other morning, just after the second cold front, I began to feel that something was slowing down the boat. That’s the sort of learned intuition one gets around boats. You sometimes sense it before you have any idea what it might be. I finally looked aft and saw a long brown object dragging off the starboard rudder. I hooked up my tether and reached over the side to grab onto it and pulled as hard as I could but got no release. This one was tenacious, but after several attempts, I was finally able to dislodge it. Here’s a picture of it.

kelp
Encrusted kelp - 42.5441046S, 134.5444664E 

For a few moments, I thought that maybe it was a piece of waste rubber, but it was obviously kelp. Upon further inspection, I found it was laced with some sort of crustaceans that were incredibly beautiful in their simplicity and in their subtle color shading. Here’s a picture of them.

42.5441046S, 134.5444664E
Something special, wouldn’t you say? -
 42.5441046S, 134.5444664E

Having never seen anything quite like it before, I could not help but marvel once again at nature’s infinitely fertile ability to manifest life forms of such diverse and inexplicable beauty. Now, I wonder if anyone can tell us more specifically what type of crustaceans these might be? (My best guesses to the questions I pose here are all down below.)

Now as to the BIRDS, for the past week or so, this very interesting group of birds has been regularly circling the boat. I’ve watched them for endless hours, entranced by their curious flight patterns. They aren’t big birds; one would probably fit in the palm of my hand. They have a white band around their mid-section, but what captures your attention is the way in which they fly. Swooping up and over waves, but getting right down to the water and then seeming to dip their right wing in the water, time and time again. Darting up and down in quick motions … it almost looked as if they had a dysfunctional wing.

Now I figured there was some sort of feeding action going on, but I couldn’t tell exactly what, even though I watched for days on end. I did start to notice that they occasionally dipped the left wing too, so maybe it was just a matter of convenience relative to their stalking food. Even after days of watching them, I find it hard to take my eyes off of them. But here’s a picture of one of them about to dip his or her wing. Anyone want to take a guess as to what kind of bird these are?

42.2220238S, 127.330546E
As close to constant companions as I get for now - 42.2220238S, 127.330546E 

So, the other morning, after the last cold front passed, I was up on the foredeck making a sail change and noticed something unusual … tiny fly-like bugs on part of the deck. I wasn’t sure where they could have come from, but after a much closer look, I realized that what I was looking at were like very tiny shrimp, but no longer than a couple of millimeters. I thought these must be what the birds are catching as they swoop and dip into the waves. How about this species … anyone have a clue what they might be?

bioluminescenseAnd as if both these creatures weren’t fantastical enough, the other night, an explosion of bioluminescence proved as spectacular as any I’ve ever seen in all my years at sea. As I typically do, I came up on deck to have a look around. It was pitch dark out and raining with some flashes of lightning off to the north. At first look I panicked … thinking I was seeing the stern light of a ship just in front of me. (In case you’re curious, I haven’t seen another ship for about four or five weeks now.)

As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I realized what I was seeing. The sea was alive! Every wave top, every white cap was glowing whitish green. The wake from the boat was looking like I had a light on under the boat. The trails from the rudders looked like luminous streamers flying from a circus tent flagpole. Most amazing of all were these floating orbs, glowing bright in the water … and not just one orb, there many all around me! At one point, I counted 20 or more behind the boat and you could see them for quite a ways away… constant in their gleaming brightness.

bioluminesenceOn each side of the boat, there was this same density of bioluminescence. Quite the surrealistic event, I can assure you – sailing along at 10 knots, all alone in the black of night, thousands of miles away from anywhere, in the middle of a thunderstorm and rain … with this incredible beauty erupting all around me. I’ve been back out every night since looking for them, but nothing more so far. I suspect that night was so uniquely spectacular because of conditions that followed from the electrical storm and the super-charged air.

On reflection it strikes me that the closer you get to the ocean, the more it reveals, the more you become part of its surface life. It is truly the great mother of wonder. It surrounds us, feeds us and cleanses the earth and the air. It also provides us with pathways to anywhere in the world and along the way, never stops teaching us and showing us sights and sounds even beyond our wildest imaginings. I so wish there was a way I could photograph this bioluminescence to show you all, but perhaps it’s one of those things you just have to see for yourself. I stood there for half an hour observing it all in the pouring rain. I was both soaked and stoked when I finally went back inside again.

:: (SPOILER ALERT! As to the QUESTIONS above, I shared my observations with Tegan Mortimer, our Earthwatch ocean science colleague for the Circumnavigation, and here are our combined best guesses as to what I saw.

  • The creatures that attached to the kelp are called goose barnacles!
  • The birds look to be gray-back storm petrels.
  • The type of flying they do is something called “dynamic soaring,” which Tegan says she will soon be covering in a new science note about pelagic sea birds. (See Tegan’s previous science notes on our Citizen Science Resource Page here!)
  • Strangely enough, if the birds are in fact gray-back storm petrels, they actually concentrate on feeding on the larvae of goose barnacles, so the tiny shrimp I saw on deck were likely that, which is what the petrels were stalking the whole time.

So, if our answers are correct, then all these sightings were actually interrelated, which gives me a special feeling of gratitude to be able to plumb a little deeper into nature’s mysterious and inter-connected cycles. ::

So onward towards New Zealand! Just another 7 to 10 days and I’ll get a chance to take a break, eat some real food, reconnect with old friends, restock the chocolate and cookie supply, as well as everything else, and begin to prepare Bodacious Dream for Leg 3 of this amazing journey.

I do hope you’re enjoying following along with these updates. I also hope you’ve had a chance to share the Explorer Guides with some young people in your lives or to look them over yourselves. There’s so much more to share and explore out here. Give me a few days once I arrive in New Zealand to get some of these amazing photos and videos up for you to see and enjoy! And here’s the link to the Email List Sign-Up.

But for now, it’s back to sailing. “Roll East Young Franklin, Roll East!”

- Dave, Bodacious Dream and (the well-weathered) Franklin

Tegan’s Science Notes #3 – Sea Turtle Rescue

Explorer GuidesMost conservation efforts around the world are focused on protecting animals and their habitats in their natural conditions. Many of our Earthwatch Institute scientists study endangered species so that we can better understand their lives, their movements and how they interact with their environment. Such scientific efforts also help to inform lawmakers who can then move to protect important areas, ban hunting or harvesting of rare species or manage existing threats to animal populations.

I am very lucky to be involved in conservation action which takes a slightly different route to protecting endangered species: rescue and rehabilitation of sea turtles.

Sea Turtle Rescue
A green sea turtle getting an exam(source: rescue.neaq.org)

Every winter, turtles in New England run into trouble if they fail to migrate south to warmer waters. Sea turtles are superbly suited to life in the ocean, but as they are reptiles they don’t thermo-regulate. Instead they rely on the surrounding water to control their body temperature. If the temperature drops too low, the turtles can suffer from a form of hypothermia called “cold-stunning.”

Cape Cod Sea Turtle Rescue AreaWe usually associate sea turtles with warm tropical waters, but New England waters are important summer foraging areas for several varieties, including juvenile Kemp’s ridley, loggerhead, and green sea turtles. When the air temperature starts to drop, that’s a sign that the turtles need to start moving south; they’re usually long gone by October. But some turtles fail to migrate and end up incapacitated by the cold water. They float in the water unable to move and are pushed by wind and waves until they wash up on a beach. In Massachusetts, the highest concentration of these strandings occur along the beaches of Cape Cod Bay.

It’s not known why some turtles don’t head south. Some scientists believe that turtles that are spending time in shallow bays may be caught suddenly as the water can cool very quickly in these types of environments. Others think that turtles which enter Cape Cod Bay may be unable to navigate out of it as heading north to get around the tip of the cape is counter to their instincts. In any case, every year many turtles will strand on these beaches, though 2012 was a record-breaking year with over 240 turtles rescued off cold beaches.

The rescue operation starts with a team of very dedicated volunteers from Massachusetts Audubon’s Wellfleet Sanctuary, who carefully walk the beaches after every high tide whether that’s early in the morning, late at night or in bad weather. When the turtles wash ashore they are exposed to extremely cold air, so it is important to find these turtles as soon as possible. After a quick exam, the turtles are transported to the New England Aquarium Animal Health Center where veterinarians and rescue staff coax them back to life.

As the turtles slowly warm up they will be assessed for injuries, have blood drawn, have x-rays taken and be allowed to swim in shallow pools with supervision. Once they warm up, they will be moved to the big tanks to continue their recovery. Rehabilitation can take months as turtles can have injured flippers, pneumonia, eye injuries among other ailments which need medical attention. One turtle even received acupuncture!

Sea Turtle Rescue TanksTanks hold turtles until they are recovered enough to released - (rescue.neaq.org)

Once they are stable they may be transported to other facilities that will continue to care for the turtles until they can be released to the wild. Over 80% of the cold-stunned turtles which come to the New England Aquarium will make a full recovery and be released back into the wild. Some of these turtles will be fitted with satellite tags which will track them in their first months of freedom. This is helping scientists learn more about sea turtle navigation and movement.

Sea Turtle Rescue
Kemp’s ridley turtles being released(rescue.neaq.org)

Why is this work important? The rescue team regularly rehabilitates three species of turtle: loggerheads, greens, and Kemp’s ridleys. All three of these are classified as “endangered” with decreasing populations. The Kemp’s ridley in particular is the most critically endangered species of sea turtle in the world; in the past 70 years, the population has gone from 89,000 nesting females to only around 1,000! Kemp’s ridley turtles have an interesting nesting ritual callled an “arabada” or mass nesting where the females will come on to the nesting beach all at once taking over whole sections of the beach. (See photo below.) This behavior makes them very susceptible to hunting, which has severely reduced their population. Today they are also threatened by habitat destruction, pollution and entanglement in fishing nets. There is a huge amount of conservation work being done to address these threats including fitting trawl nets with turtle exclusion devices (TEDs) and protecting nesting beaches. The work to save these turtles from certain death in Cape Cod Bay is just one part of the bigger work being done to save these species from extinction, and part of the much grander effort to preserve the diversity of life in the natural world, of which we are all a part.

Want to learn more about sea turtles?
• Follow the New England Aquarium Rescue team’s blog at rescue.neaq.org to learn more about cold-stunned sea turtles.
• Visit seaturtle.org which has lots of interesting information about sea turtles and sea turtle science.
• Take the hands-on approach and sign up for an Earthwatch expedition studying sea turtles.
• If you live in the Cape Cod or Long Island region volunteer as a beach walker or turtle transport driver.

Sea Turtle Rescue
An arabada, Spanish for “arrival” nesting event(source: jameskaiser.com)

:: Tegan’s Earlier Science Notes:
#1 – Bird Migrations
#2 – Wind and Weather
:: Citizen Science Resources Page

:: BDX Explorer Guides
- Our Watery World
Wind and Weather
Math
Sea Life
Oceanography
Sailboat Glossary
Mentor Guide

Do you happen to know other scientists, educators or journalists who might be interested in our Learning & Discovery agenda? If so, we’d love to make their acquaintance. We can always be reached at oceanexplorer@bodaciousdreamexpeditions.comThank you!

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