Ocean Scientists Create Global Network to Help Save Biodiversity
Ocean scientists have been busy creating a global network to understand and measure changes in ocean life. The system will aggregate data from the oceans, climate and human activity to better inform sustainable marine management practices.
EcoWatch sat down with some of the scientists spearheading the collaboration to learn more.
"There is the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS) and the Marine Biodiversity Observation Network (MBON). We're trying to put them together," explained Frank Muller-Karger, a professor at the University of South Florida studying phytoplankton, a member of the Biology & Ecosystems Panel (BioEco Panel) of GOOS and a co-founder of MBON.
GOOS recommends what kinds of essential measurements should be collected to address particular problems. Over the last few decades, physical variables (salinity, temperature, oxygen, etc.) have helped improved weather forecasts and understanding of how the ocean redistributes heat around the world, Muller-Karger said.
Climate models are predicting faster warming of the North Atlantic Ocean, which will shift the Gulf Stream. NASA
MBON has established biodiversity variables (genetics, number of species at a certain depth, ecosystem structure, etc.) to understand the structures of life in the oceans, explained Patricia Miloslavich, executive director of the Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research at the University of Delaware and member of both the BioEco Panel and MBON.
Now, scientists are trying to bridge the gap between the two observing networks by creating one "language" both systems can speak and in which all data can be collected and shared. A major goal is to be more efficient and effective in solving issues that affect people around the world by leveraging the oceans' resources sustainably. The effort will be a key contribution to the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021 - 2030), an international effort under which top researchers have been collaborating to reverse ocean decline.
"Data have to be formatted and have to carry a measure of precision if you want any hope to understand how the world is changing," Muller-Karger said. "It's so difficult to make measurements in the sea, that if we don't follow standards, we end up with things we cannot compare. It complicates things even further."
Woody Turner, who works with NASA and remotely sensed data that will be incorporated into the new system, said the entire endeavor is about "coordination at a global scale to get a global view of the planet." He noted that people have been looking at phenomena in the ocean for centuries and that the hard part has always been stitching these diverse observations together.
"That's why the U.N. Decade is such a big deal. It's an effort to bring together natural and social scientists from around the world to deliberately tie things together and create a standardized global observation system for it all," he said.
The system will also link into a similar global climate observation system that has been in place for over 40 years, as well as account for human intervention. In this way, scientists hope to more fully understand how the two biggest stressors on the oceans — climate change and human activity — affect biodiversity and abundance of life in the oceans, Miloslavich said.
"This can be used by policymakers to better manage how we use the oceans," she added.
For example, through the system, scientists could explain the fact that the oceans off the northeast U.S. are warming and document the how and why of a northward-migration of lobsters to forecast whether specific action may prevent the impending collapse of current fisheries and the resultant shift towards new species in the ecosystem.
Traditional climate data would show the effect of increased emissions of greenhouse gases, the GOOS might measure higher water temperatures, and the MBON might separately register the disappearing lobster populations, but the new system would hopefully be able to connect it all. Fisheries managers could then anticipate shortening or shifting a catch season accordingly, making the fishery more effective and profitable.
"We really need to be measuring life and the diversity of life, because that's ultimately what we depend on," Muller-Karger said. "We don't eat bulk carbon; we eat fish and potatoes."
Fundamentally, the scientists are trying to create a way to link physical and chemical measurements to the changes in biodiversity and life in the oceans.
"We need to be able to harness all that information so we can profit more from the info we're collecting," said Nic Bax, co-chair of the BioEco Panel. "That multi-disciplinarity is really needed now."
Critically, the new integrated observing system also shows how human actions can increase biodiversity in a particular region, so that abundance and productivity can be used to improve human life in various ways, Bax explained.
For example, Turner and Maury Estes apply space-based satellite imagery of the Earth with sea-based measurements to improve aquaculture practices in Palau. This combats overfishing while sustaining the health of the people and the economy of the island nation. They are also applying such technologies to mangrove conservation and restoration efforts in Kenya, where carbon credits are purchased to maintain mangroves as essential fish spawning grounds, increasing biological resilience while reducing human poverty.
"As we understand more, how we talk about sustainably developing the environment won't be just about how to not lose diversity, but about how to bring it back," Bax said. "A lot of things just require someone to invest in them, and financial markets need to be informed about what's going on in the larger system. This is a way to generate profit while improving the lives of people."
Turner added, "It's not only about saving life on the planet, it's about saving ourselves. It's a global problem, so we have to address it top-down, globally."
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By Kate Whiting
Bernice Dapaah calls bamboo "a miracle plant," because it grows so fast and absorbs carbon. But it can also work wonders for children's education and women's employment – as she's discovered.
These are the world's most bicycle-friendly cities. Statista<p>"The reason we use bamboo to manufacture bicycles is because it's found abundantly in Ghana and this is not a material we're going to import," says Dapaah, one of the World Economic Forum's Young Global Leaders.</p><p>"It's a new innovation. There were no existing bamboo bike builders in our country, so we were the first people trying to see how best we could utilize the abundant bamboo in Ghana."</p>
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Supporting Students<p>Besides encouraging Ghanaians to swap vehicles for affordable bikes, Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative is helping students save time on walking to school so they have more time to learn.</p><p>Each time they sell a bike, they donate a bike to a schoolchild in a rural community, who might otherwise have to walk for hours to get to school.</p><p>Dapaah knows how transformative a shorter journey to school can be to academic performance. She grew up living with her <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sb3joGYmx9A&feature=emb_logo" target="_blank">grandpa, a forester in a rural part of the country</a>.</p><p>"We had to walk three and a half hours every day before I could go to school. He later bought me a bike, so I finished senior high and wanted to go to university."</p><p>The experience inspired her to launch Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative with two other students at college.</p><p>"When we started this initiative, I looked back and said, when I was young, I had to walk miles before I could get to school, and sometimes if I was late, I was punished.</p><p>"Why don't we donate bikes for students to encourage them to study and so they can have enough time to be on books."</p><p>To date, they have sold more than 3,000 road, mountain and children's bikes – and Dapaah says they plan to donate <a href="https://www.entrepreneur.com/video/350343" target="_blank">10,000 bikes to schoolchildren over five years</a>.</p>
Empowering Women<p>The enterprise is also providing local jobs. It teaches young people to build bikes, particularly women and those in rural communities, where jobs can be scarce. More than 50% of people they have trained are women.</p><p>Dapaah says they want to boost the number of people they employ to 250 over the next five years and they are looking to partner with NGOs to build a childcare facility so mothers can continue to work.</p>
Reducing Emissions<p>By promoting a cycling culture in Ghana, Dapaah says they're also committed to reducing emissions in the transport sector and contributing to the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.</p><p>"I love the idea of reusing bamboo to promote sustainable cycling. People want to go green, low-carbon, lean-energy efficient," she says.</p>
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By Kristen Pope
Melting and crumbling glaciers are largely responsible for rising sea levels, so learning more about how glaciers shrink is vital to those who hope to save coastal cities and preserve wildlife.
Groans, Creaks, Icebergs’ Calving Splashes<p>Oskar Glowacki already knew that melting glacial ice sounds like frying bacon. As ice bubbles burst, anyone nearby can hear crackling and popping, said Glowacki, a postdoctoral scholar at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Using hydrophones, he and other scientists now can make more nuanced measurements of how a changing climate sounds underwater, from the groans, creaks and splashes of a calving iceberg to the changes in whale songs as the ocean warms.</p><p>Glowacki recently used a pair of hydrophones to study the underwater world of glaciers, publishing his findings in <a href="https://www.the-cryosphere.net/14/1025/2020/" target="_blank">The Cryosphere</a>. He and co-author Grant B. Deane measured glacier retreat by <a href="https://yaleclimateconnections.org/2020/07/melting-glaciers-sound-like-frying-bacon/" target="_blank">recording the sounds of ice</a> – from small chunks to enormous slabs – falling off the glacier and splashing into the water.</p><p>During the summer of 2016, Glowacki's team placed two hydrophones near Hansbreen Glacier in Hornsund Fjord, Svalbard. For a month and a half, they recorded sounds, also using three time-lapse cameras to collect images – including the "drop height" (how far the ice fell into the water) – so they could compare photos to the recordings. The team created a formula to represent the relationship between the size of a piece of ice falling from a glacier and the sound it makes underwater, also accounting for the pieces of ice falling from varying heights. (Hear an example of the sound an iceberg makes while calving <a href="https://soundcloud.com/user-248456662/iceberg-calving-hansbreen-glacier" target="_blank">here</a>.)</p>
Unlocking Information About Antarctic Ice Shelf<p>Other researchers also are using hydrophones to learn more about crumbling glaciers. Bob Dziak, research oceanographer with the NOAA/Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory <a href="https://www.pmel.noaa.gov/acoustics" target="_blank">acoustics research group</a>, captured a massive calving event of the Nansen Ice Shelf in Antarctica with a hydrophone. He published the results with colleagues in <a href="https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/feart.2019.00183/full" target="_blank">Frontiers in Earth Science</a></p><p>On April 7, 2016, satellite images showed a massive calving event had occurred on the ice shelf. The paper described it as the "first large scale calving event in >30 years."</p><p>However, once Dziak and colleagues delved into the data from three hydrophones deployed 60 kilometers east of the ice shelf, they uncovered a series of "icequakes" from January to early March 2016. He and other researchers believe that much of the ice actually broke free in mid-January to February, but it remained in the same location until an April storm – which their paper described as the "largest low-pressure storm recorded in the previous seven months" – broke the ice free.</p><p>"We suspected that the icebergs broke apart but remained in place – kind of pinned in place – until a major storm with high winds passed through the area and, finally, it was that last push that pushed the icebergs out to sea," Dziak says.</p><p>He and his co-authors wrote that "fortuitous timing and proximity of the hydrophone deployment presented a rare opportunity to study cryogenic signals and ocean ambient sounds of a large-scale ice shelf calving and iceberg formation event."</p>
Listening to Songs of Humpback Whales<p><a href="https://www.mbari.org/" target="_blank">Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute</a> studies the ocean, including its acoustics. One of the institute's projects involves examining the soundscape of California's Monterey Bay, including sounds from animals, humans, weather, and geologic processes like earthquakes. The researchers once even recorded an under-sea landslide. They also focus on recording and analyzing the <a href="http://www.mbari.org/humpback-song/" target="_blank">songs of humpback whales</a>. Male humpback whales' songs can be over 15 minutes in length, and they can be repeated for long periods of time – even hours. Listening to these songs and analyzing them can provide unique insights into the lives of these complex animals.</p><p>"Any time we want to study marine mammals, sound gives us a window into their lives because they use sound for all of their essential life activities, really," says institute biological oceanographer John Ryan. "Communication, foraging, reproduction, navigation – depending on the species, of course."</p><p>Previously, scientists had thought singing occurred only during courtship and mating, but now they think whales may also use song while migrating and hunting. They know song has a crucial role in the whales' lives.</p><p>"There's a whole other dimension to humpback whale song," Ryan says. "It is a mode of cultural transmission in this species. They learn songs from each other. They share songs as a population, and when populations mix and mingle, they learn new ideas, they explore with their song, improvise, and it's a real essential part of their culture."</p>
By William S. Lynn, Arian Wallach and Francisco J. Santiago-Ávila
A number of conservationists claim cats are a zombie apocalypse for biodiversity that need to be removed from the outdoors by "any means necessary" – coded language for shooting, trapping and poisoning. Various media outlets have portrayed cats as murderous superpredators. Australia has even declared an official "war" against cats.
Faulty Scientific Reasoning<p>In our <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/cobi.13527" target="_blank">most recent publication</a> in the journal Conservation Biology, we examine an error of reasoning that props up the moral panic over cats.</p><p>Scientists do not simply collect data and analyze the results. They also establish a logical argument to explain what they observe. Thus, the reasoning behind a factual claim is equally important to the observations used to make that claim. And it is this reasoning about cats where claims about their threat to global biodiversity founder. In our analysis, we found it happens because many scientists take specific, local studies and overgeneralize those findings to the world at large.</p><p>Even when specific studies are good overall, projecting the combined "results" onto the world at large can cause unscientific overgeneralizations, particularly when <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2015.01.003" target="_blank">ecological context is ignored</a>. It is akin to pulling a quote out of context and then assuming you understand its meaning.</p>
Ways Forward<p>So how might citizens and scientists chart a way forward to a more nuanced understanding of cat ecology and conservation?</p><p>First, those examining this issue on all sides can acknowledge that both the well-being of cats and the survival of threatened species are legitimate concerns.</p><p>Second, cats, like any other predator, affect their ecological communities. Whether that impact is good or bad is a complex value judgment, not a scientific fact.</p><p>Third, there is a need for a more rigorous approach to the study of cats. Such an approach must be mindful of the importance of ecological context and avoid the pitfalls of faulty reasoning. It also means resisting <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/cobi.13126" target="_blank">the siren call of a silver (lethal) bullet</a>.</p>
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