April 2010 Archives

GMRI blog

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Do you like reading marine science blogs?  Have you read all of the Seascape Modeling blog entries multiple times, know them all by heart, and are thirsting for more?

You're in luck!

The Gulf of Maine Research Institute has reinstated the "Today In the Gulf of Maine" blog at this new location.

Answer: You get headlines like this:



In our unending quest to bridge the communication gap between scientists and non-scientists*, our lab helped out with a teacher education program this week.  We presented our science to a group of teachers in training--the University of Southern Maine's ETEP group (Extended Teacher Education Program).

The idea is that teachers who might not have a science background should still feel like they can teach cutting-edge science to their students.  You don't necessarily need to have a bona fide scientist in the room to nod solemnly.  We presented our cutting-edge science to them in a manner directed toward 5th- and 6th graders.  The audience responded with some 5th-grade level taunts.  And the headlines above were created as hypothetical news articles explaining our science.

The lesson: presenting your work to 5th-graders is great exercise for any scientist, and should probably be a requirement for getting a PhD.

TeacherNight4-12 001.jpg

* Really there's no such thing as a "non-scientist".  Anyone who has observed a toddler (or recalls being a toddler) exploring and figuring out the world around should have some appreciation for that tiny, wide-eyed, (sometimes mischievous) scientist within each of us.

a window to the ocean

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I was sitting on the back of the ferry the other day, gazing through a fairlead, and I started thinking about what if that were all I could see of the Ocean. If I could travel anywhere on the ocean, but I could only look through that small window...

Fairlead: a fairlead is a ring through which you pass a rope that changes the ropes direction with minimal friction. You can see it in the picture from the ferry: it's the small window through the side of the ship, right next to the cleat (the big yellow thing). PS. Don't feel bad for not knowing what a fairlead was. I just spent the last 20 minutes figuring out what the name was for little window that inspired this post.

Thinking about my small window to the ocean, I realized it would take forever to see anything. It would take months (years?) to cover just Casco Bay, forget studying the whole ocean with my little window. This got me thinking: as an oceanographer, how much of the ocean we can see at any given time? 

Well, put it this way, it's not a whole lot different than looking at all of Casco Bay through the fairlead on the ferry.

First, I looked at the average volume that's measured in a typical BATS (Bermuda Atlantic Time Series) plankton tow and found an average filtered volume of about 500 m^3 (n=479, thanks Jonathan for that data).

An approximate value for the volume of the ocean (from Nnybakken and Bertness's Marine Biology) is 1,370 * 10^6 cubic kilometers. That's 1,370,000,000 km^3, over one billion cubic  kilometers of ocean water!
On a percentage basis, a typical BATS plankton tow, which generally sample the top 200 meters or so of the water column (personal comm.) covers less than even a percent of a percent of a percent of the ocean (~3.8*10^-14%). This means that a common tool we use for looking at the ocean barely covers anything!

Well, what about satellites? They can get a much bigger picture of the oceans in a short amount of time. MODIS circles the earth 20 times a day and can cover the entire planet with it's beams about every day or two. One piece of data oceanographers get from MODIS is sea surface temperature. Let's say that for the sake of this calculation the sea surface temperature is representative enough to give us a picture of ocean temperatures in the top 100 meters (about a football field in length) of the water column. 
The surface area of the ocean is ~335*10^6 km^2, or 335,000,000 square kilometers. That's about 70% of Earth's surface area. If you multiply the surface area of the oceans by 100 m that will give an approximate value (likely an overestimate) of what MODIS can see, which is about 335*10^5 km^3 (and yes, not all the ocean is 100m deep, but more than enough is to make this calculation interesting). 
If you divide that value by the total volume of the ocean, you get: 0.024, which means MODIS can see only about 2% of the oceans as far as the total volume of water.
 If you went to a baseball game at Fenway park and you could only see 2% of the field, that's like seeing only the portion covered by the red square in the infield in the picture below (calculated as 2% of the fair territory, which is 2% of 99,000 sq ft or ~2000 sq ft).

The point is, the ocean is HUGE and even our best tools can't see much at any given time. So, as scientists we need to come up with effective and innovative ways of looking at it. It also means that there's a lot of ocean to explore. That's the cool part.

Five to one... sometimes odds are not favourable.

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The best quality control in scientific research is the peer review process. The pinnacle of scientific research is the seal of trust obtained when publishing results in a peer reviewed journal. The flip side of this is that for the system to work smoothly, a scientist should judge about five manuscript for every one he submits for publication. This is a really valuable but time consuming volunteer service, and the time-frame imposed by the editorial office of the journals is sometime stressing if you are to produce a meaningful review.

We all know that, so when something goes wrong in the process, it is tempting to jump on the conclusion that the hand that threw a handful of sand in the gears of this sensitive mechanics belongs to "Dr Octopus ! He's jealous because I submitted my work before him, right after I pointed out the flaws in his methodology during his last talk in Ocean Sciences meeting... Dammit !" And here you are again, fostering dangerous thoughts...

But sometimes, it's not the reviewers fault ! A recent experiment proves it:

  1. H0 hypothesis: getting a manuscript published is a straightforward process.

  1. Methodology: submit your manuscript to a high impact factor journal.

  1. Results:

  • 17 months passed between the first submission and the actual publication.

  • During this period, an exchange of over 40 emails with editors and staff occurred, totalizing more than 5000 words or 20 pages, which is slightly less than the manuscript itself...

  • Some hilarious misunderstandings popped-up: the contributing editor (a volunteer scientist who accepts a heavier burden than the regular reviewer) had a hard time to get back the reviews and summoned the reviewers, who were surprised, because they did not know they were reviewing the manuscript in the first place... The editorial office of the journal did not send the manuscript to all of the reviewers, actually... Then came the time for the homework, i.e. major corrections requiring a resubmission. Which can be dealt with. But where hilarious stands is that the not-sending-manuscript part happened again for the resubmission !

  • Even after the manuscript became a "high priority" matter after some sincere excuses, it still underwent some weird sorting techniques, resulting in this kind of quote: "the folder was clearly marked with a purple sticker saying 'High priority!', so it should have gone straight to a typesetter - Instead, it went into the back of the drawer, where the priority sticker was not visible".

  1. Conclusion & discussion: A quick review (!) of past experiments allows to say that it is not the most frequent case study. In some cases, you receive the decision before the advertised timeframe. A few days later, the proofs are received by the editorial office and because you were patient, you are rewarded by a publication timely for your next NSF proposal.

For those who like to play (gamble ?), they should read first "The rules of the game in science publishing" (Browman HI 2004 In Browman HI & DS Kirby (Eds.) Quality in science publishing. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 270:267-268).


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Our lab has had a good month for publications.  Fred's paper on C. finmarchicus diapause, and the role of lipids, finally made it to press.  The paper appears in the Marine Ecology Progress Series, and can be found here.  The paper was submitted for review on the 4th of November, 2008--roughly 17 months ago.

Not all review experiences are as lengthy or arduous.  Our lab had three other papers accepted for publication this month.  Two of them were submitted earlier this year.  We will post an update when they make it to press.  Meanwhile, a list of our publications can be found on our welcome page, here.

Sample image from Fred's paper.  MEPS 403: 165-180.

GMRI ground-breaking

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The bulkhead is now under construction at GMRI.  The ground-breaking event was last Thursday.  A time-lapse video of the full day, 1 April 2010, is below.  Current image from our camera is here.

GMRI ground breaking from Nicholas Record on Vimeo.

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