March 2011 Archives

5th International Zooplankton Production Symposium

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Population connections, community dynamics and climate variability. 

Those were the main themes of the 5th International Zooplankton Production Symposium held in Pucon, Chile this March 2011.  The meeting has just ended yesterday (03/18).



Jeff Runge called those meetings occurring every four years the "Olympics of zooplankton studies".  This wit expresses both Jeff's subtle sense of humour and that those meetings are not your regular science meetings.  They are unique occasions to assess the current status of our discipline in terms of techniques and brain power.  The attendees presented the state-of-the-art in zooplankton science, which declines itself nowadays in a multitudes of specialized topics like molecular techniques, multivariate statistics, in situ observation and of course, numerical methods.


This specialized nature of the modern oceanographic science implies that we all are rare birds in our respective fields.  Hence the importance of meetings like this to gather the community of modelers in order to give our field a concerted direction for the few years to come.  And I had the feeling that all the participants of the modeling workshop I was participating in were genuinely trying to build bridges between our contrasting approaches where they meet their respective limits.  The common aim was to commit ourselves to design our respective models as a suite of numerical tools that could interact together in order to speed-up the understanding of marine ecosystems' complex mechanisms.


At the moment of ending this effervescence of ideas and good energy, the usual assessment was made by Roger Harris, the one oceanographer in the assembly who was present at the very first meeting in 1961!


It was definitely worth it!  I would like to finish on a personal note, by telling to any "young career scientist" fellow that those events are key.  You should never let any analysis, thesis redaction or stubborn supervisor stand between you and the keys to your future.  I had constructive chats, welcome marks of recognition for the work done mostly alone in front of an irksome monitor, and even serious job offers.

To finish the advice section, I'll let you on a video tutorial on how to instantaneously carve oneself a place in the hall of fame of your field...

Observations of the Japanese Tsunami

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Natural disasters like the recent earthquake in Japan have impacts far beyond the local devastation.  Our societies are connected by personal and economic ties, which make even far away events seem close at hand.  However, powerful earthquakes can, quite literally, be felt around the world.  

Although he is 17,000 km away from Japan, intrepid graduate student Pete is living in a house a few meters above sea level on the coast of Chile.  When the tsunami warnings went out, Pete and I immediately began exchanging email.  Thankfully, Pete's distance gave him ample time to get to safety and enough time to attempt to sample the wave.  Pete has been using low cost pressure sensors to measure the tide in Melimoyu Bay and the outflow of the nearby river, and he made sure that two of the sensors were set in the Bay prior to the arrival of the tsunami waves.  

While the full saga will hopefully appear on the Patagonia blog (it involves spending the night on a hill in the forest), I'd like to share Pete's initial scientific findings.  The image below is the record of water depth at one location during the passage of the tsunami.  

The gray line is the water level we would expect from the tide alone.  Some interesting things to note:

  1. The wave arrived at about 3AM on Sunday morning, approximately 24 hours after the earthquake.  This means that the wave traveled about 700 kph (440 mph).  This is only 60 mph slower than the cruising speed of an Airbus A340, although the Airbus would probably need to refuel and would have a tough time landing at the airstrip in Melimoyu.
  2. The wave consisted of a series of wave packets.  The number, shape, and frequency of the waves gives information on the path that the wave took to get to Melimoyu.  Wave speed of a tsunami depends on the wave length and the depth of the ocean.  Longer waves travel faster and the waves travel faster in deep water.
  3. The waves persist for several hours, and Pete reported that the Bay was still doing funny things 12 hours later.  Some of the length is due to dispersion as the wave traveled across the Pacific, but there is likely a component due to the wave "echoing" in the islands and fjords.  

Fishermen's Forum

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Greetings!  If you've visited this site before, you're probably aware that our lab has spent the past three July/Augusts cruising up and down the scenic coast of Maine, visiting coastal towns, gawking at amazing sealife, and gathering information on the zooplankton community under the speckled starlight of the summer sky.  Truly the good life.

It's one thing to spend your summers enjoying the Gulf of Maine, bobbing up and down, ogling skeleton shrimp under a microscope.  At the end of the day, however, we need to have something to show for our work.  There are many reasons to improve our understanding of the zooplankton community.  One such reason is so that we have better information on the migration patterns of planktivorous whales.  One of our main objectives has been to describe the feeding habitat of right whales, whose diet consists primary of the copepod Calanus finmarchicus.

This past weekend our lab and the biological oceanography lab presented some of the results of our cruises from 2008, 2009, and 2010 at the Maine Fishermen's Forum.  The forum is teeming with energy and activity, from seafood sampling to trade shows.  Thus I wondered to myself, as I found my way down a long, lonely hallway and up a grated stairway that led to our remote presentation room, How many people here will be interested in a talk with "Calanus finmarchicus" in the title?

After all, our time slot was competing with scallop farming, shrimp fishing, and "The Food Guys".

Not only was our talk well attended by an assortment of fishermen, managers, scientists, reporters, and others, but the array of questions that we received showed an impressive amount of interest, knowledge, and understanding of copepods and their ecological importance.  I doubt that there are many venues where a group of geeky scientists could talk about Calanus finmarchicus to such an eclectic audience, and receive such an enthusiastic response.

Nick Record, signing off.

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This page is an archive of entries from March 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

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