Monday, January 31, 2011

Let the Earth Serve YOU!

Next time you sit around your dinner table, think about the resources involved getting every element of your meal in front of you. Wind power or bees pollinated the plants which then grew to provide your salad with all the fixings that is held in a bowl. That bowl could possibly have been produced with energy from wind turbines or hydroelectric power. Any meat on your plate was fed by plants that grew in soil. This soil was supplied by nutrients from nitrogen fixing bacteria and watered by rainstorms. Water in your glass, made from sand mechanically weathered from rocks, could have been filtered by a natural wetland.

For this dinner to be complete, the food and dishes have to be placed on a table where you sit in a chair. A wooden table or chair was probably produced in an old growth hardwood forest which took hundreds of years and many nutrients to grow. Finally, transportation had to get all of these elements to your dining room in order for you to consume them. This transportation used fossil fuels that took millions of years to produce by the earth's natural processes.

This illustration shows that the earth has many more functions and services than the majority of people realize. All of these naturally produced and free services are considered ecosystem services. A few more examples of these services include pollination of crops, renewal and production of soil nutrients, purification of air and water, and natural production of fish, fuels, and other products used in industry.

By harnessing these ecosystem services, entire cities can filter sewage through natural processes and save billions of dollars in the process. A great example is from the Big Apple. Water that was supplied to New York City was top quality until the Catskill Mountain Watershed became overwhelmed with agricultural and sewage run off. When water quality dropped, the city decided to look into having a water treatment plant built. Instead of spending $6-8 billion dollars to build a water treatment plant plus $300 million dollars every year for operating costs, the city decided to invest $600 million dollars into renewing the Catskill Mountain Watershed. By realizing the value of the ecosystem service that was naturally provided, New York City was able to spend a fraction of the cost to reach the same conclusion of a quality water supply.

New York City even took this renewal project a step further by raising an environmental bond issue to purchase land in the Catskill Mountain Watershed. This bond motioned to compensate landowners for not being able to develop on their land and pay for sewage system improvements. My modeling after this city, other municipalities can harness ecosystem services, save money, and ultimately protect the environment.
I had a really enjoyable time writing this post! I was inspired by the comic that I found. I placed the comic at the beginning of the post to draw readers in. To get people even more interested in the topic I was writing about, I illustrated the importance by relating it to an everyday activity that everyone takes part it. I think it was a great way for people to start thinking about all the ecosystem services that the earth provides and that we overlook.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Blogging for Useful Information...

While I was happily browsing through the science blogs that are out there on the net, it didn’t take long to find one that I really, really liked!! The first one that I found that I really liked was called “The Artful Amoeba.” I thought this blog was set up very nicely. It was super easy to read and relate to but it had awesome information in it that could be very useful when conducting science research for a paper or something like that. One of the posts that immediately caught my attention was about Venus Fly Trap and how it attracts and traps its flying prey. The video was so awesome! I was laughing when I saw the leaves of the trap snap shut on the unsuspecting insects and my mom asked to see what I was watching. I think she thought I was a little demented because of the fact that I found humor in the poor insects being killed by the plants.

Pharyngula” is another blog that I found to be very interesting. It is put up by an older man who has a little more jargon language. It took me a little longer to pick up on the language but it had some great information and he seems to have a strong opinion about some matters. It has more than just science in it; the author talks about religion, politics, and other skepticisms that he has. As a matter of fact, the things other than science take up more space in the blog than the science actually does. I still like the blog and its content. It was very interesting to read.

Since I took Marie Biology last spring, I have been really interested in marine organisms and marine systems in general. One of my favorite organisms that we played with was the amazingly cute sea urchin. I loved them!! “The Echinoblog” was a perfect find for me! I loved reading about the different echinoderms that the author was writing about. He seemed to be very knowledgeable about echinoderms and their various parts and functions. He was also very good at bring the information down to the level of a person who had no idea what was going on. This will be one blog that I will probably begin to keep up on. Hopefully you guys will like it as well!!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Ugly Animals Need Love Too!

A blog with the title "Ugly Overload" quickly caught my attention with a picture of a huggably ugly sloth coming out of a hole in the ground. After a quick read, I found that this lovely two-toed sloth was emerging from a latrine sewer hole in Peru after feasting on a healthy meal of human excrement. You read that right, human excrement! YUMMY! The brownish cast to the animal's fur wasn't the natural coloring as I once thought, if you know what I mean. Scientists are having a hard time determining whether the sloths are after the bugs surrounding the waste or if they simply enjoy the salty taste of the urine. (I hope you aren't eating!)

Further reading showed more pictures of animals that were too ugly not to love. The authors of this blog did a great job of hooking their readers with silly pictures and clever, witty jokes. Craftily hidden behind the humor was wonderful information about new and interesting species all presented in a short and concise blog. I am definitely subscribing to this blog and you should too!

My next new favorite blog initially caught my attention for the same simple reason; it had a great title. "Animals Behaving Badly" is a funny account of many different species that have been in the news for various seemingly "bad" acts. A great example was that of a recent news story of the havoc that macaques cause in South Africa, Thailand, and Japan. An unruly group was recently caught feasting on displays used for a traditional yearly festival in Thailand. RUDE! I guess their parents never told them that eating decorative elements for religious festivals was unacceptable!

This blog is great for a number of reasons. It provides more animal humor while throwing in interesting facts about different animals all over the world. Martha Stewart is even on the blog with her jeans jacket wearing dog sitting in her lap. You can't go wrong with a good Martha Stewart joke to hook your readers. The authors of this blog made their information fun and informational to read and for that reason, I think it is a great blog!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Blog Breakdown, or a Brief Review of Scientific Blogs

Are you a bird lover? If so then you’ll definitely want to check out Punctuated Equilibrium. The author, who goes by GrrlScientist, posts pictures of birds and then waits 48 hours to post the name of the bird as well as some general information on the species. This format serves double duty, bird experts or anyone with some knowledge of birds can test their skills and make a “game” out of it while those who won’t be able to guess can still read about the birds. Plus, who doesn’t like looking at beautiful pictures?
But even if birds aren’t really your thing, it’s still worth a look. While this blog is full of photos and information on different species of birds, there are also posts on a wide variety of other science topics. Some of the posts even include videos… a real life paramecium video game?! Being the owner of a weird box-loving cat, I also appreciated the short video clip, Simon’s Cat in ‘The Box.’
Something interesting I found was the post discussing Google’s new online science fair. This program allows kids from around the world to compete for the chance to win scholarships and find work opportunities. I’m not sure about the situations at other schools, but science wasn’t too popular at my high school; for students interested in science but feeling disappointed by the opportunities at their school, this is a great program. 
I think Punctuated Equilibrium is set up really well to draw in people without a science background. There are plenty of pictures which makes the blog seem less intimidating and I think people are less likely to just move on than if the page were full of just text. The author also writes in a way which is easy to understand rather than using a lot of jargon.


As a self-admitted (and proud!) nerd, it’s not surprising that Observations of a Nerd caught my attention. The blog’s author, Christie Wilcox, is currently a graduate student and a perfect example of how science blogs are not only a valuable tool for communicating with the public but also how they can be extremely beneficial for those who take time to maintain them (she recently won a $10,000 scholarship for blogging!). I enjoyed the broad scope of themes, ranging from evolution to research… to makeup? No, that wasn’t a typo, and yes, it actually is on topic. It was also more interesting than I thought it would be.
Christie posted about National Geographic’s Great Migrations series and highlighted the focus of each episode. I hadn’t thought about it before starting this class, but series such as these are great for captivating audiences with science in a way that is accessible to those without a science background. This post also got me thinking…  am I the only one who gets made fun of for taking up tons of space on the DVR every time there’s a new science/nature series? If my family wasn’t already convinced that I’m a nerd, I’m sure the conversation about which narrator I like best sealed the deal. (Just in case you’re wondering, it's David Attenborough). In case you missed it, the Feast or Famine episode replays February 14th at 8pm.
Overall, I think Observations of a Nerd is a great blog to read while in our class; not only is it a science blog, but it’s also entertaining and has plenty of advice to keep in mind when starting our own blogs (It just so happens that the most recent post focuses on photography as a valuable communication tool). This blog was able to keep my attention through a good balance of science and personality. Those are just a few observations of this nerd.