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Schooling 101

As kids of all ages head back to classrooms across San Diego, and shorter days remind us that fall is around the corner,  Birch Aquarium looks closer at schooling fish in honor of one of the most exciting natural events of the summer.

 On July 8, 2014, a massive school of northern anchovies swam along the coast of La Jolla on their migration north. Scripps scientists say it is the largest school seen in more than 30 years. A school of fish is simply a group of fish of any size, ten or several thousand, swimming parallel in the same direction. It’s synchronized swimming, fish-style.

northern anchovy aggregation in La Jolla. July 8, 2014

Photo credit: Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego

In the back-to-school spirit, let’s explore the schooling behavior of fish through core elementary “school” subjects.

Math: Is there really safety in numbers? Swimming as part of a group may reduce the likelihood of an individual fish being attacked by a predator. More fish = more targets. Predators have a more difficult time zeroing in on individual group members, making it statistically less likely that a particular fish will be picked off. A flurry of swirling baitfish may even disrupt the ability of predatory fish to sense their prey using their lateral line.

However, swimming in a large, conspicuous group can also skew the numbers game in the predator’s favor…

Physical Education: Sea lions, sharks, and sea birds rise to the challenge of feeding on open ocean fish using speed and agility. Interestingly, biologists recently discovered that billfishes, like sailfish and marlin, can insert their long, slender bills into schools of fish without scaring them. Talk about stealth! The billfish then tap targeted prey with their bill or slash through schools with powerful side-to-side thrusts (1).

Social Studies: If this has you worried, little fish, practice your cross-cultural skills. Some schooling fish swim alongside larger predators, like tuna or sharks, who serve as bodyguards. Other fishes form multi-species groups for better foraging. Zebraperch and opaleye in Birch Aquarium’s Kelp Forest often do this!

Oceanic whitetip photographed at the Elphinstone reef, Red Sea, Egypt, accompanied by pilot fish

Oceanic whitetip photographed at the Elphinstone reef, Red Sea, Egypt, accompanied by pilot fish. Photo licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Carcharhinus_longimanus_1.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Carcharhinus_longimanus_1.jpg

Recess: Do fish learn to school or is it instinct? This is not a well-investigated area of research, but some species have been observed to gradually attempt schooling behavior. Just as recess is time for socializing, young fish will practice swimming alongside each another in pairs, joining larger and larger groups as they develop ability.

After-school enrichment: If you enjoy the performing arts, check out the acrobatics of shrimpfish (Aeoliscus strigatus). These fish swim in a headstand position, with their tails up and heads down. The shrimpfish’s schooling “choreography” resembles blades of seagrass swaying back-and-forth in the water, helping them blend in with their seaweed home.

Birch Aquarium’s former executive director Dr. Nigella Hillgarth took a video of this behavior:

Want to spot more schools of fish at Birch Aquarium? Keep an eye out for blue-green chromis, shiner surfperch, and señoritas. Be sure to also check out our photography exhibit, Mexican Seas/Mares Mexicanos, for sardines, trevally, and more.

 

- Kate Jirik

(1) Domenici P. et al. 2014. How sailfish use their bills to capture schooling prey. Proc. R. Soc. B 281: 20140444. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2014.0444

 

Meet the Locals: Soupfin Sharks

“Meet the Locals” is a 3-part blog series in honor of our local elasmobranchs (sharks and rays) and Shark Summer 2014. This is the second post. Part 1: Sevengill sharks

With Shark Summer in full swing, by now we are all pretty familiar with our local leopard sharks, which aggregate in the warm shallow waters of La Jolla Shores each summer.  Did you know that one of the leopard shark’s closest relatives is also a local? The soupfin shark (Galeorhinus galeus) is a member of the family Triakidae, which includes the leopard shark and the smooth hound shark. Soupfin sharks are similar in size and shape to the leopard shark, topping out at just over six feet long. However, soupfin sharks have a dark gray back, lacking the distinctive saddle patches that the leopard sharks have. Soupfin sharks frequent both shallow inshore waters and pelagic habitats, and they feed on a variety of prey, including fish and invertebrates such as lobster, crabs, octopus, and worms.  An interesting study found that soupfin sharks separate themselves by gender- and not just by a few miles. Most of the soupfin sharks in Southern California are females, while the males range from British Columbia to Northern California. Their range overlaps in Central California, where the male to female ratio is about equal.

Soupfin shark. Photo courtesy of Kyle McBurnie, www.sdexpeditions.com

Soupfin shark. Photo courtesy of Kyle McBurnie, www.sdexpeditions.com

Wondering how this shark received its unique name? The soupfin shark was heavily fished in the 1930s and 1940s in California, as its fins were used to make traditional sharkfin soups. The soupfin shark was also known as the vitamin shark because the oil in its liver was so rich in vitamin A that it was used to make Vitamin A supplements. The heavy fishing pressures placed on this species took a toll on its population size.

However, this story has a happy ending. Synthetic Vitamin A was developed in the late 1940s, eliminating the need to harvest it from the soupfin shark’s liver oil. And more recently, California has become a safer place for sharks due to a 2011 law that banned the sale or possession of any shark-fin products throughout the state.

Sharks are amazing, vital, and often misunderstood animals. By participating in Birch Aquarium’s Shark Summer activities, you can take an active role in learning more about all of our local sharks in order to advocate for and protect them.

Shark Summer 2014 at Birch Aquarium is sponsored by ESET. http://www.eset.com/us/protection/goexplore-birch/ 

Meet the Locals: Sevengill Sharks

“Meet the Locals” is a 3-part blog series in honor of our local elasmobranchs (sharks and rays) and Shark Summer 2014. This is the first post.

 How many gill slits do sharks have? If you answered “five,” you’d be about 99% correct. Almost all sharks have five gill slits, with the exception of the sharks in the family Hexanchide. This group, also referred to as the “cow sharks,” have extra gill slits and includes the creatively named six-gilled and seven-gilled sharks.

The broadnose sevengill shark (Notorynchus cepedianus) is one of these unique species that we can find locally in La Jolla. As its name implies, this shark has not five, but seven gill slits. As a member of the cow shark family, it is considered one of the more primitive sharks, with its skeleton closely matching that of its extinct relatives. While the other species of cow sharks tend to prefer deeper waters, the sevengill shark can also found in shallow waters closer to shore, such as the areas in and around La Jolla Cove.

Sevengill shark. Photo by Kyle McBurnie. www.sdexpeditions.com

Sevengill shark. Photo by Kyle McBurnie. www.sdexpeditions.com

Sevengill sharks have a dark gray to brown colored back, speckled with dark spots, while their bellies are lighter and cream colored. This countershading allows them to blend into their open-water habitat. Sevengill sharks are one of the larger species that we can see locally off of our coasts, as they can be close to 10 feet long. Their life span is about 50 years.

Sevengill sharks are thought to be social sharks, as divers often report seeing multiple sevengills in an area at once. This social interaction may also be helpful for hunting as sevengill sharks are opportunistic feeders, using both pack hunting and scavenging strategies to feed on a wide rang of prey, including small fish, rays, other sharks, and marine mammals. They are able to feed on such a wide variety of prey items due to their unique teeth, with sharp jagged teeth in their upper jaw for holding prey, and wide comb shaped teeth in their lower jaw for ripping and tearing.

While best known for his work with our local leopard sharks, Dr. Andy Nosal, Birch Aquarium’s DeLaCour Fellow for Ecology & Conservation, has also been doing some research on the sevengill sharks. In fact, he was able to tag a few of them earlier this summer. Andy’s work may allow us to better understand the movements of these mysterious, prehistoric looking sharks.

Shark Summer 2014 at Birch Aquarium is sponsored by ESET. http://www.eset.com/us/protection/goexplore-birch/ 

SEA Days: Sharks On The Line

by Camila Pauda, Volunteer Programs Assistant

Every month, the third Saturday is a special day at Birch Aquarium: SEA Days! As the tagline suggests, SEA Days are always full of  “Science, Exploration and Adventure.” Visitors and members can meet a Scripps Institution of Oceanography or UC San Diego researcher and get hands-on with science, participate in activity stations, and get creative with a thematic craft.

This month’s SEA Days continues our Shark Summer theme by highlighting the importance of shark research to developing, shaping, and improving fishery policies. Fisheries affect sharks globally, as well as sharks living in Southern Californian waters. A diverse array of sharks live off our local coast due to the Southern California Bight (SCB). The SCB is the coastal and offshore area between Point Conception and south of the US-Mexico border, looks like something actually took a bite out of California, and has many different types of sharks living in it because it has habitat diversity. Habitats such as eelgrass beds, kelp forests and open ocean can support swell sharks, leopard sharks, thresher, blue, mako sharks…and more!

The unique ecosystem of the SCB is an important topic to study, and Dovi Kacev is doing just that. Dovi is a Ph.D. candidate at San Diego State University conducting research on mako and thresher sharks found in the Southern California Bight. He has extensive experience with sharks, including working in a lab at Scripps Oceanography. Now, his research consists of using molecular techniques to analyze the local populations of pelagic sharks, mainly makos and threshers. This research can contribute to scientists’ understanding about population structure and ultimately how these sharks use their habitats. In turn, this research can also contribute to creating marine protected areas and sustainable fisheries. Below, Dovi answers questions about his experience with sharks and gives advice for future scientists.

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Dovi measuring a large short fin mako shark caught by a recreational fisherman. Photo courtesy of Dovi Kacev.

SEA Days Scientist Q&A

Where did you go to college?
My undergraduate education was at UCLA and my Ph.D. is in progress in the Joint Doctorate Program in Ecology between SDSU and UC Davis.

What is your area of research?
I like to consider myself a conservation ecologist. My current research uses genetic tools to better understand populations of difficult to observe, pelagic sharks. Genetics are a powerful tool that allows us glimpses into the private lives of sharks.

Who or what inspired you to become involved in marine science?
Ever since I can remember, the ocean and the creatures within it have fascinated me. It was not until my sophomore year in college, when I took an oceanography general education course, that I realized that I could make marine biology into a career. The more I looked into it the more interested I became. I have been fortunate enough to have many amazing mentors in the field including Doctor Gruber from the University of Miami, Serge Dedina from Wildcoast, and Jeff Graham from Scripps. My Ph.D. advisors, Rebecca Lewison and Andy Bohonak, and my National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) mentor, John Hyde, have also been inspirational in my growth as a scientist.
 
What qualities do you need in order to become a scientist?
To become a scientist, one needs passion, creativity, patience, and attention to detail. The ability to be constantly observant and open to collaboration also helps. I also want to highlight the fact that just because one intends to become a scientist, does not mean that other subjects are not important; math, reading comprehension, and written communication are vital in the field.

Why is your research topic important?
Mako sharks are long-lived species that are vulnerable to commercial and recreational fisheries. In order to ensure that the species and the fisheries for the species are sustainable into the future, we need to understand the dynamics of mako populations. My research looks into how populations of mako across the Pacific are connected, which helps develop effective management for the species.
 
What will you be bringing with you to SEA days?
I will bring some shark genetics samples, some pipettors for people to try (along with some other lab equipment), some photos and a computer with a presentation explaining the work.
 
What is the best advice you have for people interested in becoming involved in your field of research?
The best advice I have is that perseverance and hard work pay off. In order to make it in this field, you have to be passionate. For students, I recommend paying attention in math and computer classes, they are becoming more important in our analyses. Also, get lots of practice writing essays because communication is the key to success.
 
What is your favorite ocean organism?
I love all ocean creatures big and small, but I am partial to mako and thresher sharks as they are my primary study species. As an ecologist I like to think about ecosystem processes and the relationships among species as opposed to just focusing on one favorite organism.
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Join us on Saturday, August 16th for SEA Days: Sharks On The Line—there’s something for everyone!

SEA Days are 11 a.m – 3 p.m., are included with aquarium admission, and always free to aquarium members. Not a member? Join today!

SEA you there!

Shark Summer 2014 at Birch Aquarium is sponsored by ESET. http://www.eset.com/us/protection/goexplore-birch/ 

SEA Days: Sharks Celebration

by Camila Pauda, Volunteer Programs Assistant

Every month, the third Saturday is a special day at Birch Aquarium: SEA Days! As the tagline suggests, SEA Days are always full of  “Science, Exploration and Adventure.” Visitors and members can meet a Scripps Institution of Oceanography or UC San Diego researcher and get hands-on with science, participate in activity stations, and get creative with a thematic craft.

Did you know that sharks are fish? They are! Sharks differ from their relatives through their cartilaginous skeletons (the same flexible material people have in their noses and ears) and large livers with lots of oil, while their relatives have bony skeletons and swim bladders. Sharks are also known as elasmobranchs (cartilaginous fish), while their other bony relatives are called osteichthyes (bony fish).

Other facts that make sharks fascinating animals include: some travel thousands of miles and many of them are apex predators. As apex predators, sharks have an important role in their respective ecosystems by keeping food webs in balance and helping keep prey populations healthy. Furthermore, since they travel vast distances, sharks are advantageous to the health of a large range of the ocean environment.

Sharks are also under a large amount of pressure mainly from overfishing, resulting in a drastic decrease in shark populations. The pressure of this decrease and the crucial role that sharks play make them important animals to study because scientists can get an idea of how ecosystems and the sharks themselves respond to the decreasing population.

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Last month we focused on La Jolla’s local population of leopard sharks, so this month we are expanding our discussion to local researchers studying other sharks since Shark Summer will be in full swing at the aquarium for this SEA Days! Several local researchers will be coming from the Large Pelagics Lab the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Southwest Fisheries Science Center here in La Jolla. The scientists in this lab study mainly basking, blue, mako, and thresher sharks, as well as the foraging ecology and large scale movements of sharks. One way to study foraging ecology of sharks is to analyze their stomach contents and the isotopes found in them. To determine large-scale movements, the scientists use satellite tags and use the chemical signature in muscle and vertebrae. Age and growth can also be determined by analyzing the vertebrae. Below is an interview with Heidi Dewar, one of the scientists with the Pelagics Lab who will be featured at SEA Days.

Where did you go to college?
I received an undergraduate degree from Oregon State and a graduate degree from Scripps Oceanography.

What is your area of research?
Physiological Ecology: movements and behaviors of large pelagic fish, mostly tunas, sharks and swordfish.

Who or what inspired you to become involved in marine science?
I have always loved the ocean and have been fascinated by the crazy ways that scientists make a living and the interesting tools that they use.

What qualities do you need in order to become a scientist?
Persistent, hard working, attention to detail, curious, creative problem solver.

Why is your research topic important?
The goal is to support management so that we have a healthy marine ecosystem going into the future.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

What will you be bringing with you to SEA days?
Tools of the trade, shark stomach contents, otoliths, vertebrae, microscope, electronic tags.

What is the best advice you have for people interested in becoming involved in your field of research?
Volunteer to get exposure to science and scientists, learn some technical skill, don’t get too narrowly focused as an undergraduate, and take a summer course at cool field stations if possible. Talk to other graduate students about schools and advisors. If you work with someone brilliant who can’t communicate, you won’t get as much out of the experience.

What is your favorite ocean organism?
I can’t pick one, it would have to be between manta rays and opah. Both are amazing, beautiful animals.

 

Join us on Saturday, July 19 for SEA Days: Sharks Celebration—there’s something for everyone!

SEA Days are 11 a.m – 3 p.m., are included with aquarium admission, and always free to aquarium members. Not a member? Join today!

SEA you there!

 

Birch Aquarium Celebrates World Oceans Day 2014

Birch Aquarium at Scripps celebrated World Oceans Day on Sunday, June 8. Visitors to the aquarium had the opportunity to participate in eight activity stations throughout the aquarium and learn fun facts about the ocean, all themed to Dr. Seuss’s classic One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. Each station included a rhyme that gave guests ideas about how they could help the ocean and protect its biodiversity.

The galleria featured stations that highlighted local sea life. At the whale station, guests could learn about different types of whales found off the California coast and the diversity of whale species across the globe. The seaweed station let guests get hands-on with different types of seaweed and discover how it impacts our daily lives. A crowd favorite, the plankton station, allowed guests to use their creativity and ingenuity to build their own plankton and test its ability to move within the water column.Untitled

The education courtyard was home to two more exciting activities. The fish station demonstrated the importance of being aware of different fishing methods and their effects on the environment. It was also home to our wind energy station, where guests could design and test different types of blades to determine the best shape for capturing wind energy and how to conserve energy in their homes.Untitled1

One of the classrooms was turned into a Recycle Party, where guests could make an upcycled bracelet out of a water bottle or learn about common types of marine debris. Next door, in the invertebrate room, sea stars, hermit crabs, and sea snails were available to be touched. These animals are often found in our local tide pools but are susceptible to runoff and other types of pollution. As guests finished their activities they could make a promise to the ocean to keep the celebration alive all year long.  Untitled2

This year there were over 600 events all over the globe to celebrate World Ocean’s Day. We look forward to celebrating with everyone in 2015!Untitled3

SEA Days: Meet the Locals

by Camila Pauda, Volunteer Programs Assistant

Every month, the third Saturday is a special day at Birch Aquarium: SEA Days! As the tagline suggests, SEA Days are always full of  “Science, Exploration and Adventure.” Visitors and members can meet a Scripps Institution of Oceanography or UC San Diego researcher and get hands-on with science, participate in activity stations, and get creative with a thematic craft.

Summer is just about upon us, which means it’s the start of Shark Summer at Birch Aquarium. For the next several months we will be celebrating our local shark and ray populations, with an emphasis on leopard sharks. June’s SEA Days: Meet The Locals, is bringing a very special scientist, Dr. Andy Nosal, in to talk about his research. He is a postdoctoral researcher at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and is the aquarium’s DeLaCour Fellow in Ecology & Conservation. Lucky for us, this appointment means that he will be spending lots of time working with the aquarium and sharing his research with our visitors.

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Dr. Nosal studies the spatial ecology of elasmobranch fishes (sharks and rays), as well the biological, ecological consequences and conservation implications of the influences on movement. To say this another way, Dr. Nosal studies the local population of leopard sharks that comes to La Jolla every summer, and searches for answers as to why the sharks come here, what the composition of this shark population is, and what can be done to protect them and their environment. He will be at Birch Aquarium on June 21 to talk about his exciting shark research in a fun, relaxed, and informal setting. Here is a conversation we recently had with Dr. Nosal about his research and SEA Days:

SEA Days Scientist Q&A

Where did you go to college?
University of Virginia

What is your area of research?
Behavior and ecology of elasmobranch fishes (sharks and rays)

Who or what inspired you to become involved in marine science?
A very supportive high school biology teacher got me interested in marine science. Then, as an undergraduate, I did a study abroad program at the University of Queensland in Australia where I took classes in marine biology and got to see sharks in person on coral reefs. I thought the sharks were just beautiful and wanted to learn more about them.

What qualities do you need in order to become a scientist?
A good scientist is self-motivated, curious, and creative. A great scientist is also an excellent communicator in both oral and written forms.

Why is your research topic important?
There is still a lot unknown about the behavior and ecology of sharks and rays and many important conservation implications of understanding their movement patterns. The public is naturally interested in sharks and so studying these animals provides a natural conduit to engage the public in science and inform them about broader issues in marine biology beyond sharks.ba_A_sharksummer13_004

What will you be bringing with you to SEA days?
I will likely bring some of the equipment I use to track sharks. These include acoustic transmitters that emit a pinging sound underwater and the acoustic receivers used to listen for these pings. By following the sound we can follow the shark.

What is the best advice you have for people interested in becoming involved in your field of research?
Get a BROAD science education and do not specialize too soon. Majoring in marine biology as an undergrad is not necessary to become a marine biologist. It is important to get a solid foundation in general biology, chemistry, physics, math, statistics, AND communication. I cannot stress that enough. Great scientists need to be excellent writers and oral communicators. Look for opportunities to volunteer and get practical experience as a research assistant or volunteer.

What is your favorite ocean organism?
SHARKS!

Join us on Saturday, June 21 for SEA Days: Meet the Locals—there’s something for everyone!

SEA Days are 11 a.m – 3 p.m., are included with aquarium admission, and always free to aquarium members. Not a member?Join today!

SEA you there!

Carbon Cooperation: Birch Aquarium Looks Forward to Annual Keeling Lecture

1958. A very important year for science.

Along with launching the first American satellite into orbit and celebrating Frederick Sanger’s Nobel Prize for describing the protein structure of insulin, 1958 was the year Scripps Institution of Oceanography researcher Charles Keeling began daily measurements of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere. Keeling’s discovery of rapidly increasing carbon dioxide concentrations caused by burning fossil fuels became the foundation for today’s profound concerns about climate change. He passed away in 2005, but ongoing carbon dioxide measurements are continually added to the renowned “Keeling Curve.”

Birch Aquarium recently updated the Keeling Curve display in its award-winning Feeling the Heat exhibit. Creeping increases in carbon dioxide show how levels of this gas are straying farther and farther away from the safe upper limit of 350 parts per million. In spring 2014, monthly carbon dioxide concentrations consistently remained above 400 parts per million—conditions Earth has not experienced for three to five million years.

The relentless rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere shows that humans are changing Earth’s climate at an accelerated rate.

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On Tuesday, May 13, as part of the Jeffrey B. Graham Perspectives on Ocean Science Lecture Series, Birch Aquarium will host its fifth annual Charles David Keeling Lecture, an event to highlight a UC San Diego researcher’s work on climate change. This year, we welcome Professor David Victor, an internationally recognized leader in research on energy and climate change policy and director of the Laboratory on International Law and Regulation at UC San Diego’s School of International Relations and Pacific Studies.Faculty_David Victor Headshot_2012

Victor’s interests were first sparked in the 1980s when international treaties were written to counteract ozone depletion. Victor was fascinated by the negotiations and, during graduate school, driven to understand why the treaties were so effective.

Then came concerns about climate change. Victor realized that to unravel the political aspects of climate change, he needed to understand energy markets and energy technologies. Over a decade, he educated himself on energy issues to discern the underlying structure of energy markets.

Finding diplomatic solutions to compel action by countries that emit the most carbon pollution—industrialized countries such as the United States and Japan and emerging countries such as China and India—is crucial. But how do you get countries with different interests to work together? It helps to bring political scientists into the climate conversation. “Political scientists help you understand how things that are politically difficult can be put into practice,” says Victor.

Victor cites his collaboration with Scripps scientists Veerabhadran Ramanathan and Charles Kennel to reduce soot emissions in Asia. Wood and manure-burning stoves emit carbon pollution including carbon dioxide and methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas. Substituting no- and low-emission cooking appliances will reduce soot emissions by as much as three or four times the current levels. “It’s not going to stop global warming,” Victor says. “But we’re very excited because soot is a pollutant that lines up better with the underlying interests of India, China, and other big emitters. Because even when they don’t care about climate change, they might care a lot about local air pollution.”

This project underscores the need to couple diplomatic solutions with cultural innovation and deployment of no- and low-emission technologies.

The United States faces a similar problem. What technologies do we put our resources and budgets behind: advanced renewables, advanced nuclear, capturing and containing carbon underground, etc.? Victor warns that the United States should not embrace a particular technology. “We really need to avoid picking winners at this stage. We just don’t know what’s going to work best.” Instead, Victor recommends that the United States embrace competition.

“The [climate] problem is much more dire than even five or ten years ago. It’s deeply disturbing. It’s going to be hard and difficult, but over several decades, there are pretty clear strategies for fixing this problem.”

 

- Kate Jirik

Join our climate conversation during Tuesday evening’s lecture. More information and to RSVP.

Learn more about David Victor’s work.

Keep tabs on Scripps’ Keeling Curve

SEA Days: All About Aerosols

by Camila Pauda, Volunteer Programs Assistant

Every month, the third Saturday is a special day at Birch Aquarium: SEA Days! As the tagline suggests, SEA Days are always full of  “Science, Exploration and Adventure.” Visitors and members can meet a Scripps Institution of Oceanography or UC San Diego researcher and get hands-on with science, participate in activity stations, and get creative with a thematic craft.

Continuing with last month’s topic of atmospheric chemistry. Since May is Clean Air Month, May’s SEA Days is all about aerosols and you! Aerosols are extremely small particles (like dust, soot, and sea spray) that live in Earth’s atmosphere. Aerosols are very influential to the health of the environment, and therefore, to people! Aerosols affect many atmospheric chemistry aspects, such as cloud formation and ozone depletion. These tiny particles come from a variety of sources, such as vehicles, volcanoes, and sea spray from the ocean.

You are in for a treat with this month’s SEA Days visiting scientist, because several members of UC San Diego’s Center for Aerosol Impacts on Climate and the Environment (CAICE) will be at Birch Aquarium, demonstrating real-time experiments and answering your questions. Researchers at CAICE focus on improving our understanding of how aerosol particles impact the environment, air quality, and climate. For example, they study how changes in ocean biology impact sea-spray production, composition, and climate properties by using an ocean-atmosphere wave flume.

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In addition to conducting research, CAICE plays an active role in education and outreach to inform the public of climate and air pollution research and to spread science education. One of the visiting scientists at SEA Days on May 21 is Camille Sultana, a graduate student in the Prather Lab at UC San Diego (which participates in CAICE). Read our conversation about her experience in atmospheric chemistry research and what will visitors can expect at SEA DaysDSC03142

Where did you go to college?
Harvey Mudd College

What is your area of research?
Atmospheric Aerosol Chemistry

Who or what inspired you to become involved in atmospheric chemistry/marine science?
I wanted to be able to do work that would help to improve human health and the health of the environment. Also, atmospheric chemistry is really cool because I get the opportunity to take on a number of different projects from instrument development, to field studies, to data analysis.  I always have the chance to learn something new.

What qualities do you need in order to become a scientist?
Perseverance and the ability to think critically about others and your own work.

Why is your research topic important?
Atmospheric aerosols are like tiny floating laboratories. So much chemistry in the atmosphere is dependent upon aerosols, from the formation of clouds to the depletion of the ozone hole.

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What will you be bringing with you to SEA days?
We will be bringing our “cloud in a bottle” activity. In this activity, visitors will be able to make a cloud in a bottle and see how the introduction of aerosols changes the properties of the clouds formed. Additionally, we will be bringing a particle counter that allows visitors to see how numerous aerosols are in the very air they breathe, even though the aerosols are largely invisible to the naked eye.

What is the best advice you have for people interested in becoming involved in your field of research?
To be an atmospheric chemist you have to be able to pull knowledge from biology, meteorology, physical chemistry, computer programming, engineering, and more. It is very interdisciplinary, which allows people from a wide variety of backgrounds to get involved as long as they have a willingness to collaborate. It’s hard to be an expert in everything, but you have to be willing to get out of your comfort zone and be able to communicate and work with scientists who study topics different from yourself.

What is your favorite ocean organism or molecule or aspect of atmospheric chemistry?
Seahorses! Seahorses are amazing. Go check out the seahorse exhibit! Those are some crazy-shaped fish.
As far as atmospheric chemistry, I think recent findings that dust and pollution transported from Asia can affect weather patterns here in California is really interesting. It illustrates how complicated studying something as huge and uncontrolled as the atmosphere is.

Join us on Saturday, May 17 for SEA Days: Breathing in Climate Change—there’s something for everyone!

SEA Days are 11 a.m – 3 p.m., are included with aquarium admission, and always free to aquarium members. Not a member? Join today!

SEA you there!

BE WiSE Overnight: A Unique Opportunity for Science-Minded Young Women

On Friday, April 11, 40 middle-school aged girls were treated to a unique experience as they participated in a fun, science-filled sleepover at Birch Aquarium. The aquarium hosted the annual BE WiSE (Better Education for Women in Science & Engineering) overnight featuring a keynote speaker and workshop presenters from Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Marine Fossil Study
The mission of BE WiSE is to engage young women in learning experiences in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in collaboration with the region’s research, industry, and academic institutions. A recent report published by the Department of Commerce revealed that only 24% of the STEM workforce is women. Events like BE WiSE and groups such as the Society of Women Engineers and the Association for Women in Science provide critical support and encouragement for women and girls who are interested in degrees and careers in STEM fields.
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Throughout the evening the young women learned about geology, marine paleontology, the Earth’s polar regions, and the chemistry and biological effects of ocean acidification through a series of engaging, hands-on experiments and demonstrations.

Birch Aquarium was proud to host these bright young women for this special event!