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Bioacoustics for Reef Biodiversity

In honor of the upcoming  #WorldOceansDay  ~ this Friday, June 8th.… I thought I’d share some newly acquired knowledge…. Stay curious!

Coral reefs are hugely important ocean ecosystems that deserve our admiration and protection.  The ridiculous diversity of marine life that can be observed by just patiently maintaining neutral buoyancy in the same spot for a :45 minute dive is jaw dropping.

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A few species I captured in Grand Cayman.

My niece, Katie, graduated from the University of Puget Sound with a degree in Biology. She then spent several years working as a conservation biologist in the Samoan Islands. Is that work?

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Beyond the sea… Katie’s passion includes music.  A classically trained musician (piano, cello, etc. at your age), she has creatively combined her two loves: the ocean and music into hauntingly beautiful electronic compositions under her stage name, Hydrah.  Her musical art embraces bioacoustics as she weaves sounds from the coral reefs into her digital sound tracks.

Bioacoustics is a scientific field that combines biology and sound.  Our human ancestors “studied” bioacoustics for survival.  It was used for hunting prey or avoiding predators. More modernly, understanding echolocation or identifying bird songs and the howling of wolf packs might come to mind as bioacoustics being used to help us improve our understanding of the natural world.

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Katie introduced me to an exciting, emerging field of research currently swirling around bioacoustics as it relates to protecting our endangered coral reefs.  Who knew this existed? Not me!  This might be an area that my sea-loving scientific students should consider for their futures… and our planet’s.

Scientists are learning that they can “listen” to coral reefs to identify and quantify the diversity of marine life living there. Using highly sensitive recorders, bioacoustic marine scientists can study the sound vibrations made by the various living organisms on the reef.  This is a non-invasive and possibly more efficient and accurate way of measuring the biodiversity of marine life on a coral reef than current methods of visually sampling and counting each organism.  Biodiversity is essential for the survival of unique ecosystems like kelp forests and coral reefs.  The diversity of life is what keeps food webs in balance.

Biacoustics could do more than just allow us to effectively analyze reef problems, bioacoustics could SAVE our reefs!  The greatest promise lies in the opportunity to record and playback these living sounds on coral reefs that have been bleached or otherwise damaged as a way of attracting larval fish and corals that can repopulate the ecosystem.   Here is a hope-filled post from a young scientist/blogger with direct experience in this budding field of bioacoustics as it relates to coral reef conservation…Reef Rhythms

Check out Katie’s music on YouTube that borrows sounds from a healthy and unhealthy coral reef.    Hydrah: Siren EP

Here you can compare the bioacoustic sounds for yourself…    Reef Sounds

And… if coral reefs inspire you…don’t miss this special opportunity to see the highly acclaimed documentary, Chasing Coral.  The Houston Museum of Natural Science (HMNS) has a one-night-only screening of the film at their Wortham Giant Screen Theatre on Wednesday, June 6th at 6pm.  Emma Hickerson, Research Coordinator for NOAA’s Flower Garden Banks and Marine Sanctuary, will be there to provide commentary about the film and to answer questions.  Ask her about opportunities to use bioacoustics to restore damaged reefs.  How could bioacoustics help our own Texas Gulf Flower Gardens?   Ticket link.
Chasing Coral Trailer

Chasing Coral

#StateOfNASA

I am thrilled and honored to share with you that I have been selected to attend the ‘State of NASA’ event Monday, February 12th.   The ‘State of NASA’ event is an annual in-person experience where NASA invites social and traditional news media to their centers for a behind-the-scenes look at the innovative technologies being developed for exploration of the Moon, Mars and… beyond!

Applying to @NASASocial in late January, I was selected as one of 20 social media “groupies” that will have the opportunity to experience the event LIVE at Johnson Space Center Houston.   I received my detailed itinerary earlier this week and am over the moon (pun intended!!) excited to share it with you…. click on the links for more information on the agency areas I will get to explore.

AGENDA
Welcome and security clearance at Rocket Park
State of NASA address from acting NASA administrator, Robert Lightfoot.
Year of Education on Station (YES) Briefing
Mission Control Tour
Neutral Buoyancy Lab Tour
Space Vehicle Mockup Facility Tour to include the ISS and Orion capsule
Commercial Crew Program Briefing
Return and Conclusion at Rocket Park

I hope to come back with great new insights in space exploration to share with all of you very soon via this this blog!!   PLEASE let me know if you have any questions you want me to ask on your behalf by replying in the comments below.  Here are a few that I have already received from my current curious sixth graders. I hope to have answers the next time I post….

What if any animals are up in the ISS right now and how do they react to zero gravity?

What is the FIRST thing that astronauts will do when they step out of their spacecraft on Mars?

Who are you planning to send to Mars and how are you training them?

THANK YOU FOR THIS OPPORTUNITY!!! @NASASocial

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Farewell Saturn Superstar!

cassiniTomorrow, September 15, 2017 at 6:55am Central Time,  just shy of twenty years after launching, the space probe, Cassini, will end its mission by crashing into Saturn.  Cassini, you might remember from our space probe studies, has made remarkable discoveries during its time visiting Saturn.  With the help of the ESA’s hitchhiking probe, Huygens, Cassini discovered lakes of liquid methane (CH4) on Saturn’s moon, Titan, and jets of H2O erupting from its moon, Enceladus.  It has opened our imaginations to the possibility of life on Saturn’s moons.
Cassini/Huygens Discoveries

Life on Enceladus?

If I remember correctly, our friends, Steele, Adrian and Kaylie were our 6th grade experts on this hard-working, history making space probe.  I imagine they will be up early, closely watching the NASA Live Feed tomorrow morning to see their probe’s “Grand Finale” before school. NASA TV Live  I expect that this will be an oddly emotional moment for the very serious and rationale scientists that have worked for over three decades on the Cassini/Hyugens mission.  Thomas Burk, a JPL engineer that has worked tirelessly on the Cassini mission for decades was quoted this week saying:   “It’s been part of my life for so long, this spacecraft, it’s going to be a shock to have this happen,”     I wonder..  How will our experts, Steele, Adrian and Kaylie, feel as Cassini is vaporized tomorrow morning in Saturn’s atmosphere?

Don’t Miss this Memorable Moment

Please watch this amazing National Geographic tribute to Cassini that images its history,
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC IMAGERY
Last good link….
Why NASA is crashing the $4 billion Cassini spacecraft into Saturn

Officially Total Eclipsters!

It was strangely quiet last night as 10,000 hopeful humans settled in to their campsites early to enjoy some serious stargazing.   Five miles north of the limited light pollution from downtown Madras we could gaze clearly at the constellations, planets and even the center of our own Milky Way galaxy.  We were treated to a stellar cosmic preview as a ‘shooting star” fell across the handle of the Big Dipper.  Questions whispered around us were focused on reviewing the eclipse basics we would need for success in the morning … “What time is first contact?” “Is the Diamond Ring effect before or after totality?” “When can I safely remove my eclipse glasses?”

I woke up a little before sunrise so I could greet the sun in all its unsuspecting glory. 
It seemed incredulous that this blinding star 333,000 times more massive than the Earth, would be blacked out in a few hours by our meager moon.

Before breakfast and before the overloaded cellular towers crashed, I was able to make a last contact with the outside world.  I FaceTimed out to my new first block sixth grade science class seated in a Texas classroom far far away.This one call will forever be a high point of my educational career.  Seeing my curious students on my tiny iPhone screen with their eager hands raised with questions about the total eclipse I was about to experience in Oregon will forever be a special memory.

They could see me too;  in the farmer’s field flanked to the west by the volcanic Cascade mountains and backdropped by the rising sun.  Curious fellow eclipsters looked on.  One of my more observant young scientists asked about the clouds spotted to the south.   “What direction are they moving towards Mrs.  Caldwell? Will they obstruct your view of the corona?” Another…  “Will you see Bailey’s Beads? “.  They had done their eclipse homework and showed off the cereal box pinhole viewers they planned to use hours later when the sun would be 67% eclipsed on their playground.  When I hung up I hoped to be able to call back to my other classes through out the day. Unfortunately AT&T was ill-prepared to support the thousands of us trying to call, text and stream as the day unfolded.

Eclipse day breakfast was amazing. Camping neighbor Amirah made us a feast of French toast, scrambled eggs and sausage! Goodness I wish I had photo of that memorable meal!

After breakfast everyone scurried around in preparation for the partial and total phases of the eclipse.  We stretched out white sheets on the ground and put a sheet of white poster board across the car wind shield all to serve as a screen for pinhole projections of the sun as the moon moved across its face.  We readied our cameras and binoculars by taping solar filters over the lenses and made sure our eclipse glasses were handy to grab.  


At 9:06am PDT cheers and clambering broke out as the disc of the moon made “First Contact” with the sun. We were entering into the penumbra’s shadow.  As the eclipse progressed all ages frolicked about the campsites sharing telescopes, viewers and various pinhole projection techniques.

 Shadows had become sharper and everything seemed clearer and more focused.  It was beautiful yet weird.

My favorite frolick was using the colander Bev and Kay wisely packed to make dozens of tiny crescent suns. Future Tshirt design??

Like my sixth graders back in Texas I monitored the temperature from just before the moon started to traverse across the sun until just after totality.  I was shocked by the dramatic change.  The thermometer read 79 degrees Fahrenheit at the start and had dropped to 62 degrees after totality.

The dry high desert air was not holding heat as the sun slowly disappeared.

The exciting build up to the eclipse and the sense of community with others humbled by the natural world made totality when it at last happened all the more powerful.   Words still escape me and unexplainable tears flowed at the moment our sun disappeared.  Where the sun once shimmered a “black hole” now sat above me in a deep indigo sky.  An otherworldly glimmering white halo surrounded the hole.  Bright Venus emerged in the sudden darkness to the south.  Barely able to glance away I quickly scanned all the horizons to witness what resembled the dawn I had seen earlier.   The view below from my school’s Ricoh Theta S 360 degree camera shows everywhere sky and land met. It was like a 360 degree sunrise.

The cool air and surround sound shrills of excitement made this much more than the simple visual experience I had anticipated.

“Fleeting” was the one word Mr. Caldwell could mumble when the two minutes of totality had passed.  Sadly, I must agree his word was fitting. Gripped in the two minutes of totality you hoped it would never end but of course knew it must so photosynthetic life could continue on our planet.

Umbraphile? Yes.  I fell in love with being in the darkest shadow of the moon.   Will I seek it again?  Absolutely !  The bigger question is will you?  Where will you be in 2024 when the opportunity to experience totality comes again to America

Eclipse Eve Excitement 

The sweet sleepy town of Madras, Oregon (population 5,700) has been transformed as nearly 200,000 people from all over the world arrive to experience Nature’s big show. When we arrived on Friday the streets were wide open and restaurants with special limited menus were wondering where the predicted eclipse chasers were hiding.

Today we are feeling the frenzy!  We spent the morning at the Oregon Solarfest on the Jefferson County Fairgrounds and were treated to talks by NASA solar scientists, views through specialized solar telescopes and chats with fellow space geeks! We loved all the creative Tshirts that fellow eclipse chasers were sporting.  Streets were bumper to bumper in the center of Madras. Cheery entrepreneurs were on every corner with eclipse themed merchandise.  Shop owners were selling out of eclipse glasses, magnets, soaps, post cards, jewelry and so much more!This small central Oregon town that has painstakingly planned for every possible scenario is realizing what it had anticipated today.   We are grateful for their creativity and hospitality!!After driving north bumper to bumper with the happiest traffic bound crowd I’ve ever witnessed, we are now settled in to our tiny two man tent sandwiched between serious ” glampers” on the front row of the eclipse in Solartown. “Solartown” is a farmer’s field that sits right on the centerline of the path of totality just north of the Madras town center.  The field is now an ocean of over 6,000 tents and RVs filled with excited wannabes and real astronomers.  Some of the campsite telescopes are huge! Kind, real astronomers are allowing us wannabes to observe our sun in its full disc glory.  We stared in awe at a whole cluster of sun spots and even a solar prominence! Beautiful snow capped Mount Jefferson looms in the background of our campsite and Mount Hood stands out across an alfalfa field looking north.  The stunning eclipse eve sunset brought truly Madras colored skies and was a perfect preview for tomorrow’s main feature. 


Tomorrow morning we plan to wake up for sunrise and share coffee with our new forever eclipse friends… Kay and Beverly camped on our right and Marek, Amirah and Stephen to our left.   Our camp chairs are already in position facing east over the green field. Our colanders, eclipse glasses, and pinhole projectors are at the ready…..  Clear skies!!! 

    Eclipse Trip: Flying West 

    I recently discovered the word umbraphile while sponging up everything on the World Wide Web about solar eclipses.  It isn’t in any official dictionary…yet.  I don’t know for certain if I will become one of these or not but I strongly suspect that after August 21,2017 at 10:21am PDT that umbraphile will be a new label I carry.   I will let you read on to discover the implied meaning of this undefined word :). 

    Per the USA Today I picked up at George Bush Intercontinental airport this morning it appears that clear skies will prevail in Madras, Oregon allowing Mr. Caldwell, myself and the other 100,000 Oregon Solarfest visitors the opportunity to experience a total eclipse of the sun!  You should grab this weekend edition of USA Today. It would be great for an eclipse scrapbook or time capsule.  The full page infographic is awesome. 

    Just reading about totality has me borderline umbraphile! I can’t imagine what it will actually be like to be in the moon’s narrow umbra shadow and witness day turn into night for two peculiar minutes.  I”ve heard even seasoned NASA heliophysicists quoted as saying “words cannot describe” the feelings that come over them when they experience totality.   This of course has me a bit anxious as I am a total solar eclipse newbie and it is my hope to share all of this eclipse excitement with you … through a word filled Blog!  

    I am currently on a United flight, exit row aisle across from Mr. Caldwell. The two nice people to my right are from Houston and are also traveling west to “totality” experience The Great American Eclipse.  They have the same Bill Nye Solar viewing glasses that I have!!  

    Lucky them, they are staying with family that live on a 50+ acre farm in the Oregon Williamette Valkey.  That sounds like it will be a much more intimate encounter with totality than what Mr. Caldwell and I are expecting at Oregon Solarfest.  We are imagining something more along the lines of a music festival gone science.   The concert line up doesn’t look as stellar as the line up of the celestial spheres. Wink. Wink.    

    Solarfest Link
    So after too much coffee I am thinking about this plane flying at 503 mph to Portland, OR.  Sounds fast.  Right?  Not so fast.  The moon’s umbra shadow will make landfall on the coast of Oregon on Monday at 9:04am PDT and race eastward at roughly 2,000 mph (land speed slows a bit as the shadow moves east due to the Earth’s geometry.)  The moon’s shadow will cross our nation rushing off the South Carolina coast in just 90 minutes.  In Madras we will have a wee 2 minutes and 2 seconds to stand in awe of the Sun’s corona and experience totality.  No blinking!


    It’s taking this plane four hours to travel half the distance the moon’s shadow will travel in an hour and a half.   Lest you think that at 2,000ish mph the moon is equivalent to some sort of cosmic sports car, take note of spaceship Earth’s speed.  We ride planet Earth orbiting around the sun once every year (365.25 days) at 67,000mph!!


    Well that is all this teacher blogger has for now.  I think I might join Mr. Caldwell in a pre-eclipse nap. 

    Clear skies!


     

    Get Eclipsed… On August 21st. 

    As most of you are aware from a previous post, Mr.Caldwell and I are traveling to our chosen spot in the high desert of Madras, Oregon to experience “totality” during the Great American Eclipse. We are excitedly anticipating the opportunity to experience all the sights, sounds and feels as our sun is fully blocked by the moon  for about 2 minutes. Link to…  Totality Awesome!

    But, on Monday, August 21, 2017,  if you are properly prepared,  you can “get eclipsed” too!  That is because our sun will be at least partially eclipsed by the moon from the viewpoint of every state in the U.S.  This rare opportunity has not occurred since 1918!!

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    The percentage that the sun will be partially covered varies depending on your proximity to the pathway of  eclipse totality.  For example,  if you live in San Francisco 76% of the sun will be covered by the moon’s shadow,  87% in Chicago and 67% here at home in the Houston metropolitan area.

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    Timing matters!  You will need to do some research based on your location on August 21st so you know when to step outside, put on your eclipse safety glasses and stare in awe.  This fantastic link from Time and Date allows you to type in your city name to search exact times and sun coverage at your location    Link To Time and Date Searchable Eclipse Map

    In Houston, the eclipse starts at 11:45am CT with maximum coverage (67%) at 1:16pm and the eclipse ending at 2:45pm.   When you check out the Time and Date weblink, run the animation to see how the partial eclipse will actually appear for its duration….weather permitting of course! Here is a link to a Houston KPRC Channel 2 eclipse news report…Click2 Houston ~ August 21 Eclipse  Many spots in Houston are offering eclipse viewing “parties”.  Even our local Woodlands library on Lake Robbins has an event scheduled that day!

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    SAFETY FIRST!  Looking at the sun anytime is dangerous because its harmful UV rays can permanently damage our eyes.  Instinctively (it hurts!), we don’t stare directly at the sun when we are out enjoying a beautiful sunny day.   However, during a partial eclipse, we will want to stare at the sun to observe the movement of the moon across it.  This is NOT SAFE unless you are wearing protective ISO 12312-2 rated eclipse glasses. Prepare!! You should purchase these NOW as they are selling out quickly from online retailers. Purchase only from NASA approved suppliers:  American Paper Optics, Baader Planetarium (AstroSolar Silver/Gold film only), Rainbow Symphony, Thousand Oaks Optical, and TSE 17 to insure you have the quality necessary to fully protect your eyes. Follow the directions on the glasses for the safe amount of time you can view the sun directly.  Amazon was carrying the American Paper Optics brand that I’m trying out. As of today they still have supplies.  As soon as you get your glasses, go outside and look at the sun with them.  It is pretty cool to just see what the sun normally looks like and then you will have that knowledge for comparison to the eclipse.  If clouds are passing by they will cast a shadow on the sun too.Mrs. Caldwell in Eclipse Glasses

    Since most of you will be at school during peak eclipse viewing time you should plan ahead by alerting the teacher for the class you will be in during the eclipse.  It could be great fun to help your teacher with a lesson that includes taking the class outside for a mini field trip!  Of course, if you are lucky enough to be in a science class at the time of the eclipse, getting your class outside to experience the wonder of such a rare natural phenomenon will likely only require a simple suggestion to your instructor.  But, for other subject areas you made need to offer up some ideas for making your “field trip” an educational experience.  Perhaps a language arts teacher could have you reflect in your writing journal on how seeing your sun’s light partially blocked makes you feel? You could write a poem?   An art teacher could have you create a visual representation of your experience using water colors? Perhaps with a social studies or history class you could research the impact of total eclipses on ancient civilizations? Did you know that in 585 B.C. a war in what is today central Turkey came to an abrupt end when a total solar eclipse was seen as a sign for peace? I’m sure there are more interesting stories that could be researched by inquiring minds! Maybe you can have a few pairs of eclipse glasses that your class can share or get even more energized and make a few cool pinhole viewers for indirect observations of the sun by you and your classmates. They are cheap and easy to make.

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    You don’t have to be in the moon’s narrow umbra shadow to be a part of the Great American Eclipse on August 21st, but you do need to plan and be prepared if you hope to “Get Mooned”.   Stay curious and Never Stop Questioning!!

    “Open your log book.” “Don’t forget the date!”

    How many times have you heard me say the words in the title of this blog post?   I just thought I’d share that I use a science log book too!  

    I’m using my log book these days for scientific drawings of the corn snake babies.  I need to make sure I can tell which baby corn snake is which.  It is important that I know who’s who so that I can keep track of each baby’s health.  Who shed? Who ate? Who made waste?  Who didn’t?   I keep the log book by their habitat.  

    This drawing is of a little Okeetee that I’m calling “Torch”.


    Feel free to help me out! Send me your scientific drawings of the baby corn snakes as you observe my pictures and videos. Do you have any names you’d like to suggest? 

    “Herp” Fans Wanted!

    It’s  been a few days since the first of Cookie and Brownie’s offspring started to peek out into the world.   Sadly two eggs are still in the incubator with no signs of hatching.  It’s not too late for hopeful thoughts but the odds of them hatching now are slimming. 

    On a happier note, we do have a bunch of healthy little snakes that I have moved into their new home.   Here is a video of them moving in…


    I know several of you are interested in adopting one of these cuties so today I thought I’d share how to set up a baby corn snake home. 


    I have Cookie and Brownie in the 20 gallon low and long terrarium you see on the right.  It has two very sturdy locking lids.  The “locking’ part is really important as captive corn snakes have good reason to be nicknamed the “Houdini Snake”.   I bought my habitat at an awesome independent reptile shop out in Tomball: http://www.ultimatereptiles.com/

    The owner and staff are extremely knowledgeable and helpful especially if you are a first time herp owner. (Herpetology is the study of amphibians and reptiles.). If you never have visited this place …. GO!!  It’s better than the zoo. 

    I have all the baby corns right now in the small terrarium you see far left.  I line the floor with paper towels as they are easy to change out every few days while I have so many little ones.  You should start with paper towels too.  Later I will change to the small pebbles/sand you see in the bigger habitats.  


    Above is the 50 lb bag of pebbles/sand that I buy from Pets a Plenty. (Fish R Us on 242 sells it too for $17.99) Don’t let anyone talk you into using cedar shavings as a floor material.  Too difficult to clean!! 

    I like to add all sorts of cool places for the baby corn snakes to hid.  Cardboard paper towel rolls or empty yogurt cups work well.  You will need a nice light to keep your corn snake warm.  As soon as I placed the new snakes  in their new home several sped over to get a drink of water.  Hatching must make you thirsty 🙂 You will need a heavy water dish that can’t be knocked over. 

    Important…. I wet a bunch of sphagum moss and put it in under the snakes’ hide structure.  The moisture makes it easier for them to shed their skin.  

    Corn snakes usually have their first shed about one week after hatching and will shed every few weeks as they grow.   A few days after the first shed I can offer the baby corns their first meal.  After the babies have eaten two meals with me then I know that they are healthy and ready for a new home!

    Want one?

    LIVE ACTION…Corn Snakes are Pipping!

    I woke up this morning to this corn snake excitement!  Clearly I need a tripod or something for my phone.  The shaking is a bit annoying, but still the time-lapse video results are pretty amazing to witness.  These are big video files so be patient with the download.

    Above you’ve seen a few of Cookie and Brownie’s newest offspring “pipping”. Pipping is the name given to the animal behavior of breaking or tearing through an egg to hatch. Birds and reptiles all “pip” and they all have a special sharp adaptation called an “egg tooth” that sticks out from their snout that is used for this purpose.  Corn snakes and most reptile eggs are soft and leathery so the egg tooth tears the shell so the little snake can peek out into the world.

    So far, seven of Cookie’s nine eggs have some sort of “activity” as you can see below.  I am careful not to disturb them because I don’t want to startle the hatchlings causing them to leave their eggs too soon.  It is important that they fully consume their first “meal” before venturing fully out into their shoe box   …. Thanks for the egg yolk, mom! ...

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    The pebbly looking material the eggs are resting in is called vermiculite.  Vermiculite (available at most hardware stores)  is a natural mineral product that is known for being porous and holding moisture/water.  I use it to help maintain a humid incubator environment.  It is also a friendly first material for the hatchlings to explore once they have bravely exited their egg. Here is one of our first bold explorers.  And yes, she is amelanistic!!

    Are you looking closely at the picture and videos????  How many amelanistic babies have you counted?

    Remember the word amelanistic “dissected” works like this….  a = not,  melanistic = melanin.  Therefore, not or no melanin in these corn babies. Melanin is a pigment found in animal skin and hair that provides black/brown coloration.  Without melanin corn snakes will be red, yellow and white only.  Their eyes of course will be red instead of black because of the absence of melanin.

    It’s not too late to take the poll below! We are waiting on two more eggs….