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Posts Tagged ‘wetlands’

Photo: Australia Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation
Australian wetlands researchers behind the Feather Map invite citizen scientists to send feathers and include an explanation of where the feathers were found.

I recently saw a great quote on twitter from a Rhode Islander about what he learned years ago when he visited post-apartheid South Africa: “I learned that the power that you have to change big things is entirely about how strong of a community you can form.”

That quote came to mind as I was reading about how researchers in Australia are enlisting the enthusiasm of citizen scientists to address the challenges of wetlands protection. That may not sound as important as ending apartheid, but wetlands are expected to play a big role in the fight against global warming.

Livia Albeck-Ripka had a report at the New York Times.

“One day in April 2016, Kate Brandis opened a weathered envelope, mailed to her from suburban Sydney. Instead of a letter inside, she found the feathers of an Australian white ibis. A day or so later, another envelope arrived, stuffed with more feathers. In the days following, more began to come.

“Soon, Dr. Brandis, who is a research fellow at the University of New South Wales’s Center for Ecosystem Science, was receiving three to four envelopes a day containing the feathers of birds from across Australia, including those of pelicans, wood ducks, cormorants, herons and spoonbills. …

“Two years before, she had put out a call to the public to send her fallen feathers of wetland birds so she could analyze where they came from, in an effort to map how the birds are moving between the country’s disappearing wetlands. …

“Wetlands — which include swamps, marshes, lakes, mud flats and bogs — are biodiverse ecosystems that can improve the quality of water and mitigate damage from flooding and pollution. But since the beginning of the 20th century, some estimates say, more than half the world’s wetlands have been lost, largely because of human activities. …

“Now, the impacts of climate change — which can include less rainfall in some areas, changing river flows and flood patterns, and potential saltwater intrusion into inland bodies of water — are further threatening some of Australia’s wetlands, and the birds that rely on them for breeding. …

“ ‘When our floodplains flood, which is only every couple of years, these birds come together in the hundreds of thousands to breed,’ Dr. Brandis said. But when the water recedes, the birds disband. …

“Where do the birds come from, and where do they go afterward? ‘Because we don’t track our birds, we have no idea,’ she said.

“Traditional tracking methods, like banding birds, have not fared well in Australia. … Many birds, like the ibis, have a high mortality rate. Another factor is simply Australia’s size: Inland birds often go to places where people do not.

“For that reason, Corrie Kemp, a 73-year-old retiree from Queanbeyan, New South Wales, made a special effort to collect feathers for Dr. Brandis’s project from among the most remote corners of Australia, in western Queensland. ‘We made a point of going places where no other people where going,’ Mrs. Kemp said, adding that she and her husband, Peter, had devoted an entire three-month trip to collecting feathers, during which she kept a diary of her discoveries and often corresponded with Dr. Brandis. …

“Bird feathers, like human hair and nails, are made of a protein called keratin. As the feathers grow, the keratin keeps a record of the bird’s diet, much like the rings of a tree. By analyzing a section of a feather, Dr. Brandis and her team can get a snapshot of the bird’s diet while the feather was developing.

“Feathers from chicks — which have spent their entire lives at one wetland — are particularly useful to researchers, providing what Dr. Brandis and her team call a ‘fingerprint’ of each place. By comparing the diet record of adult feathers against this information, researchers hope to map which wetlands the birds have been using, and how healthy those wetlands are. …

“Dr. Brandis said the possibilities were endless when studying animals’ tissue for clues about their environments, their habits and their origins. ‘It’s like the tip of the iceberg.’ ”

Read more about the Feather Map of Australia here and here.

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Photo: Simon Peter Fox 
Deakin University researchers bury the first of 50,000 teabags to be placed in wetlands around the globe as part of a project to monitor which wetlands do best at soaking up the carbon that causes global warming.

It’s reassuring to know that people will keep doing whatever they can for the environment no matter what. The increased carbon dioxide that contributes to global warming will not go away by itself. One approach to breaking it down could come from preserving wetlands.

Melissa Davey writes at the Guardian about Australian scientists who are using Lipton green tea bags and red tea “rooibos” bags to study how wetlands capture carbon and make it harmless.

“Australian scientists have launched a project to bury tens of thousands of teabags in wetlands around the world. …

“Lipton green tea and red tea ‘rooibos’ varieties will be used in the project, which already involves more than 500 scientists in every continent except Antarctica.

“Leader of the project, Peter Macreadie from Deakin University’s Blue Carbon Lab, said wetlands were important for carbon capture and storage, a process known as carbon sequestration, holding up to 50 times as much carbon by area as rainforests.

” ‘But some wetlands are much better at carbon storage than others, and some are in fact carbon emitters, so they’re not all fantastic,’ Macreadie said.

“ ‘We need to find out the best wetland environments for carbon sequestration so we know where we should invest our energy.’

“That’s where scientists have come up against barriers in the past. There are hundreds of thousands of wetlands around the world. A standardised technique for monitoring the carbon is needed for accurate comparison, and monitoring devices can cost thousands of dollars to install.

“But Macreadie had been reading scientific research about teabags being buried and used to measure the rate at which carbon was being released from soil into the atmosphere.

“Fast decay of the tea inside the bag meant more carbon was being released into the atmosphere, while slower decay meant the soil was holding the carbon.

“ ‘I thought, “Jeez this is a bloody good idea. Why aren’t we using it in wetlands?” ‘ Macreadie said.

“ ‘People think of innovation as involving fancy new technology, but sometimes the best ideas are the most simple ones.’ ” More here.

I wonder if this property of tea relates to another thing I’ve noticed. Loose tea seems to absorb the aroma of whatever is around it. I’ve often thought that if you wanted to remove, say, a burned smell from upholstery or clothing, tea (not brewed) could do the trick.

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