Showing posts tagged as "jim covel"
Spring has Sprung—Underwater!
By Jim Covel, Senior Manager of Guest Experience
With the official arrival of spring on March 20 we all start to look forward to longer days, more sunshine, warmer temperatures and perhaps putting away those winter clothes for a while. We see those signs of spring reflected in nature as well. Dormant plants come to life and bloom. Birds begin singing as they announce nesting territories and start looking for a mate. Perhaps you catch a glimpse of a small, spotted fawn accompanying mom. While these sure signs of spring are familiar to us, have you ever stopped to think about what spring looks like beneath the surface of the ocean? You can actually observe “underwater spring” here at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Let’s start in the forest—the kelp forest. The giant kelp and bull kelp are much like land plants, springing to life with longer days and more sunshine. These seaweeds photosynthesize like land plants; you could say they “eat” sunshine to get the energy to live and grow. With more sunshine available, growth rates pick up dramatically, exceeding five inches per day in our Kelp Forest exhibit! If you’re a regular visitor, you’ll see our kelps rapidly stretching for the surface where they can get closer to more sunshine. Just now, looking at the Kelp Forest web cam, I could see the distinctive scimitar blade at the tip of a growing frond of kelp. (The same scimitar blade that forms the aquarium’s logo.)
Sunnier days usually translate into warmer days on the land, but that’s not true in Monterey Bay. Spring signals the traditional start of our upwelling season, where cooler water surfaces from a few hundred feet deep, so spring and summer actually bring some of the coldest water temperatures to our part of the coast. While that may not be the best news for surfers and divers, it’s great news for ocean animals. That upwelled water is rich in nutrients that stimulate the growth of large seaweeds and microscopic phytoplankton. This is the season of plankton blooms which are the base of most marine food chains. Those blooms of tiny organisms feed larger organisms which feed krill, which feed squid and salmon and blue whales and much more. So springtime upwelling season is the start of some of our best fishing and wildlife viewing.
Welcome to spring above and below the surface of the ocean!
By Jim Covel, Senior Manager of Guest Experience Training & Interpretation
Not many animals get their own national holiday. Perhaps that’s why Groundhog Day is one of my favorite holidays. If you missed the headline, Punxsutawney Phil didn’t see his shadow when he poked his head out of his burrow, so we can expect an early spring. With all due respect to Phil, there may be better ways to predict weather trends.
That’s where phenology comes in. The science of phenology doesn’t get much attention, yet it’s one of the oldest sciences practiced by humankind and one of the most important to our survival. Phenology is the observation and documentation of the cycles in the natural world around us. For thousands of years we humans have tracked when plants bloom or bear fruit, when creatures migrate, when to plant, when to harvest, or when to prepare for particular weather changes or events.
Monterey Bay Rhythms
Monterey Bay has its own cycles, many of which are evident right now. The annual migration of gray whales is at its peak along the central California coast. Northern elephant seals are gathered on beaches for their annual season of birthing and mating. Our winter bird visitors are with us—surf scoters, loons, grebes and mergansers. Yesterday the Brandt’s geese arrived off our deck, right on time. Soon we’ll be looking for harbor seal pups and nesting pelagic cormorants.
In earlier eras humans depended heavily on phenology. Our food supply relied upon knowing when the salmon or steelhead would run; when flocks of birds would arrive during migration time; or when wild berries, bulbs and fruits would be ready to harvest. Agriculture helped stabilize our food supply, but it was still just as critical to know when to plant, irrigate or harvest. The Farmer’s Almanac is one of the best tributes to phenology. Since 1818 we have consulted this volume to forecast seasonal events and recommend planting times for all types of crops.
An Old Science with Modern Implications
While phenology may not get as much attention as some other sciences, it may be more critical now than ever before. The forces that help regulate Nature’s calendar—heat, cold, rainfall, atmospheric and oceanic circulation patterns—are shifting as we energize our atmosphere. We observe this as changing migration patterns, plants blooming earlier, animals shifting their home ranges, changes in the nesting times for some bird species. The science of phenology has provided important baseline data as well as ongoing documentation of changes from all over the planet. This has been some of the best evidence we have about the extent of climate change impacts across the globe.
Phenology is a great example of “citizen science” where all of us can participate in science and research efforts. In fact, the more of us that participate the better. It’s easy to make regular observations of natural events around us and record that information. As we provide more data, scientists have more material to work with in documenting changes in the world around us. If you’d like to join the growing number of citizen scientists practicing phenology, you might want to visit the website for the USA National Phenology Network.
Perhaps we can get Punxsutawney Phil to join the phenology network and start logging his annual shadow observation.