Friday Sci-Fi: Lostronaut

June 5, 2009

Since marine science and space seem pretty tight these days, check out Jonathan Lethem’s lovely and very bleak short story “Lostronaut.” It’s written as letters home from an astronaut stranded on a disintegrating space station with failing plant-based life support, and shouldn’t be read if you’ve got a space-faring loved one.

If reading the story makes you feel sciencey, Eric explored the science behind using plants for life support on the Science Not Fiction blog. But if reading the story makes you want to kick back and feel mournful, listen to Amanda Palmer’s amazing song “Astronaut.” I’m obsessed.*

*Yes, this entire post was an excuse to post this song.


“A Sea Change” reviewed; or, HALP! Iz I stuck in the ivory science tower?

May 12, 2009

After seeing “A Sea Change,” a documentary about ocean acidification, I felt really, really guilty. Not because of my carbon footprint, but because I did not like this earnest, passionate movie.

“A Sea Change,” which made its southern California debut at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography last week, is essentially one big appeal to emotion. Everyman Sven Huseby embarks on a quest to save the oceans for his overly adorable grandson, seeking answers in scientific meetings, subarctic labs, and even artist Maya Lin’s studio. The narrative is frequently interspersed with Mr. Huseby writing heartfelt letters to and frolicking with his grandson, as well as multiple scenes on his computer googling away for “pteropods” and “ocean acidification.” Since the filmmakers said that they were determined to avoid graphs, information is conveyed in voiceovers while the audience listens to Phillip Glass music (Battlestar Galactica fans will feel like they’re in the Opera House) and gazes at pretty ocean scenes.

I was bothered by the lack of informative content. I understand that oceanic carbon chemistry and acidification is extremely difficult to explain and understand, but there is almost no mention of what ocean acidification actually is. There was an interesting demonstration of the effects of carbonated soda water on human teeth (they dissolve!), but since soda water is far more acidic than even the worst seawater, will people find this convincing? At another point Mr. Huseby mentions “a world without fish” but we have no idea how this is linked to ocean acidification, except for that it has to do with CO2 somehow.

I did like that the last third of the movie focused on climate change solutions. Mr. Huseby visits Google’s solar panels, a wind farm, and a hotel that runs on ocean geothermic energy. He makes the excellent point that clean energy technology exists! It exists right now! We should use it! I was also shocked and intrigued at a statistic casually bandied about by climate scientist Ken Caldeira. Caldeira said that fixing the climate change problem would cost less than 2% annual GDP. I would love to know more about that figure. Whose GDP? And what does 2% actually mean in terms of predicted economic impact?

As a nascent scientist who took an entire seminar on the scientific ocean acidification literature,  I’m not the target audience for “A Sea Change.” But I’m not sure who their audience might be. In my opinion, the movie is not informative enough to show in science classes, and I don’t know if young people will emotionally connect with a grandfather’s quest. (It doesn’t help that nearly every single person in the movie is white.)  I could see the movie resonating with older, non-scientific audiences, but as a young science person it’s hard for me to tell.

I would love to hear from others who have seen “A Sea Change.” Am I a sterotypical scientist addicted to facts and graphs? A grinch who hates sea lions and blond moppets? Or do non-scientists also want more content from their science documentaries?

Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus: The Trailer Released

May 11, 2009

“The California coast is terrorized by two enormous prehistoric sea creatures as they battle each other for supremacy of the sea.”


Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus is an actual film, due out  May 26.

WordPress makes embedding videos from certain sources tricky, so you must click to view the trailer. But click.  Seriously. Do it.

Update: Trailer has been YouTubed. <phew>

Update, Update: As pointed out by commenter below, the movie stars Deborah “Debbie” Gibson. Yes, that Debbie Gibson.

Update, Update, Update: We all know how this movie must end, right?

(via io9)

Yet more vampire ecology

May 10, 2009

The Twilight and Buffy vampire ecology models were not the first to plumb the mysteries of vampire population dynamics – mathematicians and economists got there first. Mark Strauss has a nice writeup of the wrangling in the vampire literature:

But, this gauntlet had been barely thrown down before it invited a rebuttal from mathematician Dino Sejdinovic. In his article, “Mathematics of the Human Vampire Conflict” (Math Horizons, November 2008) Sejdinovic faults Efthimiou and Gandhi’s logic, since they have not “accounted for the birth-rate of non-vampires and death-rate of vampires (actually the death-death-rate since they are already dead, but when they die again they should stay dead but stop being living) due to close encounters with stakes, garlic and holy water.” Moreover, “vampires are presented exclusively as greedy consumers: a rational strategy of managing their human resources is not considered…”

Their research provoked an outraged response from economist Dennis Snower, who in his article “Macroeconomic Policy and the Optimal Destruction of Vampires” (The Journal of Political Economy, June 1982)…Snower argues that the mortal world can manage its resources in a manner that keeps the undead population in check, while simultaneously promoting long-term economic growth.

Strauss points out that all of these models assume that vampires are the top predator. While the Buffyverse model accounts for Slayer predation, clearly the time is ripe an elucidation of the entire supernatural ecosystem. Zombies and werewolves and demons, oh my.

TGIF: The ocean sure is pretty

May 8, 2009

After a week of running around Arizona and another week of utter grad school madness, things should be a bit more regular around here. In the meantime, relax on this lovely Friday with gorgeous underwater photography from the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science’s 2009 amateur underwater-photography contest, republished by National Geographic. Here’s a few of my favorites.

Pygmy seahorse in Borneo

Male banded jawfish with eggs.

Male banded jawfish with eggs.

The mighty sea pig.

The mighty sea pig.

Vampire Ecology: Twilight vs. Buffy

April 20, 2009

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a hungry vampire must be in want of blood. It is also universally acknowledged that the sucking of said blood makes more little vamplings, whether by direct infection or by a Buffy-esque “whole sucking thing.” Vampires are top predators, and like lions and wolves, their population can’t outstrip their prey supply.

But since there are so many people, why aren’t we awash in vampires? That’s why Laura McLay at Punk Rock Operations Research is skeptical of vampires. Based on a mathematical model of their population dynamics, she calculates that:

The vampire population would either explode or die out, depending on the expected number of offspring per vampire. But if you take into account the fact that vampires live many, many generations (they’re virtually immortal) and may create thousands of offspring, the population explodes (if you assume that each vampire creates at least one vampire, on average, before it dies). With those numbers, vampires would not be living under the radar–they would be everywhere!

But basing her calculation off icky goopy Twilight, McLay makes a critical mistake. She left out human predation on vampires, fetchingly epitomized in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Brian Thomas, a theoretical ecologist, calculated the vampire ecology and population dynamics of the Buffyverse and found:

This [Thomas’ assumptions] results in an equilibrium population of 36,346 humans and 18 vampires. Thomas then notes that interestingly enough the established population of Sunnydale on the show is 38,500 humans, pretty damn close to the equation result. Maybe Buffy needs to cut back on the slaying in order to let the vampires weed out that extra 2100 people, we wouldn’t want human overpopulation to lead to starvation.

But is this equilibrium stable? Will natural fluctuations in the vampire population prevent the equilibrium state from ever existing? Thomas then ran the model using several different initial population sizes and seeing whether they eventually moved to equilibrium, or spiraled off into an abyss where everybody died. Turns out the model is stable and the vampires and humans can co-exist forever! Hooray!

Check out Thomas’ original paper here (PDF).

So, because we are not neck-deep in starving vampires, clearly we are living in the Buffyverse. Down with mooshy sparkly vampires & limp, passive heroines! Up with snarly-faced evil vamps and ass-kicking Slayers! Now where’s my activated Slayer powers?

Punk Rock Operations link via Boing Boing, Buffyverse Ecology via JEByrnes a long time ago

The Great Turtle Race 2009!

April 17, 2009

Eleven leatherback sea turtles are vying for the Great Turtle Race championship! This event is meant to raise money and awareness of sea turtles’ peril – all 7 species are endangered due to destruction of nesting sites and drowning in fishing nets.

Deep Sea News has a special report from organizer Bryan Wallace:

Here’s a brain teaser for all of you deep-sea nerds out there: What do Pearl Jam, R.E.M., Conservation International, National Geographic, the Canadian Sea Turtle Network, Olympic swimmers, surfers, school kids, and scientists all have in common?

Give up? (You should. You’re never going to guess. This isn’t a sudoku puzzle.)

Answer: an online media event following 11 adult leatherback sea turtles on their trans-Atlantic migration from feeding grounds in Canada to breeding grounds in the Caribbean – The Great Turtle Race! The first turtle to cross the finish line and enters the Wider Caribbean wins!

Deep Sea News will also be getting in the act with the Iron Turtle contest – which turtles are EXTREME deep sea explorers? Meet the turtles and pick your winners!