Climate Change

The King Of All Tides


During a Supermoon/ King Tide event last year an octopus ended up in a parking garage in Miami. A King Tide is an exceptionally high tide. Last year I wrote about Supermoons in “I See A Bad Moon Rising” but basically it is the occurrence of a full or new moon at the closest point to the earth during it’s orbital path (so it looks super big). Sea level rise due to climate change exacerbate the impacts of a King Tide, leading to an increase in  coastal flooding events. And perhaps more cephalopod sightings?

About the Illustration: Watercolor, India ink, and micron pens. Inspired by the work of Yuko Shimizu (one of my favs). This illustration can be purchased as an 8.5×11 inch print through my Etsy shop:

Shorts & Flip Flops in March


In some regions of the United States it felt more like April or May during the month of February (and now March). Yay! Flip flops and shorts! What could be so bad about that? For some plants and animals an early spring (or really a pattern of earlier springs due to climate change) can cause ecological mismatches. Flowers may bloom before the arrival of pollinators. Certain insects that are a key part of the diet of a migrating bird species might emerge before the arrival of those migrating birds. Different species follow different environmental queues and in a changing climate different species adapt at a different pace. So those seasonal phenomena (migration, breeding, etc…) can be out of whack due to a shift in temperature.

The study of those seasonal phenomena within the context of climate is called phenology. The USA National Phenology Network or NPN (under the United States Geological Survey) focuses entirely on this subject through monitoring and research via scientists and citizen scientists around the country. You can become an NPN citizen scientist by joining Natures Notebook. Sign up and begin recording your observations today and your data will be used by scientists and land managers to better understand and manage for the biological implications of climate change. Sit in your backyard with a notebook and a pencil, an easy way to contribute to science.

About the Illustration: Lilacs and Swallowtails-acrylic paint and rice paper. The lilac is a host plant for the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.

Recently the NPN created maps of the United States that illustrate the arrival of spring across the country based on temperature data from NOAA and  extended spring indices-observations of the leafing out and blooming of lilacs and honeysuckles across the country are used as an indicator of leafing out of other plant species. Why lilacs and honeysuckles? Because they are both common flowering plants found across the country.

Going, Going, Gone


The remaining portion of the Antarctic ice shelf called ” Larsen C” is showing signs of disintegration and may be no more by the end of the decade. This is deeply concerning since ice shelves help hold glaciers in place. Without that support the pace of glacial movement out to the ocean increases and therefore increases the pace of sea level rise. This particular ice shelf supports three glaciers named Leppard, Flask and Starbuck (anyone recognize the Moby Dick connection?). In 2002 a portion of Larsen C collapsed, it looks like what remains of the  10,000 year old ice shelf will soon be gone. The ice shelf Larsen B collapsed in 2002 which led to the increased flow of supporting glaciers. But Larsen C is 10 times the size of Larsen B and the fourth biggest ice shelf in Antarctica. What this could mean for coastal areas around the world is unknown.

Scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory recently made this discovery through the use of data from NASA’s Operation IceBridge (a six-year airborne survey of the Earth’s polar ice, the largest of it’s kind).

Interested in what’s going on in the Antarctic? Other aspects of climate change? Consider subscribing to Climate Central: “An independent organization of leading scientists and journalists researching and reporting the facts about our changing climate and its impact on the public.” Facts still matter.

About the Illustration: Micron pen on vellum paper.

Wildlife on the Brink


This recent illustration appears to incorporate some random critters at first glance. Salamanders, bats, and starfish-what could they possibly have in common?

Bat populations in North America are suffering from White-Nose Syndrome. I wrote about White-Nose Syndrome in “Cave Fresh“. Starfish along the Pacific coast are dying out from Sea Star Wasting Disease. I wrote about Sea Star Wasting Disease in “Trouble Among The Stars“. Salamanders (as well as frogs) around the globe are succumbing to Chytrid fungus. I have yet to write about Chytrid but I did write about Snake Fungal Disease in “Fungus Among Us“.

Disease, unfortunately, is the common thread but it is that common thread that scientists are beginning to see across the globe and across taxa. That is why the science and health community created the One Health Initiative. A collaborative effort connecting human and animal health with environmental health in order to understand the global picture for health. The impact of viruses and warming sea water on starfish may not seem so important to you but it is an indicator of environmental health and what is to come if we do not take notice and act. We are all connected…


Podcast Love


Today’s post is my little homage to science podcasts. When I am drawing or painting I will most likely have a podcast playing in the background. There are so many wonderful offerings out there that you can listen to at home, working out, in the car, etc…

Here are a few of my favorites. What are yours?

Radio Lab “Radiolab is a show about curiosity. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience.”

Science Friday “Covering the outer reaches of space to the tiniest microbes in our bodies, Science Friday is the source for entertaining and educational stories about science, technology, and other cool stuff.”

The Adaptors “Climate change is calling. The adaptors are responding. Adaptors are all around us: from the farmers and coastal-dwellers finding new ways to work and live, to the scientists thinking outside the box about energy, to the corporate leaders bringing new technologies to market, to the garage tinkerers and DIY inventors dreaming up the next big thing in green living. We want to introduce you to them, one story at a time.”

Stuff You Should Know  “How do landfills work? How do oceans work? How do mosquitos work? Your curious mind has so many questions, but where can you find entertaining and enlightening answers? Join Josh and Chuck as they explore the science behind the Stuff You Should Know about everything from genes to the Galapagos. SYSK Covers lots of interesting facts about all the common things around us and how they work.”

The Hidden Brain “The Hidden Brain project helps curious people understand the world – and themselves. Using science and storytelling, Hidden Brain reveals the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior, the biases that shape our choices, and the triggers that direct the course of our relationships.”

Invisibilia “Invisibilia (Latin for invisible things) is about the invisible forces that control human behavior – ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions. Co-hosted by Lulu Miller, Hanna Rosin and Alix Spiegel, Invisibilia interweaves narrative storytelling with scientific research that will ultimately make you see your own life differently.”

About the Illustration: Colorful Brains. Brush pens and micron pens. This was inspired by the recent Invisibilia podcast “” target=”_blank”>The Personality Myth“. Personalities are not as constant as one would think them to be. Which begs the question, do we really know anyone?

My Future’s So Bright…


The future doesn’t look so hot for most citizens of the oceans. Ocean acidification, overfishing, marine debris, and many other stressors are taking a toll on aquatic living. However one group appears to be gaming the system and actually proliferating in these days of algal blooms and coral bleaching. Hail the mighty Cephalopods! According to a recent study by researchers from the Environment Institute at the University of Adelaide in Australia, cephalopod (squid, cuttlefish, and octopus) populations are booming around the globe. In the May 2016 issue of Current Biology, the researchers report on their findings on population health trends for 35 species/ genera and six families of cephalopods through the analysis of six decades of global fisheries data. The researchers believe that short life spans, rapid growth, and high adaptability appear to be the recipe for success for these curious creatures of the sea. In addition, the crash of certain fish stocks appear to reduce predation and competition for cephalopods. While the current situation appears to be rosy, ocean acidification and overfishing of cephalopod stocks loom in the horizon like the clouds of an incoming storm. Boo!!!

About This Illustration: A watercolor painting of three cool cephalopods (from left to right: squid, octopus, and cuttlefish). The song “My Future’s So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades” by Timbuck 3 was the inspiration for this illustration. For those of you who do not know this great little ditty, check this out:

For More Information: This is actually an open access article! Yippee!!!

Z.A. Doubleday et al. Global Proliferation of Cephalopods. Current Biology. Vol. 26 Issue 10.  406-407. May 23, 2016.

Blue Blood


Yesterday’s post on red knots had me thinking of another coastal dweller, the horseshoe crab. Horseshoe crab eggs help nourish the red knot subspecies Calidris canutus rufa in the Delaware Bay and surrounding areas as the birds migrate from South America to their breeding grounds in the Arctic. In the spring, horseshoe crabs come ashore and mate on the sandy beaches of the US Mid-Atlantic region (they can be found along a large part of the Atlantic coast but the population is most dense in the Mid-Atlantic, particularly Delaware Bay). Along with them come the red knots and the feasting begins before the birds continue their trip to the Arctic and some birdy romance.

There are four species of horseshoe crab, one in North America and three in Southeast Asia. The species of interest to the rufa red knot is the North American species, Limulus polyphemus (also known as the Atlantic horseshoe crab). The horseshoe crab is not actually a crab but a close relative to spiders. It is often referred to as a “living fossil” because horseshoe crab fossils from 450 millions years ago look very much like their current form.

Horseshoe crabs are not just of interest to red knots, we humans have found a life saving use for these ancient sea creatures. Horseshoe crabs have amebocytes in their blood. These particular amebocytes causes blood to coagulate when it is in the presence (even in small amounts) of bacterial endotoxins. Horseshoe crab blood is therefore extracted to test intravenous drugs for contamination, the clinical product is called  Limulus amebocyte lysate. The impacts of bleeding horseshoe crabs is a topic of discussion with some evidence of reduced fitness in females after bleeding takes place.

Many moons ago I had the opportunity to see this process in action and it is something out of the Twilight Zone. It’s mind boggling to consider the role horseshoe crabs play in vaccine safety.

In recent years overfishing (they are popular bait for conch and eel fishing) and possibly clinical bleeding led to a major reduction in horseshoe crab populations which led to a reduction in the rufa red knot population. In addition, it appears that climate change may also be impacting this delicate balance between the two species. With rising water temperatures and increased storm activities, spring spawning for horseshoe crabs occurs earlier and earlier but unfortunately the migratory stopover of the red knot does not change. Thus the synchrony once found between these two events is fading. Without a horseshoe crab egg feast, red knots will not have the sustenance needed to endure their long journey north. For this reason (and others) the rufa red knot is listed as threatened under the US Endangered Species Act.

So that is the tale of the red knot and the horseshoe crab-a very, very, very short version. Oh and the title, horseshoe crab blood is copper-based (not iron like our own) which gives it a blue color. So horseshoe crabs are actually “blue blooded”. Ha!

About the Illustration: Simple watercolor and micron pens.