Why Did the Amphibian Cross the Road?

About 370 million years ago, the first animals crawled out of the oceans to live on land. Known as amphibians (“two-lives”: amphi ‘both’ + bios ‘life’), they still require water for part of their life cycle. Beginning their life in water with gills and tails, they later develop lungs and legs for their life on land. They are also “cold-blooded” and assume a body temperature equal to their surrounding environment; warming themselves by basking in the sun and cooling down by lounging in a pool of water. Their thin, moist skin allows them to “breath” air and “drink” water, but also results in their drying out easily, so they don’t venture very far from a water source or damp environment, like Vernal Pools. 

Vernal Pools are special bodies of water, having no inlet or outlet, and are unable to sustain some aquatic predators, such as fish and some invertebrates. They are also readily found throughout the landscape; anywhere a depression exists, a pool of water likely forms for a short period. These pools can also be a variety of sizes; be it as large as a permanent wetland and several feet deep, or only a few square meters with inches of water, it seems nearly any pool size will suffice a breeding amphibian. (Click here for more info on Vernal Pools.). 

Certain early-spring conditions trigger a massive migration, when our ancient amphibians travel from their woodsy homes to Vernal Pools to breed. When the snow melts and the ground thaws, and temperatures rise above 45°, on a very wet night—either rainy or very foggy—“The Big Night” event happens. This event sometimes happens during a single night, but often over several nights. Vernal Pools become swelled with the snow-melt and wet weather, and our amorous crawlers are answering the call to procreate!

Their travels back to their breeding waters often require them to cross roads, and upwards of 30% of our frog, toad and salamander friends are killed by human road traffic…each time they cross the road. And they need to cross twice: once to get to the pools and once to return to their woodsy homes. Of the near 8,000 described amphibian species, almost half are in decline. According to a recent International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List report, over a quarter of amphibians are currently at risk of extinction, making them one of the most threatened groups of animals on the planet. 

Hope does exist, however. A small yet fast-growing movement involves citizens throughout the northeastern US who have been taking notice of the challenges migrating amphibians face as they attempt road crossing. “The Big Night” project focuses on recruiting volunteers to go out into the warm rainy nights of spring to monitor key migration points on roads. Not only are volunteers assisting amphibians in crossing roads, they are also collecting valuable data that could help to both detect critical crossing points and increase habitat connectivity areas.

While driving along roads, many of us are accustomed to swerving around those amphibians that we can see, and also help them cross when we stop. The Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) has noticed the dangers motorists thus create; single and multiple road accidents are being tabulated along with road damage. The evidence shows that as folks instinctively try to avoid needlessly killing these creatures, the costs of accident responses and road repairs are mounting. So MDOT is partnering with The Big Night project, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and other parties to design and build amphibian crossings into new road construction projects as a known cost-saving actions.   

Stream Foam

Walk along a woodland stream and the occasional sight of a glob of foamy stuff comes into view. So where does this sudsy-looking stuff come from? 

Stream foam is most common during periods of heavy rain and snow melt. Surface water mixes with topsoil rich in organic matter like leaves and twigs. The organic matter contains naturally-occurring chemicals called “surfactants”: materials that reduce surface tension in water. The surfactants become mixed with the water runoff much like the flavor of tea leaves become infused into the water in your teacup. Surfactants act to make water easier to spread or “more wet”. Soap is the most common surfactant we use, acting to ease cleaning operations; it allows water to “stretch”…and to form bubbles.

As the stream’s water flows over branches and rocks it becomes oxygenated, a major source of atmospheric oxygen mixing into our global waters feeding fish. Bubbles are formed and, due to the decreased surface tension from the surfactants, these bubbles become persistent and are somewhat stabilized. The bubbles congregate in areas of the stream called eddies—where the shape of rocks, branches, and other stream structors cause a circular flow of water to persist in a given spot.  

There are, however, some materials like detergents and yes, soaps, that can also cause foam, but these foamy areas will usually be found near houses or drainages areas from parking lots. So if you’re out in the woods and are so inclined, scoop up some stream foam and give it a smell test! It may have an earthy, fresh-cut grass or fishy scent. 

There’s another naturally-occurring foam caused by something different. Found along shorelines and beaches, “foam-lines” are caused by the seawater mixing with decaying matter from certain microscopic creatures called algae. Some of this algae can be harmful and the release of air from the collapsing bubbles from these algae can cause eye irritation and breathing difficulties to those with asthma and respiratory issues. Some sea birds can become affected by the damage to waterproofing oils on their feathers, making flight more difficult and compromising survival.  

Phytoplankton: The Invisible Forest

     Recent news reports regarding the ongoing fires in the Amazon Rain Forest have been a bit inaccurate about the oxygen generated by this wondrous landscape. The title “lungs of the Earth”—is a gross overestimate. As several scientists have pointed out recently, the Amazon’s net contribution to the oxygen we breathe likely hovers around zero.
     Plants also use oxygen during times of lowered oxygen availability (like during nighttime), and decomposing plant matter also uses oxygen. “Because of this balance between oxygen production and consumption, modern ecosystems barely budge oxygen levels in the atmosphere. Instead, the oxygen we breathe is the legacy of phytoplankton in the ocean that have over billions of years steadily accumulated oxygen that made the atmosphere breathable”, explains Scott Denning, at atmospheric scientist at Colorado State University.
     A sea water filled soda can holds 75-100 million phytoplankton. Phytoplankton are microscopic algae that live wherever sunlight shines on water, creating their own food via photosynthesis. Over 50% of the oxygen we breath is made by this Invisible Forest, which also removes CO2 added by human activities from the oceans & atmosphere…effectively maintaining the CO2/O2 balance for the past 550 million years.
     Phytoplankton use carbon, water, and nutrients in sea water to live and grow. Nutrient-rich waters rise, from the cold ocean’s depths to the surface in an ongoing cycle called “The Biological Pump”, or Ocean Inversion, an upwelling of water caused by differences in water densities, temperatures, and currents. As plankton blooms deplete the nutrients and die, their remains sink to the ocean floor and, through inversion, resurface as nutrients to feed other plankton…much like tilled-in plants feed the soil in our gardens.
     This plankton-nutrient-plankton cycle takes about 1600 years. Some of the dead plankton form layers of carbon-rich matter on the sea floor acting as the Earth’s carbon sink…effectively holding carbon as a soil-turned-to-rock layer for 100’s of millions of years. The White Cliffs of Dover were thus formed by calcium-rich plankton. Chemicals released by decaying phytoplankton give the sea-shore area it’s familiar “sea air” scent.
     Global warming is increasing precipitation rates and melting sea ice, adding fresh water to the ocean. This reduces sea water density, effectively capping the seas with a light layer of water causing the Ocean Inversion action to slow. The cycling of nutrient-rich waters from the depths to feed phytoplankton are slowed and their populations suffer. Oxygen manufacturing by phytoplankton is thus slowed, CO2 cycling is reduced, and the health of our atmosphere is disrupted.
     This elevated level of CO2 causes a wetter, warmer atmosphere…increasing the occurrences and strengths of storms, adding yet more fresh water to the ocean, further depleting phytoplankton populations…
     By the way, over 50% of Earth’s oxygen comes from phytoplankton.

Sanford Community Garden Sign-up Form

Sanford Community Garden Hosted by Sanford/Springvale Mousam Way Land Trust; Managed by University of Maine Extension Service’s York County Master Gardener Volunteers

After an absence of several years, Sanford has a community garden where folks can grow their own organic vegetables, flowers, and herbs. The Sanford Community Garden is located at the Pence Community Ecology Center in the McKeon Environmental Reserve on Blanchard Road in Springvale. Last May, the garden was created by applicants, Master Gardener Volunteers, Land Trust members, and others. Access road and parking lot improvements, and a tool shed followed.

Garden Philosophy

The tool shed will serve as a communications center. Notices will be posted, along with the garden guidelines, and lists of approved organic soil amendments, pesticides, and herbicides. Master Gardener Volunteer contact for help with any problems and questions you may have, and a message board will also be there.

You’ll be encouraged to use the square foot gardening procedure developed by Mel Bartholomew as a means of getting the most out of a limited space, but you can use whatever layout you want. By the same token, certain species and varieties will be recommended based on experience. Again, you may choose your own. In any case, the point you should keep in mind is that the size of the bed places a limit on how many types of plants you can grow.

The Garden

Each selected applicant will have a four-foot by twelve-foot, 10 inch high raised bed filled with blended topsoil amended with compost. Two plots will be reserved for home school students and their families. Three other plots are for local food pantry donations and Community Gardeners are asked to help with tending these. 

Selected applicants will be assigned plots on a first-come, first-served basis, and will be expected to volunteer at least three hours of caring for the food pantry plot during the growing season; this is a requirement for having a plot in the garden another year.

Gardening tools, water, and a first aid kit will be available for gardeners to use. Master Gardeners will provide advice and help, if needed. They will also oversee the garden beds and the food pantry plot. An ADA-accessible outdoor restroom is on site. 

Applicants, Master Gardeners, and land trust members plan to gather prior to the growing season to go over guidelines, review some of the techniques of square-foot gardening, and answer any questions folks might have about the garden or gardening. This meeting will be announced in March.

General Policies

  1. The following are not allowed: Smoking, alcohol, pets, subletting plots, non-organic control materials, unattended children, fresh manure, cannabis, illegal or invasive plants.
  2. Place disease-free plants, parts, and weeds in the compost pile provided.
  3. When leaving the garden, return any tools you used to the tool shed, lock it, and make sure the water spigot is turned off.
  4. Consider neighboring plots when planting vine or tall-growing plants such as cucumbers, squash, corn or sunflowers; use dwarf-type varieties and plant tall or trellised crops down the center of the bed.
  5. Plots should be fully planted by June 8, and be properly cared for during the whole season; ask for help if you need it!

Using a plot at the Sanford Community Garden is a privilege; the Advisory Committee reserves the right to revoke the privilege of any gardener at any time for any reason it deems appropriate. Call 206-5934 or email via application with any questions. Complete one of the following types of “Application For Community Garden Plot” and General Rules and Waiver Contract” for consideration. 

Application For Community Garden Plot

General Rules and Waiver Contract

I agree to waive, release, and hold harmless Sanford Springvale Land Trust, York County Cooperative Extension Service, and Master Gardener Volunteers from any and all damages, claims, suits, or injuries. By using the Sanford Community Garden located at Blanchard Road in Springvale, I assume responsibility for all risks, damages, to self or personal property and hazards, including ant third parties I may bring onto said property, for the purposes of gardening or otherwise. Insurance coverage is my own responsibility. I agree to act in a safe, sensible, and responsible manner, and will use respect with property and other people while at the garden. I also understand and agree to follow garden rules and policies.

I have read and understand the General Rules and Waiver Contract. I understand that my signature here is an acceptance of the General Rules and Waiver, and I agree to abide by them.

Signature: _____________________________________________ Date: __________________________

Prehistoric trees saved from Australia’s fires

By Sara Spary, CNN

 January 16, 2020

An ancient grove of pine trees whose ancestors are thought to have stood tall among dinosaurs some 200 million years ago has been saved from Australian bushfires in a covert firefighting mission.

Firefighters in New South Wales (NSW) were enlisted by the local government to save the prehistoric Wollemi Pine grove, which exists in a secret location within the 5,000-square-kilometer (1,930-square-mile) Wollemi National Park northwest of Sydney.

There are fewer than 200 Wollemi Pines left in the wild.

The oldest fossil of the rare pine species dates back 90 million years and the pines are thought to have existed during the Jurassic period.

Large air tankers of fire retardant were dropped inside the remote grove as part of the mission, while specialist firefighters attached to helicopters were winched down to set up an irrigation system to protect the trees from catching alight.

Swathes of the Wollemi National Park have been affected by the devastating bushfires and some of the precious pine trees have been charred.

“Wollemi National Park is the only place in the world where these trees are found in the wild and, with less than 200 left, we knew we needed to do everything we could to save them,” Matt Kean, the NSW environment minister, said in a statement.

“The pines, which prior to 1994 were thought to be extinct and whose location is kept secret to prevent contamination, benefited from an unprecedented environmental protection mission,” he added.

The NSW government had carried out a detailed scientific assessment and, while some trees have been damaged, the species has survived, he said.

Tool Men Help Build Tool Shed

On a warm and foggy late October morning, “Lowes Heros” volunteer employees from Sanford Lowes gathered to help a local community’s non-profit organization, as they do every year. This year’s help was the building of a tool shed for Sanford Community Garden. The “Heros” brought the necessary materials with them, and along with help from Sanford Springvale Mousam Way Land Trust managed to frame up and side the shed, located inside the fenced-in garden area.

More Heros came back later to raise the roof. Sanford Community Garden is part of the Pence Ecology Center, located on the Trust’s 110 acre McKeon Environmental Reserve in Springvale. This shed will be put to good use housing the various garden tools and soil amendments for these organically gardened raised beds, described here: https://mousamwaylandtrust.org/2019/03/07/sanford-community-garden/

Global Warming is Creating Ice in Greenland!

Greenland ice is actually building. Although this seems improbable due to Earth’s increasing temperature, it’s true…AND…it’s increasing sea water level rise!!

Here’s how.
Glaciers form where snow accumulates and, under pressure from the weight of more accumulating snow, forms ice. This usually happens on large, depression-shaped landforms (similar to those which hold lake water) which allow snow to collect and compress under its own weight. This creates granular ice, also called névé. (We see this stuff in early spring, as the surface snow melts.). Further snowfall adds weight, crushing the snow/névé layers to create “firn”, as more air is squeezed out. At about 10% air, glacial ice is formed. 

BTW…

…with fewer air bubbles held within the ice, light is less scattered and able to penetrate more deeply into the ice. This effectively absorbs the red and yellow light, and reflects back the blue; hence the “Blue Ice” of the very dense glacial ice. 

Anyway, the ice being formed is not glacial ice; it’s ice slabs, being formed very close to the glaciers surface, above layers of ice crystals called “névé”, or “firn”. The warming temperatures of Earth are melting the snow that falls on the glaciers more quickly than the névé layers of ice crystals below this snowmelt would normally absorb. As the snowmelt sinks into the névé layers, it freezes the layers together, forming a layer of ice on top of the spongy névé layers, effectively damming the snowmelt flow. This causes the water to flow downhill into the ocean instead of becoming an additional layer of névé which would have eventually added to the glacial ice mass. 

There’s a short video here explaining this action.  

BLUE CARBON and SEAGRASS

“Blue Carbon” is the scientifically recognized term defining carbon stored by coastal ecological systems. These systems of seagrasses, mangroves, salt marshes, and seaweed, cover less than 0.5% of the seabed, are equal in size to about 0.05% of the biomass on land, and are responsible for over 50% of all carbon storage in ocean sediment. Through photosynthesis, carbon is captured in the plants and roots as the plants grow, ending up in the sediment where the carbon is stored (sequestered) for up to millions of years. One acre of seagrass can remove the carbon emitted from 4,000 miles of car exhaust each year.

There are about 72 species of flowering plants collectively called seagrasses that evolved from sea algae, moved onto land, and then, about 100 million years ago, transitioned back to the sea. Forming beautiful water-based meadows along coastal floodplains and in water up to 150’ deep, seagrass is a critical food source and habitat for wildlife, supporting a diverse community of fish, snails, sea turtles, crabs, shrimp, oysters, clams, squid, sea urchins, sponges, and anemones. 

Seagrasses have been called “the lungs of the sea”, capturing and storing large amounts of carbon and releasing oxygen into the water as they build their leaves and roots through the process of photosynthesis—similar to how trees take carbon from the air to build their trunks. As parts of the seagrass die and decay, it collects on the seafloor and becomes buried and trapped in the sediment. The sediment forms sedimentary rock under the effects of time and pressure, and through actions of Earth’s tectonic plates, becomes buried in the upper crust; the carbon is thus effectively sequestered for decades and up to millions of years, resurfacing as volcanic spew (lava) and mountain outcrop eruption (magma).

But Blue Carbon ecosystems are being lost by 2-7%/year—a higher rate than even the rainforests. This loss adds to deadly atmospheric carbon by removing seagrasses’ carbon sequestration actions, and also reduces habitat that is vital for managing the health and viabilities of our climate, our coasts, our health, and a multitude of plants & animals.   

Seagrass habitats are threatened by many anthropogenic (human) activities. Paved surfaces cause heavy runoffs of dirty, unfiltered water from storms and waste-waters. Increased fertilizer use from farms and housing developments, nitrous oxides from various fossil fuel burning activities—auto, factory, electricity generation, home heating—all cause excess nutrient accumulations flowing to the seas. These activities encourage algae blooms like red tide which deplete oxygen, cloud the sunlight, increase the water’s temperature, and release deadly toxins which kill animals, people, and the seagrass meadow. 

Dragging weighted fishing nets over the meadows uproot the plants. Global Warming causes sea levels to rise and ocean acidification, reducing light infiltration, hindering photosynthesis thus causing a decrease in plant growth, health, and plant biodiversity. ( A “wasting disease” in the early 1930’s caused a large die-off of up to 90 percent of a seagrass species called eelgrass growing in temperate North America, causing an extinction of a snail species. ).  

Another cause of seagrass depletion is the reduction of predatory actions upon the herbivore community, allowing these grass-eating animals unfettered access to seagrasses. This situation is mostly caused by over-fishing of the herbivore-eaters. For example, Chesapeake Bay Blue Crabs eat grazing snails. Over-harvesting the crabs allows the snails to flourish, destroying the seagrasses.    

Seagrass loss has accelerated over the past few decades, from 0.9% per year prior to 1940 to 7% per year in 1990, with about a 1/3 global loss since WWII. An increase in awareness and protections are required to eliminate these losses and to ensure the health and survival of not only these magnificent habitats, but of us too.

A global assessment, done by the National Academy of Sciences, involving 215 studies found that seagrass habitat has been disappearing at an increasing rate since 1940; 29% has disappeared since seagrass data began in 1879, with 25-50% in the past 55 years. Seagrass loss rates are comparable to those reported for mangroves and coral reefs, and place seagrass meadows among the most threatened ecosystems on earth.

So, vegetative coastal ecological systems are emerging as the most carbon-rich ecosystems in the world, and one of the most effective methods for long-term carbon storage: they bury carbon 35 times faster than tropical forests and contribute 50% of the total carbon buried in ocean sediments. Because of their remarkable speed and effectiveness to sequester carbon for millions of years, Blue Carbon storage should be a key strategy to combat Global Warming. 

https://www.thebluecarboninitiative.org/library#Mangroves; https://www.pnas.org/content/106/30/12377; https://mousamwaylandtrustmaine.files.wordpress.com/2019/12/44722-atwood-et-al.-2015.pdf; https://www.fws.gov/verobeach/MSRPPDFs/Seagrass.pdf; https://ocean.si.edu/ocean-life/plants-algae/seagrass-and-seagrass-beds#element_37; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4633871/ 

GLOBAL OCEAN CONVEYOR BELT: Changes due to Global Warming

Sea water along the equatorial area gets heated by the sun, and the warmed water forms a stratification layer above the colder lower water. Eastern Trade Winds caused by Earth’s rotation and atmospheric temperatures push this water layer, creating the Global Ocean Conveyor Belt (GOCB). 

Part of this GOCB is The Gulf Stream.

The warm water reaches the North Atlantic and Labrador areas, where heat is lost to the atmosphere, mixes with cold water, and sinks. These actions form the North Atlantic Gyre, also known as the Sargasso Sea. As the cooled water sinks, warmer water replaces it, enhancing the GOCB and the Gulf Stream current. The cooled water forms a deep-water channel flowing south, under the Gulf Stream, along the eastern South American and Antarctic coasts, to the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Other gyres in the major oceans are also formed and act to further energize the GOCB by the current created by the flowing warm-to-cold water actions.  

The GOCB facilitates heat transfer among the ocean’s seas and atmosphere, thus modulating global warming. 

Increased global carbon levels, through various actions, are causing global warming. Also increasing are the depths of various heat-stratification layers, lessening the heat transfer efficiencies among these layers; the GOCB warm layer is one of these layers. 

The heat of the atmosphere is increasing, lessening the amount of heat transferrable from the oceans to the air. This causes the upper warm ocean layer to both get warmer and get thicker. The lowered water-to-air heat transfer effectively slows the water cooling, slowing the decent of cool water to the deep water current of the GOCB, thus slowing the Gulf Stream. 

The slowed current allows the trade winds to push the Gulf Stream closer to the North American continental shelf and its shallow water, lessening the cooling effects from the cool, deeper water layer. The water thus gets warmer, the warmer water expands, and sea levels rise along the coastline. Due to the Gulf of Maine’s configuration and placement, ocean warming and sea level rise is especially egregious in New England and Maine.     

Adding to this is the fresh water from increased river flowage from increasingly severe storms and the melting of polar caps, ice sheets and glaciers. Fresh water is less dense than sea water so tends to stay at the surface, further increasing the depth of the upper stratified layer of warm water, further decreasing heat transfer actions.

Recent research indicates that the GOCB has been reduced by 15-20% since the mid-1800…the surge of the Industrial Revolution, fossil-fuel burning, and its carbon-releasing effects. Evidence from research of ancient ice cores also suggests that the GOCB is at its weakest point in the past 1600 years. 

Our Climate in 60 Years

Most folks have difficulty relating to the scientists’ warnings relating to climate change due to global warming. A University of Maryland study, with funding from National Science Foundation and U.S. Geological Survey, attempts to clarify these temperature changes. The image above shows our climate just a short 60 years from now, if our governmental policies remain the same. Go to the below interactive map, designed by the researchers of this paper: https://rdcu.be/bXACi.

Interactive map: https://fitzlab.shinyapps.io/cityapp/