Environment

 

“Layers of delight are hidden by the

limitations  of everyday human vision.”

 

Look closely at something. 

Look harder. 

Look really closely, and give yourself all the time in the world.

This is exactly what David G. Haskell, a tall, lanky biologist and research scientist at the University of the South, did recently, reacting to a career that took him deeper into the laboratory, the computer, and the classroom, and farther and farther from nature, the real origin point of science.

We are so not alone, we are so not special

An especially valuable research satellite fell into a semi-coma recently, but not before giving us a discovery that some might say ranks up there between gravity and quantum mechanics.

The one-ton, aptly named Kepler*, in orbit since 2009, lost two of its four stabilizing wheels and can no longer stay steady enough to find every planet circling impossibly distant stars. But with the data analyzed so far, astronomers have tentatively identified more than 3,000 planets the size of Earth in two neighboring constellations. More than 100 of these have been confirmed as Earth-Likelike by other astronomers using independent methods. They satisfy the Goldilocks principle: neither too close nor too far from a sun but just the right distance for liquid water—the basic conditions astrobiologists think is life’s prerequisite. And there are still two years of raw Kepler data to analyze.

Following Kepler, two more “exoplanet” (extrasolar planet) seekers will be launched: One in 2017 in a wildly elongated, potentially quite stable orbit bristling with lots of telescopes to probe a million nearby stars, another that will look for planets with an atmosphere.

A recent article in which Carey Institute scientists participated showed that human activities are changing the water chemistry of many streams and rivers in the Eastern U.S.  The consequences for water supplies and aquatic life may be major says a new study in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. 

In the first survey of its kind, researchers looked at long-term alkalinity trends in 97 streams and rivers from Florida to New Hampshire. Sites ranged from small headwater streams to some of the nation’s largest rivers. Over the past 25 to 60 years, two-thirds have become significantly more alkaline. 

Alkalinity is a measure of water’s ability to neutralize acid. In excess, it can cause ammonia toxicity and algal blooms, altering water quality and harming aquatic life. Increasing alkalinity hardens drinking water, causing pipe scaling and costly infrastructure problems. And, perhaps most alarming, it exacerbates the salinization of fresh water.

Author and biologist David Haskell looks at the relationships between the tiniest microbes and the largest mammals, revealing secret, hidden worlds in a square meter of Tennessee forest at a lecture at the Cary Institute on Friday, September 6, at 7 p.m.

Haskell is the author of the recent book The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature, a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Award for nonfiction. Haskell is a professor of biology at the University of the South.

Distinguished sociobiologist E. O. Wilson calls Haskell’s work “a new genre of nature writing, located between science and poetry, in which the invisible appears, the small grows large, and the immense complexity and beauty of life are more clearly revealed.”

by Carola Lott

Dr. Gene E. Likens, founding president of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, celebrated 50 years of research at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest site in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The Hubbard Brook Ecosystem Study (HBES), co-founded by Likens in 1963, is best known for the discovery of acid rain and its impact on North American ecosystems. The HBES has also played a vital role in determining how human-accelerated environmental change affects forests and their watersheds.

Although continuous, long-term studies are rare in ecology, they are essential for effective stewardship. The Hubbard Brook Ecosystem Study has helped advance our understanding of ecological, hydrological, and biogeochemical interactions in forest environments. Findings have influenced both forest management and environmental policy. The watershed-ecosystem approach that is a hallmark of Hubbard Brook has been replicated at sites throughout the world. 

by Carola Lott

On Friday, August 16, eleven college students from all parts of the country presented the results of their summer research projects at the Cary Institute’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Symposium.

Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the institute's REU program is the longest continuously funded of all the NSF biology programs, which are located at more than 100 sites nationwide. At 12 weeks the program at Cary is the longest.

Twenty-six years ago, Cary scientists began a program to give students an experience of independent research to help them decide whether they wanted to pursue a career in science. They also wanted to teach students how to communicate, how to translate ecology into something the layperson could understand. Under the leadership of Dr. Alan Berkowitz, who directs the program, they secured the necessary funding. 

Festival is August 10 and 11
by Carola Lott

Although most of us are aware of the Sharon Audubon Center a few miles east of the clock tower, few of us know much about its many valuable programs. The Sharon Audubon Festival, held this year on  the weekend of August 10 and 11, is an excellent opportunity to discover what this place has to offer.

The Sharon Audubon Center, given to the National Audubon Society in 1961, consists of 1,147 acres, most of it wooded, with 11 miles of trails and 2 ponds. There is a raptor aviary with live birds of prey and an herb garden maintained by the Millbrook Garden Club, as well as the Eleanor Loft Bird and Butterfly Garden. A small natural-history museum, a nature shop and the children's Adventure Center are housed in the main building, where most of the programs and events are held. An old ice house has been transformed into a working sugarhouse.