Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Opinion on Climate Change

A question every earth scientist gets. My answer is something like the following.

I think the earth is constantly changing, and has been both warmer and colder than it is now. One of the definitions of an "ice age" is polar ice sheets, which we have now; we are then, in an ice age. 

The bad thing, it seems, is when this fluctuating temperature occurs faster than animals and plants are able to adapt. This is what is occurring now, with one example in a rattlesnake study.

"We find that, over the next 90 years, at best these species' ranges will change more than 100 times faster than they have during the past 320,000 years"
The result is potential mass die-offs.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Safari Zuri

Due to an intense observational campaign and a 4 day Safari, this blog has been found lacking. I'll cover the Safari here, because it is most recent, and will follow later with a post describing our recent observational exploits, including going to sea 8 of 10 consecutive days.

My guide met me at the Kilimanjaro airport, and brought me to a basic campsite with an incredible view of Rift Valley and Lake Manyara. The electricity was out, but still our cook was able to create some delicious spaghetti with meatballs, and an opportunity to meet my (first) Safari partners. A pair of Dutch girls and a middle-aged German couple were going to travel through Ngorogoro Crater with me the following day.

We awoke early, and slipped out after some eggs and pancakes. Before 9am, we got our first view of the crater’s huge plain with dotted lakes as we descended to the floor. We soon saw cumba (warthogs), though gazelles, wildebeests, and zebra were quick to follow.

It was so much fun, just to drive around a look for stuff. Before lunch, I had seen baboons, some far-off lions, ostriches, a cheetah, an elephant, hyenas, and countless flying birds. We actually lunched next to the hippo pool, dodging the hawk-like kites trying to steal our food. The afternoon gave two rhino sightings, some closer lions, as well as all the other above animals. Our car was the first to sight one of the rhinos, which gave our guide something to brag about in Kiswahili to all the other drivers.

We made it back to camp around sunset, with another delicious dinner ready for us and a decent acrobatic show as entertainment. The next morning was Lake Manyara, a heavily forested National Park providing much closer animal viewings. Baboons, impala, and Giraffes were the standard, with some lucky elephant sightings as well; Giraffes are definitely my favorite.

After a stop off at the hippo pool, we left the park and returned for a hot lunch in camp. In the small town nearby, I haggled down some souvenirs and bade farewell to my car. My afternoon was spent on bicycle safari, taking me through herds of zebra and wildebeests before a banana beer in a mud-brick bar.

On the back of a motorcycle, I found my second camp and group. This time only a younger Italian couple woke with me the next morning to travel to Tarangire National Park. It was so nice, to see such different terrains each day, this time with dry hills and dotted baobab trees forcing the Tarangire River to snake through the region. It was that morning that I realized lions aren’t that cool; they’re so lazy, even when delicious-looking zebra are less than 100 meters away. 

Following my own lunch, a group of elephants passed AROUND the truck, prompting me to bring myself down from the moon roof and take pictures through the windows (elephants are HUGE and kind of scary). We followed this group down the river as they dug for water, sprayed mud on each other, and picked at grass along the bank. On our way out, we saw a lion eating a zebra.

I again exchanged emails and said goodbyes, before catching a local bus into town with my guide. He found me a place to stay, and met me the following morning for a walking safari through Arusha National Park.

The hike was beautiful, though sparse with animals. I guess it is a positive the Ranger assigned to me didn’t have to use the rifle assigned to her, but some excitement would have been nice. After some water buffalo, a waterfall, and a tree big enough to drive through, I found the exit and some Nyama Choma for lunch.

The flight back to Zanzibar gave me a beautiful view of Stone Town during the sunset, where I was able to point out to my single-serving friend each of the islands near town.

Somethings Interesting:
-Arusha is very touristy, and going on Safari is very easy. While I believe regions of the Serengetti are still remote (and too far for my few days), the parks I went to had daily visitor numbers comparable with Yosemite or Yellowstone.

-I have taken accustomed to rolling my eyes back in my head to only show the whites to local children who are starring at me (e.g. when entering a restaurant). I figure, give them something to stare at, and they normally find it funny.

-Haggling is an art, and I only have amateur status. My best advice; (1) always be astonished by the first price; (2) hold the amount of money you are offering in your hand; this lets the person see it; (3) realize that you don’t have to buy anything.

-I love the moment while traveling, where I awake from dozing off, and realize, “Oh ya, I’m in a truck returning from Tarangire/a boat returning from Chumbe Island/a dala dala returning from Jambiani.”

Monday, July 25, 2011

Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner

Every morning, I have breakfast at a local shop right next to the Institute of Marine Sciences (IMS). The guys know me by now, and all I have to do is wave and they prepare my two 2-egg omelets, two chapatis, and Chai Tea. Chapatis are a tortilla-like flat bread, but more filling. Recently, I have been supplementing this with a mango from my village trip, but I am running out fast.
View from breakfast
Once I have my breakfast, I eat feet from the sand, and watch the boats moving across the small bay. I try to make conversation with those around me, though mostly we just ask how each other are repeatedly. Once I am done, I pay $1.28 and try to avoid hitting my head on the short patio door.

For lunch, I get soup beneath the big tree, but have to make sure I get over there by about 12:30, or else they start running out of hard boiled eggs. The soup guy, who has a "Princess" hat from Sea World, chops up a potato, adds a couple small bread balls, a few skewers of beef liver, the hard boiled egg, small crunchy things, some chopped tomato and onion, and finally the chicken broth. I add a scoop of chili sauce, and enjoy. With my second bowl, I get a chapati, bringing the total to $1.47.
For dinner, I snake my way from IMS to Luukmans, my favorite restaurant. Through a combination of taste, filling, selection, and cost, I believe this is the best restaurant I have ever enjoyed. Favorites include beans in coconut sauce, pumpkin soup, fried onion curry, spinach in coconut sauce, vegetable curry, and peas in coconut sauce. Some of these items run out faster than others, so I have to pick and choose. Each dish is so delicious in flavor and so different. I will be bringing the spinach recipe back as it is my favorite.

Sometimes, I hold back at Luukmans, and enjoy a hamburger from a nearby street vendor. Regardless, the total is never more than $2.56. Any change I have left gets spent on a watermelon slice for my walk home.

Throughout the day, I purchase one or two bottles of water ($0.60 cents per 1.5 litre bottle), but do not shy away from drinking the tap water. This brings my total comfortably under $7 per day for food, though I often drink a few beers at sunset while slapping at mosquitos.

Somethings Interesting:
-If I go to sea, I skip the described breakfast and lunch, and choose instead to get 10 chapatis and a few hard boiled eggs. This combination costs $2.60 and keeps me full until dinner, where I normally return to Luukmans.

-The mangos I got in the village, absolutely priceless, though I only paid a quarter. Each one tastes like a Jamba Juice, but better. They taste how a Jamba Juice is supposed to taste. So incredibly juice and tasty and sweet and good.

-I took my first batch of Cipro over the weekend. After a few days and some uncomfortable snorkel sessions, it was time. It was a rogue pineapple I had with dinner last week, and totally worth it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Chumbe Recovery and a Rural Village

Friday we went back to Chumbe Island to recover our current meter. The ROMS model our project is based on predicts that in some locations, instead of two full tidal cycles, there will be four. Previous measurements at this location show promising results, and we hope something similar with this retrieval. There is a similar location near Dar es Salaam, and one of the students is going tomorrow to deploy the instrument there.

A researcher from Florida maintains permanent coral health sites there, providing our first foray into the photographic aspect of our biology project.

Lionfish in the lower right
Coral photography is difficult. We were struggling with rising full moon tides, creating currents on the order of 20-30 cm/sec; this tidal change caused the coral to grow noticeably further from the surface as the day progressed. Despite these hardships, our photographs continued, with colorful parrotfish, delicate lionfish, and schools of anchovies swimming around us. Finally, at the cost of exhaustion, we finished for the day and had a sunset cruise back to Zanzibar.

On Saturday, I started reading Stephen Pressfield's Gates of Fire, a truly captivating book. It was difficult to put down on Sunday, when we visited a friend's village.

After a quick dala dala, we walked through fields and forests of fresh mangoes, breadfruit, guava, etc, sampling everything, and then some. Upon arrival, we sat and conversed as best we can; our friend stepped away for a little, so we were without a translator for awhile. I began teaching some of the kids to juggle; they showed me how to shuck a coconut. Our friend came back, and the kids escorted us out, sad to see us leave. The dala dala brought us back, along with our bag of fresh fruit.
Best. Mangoes. Ever.
For dinner, we went to a local bar for some delicious barbecue chicken and goat. Deliciously cheap beers and a sunset helped the day come to an end.

Somethings Interesting:

--We met the administrator of Chumbe Island, a German who has a strong interest in Marine Biology. She will be a very valuable contact to have in the future of Theiss Research.

--I always choose the wrong side to give way to someone in the narrow alleys. I go right, just as traffic in the States, but everyone here goes left, like in England. The result is me looking like an idiot.

--The friend who took us out to the country works in our favorite restaurant, Lukmans. He is incredibly intelligent, can speak 5 languages, has traveled all over Africa with plans for further, has an email and cell phone, and grew up without electricity.

--I am explaining a visit to a rural village in a blog post that will be read by friends and family on the other side of the world. The clash of cultures is insane! Neither is better than the other, but which one is "exotic"? It is weird to think about.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Vote for Our Project

The Zanzibar Project is being featured in a campaign by DotGreen. The Foundation, located in Greenbrae, California, seeks to provide consistent support for individuals and environmental organizations that are committed to solving environmental and humanitarian imperatives in all regions of the world.

PLEASE, go to this website and Vote for our project. Click "Africa's Oceans".

We have everything we need, except enough boat time; this campaign seeks to provide this last resource. All you have to do is vote.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Dala-dalas, diving, and strolling on Africa

Sunday was exciting. After boarding a dala-dala in the town center, picking up some poles and bags of stuff on the outskirts of town, I was off to Jambiani with about 25 other people, all locals. We passed Jazani (see previous post), and eventually arrived to see the Indian Ocean; I'd only seen the Zanzibar channel until then.

The Indian Ocean!! The ocean I have only seen in maps, in front of me. I could touch it.  Amazing.

The sand was so white, the sky was so clear, and the water was so cold (I'm worried, San Diego is going to be even colder). I walked for a bit, fended off the offers of sunglasses and African Massages, and found a cheap bar on the sand. Halfway through my first beer, I challenged the bartender to pool. It was a small table, but after adjusting, we split 2-2. Another short walk led to lunch and some reading. The 2pm dala-dala eventually took me home, with more goods and cramped spaces on the journey.

Tuesday, I had the first two tanks of my Advanced Open Water dive training. In 15 meter visibility, myself and another girl navigated around some coral, and then genuinely explored. For lunch, we were served fresh fruit and a dish of fried goods, mostly delicious. There was a potato thing that was kind of bland. After explaining some diving-from-boats safety techniques I read from the manual the night before, I was able to take my camera to 10 meters. Not as good visibility, but still incredible. Most of these pics are taken during that dive.

After a restful night, we were at it the next morning with our first transect across the channel. These transects are used to validate the ROMS model created through this project, with the first portion focusing on ADCP current velocity collection. After making landfall near a river mouth in Africa, we explored the beach a ways north. The river created a beautiful right-hand sand bar, though only ankle slappers at the time. It would be an amazing wave with a good south swell. We turned around at an enormous tree, and spotted some threatening looking snails on our way back to the boat (we assumed the worst).

The trip back saw CTD casts to further validate the model, and water sampling for the biology project. These open channel samples will provide background values to compare our sewage outflow to. Today we filtered all day, as well as prepared to go back out tomorrow. We will recover the instrument we put out during our last Chumbe Visit, with hopes that we recieve some useful data about the motion of tides over the variable topography there.

Somethings Interesting
-At the last stop on our way out of town, an (appx) 6 year old boy boarded the dala-dala and threw his live chicken under my seat. An hour later, he got off, taking the entire journey alone.

-I have decided I am going to complete my Dive Master training. Coupled with Scripps' Scientific Diver, I legitimately think it would benefit my career, but really, I'm just super amped on diving right now.

-The river mouth we landed at was part of Saadoni National Park, one of the locations to see the large land mammals of Africa. While we saw nothing of note, it was interesting to find out the park is half the size of Zanzibar.

-I wish that instead of a thick neck beard, I was able to grow some volume in my cheeks.

Friday, July 8, 2011

One adventure by land, Another by sea

I've been on a couple of adventures recently; Sunday took me to Jazani Forest, and Tuesday to another day at sea. Between those, I celebrated our Independence Day.

Jozani forest is the largest protected region on the Island, which allows it to flourish unhindered. Many of the island's endemic species exist in this forest, most notably the Red Colubus Monkey. After a walk through the region's mangroves, we were able to see some of these endangered monkeys. Their species split from the mainland after the last ice age, and habitat deforestation along with hunting has led to its endangered status.

The tour ended with Jozani forest itself, which provided an amazing green spectrum rising in color as one scans  from the floor to the canopy. The natural silence, broken by bird calls and monkeys, was a welcome break from the hustle of Stone Town. I sat down to read some Vonnegut as the afternoon broke.

The next day was America's Independence Day. Not much celebration here as we had to prepare for a cruise the next day. For dinner though, we experienced Thai-flavored pizza in an African country; with that this obvious clash of cultures was perfectly American.

Tuesday was our first time attempting the water sampling techniques, which includes semicircles of radius 3km, 6km, 9km, and 12km. This organization will help us determine what direction the pollution travels on a specific day. We hope multiple days of sampling coupled with coral health will give an average of the pollution path.

The cruise itself was incredible; we were floating around in a dingy in the Tropical Indian Ocean, collecting bottles of water. Absolutely surreal. We made anchor near a reef on one of the outer sandbars for lunch. Incredible visibility, amazing sunlight, just perfect; I saw a lion fish, huge schools of anchovies, some giant starfish, and had a couple chapati to eat. We finished the cruise completing all of our samples, and the day with a few beers during the sunset.

Somethings Interesting:
-Yesterday was a holiday, "Saba saba"; it was the seventh day of the seventh month.

-Plastic bags are outlawed on Zanzibar; they would all eventually end up in the ocean. There is still a problem with trash, a lot of it plastic, but no plastic bags.

-There are seven species of wildlife endemic to Zanzibar. The Zanzibar Leopard is the most awesome, though only rumors have existed since the early 1990s.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Dhow Trip

Friday saw our first boat trip, as we went out to a marine reserve to deploy a current meter and test our biological sampling techniques. We learned a lot, some of which will help us simplify our methods, while a lot was just awesome.

We chose Chumbe Island because of it's protected status; hopefully our instrument remains untouched by nets or thieves. The instrument is being used to validate model results, as the variable topography is difficult to resolve. Following a successful deployment here, the instrument will be taken to near Dar es Salaam, where the channel begins and shallows dramatically. With that deployment, we hope to understand the exchange of water between the channel and the open ocean.

With our invitations from the local university, we were greeted warmly after a short boat trip and were allowed to do some exploring on land. The most striking feature of the island was the lighthouse, dwarfing anything else on the island. The lodge itself was spectacular, and provides immaculate views of the surrounding tropical ocean. There is also a mosque, which along with the lighthouse, was built ~100 years ago.

The surrealism of the island gave way to snorkeling as we returned to the boat to begin deployment. I ran support for the divers, helping transfer tools and messages from sea floor to the surface. We successfully deployed the current meter on a small expanse of gradually-slopped sand. I returned to the surface to have lunch and prepare for coral photography.

Coral photography was where we learned the most about our techniques. This process is not simply taking photographs, as I thought, but an intricate underwater dance with the frame, twine, the coral, and the camera. We learned a lot, changed some of it.

Our way home saw some CTD casts and water sampling for Chlorophyll and Total Suspended Solids. We enjoyed beers on the beach and discussed the days events. The consensus was unanimous; deployment was a success, visibility was good, and the weather was beautiful.

Somethings Interesting:

-The 3km long Chumbe Island has been a marine reserve since 1992 (according to the island's guide; Wikipedia says 1994). The reserve extends 300m offshore the Eastern side of the island, with buoys clearly marking the edge. Here the coral drops off from 10 to 40 m. Sadly, the western side of the island has no such protections, and experiences drag-nets and overfishing.

-The eco-lodge provides day trips for $90, or accommodations for $200 a night. Often, local school children make the trip out to learn about their environmental resources.

-Chumbe Island won a sustainability award from the UN in 2000 for the success of it's conservation effort.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tanzanian Science

The Zanzibar Project is an effort to give American Students experience in a foreign scientific environment while bringing modern oceanographic techniques to East Africa. We work with researchers at Tanzania's Institute of Marine Sciences (IMS), based in Stone Town, Zanzibar, just off the ferry dock. Most of the science here concerns the coral and fisheries ecology, but they have made room for our physical based project.

As a project, we hope to observe and model the currents between the island and the mainland, a majority of which is due to tidal motions which are comparably easy to understand. The project has therefore redefined it's goals to analyze nonlinear tidal motions which are created as a result of the large tidal swings in variable topography as well as currents not directly influenced by tides.

Javier, Mucaco, and Connor preparing the Current Meters

This Thursday, we will be conducting our first cruise, a half-day out to Chumbe Island to test all of our instruments and techniques, as well as deploy current meters to measure the predicted nonlinear tidal motions around the island. Chumbe Island is a marine reserve, and the snorkeling is expected to be excellent. This is exciting for me, as my main focus, interestingly enough, is on the biology portion of this project.

The sewage from Stone Town is let out of a pipe just offshore. While it is treated, this still poses a threat to the biology of the region (e.g. I won't swim near town). We hope to add a tracer to our model with the hopes of understanding the dispersion of this sewage. To provide an in situ comparison, we will be measuring biological quantities with hopes of creating an environmental gradient of the affected area.

Ali in the machine shop at IMS

Snapshots of sewage dispersion will be found using chlorophyll and suspended solid measurements, using a small boat on three separate days. We hope an average of sewage dispersion will be given by coral health found with photographic techniques. I have spent much of my time here so far constructing a frame which will ensure consistency between pictures. For example, I spent the morning yesterday snorkeling north of town as we determined the correct height to capture a 1x1m sample area with a photograph. We then enjoyed the bar with sand beneath our feet.

Somethings Interesting:

-While the project has its basis in how toxic the water is, we are looking for proxies outside of the dangerous zones (i.e. coral gets sick before humans do). I do not expect to be in contact with water any dirtier than San Diego after a rain.

-Yesterday, a fisherman accidentally drowned a dolphin in his net and brought it to IMS for measurements, dissection, etc. The dolphin was three years old and very healthy looking, except for being dead. According to the institution's dolphin graduate student, bycatch claims about 80-90 dolphins per year in Tanzania. 2006 was a bad year, with ~1000 dolphin strandings; there was no connection made to anthropogenic or other causes.

-To help with this project, I made an investment in an underwater housing for my camera. Once I get comfortable with it, you can expect pictures from snorkeling, diving, and eventually surfing. 

Saturday, June 25, 2011

It has been a Year

I wrote my last post before starting graduate school, and I write this one after completing my first year.

I took 12 classes, sampled vegetarianism, earned an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, surfed more times than I can count, completed the written portion of my departmental, and traveled to Zanzibar. Zanzibar happened only recently, arriving Friday after 34 hours of planes and layovers.
My plane across the Atlantic

Four planes brought me here, the last one a puddle-jumper across the channel. I was dropped at the Institute of Marine Sciences, the national, no-frills research institution. They focus mainly on coral and fisheries ecology, tourism and fishing being the two main marine facets of  the Zanzibar Economy.

I am part of a research endeavour through Theiss Research, with another graduate student, two undergrads, and a single professor making up our field team. I am excited for the science we will be completing, though I will get into the various projects we hope to accomplish in future posts.

This is my first time on the African Continent and the furthest east I have ever been (west of the international date line). I  am staying in Stone Town, working in IMS near the docks. This place is a Labyrinth. The "roads" are only wide enough for motorcycles and bicyclists, who scream through with an audible warning. I spend free time getting lost and finding my way back. Already, I have chosen my breakfast and dinner stalls I will remain faithful to throughout my stay.

My Plane across the Zanzibar Channel

We spent Saturday fixing our ADCP mount for our first cruise on Thursday. The boat is a handmade tourist vessel, and we're excited to visit the pristine marine reserve on this first outing. Following this small amount of work, I took my first dip in the Indian Ocean. It was pretty warm, there was a beautiful sunset, and we found some tiny jellyfish we knew of only through their stingers.

The trip has been a success so far.

Somethings Interesting

-Last night at dinner, my backpack was unzipped and searched while I was ordering; it was crowded and I was careless. The thief found nothing except my Zanzibar guidebook and current pleasure read (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), and left both. I got lucky. This was a wakeup call; I need to be more aware of the
opportunities I offer.

-Though I will certainly miss all my friends and family, I am looking forward to the lack of connection to the outside world. This has been a stressful year, and I spent much of it in front of the computer screen. My time spent here will be a great chance to relax and think.

-Our concrete apartment faces directly North for the previous owners to bow towards Mecca while they pray. We actually have line-of-sight with the Islamic prayer speakers; these go off multiple times daily, the earliest at 520 (though I have been told this will change as the prayer schedule is aligned with the moon). We have mosquito nets in our rooms, a sea breeze because we're so high, running water, and electricity. Luxurious to say the least.

-The electricity in town went out for about 4 hours yesterday. I just read my book and didn't panic.