Walrus Flash Mob & 20 Years of Pot Research

[Intro] Every now and then, a story shows up on your Facebook page, your Tumblr dash, your Twitter feed that just doesn't go away, because people keep arguing about it. And arguments are fine, but they often tend not to reveal much in the way of data, or context. So with that in mind, SciShow wanted to weigh in on "The Great Walrus Haulout of 2014". You've seen the pictures, probably, taken last month by a government biologist who counted more than 35,000 Pacific walruses crowded together on Point Lay, a rocky barrier island off Alaska's northern coast. Depending on what online ecosystem you inhabit, you might have seen this picture shared as a grim sign of global warming, or from the opposite perspective, as a normal event that environmentalists have just hyped up. Well, let's start with what we know – walruses can't swim for very long periods like seals can, so they stop between feedings to rest on chunks of land or ice.

This is known as "hauling out" and it is a thing that walruses do, especially in late summer and early fall. What's interesting, and kind of weird about the Point Lay haulout, is that there are SO MANY walruses resting together at the same place – it may be the biggest ever recorded. And while it's been described as a walrus "flash mob", it is not nearly as fun as that. Many of these walruses are females with young calves, and having thousands of animals, some weighing more than a ton, in such close quarters can lead to battles over territory, accidental tramplings, and the fast spread of disease. In fact, deaths in these mass haulouts are common. Now many media reports have quoted scientists as saying that haulouts are getting bigger, and therefore more dangerous, because of global warming.

As sea ice melts, more walruses have to cluster together on land to rest. But there's also been a backlash among your climate-change-is-not-happening crowd which has pointed out – OFTEN IN ALL CAPS – that these things have been seen before. Well yeah, sort of. Most often the skeptics are citing a University of Alaska study from 1978 that estimated that some 35,000 hauled out en masse that year, but that was an estimate made after the walruses had moved on, gleaned mostly from how much land the walruses had disturbed, and how many dead were left behind. Since then, research into these events has become more regular and rigorous, and results over the past ten years do seem to reveal a pattern. The first large haulout on land was recorded in 2007, when 30,000 walruses were counted on beaches on the Russian side of the Bering Strait.

And according to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service, this coincided with a loss of sea ice in that part of the Arctic, that at the time, was unprecedented. Then, in 2010, 20,000 walruses hauled out near Point Lay, and the following year, 30,000 appeared in the same place. But these numbers haven't gone up every year – there were no huge haulouts in 2008 and 2012, for example – years when, according to the Feds, there was enough sea ice for all of the animals to rest on. So the likelihood is we're going to be seeing more of these events in the future, but the science behind them is more complicated that you can fit into one hundred and forty characters. Another thing people like to argue about that's also being researched more than ever? Cannabis. By some estimates marijuana is now almost as prevalent as tobacco in many countries, and on Monday, a new study from the University of Queensland laid out all of the research that has been done on marijuana over the past 20 years, listing everything scientists have learned, as well as what patterns they've observed but haven't been connected yet.

Among the conclusions, even through it's not chemically addictive like opiates, cannabis has been found to cause what's known as a Dependence Syndrome – a persistent psychological craving that can disrupt a person's thoughts and behavior. This was documented in about one of every ten pot smokers across various studies, but the risk was nearly twice as high – one in six – among adolescents. Also, results show that regular cannabis users have double the risk of experiencing symptoms of psychosis – a disorder often described as a loss of touch with reality, as well as schizophrenia – a condition that causes things like disorganized thinking, delusions, and hallucinations. Now, this doesn't mean that pot causes these conditions, but the data do suggest that people who are genetically predisposed to these disorders are more likely to have symptoms appear if they smoke often. Finally, there are some correlations that scientists have found while studying pot use among teens, but so far they haven't found any direct link between the drug and these observations.

Specifically, they found that adolescents who regularly use pot typically attain a lower level of total education, suffer from intellectual impairment, and are more likely to use other illicit drugs. Now, these are all things that could have a number of social causes like poverty, access to education, and family situations, so no causal link has been established at all. But me? We're talking about the health of my brain here, so I'm not taking any chances; it's the only one I got, and I like to think it's working great on its own. Thanks for watching SciShow News, brought to you by Audible – which is giving away a free audio book to SciShow viewers. You can go to audible.com/scishow, and download one of my favorite new science books of the year, "What If? Serious scientific answers to absurd hypothetical questions", narrated by my friend Wil Wheaton, and written by the creator of XKCD, Randall Munroe. Or, you know, practically any other book, for free, so go to audible.com/scishow.


Rachel Armstrong: Architecture that repairs itself?

All buildings today have something in common. They’re made using Victorian technologies. This involves blueprints, industrial manufacturing and construction using teams of workers. All of this effort results in an inert object. And that means that there is a one-way transfer of energy from our environment into our homes and cities. This is not sustainable.

I believe that the only way that it is possible for us to construct genuinely sustainable homes and cities is by connecting them to nature, not insulating them from it. Now, in order to do this, we need the right kind of language. Living systems are in constant conversation with the natural world, through sets of chemical reactions called metabolism. And this is the conversion of one group of substances into another, either through the production or the absorption of energy.

“The little bag is able to conduct itself in a way that can only be described as living”

And this is the way in which living materials make the most of their local resources in a sustainable way. So, I’m interested in the use of metabolic materials for the practice of architecture. But they don’t exist. So I’m having to make them. I’m working with architect Neil Spiller at the Bartlett School of Architecture, and we’re collaborating with international scientists in order to generate these new materials from a bottom up approach. That means we’re generating them from scratch. One of our collaborators is chemist Martin Hanczyc, and he’s really interested in the transition from inert to living matter. Now, that’s exactly the kind of process that I’m interested in, when we’re thinking about sustainable materials. So, Martin, he works with a system called the protocell. Now all this is – and it’s magic – is a little fatty bag. And it’s got a chemical battery in it. And it has no DNA. This little bag is able to conduct itself in a way that can only be described as living.

It is able to move around its environment. It can follow chemical gradients. It can undergo complex reactions, some of which are happily architectural. So here we are. These are protocells, patterning their environment. We don’t know how they do that yet. Here, this is a protocell, and it’s vigorously shedding this skin. Now, this looks like a chemical kind of birth. This is a violent process. Here, we’ve got a protocell to extract carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and turn it into carbonate. And that’s the shell around that globular fat. They are quite brittle. So you’ve only got a part of one there. So what we’re trying to do is, we’re trying to push these technologies towards creating bottom-up construction approaches for architecture, which contrast the current, Victorian, top-down methods which impose structure upon matter. That can’t be energetically sensible. So, bottom-up materials actually exist today.

“The protocells are depositing their limestone very specifically, around the foundations of Venice, effectively petrifying it”

They’ve been in use, in architecture, since ancient times. If you walk around the city of Oxford, where we are today, and have a look at the brickwork, which I’ve enjoyed doing in the last couple of days, you’ll actually see that a lot of it is made of limestone. And if you look even closer, you’ll see, in that limestone, there are little shells and little skeletons that are piled upon each other. And then they are fossilized over millions of years. Now a block of limestone, in itself, isn’t particularly that interesting. It looks beautiful. But imagine what the properties of this limestone block might be if the surfaces were actually in conversation with the atmosphere. Maybe they could extract carbon dioxide. Would it give this block of limestone new properties? Well, most likely it would. It might be able to grow. It might be able to self-repair, and even respond to dramatic changes in the immediate environment.

So, architects are never happy with just one block of an interesting material. They think big. Okay? So when we think about scaling up metabolic materials, we can start thinking about ecological interventions like repair of atolls, or reclamation of parts of a city that are damaged by water. So, one of these examples would of course be the historic city of Venice. Now, Venice, as you know, has a tempestuous relationship with the sea, and is built upon wooden piles. So we’ve devised a way by which it may be possible for the protocell technology that we’re working with to sustainably reclaim Venice. And architect Christian Kerrigan has come up with a series of designs that show us how it may be possible to actually grow a limestone reef underneath the city. So, here is the technology we have today. This is our protocell technology, effectively making a shell, like its limestone forefathers, and depositing it in a very complex environment, against natural materials. We’re looking at crystal lattices to see the bonding process in this.

Now, this is the very interesting part. We don’t just want limestone dumped everywhere in all the pretty canals. What we need it to do is to be creatively crafted around the wooden piles. So, you can see from these diagrams that the protocell is actually moving away from the light, toward the dark foundations. We’ve observed this in the laboratory. The protocells can actually move away from the light. They can actually also move towards the light. You have to just choose your species. So that these don’t just exist as one entity, we kind of chemically engineer them. And so here the protocells are depositing their limestone very specifically, around the foundations of Venice, effectively petrifying it. Now, this isn’t going to happen tomorrow. It’s going to take a while. It’s going to take years of tuning and monitoring this technology in order for us to become ready to test it out in a case-by-case basis on the most damaged and stressed buildings within the city of Venice.

But gradually, as the buildings are repaired, we will see the accretion of a limestone reef beneath the city. An accretion itself is a huge sink of carbon dioxide. Also it will attract the local marine ecology, who will find their own ecological niches within this architecture. So, this is really interesting. Now we have an architecture that connects a city to the natural world in a very direct and immediate way. But perhaps the most exciting thing about it is that the driver of this technology is available everywhere. This is terrestrial chemistry. We’ve all got it, which means that this technology is just as appropriate for developing countries as it is for First World countries. So, in summary, I’m generating metabolic materials as a counterpoise to Victorian technologies, and building architectures from a bottom-up approach. Secondly, these metabolic materials have some of the properties of living systems, which means they can perform in similar ways.

They can expect to have a lot of forms and functions within the practice of architecture. And finally, an observer in the future marveling at a beautiful structure in the environment may find it almost impossible to tell whether this structure has been created by a natural process or an artificial one.

Ocean Temperatures – Changing Planet

The world’s oceans cover more than 70 percent of Earth’s surface. Millions of creatures, great and small, call the oceans home. These massive bodies of water play a crucial role in maintaining the planet’s delicate environmental balance, from supporting a complex food chain, to affecting global weather patterns. But rising air temperatures are warming the oceans and bringing dramatic impacts felt around the globe. Dr. TONY KNAP (Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences): One of the things warming does in, say areas off the United States, it creates a much bigger pool of warm water in the surface of the ocean that lends a huge amount of energy to hurricanes and tropical cyclones. THOMPSON: Dr. Tony Knap is the director of the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, or BIOS. Famous for its luxurious golf courses and pink sand beaches, Bermuda is also home to one of the world’s leading institutes for ocean studies, with a focus on water temperatures.

KNAP: Here off Bermuda, we have probably a better view of it then many other people are going to have over time. THOMPSON: Bermuda is located over 600 miles, or almost 1,000 kilometers, from the coast of North Carolina, in an area of the Atlantic Ocean called the Sargasso Sea. KNAP: We like to think of the Sargasso Sea in the North Atlantic as the canary in the coalmine. It’s the smallest ocean, it’s between North America and Europe and we think if we are going to see changes, we will see them first here in the ocean off Bermuda. THOMPSON: Scientists at BIOS have been measuring the temperature of the ocean since 1954, making it one of the world’s longest ongoing studies of ocean data. KNAP: Well you measure the temperature of the ocean in many ways. In the old days you used to do it with buckets and thermometers. Now you use sophisticated instruments called conductivity, temperature and depth recorders. THOMPSON: These recorders, called CTDs, are large measuring instruments lowered deep into the water at specific locations in the ocean. On this day, Knap and his team are headed to “Station S.

” QUENTIN LEWIS, Jr. (Captain, R/V Atlantic Explorer): The weather is not going to be our friend today, unfortunately. The winds out of the west, it’s 35-40 and some higher gusts. The seas are anywhere from 14 to 16 feet or higher. THOMPSON: Lowered to a depth of three kilometers, or just under two miles, the CTD records temperature, salinity, carbon dioxide levels, and captures water samples. KNAP: This is a screen for the output on the CTD. The temperature will be in red, blue is salinity or the saltiness, and yellow is the oxygen content. THOMPSON: At BIOS, all of the data is then carefully logged and analyzed. Dr. NICK BATES (Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences): With this instrument we can see changes that happen over the season, over the year. And then from year to year.

THOMPSON: Using ocean temperature data going back several decades, BIOS research can trace the warming trend. In the past 56 years, it has risen half a degree Celsius. KNAP: Since 1954 we’ve seen, on average, the temperature increasing by a small amount, an equivalent to what is really a half a watt per year which is, doesn’t seem like a lot but over the whole of the ocean, it’s a lot. THOMPSON: What’s a half a watt? KNAP: It’s not much. It’s about a 100th of a degree per year. It’s not a lot. THOMPSON: But that small a difference can make, have a huge impact? KNAP: Yeah. THOMPSON: Really? KNAP: Yeah, because it’s going on every year. You think about how big the ocean is, and how deep it is, and how much energy it has, I mean it’s a tremendous source of heat. THOMPSON: So where is that warming coming from? KNAP: The warming we believe is to due to changes in CO2 in the atmosphere, the atmosphere getting warmer and the surface of the ocean getting warmer.

And that transfer of heat is being made into the ocean. THOMPSON: So what is the impact of a warmer ocean? The rising temperature causes the ocean to expand, and raises sea levels. KNAP: The tides going up by 3.2 millimeters a year. Half of that is attributed to the ocean warming down to 700 meters. The oceans on average 4,000 meters deep so it has a lot more to expand. THOMPSON: Warming temperatures also impact the growth rates of certain organisms at the very bottom of the ocean food chain, like phytoplankton. And so if you see changes in phytoplankton, does that mean that we are going to see changes in the food chain at the ocean? KNAP: If the organisms that eat those organisms, OK, eat the plankton, for example, can’t eat those plankton, then yes you’ll see changes. THOMPSON: And the small changes being recorded could bring even stronger storms.

This report published in 2005 in Science Magazine shows the gradual rise of the number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes over recent years. An increase in storm intensity like this many scientists believe is the result of the warming of the oceans. KNAP: You think about how big the ocean is, and how deep it is, and how much energy it has. Even if you look at difference in hurricanes intensity, etc., one, one and a half degree centigrade in the water column of one hundred meters makes a massive amount of difference. THOMPSON: Small changes with big consequences for the creatures in the sea and all the people who live along the coasts..