Author Topic: The Importance of Small Details  (Read 3238 times)

HatterJack

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The Importance of Small Details
« on: September 16, 2015, 02:38:03 pm »
So, most of you know I'm generally more of a historian than a scientist, but here's a small contribution to the science side of things. I'd like to preface this by saying I'm not entirely sure if this is the right part of the board for this, but then, I'm rarely sure if I'm posting in the right place  8)

As per my usual routine, I've been chipping away at Albatross (1884), cross-referencing and studying, and generally putting my excess grey matter to use, when I stumbled across this seemingly minor little event, that may have some rather serious implications in the near(ish) future.

http://oldweather.s3.amazonaws.com/ow3/final/Albatross/vol018of055/vol018of055_067_1.jpg

4am to 8am: the last line simply states, "Passed considerable floating kelp".

On the surface, this seems pretty unimportant, until you do some digging into the subject.

Kelp forests can be, and often are, useful for determining several large-scale environmental changes; sea otter population growth (or decline) and range, urchin populations, changes in habitat characteristics, algal community shifts, and climate change being the the most common.

This entry is from the end of August, 1888, and had we known, then, what we know now about the Pacific and her patterns, this simple sentence could have provided a bit of advance warning for what the future had in store for the Pacific coast of North America. Or perhaps not, as there's not really any conclusive evidence linking the Pacific temperature to the scale of the Great Fires of Seattle and Spokane Washington in the spring and summer of 1889, but the implication is certainly there.

Record keeping for weather didn't really become a regular thing until just a decade before this log entry. However, we do have records that reveal the end of a warming cycle for the North Pacific (the entire cycle being referred to as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, or PDO), and the beginning of a cold cycle that would last for about 30 years. The PDO is known to be distinct from the more famous El Nino effect, as El Nino currents tend to last for only a few months, whereas PDO effects, as I just mentioned, last for decades.

This entry, and its mention of passing a considerable amount of floating kelp, happened, as I mentioned before, during the tail end of a PDO warm cycle. It was also an El Nino year. The still high, but falling, sea temperatures (caused by the PDO cycle), combined by the El Nino event in the winter of 1887-1888 may have contributed to the incredibly frigid winter, mild spring temperatures and unusually low rainfall in the spring and summer of 1889 that exacerbated the Great Fires of Seattle and Spokane on 6 June and 4 August 1889, respectively.

And these are merely the local effects. The winter of 1887-1888 was one of the most famously brutal on record, and weather worldwide was, to put it mildly, kind of insane. Drought, famine, blizzards, floods, record temperatures (some which still stand today); 1888 was a pivotal year in general, but is infamous for its weather (well... and Jack the Ripper, but that's debatable).

While the ties that bind this mention of floating kelp and the weather are tenuous at best, the point remains that a seemingly unremarkable statement in a ship's log, may be more important than meets the eye. The popular phrase about butterflies in Peking tends to be more about life than actual weather, but in the case of our project, may yet prove to be more accurate than one might think. The smallest details tend to be overlooked, but they may yet prove to hold immensely valuable data.

Edit: forgot my links!
Info on El Nino
Pacific Decadal Oscillation
Schoolhouse Blizzard of 1888
Great Blizzard of 1888
Great Seattle Fire
Great Fire of Spokane
« Last Edit: September 16, 2015, 02:45:13 pm by HatterJack »

Hurlock

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Re: The Importance of Small Details
« Reply #1 on: September 16, 2015, 11:02:52 pm »
I have been recording the floating kelp details in the animal mentions section.  There are also occassional mentions of floating lumber which I have not recorded.
I am not sure whether the link between sea otter populations and floating kelp was known at the time.  The otters control the sea urchins that otherwise munch away at the kelp holdfasts.

Janet Jaguar

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Re: The Importance of Small Details
« Reply #2 on: September 17, 2015, 12:58:55 am »
As Janet Jaguar, there is a Zooniverse project Floating Forests and their blogs might have some interesting bits about the current state.

As moderator, this is the right section.  Do you want it moved to the Voyages... board, or think it worthy of the Magazine?

HatterJack

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Re: The Importance of Small Details
« Reply #3 on: September 17, 2015, 04:17:16 am »
Interestingly, we in the Pacific northwest are starting to mark a transitional period in sea temperatures similar to the transition of 1887-1889. While the current temperatures are a bit higher than the late 19th century, the similarities in conditions are a little unsettling. I'm not about to start putting on my panic hat just yet, but it definitely warrants keeping an eye on further developments.

Randi

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Re: The Importance of Small Details
« Reply #4 on: September 17, 2015, 01:04:34 pm »
I have been recording the floating kelp details in the animal mentions section. 

I wonder if the Events tab might be a better choice (in the future) :-\
I don't know if others are recording kelp, but it would probably be helpful if people did it the same way.

Janet Jaguar

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Re: The Importance of Small Details
« Reply #5 on: September 17, 2015, 01:19:41 pm »
I'm thinking that either is valid given we don't have a "plant" mention, but Randi is right also about it not being an animal.   I am certain that Kevin is using the ecology to make deductions about climate so it is lovely to have it noted somehow.

Hurlock

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Re: The Importance of Small Details
« Reply #6 on: September 18, 2015, 07:57:50 am »
I would say that the Animal section was the correct place for information people could use to deduce historic changes in the ecosystems over time.  I think the kelp observations fit in better there for that reason.  There will , of course, be animals floating around or attached to all the kelp.

Janet Jaguar

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Re: The Importance of Small Details
« Reply #7 on: September 18, 2015, 08:43:14 am »
I wouldn't worry about that, it is living.  :)

Randi

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Re: The Importance of Small Details
« Reply #8 on: September 18, 2015, 11:58:11 am »
I have notified the science team.

Janet Jaguar

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Re: The Importance of Small Details
« Reply #9 on: September 18, 2015, 12:22:52 pm »
So did I.  Kevin now knows we are interested in kelp, not a bad thing.  :)

Randi

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Re: The Importance of Small Details
« Reply #10 on: September 18, 2015, 12:52:46 pm »
 ;D

Kathy

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Re: The Importance of Small Details
« Reply #11 on: September 18, 2015, 02:45:08 pm »
Can't eat pizza without it  ;D

(Spongebob fans...)

Randi

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Re: The Importance of Small Details
« Reply #12 on: September 18, 2015, 06:05:20 pm »
Philip says that that is fine, and that if anyone is looking for kelp they will have to look in all the categories (animal, event, etc.) since there is no obvious right one.

Kevin

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Re: The Importance of Small Details
« Reply #13 on: September 19, 2015, 06:19:42 pm »
If it shows up in a logbook there is a good chance there is someone interested in studying it today! (Like volcanoes and aurora.)

Janet Jaguar

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Re: The Importance of Small Details
« Reply #14 on: September 19, 2015, 08:14:37 pm »
Kevin, just find us a connection to email to then, hopefully one who will repay with an answer saying 'thank you'.  We like to know our stuff gets used.  :)

Everyone, if you see kelp, note it.  For now it's either an animal or a mention.  (Animal sounds cool to me, but isn't mandatory.)