This Plastic Free July, we challenge you to help us work towards a healthier world through “Reduce. Reuse. Rehydrate.”
Reduce your contribution to the growing plastic pollution issue by choosing to use less plastic. Ways to do this include buying in bulk at grocery stores or choosing products packaged in cardboard or glass instead of plastic.
Reuse products when you can. Our lives already include common reusable products like forks, knives, spoons and dishware. What about expanding that usefulness to include reusable snack bags instead of plastic bags?
Have you ever looked in the mirror and thought to yourself, “How did I get here?” That was the exact question I asked myself the first morning I began my career at BSTI. Up until that point, I had spent the last four years at West Chester University (WCU) studying geology and having the time of my life doing it. Although even at a young age all roads pointed towards a career in geology, it wasn’t as obvious as it is now looking back.
West Chester, Freshman Year
First semester of my freshmen year, I had every intention of declaring Physics as my major with a minor in astronomy. I spent all my free time in the physics student lounge and doing astronomy research with one of the physics/astronomy professors. My year was spent taking apart computers and rebuilding them into a computer network used to conduct early investigations of the HR 8799 system. It was also during my first year at WCU that I was asked to be a college mentor and teacher for the Women in Aerospace and Technology Program (WATP) through the American Helicopter Museum; sponsored through Boeing and Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation (at the time).
Discovering a Love for Geology
My second year at WCU I was nominated to be the Vice President of the Astronomy Club and run Star Parties out on the Quad. It was also the year I took an Introduction to Geology course and my whole plan of being a Physicist was turned upside down. From the very first day in the Introduction to Geology course, I knew I wanted to be a Geologist. I immediately met with the Geology department chair and switched my major. As soon as I was able, I began lining my Spring semester with Field Geology, Minerology, Geomorphology and every other geology related course being offered. My weekends quickly became filled with class field trips and teaching for WATP.
By my junior year at WCU, I was still the Vice President of the Astronomy Club, teaching for WATP and joined Sigma Gamma Epsilon (SGE); the national honor society for the earth sciences. I began assisting multiple professors within the Geology department with their research projects and started researching environmental geology company internships. I took the required geology courses as well as extra math and chemistry courses to fill my love for the sciences. I reached out to my contacts at Boeing, which I made through WATP, and completed a day of shadowing at their Ridley Park location. I was able to walk through and see the assembly of a V-22 Ospray and sit in on multiple conference calls with different project managers. By far the highlight of my junior year.
During my senior year I started sending my resume around to local environmental companies. I had multiple interviews, but no luck. I continued my courses at WCU, teaching at WATP and staying active with field trips and research days in the field with my professors. I was asked to give a speech during the annual Boeing gala event at the Springfield Country Club regarding WATP and why it is so important to engage young woman to go into the math and science fields.
Jumping into the “Real” Working World
By the end of my first semester of my senior year, I began bugging the geology department’s hydrogeologist for any information on companies who were hiring. I was persistent the entire first semester and would visit him during office hours to work on my resume. At the end of my geology seminar course, I was handed a business card: “Tripp Fischer, Hydrogeologist, Brownfield Science & Technology, Inc.,” and told to email him my resume since BSTI was looking to hire an entry-level geologist. I emailed Tripp my resume, had a phone conversation about my courses at WCU and was asked to meet for a lunch interview. Long story short, I was offered an internship for my senior year spring semester.
Along with a full course load, teaching at WATP, participating in SGE and performing research with professors, I started working for BSTI one day a week. During that time, I performed system checks (SVE/AS), sampled groundwater, analyzed analytical data, began GIS mapping and helped write groundwater quarterly reports. By graduation in May 2013, I was offered a full-time position at BSTI. Along with my full-time position at BSTI, I am a corporate mentor for WATP, do public outreach as much as possible, am a part of the Society of Women Environmental Professionals (New Jersey and Greater Philadelphia Area) and began volunteering for the Challenger Learning Center.
How Did I Get Here?
To answer my question “how did I get here,” I got to where I am now because of my love for the sciences, hard work and people who believed in my abilities to be a geologist.
By and large, most people in the US are quite fortunate to have access to a wide variety of foods from all over the world no matter what the season. Although this is a cultural norm, have you ever stopped to think about where your food is coming from and how your choices impact the environment and your local farmers?
It is estimated that the average American meal travels about 1500 miles to get from farm to plate.
Why is this cause for concern?
This long-distance, large-scale transportation of food consumes large quantities of fossil fuels. It is estimated that we currently put almost 10 kcal of fossil fuel energy into our food system for every 1 kcal of energy we get as food. Simply put, that is not an efficient energy exchange.
Transporting food over long distances also generates great quantities of carbon dioxide emissions. Some forms of transport are more polluting than others. Airfreight generates 50 times more CO2 than shipping by boat. Since boats are slow, and in our increasing demand for fresh food, food is increasingly being shipped by faster, more polluting means.
The Benefits of Eating Local and Seasonal Foods
In an effort to decrease the amount of energy used in food transportation, many Americans have been transitioning to support their local food systems by increasing their spending at local farmers’ markets. We can eat locally and seasonally with very little sacrifice. Still, some crops simply aren’t appropriate for our climate but we can begin to look at imported foods as things that supplement our local foods, rather than supplant them. Rebuilding a local food system doesn’t mean you never eat anything that has flown overseas, it just means that you start with what is fresh, local and seasonal. Shopping at the farmers’ market, maintaining a home garden, or participating in a community-supported agriculture program (CSA) are wonderful ways to support your local food system. At the same time, we help build food security for future generations; feed ourselves and our families food that is delicious, fresh, and nutritious; and support small-scale local farmers as they work each day to steward our land.
This news made me reminisce of my own experiences in academia. Before working at BSTI, I attended graduate school at Rutgers University – New Brunswick, an R1 school where the oceanography and geology departments were closely knit. After establishing myself at Rutgers, I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time when an opportunity to sail and sample ocean sediment arose.
The R/V Roger Revelle planned to sail from Alotau, Papua New Guinea, to Manila, Philippines, making stops to collect ocean sediment cores and geophysical data. The cores and data collected from this expedition would later go on to be used to study climate change and ocean dynamics in a region known as the Western Pacific Warm Pool. Not only would I be able to take part in gathering the climate data that many take for granted in textbooks, I would get to go to an exotic location to do so! With the encouragement of my advisor (even though I would miss a month of classes), I applied to take part in a month-long oceanographic cruise in the western Pacific Ocean.
I was elated when I found out that I was selected. I packed my bags, and before my first semester of graduate school I boarded my flight from New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport to begin my journey half way around the world.
Alotau, Papua New Guinea – September 4th, 2013
I finally arrived in Alotau after what felt like three days. We had two days in Alotau, so I met up with the primary investigators and other graduate students, explored the town, took in the sights, swam at the local beaches and sampled the local suds. I took a liking to South Pacific Lager (aka SP to the locals), a crisp, refreshing lager that will quench your thirst and make you forget about even the muggiest Alotau nights; it had an iconic logo as well. I kept my eyes peeled for wallabies and birds of paradise, but unfortunately I only saw the former. Before I knew it, we boarded the ship and were on our way to Manila.
Once we became acquainted with the ship and I got over my initial seasickness, the science began. I was assigned to the night crew, working midnight to noon. This seems like a nightmare when you first think about it, but in hindsight I preferred it to working during the day. With temperatures in the mid 80’s and the humidity being high as can be, sweating through your clothes was common; within an hour it would appear as if you had fallen overboard.
It was much better to be in the cooler temperatures of the night. Adjusting to working at night was easy since the local time was 12 to 13 hours ahead of the U.S. East Coast. This made 1 AM out there the same as 1 PM back home. It also felt pretty cool to say “I’m on the night crew;” but I digress.
Over the next four weeks, I helped collect ocean sediment cores, seismic data and surface water samples along with the three other grad students and the post-doctoral researcher on my shift. Obtaining the sediment cores took up most of our time, the process taking all five of us to hoist the sections of the core overboard as they came up from the abyss. Imagine lifting an eight-foot section of PVC pipe filled with wet sand and mud; it was hard and at most times dirty work. Needless to say, my arms were toned by the end of the trip.
A second method of collecting ocean sediment cores involved loading and unloading a machine called a multi-core. This arachnid-esque device could collect eight 3-foot cores at once. The device was lowered then pulled up with the cores rigged to snap shut and collect a sample at the sediment-water interface. While these were much lighter than the long cores from the ocean floor, they were often half filled with water and therefore much more cumbersome when it came to packing them.
Once we had a substantial backlog of cores and started travelling, our focus switched. With the cores aboard, we analyzed the sediment with a gamma logger to quantitatively differentiate clay from sand and silt.
We continued collecting seismic data (which only took one person) and spent time splitting the cores in half, describing the contents and photographing them. After the qualitative descriptions, we packaged the cores so they could be shipped back to the U.S. where they would eventually be sampled and analyzed.
Manila, Philippines – October 3, 2013
After about a month, the science team departed the R/V Revelle in Manila, Philippines. While Manila was much more urban and developed than Papua New Guinea, it was still an interesting experience. Despite sleeping only a handful of hours, I wandered the streets around the hotel in which I was staying. I ate Filipino food from a roadside shack, which seemed intimidating at first but ended up being delicious. I ordered a chili oil noodle stir fry, which had a good kick to it, and sautéed kangkong (known as water spinach in English) with tofu, which satisfied my umami taste buds and my desire for fresh greens after being restricted to long-lasting boat food for the past month. I also drank coconut water straight from a coconut which was husked right before my eyes, and developed a love for rambutan and lychee while feeling the stares of many Manilans.
I stuck out like a sore thumb; I towered over almost all passersby, and my long hair and beard gave me a unique look. Despite the staring, the trip ended with a great dinner for all of the scientists that was hosted by a researcher at the local university. After a few hours of sleep, I woke, gathered my things and made my way to Ninoy Aquino International Airport for the long trip home.
Home – September 4th 2013
Going on an oceanographic cruise was a great experience. Not only did I get to visit exotic places, I gained some great skills and learned some great lessons that I still use at BSTI today. Logging so many cores on the ship made me confident in my abilities and helped me realize what is useful to describe in a log. Like scientific investigations, soil boring investigations (which are similar to sediment core investigations except smaller) almost always involve something to be done, whether it be screening the boring with a PID, describing the core, collecting a sample or just taking legible notes and keeping them in order. I realized I must make good use of the time I have in between borings to get everything done, even when the time in between is minutes rather than hours or days. The work on the cruise may have been different from what I do now, but I will always cherish the skills and good habits I developed on that great adventure.
The decline of honeybees has been in the headlines for several years, and theories to explain their deaths abound. The term “Colony Collapse Disorder” was created in an attempt to define the mysterious phenomenon, but perhaps there is not just one single cause.
The widespread loss of bee colonies around the world is troubling.
Many people in the environmental community are wondering if honeybees are the modern day canary in the coalmine. Are they exhibiting symptoms caused by agricultural and environmental toxins that we should be paying more attention to as humans?
The prevailing opinion from a variety of experts suggest that the massive die off of bees is a combination of four factors: pesticides, disease, parasites, and human mismanagement.
Honeybees might be weakened by having a very low level of exposure to insecticides or fungicides, making them more susceptible if they are attacked by viruses or parasites. One specific class of pesticide, neonicotinoids, has received a lot of attention for harming bees. They are particularly problematic because these insecticides circulate in plant tissues and show up in flower nectar and pollen. The bees collect and concentrate the pollen and nectar and take them back to the hive and feed to their young. What initially seemed to be a very environmentally-friendly group of insecticides is turning out to be a risk for bees.
In addition to pesticides and diseases, using bees to pollinate monocultures could be a contributing factor in their decline. Honeybees are the most widely used pollinators of monoculture crops in the world (almonds, cherries, apples, avocados, etc.) and the commercial agriculture industry would not be able to succeed without them. Sadly, the benefits appear to be one sided as multiple studies have discovered significant detrimental effects of monocultures on the health of bees. When bees are limited to only one type of pollen as a food source, it can lead to certain nutrient deficiencies. Just as humans need a varied diet, so do bees. Bees fed pollen from a range of plants had a healthier immune system than those dependent on a monoculture diet and were better able to protect themselves and their larvae from pathogens.
Moving bees around the country a couple of times per year, as many commercial beekeepers do, may be yet another contributing factor to the decline of bees due to losing some adult foragers. Bees begin their adult lives as nurse bees, become guard bees and then spend the last few weeks of their lives as foragers. Adult foragers learn where their home is based on solar and landscape cues. When the colony is moved, the adult foragers may leave the colony to gather honey and be unable to find their way home. The loss of a certain number of bees would not normally be fatal to the colony but could severely impact a weakened colony.
All four of these factors are combining in unexpected ways that affect not only the bees but humans as well.
It is fair to say that many people think about honeybees as solely producing honey. Honey is a wonderful food but it’s a byproduct of pollination. Bees visit flowers because they need to eat. They derive all of the protein they need in their diet from floral pollen and all of the carbohydrates they need from floral nectar which the bee converts to honey. As they fly from flower to flower, collecting pollen in the “pollen baskets” on their legs to take home as food, they end up transferring pollen from one blossom to another of the same floral species, and pollination just happens. Without honeybees and other pollinators to take pollen from one flower and fertilizing the seed, the plant has no inclination to produce a fruit. Honeybees and wild bees are the most important pollinators of many of the fruits and vegetables we eat. Of 100 crop species that provide 90% of our global food supply, 71 are bee-pollinated. The value of pollination of food crops by bees in the U.S. alone is estimated at $16 billion. The big picture view suggests that a significant decrease in the bee population could lead to a decreased supply and potentially higher prices of fruit and vegetables.
Without honeybees, about a third of the food you and I eat every day would disappear.
Therefore, the production of honey and bee products pales in comparison to the integral role that bees play in the global food supply.
Albert Einstein once said that if honey bees became extinct, human society would follow in four years. We’re all connected here, so my question is:
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