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Artist Chrystel Lebas and Museum biologist and botanist Kath Castillo are exploring the E J Salisbury collection at the Natural History Museum and Kew Gardens Archives. They hope to use Salisbury’s images of Scottish landscapes to reconstruct environmental change over the last 50 years.

 

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Article in the New Scientist 11 June 1959, Courtesy of the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew Library & Archives.

 

Chrystel and Kath began looking for clues that could reveal more about Salisbury’s research on ecology and botany through his methods of recording data, his travel journals and field notes. Delving into the 30 boxes of Salisbury’s documents has also revealed a small collection of hand written quotations, puns and limericks.

 

The Salisbury archive at Kew Gardens is currently in the condition in which it was received and will be fully conserved when resources allow.

 

img2.jpgMuseum biologist and botanist Kath Castillo and Artist Chrystel Lebas, researching the E J Salisbury collection at Kew Gardens. Photograph by Bergit Arends, project curator.


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One of the notebooks found in Kew Library & Archives reveals a wealth of information including experimental data and research annotations on ecology. Courtesy of the Royal Botany Gardens Kew Library & Archives.

 

Funding from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation permitted Kath Castillo to join Chrystel on her research in Scotland. Kath, who joined the project in September 2013, provides the necessary scientific knowledge (botanical and ecological) that enables geographical and botanical determinations in the field, based on Salisbury’s recorded images in the same locations.

img4.jpgKath and Chrystel on fieldwork in Scotland, October 2013 (Photographs by Bergit Arends).

 

Kath and Chrystel began the research and comparative study in Rothiemurchus Estate, a privately owned Highland estate within the Strathspey, northeast of the river Spey, in theCairngorms National Park.

 

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Kath and Chrystel comparing and searching for Salisbury’s locations from his landscape images in Rothiemurchus Estate. Photograph by Bergit Arends.

 

The project engages with environmental change, particularly in the Scottish landscape, and creates new understandings of the artistic and scientific gaze onto the natural environment and its representation. The project is supported by a grant from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundationand the University of the Arts London.

 

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Kath holding one of E J Salisbury’s photographs against the Rothiemurchus landscape. Photograph by Bergit Arends.


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Above left: Kath identifying a specimen. Right: Chrystel photographing ‘Vaccinium vitis-idaea on remains of pine bole in Rothiemurchus forest’. Bottom: Chrystel recording a view of the fens at twilight.


The Salisbury collection has, until recently, remained un-catalogued and undervalued. A collaborative approach to these materials is important as the plates represent an important piece of landscape and wildlife photographic history – UK natural history and photographic history knowledge and expertise will be essential to unlock the arts and science potential of this collection.

 

The images represent a unique record of landscapes that may have changed dramatically. They are an irreplaceable piece of the scientific information that may be used to investigate environmental change, either through natural processes or the hand of man.

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LIFE SCIENCES DEPARTMENT SEMINAR

 

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Using the NHM collections to track the long-term seasonal response of British butterflies to climate change

 

Steve Brooks

Department of Life Sciences, NHM

 

Wednesday 29 January 11:00

Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)

 

 

Changes in the emergence dates of British butterflies have been documented from observational monitoring data which mostly date from the 1970s. Few data, however, are currently available to extend the baseline to the period before the onset of rapid climate change. An important, but neglected, source of information is available in the NHM collections, which can extend this record to the mid-19th century. Our results show that British butterfly collection data reflect phenological responses to temperature. First collection dates of museum specimens advance during warm years and retreat during cold years. Rates of change, however, appear to be slowing in some species, when compared to recent observational data, suggesting some species may be approaching the limits of phenological advancement. Steve Brooks will discuss the potential  of the NHM collections to study the response of animals and plants to recent climate change.

 

 

 

For additional details on attending this or other seminars see http://www.nhm.ac.uk/research-curation/seminars-events/index.html

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Photographer and filmmaker Chrystel Lebas is working on a collaborative project to observe environmental change in the British landscape using the the Sir Edward James Salisbury Archive.

 

image-1.jpgChrystel photographed by Kath Castillo (Museum biologist and botanist) on their first research trip together in Culbin Forest in October 2013.

 

The Museum holds a beguiling collection of unexplored landscape images and field notes taken by British botanist and ecologist Sir Edward James Salisbury, who was Director of Kew Gardens from 1943 to 1956. The collection of over 1,400 works was orphaned – an anonymous assembly of Kodak boxes containing silver gelatine prints and photographic glass plates kept in two large cardboard boxes. The images record natural environments, capturing in particular botanical information in the United Kingdom and Ireland, to which specific annotations on the regions’ ecology were added.

 

Around two years ago photographer and filmmaker Chrystel Lebas was introduced to the collection by Bergit Arends (former Curator of Contempory Art at the Natural History Museum). Chrystel Lebas and Museum botanist Mark Spencer (Curator of the British and Irish Herbarium), began to trace this important collection, which was assembled in the first third of the 20th century.

 

image-2.jpgThe images include close-ups of plants and sometimes a foot appearing in the corner of the frame, presumably to indicate the scale of the specimen, or sometimes a subject, a woman standing amongst the forest trees.

 

Each of the boxes containing glass plates were scrutinised to look for clues that could indicate the author’s name or any information that could relocate the collection. And finally one day, and after a couple of months researching the collection, Chrystel found a glass plate negative with a handwritten name on it: E.J Salisbury, and of course this was the moment that made us realise that this particular collection was extremely valuable!

 

image-3.jpg‘Edward James Salisbury: Prophet and propagandist of botany’ New Scientist, 11 June 1959.

 

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Chrystel began travelling to Scotland on her own, prior to the research being funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. She started her research in the field and recorded the landscapes.

 

The focus of this project is on the Scottish landscape through Salisbury’s images taken between 1925 to 1933 in the following areas:

  • Arrochar in Argyll and Bute
  • the Trossachs National park
  • the Rothiemurchus Estate, a privately owned Highland Estate within the Strathspey, northeast of the river Spey, in the Cairngorms National Park
  • Culbin Forest, which sits on the Moray Firth between Nairn and Findhorn

 

The research contributes to a comparative landscape and botanical study spanning nearly 90 years.

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My diary this week is illustrated by an item from behind the scenes at the Museum for each day. The week's events include:

  • an offer of an important historical collection for sale
  • work towards digitising an amazing collection of marine plankton pictures
  • hosting an old friend from Brazil
  • a recent donation appearing in a publication
  • preparation for a session on the scanning electron microscope

 

Monday

Below is an example from our collection of a slide made by the famous slide mounter Charles Elcock in 1880. Slides made by Elcock fetch as much as £350 on the open market so it was very exciting to be approached by a dealer to see if we wanted to acquire his foraminiferal collection and archive. Unfortunately the asking price was significantly more than we can afford.

Elcock_DSC3569.jpgA slide from our collections made by Charles Elcock in 1880.

 

We regularly buy specimens, and in fact some of my colleagues recently purchased specimens at the Munich Rock and Fossil Show. As far as I know, the last item bought for the micropalaeontology collection was a conodont animal back in the late 1980s.

 

At the very least this collection offer makes me realise the monetary value placed on historical items in the collection that I look after.

 

Tuesday

Below is a scanning electron microscope image of a coccolith, part of a collection of over 6,000 images taken by my former colleague Dr Jeremy Young and his collaborators.

207-23-syra. molischii_SU_blog.jpgScanning electron microscope image of the coccolith Syracosphaera molischii.


Recently graduated micropalaeontology Masters student Kelly Smith is visiting today to help us work up the data on this collection so that we can make information and images available via our website. Because their distribution is controlled largely by temperature, coccoliths in ancient sediments have been used to provide details of past climate change.

 

Coccoliths make their tiny calcareous shells by precipitating calcium carbonate from seawater so their present-day distribution may have been affected by acidification of the oceans relating to the burning of fossil fuels.

 

Wednesday

In 20 years at the Museum I have met a lot of people from all over the world, some of whom have visited regularly and subsequently become good friends. I first met Prof. Dermeval do Carmo of the University of Brasilia, Brazil, shortly after I arrived at the Museum. We have enjoyed a long collaboration that has included working together on publications, teaching collections management in Brazil, fieldwork and even holidays. He is visiting with a large, empty suitcase to to pick up the last of the scientific papers identified as duplicate by some of our volunteers.

 

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The Brazilian Cretaceous non-marine ostracod Pattersoncypris micropapillosa.

 

Today's picture is the exceptionally preserved Brazilian Cretaceous non-marine ostracod Pattersoncypris micropapillosa. Dermeval has recently reclassified the genus under the name Harbinia and is on his way to China to look at the type material for this genus. Species related to Pattersoncypris/Harbinia are used to provide information on rock ages and environments of deposition for oil exploration offshore Brazil and W Africa. For more details about their evolutionary significance, see my post on What microfossils tell us about sex in the Cretaceous.

 

Thursday

Today's scanning electron microscope image is the holotype of a new species of planktonic foraminifera Dentoglobigerina juxtabinaiensis, donated last summer and published last month in the Journal of Foraminiferal Research by University of Leeds PhD student Lyndsey Fox and her supervisor Prof. Bridget Wade.

 

The Museum collection contains many type specimens that ultimately define the concept for each species. As a result, types are some of our most requested specimens by visitors or for loan.

 

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The holotype of a new species of planktonic foraminifera, Dentoglobigerina juxtabinaiensis.


This species is Miocene in age (roughly 13.5-17 million years old) and was recovered from an International Ocean Discovery Programme core taken from the Pacific Ocean near the equator. Foraminifera, like the coccoliths mentioned earlier, are important indicators of ocean condition and climate, so this unusually well-preserved material is an important contribution to their study. Now the paper has been published I am able to register the details in our database and these will go live on our website in a couple of weeks.

 

Friday

I have a scanning electron microscope session booked next week as I have been approached by a colleague at the British Geological Survey who is preparing a chapter for a field guide on Jurassic ostracods. He would like some images of some of our ostracod type specimens from the Kimmeridge Clay Formation of Dorset.

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The ostracod Mandelstamia maculata from the Jurassic Kimmeridge Clay of Dorset.

 

Each specimen must be carefully removed from the slides that house them using a fine paint brush and glued to a small aluminium stub about 1cm in diameter. These will be coated in a fine layer of gold-palladium before being placed in the scanning electron microscope chamber next week for photography.

 

It proves very difficult to identify the relevant specimens as the original publication is pre-scanning electron microscope times and the images taken down a binocular microscope are less than clear. Publishing new, clearer illustrations of each of these type specimens will add considerable scientific value to our collections.

 

This selection of specimens has hopefully shown the historical, scientific and monetary value of our collections while showing that they are also relevant to important topical issues such as climate change and oil exploration.

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Conservation of reef corals of the world: why phylogeny matters


Danwei Huang

Postdoctoral scholar, University of Iowa

 

Friday 18 October 11:00
Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)


One third of the world's reef-building corals are facing heightened extinction risk from anthropogenic climate change and local impacts. Extinction probabilities aside, species are not equal. Rather, evolutionary processes render each species, or species assemblage in general, unique with a distinctive history that can be characterised for conservation. My research is aimed at quantifying these patterns based on a robust understanding of the coral tree of life. In this talk, I will show that it is critical to consider species' contribution to evolutionary diversity in conjunction with their extinction risk when setting priorities to safeguard biodiversity.

 

My analyses identify the most endangered lineages that would not be given top priority on the basis of risk alone, and further demonstrate that corals susceptible to impacts such as bleaching and disease tend to be close relatives. One of Earth's most threatened reef regions, the Coral Triangle, is also famously the most biodiverse. While competing ideas are plentiful, the dynamics underlying this biogeographic pattern remain poorly understood. Phylogenetic modelling adds a valuable dimension to these explanations, and can help us uncover the evolutionary processes that have shaped coral richness in the hotspot. Indeed, conservation of the world's reef corals requires protecting the historical sources of diversity, particularly the evolutionarily distinct species and the drivers of its geographic diversity gradient.

 

For additional details on attending this or other seminars see http://www.nhm.ac.uk/research-curation/seminars-events/index.html

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On Friday 27 September the doors of the Museum will remain open after usual closing time and scientists like me will be available to talk about our science, show specimens and chat at Science Uncovered, our EU funded Researchers' Night. Presentations in the Nature Live Studio will also be held and it will be possible to book tours to areas of the Museum not normally open to the public.

 

This year Tom, Steve and I are on the Climate Change table in Waterhouse Way demonstrating some deep sea cores taken from the Atlantic Shelf SW of Ireland. The cores were drilled through sediments representing the last ice age. Information on the distribution and composition of microfossils, allied with other scientific data, shows six 'Heinrich Events' through the last glaciation. These events are thought to relate to climate related cyclic episodes when icebergs broke off glaciers and traversed the North Atlantic.

 

Science Uncovered 2012 welcomed an incredible 8,523 visitors over the night who spoke to over 350 scientists. If it proves to be as successful as last year where we presented our microfossil zoo or 2011 when I was able to use a giant plasma screen to show some of my research then it promises to be an amazing night. Do come and join us if you can.

 

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This core from the Atlantic SW of Ireland represents the last major glacial period showing glacial dropstones from colder periods (left) and white sections composed almost entirely of warm water microfossils (right). The green packets (far right) and plastic sleeve maintain an oxygen free environment and prevent mold growth on the core.

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Wednesday 17 of April 11:00

Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)

 

Studying the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification on calcified macroalgae: why, how and what we have we found

 

Chris Williamson

Genomics & Microbes, Dept of Life Sciences, NHM and School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Cardiff University

 

 

Climate change and ocean acidification (OA) are causing increased sea surface temperatures and decreased pH / carbonate saturation, respectively, in the marine environment. Almost all marine species are likely to be impacted in some respect by these changes, with calcifying species predicted to be the most vulnerable. Calcifying macroalgae of the red algal genusCorallina are widely distributed and important autogenic ecosystem engineers, providing habitat for numerous small invertebrate species, shelter from the stresses of intertidal life, and surfaces for the settlement of microphytobenthos. Given the particular skeletal mineralogy of these species, i.e. high Mg-calcite CaCO3, they are predicted to be among the first responders to OA. A research project is therefore being undertaken to examine the potential impacts of climate change and OA on Corallina species in the northeastern Atlantic. An approach has been adopted to allow examination of potential impacts in the context of present day and very recent past conditions. This seminar will present information on the approach employed (use of herbarium collections, seasonal northeastern Atlantic sampling), methodologies used (X-Ray Diffraction, PAM-fluorescence, SEM, molecular techniques), and results gained thus far (seasonal skeletal mineralogy cycles, carbonate chemistry experienced in situ, photophysiology). Plans for the next stage of the project (future scenario incubations) will also be presented, highlighting how lessons learnt thus far will inform this future work.

 

 

 

Friday 19 of April 11:00

Sir Neil Chalmers seminar room, Darwin Centre LG16 (below Attenborough studio)

 

 

Forest understorey plant dynamics in the face of global environmental change

 

Pieter De Frenne

Forest & Nature Lab, Department of Forest and Water Management, Ghent University

 

 

Habitat change, eutrophication and climate change, among other global-change factors, have elevated the rate of species’ extinction to a level on par with historical mass extinction events. In temperate forests specifically, biodiversity is mainly a function of the herbaceous understorey community. Many forest understorey plants, however, are not able to track habitat change and the shifting climate due to their limited colonisation capacity. Their acclimation potential within their occupied habitats will likely determine their short- and long-term persistence. The response of plants to N deposition, however, diverges between forests and other ecosystems, probably due to the greater structural complexity and pivotal role of light availability in forests. A potential new pressure on forest biodiversity is the increasing demand for woody biomass due to the transitions to more biobased economies. Elevated wood extraction could result in increased canopy opening and understorey species shifts. To date, the outcome of climate warming and changing forest management (resulting in altered light availability) in forests experiencing decades of elevated N inputs remains uncertain. I will present our research on the (interactive) effects of climate warming, enhanced N inputs, and management-driven forest floor light availability on the growth and reproduction of a selection of understorey forest plant species, and (ii) the composition and diversity of understorey plant communities in European and eastern North American temperate forests.

 

 

 

For additional details on attending this or other seminars see http://www.nhm.ac.uk/research-curation/seminars-events/index.html

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cocktail-long-1000.jpgAs our mighty Visitor Services team, caterers and planners swing into action for the Museum's biggest event of the year later today, and our Museum scientists make final preparations on their choice specimens, exhibits, equipment and talks for the show, I'm thinking of the things I will definitely be doing in a few hours time when I leave the office myself and visit Science Uncovered. It opens to the public at 16.00 and goes on until 23.00.

 

High on my list is, naturally, sipping The Pollinator cocktail (left) created exclusively for tonight's occasion. Its ingredients can't be revealed, but I've heard it is infused with vanilla and smells delicious, and is inspired by the pollination process... mmm nice! This concoction is available at the Cocktail bar in the Darwin Centre, and right next to the Food Station, which was a really cool place to hang out last year and have some really fruitful conversations.

 

Before heading over to the Darwin Centre, I hope to witness the volcano erupting at the Earth Station in the Earth Hall. And on my way from Earth to the Green Bar, I'll stop to listen to the Soapbox Art speakers in the Lasting Impressions gallery. I'm really intrigued about the possibility of a genetically-cloned Elvis mouse (below left) and perplexed by the prospect of women giving birth to endangered dolphins if the future need arose...

 

Both these somewhat surreal subjects and the speculative uses of scientific advancement, as seen through the eyes of budding Royal College of Art design graduates, are sure to give great food for thought. Soapbox Art is a new addition this year.

 

soap box art.jpglocust-devours-mouse-1000.jpg

'Tails' of mice at Science Uncovered tonight. Left a mouse that could be genetically-cloned from Elvis hair samples... featured in a Soabpox Art session; right a locust devouring a mouse at the Parasites/Pests Station.

On the subject of mice and pests, there will be more to explore at the Darwin Centre science stations. I definitely need to see the locust caught in the act of devouring a mouse at the Parasites/Pests Station, where I heard a rumour there might also be edible chocolate parasites. And I must remember to get some inside information at the Vets Station for a little person I know who wants to become a vetinary surgeon.

 

Another must is the roaming digital specimen table (below) where I'll have a go - if I can get a look in - at unwrapping a mummified cat and examining the core of the rare Tissint Martian meteorite. The table will be in the Earth Hall (where you can also see the Imaging Station) from 16.00 - 20.00, moving to the Earth globe just outside the Earth Hall from 20.00 - 22.00.


meteorite-scan-digital-table-1000.jpg

 

And of course, I'll be drawn to weird fish, ancient skull cups, gorgeous butterflies, giant bugs, native gold, glowing minerals, amazing CT scans and much, much more along the way.

 

For anyone interested in science and in our planet's history, its solar system and its future, this is the place to be in London tonight.

 

Find out about the Science Stations and everything that's on tonight at Science Uncovered

 

Read the news story about the digital specimen table

 

Download the Science Uncovered map [PDF]

 

Tring-owlet-1000.jpg

 

Of course, if you're in Hertfordshire and close to our Museum at Tring, you can join in their amazing Science Uncovered at Tring night there too. The Edge of Extinction display and talk about birds, which is Tring's special area of research, promises to be fascinating as do some of their special bird art presentations. Pictured above is the forest owlet that has recently been making a recovery and actually 'returning from the dead'.

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Steve Brooks from the Museum and collaborators from UCL, the universities of Nottingham, Bergen and Liverpool, and the RSPB have been examining reasons for the breeding success of the Slavonian grebe Podiceps auritus. The Slavonian grebe has a UK breeding population of only 29 pairs, found in NE Scotland only since 1908.  Loch Ruthven holds the largest British population in an RSPB reserve and breeding success is known to have fluctuated annually since records began in 1970.

 

Slavonian grebe audubon (c) NHM small.jpgSlavonian grebe from Audubon's Birds of America    © Natural History Museum

 

 

The research looked at whether the fluctuations are linked to the numbers of chironomids, the group of flies on which Steve is an expert.  These midges are an important food-source for the grebe chicks.

 

The team analysed a sediment core from the lake by slicing it into 2.5-mm sections to separate sediment on a yearly basis.  In this sediment, they looked at the remains of chironomids, diatoms (planktonic algae which show strong seasonal trends in populations) and algal pigments.   These plant data were used to deduce changes in total phosphorus in the water and to see whether there was a link between algae and the abundance of chironomids. Trends in grebe breeding success, chironomid abundance and algal populations were analysed against climate data to clarify whether climate was the key factor behind all of these fluctuations.

 

The study shows that grebe breeding success is linked with chironomid abundance and chironomid abundance is linked with total phosphorus. Over the past 100 years, lake productivity and chironomid abundance have both risen, increasing more rapidly from the mid-twentieth century to the present. Fluctuations in grebe breeding success from 1970 followed the same pattern as chironomid variation, with a lag of one year. 

 

One of the questions of interest was whether grebe breeding success was influenced by climate variability year by year.  Because the Slavonian grebe is a relative newcomer to the UK, it is not clear how vulnerable this small population is to environmental change.  However. No correlation was found between grebe productivity or chironomid abundance and climate.  The team concludes that breeding success of the grebe depends on food availability in the form of chironomids at Loch Ruthven.

 

Brooks, SJ et al. Population trends in the Slavonian grebe Podiceps  auritus (L.) and Chironomidae (Diptera) at a Scottish loch  Journal of  Paleolimnology April 2012, Volume 47 (4) 631-644  doi: 10.1007/s10933-012-9587-4

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I'm so tempted to say that a microfossil curator attends meetings and writes e-mails. Sometimes it feels like that. I decided to document a typical day back in January where e-mails and meetings helped prepare towards a loan for an art exhibition, gave news of a potentially exciting new acquisition and a possible research opportunity involving micro-CT scanning.

 

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One of Irene Kopelman's items in the Gasworks Gallery based on microfossils from our collection

 

The bulk of the e-traffic involves preparations towards an exhibition that opened on 10 Feb at the Gasworks Gallery near the Oval Cricket Ground. Artist Irene Kopelman's work was partly inspired by some slides of radiolarian microfossils from our collections. We are preparing an exhibition loan of the slides and today there is a lot of correspondence discussing arrangements for two open day tours I am holding to accompany the exhibition.

 

Most microfossils are so small that I have to deal with images rather than the specimens themselves. We recently sent some specimens on loan to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington where a researcher has made some images for a publication and left them on an ftp site for me to collect. I am also making arrangements for other images of our specimens to be sent to us by one of our regular visitors. They have posted them on an excellent site for people interested in foraminiferal microfossils.

 

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Aggerostramen rustica, a type of foraminiferal microfossil that builds a shell from sediment. In this case, sponge spicules have been chosen. This image has been posted on-line at the foraminifera.eu site mentioned above

 

Typically a day will not pass without some correspondence with future visitors to the collections and/or an actual visit from a scientist. Two visitors want to come in a couple of days time and another wants to visit the following week to discuss a short paper on a major collection of 2,500 slides that they donated last year.

 

In a few days time I'm off to our collections outstation in Wandsworth to meet OU PhD student Kate Salmon who is using our collections to study ocean acidification. I need to book a Museum vehicle to transport me to Wandsworth and to bring the collections back that she would like to borrow.

 

I mentioned meetings but you'll be glad to know that I'm not going to go into detail here. From one meeting I come away with two additional enquiries to answer; a request by a journalism student for a 5 minute mock radio interview and a student wants images of some of our specimens for their thesis.

 

I am also asked to assess a destructive sampling request as my boss is away. Sometimes our samples or specimens need further analysis to reveal their true scientific potential. In this case the borrower wants to make thin sections of fragments of fish fossils and to carry out 3-D imaging using a synchrotron (see my previous blog on sex in the Cretaceous for details of synchrotrons). The work will potentially give important details about early fish evolution so the request is ratified.

 

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Erasmus student Angelo Mossoni using one of the scanning electron microscopes at the Museum.

 

 

The excellent research facilities here at the Museum offer many exciting possibilities. Today an e-mail has come in requesting bids for use of the micro-CT scanner. I want to test whether this method can provide 3-D images of some tiny specimens the reverse sides of which we cannot analyse at the moment because they are stored embedded in wax. If it works, some 3-D images of some of our most important specimens will be delivered to the web. Some of these species have been used extensively in studies on climate change and oceanography.

 

One message informs me that an exciting new sample has just been sent as a donation from Oman. When it arrives I will need to dissolve some of it in acid (vinegar) to release the tiny fossils. Traces of fish microfossil are clearly visible on the surface of the rock so this sounds very promising and possibly the subject of a new paper on early fish evolution.

 

It would appear from everything listed above that there is not much time for any other activities. However, documenting the collections for the web is one of our core duties so I find time in the afternoon to work towards a documentation project. I am also on duty for an hour to answer questions from my fellow curators and my mentee Jacqui about using the databasing system.

 

A number of people including my two new colleagues Tom and Steve, pop their heads round my door to ask questions about the collections or bring me information. Retired Museum Associate Richard Hodgkinson is in today and has some questions about his project. Another retired member of staff brings me a copy of his latest paper and former volunteer and now colleague Lyndsey Douglas comes to tell me that my blog has been quoted in the January edition of the Museums Journal!

 

It's an amazingly variable job being a microfossil curator and no day is ever the same as another. I love my job and I think of it as unique. I don't know of anyone else in the world who has a similar job in Micropalaeontology. If you have a similar job, I'd love to hear from you.

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As I walked through the Museum’s Earth galleries last week it made me chuckle to see a small sign posted on the What is Earth’s future? exhibit. The sign read ‘Out of Order. This exhibit is being repaired…’ The group of young lads who noticed it too were also highly amused at the irony of it.

earth-future-exhibit-2.jpg

The Museum's What is Earth's future? exhibit, recently declared 'Out of order'. Symbolic of things to come for our planet? The exhibit, located in the From the Beginning gallery in the Museum's Red Zone, has since been restored to its spinning globe with haunting moving images projected on it. Select images to enlarge them

 

Of late, we’ve experienced some trying times behind the scenes in the Earth galleries office block, where I work. First our staff lift ground to a halt (leaving us with a lung-busting hike up the stairs), then the water packed up - just as well since the toilets had stopped working - and to top it all off  the heating threw in the towel for a day at the height of the recent cold spell. However, we soldiered on to make the Red Zone's galleries the greatest show of Earth on Earth. And, because we care and because the Natural History Museum is an inspiring place to work, we were happy to do so (like the rest of our 'fairly happy' fellow Britons as recently observed in the much-talked-about Happiness survey.)

 

It strikes me that what happened in the Museum's Earth galleries is in uncanny synchronicity with the central concerns of our current series of Earth Debates, which continue here over the next three months: if we don’t do some vital repairs to our resources and society, will parts of the Earth soon be declared out of order too? What is the real impact of what we produce and consume on our surroundings? Does our quest for the greatest show, greater monetary wealth and the constant demand for more material goods come before our immediate day-to-day living needs? Are we happier and do we feel more valued if we are more affluent or is it because of what we achieve and where and who we are with?

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Would you be willing to go vegetarian, or even just to switch to eating poultry, pork or pasture-fed beef rather than grain-fed beef to reduce the impact of agriculture on the environment? Big decisions are ahead at the next international Earth summit.

 

There is little point in me trying to explain here why the UN's earth summit in Rio de Janeiro in June is so important (aka Rio+20 as it is being held 20 years after 1992's seminal summit). It would take too long - our Earth Debates partner, the Stakeholder Forum for a sustainable future, who are coordinating and guiding key discussions in the lead-up to Rio+20, has identified 97 key issues (see the tag cloud below) - and besides our Earth Debates pages online already do a very clear job of this and will point you to all the right places for more information.

 

What's more vital is that the Museum needs your input now on the big issues that will be acted upon at global level in June. We need your thoughts on a sustainable green economy for the world or your local area, and all your favourite bugbears that go with it, as part of our ongoing Earth Debates.


Each of our four Earth Debates, with its four panellists and invited audience, is broadcast live from the Attenborough Studio on our website. The format of each debate is like BBC’s Question Time and you can watch it live, follow or contribute your questions or comments using #earthdebates on Twitter, or post your views to our online community before, during and after the event.

 

The next Earth Debate is this Wednesday 22 February from 19.00 to 20.00 GMT where the panel and studio audience will ask Beyond GDP - how can we measure progress? This debate will question the alternatives - like measuring our wellbeing and the value of the environment - to the traditional measures of economic growth and and asks what is needed for businesses and governments to invest in a green economy rather than exploit it.

 

Bookmark the link to the webcast and to #earthdebates on Twitter to join us on the night.

 

Missed the first Earth debate on 25 January about the price of nature? Watch the highlights in this short video clip which features debate chair Tim Radford, panellists Professor Sir Robert Watson, Claire Brown, Ian Dickie and Will Evison, and audience member Tony Juniper.

Earth Debates logo

 

'Business as usual is absolutely unsustainable... but we also have to show business that there are solutions.' An extract from the closing comment of Defra's Robert Watson in January's first Earth Debate.

Watch the whole of the first debate Ecosystem economics - can we put a price on nature? (video of the 1st Earth Debate).

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The third debate will tackle Green cities in a green economy - how to pioneer a sustainable transition? on 14 March 2012, followed by the fourth debate Food security - how do we feed 9 billion people in 2050? on 11 April 2012.

 

Find out more online about our Earth Debates and the Rio+20 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro

 

Get more information on the the Stakeholder Forum for a sustainable future and their priority concerns.

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So today I have had the chance to spend a bit of time at the hut - I made a video to hopefully give you an idea of what it’s like! (Also I meant the water is clean enough to drink, not eat! Sorry it must be the altitude, which is 2,500 metres - you can see on Google Maps the exact location of where we are.)

 

 

For breakfast the ubiquitous rice and beans made a welcome appearance - last night was really cold (definitely in the lower single figures!) so some hot food and drink was more than welcome. By mid-day it had warmed up considerably and the sun was hot.

 

(I should make it clear that I am in no way complaining about rice and beans - I love them! Last night they were joined by a hot, steaming pot of chicken soup and dinner was great.)

 

The scientists went out collecting today (the first chance to have a proper explore since they arrived) and they found some great stuff! However, Neil has already suffered some really nasty sandfly bites.

 

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(Click the images to see them full-sized)


N.B. I've enhanced the colour of this photo a little so that you can see the bites more clearly.

 

Species of the day goes to Holger (although he found it yesterday). It’s on this stone, which he found in a nearby stream 30 cm below the water level. He had to chisel the lump off with both hands underwater and he described it as the single most difficult specimen he has ever collected.

 

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It’s a representative of the genus Hydropunctaria and this is the first time it has ever been recorded in tropical America - it is found widespread in more temperate areas and in cold mountain streams in SE Asia and South Africa.

 

It is one of the best indicators of a stable stream bed and only lives in constantly cold water. Therefore it is an important species to know about when considering climate change. Now that Holger has found this specimen future generations will know that it was living here in 2012.

 

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Now it may look like a dark patch on a dirty rock (Alex’s words not mine!) but Holger gave the following quote:

 

‘Perfect circular shape, a beautiful olive green hue and a texture of half solid jelly which is just amazing.’

 

Wow, I’m going to have a cold shower ... which is good news as we don’t have any hot water! I’m going to blog more about lichens next week.

 

With one new discovery under our belts, I hope the photos from my previous posts give you an indication of just how rich the plant life is here. Alex tells me that there are more than twice as many species of plant in this park alone than in the whole of the UK.

 

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He has written a really nice piece on his own blog about the forest here - do have a read.

 

Finally, if you want to experience a live video-link direct from our hut to London tomorrow (and also on the 16 and 18 Feb) please come to the Nature Live event in the Museum's Attenborough Studio to say hello! They'll be held at 12:30 and 14:30 and (barring any technical issues) we're going to be joining the event to answer questions from the Studio and to show you a few specimens.

 

Jo (Nature Live host) and Erica McAlister from the Department of Entomology will be in the Studio to talk about field work, why it’s so important, what it’s like and how you do it, etc., so please do pop down to South Kensington.

 

Also, I wanted to let you know that, unfortunately, due to my limited internet connection I can't see your comments until they are e-mailed to me, so my apologies if you have had any questions which remain unanswered – I’ll do my best to respond in the next few days.

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200px-Location_Southern_Ocean.jpgLocated at one extreme of the planet, the Antarctic Southern Ocean can be an unforgiving place: for most of the dark winter the surface of the sea is covered in thick pack ice and year round, the water temperature can get down to nearly -2°C and rarely rises above 0°C.

 

The surface and the water aren’t the only hostile place as every year up to 60% of the sea bed is scraped and scoured by passing icebergs.

 

Surviving extremes

 

With such harsh conditions, have you ever wondered how marine creatures have evolved to survive at the bottom of this ocean? Have you ever considered whether things were the same in the times of great polar adventurers, like Scott, Shackleton and Amundsen who were exploring these lands 100+ years ago? Do you worry about the impact that warming waters will have on these specialised marine animals?

 

These are the questions that get me out of bed in the morning and to find some of the answers I am going to spend the next two months in Antarctica plunging into these icy southern seas.

 

Who I am

 

My name is Jen Loxton and I am a marine scientist and SCUBA diver. I am currently working towards my doctorate looking at the effects of our changing oceans on the skeletons of tiny marine creatures known as bryozoa.

 

Thus far my investigations have been in Scotland and the Arctic but now I am joining the British Antarctic Survey and heading south to investigate one of the most rapidly warming places on Earth, the West Antarctic peninsula.

 

This blog and my Twitter feed will let you join me on my adventure as I investigate the marine life at the peninsula.

 

 

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Jen SCUBA diving in the Arctic with a ctenophore (comb jelly) © Piotr Kuklinski

 

Jen's research is being undertaken as a collaboration between:
Heriot Watt University, Natural History Museum, UMBS, Millport, and the British Antarctic Survey.

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Jen is funded by the NERC Collaborative Gearing Scheme and Heriot Watt Alumni Fund and sponsored by Catlin Group Limited, Apeks Marine and O'Three.

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Image of the Antarctic Southern Ocean: © Connormah under CC BY-SA 3.0

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NaturalHistoryMuseum_058502_Corals_fish-250.jpgCoral reefs are one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. They are built by corals, bryozoans, sponges, crustaceans and molluscs and also provide a home to larger animals. So you can only imagine the variety of fossils we will have on display at Science Uncovered this Friday from our researchers' recent collecting spree in Indonesia.

 


Our Science Station will be located in an alcove of Central Hall (orange no. 7 on the map [PDF]) and will showcase the work of 11 early stage researchers as they collaborate on the Throughflow Project. Their aim is to find out why the coral reefs in South East Asia are the most diverse in the world and how corals have responded to climate change.We have an array of fossil corals as well as a fossil giant clam we are preparing especially for the event, and much more.

 

Like many of the Science Stations at the event you will have the chance to meet the Museum scientists who conduct research on and are responsible for the care of these amazing specimens. We can answer your questions (for example, some of you may be wondering what a bryozoan is from my earlier sentence) and you’ll also be able to play our game "Coral Match," be the first to identify a sample of fossil corals, or become a "Foram Hunter" and use a microscope to find the single celled organisms we use to date our fossil samples. So come along and get involved!

 

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What would a Giant Clam like this one look like after it became fossilised around 25 million years ago?
© Terry Dormer / The Natural History Museum, London

 

 

What is the Throughflow Project?

 

The Throughflow Project is named after the only marine current that connects the Pacific and the Indian oceans, the Indonesian Throughflow. Scientific evidence shows a sudden increase in coral diversity around 25 million years ago during the Miocene. It is estimated that this is also a time when most modern taxa evolved. We already know that this was as a time of tectonic activity in the area as well as global climate change but what we want to determine is the effect this had on the coral reefs at the time.

 

The research groups’ webpage, www.ipaeg.org, has more information about the science of the project and the blogs from the Throughflow scientists are well worth a read.

 

 

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Our (lucky) researchers during the fieldtrip to Indonesia

 

Funded by the Marie Curie Initial Training Network and the FP7 People Programme, the project involves collaborations between seven European organisations as well as partners from Indonesia. At the Natural History Museum the Marie Curie Fellows are Emanuela Di Martino and Nadia Santodomingo who work on Bryozoans and Corals respectively. Meanwhile I’m joining them in the process of washing and then curating three tons of fossil coral samples with another five tons being shipped form Indonesia as we speak. Just to put that into perspective the average weight of an African elephant is around 4.6 tons. These fossil corals will form an important part of our collections for future research, especially in regard to climate change studies.

 

So please come and visit us at Science Uncovered.
See you there

 

Lyndsey Douglas

Indian and Indo-Pacific Corals Project Officer

 

About Science Uncovered 2011:

 

Science Uncovered is a free event on Friday 23 September 2011 at the Natural History Museum.  All events and tours at Science Uncovered will be free but, due to time and space constraints, some will require you to book free tickets in advance.

To find out more visit Science Uncovered on the Museum’s website.

 

The Natural History Museum at Tring, Hertfordshire, will also be holding its own Science Uncovered event. Find out more about Science Uncovered in Tring.

 

Online community

 

To get involved before the night, visit our Science Uncovered online community where you can get previews of what’s happening and join in with discussions and debates.

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Today we feature a guest blog by David de Rothschild, adventurer, environmentalist and the founder of MYOO, a meaningful marketing agency, online zine and adventure group, specialising in sustainability consultancy, material science and product design.


Alongside Dr Adrian Glover, Dr Katie Steele and Professor Tim Burke, David will be one of the prestigious speakers at the ‘Losing our Principles?’ special event at Science Uncovered on Friday 23 September 2011.


This debate, chaired by the journalist and former Guardian Science Editor Tim Radford, will focus on the risks and impacts of our ever-increasing reliance on natural resources and what approaches will be necessary to tackle them.


Losing our Prinicples is a free event but tickets must be booked online in advance.

 

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'Live SMART, not GREEN'
Copyright: www.myoo.com

 

To be totally honest, when I think of GREEN, the first image that comes to mind is a skinny-looking Alien with big black buggy eyes and frog legs. Now I know this sounds funny; you were probably expecting me to say the first image that comes to mind is a hybrid car, or a wind turbine, a reusable bag, zero emissions (whatever they look like) carbon offsets, or any other possible type of product, or innovation bearing the lofty and dizzying badge of being GREEN.


After all, these are the things we are told to think of as being green. Because somewhere along the way, green became more than just a colour. It became a SUPER colour. Superseding black, pink, yellow— and for that matter any other straightforward colour— “GREEN” became synonymous with a mighty big (albeit vague) promise. An implication that whatever the effect of the purchase or service, it would somehow contribute to a more sustainable planet and deliver us back to a harmonious balance with the natural world that probably hasn’t been felt since Adam, Eve and that little apple incident.


Cheered on by eco-celebrities, politicians, and entrepreneurs, society has embraced this “greenness”. The market is awash with feel-good, organic Jeans, organic moisturizers, and low-carbon diets. Most of this is moderately beneficial—or at least relatively harmless. But as other colours, like blue are touted as GREEN’s successor, and phrases like ‘Green fatigue’ and ‘Green-wash’ appear more frequently in conversation, it begs the question, is colour-coding our planet’s issues wise? Or are we looking at this all through the wrong lens?


As an experiment, I urge you to get in touch with your inner child and let your imagination run free. I want you to zoom out and take the “orbital view” (as our MYOOZE J. Carl Ganter puts it) of the planet. To do that, I want you to imagine that you’re the alien visiting from planet SMART. While taking your new biometrically grown UFO for a neighbourhood spin, you find yourself stumbling across planet Earth. Intrigued by your discovery, you decide to take a closer look. Beneath, you glimpse a crosshatch of airplanes, a web of factories, and a humming network of highways.


The questions is, would you consider this planet you’ve stumbled upon an intelligently advanced super species that had designed a SMART planet like your own, overflowing with SMART ideas, systems, products and services that, like an olden-day traveller, you could triumphantly take back to improve your own planet? Or would you speed off, relieved that you didn’t have to live amongst all the hot, polluted, dumb mess?


earth-from-space-001889_IA-copyright-natural-history-museum.jpgIf green is the colour to be, then thinking “Green” might mean forgetting everything we’ve been taught and seeing our planet with a visitor’s eyes. What if we didn’t speak the eco-language? If we could no longer rely on jargon like “Energy Security”, “CO2”, melting icecaps”, “compact fluros” or the self assigned GREEN saviour, “Carbon Offsets” to describe the world we saw? Then perhaps the real innovations would become clear.


For all the enthusiasm, noise and momentum, the scientific, political, industrial, and consumer consensus, we have ended up with a lukewarm campaign that at best, feels like it could make it to the end of the year but maybe even only to the end of the week. A campaign that for the most part, still feels like a chore, and for all the postulating and passionate rhetoric, was always most clearly articulated by Kermit the frog when he noted, “It isn’t easy being green”.


The latest science has now given our planet, at most, one decade left to stop the growth of global greenhouse gas emissions and begin the transition to a sustainable global environmental economy. The outcome of this monumental task is ultimately going to depend on our ability to act now, and quickly. So the question has to be: WHAT ARE WE WAITING FOR?  What’s stopping us from acting on the information we already have?


Without trying to oversimplify the situation at hand, it’s fair to say that GREEN has officially become a ‘thing’. What was initially coined to prevent a global meltdown has become a means to trivialize the issue, i.e. “I have walked my dog, I have paid my taxes, and oh, I’ve done that GREEN thing’. It also comes with a myriad of confusing, abstract terminology and a flotilla of products that create just enough distraction from the truly important global issues to ultimately delay humanity from undertaking the enormous challenges that lie ahead.


Tucked behind all the disaster headlines is a much larger list of solutions to current inefficiencies that already exist within our current systems!  So as we continue to strive for better terminology, let’s also engage in a little smart thinking.


As with Climate Change, change can be threatening. But it can also be a perpetual source of opportunity.  Having a coherent language for the “GREEN” movement seems like a good thing, but it also hides the fact that no one movement has the answer.  By labelling some things GREEN and some things not, we lose sight of the fact that we’ve never been separate from each other or from nature at all.


We can no longer afford to mine the past or mortgage the future. To get us back on to a sustainable path, we need to start living within our means. That also means living within the limits of our natural capital. Waste is no longer acceptable—industrialized society is gobbling up our natural capital at an increasing rate, presenting an urgent threat to humanity. Let’s start taking responsibility for our impacts, let go of linear thinking and embrace the cyclical where our outputs simply become the inputs of another process.  Let’s continue to move to a de-materialized economy, based primarily on information and services, rather than products. The most resilient, adaptable, creative, and sustainable systems are decentralized and networked. Let’s work together to create economic systems that go beyond the 'winner takes all' model and allow for humans everywhere to have a chance to aspire to more than just survival.


If there’s just one thing I hope you saw during your brief trip to space looking down on our earth, its that on a basic level, there’s no getting away from “being GREEN,” since there is nowhere really “away” where we can throw our problems. Everything is interconnected and interdependent—businesses, economies, societies and ecologies, me and you. There are also no easy answers, no final destination, and no one-size-fits-all solutions.  But the interconnectivity that currently threatens the planet is also our most promising hope for revitalizing it.  And getting smarter now about the way we think, problem-solve and work together is the first and most vital step of that journey.


— David de Rothschild

 

You can follow David and MYOO on Twitter as @DRexplore and @MYOO.

 

 

About Science Uncovered 2011:

 

Science Uncovered is a free event on Friday 23 September 2011 at the Natural History Museum.  All events and tours at Science Uncovered will be free but, due to time and space constraints, some will require you to book free tickets in advance.

To find out more visit Science Uncovered on the Museum’s website.

 

The Natural History Museum at Tring, Hertfordshire, will also be holding its own Science Uncovered event. Find out more about Science Uncovered in Tring.

 

Online community

 

To get involved before the night, visit our Science Uncovered online community where you can get previews of what’s happening and join in with discussions and debates.