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Delaware’s Rainfall: Seriously Spikey! Just ask Dr. Kari St.Laurent

Written on: December 29th, 2016 in Guest BlogNERRResearchSt. Jones Reserve

To add variety to the blog and to offer a fresh perspective from our visitors, we are inviting guest bloggers to write posts describing their visits and thoughts while at the Reserve. This guest blog is brought to you by M.L. Christmas about a poster from St. Jones Reserve that “spiked” her interest, and the ensuing interview that followed with Research Coordinator Dr. Kari St. Laurent. Enjoy! (Johanna Hripto, DNERR Assistant Education Coordinator & Blog Editor)

This chart of rainfall data means business--and so does DNERR's Research Scientist, Dr. Kari St.Laurent.

This chart of rainfall data means business–and so does DNERR’s Research Scientist, Dr. Kari St.Laurent.

A bright, bristly weather-chart spied on the research-laboratory wall at the St. Jones Reserve, on National Estuaries Day 2016, cried out for revisiting. Because a pirate’s best friend just may be the weather, or possibly a good chart, an irresistible combination of the two caused this would-be pirate to return recently to the Reserve for a special interview with Dr. Kari St.Laurent.

Kari joined DNERR in April 2016, and according to the announcement posted on this blog, she:

“…holds a Ph.D. in oceanography from the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography where she studied black carbon and persistent organic pollutants in the subtropical Atlantic Ocean. Before that, she received a B.S. in Environmental Science and a B.A. in Environmental Chemistry from Roger Williams University where she did research on oyster restoration, bay scallop diets, and estuarine hypoxia.”

Impressive! She has also been a contributor in her own right to DNERR’s blog. We now welcome the chance to hear from her some more. Why? Because apart from all of the aforementioned, meteorology is her superpower! As that earlier blog goes on to state:

“After completing her Ph.D., Kari worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science on a project investigating climate variability and extreme change in Chesapeake Bay and its implications to environmental issues, such as submerged aquatic vegetation dieback events.”

Sounds intimidating, right? Well, that’s where the knowledgeable, but very approachable, Kari comes in — with a bright smile and a ready explanation that informs even the most weather-challenged audience member. She is accustomed to explaining scientific data in everyday terms, and she especially enjoys when she can correlate the weather to a visitor’s own, personal experience. This became readily apparent when she worked that very magic on this guest‑blogger…but we’ll get to that in a few moments. First things first:

MLC: OK, what’s with the spikey chart?

KStL:The chart came out of my post-doctoral work and my inquiries into weather patterns in the Chesapeake Bay Region, including Delaware. The chart is a printout of the rainfall data from Dover Air Force Base. It came about when we wanted to display the data at an Open House at the University of Maryland, two years ago: a “family fun” day.
Dr. Kari St.Laurent poses alongside this “snapshot” of her ongoing meteorological research.

Dr. Kari St.Laurent poses alongside this “snapshot” of her ongoing meteorological research.

 At that event, I would have visitors write, on sticky notes, the month and year they were born and then put them on the corresponding spot on the chart. People found their birthdays often correlated to, or were close to, a big weather event. The chart also helped people recall a weather event from when they were a child or from when they were an adult.

We had people who remembered the big storms of the 1930s — such as grandparents who recalled when they were 4 or 5 years old and the power went out for a week. They wrapped potatoes in aluminum foil and threw them into the fireplace so they could have a meal. That’s just one example of illustrating how weather affects our everyday lives.

 We have been using that same sticky-note method on this chart here at DNERR, for our own outreach events such as National Estuaries Day. We are trying to relate WEATHER and PEOPLE ‑‑ as opposed to simply stating the expected rate of climate change, which has seemingly less of a personal connection.

It was at that point that I covertly eyeballed the chart for my own birth year and noticed a particular spike. Yup, a significant weather event connected to me, too! I had heard some mention of it before, in family lore, but there it was in black and white — or should I say, in blue, yellow, red, and green.

 MLC: The chart is certainly eye-catching, not to mention powerful! After all, it levitated me back to the St. Jones Reserve several weeks after the event at which I first spotted it.

KStL: The chart actually illustrates the total rain by month, from about 1920 to the first half of 2016. Instead of listing the rainfall day-by-day, it’s streamlined by using the greatest single-day precipitation event each month. Converting the display from 365 bars down to 12 bars per year makes it much more manageable.

You will see the months are color-coded by season. Blue spikes are winter months, green spikes represent the spring, summer is red, and fall is yellow. Do you notice anything about the patterns? 

 MLC [with a chuckle]: You are asking me a question? No problem. Let me take a closer look. Well…the most significant spikes, over the years, appear to be either red or yellow. There is only one relatively large green spike, and it was back in the 1940s.

KStL: Yes, the rainiest times of the year tend to be the summer and fall, though there are occasional exceptions. Do you notice anything else?

MLC: Uhhh…the biggest spike, located in the mid-1970s, is labeled simply “severe thunderstorm.” It’s a spike even bigger than all the hurricanes named on the chart; and no hurricane-names at all appear on the left half of the chart. Obviously that’s not because there were no hurricanes prior to the mid-1900s.

Kari exclaims, “I love oceanographic acidification equations!” (That smiley face was only our first hint.)

Kari exclaims, “I love oceanographic acidification equations!” (That smiley face was only our first hint.)

KStL: That’s correct. Named storms really only started in the 1950s. Before that, weather events were called “Hurricane 1,” “Hurricane 2,” etc. Some storms have been named in hindsight, like Ocean City’s “Great Storm of 1933,” “The Mother’s Day Storm” [of May 12, 2008], etc.

As for that big “severe thunderstorm” spike you see, I had to do some research in order to determine whether a specific rain event was associated with it. The daily values underlying these monthly totals can represent a trickle of precipitation over time or a single popup thunderstorm.

 This chart is just a snapshot at one location that matters to us, as residents of the Dover area. Everyone is impacted by the weather. The storms that people remember are because they were directly affected by that event, or because they saw on the news that it caused a lot of damage. For scientists, we monitor these things because they also can suddenly affect or disturb the ecosystem, particularly at a place like DNERR. Disturbances we find in the ecosystem could have come from a storm surge, for instance, because not everything [in an estuary] is salt tolerant.

Scientists are always aware of these effects and are always on the lookout for long-term changes. Weather is dynamic!

 MLC: And so are you, Dr. Kari St.Laurent! Thank you for your time and for your thought-provoking insights!


Did this article spike your interest? Stay tuned for more from M.L.’s interview with Dr. St. Laurent!


Text and photos by M.L. Christmas

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M.L. Christmas, MSM, is a freelance writer/editor living in the Dover area. She is a longtime member of Delaware Press Association and the National Federation of Press Women.

Return of the Gyotaku (Or, All the Fish That’s Fit to Print)

Written on: October 31st, 2016 in Education & OutreachGuest BlogNERRSt. Jones ReserveVolunteers

To add variety to the blog and to offer a fresh perspective from our visitors, we are inviting guest bloggers to write posts describing their visits and thoughts while at the Reserve. The guest blog is brought to you by M.L. Christmas about her recent experience trying out Gyotaku for the first time. Enjoy! (Johanna Hripto, DNERR Assistant Education Coordinator & Blog Editor)

Return of the Gyotaku (Or, All the Fish That’s Fit to Print)

DNERR provided the paper, the paint, the brushes, and other supplies.

DNERR provided the paper, the paint, the brushes, and other supplies.

When reporting for volunteer-duty at the St. Jones Reserve’s Visitors Center, on National Estuaries Day 2016, I was met, going out the door, in the opposite direction, by an adult carrying aloft a fresh sheet of art paper festively daubed in bright colors of a generally fishlike shape…but with no little kid(s) trailing alongside. That was all I needed to see to know that the mysterious, elusive Gyotaku was lurking inside, ready and willing to engage with all comers.

Those of you who are regular readers of this blog know it was in the research lab at the St. Jones Reserve, last year, that I conquered the harrowing kid-skills pop-quiz consisting of blunt-nosed scissors, school paste, and construction paper. When I rounded the corner into the lab the other day, I found myself face-to-face with an art-based smack-down-style rematch of epic proportions. I knew this day would come.

One of the lab stations had indeed been set up for the family-friendly activity called Gyotaku, the Japanese art of “Fish Printing” about which Maggie Pletta (DNERR Education Coordinator) and Colleen Holstein (DNERR Administrative Assistant) had so tantalizingly spoken, during an Education Volunteer Training session.

Proof that Gyotaku is fun for everyone: The person who created the artwork on the right has a Ph.D.!

Proof that Gyotaku is fun for everyone: The person who created the artwork on the right has a Ph.D.!

Fortunately for me, the only smacking-down being done was that of my selected, slathered art-subject against a bright rectangle of art paper: a rubber manta I had carefully daubed with sponge-tipped paintbrushes of assorted water-soluble paint colors. Afterward, a quick rinse of the art-model in a lab sink, then a gentle pat dry, and you are good to go — out to your car to set your paper-and-paint creation on the back seat to dry.

The tradition in Japan is to use an actual fish and inks or pigments. Information about this can be found online, and the results can be nuanced and quite spectacular. For a more convenient, more environmentally friendly version of Gyotaku, one can purchase a collection of rubber sea-creatures, manufactured specifically for this purpose, from the major art-supply houses. DNERR’s selections included a starfish, the aforementioned manta, and several species of fish.

This manta is all painted-up and ready to make art! That’s blue glitter-paint on the tail. The artistic method: one splat, then a 180-degree rotation. The outcome can be seen in the nearby photo.

This manta is all painted-up and ready to make art! That’s blue glitter-paint on the tail. The artistic method: one splat, then a 180-degree rotation. The outcome can be seen in the nearby photo.

“Fish Printing” at DNERR is the equivalent of tracing around your hand to make an image of a Thanksgiving turkey. It really is goof proof! And here’s the best part: The finished product will actually look like something! Mine, I decided, looks like a manta “hurricane” — if hurricanes had swirling arms of blue glitter around a vortex of limes and bananas.

 The online Gyotaku tutorials are not without interest, however. There, one learns about the traditional artist’s soapstone signature-block known as the hanko, a symbol-rich insignia personal to the artist that’s inked and then applied to the corner of each finished piece. My hanko would be a stylized River-Tree-Sun-Field-Mountain. A lot going on in that signature block, if those things could somehow be squeezed in. If I ever find a piece of soapstone to carve, I will give it a try and will let you know.

Further proof that Gyotaku is fun for everyone: The person who created this has a Master's degree!

Further proof that Gyotaku is fun for everyone: The person who created this has a Master’s degree!

Meanwhile, when at DNERR, don’t shy away from creating your own Gyotaku if the opportunity is offered. It’s all the fish that’s fit to print! And once you have vanquished your chosen foe in this table-top smack-down tourney, then consider adding, no, not your “John Hancock” ‑‑ though that’s fine also — but your personal hanko. You will be so proud! The estuary will smile upon you, too!

Text and photos by M.L. Christmas

* * * *

M.L. Christmas, MSM, is a freelance writer/editor living in the Dover area. She is a longtime member of Delaware Press Association and the National Federation of Press Women. Her approach to nature writing, she says, is part Henry David Thoreau and part Dave Barry.

National Estuaries Day: Pirate–I mean DNERR!–Style

Written on: October 18th, 2016 in Education & OutreachGuest BlogSt Jones Events and Programs

To add variety to the blog and to offer a fresh perspective from our visitors, we are inviting guest bloggers to write posts describing their visits and thoughts while at the Reserve. This guest blog is brought to you by M.L. Christmas about her recent experience attending #NationalEstuariesDay at the Reserve, complete with a pirate twist. Enjoy! (Johanna Hripto, DNERR Assistant Education Coordinator & Blog Editor)

National Estuaries Day: Pirate–I mean DNERR–Style

Welcome, pirates! -- umm, knowledge-seeking members of the public!

Welcome, pirates! — umm, knowledge-seeking members of the public!

“International Talk Like a Pirate Day” was September 19. While your friends amused themselves by endlessly saying “Arrrr,” “Avast,” and “Ahoy, matey” to each other, you, on the other hand, sought the best of both worlds: You were awaiting National Estuaries Day 2016, on September 24, at the St. Jones and Blackbird Creek Reserves. As a result of your attendance, you are now more conversant in such things as estuarine water quality, local meteorology, and Delaware ecology. Who hath the real treasure, now?

Word from Johanna Hripto, DNERR’s new Assistant Education Coordinator, was that the Blackbird Creek Reserve, near Townsend, that morning had hosted a successful tree-planting campaign. Thanks to volunteer assistance, including from the Girl Scouts of the Chesapeake Bay Service Unit 13, some 85 new trees were added.

“Nice telepresence, Maggie!" Actually, Maggie herself was on the premises, but the video allowed her to be two places at once.

“Nice telepresence, Maggie!” Actually, Maggie herself was on the premises, but the video allowed her to be two places at once.

National Estuaries Day activities at the St. Jones Reserve were also off to a promising start with the arrival of some guest-families, a few of whom enjoyed a guided hike toward Kingston-Upon-Hull. The grey day and cool temperatures made the Visitors Center, after the hike, feel all the more homey.

Inside the Visitors Center were video presentations, specimen displays and, in the Research Lab, fun in every direction. In the latter, an excited, young visitor was heard to exclaim, “You gotta come see the turtles!” while tugging on a parental sleeve. Tanks around the room held live turtles, fish, a mud crab, and a horseshoe crab.

A young visitor to DNERR, on National Estuaries Day, is enrapt by the pelts, skulls, footprints, and taxidermy specimens on display.

A young visitor to DNERR, on National Estuaries Day, is enrapt by the pelts, skulls, footprints, and taxidermy specimens on display.

Also in the Research Lab were microscope-based exhibits with glass slides inserted for viewing tiny, water-borne marine creatures (caught in the long, narrow plankton-net displayed nearby); an array of horseshoe crab shell-and-egg specimens; and even a station at which children and adults could try their hand at Gyotaku, aka “fish printing,” a Japanese art-form this blogger has been anxious to try for months — and did.

On your mark...get ”S.E.T.”...go!

On your mark…get ”S.E.T.”…go!

A rather sinister looking device at a lab workstation turned out to be a very eco-friendly contraption known as “S.E.T.,” for Sedimentation Elevation Table. Maggie Pletta, DNERR Education Coordinator, demonstrated how rods inserted through the framework and into the marsh mud can indicate to scientists how those elevations shift over time. (That would also be handy to know for anyone involved in burying or recovering pirate treasure. Just sayin’.) Nearby sat a beaker of mud and clay prepared by Drexel Siok, DNERR Environmental Scientist, to illustrate, in side-view, the sedimentary layers found in the estuary.

We may not fly a skull-and-crossbones flag, but at DNERR, we have something better: the opportunity to see and learn about real animal bones!

We may not fly a skull-and-crossbones flag, but at DNERR, we have something better: the opportunity to see and learn about real animal bones!

Another odd-looking contraption on display was a Van Dorn bottle, which of course is similar in function to a Niskin bottle. Got it? Me either. Hint: This ain’t no bottled water from Wawa…. Turns out these large, spring-loaded, capsule-shaped devices are used by scientists to collect water samples from predetermined depths. Just be careful of your fingers when you set the mechanism for use. (Maybe that was Captain Hook’s actual problem, and the whole Tick-Tock Crocodile thing was just a convenient cover-story?)

The day ended with an hour-long skiff ride on the St. Jones, where we heard about recent sightings of Bald Eagles and River Otters and were even treated to Maggie’s lifelike imitations of the calls of the Osprey and the Great Blue Heron. The real, live Osprey seen eating a fish at one of the nesting platforms, near North Bowers, probably would have answered her had his mouth not been full.

Land's End as seen from the skiff: The sandy point where the St. Jones River empties into the Delaware Bay. No, that's not the mast of a lurking pirate-ship, but an osprey nesting platform.

Land’s End as seen from the skiff: The sandy point where the St. Jones River empties into the Delaware Bay. No, that’s not the mast of a lurking pirate-ship, but an osprey nesting platform.

We were also given some quick lessons in geography and local history: For instance, we heard that one can canoe from downtown Dover right out to the area where we were motoring around in the skiff. We also heard about the once-thriving mercantile trade along this stretch of waterway, particularly toward Lebanon Landing. Mention was also made of the successful remediation of the old Wildcat Landfill, an EPA Superfund site located nearby, and its conversion to greenway space now known as Hunn Nature Park.

The St. Jones River, by boat, on a beautiful, late afternoon in September: No other word for it but "Aaah!" (not “Arrrr!”).

The St. Jones River, by boat, on a beautiful, late afternoon in September: No other word for it but “Aaah!” (not “Arrrr!”).

While aboard the skiff, our group didn’t see any real-life pirates or mysterious ghost ships, but if Kent County has ‘em, one suspects the St. Jones River is a place they would be.

Was National Estuaries Day both fun and educational? You be the judge. As we who were in attendance — the self-styled, modern-day “Pirates of the St. Jones” — can heartily proclaim, “Yo-ho-ho and a Niskin bottle of estuary water!”

Text and photos by M.L. Christmas

* * * *

M.L. Christmas, MSM, is a freelance writer/editor living in the Dover area. She is a longtime member of Delaware Press Association and the National Federation of Press Women. Her approach to nature writing, she says, is part Henry David Thoreau and part Dave Barry.

Education Expansion

Written on: October 4th, 2016 in Education & OutreachNERR

johanna-hscDNERR recently welcomed a new Assistant Education Coordinator, Johanna Hripto.

Johanna graduated in May from Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pennsylvania with a B.S. in Biology with a focus on Ecology and a minor in French. While there she did research on the Susquehanna River including benthic macroinvertebrate communities, water quality analysis, and the effects of point source pollution. She was also co-coordinator of Lycoming’s Sustainability Committee focusing on waste reduction initiatives across campus, including reducing food waste at the college.

Johanna is originally from north-eastern Pennsylvania and enjoys traveling and is an avid Philadelphia Eagles fan. She is looking forward to helping expand the education programs at the Reserve and being able to inspire people to help protect the Delaware Bay. She is also looking forward to less snow during winter!

Please help us welcome Johanna as she joins the Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve family!

DNERR: It’s Alphabetary!

Written on: September 7th, 2016 in Blackbird Creek ReserveGuest BlogNERRSt. Jones Reserve

To add variety to the blog and to offer a fresh perspective from our visitors, we are inviting guest bloggers to write posts describing their visits and thoughts while at the Reserve.  The guest blog is brought to you by M.L. Christmas showing off her creative #EstuaryLove for #EstuariesWeek. Enjoy! (Maggie Pletta, DNERR Education Coordinator & Blog Editor)

DNERR: It’s Alphabetary!

Credit M.L

Alvin G. Wilson Conservation Demonstration Area

Blackbird Creek

Canoeing

Delaware Bay Horseshoe Crab Spawning Survey

Ecosystem research

Fiddler crabs

Geocaching

Horseshoe crabs

Internships (undergraduate and graduate)

Journeys into the great outdoors

Kayaking

Long-term monitoring

Marsh

Native plants

Outdoor Delaware Trail Passport

Programs for grades K-16

Quarter-mile boardwalk

Restoration-technique evaluations

St. Jones River

Teacher Professional Development programs

Uplands

Volunteerism opportunities

Workshops and seminars

X-cellent views

You! (Pay us a visit!)

Zone management (coastal)

 

Text and photo by M.L. Christmas

* * * *

M.L. Christmas, MSM, is a freelance writer/editor living in the Dover area. She is a longtime member of Delaware Press Association and the National Federation of Press Women. Her approach to nature writing, she says, is part Henry David Thoreau and part Dave Barry.




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