Amusing Monday: Tiny fish teaches researchers about attachment

An odd little fish that attaches tightly to rocks could play a role in developing underwater suction cups that won’t let go even under the harshest conditions. I found the video amusing, but there is a serious side to this discussion as well.

University of Washington scientists studying biological attachment say the northern clingfish can hold up to 150 times its own weight, thanks to a growth on its underside that works like a suction cup. Unlike a standard suction cup, however, the clingfish’s sucker works even better on rough surfaces. The researchers are just beginning to imagine the possible applications for humans.

One idea is to develop a super suction cup that could attach a satellite transmitter to a killer whale or other marine mammal. The current method for long-term attachment is to use a sharp barb to penetrate the skin. Standard suction cups are commonly used for short-term monitoring with small instruments, but they tend to fall off quickly.

Suction-cup attachments could be developed for laparoscopic surgery, allowing doctors to move organs around without risk of puncture. Other applications could be anywhere a temporary tight bond is needed under wet conditions, such as the wall of a shower or swimming pool.

“Northern clingfish’s attachment abilities are very desirable for technical applications, and this fish can provide an excellent model for strongly and reversibly attaching to rough, fouled surfaces in wet environments,” said Petra Ditsche, a postdoctoral researcher working with Adam Summers and his team at Friday Harbor Labs in the San Juan Islands. (See UW news release.)

In April, Ditsche found an interested audience at a meeting of the Adhesive and Sealant Council, which studies, promotes and markets various forms of attachment.

So how are clingfish able to hold on so tightly? The secret lies in the tiny hairlike structures called microvilli formed in layers around the suction-cup growth on their bellies. The microvilli help form a tight seal on rough surfaces, and they flex to maintain the seal even when wiggled back and forth. A standard rubber or plastic suction cup can rapidly lose its seal from distortion or movement, which allows air or water to seep underneath.

For a detailed discussion about biological attachment of all sorts, check out a paper by Ditsche and Summers called “Aquatic versus terrestrial attachment: Water makes a difference” in the Beilstein Journal of Nanotechnology.

About 110 species of clingfish have been identified, and the northern clingfish is found from Mexico to Alaska.

Call it ‘nonpoint’ or ‘stormwater;’ this problem is serious

As far as I know, nobody has come up with a good name for the type of pollution that gets picked up by rainwater that flows across the ground, carrying contaminants into ditches, streams and eventually large waterways, such as Puget Sound.

Cleaning out storm drains is the last line of defense before pollution from the roads gets into public waterways. Kitsap Sun photo
Cleaning out storm drains is the last line of defense before pollution from the roads gets into public waterways. // Kitsap Sun photo

“Stormwater pollution” is a term I have frequently used. But Sheida Sahandy, executive director of Puget Sound Partnership, made a good point when I interviewed her last summer about the perils of stormwater.

“I don’t really like calling it ‘stormwater,’” Sheida told me. “It doesn’t have much to do with storms. It has to do with people. We’re talking about our dirt, our detritus, our filth. Everyone has it, and we all dump it into the sound to one degree or another.”

Stormwater is relatively pure when it falls from the sky as rain. It only gets dirty because the runoff picks up dirt, toxic chemicals, bacteria and other wastes, mostly left behind by people.

“Stormwater has gotten a bad wrap,” Sheida said. “It’s really what we’ve done to the poor thing that makes it evil.”

To read more about this discussion, check out my series “Taking the Pulse of Puget Sound” and the story “Stormwater solutions key in fight for Puget Sound.”

Officially, the Environmental Protection Agency and Washington Department of Ecology tend to call it “nonpoint source pollution.” It’s a term that tells us what this kind of pollution is not. Specifically, it is not pollution coming from a point source, such as a pipe. But “nonpoint” does not describe what it really is.

Technically, nonpoint pollution is more than stormwater. It includes waterborne sources such as marinas and atmospheric deposition from air pollution. Taken together, this form of pollution remains the most serious threat facing those who would clean up and protect Puget Sound.

We need a new term like “mess-left-behind pollution,” because it generally results from someone leaving some kind of contamination on the ground — such as animal waste or leaking motor oil — or failing to anticipate future problems — such as those caused by toxic flame retardants in furniture or mercury from a multitude of coal-fired power plants.

A new plan by Ecology to deal with this type of pollution is now under review. It is called “Washington’s Water Quality Management Plan to Control Nonpoint Sources of Pollution” (PDF 10.6 mb).

The general categories described in the plan are:

  • Agriculture, including livestock wastes; fertilizers and pesticides; and erosion from grazing practices and over-cultivation of fields.
  • Atmospheric deposition, including emissions from automobile, industrial and agricultural sources and backyard burning of trash.
  • Forest practices, including turbidity from erosion caused by loss of vegetation and road-building, as well as pesticides and fertilizers from forest applications.
  • Habitat alteration/hydromodification, including increased temperature from loss of vegetation or water impoundment; turbidity from erosion caused by shoreline alteration; and increased bacteria and chemical concentrations from loss of streamside vegetation.
  • Recreation, including sewage, paint and solvents from boats.
  • Urban/suburban areas, including bacteria from failing septic systems, pet wastes and urban wildlife; erosion from construction and landscaping; lawn chemicals; road runoff; chemical spills; and increased stream temperature from loss of vegetation.

The plan lists a variety of objectives and strategies for reducing the impacts of nonpoint pollution. Among them are these ideas:

  • Complete 265 watershed cleanup plans by 2020, focusing on at least eight priority watersheds each year.
  • Respond to all complaints about water quality by confirming or resolving problems.
  • Provide grants and loans for projects designed to bring a waterway into compliance with state and federal water-quality standards.
  • Support local pollution identification and correction programs to track down pollution sources and eliminate the problems. (Kitsap County was identified as a model program.)
  • Support water-quality trading programs that allow water cleanup efforts in lieu of meeting increased requirements for industrial and sewage discharges.
  • Increase education efforts to help people understand how to reduce nonpoint pollution.
  • Coordinate with organized groups and government agencies, including tribes.
  • Continue existing monitoring programs and increase monitoring to measure the effectiveness of water-quality-improvement projects.
  • Develop a statewide tracking program for cleanup efforts with an annual goal of reducing nitrogen by 40,000 pounds, phosphorus by 14,000 pounds and sediment by 8,000 pounds.

Public comments will be taken on the plan until June 5. Three remaining public meetings are scheduled before then. For information, check out Ecology’s webpage, “Washington State’s Plan to Control Nonpoint Pollution.”

Deep-sea observatory will open doors to science education

Researchers are quite excited about the eruption of Axial Seamount on the Juan de Fuca Ridge, about 300 miles off the Oregon Coast. In following the story, I found that John Delaney of the University of Washington not only explained the findings well but he also put science itself into perspective.

In an interview with KUOW’s Ross Reynolds, Delaney discussed the results of 25 years of work to create an ocean observatory where the volcano is erupting. In the coming months and years, scientists will be able to direct video cameras and instruments into the volcanic storm to record temperatures, measure chemicals and reveal unusual life forms. Researchers will drive unmanned submarines in and around the dense plume spewing from the volcano — all controlled remotely from shore.

The USA Today video provides a good overview, but Delaney goes even deeper in his talk at the bottom of this page.

Already, the sounds of the volcano are being recorded on underwater hydrophones — sounds that Reynolds shares with listeners at the beginning of the interview.

Said Delaney, “I’m tremendously excited about the fact that we have a wired volcano underwater that is very restless, and it looks like it is going to continue being restless for quite a long time.”

Reynolds then asked Delaney about the value of such research, and Delaney took a step back into the nature of scientific discovery.

“The unknown is what drives scientists,” he said, but on occasion they make discoveries that have “profound influence on the well-being of the society.”

The deep-sea research off the West Coast could bring new findings about whale migration, fish stocks and ocean acidification, he said. As with many scientific endeavors, the outcome may be all sorts of unexpected findings — “some of which have societal fascination, some of which have societal value, some of which are just probing the unknown to find out how things work.”

The ultimate value of scientific findings cannot be predicted, which is why I’m reluctant to ridicule even the craziest-sounding studies.

The deep-sea observatory — part of the Ocean Observatories Initiative — will move beyond scientific discovery to become a powerful tool for educating and inspiring future scientists.

When I was in grade school and junior high, I recall science being presented as a collection of interesting facts, based on years of discovery going back centuries. What I don’t remember is a teacher who took students to the edge of discovery, showing them where scientists are probing into the unknown. I believe this is changing. I know teachers today who are helping their students understand the known while revealing the questions yet to be answered.

With respect to Axial, the formation provides an ideal observatory, not only because of its location near the coast but also because of its overall structure, said Bill Chadwick of Oregon State University in a news release about the latest activity there.

“Because Axial is on very thin ocean crust, its ‘plumbing system’ is simpler than at most volcanoes on land that are often complicated by other factors related to having a thicker crust,” said Chadwick, an adjunct professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “Thus Axial can give us insights into how volcano magma systems work – and how eruptions might be predicted.”

By studying the movement of magma, researchers are learning how to predict an eruption. The recent eruption was predicted with more precision than the last one in 2011, as explained in an OSU news release at that time.

If you’d like to learn more about this fascinating subject, which even extends to other planets, I advise watching John Delaney’s 2011 TEDx talk performed in Dublin, Ireland, and called Submarine Vulcanism On Earth & Beyond. Click on the video player below.

Amusing Monday: Winning photo to grace national parks pass

Cameron Teller's winning photograph in the "Share the Experience" contest shows a young polar bear reaching up to its mother. National Park Foundation
Cameron Teller’s winning photograph in the “Share the Experience” contest shows a young polar bear reaching up to its mother.
National Park Foundation

Cameron Teller of Seattle, a former Kitsap County resident, is the Grand Prize winner in the “Share the Experience” photo contest — which means his touching photo of a polar bear and her cub will receive prominent display on next year’s annual pass for entrance into national parks and other federal lands.

Cameron’s photo was among 22,000 images submitted last year in the annual contest, which provides a $10,000 prize to the winner.

Cameron snapped the shot from a boat a good distance away, just as the cub reached its mother. The amateur photographer had gone out on the boat as part of a six-person tour to Alaska’s remote Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where the group was focused on seeing polar bears and Northern Lights.

“I love going on trips to faraway places and taking photographs,” Cameron told me.

The group had flown from Fairbanks to Deadhorse, Alaska, then onto Kaktovik, the only village inside the wildlife refuge. A guide took them out on a fishing boat, where they spent the day photographing wildlife and scenery.

“The captain was a local resident,” Cameron said. “We went out early in the morning. It was awfully foggy that morning, then it started clearing up. The sun came out and it was a great day for scenery.”

Eric DaBreo of Chico, Calif., received a second-place award in the Share the Experience photo contest with his photo of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. National Park Foundation
Eric DaBreo of Chico, Calif., received a second-place award with his photo of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. // National Park Foundation

The trip occurred at the beginning of winter last year, just as the sea ice was freezing up. In fact, he said, the ice had grown so thick around the dock where the group departed that the captain had to choose a different landing site to get the group back to shore.

Cameron said there is nothing like seeing mothers and their babies, and it was a special moment when the polar bear cub walked over and reached up to its mother.

“I still can’t quite believe I won,” Cameron told me. “There were some amazing photos that were entered. I think one of the reasons this appealed to the judges is the whole topic of global warming and protection of the National Arctic Wildlife Refuge.”

Of course, polar bears have become a symbol of the melting ice caps in the polar regions, where the bears are threatened with extinction because of declining habitat.

Cameron moved to Bremerton from Kansas City about 13 years ago to work for Parametrix, an engineering firm with an office on Kitsap Way. He lived in Manette a short time before moving to Bainbridge Island, where he resided for 11 years. For the past two years, he has lived in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood.

Jordan Moore of San Marcos, Texas, captured third place with his photo of a bison at the edge of Yellowstone Lake in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. National Park Foundation
Jordan Moore of San Marcos, Texas, captured third place with his photo of a bison at the edge of Yellowstone Lake in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. // National Park Foundation

Cameron said the $10,000 prize will help fund his ongoing adventures. He visited Kenya about two years ago and plans to travel to Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido next January.

It has been a good year for Cameron, who also won “Outdoor Photographer” magazine’s “American Landscape Contest” with a photo of El Capitan, a vertical rock formation in Yosemite National Park.

The polar bear photo will be featured on next year’s America the Beautiful pass, an annual pass that gets visitors into more than 2,000 public recreation sites on federal land. About 300,000 people purchase the pass each year.

The annual “Share the Experience” contest is sponsored by the National Park Foundation, Active Network, and Celestron in partnership with the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service.

Photographs are now being accepted for next year’s contest, which requires pictures to be taken during 2015 and submitted by the end of the year. Winners will be announced by May 1, 2016. Weekly winners are recognized.

Other winners announced last week in the “Share the Experience” contest include Eric DaBreo of Chico, Calif., second place for his photo of the Golden Gate Bridge taken at sunset from Marshall Beach, and Jordan Moore of San Marcos, Texas, for his photo of a bison at the edge of Yellowstone Lake.

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said she hopes the contest helps inspire people to enjoy the country’s “unrivaled public lands and waters” and share the feeling with others.

“Taking pictures is one of the many ways to enjoy the splendor of our nation’s stunning landscapes and share those treasured moments with friends and family, as well as inspire others who may have never visited to get out and explore their public lands,” she said in a news release.

Global cooling debate was never what some climate skeptics claim

Climate-change skeptics frequently bring up a 40-year-old story about climate change — a fleeting notion that the Earth was cooling.

Talking about that story, which was picked up by Newsweek and other publications, serves as a roundabout way for skeptics to ridicule the science of global warming, suggesting that scientists have never been able to get their story straight.

But the idea of global cooling failed to stand up to scientific scrutiny, and the whole idea of global cooling soon disappeared.

Now is the time to put that old story to rest, writes Peter Dykstra, publisher of the nonprofit Environmental Health Sciences, in a guest blog published on the Scientific American website.

“Rush Limbaugh is a frequent flyer on the Newsweek story, making the common error of promoting it to a ‘cover story.’” Peter writes, noting that it was a single-page, nine-paragraph piece on page 64.

“Lawrence Solomon, a kingpin of Canadian climate denial, added a new twist two years ago, claiming that the global cooling theory was growing to ‘scientific consensus,’” Peter said. “Yet the American Meteorological Society published a 2008 paper, which reported that even in the theory’s heyday, published papers suggesting a warming trend dominated by about six to one.”

Peter goes on to describe how various people have used the story to sew seeds of doubt about today’s leading climate-change findings.

“Science, in particular, moves on as it becomes more sophisticated,” he said. “The scientific community stopped talking about global cooling three decades ago. It’s time to retire this long-dismissed theory as an anti-science talking point.”

Peter’s blog includes a photograph of the old Newsweek story from April 28,1975, so I enlarged it and read what it actually said. Some excepts:

  • “In England, farmers have seen their growing season decline by about two weeks since 1950, with a resultant overall loss in grain production… During the same time, the average temperature around the equator has risen by a fraction of a degree – a fraction that in some areas can mean drought and desolation.”
  • “Last April, in the most devastating outbreak of tornadoes ever recorded, 145 twisters killed more than 300 people and caused half a billion dollars worth of damage in thirteen U.S. states.”
  • “To scientists, these seemingly disparate incidents represent the advance signs of fundamental changes in the world’s weather.”
  • “’Our knowledge of the mechanisms of climatic change is at least as fragmentary as our data,’ concedes the National Academy of Sciences report. ‘Not only are the basic scientific questions largely unanswered, but in many cases we do not yet know enough to pose the key questions.’”
  • “Climatologists are pessimistic that political leaders will take any positive action to compensate for the climatic change or even to allay its effects. They concede that some of the more spectacular solutions proposed, such as melting the polar ice cap by covering it with black soot or diverting arctic rivers, might create problems far greater than those they solve.”

Ironically, current research predicts that we will see increasing weather anomalies as a result of climate change. Studies also show that soot is unintentionally landing on the polar ice caps, melting them even faster. On the other hand, thousands of studies have now documented the warming trends in correlation with an increase in greenhouse gases.

If anyone doubts the level of climate-change research taking place, take a look at “Science Daily,” a website that compiles reports on all kinds of studies. The category “Climate” includes just a portion of the climate research underway throughout the world.

In a related development on climate change, a group of 28 Washington scientists wrote a letter to the Legislature (PDF 110 kb), saying our state is already feeling the effects of climate change:

“We must adapt to the inevitable impacts of a changing climate by investing in communities to make them more prepared for the current impacts and future risks of climate change. At the same time, Washington must also take appropriate steps to reduce heat-trapping emissions that would cause much more devastating consequences in the decades to come…

“We ask that you implement a policy that establishes a price on greenhouse gas emissions to encourage a shift to clean energy solutions and drive low-carbon innovation that will foster the clean industries of the future…

“The emissions choices we make today — in Washington and throughout the world — will shape the planet our children and grandchildren inherit. Please help create a cleaner, safer, and healthier future for Washington. Let this be our legacy.”

Unwanted chemicals founds in barns, sheds throughout the state

A chemical-waste roundup for farmers was held last week in Spokane by the Washington State Department of Agriculture. More than 1,000 pounds of DDT — a chemical banned in 1972 — were dropped off at the event.

Altogether, more than 25,000 pounds of unwanted insecticides, herbicides, fungicides and rodenticides were collected.

It is a good reminder that lots of chemicals are still being stored in barns, basements and sheds, potentially leaking onto the ground and creating a risk of contamination. Solutions are available for homeowners and all sorts of businesses.

waste

Farmers are encouraged by the WSDA to look for chemicals and contact the agency, which will help with safe and free disposal. For info, check the WSDA website.

Joe Hoffman, WSDA’s waste pesticide coordinator, said in a news release:

“Proper disposal prevents future problems, such as leaks that may contaminate the soil and drinking water or accidental exposure to these old products by people or animals. Some of these old pesticides are highly toxic and you do not want to wait for an accident to happen.”

DDT, short for dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane, is a nearly odorless organochloride used mainly to kill insects. In 1962, the book “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson described how DDT was threatening birds that ate exposed insects. The chemical was banned in the United States for agricultural use but is still licensed for limited purposes.

People who would like to get rid of chemicals stored in their homes can usually rely on local drop-off or round-up programs. Most counties will help people get rid of all sorts of chemicals, from pesticides to auto fluids to cleaning solvents. To connect with local facilities, check the Department of Ecology website.

Kitsap County’s Household Hazardous Waste Facility is one of the few that still takes paint, and it even offers a Swap Shop program for people who would like to pick up some free paint or other products dropped off but still usable.

“The program is going pretty well,” manager Rick Gilbert told me. “People are reasonably familiar with our service. We have a large percentage of residents in the military, so finding us might be a challenge for some.”

The Kitsap County collection facility is located in Olympic View Industrial Park across Highway 3 from Bremerton National Airport. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

After paint, the most common materials dropped off are pesticides, flammable liquids, motor oil, compressed gas and fluorescent lights. In 2014, nearly 700,000 pounds were dropped off at the Kitsap facility — about average for the past five years but about twice as much as dropped off in 2000.

Businesses with small quantities of chemicals can get advice on handling and disposal from experts at the facility, which will take materials for a fee. An appointment is required.

Burned-out fluorescent lights, which by law must be recycled, can be dropped off at more locations than ever as a result of a product-stewardship program called LightCycle Washington. The program is funded with a 25-cent fee added to the cost of all fluorescent lights sold in Washington state. To locate a nearby collection site, visit LightCycle’s interactive webpage.

Amusing Monday: Peeling ‘The Onion’
for fake news stories

We haven’t visited “The Onion” for quite some time, so let’s take a look at Shelby Cross of the Onion News Network and her vociferous plea to eliminate all marshes and wetlands.

“These things are nothing but dead-body dumping pits that make things easy for murderers,” says Cross in the video.

See her “debate” with an opponent in the first video on this page. (Skip the ad by clicking on the tiny box in the upper right corner.)

The next fake news video on this page reveals that something has spooked climate scientists throughout the world. The piece is called “Nation’s climatologists exhibiting strange behavior.”

Moving on, we have the following videos to share:

Finally, here’s a false news story in print called, “New poll finds 74% of Americans would be comfortable blaming female president for problems.”

From the story:

“According to our latest survey, nearly three quarters of Americans now say they’d be willing to saddle a female president with blame for everything from a stagnant economy to interminable wars in the Middle East, up from barely half of respondents a decade earlier,” said lead researcher Jennifer Cervantes.

Killer whale tagging and acoustic studies provide increasing details

L-84, a 25-year-old male orca named Nyssa, has been carrying a satellite transmitter for more than two months now, allowing researchers to track the movements of Nyssa and any whales traveling with him.

Typical of recent travels by the L- and his entourage, the whales traveled north and south of the Columbia River from April 14 to 20.
Typical of recent travels by L-84 and his entourage, the whales traveled north and south of the Columbia River from April 14 to 20. // NOAA map

Nyssa, the last survivor of his immediate family, tends to stay around L-54, a 38-year-old female named Ino, and Ino’s two offspring, L-108 (Coho) and L-117 (Keta). Often, other members of L pod are with him, and sometimes K pod has been around as well, according to observers.

The satellite tracking is part of an effort to learn more about the three pods of Southern Resident killer whales, which are listed as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act. That means they are headed for extinction without changes that increase their rate of survival.

The Navy, which has long been training off the West Coast, has been supporting some of the research in hopes of finding ways to reduce inadvertent harm from its active training in that area, officials say.

Over the past week, the whales moved well offshore near Grays Harbor, then returned to the entrance of the Columbia River. NOAA map
Over the past week, the whales moved well offshore near Grays Harbor, then returned to waters at the entrance of the Columbia River. // NOAA map

Since L-84 was tagged on Feb. 17, the whales have been generally traveling up and down the Washington and Oregon coasts. At various times, researchers — including biologists from Cascadia Research — have been able to get close enough to collect fecal samples from the whales and scales from fish they are eating. The goal is to determine their prey selection at this time of year. Chinook salmon are their fish of choice, but they will eat other species as well.

Winter storms and waves create challenging conditions to study the whales, but the satellite-tagging program has helped researchers find them, said Brad Hanson, who is leading the study for NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center.

Brad told me that he is thrilled that the satellite tag on L-84 has remained in operation so long, allowing more and more data to be collected. Satellite tags are designed to fall off after a time, and the compact batteries will eventually run out of juice.

“This is the latest (in the season) that we have had a tag on a Southern Resident,” Brad said. “Who knows how long it will last? The battery will probably make it until the end of May, and the attachment looked good the last anyone saw the tag.”

The research is not just about figuring out where the whales travel, Brad said. It is about finding out which areas are important to them.

While tracking the whales by satellite, the research is being expanded with the use of acoustic recording devices deployed in key locations along the coast. The goal is to find ways to track the whales with less intrusion. But how does one know where they are located during periods when the whales go silent — sometimes for days at a time? Those are the kind of questions that researchers hope to answer by correlating the acoustic and satellite data together, Brad said.

With Navy funding, 17 recorders are now deployed along the coast, including one recorder many miles offshore to pick up whales that get out into the deep ocean.

“We have certainly reduced a lot of the mystery,” Brad said. “The main issue — and what the Navy is interested in — is how they mitigate for marine mammal presence.”

Knowing that killer whales can be silent, the Navy has largely relied on visual sightings to determine the presence of the animals. During high waves, that may not be a reliable method of detection. The answer, based on tracking the whales, could be to move the training operations farther offshore — beyond the continental shelf, since the Southern Residents appear to rarely go out that far.

The Southern Residents are among the most studied marine mammals in the world, yet it is not entirely clear why their population is not recovering. An upcoming effort will begin to look at whether new information about the health condition of the whales can be teased out of existing fecal and biopsy samples or if new methods of study are needed to assess their health.

Meanwhile, raw data from various studies continue to pour in, challenging NOAA researchers to focus on specific questions, complete their analyses and share the findings in scientific reports. According to Brad, ongoing staff cutbacks makes that final step even harder than it has been in the past.

Amusing Monday: Film students find creativity in eco-comedy videos

The Center for Environmental Filmmaking at American University in Washington, D.C., holds an annual “Eco-Comedy Video Competition,” based on a different environmental theme each year. This year’s theme to challenge student creativity was “Clean water, clean air.”

The winner of the Grand Prize and Viewers’ Choice awards this year was a video called “Dude, or the Blissful Ignorance of Progress” (shown in video player).

Other finalists:

More than 60 videos were entered in the contest. I was able to find only about a dozen or so on the web, but I found a couple other amusing entries worthy of note:

The Center for Environmental Filmmaking was founded on the belief that films are vitally important educational and political tools in the struggle to protect the environment, according to Professor Chris Palmer, who started the center. The goal is to train filmmakers to create films and new media that promote conservation in ways that are ethically sound, entertaining and educational.

All the contest entries can be found in the comments section of the YouTube webpage about the contest.

I found another video on the center’s website that was not involved in this particular contest but was both educational and amusing. It was a public service announcement called “Tap Water.”

Rainfall and aquifers keep drought away from the Kitsap Peninsula

UPDATE: April 24, 2015
Cliff Mass, professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington, says in his blog that it is too early to be predicting severe drought in Western Washington this summer because of possible late-spring rains:

“I believe the media and some local politicians have gotten a bit too worried about our ‘drought.’ We have NOT had a precipitation drought at all….we are in a snow drought due to warm temperatures. The situation is unique and I suspect we will weather this summer far better than expected.”

—–

The word seems to be getting around about the record-low snowpack in the mountains, which could create a shortage of drinking water and even lead to problems for salmon swimming upstream. Read about Gov. Jay Inslee’s expanded drought emergency, issued today, as well as the last update from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

CK

Kitsap Peninsula and the islands of Puget Sound are in their own worlds, fairly insulated from what is happening in the higher elevations. In these lower elevations, the key to water supplies is rainfall, not snow, and the outlook for the year is normal so far.

As you can see from the charts on this page (click to enlarge), this year’s rainfall has been tracking closely the long-term average. If the rains are light and steady, much of the water will soak into the ground and recharge the aquifers where most area residents get their water. The aquifer levels tend to rise and fall over multiple years, depending on the rainfall.

Hansville

Casad Dam on the Union River, which supplies a majority of Bremerton’s water, filled in January, well ahead of schedule, said Kathleen Cahall, water resources manager for the city. The dam is scheduled for a normal drawdown, and Kathleen said she does not expect any water shortage.

“We filled the reservoir fairly early this year,” she said. “We are looking pretty good for the summer.”

Holly

October, the first month of the water year, was unusually wet, Kathleen said. December precipitation also was high. The other months were fairly normal for precipitation.

Precipitation in the Puget Sound region is expected to be below average for June, July and August, according to models by the NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. Interestingly, large portions of the Central and Southwest U.S., Alaska and Florida can expect above-average precipitation. See U.S. map.

precip

Streams on the Kitsap Peninsula are fed by surface water flows and shallow aquifers. At the moment, most of the streamflows are near their historical average. That’s not the case for the larger rivers in the Northwest, which rush out of the mountains. Most are well below their normal flows, as shown by the map with the dots.

Low streamflows usually mean higher temperatures and stress for salmon. Low flows also can affect fish passage in some stretches of the rivers while also reducing spawning areas.

Streamflows

While things look fairly good on the Kitsap Peninsula now, things can change quickly. We have different vulnerabilities than elsewhere. Climate-change models predict that rains will grow more intense in the future without changing annual precipitation very much. That means more of the water will run off the land and less will soak in, potentially reducing aquifer levels over time. Managing those underground water supplies will become more and more critical.