Tuesday, May 31, 2016

10 Days of Karst -- Day 5: Karst Organizations

Karst has been known for centuries. Many of the ancient cities of the
world, such as here in Athen were built on karst landscapes, in part,
due to the ease of carving of limestone. Yet our organizations in the f
ield are relatively new. Which karst organizations did I forget in my list?
Photo by Bob Brinkmann.
On this fifth day of karst I discuss important karst organizations in the U.S. My previous essays on the 10 Days of Karst Series are linked at the bottom of this post.

When I was working on my masters in geology at UW-Milwaukee I started an informal organization called the Geology Culture Club. I grew up in the Milwaukee area and I knew about all the great museums, music, and theater in the city. Those of you who haven't been to Milwaukee and think it a provincial backwater will be pleasantly surprised if you are ever lucky enough to visit the city. It feels much more like a European city than many other American cities and it has a very rich culture and nightlife. When I started the Geology Culture Club, it was my goal to turn on my fellow graduate students, many of whom were from outside of Wisconsin, to the cool stuff in Milwaukee.

Many organizations start in the same way. They are trying to share their knowledge or expertise with the world. They have distinct experience that draws together individuals to promote shared interests. Today's post highlights several karst organizations in the U.S. in order to provide a sampling of the kinds of initiatives underway in our country. I am sure that I will forget some important organizations in my haste. If I do, please forgive me and I would be grateful if you would post a description of the organization in the comments.

1. The National Cave and Karst Research Institute. Since I am the Chair of the Board of this organization, I have to list it first, even though it is one of the youngest groups I'll mention. This organization has been around for 20 years and seeks to promote research and education on cave and karst issues at the national level.

One of the goals of the NSS is to promote safety and
develop skills of cavers. This is a photo of some
rope training at an NSS Convention.
Click for photo credit.
2. The National Speleological Society. This organization, which started in 1941, seeks to further the exploration, study, and protection of caves and their environments, and foster fellowship among cavers. The NSS also publishes a journal (of which I am one of the Associate Editors) called the Journal of Cave and Karst Studies. It is the most important cave and karst journal in the U.S. if not the world. The organization also publishes an important newsletter and runs an annual convention. The membership of the organization is unique in that it includes amateur cavers as well as professional academics. Thus their annual meeting, which is usually held at a campground, is a mix of a boy/girlscout jamboree and academic meeting. Anyone interested in karst in the U.S. should be a member of this organization.

What also is important about the NSS is that the organization has about 250 local chapters, called grottos, that amplify tremendous local knowledge of cave and karst to the national level. Guest blogger, Geary Schindel, wrote an excellent piece about the NSS on this site and it is worth a read here.

3. Karst Waters Institute. The Karst Waters Institute has been around since 1991 and is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Obviously the focus of the institute is on water in karst areas. However, the Institute has been running quality conferences and publishing important pieces on a variety of karst issues  since its inception.

Bats are in trouble in the U.S. That's why Bat Conservation International
is so important. Click for photo credit.
4. National Cave and Karst Management Symposium. This group exists to run a biannual symposium that brings together leaders to discuss issues in cave and karst management. Attendees are often involved with public land management or with the management of show caves.

5. The U.S. Geological Survey. The USGS has a group that focuses on national karst issues. They conduct research, produce reports, and publish the U.S. karst map.

6. The Geological Society of America Karst Division. The GSA, the professional organization of geologists, has a new division, the Karst Division, that serves professionals involved in karst research.

7. The National Park Service. The National Park Service manages many caves and karst landscapes. Thus, it is not a surprise that they have an office that is focused on sound cave and karst management.

8. The U.S. Forest Service. Like the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service also has a team involved with cave and karst management.

9. Bat Conservation International. While many of us are familiar with the plight of bees as a result of their worldwide decline, fewer are familiar with the significant conservation issues associated with bats. One group, Bat Conservation International works hard to stop the loss of habitat for these important creatures.

There are of course dozens of state or regional organizations that you can find in your own local areas. If I forgot any major group, again, my apologies. Please post a note about them in the comments on this blog.

Day 6 of my series on the 10 Days of Karst will feature important karst journals.


Previous 10 Days of Karst Posts:

Monday, May 30, 2016

10 Days of Karst -- Day 4: Important Karst Regions of the U.S.

On this fourth day of karst I discuss important karst landscapes in the U.S. Previous essays on my 10 Days of Karst Series are linked at the bottom of this post.

Meramec Caverns Missouri. Click for photo credit.
I have a strange link between one piece of music and caves. Perhaps some of my older readers will remember the family slide show? For the younger folks reading this, the family slide show is what families did before Facebook and Instagram. About once a week, we would gather in the dining room where my father set up a screen and projector. He would select a carousel of slides from one of our family trips or big family events and we would grab a bucket of popcorn and relive the memories. Because my Dad was from Missouri, the family often visited sites in that state, including Meramec Caverns, a beautiful show cave. Being the youngest, I never had the opportunity to go and I loved seeing the photos of the cave and couldn't wait to visit it myself.

Finally, the day came and my father took several of us to the cave. It was the late 1960's and the music from the movie Dr. Zhivago seemed to be everywhere. My father, a talented amateur musician, loved the music from the film and had the record. He whistled it around the house and during the drive to the cave. It was on the radio. Today, whenever I hear Lara's Theme from Dr. Zhivago, I am immediately taken back to Meramec Caverns and whenever I go into a cave, the music from the film seeps into my consciousness. As you will see, Missouri made the list of one of my four important karst regions of the U.S.

Most of us understand karst landscapes from the caves that we visit. Yet many of the great show caves of the world are not necessarily in the most important karst landscapes. It is important to separate the concept of show caves from the idea of karst regions. Show caves may be found in slivers of karst landscape and there are important karst regions without any show caves. By the way, if you are unfamiliar with the term show cave, it is used largely to refer to commercial or park tourist attractions. While there are important karst regions with show caves, there are also some without. Regardless, let's take a look at four important karst regions of the U.S.: Florida, Texas and New Mexico, Missouri and Kentucky, and the Midwest.

1. Florida. Florida contains one of the most interesting karst regions of the world. It contains all of the state of Florida and extends into southern Georgia and portions of South Carolina. Take a look at my Day 3 post for a map of this area and all of the other regions discussed in this post. The region doesn't really contain any significant show caves since most of the caves in the region are underwater. While there are hundreds of small aerated caves, they are largely unknown or unexplored. While we know much about the underwater caves, they are extremely difficult to explore due to the danger of cave diving.

What makes Florida such an interesting area to me is that it is such an active landscape. Indeed, it is perhaps the most active karst landscape in the world. Hundreds of sinkholes form each year in the state and tons of rock dissolve monthly in the subsurface. Springs discharge huge amounts of water across the state and into the ocean. The relatively low elevation of Florida makes studying karst a bit difficult because one needs to use high tech tools in most cases. However, karst scientists have been using a variety of techniques to puzzle out important issues such as climate change, groundwater movement, and sinkhole formation.

2. Texas and New Mexico. While fundamentally different karst regions, I have grouped Texas and New Mexico together due to more or less similar regional characteristics. The Texas karst region is centered around the Edwards Plateau, home of the highly productive, yet vexing, Edwards Aquifer. The important cities of San Antonio and Austin draw their water from this aquifer.

What is striking about this system is that it goes through highly dramatic boom and bust cycles of water. The region goes through regular and prolonged drought cycles. However, tropical air carrying tremendous amounts of moisture can transform the region overnight. The video below shows this dramatic change as water enters the Edwards Aquifer through a sinkhole in West Texas.

New Mexico, particularly southern New Mexico, has some amazing karst landscapes as well. From sinkholes formed in gypsum to the spectacular Carlsbad Caverns, the region is one of the least studied karst regions of the U.S.

3. Missouri and Kentucky. Like Texas and New Mexico, the Missouri and Kentucky karst systems are not all that similar. However, their geographic setting makes it convenient to lump them together. The Missouri system consists largely of the Ozark Plateau, an extensive upland that extends into northern Arkansas. The Kentucky karst system really consists of two areas, the Mammoth Cave region and the Appalachian Bluegrass region that is part of a broader Appalachian karst network.

Both Kentucky and Missouri are known for their extensive cave systems. Unlike the karst areas to the north in Wisconsin and Minnesota, this region's cave systems were not covered or destroyed by massive glaciers that covered the Midwest during the last Ice Age.

4. The Midwest. The karst of the Midwest extends from portions of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, and the Dakotas. We don't often think about karst in these regions because much of it is covered by glacial drift. However, important glimpses of what the landscape was like prior to glaciation can be seen in the Driftless Area of the upper Mississippi River Valley or in southern Indiana.

What is important about this region is that the karst is part of a broader complex of landscapes that includes glacial, fluvial, and coastal landforms within a total landscape package that can be difficult to discern upon first examination. However, there is no doubt that the karst must be taken into consideration in these areas.


While there are certainly other areas of the U.S. with karst, these four regions highlight some of the most extensive karst areas in the nation. What other areas should I have included on this brief list?

Coming up in the 5th Day of Karst I will review major karst organizations in the U.S.

Previous 10 Days of Karst posts:

Day 1: What is Karst?
Day 2: Pseudokarst

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Most Interesting Thing You Will See Online May 27, 2016

Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument

In a brief respite from my 10 Days of Karst series, I thought it would be appropriate for the start of Memorial Day weekend to catch up a bit on my series on the U.S. National Monuments. So today I continue my series on all 121 U.S. National Monuments. This is in follow up to my series that featured open access photos of all of the U.S. National Parks. In the coming years, I will highlight open access images all of the U.S. National Monuments in alphabetical order.

Today's featured monument is Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument in California which was just granted status as a U.S. National Monument in July of 2015. Following the photos is a list of U.S. National Monuments previously featured on this blog.

Click for photo credit.

Click for photo credit.
Click for photo credit.

Click for photo credit.
Click for photo credit.
Admiralty Island National Monument
African Burial Ground National Monument
Agate Fossil Beds National Monument
Agua Fria National Monument
Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument
Aniakchak National Monument
Aztec Ruins National Monument
Bandelier National Monument
Basin and Range National Monument
Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument

Thursday, May 26, 2016

10 Days of Karst -- Day 3: The Distribution of Karst Landscapes

On this third day of karst I discuss the distribution of karst landscapes. Previous essays on my 10 Days of Karst Series are linked at the bottom of this post.

I was at the board meeting of the National Cave and Karst Research Institute last week in Carlsbad, New Mexico. When I got back, many of my friends and colleagues asked me where I was. When I told them, they frequently said, "What is karst?"

In fact, most Americans do not recognize the word karst unless they are trying to find something to do with the vexing K tile during a scrabble game. This is very unfortunate since karst landscapes cover a whopping 20% of the earth's surface. Most people are familiar with mountains, valleys, floodplains, and a variety of other geomorphic land surfaces but they are not all that familiar with karst landscapes.

Why is this?

I think it is because geologists didn't really study them that effectively until we had the technology to delve into the subsurface with geophysical instruments. In other words, karst landscapes were difficult to define and describe. Many of them seem to be flat, featureless plains. But underneath, the landscape is extremely active as water works to dissolve limestone or dolomite.

A world map of karst produced by Circle of Blue (below) shows the worldwide distribution of karst landscapes. As you can see, there are karst areas on every continent. Certainly some continents have more extensive areas than others, but every corner of the world is in some way impacted by karst. Some of the areas are flat, such as Florida or the Yucatan, while other karst regions are mountainous such as in areas of central and southern Asia.

Circle of Blue's map showing the distribution of karst around the world. Click for image credit.

The U.S. Geological Survey has created a U.S. karst map (below). As can be seen, there are broad areas of karst in the northern Mississippi Valley, eastern Wisconsin, Appalachia, Florida, Texas, Georgia, Ohio, and Indiana. There are important karst areas scattered throughout the western states, New York, New England, Alaska, and Hawaii where lava tubes create psyudokarst landscapes.

The USGS produced this map showing the distribution of karst landscapes (in red) in the U.S. Click for image credit.
It is important to stress in this brief review that the worldwide distribution is aligned somewhat with the most productive aquifers in the world. Due to the vast amount of void space underground in karst landscapes, aquifers in these regions produce approximately 50% of the world's groundwater supply.

In Day 4 of my 10 Days of Karst series, I will discuss some important karst regions.

Previous 10 Days of Karst posts:

Day 1: What is Karst?
Day 2: Pseudokarst

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

10 Days of Karst -- Day 2: Pseudokarst

On this second day of karst I feature the important karst-like features known as pseudokarst. Previous posts on my 10 Days of Karst Series are linked at the bottom of this post.

A lava tube. Click for photo credit.
Last year a friend of mine sent a link to an article about a sinkhole that formed in Brooklyn. I know the geology of Brooklyn. A true sinkhole couldn't have formed in that hipster haven. What the article referenced was a collapse of a sewer conduit, not a natural conduit. The article brought forward an issue that challenges many karst nomenclature purists--pseudokarst.

Pseudokarst is a broad term to used to mean features that are like those that form from the solution of bedrock such as sinkholes and caves. There are two types of pseudokarst: those features that form natural processes and those that form as a result of human agency. Let's take a look at each of these.

Natural pseudokarst includes a number of features such as lava tubes, sea caves, and wind caves and shelters. These features often contain secondary mineralization and have many of other characteristics of solution karst systems. Of course, these features can collapse to form sinkholes and other unusual landforms. Water contamination of lava tubes, jut as in natural flooded cave systems, can be a challenge.

An old mine tunnel. Click for photo credit.
Pseuodkarst that forms from human agency includes mines, tunnels, and infrastructure conduits like water and sewer pipes. Mines have been a particularly vexing problem in some corners of the world where old tunnels have collapsed to cause loss of life and property damage. When flooded, they also are susceptible to water pollution challenges due to the interconnectivity of the mines. Tunnels act like cave systems and they occasionally collapse.

Perhaps the most talked about pseudokarst features in the world are the sinkholes that form as a result of collapsing conduits. We hear about these collapses because they typically occur in heavily trafficked roadways where they can signficantly
A pseudosinkhole in Brooklyn. Click for photo credit.
interrupt our day to day activities. Yet it is worth noting that they are happening with greater frequency due to the aging infrastructure in many cities. When they form, there is great interest in the location about the overall quality of the infrastructure. With what happened in Flint this year, there is also concern over water quality in areas where aging water pipes collapse.

The Brooklyn sinkhole I mentioned at the start of this essay did get quite a bit of attention on social media. Check out this piece I wrote about it last year. When these collapsing infrastructure sinkhole make the news, it does make some karst geologists feel like nails are going down a chalk board. Many of us dislike the popularization of the term sinkhole for something that isn't truly a sinkhole. I am really okay with the use of the term. It provides an opening to educate the public on the diversity of karst and pseudokarst around us.

In Day 3 of my 10 Days of Karst series, I will discuss the distribution of karst landscapes.

Previous 10 Days of Karst posts:

Day 1: What is Karst?

Monday, May 16, 2016

10 Days of Karst -- Day 1: What Is Karst?

Click for photo credit.
After yesterday's preview, today officially starts my 10 Days of Karst. Today we will discuss the meaning of the word karst and set the stage for the rest of the series.

Unless you are in the field of geology, you probably never encountered the term karst. Most Americans know the majority of landscape types: floodplains, mountains, volcanic plains, and even glacial landscapes. However, karst is not a standard part of the American landscape vocabulary.

This is problematic because karst landscapes cover approximately 10-20% of the world's surface and about 50% of groundwater comes from karst aquifers. How come we do not associate such vast areas of our country within the unifying landscape term, karst?

I think it is because karst landscapes are hard to understand. Anyone can study a floodplain or a mountain. You just have to go there or look at them in a satellite image or air photo. Karst landscapes are difficult to study--but I am getting ahead of myself.

Karst landscapes can simply defined as those places that are impacted by the solution of rock. The word karst is an eastern European term--indeed, many of the unusual landscape names for karst features derive from that part of the world. Because rock solubility varies tremendously, the most active karst landscapes are in areas where the rock is highly soluble over geologic time. Thus, we see very advanced karst landscapes in limestone and dolomitic regions of the world. However, it is important to note that less common rock types, particularly halite and gypsum, are even more soluble than calcite, the main mineral that makes up limestone.

Since karst landscapes form from the solution of bedrock, most of the geologic action is underground. Rainwater percolating through the soil interacts with carbon dioxide gas to create carbonic acid. When this acid comes into contact with limestone, a calcium ion and bicarbonate anion are released into solution and the sold rock dissolves. Over time, voids form in the limestone.

An exposed karst surface showing areas where joints widened due
to karstification. Click for photo credit.
The void sizes in the rock vary considerably from small features called vugs to very large caverns. The subsurface variability in karst landscapes is tremendous. Many karstic areas may seem like flat featureless plains (like Florida) but beneath the surface, acidic waters are slowly eating away the rock to create an unimaginable variety of features.

Which is why so few people study karst. You cannot easily see it or visualize the subsurface landscape easily. Most people who study karst are are skilled in geotechnical fields like geophysics, chemistry, hydrology, and engineering and use advanced geophysical tools and models to understand the subsurface. However, the work of cavers is also key to understanding the unique geography and geology of the subsurface geomorphic development of karst landscapes.

Yet while karst landscapes are usually rather undramatic at the subsurface, they do contain weird assemblages of surface features. Since there is so much water movement in subsurface voids and so much drainage into the subsurface, karst areas tend to be free of surface streams. As a result, karst areas, even in tropical areas, tend to be droughty. Water doesn't stay long at the surface and it moves quickly underground. Areas like the Yucatan and Florida have many areas that have distinctly scrub vegetation due to the lack of surface water. Where streams are present, they can flow into the subsurface to create disappearing streams. The reverse can also occur as streams emerge from the subsurface to the surface as springs. I could continue with a long list of odd karst surface features like poljes or karren, but there is no doubt that the most commonly surface feature associated with karst landscapes is the sinkhole.

Click for photo credit.
While most people are unfamiliar with the broad unifying term karst, most are familiar with subsurface karst features found in caverns. Stalagmites, stalactites, and soda straws are often pointed out on tours of commercial caves that can be found in some karst landscapes. Of course, these are the most common features and geologists have named dozens of unique subsurface cave landforms and identified dozens of unique minerals found in caves. Many of these form as waters moving through the cave deposit dissolved ions on cave walls.

Caves also contain unique assemblages of biota from microorganisms to the now extinct cave bear. Blind salamanders and cave crickets are often seen in caves, but so can hundreds of other organisms--including humans. We have been spending time in caves and taking advantage of their protection for permanent living sites or for special ceremonial activities for millennia.

As we will see in an upcoming post, water resources are a special problem in karst areas since contamination in karst aquifers can be quite widespread due to the interconnected nature of karst aquifers.

In Day 2 of the 10 Days of Karst, we will explore pseudokarst or those landscapes that look and act like karst but do not form from solution.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

10 Days of Karst--A Preview

Photo by Bob Brinkmann.
It has been a heck of an end to the semester and I haven't had as much time as normal for some informal blogging. Today was graduation and the busy time of the year has come to a close. It was a bittersweet day as I saw our departmental students graduate. We will miss them, but I cannot wait to find out about all the cool things they will do to make our world a better place.

As I type this, I am at JFK Airport in Queens about to catch a flight to New Mexico to chair the annual meeting of the National Cave and Karst Research Institute. In order to celebrate this annual migration of the board to Carlsbad (sort of like a subterranean version of the Swallows of Capistrano), I thought it useful to feature karst in 10 distinct blog posts that highlight some of key issues associated with karst.

There are few places where karst resources and information are gathered in one spot. Sure, there is the Karst Information Portal, but that group (more on it in an upcoming post) focuses on karst publication. What I want to do in the next 10 days is provide a karst primer for the general public. The what, where, who, when, and why if you will. While I won't cover everything, I will try to provide some highlights. If you have suggestions for me, send them along.

A bit about the 10 days. They will not be 10 consecutive days and there will probably be other posts in between. In fact, the 10 days might occur over a month or two. And the 10 may turn into 11 or 12. We'll see.

I think it is worth telling my readers how I got into karst (simply defined as the landscape of soluble rock).

I really didn't plan on it. I was trained originally as a hard rock geologist. I was mostly interested in metamorphic and igneous mineralogy. This got modified a bit when I got involved in glacial geology when I was involved with a big mineral exploration project. From there, I discovered soil science, geomorphology, ice engineering, and archaeology. You might say I became a universally trained earth scientist.

A noted karst geomorphologist, Mick Day, was at UWM where I did my masters and Ph.D. He was the advisor to many of my friends and he had a big influence on my department. I did take some seminars with him to round out my geomorphology training, but at the time, I would never claim to be a karst expert or scientist.

But then I got my first job as an Assistant Professor at the University of South Florida (USF) in the heart of the central Florida karst plain. It is truly one of the most geologically active areas of the world, although most would not recognize the activity since most of it happens underground. Of course, when dramatic sinkholes occur, we are reminded of the power of solution processes on limestone and its impact on the landscape.

For over two decades, I taught at USF and slowly earned a reputation in karst science. I published many articles and chapters in books and even published the book, Sinkholes of Florida. I am an Associate Editor of the Journal of Cave and Karst Studies and I was honored to be elected to the board of the National Cave and Karst Research Institute. I was elected Chairman of the board three years ago.

The happy occasion of earning the job at USF back in 1990 led me unexpectedly into the world of karst science. I hope that my posts in my 10 Days of Karst series help others find their way into the interesting world of karst. It is in arguably the least studied landscape in the world and we need all hands on deck as we face significant deterioration of karst environments. As we will see in upcoming posts, many areas of the world rely on water stored in karst aquifers and these aquifers are increasingly in trouble.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Madison and Lansing Replace Water Pipes to Avoid Flint-Like Disaster

Click for photo credit.
The other day, I spoke with a friend of mine who had a case of water in her car. Since I am rather negative about the water bottle, I couldn't help being the annoying environmental friend and I asked her why she bought bottled water.

"I just don't trust the water after the whole Flint thing," she said.

I totally got her viewpoint. Many people live in places with aging infrastructure where it is unclear if the pipes are safe for transporting treated water from the water treatment facility to homes. As a result, many opt to buy cases of bottled water or get home delivery of water from water companies. I must confess that I fall into the later category. After I moved to Long Island, I found that the taste, smell, and color of water that comes out of my pipes varies considerably and I didn't feel comfortable drinking it on a daily basis.

Don't get me wrong. I completely trust our water systems around our country to send out clean and healthy water from water treatment plants. However, what concerns me is what happens to the water after it leaves the treatment facility. Can we truly trust our water infrastructure after Flint?

This issue looms large in the mind of the public. Like my friend, more and more people are turning to bottled water to the detriment of the environment.

Yet some communities are trying to get a handle on this issue before it leads to further problems. According to this article in the Washington Post by Darryl Fears and Brady Dennis, the cities of Lansing, Michigan and Madison, Wisconsin are replacing all of their lead pipes.

Certainly removing lead pipes from these relatively small college towns and state capital cities puts only a small plumbous dent in the national problem of aging water infrastructure--it is estimated that there are 6 million lead pipes in the U.S.--but it is a start.

The issue of water infrastructure, particularly how we deliver water from treatment plants to homes, will probably be the most significant issue facing municipal water managers in the next two decades, even as they grapple with declining water quality and quantity in their local water resources.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Most Interesting Thing You Will See Online May 10, 2016

The Flooding of Gilligan's Island

Click for photo credit.
With little fanfare, news came this week that five islands in the Solomon Islands group disappeared under the ocean as a result of global climate change. This comes after news of the resettlement of the U.S.' first climate refugees in the New York Times (I think they got it wrong. The first U.S. climate refugees that I know about are from the native village of Kivalina in Alaska, not Louisiana, but who am I to argue with the Gray Lady).

With all of this news, we still are not reducing greenhouse gases fast enough to prevent global climate change.

The Solomon Islands may seem like an exotic and distant location to most Americans, but they have loomed large in world history. They were fought over in World War II. Sadly, the generation that fought the war has largely left us. This Greatest Generation probably would have understood the significance of the loss of the very islands they fought over and tried to do more to stop global climate change with the advent of this news.

As someone from the tail end of the Baby Boomer Generation, I find the only popular cultural touchstone to this region is that the islands were the likely site of the castaways on Gilligan's Island. Perhaps if those from this generation visualized Mary Ann and Gilligan trying to build a dam to keep the sea out of the huts more of us would try to do more to prevent global climate change.

But alas, Gilligan and Mary Ann lost the battle and their island is flooded. In many corners of the world, the conversation on global climate change has moved toward migration and adaptation. Yet as we can see in the Solomon Islands, sometimes, there is only loss.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Most Interesting Thing You Will See Online May 8, 2016

President Obama's comments at the dedication of the Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument in April of this year:

Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument

Today I continue my series on all 121 U.S. National Monuments. This is in follow up to my series that featured open access photos of all of the U.S. National Parks. In the coming years, I will highlight open access images all of the U.S. National Monuments in alphabetical order.

Today's featured Monument is Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument in Washington D.C. which was just granted status as a U.S. National Monument in April of this year. Following the photos is a list of U.S. National Monuments previously featured on this blog.

Admiralty Island National Monument
African Burial Ground National Monument
Agate Fossil Beds National Monument
Agua Fria National Monument
Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument
Aniakchak National Monument
Aztec Ruins National Monument
Bandelier National Monument
Basin and Range National Monument

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

A Hofstra of Tulips?

Anyone who follows me on Instagram or Facebook knows that I have been tulip crazy for the last few weeks. It's easy to fall into this particular mental health crisis when you work on a campus that plants around 20,000 tulips each year. I think  every color, make, and model of tulip ever produced is blooming on the Hofstra campus. It can be wonderfully overwhelming.

But what does one call such a collection of tulips?

This is a special problem since the bulbs are planted across a stunning arboretum which our campus calls home. Not only do we have blankets of blooming tulips everywhere, we also have a huge variety of blooming trees and shrubs. Between polliniferous sneezes, one can catch spectacular views of spring plants in all directions. Of course, since we are home to 20,000 tulips, they definitely steal the show.

But terminology for such a sight is problematic. A tulip bed is the usual term for a grouping of tulips. This is the term I use for the area where I planted a dozen or so in a small flower garden near my house. Yet the term tulip bed is entirely inappropriate for the massive blooming tulip landscape on our campus.

Crows have murders, bees have hives, caterpillars have armies, whales have pods, geese have flocks, and rattlesnakes have rhumbas. But what does one call a mass collection of tulips? Also, like the famed variety of words for snow among native peoples in the far north, perhaps we need specific terms for distinct tulip collections.

I have come up with several nomenclature options.

A tableau of tulips--A planting of large numbers of tulips when used to create a tableau with buildings or trees.

A luxury of tulips--A planting of rare or unusual tulips in large numbers.

A typhoon of tulips--The planting of a variety of colors and shapes within a single area.

A tickle of tulips--A small group of tulips used to highlight other landscape elements.

A mazurka of tulips--Highly colorful tulips of irregular height and blooming times planted together to provide continuous blooms at different elevations.

A huzzah of tulips--A group of tulips near important locations meant to celebrate a particular local landmark.

A madrigal of tulips--A group of tulips, often of a single color, planted in a formal garden to create shapes.

A quorum of tulips--A bed of tulips planted near faculty offices.

A lecture of tulips--A distinct planting of tulips near university lecture halls.

An angstrom of tulips--A noticeably small planting of tulips separate from larger beds.

A wisdom of tulips--A group of tulips planted near residence halls on a college campus.

A debate of tulips--A planting of two colors of tulips of approximately the same number and height.

And finally....

A Hofstra of tulips--The planting of over 10,000 tulips used to showcase different varieties within a single garden or park.

What others can you think of?

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Malia Obama and the Chimera of the Gap Year

Click for photo credit. It sure has been fun
watching these girls grow up in the White House.
Now Malia is off to Harvard after a gap year.
I grew up in rural America where one took a year off between high school and college if you needed to help your folks on the farm, if you wanted to make enough money for housing and books, or if you started your family in high school. These were not all that uncommon in my peer group.

But times are different and gap years are becoming much more common. News came over the weekend that Malia Obama is taking a year off after graduating from high school before she enters Harvard University.

After eight years in the White House, some time off from the public eye makes sense. I remember what my life was like as a teenager and I am glad that I didn't have to have it documented by the media in the White House.  I think it makes sense that Malia Obama takes a year off between high school and college. I can't wait to see what she does with her life.

But clearly Miss Obama is not the average college student.

Most of the time, gap years are discussed not between high school and college, but between undergraduate and graduate schools. 

When I was at USF, a large public university with modest tuition, some students considered gap years. However, most wanted to move as quickly as they could from their undergraduate degree to their graduate degree to improve their earning potential as soon as they could.

At Hofstra University, it is slightly more common for students to consider a gap year, although the vast majority of students move to jobs or graduate school immediately after graduation. In many ways, the gap year is a chimera that only exists as a coronet in the imagination of critics. Most students consider it as they are applying to graduate school at the close of the fall semester when stress levels are high. Few actually go forward with a gap year. Those that do find that it is a time to explore other opportunities and experiences prior to committing to a future career path that will impact their entire lives.

I think a gap year between undergraduate and graduate school is a fantastic way to sort things out if students are not sure of future directions. A year WOOFing or exploring a new continent is not a bad way to spend one's time. But the whole gap year phenomenon is much more uncommon than the media makes it out to be and it plays into a broader negative narrative that the media uses to stereotype our young adults. Contrary to the narrative, they are incredibly driven and are seeking to make the world a better place--gap year or not.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Tampa Bay Time's Farm to Fable Series

A farmers market in Brive la Gaillard, France. Photo by Mario Gomez.

Tampa Bay Times reporter Laura Reiley wrote a very important series called Farm to Fable on greenwashing of food by restaurants and farmers markets. You can read the series here and here. Both articles are worth a read.

They point out the tremendous amount of lying and deception in restaurants and farmers markets in order to make food seem sustainable or local.

Reiley found that many restaurants that made claims that their food came from local farmers bought conventional food on the market. That local Florida crab? Probably from China. That local veal? Pork. That GMO-free salad on the menu called F**k Monsanto? Probably full of GMO crops.

Many restaurants, according to Reiley, regularly lie to the public and greenwash their menu. This is frustrating to those who try to actually, you know, tell the truth about their sustainable food choices.

The same problem exists in farmers markets. Anyone who regularly goes to farmers markets knows that unless the market is managed and edited well, the term farmer is likely a misnomer. Many vendors sell produce bought from wholesalers who get their produce from all over the world. Thus, the farmers markets are often just as globalized as your grocery store. Vendors who purchase produce from wholesalers can sell products cheaper than the local grocery store--and cheaper than, you know, actual farmers who show up to the farmers markets.

If you truly care about local and sustainable, it is worth asking questions and finding out about the food in your restaurants and famers markets. What you may see on the menu or in the farm stand may not be what you think.