Icebergs Fertilize the Ocean–New SciArt

Originally published as Tuesday Night Mad Scramble on our Pixel Movers & Makers blog.

The last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind of activity for us both. Kev has been keeping himself busy while I prepare for NESCBWI 18. Check out his latest illuminating animation — It’s a map, and your home is on it!

I’ve been readying my postcards and illustration portfolio for this Friday night’s Portfolio Showcase, in which art directors, editors, and agents, followed by conference attendees, will have a chance to peruse each illustrator’s portfolio.

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My big goal over the last two weeks has been to create a new Antarctica-inspired piece. As you may have realized by now, we at Pixel Movers & Makers are both enthralled by polar ice.

I’m particularly interested in the relationship between polar ice and the ecology of the surrounding environment (as well as how that ecology acts upon the ice itself), and primarily, how it affects the success of phytoplankton. Among other things, I’ve been wanting to make a piece that explores the role of icebergs in ocean fertilization.

I decided to make something showing a simplified food chain around the iceberg, with an informational shape poem about the “life” of an iceberg, from the formation of the glacier from which an iceberg calves to its eventual melting out at sea.

Last week, on Pixel Makers and Movers, I showed the early stages of that process.

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After a detailed pencil drawing of each element, which I scan, I am using digital oil paint.Since then, it’s been a race against the clock to complete the illustration in time for my printer to do their thing. (Shout-out to fantastic Iolabs who patiently put up with my last-minute rush every April; thanks Emma!)

And now for the reveal of the final piece:

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Text and image Copyright © Marlo Garnsworthy 2018                   www.WordyBirdStudio.com

 

Now, it’s back to making penguins for Kev to swim and waddle–as we continue with our animation about Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier!

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Note: this post also appears on my Wordy Bird Studio site.

Icy Interim

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Ross Sea ice and iceberg from the RVIB N.B.Palmer                          Copyright © Marlo Garnsworthy

While there was no This Week in Ice post this past week, plenty happened in ice news. Every day, I get up early and pore through headlines about sea ice, glaciers, ice shelves, the Arctic, Antarctica, and icebergs via Google and Twitter. I collect the links and tweets I think are interesting, read them, and eventually construct my blog posts each weekend. And last week was no exception, BUT…

…on Friday, I found out I’ve been accepted to attend a workshop on Antarctic Surface Hydrology and Future Ice Shelf Stability at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, sponsored by the NSF. Since I’m not a scientist, I’m very honored and excited for this wonderful opportunity.

What’s “Antarctic Surface Hydrology and Future Ice Shelf Stability,” you say?

To learn more, check this out.

It’s also my first science conference–so, I’m busy learning how to create a science poster.

The entire ice system and that of the surrounding ocean is fascinating. I want to know how it all works: sea ice, ocean currents, polynyas, ice shelves (and the forces that act on them from above, below, within, and around), plus the ecology—diatoms and other phytoplankton, the marine food chain, benthic (seafloor) communities, the carbon cycle, etc, etc., etc. It’s a complex, fascinating, and intricately woven system, and while we are so far away, our actions and fates are interlinked.

Yet little of this is in most people’s consciousness, or if it is, it may cause a sense of unease that makes them turn away and shut down. My goal is to provide a bridge between scientists and the wider community that’s factual, that isn’t sensationalist, and which shows how worthy these parts of our planet are in and of themselves—not just because the collapse of the system could have drastic consequences for civilization.

So, This Week in Ice will be back, but please expect a fortnightly edition for now. In the meantime, I wrote an article about our SNOWBIRDS Transect research cruise for Envirobites this week. Here’s the link. 

Now, back to my poster…

 

 

 

This Week in Ice: Jan. 7-13, 2018

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Copyright © Marlo Garnsworthy

I took this photo on my local beach in southern Rhode Island early one morning at the start of the week. The whole shore was covered in thick ice, which I’ve never seen there, and the waves were sluggish in the 0 degree F/-18 degree C conditions. But this is nothing compared to just a little farther east around Cape Cod, Massachusetts, which has seen the rapid growth of sea ice during our recent Arctic blast.

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Credit: Terra Satellite, Jan 7, 2018

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Cape Cod Bay from Rock Harbor Beach                                          Credit: Scott Eisen/Getty Images

Meanwhile, global sea ice concentration is experiencing a troubling start to the year.

Let’s zoom in a little, so you can better see the dipping of 2018’s bright red line:

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A new study has shown that melting sea ice is changing the flow of nutrients into the Arctic Ocean. With sea ice melting, sediment from the continental shelf containing nutrients, carbon, and trace metals is flowing into the Arctic Ocean. Along with increased light (also due to the melting of sea ice), this influx of nutrients could cause a phytoplankton bloom. Phytoplankton form the base of the marine food chain, and it’s likely this increased productivity would affect the marine ecosystem.

Scientists are closely watching the Beaufort Gyre, a major wind-driven current in the Arctic Ocean, which has, historically, weakened every five to seven years and reversed direction. When this happens, it expels ice and freshwater into the eastern Arctic Ocean and North Atlantic.

But the gyre seems to be stuck and has been spinning clockwise for twelve years, collecting cold freshwater from melting sea ice, runoff from Russian and North American rivers, and from the Bering Sea. When the gyre does eventually slow and reverse direction, scientists are concerned that it will expel this icy freshwater into the Northern Atlantic, causing severe winters and a disruption to the fishing industry in northern Europe.

Sea Ice — Current Conditions

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Arctic sea ice is at a record low for this time of year.

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Credit: NSIDC

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Credit: NSIDC

Arctic sea ice has been particularly low in the Bering and Chukchi Seas, which connect with the northern Pacific Ocean.

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Antarctic Sea ice concentration is also far below the mean, though not quite as low as last year’s record low.

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Ice Shelves & Icebergs

Strong El Niño events cause large changes in Antarctic ice shelves, a new study has found. While more snow falls on the surface during such events, changes in ocean circulation cause increased melting from below, resulting in a net loss of ice mass:

Iceberg A-86a is still bumping around near the Larsen C ice shelf from which it calved back in July.

Michael Wolovick, a glaciologist from Princeton has been studying whether building massive underwater walls of sand and stone at the mouths of unstable glaciers could slow or reverse their collapse.

I will be continuing the Sea Ice Sketch Project this weekend, and posting on Twitter as I complete each piece and continue my exploration of sea ice—as well as ice shelves and icebergs.

I’m ending this week’s post with some stunning imagery of sea ice, like spectacular abstract artworks, from NASA Earth Observatory.

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Newly formed sea ice (gray) in the Weddell Sea.                                        Credit: NASA/Nathan Kurtz.

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Pieces of sea ice, thick and thin, mingle in the Weddell Sea. Credit: NASA/Digital Mapping System.

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Sea ice near the Larsen C Ice Shelf.                                           Credit: NASA/Digital Mapping System.

As always, I am not a scientist but a writer/illustrator and science communicator passionately in love with sea ice, ice shelves, and polar ice in general. I welcome input and corrections from and connections with polar scientists as I learn more about this remarkable and vital part of our planet and bring this knowledge to a wider audience. 

An Extraordinary Year

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At McMurdo. Our ship, the RVIB Nathaniel B. Palmer, in the background.

Earlier this year, I had the life-changing experience of being the science communicator and outreach ambassador for the SNOWBIRDS Transect research cruise from McMurdo Station, Antarctica, through the wild Southern Ocean.

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Marine technicians steady the megacorer, which has returned from the sea floor filled with mud.

I constructed and maintained our website and social media, raised public awareness, blogged about our science, was the photographer, mentored and edited graduate students writing guest blog posts, created illustrations, and got my hands wet and dirty whenever an extra hand was needed.

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I’m now writing a book about our high-seas adventure and our fascinating science, which explored the roles of nitrogen and silicon in the success of diatoms, and included growing diatoms, filtering marine snow, and retrieving deep-sea mud cores. (I also have another polar science book underway.)

Mid-year, I traveled to Yellowstone National Park to do research for the illustrations for VOLCANO DREAMS, a non-fiction book for children about the Yellowstone supervolcano by award-winning author Janet Fox.

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I’ve spent the rest of the year completing the illustrations. Volcano Dreams will be published by Web of Life Children’s Books in September, 2018. This is the first time I’ve illustrated a published children’s picture book, something I’ve worked for for years.

In September, I started POLAR BIRD, the next step on my journey as a science communicator, non-fiction writer, and sci-art illustrator.

pbPOLAR BIRD is a labor of love, and I’m grateful to everyone who has liked, shared, retweeted, subscribed, and—most especially—read.

2017 has been truly transformative, and I’ve never felt more like I’m on the right path. More than anything, I dream that my work will lead me back to the ice.

As we head into 2018, I’m actively seeking opportunities to be an embedded team member and offer my experience and diverse skill set on future research cruises, taking the considerable and important work required of Outreach—both before, during, and after an expedition—off scientists’ hands.

While I’d be thrilled to join any research cruise, I’m particularly interested in sea ice dynamics and ecology, polynyas, phtyoplankton, krill, the biological pump and carbon cycle, paleoclimatology, ice shelves and glaciers, sea bird and marine mammal ecology, and more… (I could easily spend the rest of my life writing and illustrating about science in polar regions.)

Thank you for reading! I look forward to bringing you new science adventures, more about our planet’s vital sea and land ice, and new art.

I wish you all a very healthy, peaceful, and happy New Year!

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This Week in Ice: Dec. 10-16, 2017

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Antarctic krill under sea ice                                                                Copyright © Marlo Garnsworthy

This week in ice begins with krill—or more specifically krill poop.

Krill are tiny shrimp-like creatures that live in schools called swarms, which can be thick (10,000 to 30,00 individuals per square meter) and vast (one swarm was 170 square miles to a depth of 660 feet). Found in oceans worldwide, krill are—in terms of biomass (the mass of living organisms)—one of the most significant species on our planet.

Krill feed in the upper reaches of the water column, eating phytoplankton (tiny plants) especially diatoms, and zooplankton (tiny animals such as copepods and amphipods). Zooplankton also feed on phytoplankton. Like other plants, phytoplankton take up carbon dioxide during photosynthesis. So, when krill eat phtyoplankton or zooplankton, they’re consuming this carbon.

A constant stream of organic matter such as fecal material and parts of dead organisms, as well as inorganic material such as dust, is constantly sinking through the water column. This material is called marine snow, and it can take weeks to reach the ocean floor, where it accumulates as a thick oozy mud (which we studied on our SNOWBIRDS Transect research cruise). When krill defecate, their fecal material sinks as marine snow through the water column, and any carbon in it is sequestered.

A study by scientists from the British Antarctic Survey found that the behavior of Antarctic krill could assist the sequestration of carbon dioxide. Scientists found that krill move up and down within their swarms. This behavior is called satiation sinking—and in simple terms, it means that once you’ve eaten your fill at the buffet, you move away from the buffet table, allowing others to feed. If you’re a krill, you sink to the lower reaches of the swarm, giving your carbon-rich poop a greater chance of making it to the sea floor.

British Antarctic Survey ecologist and lead author Professor Geraint Tarling says:

“This new finding could equate to krill sequestering 23 million tonnes of carbon to the deep sea each year, equivalent to annual UK residential greenhouse gas emissions.”

Something to keep in mind when regulating the fishing of krill. Krill are also a vital food source for fish, whales, penguins, and other marine species.

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Credit: NOAA

The big polar news this week was the release of NOAA’s Arctic Report Card.

“Arctic shows no sign of returning to reliably frozen region of recent past decades. Despite relatively cool summer temperatures, observations in 2017 continue to indicate that the Arctic environmental system has reached a ‘new normal’, characterized by long-term losses in the extent and thickness of the sea ice cover, the extent and duration of the winter snow cover and the mass of ice in the Greenland Ice Sheet and Arctic glaciers, and warming sea surface and permafrost temperatures.”

Highlights (Credit: NOAA Arctic Report; links embedded by me)

  • The average surface air temperature for the year ending September 2017 is the 2nd warmest since 1900; however, cooler spring and summer temperatures contributed to a rebound in snow cover in the Eurasian Arctic, slower summer sea ice loss, and below-average melt extent for the Greenland ice sheet.
  • The sea ice cover continues to be relatively young and thin with older, thicker ice comprising only 21% of the ice cover in 2017 compared to 45% in 1985.
  • In August 2017, sea surface temperatures in the Barents and Chukchi seas were up to 4° C warmer than average, contributing to a delay in the autumn freeze-up in these regions.
  • Pronounced increases in ocean primary productivity, at the base of the marine food web, were observed in the Barents and Eurasian Arctic seas from 2003 to 2017.
  • Arctic tundra is experiencing increased greenness and record permafrost warming.
  • Pervasive changes in the environment are influencing resource management protocols, including those established for fisheries and wildfires.
  • The unprecedented rate and global reach of Arctic change disproportionally affect the people of northern communities, further pressing the need to prepare for and adapt to the new Arctic.

Most troubling is that melting of sea ice is unprecedented in at least 1,500 years.

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Credit: NOAA

Temperatures in the Arctic have been abnormally high, so high that computers disqualified temperature data, assuming it was an error. 

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Arctic sea ice extent and concentration remain well below the mean. Sea ice cover in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas is at a record low extent. The National Snow and Ice Data Center says:

“November 2017 will be remembered not for total Arctic ice extent, which was the third lowest recorded over the period of satellite observations, but for the record low extent in the Chukchi Sea. This is a key area for Arctic Ocean access, and is an indicator of oceanographic influences on sea ice extent.”

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Credit: NSIDC

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Credit NSIDC

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Antarctic sea ice remains below the mean. After the third-lowest November average monthly extent in the satellite record, sea ice extent is near-average in all regions except the Weddell Sea, where it’s at a record low. Sea ice around the Weddell polynya (aka Maud Rise polynya, depicted by the shape toward the top) has melted, leaving open ocean.

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Credit: NSIDC

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Credit: NSIDC

Glaciers & Ice Shelves

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Part of the East Antarctica ice sheet                              Credit: Michael Hambrey/Glaciers Online

The East Antarctic Ice Sheet may not be as stable as previously thought says this study. In the past, it has undergone dramatic retreats, and scientists now feel that, as the planet warms, it may provide a significant contribution to sea level rise.

Another study showed that even small losses of ice at the edges of ice sheets can accelerate the movement of glaciers grounded on rocks. Lead-author Ronja Reese (Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research) says:

“Destabilizing the floating ice in some areas sends a signal as far as 900 kilometers across the largest ice shelf in Antarctica… It does so with an amazing speed, similar to the speed with which shocks from an earthquake travel.”

Icebergs

On Thursday, the US Coast Guard International Ice Patrol said around 1,008 icebergs drifted into shipping lanes in the North Atlantic, up from 687 in 2016. This is the fourth consecutive “extreme” ice season. Retreat of the Greenland ice sheet/calving of icebergs, plus increased storminess that broke up sea ice, setting icebergs free to drift, is responsible, according to Ice Patrol Commander Kristen Serumgard.

We have a great new graphic showing the drift of massive iceberg A-68, which calved from the Larsen C ice shelf (Antarctica) back in July.

Credit: Dave Mosher

Scientists are on their way to study the effects on lifeforms that dwelled in darkness under the ice sheet now they’ve been exposed to the light by this dramatic calving event.

Starving Polar Bears, Giant Penguins, & the GOT Ice Wall

Back to that viral “starving polar bear” video that everyone may have gotten wrong. As I discussed last week, some experts, such as polar bear biologist Andrew Derocher and Arctic wildlife biologist Jeff Higdon, believe that bear may have not been starving and may in fact have been injured or diseased. Nunavut bear monitor Leo Ikakhik agrees the bear was likely sick or injured.

(In following Derocher and Higdon and this polar bear story, I’ve discovered that polar bear Twitter is not an entirely pleasant place for polar bear scientists—it’s somewhat of a hangout for a certain breed of climate change deniers, who frequently cite dubious sources.)

While that polar bear may have died due to other causes, the fact remains that polar bears—alongside other sea ice-dependent species—will face increasing challenges as sea ice continues to decline.

This study by Deorcher et al states:

“Anthropogenic global warming is occurring more rapidly in the Arctic than elsewhere, and has already caused significant negative effects on sea ice-dependent species such as polar bears. Although observed effects have thus far been gradual, the large amount of annual variation in the climate system may cause habitat changes in individual years that exceed the long-term trend. Such years may be below critical thresholds necessary for feeding and result in unprecedented reductions in survival, reproduction, and abundance in some populations.”

Why the media keeps getting Arctic news wrong.

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Credit: Gerald Mayr—AP

On a New Zealand beach, scientists have found fossil evidence of a 5’8″ penguin that lived 60 million years ago.

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And that ice wall in Game of Thrones? Impossible without magic, says glaciologist Martin Truffer (University of Alaska Fairbanks).

As always, I am not a scientist, just a writer/illustrator and science communicator passionately in love with sea ice. I welcome input and corrections by polar scientists as I learn more about this remarkable and vital part of our planet and bring this knowledge to a wider audience. 

 

 

This Week in Ice: Nov. 19-25, 2017

This Week in Ice—Ice-pocalypse Edition!

At least, that’s I was going to call this week’s post. More about that in a moment.

But first, let’s dive under the ice…

This is the work of the Science Under the Ice team, taking pictures such as this:

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Credit: Science Under the Ice

This Finnish research team has discovered that the ecosystem under the ice has changed rapidly, with far more species and greater numbers of individuals. Species that were once rare are now common and thriving under thinner ice that allows more light to pass through it, increasing the area’s productivity (growth of phytoplankton, the base of the marine food chain). The last couple of years, the ice has also broken out earlier than usual, and it’s likely these changes are effects of climate change.

Which brings us to the ice-pocalypse.

This week, Grist published a powerful article titled Ice Apocalypse by Eric Holthaus about the Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers. Climate scientist Tamsin Edwards wrote this response, urging caution about predictions of the amount and speed of sea level rise. But there is no disagreement that sea level rise will happen—only how much and how soon.

I seem to be reading a lot of articles like this one about this report. It seems a hope-for-the-best-but-prepare-for-the-worst approach is needed when tackling the effects climate change and making policy. We also need to mitigate the effects of burning fossil fuels and releasing so much carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gases) into our atmosphere.

Of course, phytoplankton—microscopic plants in our oceans—absorb carbon dioxide (just like other plants). But they are affected by ocean acidification… which is caused by burning of fossil fuels…

Sea Ice

NASA’s Operation Icebridge continues to yield mind-blowing shots of Antarctica. Here sea ice is “finger rafting“—which occurs when thin, flexible ice floes collide, blocks sliding above and below each other in the pattern you see here:

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Finger rafting of sea ice, Weddell Sea, Antarctica             Credit: John Sonntag, Operation Icebridge

Current sea ice concentrations and extents in both the Arctic and Antarctic are well below median levels.

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As temperatures warm and coastal sea ice melts, communities in places such as Western Alaska, which were previously protected from wave action at this time of year, are at greater risk of erosion and inundation.

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Mark Brandon gives an update on the Weddell polynya, which is still going strong. Watch it shift and flow at 12 o-clock in this animation:

Glaciers and Ice Shelves

British researchers have mapped the sea bed beneath West Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier, which, like the Thwaites Glacier, is accelerating. The terrain below the glacier affects how the glacier flows. Imagery shows a rocky region with mountains and deep scour marks. This data will help scientists predict how the glacier might behave in the future.

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Credit: British Antarctic Survey

Scientists are measuring the heat emanating from a mantle plume beneath Antarctica and how this might effect the slipperiness of the base of the ice sheet, thereby affecting its reaction to climate change. (It wasn’t a leap to think that news about the volcano beneath Antarctica might be misinterpreted… But no, it doesn’t refute climate science.

The West Antarctic ice sheet underwent a rapid collapse during a previous warming event. Scientists are eager to know more about it to better their understanding of what might happen if/when it collapses again. Could octopus DNA teach us something?

Other scientists still are looking at how the “wobble” in Earth’s orbit may have affected ice sheets.

Back in July, a massive iceberg calved from the Larsen C ice shelf (picture below). What happens to the ice shelf left in the aftermath?

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Among NASA’s Operation Icebridge photos this year, this view of massive iceberg A-68A, which calved from the Larsen C ice shelf in July, is one of my favorites.

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Iceberg A-68A                                                                            Credit: John Sonntag, Operation Icebridge

Permafrost

While I’m not intending Permafrost to be a regular feature of This Week in Ice, it is one of our planet’s ice features. As you may have heard, it is melting, too.

To finish off this not-named-the-ice-pocalypse edition, some delightful news. A small group of young Australians made history by becoming the first children to ever go to Antarctica. Lucky kids!

 

And in case you missed it, this week, I shared why I am in love with sea ice.

As always, I am not a scientist, just a writer/illustrator and science communicator passionately in love with sea ice. I welcome input and corrections by polar scientists as I learn more about this remarkable and vital part of our planet and bring this knowledge to a wider audience.