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Photo by Kiril Dobrev / Unsplash

Host: Travis Loop
Guest: Phil Bresnahan | Assistant Professor of Oceanography | University of North Carolina at Wilmington
Category: 🤖 Technology

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[2:54] “My focus is […] on biogeochemistry, […] the combination of biology or all the living things with geo, so the influence from lands and the bottom sediments, sand, mud, […] as well as […] the chemistry. And I'm especially interested in human impacts to coastal waters through things like the excess carbon dioxide that we put in the atmosphere that ends up dissolving in the seawater and making that water more acidic. We're also changing things like phytoplankton blooms from putting excess nutrients in the water and that can have really interesting impacts on the surface populations of what's living on the surface. But then those phytoplankton blooms often decay in bottom waters, and really draw down dissolved oxygen concentrations.”

[3:50] “We've seen this […] all over the country and all over the world at increasing frequency in recent years, where you […] see these massive fish kills or […] crab walkouts are a major issue, where the crabs are trying to come into shallower and shallower waters to find higher oxygen levels so that they can breathe through their gills and they actually end up walking out of the water. And of course, crabs can't survive out of water for extended time periods […] and so they end up dying.”

[4:26] “I'm interested in the chemistry side of trying to measure the nutrient string to measure the dissolved oxygen. And all of these things […] require sensors. […] We've been making these measurements for decades using more traditional technologies like bottle samples, and then running the chemical or biological analyses back in labs. But what's really exciting about the advent of sensing technologies is that we can leave them out there and we don't have to go out every hour or every day or every week. […] There really are quite a few different things that you can measure with a wide array of sensors and the sensors can be extremely simple, they can just be tiny little thermometers or they can be huge […] like VW bug size analyzers that are actually analyzing the DNA that's in the water.”

[6:06] “Satellite technology has been huge for oceanography, because of course if we have a sensor in the middle of the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean, we're not going to be within range of any Bluetooth or cellular signal. […] And so one of the […] most exciting oceanographic sensing platforms out there is called Argo. And Argo is an international program, so countries from all over the world are contributing to this. And they're developing these robotic floats that sort of yo-yo up and down from the surface of the water column down to two kilometers, or a bit over a mile below the surface. And as they’re yo-yoing, they're collecting data on the physics, temperature, salinity, and depth. And that helps us understand the heat that's being captured by the ocean. The ocean […] is capturing 90% of the excess heat that the planetary system is keeping inside it, as opposed to sending back out into outer space as a direct result of global warming and climate change. 90% of that excess heats going into the ocean, rather than just raising surface atmospheric temperatures.”

[9:17] “It's fair to say [that leaps in technology have] revolutionized the motion sensor sector […]. And the reason not only have we made better sensors and better microcontrollers and better chips […], but we've made easier technology. And so I would say just a couple decades ago, you had to be a really diehard engineer or someone who is really interested in investing significant amounts of time into understanding circuitry and programming […]  in order to make even the most basic sensor. And now all of this stuff is just openly available on any number of websites. There are some really cool projects like Public Lab […], where people are building and publishing designs for water quality, air quality, soil quality sensors, using off the shelf components that anyone can buy, […] not usually all that expensive. […] And so this has really changed everyone's ability to get engaged in this type of technology development and start paying attention to their own watersheds, or their own atmospheres, or whatever it may be that they're interested in.

[23:47] “The turbidity issue is one that I think we could really help with […] understanding how sediments are moving. […] We can actually make some optical measurements […] that could monitor water clarity, which would help you know if you're a diver [or] if you're a lifeguard, water clarity might help you understand how sand is moving off the beach or along the beach, which could help you understand where rip currents are forming. If you’re a city or county planner and you want to understand beach renourishment, you certainly need to know where the sand is moving. [...] The water clarity is going to influence things like oyster health, for instance.”

[27:26] “Technology has historically been really hard to access by many communities, by many people other than the top academics at the top institutions or top government research agencies. And I think there's real value in making these technologies more available. The buzz term is democratizing technology. And I don't know if we're quite there yet, a couple $100 is not free. But we're getting to the point where more people can access these technologies, more people can monitor the water, air, soil quality or whatever it may be. […] And I think that's a really valuable thing.”

Rating: 💧💧💧

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify
🕰️ 30 min | 🗓️ 05/24/2021
✅ Time saved: 28 min