Bahamas, built by bacteria from Saharan dust?


This video says about itself:

Wildlife of Exuma Island, Bahamas – Lonely Planet travel video

Visitors to sparsely populated Exuma, a remote island in the Bahamas, can expect a close encounter with sharks and iguanas.

From New Scientist:

Bahamian paradise built by bacteria using Saharan dust

13:40 28 July 2014 by Flora Graham

The Bahamas may have been created by bacteria thriving on minerals in dust from the Sahara desert, 8000 kilometres away.

In this NASA satellite image from 2009, it is possible to see how the many islands of the Bahamas are actually the highest points of distinct areas where the sea is shallow and turquoise.

These turquoise waters mark the top of the Bahama Banks – underwater columns of coral reef limestone more than 4500 metres tall that have formed over the past 100 million years. It was thought that tiny plants and animals generate the vast amounts of carbonate that make up the towers, similar to how coral reefs are formed. But the surrounding sea is poor in nutrients, so what would have sustained them is a mystery.

Now researchers including Peter Swart from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science in Florida are showing that photosynthetic cyanobacteria may actually have done much of the construction.

Cyanobacteria are involved in the precipitation of calcium carbonate in the sea, but they would have needed an enormous amount of iron to do their work. This could have been provided by the dust that blows across the Atlantic from the Sahara.

There are characteristic traces of iron and manganese in recent carbonate sediment on the banks, pointing to their Saharan origin. So the team suggests that the Bahama Banks are being built up by cyanobacteria and may also have been in the past.

The results of this research are here.

Prehistoric meteor shower and evolution of life discovery


This video is called Late Ordovician Mass Extinction (Ordovician – Silurian).

From daily The Independent in Britain:

Scientists discover fragment of ‘missing link’ asteroid that led to explosion of life on Earth

James Vincent

Thursday 03 July 2014

Scientists in Sweden have discovered a never-before seen class of meteorite that could be the ‘missing link’ between a gigantic collision in the asteroid belt 470 million years ago and the subsequent explosion of diverse life forms here on Earth.

Although it’s usually thought that meteorite impacts are disastrous for species on Earth (the classic example is the colossal impact thought to have killed off the dinosaurs 66 million years ago) there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that these events can also be beneficial to the overall diversity on the planet.

It’s thought that just such an impact – or rather, a string of them – dramatically boosted biodiversity on the planet during the Ordovician Period some 470 million years ago. It’s believed that a collision of two asteroids (or possibly an asteroid and a comet) out in space caused a shower of meteors to rain down on Earth.

Over time fragments of this meteor shower have been found around the planet and dated to 470 million years ago – but until now scientists had not found any evidence of the ‘killer’ asteroid that started this chain of events.

During the Ordovician Period most life on Earth was found in the ocean, with jawless fish, molluscs and insect-like arthropods making up the bulk of the species roll-call. However, a study from 2008 showed that the planet went through a “major phase of biodiversification” at this time shortly after “the largest documented asteroid breakup event during the past few billion years”.

The evidence for this breakup comes from the abundance of L-chondrite meteorites – the second most common meteorite type – fragments of which first started appearing on Earth around 470 million years ago.

“Something we didn’t really know about before was flying around and crashed into the L-chondrites,” said Gary Huss, co-author of the study that analysed the sample (published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters). This newly-discovered fragment is thought to be that very object – the mysterious ‘bullet’.

The composition of the fragment differs from known meteorite samples and its exposure age – the length of time it sailed through space – places it at the ‘scene of the crime’ when meteors rained down on the planet during the Ordovician Period.

“It’s a very, very strange and unusual find,” Birger Schmitz, the lead author of the study, told Live Science. “I think [it] adds to the understanding that the meteorites that come down on Earth today may not be entirely representative of what is out there.”

It’s not clear exactly why the Ordovician meteor shower led to a greater variety of life on the plane although some more far-fetched theories suggest that life itself was ‘seeded’ by organisms hitching a ride on asteroids.

A more likely explanation is that the impact craters caused by the collisions provided perfect test-beds for developing life. When meteorites hit the surface of the planet they scooped out bubbling pools of minerals and nutrients that served – in Carl Zimmer’s words – as “natural beakers that synthesized new chemicals essential for life”. However, even this is still just a theory – and the impacts might have also fostered life by creating new habitats, like restructured shorelines.

If further geochemical tests on the newly discovered fragment confirm its suspected origins then scientists will have pinned down another piece of the solar system’s history – but figuring out what happened closer to home might be more difficult still.

Galapagos islands, evolution and sea levels


This video says about itself:

How Have Sea-Levels Influenced Evolution on the Galapagos Islands?

This movie is a simple 0 m to -210 m geographical loop sequence at 5 m increments. Important features are the substantial gaps between Galapagos’ “core” islands even at -100 m. However, below c. -130 m the various islands begin coalescing.

Research: “Exploring the combined role of eustasy and oceanic island thermal subsidence in shaping biodiversity on the Galápagos” by Jason R. Ali and Jonathan C. Aitchison from the Journal of Biogeography.

From Wiley Research News:

The Galapagos Islands have an iconic status in the history of evolutionary study, now new research shows that the islands’ own geological past may have influenced the evolution of the chain’s native species.

Writing in the Journal of Biogeography, Jason Ali and Jonathan Aitchison explore how fluctuating sea level changes over thousands of years impacted the island chain’s ecology. They estimate that when the sea retreated, most recently 20,000 years ago, the water would have been 144m below its current level.

As a result, Santa Cruz, the island in the center of the archipelago, would have expanded, enveloping many of the smaller islands, while creating a series of shallow ‘land bridges’ between the volcanic outcroppings. Such bridges explain the range and diversity of the islands’ species, such as snakes, geckos and iguanas, which appear landlocked to modern eyes.

“As soon as I saw that that half the islands in the archipelago were sat on a single, shallow, submarine platform, I realized that the implications for biology could be significant,” said Dr. Ali. “My geological knowledge told me that sea-level falls must have regularly re-connected the islands, and that this must have profoundly shaped the landlocked biota’s distribution, and very likely its composition.”

Ecuador has declared an emergency in the Galapagos Islands, saying that a cargo ship which ran aground last week still poses a threat to the archipelago’s fragile ecosystem: here. See also here.

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Poas volcano in Costa Rica


Poas volcano in Costa Rica

This is a photo of Poas volcano in Costa Rica. Taken on 15 March 2014; after our departure from Alajuela.

The photos on this blog post are smartphone photos.

Poas is an active volcano. You can see smoke. The temperature in the crater lake is about 40 degrees Celsius.

Poas volcano in Costa Rica

About birds around Poas volcano: stay tuned for another post on this blog.

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Saving Galapagos mangrove finches


This video is called: In the Galapagos, Mangrove Finches Fight On by Sue Maturin, Forest & Bird.

From the International Community Foundation:

International Community Foundation Announces World’s First Mangrove Finch Hatched in Captivity at Charles Darwin Research Station, Ecuador

In February 2014, twelve Mangrove Finch (Camarhynchus heliobates) chicks have hatched as part of a captive rearing program was born at the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS) in Puerto Ayora, Galapagos, Ecuador. This was the first success in the Mangrove Finch “head-start” program, which is designed to rescue the Mangrove Finch, the most threatened bird on the Galapagos Islands due to threats from nest parasites.

San Diego, CA (PRWEB) March 05, 2014

The International Community Foundation is pleased to announce that on 10th February 2014, the first Mangrove Finch (Camarhynchus heliobates) chick ever to hatch as part of a captive rearing program was born at the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS), the operative arm of the Charles Darwin Foundation in Puerto Ayora, Galapagos.

This was the first success in the Mangrove Finch “head-start” program, with eleven chicks having since hatched. This program is being conducted jointly by the San Diego Zoo Global (SDZG), the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) and the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD).

This is a great effort that complements previous hard work on research and management with this species that has been carried out since 1997, by the CDF in collaboration with the GNPD.

The Mangrove Finch is the bird most threatened by extinction in the Galapagos Islands. Currently only 60 to 80 individuals are left in existence and the Mangrove Finch is classified as Critically Endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. Its entire population is restricted to a tiny range of less than 30 hectares in two patches of mangrove forest in the west coast of Isabela Island. In the past 5 years individuals from a remnant population at southern Isabela have no longer been found.

Since early February, 21 eggs and three newly hatched chicks were collected from wild nests in the mangrove forest at Playa Tortuga Negra, on Isabela. The eggs and chicks were then transported in an incubator, by helicopter, to the newly created incubation and hand-rearing facility at the CDRS. This is an area adapted as a quarantine facility, which aims to minimize the chance of the nestlings being infected by disease. Once out of the shell, the chick rearing process is a very demanding task, since, among other things, they need to be hand fed fifteen times a day.

Francesca Cunninghame, CDF scientist responsible for the project said: “After three years of planning and despite many challenges, we are thrilled with the achievements in every step of the process: collection of the eggs, incubation and hand rearing in captivity. Each success is a result of the great teamwork with the SDZG and GNPD and represents a milestone for the recovery of the mangrove finch wild population. The reintroduction of the youngsters back into the wild will be our next big challenge.”

Richard Switzer, Associate Director of Animal Applied Ecology from SDZG stated: “The San Diego Zoo team is very excited to collaborate in this critically important project to prevent the extinction of the Mangrove Finch. In our breeding centers in San Diego and Hawaii, USA, we have developed techniques to raise very small insectivorous birds. Being able to share these skills for the conservation of Galapagos’ biodiversity is a wonderful opportunity.”

Among many introduced species, the main threat to the Mangrove Finch is the Philornis downsi fly. This fly lays its eggs in the nests of the finches and subsequently its larvae parasitize nestlings, feeding on their tissue and blood, and causing a high mortality rate. Due to its tiny population, and with very few youngsters that manage to grow into adults, the population is simply disappearing. In addition, because the Mangrove Finch is only found in one small location, the species faces a particular risk from natural disasters such as lava flows, fire, or disease.

The Minister of Environment, Lorena Tapia, emphasized: “It is extremely important the support of various institutions, in this case the Charles Darwin Foundation and the San Diego Zoo, as due to the geographical scale of the problems we face, joint efforts are required for the conservation of a species that is seriously affected.”

The first goal of this collaboration is to implement a “head-start” program to help Mangrove Finch chicks through the major threat of Philornis. The goal is to return the young birds back to Playa Tortuga Negra, where they will be cared for in a purpose-built acclimation aviary, before being released back into the mangrove forest and monitored by the field team.

The Mangrove Finch Project is funded by SOS – Save Our Species, the International Community Foundation (with a grant awarded by The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust), Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and Galapagos Conservancy. San Diego Zoo Global provides technical expertise and funding. Several private individuals have also contributed.

Scientists help Galapagos finches combat killer maggots: here.

Talking about the Galapagos; from the University of Rochester:

First-ever 3D image created of the structure beneath Sierra Negra volcano

The Galápagos Islands are home to some of the most active volcanoes in the world, with more than 50 eruptions in the last 200 years. Yet until recently, scientists knew far more about the history of finches, tortoises, and iguanas than of the volcanoes on which these unusual fauna had evolved.

Now research out of the University of Rochester is providing a better picture of the subterranean plumbing system that feeds the Galápagos volcanoes, as well as a major difference with another Pacific Island chain—the Hawaiian Islands. The findings have been published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth.

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Sawfish from dinosaur age discovery


This video is called How the sawfish uses its saw.

Translated from Dutch news agency ANP:

Fossil sawfish snout, a unique discovery

Thursday, December 19, 2013 11:11

In the marl quarry of ENCI in Maastricht the fossil snout, called a rostrum, of a sawfish has been found. To our knowledge this is the first discovery in the world of the rostrum of the species Ganopristis leptodon, Brabants Dagblad daily reports.

The fish lived 66 million years ago.

See also here.

Greenland ‘Grand Canyon’ discovery under ice


This video from the USA is called Greenland Rocks, for Geologists.

From Reuters:

Giant Canyon Found Entombed under Greenland Ice

A vast and previously unmapped gorge 800 meters (half a mile) deep has been found under ice in Greenland, comparable in size to parts of the Grand Canyon in the United States, scientists said.

By Environment Correspondent Alister Doyle

OSLO – A vast and previously unmapped gorge 800 meters (half a mile) deep has been found under ice in Greenland, comparable in size to parts of the Grand Canyon in the United States, scientists said.

Other studies have also revealed a rift valley entombed in Antarctica‘s ice in 2012 that scientists said may be speeding the flow of ice towards the sea, and a jagged “ghost range” of mountains buried in Antarctica in 2009 similar to the Alps.

“It’s remarkable to find something like this when many people believe the surface of the Earth is so well mapped,” lead author Jonathan Bamber, of the University of Bristol in England, said of the canyon described in Friday’s edition of the journal Science.

“On land, Google Street View has photographed just about every building in every major city,” he told Reuters of the study, using ice-penetrating radar and carried out with colleagues in Canada and Italy.

The canyon is 750 km (470 miles) long in central and north Greenland and comparable in scale to parts of the Grand Canyon that is twice as deep – 1.6 km – at its deepest, they wrote. The Greenland canyon is buried under about 2 km of ice.

About as long as the Rhone river in France and Switzerland, the ravine was probably cut by an ancient river that eroded rocks as it flowed north before temperatures cooled and ice blanketed Greenland 3.5 million years ago, they wrote.

The gorge probably still plays a role in draining some meltwater from beneath the ice sheet.

ICE FLOWS

The scientists used airborne data collected mainly by NASA and by scientists in Britain and Germany to piece together maps of the canyon. At some frequencies, ice is transparent to radio waves that bounce off the bedrock.

Bamber said the gorge would help scientists refine models of how Greenland’s ice sheet slowly flows downhill but was unlikely to affect understanding of how global warming is melting ice.

“I don’t think it’s particularly influential” in determining the rate of ice flow, echoed David Vaughan of the British Antarctic Survey. He said the canyon was so deep under the ice that it was unlikely to be affected by any warming trend for many decades.

Vaughan led a four-year international study called ice2sea, which said in May that world sea levels could rise by between 16.5 and 69 cm (6-27 inches) with moderate global warming by 2100, partly because of a thaw of Greenland and Antarctica.

He told Reuters a few blanks remain on the map, including two areas of east Antarctica that scientists jokingly dub the “Poles of Ignorance”.

(Reporting by Alister Doyle; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

Ice Age ocean life and iron


This video says about itself:

NASA | Earth Science Week: The Ocean’s Green Machines

“The Ocean’s Green Machines” is Episode 3 in the six-part series “Tides of Change”, exploring amazing NASA ocean science to celebrate Earth Science Week 2009.

One tiny marine plant makes life on Earth possible: phytoplankton. These microscopic photosynthetic drifters form the basis of the marine food web, they regulate carbon in the atmosphere, and are responsible for half of the photosynthesis that takes place on this planet. Earth’s climate is changing at an unprecedented rate, and as our home planet warms, so does the ocean. Warming waters have big consequences for phytoplankton and for the planet.

From Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the USA:

Scientists solve a 14,000-year-old ocean mystery

At the end of the last Ice Age, as the world began to warm, a swath of the North Pacific Ocean came to life. During a brief pulse of biological productivity 14,000 years ago, this stretch of the sea teemed with phytoplankton, amoeba-like foraminifera and other tiny creatures, who thrived in large numbers until the productivity ended—as mysteriously as it began—just a few hundred years later.

Researchers have hypothesized that iron sparked this surge of ocean life, but a new study led by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) scientists and colleagues at the University of Bristol (UK), the University of Bergen (Norway), Williams College and the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University suggests iron may not have played an important role after all, at least in some settings. The study, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, determines that a different mechanism—a transient “perfect storm” of nutrients and light—spurred life in the post-Ice Age Pacific. Its findings resolve conflicting ideas about the relationship between iron and biological productivity during this time period in the North Pacific—with potential implications for geo-engineering efforts to curb climate change by seeding the ocean with iron.

“A lot of people have put a lot of faith into iron—and, in fact, as a modern ocean chemist, I’ve built my career on the importance of iron—but it may not always have been as important as we think,” says WHOI Associate Scientist Phoebe Lam, a co-author of the study.

Because iron is known to cause blooms of biological activity in today’s North Pacific Ocean, researchers have assumed it played a key role in the past as well. They have hypothesized that as Ice Age glaciers began to melt and sea levels rose, they submerged the surrounding continental shelf, washing iron into the rising sea and setting off a burst of life.

Past studies using sediment cores—long cylinders drilled into the ocean floor that offer scientists a look back through time at what has accumulated there—have repeatedly found evidence of this burst, in the form of a layer of increased opal and calcium carbonate, the materials that made up phytoplankton and foraminifera shells. But no one had searched the fossil record specifically for signs that iron from the continental shelf played a part in the bloom.

Lam and an international team of colleagues revisited the sediment core data to directly test this hypothesis. They sampled GGC-37, a core taken from a site near Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, about every 5 centimeters, moving back through time to before the biological bloom began. Then they analyzed the chemical composition of their samples, measuring the relative abundance of the isotopes of the elements neodymium and strontium in the sample, which indicates which variant of iron was present. The isotope abundance ratios were a particularly important clue, because they could reveal where the iron came from—one variant pointed to iron from the ancient Loess Plateau of northern China, a frequent source of iron-rich dust in the northwest Pacific, while another suggested the younger, more volcanic continental shelf was the iron source.

What the researchers found surprised them.

“We saw the flux of iron was really high during glacial times, and that it dropped during deglaciation,” Lam says. “We didn’t see any evidence of a pulse of iron right before this productivity peak.”

The iron the researchers did find during glacial times appeared to be supplemented by a third source, possibly in the Bering Sea area, but it didn’t have a significant effect on the productivity peak. Instead, the data suggest that iron levels were declining when the peak began.

Based on the sediment record, the researchers propose a different cause for the peak: a chain of events that created ideal conditions for sea life to briefly flourish. The changing climate triggered deep mixing in the North Pacific ocean, which stirred nutrients that the tiny plankton depend on up into the sea’s surface layers, but in doing so also mixed the plankton into deep, dark waters, where light for photosynthesis was too scarce for them to thrive. Then a pulse of freshwater from melting glaciers—evidenced by a change in the amount of a certain oxygen isotope in the foraminifera shells found in the core—stopped the mixing, trapping the phytoplankton and other small creatures in a thin, bright, nutrient-rich top layer of ocean. With greater exposure to light and nutrients, and iron levels that were still relatively high, the creatures flourished.

“We think that ultimately this is what caused the productivity peak—that all these things happened all at once,” Lam says. “And it was a transient thing, because the iron continued to drop and eventually the nutrients ran out.”

The study’s findings disprove that iron caused this ancient bloom, but they also raise questions about a very modern idea. Some scientists have proposed seeding the world’s oceans with iron to trigger phytoplankton blooms that could trap some of the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide and help stall climate change. This idea, sometimes referred to as the “Iron Hypothesis,” has met with considerable controversy, but scientific evidence of its potential effectiveness to sequester carbon and its impact on ocean life has been mixed.

“This study shows how there are multiple controls on ocean phytoplankton blooms, not just iron,” says Ken Buesseler, a WHOI marine chemist who led a workshop in 2007 to discuss modern iron fertilization. “Certainly before we think about adding iron to the ocean to sequester carbon as a geoengineering tool, we should encourage studies like this of natural systems where the conditions of adding iron, or not, on longer and larger time scales have already been done for us and we can study the consequences.”

United States art, science exhibitions in 2013


From the Smithsonian Institution in the USA:

December 28, 2012

Seven Must-See Art-Meets-Science Exhibitions in 2013

Water tank

Courtesy of the Water Tank Project.

This New Year’s Eve, in addition to the typical resolutions to exercise more or spend more time with family, consider resolving to take better advantage of the cultural offerings of America’s cities and towns. Whether you seek to attend concerts, listen to lectures by authors and visiting scholars or become regulars at area museums, a few exhibitions slated for 2013 on the intersection of art and science will be must-sees in the New Year.

The Water Tank Project

Water tank 2

Courtesy of the Water Tank Project.

The skyline of New York City will be transformed next summer when 300 water tanks in the five boroughs become public works of art, calling attention to water conservation. Artists, including Jeff Koons, Ed Ruscha, Catherine Opie, Lawrence Weiner, and even Jay-Z, have agreed to participate in the project. Their original designs will be printed on vinyl, which will be wrapped around the mostly wood tanks, which typically measure 12 feet high and 13 feet in diameter, perched on top of buildings. The art will be a welcome addition to the city’s rooftops, while also providing more awareness of the global water crisis.

Teaching the Body: Artistic Anatomy in the American Academy, From Copley, Eakins, and Rimmer to Contemporary Artists

Female torso by Lisa Nilsson

Female torso, by Lisa Nilsson. Photo by John Polak.

Naomi Slipp, a PhD candidate in art history at Boston University, is organizing an ambitious exhibition of more than 80 sketches, models, prints, books, paintings and other works that tell a full story of artistic renderings of human anatomy in America. On display at the Boston University Art Gallery, from January 31 to March 31, the exhibition spans two and half centuries, from the very first anatomy text by painter John Singleton Copley, dating to 1756, to works by contemporary artists, such as Lisa Nilsson, who creates paper sculptures depicting cross sections of the human body. ”This exhibition examines both what that study of artistic anatomy meant for these artists and for the way we, today, think about our own bodies and how they work,” said Slipp, in her successful bid to raise funds for the project on Kickstarter. ”In looking at artworks created by artists and doctors, I hope to unite this diverse audience, bringing together people who are interested in art and those who are interested in medicine for a rich, shared conversation about what it means to occupy, treat and picture our own bodies.”

Portraits of Planet Ocean: The Photography of Brian Skerry

Harp seal, by Brian Skerry

Harp seal, by Brian Skerry.

“I believe my most important role remains as artistic interpreter of all that I see. I need to understand the science, but I want to capture the poetry,” writes Brian Skerry, in his book, Ocean Soul. A National Geographic wildlife photographer with decades of experience, Skerry has captured enchanting portraits of harp seals, Atlantic bluefin tuna, hammerhead sharks, beluga whales, manatees and other creatures of the deep. His line of work requires loads of equipment—underwater housings for his cameras, strobes, lenses, wetsuits, drysuits, fins—to get the perfect shot. “While no single image can capture everything, in my own work I am most pleased when I make pictures that reveal something special about a specific animal or ecosystem, pictures that give viewers a sense of the mysterious or in effect bring them into the sea with me,” says Skerry, in a dispatch on Ocean Portal. Earlier this fall, Ocean Portal asked the public to vote for a favorite among 11 of Skerry’s photographs. The viewers’ choice and other images by the underwater photographer will be on display at D.C.’s National Museum of Natural History beginning April 5.

American Vesuvius: The Aftermath of Mount St. Helens by Frank Gohlke and Emmet Gowin

American Vesuvius

Inside Mount St. Helens Crater, Base of Lava Dome on the Left (detail), by Frank Gohlke, 1983. Courtesy of The Cleveland Museum of Art.

On May 18, 1980, stirred by a 5.1 magnitude earthquake, Mount St. Helens in Washington state’s Cascade Range erupted, forever changing the landscape surrounding it. Separate from one another, American photographers Emmet Gowin and Frank Gohlke documented the devastation (and in Gohlke’s case, the gradual rebirth) of the area. The Cleveland Museum of Art is bringing the photographers’ series together, side by side, in an exhibit, on display from January 13 to May 12.

Interestingly, the museum will also play host to “The Last Days of Pompeii: Decadence, Apocalypse, Resurrection,” looking at art by masters ranging from the 18th and 19th century artists Piranesi and Ingres to more modern contributions from Duchamp, Rothko and Warhol, all inspired by the deadly eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. The exhibit will be on display from February 24 to May 19.

Gogo: Nature Transformed

Gogo, seaweed bracelet

Maine seaweed cuff, 2008. Designed by Gogo Ferguson and Hannah Sayre-Thomas. Photo by Peter Harholdt.

Gogo Ferguson and her daughter, Hannah Sayre-Thomas, live on Cumberland Island, off the coast of Georgia. Morning, noon and night, the pair walks the beach, collecting interesting skeletons, seaweed and seashells brought in by the tide. “Nature has perfected her designs over millions of years,” writes Ferguson, on her Web site. And so, the artist incorporates these organic designs into jewelry, sculptures and housewares. Her first museum exhibition, at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta from January 19 to July 7, features more than 60 works, including a six-foot by eight-foot wall sculpture modeled after seaweed from New England and an ottoman fashioned after a sea urchin.

Michael Benson

Photographer Michael Benson takes raw images collected on NASA and European Space Agency missions and enhances them digitally. The results are brilliant, colorful views of dust storms on Mars and Saturn’s rings, among other sights. The American Association for the Advancement of Science Art Gallery in Washington, D.C. will be exhibiting images from Planetfall, Benson’s latest book, as well as his other titles, including Far Out: A Space-Time Chronicle (2009) and Beyond: Visions of the Interplanetary Probes (2003), from mid-February through the end of April.

Creatures of Light: Nature’s Bioluminescence

Firefly signals captured in slow-shutter speed photos. © Tsuneaki Hiramatsu. (Right) A re-creation of New Zealand’s Waitomo cave system, with sticky “fishing lines” dropped from the ceiling by glowworms. © AMNH\D. Finnin

(Left) Firefly signals captured in slow-shutter speed photos. © Tsuneaki Hiramatsu. (Right) A re-creation of New Zealand’s Waitomo cave system, with sticky “fishing lines” dropped from the ceiling by glowworms. © AMNH\D. Finnin.

If you missed it at New York’s American Museum of Natural History this past year, there is still time to see “Creatures of Light: Nature’s Bioluminescence” at its next stop, Chicago’s Field Museum, from March 7 to September 8. The exhibition highlights the diversity of animals, from fireflies and glowworms to jellyfish and fluorescent corals found upwards of a half-mile deep in the ocean, that use bioluminescence, and the variety of different reasons for which they do. A firefly, for instance, glows to catch the attention of a mate. An anglerfish, meanwhile, attracts prey with a bioluminescent lure dangling in front of its mouth; a vampire squid releases a cloud of bioluminescence to befuddle its predators. The show also explains the chemical reaction that causes the animals to glow. “The one real weakness,” wrote the New York Times, at the opening of the exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History, “is that with only a few exceptions—like the tanks of blinking ‘splitfin flashlight fish’ found in deep reefs of the South Pacific—this is not an exhibition of specimens but of simulations.”