Mind-boggling: new science

There is no system more complex than the human mind. With this month’s top science picks, delve into some insightful reads that aim to shed light on just how powerful this fascinating organ can be.

Cured : the power of our immune system and the mind-body connection / Rediger, Jeffrey
“Dr Jeff Rediger, a world-leading Harvard psychiatrist, has spent the last fifteen years studying thousands of individuals from around the world, examining the stories behind extraordinary cases of recovery from terminal illness. In Cured, he explains the vital role that nutrition plays in boosting our immunity and fighting off disease, and he also outlines how stress, trauma and identity affect our physical health. In analysing the remarkable science of recovery, Dr Rediger reveals the power of our mind to heal our body and shows us the keys to good health.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Connections : a story of human feeling / Deisseroth, Karl
“Addressing some of the most timeless questions about the human condition while illuminating the roots of misunderstood disorders such as depression, psychosis, schizophrenia and sociopathy, Connections transforms the way we understand the brain, and our selves..” (Catalogue)

 

Being you : a new science of consciousness / Seth, Anil K.
“Anil Seth, one of Britain’s leading neuroscientists, charts the developments in our understanding of consciousness, revealing radical interdisciplinary breakthroughs that must transform the way we think about the self. Seth puts forward an exhilarating new theory about how we experience the world that should encourage us to view ourselves as less apart from and more a part of the rest of nature. Seth’s revolutionary framework for consciousness will turn what you thought you knew about yourself on its head.” (Adapted from Fishpond)

This is your mind on plants : opium – caffeine – mescaline / Pollan, Michael
“Of all the many things humans rely on plants for, surely the most curious is our use of them to change consciousness: to stimulate, calm, or completely alter, the qualities of our mental experience. In This Is Your Mind On Plants, Michael Pollan explores three very different drugs – opium, caffeine, and mescaline – and throws the fundamental strangeness of our thinking about them into sharp relief.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Head first : a psychiatrist’s stories of mind and body / Santhouse, Alastair
“What does it mean to be well? Is it something in our body? Or, is it rather something subjective — something of the mind? Psychiatrist Dr Alastair Santhouse draws on his experience of treating thousands of hospital patients to show how our emotions are inextricably linked to our physical wellbeing. Our minds shape the way we understand and react to symptoms that we develop, dictate the treatments we receive, and influence whether they work. Written with honesty, compassion, and a wry sense of humour, Head First examines difficult cases that illuminate some of our most puzzling and controversial medical issues. “–Publisher’s description.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

How to keep your brain young / Phelps, Kerryn
“How to Keep Your Brain Young details the fundamentals of a healthy brain, from diet and exercise to gut microbiome and mindfulness techniques, and shows us how to feel sharper, kick out the brain fog and retain mental acuity in later life. Drawing on years of clinical experience and the latest research, How to Keep Your Brain Young is the ultimate guide for happy, healthy grey matter.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Attenborough nominated for Nobel Peace Prize

Sir David Attenborough is one of the nominees for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. Attenborough has been most famous for his wildlife TV series. He also wrote many books and won numerous awards include BAFTA and Emmy awards, and he was knighted in 1985. Let’s dive through the library books into Attenborough’s world.

David Attenborough : the early years / Attenborough, David
“David Attenborough’s books and broadcasts have opened up the incredible world of natural history to millions of viewers and listeners. Specially recorded for audio, David Attenborough’s earliest adventures are sometimes life-threatening, often hilarious and always totally absorbing. Also included is David Attenborough In His Own Words, a collection of interviews taken from the BBC radio and TV archives.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

Life in the undergrowth / Attenborough, David
“This illustrated book by veteran naturalist Sir David Attenborough offers a rare glimpse into the secret life of invertebrates, “Small by virtue of their lack of backbones, this group of living things plays a surprisingly large role in the evolutionary cycle.” Life in the Undergrowth, part of his innovative series on natural history topics, looks at invertebrates the world over: their arrival on land and mastery of every habitat, and their fantastic variety of hunting and highly organized social behaviors.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

Journeys to the other side of the world : further adventures of a young naturalist / Attenborough, David
“The further adventures of a young David Attenborough – from Madagascar and New Guinea to the Pacific Islands and the Northern Territory of Australia. Following the success of the original Zoo Quest expeditions, in the late 1950s onwards the young David Attenborough embarked on further travels to encounter world’s remarkable cultures, and animals such as paradise birds, chameleons, sifakas and many more animals.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

Living planet : the web of life on earth / Attenborough, David”
“A new, fully updated narrative edition of David Attenborough’s seminal biography of our world, The Living Planet. Single species, and often whole communities adapt to extreme living conditions. These adaptations can be truly extraordinary: fish that walk or lay eggs on leaves in mid-air; snakes that fly; flightless birds that graze like deer; and bears that grow hair on the soles of their feet He also addresses the urgent issues facing our living planet: climate change, pollution and mass extinction of species.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

Drawn from paradise : the discovery, art and natural history of the birds of paradise / Attenborough, David
“‘David Attenborough’s journey through the cultural history of the most exquisite and extravagant, colourful and intriguing families of birds. David Attenborough and Errol Fuller trace the natural history of these enigmatic birds depicted in western art throughout the centuries, featuring beautiful illustrations by such luminary artists as Jacques Barraband, William Hart, John Gould, Rubens and Breughel, to name but a few. ” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

 

eLibrary spotlight: Environmental Studies in Context (Gale)

Image of a forest road with the Gale logo


Have you checked out our eLibrary resource Environmental Studies in Context? Provided by Gale, it is a database filled with curated, educational resources about the physical, social, and economic aspects of environmental issues. Their collections are made up of accurate and peer-reviewed material,  and are created by a global network of scholars and educators.

This resource contains information on 446 issues related to Environmental Studies, spanning the agriculture industry, fast fashion, climate change and more. Gale has also included an in-built note-taking function, perfect for saving key quotes and research data for later. Environmental Studies in Context is the perfect place to deep dive into a new topic of interest, and is available for free with your Wellington City Libraries card. Login and start exploring through our eLibrary here.

Photo of wind turbines For instance, have you ever heard about the concept of green technology? Gale defines green technology as “technology that conserves energy while producing few or no emissions.”. The concept encompasses many types of technology, such as solar panels and electric cars, and aims to “harness power available in nature without destroying nature in the process”.

Green technology is not just a beacon of hope in terms of living sustainably on Earth, it has also led to scientists discovering creative solutions to other world problems. For example, green technology may be able to support parts of the world where the availability and reliability of electricity is currently lacking. It has also lead to advancements in food production; in the future, farmers will hopefully be able to utilise green technology to improve their irrigation systems and reduce food waste. 

For any passionate environmentalists who would like some book recommendations, we’ve also included a booklist below. Happy researching!

Salmon: A Fish, The Earth, And The History Of A Common Fate / Kurlansky, Mark
“In his new global food history, Mark Kurlansky says if we can save the salmon, we can save the world. Centuries of our greatest assaults on nature, from overfishing to dams, from hatcheries to fish farms, from industrial pollution to the ravages of climate change, can be seen in their harrowing yet awe-inspiring life cycle.” (Catalogue)

Environment Aotearoa : a collection of essays / Cleave, Peter
“This grew out of studies and discussions on the health of localities that I had been doing on the Manawatu River and on other places around New Zealand so the series was called Environment Aotearoa… This research, this thinking on the environment has, in the main, appeared since the turn of the century. Many of the ideas involved have been around for a lot longer but there is a fair bit of new writing in this mix and it came across to me at least as fresh and refreshing.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Wild souls : freedom and flourishing in the non-human world / Marris, Emma
“From an acclaimed environmental writer, a groundbreaking and provocative new vision for our relationships with-and responsibilities toward-the planet’s wild animals […] When is it right to capture or feed wild animals for the good of their species? How do we balance the rights of introduced species with those already established within an ecosystem? (Adapted from Catalogue)

Climate Aotearoa : what’s happening & what can we do about it?
“Climate Aotearoa outlines the climate situation as it is now, and as it will be in the years to come. It describes the likely impact on the environment and on our day-to-day living situation. It suggests the changes you can make for maximum impact, what we should be asking of our government and what we should be asking of our business community. In doing so, this is a hopeful book – actions can make a difference.” — Publisher’s website.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Beloved beasts : fighting for life in an age of extinction / Nijhuis, Michelle
“A vibrant history of the modern conservation movement–told through the lives and ideas of the people who built it. In the late nineteenth century, as humans came to realize that our rapidly industrializing and globalizing societies were driving other animal species to extinction, a movement to protect and conserve them was born. In Beloved Beasts, acclaimed science journalist Michelle Nijhuis traces the movement’s history” (Adapted from Catalogue)

The great derangement : climate change and the unthinkable / Ghosh, Amitav
“Is our imagination adequate to the realities of global warming? The novelist Amitav Ghosh argues that we need art and literature to help us imagine our future in the Anthropocene, but that they are falling short of the task. If culture cannot help us see the realities of our plight, then our era, which so congratulates itself on its self-awareness, may come to be known as the time of the Great Derangement.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Living with the anthropocene : love, loss and hope in the face of environmental crisis
“Australia — and the world — is changing. On the Great Barrier Reef corals bleach white, across the inland farmers struggle with declining rainfall, birds and insects disappear from our gardens and plastic waste chokes our shores. The 2019–20 summer saw bushfires ravage the country like never before and young and old alike are rightly anxious. Human activity is transforming the places we live in and love. In this extraordinarily powerful and moving book, some of Australia’s best-known writers and thinkers — as well as ecologists, walkers, farmers, historians, ornithologists, artists and community activists — come together to reflect on what it is like to be alive during an ecological crisis.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parables for our planet: New science

Landscape image featuring three book covers from our recent picks.

Still looking for a sustainable New Years resolution? This month’s new science picks should be of interest!

From a in-depth look into our earth’s climate history in Brian Fagan’s Climate Chaos, to Mark Maslin’s handy guide book How to Save our Planet, these enthralling new non-fiction titles have got you covered. Check out these titles and more, below!

Climate chaos : lessons on survival from our ancestors / Fagan, Brian M
“Man-made climate change may have began in the last two hundred years, but humankind has witnessed many eras of climate instability. The results have not always been pretty: once-mighty civilizations felled by pestilence and glacial melt and drought. But we have one powerful advantage as we face our current crisis: history. Climate Chaos is thus a book about saving ourselves. Brian Fagan and Nadia Durrani show in remarkable detail what it was like to battle our climate over centuries, and offer us a path to a safer and healthier future” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Wild souls : freedom and flourishing in the non-human world / Marris, Emma
“Are any animals truly wild on a planet that humans have so thoroughly changed? When is it right to capture or feed wild animals for the good of their species? Transporting readers into a field with scientists tackling profound challenges, Emma Marris offers a companionable tour of the philosophical ideas that may steer our search for sustainability and justice in the non-human world. Revealing just how intertwined animal life and human life really are, Wild Souls will change the way you think about nature – and our place within it.” (Adapted from Fishpond)

The nutmeg’s curse : parables for a planet in crisis / Ghosh, Amitav
“The Nutmeg’s Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis frames climate change and the Anthropocene as the culmination of a history. Ghosh makes the case that the political dynamics of climate change today are rooted in the centuries-old geopolitical order that was constructed by Western colonialism. Ghosh also writes explicitly against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Black Lives Matter protests, and other pressing issues, framing these ongoing crises in a new way by showing how the colonialist extractive mindset is directly connected to the deep inequality we see around us today.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

How to save our planet : the facts / Maslin, Mark
“How can we save our planet and survive the 21st century? How can you argue with deniers? How can we create positive change in the midst of the climate crisis? Professor Mark Maslin has the key facts that we need to protect our future. Global awareness of climate change is growing rapidly. Science has proven that our planet and species are facing a massive environmental crisis. How to Save Our Planet is a call to action, guaranteed to equip everyone with the knowledge needed to make change. — Provided by publisher.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Saving us : a climate scientist’s case for hope and healing in a divided world / Hayhoe, Katharine
“Called “one of the nation’s most effective communicators on climate change” by The New York Times, Katharine Hayhoe knows how to navigate all sides of the conversation on our changing planet. In Saving Us, Hayhoe argues that when it comes to changing hearts and minds, facts are only one part of the equation. We need to find shared values in order to connect our unique identities to collective action. This is not another doomsday narrative about a planet on fire. Saving Us leaves us with the tools to open a dialogue with your loved ones about how we all can play a role in pushing forward for change.”–Jacket.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Wai Pasifika : indigenous ways in a changing climate / Young, David
“David Young focuses on the increasingly endangered resource of freshwater, and what so-called developed societies can learn from the Indigenous voices of the Pacific. Combining nineteenth century and Indigenous sources with a selection of modern studies and his own personal encounters, Young keeps a human face on the key issue of water. He confirms that the gift of Indigenous people to their colonisers is that they offer systematic and different concepts of being in, and experiencing, nature.” (Catalogue)

The arbornaut / Lowman, Margaret
“One of the world’s first tree-top scientists, Meg Lowman is as innovative as MacGuyver and as can-do as the Unsinkable Molly Brown. From climbing solo hundreds of feet into Australia’s rainforests to studying leaf-eaters in Scotland’s Highlands, Lowman launches us into the life and work of a field scientist and ecologist. She also offers hope, specific plans, and recommendations for action; despite devastation across the world, we can still make an immediate and lasting impact against climate change.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Footprints and Future Fossils: New Science

What will the world look like in ten thousand years―or ten million? What kinds of stories will be told about us?”

David Farrier, Footprints

Just as traces of dinosaurs and the Mesozic era remained 65 million years later, or as remnants of the Palaeolithic period persist to exist in the modern world, we too have created long-lasting imprints to be discovered by our descendants, both in the distant and not so distant future.

Plastic-ridden oceans, cities dominated by roads and remnants of our radioactive waste are just a few of the fossils we are set to leave behind, as explained by David Farrier in his latest work Footprints.

Considering these future fossils with reference to our children, grandchildren, and all those who may come after us is confronting, but it may just be the call to action we’ve all been waiting for.

Check out this title, or any of our other recent science picks below.

Footprints / Farrier, David
“A profound meditation on climate change and the Anthropocene, and an urgent search for the fossils–industrial, chemical, geological–that humans are leaving behind. Footprints invites us to think about how we will be remembered in the myths, stories, and languages of our distant descendants. Travelling from the Baltic Sea to the Great Barrier Reef, and from an ice core laboratory in Tasmania to Shanghai, David Farrier will not only alter how you think about the future, but also change how you see the world today.” (Adapted from Fishpond)

The glitter in the green : in search of hummingbirds / Dunn, Jon
“Hummingbirds are a glittering, sparkling collective of over three hundred wildly variable, colourful species. This tells the colourful story of these fabulous birds — their history, their compelling life cycles, and their perilous position in a changing landscape — and the stories of the people, past and present, whose lives have been shaped by the zealous passion hummingbirds inspire. Travelling the full length of their worldwide range, nature writer Jon Dunn embarks on a search for the most remarkable examples of their kind, exploring their rich cultural heritage, and encountering a host of human characters as colourful as the birds themselves.”(Adapted from Catalogue)

Beasts before us : the untold story of mammal origins and evolution / Panciroli, Elsa
“For most of us, the story of mammal evolution starts after the asteroid impact that killed the dinosaurs, but over the last 20 years scientists have uncovered new fossils and used new technologies that have upended this story. In Beasts Before Us, palaeontologist Elsa Panciroli charts the emergence of the mammal lineage, Synapsida. They made the world theirs long before the rise of dinosaurs. Travelling forward into the Permian and then Triassic periods, we learn how our ancient mammal ancestors evolved from large hairy beasts with accelerating metabolisms to exploit miniaturisation, which was key to unlocking the traits that define mammals as we now know them.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

On time and water / Andri Snær Magnason
“Author and activist Andri Snaer Magnason’s ‘Letter to the Future’, an extraordinary and moving eulogy for the lost Okjokull glacier, made global news and was shared by millions. Now he attempts to come to terms with the issues we all face in his new book On Time and Water. Magnason writes of the melting glaciers, the rising seas and acidity changes that haven’t been seen for 50 million years. These are changes that will affect all life on earth.” (Adapted from Fishpond)

Jungle : how tropical forests shaped the world – and us / Roberts, Patrick
“Jungle tells a deep new history of the world, arguing that tropical rainforests played an outsized and overlooked role in our lives.  Blending cutting-edge research and incisive social commentary, Jungle offers a bold vision of what the rainforests can teach us about who we are and where we come from.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

 

Islands of abandonment : life in the post-human landscape / Flyn, Cal
“This is a book about abandoned places – and what happens when nature is allowed to reclaim its place. In Chernobyl, following the nuclear disaster, only a handful of people returned to their dangerously irradiated homes. On an uninhabited Scottish island, feral cattle live entirely wild. In Detroit, once America’s fourth-largest city, entire streets of houses are falling in on themselves, looters slipping through otherwise silent neighbourhoods. This book explores the extraordinary places where humans no longer live – or survive in tiny, precarious numbers – to give us a possible glimpse of what happens when mankind’s impact on nature is forced to stop.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

A cloud a day – October 2019 science books

Sometimes we all need encouragement to look up from our lives and work, and really enjoy the natural world around us. This month, our favourite pick is a book that encourages you to do just that, and for extra enjoyment and to make you smile, is a product of the “Cloud Appreciation Society” — A Cloud a Day.

Also featured this month, a slightly older (from mid 2019) but very popular title at the moment — Invisible women : exposing data bias in a world designed for men (also available as an eBook and eAudiobook). Plus, bestselling author of The Secret Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben, lets us in on the quintessentials of his forestry knowledge and everything you need to make a woodland walk. Enjoy!

A cloud a day / Pretor-Pinney, Gavin
“The stresses of the digital world mean that it’s no more important than ever to engage with the natural world.  A Cloud A Day is a beautifully illustrated book containing 365 skies selected by the Cloud Appreciation Society. There are photographs by sky enthusiasts around the world, satellite images and photographs of clouds in space, as well as skies depicted by great artists over the centuries. The clouds are accompanied by enlightening explanations, fascinating snippets of cloud science, poetry and uplifting quotations.  The perfect dip-in-and-out book for anyone who wants to de-stress and reconnect with nature, A Cloud A Day will inspire you to open your eyes to the everyday beauty above and to spend a moment each day with your head in the clouds. ” (Catalogue)

Invisible women : exposing data bias in a world designed for men / Criado-Perez, Caroline
“Imagine a world where your phone is too big for your hand, where your doctor prescribes a drug that is wrong for your body, where in a car accident you are 47% more likely to be seriously injured, where every week the countless hours of work you do are not recognised or valued. If any of this sounds familiar, chances are that you’re a woman. Invisible Women shows us how, in a world largely built for and by men, we are systematically ignoring half the population. It exposes the gender data gap – a gap in our knowledge that is at the root of perpetual, systemic discrimination against women, and that has created a pervasive but invisible bias with a profound effect on women’s lives. From government policy and medical research, to technology, workplaces, urban planning and the media, Invisible Women reveals the biased data that excludes women.” (Catalogue)

The maths of life and death : why maths is (almost) everything / Yates, Kit
“Few of us really appreciate the full power of maths – the extent to which its influence is not only in every office and every home, but also in every courtroom and hospital ward. In this eye-opening and extraordinary book, Yates explores the true stories of life-changing events in which the application – or misapplication – of mathematics has played a critical role: patients crippled by faulty genes and entrepreneurs bankrupted by faulty algorithms; innocent victims of miscarriages of justice and the unwitting victims of software glitches. You will discover why it’s always sensible to question a statistic, often vital to ask for a second opinion and sometimes surprisingly handy to stick to the 37% rule…” (Catalogue)

Walks in the wild : a guide through the forest with Peter Wohlleben / Wohlleben, Peter
“Bestselling author of The Hidden Life of trees, Peter Wohlleben, lets you in on the quintessentials of his forestry knowledge. He invites you on an atmospheric journey of discovery. Learn to find your way around the woods without a compass or GPS, which berries and mushrooms are good to eat, how to read animal tracks and what it’s like to spend a night alone in a forest. Walks in the Wild has everything you need to make a woodland walk – be it spring, summer, autumn or winter – into a very special experience.” (Catalogue)

The selfish ape : human nature and our path to extinction / Money, Nicholas P
“Weaving together stories of science and sociology, The Selfish Ape offers a refreshing response to common fantasies about the ascent of humanity. Rather than imagining modern humans as a species with godlike powers, or Homo deus, Nicholas P. Money recasts us as Homo narcissus, paragons of self-absorption. This exhilarating story takes in an immense sweep of modern biology, leading readers from earth’s unexceptional location in the cosmos, to the story of our microbial origins, and the workings of the human body. Written in a highly accessible style, it is a perfect read for those interested in science, human history, sociology, and the environment.” (Catalogue)

2020 guide to the night sky : southern hemisphere / Dunlop, Storm
“A comprehensive handbook to the planets, stars and constellations visible from the southern hemisphere. 6 pages for each month covering January-December 2020. Diagrams drawn for the latitude of southern Australia, but including events visible from New Zealand and South Africa.” (Catalogue)

Eavesdropping Underwater: an Interview with Olivia Price!

Why do scientists eavesdrop on whales and dolphins? What can recordings of whale and dolphin sounds tell us? How do you even record the sound that these creatures make? And what’s it like to go to Antarctica?

Join us on Saturday, May 25 at Te Papa for a FREE talk by NIWA scientists Dr Giacomo Giorli and Olivia Price to hear the answers!

As part of the build-up to Eavesdropping Underwater, we interviewed Olivia Price about her role as a Marine Physics Technician for NIWA.

Can you tell us a bit about your role at NIWA?

I work within a team of physical oceanography technicians to maintain, deploy and recover science equipment that records information about our oceans’ physical properties (i.e. temperature, salinity, oxygen). These properties can tell us a lot about ocean currents and features which provide food and the right kind of conditions for marine life to thrive.

You’re a Qualified PADI Dive Master. What does that entail? How deep have you dived?

I started with a PADI Open Water course in 2014 and have been hooked ever since! A Divemaster certification allows me to act as an assistant to a Dive Instructor and has taught me rescue diving skills. My Divemaster assessment was in Milford Sound, which was the best diving I have ever done! We dived alongside sheer underwater cliffs to 38m (PADI limits are 40m) and saw a very special black coral – that underwater looks white. These corals have been building their underwater forests in Milford for 200 million years.

You were part of a recent journey to the Antarctic onboard a NIWA research vessel. Can you tell us what living on board was like in those conditions?

NIWA’s flagship vessel, the Tangaroa is a multi-purpose research vessel designed to investigate New Zealand’s marine resources and environment. Inside the accommodation, you would never know you’re in Antarctica until you look out the window. It is toasty warm and the cooks aboard are known for their epic meals. With very limited internet/phone access and not seeing another ship for six weeks, it felt like our crew were completely isolated from the rest of the world. This isolation and extreme cold conditions meant we needed to prepare for any kind of emergency- so there was plenty of survival training before we left port and plenty of drills aboard. As we steamed south, each day got longer until we were experiencing 23 hours of daylight. Even then the sun didn’t fully set, instead skimming the horizon. This meant plenty of hours for whale watching and spotting icebergs!

As well as passive acoustic moorings, the “whale listening posts”, you also use physical oceanographic moorings & an ASL echosounder. Can you tell us the difference between these, what they measure and what you hope to achieve from the data recovered?

Passive acoustic moorings (PAM) take a bit of explaining, which will be easier to convey with pictures on Saturday. The physical oceanography moorings have a set of instrumentation on them recording physical properties (i.e. temperature, oxygen and salinity) that will help give an insight into how fresh water coming off the Ross Ice Shelf is interacting with our deep oceans. On the mooring is also some current meters that measure the strength and direction of water flow. The Ross Ice Shelf is particularly important as it is the largest freshwater reserve in Antarctica!
The ASL is an acoustic sounder that measures the amount of Antarctic krill in the water by sending and listening out for sound pings. These krill are a key food source for the Adelie Penguins that live on Cape Adare.

The voyage also focused on some of the tiniest organisms in the ocean – the phytoplankton and bacteria. Can you talk about how data on these is collected, and what it is for?

These amazing little organisms are collected using a CTD Rosette which has a bunch of bottles on it that allows us to collect water samples at different water depths. Several scientists worked hard to analyse phytoplankton and bacteria community structure across the Ross Sea. Although these organisms aren’t visible to our eyes, there are ridiculous amounts of them in the ocean and they are incredibly important. Phytoplankton produce around 70% of the air we breathe, I like to call them the humble trees of the ocean!

What was your favourite wildlife memory from your journey on the Tangaroa?

It is so hard to pick one as we saw a lot of beautiful animals! A moment I will never forget is when we reached the edge of the sea ice at dusk and saw multiple groups of Adelie penguins swimming and leaping into the ice for the night. I felt like I had jumped into a David Attenborough scene.

For more insights into Olivia’s work, join us at Eavesdropping Underwater: the Sounds of Whales and Dolphins on Saturday, May 25 at Te Papa!

Eavesdropping Underwater: an Interview with Giacomo Giorli!

Why do scientists eavesdrop on whales and dolphins? What can recordings of whale and dolphin sounds tell us? How do you even record the sound that these creatures make? And what’s it like to go to Antarctica?

Join us on Saturday, May 25 at Te Papa for a FREE talk by NIWA scientists Dr Giacomo Giorli and Olivia Price to hear the answers!

As part of the build-up to Eavesdropping Underwater, we interviewed Dr Giacomo Giorli about his role as a marine mammal acoustician. Dr Giorli’s work has taken him around the world, from studying dolphins in the Ligurian Sea to investigating predator-prey relationships in the waters of Hawaii. He has continued this work at NIWA, including involvement in a pioneering underwater sound project that recently gained national headlines.

What first drew you to oceanography?

Curiosity. I grew up close to the sea, and I was just curious about it.

What makes you most excited in your current job at NIWA?

The possibility to study many species in the Southern Ocean that we know almost nothing about, and the incredible amount of technology that we have at NIWA to conduct research.

You recently discovered clicks from unknown beaked whales in the Cook Strait. What would you like to do next to follow up this research?

That work was the result of a study conducted by all the researchers that authored the paper, and not just my “discovery”. It was a collaborative work. One important thing to note is that we did not discover unknown or new species of beaked whales (as many people always think). We recorded echolocation signals from beaked whales in Cook Strait that were not previously described in literature. We know the signals are from beaked whales, but we do not know what species of beaked whales are producing them. I guess a natural follow up to this research would be to identify the species that are using these sounds.

You’ve also studied the foraging behaviours of sperm whales and other toothed whales in Hawaii. What was it like completing this research, and what were the results?

That research is far from completed. In reality what I was studying in Hawaii was just the tip of the iceberg of deep sea predator-prey studies involving deep diving toothed whales. The toothed whale species studied in that research are species that dive very deep to search for food. They can dive deeper than 1 km. Because of this, it is essentially impossible to observe their behaviour directly. One can go in the African savanna and observe predator behaviour directly. Think about cheetahs hunting. We all are familiar with videos of cheetahs chasing impalas. What I want to point out is that when you have to deal with working in the deep ocean in general, making observations is incredibly challenging. We face the problem of observing how deep sea prey drives the distribution and behaviour of their predators.

In Hawaii, I tested new acoustic technology that would allow researchers to understand how prey availability and type could influence the behaviour of the deep diving predators (toothed whales). Data indicated that sperm whales, for example, foraged more where they had chances of finding larger prey, rather than where they had chances to find more prey. It seems counter-intuitive that they would rather go in a place where there is less potential prey. It suggests that these predators are somehow picky in choosing their prey.

As well as whales, your work also involves recording sounds from creatures as tiny as marine algae. What are the similarities and differences in working at these different scales?

The research I did on algae with my colleagues in the U.S. was a laboratory experiment. We did not go to sea. Algae do not have a sound generator like vocal cords. The sound is produced by oxygen bubbles that are expelled from the algal tissue during photosynthesis. However, the signal processing techniques we used to analyse the acoustic data are pretty much the same used for cetacean bio-acoustics research.

If money wasn’t a problem, what would be your ideal research project?

I guess the ideal research project in Marine Sciences is the one that ends well without failures of instrumentations and other things that can go wrong at sea.

For more insights into Dr Giorli’s work, join us at Eavesdropping Underwater: the Sounds of Whales and Dolphins on Saturday, May 25 at Te Papa!

Ten Women Who Changed Science and other intriguing works

This month we bring amazing books in popular science. From Ten Women Who Changed Science to quantum physics, the importance of the Sun in our lives and even a book about how ancient foods feed our microbiome. Come with us in this amazing read!


Ten women who changed science, and the world / Whitlock, Catherine
Ten Women Who Changed Science tells the moving stories of the physicists, biologists, chemists, astronomers and doctors who helped to shape our world with their extraordinary breakthroughs and inventions, and outlines their remarkable achievements. (adapted from Amazon.co.uk)

Beyond weird : why everything you thought you knew about quantum physics is… different / Ball, Philip
“An exhilarating tour of the contemporary quantum landscape, Beyond Weird is a book about what quantum physics really means-and what it doesn’t.” (adapted from Catalogue)

Chasing the sun : how the science of sunlight shapes our bodies and minds / Geddes, Linda
“Our ancestors constructed vast monuments like Stonehenge and Pyramids of Egypt and Central America to keep track of the sun and celebrate the annual cycle of death and rebirth. The returning sun heralds new beginnings. This book asks us to rethink the significance of the sun in our lives and to exploit our relationship to improve our health, sleep and productivity.” (adapted from Catalogue)

The cosmic mystery tour : a high-speed journey through space & time / Mee, Nicholas
“How did the universe begin? What are gravitational waves all about? Will we find life on other planets? The Cosmic Mystery Tour is a brilliant, entertaining introduction to the discoveries of physics and astronomy. Stories, explanations, and illustrations open up the exciting frontiers of science to any beginner.” (adapted from Catalogue)

The cradle of humanity : how the changing landscape of Africa made us so smart / Maslin, Mark A.
“What drove the evolution of humans, with our uniquely big brains? The Cradle of Humanity presents fascinating and controversial new research which suggests that the geological and climatic history of East Africa’s Rift Valley are at the heart of the answer. Astronomy, geology, climate, and landscape all had a part to play in making East Africa the cradle of humanity and allowing us to dominate the planet.” (adapted from Catalogue)

Cultured : how ancient foods feed our microbiome / Courage, Katherine Harmon
“A revealing look at the 300 trillion microorganisms that keep us healthy–and the foods they need to thrive. These days, probiotic yogurt and other “gut-friendly” foods line supermarket shelves. But what’s the best way to feed our all-important microbiome–and what is a microbiome, anyway? In this engaging and eye-opening book, science journalist Katherine Harmon Courage investigates these questions, presenting a deep dive into the ancient food traditions and the latest research for maintaining a healthy gut.” (adapted from Catalogue)

Exact thinking in demented times : the Vienna Circle and the epic quest for the foundations of science / Sigmund, Karl
Exact Thinking in Demented Times is the first book to tell the often outrageous, sometimes tragic but always riveting stories of the men who shaped present-day scientific thought. A dazzling group biography, this landmark book will make clear the debt we owe to those who dared to reinvent knowledge from the ground up. — from dust jacket.” (adapted from Catalogue)

The space oracle : a guide to your stars / Hollings, Ken
“A radical retelling of our relationship with the cosmos, reinventing the history of astronomy as a new form of astrological calendar. A carefully constructed text in sixty numbered sections, The Space Oracle reinvents the history of astronomy as a new form of astrological calendar.” (adapted from Catalogue)

Brief answers to the big questions

Brief Answers book cover

The popular science section is always fun to peruse — it’s interesting to see what topics are being thought about and considered, and whose legacy is being remembered and promoted.

Below we’ve included just a few of our picks of the new popular science books over the last few months. Our absolute favourite is a collection of answers to questions Stephen Hawking was asked across his long career as a public figure and popular science communicator — Brief answers to the big questions, but there’s lots more on a range of topics, including books on the history of the periodic table, the development of thinking about the atom, and how ancient DNA has changed our understanding of human history. Enjoy!

Brief answers to the big questions / Hawking, Stephen
“Professor Hawking was a brilliant theoretical physicist, an influential author and thinker, and a great popular communicator. Throughout his career he was asked questions by business leaders, politicians, entrepreneurs, academics and the general public on a broad range of subjects, from the origins of the universe to the future of the planet. Brief answers to the big questions brings together his thinking on the most timeless and the most-timely questions in science” (Catalogue)

Who we are and how we got here : ancient DNA and the new science of the human past / Reich, David
“David Reich describes how the revolution in the ability to sequence ancient DNA has changed our understanding of the deep human past. This book tells the emerging story of our often surprising ancestry – the extraordinary ancient migrations and mixtures of populations that have made us who we are. A groundbreaking book about how ancient DNA has profoundly changed our understanding of human history. Geneticists like David Reich have made astounding advances in the field of genomics, which is proving to be as important as archeology, linguistics, and written records as a means to understand our ancestry” (Catalogue)

Caves : exploring New Zealand’s subterranean wilderness / Thomas, Marcus
“New Zealanders as a collective share a deep connection with the outdoors. Our rivers, forests, and mountains are part of our national identity but our caves are less well-known and often misunderstood. Though nearly every corner of the country has been explored and mapped, exploration beneath our land is still in its infancy. This book takes readers on a journey into New Zealand’s longest and deepest caves. In Caves: Exploring New Zealand’s Subterranean Wilderness, Marcus and Neil share their passion for caving with well-researched narrative and dramatic photos – it’s as close as you’ll get to real caving without getting your socks wet” (Catalogue)

The book of why : the new science of cause and effect / Pearl, Judea
“Correlation does not imply causation.’ This mantra was invoked by scientists for decades in order to avoid taking positions as to whether one thing caused another, such as smoking and cancer and carbon dioxide and global warming. But today, that taboo is dead. The causal revolution, sparked by world-renowned computer scientist Judea Pearl and his colleagues, has cut through a century of confusion and placed cause and effect on a firm scientific basis. Now, Pearl and science journalist Dana Mackenzie explain causal thinking to general readers for the first time, showing how it allows us to explore the world that is and the worlds that could have been” (Catalogue)

Cracking the elements / Mileham, Rebecca
“Get back to basics with Cracking the Elements, and learn all about the building blocks of life as we know it. From the earliest-known elements to those named in 2016, this book takes a comprehensive look at the development of the periodic table – and reveals untold stories, unsung pioneers and plenty of fascinating science along the way. “(Catalogue)

Atom : the building block of everything / Challoner, Jack
“Until now, popular science has relegated the atom to a supporting role in defining the different chemical elements of the periodic table. This bold new title places its subject center stage, shining the spotlight directly onto the structure and properties of this tiniest amount of anything it is possible to identify. The book covers a huge range of topics, including the development of scientific thinking about the atom” (Catalogue)