River & Shore
Hartford Courant, July 1, 2006 (draft)
By David Funkhouser
GROTON — The R/V Connecticut bobs in a light chop, floating midway between Mystic and Fisher’s Island. From the bridge, the dark blue waters of Long Island Sound sparkle on a sunny May morning. A fresh breeze blows, the air is clear, and everything looks just fine.
About 70 feet down, the state of the Sound is a lot murkier.
Capt. Dan Nelson shifts his glance from the view outside to the monitor of a computer that controls the 76-foot research vessel’s position and taps the keys to make an adjustment. With a throbbing hum, thrusters in the bow and stern fight a stiff current to hold us at a spot a mile west of Latimer Reef.
This is where we will hunt for Didemnum sp. A dozen students, teachers and crew have joined marine researchers Robert B. Whitlatch and Ivar G. Babb on this voyage to track down one of the most recent foreign invaders in Long Island Sound. The “sp.” stands for the generic “species,” because we are not sure exactly what beast this is, only that it is a sea squirt, of the genus Didemnum, and that its presence might be really bad news.
HOMELY CRITTERS’ BLUE BLOOD PLAYS KEY ROLE IN DRUG TESTING
Hartford Courant, July 21, 2008
By DAVID FUNKHOUSER
WESTPORT — At the west end of Southport Beach, Doug Grabe hauled a folding table and plastic buckets from his truck and set up on the sand for a couple hours of counting, measuring and tagging horseshoe crabs.
Grabe’s unwitting subjects already were starting to arrive, dozens of them crawling and nudging their way from Long Island Sound up the mouth of Sasco Creek. Their movement was timed to a new moon high tide that flooded the creek’s grassy banks and gravelly bottom and pushed the water up onto the sand.
Horseshoe crabs have been around for 300 million years – older than the dinosaurs. As cumbersome and as homely as they appear in their tank-like brown shells, their light blue blood supplies an ingredient indispensable to human health.
MICROSCOPIC SHELLS SHED BY SINGLE-CELLED CREATURES LIE DEEP WITHIN THE ESTUARY’S SEDIMENT, AND RESEARCHERS BELIEVE THEY HAVE A LOT TO TELL US ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE.
The Hartford Courant, April 22, 2007
By DAVID FUNKHOUSER
Long Island Sound generates more than $5 billion a year for the regional economy and defines Connecticut as surely as the Charter Oak. It holds some 18 trillion gallons of water and is one of the nation’s largest and most significant estuaries.
But if you want to understand how global warming is changing the Sound, start small.
On a recent morning, Wesleyan University sophomore Emily Avener was working in a narrow laboratory on the fourth floor of the Exley Science Center. She tapped the grainy contents of a vial onto a tiny black tray. Setting the tray under a microscope, she stepped aside and offered a visitor a look.
Through the lens, amid the debris, you could see intricate seashells — minuscule versions of the shells you might have picked up on a beach on a summer stroll. These are foraminifera — or rather, the tiny homes left behind by these single-celled creatures.
Avener spends several hours a week as a research assistant counting forams, as they are informally called. The layman needs a microscope just to distinguish them from grains of sand. They live at the bottom of the food chain; but the stories they can tell us about the past — and the future — challenge the mind.
Forams typically measure a millimeter or less in diameter, though the largest on record is more than half a foot. They are the principal ingredient in the limestone pyramids of Egypt.
These microscopic creatures have been around for 550 million years. Because of their abundance in ancient sediments and their sensitivity to different environments, oil companies hire paleontologists to examine forams in rock samples to help them decide where to drill. For similar reasons, forams also are useful indicators of past climate change.
And they can tell us something about changes to come.
ON CONNECTICUT’S SHORE,
A SEARCH FOR CLUES
Hartford Courant, July 22,2007 (updated May 2, 2014, see endnote)
By DAVID K. FUNKHOUSER
BRANFORD –Peter Banca looked out a window of his Stony Creek home, across his sloping lawn to the green swath of marsh named for his father, a look of surprise on his face.
“I had no idea,” he said when confronted with the prediction that the marsh would disappear in a few decades. But he knew the implications immediately.
Banca marsh has been losing 10 or more feet of its seaward edge each year to what some scientists call sudden wetland dieback — a so-far unexplained phenomenon in which marsh grasses die off, leaving mud, pocked with holes, to wash away with the tide. Even away from the edge, pockets of marsh grass are fading into barren mud sinks.
The fate of Banca marsh, and of tidal wetlands around the world, may be tied to rising sea levels and global warming in intriguing ways. The life of these simple grasses ebbs and flows to the moon’s orbital cycles, to the pressing influence of humans and perhaps even to a fungus that sails across the Atlantic Ocean on dust storms kicked up by drought in Africa.
Hartford Courant, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2007
By DAVID FUNKHOUSER
GUILFORD — Pollyanna Rock has always been a familiar foothold for Kathy Waugh, the spot she swam to as a child to test her mettle in the sea during summer days at her grandparents’ cottage on Mulberry Point.
The Long Island Sound tide rose and fell, but the black boulder never dropped completely out of sight beneath the water surface. Forty years later, she still visits the modest two-bedroom house, though her family rents it out most of the summer. And now, for about six hours a day, she can no longer see Pollyanna Rock.
This is a small measure of how a rising sea is changing the map of Guilford, as it is changing coastlines around the world. The sea has been coming up for thousands of years, following the retreat of glaciers after the last Ice Age, scientists say. But the water level is rising faster now, and scientists say that is driven by global warming.
Whatever you believe about climate change, some things are irrefutable: The sea off Connecticut’s coast rose at least 8 inches over the past century, and it is rising about a tenth of an inch per year now. And Pollyanna Rock is not the only thing that is disappearing.