Science for a Blue Planet

Featuring cutting-edge work, discoveries, and challenges of our scientists, our partners, and the larger conservation science community.

Science News: Penguins, Drones, Citizen Science, and More!

New Penguin Science

We’re putting cutting-edge technology to work for conservation. In Antarctica we’ve recently been using drones, environmental sensing devices, tiny video cameras, and satellite imagery to increase the pace and scale of our conservation science. Our ultimate goal is to get a better idea of how wildlife (namely, penguins) in one of the most remote places on Earth are affected by climate so that we can understand how we can help them adapt to change ahead. In a study we published in January, we used small sensors attached to penguins to discover that the amount of light and temperature underwater are key factors that affect how much food penguins can capture. This season, we attached tiny video cameras to the penguins to see what they see underwater and to learn more about what kinds of fish and other marine life penguins are eating. In other explorations using drones, satellite imagery, and advanced math, we are collecting higher precision data on numbers of penguins and seals in Antarctica at an unprecedented scale, which will help us keep pace with the change that’s happening rapidly now.
Photo: UNAVCO engineer Keith Williams preps a drone for the flights over East Rookery, Cape Crozier. Credit: Annie Zaino, UNAVCO.

Measuring Multiple Benefits

The main problem we address with our watershed restoration work is the lack of trees and shrubs that are essential for preventing erosion, protecting water quality, and providing habitat for wildlife. We know that restoring creek areas can restore all of these benefits, and generate even more value by improving soil health and storing carbon. But can we take it a step further and quantify those benefits as we restore degraded lands? In an effort to better document the multiple benefits of watershed restoration, Point Blue scientists conducted field work in December 2018 and January 2019 to test a new method of creek monitoring that included bird, plant, and soil sampling. By collecting all of these data together, we will be able to quantify how quickly multiple aspects of the ecosystem are changing over time, how they relate to each other, and how they compare across sites. We tested this method at a few STRAW (Students and Teachers Restoring A Watershed) program sites, with the idea that it can eventually be applied to creek habitat throughout California. Stay tuned for more!
Photo: Point Blue Conservation Science principal ecologist Dr. Kristy Dybala records measurements taken by fellow ecologist Renee Cormier to determine the biomass of trees along Chileno creek, west of Petaluma. Credit: John Burgess/The Press Democrat.

Soundscapes to Landscapes

Point Blue is a proud partner in a project led by Sonoma State University professor Dr. Matthew Clark that was recently awarded a NASA-funded citizen science grant to compare bird songs recorded in the field throughout Sonoma County to habitat attributes measured from satellites in space. We’re providing expertise on data analysis and hosting the Project Coordinator. Other partners include the Center for Interdisciplinary Geospatial Analysis (CIGA) at Sonoma State University, Audubon California, Pepperwood Preserve, Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, University of California Merced, and Northern Arizona University. The project team places audio recording devices in the field for several days to measure bird diversity by capturing the sounds birds make. We then combine those recordings with habitat data collected from cutting-edge space-based sensors. The citizen scientists we recruit collect and process the recording data, while getting the opportunity to learn about birds and habitats throughout Sonoma County. This effort could set a precedent on how we use technology and citizen scientists to measure and manage ecosystem health. Visit the website to learn more about the project and find out how you can volunteer to be a citizen scientist.
Photo: A project citizen scientist recording information in the field. Credit: Rose Snyder, Project Coordinator.

News Bites

Petaluma’s Point Blue a Standout for Conservation Efforts. We were excited and honored to be profiled in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. If you missed it, please take a look here and here.

Climate Change & the Richmond Shoreline. Our staff and partners are quoted on the important role of tidal marshes in adapting to climate change in this very well-put-together article from Richmond Confidential.

Reactivating our Floodplains. Please view and share this new two-page flood management resource Point Blue and partners created to highlight and promote how key stakeholders can work together in the Sacramento Valley to provide multiple benefits, including flood protection, agricultural production, and biodiversity.

Science Events

The Role of Agricultural Lands in Protecting Nature. Thursday, March 21st. Petaluma Arts Center, Petaluma. 7-9 p.m. Join Point Blue’s Working Lands Director, Dr. Elizabeth Porzig, to learn about the important role of agricultural lands in protecting nature, with plein air paintings of our National Parks as the backdrop. More information here.
Photo: Rangeland in bloom. Credit: Ryan DiGaudio/Point Blue.


Science Up Close: Puke, Poop, and Plankton! Saturday, April 13th. Lawrence Hall of Science, Berkeley. 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Learn about the three P’s of how marine scientists study the ocean: Puke, Poop, and Plankton! More information here.
Photo: Former marine lab intern, Grace Kumaishi sharing our science with a visitor. Credit: Meredith Elliott/Point Blue.


Discover Alaska. Saturday, May 18th – Saturday, May 25th. Explore Alaska’s coastal wilderness with Point Blue scientists as guides aboard the National Geographic Sea Lion.
Photo: Kayak and sculpted ice berg, Tracy Arm Fjord. Credit: Ralph Lee Hopkins. 

Scientist Spotlight:

Drew Mealor, STRAW Restoration and Outreach Technician

Originally from Anchorage, Alaska, Drew came to Point Blue in 2014. He started as an intern with our Students and Teachers Restoring A Watershed (STRAW) program and soon became full time staff due to his passion for place-based education and strong work ethic. At Point Blue we encourage staff to spend 10% of their time innovating and testing new ideas. Drew has taken this to heart and has recently developed a new restoration method that we’re experimenting with now. We asked him what it was and what he hopes it will do for restoration:

“The new method we’re testing allows us to compare climate and soil tolerances for each plant species in a restoration planting list to site-specific historic and modeled future conditions. In simple terms, this method can be a sort of crystal ball (a very science-y crystal ball) for what plant species we should use at a restoration site now that will create robust, thriving habitat far into a changing future. It can be used to identify which species within a planting list might be most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, such as warmer temperatures or increased rainfall. As we add more habitat and resource oriented plant traits to this system, we will be better placed to manage for potential vulnerabilities. For example, if the only species providing mid-winter wildlife food is also sensitive to higher temperatures predicted to occur at the restoration site, then we might swap that species out for one that is more robust but provides a similar ecological function. This could improve our restoration success both in terms of survival over time and habitat quality, which means getting the most out of our conservation dollars.”