Professor Michael Burrows told it as it is, his career involves a lot of paddling along the sea shore. At least that’s how his family and friends see it! In reality the science he does is a lot more interesting and it’s all down to two types of barnacles. One species is Arctic Based and the other Mediterranean based. Prof Burrows studies relate to the fluctuations and relative proportions in the number of these barnacles. Fascinatingly, these fluctuations provide convincing insights on climate change and the changing ecosystems of seashores worldwide including the Great Barrier Reef.
However, before delving into his science Prof Burrows sought to explain how he became a marine biologist. His childhood in the late 60s was dominated by the Moon Mission and he thought he’d like to become an astronaut! However, in 1975 he was blown away by the movie Jaws. In particular, he was inspired by the marine biologist, Matt Hooper, played by Richard Dreyfuss. Then he had a school visit to the Millport Marine Station. Then, as they say, the rest is history!
Prof Burrows went into some depth explaining the science involved in his studies. His explanations were clear and the thrust of his case was made simple. It is now established since early industrial times the world has warmed by about 1 degree C. While this may not sound much it has a tangible impact on life on the sea shore. As the sea warms, the warm water barnacles thrive and the cold water barnacles decline. So by monitoring change over long periods it is possible to demonstrate global warming effects.
Members were given insights into the detailed measurement of temperatures and their significance. For instance, studies have shown that northern barnacles will die at temperatures of 43.6 degrees C whereas the Southern barnacles will die at 49.7 degrees C. In short, Prof Burrows explained why barnacles, and their ecosystem, are sensitive to temperature fluctuations. In addition, studies reveal that seaweed can shelter barnacles from temperature extremes and safeguard their communities. So there is more to paddling in pools than you think!
Prof Burrows then sought to explain the challenges of communicating these scientific advances to the wider world and the arcane way in which research is now evaluated internationally. It is not possible to do justice to this subject in a short blog. Suffice to say that a few members scratched their heads at the modern method of research evaluation. Relative success is measured by the number of citations other academics use in their papers of other academics’ reports. This is the way things work today – and explains why many academics now like doing joint papers to ensure getting a mention!
This was an excellent talk which held the members interest even when the science was challenging. All were impressed at the way the study of two types of barnacles demonstrated climate change and global warming. Another valuable piece of the scientific jigsaw on climate change. Our seashore walks will never be the same!