2014 Calendar Filling Up!

January isn’t quite over and already HarborLAB’s 2014 season is filling up! We’re having trouble with our Google Calendar, so please keep on top of opportunities to volunteer and paddle through our Facebook events page:

https://www.facebook.com/HarborLAB/events

Students and environmental volunteers have priority seating on our public trips, but we arrange special events too. Please let us know how and when we might help your service organization extend its mission onto the water, or let’s brainstorm together! 

On many days HarborLAB will organize “Partner Paddles,” which are special events for schools, universities, researchers and artists, environmentalists, and other service groups. For example, in 2013 we had special events for the Hunter’s Point Community Middle School, CUNY Baruch College, CUNY LaGuardia Community College, Hour Children, Billion Oyster Project, NYC DEP and its upstate watershed exhibitors, and others serving the common good. To avoid confusion, these events won’t be posted on our public calendars and event lists, but we’ll post photo galleries and trip reports afterward.

HarborLAB must also devote considerable attention to improving its waterfront space and launch, and conducting environmental science research there. Energetic volunteer recruitment and fundraising for boats and materials will increase our ability to produce simultaneous programs. Exciting times ahead!

Here are a few events to get you dreaming of summer!

 

Pete Seeger, Rest in Peace.

Pete Seeger. Photo via City Atlas. (http://newyork.thecityatlas.org/)

Pete Seeger, who gave so much to peace, rests in peace. Our mourning is exceeded only by our love and gratitude.

Our hearts are with the Seeger family and friends at the Clearwater organization who carry forward his work. We will lovingly serve the Clearwater Festival again this year, on the Hudson River he did so much to clean, with a public paddling program and education table.

Pete Seeger. Photo by Anthony Pepitone via Wikimedia Commons.

Sloop Clearwater. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

East River Ice Floes and “Ice Bridges”

HarborLAB launch on the Newtown Creek from the Pulaski Bridge. Photo by Steve Scofield of the Transportation Queens Activist Committee (http://transalt.org/getinvolved/neighborhood/queens).
HarborLAB launch (beige building to the right) on the Newtown Creek from the Pulaski Bridge. The East River and its branches, like the creek, are saltier and so don’t freeze as easily, but perhaps the creek’s water treatment plant’s outflows and street runoffs are freezing? Photo by Steve Scofield of the Transportation Alternatives Queens Activist Committee (http://transalt.org/getinvolved/neighborhood/queens).

1867 etching of a flow of humanity across the frozen East River. One of eight times the strait froze over during that century. Image via Gothamist (click for link).

Ice floes on the East River are a rare sight in recent years, but the Brooklyn Bridge is a daily reminder of how extreme even relatively recent planetary climate fluctuations have been. Let’s explore how that is so, and take a fun detour into the molecular structure of water.

When scientists worry about climate change and global warming, they’re not ignoring the fact that Earth has experienced wildly different atmospheric compositions and temperatures over its 3.8 billion years as a living world. What we’re destabilizing, they worry, are the conditions that for 12,000 years have fostered the neolithic agricultural revolution and civilization itself.

Some worry that the more energy retained by the atmospheric system (global warming) through higher CO2 concentrations, the more chaotic it might become in mid-latitude coastal areas (our temperate zone) as we become a pass-through for storms that transport energy between the tropics and arctic. But just as a cold snap in one region or continent doesn’t refute the mounting evidence of global warming, it can be argued that we can’t say with certainty that storms like Hurricane Sandy are the result of warming.

That said, there are records, written and archeological, of worldwide changes that lasted years or even centuries. Might we enter another “Little Ice Age” like that of roughly 1300-1870? To get an idea of how severe winters of that period could be, several times the East River froze over. Brave souls walked over “ice bridges” from Brooklyn to Manhattan, but ferries vital to commerce were locked in place. After this happened again in the winter of 1866-67, businesses in our growing metropolis had enough and lobbied hard for a long-contemplated “Great East River Bridge” to keep commerce flowing in all weather. As it happens, the Brooklyn Bridge was completed in 1883, eight years after the East River last froze over solid. In a sense, the Brooklyn Bridge touches down on the shores of two boroughs and on the shores of two climatic ages. And we might have a Brooklyn Bridge because the Sun lacked spots!

A few things can cause the planet to cool. Some ascribe the deepest points of the Little Ice Age to the Maunder Minimum, a period sunspots and solar flares were extremely rare. Our sun is in a lull right now, but a 2012 NASA study found that recent solar inactivity hasn’t impacted our planet’s “energy budget” much.  A 2013 study by researchers with the National Center for Atmospheric Research (part of the National Science Foundation) and partners concluded that a Maunder Minimum redux wouldn’t save us from global warming.

Just as adding carbon dioxide, water vapor, and methane to the atmosphere can warm the planet, kicking up dust and soot can cool it. Volcanoes have caused global cooling, as perhaps have asteroids and comets (even beloved Halley’s Comet). Some people even advocate for “geoengineering” projects that would cool the planet, but implementation could bring their own disasters. Besides, Ocean acidification, which could collapse the planetary ecosystem, would proceed apace if we continue to burn fossil fuels, even if we dust up to cool down.

East River ice floes and Hunter's Point South. Photo by Mark Christie of Friends of Gantry and Neighborhood Parks (http://friendsofgantry.org/).

East River ice floes and Hunter’s Point South (and the ice-whitened mouth of the Newtown Creek). Photo by Mark Christie of Friends of Gantry and Neighborhood Parks (http://friendsofgantry.org/).

East River ice floes floating past Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City, Queens. Photo by Mark Christie of Friends of Gantry and Neighborhood Parks (http://friendsofgantry.org/).

East River ice floes. Photo by Steve Sanford (http://www.stevesanfordartist.com)

East River ice floes. Photo by Steve Sanford (http://www.stevesanfordartist.com)

Bald Eagles on Hudson River ice floes. Photo by David Burg of WildMetro (www.wildmetro.org).

Bald Eagles (those little black dots) on Hudson River ice floes. Photo by David Burg of WildMetro (www.wildmetro.org).

Snow covered Palisades with Hudson River ice floes. Photo by David Burg of WildMetro (www.wildmetro.org).

Snow covered Palisades with Hudson River ice floes. Photo by David Burg of WildMetro (www.wildmetro.org).

Finally, a fun thing to ponder: What if ice didn’t float?

PBS: “Our Fishy Brain”

From the PBS series, "Your Inner Fish":  While the human brain may seem exceptional, the truth is that it has some deep similarities with many other animals', including fish. Anatomist Neil Shubin dissects a fish brain and a human brain and shows us how much we have in common with sea-dwelling creatures.

From the PBS series, “Your Inner Fish”: While the human brain may seem exceptional, the truth is that it has some deep similarities with many other animals’, including fish. Anatomist Neil Shubin dissects a fish brain and a human brain and shows us how much we have in common with sea-dwelling creatures.

Much of the blueprint for the human body was sketched out underwater. This spring a new PBS series, “Your Inner Fish,” will trace human evolution from the sea to your seat. “Our Fishy Brain” is a great short video excerpt that introduces viewers to the continuity of brain structure from a shark to a human. A great resource for students.

Comparative neurology and brain structure are specializations for HarborLAB advisers Dr. Vladimir Brezina of Mt. Sinai Hospital and Dr. Sarah Durand of CUNY LaGuardia Community College. Dr. Brezina is an avid kayaker who co-writes the blog, “Wind Against Current.” Dr. Durand is leading ecosystem damage educational studies and innovative restoration efforts on the Newtown Creek. The Hunter’s Point South bank of the Newtown Creek, in southern LIC, Queens, is the home launch of HarborLAB, though our programs take place throughout the region and Catskills.

We look forward to bringing students kayaking with Dr. Brezina and canoeing with Dr. Durand this season as part of our educational mission!

How to Paddle a Tandem

HarborLAB uses the Malibu 2 XL by Ocean Kayak as the core of its fleet because these boats are stable, reasonably quick for day trips, and (like all sit-on-tops) easier to re-enter. Another huge advantage to this boat model is that it’s a tandem, which means we were able to use your donations wisely (one tandem is cheaper than two singles) and keep trips safer (fewer boats to manage, and the social pressure of shared boats reins in carelessness). But a tandem can be frustrating when poorly coordinated. Ocean Kayak posted this quick and handy video to avoid difficulties.

One small note: if you want to make a very sharp turn while maintaining momentum, it’s better to *not* turn by the method demonstrated at the end. Instead, keep in sync, but hold your paddles by a blade and middle-shaft, making very wide arcs that turn you while keeping the energy you’ve built up. Again, this method (learned from NY Kayak Co.) is meant only for sharp turns without slowing down. Ruddering or back paddling can be great tools for slowing while turning.

When you’ve progressed beyond sit-on-top kayaking, here’s a demonstration of the more advanced (and ultimately more recommended) sweep stroke:

MLK and Environmental Justice

Portrait at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library, Washington, via Chris Tank/Creative Commons (http://www.flickr.com/photos/ctankcycles/4755593685/)

If Dr. Luther King, Jr. were alive today, he would be 84. That’s ten years younger than Pete Seeger, who still champions our waterways. It’s easy to imagine a 2014 with Dr. King walking among us, his eloquence, passion, and organizational genius bending “the arc of history” toward environmental justice.

We HarborLAB volunteers are honored to partner with WE ACT and the Bronx River Alliance, which carry this work forward in Harlem and the South Bronx. We ask you today to email us (harborlab@gmail.com) with additional ideas for water access and cleanups in lower-income areas, and other means of serving the community in 2014. We offer access and programs on both New York Harbor and the Neversink Reservoir. Please make this environmental justice brainstorming part of your “day of service.”

Environmental justice is the theme of several major gatherings this Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. One such host, Yale University’s Peabody Museum, explains:

“Environmental justice is based on the principle that all members of a society have the right to clean air, water, and soil, as well as a right to live in communities where they can raise their families and send their kids out to play in healthy and nurturing natural environments. Further, it embraces the notion that no one possesses the right to degrade and destroy the environment, whether the government at all levels, private industry, or individual citizens. Finally, environmental justice includes a guarantee of equal access to relief and the possibility of meaningful community participation in the decisions of government and industry.”

A fuller declaration of the principles of environmental justice is linked here.

This is a fitting extension of Dr. King’s legacy and vital to those for whom he labored and died. It might also be the engine of environmental progress. Why might campaigns for environmental justice drive the future environmental movement as a whole? They fix gimlet eyes on greenwashing. They press on even when weary because the moral urge is visceral — humans, like other animals, are wired to hunger for justice.

We have pushed the resilience of our planet’s ecosystem so far that habitat and human health are now felled by the same blows. The American ideal is that justice should be blind, but we know that for too long, and for too many aspects of life, color matters. The faces in NYC communities plagued by asthma, obesity, polluted water, and toxic soils are far more often brown than white. Environmental justice for all, however, will be blue and green. Let’s grow it and share it.

For more thoughts on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s gifts to the environmentalism, we suggest these essays:

LIveScience: “The Environmental Movement’s Debt to MLK

Grist: “Beautiful Struggle