Ecosystems provide humankind with food, fuel and fiber; they help clean the air and water, control flooding and regulate climate. Now, a group of scientists has laid out guidelines to gauge how effective we are at setting a price on such benefits of nature.
In the small town of Kolasib, we stayed in Hotel Cloud 9. I had been told since I was a child that I was always off on Cloud 9 and now I was actually here. However, the electricity wasn’t for the first few hours, so showers were cold, but the dinner was hot.
I grew up outside of Chicago and I wasn’t a Boy Scout, so sometimes I feel like I missed out on learning the type of practical—albeit rarely used—skills that would have garnered merit badges. Now that I’m nearing the conclusion of my fourth research expedition at sea, I think I have amassed a few badge-worthy tricks.
We finished our time in the Sundarbans with a silent boat ride in a tidal creek. The highlight was sets of fresh tiger footprints. We then had a long sail back to Dhaka with only one stop at a village. We then had a whirlwind tour of Old Dhaka with enough shopping to send the students back happy.
Leaving Hiron Point, we headed east through the Sundarbans to Kotka. At Kotka the students had walks through the forest seeing deer, wild boar and monkeys, while a smaller group also sampled near a set of 300 year old salt making kilns for OSL dating. We managed to finish while the tide inundated the site. We ended our day with a visit to an island that has recently emerged from the slain which the succession from bare sand to mangrove is visible.
We visited Polder 32, an embanked island in the delta that was flooded for almost two years when the embankment failed in several places during Cyclone Aila. In addition to the problem of increased subsidence due to the embankment, the area struggles for fresh water. Then we sailed to Hiron Point, a forest station in the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest. We serviced equipment we have here while our armed guards watch for tigers.
After traveling by boat for two days, including crossing the Sundarban Mangrove Forest, we finally arrived in Khulna. We drove to the site of our compaction meter and separated into teams servicing the instruments, investigating agricultural practices, measuring arsenic in the well water and taking sediment samples for dating. We had finally started our work in rural Bangladesh.
Important global ecosystems like the Amazon rainforest and Great Barrier Reef are in danger of breaking down because of a combination of local pressures and climate change, but better local management could help make these areas more resilient.
I’m writing from where L’Atalante is currently parked, 18S 170W, right in the middle of a giant, anomalously high sea surface chlorophyll patch. Such a high concentration of chlorophyll—a pigment that helps photosynthetic organisms harvest energy from sunlight, and the one that’s responsible for the green color of plants—can mean but one thing in the ocean: a phytoplankton bloom.