A history of potential events as chronicled by Steven Coburn-Griffis.

Chapter Five

Friday, March 16, 2018

Bart Butterman gave the glass of blue-green goo one final swirl and then put it down beside the fountain. He peeled off the long rubber gloves and laid them down beside the glass.

“So what’s so terrible about a cyanobacterial bloom or some other type of toxic algal bloom?” Bart Butterman asked. “Flowers bloom and they’re beautiful and smell wonderful.” He paused, tapped the side of his face with his forefinger and then said, “Well, actually, some flowers smell like rotting meat, but that’s a different story for a different day.”

On his Smartt tie, the words, “Keep to the subject, Bart!” appeared and then slowly faded. Bart Butterman looked down, smiled sheepishly and shrugged his shoulders.

“What’s dangerous about these blooms?” Bart Butterman asked. “Well, cyanobacterial blooms create toxins, poisons that can make animals, including people, sick and even kill them. Some toxins affect the nervous system, some affect respiration and some can even damage your liver.”

He looked uneasily at the fountain full of blue-green muck behind him and took a quick step away, putting just a little more distance between him and all that goo.

“Now, none of this is new information,” Bart Butterman said. “The first time anybody mentioned toxic blooms was in the magazine, Nature, way back in 1858.”

Bart Butterman took a few more steps away from the fountain, putting more and more distance between him and the blue-green gunk it held until the kids in Ms. Raczkowski’s 7th Grade Earth Sciences Class could no longer see fountain on the room’s big Smartt screen.

“So what is new?” Bart Butterman asked. “First, the blooms are happening much more frequently and in more and more bodies of water. Second, the severity of these toxic blooms is also on the rise.

They’re becoming bigger, and bigger means more dangerous. As to why this is happening.. .well, different people have different ideas.”

“Toxic blooms happen when the water is warm and there are plenty of nutrients available,” Bart Butterman said. “So some people say that climate change is partially to blame.”

On Bart Butterman’s patented Smartt tie the outline of a man wearing a business suit and carrying a briefcase appeared.

“Some people say that agriculture, farming, is responsible,” Bart Butterman continued, and as he spoke, the outline of the man in the suit seemed to speak with him. “They say that rain water carries fertilizers from farm fields into streams and rivers and the bacteria feed on those nutrients.”

The figure on Bart Butterman’s Smartt tie changed; where it once wore a suit, now it wore an opencollared shirt and a baseball cap.

“Still others say that wastewater treatment plants, those places where the sewage from communities of people are cleaned up, from towns and cities, are to blame,” Bart Butterman said and, just as with the outline of the man in the suit, the outline of the man in the ball cap on Bart Butterman’s Smartt tie seemed to say those words along with him.

And then both outlines, the outline of the man in the suit and the outline of the man in the ball cap, were on Bart Butterman’s Smartt tie at the very same time. And it looked to the students in Ms. Raczkowski’s 7th Grade Earth Sciences Class as if the outlines of the two men were yelling at each other.

Chapter Five questions

1. Bart mentioned that some flowers smell bad, like rotting meat. One group of plants, called carrion flowers, do just that to attract insects so that the insects can carry pollen from flower to flower. What are some other ways that plants and their flowers attract insects and birds? How do other plants protect themselves?

2. Harmful algal blooms, sometimes called HABs, come in all colors all over the world. In freshwater areas, like Lake Erie, we see blue-green algae. Red tide is a term often used for HABs in marine coastal areas, even though the growth of algae is unrelated to the tides. Warming temperatures, changes in the way water moves, and field run-off are thought to affect HABs. During what season are people in Ohio most likely to see HABs? How about people in Australia? China?

3. Why were the two men that appeared on Bart’s tie yelling at each other? Look through today’s newspaper and see if there are stories about people who are arguing about something. What are they arguing about? Does the article mention any ways they might settle their disagreement? Who do you agree with and why?

Chapter Five vocabulary

cyanobacterial

toxins

algal

sheepishly

nutrients

run-off

wastewater treatment

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