A few weeks ago, the kids and I were lucky enough to hear the Cousteau family speak at Beth El Synagogue as part of their Inspiring Minds Series. World-famous ocean researcher, conservationist and visionary Jacques Cousteau died in 1997, but his son Jean-Michel and his grandchildren are carrying on his legacy.
Jean-Michele was delightful, joking with his grown kids onstage even as he reminded us that there is only one water system on Earth and that we need to protect it. He worried out loud about what the future holds for our children, and told the story of walking down a beach to see a little boy return a piece of litter to an embarrassed adult with the words, “Excuse me sir, you dropped this!” His stories from the front lines of our struggling seas and polluted beaches reminded the audience that teaching conservation is most often a matter of “reaching the heart.” His PBS website “Ocean Adventures” is filled with fantastic videos and activities for kids.
Celine Cousteau, who has a background in psychology, talked about living her life at split level, with “one eye above the water, but always happy to be pulled back to the ocean.” After first visiting the Brazilian Amazon when she was nine, she has returned every year and is currently working on a project called “Tribes on the Edge,” to educate public on the struggles of the indigenous people there.
She says in one blog post, “Telling the stories of the indigenous people of the Vale do Javari is nothing short of complex- from the logistics and production, to the tribal politics, to the content. I could not have chosen a more challenging subject and location…but really, it chose me. They need to be heard and I can help make that happen. They want the world to know they exist and they matter. They don’t want to die from hepatitis, malaria, tuberculosis, or be contaminated by the invasion of oil companies or illegal activities. They want to choose their fate. Wouldn’t you?”
Fabien Cousteau talked about Mission 31, which documented Fabien and his team’s 31 day research stint in Aquarius, the world’s only underwater marine laboratory, located nine miles off the coast of the Florida Keys, and 63 feet beneath the sea. The researchers lived and worked underwater, and when they weren’t diving, they lived and worked in a space about the size of a school bus!
It was wonderful to hear stories from this adventuring family on a mission to remind us of our responsibilities as stewards of this planet (and of each other.) As a sometimes overprotective parent, it was also great to hear Celine, a mom herself, remind us to let our kids explore and go on some adventures of their own. After all, some day they’ll be the ones out saving the world.
Click here for an experiment you can do with kids to learn more about ocean acidification!
Last week, I wrote about Carbon, Bananas, Coal and You and promised to try to come up with a safe, easy way to see the carbon dioxide in your breath, so here it is! (It’s one of the experiments featured in my book Kitchen Science Lab for Kids.)
For the CO2 Breath Test, the trick is to use a very small volume of cabbage juice, since it’s not a very sensitive acid indicator.
You’ll need red cabbage, drinking straws, and very small cups (the ones you measure kids’ medicine with work well) or test tubes.
- Chop a head of red cabbage, boil it for 15 minutes, cool and collect the juice. It will be purplish in water and turns blue when exposed to a base or pink when exposed to an acid. (The molecule that gives it color can change shape to absorb light differently.)
- Pour a very small volume- a teaspoon or two (5 to 10 ml)- of the (cooled) juice into two small cups. Take a straw, put it all the way against the bottom of one cup and blow through the straw repeatedly for a few minutes until you see the cabbage juice turn noticeably pinker than the juice in the control cup. It may take several minutes to see a difference, so be patient! Test tubes are less messy since the juice can’t splatter so much.
What happens? The carbon dioxide in your breath combines with the water in the cabbage juice to form carbonic acid, causing the pH of the solution to drop and the cabbage juice to take on a pinkish hue.
Why is this interesting? About a quarter of the carbon dioxide released by activities like burning fossil fuels and burning down rainforests is absorbed by our world’s oceans. This results in the ocean water becoming more acidic, like the cabbage juice in the experiment, and can have an effect on sea life, like coral. To learn more about ocean acidification and the chemistry of ocean acidification, check out NOAA’s amazing website.
You can explore the same concept (and see why carbonated drinks are hard on your teeth) by pouring uncarbonated water into one cup of cabbage juice and carbonated water into another. If you can, choose water from the same source, so you know the only difference is the carbon dioxide that’s been added to make it fizzy! Or, you could use dry ice to add carbon dioxide bubbles to water and test it before and after you add bubbles!
What happens if you add yeast to cabbage juice and let it grow for a while?