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Naturally Speaking Past Lectures

Naturally Speaking Series

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The Virginia Living Museum’s Naturally Speaking Lecture Series is a virtual and in-person interactive discussion that brings fascinating details about our local, regional and global ecosystems directly to you! Each lecture is hosted by the VLM Executive Director Rebecca Kleinhample and brings a different speaker into the spotlight!

Check back on this page for upcoming Naturally Speaking Lectures. Check the list below for past lectures.

A Brief History of the James River
The James River courses across Virginia from the high ridges of the Appalachians through the Piedmont and to the sea at Hampton Roads. This talk discusses the age, origin, and geological history of Virginia’s major river. The James River is a historic waterway, but we’ll look beyond human history to uncover the secrets of deep time and the paleogeography of Virginia from hundreds of million of years ago to the present.

Christopher (Chuck) Bailey is a professor of Geology at William & Mary.

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NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuaries
In 1972, the National Marine Sanctuary Act (NMSA) was passed in an effort to conserve marine areas of ecological, historical, and cultural significance. This network of sanctuaries has expanded over the last 50 years to preserve and protect over 600,000 square miles of vital aquatic environments. Join us for a conversation about the important roles national marine sanctuaries play in the ecosystem, the sanctuaries most relevant to Hampton Roads, and how they will be celebrating their 50th anniversary this year.

Mark Losavio joined the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary team in the spring of 2021.

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By Sea, Air, and Space
The North Atlantic phytoplankton bloom is one of the most conspicuous events observable from NASA’s fleet of Earth observing satellites. This annually-occurring event has far-reaching implications for ocean ecosystems, food webs, atmospheric exchange, and climate. Yet, the processes underpinning the bloom remain highly uncertain, even today. Enter the North Atlantic Aerosols and Marine Ecosystems Study, or NAAMES — a five year, NASA study to resolve fundamental characteristics of the bloom and its downstream impacts on atmospheric sea spray particles, clouds, and climate.

Join Dr. Richard Moore from NASA’s Langley Research Center, here in Hampton Roads, as he highlights the exciting scientific results now coming from this important project.

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Sexy Seahorses, Family Trees, and Biodiversity
Dr. Healy Hamilton is a biodiversity scientist focused on management and conservation of at-risk species and ecosystems. She is also a world expert on the taxonomy and evolution of seahorses and their relatives. Join Dr. Hamilton as she discusses this amazing group of fishes, those found off Virginia’s shores, and how they are used as effective ambassadors for ocean conservation.

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Conservation Paleobiology
Over 99.9% of species that have ever existed are extinct. If scientists want to understand how extinction works, they need to understand the fossil record. The newly established science of conservation paleobiology uses fossil data to help predict which organisms and ecosystems are most likely to go extinct in the future. The fossil record provides over 500 million years of information on environmental changes, including global warming, that represent natural, repeated experiments in the history of life. Dr. Rowan Lockwood will introduce you to the field of conservation paleobiology and techniques applied, including ancient DNA, biogeochemistry, and 3D digitization. Dr. Lockwood will highlight a handful of examples relating to Ice Age mammals, including Shasta ground sloths, cave bears, caribou, and wolves. She will finish with a case study focusing on her own research on Chesapeake Bay oysters, which emphasizes the importance of using fossils to establish a baseline for restoration.

Dr. Lockwood is a paleobiologist, who uses fossils to predict how modern oceans will respond to environmental changes in the future, including global warming and extinction.

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City Critters
When most people think of wildlife research, they think of studies done in rainforests, mountains, or deserts, far away from people. But did you know that research discoveries have been made in cities and neighborhoods just like yours? Dr. Ela-Sita Carpenter will talk about the history of urban wildlife research, why it’s important, and share some of her past research with birds and bats in Baltimore.

Dr. Ela-Sita Carpenter is an Urban Wildlife Biologist with US Fish and Wildlife in Baltimore, MD.

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Weather on Other Worlds
In the past two decades, we have discovered thousands of planets outside of the Solar System, many of which are nothing like our own. We can learn a great deal about the properties of these planets if we observe them when they pass in front of (transit) their host stars. During transit, a small fraction of starlight filters through the planet’s atmosphere. By precisely measuring the spectrum of this filtered starlight, we can learn about the makeup of the planet’s atmosphere. Observing planets with this technique allows us to understand the composition of their atmospheres as well as how they formed and evolved. Dr. Munazza Alam uses data from the Hubble Space Telescope to detect and characterize the atmospheres of hot, giant planets. With extremely large telescopes like the Giant Magellan Telescope coming online in the next decade, we will be able to measure the atmospheres of smaller, cooler planets in the search of Earth-like planets elsewhere in the universe.

Dr. Munazza Alam is an astronomer, National Geographic Young Explorer, and recent PhD recipient from the Department of Astronomy at Harvard University.

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Meat-Eating Dinos from S. Continents
Almost everyone knows about T. rex, but did you know that even larger and weirder carnivorous dinosaurs lived in the Southern Hemisphere continents at the same time? Come learn all about this menacing menagerie of meat-eaters from Dr. Matt Lamanna, the dinosaur paleontologist at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Dr. Lamanna and collaborators have spent the past 22 years exploring the southern continents for dinosaur fossils, discovering many new species along the way. In the process, they’ve added to our understanding of the terrifying predators that called these continents home.

Dr. Lamanna received his BS from Hobart College & MS/PhD from the University of Pennsylvania.

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Some Like It Hot!
Microbes (including bacteria, archaea, and viruses) are ubiquitous on Earth and have been found under conditions where no animal can survive. Microbes known as extremophiles, inhabit extreme environments such as geothermal hot springs with pH less than 3, hypersaline environments with a salinity as high as 35%, and environments with extremely low concentrations of nutrients. One factor that can limit life is temperature; There is currently no known microbe that can tolerate temperatures higher than 122 ˚C. Hydrothermal systems display diverse and unpredictable conditions of extremely high temperatures and acidic pH, offering a range of environments that naturally test the limits of life as we know it. Microbial communities have been found within hydrothermal fluids, microbial mats on basaltic rock and chimneys, as well as within the neutrally buoyant hydrothermal plume, with varying energetic constraints on microbial activity and abundance. Moreover, hydrothermal systems are hypothesized to be the epicenters of the origins of life, making them ideal for studying evolutionary processes. They also display extreme conditions similar to what we could find on other planets.

The environmental conditions at Brothers volcano (study site of IODP Expedition 376 Brothers Arc Flux) provided a perfect setting to test the limits and adaptations of life. Preliminary analyses of the borehole fluids revealed temperatures up to 350˚C, pH as low as 1.8, higher salinity than in the upper water column, and very low concentrations of organic nutrients. Dr. Labonté’s research uses a combination of molecular approaches and cultivation to characterize the microbial communities’ diversity and interactions in hydrothermal systems to understand the life of extremophiles.

Dr. Jessica Labonté received her B.S. and M. Sc. from Laval University, and her Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia.

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