Tag Archives: fish

Molecule of the Week: Carbon dioxide (part 1 of many)

28 Jun
Carbon dioxide (via Wikipedia by JacekFH) carbon atom in the middle flanked by two oxygen atoms

Carbon dioxide (via Wikipedia by JacekFH) carbon atom in the middle flanked by two oxygen atoms

This small molecule is too big for a single post, so I’ll probably revisit it at different points in this blog. It’s the most oxidized form of carbon, often thought of as waste product: both of fossil fuel burning and of the energy reactions that fuel life. But it’s also an essential component of photosynthesis to generate food and natural fuel sources.

But today I’m thinking about one of the many environmental impacts of rising atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide: the acidification of the oceans.

Changing the acidity of the oceans alters a delicate balance. Science suggests that this growing acidity may be dissolving carbonate in corals and releasing metal ions that would normally be wrapped up in carbonate minerals. (See this article in Chemical & Engineering News about the disrupted chemical balance).

The ocean has always been a giant sink for carbon dioxide, water absorbs it forming carbonic acid. Cooler water absorbs more carbon dioxide, but higher concentrations in the atmosphere are the primary force in pushing more of the gas to dissolve into the water, turning the ocean more seltzer-like (in terms of pH, not fizz).

coral reef in Red Sea, copyright iStockphoto/wierdeau

coral reef in Red Sea, copyright iStockphoto/wierdeau

The effects, however, are not always what one might expect. In looking at fish earbones, called otoliths, researchers reported in Science that higher carbon dioxide levels actually made these structures larger rather than smaller. (Cornelia Dean of the New York Times wrote about it on Andy Revkin’s Dot Earth blog).

Otoliths are the tree rings of fish life-cycles. What does this mean for the fish? Not necessarily good– changes in ear bones could mangle their navigations skills.

Of course all of this science sits around the edge of the passage of the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) by the House of Representatives this week. There will be plenty of opportunities to talk more about carbon dioxide. . . . stay tuned.

Summer is (almost) here

25 May
Memorial Day weekend in NY Harbor

Memorial Day weekend in NY Harbor

Fleeting moments between spring and summer are magic in my little corner of NY harbor. Bikes and rollerblades speed by– walkers, joggers, and marathoners-in-training drink in the cool breeze laced with sweetness (honeysuckle?). And the hardy fishermen (with an occasional woman) cluster in cultural pockets, speaking Chinese, Spanish, or Brooklyn-drenched English.

big fish

big fish

At another fisherman’s pocket, we found this catch-of-the-day, still gasping for breath. The anglers didn’t understand enough English to identify it to another passerby (probably 3 feet long– a striped bass– one of those fish that you actually can eat from NY harbor, my husband noted.).

By dusk we’d moved back inland stopping for dinner in our local diner, barely making a dent in the mounds of pot roast and the Greek combo.

Long walk + leftovers = holiday weekend

Yay, chemistry, and experimental fish

19 Feb
little did I know that the American Chemical Society was founded in NYC

little did I know that the American Chemical Society was founded in NYC

On Thursday I spent a couple hours at NYU on Thursday afternoon of the Silver Building near Washington Square Park. Completely coincidentally as I was going to the meeting of the Experimental Cuisine Collective, I passed this plaque commemorating the founding of the American Chemical Society. I’d never delved that deeply into the history of the the ACS, though I’m a past member and still do some freelance editing work for them. Yay, chemistry!

This was only my second ECC meeting, and this chemist is still learning a lot about the food world. Andreas Vierstad, the Washington Post’s Gastronomer, talked a lot about the definition of molecular gastronomy. Though I’m not familiar with all the details, I do understand the importance and difficulty of “defining” a field with so many different points of view, but the semantics are a little distracting after a while. One particularly interesting point was the perspective that science in this field once it’s applied ceases to be science. It’s an interesting way to draw the line between art and science, and one of the things I like as a former chemist and amateur cook is the fact that there are fewer consequences to experimenting in my kitchen– beyond bad food.

Vierstad’s schtick is the science of everyday cooking, which he even referred to as “maverick gastronomy.” I might have to try his faux sous vide approach to cooking fish, adding boiling water to fish in a small container and letting that sit until the water cools to room temperature. The trick is in the ratios: 3 to 5 parts water to fish, by weight, depending on how “done” you like your fish. I’m a lazy cook, often too hungry by the time I get to the kitchen to get fancy, but I think I can handle this fish.