Water Day – Gallery Stage

This is an event from the 2018 edition

Head to the Gallery to hear free, drop-in talks about our underwater world, how we discover and explore in the depths, and how we can try and protect it. First come, first served.

12pm–12.30pm Copycats: bloated genomes and colour pattern mimicry in neotropical catfishes

Age: 12+
Why do some South American catfishes mimic each other’s colour patterns, and why do some have eight times more DNA in their cells than others?

These and other fascinating evolutionary questions will be tackled in this talk by Dr Martin Taylor from the School of Biological Sciences at UEA.



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1pm–1.30pm Eavesdropping on the oceans – using silent autonomous submarines

Age: 12+

Silent autonomous submarines allow scientists at UEA to record the sounds of the oceans, up to 1,000 metres deep. Find out how, using these recorded soundscapes, we can learn more about the habits of whales and fishes, detect the weather conditions at the surface, and quantify human contributions to ocean noise.

UEA sea gliderUEA operates a fleet of autonomous submarines, called gliders, to observe the ocean. They rely on buoyancy changes to dive up to 1,000 metres deep and come back to the surface, using their wings and fins to glide forward in the desired direction. This technique allows the gliders to move through the water over long distances and periods without human assistance. They are equipped with various sensors, allowing environmental scientists at UEA to monitor temperature, salinity, currents, chlorophyll, and other ocean properties. Moving without emitting any sounds, and recently equipped with integrated hydrophones, gliders are uniquely suited for recording oceanic soundscapes.

Sounds are particularly well transmitted underwater, carrying information about their source and the environment they travelled in. Analysing the recorded noise, scientists can separate the various sources contributing to the soundscape and collect information about them. For example, strong winds at the surface generate sounds that can be heard as deep as 5,000 metres, which can be used to measure wind speed.

Most marine species rely on sounds to sense their surroundings, communicate, mate, locate preys or avoid predators. Listening to their sounds, scientists can detect the presence of whales and learn more about their habits, plus evaluate the activity of a fish population in an area and estimate the health of their habitat. They can also estimate how human activities such as shipping, seismic surveys, drilling and sonars contribute to the oceanic soundscape, to understand and limit their potentially harmful effects.


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2pm–2.30pm A kaleidoscope of colours, shapes and sustainable plates: Diving into cichlid fish diversity

Age: All ages

CichlidBiological diversity is crucial for keeping the planet’s ecosystems functioning well, and all kinds of organisms rely on these delicately balanced systems for their food and water. Healthy ecosystems also have a direct impact on human health and food security. By studying the way in which certain species adapt to their changing environments we can improve our understanding of biodiversity.


Tarang MehtaIn this talk, Tarang Mehta will explain how the Earlham Institute’s research, focusing on several unusual and highly-adapted fish species, can improve our knowledge of the mechanisms of evolution, biodiversity, and sustainable food production, particularly for the developing world.

Earlham Institute

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3pm–3.30pm Cleaning up oil spills with hungry bacteria and their algal allies

Age: 12+

Oil spill – image credit US Dept of Commerce

Biological scientist David Lea-Smith and his team at UEA want to clean up our oceans, and they are looking to algae and bacteria for help! In this talk, David will explain his research into algae and the hydrocarbons that they produce, which may support populations of microbes that degrade oil spills.

Hydrocarbons are widespread in our oceans, even in waters minimally polluted with crude oil. Populations of hydrocarbon-degrading bacteria, which are responsible for turnover of these compounds, are also found throughout our oceans, including in unpolluted waters. These observations suggest the existence of an unknown and widespread source of hydrocarbons in the oceans.

Biological scientist David Lea-Smith and his team at UEA have demonstrated that two of the most abundant marine blue-green algae produce these hydrocarbons. Based on global population sizes and turnover rates, they estimate that these species have the capacity to produce approximately 308–771 million tonnes of hydrocarbons annually. That’s close to the annual oil production of Saudi Arabia!

In this talk, David will outline his research and explain how bacteria can consume alkanes, which likely prevents hydrocarbons from accumulating in our oceans. He will also talk about the implications of his research for pollution caused by human activity, particularly how hydrocarbon-degrading bacteria can play an important role in degrading crude oil spills.


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Friday 19 October
Venue: The Forum, Gallery
Cost: Free, drop-in