Sunday , November 23 2014
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How Did We Get Here?

Stepping Stones
Bob McConville

Every once in a while mother nature throws us a curveball. This is a turkey vulture, but not albino. Cells responsible for the melanin pigment are absent, causing a lack of color and resulting in a condition known as “leucistic”. This photo was taken on Keewaydin Island last month. PHOTO BY JAMES LIVICCARI, MARINE BIOLOGIST

Every once in a while mother nature throws us a curveball. This is a turkey vulture, but not albino. Cells responsible for the melanin pigment are absent, causing a lack of color and resulting in a condition known as “leucistic”. This photo was taken on Keewaydin Island last month. PHOTO BY JAMES LIVICCARI, MARINE BIOLOGIST

Over the past few months I’ve had the honor to tell you about a variety of habitats and wildlife that thrive throughout our magnificent state. Florida has such a unique and varied ecosystem that supports our plants and animals, and with the exception of our northern border, we are completely surrounded by water.

Whether it be freshwater from our rivers, lakes and aquifers, or the saltwater from the gulf, bays or ocean, water seems to be the key to life here. However, it is not the only key.

Florida’s environment spans temperature zones ranging from the cooler, temperate conditions in the north to the tropical conditions in the extreme south, even though we live completely in a subtropical zone.

So what is a subtropical zone? The equator divides the earth in half laterally — equal amounts of the planet on either side and it is at 0 degrees latitude. The area sitting on either side of the equator up to 23.5 degrees latitude is the tropic zone. From that 23.5 degree line up to 35 degrees latitude is the subtropic zone, and the temperate zone lies just north of that. So, our state is influenced by both tropical and temperate conditions.

Big deal. Who cares? Go fly a kite, Mr. Writer, it’s not important. Well, Mr Reader, yes, it is. Our climate creates a respite for wildlife that migrates from both the north and the south. Some of those passers-by have adapted and made this their home. For 14,000 years humans have made this their home, having migrated south to avoid the cold. (The cold….you know what that is…it’s any area north of Gainesville during the winter.) So, this is home for many plant and animal species now, and the temperature plays a huge part. That change, that variety of seasons, dictates our surroundings. Each quarter of the year is a stepping stone to the next.

Contrary to what you might have heard, there are seasons in Florida. They may not be as extreme as other sections of the country, but they do occur. So why do we have seasons? How do they come about? I thought you’d never ask!

Let’s go back to Science 101. The sun is the center of the universe and the earth revolves around it. The sun is about 93 million miles away from us, and one full orbit takes one year. The earth travels more that 540 million miles in that year at a speed of 68,000 mph, and we don’t feel a thing! In addition to that, the earth makes a complete revolution in 24 hours. Our circumference is 25,000 miles, so we are spinning around at the equator, at a speed in excess of 1,000 miles an hour! (No wonder I feel dizzy!) Here in Florida, we spin at 940 miles per hour.

Are you ready for this? In addition to all that, the earth tilts while it is spinning and revolving around the sun. It tilts at 23.5 degrees in one full year. (Is it coincidental that the subtropic zone begins at 23.5 degrees latitude?) The spinning and revolving and the distance from the sun create the varieties of life, but the tilting creates our seasons.

In late March, we have the vernal equinox, when solar energy is equal in both hemispheres, and the autumnal equinox produces the same condition in late September. In June, Earth is tilted so that the northern hemisphere has more solar energy coming in, and this is the summer solstice, our summer. The winter solstice is in December, and our hemisphere has less solar energy causing our colder atmosphere. We won’t even talk about gravity or the moon.

I’ve got so many numbers in my head right now that I don’t know what degree to set my oven for cooking tonight! But this, dear friends, is how we got here. Just a fraction closer to the sun or further away from the sun and we won’t exist as we know us if at all. If we don’t have day and night and if we don’t have the tilt to bring our seasons, everything is very, very changed.

So how did we get here? Water, temperature, rotation, magnetic fields and so many more factors give us our current status. The comings and goings of ice ages and the clashing and dividing of continents have all brought us to here and now. Whether it be Mother Nature or Someone’s master plan, our entire planet — our very existence here — is nothing short of a miracle. One stepping stone after another has given us the proper amount of sunshine, given us dolphins and pelicans and migrating friends. It has given us food sources and shade and beaches to provide us comfort.

See the miracle, be the miracle. Take time to enjoy this life!

 

Bob is a Florida Master Naturalist and a member of The Dolphin Explorer’s 10,000 Island Dolphin Research Project. He is also a member of Florida SEE (Society for Ethical Ecotourism) and is a U of FL certified python spotter. Bob loves his wife very much!


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