Chapter Two

Here is chapter two from the first part of The Road to Environmental Armageddon. It’s all an early draft and subject to change. Comments would be appreciated (even negative ones if they aren’t too scathing). If you haven’t read chapter one you should be able to find a link at the bottom of this posting, or you can look for the posting in this blog (last Monday).

The Road to Environmental Armageddon

Alan Kemister

Part One: The Souring Seas

Chapter Two

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Tuesday afternoon at two, Tony met Jacinta as he returned from the departmental machine shop. His stomach growled after working through lunch.

“How does the aquarium progress?” she asked.

He showed her the prototype of the impeller casing for his non-fouling electrode. “If it tests okay, I can make a bunch.” He glanced toward the passageway behind Jacinta. “Library?”

She nodded. “The pennate diatom generating the bloom is not in my textbooks. I have been searching since nine o’clock, and I have not found it in library reference books. I do not understand.”

“Remind me, what’s a pennate diatom?”

She admonished him with a school matronly finger-wag. “Tony, you should know this. Centric diatoms are more common. They have radial symmetry and each cell is cylindrical. Pennate diatom cells are more elongated with bilateral symmetry.”

“But you find long strings of centric diatoms?”

“One does, but they are strings of diatoms. The individual cells are short cylinders. In a pennate diatom, individual cells are elongated.”

Tony glanced around, slightly chagrined, but hoping to avoid another of Jacinta’s lectures on the complexity of biological structures. Biologists would drone for hours using terms others wouldn’t understand. Time to move on. “Have you eaten?”

She shook her head without commenting.

“We could discuss the aquarium situation during lunch.”

“Are you offering to purchase my meal?”

He hesitated. Her tone was haughty, and he was always conscious of breaching unknown social barriers with his rather imperious colleague. “Should it be on you? You dragged me in from unpaid leave.”

“I cannot invite you for lunch. I have no money.”

Her family was wealthy, so why didn’t she have money? But that was her problem, not his. He bowed flourishing his right arm. “Senorita, will you please accompany me to luncheon?”

 

Tony chose a table in the Greywood Lounge, the Student Union’s pub. She looked out of place perched primly on the front of her chair and much too formally dressed in a frilly blouse and full skirt. He ordered a beer with his sandwich, but she chose coffee.

He leaned back after the waitress departed. “We worked in the same lab for eight months, and I learned nothing except your devotion to the Catholic Church.”

“I am from an old Spanish family. I finished my degree at Universidad de Sevilla before my fiancé entered the air force. Our families agreed I should go to graduate school while he performed his military duty. They decided I would come to Dalhousie and live with a cousin who is the Spanish consul provided I behave with absolute discretion. I wanted to study biology, so I accepted the restrictions.”

Her description of an archaic social structure in modern progressive Europe stunned Tony. He almost choked on his beer. “Wow, sounds medieval. Must you take a companion whenever you go out?”

She bristled. “It is not medieval, and they do not restrict my movements! You should not make such a suggestion. They treat me well, and I am pursuing a cherished goal, studying biology and perchance making an important discovery.”

Tony found her mercurial changes from friendly to haughty hard to predict, but this time he accepted responsibility. “Sorry. That was unwarranted, and I humbly apologize.” He paused, smiling sheepishly. “What did you discover?”

“I cannot find the organism that caused our bloom in any species identification books. If we prove the causative agent is an unknown organism, Dr. Krueger, you, Rosalind, and I will be famous.”

“Can’t help you with species identification.”

“I do not expect you to help me identify our organism. You must maintain the bloom and help me understand what occurred during the last few days.”

“I can try.”

She paused while the sullen waitress deposited their orders. “Samples from last Friday have unexceptional composition. By Monday, we have a huge bloom of an organism absent on Friday, and the dominant species have disappeared.”

“The computer log says everything worked fine until Sunday afternoon when the pH was 7.72. Then, the pH readings became erratic and mostly high, causing the computer to pump acid into the system.”

She looked up from her sandwich. “That suggests growth that fouled the electrodes started Sunday at pH 7.7.”

He nodded. “But why?” He chowed down on his lunch, anticipating an extended explanation.

She didn’t disappoint. “I can suggest several possibilities. The first is pH on the weekend decreased to a critical value causing an obscure species to bloom. And 7.2 did not stop the bloom. Second, a large flux of nutrients caused a bloom that fouled the electrodes, upset the system and caused the pH to drop. Third, input water for the pool brought in the mysterious organism. Conditions were perfect for it. I cannot identify other explanations.”

Jacinta expounded on the biological implications. When she paused long enough to finish her lunch, Tony glanced around the empty room. “We should return before Rosie spreads malicious gossip.”

“Let us go. Thank you for lunch.”

She waited as he helped with her chair before rising and striding from the room on the arm of her tall sandy-haired escort.

 

Wednesday morning, Tony confirmed the four non-fouling prototypes he’d installed the previous afternoon were working and submitted his drawings to a professional machine shop. Better to have the twelve assemblies fabricated in a proper shop with computer operated tools than to make them by hand.

He reprogrammed the computer and clicked start. Their aquarium with automated pH control was back in operation. It would be a less robust system, collecting data from his four prototype electrodes rather than the usual ten, but they should suffice.

With Rosie minding the aquarium, Tony hit the library to investigate potential impacts of Jacinta’s observations. He strolled home Thursday evening with a pile of information, but no obvious insights.

After confirming the success of his new electrodes Friday morning, Tony returned to the library. When Dr. Kruger returned on Monday, he would demand an increased effort to understand their new observations.

Tony relished his return to the laboratory bench. Scientists conducting research on ocean acidification and other aspects of climate change toiled in the glare of public attention to important global issues. He found working on a problem discussed in Time and the Globe and Mail exciting.

That afternoon, he had a spring in his step when he stopped at Cuppa Java, the busy coffee shop near his apartment.

 

To start at the beginning, click here,

to proceed to the next chapter, click here.

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