In July 2018 we spent 2 weeks in Stromness, Orkney, in a house close to the southern tip of the mainland, known as Ness Point.
We used the opportunity to see what species of seaweeds we would be able to find on the coast there.
Good advice by Mark Williams helped us choose the right times and tides for our excursions.
Also, note his points on how to harvest seaweed responsibly –
Never pull, always cut.
Take just the upper one third.
Never take rare species. Check what they are!
Spread your picking. Don’t take all from one spot.
And, let me add, take any trash and plastic you find on the beach with you, too.
We walked the rocky coast from Ness Point, by the little white lighthouse, below the golf course and up to Warbeth beach, past the Stromness cemetery.
The upper tidal zone of the rocks is largely dominated by Bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosus), and a mix of other wracks, such as Toothed Wrack (Fucus Serratus), with light green spots of Gutweed (Ulva intestinalis) strewn in.
In some places, large pools of rotting wrack produce quite a stench … and, don’t walk into those (like i did once, by accident, with sneakers on .. they smell of rotten seaweed to this day …) …. Small birds however love those nutrient pools, as they likely find insects or such there.
You will also find a lot of torn off pieces of Kelp (Laminaria digitata) and leaves of Sugar Kelp, Saccharina latissima.
Smaller patches of Osmundea pinnatifada are found on rocks from high to lower tidal zones.
It gets more diverse and interesting as you go down, where you will find Sea Spaghetti, Himanthalia elongata,
and Dulse, Palmaria palmata.
Bladderwrack, Fucus vesiculosus
Bladderwrack is known to be a valuable source of oils and ingredients for cosmetics, perfumes, and so forth. Essential oil made from this wrack retails for about $15 for a milliliter, or £15000 for a liter.
It is really good for the skin – just try pop one of these little bubbles and spread the juice on your skin!
While it does not taste bad and can absolutely be used as a somewhat salty spicy addition to salads and fried meals, it was not exactly our favorite among the seaweeds.
Gutweed, Ulva intestinalis
The worst part of Gutweed in foods is the fact that it just loves to keep sand in its fine hairy light green leaves – you will have to rinse it thoroughly and repeatedly, and again, and then some – unless you want to chew sand.
But once its rinsed, it makes a wonderful salad or, dried and fried, a crispy snack.
Kelp, Laminaria digitata
Kelp was once the center of big industry in Orkney, from the early 18th to the early 19th century.
Kelp would be collected, burned and sold as fertilizer, and source of potash and soda.
You can read more about it here: Kelp Burning in Orkney
At Ness Point, you will find a lot of kelp washed ashore, but if you look to harvest some for food, go futher down on the rocks, and cut the tips (only!) of some of the plants still sitting on the rocks.
Under the name Kombu, Kelp is a common ingredient in asian cuisines, and the leaves we found in Orkney, are of very good quality and taste.
Our favorite way of preparing them is to use dried sheets, soak them in warm water for a bit, and then use them in miso style soups, as filling for dumplings where they blend nicely with shrimps or meat, or use them as vegetables in noodle or rice dishes. Kelp also adds a nice salty taste to bread.
Sea spaghetti, Himanthalia elongata
Well, it looks like spaghetti, just greener.
You will often find it together with kelp, in the lower tidal zones, where it sits on rocks, clinging to them with its very characteristic button-shaped hold-fasts.
It looks like spaghetti, and you can eat it like spaghetti: boil it for 15 – 20 minutes, keep the water which will have turned somewhat green and quite intense in taste. Use it to season your dishes, or to boil pasta in.
We love blending sea spaghetti with pasta, adding a little cream or soya milk, making a beautiful green and white mixed dish.
We also got the advice to boil sea spaghetti in milk, but we have yet to try this.
Dulse, Palmaria palmata
Our absolute favorite, the star of all the seaweeds, vegan bacon! Dulse!
It is a bit harder to find – look out for relatively small (10, 12 inch) red-brownish leaves with very characteristic finger-shaped tips.
Again, make sure you only cut a sensible amount – never take the whole plant.
You can use these fresh or dried. The wonderful umami flavor, very close to “real” bacon is strongest when you fry fresh or dried leaves in butter.
There is an interesting new book* which looks at the way
the Viking myth was constructed in the 19th century, at a time when danish nationalists urgently needed some kind of alleged history to bolster up danish self esteem – thus, what originally was little more than a job title (Viking) had to become a race, a nation even – and of course a somewhat superior one.
There is, however, a problem with this attempt at Viking-Danish identification.
As is widely known, the birth hour of Danmark, the creation of Danmark as a nation state, is marked by the oldest written documents (stones, that is) we have about this, The Jelling Stones.
They also mark the conversion of Denmark from Norse paganism to Christianity.
The irony here is that Danmark succumbing to the foreign Christian rulers actually marked the (beginning of the) end of Northern greatness and dominance – an act of economically driven opportunism and, arguably, cowardice. The time of northern greatness was not danish, the time of northern danishness was/is not all that great.
(I remember the danish national tv’s series on danish history (“Historien om Danmark”) constantly battling with this, too – they kept talking about “danish” people and regions at a time when there was no such thing as Danmark. Even the Egtved Girl (c. 1390–1370 BC), a Nordic Bronze Age girl (and an immigrant from Germany [sic], btw) was labeled “danish”.)
So, modern danish nationalism, claiming to be firmly rooted in Christianity, and Viking pride have a really hard time walking hand in hand.
This is a friction painfully felt when right-wing nationalist Danish People’s Party politicians both try to discriminate against Muslim danes (because, we are Christians here!), write christianity into the governement programme, and at the same time try to snuggle up to Viking renaissance and Asatro (the same Asatro that was sidelined, if not killed, by the Christian conquest).
You somehow can’t have both.
Anders Lundt Hansen: Sølv, blod og kongemagt – Bag om vikingemyten. Udgivet af Gyldendal. Udkommer 28. maj.
In early April, on a visit to the Botanical Garden Copenhagen,
we noticed large patches of an Allium plant slightly resembling wild garlic (A. ursinum),
and sharing with that the distinct scent of garlic –
strong enough to be noticeable when walking the paths inbetween the patches of the plants.
It fills large parts of the garden, and at the northern entry to the garden, starts spreading out of the garden, through the fences.
It has also conquered the lake shores.
The plant’s leaves are a lot more narrow and elegant than those of A. ursinum,
and the flowers appear much earlier (early April) and more prominent.
It is Allium paradoxum, first introduced to the garden from Central Asia / Russia,
on only a small patch of land,
which has aggressively invaded large parts of the gardens,
effectively displacing many other species, like Anemona.
Allium paradoxum, the few-flowered garlic or few-flowered leek – Danish: Spøjsløg (the “funny” onion), german: Wunderlauch – is an Asian species of wild onion in the Amaryllis family.
It is native to mountainous regions of Iran, Caucasus, and Turkmenistan.
All parts of the plant are edible (and indeed very tasty and healthy, much like wild garlic – great for pesto, soups, creams).
You are not allowed to harvest plants from the Botanical Gardens, but you will find the plant other places, e.g. at Amager Fælled.
Maybe though, it could be a great idea for the Botanical Gardens, to invite the public to a big harvesting day, in order to combat the further spreading of the invader?
In our quest to make machines as intelligent as or more intelligent than humans,
the first step is to change and reduce the definition of intelligence so that it fits machines rather than humans.
A definition of intelligence is of course difficult if not impossible to agree on.
Wikipedia offers this general consense:
“one’s capacity for logic, understanding, self-awareness, learning, emotional knowledge, planning, creativity and problem solving. It can be more generally described as the ability to perceive information, and to retain it as knowledge to be applied towards adaptive behaviors within an environment or context.”
We push our definition towards the data centric, dropping aspects of intelligence such as
emotional intelligence, social intelligence, poetic intelligence, musical intelligence and, alas,
machines look very intelligent.
Not only do we change the definition of intelligence –
the project is bigger than this:
we change our human realities so that they become machine processable.
This may seem a comparatively small and exotic field of science,
however, an impressive 30+ countries from all 6 continents were represented, with approx 120 participants total.
With all keynotes and talks in one single track (a great decision by the organizers – especially for a complete newbie like me), presentations and posters were organized into eight sessions/thematic groups:
Fog Interaction with Vegetation
Fog in transportation & Miscellanea
Fog chemistry & deposition
Fog collection projects & materials
Fog modelling & Remote sensing
So, some study how fog and dew arise, how they can be predicted, modeled – be it in order to avoid negative impact on e.g. air traffic, or to identify areas of potential positive effects on flora and fauna.
Climate change and its influence is being discussed: is there a global decrease in fog? First data seem to suggest that.
Monitoring and sensing of fog and dew, often over long time periods, supplies such data.
Others look at what is contained in fog and dew, how it holds, transports and deploys pollution as well as nutrients.
My personal main interest was in two fields:,
fog/dew and its interaction with vegetation – and what we can learn from it
fog/dew collection for human benefit, or as a helping technology in supporting vegetation & agriculture
The following notes are my personal highlights rather than a representation of the whole program (find the complete one here), with far too many good talks and posters to mention them all here.
Fog/dew and its interaction with vegetation
This session was opened beautifully by Mary Neely, with a talk on FogLife: Investigating fog as the foundation of the Namib Desert ecosystem
The Namib Sand Sea, a World Heritage Site, is one of the regions that you might have heard of, if interested in ecosystems depending on (coastal) fog.
Among the Flora of this 2000 x 100 km (roughly) stretch of land,
lichens, phytoliths and shrubs all are known to be influenced by and feeding on fog.
Even animals are able to take in fog.
But while the phenomenon of interaction between fauna and fog is known,
detail studies of plants’ technics and adaptation still are in their early phases,
as Ruusa Gottlieb pointed out in her great talk, The contribution of fog to the biogeography and biology of Arthraerua leubnitziae in the central Namib Desert,
“Some of the other attributes of the plants investigated include canopy properties (leaf area per stem area), leaf foliar properties, the ability to take up foliar applied deuterium-labeled water, tissue elemental concentrations and tissue water, C and N isotopes. Elemental and isotopic composition of the soils along the transect were also measured. Arthraerua leubnitziae was found to use
fog water and nutrients therein. Further research aims at quantifying fog water
50 year old technology vs. 5 million year old technology
Moving on from Namib to the Chilean Atacama, another popular example of fog-blessed desert, Emelie Pepin gave a fascinating talk on What Plants Can Teach Us About Fog Collection .
One of her first slides contrasted human’s “50 year old technology” with plant’s “5 million year old technology” –
yes, plants are ahead of us and we have a lot to learn.
Analyzing the performance of two different Tillandsia species (T. landbeckii and T. mucronae) , their way of binding and absorbing water, she finds these to be without any human technology equivalent.
A Tillandsia can absorb 50 ml per hour and square meter, while losing less than 1/1000 of this at the same time. How they do that?
Through an elaborate 3D design including trichomes (to build large droplets of water) and one-way “valves” made of thin scales (to keep the water inside once it is collected).
The Taiwan Yellow Cypress, Chamaecyparis obtusa var. formosana) faces a challenge quite contrary to that of desert plants – it has to live in extremely humid climate with 340+ days of heavy fog per year. How does a plant breathe when constantly covered in a water film?It hides its “breathing holes” the stomata in hidden rifts, keeping them free even under constant water cover.
Water pollution however might pose a serious threat to the tree.
[Structural and functional adaptations of Taiwan yellow cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa var. formosana) to persistent leaf wetness from fog, J. Burkhardt et al.]
Surfaces optimized for water collection
For those aiming to collecting water – be it human or plant, and the water from fog or dew – obviously you need to optimize the surface that will be exposed to water or humidity. But just being hit by water is not enough.
you also need to transport the water to where it is going to be used or stored,
e.g. into the plants’ body or to a storage tank.
Daniel Beysens’ poster presentation “Improve Dew Harvest with Edges and Microgrooves”  showed how both edge effects and microgrooves may be used to optimize the growth of larger droplets, and their transport along the surface.
Cacti & biomimicry
True masters of water transportation are found among cacti.
Many species of this family are known to have elaborate spine structures that allow them to collect and lead water even against the pull of gravity: Dip one of these spines into a drop of water, and you will see how it sucks up the water.
Therefore, cacti are the subject of many studies in biomimicry – the art of learning from nature to design technology.
Impressive work was presented by Yongmei Zheng and her group at Beihang University – Bioinspired wettability surfaces to control fog-water collecting abilities  – presenting their work with e.g. spider silk, beetle back, and spines of cacti.
Their 2012 study A multi-structural and multi-functional integratedfog collection system in cactus  focuses on Opuntia microdasys and is among the most thorough and amazing examinations in this field.
A remark: Opuntia microdasys has been the subject of several studies, however the genus Opuntia has hundreds of species, and more than 100 of these show this specific kind of modified spine, the glochid, which – apart from being a nasty and painful defense, and a great way to hang on to visitors – has water collection properties. The research journey has only just begun …
And there are cacti genera that have been mentioned in ancient (100+ years old 🙂 ) studies that we have not even looked at.
Another remark: In valuable private communications with Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Barthlott, we discussed the fact that some of the plants examined here, and showing water collection capabilities, might not even be fog or dew collectors in their natural habitat.
Opuntia microdasys is not known to be a fog or dew collector, neither is Ferocactus. Yet the shapes and properties of the plant might allow for these mechanisms. They might however occur as an accidental side effect, a secondary function.
(We could discuss here whether nature and evolution makes plans at all, and if so, in what ways …)
D. Beysens’ 2015 paper “Dew harvesting efficiency of four species of cacti” compares the four cacti Copiapoa cinerea var. haseltoniana, Ferocactus wislizenii, Mammillaria columbiana subsp. yucatanensis and Parodia mammulosa. The winner here seems to be the Copiapoa – no surprise, given that the plant comes form the Atacama desert, mentioned above.
Ferocactus wislizenii’ spines are optimized for doing other things – this species is not really a dew collector.
And, by te way, how does one identify the impact of the spines versus the cactus’ whole body? Easy – you clip off all the spines!
Which leaves you with a somewhat odd-looking plant, but serves the scientific purpose.
Fog and dew collection
So what are humans doing in this field?
Fog nets are probably the most commonly known approach. To give a rough idea, such nets can collect 5 to 10 liters per square meter on a good foggy day.
Several groups reported on their work in this field.
D. Fernandez operates dozens of Fog net stations along the Californian coast, all connected to the (data-) net and reporting statistics like yield etc – Standard Fog Collector Measurements Along the Central and NorthernCalifornia Coast during the summer fog seasons from 2009-2015 .
The paper compares a number of different mesh nets, such as POSS-PEMA, MIT and the widely used Raschel nets.
German company Aqualonis contributed with a poster presenting their variation of a mesh – more expensive but also more effective and long-lived than standard nets, the presentation claims. “Gaining drinking water with fog collectors CloudFisher Pro TM and CloudFisher mini TM”.
Schunk et al. reported first measuremnets of such nets, from a deployment in Morocco [Water yield and quality of a novel fog collector for high wind speeds]. 
There were many many more in this section
Umbrellas by Chiang, H.Ch.. et al, from Taiwan – Simple solution on rain-cloud-fog water collection_a specific umbrella test in field
On the ground projects reported from Chile, Morocco, Guatemala, Spain, and Nepal (Fog Collection Projects in Nepal: 1997 to 2016, by R. Schemenauer (author of “A Proposed Standard Fog Collector for Use in High-Elevation Regions“, 1994).
Fog Collection was reflected upon also in a contribution of a very different kind:
Mist collector: Art and Science project by Ana Rewakowicz, Jean-Marc Chomaz and Camille Duprat 
Collecting dew in the desert
Moving from fog to dew, dew collection may be particularly interesting in deserts:
Deserts, receiving little or no water in the form of rain, often show
strong night-to-day temperature variations, leading to significant amounts of dew.
Thus, dew may be used especially where it might be most needed, in very arid regions, to aid (re)greening.
The principle here is quite simple:
Dew that occurs at night, in the morning, due to cooling, is collected and either used directly or stored in a reservoir, to be used when most needed. Interestingly, dew also occurs in seasons of little or no rain.
It can thus help to support pioneer plants that, once grown and stronger, may sustain themselves and help to bind water and help second generation plants.
Dew in the city
Dew collection is not limited to the desert or rural scenarios:
Simon Berkowicz took us the the city, presenting A 10-year analysis of daily dew measurements on an urban roof  and D. Beysens et al are “Observing cars to obtain quantitative dew measurements“.
A little Index – Plant names – Work in progress
Arthraerua leubnitziae – Namib – Ruusa Gootlieb, Mary Neely
Cedar – Japan – M. Igawa et al. , Katata, G. et al. – Taiwan, Laplace, S. et al.
Chamaecyparis obtusa var. Formosana – Taiwan
Copiapoa cinerea – Beysens et al.
Discocactus horstii, Barthlott et all.
Ferocactus wislizenii – Beysens et al.
Mammillaria columbiana subsp. yucatanensis – Beysens et al.
Opunti microdasys – Zheng et al.
Parodia mammulosa – Beysens et al.
A new association
At the end of the conference, the new International Fog and Dew Association (IFDA) was established.
And lastly, you can find the conference related tweets under the hashtag “ffcd2016”.
(Don’t expect too many tweets though – compared to IT or Networks conferences that i typically attend, this was not a very tweeting affair … which may be good: the focus is on natural resources, not social media.)