Comfort book recs


It’s funny how our minds work. The calendar moves along, announcing a new year, and suddenly there we go, hoping that magic will make things different.

How naïve we are! 

It’s February now, and 2021 seems to have taken a few pointers from 2020, continuing along those tough lines. And when things are hard, and I’m tired of the daily battle of trying to be a better sister, daughter, friend, ally, and general human being, I need to take a moment for myself, a moment to take care of myself, a moment to regenerate the energy I need to start the day anew. So, with that in mind, I realized I needed to stop going for comfort food each time world or personal angst tried to pull me under. Instead, I built myself a comfort book list.

I’ve chosen the books that are closest to my heart, those books that are like warm hugs for the soul, and I plan on reading them for 5-10 minutes on crazy days (or longer if I have the time). I’m not much of a re-reader, so it’s only 9 books long, but when looking for comfort, the familiar soothes my heart. I thought I’d share them with you, in case you didn’t know them, because even if they don’t make it to your comfort book list, they’re still too amazing for words.

Fair warning: My favourite books are fantasy books, so it’s 89 % biased in that direction. Also, links go to their Goodreads pages.

  1. The House in the Cerulean Sea by T. J. Klune – Do you like PIXAR movies? Because this book is exactly that, but in a book version. Get the feels, the joy, and the wonder while still learning how to be a better ally for those who have no voice.
  1. Alcatraz vs. The Evil Librarians (Series) by Brandon Sanderson – This book is a middle grade book but as with anything by Brandon Sanderson, be prepared to get your mind blown even if you’re not a kid. Do you like adventure, special powers, breaking of the fourth wall, and tearing down conspiracies? If the answer is yes, then this book series is for you. (There are 5 books as of this email with a last one coming in 2022, I believe. They’re all fantastic!) 
  2. The Redemption of Althalus by David and Leigh Eddings – This book is all epic fantasy, with burglars, Gods, a book, and a talking cat. The authors had me at cat! I read this book when I was 15, and it remained my favourite book of all times for 15 years. I love the way the characters fight even when facing of the unmaking of the world.
  3. Anxious People by Fredrik Backman – This is the only non-fantasy book that made it to my list. Be prepared to open your heart to this group of anxious people while trying to make sense of a crime that didn’t happen. It is fun, heart-warming, and lovely from wherever you look at it. Don’t miss out on it!

How about you? What comfort book would you recommend?

I hope we don’t have to regularly use these comfort book lists, but if we must, then I hope the books give you as much comfort as they have given me.

Till next time.


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Plan your 2021

I know that you’re getting everyone’s end of the year musings, and I will not be that different. I guess that, as with every ending, we seek to understand what happened, hoping to cherish the good and to avoid repeating the bad.

In my case, trying not to repeat BAD planning. Don’t you hate when you plan, and then everything goes awry, and you find yourself with only half of your plan fulfilled? Yes, that’s my 2020, my 2019, my 2018, and all my years all the way back to 1987.
 

So, 2020. It’s been quite a year, hasn’t it?
 

I had all my plans ready to roll out and then LIFE happened. All my new year’s resolutions and goals, all the hope and excitement of what was to come went puff. 

Everything was gone, and we were trapped between four walls, mourning loved ones, our own lives, and what didn’t happen.

The pandemic was (and still is) something that has hit me hard, and I’m still reeling from all the losses and pain, both close and far away. My chest aches for the family, friends and other people I can’t meet in person for who knows how long and from not having a clear cut solution of how to help those around me.

I’m a fixer. 

Give me a problem, and I won’t stop until I fix it, but this situation, so beyond my human capacities to fix on my own, is a wound that keeps on chaffing and re-opening.

However, in between too many zoom calls and recording classes, I did find that the forced slowing down was good to reflect about all the anxiety and stress that I have in my life. This quote from V. E. Schwab’s The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is the perfect representation of what I feel:
 

“[…] on the rare occasion he’s managed to get up before dawn, it was a thrill: to watch the day begin, to feel, at least for a little while, like he was ahead instead of behind. But then a night would go long, and a day would start late, and now he feels like there’s no time at all. Like he is always late for something.”


Always late for something.

There, that is what I keep feeling, that hamster-in-a-wheel angst pinning down my chest no matter what I do.

I make plans for what I need to do for the next part of my life and in the beginning, everything sounds and goes great. I’m making progress and feel like all is right in the world, and then life happens, all my plans get derailed, and I’m left floundering.

And when it wasn’t the pandemic, it was that new deadline from work, that house repair I couldn’t postpone or that all-consuming need to make things perfect because I’m afraid of what others might think if I show that I’m human.

How dare I be human, right?

One reason I’ve realized that I feel behind is that I make my plans as if I was the only breathing being in the world, living in a protected dome where no one or nothing will interrupt me while I’m in there.

And when life happens, and the scheduling goes awry, then of course I’m going to feel like I’m running behind. Because I am. The schedule said one thing, and I’m still nowhere near close to fulfilling it.

Part of the beauty of life is that it happens to you, and pretending that life won’t interrupt you only makes those plans crumble faster. So, having finally realized what I did wrong, I’ve devised a new system for myself (because, of course, I have to fix this situation):
 

Step 1: Let myself plan as normal, as if life won’t exist.

Step 2: Wait an entire week, open the document, and either slash the amount of work towards each goal in half (or duplicate/triplicate the time I thought it would take me).

Step 3: Repeat Step 2 as many times as needed.
 

Sounds like such a simple planning tool, right? And yet, I find it really hard. I want to do so many things in such little time!

But I’m using this newly developed technique to set myself up for 2021, which, let’s be honest, is gearing up to be another tough year. So why not be more forgiving of ourselves, expect less, and be happily surprised if we do more than we had hoped?

That’s why I’ve pushed all my book releases back so I can be realistic and make sure I deliver the best quality reader experiences I can create for you. 

How about you? What’s your planning tool? What did you learn this year?

I wish you a happy holiday season.

Thank you for sharing your year with me.


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Let’s stop pretending

I’m a very shy person (blame it in part to my perfectionist issues), even if those who know me might be surprised to hear this. So last year, as part of forcing myself out of my comfort zone and growing, I started attending an improvisation workshop.I’m not going to lie. It’s freaking hard for me, but I’ve grown so much as a person because of it. I’m lucky to have an amazing group of men and women who support me, make me laugh and share that space to grow.

I’m happy that last week, while on the show, I failed in one sketch, and for the first time in my life, I didn’t (and still don’t) hear that inner voice saying that “you should have done this, or that. You looked stupid. People are laughing at you.” Instead, all I feel is pride for having been brave enough to put myself out there. That voice is altogether silent today. I’m sure it will return on some other occasion, but for now, I’m proud. I went to a virtual online show, made a fool of myself (and the video is out there!), and had FUN!

Life, particularly lately, is being very tough on all of us. However, we’re all in this together. We all feel the same fears inside. We all hear that voice tearing us down. It may speak and berate us for different reasons as we are all living unique experiences, but we all hear it. We are afraid to mention it because everyone around us looks like they have life figured out, but that is not true. We all got very good at pretending. Let’s stop. This is me stopping.

Thank you all for joining me in this journey of growth as a person, as a writer, as a scientist.

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Take your whiteboard with you

I don’t know about you, but me, I think better on a whiteboard. There is something liberating in not having any lines or structures and in knowing that if you make a mistake, you can erase it, leaving no mark of judgement behind.

Problem was that when it was sunny outside, and I wanted to brainstorm in my backyard, taking my 120 by 60 cm whiteboard with me was out of the question. Or moving it about throughout my daily life, even! I can’t drag that big board on to the couch with me or to the kitchen! It’s fixed to my studio.

Thus, as most writers (or may I dare say ALL of them), I carried notebooks everywhere I went. Then, one day, my friends at my writing sprints were talking about this awesome notebook that was basically a small, environmentally friendly, portable whiteboard. 

It was love at first sight for me.

I had to get it, and I did. 

When my new Rocketbook Fusion arrived, the world became quiet for a moment and then resumed its normal existence, now with a plethora of whiteboard-full brainstorming opportunities wherever I go.

After you fill one, two, three, all pages, you scan them with the app, and the pdf or the png gets to your email, Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, Trello, and Evernote, among a few more. Then you wipe the page with the accompanying wiping cloth and you’re free to start again. The notebook comes with 42 pages and different templates you can use, acting as a reusable calendar, goal-setting, weekly planner, ruled (and not) notebook.

Don’t get me wrong. I love, love, love paper notebooks. I love their covers, the way they feel, the experience of filling one up with ideas, or even just having lots of them waiting for whatever new project or idea I might have. However, and that’s a big one, paper notebooks do clash with my need to lessen the waste and impact I have on the environment.

Is it perfect? Probably not. I am still buying a new object, but with all the uses I can give it, I will use much less paper, not just for my writing, but for my research note-taking, and any jotting down I need to do. As much as I’ve tried changing my thinking process into a digital one, I think best with marker and board, paper and pen. So, with this notebook’s almost unlimited uses and recyclable materials, I get the freedom to create and erase as I need from wherever I want, I can still use my best thinking process AND still be aligned with my core value of helping the environment. 

What is there not to love?


The opinion in this post is my own, not a paid ad from the manufacturers. This post does contain affiliate links.


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My aha! moment so far…

After years of living life without noticing the little daily wins, I’ve taken the time the lockdown has provided to journal the aha! moments I experience as I strive to learn to be a better writer (and person). 

I thought I’d share some of these insights as time goes, hoping to inspire you to review and share your own aha! moments. After all, we’re all humans, we all make mistakes, and we can all grow, learning from each other. 

Here is big my aha! moment of the pandemic:

Goals should be your roadmap through life, not who you are.

For years, I went through life blind to the fact that my self-worth was tied to what I could achieve and not who I was as a person. I’d assume that people loved me because of all the things I got done (getting good grades, a good job, my PhD in Biochemistry, etc.). So, instead of celebrating each success, I’d focus on my next goal, my next step. Only if I succeeded, only then, I would be worthy of love (again). I was always afraid that the love I gained with my previous success would vanish into the ether if I didn’t accomplish more. I always needed to do more.

I realized, after these months of introspection, that I had been living my life in the fear that just me, as I am, was not good enough to love. I was indeed a people pleaser. It’s not that I didn’t (or don’t) do the things I love: I write, I discover new things, I teach. But, the truth was that I didn’t do them for the right reason.

I didn’t do them for me, knowing I’d be loved with or without success.

The sad thing is that I needed a pandemic to slow down enough to think that through. 

After becoming aware of this, I’ve noticed changes in myself. I feel calmer, less anxious. I still have my ups and downs, but they are my ups and downs, not the ones of not fulfilling someone else’s imaginary expectations in order to be loved.

Now, my goals are roadmaps to where I want to go, not the reason I am loved.

What’s your own roadmap?


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Only 20 free book copies left!

Hi there!

Quick out of schedule post!

As my current novel is in the works, and it will be a little while before it becomes published, I thought I’d give the first 20 readers access to a free copy of Water Thieves.

In the year 2017, a mutant strain of bacteria, capable of surviving the full range of the seasons –including the harshest winters and fearful storms–, has polluted the freshwater of all South America, creating chaos and poverty. Twenty years later, sisters Valentina and Emma are forced to survive by stealing water, looking forward to a moment when they can make their escape to the countries in the North. One night, as the sisters infiltrate a house to steal its stash of freshwater, they find themselves involved in an unplanned adventure into the past, fighting to stop the pollution that caused their parents deaths.

You can find your copy by clicking on the button below.

I’d be very grateful if you could leave a review after you’ve read it. Every little bit of support from you helps me continue my journey.

Last, but not least, I also wanted to let you know that I am working on a fantasy short story book that hopefully will come out in March next year.


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Help! The future is coming!

I believe that, by this third post of the Mad Mud Love series, you have now realised that microbial mats are one of my passions in life. Yet, as much as I am in awe of what they did or are doing now, I am more interested in what they can do for our future.

Why am I talking about the future? Because, unless you have no internet access at all (or electricity), you already know about climate change. That means you know that this change will start to affect us. 

If you do live in a place with no internet access or electricity, I do have to ask. What kind of magic have you found to be reading my blog post? Please share it with the world. You’d make a fortune! That said, my apologies to regular readers by the interruption.

There is a whole body of scientific literature where climate change is talked about. The increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere and in the oceans will bring changes to the weather and lower the pH of ocean water (a.k.a. to be more acidic).

You may ask yourself: Will there be only hot days and no more cool days because of this global warming? No. The warming effect is not as straight forward as it sounds. It is much more complicated than that, which is what makes a lot of people doubt the reality of climate change. Also, the water is not turning into acid and won’t burn you when you go into it.

As climate change is not the specific topic of this blog post, I’ll just say that changes in the pH of the water will have a direct impact on the lives of sea life, like corals and all life that have shells. In the case of global warming, the energy levels in the atmosphere will change (are changing), making events that were considered rare, more frequent. For example, those super big storms that happened once every century will now happen more often. 

I know what you’re thinking…”But if you’re not talking about climate change, why bring it up?” Am I right?

In all honesty, I did it to get your attention? Yes, I know, cheap of me. However…

There are other problems in the environment happening now beyond climate change that need fixing. One of them is the high levels of nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen, specifically) being discharged into rivers and into the sea. These nutrients, although present in water in low concentrations, have been increasing in the environment because of different activities like over-fertilising fields, poorly managed manure pits from dairy farms, and phosphorus-based detergents, among others. The increase of these nutrients is harming our drinking water and our oceans because they allow toxic algae to grow in lakes, water reservoirs, and in the ocean. The toxins these algae produce have serious health effects not only in us but in animals. Not to mention the economical problems seeing your recreational water all green and yucky. To see an extreme effect of situations like this, check out what are known as dead zones.

What we can do about this? There are many things that we as humans can do. Off the top of my mind, I can think of three: 

  1. Change the type of detergents we use;
  2. Don’t add lawn fertiliser, unless a soil test tells you it is necessary;
  3. Ask our governments to better regulate the addition of fertilisers in the fields, etc.

Yet, even if we change our behaviours, we still have to do something about all the excess nutrients that are already in the water. Here are where microbial mats come in! 

Finally!

I know. That introduction was quite longwinded, right? Also, if you need a reminder of what microbial mats are, check my previous posts!

My colleagues and I have recently taken on the challenge of studying microbial mats and find out ways of how they can help us remove some of the phosphorus from seawater. We performed a short-term experiment and looked at what parts of microbial mats would be more useful to capture the phosphorus.

We are not the only group studying this in the world, but I thought I’d share what progress we have made so far. This was just published a couple of months ago in a prominent science journal that talks about pollution. You know, I’m so full of modesty and all.

We found out that the microbial mats are very good at removing phosphorus from water. In just 48 hours, microbial mats alone were able to absorb almost half as much phosphorus from the water than a combination of microbial mats and sand or that sand on its own. However, when we looked at the insides of the microbial mats, we found out that the living microorganisms that make them only account for approximately 25 % of the phosphorus removed from the water. That means that the organic molecules, known as EPS, and the sediment grains trapped inside the mats, are the ones that do most of the work.

Knowing this, we’re now working on trying to find out what happens in the long-term with that phosphorus. From those results (and more experiments we’ll surely need to perform), we can use what we learn to build biotechnology that may help us fix or minimise the problem.

Nutrient excess in the oceans or in any other body of water is not going away on its own. We have to do something because the future is coming, whether we are ready or not. So, what we have to think about is: what are we doing today to help?


Also, you can find the research paper here.

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Also, check out my time travelling adventure book!

In the year 2037, two sisters are forced to survive by stealing water, looking to escape to the countries in the North, where life is better. But one night, as the sisters infiltrate a house to steal its stash of freshwater, they find themselves involved in an unplanned adventure into the past, fighting to stop the pollution that ultimately caused their parents’ deaths.

You can get a copy of the book following this link.

Redefining success

About two months ago, I participated in a course in Acumen Academy called The Path of Moral Leadership. In this course, I learned many concepts that should have felt like common sense. However, in the daily struggle of life, those ideas get lost under our need to pay our bills, to take care of our relationships, and under the unexpected events that show up in our lives.

Of all the concepts we talked about in the course, there is one that has been helping me get myself out of the rut of inactivity and dispair. Jacqueline Novogratz in her new book Manifesto for a Moral Revolution: Practices to Build a Better World talks about the concept of Redefining Success and asks the participants in the course to write a letter to yourself.

This letter is becoming my salvation in the days where the sun doesn’t bring warmth and the dark threatens to make it look like there is no point in trying. I thought I would share the letter with you, hoping that it will help you think what is your definition of success. Have you ever stopped to think about it?


Dear me,

I am aware that your current definition of success is about writing more to earn more. Let’s be honest here. The scientific papers, although something you are passionate about, help you hold onto your job as a scientist. And, despite your love of writing fiction, you still think about how much it would help you to earn money from that side activity. However, I know that, deep down, you don’t care about becoming a millionaire or famous. I know your end goal isn’t the money itself but to earn enough so that you feel secure in the ever-changing scary economy of your country. There is no shame in wanting that. Isn’t wanting to have security one of our basic human needs?

I also know you care about helping other people change the story they tell themselves, that you hope you can achieve that through your books and short stories. I know you care about the future of your world, that by studying it and spreading the knowledge, you hope that people understand the importance of taking care of our home. I know you care about your students, because you want them to develop the skills they need to succeed in the world. That is your true meaning. So, stop falling into the trap that success is money, fame, or just having all your projects completed in less than a month.

Success is the light coming into your students’ eyes when they’ve finally understand that concept they were having a hard time grasping. Success is knowing you helped them realize that if they could do this one difficult task, then maybe they can conquer other complex situations, if they just give it a try. Success is having a girl dare to do more, because she was inspired by your actions, your stories, or both.

Staying true to your meaning will help you be proud of yourself, always. And even if some days life interrupts, and you can’t finish that story or send that paper in a day, or two, or ten, you are still making change.

Change happens when you write just one more paragraph in your latest scientific paper or book, each time you run an experiment, each time you teach a student, and each time you lead by example. Even if you try all those things and you still fail, learning from that mistake, getting up, and trying again means that you’re still being successful. Don’t give up on your meaning.

Life will lead you to unexpected places if you let yourself experience what it has to offer, but always remember, you are here to learn to be better – not perfect – and to help others through your chosen task of storytelling. The medium may change, but the meaning remains at its core.

Trust that you will have to work hard, even on the days when you feel like staying in bed, but at the end of your days, you’ll have succeeded just because you kept trying. Forgive yourself, then, the days when progress seems to stop. Inside of you, your brain is still processing, still trying to figure things out. Perhaps physically you can’t see it, but you’re still breaking ground. The speed may be less than a snail’s, but sometimes that is stronger than an explosion.

Your rewards will come, sooner or later. They’ll come in the form of a student finding joy, in a neighbour daring to try something new, in your community starting to take action to make the world better.

Life is not a race. This is a journey to be savoured, both on the good and bad days. Savour life, work and play. And keep trying. You’ll be surprised at the end.

Remember, I love you, especially for your defects. They make you unique, as much as your virtues do.

Love,

You

“No matter who you are, the world offers you a thousand opportunities for deeper success. Daily, you might encounter moments to teach the person in front of you as if she herself could change the world, to listen with the reverence that expands the soul of another, to help someone who cannot help himself. At the end of your life, I hope the world says that you cared, that you showed up with your whole self, and that you couldn’t have tried harder. I hope they say you helped those who had been left out; that you renewed yourself, living with a sense of curiosity and wonder; learning, changing, and growing till you took your last breath.

In the meantime, we’ve got a world to change.”

— Excerpt from Manifesto for a Moral Revolution by Jacqueline Novogratz

Note: This post has affiliated links.

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A Small Effort on Their Part…

This new instalment of my Mad Mud Love series is not about the butterfly effect. But, when I first thought about how to approach this post, I kept coming back to the idea that such a tiny creature could have such a devastating effect. Microbial mats may not cause tornados, but they do have a profound effect on the places where they live. One of the changes that this complex combination of microorganisms and sediment produce is that they may be strong enough to change the way water behaves in certain places. By doing that, they can change the characteristics of those places.

Sometimes, when we arrived at Paso Seco, Argentina, we saw that on the edges of small ponds of leftover seawater, there were small crystals of different minerals: gypsum, calcite, and halite (or rock salt, or in its most processed form, table salt).

Following the links above, you’ll find professional photos of the pure minerals. Below, I’ll show you what we find in the field. Not so pretty, but it’s a start, right?

When considering only the climate of the area and the overall physical characteristics of the field site, we shouldn’t have been able to find these minerals on the surface. The texture of the soil was not impermeable as it was rich enough in sand, so seawater that came in after storms should have been able to percolate through it. However, the water didn’t. Well, some of it did, but a lot of the water stayed on the flat for several days. So, we spent some time scratching our heads over how come sometimes we would find these crystals, and sometimes we wouldn’t.

We realized that the crystals would form because the stagnant seawater would evaporate thanks to the very windy, semi-desert climate that we have there. As this water is very rich in the necessary ions to form the crystals, all the materials were there to generate the crystal. However, we still couldn’t understand why the water remained.

That’s when our interest in microbial mats paid off. We started to pay attention to the behaviour of the water in the places where there were microbial mats and where there weren’t.

As you may have noticed when you walk at the beach, sand doesn’t have much of an issue with water and lets it flow pretty fast between its grains. However, in the places where the microbial mats were present, we noticed that the speed at which water flowed was sluggish, almost as if the ground was made of clay. We obtained measurements and realized that the microbial mats were the ones that were giving the water enough time on the ground to evaporate and leave the crystals behind. But how did the microbial mats do that?

Why are you asking me? Aren’t you supposed to be the one that’s telling me how this stuff works?

Remember from the previous post in this series that these microorganisms secrete (that is to say, they produce and discharge to the outside) molecules of organic nature (known as EPS)? Well, these substances can act similarly to a spider web.

You mean that this EPS thing is sticky and it catches flies?

Well, not flies, at least not that I know of. But, the EPS is sticky and, as you can see in the electronic microscope picture below, it even looks similar to a web or net.

Notice the bacteria and algae (coloured green and yellow, respectively) that produce the EPS, and how the web-like EPS (pointed at by the red arrows) is trapping the grains of sediments.

This interaction makes the whole system more cohesive, which means that the microbes, the sediments, and the EPS act more like a whole than as single items. Also, the EPS has hygroscopic properties (the capacity to absorb moisture), which helps make the microbial mat more impermeable. Thus, they stop the water from percolating as fast as it would otherwise do.

That way, microbial mats help make beautiful crystals that fill people with wonder (at least me!) in this place that shouldn’t have these types of crystals. Some of those minerals remain trapped inside the mats, marking the arrival of water and its evaporation. Others dissolve again when a new batch of seawater invades the flat.

In a distant future, those remaining crystals (calcite) will still be there like candle marks, showing the passage of time. So, microbial mats may not be tornado-producing butterflies, but they do show that with a little sticky effort on their part, they can make considerable changes in the extensive system where they live.


This article is the second in the Mad Mud Love series. Keep tuned to this website or subscribe to my mailing list in order to keep yourself updated. The list is sent on a monthly basis with a digest of new posts and sometimes updates on my fiction writing or new scientific papers published.

Also, you can find the research paper here.

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Those Old Footprints

Have you ever noticed that footprints in the mud end up being erased by the next rain? Yet, somehow there are places in the world where footprints from thousands of years ago are perfectly preserved? In some places in the world, we can walk around preserved footprints, just stroll down the beach and marvel at them. Specifically, in my case, there is a protected area, right at the beach, where we can find footprints as old as 12000 years old. These footprints are close to a tiny summer village called Pehuen Co in Argentina and very close to where Charles Darwin first started pondering about his Theory of Evolution. There are both human and animal footprints in the reservation. The human ones, younger at 6000 years of age, however, are located closer to the more urban end of the area, near the city of Monte Hermoso.

It is funny how the tendency to be more urbanized on that side of the reservation started that long ago. That tendency is so pervasive that there is a distinct difference between the people who go to Monte Hermoso and those who go to Pehuen Co. Those who vacation at Monte Hermoso want to get the beach experience without leaving the comfort of the city. In contrast, the ones who choose Pehuen Co are the opposite: they’d rather forget they ever lived in a city and get lost on the beach. You hardly find anyone who likes both of them. It is either one or the other! I definitely prefer Pehuen Co. Still, no matter which one you like, there is a fantastic advantage to both: from the beach at both sites, you can see both the sunset and the sunrise. No matter if you’re an early riser or a night owl, you’ll get the best views.

Yet, before there was a beach in the south of the Buenos Aires province, the now protected area used to house a small coastal lagoon. Large mammals walked and fed in the area. There were sable-tooth tigers, 3 m-tall bear-like Megatheriums, and weird-looking camel-like animals (which may or may not have had a short elephant- or moose-like trunk) called Macrauchenia, among others.

As the lagoon started to dry, conditions developed for the colonization of the sand, silt, and clay of the sediments. Who colonized them? Different microorganisms, like bacteria, fungi, algae, and even some stranger ones called archaea. When there is enough humidity with prolonged periods of tranquillity, microorganisms which can do photosynthesis start to grow as thin films –creatively named, biofilms–, producing a lot of substances called extracellular polymers (EPS for short). These EPS substances are a bunch of organic molecules that stick the microorganisms and the sediments together. With continued calm conditions, these biofilms can grow and evolve to be up to 1-cm thick, turning into what we know as microbial mats.

By tranquillity, I don’t mean quieting down your neighbours’ heavy metal blasting speakers. I mean hours and maybe even days where no water currents or other events move the sediments.

Microbial mats are named that way because, when a water current comes in, the mats roll themselves as if they were a yoga mat (you know, just like the one you bought and put away in the closet without using). The reason for that is the elasticity that the EPS confers to the sediments, which allows the mat the flexibility it needs not to break.

Microbial mat rolled up and dried during the warmer months.

For the same reason these microbial mats don’t break when they roll up, they can withstand a lot of pressure, like a person standing on them, without breaking. If the pressure is enough, the mat will be deformed, making a cast of the footprint. However, the mats do have a certain point when the pressure is too much, and they break. For the most part, though, if you were to walk over microbial mats, you’d be able to leave your own footprint. My colleagues and I started to study microbial mats because we would walk over a place that looked like mud, but that didn’t always behave like regular mud. Our footprints, and of the local fauna, would still be there months and even years after they had been left.

These microbial mats also encourage the formation of carbon carbonate and other minerals, which, over time, form rocks. So, in summary: first, conditions develop for the growth of microbial mats, then the animals and humans walked over them in the right conditions, and last, time let the mats turn into rock (mineralize). Thus, the main difference between the preserved footprints from 12000 years ago and our more recent ones is that our footprints are still not old enough!


This article is the first in the Mad Mud Love series. Keep tuned to this website or subscribe to my mailing list in order to keep yourself updated. The list is sent on a monthly basis with a digest of new posts and sometimes updates on my fiction writing or new scientific papers published.

Also, you can find the research paper here.

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