Stories tagged oceans

Jun
10
2011

Ever wanted to explore the ocean? Calm down, don't get out of your armchair, yet, Midwest. Thanks to Google Earth and researchers at Columbia University, you can take a sea cruise without leaving your pop or your Twitter account behind.
Map of the oceans: Does it change your perspective?
Map of the oceans: Does it change your perspective?Courtesy Saperaud

Why should you care about the oceans? Did you know that we have already consumed 90% of the population of large fish species in the ocean? That tiny plankton in the ocean provide 50-85% of the oxygen in the air we breathe? That ocean water is becoming more acidic from the same carbon dioxide emissions that warm our climate, thereby making it tough for some sea-life to survive?

Is a life without fish sticks really a life worth living?

Of course, you may not get all of that out of a spin on Google Earth, but exploring may well be the first step in your life-long romance with a crafty young cephalopod or a craggy-faced mid-ocean ridge. Plus, it's just darn cool.

Oct
25
2010

Have you ever heard of ‘ocean acidification’? If not, don’t feel alone. You are in vast majority. A new study by Dr. Anthony Leiserowitz at Yale University found that that just 25 percent of Americans have ever heard of ocean acidification – the process whereby carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by human activities eventually dissolves into the sea producing carbonic acid which depresses the pH of the ocean. Ocean acidification threatens to dramatically alter marine life if present trends continue. A more informed citizenry is essential if steps are to be taken to address this threat to our futures.

The Science Museum of Minnesota and Fresh Energy on the evening of Thursday, November 4 are hosting the Twin Cities film premiere of the documentary, A Sea Change . The screening of this award-winning, 90-minute film will begin at 6:30 PM followed by Q&A with the film’s director, co-producer, lead NOAA ocean acidification scientist, and Fresh Energy’s science policy director and then concluding with a dessert reception. I hope that you will take advantage of this unique opportunity to see the film and then socialize afterwards. Go to the Science Museum's adult programs to order your tickets.

Oct
07
2010

A bright future: We will all be armed skeletons, sitting on big piles of minerals. That's how I like to see it, anyway.
A bright future: We will all be armed skeletons, sitting on big piles of minerals. That's how I like to see it, anyway.Courtesy bredgur
According to a report in the journal Mineralium Deposita, there’s really no need for people to fight over mineral resources, because there are lots and lots of them left.

The report comes hot on the heals of a political snafu, in which a Chinese fisherman ran afoul of the Japanese coastguard, and China cut off shipments of rare earth metals to Japan, after the fisherman was arrested. Rare earth metals are vital for building electronics and hybrid electric cars, and China pretty much has most of the rare earth metals in town, so China was all, “You want your cars? Give us our fisherman.” Then Japan was like, “Oh, well, actually we can make hybrid cars without your stupid rare earth metals, so whatever.”

And everybody else started smacking their lunch trays on the tables and shouting, “Fight! Fight! Fight!”

But then Japan was like, “Fine. Just take your stupid fisherman. He’s a jerk anyway.” And China was like, “Fine, then!” And everything went back to normal. But it left the world thinking, are we going to have to tussle over stuff like this eventually? Everyone wants minerals, and we might be running out…

Not so, says Lawrence Cathles of Cornell University. We have lots of minerals, more than we could use in thousands of years, even with the whole world living at Western European material standards.

Aw, man. What can we fight about now? I suppose there’s always country and rock ‘n roll. Or we could all split up into Sharks and Jets. We could maybe start randomly accusing each other of cheating at Monopoly, regardless of whether or not we’ve been playing Monopoly.

But… I just can’t get worked up over that stuff. If I can’t throw down over a chunk of copper, or a pocketful of palladium, I don’t know that I even want to fight. Oh well. I might as well just finish reading that article…

So let’s see. The minerals Cathles is talking about come from the ocean floor. At points where the Earth’s crust is pulling apart, molten rock meets ocean water, infusing it with minerals and heating it. The hot seawater rises through the crust, and deposits precipitating minerals on the ocean floor. Lots and lots of copper, uranium, lithium, phosphate, potash, and on and on… all waiting for us in deposits on the ocean floor. A small percentage of the minerals that should be hiding out down there could keep humanity going for “50 centuries or more.”

Sweet! But… wait a second. Didn’t it just say that the minerals are sitting on the bottom of the oceans? Where the tectonic plates are pulling apart from each other, areas one might refer to as “ocean spreading centers.” Sooooo… the minerals are under the middle of the oceans.

Yes! We’re going to have something to fight over after all!

See, I think y’all remember what can happen when you’re trying to get at something on the bottom of the ocean… this sort of thing. And the depths of mid-ocean ridges are nothing to sneeze at. But deep sea oil drilling operations might be a good junior-league analogy for mid-ocean mining—it’s expensive and potentially extremely dangerous, but once we want that resource enough, we’re going to give it a shot. And once we do, that (fortunately!!!) won’t be the end of conflict over the resource. Drilling or mining areas will be disputed, as will environmental liabilities.

I mean, what do I know about it. But when has having enough of something for everybody ever kept people from being upset about it?

I find this to be a very hopeful report. Someday—maybe not soon, but someday—we’ll engage in high-tech, high risk, deepwater mining in international waters. And there will be fighting! Lots of fighting!

Jul
05
2010

Much attention and debate is focused on the role of human releases of carbon dioxide (CO2) in global warming and climate change but there is another facet of CO2 that deserves much more attention. Increasing concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere lead to more and more CO2 dissolving into the oceans where it turns into carbonic acid. A story in the June 18 issue of Science reports that there is no doubt whatsoever that human releases of CO2 are acidifying the oceans at a scale unprecedented in the geologic record.

The closest analogue to present day appears to be the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) of 55.8 million years ago. Over the course of several thousand years, huge amounts of methane and CO2 entered the atmosphere (where the methane was quickly converted to CO2). Much of this CO2 dissolved into the oceans, causing a drop in ocean pH. The difference between the present and the PETM is that human releases of CO2 are occurring at a rate at least ten times faster. At takes about 1,000 years for CO2 dissolved in surface waters to reach the deep sea where sediments eventually neutralize the acid. Human releases of CO2 currently far exceed the rate at which the oceans are able to remove it and so the result is a rapid drop in the pH of surface waters.

Many ocean organisms make their shells from carbonate. Acidification changes carbonate into bicarbonate and hydrogen ions, making the mineral much less available to tropical corals, echinoderms, mollusks, and foraminifera. The danger if ocean acidification continues unabated is potentially dramatic and unpredictable changes in marine life everywhere.

Some policymakers and scientists increasingly are raising the idea of perhaps mitigating the effects of climate change through large-scale geoengineering projects intended to reduce the amount of solar energy reaching the Earth’s surface as a last ditch effort to counteract the effects of greenhouse gas warming. Such projects would do nothing to mitigate the growing problem of our acidifying oceans. The only way to reduce ocean acidification is to reduce globally the quantities of CO2 that humans release into the atmosphere.

The capital of New Rubbishland: Little Filthington.
The capital of New Rubbishland: Little Filthington.Courtesy brutal
Like The Highlander, there can be only one Trashlantis.

And yet, the presence of another garbage island has been declared, in the Atlantic Ocean this time. (The quick Trashlantis disclaimer: it's not really an island or a continent, or something you could even see from the the surface. It's lots and lots of tiny bits of floating plastic. Just thought we'd go over that again.)

The patch spans about 16 degrees of latitude, and it shall henceforth be known as... New Rubbishland.

(Good looking out, Gene.)

My mom just sent me an E-mail. Why's that worthy of a Buzz post? Well, it just so happens that she's on board the OSV Bold, the US Environmental Protection Agency's only ocean and coastal monitoring ship. (It's crawling along the coast of Maine right now.) From the boat, scientists are able to sample the water column, ocean bottom, and sea life to get a sense of how the ocean is being impacted by human activities, and how we can better manage what goes into it. If you're curious, you can follow the adventures of the OSV Bold on Twitter, or read the daily observations log. (There's a photo of Moms in the batch posted for day 4, but her face isn't visible. Just trust me: she's the beautiful on the Bold. Oh, and lest you think this is a completely frivolous and nepotistic post, check it: www.whitehouse.gov picked up the story, too.)

Jul
27
2009

Green energy? What about trying a little blue energy for a change? Blue seems just as wholesome and non-threatening, right?

In a similar vane to my last post on algae the geniuses of the world have come up with another truly brilliant "why didn't I think of that" kind of idea. It seems to make so much sense! It's so big ... and powerful ... and blue ...
We Have Come A Long Way: Now, just imagine that...but under water!
We Have Come A Long Way: Now, just imagine that...but under water!Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Engineers at Blue Energy have developed, with support from the Army Corps of Engineers a turbine for the ocean. No no, not a wind turbine ON the ocean (my mom just made that mistake) but an underwater turbine that will harness the powerful ocean currents to create possibly the most sustainable energy source we know of!

Here is what we know: Water turbines will be placed in the Gulf Stream near Florida and they will work much like land wind turbines (using a rotater blade, which when made to spin by wind or water, creates energy!).

There is still a considerable amount of work to do before water turbines can be utilized. Frederick Driscoll, director of Florida Atlantic University's Center of Excellence in Ocean Energy Technology strives to be realistic about the future of water turbines. A resource assessment of the Gulf Stream is underway to help understand exactly how much energy can be safely extracted from the ocean, where exactly it should be extracted from and how to get the energy safely and efficiently to our homes without disrupting the ocean environment. So much to think about!
Always Something There: The strength of the Gulf Stream has been evident for hundreds of years.
Always Something There: The strength of the Gulf Stream has been evident for hundreds of years.Courtesy Library of Congress

Florida is the fourth largest state in the U.S. and the third largest consumer of energy. They are in dire need of a new energy source as many experts insist that Florida is on the brink of a very serious energy crisis. Much still needs to be done in the way of turbine technology in order to move ahead with incorperating them into the fleet of renewable energy sources. This past spring four acoustic Doppler current profilers were lauched off the coast of Florida to gather information about the currents, mainly to learn about the speed of the ocean currents. Ocean energy may become the crown jewel of the fleet.

Sperm whales might just be those mean kids of the ocean who shake you down for your lunch money. Or, they may simply be pretty smart hunters who've figured out how to get the better of human technology and steal fish off of commercial fishing lines in the ocean. Watch some amazing video (below) of a sperm whale "cleaning off" a fishing line.

Here's a link to the National Geographic report on this phenomenon.

Here's an amazing video from National Geographic of an underwater volcano eruption. Pretty incredible.