Photo: An oil removal ship is seen next to the Costa Concordia cruise ship as it ran aground off the west coast of Italy at Giglio island, January 16, 2012. Over-reliance on electronic navigation systems and a failure of judgement by the captain are seen as possible reasons for one of the worst cruise liner disasters of all time, maritime specialists say. (REUTERS/ Max Rossi)
When I read hastily the headlines on Jan 14—a shipwreck in Italy, seventy missing, three known dead—I immediately thought: it must be the Africans again. The refugees, the clandestine, the invisible, the nameless, the unwanted… Those "less-than-human" people coming from all over the world to the Italian coast, looking for a safe haven from dictatorships, from hunger.
My Somali Italian friend Suad, who works with her community In Italy now, urges her people in Somalia NOT to take that dangerous ride: even if you survive the trip, what waits for you in Italy can be fatal. Italy is in deep economic crisis today, on the verge of bankruptcy and social disorder. The new government struggling to remain a G8 power while the euro and United Europe are at stake. Italy also struggles to overcome a big moral value crisis after twenty years of Berlusconi's reign of sexism, racism, indolence and corruption.
But I was wrong about the Africans. It was a fancy cruise ship full of wealthy foreigners that wrecked unexpectedly near the island of Giglio.
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This clip from the BBC's Frozen Planet is one of the most amazing things you will ever see.
"Brinicle" is a clever portmanteau for an icy finger of death that forms naturally in the very cold seawater one finds around Earth's poles. A crust of sea ice can form on top of this water, and that's the first step to making a brinicle. Here's how polar oceanographer Mark Brandon explained the process in an article on the BBC website:
In winter, the air temperature above the sea ice can be below -20C, whereas the sea water is only about -1.9C. Heat flows from the warmer sea up to the very cold air, forming new ice from the bottom. The salt in this newly formed ice is concentrated and pushed into the brine channels. And because it is very cold and salty, it is denser than the water beneath.
The result is the brine sinks in a descending plume. But as this extremely cold brine leaves the sea ice, it freezes the relatively fresh seawater it comes in contact with. This forms a fragile tube of ice around the descending plume, which grows into what has been called a brinicle.
Check out that BBC website link for more information on how the Frozen Planet videographers captured this footage. That's also where you should go to watch the video when this YouTube version is inevitably taken down.
Thank you, Brittany. Truly freaking amazing.
Observation tube under the Antarctic sea iceMusic video set beneath the Antarctic sea iceResearch Diving in Antarctica Read the rest
One more incredibly cool video from research diver, musician, and filmmaker Henry Kaiser. Henry says:
"Since support workers in town cannot make their usual recreational trips out onto the sea ice, the powers-that-be at McMurdo Station installed the OB TUBE within walking distance of town.
Anyone can climb down the ladder and watch us divers at work under the ice. The snow was bulldozed off of the sea ice around the observation tube, creating a very light environment; which seems to have attracted an enormous population of larval and juvenile ice fish that form great clouds around the tube."
Suddenly, I wish I were washing dishes in Antarctica.
Video Link Read the rest
, former-Gizmodo editor Brian Lam's newish blog about all things awesomely ocean, is looking for writers and interns
. Read the rest
In the deep sea, there dwell amoebas of unusual size
. Of course, "gigantic" is relative. Although they would dwarf other amoeba species, the biggest xenophyophores are a little more than 4 inches across. (Via A Moment of Science, which suggests, rightly, that this would make an excellent Halloween costume.) Read the rest
Phytoplankton are tiny, plant-like organisms that live in the ocean and are, basically, at the very bottom of the food chain. But, sometimes, they get their revenge. When lots and lots and lots of phytoplankton get together, they can form what we call a "red tide," a discoloration of the water at a particular point where the plankton have become densely concentrated.
Some red tides are natural. Others happen when nutrient runoff from farm fertilizers creates a massive buffet for plankton. Some red tides can kill, as the plankton can produce toxins and their deaths reduce the oxygen content of the water. And sometimes, red tides glow in the dark.
The phytoplankton in this red tide off a California beach are bioluminescent. Their cells produce a chemical reaction that creates a soft, blue-green glow. It's basically the same thing that makes lightning bugs light. In this video by Loghan Call and Man's Best Media, you can see plankton light up in the beach (and a few surfers).
Via Jennifer Ouellette Read the rest
Without Lord Kelvin, there would have been no D-Day.
There's some very cool science history in the September issue of Physics Today, centering around a collection of analog computers, developed in the 19th century to predict tides. This was a job that human mathematicians could do, but the computing machines did the job faster and were less prone to small errors that had big, real-world implications. David Kaplan, an assistant professor in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee physics department, sent the links over. He says that these machines ended up being crucial and are a big, in-your-face reminder of the complications of living in a world without calculators:
"... it was particularly important during WWII in order to properly plan beach landings, but even without the war part I found it fascinating. We take this so for granted now, that we can crank out sin() and cos() values instantly, but that was not always the case."
We're talking about predictions a bit more precise than simply saying, "the water is low" or "the water is high." Physics Today explains why the behavior of tides was so important at D-Day and why the tide calculators were so important to Allied success.
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As an Allied cross-channel invasion loomed in 1944, Rommel, convinced that it would come at high tide, installed millions of steel, cement, and wooden obstacles on the possible invasion beaches, positioned so they would be under water by midtide.
The Allies would certainly have liked to land at high tide, as Rommel expected, so their troops would have less beach to cross under fire.
What are all those frothy bubbles rising from the sea floor and coating the submersible craft in this video? Why, it's liquid carbon dioxide, venting off an underwater hot spring connected to Eifuku volcano in Japan's Volcano Islands.
Better yet, life can still survive, even in an environment this extreme. Check out what blogger Caleb Scharf spotted:
... pay attention at 38 seconds into the show. With utter disregard for the extraordinary environment a shrimp-like creature swims purposefully under the robot and exits stage lower right. It may not live in liquid CO2, but it doesn’t seem bothered by it in the slightest. We must also assume that it’s finding plenty of food within this bubbling environment.
Via Ed Yong Read the rest
I've been traveling for the last couple of weeks. One key stop: Woods Hole, Mass., where I got up close and personal with everybody's favorite research submarine. Originally commissioned in 1964, Alvin is currently disassembled as part of a regular maintenance inspection and overhaul. I got to go behind-the-scenes to check out Alvin and the RV Oceanus—a research ship also operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. This is a window on Alvin's old manned pod, a massive sphere that can hold two scientists. It's being replaced in the current retrofit, and this sphere will go to the Smithsonian. More photos to come ... Read the rest
In news that would be completely fascinating, were it not so damn depressing: One of the causes behind Caribbean coral die-offs seems to be a bacteria
, spread from
the coral through sewage. It's the first time that a human disease has ever been shown to kill an invertebrate. Read the rest
Scientists have long speculated that large tsunamis could be linked to the calving of icebergs—where chunks of ice break off of the side of a glacier or ice shelf and float away. The Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that happened in March off the coast of Japan finally gave them much more direct evidence of this phenomenon. Fascinating stuff, and a great reminder of how interconnected the world really is.
Via Jeremy Hsu Read the rest
Beachgoers in Qingdao, Shandong province, China, were met with a fuzzy, green blanket of ocean last week, as the water there exploded with algae.
You've heard before about dead zones. These are patches of coastal ocean where river runoff full of fertilizer chemicals have produced massive algae blooms. As the algae die, their decomposition reduces the oxygen level of the water to the point that many fish and other aquatic life can no longer live there.
This is what a dead zone looks like, just before the death.
It's worth noting, when I pulled this photo out of the Reuters files, I could see similar shots, taken on the same beach, in 2010, 2009, and 2008. This isn't a fluke. It's an endemic problem.
Image: REUTERS/China Daily China Daily Information Corp - CDIC Read the rest
Neat post about an experimental plastic substitute made from fish scales over at Brian Lam's ocean-themed blog Scuttlefish. So far art student Erik de Laurens "has made not only goggles, but eye-glass frames, drinking cups, and a wooden table with a fish scale inlay" from fish scales. Read the rest