Scientists revive 100-million-year-old microbes buried in the ocean floor

Researchers successfully revived ancient microbes, some more than 100 million years old, that were buried in the seafloor. During an expedition to the South Pacific Gyre, the scientists from the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC) and their colleagues drilled into the ocean sediment almost 6,000 meters below the surface.

“Our main question was whether life could exist in such a nutrient-limited environment or if this was a lifeless zone,” JAMSTEC senior scientist Yuki Morono said. “And we wanted to know how long the microbes could sustain their life in a near-absence of food.”

From a JAMSTEC announcement:

With fine-tuned laboratory procedures, the scientists, led by Morono, incubated the samples to coax their microbes to grow. The results demonstrated that rather than being fossilized remains of life, the microbes in the sediment had survived, and were capable of growing and dividing.[...]

“What’s most exciting about this study is that it shows that there are no limits to life in the old sediment of the world’s ocean,” said [URI Graduate School of Oceanography professor Steven] D’Hondt. “In the oldest sediment we’ve drilled, with the least amount of food, there are still living organisms, and they can wake up, grow and multiply.”

The Daily Grail warns, "Lovecraftian horrors await us in 2021 don’t they…"

More: "Aerobic microbial life persists in oxic marine sediment as old as 101.5 million years" (Nature Communications)

image: JAMSTEC Read the rest

Fabien Cousteau unveils design for undersea "space station"

YouTuber Greg Stone has an in-depth interview with ocean explorer Fabien Cousteau, who just unveiled his design for his next long-term undersea habitat called Proteus. Read the rest

Scientists have mapped 20 percent of the ocean floor

In ten years, scientists hope to have mapped the entire ocean floor in high resolution. This week, the Nippon Foundation-GEBCO Seabed 2030 Project announced that they've completed 20 percent of the map. A full mapping to "modern standards" is useful for conservation and also to support scientific understanding of ocean systems, weather, tsunami wave propagation, tides, and, of course, the impact of climate change. From the BBC News:

The map at the top of this page illustrates the challenge faced by GEBCO in the coming years.

Black represents those areas where we have yet to get direct echosounding measurements of the shape of the ocean floor. Blues correspond to water depth (deeper is purple, shallower is lighter blue)[...]

This is information required to improve the models that forecast future climate change - because it is the oceans that play a critical role in moving heat around the planet. And if you want to understand precisely how sea-levels will rise in different parts of the world, good ocean-floor maps are a must.

Much of the data that's been imported into the GEBCO grid recently has been in existence for some time but was "sitting on a shelf" out of the public domain. The companies, institutions and governments that were holding this information have now handed it over - and there is probably a lot more of this hidden resource still to be released.

But new acquisitions will also be required. Some of these will come from a great crowdsourcing effort - from ships, big and small, routinely operating their echo-sounding equipment as they transit the globe.

Read the rest

How do you count more than 60,000 sea turtles?

More than 64,000 endangered sea turtles are gathered in the world's largest nesting area near Raine Island, Australia, but who's counting? The Great Barrier Reef Foundation, that's who. Their researchers used harmless white paint to mark around 2,000 turtles and then flew a drone overhead. By determining the ratio of marked to unmarked turtles, they could then accurately estimate the total population. From BarrierReef.org:

“We’re taking action to improve and rebuild the island’s nesting beaches and building fences to prevent turtle deaths, all working to strengthen the island’s resilience and ensure the survival of our northern green turtles and many other species," [said Great Barrier Reef Foundation Managing Director Anna Marsden...]

The research paper’s lead author Dr Andrew Dunstan from the Queensland Department of Environment and Science is excited to share his work.

“Trying to accurately count thousands of painted and unpainted turtles from a small boat in rough weather was difficult,” Dr Dunstan said.

“Using a drone is easier, safer, much more accurate, and the data can be immediately and permanently stored[...]”

“In the future, we will be able to automate these counts from video footage using artificial intelligence so the computer does the counting for us.”

"Use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for mark-resight nesting population estimation of adult female green sea turtles at Raine Island" (PLOS ONE) Read the rest

Mermaid or beluga whale?

According to the excellent wunderkammer of Twitter accounts, We Like To Learn, "Throughout history, sailors have mistaken Beluga Wales for mermaids because of their human-like knees."

(As our helpful commenters point out, those aren't literally "knees" in the image but rather love handles that help the whales steer as they swim. More here.)

(via Daily Grail) Read the rest

See a fantastically strange red seadragon on video for the first time

Scientists declared the ruby seadragon a new species in 2015, but that was based on dead specimens in a museum. Now though, Scripps Institution of Oceanography biologist Greg Rouse who led the team that originally discovered the species, managed to find two of the wonderful fish swimming around the Recherche Archipelago, off the south coast of Western Australia. Each one is about 10 feet long. Just kidding. They're 10 inches long. From National Geographic:

After four dives with a remote-controlled mini-submarine, they managed to film two ruby seadragons more than 167 feet underwater, as the fish swam through rocky gardens of sponges and nibbled at their prey, most likely tiny crustaceans called mysids...

...The footage confirms that ruby seadragons use a different means of camouflage than its closest relatives. Common and leafy seadragons are covered in leafy outgrowths meant to camouflage the fish as they swim through seagrasses. The ruby seadragon, however, lacks them—opting instead for a scarlet body, an efficient way to disguise itself from predators in the dark depths.

Most surprisingly, the video suggests that the ruby seadragon can use its curled tail to grasp objects.

Read the rest

Scientists find first of its kind two-headed shark

University of Malaga scientists were studying the cardiovascular systems of Atlantic sawmill catsharks (catshark (Galeus atlanticus) when they found one with two heads. This is the first time that dicephaly (two-headedness) has been seen in an egg-laying shark. From National Geographic:

The causes of dicephaly aren't known, but the researchers—led by Valentín Sans-Coma of the University of Malaga—suspect that genetics are the most likely culprit (rather than some environmental factor, à la Blinky, the three-eyed fish, from The Simpsons)...

"We see two-headed sharks occasionally," says George Burgess, director of the Florida program for shark research at the Florida Museum of Natural History. "It's an anomaly, caused by a genetic misfire. There are lots of different kinds of genetic misfires, and most don't make it out of the womb."

"There’s a reason you don’t see a lot of sharks with two heads swimming around: they stand out like a sore thumb, so they get eaten," adds Burgess. "They would have trouble swimming and probably digesting food."

Read the rest

The mystery of our 12-hour delay: the Mirage Expedition

Previously: Investigating the Great Earthquake of 2012

This year for the 4th of July, I varied my routine ever so slightly by spending the day aboard the R/V Marion Dufresne outside of Sabang harbor on the island of We, which is just north of the tip of Sumatra. For more than 12 hours, from roughly 11 in the morning to almost half past 11 at night, we waited and waited, and waited some more, as the local Indonesian immigration and port officials did whatever it was they needed to do to release eight of their fellow citizens into our care. As you can see, I took a few snapshots of the little islands that fringe the marginally larger island of We, but we were not permitted to go ashore.

The following morning, the mystery of our delay was partially explained. As I understand it, the local Sabang authorities had wanted to send our new passengers’ passports to Jakarta for approval, which would have delayed our expedition by days. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, the passports were returned, and we were allowed to proceed south.

Most of the new members of our crew are Indonesian students studying geophysics and other sciences related to our survey of a seismically active section of the Wharton Basin, which is 3 kilometers below the surface of the Indian Ocean. Also aboard are a couple of Indonesian scientists, as well as an Indonesian security officer, who’s a captain in the Indonesian Navy and has been empowered to approve any changes to the expedition plan that’s already been approved by the Indonesian government. Read the rest

Investigating the Great Earthquake of 2012: the Mirage Expedition

On April 11, 2012, a magnitude-8.6 earthquake, followed a few hours later by a magnitude-8.2, struck the Wharton Basin, which lies approximately five kilometers below the surface of the Indian Ocean, and some 500 kilometers southwest of the tip of Sumatra. Unlike the magnitude 9.2 earthquake of 2004, whose epicenter was in the volatile subduction zone just off the western coast of Sumatra, the Great Earthquake of 2012, as it’s come to be called, did not trigger devastating tsunamis resulting in the loss of thousands of lives. That may be because its epicenter was well within the Indo-Australian plate, at a depth of 50 kilometers. Even so, the Great Earthquake of 2012 is of keen interest to scientists—at magnitude-8.6, it is the largest intraplate earthquake ever recorded.

During the month of July, I get to accompany an international group of scientists and students on an expedition dubbed MIRAGE, which stands for “Marine Investigation of the Rupture Anatomy of the 2012 Great Earthquake.” Composed of representatives from the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (IPGP), the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), and the Earth Observatory of Singapore (EOS), the group’s collective task is to acquire bathymetry (i.e., to map the seafloor and its sub-surface) in the section of the Wharton Basin directly above and around the epicenter of the 2012 magnitude-8.6 earthquake. My job is to write about their work for EOS's blog. #MIRAGEcruise.

I’ll also be posting at Boing Boing from time to time, to give this site’s readers a heads up on what’s been posted at EOS, as well as to share some of my photos and impressions of the trip. Read the rest

Scientists view never-before-seen glowing jellyfish in Mariana Trench ocean depths

Marine biologists with a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration expedition in the Mariana Trench encountered a luminous red-and-yellow jellyfish in April, Scientific American reports. Read the rest

Rare ocean encounter between sperm whale and remotely operated vehicle caught on video

About two thousand feet (598 meters) below the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana, remotely operated vehicle Hercules encountered a magnificent sperm whale. Read the rest

'Rising Seas,' long-form radio doc on climate change by Alex Chadwick and 'BURN: An Energy Journal'

My friend, former NPR colleague, and longtime journalism mentor Alex Chadwick has an incredible new radio documenting hitting the public radio airwaves this week. We're sharing it here on Boing Boing before it hits the radio-waves. I asked Alex to tell us a little about 'Rising Seas.' He explains:

The Rising Seas project grew out of an encounter at an MIT energy seminar almost a year ago. I met an Americanized Brit, Dr. Len Berry, from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. He's been speaking forcefully and clearly about the threat that rising seas present. At the end of his talk, I asked if Miami is a viable city. He smiled and answered, 'well, it is right now'.

And then I asked about the end of the century. He smiled again, but said nothing.

Read the rest

Who is shooting and mutilating dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico, and why?

Photo: IMMS

Someone is killing and mutilating dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico, and no one can figure out who is doing this, or why. This Friday, a team from the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies (IMMS) in Gulfport, Mississippi encountered a dolphin with its lower jaw cut off; last weekend, they found a dead dolphin with a 9mm bullet wound that "went through the abdomen, into the kidneys and killed it," according to IMMS director Moby Solangi. Snip from the Sun-Herald's coverage:

In Louisiana, a dolphin was found with its tail cut off. "Animals don't eat each other's tails off," Solangi said. "We think there's someone or some group on a rampage," he said. "They not only kill them but also mutilate them."

IMMS investigated the first dolphin shooting earlier this year and incidents have increased in the past few months. In Alabama, someone stabbed and killed a dolphin with a screwdriver, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration press release. In September, a dolphin was found on Elmer's Island, La., with a bullet in its lung. Others have been mutilated with knife-like lesions.

Read more at the Sun-Herald, more at Alabama news site AL.com, and more in the Associated Press. All of this may or may not be related to screwdriver attacks on dolphins this June. Who the hell does this? Read the rest

Sean and the Sea Lion: a pinniped story in photographs

Boing Boing reader John K. Goodman shares a series of photographs with us that tell a magical story about a sea lion and his son, Sean. Every time John and his son visit the Long Beach aquarium, she loves to play with Sean's dad's keys. Wonderful photos resulted.

Walrus emits excellent noises on command (video)

[Video Link]

What's 3,400 lbs and makes fart-noise vocalizations when asked? E.T., a 30-year-old Pacific walrus at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma, WA, who is one of only 17 walruses in U.S. zoos and aquariums. He came to the Tacoma facility as an orphan from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, and is named "for his wrinkled resemblance to alien in the popular 1982 movie E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial."

I'd sure like to hear his rendition of "Trololo." [EDIT] OK. Here we go.

The zoo has a pretty great YouTube channel with more videos like this.

(thanks, @joely!) Read the rest

Defunded - a heartbreaking look at the state of oceanic research

This week, I'm reporting from the Aquarius undersea research base in Key Largo, Florida. The habitat is the world's last undersea research base. Because NOAA is pulling funding from the 22 year old facility in September, this week's mission is its last scheduled one.

This is a video of oceanographer and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Sylvia Earle that was taken a day or two ago. She's being filmed on Aquarius a Red Camera that is in a waterproof housing tethered to an internet connection in the base. Sylvia's helmet, which is a custom variation of a helmet that working divers use, is equipped with a point of view camera and audio comms. The entire thing was streamed over Ustream a few days ago. This section of the video is of her answering the broad and simple question--Why should we care about the ocean? Read the rest

OpenROV, the $750 submarine

In the New York Times today, Brian Lam (formerly of Gizmodo, now the creator of Scuttlefish and Wirecutter) writes about OpenROV, a low-cost submarine designed to be an affordable tool for "curious students and amateurs, as well as provide a highly valuable shallow water tool for explorers and scientists."

This month, NASA engineer Eric Stackpole hiked to a spot in Trinity County, east of California’s rough Bigfoot country. Nestled at the base of a hill of loose rock, peppered by red and purple wildflowers, is Hall City Cave. For part of the winter the cave is infested with large spiders, but is mostly flooded year-round. Locals whisper the cave’s deep pools hold a cache of stolen gold, but Mr. Stackpole isn’t here to look for treasure.

He had, under his arm, what might appear to be a clunky toy blue submarine about the size of a lunchbox. The machine is the latest prototype of the OpenROV–an open-source, remotely operated vehicle that could map the cave in 3D using software from Autodesk and collect water in places too tight for a diver to go. It could change the future of ocean exploration. For now, it is exploring caves because it can only go down 100 meters. But it holds promise because it is cheap, links to a laptop, and is available to a large number of researchers for experimentation. Indeed, the OpenROV team hopes to start taking orders for OpenROV kits on the crowd sourced project site, Kickstarter. Going for $750, the kits include laser cut plastic parts and all the electronics necessary to build an OpenROV.

Read the rest

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