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:
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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.
Researchers piloting a robotic probe 2,000 feet underwater off Australia's western edge captured this astounding footage of a siphonophore. At an estimated 150-feet long, it may be the longest organism in the ocean. The scientists aboard the Schmidt Ocean Institute's Falkor research vessel also identified more than two dozen new species, collected environmental DNA samples, and retrieved sea creatures that live three miles down in deep sea canyons. From the New York Times:
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Each siphonophore is a colony of individual zooids, clusters of cells that clone themselves thousands of times to produce an extended, stringlike body. While some of her colleagues compared the siphonophore to silly string, [Western Australian Museum senior research scientist Nerida] Wilson said the organism is much more organized than that[...]
“What’s fascinating about this particular part of the world is that it has not been explored,” said Jyotika Virmani, executive director of the Schmidt Ocean Institute. “Any time people go down into the deep sea, it’s so vast and yet so unexplored that it’s very easy to make new discoveries and to see something we’ve never seen before. It is like being on a new planet.”
More than 125 of these curious soccer ball-sized glass spheres hang near the floor of the Mediterranean Sea. Even though they're deep underwater, they're keeping a constant vigil for neutrinos, particles that may be evidence of dark matter, supernovae, and neutron stars far off in intergalactic space. Eventually, the Cubic Kilometer Neutrino Telescope (KM3NeT) will consist of 6,000 spheres suspended across one cubic kilometer of seawater. Often, neutrino detectors are located deep underground because the Earth itself helps isolate the instrument from background radiation and cosmic rays so the neutrinos are more easily spotted. From Scientific American:
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“Perhaps one or two neutrinos in a million will interact with quarks inside the nucleus of either hydrogen or oxygen” in the water, says the project's physics and software manager, Paschal Coyle of the Marseille Particle Physics Center. “Because the cosmic neutrinos possess very high energy, the result of such interactions is the release of a charged particle that travels very fast.”
In fact, it travels through the water faster than light can, producing an effect Coyle likens to an optical equivalent of the Concorde jet's sonic boom. Researchers can determine the original neutrinos' energy and direction using the faint light released—so-called Cherenkov radiation—picked up by the undersea sensors.
Back in September, a Hyundai Glovis cargo ship capsized off the coast of Georgia. The 665-foot ship, called the Golden Ray, tipped over in St. Simons Sound, Georgia but fortunately every crew member was rescued. The ship was holding around 4,000 US-made automobiles that are now quite waterlogged. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources and other organizations are orchestrating environmental protection measures and disassembling the vessel to remove it in pieces via barge. This week, the St. Simons Sound Incident Response Unified Company will begin constructing an "environmental protection barrier" that includes "large floating containment barrier to help contain surface pollutants, as well as large netting to contain subsurface debris."
The Unified Command used LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) technology to create 3D images of inaccessible areas inside the vessel.
Follow the situation here: St. Simons Sound Response
image: Georgia Department of Natural Resources (photo release)
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A teen flying his drone on a New South Wales beach noticed what is believed to be a great white shark swimming around unwitting waders. As Sea Life Sydney Aquarium shark expert Rob Townsend points out in the news report above, one of the most interesting things about the footage is that the shark appears to be entirely disinterested in the humans. According to Townsend, this situation is a lot more common than beachgoers would like to think.
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Some species of sharks have evolved to literally walk along the ocean floor (no, not on land) using their fins as feet. New research Conservation International’s Mark Erdmann and colleagues determined that walking sharks only evolved their unique capability 9 million years ago, "making them the 'youngest' sharks on our planet." Of course, a distinct species usually forms when some members of a species are physically separated from others. So how did that speciation occur in the case of the walking sharks? From an interview with Erdmann at Conservation International:
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For most of the walking shark species, our findings support the idea that speciation occurred because the populations slowly expanded their range by walking or swimming, then some individuals eventually became isolated by environmental factors such as sea level rise or the formation of large river systems that broke up their habitats.
For the four walking shark species found at the Bird’s Head Seascape, we suspect that they actually hitched a ride — on a drifting island...
Q: Is there another mystery about walking sharks you hope to solve?
From a scientific perspective, there is still so much to learn from walking sharks. We know that the world’s species that exist today are basically the existing “genetic reservoir” (raw genetic material) we have to adapt to global changes. We also know that walking sharks are very resilient to warm water and that they have a tolerance for oxygen deprivation. Any time you have an animal or plant that can survive in these extreme conditions, there is typically something unique about their genes — a “special sauce”.
According to the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, if current trends in single-use plastic continue, "there could be more plastic than fish (by weight) in the ocean by 2050." Having spent countless family vacations at the beach since she was a child, product design student Lucy Hughes, now 24, was distraught by the amount of single-use plastic she saw littering the shore and water. So she invented a bioplastic made from fish scales and skin collected at a fish processing plant. The scales and skin are bound together with red algae. For her product, called MarinaTex, Hughes just won a James Dyson Award recognizing ingenious design. From Smithsonian:
The resulting product is strong, flexible and translucent, with a feel similar to plastic sheeting. It biodegrades on its own in four to six weeks, which gives it a major sustainability advantage over traditional bioplastics, most of which require industrial composters to break down. In addition to utilizing materials that would otherwise be thrown away, the production process itself uses little energy, since it doesn’t require hot temperatures. One single Atlantic cod fish produces enough waste for 1,400 MarinaTex bags.
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In 1917, Swedish steamer ship Kyros was traveling from France to Russia when a German U-boat sunk it in the Baltic Sea. The shipwreck was discovered in 1999 but it wasn't until the last month that a team of divers from Ocean X and iXplorer have hauled up the sunken treasure: 600 bottles of De Haartman & Co. cognac and 300 bottles of Benedictine (now Bacardi) liqueur meant for Tsar Nicholas II. From Smithsonian:
(Expedition leader Peter) Lindberg and his colleagues have sent samples of both the cognac and the Benedictine to a laboratory to gauge whether the alcohol is still fit for consumption. They are optimistic regarding the outcome of these tests, according to Metcalfe, as the Baltic’s freezing waters are actually ideal for storing spirits. Although some of the bottles contain sediment, many remain sealed. Several cognac bottles even have intact tin seals...
As Lindberg tells CNN’s Gianluca Mezzofiore and David Williams, he and the rest of the team detected a slight scent of sweetened herbs coming from the Benedictine bottles...
Earlier this year, two bottles of 17th-century wine discovered by Ocean X went up for auction at Christie’s. And in 2011, a 200-year-old bottle of champagne found in another Baltic shipwreck sold for a record-breaking $43,000.
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On Saturday, Danny McDaniel was kayaking near Santa Catalina island off the southern California coast when he felt something big strike the side of his boat. It was a great white shark that Ben Frable, Marine Vertebrates Collection Manager at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography later estimated to be 17-20 feet long. How did they know how big it was? They measured the teeth left lodged in the kayak. From CNN:
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"I felt like I was being pushed like a toy in the water," said McDaniel, who lives in San Diego.
The shark had sunk its teeth into the back end of the boat and pushed McDaniel around till he was face-to-face with (his kayaking partner in another boat).
"The whole upper body of the shark was out of water," he said. "It was humongous."
The shark soon let go and went deep into the water, according to McDaniel, who said the whole ordeal lasted about five seconds...
"It is pretty amazing and encouraging that such large animals are still able to exist out there with fishing activities and human encroachment and environmental change," Frable said.
"Big individuals like these, especially if they are female, are very important for species' health and survival as they can produce and have produced more offspring than others."
Robert Ballard is the oceanic detective who turned up the Titanic in 1985, the lost Nazi ship Bismarck, and many other shipwrecks. Now he's off to to find Amelia Earhart's plane that hasn't been seen since she and her navigator disappeared over the Pacific ocean on July 2, 1937 during their flight around the world. And based on a photo taken just a few months after Earhart disappeared, Ballard is pretty sure he knows where the plane crashed. From the New York Times
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Kurt M. Campbell, who served as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs in the Obama administration, invited Dr. Ballard to a meeting. The two had known each other since their days in Naval intelligence.
Mr. Campbell ushered him into his office, Dr. Ballard recalled in a recent interview: “He closed the door, and he said, ‘I want to show you a picture.’”
First, he offered Dr. Ballard a grainy black-and-white photo. “He said, ‘What do you see?’ I said, ‘I see an island with a ship on a reef?’ And he said, ‘No, look over to the left.’”
As Dr. Ballard squinted at the blur, Mr. Campbell handed him a second, digitally enhanced image. Mr. Campbell said the smudge was landing gear from a Lockheed Model 10-E Electra. And the reef in the picture was part of tiny Nikumaroro Island, in the mostly uninhabited Phoenix Islands.
There it was, a precise place to look for Earhart’s plane.
“I went, ‘I’ll be damned,’” he said.
This darling denizen of the deep is a Helicocranchia, aka a piglet squid. Scientists on the Ocean Exploration Trust's E/V Nautilus caught footage of the rarely seen creature at a depth of 4,544 feet near Palmyra Atoll in the Northern Pacific Ocean. The commenters' delightful descriptions really make the clip.
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Aquanaut is an autonomous submarine developed by Houston Mechatronics Inc. that transforms into a humanoid robot -- well, the upper half anyway -- to service underwater oil and gas rigs. IEEE Spectrum's Evan Ackerman took a dive with Aquanaut in a massive swimming pool that NASA uses to help train astronauts for microgravity. From IEEE Spectrum:
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The HMI engineers, who often joke that building a Transformer has been one of their long-term career objectives, are convinced that it can be done. Aquanaut has been designed primarily for servicing subsea oil and gas installations. The companies that own and operate this infrastructure spend vast sums of money to inspect and maintain it. They rely on robotic technologies that haven’t fundamentally changed in decades, largely because of the challenge of working in such an extreme environment. For HMI, however, that’s not a problem: Of its 75 employees, over two dozen used to work for NASA. Extreme environments are what they’re best at.
HMI cofounder and chief technology officer Nic Radford spent 14 years working on advanced robotics projects at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, in Houston. “I’ll grant you that getting into space is harder than getting underwater,” he says. “But space is a pristine environment. Underwater, things are extraordinarily dynamic. I haven’t decided yet whether it’s 10 times harder or 50 times harder for robots working underwater than it is in space..."
Aquanaut will not require a tether or a support ship. It will travel in submarine mode to its deepwater destination, where it’ll transform into its humanoid form, unfolding its powerful arms.
Jeff Crilly and his friends were participating in a mako shark fishing tournament off the Jersey Coast when a different kind of shark came by for a snack of chum. Yes, they're gonna need a bigger boat. John Chisholm, a shark expert at the Massachusetts Division of Fish and Wildlife, estimates the 16- to 18-foot Great White weighs as much as 3,500 pounds.
From the Asbury Park Press:
Chisholm keeps a running database of great white sharks he's identified by certain features, such as markings. Crilly's shark had white markings on its gills, which Chisholm found no matches for in the hundreds of sharks logged in the database.
"She wasn't in there. I was able to determine it was a new shark and if we ever see it again, we'll be able to identify her," Chisholm said.
Chisholm invited Crilly to name the animal and he dubbed her Sherri. After his mom. Read the rest
From Smithsonian Channel's "Great Blue Wild: Life in the Muck:"
The speed of a hairy frogfish’s bite is the result of a vacuum in its mouth that can suck in its prey in just 1/6000th of a second. It’s so fast that even slow-motion video struggles to capture it.
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Yesterday, a guest on the 28th floor at the Tidewater Resort on Panama City Beach caught this video of a big shark circling a lone woman who had no idea the animal was nearby. Eventually people on the beach noticed the shark and yelled to the woman to return to shore. I don't know what kind of shark it was, or whether it was hungry, but I am certain that this video would be more interesting with the soundtrack below. (News Herald)
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A dozen mating manatees stopped traffic on the Courtney Campbell Causeway in Tampa, Florida. Apparently some drivers reported a whale in distress but it turned out to be the manatees in a "mating ball" or "mating herd." And it happened before, a few years ago, in the same spot! Must be something in the water...
From the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission:
Manatees mate in herds consisting of a focal female and multiple males, from a few to over a dozen, attempting to mate with her. Mating herds are most often observed during the warmer months, but can occur year-round. They can last anywhere from a few hours up to a week long. The manatees are often observed splashing or climbing on top of each other in the water.
(The Drive via Daily Grail)
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