Breaking Waves: Ocean News

03/02/2015 - 15:42
(Click to enlarge) Giant barrel sponge (Credit: NOAA) Did you ever wonder why the water is so clear around coral reefs? Scientists have known for years that sponges can filter water and gather nutrients from the ocean, making it appear crystal clear. (From ScienceDaily)– For the first time scientists at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) have identified that bacteria on sponges are harvesting phosphorus from the water for the reef ecosystem to use for nourishment. The findings were published in the February 23 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “Coral reefs are under huge threat around the world, so we need to understand reef systems very well,” said study co-author Russell Hill, UMCES professor and director of the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology in Baltimore. “We have known for more than 100 years that water surrounding reefs is low in nitrogen and phosphorus. Charles Darwin even pointed out this paradox. This is an important step forward in understanding how you can have such incredible biodiversity even though the surrounding water is low in phosphorus.” Marine sponges live on the bottom of the ocean and are an important component of a reef ecosystem. They are filter feeders and draw nutrients from the water column, processing thousands of gallons of seawater every day. This study opens up a new window on the role that sponges play in pulling nutrients out of the water and redistributing them to the reef, a basic and critical role for the ecosystem’s survival. Sponges harbor many bacteria and microbes that rely on the sponge for survival, and vice versa. In fact, these microorganisms can account for up to 40% of the sponge’s volume. The bacteria that live in sponges may help transfer nutrients from the water to the sponge, and scientists have identified the mechanism for holding on to phosphorus for the first time. Read the full article here:
03/02/2015 - 15:03
The 18th Annual National Ocean Sciences Bowl Finals Competition will be held in Ocean Springs, Mississippi from April 23 – 26, 2015 at the University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast Research Laboratory. The theme for the 2015 National Ocean Sciences Bowl will be “the Science of Oil in the Ocean.” [link:] This theme includes many science disciplines and encourages increased awareness and understanding of the origins of oil in the ocean; transport, breakdown, and remediation of oil in the ocean; the impact of oil on organisms, ecosystems, and humans; and policy related to oil production, spills, and restoration. Click here for the full list (Adobe PDF) of the 23 winning schools from each of the regional competitions that will be moving on to the 2015 NOSB Finals Competition. We look forward to seeing many familiar faces in Ocean Springs!
03/02/2015 - 15:00
US study claims regime’s unsustainable agricultural policies meant drought led to collapse of farming in north-eastern region and triggered mass migration to cities and added to feelings of discontent The prolonged and devastating drought that sparked the mass migration of rural workers into Syrian cities before the 2011 uprising was probably made worse by greenhouse gas emissions, US scientists say. The study is one of the first to implicate global warming from human activities as one of the factors that played into the Syrian conflict which is estimated to have claimed more than 190,000 lives. Continue reading...
03/02/2015 - 14:20
(Click to enlarge) Mariana Trench (Credit: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service) A few years ago, film director James Cameron spent hours scouring the world’s deepest ocean canyon for any sign of life. He found a few bizarre animals, but it turns out the real action in the Mariana Trench happens beyond the reach of a submersible’s camera. (From Scientific American / by  Becky Oskin and LiveScience)– Researchers from Japan discovered microscopic bacteria thrive in the canyon called Challenger Deep, which is the lowest point on Earth’s surface and the deepest part of the Mariana Trench, the team reports Feb. 23 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In particular, they found an unusual community of bacteria there called heterotrophs, or microbes that cannot produce their own food and must eat what they find in the water. Cameron found that larger life forms were scarce compared to shallow ocean waters. However, the heterotrophic life in Challenger Deep’s waters was relatively abundant, similar to that in untreated well water, said lead study author Takuro Nunoura, a microbiologist with the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC). The average depth of the ocean floor is about 13,120 feet (4,000 meters); its deepest point is in the western Pacific’s Mariana Trench, where the Challenger Deep canyon bottoms out at more than 36,000 feet (nearly 11,000 m) below sea level. All kinds of microscopic life are found in the seafloor at this depth, from bacteria and archaea to yeast and viruses, according to this and other studies. Read the full article here:
03/02/2015 - 14:01
(Click to enlarge) Rising acidity levels in the world’s oceans will threatens shellfishing communities around the United States, such as this pearl-harvesting operation in Montauk, New York. (Credit: Liza de Guia/Food Curated) The rising acidity of the world’s oceans could devastate coastal communities around the United States over the next century, according to a new analysis. (From Science / by Robert F. Service)– And because ocean acidification is exacerbated by other water quality problems such as agriculture and urban runoff, regions along the Gulf Coast and Atlantic seaboard, which were formerly considered less vulnerable, now look to be among the most at risk. To date, most ocean acidification research has focused on better understanding which organisms will be the most vulnerable to rising acid levels, without considering the economic role those organisms play. The new work makes this link explicit, at least with shellfish, an industry that generates nearly $1 billion in the United States annually. The new work is “outstanding,” says Jeremy Mathis, director of the Ocean Environment Research Division at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, Washington, who was not involved with the study. “This is exactly what we have been missing.” The acidity of the world’s oceans has increased by roughly 30% over the past several decades, driven primarily by the burning of fossil fuels. As carbon dioxide levels rise in the atmosphere, about one-quarter of it dissolves into the top layer of the ocean. There it reacts with water to form carbonic acid, which in turn lowers the pH of the water. By doing so, it lowers the availability of carbonate ions, which oysters and other shellfish use to build their shells. Even more insidious, the drop in carbonate ions reduces a measure called the aragonite saturation state, which refers to the level of a mineral form of calcium carbonate called aragonite that oyster larvae need to form their growing shells. Laboratory studies on many shellfish have shown that if the aragonite saturation state falls below about 1.5, shellfish larvae are not able to build their shells and die before ever getting a toehold on life. Read the full article here:
03/02/2015 - 13:40
(Click to enlarge) These photos were taken on board the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent in the Arctic Ocean at 78 degrees north latitude and 150 degrees west longitude in 2012 (left) and in 2006 (right). (Credit: Alice Orlich (left) and Jenny Hutchings (right)) A new study may help policymakers and planners with more accurate Arctic sea ice predictions.  (From SitNews / by Yuri Bult-Ito)– A group of researchers from the University of Alaska Fairbanks International Arctic Research Center and IARC’s Scenarios Network for Alaska and Arctic Planning examined 35 global climate models, the most powerful tools for assessing the future trajectory of Arctic sea ice cover. Model simulations are the basis for projections of future changes in Arctic sea ice, so it is crucial that model outputs are credible. By comparing the models to the past observational data, or hindcast simulations, the researchers selected subsets of more accurate models to find better future projections of Arctic sea ice extent. The study highlights the importance of seasonal trends of sea ice. Observational data from 1979 to 2013 show greatly reduced sea ice cover in June through October. They also show that sea ice maximum is reached in March to April, and the trend is much smaller for the maximum ice than for the minimum ice. The models with more realistic hindcast simulations capture the observed trend more accurately and project an earlier loss of summer sea ice, by the 2040s and even as early as 2034. The study also uniquely examined sudden ice loss events, such as occurred in 2007 and 2012, through the historical period and model projections from 2014 through 2099. The results show that sudden sea ice losses, occurring over a year or two, are often followed by a decade or more of little loss. These sudden ice loss events account for between half and all of the net loss of sea ice extent in the climate models. Recent observational data show a similar behavior. Read the full article here:
03/02/2015 - 12:20
Company begins approval process for project that could power 1.5m homes in Wales, but concerns remain over enormity of scale and high electricity costs The company planning to build a series of massive tidal lagoons in the UK claim their project can generate electricity that will be competitive with offshore wind and nuclear power. But experts have urged the government to take a cautious approach to the massive capital investment. The world’s first tidal lagoon power station is ready to begin construction in Swansea, Wales should it attain planning approval. The project has been criticised for its exorbitant electricity costs, estimated to be £168/MWh. When the project begins generation in 2018, onshore wind will be producing electricity for less than half of this price. Continue reading...
03/02/2015 - 11:41
(Click to enlarge) A container ship transits the Panama Canal. Marine organisms from the port where it was loaded may cling to its hull or float in its ballast water. (Credit: Jonathan Kingston, National Geographic) When the expansion of the Panama Canal is completed in 2016, giant ships that now must dock at West Coast ports after crossing the Pacific will be able to deliver cargo directly to ports on the Gulf of Mexico and the East Coast. (From National Geographic / by Andrea Appleton)– One thing they may be delivering, according to a recent study, is a much larger number of alien species. With a third set of locks and wider and deeper channels, the expanded canal will be able to accommodate ships as long as 1,200 feet (366 meters) and as wide as 160 feet (49 meters)—235 feet (71 meters) longer and 54 feet (16 meters) wider than current limits. Ports along the Gulf and East Coast are already preparing for the “post-Panamax” behemoths, dredging harbors, expanding storage areas, and installing taller cranes. Those ports are likely to capture about 25 percent of the ship traffic that now goes to the West Coast, according to the study published in the journal Diversity and Distributions by Jim Muirhead of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Maryland and his colleagues. At some ports the number of ship arrivals may triple—and the ships will be bigger than before. Ships carry alien species from one port to another in two ways: with the organism floating in ballast water or clinging to submerged parts of the hull—the “wetted surface area,” in industry jargon. Muirhead and his colleagues estimated how ballast water volumes and wetted surface area might change in various ports after the expanded canal opens. Read the full article here:
03/02/2015 - 11:00
City becomes first capital in the world to join fossil fuel divestment movement, following demonstration of 1,000 people in February The City of Oslo has committed to selling off its investments in coal companies, citing the environmental damage caused by the fuel. It joins almost 40 cities around the world, including San Francisco and Oxford, UK, in dumping fossil fuel stocks but is the first capital city to do so. Olso’s finance commissioner, Eirik Lae Solberg, told Norway’s state broadcaster NRK: “We are pulling ourselves out of coal companies, because power generation based on coal is one of the most environmentally harmful in the energy sector. We want to use our investments to promote more environmentally-friendly energy and a more environmentally-friendly society.” Big first step: Oslo divests from coal! Continue reading...
03/02/2015 - 10:10
British endurance swimmer and United Nations Environment Programme patron of the oceans, completes most southerly swim in human history after swimming in the Bay of Whales, Ross Sea Continue reading...