Breaking Waves: Ocean News

08/29/2014 - 00:59
Like Americas bald eagle, the UK too should have its own iconic bird and there are 60 for the public to choose from Continue reading...
08/28/2014 - 23:30
Wepham Down, West Sussex: Six black birds with heavy bills and black, diamond-shaped tails climb into the sky Continue reading...
08/28/2014 - 14:54
President’s Corner Congress is poised to return to Washington September 8th after a month long summer recess.  Unfortunately though, it is unlikely that they will accomplish much legislative work in the few weeks they will be in session before they adjourn again, this time to campaign for the November elections.  That means a Continuing Resolution for the beginning of the fiscal year 2015 (October 1st). In other words, we essentially start the federal fiscal year with the same budget as FY 2014. In addition, the Congressional Budget Office update on the federal budget and economic outlook for 2014 -2024 is essentially flat to negative for discretionary funding, which is where scientific research is supported. So, with that good news, what can you do personally?  It is essential that you reach out to your elected officials while they are back in your districts. If you didn’t get a chance during this past month, please make the effort during campaign season.  I hope that you will convey how your community relies on science, both in economic and social terms.  All politics is truly local, and if you don’t have the ear of your representatives, then someone else with a very different agenda may have undue influence.  It is important to invite your congressional delegation members to your institution so they can see first-hand your enthusiasm and the importance of your science and science in general, for the good of their district, their state, and our nation.  We need to be passionate about translating our science into terms that policy makers can understand and act upon.  And, we need to convey, embrace and engage what we don’t fully understand, because that is where science will make the difference between generating good decisions versus poor ones.  At the end of the day, we elect these people to represent us and to make informed decisions on our behalf.  I feel strongly that it is our responsibility as citizens of this country to make sure that they have the best information available. I hope you enjoy this Labor Day weekend and summer’s finale. Bob
08/28/2014 - 14:29
Congress is poised to return to Washington September 8th after a month long summer recess.  Unfortunately though, it is unlikely that they will accomplish much legislative work in the few weeks they will be in session before they adjourn again, this time to campaign for the November elections.  That means a Continuing Resolution for the beginning of the fiscal year 2015 (October 1st). In other words, we essentially start the federal fiscal year with the same budget as FY 2014. In addition, the Congressional Budget Office update on the federal budget and economic outlook for 2014 -2024 is essentially flat to negative for discretionary funding, which is where scientific research is supported. So, with that good news, what can you do personally?  It is essential that you reach out to your elected officials while they are back in your districts. If you didn’t get a chance during this past month, please make the effort during campaign season.  I hope that you will convey how your community relies on science, both in economic and social terms.  All politics is truly local, and if you don’t have the ear of your representatives, then someone else with a very different agenda may have undue influence.  It is important to invite your congressional delegation members to your institution so they can see first-hand your enthusiasm and the importance of your science and science in general, for the good of their district, their state, and our nation.  We need to be passionate about translating our science into terms that policy makers can understand and act upon.  And, we need to convey, embrace and engage what we don’t fully understand, because that is where science will make the difference between generating good decisions versus poor ones.  At the end of the day, we elect these people to represent us and to make informed decisions on our behalf.  I feel strongly that it is our responsibility as citizens of this country to make sure that they have the best information available. I hope you enjoy this Labor Day weekend and summer’s finale. Bob
08/28/2014 - 14:27
Line of giant craters in glacier suggest possible eruption as earthquakes continue around Bardarbunga volcano Continue reading...
08/28/2014 - 13:05
Continue reading...
08/28/2014 - 11:40
(Click to enlarge) Testing fish in a choice chamber A new study in Science showed that young fish have an overwhelming preference for water from healthy reefs. The researchers put water from healthy and degraded habitats into a flume that allowed fish to choose to swim in one stream of water or the other. The researchers tested the preferences of 20 fish each from 15 different species and found that regardless of species, family or trophic group, each of the 15 species showed up to an eight times greater preference for water from healthy areas.(Credit: Danielle Dixson) Pacific corals and fish can both smell a bad neighborhood, and use that ability to avoid settling in damaged reefs. (From ScienceDaily) – Damaged coral reefs emit chemical cues that repulse young coral and fish, discouraging them from settling in the degraded habitat, according to new research. The study shows for the first time that coral larvae can smell the difference between healthy and damaged reefs when they decide where to settle. Coral reefs are declining around the world. Overfishing is one cause of coral collapse, depleting the herbivorous fish that remove the seaweed that sprouts in damaged reefs. Once seaweed takes hold of a reef, a tipping point can occur where coral growth is choked and new corals rarely settle. The new study shows how chemical signals from seaweed repel young coral from settling in a seaweed-dominated area. Young fish were also not attracted to the smell of water from damaged reefs. The findings suggest that designating overfished coral reefs as marine protected areas may not be enough to help these reefs recover because chemical signals continue to drive away new fish and coral long after overfishing has stopped. “If you’re setting up a marine protected area to seed recruitment into a degraded habitat, that recruitment may not happen if young fish and coral are not recognizing the degraded area as habitat,” said Danielle Dixson, an assistant professor in the School of Biology at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, and the study’s first author. The study will be published August 22 in the journal Science. The research was sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Teasley Endowment to Georgia Tech. The new study examined three marine areas in Fiji that had adjacent fished areas. The country has established no-fishing areas to protect its healthy habitats and also to allow damaged reefs to recover over time. Juveniles of both corals and fishes were repelled by chemical cues from overfished, seaweed-dominated reefs but attracted to cues from coral-dominated areas where fishing is prohibited. Both coral and fish larvae preferred certain chemical cues from species of coral that are indicators of a healthy habitat, and they both avoided certain seaweeds that are indicators of a degraded habitat. The study for the first time tested coral larvae in a method that has been used previously to test fish, and found that young coral have strong preferences for odors from healthy reefs. “Not only are coral smelling good areas versus bad areas, but they’re nuanced about it,” said Mark Hay, a professor in the School of Biology at Georgia Tech and the study’s senior author. “They’re making careful decisions and can say, ‘settle or don’t settle.’” The study showed that young fish have an overwhelming preference for water from healthy reefs. The researchers put water from healthy and degraded habitats into a flume that allowed fish to choose to swim in one stream of water or the other. The researchers tested the preferences of 20 fish each from 15 different species and found that regardless of species, family or trophic group, each of the 15 species showed up to an eight times greater preference for water from healthy areas. The researchers then tested coral larvae from three different species and found that they preferred water from the healthy habitat five-to-one over water from the degraded habitat. Chemical cues from corals also swayed the fishes’ preferences, the study found. The researchers soaked different corals in water and studied the behavior of fish in that water, which had picked up chemical cues from the corals. Cues of the common coral Acropora nasuta enhanced attraction to water from the degraded habitat by up to three times more for all 15 fishes tested. A similar preference was found among coral larvae. Acropora corals easily bleach, are strongly affected by algal competition, and are prone to other stresses. The data demonstrate that chemical cues from these corals are attractive to fish and corals because they are found primarily in healthy habitats. Chemical cues from hardy corals, which can grow even in overfished habitats, were less attractive to juvenile fishes or corals. The researchers also soaked seaweed in water and tested fish and coral preferences in that water. Cues from the common seaweed Sargassum polycystum, which can bloom and take over a coral reef, reduced the attractiveness of water to fish by up to 86 percent compared to water without the seaweed chemical cues. Chemical cues from the seaweed decreased coral larval attraction by 81 percent. “Corals avoided that smell more than even algae that’s chemically toxic to coral but doesn’t bloom,” Dixson said. Future work will involve removing plots of seaweed from damaged reefs and studying how that impacts reef recovery. A minimum amount of intervention at the right time and the right place could jump start the recovery of overfished reefs, Hay said. That could bring fish back to the area so they settle and eat the seaweed around the corals. The corals would then get bigger because the seaweed is not overgrown. Bigger corals would then be more attractive to more fish. “What this means is we probably need to manage these reefs in ways that help remove the most negative seaweeds and then help promote the most positive corals,” Hay said. This research is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), under award number OCE-0929119, and the National Institutes of Health, under award number U01-TW007401. Any conclusions or opinions are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the sponsoring agency. Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eo6rHkL7Fck#t=61
08/28/2014 - 11:35
(Click to enlarge) This is Polypterus senegalus.(Credit: A. Morin, E.M. Standen, T.Y. Du, H. Larsson) About 400 million years ago a group of fish began exploring land and evolved into tetrapods — today’s amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. But just how these ancient fish used their fishy bodies and fins in a terrestrial environment and what evolutionary processes were at play remain scientific mysteries. (From ScienceDaily) – Researchers at McGill University published in the journal Nature, turned to a living fish, called Polypterus, to help show what might have happened when fish first attempted to walk out of the water. Polypterus is an African fish that can breathe air, ‘walk’ on land, and looks much like those ancient fishes that evolved into tetrapods. The team of researchers raised juvenile Polypterus on land for nearly a year, with an aim to revealing how these ‘terrestrialized’ fish looked and moved differently. “Stressful environmental conditions can often reveal otherwise cryptic anatomical and behavioural variation, a form of developmental plasticity,” says Emily Standen, a former McGill post-doctoral student who led the project, now at the University of Ottawa. “We wanted to use this mechanism to see what new anatomies and behaviours we could trigger in these fish and see if they match what we know of the fossil record.” Remarkable anatomical changes The fish showed significant anatomical and behavioural changes. The terrestrialized fish walked more effectively by placing their fins closer to their bodies, lifted their heads higher, and kept their fins from slipping as much as fish that were raised in water. “Anatomically, their pectoral skeleton changed to became more elongate with stronger attachments across their chest, possibly to increase support during walking, and a reduced contact with the skull to potentially allow greater head/neck motion,” says Trina Du, a McGill Ph.D. student and study collaborator. “Because many of the anatomical changes mirror the fossil record, we can hypothesize that the behavioural changes we see also reflect what may have occurred when fossil fish first walked with their fins on land,” says Hans Larsson, Canada Research Chair in Macroevolution at McGill and an Associate Professor at the Redpath Museum. Unique experiment The terrestrialized Polypterus experiment is unique and provides new ideas for how fossil fishes may have used their fins in a terrestrial environment and what evolutionary processes were at play. Larsson adds, “This is the first example we know of that demonstrates developmental plasticity may have facilitated a large-scale evolutionary transition, by first accessing new anatomies and behaviours that could later be genetically fixed by natural selection.” The study was conducted by Emily Standen, University of Ottawa, and Hans Larsson, Trina Du at McGill University. This study was supported by the Canada Research Chairs Program, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and Tomlinson Post-doctoral fellowship. Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pu0LMnT9S4k&feature=youtu.be
08/28/2014 - 11:31
(Click to enlarge) Natural methane seeps off the U.S. coast may have been active for thousands of years. (Credit: 2013 Northeast U.S. Canyons Expedition/NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program) And up through the ground came a bubbling greenhouse gas. (From AAAS.org / by Eric Hand) –  Researchers have discovered 570 plumes of methane percolating up from the sea floor off the eastern coast of the United States, a surprisingly high number of seeps in a relatively quiescent part of the ocean. The seeps suggest that methane’s contribution to climate change has been underestimated in some models. And because most of the seeps lie at depths where small changes in temperature could be releasing the methane, it is possible that climate change itself could be playing a role in turning some of them on. Most of the seeps are thought to be fed by methane stored in hydrates, crystal lattices of water ice that form under low temperatures and high pressures. Harvesting methane from hydrates in the sea floor has already aroused commercial interests; both Japan and the United States have embarked on pilot extraction projects. But the hydrates are also significant for climate scientists: This immense reservoir is thought to contain 10 times as much carbon as the atmosphere. The gas, if it reaches the atmosphere, is far more potent than carbon dioxide as a heat trapper. Even in the more likely event that aerobic microbes devour the methane while still in the ocean, it is converted to carbon dioxide, which leads to ocean acidification. Some scientists have implicated runaway methane hydrate releases in the catastrophic extinctions of marine life at the Permian-Triassic boundary, 252 million years ago. The present study, published online today in Nature Geoscience, is based on data collected in a survey from 2011 to 2013 by the research vessel Okeanos Explorer. Equipped with a multibeam sonar along its hull, the vessel not only mapped the sea floor along a swath off the coast of North Carolina to Massachusetts, but also recorded reflections in the water column. Gas bubbles of methane stood out as a distinctive signature. Most of the seeps were found at depths of 180 to 600 meters along the upper slope of the continental margin. This is the area where the continental shelf rapidly falls to the 5000-meter-deep abyssal plain of the ocean. “So far everybody has been looking at small spots. This is the first time anyone has systematically mapped an entire margin,” says Christian Berndt, a marine geophysicist at GEOMAR in Kiel, Germany, who was not involved in the study. It was also a surprise because seeps are typically found above known methane reservoirs, or above regions of active tectonic activity. The continental margin was thought to be virtually devoid of seeps—until scientists studied the sonar data. “They found that there was much more methane coming out than was suspected beforehand,” Berndt says. For a handful of the seeps, the researchers were able to take pictures with a remotely operated submersible. They found carbonate rocks associated with the seeps that would have taken several thousand years to form. But some of the seeps are shallow—and are at the critical depth where hydrates fall apart—so they could be sensitive to rising ocean temperatures on much shorter time scales, says Carolyn Ruppel, a co-author of the new study and chief of the gas hydrates project at the U.S. Geological Survey in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. “There are reasons to believe that some of the present seepage has been triggered by changes in oceanographic conditions,” she says. Proving that climate change is directly responsible could be difficult, Berndt says. In January, he and colleagues published a study in Science on methane seeps in the Arctic Ocean off the coast of the island of Svalbard, where temperature changes are occurring more rapidly. Berndt found evidence that the seeps there had existed for at least 3000 years and saw no evidence that the ocean sediments had been heating up—and releasing methane—on the decadeslong timescales associated with climate change. At the very least, though, he says, the Atlantic Ocean study shows that ocean and climate modelers should start to incorporate methane inputs from many more types of seafloor terrains around the world. “We have this extra source here,” he says. “Not much attention has been paid to it.” Jens Greinert, who heads the deep-sea monitoring unit at GEOMAR, downplays the effect of the new seeps on the atmosphere or ocean chemistry because the magnitude of the releases is dwarfed by human-associated inputs, such as livestock, or even other marine sites. “These little bits of bubbling here or there will not make a memorable impact,” Greinert says. He is more interested in what will happen as the world warms. “It becomes interesting only if you have a catastrophic release,” he says.
08/28/2014 - 11:26
(Click to enlarge) Acropora globiceps coral listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act. This species occurs in the Indo-Pacific; within US waters it occurs in Guam, Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, Pacific Remoste Island Areas and American Samoa. (Credit: NOAA) The federal government is protecting 20 types of colorful coral by putting them on the list of threatened species, partly because of climate change. (From The Huffington Post / by Seth Borenstein/AP) – As with the polar bear, much of the threat to the coral species is because of future expected problems due to global warming, said David Bernhart, an endangered-species official at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. These coral species are already being hurt by climate change “but not to the point that they are endangered yet,” he said. Climate change is making the oceans warmer, more acidic and helping with coral diseases like bleaching — and those “are the major threats” explaining why the species were put on the threatened list, Bernhart said in a Wednesday conference call. Other threats include overfishing, runoff from the land, and some coastal construction, but those are lesser, Bernhart said. Five species can be found off the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts of Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. They include pillar coral, rough cactus coral and three species of star coral. The other 15 are in the Pacific Ocean area near Guam and American Samoa, but not Hawaii. The agency looked at listing 66 species, but Wednesday listed only 20 for various reasons. All are called threatened, not endangered. Two coral species were already listed. Coral reefs, which are in trouble worldwide, are important fish habitats. The agency did not create any new rules yet that would prevent coral from being harvested or damaged. “There is a growing body of expert scientists talking about a risk of mass extinction in the sea and on land,” said Elliott Norse, founder and chief scientist of the Marine Conservation Institute of Seattle. Coral “are organisms on the front line of anything that humans do.” “I hope this wakes people up and we don’t have to lose more coral,” Norse said. Online: NOAA: http://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/stories/2014/08/corals_listing.html