ocean science

The Gulf Oil Spill highlighted the need for better working relationships between academic scientists, industry, and government.
U.S. Coast Guard / Public Domain

War is generally pretty bad for the environment, and, understandably, the environment is not one of the military’s top priorities when at war. But more Navy officials are now asking questions about how to tread a bit more lightly on the environment, and some are getting scientists outside the military involved.

Chris Reddy is one example. He's a marine chemist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution who specializes in oil spills, and last year, he got an email from a Navy lieutenant commander asking for his help.

Salt Marshes Help Keep Us Above Water

Jan 23, 2017
A salt marsh on Plum Island, Mass.
S. Bond

We’ve learned recently from scientists at Umass Amherst that New England will probably experience more warming than the rest of the planet in the near future.

Most of the plastic in the ocean is smaller than your pinkie fingernail - microbeads, and pieces of broken plastic.
5 Gyres Institute

You may have heard that there’s a floating island of plastic trash in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The truth is, there isn’t. In fact, the problem is far more insidious, more akin to smog. One estimate found that there are hundreds of thousands of tons of plastic - more than five trillion pieces, most about the size of a grain of rice - floating around in the world’s oceans.

Humans are taking a toll on ocean ecosystems – pollution, overfishing, climate change. Jeremy Jackson has watched human impacts sap the ability of Caribbean coral reefs to recover from natural disasters. But he says the greatest threat to ocean health is right inside our heads.

When Jackson first started studying coral reefs in the late 1960s, he was drawn by their beauty, by the fun and excitement of learning new things about corals. Over time, he and colleagues began to notice changes caused by human impacts.

Caine Delacy

Emily Callahan was working at the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 when she noticed something strange. The workers said they couldn’t wait to get back to fishing near oil rigs. She thought they were crazy until they told her, “That’s where the fish are.”

That experience started her down the path of promoting a program that lets companies turn old oil rigs into artificial reefs that support a surprising array of sea life.

Jayne Doucette / Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Oceans cover seventy percent of the Earth's surface is covered in water, and there's even more water trapped inside the Earth. Where did it all come from? And when? There have long been two possible answers to those questions: it could have been here since the very beginning, or it could have arrived later, carried by bombarding asteroids and comets.

The prevailing thought has been that the latter is more likely because, when the planets were forming nearly four and a half billion years ago, Earth's neck of the solar system would have been too hot for there to be water around.

@ProtectNewEnglandOceanTreasures

A new poll finds that eighty percent of Massachusetts residents favor protecting special ocean areas from activities like mining and fishing. A coalition pushing President Obama to create a marine national monument in New England waters say this is one more measure of support. But opponents say the poll was misleading and biased.

The clinging jellyfish, Gonionemus vertens.
Annette Govindarajan

The sting of a jellyfish can range from a mild annoyance to a life-threatening incident, depending on the species. Reports of severe stings in coastal ponds along the coast of Cape Cod in recent years have sparked concern that a new, more virulent jellyfish may have entered the area. It turns out the jellyfish responsible – known as a clinging jellyfish - may have been here for more than a century.

Contagious leukemia was first documented in soft-shell steamer clams.
Michael J. Metzger / Columbia University

Researchers at Columbia University reported this week that they’ve found transmissible leukemia in mussels, cockles, and golden carpet shell clams, doubling the number of known contagious cancers. Soft-shelled clams also get the disease. The other two examples of contagious cancer are a facial tumor in Tasmanian devils, and a venereal cancer in dogs.

Lead author Laifang Li, with co-authors Ray Schmitt and Caroline Ummenhofer.
Jayne Doucette / Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

We all love to malign the weather man. But it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate the knowledge and technology that enables forecasts for not only next week, but next month and even years to come. For example, New England is expected to see a warmer – and possible wetter – than usual summer. A major factor in those kinds of predictions is typically ocean temperatures. Now, researchers at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution say they have a better way to make seasonal rainfall predictions, and it’s based on salinity rather than temperature of the ocean.

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