ocean science

Mike Eklund / American Museum of Natural History

 

A fossil found in Kansas seventy years ago has been identified as a large cartilaginous fish, like a shark or a ray. That wouldn’t be so noteworthy if the same fossil hadn’t already been identified, twice – first as a green alga, and then as a squid or cuttlefish.

greenpeace.org.uk

Japanese scientists announced this past week that they had not only discovered bacteria that naturally digest the PET plastic used to make many water bottles, they had also genetically modified them to make them better at breaking down plastic. Headlines made it seem like our plastic pollution woes were over.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

The twilight zone. It’s not just a spooky 1960s television series. It’s what scientists call the part of the ocean between about 600 and 3000 feet below the surface. It’s deep, it’s dark (thus, the name), and it’s relatively unstudied. But it may be home to more life than the rest of the ocean, combined, and also key to the ocean’s ability to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

noaa.gov

The ocean has a plastic problem. And it’s growing. Several million tons of plastic enter the ocean every year, and much of it ends up swirling around in the middle of ocean basins.

Moira Brown and New England Aquarium

A workshop in Woods Hole on February 1st brought together an unusual combination of scientists, engineers, fishermen, and government regulators to talk about an even more unusual idea: catching lobsters with no rope connecting the traps at the bottom with a buoy at the surface.

gmri.org

It’s no secret that the lobster fishery in southern New England is in trouble. The population has declined by almost eighty percent in the past few decades. In contrast, lobsters in the Gulf of Maine have exploded and the fishery has seen record landings. So, what gives? 

J. Junker

You probably knew that whales make sounds to communicate. But did you know that fish are chatting down there, too? It turns out that fish vocalize to find mates, and ship noise may be interfering. A new study looked at haddock and cod, two commercially important fish species, to find out more about how fish are managing in an increasingly noisy ocean. We talk to researcher Jenni Stanley of Northeast Fisheries Science Center at NOAA in Woods Hole.

 

Amy Aprill, WHOI

Cuba is home to some of the Caribbean’s most pristine coral reefs, in part because of the lack of tourism. As President Obama began normalizing relations with Cuba, Amy Apprill began working with Cuban scientists to study their reefs. Now, for the first time, a joint Cuban-American expedition has delved into the highly protected Gardens of the Queen reefs. But political tensions make the future of the work uncertain.

National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Woods Hole, MA Labels by Syagria / Public Domain

The waters off New England’s coast are warming faster than 99.9% of the world’s oceans. A new study finds that summer-like conditions in the Gulf of Maine now last two months longer than they did just a few decades ago. And that's not necessarily a good thing.

Scientists have known for a handful of years that the waters off the northeast coast are warming at an unusually rapid rate. Over the course of thirty three years, the average temperature has gone up about one degree. But the warming hasn't happened steadily.

Mud plumes follow Gulf of Mexico shrimp trawlers like con trails follow airplanes.
NASA image by Jesse Allen, data from Univ. Maryland Global Land Cover Facility. / Public Domain

Roughly a fifth of all fish eaten globally are caught using nets towed along the bottom of the ocean. There’s long been concern that this method – known as trawling – destroys or severely damages the ecosystems where it’s used. Now, a new meta-analysis of the science available on this topic offers some quantification of the impacts of different type of trawls.  

The team aboard the E/V Nautilus explores the deep sea using a remotely operated vehicle equipped with cameras and tools for bringing back samples of rocks or marine life.
Courtesy of OET/Nautilus Live

Amy Fleischer is a teacher at Nauset Regional Middle School. But for most of July, she’s part of a team exploring California’s Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and mapping the seafloor aboard the exploration ship E/V Nautilus. One of the main goals of the mission is to find where the coastline was during the last ice age.

PapaDunes goo.gl/JuSiDF / goo.gl/OOAQfn

What does the ocean mean to you? How do you interact with the sea? Maybe you enjoy fishing, or enjoy eating what others have caught. Maybe you own a home on the water, or relish long days at a favorite beach. Maybe you’re worried about climate change and sea level rise; maybe you’re not.

We are all connected to the ocean, through weather, climate, and the very air we breathe (marine life produces half the oxygen in the atmosphere). But everyone experiences that connection differently.

Adityamadhav83 / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

For as long as there’s been an ocean, there have been tides. Twice a day, every day. By now, you’d think we’d have a pretty good scientific handle on tides. And we do. But there are still plenty of questions, even mysteries.

In his new book Tides: The Science and Spirit of the Ocean, Jonathan White weaves a tale of our changing understanding of the tides. It's a story that goes back millenia, but our modern understanding of tides is closely tied to the emergence of modern science.

As water temperatures rise, southern New England is losing its lobsters.
Derek Keats, Wikimedia Commons / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

When it comes to the iconic fisheries of New England, lobster is a close second only to cod. But lobsters are not faring well in the waters off southern New England. In fact, on a ten-point scale, lobster biologist Kari Lavalli of Boston University puts the population at a three.

Beth Casoni, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Lobstermen's Association, says lobsters south and west of Cape Cod have faced “a multitude of stressors.” Lavalli agrees, but points the finger primarily at climate change. Both say this is definitely not the fault of those who catch and eat lobsters.

Loral O'Hara, a research engineer at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, is one of twelve new NASA astronaut candidates.
Courtesy of NASA / Public Domain

NASA's new class of astronaut candidates will likely have a shot at being among the first humans to visit Mars. That, plus media coverage of commercial space flight and a major social media push, may have contributed to a record 18,300 applicants. In the end, twelve were selected, including Loral O'Hara, a research engineer at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (for two more months).

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