A (mostly) real-time animated map of global ocean currents, from Cameron Beccario. Play with it here.
Also check out this great real-time map of America’s wind patterns.
Stars In Your Eyes. Wait, Reverse That…
Say, did you know that sea stars can see? Seriously, spots at the tip of their spindly stumps let them sight snacks, silently sneak, and scurry to safety away from sinister assailants.
(Photo of sea star compound eye spot by Dan-Eric Nilsson)
Jason Isley’s Marine Miniatures
The ocean is full of treasures for the eyes. Anyone who’s looked at a gallery of nudibranchs knows that. But eventually, a picture of a fish is just a picture of a fish.
Jason Isley, an underwater photographer for ScubaZoo, decided to spice it up a bit by adding miniature people to the mix in his Underwater Minitaures series on Flickr. In his photos, the reef is transformed into an alien world full of giant (sea)horses, terrifying sand eels, and toxic-orange gardens of whoknowswhat. The way he matches the miniatures to the marine biology is both hilarious and admirable.
Not all of his creations are so lighthearted, though. One paints a “fish bomb” scene (a destructive fishing method using dynamite) as CSI case. And many zoom in on the tiny toxic waste and plastic garbage dumps that litter our oceans.
I’ve selected a few of my favorites here, and Christie Wilcox has a lot more over at Science Sushi (which is where I found them). Go tour Jason Isley’s full gallery on his Flickr page.
If you release 29,000 rubber duckies into the ocean, where do they end up? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friendly_Floatees - Our cool world.
How! They all started in the same place and ended up pretty much /everywhere/. So weird!
These 29,000 rubber ducks, lost from a cargo ship in 1992, have taught us a lot about ocean currents and how plastic debris degrades and enters the marine food chain.
This happens in places like the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”, which is not the flotilla of lawn chairs and styrofoam cups you might be picturing. Instead, it’s microscopic particles, degraded by salt and sunlight, that cover thousands of square miles of ocean. That’s harmful for most creatures, but oddly beneficial for others. Find out more about the Garbage Patch here.
The story of the lost ducks is a fascinating one, though. Check out this NPR interview with Donovan Hohn, who tracked the ducks worldwide. He wrote a book about it called Moby Duck, which is just about the best title for a book, ever.
Watch these fiddler crabs - tiny but energetic - battle on a Panamanian beach, full epic soundtrack included.
The video comes courtesy of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History’s Ocean Portal. To learn more about the pint-sized warriors, take a look at John Christy’s research about the evolution of fiddler crab claws.
First off, a big round of applause for the Friday Night Lights reference.
This video (by my friend Hannah Waters) is a minute and a half of epically soundtracked “come at me bro” posturing on a crustacean scale.
So why do male fiddler crabs disobey the almost universal rule of symmetry in nature? Are they, you know, compensating for something?
That claw is heavy, and takes a lot of energy to lug around and wave. But it’s also a good tool to battle other males and attract females. It’s all in the balance of the two. Check out that link from John Christy to find out more about the evolution of this heavy-handed beachcrawler.
Now make sure you keep your left up …
The vast, unexplored ocean is filled with wonderful and mysterious creatures. This week, we journey far offshore for a midnight drift dive with over 1,000 feet of water between us and the seafloor. The animals here are bizarre and beautiful, and little is known about their biology.
If you didn’t know that what you are looking at is real, you wouldn’t believe it was real. Welcome to alien Earth, the undiscovered deep. It’s even weirder at night!
Great new channel from PBS Digital Studios (who also produce my show, full disclosure).
Into the Abyss: Incredible Shrinking Cups
Marine biologists and ocean scientists are somewhat of a tribe unto themselves. They spend weeks and months in cramped conditions aboard research vessels, doing science that’s a bit unlike any other science, and drinking enough to make Jack Sparrow proud. So it’s perfectly natural that their tribe would have some unique customs.
I discovered one of those today: Sending styrofoam cups to the bottom of the ocean as souvenirs.
When exploring deep ocean trenches and thermal vents, it’s usually a robot or a high-tech manned submersible doing the dirty work. The Cayman trough (where the top cup went) is home to some of the world’s deepest hydrothermal vents. At around 5,000 meters deep, the cup experiences nearly 500 times the pressure we experience at sea level. And since styrofoam is a foam made of air pockets inside a hydrocarbon polymer, it compresses under the added weight!
The bottom cup began as a normal-sized drinking utensil. But after it went to the bottom of the Mariana Trench (the world’s deepest point), it returned the size of a ketchup packet. The pressure down there is about a thousand times higher than at the surface!
What would 25 feet of sea-level change actually look like?
According to worst-case climate models (meaning “what would happen if we continue to emit greenhouse gases at the rate we do today”), our grandchildren and great-grandchildren could experience a world with remarkably higher sea levels. Up to 25 feet higher.
Using data from a New York Times interactive feature, Nickolay Lamm made a collection of photos showing us just what that might look do to tourist destinations. io9 has even more, including Miami Beach and the Washington Monument.
The saddest part of these future-shock photos is that tourist destinations will be the last of our worries. This means entire cities could be at risk, from New Orleans to Los Angeles to London. And outside of industrialized nations, with their levees and engineers, more than 40% of the world’s population lives in coastal regions at risk of Earth-changing floods.
Courting the Octopi
The mating behavior of the Abdopsus aculeatus octopus, noted here for its sheer oddity. That’s a male up there, joined to the female by his spermatophore-delivering leg, being pulled along the sea floor as he continues to deliver his genetic information for as long as he can hold on. The slightly adorable/slightly pod-people result is in the bottom photo, a set of growing octominis attached to the mother.
Check out a step-by-step explanation of this unique dance and more photos from Dr. Roy Caldwell at Tonmo. It’s truly rare and remarkable that something like this was captured in such detail. Bravo.
At 200 meters, we leave the Photic Zone and enter the first layer of the deep sea – the Twilight Zone. At this depth, there’s less than 1% of the sunlight at the surface, the pressure has increased twentyfold, and the temperature has dropped to 4º — but we find a world of extraordinary beauty.
Your daily dose of “wow” …
Reminds me of this quote:
"We know more about the surface of the Moon and about Mars than we do about [the deep sea floor], despite the fact that we have yet to extract a gram of food, a breath of oxygen or a drop of water from those bodies.”
That’s from Paul Snelgrove, who created the Census of Marine Life, an effort to catalogue the incredible biological diversity in our oceans. Check out Snelgrove’s TED talk on the project to find out why it’s so important that we learn about the living treasures buried in and at the bottom of our seas.
I'm Joe Hanson, Ph.D. biologist and host/writer of PBS Digital Studios' It's Okay To Be Smart. Subscribe on YouTube by clicking below:
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