Our perpetual oceans

A fascinating and rather zen animation of ocean surface currents from 2005 through 2007, from NASA satellites.

As NASA notes: “Watch how bigger currents like the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean and the Kuroshio in the Pacific carry warm waters across thousands of miles at speeds greater than four miles per hour (six kilometers per hour); how coastal currents like the Agulhas in the Southern Hemisphere move equatorial waters toward Earth’s poles; and how thousands of other ocean currents are confined to particular regions and form slow-moving, circular pools called eddies.”

This animation was made using ECCO model-data synthesis (ECCO is a NASA project otherwise known as “Estimating the Circulation and Climate of the Ocean”).

“ECCO model-data syntheses are being used to quantify the ocean’s role in the global carbon cycle, to understand the recent evolution of the polar oceans, to monitor time-evolving heat, water, and chemical exchanges within and between different components of the Earth system, and for many other science applications.” – Aries Keck, NASA

Perpetual Ocean_shot 3 

Notable Ocean Quotable: plastic bags

“There is no reason a product we use for a few minutes should float in our oceans for a few hundred years.”

Dave Mathews of Environment Oregon

After the state legislature failed to take decisive action to reduce Oregonians’ use of single-use plastic bags, a mosaic of activists, conservationists and just plain sensible people are working in cities and counties across the state to take action to reduce this most destructive habit of consumers.

Pic ‘o the week – technicolor nudibranch


Nudibranch, Papua New Guinea. Photo courtesy Jan Messersmith

Nudibranch, nudibranch, living in the sea.
Bright flashing colors say, ”Don’t eat me!”
–by Erin Nash 

These mollusks without shells live in seas the world over, and come in all colors – even neons. National Geographic provides some quick nudibranch facts:

“There are more than 3,000 known species of nudibranch, and new ones are being identified almost daily. They are found throughout the world’s oceans, but are most abundant in shallow, tropical waters. Their scientific name, Nudibranchia, means naked gills, and describes the feathery gills and horns that most wear on their backs.”

Thanks to Jan Messersmith for this gorgeous photo.

Pic o’ the week – spotted scorpionfish

Spotted scorpionfish (Scorpaena plumieri), Florida Keys

Can you tell where the oceanfloor ends and the fish begins? Terrific camouflage.

Students from Missouri’s Saint Joseph School District encountered this creature during their spring field study in the Florida Keys. In their words –

“This spotted scorpionfish was photographed in shallow water off Burnt Point in the Florida Keys. The three bands on the tail help to ID this fish. He ignored us for a good ten minutes while we took all the photographs we cared to.

This well-camouflaged fish can deliver serious puncture wounds with its dorsal spines that cause severe pain and illness.”

Here’s another pic of the fish moving that helps you see it a little more clearly:

Photos courtesy Sean Nash

Sea turtle hatchlings LOVE beach resort lights

There’s bound to be messiness when creatures who’ve roamed the seas and beaches for millions of years face the relatively newfangled phenomenon of artifical light. Scientists believe that sea turtle hatchlings, when they emerge from their shells on beaches around the world, institnctually move in the direction where the sky is brightest. On a beach with no artificial lights, that direction is most often the open horizon of the sea.

Here, a few people from the group SeaTurtle Oversight Protection in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida took a night camera out on the beach as they tried to re-direct scores of hatchlings who scurried relentlessly toward the resort lights on a beach… even when they were put in the lapping waves of the ocean instead.

Citizen reporting giving us an interesting visual view of light pollution (and, further into the video, beach chair hazards) and turtle nesting – not meshing well together.

* See Andrew Revkin’s NY Times Dot Earth post about this post & STOP’s video: On Florida Beaches, Let There Be Dark

Pic o’ the week – bathypelagic ctenophore

It looks like a molar tooth drenched in gold, or maybe a metallic mylar birthday balloon. But this is a bathypelagic ctenophore, photographed near the Mid-Atlantic Ridge of the Atlantic Ocean. The ‘bathypelagic zone’ is the layer of the ocean about 3,000 – 13,000 feet deep, sometimes called “The Midnight Zone”, because there is no light at these depths.

Ctenophores are known to many as comb jellyfish – they have eight rows of cilia that look like combs, which they use to move through the sea. Researchers say this one anchors to the seafloor with its tentacles.

Researchers collaborating on the Census of Marine Life returned from an expedition to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, brimming with findings of new creatures, reporting on unexpected abundance of some already-known creatures, and sharing stunning photos (like this one) with the world.

“This expedition has revolutionised our thinking about deep-sea life in the Atlantic Ocean. It shows that we cannot just study what lives around the edges of the ocean and ignore the vast array of animals living on the slopes and valleys in the middle of the Ocean,” said Professor Monty Priede, Director of the University of Aberdeen’s Oceanlab.

Photo by David Shale, courtesy University of Aberdeen

Pic o’ the week – transparent sea cucumber, Gulf of Mexico

A transparent sea cucumber, photographed 1.7 miles down (2,750 meters) in the Northern Gulf of Mexico. Scientists found this transparent sea cucumber, Enypniastes, creeping forward on its many tentacles at less than 1 inch (2 cm) per minute while sweeping detritus-rich sediment into its mouth. From LiveScience; photo by Larry Madin, Woods Hole Oceanographic Inst.


The fact that the BP oil leak is gushing a mile underwater has kept the incident from becoming the complete public relations disaster it would be if a fraction of the oil geyser’s output was coming anywhere near lots of shore or humans.

This is divine luck for BP right now.

But it’s the opposite for the wildly diverse and biologically important life in the Gulf of Mexico’s deep waters.

The creatures of the deep sea are not entirely documented nor understood by researchers. Complex, labor-intensive and invaluable expeditions have been regularly trying to find these creatures, document them, and study their wondrous biologies, including bioluminescence and visual polarization. Thousands and thousands of creatures somehow thrive in darkness. Some are so delicate, their bodies disintegrate when scientists try to capture them for study.

The deep sea “is the Earth’s largest continuous ecosystem and largest habitat for life. It is also the least studied,” said researcher Chris German of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, co-chair of Biogeography of Deep-Water Chemosynthetic Systems project, part of the global 10-year Census of Marine Life.

It’s difficult to know how the sea life anywhere near the mile-deep oil spigot – or those being soaked in BP’s chemical dispersant (Corexit 9500) – will live through it. And even harder to understand how the damage at those depths could be documented.

It will be the silent, unmarked devastation of the Deepwater Horizon blowout. We’ll probably never know the magnitude of destruction at depth.


refuges in the first oil impact zone?

Much news, none of  it good, is streaming to us from the Gulf of Mexico, where an exploded oil rig has likely claimed 11 human lives and its uncapped well has gushed over 818 tons of crude oil into the sea so far and is spewing out more than 210,000 gallons a day. Today the oil slick covers an area at least 600 square miles large.

First in line in the potential impact zone? Two jewels of the national wildlife refuge system:

The Delta National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1935 as a bird sanctuary, is home to ducks, geese, raptors, wading birds, shorebirds, and several bird rookeries. Accessible to humans only by boat, the Mississippi Delta refuge is mostly marsh habitat.

To its northeast, the Breton National Wildife Refuge, established 106 years ago by Theodore Roosevelt, is a series of barrier islands whose sizes and shapes are constantly altered by tropical storms, wind, and tides. The refuge is habitat for colonies of nesting wading birds and seabirds, and wintering shorebirds and waterfowl.

Right now, it’s teeming with brown pelicans, laughing gulls, and royal, Caspian, and Sandwich terns – it’s the beginning of their nesting season.

“They [BP engineers] are putting out some containment booms to the south and east of Breton refuge,” Byron Fortier of the Southeast Louisiana Refuge Complex/Fish & Wildlife Service, told Oceanwire. “That might deflect any oil that might be headed that way.”

But, he says, “If any quantities of oil reach them, they will be very much impacted.”

Photo and map courtesy US Fish & Wildlife Service

greening surfboards

Many surfers tend to be concerned about our oceans’ health – they spend  a lot of time immersed in their waters, after all.

That their sole piece of sporting equipment – the surfboard – is made of a brew of chemicals, including petroleum-based foam, polyester resins and chemically treated fiberglass, has long been what reporter Mike Anton calls “surfing’s quiet contradiction”.

Anton’s intriguing LA Times article about the state of surfboard production is a good read. As some surfboard shapers try to use more eco-friendly ingredients in surfboard ‘blanks’, debate rages about whether it can really be done.

One venture, San Diego-based Malama Composites, is producing soy-based foam cores. Another, Green Foam Blanks, is recycling the foam core dust for new blanks.

Can it be done? Stay tuned.

Photo courtesy Millzero Photography/Ali Nishan