Our regular Science and the SeaTM radio program presents marine science topics in an engaging two-minute story format. Our script writers gather ideas for the radio program from the University of Texas Marine Science Institute's researchers and from our very popular college class, Introduction to Oceanography, which we teach to hundreds of non-science majors at The University of Texas at Austin every year. Our radio programs are distributed at to commercial and public radio stations across the country.
The 1770s were a stormy time in southern Georgia, with perhaps a half-dozen tropical storms plowing through the region. The first couple of decades of the 1800s were stormy, too, along with a couple more in the mid 1800s.
Written records of the storms range from spotty to non-existent. But scientists have found strong evidence of the storms in another kind of record: tree rings.
The oceans are always changing. In the early 1990s, for example, several studies showed that the north polar ice cap was getting thinner. Scientists confirmed the trend later in the decade from below the ice cap -- during a series of research cruises aboard U.S. Navy submarines.
The project was called SCICEX -- the Scientific Ice Expeditions. It began with a test run in 1993, and continued with annual cruises aboard nuclear-powered attack submarines from 1995 through ’99.
Since the days of Ernest Hemingway, it’s been the ultimate symbol of man versus the sea: A spirited fight between an angler and a marlin or sailfish, its sleek body whipping back and forth as it leaps from the water.
When fish and other creatures swim into the crater of a submerged volcano in the south Pacific, they’re entering a strange environment known as the “Moat of Death.” Temperatures in the moat are up to almost 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Toxic waters kill almost anything that enters, so dead organisms pile up on the bottom of the moat.
There’s nothing quite like the colors of a clear ocean or sea. Shallow seas and lagoons often show a crystalline aqua color, like a perfect sliver of turquoise. And the deep oceans look darker -- a field of navy blue as far as the eye can see.
The color of the oceans or seas depends on how clear they are. Near river deltas, they look brown because of silt in the water. And “blooms” of algae can color the water brown or red.
But in its purest form, the water appears deep blue. And it looks that way for the same reason that the sky looks blue.
The word “steroids” may conjure images of bulky baseball players, or of cancer patients undergoing treatment. But steroids aren’t just drugs for bodybuilders and medical patients. Naturally occurring steroids are important hormones that help control reproduction and other bodily functions.
Steroids may also play a role in how we handle stress. To find out more about that, researchers are studying steroids in fish to see if they are involved in adapting to environmental stresses.
It wasn’t exactly the starship Enterprise, but in 1960, a craft carried two explorers where no one had gone before -- or has followed since: to the deepest part of the ocean. Their craft was the Trieste, and it descended to the bottom of the Challenger Deep. At a depth of about seven miles, the craft’s hull was squeezed by more than eight tons of pressure per square inch.
Today, scientists make regular use of similar craft, called submersibles. They’ve made thousands of dives, and explored most of the world’s oceans and seas.
A walk along most Atlantic or Gulf beaches is likely to include an encounter with a smelly mass of seaweed known as sargassum. It’s a minor nuisance if you’re out for a stroll -- but it’s home to many species of marine life.
Sargassum is a type of brown algae. It comes from the Sargasso Sea, a region of the Central Atlantic.
The tangled thickets of trees known as mangroves don’t look all that mobile. In some parts of the world, though, they’re backing up -- seeking higher ground as the oceans rise to higher levels. But in some regions, the mangroves might not be able to retreat far enough, so whole mangrove “forests” could disappear.
When the earliest mariners sailed into the deep blue sea, they had no idea just how deep it was. The bottom might have been just out of sight, or it might have been limitless. But human curiosity being what it is, they had to find out. And they’re still doing it today, only with more sophisticated techniques.