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.
In the summer of 2007, bright searchlights were helping engineers get space shuttle Endeavour ready for its next trip to space. But just a few hundred yards away, the lights were bad news.
When a black coral known as Leiopathes took root near the island of Oahu, the great pyramids of Giza glistened fresh and new in the Egyptian sun, their flanks encased in smooth limestone.
Over the millennia, the pyramids have crumbled a bit. Their casing stones were stripped away, and the desert encroached on their flanks. But the coral colonies have continued to grow, covering thousands of square feet of sea floor. Today, at an age of more than 4,250 years, they’re among the oldest living organisms on the planet.
A fortune is sitting at the bottom of the world’s oceans. And for the foreseeable future, at least, it’s likely to stay there.
The fortune is locked up in small chunks known as manganese nodules. Most are about the size of potatoes, but some are bigger than a dining room table. Manganese makes up about a quarter of the typical nodule, with iron accounting for another five percent or so. But the nodules also contain fair amounts of nickel, copper, cobalt, and several other elements, along with smaller amounts of platinum and other precious metals.
The Greenland shark already has several aliases -- sleeper shark, ground shark, and others. But another good one might be the “wrong-way” shark. While other sharks head for warmer waters during winter, the Greenland shark heads for colder waters. It rises toward the surface, where water temperatures drop to near freezing -- several degrees colder than the deeper layers it inhabits during summer.
The Greenland shark is found mainly in the North Atlantic, from New England and Canada across to Scandinavia -- farther north than any other shark.
If you don’t like creepy-crawlies, then you might want to avoid the undersea mountain chain known as Macquarie Ridge. One of its peaks is covered with tens of millions of brittlestars -- relatives of starfish and sea urchins that look like fat, five-legged spiders.
Macquarie Ridge stretches from New Zealand southward to the Antarctic Circle. Some of its peaks -- known as seamounts -- reach to within about 300 feet of the surface.
Much of the floor of the Gulf of Mexico is flat and drab. But about a hundred miles off the Texas coast, it explodes with life and color. Yellow-and-blue angelfish, burnt orange creolefish, and kaleidoscopic grouper live among coral reefs that can reach to within 50 feet of the surface. Purple and orange sponges are anchored to the bottom, along with red seaweed. And fuzzy orange worms and flaming ruby brittle stars scuttle along the seabed.
An octopus that lives in the waters around Antarctica is like the elderly aunt who never left home. It stayed put while its relatives went out to see the world. More than 30 million years ago, those relatives went deep. And about 15 million years ago, they cruised northward on a highway of dense, salty water.
Great white sharks really get around. In 2000, researchers tracked one that swam almost 2500 miles, from California to Hawaii. And three years later, another great white swam from South Africa to Australia and back again in just nine months -- a round trip of almost 13,000 miles.
Scientists tracked these movements with electronic tags. The tags broadcast data to a satellite when they came to the surface.
When Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos Islands in 1835, he was greeted by an assortment of wildlife unlike anything he’d seen before. He saw giant tortoises, odd-looking iguanas, and several new varieties of finches. These critters helped him develop his idea that life adapts to survive in different environments.
One of the silliest creatures that Darwin saw was a marine bird that’s ungainly on land, but a precision diver at sea.