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.
If you ask beachcombers to name their favorite shell, most are likely to tell you it’s the sand dollar. It’s a thin disk that’s usually no more than an inch or two across — a shape that resembles an old dollar coin. A pattern on one side of the disk looks like a flower with five petals.
But the expired sand dollars that people like to collect aren’t shells at all. Instead, they’re skeletons — technically known as tests.
The northwestern corner of the Atlantic Ocean is a danger zone. The shipping lanes are crowded, the weather can turn violent, and dense fog covers the Grand Banks off the coast of Newfoundland. And then there’s the most famous menace of all: icebergs. These islands of ice have claimed hundreds of ships, from fishing boats to the Titanic.
If beauty really is in the eye of the beholder, then Marjorie Courtney-Latimer must have had the most discriminating eye in all of South Africa. On December 23rd, 1938, the museum curator in the town of East London spotted what she later called the most beautiful fish I had ever seen in the catch of a local trawler.
Most of the time, the blue-ringed octopus is rather ordinary looking. It’s no more than a few inches long, and its body is colored in shades of brown, beige, or yellow.
But every once in a while, vibrant blue rings blossom all over its body and tentacles. It’s a beautiful sight, but one you don’t want to see up close and personal. It means the octopus is ready to attack. And despite its tiny size, the blue-ringed is the deadliest of all species of octopus. It can paralyze and kill an adult human in minutes.
Ethanol is a plant-based fuel that’s supposed to help reduce the world’s dependence on oil and cut down on greenhouse gases in the air. And in the United States, it’s caught on big. At the end of last year, monthly production was triple the rate of just five years earlier.
But while ethanol may help keep the air cleaner, there’s concern that it could increase the size of the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.
Anyone who’s heard the tale of the Titanic knows that icebergs hold the power of life and death. They can mean sudden death for any ship that doesn’t give them the proper respect. And their own births can destroy ocean life, while their deaths can sow the seeds of new life.
A sea turtle spots a jellyfish floating at the surface and swoops in for a bite -- but the snack is really a plastic bag. An albatross nabs what looks like a fish, but it’s really a plastic lighter. And a small fish snaps up what it thinks is an egg, but it’s really a tiny bead used to make jewel cases for CDs.
People sometimes describe themselves as "left-brained" or "right-brained," because the two sides of the brain play different roles in logic and creativity. But dolphins take the two-sided-brain thing to extremes: they sleep with half of their brain still awake.
The reason for the difference is the environment. Since people live in the air, we don’t need to consciously control our breathing. When we sleep, we breathe regularly, with no worries about anything clogging up our lungs.
Over the last century, global sea level has gone up by about eight inches. And over the next century, many predict that it could rise by several feet.
But tracking the changes in sea level isn’t easy, because the water in the oceans is never still.
The tides cause the level to go up and down every day. Winds pile water against the shore. Warm water expands, creating a higher level. And ocean currents, rain, changes in air pressure, and many other effects can cause the level to rise and fall.
The sea has long shared its bounty with people. Over the centuries, its creatures have provided food, fuel, clothing, and many other basic needs. And in the decades ahead, they may provide an abundance of one more necessity: medicine.
Many of the drugs in use today were derived from plants and animals found on land. But in recent years, researchers have started looking for new sources of medicine in the oceans.