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 bottom of most of the Gulf of Mexico is a featureless plain coated with mud. There’s no hard surface for corals or other bottom-dwellers to latch on to. But a few thousand busy habitats do spring from the muddy bottom. They’re like marine versions of high-rise apartments, bustling with life from bottom to top: oil platforms.
Barnacles, mussels, corals, and other shelled creatures attach themselves to the heavy piers and support beams. That attracts fish of all varieties, which in turn attract birds and turtles, establishing a vibrant oasis of life.
They might not look it, but sea urchins are the underwater equivalent of Mongol hordes. Left unchecked, they can strip a kelp forest clean, leaving a barren seafloor that supports little life. That also makes them good markers of an ocean habitat’s health: too many of the spiny little critters means that something is out of whack.
Most sea urchins are no more than a few inches across. They have a hard, dome-like shell that’s covered with spines that can jab your foot if you step on them.
The oceans could someday supply enormous amounts of electricity — and it could be as simple as turning on the hot and cold running water.
The process is called ocean thermal energy conversion. It takes advantage of the fact that at tropical latitudes, there’s a big difference in temperature between water at the surface and a few thousand feet down. The warm surface water can drive turbines, while the cold deep water can keep the cycle going.
As you stroll along a tropical beach, you’ll notice the rippling of the waves, the warm touch of the water, and perhaps the slow rise and fall of the tides. It’s all gentle and relaxing. But there’s great power behind those quiet processes — enough to supply most of the energy needs for the entire planet.
A few places are already generating electricity from ocean tides. The tides ebb and flow every day, moving enormous amounts of water. This motion can turn turbines that generate electricity — the same process that powers hydroelectric dams.
It takes a lot of food to keep a tiger shark going. It’s one of the giants of the sea — a typical adult is about 10 feet long and weighs half a ton. And a really big one can be twice that size. What’s more, a tiger shark is active — it expends a lot of energy every day.
It’s not surprising, then, that tiger sharks will eat just about anything that paddles, jets, or wiggles through the water. Their diet includes fish, seals, squid, sea turtles and snakes, rays, and even other sharks. But the buffet doesn’t end there.
The oceans are constantly changing. Sunlight warms them, storms churn them up, and rivers add freshwater and nutrients. Some of these changes are important to our everyday lives, while others have a more long-term significance. But to use and understand these changes, we need lots of information — and a way to package it into a big-picture view of the oceans and coastlines.
A new program is trying to create that big-picture view by bringing together many different sources of data. It’s called IOOS — the Integrated Ocean Observing System.
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.