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.
It’s been 35 years since people last walked on the Moon. Astronauts Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt wrapped up the Apollo program in December of 1972. In all, a dozen men left their footprints in the lunar soil -- and there are plans for new missions in about a decade.
It’s been a good bit longer since anyone saw the bottom of the deepest part of the ocean -- the Challenger Deep, in the Mariana Trench of the eastern Pacific. And there are no plans to send anyone back anytime soon.
A great “river” flows through the eastern Gulf of Mexico -- the Loop Current. It sometimes pinches off to form eddies as big as Louisiana. These spinning pockets of warm water can provide the energy to boost a hurricane from a relatively minor storm to a monster in just hours inside the Gulf.
The Loop Current develops as warm water flows into the Gulf through the Straits of Yucatan -- the gap between Cuba and the Yucatan. The current curls around Cuba and continues through the Straits of Florida into the Atlantic, forming the warm current known as the Gulf Stream.
The bulkiest animal on the planet is the blue whale. But it may not be the longest. That distinction may go to one of the most ethereal of all animals -- a jellyfish. The tentacles of one species can stretch almost half the length of a football field.
When Ferdinand Magellan sailed into a great new ocean west of the Americas, it was so tranquil that he named it the Pacific -- a name that means calm and peaceful.
But the rim of the Pacific is anything but peaceful. It’s known as the “Ring of Fire,” and it’s one of the most geologically active zones on the planet. It’s best known for the volcanoes that dot the landscape from New Zealand to Alaska to the tip of South America. But it’s also responsible for arcs of volcanic islands, and for the deepest chasms in the oceans.
Marine scientists explore the sea in many ways. They drop instruments over the sides of boats, watch with orbiting satellites, and scoot around below the surface for a few hours at a time inside small submarines. But there’s only one place where they can hang out below the surface for long periods: an underwater lab known as Aquarius.
At the bottom of almost any ocean, you’ll find an assortment of creatures with small disk-like bodies and five gangly arms: brittle stars. They’re described as among the most “cosmopolitan” creatures in the sea, because they’re found around the world -- from the Arctic and Antarctic to the tropics.
In the early 1800s, much of the economy of the infant United States depended on the sea -- fishing, whaling, and international trade. Yet sailing into American harbors could be tricky, because there were few good charts of hidden reefs and other obstructions -- or even of the coastline itself. So in 1807, Congress created a new agency -- the Survey of the Coast -- to map the entire coastline.
One of the world’s longest mountain ranges twists it way down the center of the Atlantic Ocean -- the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Its peaks can tower up to two miles high, and they’re separated by steep-sided canyons. The ridge marks the boundary between oceanic plates, where hot rock is pushing up from far below the ocean floor to make new crust.
After the Titanic sank in 1912, world shipping powers began a program to find and track icebergs, and keep ships well informed of their positions. The program has saved countless lives. It’s also helped oceanographers learn more about them.
To qualify as an iceberg, a chunk of ice must be at least 50 feet long, and stand about 17 feet above the surface. Even such a minimal berg would be huge, though, because almost 90 percent of an iceberg’s body is below the surface.
Humans aren’t the only mammals to use nets when they go fishing. Some humpback whales do it, too. But their nets are made of bubbles. The humpbacks swim in circles, blasting air through their blowholes.
This creates a “net” of bubbles that traps krill and fish inside. The whale then swims up through the middle of the net, opens its jaws, and traps hundreds of pounds of food at a single gulp.
The unusual fishing technique is only one feature that attracts scientists and the rest of us to these giant creatures. Another is their songs.