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.
Like wine, ocean water has its own vintage — in essence, the date it was bottled. Marine scientists determine the vintage by measuring the water’s chemistry. The oldest water mass in the oceans may be almost a thousand years old.
It may be surprising to hear that not all ocean water is alike. The oceans consist of great masses of water. Each mass is determined by its temperature and salinity. It begins to age after it loses contact with the surface.
Scientists determine the age of a water mass by measuring its chemistry.
On warm summer days, the waters around Antarctica can explode in a feeding frenzy. Whales leap from the water, penguins plunge in like black-and-white torpedoes, and birds hover by the thousands. The cause of all this activity is a small creature that’s one of the most important food sources in the oceans: krill.
A new Mars rover is about ready to study an alien landscape. Instead of cold, orange, and dusty, though, this landscape is cold, black, and sludgy — the bottom of Monterey Bay off the coast of California.
The rover is called the Benthic Rover — benthic meaning bottom of the ocean. It’s one of five experiments that’ll be supported by MARS -- the Monterey Accelerated Research System.
A good way to get strong and healthy is to pump iron. And there’s some evidence that pumping a little iron into the oceans could make the environment stronger and healthier, too.
The microscopic plants that float at the top of the oceans, known as phytoplankton, take carbon dioxide that’s entered the ocean from the atmosphere and incorporate it into their bodies. When they die, they sink deeper into the oceans, where they can lock up the carbon for decades or centuries. And some of them fall to the bottom, where the carbon can be locked up for millions of years.
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.