Tag: Ocean

The Oceanic Twilight Zone Is A World Like No Other

There lies in the ocean an unseen world that is filled with creatures beyond the imagination. It lies 660 to 3,300 feet below and is known to scientists as the twilight zone. Not much research has been done on this layer of the ocean, but it is believed that there are more animals here than anywhere else in the world.

There’s a group of scientists currently studying this area’s bizarre inhabitants and they are hoping their research can help find a more sustainable approach to the surface’s fisheries.

Creatures Beyond Science-Fiction

The ocean’s creatures are unique compared to those on land because they each hold their own auditory signature that our ships can detect using our own sound waves. The animals that reside in the twilight zone are also known to produce their own light through different chemical reactions.

This light helps them blend in with the light flowing from the surface. Hatchet fish use this technique called counter-illumination to hide from predators looking for their silhouettes from below. Other animals down here may turn their eyes into giant lenses (like how our eyes adjust to light) or even opt to use other senses instead like the Fangtooth. The Fangtooth is known to bump into objects and other fish using pressure sensors on the sides of its body.

The Great Migration

Biologists have known about a vertical migration since the 1800s because their sample nets seemed to come back fuller at night than during the day. The size of the migration wasn’t discovered till World War II when the Navy sailors detected what they called a “false bottom” on their sonar screens.

The “false bottom” was later named the deep scattering layer as it occasionally rose toward the surface each night and sank again the next morning. This layer is produced when sound waves reflect off gas-filled swim bladders or fat droplets within the migrating creatures. This daily migration is one of the largest in the world and it happens every day. Every night creatures from the dark come to the surface just to return to the depths in the morning.

What is the point? Why travel such long distances every single night? The simple answer is food. They do it for survival, but it also helps our planet regulate climate change.

Helping The Earth’s Climate

The creatures that reside in the twilight zone are very small which is very important in an environment like this since small things don’t eat as much. However, when these organisms travel to the surface at night they will often eat the plant material there before traveling downward.

The plant material they eat consists of a large amount of carbon and through the organism, it gets transferred from the surface to the ocean depths. The animals from the twilight zone will then recycle the carbon they collected as feces, breath it out as carbon dioxide, or just turn it into dissolved organic carbon. This entire process has helped the planet regulate the amount of carbon dioxide that exists in our atmosphere. It’s just another important piece to the giant carbon cycle puzzle.

Want To Know What Ancient Earth Was Like? Look To The Bottom Of The Ocean

Although new species are being discovered on a seemingly daily basis, the bottom of the ocean is still largely uncharted territory for humans. The extreme temperatures and intense levels of pressure make it impossible for humans to safely explore the deep ocean floor, and the equipment necessary to make the journey safely is costly and cumbersome. Oddly enough, scientists have been able to explore even deeper than the ocean floor for half a century. How?

Deep Beneath The Ocean’s Crust

Scientists have been using highly equipped ships to drill into the bottom of the ocean. This is not done in an effort to find oil, but it is done in an effort to find new information about Earth.

A humongous drill is attached to the side of a boat. Sound waves are sent from the boat to the bottom of the ocean so that scientists can tell where the best place to drop the drill is. Studying the sound waves makes it possible to drill in a clear spot in the ocean rather than sending a drill down blindly to break up vegetation or coral reefs.

A Tedious Process

After the right place to drop the drill is determined, the process is far from over. When the drill reaches the bottom of the ocean, it can only drill for a limited amount of time before the tough rock it’s drilling through makes the tip of the drill blunt.

At that point, the drill has to be retracted back up to the boat at the surface of the ocean. The boat’s crew has to replace the drill bit with a new one. Next, a specialized tool is used to put the enormous drill back in the right place. This time-consuming process has to be repeated over and over again in one ocean drilling expedition, but the results are worth the headache.

A Natural Museum Under The Ocean

On land, huge rock structures are a key to understanding the past. Fossils trapped in the rock reveal what kind of animals used to live in that area. Rock fossils are the way scientist know that the continents used to be one supercontinent called Pangea. Ancient fossils on the western coast of Africa are identical to those on the eastern coast of South America.

There is strong evidence that some of the world’s oceans used to be land and that some terrain that is currently land used to be an ocean. For example, many scientists agree that the Sahara Desert was a vast ocean at one time. So, fossils and patterns within the rock structures underneath the ocean can give lots of clues about land animals millions of years ago.

What Has Been Found?

In the last 50 years, ocean drilling has been the cause of many scientific discoveries. This is how we know what ancient marine life looked like.

These clues in the crust are also how we know that dinosaurs died suddenly. The ocean is full of knowledge. Who knows what we’ll discover next?

Did You Know Our Clothing Pollutes The Ocean Too?

The unfortunate truth of today is that people are polluting the Earth’s oceans at unparalleled rates. While littering and plastic straws are surely to blame, there’s another unlikely culprit: our clothing. Here’s how and why this is such a problem.

Synthetics Are Everywhere

A lot of our clothes today are made from plastics. Synthetic fibers such as polyester, nylon, and acrylic are all examples of these materials. What’s even more shocking, is that these plastic fibers make up roughly 60 percent of the material used to manufacture clothes across the entire world.

The reason why these fibers are so popular is understandable. Not only are they extremely cheap, but they’re versatile too. Clothing made from synthetic fibers are normally more stretchy and breathable than say cotton or wool. Although convenient, a major problem with synthetics is what happens when they’re being washed.

What Comes Off In The Wash

Tiny plastic microfibers from all synthetic clothing fall off. This happens when we are merely wearing the clothes, and even when we wash them. And where do you think those microfibers end up? That’s right, in our oceans.

This is because the microfibers are so small that washing machine filters are unable to catch them. After the microfibers end up passing through our sewage systems, the wastewater is then dumped into rivers and other bodies of water, carrying massive amounts of plastic clothing fibers along with it.

“We found that in a typical wash, 700,000 fibers could come off,” said Imogen Napper, a marine scientist at the University of Plymouth. Napper co-authored a study in 2016 which focused on the microfibers that are shed from synthetic clothing.

“A large proportion will get caught by the sewage treatment works, [but] even that small proportion that does fall through is going to accumulate . . . There’s no effective way to remove them.” Napper continued. The microfiber issue has gotten so bad that its estimated roughly 85% of human-made debris on shorelines worldwide is made up from these tiny synthetic materials.

What’s more, small fish such as plankton tend to accidentally ingest these microfibers. Then, other fish eat the plankton and the microfibers move up the food chain. It’s become such a problem that nearly a quarter of the seafood sold in fish markets in California contained plastic and fibrous material in their gut.

How Do We Fix This?

Such a monumental problem doesn’t come with an easy fix, unfortunately. But there are still steps we can take to lessen the damage of synthetic fibers on our oceans.

“Washing machines need to be designed to reduce emissions of fibers to the environment; at the moment they are not,” said Mark Browne, an environmental scientist at the University College Dublin.

While we await more efficient washing machines, there are still small steps individuals can take to reduce the impact of microfiber pollution. These include buying less synthetic clothing as well as washing our clothes only when necessary.

While these efforts may seem small, it’s the least we can do to help save our oceans from microfiber pollution.

Research Shows Being Near The Ocean Does Amazing Things For Your Brain

People love the ocean. It’s no wonder, with so many travelers choosing vacation destinations along the beach. However, have you ever wondered why exactly being near the ocean, or other bodies of water, makes us feel so good?

Wallace J. Nichols, a marine biologist and author, has researched several beneficial effects the ocean has on the brain and body. From exercising more efficiently to achieving a zen-like state, here are a few reasons why people can’t get enough of the ocean.

Boost The Body And The Mind

Yes, exercising near the ocean can do wonders for your workout. Not only is jogging along the beach a killer exercise but being outside near water gives your mind a mental boost while working out. This is because your body is responding to natural stimuli rather than working out in a crowded gym or jogging along a busy city street.

Even just gazing at the blue color of the ocean will make your brain associate more positively with working out. This is because the color blue helps to calm nerves.

“Increased views of blue space is significantly associated with lower levels of psychological distress,” said Amber Pearson, an assistant professor of health geography at Michigan State University. Pearson co-authored a study released in 2016 which outlined how views of the ocean were associated with better mental health.

The Water And Well-Being

“Research has shown that being near, in, on or under water can provide a long list of benefits for our mind and body, including lowering stress and anxiety, increasing an overall sense of well-being and happiness, a lower heart and breathing rate, and safe, better workouts,” said Nichols.

What’s more impressive is that aquatic therapists are looking into how oceans and other bodies of water can help people manage disorders such as PTSD, addiction, anxiety, autism, and more.

Another major benefit of the ocean on the brain is the ocean’s rich amount of negative ions. Research has shown that positive ions are emitted by electrical items such as computers, microwaves, and more. These positive ions can have a draining effect. The negative ions emitted by ocean waves and waterfalls actually help reverse the damage of positive ions. The negative ions help us absorb oxygen better and balance serotonin levels. Serotonin balance is extremely important, as this is the neurotransmitter in our brain which contributes to well-being and happiness.

Seaside Serenity

Bodies of water also put people in a meditative, zen-like state. While this can do amazing things for emotional stress, being in a meditative state can also benefit the body by reducing inflammation and strengthening the immune system.

The ocean’s sounds and visuals give people a break from constant overstimulation, making them more mindful in the process.

“The sound around us, from an auditory perspective, is simplified. It’s not quiet, but the sound of water is far more simple than the sound of voices or the sound of music or the sound of a city,” Nichols said. “And the visual input is simplified. When you stand at the edge of the water and look out on the horizon, it’s visually simplified relative to the room you’re sitting in right now, or a city you’re walking through, where you’re taking in millions of pieces of information every second.”

Scientists Follow As The Pacific’s Great White Sharks Disappear To A Hidden Lair

Ocean researchers recently solved a great mystery about some of the world’s most feared and fascinating animals. Great white sharks star in Hollywood movies, get in-depth Discovery Channel coverage for an entire week each year and haunt beaches and vacations all summer long. And even though these great fish of the sea have existed since the time of the dinosaurs, there is still much that we don’t understand about the great white shark.

Where Do Great Whites Go For The Winter?

One thing we didn’t know about the great whites that frequent California in the summer was where they go once winter rolls around. Some scientists figured out how to lo-jack some great whites and followed them to what looked like a vast void in the middle of the Pacific. This migration spot puzzled researchers who saw it as a dead zone. Great white sharks like to eat seals. That is why they show up at popular swimming areas along the California coast and vacation spots on the Atlantic, such as Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

Seals are mammals, but unlike whales—the largest sea air-breathers—they like to be near land. Out in the middle of the sea, there are no seals. This fact led to much speculation about the shark’s destination. But when ocean scientists looked at this vast 160-mile radius area between California and Hawaii, they noticed it was actually chock-full of tasty tidbits.

Welcome to “White Shark Cafe”

Rather than a cold and empty void, this region has a rich mid-water area that is well-stocked with squid and small fish. The sharks weren’t swimming away to some spot to rest up for the winter, they were going to a veritable smorgasbord.

So, how did the scientists pinpoint where these sharks fled? Through advances in technology, researchers were able to tag certain sharks during their summer frolicking. These pinger tags emit a radio-frequency-signal that allowed the researchers to follow their every move. In addition, the tags also were programmed to detach and float to the surface when the sharks reached their winter feeding spot.

The Cafe Is Wide And Deep

And while the feeding grounds are known to cover a surface region of the Pacific that is roughly the size of Colorado, the surfae area is nothing compared to its volume. Once tagged and monitored, scientists learned that the great sharks were diving deeper than ever thought possible. Here the great white’s food runs reached depths of up to 3,000 feet. These depths are cold and inhospitable to the sharks, but sometimes a warm current flows to these depths. When this happens, schools of squid and fish dive, and the sharks follow.

The sharks follow a diving pattern. During the day, sunlight allows them to dive deep, while at night, they restrain themselves to a shallow dive. The researchers also noted that as summer approaches, male and female sharks approach hunting differently. The males begin rapid repeated diving—up to 140 times a day—while the females continue a night/day pattern.

The reason for this gender difference is now a new mystery for the scientists to ponder.

A Natural Pyramid Protects This Decades-Old Secret

In the South Pacific, off the coast of Australia, only a few miles past the historical Lord Howe Island is Ball’s Pyramid.

Ball’s Pyramid, named after Lieutenant Henry Lidgbird Ball of the Royal Navy, has a unique story behind its creation. Millions of years ago a shield volcano began creating layers that would eventually build a natural pyramid.

The Secret Foundation

The submerged foundation is so massive that it meets all the requirements for consideration as a continent.

It’s the underwater environment, and stunning geographical conditions make it an excellent spot for experienced divers who want experience in shark-inhabited waters.

The Amazing Wildlife

The struggle that kept people off the sea stack for nearly a century was the edges of the island. Bally’s Pyramid has jagged edges which made any research about environment or wildlife extremely difficult. But in 2001, two Australian scientists and a local ranger discovered an extinct species of insect on the pyramid alive and well.

In 1918 an infestation of rats from a ship landing on Lord Howe Island destroyed the bug’s population, and scientists thought of them as extinct.

The Last Of Their Kind

They initially found 24 Lord Howe Island Stick Insects. Unfortunately after many more thorough searches of the island, there were no other insects found. These 24 were the last of their kind, anywhere in the world. After two years of debate, the Australian government allowed for 4 of these insects to enter a breeding program.

The hope of the breeding program might mean that these insects have a chance of survival. On the brink of extinction, two insects were handed off to a successful breeder of walking stick insects, but both died almost immediately.

The Last Hope

At the Melbourne Zoo, Partick Honan a member of the invertebrate conservation breeding group took over, naming the two remaining insects, Adam and Eve. As of 2008, the zoo houses about 700 mature Lord Howe Island Stick Insects and carries about 11,000 incubated eggs at any given time.

Release into the Wild

Finding a home and established habitat for the insects proved a problematic topic. Lord Howe Island still has a large rat population which would put the insects in danger again, and it has human inhabitants. Most of which don’t want giant insects around.

Currently, the critically endangered insects are still under the care of the Melbourne Zoo. But the zoo wasn’t the only one hard at work.

The Expedition

On Ball’s Pyramid, an expedition in 2017 gave hope that the initial population of 24 has had success breeding as well. Ball’s Pyramid does not have a sustainable environment for a large population of these insects and finding them a permanent home is still a problem.

The Melbourne Museum and Zoo began working together to make the bugs appear more appealing. Or, at least more appealing than rats, so the inhabitants of Lord Howe Island would allow the insects to reemerge in their native habitat.

The First Open Platform for Ocean Data

Through the years the World Resources Institute and many other organizations have collected and curated ocean data. But, the World Resources Institute, or WRI, led by Carolyn Savaoldelli is moving a step further into the future.

The goal of creating a platform to house open ocean data for policymakers on any level and scientists.

Resource Watch

Resource Watch is the official name for the database that reveals a massive amount of information about our ocean and environment. The WRI curates, adds, and carefully monitors information to ensure that the database is as complete and unbiased as possible.

There are still a few kinks to work out, but currently, the platform is up and running. Launched in a beta version, Resource Watch is now relying on feedback from users. To contribute, those who possess open ocean information can send the data they have to the WRI for review and curation.

The overall goals of Resource Watch include providing relevant data from reliable crowdsourcing, the scientific community, and satellites, assisting policymakers decision making with high-quality data and enabling the scientific community to continue study into our environment.

Trustworthy Data and Data Curation

The Resource Watch database is unique because it draws metadata from a massive range of resources. But, unlike publicly shared data that anyone can add to or detract from, Resource Watch goes through a curation process from the WRI team. The WRI team has many guiding principles for what data goes into Resource Watch.

They aim for robust, unbiased information that is relevant to the present condition of the environment. Having reliable data about the state of our oceans is the first step for long-term environmental strategy regarding policy-making and daily best practices that can affect everyone.

Creating an Easy to Use System

Because the goals of Resource Watch revolve around a wide range of users, the system must maintain ease of use along with functionality. Scientists and analysts can spend a short time sorting through a lot of data and decipher meaningful information. However, a journalist or policymaker doesn’t have the speed or savvy to work at that same pace.

The Resource Watch system allows anyone within just a few clicks to identify areas of interest now, such as sea level rising and use sliders to see projections of change in the years to come. Easy to access data takeaways can include changes in sea level, salinity, and the presence of plastic or unnatural waste.

Resource Watch continues to work on the functionality of the database so anyone can decipher meaningful information from the database.

Too Much and Too Little Data

The most prominent struggle that Research Watch faces currently is the issue of too little and too much data. Unfortunately, our environment is in a constant state of flux and change, which means that often when data is ready for curation, it is already out of date.

The volume of relevant, useful, and unbiased information is sparse. The WRI hopes that Resource Watch will encourage researchers and those who survey the ocean with satellites to contribute meaningful data and fill in the current gaps.

The Glass Wonderland Of The Ocean’s Deepest Volcanic Eruption

The ocean is home to a variety of spectacular wonders. It doesn’t take much to go into the ocean to find something that seems like it’s come from another world entirely or even another galaxy. Deep sea divers often bring back photographs of mind-blowing creatures and rock structures. The world below the waves is a daring and epic world. One of the most recent of discoveries beneath the ocean is that of a volcanic eruption happening below the surface.

A Beautiful Eruption

While many people associate volcanic eruption with death and destruction, undersea vent eruptions can cause a visual spectacle anyone can appreciate. This is certainly the case for the eruption that occurred near the Mariana Trench near Guam that happened only a couple months ago. Deep sea scientists discovered a glassy wonderland created by an eruption from the hydrothermal vents in the area.

A Rare Spectacle

According to Geologist Bill Chadwick, the eruption of deep-sea hydrothermal vents is actually pretty rare and scientists are rushing to use this opportunity to study the nature of this phenomena and share that information with the rest of the world. Not only is it a beautiful and rare occurrence, but it’s a scientifically valuable one that will help researchers in the future.

New Lava Deposits Equal Value

The deposits that the scientists found were fairly recent, which was a very good thing. Typically they come across older deposits which aren’t as useful scientifically as the chemical reactions that happen when the lava first interacts with the water have already happened. In this case, scientists can study what happens in the earlier stages of an underwater volcanic eruption, which hasn’t happened before.


Sentry To The Rescue!

The Geologist Bill Chadwick was able to make his findings with his team with the help of the underwater autonomous vehicle called Sentry. This amazing vehicle was built by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and is used to survey, collect data and photographs of the Mariana Trench region to bring back information for the geologists and oceanographers to study.


Glass Menagerie

Sentry’s search turned up a large finding, much larger than the scientists had expected. What Sentry discovered were brand new lava flows, which are rare because this happens every few hundred years. The said lava flows also being 450 feet thick and stretching 4.5 miles long. These lava flows coalesce into a beautiful glass menagerie of natural beauty. Not only are these structures of glass beautiful but they also serve as housing for the many creatures who have come to call hydrothermal vents their home.

The oceans are a beautiful place and house some of the world’s greatest natural wonders. Sometimes these natural wonders are difficult to find but with advances in technology, they are becoming more common. More of the oceans are being discovered daily. Perhaps someday with more help with automotive tools like Sentry, the world can discover new depths of imagination and science.

MORE: Underwater volcanos have created a natural highway and sanctuary for traveling whales only discovered recently, baffling scientists.