Deep below the surface of the ocean, humans are constantly uncovering more about the mysteries of life. Recently, scientists have discovered creatures in the ocean that manage to subsist on very little energy, and are millions of years old.
It is easy to miss ancient forms of life on this planet when they are unseen by the naked eye. If anyone is looking for the fountain of youth, microbes may have the secret.
A Steady Diet Of Almost Nothing
Most of the life forms that humans are acquainted with require sunlight and food to survive. Marine life that occasionally breaks through the surface, or can be viewed when snorkeling is similar to surface dwellers. However, when it comes to the darkest recesses of the ocean, where sunlight is practically non-existent, life takes on complex and fascinating forms.
Possums are not the only creatures on the planet to ‘play dead,’ as microbes living in the Pacific Ocean have been cheating death for 75-million-years. According to scientist James Bradley, it is suspected that these microbes have evolved to burn off an iota of energy to maintain their life.
Compared to a human being which requires 97.2 joules a second, the ancient microbes in the Pacific require only 0.00000000001 joules annually to thrive. Despite the lack of sunlight and food, these microbes have largely gone unnoticed until now.
Searching For Signs Of Life
The discovery of these ancient microbes is huge for science and how humans define life. While many people are on a quest to colonize Mars, determining whether a seemingly inhabitable place can support life is vital. Thanks to the existence of these million-year-old microbes, scientists realize the importance of not ruling out the existence of life forms in a seemingly barren environment.
Why are scientists so obsessed with focusing on microbes when searching for proof of life? Humans have enjoyed rich relationships with microorganisms. Microbes are integral to digesting food, maintaining organ system functions, and live in symbiosis inside and out of our bodies.
Although human beings may carry a sequence of nearly 25,000 genes, microbes are estimated to have 500 times this number. There is still so much that humans do not understand about microbes, how they adapt to environments and the driving factors behind their behavior and existence.
Stardust And Microbes
Humans rely on microbes, bacteria, and fungi more than they may realize. Studying microbes, seeking to understand their unique life cycles and survival methods in inhospitable environments is essential to research. If human beings are to eventually colonize other planets beyond earth, microbes will surely play a role in human’s success or failure.
Discovering forms of life in water have been a critical part of surveying whether humans can one day inhabit a planet. Exploration of Mars has determined that there may have been water on the planet’s surface in the past, but signs of life may be present underground. Getting a better knowledge of the building blocks of life have often hinged on the study of microorganisms.
The ocean floor has maintained its mysteries for millennia. Even though humans may know a lot about the Earth, space, and external planets, the water that composes most of our planet has eluded our knowledge base. There’s no better way than a friendly competition with a million dollar reward to encourage public interest in the sciences, technological advancements, and curiosity about our oceans.
Compared to the detailed maps displaying the surface of the Earth, ocean maps are in sore need of an update. Teams of students and professional researchers around the world have eagerly developed UAVs and underwater drones to accomplish the mission.
Hidden Beneath The Surface
Regarding the earth’s oceans and marine life, there is still so much that humans can learn. The XPRIZE Foundation was created to stimulate people to become innovative, explore ideas, and help the progression of technology and society. After much anticipation since 2015, the finalists and location for the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE Foundation competition have been announced.
Eight teams will be competing with one another in an effort to map out the seafloor off of the coast of Kalamata, Greece. The competition injects a new energy into research of the world’s oceans. So much about what humans know regarding the sites of archaeological finds, forms of marine life, and specific geological features are murky.
Race To Capture The Map
The technology that each of the eight teams will use during the competition will be rigorously tested. The desire to push the boundaries of science and technology is intense, as each team will only have 24 hours to complete their goal. A minimum of 100 square miles of ocean floor will have to be successfully canvassed, up to a depth of 13,000 feet.
Unmanned autonomous vessels that are capable of traveling undersea and capturing high-resolution images are a must. If a team is to beat the clock and emerge the victor, they will need reliable technology that can create a map that identifies a minimum of ten specific features. Bragging rights and a four-million-dollar prize will be awarded to the winning team, while second place will be rewarded with one million dollars.
Uncharted Territory No More
The world’s oceans hold a vast amount of untapped resources and information. Emerging technology that can help better chart and study the oceans will be useful for climate change, industry, and preserving life on the planet. Surprisingly, only five percent of the world’s oceans have been fully explored, and understanding the sensitivity of the ocean to incoming cosmic rays would be beneficial.
The continuation of modern human society is dependent on maintaining healthy oceans, monitoring marine life cycles, and reducing greenhouse gasses. Recovery of ancient human artifacts, and reviewing the changing terrain of the oceans at levels where sunlight is non-existent is critical to human advancement. The secrets to life itself, medical advancements, and understanding the severity of human impact on the oceans may be furthered via this competition.
Science has known for decades that global warming is melting humongous glaciers at the North and South Poles. Left unchecked, this pattern could cause catastrophic flooding along our coastlines. But scientists might finally have a plan to stop the melting. And it’s not a subtle one.
Glaciers Need Protection From Warm Water
Glaciers go all the way down to the bottom of the ocean. Temperatures at the surface of the ocean are still frigid in the Arctic. Due to ocean patterns, warm water impacts the bottom of the glacier before it reaches the top.
Once the bottom core of a glacier melts, the surface of the glacier falls apart, and the smaller chunks melt at an even faster rate. When these huge ice structures fall apart, they leak tons of fresh water into the ocean. This causes the ocean to rise, and can eventually flood coastlines far away from the melting glaciers.
What’s The Plan?
Scientists have proposed an idea to stop the melting from the bottom up. They want to build massive walls of up to 1.5 cubic kilometers thick at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean.
The walls, made of a heavy-duty rock and sand mixture, will block warm water from reaching the bottom of the glacier. That means that the foundation of the glacier will stay attached to the seafloor and won’t melt.
Will It Work?
There are two ways to execute the plan. We can either build one large wall for each glacier or a line of smaller walls. Based on computer models, scientists have hypothesized that a single big wall has a higher chance of success. The problem is, building a big wall is a much more difficult task than building a smaller one.
It will be a logistical challenge to safely get the wall building materials to the bottom of the ocean. Any machinery used must be able to withstand extreme pressure and subzero temperatures. Still, scientists are optimistic about this project for a few reasons.
It’s Been Done Before
This idea will certainly be the first time anyone has tried to build an underwater wall in the Arctic seas, but similar projects have been successful in other parts of the world. There are manmade islands that are held in place by the same kind of rock and sand mixture that scientists propose we use to make the Arctic walls.
While scientists point to the man-made islands as a sort of “proof of concept,” Arctic walls pose their own unique challenges, like their faraway location, as well as freezing water temperatures, which will make these massive walls especially hard to build.
More Work To Be Done
Unfortunately, this new solution is only a temporary fix. The bottoms of the glaciers will be protected from warm water for a time, but if ocean temperatures continue to rise due to pollution, the glaciers will still be threatened.
This effort will only slow the process of glaciers melting. This will give politicians and citizens around the world more time to make lifestyle and regulatory changes that will slow global warming.
Belize, a country just off the eastern coast of Central America, has a lot to boast about. From the Caribbean Sea shorelines, dense jungles, low-lying islands, and Mayan ruins, Belize is an incredible tourist destination.
What makes this country even more unique is that it’s home to the one and only Great Blue Hole, a giant marine sinkhole just off the coast. Located in the center of the Lighthouse Reef, the hole is 1,042 feet wide, 407 feet deep, and an amazing scuba diving location. What’s more fascinating is that The Great Blue hole is a product of glacial events that can be traced back to more than 150,000 years ago.
A Caribbean Treasure
Made famous by Jacques Cousteau in 1971, The Great Blue Hole is home to a dazzling array of colored waters, ranging from peacock blue, aquamarine, and turquoise. Cousteau himself was so astonished by its beauty he named The Great Blue Hole one of the top scuba diving destinations in the world.
The Great Blue Hole, considered to be the Earth’s largest and most magnificent marine sinkhole, is one part of the larger Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System. The reef system has been dubbed a World Heritage Site of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Deep within The Great Blue Hole, stalactites have formed over several millennia and are found within remarkable underwater caves. However, these caves weren’t always under water. Analysis from the stalactites shows that they were originally formed above the ocean at many different times. Stalactite formations took place 153,000; 66,000; 60,000; and 15,000 years ago, creating an amazingly beautiful world wonder.
The stalactites in The Great Blue Hole reveal something else phenomenal. Some of the formations were discovered to be consistently off-vertical by 5 degrees. This tilt indicates the stalactites were formed sometime before the Earth experienced a geological shift and the underlying plateau had been titled.
In layman’s terms, this means that not only had the sea level risen above The Great Blue Hole, but the land below the sea had also shifted, creating an incredibly unique underwater masterpiece.
A Scuba Diver’s Dream
Many tourists are drawn to Belize and The Great Blue Hole because of their unparalleled scuba diving opportunities. Home to tropical species such as Midnight Parrotfish, Caribbean reef sharks, butterfly fish, Hammerhead sharks, and sea turtles, exploring the underwater caves of The Great Blue Hole is a one-of-a-kind experience.
However, if you’re interested in diving into The Great Blue Hole, make sure you take the necessary precautions. Not everyone can make their way into the hole. In order to qualify, divers must have logged more than 24 dives, proving they possess more than beginner-level diving skills.
The Great Blue Hole has also been a destination for skydivers. Jumpers in tandem or flying solo have chosen the hole as their landing destination after flying through the air for 12,000 feet.
While pictures of The Great Blue Hole are awe-spiring, see this world wonder for yourself to fully grasp all its beauty.