Monday's Smorgasbord
Monday, March 14, 2011
By Daniel de la Calle

Every few weeks there is a new one, March was not going to be an exception. Here you go, the list of A Sea Change news, Ocean Acidification videos and assorted internet links.

    ¤¤  Barbara and Sven spent this past month on the West Coast attending screenings, meeting people, seeing family, reflecting on future projects, maybe playing a little tennis as well. Just a few days ago they were at the University of Washington, where they delivered an hour lecture titled "Science, Media and Messaging" to graduate students from the School of Fisheries and Aquatic Studies. The link to the Bevan Series on Sustainable Fisheries on Ocean Acidification? Voila!:

    ¤¤  NOAA released in February an aquaculture program intended to "increase the US supply of healthy seafood, create jobs in coastal and other communities, spur innovation in technology and help restore depleted species and marine habitats." To give you an idea of its relevance, aquaculture has overtaken wild fisheries as the main source of seafood in the world. And let's not forget either that 84% of the seafood Americans put in their mouths is imported, making fish and shellfish the greatest natural resource contributors to the national trade deficit after…crude oil and natural gas!
Visit the specific NOAA page, read the policy, even submit your own comments here:

    ¤¤  To continue with seafood, Sven sent me some weeks ago an interesting page from the EPOCA site about the first day of the SeaWeb International Seafood Summit 2011 in Vancouver. Within the text there was a call by marine experts to "the global seafood industry and all other ocean stakeholders to avoid a defeatist attitude with ocean acidification and to instead pile pressure on scientists to provide solid data and advise on the potentially catastrophic problem, which could then be used to create concrete solutions." There are also valuable words from Dick Feely and Henry Demone, the president and CEO of High Liner Foods, a major Canadian seafood supplier seriously concerned with the problem and long-term implications of Ocean Acidification.

    ¤¤  This is a video from San Francisco State University about recent research on how one type of phytoplankton (E. huxleyi) will adapt to growing Ocean Acidification.

This form of phytoplankton is a power player in the ocean's ability to absorb greenhouse gases. If you watch it you will discover in more detail E. huxleyi's vital abilities. It is beautiful under the microscope.

    ¤¤  Here is a United Nations PDF about Ocean Acidification. Thought it could come in handy to some of you, there is no such thing as too many PDFs in the Documents folder.

    ¤¤  An hour long video from the Center for Biological Diversity's website with a lecture by Miyoko Sakashita on Ocean Acidification at the Bevan Series on Sustainable Fisheries. Not the most impressive video production, but the message is there:

    ¤¤  Are you a UK or EU science student looking for a PhD project on the effects of Ocean Acidification on shell characteristics in articulated brachiopods? Look no further!:

    ¤¤  Costa Rica has decided to expand its marine protected area around Cocos Island National Park. The protected area now covers 2,900 nautical square miles of ocean waters rich with endangered sharks and sea turtles.
In the photograph below, President Laura Chinchilla Miranda and her Environmental Minister Teófilo de la Torre signing the decree.

    ¤¤  Would you like your child, niece or the neighbor's kid, maybe your grandson to learn about Ocean Acidification but do not have a DVD copy of A Sea Change, our very educational documentary on the subject? Here is an article tailored to kids about Ocean Acidification that will do the job as well. Do not expect the same level of fun as if you were watching A Sea Change, though.
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Blog Post Comments Worth Being Blog Posts
Saturday, March 05, 2011
By Hilary, Colin and Daniel de la Calle

On my last post I wrote about a University of Florida Research that might have solved "the mystery of where old carbon was stored during the last glacial period", the answer being that it "ended up in the icy waters of the Southern Ocean near Antarctica."  I was not sure I completely understood the whole thing,  I had doubts about what "old carbon" meant, about whether it was still stored in Antarctica and could be released if ice melted there (as is doing),  or in regards to the cycle of carbon exchange between the atmosphere and oceans, so I finished by asking if any scientist reading the blog could explain in words that a mere mortal like me would understand.  Fortunately, two kind souls (scientists, I am sure) delivered long, fascinating and extremely clear explanations in the comments section, but the problem is that comments on our site are hidden unless you click on them, so readers like me who never click on such places would never lie eyes on them.
What follows are Hilary's and Colin's (unfortunately I do not know their last names) words.  Hilary wrote first, right after I posted:
..."this study was talking about changes in ocean circulation between an ice age and today’s climate, which while important for understanding how the carbon cycle works, probably aren’t very similar to the changes we expect from climate change today. So, no, we don’t think there’s a pool of “old carbon” in the Southern Ocean today that is going to be released due to modern climate change. There are potential changes in ocean circulation because of modern climate change, though, which is one of the reasons that studies like this are so important to help us understand the ways ocean circulation has changed in the past. But the study you refer to is actually really interesting, so I’m going to try to explain what it was saying. This article is talking about changes in the ocean’s circulation between glacial and interglacial periods that could have affected the amount of carbon stored in the ocean. Right now, we can think of the ocean’s deep circulation as working like a “conveyor belt” moving water all through the deep oceans. But there is a theory that during the last glacial period, that conveyor belt slowed down and there were pools of water in the deep ocean that stopped being mixed. While it sat in the deep ocean, that water accumulated a lot of dissolved carbon that was kept isolated from the atmosphere because it wasn’t being mixed. When the world warmed up at the end of that ice age, the ocean conveyor belt started moving faster, more like today, and that old water with lots of carbon was mixed to the surface, and lots of that carbon went into the atmosphere. Scientists have found evidence that supports this because at the same time that we see an increase in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, we also see a signature of that carbon being much older based on isotopic dating – just what you’d expect if you had a big influx of carbon that had been sitting at the bottom of the ocean for centuries. Scientists have suspected that this pool of old carbon was in the Southern Ocean near Antarctica, and when the conveyor belt started up again, it was mixed north into the Pacific Ocean, where it was eventually brought to the surface to put that carbon into the atmosphere. The authors of this article found evidence that this water did in fact come from the Southern Ocean because of a signature of Southern Ocean water that they found having been brought into the North Pacific at this same time. To answer your question about CO2 moving as an endless cycle between air and water – actually that’s exactly how it works! Individual carbon molecules are always moving back and forth between the air and water at the sea surface. That’s why the oceans are being changed by the CO2 we’re adding to the atmosphere. If the oceans get warmer, though, they are able to dissolve less CO2, and more molecules will move from the ocean into the atmosphere than the other way around."
And yesterday Colin added:
"The article refers to old carbon that was held isolated in the ocean during the glacial period. There are several different ways the oceans back then probably worked to hold more carbon and keep it from escaping to the atmosphere. Ordinarily, carbon is taken out of the atmosphere by photosynthesis in marine organisms in the surface ocean that die and decay back to CO2 after sinking into the deep ocean. Eventually that CO2 returns to the atmosphere when deep water is mixed back to the surface, which happens a lot in the Southern Ocean. This is the return portion of the ocean circulation "conveyor" that Hilary described, which takes about 1,000 years to do one loop. One theory for lower glacial atmospheric CO2 levels, which the article describes,is that the greater extent of sea ice around Antarctica during the glacial period kept CO2 from escaping by being a physical barrier between the carbon-rich water and the atmosphere. Back then the sea ice was more continuous and stuck way out from the shore around Antarctica. Since sea ice today is not so extensive, warming and melting will not uncover a great deal of ocean, so melting today isn't expected to release a large pulse of "old carbon". That said, some other theories that describe changes in circulation that occurred as the climate warmed out of the last glacial period do have the potential to predict changes in response to today's climate. For instance, there is evidence that when the globe is warmer the winds over the Southern Ocean mix deep, carbon-rich waters to the surface more vigorously (you can imagine this as the conveyor that returns carbon from the deep reservoir speeding up). But, when you bring carbon-rich water up to the surface, the carbon only escapes if it is more concentrated than the carbon in the atmosphere. Today, we have so much carbon in the atmosphere from fossil fuel burning that this will mostly keep the increased carbon that is brought to the ocean surface from escaping, but the faster "conveyor" does mean that the ocean around Antarctica will probably be able to absorb less of our fossil fuel emissions, speeding their buildup in the atmosphere. Some scientists think they can measure this already occurring in the last decade or two in the Southern Ocean. On the scale of molecules, it is totally an endless cycle of CO2 going from air to ocean and back, and it can just keep doing that unless the water it is dissolved in sinks away from the surface. This is basically how the ocean is absorbing our fossil fuel emissions- the CO2 molecules diffuse back and forth across the surface into and out of the ocean, eventually (on the scale of maybe 6 months) evening out the difference in pressure until the amount of CO2 dissolved in the surface ocean balances the amount left in the atmosphere. Since our emissions add CO2 to the combined ocean and atmosphere, both the atmosphere and the ocean will end up with higher concentrations than they had before. However, since we are always adding more fossil fuel CO2 to the atmosphere, the ocean is just constantly absorbing and never catches up to the rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere. Remember, the conveyor takes 1,000 years to mix the whole ocean, so the carbon we have added since the beginning of the industrial revolution is just starting the loop."

Now, I do not want to replicate the CO2 loop from water to air with further questions to your explanations, but I do have a few more after reading your texts: when you say that the oceans and atmosphere try to reach a balance, to even each other out in their CO2 levels, what is the ratio?  1:1?  PPM are not the same around the globe's oceans, right?  For example, they are higher in Alaska than in the Caribbean, isn't that so? But because colder waters release less CO2 into the air the exchange rate might be be similar in both places??  You mention a period of 6 months to do so (if all emissions stopped now and the oceans could actually catch up, I assume).  Does this length of time come from a study?  How was it carried out? (by measuring the speed at which carbon is currently being absorbed in the oceans?)  But then we have the 1,000 year "loop", correct?  Also, if emissions to the air doubled overnight, would the length of time for the oceans to catch up increase as well?  Finally, I was wondering if the transition time from air to water is as fast as from water to air.
Thank you both so much for taking the time to write and enriching the blog, I really appreciate it.
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Oceanic News
Wednesday, March 02, 2011
By Daniel de la Calle

I just spent five hours flying over the Atlantic and as a tribute to it have decided to list five nuggets of information about our oceans, those two thirds of Earth that we normally see as highways, supermarkets, dumpsters, bounties of riches or playgrounds, but are seldom given the importance they deserve.

1   The image that came to my mind when I first heard about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch was naive, I imagined an accumulation of plastic trash that almost allowed you to walk on water.  The truth is more subtle and paradoxically worse.

I knew without knowing about the Pacific Patch from my visits to the island of Kauai.  Certain beaches there that have large parts of white and blue plastic "sands".  For some reason that escapes me, could be because plastic is so ubiquitous (every single item in front of me right now has or is plastic), I did not interpret it as evidence of disaster.  
In the past few years four more of these crowns of shame have been discovered in the oceans: the Atlantic has two, so does the Pacific, and one the Indic.
More info:
This is extremely interesting:
Or learn about the 5 Gyres Institute
A video with a plastic pollution model

Maximenko's Plastic Pollution Growth Model from 5 Gyres on Vimeo.

2   Just like us animals on land or birds in the air, fish migrate when they do not find the proper conditions in an environment. This has always happened in a "natural" fashion and we have benefited from it for thousands of years as dependable sources of food.  Now it is beginning to take place in a humanly-induced way and it is hard to believe the outcome will play in our favor.  Signs of new fish migrations have been noticed since the early nineties, most likely due to global warming.  When ocean acidification increases its impact on for example pteropod or oyster larvae populations I have no doubt that we are going to see more of these migrations and behavioral changes.

Continue reading:

3   I spent most of last night awake with jet-lag insomnia, listening to the radio.  At 4AM the Spanish National Radio has a program for Spanish speaking commercial fishermen around the world. They talked about piracy in the Indic Ocean, about the recent discovery of deep sea coral reefs and about the increasing dangers of working under the current fish scarcity and global economic crisis, cutting corners and taking risks. They also mentioned that the Mediterranean rose 20 centimeters over the XXth century and is expected to raise another 35 during this one. Almost 2 feet in 200 years, not much in the cliff coast east of my hometown, but transforming and destructive beyond recognition along the salt water lagoons and low waters of Valencia and Venice.

4   I once heard that the biggest gold mine is in our world's oceans, where over one trillion US Dollars worth of gold diluted lies diluted, ready to be filtered if we only had the expertise and the patience.  I was searching for this information when I found out that real gold mining in the oceans is actually about to begin, with China leading the way.
Mining at great depths and around hydrothermal vents, "black chimeney-like structures which shelter their own ecosystems of little-known creatures, while emitting a cloud of hot, black material containing high levels of sulphur-bearing minerals, or sulfides" is a thing of wonder and fear. 

As always, I marvel at the techniques and engineering that goes into industrial and mining activities and already fear the consequences regular activity and sporadic accidents will have for the environment.  if our cautiousness was only half as great as our ambition.

5   THIS University of Florida research claims to have solved "the mystery of where old carbon was stored during the last glacial period. It turns out it ended up in the icy waters of the Southern Ocean near Antarctica."

I am not sure I understood the article right, would this mean that the current melting of ice in Antarctica would also release "old carbon" that is stored there, sort of the way methane is being released in the Northern Hemisphere?  If you are a scientist reading this, please clarify with a comment.  Another question I have on this regard is: if warmer water will send CO2 into the atmosphere, will CO2 just revolve now in an endless cycle of air to water and back?
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More November News on Ocean Acidification and the Environment
Friday, November 19, 2010
By Daniel de la Calle

This November I'm looking for traces of "Ocean Acidification", not in water, but on the internet.  I found the following news and links I thought could/would/should interest you.

Britain sets up the world's largest marine reserve.
Since November 1st, the world's largest fully protected marine reserve is located in the British territorial waters of Chagos Archipelago, in the Indian Ocean.  This should be something to celebrate, but as Jonathan Owen from The Independent explains in THIS article, it is more of an embarrassment and an indicator of how the 2002 Convention on Biological Diversity and the World Summit on Sustainable Development's commitment to protect 10% of the world's oceans by 2012 fell short of its mark.  Today, less than two years away from the deadline to meet that scrawny goal, "1.17% of the oceans are under some form of protection, and a mere 0.08% classified as 'no-take' zones".

My pictures of sea breams at the Paris Aquarium.

Student video competition on Ocean Acidification.
Dialogue Earth is looking for smart and creative 90-second videos on Ocean Acidification "that manage to communicate this relevant science topic in a way that is engaging to wide-ranging audiences".  If you are a student and are up for the challenge, the total prize purse is $10,000 ($5,000 for the first prize video).  Read more about it HERE.  Visit the Dialogue Earth project page on HERE.

Olivine as Carbon Dioxide antidote.
I am opposed to the idea of geoengineering, as I have previously written on this blog.  Many of the "solutions" proposed ignore Ocean Acidification and would, because of this, be extremely detrimental to our oceans.  This is an interesting article (HERE) on the possible use of the mineral olivine to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and to "counteract the current trend toward ocean acidification".
Read it, see what you think.

New study on Ocean Acidification illustrates its threat to coral reproduction.
Scientists from the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science believe that over the next century recruitment of new corals could drop by 73% as acidity levels rise.  Recent studies such as this one are beginning to reveal how ocean acidification affects non-calcifying stages of marine organisms, such as reproduction.  Read more HERE or watch Rebecca Albright, a graduate student at Rosenstiel School, talk about the study:

Ocean pH is dropping faster than models predicted.
At a Geological Society of America meeting in Denver in early November researchers came to this alarming conclusion.  “Models are probably underestimating at least by a few years the impact of ocean acidification in the Arctic,” says Jeremy Mathis, a chemical oceanographer at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.  “We don’t know what the organisms’ responses are yet, but the conditions are already there to potentially be disruptive to the ecosystems.”  NOAA's Richard Feely, our Richard Feely, warned that seawater acidity could double by the end of the century.  Read about it HERE.

"Atlantic", the first biography of a body of water.
One of my favorite nonfiction writers, Simon Winchester, has just released a new book on the Atlantic Ocean.  I have not had the chance to read it yet, but from the reviews online I am certain it will make for 500 pages of discovery, amusement, joy and some sadness.  At the end of the book he deals with man's impact on the Atlantic, including how Ocean Acidification is altering equatorial reefs. The full title is: ATLANTIC: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories.  Simon Winchester is this year's recipient of the Order of Magellan from the Circumnavigators Club.

Research cruise opportunities for ocean acidification studies.
Are you a scientist looking for a way to run your Ocean Acidification experiments on a boat?  Look no more, three cruises from June 2011 to February 2012 by the UK programme on Ocean Acidification offer you that possibility.  You can find more information HERE, on the Ocean Partners website.

UK Ocean Acidification annual science meeting 2011 in Cambridge.
Continuing with the aforementioned program(me), their first meeting will take place at Downing College, Cambridge from 9:00 AM on January 6th to 1:30 PM January 7th, 2011.  HERE is the online registration form and HERE you can read more about it.

New underwater robot could assist in Ocean Acidification research.
The new robot, baptized Tethys, can function in the ocean for months, hundreds of miles from shore.  The first experiments were carried out this past October in Monterrey Bay, where it spent almost a week tracking algal blooms.  Researchers are  now working on a way for the Tethys to bring back water samples and more sensors could be added later, including some that would track ocean carbon and acidification.  Read more HERE.  A picture of busy Tethys at work.

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News: What Blogs Are For
Friday, November 12, 2010
By Daniel de la Calle

Here is the classic list of web finds you have seen right here in the past.  This week I dug out two great videos, info about a workshop in China, a job offer, some news and a literary reference, clearly enough to enhance your weekend experience.

Echinoderms will be fine.  According to recent research, sea urchins, starfish or sea cucumbers will be able to adapt to increasingly acidic oceans.  I knew about sea urchin's resilience and adaptability from seeing how they are one of the few living creatures left at harbors in Spain.  We do not eat them, but they are a very popular dish in France and Japan.  Sea cucumbers have always had a special place in my heart and imagination.  When I was 10 I read a couple of Emilio Salgari's stories and one was titled Trepang Fishermen (I Pescatori di Trepang) and it was about the sea cucumber fishermen in Indonesia.  Sea cucumbers are very popular all along Asia, as food and for their medicinal values.  The illustrations in my book showed some steaming hot delicious trepang that locals devoured.  I have to admit they do not look as tempting when seen underwater, but I am ready to try them. Anywhere in New York you might know?
Read more HERE

Continuing in Asia, Chinese Xiamen University is offering a joint international workshop on Climate Change and Ocean Carbon on April 3-4, 2011.  More specifically, the second day's theme is "Coastal Carbon & Ocean Acidification".  You can register online HERE (ha ha ha) and read more about it HERE.

Interested in a postdoctoral position in Coral Ocean Acidification?  There is one postdoc position to join a recently funded research project investigating the physiological impacts of ocean acidification, temperature and nutrients on reef building corals at the University of Delaware.  To read more, CLICK.

Echinoderms might be alright in a more acidic ocean, but Antarctic krill is at serious risk.  Tasmanian scientists have released new research that shows how devastating Ocean Acidification is to Antarctica's staple food.  The Australian scientists exposed krill to different levels of CO2, from the current 380ppm up to 2000ppm.  "In the tanks with highest levels none of the embryos survived to hatch".  Read more HERE

This is a video on the ocean acidification research carried out on the island of Svalbard, in Norway.  If you are interested in people's accents this is an absolute must.

A terrific video from Oregon Public Broadcast on research by Oregon State University scientists on oyster hatcheries along the Pacific shore.

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"The Death of the Oceans?"
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
By Daniel de la Calle

Same day the Census For Marine Life made public the results of those ten years of research (read October 16th blog post) the BBC broadcast a new documentary narrated by David Attenborough and titled "The Death of the Oceans?".
The hour long film shows the outstanding marine footage we have come to expect from BBC documentaries, but the tone this time is more bleak and apocalyptic.  Never before has David Attenborough shown his concerns and doubts about the future.

Right from the start a scientist warns us that "we are talking now about an unnatural ocean", while another immediately adds that "there is no question that humans are ecosystem engineers right now", "there are no places on earth where humans are not impacting the ocean environment".  Some seconds later Professor Jeffrey Bolster, of the University of New Hampshire, vehemently tells the camera: "the living ocean is very fragile and don't for a minute believe that we can't screw it up much more than it is today".

The documentary centers around the two direst threats to the oceans and the life within them:
1   Overfishing.  Historic numbers show a considerable worldwide decline in captures.  Mr. Attenborough's voice over laments that "in 2003 researchers from the census published a paper in the science journal Nature comparing fish numbers of those of 1950.  What they concluded was that in a little over 50 years 90% of top predators such as tuna, shark and marlin had been fished from the sea."  Another interviewed scientist explains how, even though we have learned to think of food chains, the truth is that most marine ecosystems are more like a food web, with complex and yet unknown interconnections amongst the different animals, if we take one or several players out the consequences are uncertain.

This section of the film ends with with David Attenborough's words: "In one of the most disturbing pieces of research commissioned by the Census, the question was asked 'how much longer can our oceans tolerate the present level of commercial fishing?'  The answer was simple and stark: If present trends continue, commercial fishing as we know it will have collapsed by the year 2050".

  Mr. Attenborough again: "There are habitats that are facing a threat the implications of which scientists are only just beginning to work out. The cause of this concern is an environmental impact with the potential to be every bit as disastrous for reefs as rising sea temperatures: Ocean Acidification."
Right after we are shown some fascinating research Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, of the University of Queensland, and his team are carrying out in Australia, monitoring corals living in the wild, but artificially placed under different and precise levels of CO2 in the water.  Over the past years he has been witnessing how these marine animals are already under much stress: "We are seeing very large responses from coral reefs, we are seeing large scale mortality events and scientists are now recording the decline in the calcification that's going on reefs.  And this is not seen in hundreds and hundreds of years of records."  He believes "there's really two things we have got to do: the first is we have to limit further increases in CO2, because we know those futures don't have corals in them, we'll rapidly exceed the known conditions for coral reefs.  But the second thing we gotta do is treat reefs better on a local scale, we gotta reduce the overfishing, reduce the pollution, sedimentation and so on and if we do that, we will have corals survive the century."

Overall, it was a strange sensation to hear about ocean acidification from Mr. Attenborough's voice, not that it didn't make complete sense for him to talk about it. When the venerable wise man finished with the words "to my mind acidification is the biggest threat to oceans today. Even if we stopped our carbon emissions now it will be many centuries before the oceans return to full health" I felt deeply touched, legitimated and absurdly proud.

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Saturday, October 16, 2010
By Daniel de la Calle

This month the Census of Marine Life (COML) project announced the results of their mammoth work since the year 2000, one of the biggest collaborations in the history of science with 2,700 researchers from 80 countries embarked in a total of 540 logged ocean expeditions.  The total cost of the enterprise has been estimated at $650 million involving hundreds of institutions, laboratories and governments that have pitched in to produce some 30 million marine observations (all soon to be available to researchers and the public online) and and outstanding 2,600 scientific papers.  Over this past decade the census takers have charted 1,200 new species and still need to formally identify another 5,000 more to bring the total of known species to 250,000.  It is estimated that at least another 750,000 are waiting to be discovered, without counting the millions of different microbes that we know make for 90% of the ocean's biomass.  To give you an idea of what lies ahead, scientists estimate that 10% of species around European waters (75% in the Mediterranean deep-sea), 38% in South Africa, 39 to 58% in Antarctica, 70% around Japan or 80% in Australia need to yet be described. Dr. Snelgrove  of Memorial University has compared the census to exploring a house with a flashlight. While it is a start, "we haven't turned on the lights yet," he said.
The main objective of the census though was to delineate a baseline for future measurement of diversity, distribution and abundance.  This will assist in knowing where sea creatures live, how they are interconnected and which are thriving or dying under current conditions.
At the top of the food chain the research has shown the population of many large predators, such as tuna, sharks, some reef fish, deep sea fish and turtles declined by an average of 90% from historical records, in many cases due to overfishing.  It is also worth mentioning that seal and whale numbers rebounded thanks to recent efforts to protect them.
The most common additions have been crustaceans and mollusks. Some of them include a hairy new species dubbed the "yeti crab", a lobster weighing almost 9 pounds, an ancient shrimp thought to have been extinct for 50 million years and a 21-foot-long squid.
The Census of Marine Life can be included in a broader plan to create digital libraries of biological data about life on the planet. Marine data will feed into the Encyclopedia of Life project trying to document the existing 1,8 million named species. 90,000 of the censed species have now web pages in the Encyclopedia of Life. 35,000 of them even have DNA sequences. As Jesse Ausubel, environmental scientist at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and co-founder of the COML project puts it, this "is not your grandfather's census: this census is this wonderful, living, interactive set of databases on the internet with hyperlinks to images, sounds, the ability to create maps."
There also exists an International Barcode of Life project assembling the DNA sequences for all multi-cellular organisms.  This libraries will let scientists carry out planet-wide studies on biodiversity. 

In our own efforts to take a census my daughter and I recently took the train down to the Coney Island Aquarium   armed with a cellphone camera and a notepad

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The Sea of Huge Breams
Friday, October 08, 2010
By Daniel de la Calle

When we are a small person, the novelty of life and language combined with our imagination sometimes makes us come to the most hilarious and endearing words and conclusions.  My daughter is bilingual and I have to confess that oftentimes I delay correcting some of her funny Spanglish words to savor them a little longer.
I started fishing right here

at the age of seven and back then and there you could only hope to catch two kinds of fish with dough bait: a "vieja" (spanish for "old woman"), an ugly looking rubbery fish with horn-like protuberances that not even stray cats were interested in, and the magnificent "sargo", a beautiful silvery bream that has a touch of gold on the head and a vertical black line just before the tail.  The petit sargos I would catch were all juvenile fish because my hooks were lilliputian, but I knew breams got much, much bigger and I already suffered from the fisherman's obsession with size.  Following this account you can imagine that when I first heard about the Sargasso Sea, for us the Mar de los Sargazos or "sea of huge breams", my eyes popped with the vision of that fisherman's dreamsea, the surface of the water boiling, crammed with giant silvery fish desperate to be caught and taken away from that concentration of life.  My imagination went berserk, I became quite obsessed with the Sargasso Sea, with the sound of those two words, and made the resolution to one day get to that paradise with a fishing line.  I later found out that sargassum are a type of seaweed, but lately I have also discovered that I was not the only one with the wrong idea of the place.  The Sargasso Sea was always portrayed as a dead zone of lost ships and skeleton crews floating in calm waters, all surrounded by algae and very little or no life.  Scientists are currently showing more and more interest in this mega-nursery for ocean fauna and flora where diverse fish, crabs, shrimp and sea slugs try to grow under the protection of the sargassum canopy, eluding the turtles, tuna, dolphins, mahi mahi and sea birds that flock to the area as well.  This is why the Government of Bermuda, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the Center for Ocean Solutions at Stanford University, Mission Blue, the US Southeast Region of NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, and the Marine Conservation Biology Institute, among others are trying a new initiative to establish the Sargasso Sea, that sea within an ocean, as a high protected area.

Meanwhile, on the Pacific coast the Federal Government has announced a proposal to protect 150 miles of Californian shoreline for the severely endangered black abalone.  The Center for Biological Diversity informs on its website that the decision results from a lawsuit placed by them "challenging the National Marine Fisheries Service’s failure to designate critical habitat for the shellfish, which, once common in Southern California tide pools, has declined by 99 percent since the 1970s."  Black abalone first suffered from overfishing and is now under serious threat by a disease called withering syndrome and the sword of Damocles of ocean acidification to the future of the snail's growth.  You can read more about it here.

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010
By Daniel de la Calle

I did a little webcombing this afternoon and found some news that could interest you, whoever you are, the reader of this blog. These are the fruits of that labor:

1   NOAA is proposing to establish a research area in Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary.  Their idea is to designate an area in the sanctuary "where fishing and diving activities are prohibited and vessel transit is allowed without interruption".  The preferred boundary encompasses the southern third of the sanctuary and is expected to displace a minimal number of visitors.
An area devoid of human impact would enable a scientific exploration of how reefs function, to determine more accurately "the effects of natural events (e.g. hurricanes) and to study impacts of climate change, including ocean acidification, which can be better determined in the absence of additional factors like fishing and diving."
NOAA is also "seeking comments on the Proposed Rule and the supporting Draft Environmental Impact Statement."  You have until December 13 this year.

2   The oceans might look blue to us, but they are the true green lung of our planet.  Every second breath of oxygen we take has been produced by phytoplankton, drifting microscopic plant micro-organisms that through photosynthesis remove carbon dioxide from the water and produce oxygen.
The Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, a private, non-profit center on the Gulf of Maine, has just been awarded nearly $5 million to help build a new Center for Ocean Biogeochemistry and Climate Change in which to study what the changing climate and increased acidity is doing to the oceans, and more specifically, the role of plankton in this relationship. 
Scientists now believe that the life cycle of plankton may be controlled by marine viruses.  Phytoplankton blooms in spring and dies in late summer, like most plants, and they want to explore what climate change will do to these pathogens.
I must have been in fifth grade when our science books showed some amazing drawings of these two kinds of impossible creatures: zooplankton (like our friends the pteropods and jellyfish) and phytoplankton (seaweed and algae, for example).

3   "Researchers from Exeter University and the University of Bristol's School of Biological Sciences, both in England, found a clear association between overall noise levels generated by a reef's denizens and the amount of living coral present:  Healthy reefs mean more coral structures, more fish and other creatures calling that coral home; and more inhabitants mean more noise."
In their study they have found a real richness of information from the reef-generated sounds, so this finding could change the way scientists monitor reefs.  The sounds could very well provide fish and invertebrates with the necessary information to find the best area to live, or even help them to return to the very reef in which they originally spawned.
I wonder if a more acidic ocean, where sound travels faster, will produce unexpected consequences.
You can read more about this on, and the findings have been published online in the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology.

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Sea Level Rise, Ocean Warming and Ocean Acidification
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
By Daniel de la Calle

If you can spare 18 minutes, please watch this video of a conference about the oceans delivered by Professor Rob Dunbar, of Stanford University. I believe it was held in the Galapagos Islands not long ago. Professor Dunbar talks about sea level rise, ocean warming and about what "frightens [him] the most", OCEAN ACIDIFICATION.
I also took the license to cut and paste the text (below) of an interesting experiment I read on It was written by a person that identifies him or herself as Devin Vollmer:
"A molecule of CO2 can react´╗┐ with a molecule of water to make 1 molecule of H2CO3, dihydrogen carbonate (carbonic acid). The hydrogen atoms in H2CO3 are weakly bound to their molecules and can enter solution as H+ ions, which increases the acidity (and decreases the pH) of the solution. Try blowing bubbles with a straw into water colored with red cabbage juice, which is a natural pH indicator. It will change color as the CO2 from your breath acidifies the water."

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