Saturday, December 19, 2009

Lazy SCUBA divers - pushing back the frontiers of climate science since 1970

Confused?  Read on...
Australia's CSIRO (the primary government-funded scientific research body; the kool kids say it like SIGH-row) has taken possession of a SCUBA tank last filled by its owner, a Mr. J. Allport, in 1968.  This may represent among the oldest clean compressed air currently available, and the boffins at CSIRO (one such boffin shown below), hope to use the contents to extend the directly-measured CO2 record back a few more years.  This would help improve the quality of climate data just a teensy bit more.  Admit it, that's kinda awesome.

I should call them. I'm pretty sure I've got a ham sandwich from 1982 somewhere in the attic; that must be useful for something...

Friday, December 18, 2009

Its a watery world

Its often said that Earth is 70% covered in water, but what if it were 100% covered (and not in the cheesey Kevin Costner way)?  And what if it were 6-7 times larger than it is?  And what if that ocean somehow remained liquid at 200°C...

Wait, what?  200 degrees??!

These are the properties of the latest "exoplanet" to be discovered, by a team at UC Santa Cruz.  An exoplanet is simply a planet in another solar system, and these days there's a veritable flurry of them being discovered.  This latest one in the Ophiuchus system about 42 light years away is the wateriest world yet found and, as far as we know, water is a prerequisite for life, or at least life as we know it.  At 200 degrees its hard to imagine, but with over 400 planets discovered lately, it seems inevitable that the discovery of an earth-like planet - with an earth-like ocean -orbiting a sun-like star is just a doppler shift away.

It doesnt seem that long ago that the idea of planets circling other suns was considered implausible

Try fitting *this* into a bedside lamp

Work reported in Nature today from a presentation at the annual AGU meeting shows easily the deepest underwater volcano ever filmed.  The eruption was filmed from a remote submarine at 1200m depth - far more than the previous 500m depth record - and shows lava bursting out onto the sea floor.  The discovery helps scientists understand how pillow basalts form and how sea floor materials are added to the oceanic crust.

Its hard to imagine how extreme that process is.  We're talking hot enough to melt lead, at pressures that would turn a styrofoam cup into a thimble!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The front fell off...

I get sent this ALL the time.  As an Aussie, people think I might appreciate the joke, or, alternatively, want to deride an example of Australian politics.  I gotta tell the latter folks - its SATIRE.  Clarke and Dawes have had a spot on ABC's (thats AUSTRALIAN broadcasting corporation) "7:30 Report" every Friday for yars.

Its bloody funny though...

Its a boy!

Congrats to the folks at Shedd Aquarium on the birth of a baby beluga whale - one of my personal favourite species (you will never meet a sweeter disposition in all the oceans).   Tell me this isnt the cutest little grey slug on the planet.

The little fella was born head first, which makes great sense for humans - where taking that first breath of fresh air is just a birth canal away - but not so great for whales, where you have to hold your breath until the rest of you comes out, before rushing to the surface.  In whales, such a head-first birth is considered a breech birth.  Nonetheless, he's apparently doing just fine.

He'll be grey for the first couple of years of life and then gradually get ever whiter, until he earns the common name for the species: "beluga" is Russian for white (and is actually pronounced more like b'loo-HA, with the H way in the back of the throat)

Giant iceberg threatens Australia

Sounds odd right?  I mean, the sunburnt country - itself "adrift" in the southern oceans - on a collision course with a giant chunk of ice?  And yet, thats exactly the scenario unfolding off SW Western Australia.  Supposedly it broke off the Ross ice shelf, one of the largest on the planet.

The people in Perth could make a lot of gin and tonics...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Feral fish

No, not the long-haired hippy type, I mean those that are not indigenous to a habitat.  USGS and NOAA just co-published a pictorial guide to the non-native fishes of Florida.  This is doubtless part of the heightened awareness of this problem in US waters and, indeed, worldwide.  Lord Robert May recently cited invasive alien species - along with climate change, over-exploitation, and habitat destruction - as the most important causes is species extinctions in the biodiversity crisis.  It seems marine species are not immune to this effect; even though the diversity-stability hypothesis predicts that reefs ought to resist invasions.

My PhD thesis was about what happens to the parasite fauna when a fish gets introduced to a new habitat, so this subject is close to my heart.  To learn more, read about the subject as reviewed by my colleague Mark Torchin here:

Octopus using tools

I couldn't let this go by.  My wife is something of a behavioural expert and a very good animal trainer, and we have often discussed how intelligent octopus are.  In that respect this isn't news, but the tool use is pretty cool and very exciting for behavioural scientists, what with them being invertebrates and all (the octopus that is, not the scientists...).


Some time ago I noticed there wasn't as much going on in the blogosphere with respect to marine science as I would like, but I was really prompted to start writing by the press release last week from IUCN naming the 10 species - other than polar bears - most likely to suffer as a result of climate change.  Seven of those were aquatic and we had all of them, or close relatives, in the collection at Georgia Aquarium.  In choosing these particular species, the IUCN underscored the significant role of the oceans in global climate change processes.  This is tremendously important because I think most folks still regard GCC as a terrstrial issue.  Its not: evidence is growing that the ocean is the single largest driver of climate, and the response of the oceans to increasing greenhouse gases will determine how GCC plays out, including which models - if any - most closely meet the changes we observe.  The oceans are our best friend in this respect, absorbing excess carbon dioxide and dampening the effect of all that fossil fuel burning, but they do it at the expense of their inhabitants and they can only do it up to a point.   I expect this will be a topic we return to pretty regularly; it should be higher on many people's climate change radar, and we can hope that it features prominently in discussions in Copenhagen this week.

When I thought a little more about it, it shouldn't be at all surprising that ICUN picked 70% aquatic species for their list; after all, 70% of the earth is covered in water...