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.
The white cliffs of Dover are among the most famous landmarks in the world. They rise hundreds of feet above the English Channel. They look toward France, which is only about 20 miles away -- less than the length of a marathon.
Hundreds of thousands of years ago, you could have run between Britain and France. They were connected by a narrow strip of land from Dover to Calais. But a recent study suggests that the bridge was washed away by one of the most massive floods yet discovered.
Many fish use sound to communicate. Most of them vibrate a small internal "balloon," known as the swim bladder. This produces a variety of grunts, clicks, and buzzes. But some species may talk in a way that even Doctor Dolittle might not appreciate. To put it delicately, they pass gas.
Scientists discovered the sounds a few years ago when they were studying herring in the laboratory. They heard what might be described as rude noises.
When it comes to sea turtles, the leatherback swims alone. Almost everything about it is different from other species, from its size to its ability to keep warm.
The most obvious difference shows up in the name. While other turtles have hard shells, the leatherback’s is leathery and flexible. Ridges provide streamlining, so a leatherback can sustain speeds of a couple of miles an hour -- faster than any other sea turtles.
If you’ve ever thought that there just aren’t enough hours in the day, then you probably wouldn’t have been happy a few hundred million years ago, when the day was even shorter than it is now. The gravitational interaction between Earth and the Moon is slowing Earth’s rotation, making the days longer. Scientists can measure how much longer by studying the fossils of ancient coral.
It sounds like a plot device from a sci-fi movie. Organisms don’t have enough oxygen to operate normally, so they start to shut down some of their systems to save energy -- a sort of low-grade suspended animation. One response is basically to stop having babies.
But in the case of Atlantic croaker, it’s not fiction -- it happens when the oxygen level drops in their coastal habitats. It’s probably a normal adaptation to help them survive in times when the oxygen level drops naturally. But it could have a big impact on the health of the entire population.
Life in the oceans can be beautiful, violent, even startling. And sometimes, it’s just icky.
An example of all of these can be found in the sea star.
The beauty part is easy to see. Many sea stars are among the loveliest creatures in the oceans. Their graceful bodies come in an artist’s-palette of colors, from pale yellow to sapphire blue to fiery red.
The aircraft carrier U.S.S. Oriskany showed the colors during the Cuban Missile Crisis, was home base to John McCain before he was shot down over Vietnam, and starred in a Hollywood movie. And last year, the decommissioned carrier made one last bold move.
She became the largest artificial reef in the world when she was scuttled in the northern Gulf of Mexico off Pensacola, Florida -- a reef that’s 888 feet long and 145 feet tall.
Although it’s best known from Hollywood movies, with tense submarine crews listening to the “pings” from enemy ships, sonar is an important tool for exploring the oceans. Over the last few decades, marine scientists have used it to map the ocean floor.
“Sonar” is short for Sound Navigation and Ranging. A device sends out a pulse of sound, and a detector picks up its reflection from solid objects below it. The military uses sonar to detect submarines, and archaeologists use it to find shipwrecks and sunken cities.
All of the paddling, stroking, and squirting that propel creatures through the oceans may act like a blender, churning water between the surface and deeper layers. That could help bring nutrients to the surface, sustaining the ocean food chain.
A couple of studies released last year support the idea.
It’s been 35 years since people last walked on the Moon. Astronauts Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt wrapped up the Apollo program in December of 1972. In all, a dozen men left their footprints in the lunar soil -- and there are plans for new missions in about a decade.
It’s been a good bit longer since anyone saw the bottom of the deepest part of the ocean -- the Challenger Deep, in the Mariana Trench of the eastern Pacific. And there are no plans to send anyone back anytime soon.