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.
One of the most geologically active regions on Earth is at the western edge of the Pacific Ocean, along a chain of volcanic mountains both above and below the ocean surface. The Mariana Arc includes more than 60 underwater volcanoes, known as seamounts. And scientists have seen big changes along that arc in recent years.
The activity is caused by the motions of two of the plates that make up Earth’s crust. One plate is plunging below the other. The intersection between them has created the deepest spot in the oceans, a canyon known as the Mariana Trench.
If Marvel Comics needs a character to star in yet another TV show, here’s a suggestion: Iron Snail. It would be protected from villains by an iron shell, and by iron plates around its “squishy” bits.
Nature has already created the prototype for Iron Snail: an inch-long snail found around hydrothermal vents in the Indian Ocean. It’s called the scaly-foot snail for the armor that covers its foot -- the fleshy part that extends out of the shell.
As the last Ice Age came to an end, big bubbles of gas on the floor of the Barents Sea popped like champagne corks. That left hundreds of craters -- some of them up to two-thirds of a mile across.
Geologists discovered the crater field in the 1990s. It’s about a thousand feet deep in a region north of Norway. The scientists suggested the craters were produced by retreating glaciers. But they didn’t have the tools to study the region in detail.
Big fish that move fast could lose a bit of their swagger in the coming decades. Warmer ocean waters will provide less oxygen, which could reduce the maximum size of some species of fish -- especially those that are the most active.
Researchers have noticed that some species are already getting smaller -- species like herring, sole, and haddock. In part, that could be the result of overfishing -- the bigger fish get caught, leaving the smaller ones behind. But a recent study suggests that warmer oceans could also be playing a role.
In the summer of 2017, a research expedition took a good look at a string of underwater mountains north of Hawaii. Scientists used sonar to map the volcanic mountains, known as seamounts, which formed tens of millions of years ago. And they found a profusion of life on and around the mountains -- corals, jellyfish, sea stars, sea spiders, and a bright red sea toad. They’ll be studying the findings for years.
A type of sea cucumber found south of the Philippines leaves nothing to the imagination. The pink sea-through fantasia has a completely transparent body. That reveals its entire digestive system, from top to bottom.
The fantasia was discovered in 2007 as part of the Census of Marine Life. This decade-long project sent 2700 researchers from 80 countries on more than 500 expeditions, to all the world’s oceans. The scientists used robotic submarines and other equipment to seek forms of life that no one had ever seen before.
Scientists have rules for naming everything from mushrooms to ice floes on Pluto. And that includes features on the bottom of the ocean: volcanoes, canyons, reefs, and many others.
For most of human history, naming features on the sea floor wasn’t a problem. With a few exceptions, the features were hidden from view. And that didn’t change in a major way until the invention of sonar in the last century, allowing scientists to discover thousands of features.
Whales are among the largest and most graceful animals on the planet. And they’re also among the most endangered. Although commercial whaling has been scaled back in recent decades, some countries still pursue these beautiful creatures.
When the rainy season arrives on Christmas Island, usually in late October or early November, one of the world’s most amazing migrations gets under way. Tens of millions of red crabs leave the rainforest and head for the rocky beaches, where they breed. A couple of weeks later, the females they lay their eggs in the ocean. The eggs hatch as soon as they hit the water, and the larvae float at sea for weeks before returning to the island -- if they aren’t eaten by the giant whale shark, which shows up during the migration season to snack on the little critters.
The batteries that power electric cars may someday have something in common with toothpaste and ice cream: their ingredients will be held together with a compound that comes from seaweed.
Lithium-sulfur batteries produce more energy than lithium-ion batteries, which are used in cars today. They also weigh less, and they’re less expensive. One problem, though, is that their sulfur quickly dissolves. So lithium-sulfur batteries aren’t a good choice for cars or other applications that require a long battery life.