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.
If zombies ever run out of brains to munch on, they might look to the sea for more. They can find brains that are up to six feet tall and live for almost a millennium. The brains might be a little crunchy, though -- they’re corals, so they consist of a hard skeleton with a thin coating of living organisms.
Brain corals are generally round or oblong, with a wrinkled surface that looks like the contours of a human brain. They’re found in tropical waters in the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, parts of the Atlantic, and elsewhere.
The big ships that ply the Indian Ocean and South China Sea help power the world’s economy. And they also may help power the weather. In particular, they may “seed” the formation of tall clouds that produce lightning -- twice as much lightning along their shipping lanes as in the surrounding ocean.
Researchers were mapping lightning strikes in that part of the world when they noticed something odd: two straight lines where there were far more lightning strikes than average. They compared those maps with traffic along the shipping lanes, and found that the two matched perfectly.
We humans have been known to eat some pungent foods, from boiled cabbage to brussels sprouts to limburger-and-onion sandwiches. But a mollusk that lives in the mud at the bottom of a Philippine lagoon tops them all. It gets by on hydrogen sulfide -- a nasty gas that smells like rotten eggs. Or to be more precise, bacteria that live in its gills consume the hydrogen sulfide and convert it to a more palatable form.
Many marine creatures hang out in beds of seagrass or kelp to hide from predators or prey. But the leafy seadragon beats them all. It’s covered with leafy appendages that make it look like a bit of kelp. And it floats along with the currents just like the kelp, so it’s hard for either prey or predator to pick it out.
The heart of a typical adult human can pump about 2,000 gallons of blood per day. But that’s anemic compared to the pumping capacity of a sponge -- the living kind, not the kind you use to wash off your kitchen cabinets. The amount of water it pumps can be up to 20,000 times the volume of its own body. For a good-sized sponge, that can be almost 20,000 gallons a day.
James Bond, Indiana Jones, and other action heroes can’t seem to avoid waterfalls. They plummet down them, or they just miss them, narrowly avoiding a gruesome fate.
But no hero has taken the plunge down the world’s tallest waterfall -- and probably won’t anytime soon. That’s because it’s under water -- a two-mile drop between Greenland and Iceland.
When sea otters decided to move into Glacier Bay in Alaska, they didn’t mess around. They first appeared in the bay in the 1990s -- more than two centuries after they’d been hunted to near extinction. But by the time of the most recent census, in 2012, the population had soared to more than 8,000 -- an increase of more than 40 percent per year.
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.