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.
Tropical coral reefs are some of nature’s most colorful and diverse ecosystems. They provide Technicolor displays unlike those found anywhere else on Earth.
But many coral reefs aren’t looking so good these days. Like a Hawaiian shirt doused with Clorox, they’ve had the color bleached right out of them. And that can damage or even kill an entire reef system. In the last few years, in fact, bleaching events have decimated corals in the Caribbean, the Galapagos Islands, and in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, to name a few.
Much of the American coastline is a transition zone -- not an abrupt boundary between land and sea, but regions where both domains exert their influence. These regions are known as estuaries. They’re enclosed areas like bays and marshes where freshwater from the land mixes with saltwater from the sea.
One of the many futuristic technologies in “Star Trek” was the tricorder -- a portable device that let crew members quickly scan the environment around them.
Present-day scientists aren’t waiting for the 23rd century to build such devices, though. They’ve already put together tricorder-like gizmos for medicine, materials science, and other fields. And today, marine scientists are designing their own tricorders.
When they add fertilizers to their fields, farmers from Montana to Pennsylvania and points farther south can increase crop production, helping to feed a hungry world. But those same fertilizers can eventually make their way into the Gulf of Mexico. There, they may actually kill off the fish and shellfish, creating a “dead zone” along the Gulf Coast.
From “Flipper” to Sea World, we’ve all heard the chirps, trills, and other sounds produced by bottlenose dolphins. But the sounds are more than just entertainment. They help the dolphins locate prey, stay close to family members, and warn others of danger. And certain types of sounds may serve as “names” that identify individual dolphins.
Marine scientists often need expensive equipment to help them unlock the secrets of our watery world -- ships, diving gear, even satellites. But sometimes, what they really need is a good pair of shoes.
Consider a project that scientists have dubbed “The Silence of the Clams.” It involves the estuary at the mouth of the Nueces River, along the Texas coast around Corpus Christi.
Prudhoe Bay is home to one of the richest oil reserves in North America. It’s also home to another natural resource -- the only large kelp bed along Alaska’s north Arctic coast in the Beaufort Sea. Federal regulations try to make sure that the two can coexist.
The kelp grows atop an area of rocks and pebbles deposited by a glacier along the coast. The sea is deep enough that the kelp don’t freeze during the winter, and clear enough that they get sunlight during the summer. The kelp beds are home to many aquatic animals, including corals, sponges, and mollusks.
Despite centuries of exploration, the oceans continue to yield many surprises.
In the last few years, for example, scientists have found that a long ridge beneath the north polar ice cap is dotted with volcanoes, and with vents of superheated water that could be home to many new species.
It’s known as Gakkel Ridge. It stretches 1100 miles, from Greenland to Siberia. It’s part of the Mid-Ocean Ridge, which circles the globe at the boundaries between continental plates. As the plates move apart, molten rock rises to the ocean floor, forming new crust.
Beluga caviar is one of the world’s most expensive delicacies. And prices are only going higher, thanks to pollution, overfishing, and a “killer” jellyfish.
Beluga caviar comes from the eggs of the beluga sturgeon, which lives in the Caspian Sea. These fish can live for a century, weigh a ton, and span the length of a pickup truck.
The oceans are like big pantries. Every year, people harvest around 80 million tons of marine organisms from them. If this harvest is managed properly, the oceans can continue to feed us year after year after year.
That’s because life in the oceans is a renewable resource. Unlike oil or other mineral resources, which come in limited supplies, ocean life renews itself.