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.
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.
A great “river” flows through the eastern Gulf of Mexico -- the Loop Current. It sometimes pinches off to form eddies as big as Louisiana. These spinning pockets of warm water can provide the energy to boost a hurricane from a relatively minor storm to a monster in just hours inside the Gulf.
The Loop Current develops as warm water flows into the Gulf through the Straits of Yucatan -- the gap between Cuba and the Yucatan. The current curls around Cuba and continues through the Straits of Florida into the Atlantic, forming the warm current known as the Gulf Stream.
The bulkiest animal on the planet is the blue whale. But it may not be the longest. That distinction may go to one of the most ethereal of all animals -- a jellyfish. The tentacles of one species can stretch almost half the length of a football field.
When Ferdinand Magellan sailed into a great new ocean west of the Americas, it was so tranquil that he named it the Pacific -- a name that means calm and peaceful.
But the rim of the Pacific is anything but peaceful. It’s known as the “Ring of Fire,” and it’s one of the most geologically active zones on the planet. It’s best known for the volcanoes that dot the landscape from New Zealand to Alaska to the tip of South America. But it’s also responsible for arcs of volcanic islands, and for the deepest chasms in the oceans.
Marine scientists explore the sea in many ways. They drop instruments over the sides of boats, watch with orbiting satellites, and scoot around below the surface for a few hours at a time inside small submarines. But there’s only one place where they can hang out below the surface for long periods: an underwater lab known as Aquarius.
At the bottom of almost any ocean, you’ll find an assortment of creatures with small disk-like bodies and five gangly arms: brittle stars. They’re described as among the most “cosmopolitan” creatures in the sea, because they’re found around the world -- from the Arctic and Antarctic to the tropics.