Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Never-Ending Marvels of the Ocean

Source: Playfuls.com
The ocean has yet more mysteries to yield to human kind; those with an affinity for such discoveries can only stand in awe as Nature reveals itself to us mortals.
2006’s Census of Marine Life participants must have stood in awe. This is the sixth year that researchers from around the world have collaborated, in a valiant attempt to shed some light over the dark depths of global seas and oceans and to attach a statistical viewpoint to marine life. They recorded the diversity and distribution of species, and came up with some startling discoveries.
Animals seem to have found a way to make a living just about everywhere,” said Jesse Ausubel of the Sloan Foundation, about the findings of year six of the census of marine life. Ron O'Dor, a senior scientist with the census, said: “We can't find anyplace where we can't find anything new.” These are just a few of their findings.

* CoMF researchers found shrimp, as well as mussels and clams, living in waters of 407ÂșC. The animals were found in the equatorial Atlantic, at a thermal vent 3 km below the surface that releases fluids containing heavy metals from the Earth’s core – hot enough to melt lead. This is the hottest sea vent ever documented. Bizarrely enough, the vent is surrounded by near-freezing water.
This is the most extreme environment and there is plenty of life around it,” said Chris German, of Britain's Southampton Oceanography Center and a leader of the Atlantic survey.

* Researchers investigating the waters of the Southern Ocean discovered a community of marine life thriving in darkness below 700 meters of ice and 200 km away from open water.

* A school the size of Manhattan Island, comprising some 20 million fish, was reported off the coast of New Jersey. This is the most abundant grouping of sea creatures ever found.

* Census experts utilized a sophisticated net dubbed MOCNESS to catch animals living at great depths below the surface (5 km) in the Sargasso Sea. 12 new species were reported.

CoMF devotees uncovered a shrimp that scientists believed had become extinct 50 million years ago – it was actually quite prosperous in its underwater peak in the Coral Sea. The creature, officially named neoglyphea neocaledonica, received the nickname of “Jurassic shrimp”, in honor of its mathusalemic age.

* Census microbe hunters found 20,000 kinds of bacteria floating in a single liter of sea water. The samples came from the Atlantic and Pacific. DNA studies revealed that most of the different kinds of bacteria were unknown and likely rare globally. Researchers estimate that the kinds of bacteria in the oceans exceed five to 10 million.

* Sooty shearwaters seem to be deserving of the moniker “globetrotters” By way of satellite, Census explorers tracked tagged specimens as they made their way through an impressive distance of 70,000 km, searching for food. They flew over the Pacific Ocean, from New Zealand via Polynesia to foraging grounds in Japan, Alaska and California and then back, which makes this trek the longest migration ever recorded electronically, over a period of just 200 days. The average daily distance was even as long as 350 km.

* The largest species discovered during a 2006 Census expedition was a 1.8 kg rock lobster named Palinurus Barbarae, off Madagascar. The main body spans half a meter. Census scientists organized 19 ocean expeditions in 2006 (a 20th one is underway in the Antarctic). The number of active sampling sites grew exponentially from 30 to 128 in 2006 alone, and satellites were a big part of the explorations, as well as laboratories, archives and other technology.

"Each Census expedition reveals new marvels of the ocean – and with the return of each vessel it is increasingly clear that many more discoveries await marine explorers for years to come,” says Fred Grassle, Chair of the Census Scientific Steering Committee.

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