Label: Oceans

May 11, 2010

Many of us were dismayed when President Obama recently announced cuts to NASA’s budget. Although everyone understands the need for austerity in these troubled economic times, I am always in favor of invention and exploration  - one of the best attributes of American culture.

This Friday, the space shuttle Atlantis is scheduled to make its final launch, undertaking a 12-day mission to the International Space Station to replace solar panel batteries, install a backup antenna and attach a Russian module filled with supplies. After the Atlantis mission, the other two shuttles - Discovery and Endeavour - are each going to make one more flight, and then all three will be retired.

Maybe it’s because I was an impressionable 8 years old when President Kennedy gave his stirring "We will go to the moon….." speech. Or because I used to set my alarm to get up and watch the shuttle launch when my friend, Navy Captain and astronaut Dan Bursch flew one of his four missions. Danny shares the U.S. space endurance record with astronaut Carl Walz - 196 days in space! (his kids still remember this milestone because he missed Christmas and several birthdays - even an astronaut is still just "Dad" when he gets home). So, despite its flaws, limitations, and several tragedies, I felt very sad when I heard the Shuttle program was being discontinued.

The good news, reported in today’s Science Times, is that we’re continuing to train astronauts for exploration of other planets…..we’re just not doing it in space!

Yesterday marked the beginning of the 14th NEEMO (NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations) mission. A crew of six, led by Col. Chris A. Hadfield, a Canadian astronaut who flew two shuttle missions, descended 65 feet to an underwater laboratory off the coast of Florida, where they will practice the skills required for setting up a habitat on another planet.

 By adjusting the buoyancy of the diving suits, the aquanauts can go about their work feeling as if they are walking in the one-sixth gravity of the Moon or the three-eighths gravity of Mars.  And, they have set up a 20-minute time lag in communications with their mission controllers on the surface, just as they would have if they were trying to get advice or help in solving a big problem while on Mars.

Click here to read the entire story about how these aquanauts are developing the skills we will need for future space exploration. It’s not over yet!



Photo: NEEMO 13, courtesy NASA




Posted by: Liz Nealon

(0) Comments  •   Labels: Oceans, Exploration, Space   •  Permalink (link to this article)

April 29, 2010

The news from the Gulf of Mexico this morning is not good. British Petroleum (BP), the owner of the ruptured oil line, is finally confirming what NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)  and the Coast Guard have been saying for several days now. This spill is MUCH larger than previously reported - 5 times as large - and is currently spilling 5,000 barrels per day into the Gulf.


There is great urgency around attempts to contain the spill and/or disperse the oil before it reaches land, where it would have a major impact on wildlife, marine life, sensitive habitats and shorelines in four states (Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida).

I’ve been reading everything I can about whether or not the proposed burning of oil is an environmentally sound strategy. From what I’ve found, it sounds like it is our best option.


Source: NASA Earth Observatory



Here is what biologist Andrew C. Revkin, who teaches environmental science at Pace University and writes the DOT EARTH environmental blog for the New York Times, is reporting today:

One of the biggest such tests was undertaken off Newfoundland in 1993. Called the Newfoundland Offshore Burn Experiment, the joint Canadian and American project concluded that combustion consumed most of the more problematic compounds and the levels of harmful compounds in smoke were below danger thresholds outside 150 yards of so of the fire zone. The water beneath the burn area showed no detectable levels of harmful compounds.

I photographed an offshore oil rig when I took a boat trip in the Santa Barbara (California) channel last month.


 These are massive structures, and there is as much below the water as there is above - the water here was nearly 200 feet deep, and the rig is anchored to the ocean floor. As the captain of our boat noted, from ocean floor to the top of the rig is as tall as a skyscraper.

Do we really need to construct more of these oil rigs along our coasts? What is the risk-reward ratio of offshore drilling? As an environmentalist, I’m terribly afraid that the possible damage to wildlife and our coastlines are not worth the risk of building more oil rigs that produce only a tiny fraction of the oil our nation uses. If most of us changed the incandescent light bulbs in our homes to more energy-efficient light bulb source, we would not only be making up for the oil that off-shore rigs produce but saving our own money in the bargain.




Posted by: Seymour Simon

(5) Comments  •   Labels: science news, Oceans, Conservation, Oil Spills   •  Permalink (link to this article)

April 1, 2010

The top image shows mostly mussels, the middle image are barnacles and the third image is a chiton.

A mussel is a kind of bivalve mollusk similar to a clam (that a lot of people like steamed with a bit of garlic and oil atop a heap of linguine).

Barnacles are a completely different kind of animal, more closely related to crabs and lobster than to clams and mussels. They are not all that tasty and rarely end up in a plate of spaghetti.

Both mussels and barnacles (and chitons as well) attach themselves to rocky surfaces in the tidal zone where they are covered by the sea at high tide and exposed to the air at low tide. They also attach themselves to boats left in the water and to piers and docks.

Chitons are mollusks with eight overlapping shells (count them), more closely related to mussels and clams than to barnacles. 

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(0) Comments  •   Labels: Oceans, Seymour Photographs   •  Permalink (link to this article)

March 29, 2010

Liz and I have been walking every morning on Carbon Beach here in Malibu, and the action of the surf here is quite extraordinary. Huge piles of rocks appear and then disappear on the beach - often a complete change from one day to the next.

This is a shot of the beach on Saturday morning. There are a few, small rocks laying around, but it’s mostly sand.

Here is the exact same spot, on Sunday afternoon - note the huge pile of rocks!

And these aren’t little rocks!

We’ve asked many locals why this happens, and they just shrug and say "the tides." I guess, as year-round dwellers, they are used to this action. I have walked many beaches in my day, and I have never seen this kind of phenomenon. It certainly makes you aware of the powerful pull of the moon’s gravity, creating tides that move rocks with this kind of force!  Certainly waves, which are created by the strength and "fetch" of the winds, are also responsible for the coming and going of the rock piles on the shore.

Just this morning when we walked on the beach, we saw that all the rock piles had disappeared again! I guess we need my fictional character Einstein Anderson to solve this mystery. I am,  however, open to any non-fictional characters who want to explain this to me in more detail. Anyone? 

Posted by: Seymour Simon

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March 19, 2010

Here’s some kelp I photographed this morning along Carbon Beach in Malibu where I’m staying this month. I was curious about the relative lack of kelp and here’s what I found out about the kelp beds off the shore near Malibu:

That the kelp forests along the coast of Southern California were badly affected by 1) the 1982-1984 El Niño and a devastating storm (the worst in 200 years; 2) the 1992-1994 El Niño and subsequent storms; and 3) the 1997-1998 El Niño, which was the warmest of the three. The warm water and storms associated with the El Niño destroyed plants, inhibited kelp growth, and resulted in minimal canopy development throughout the region. For an 18-year period from 1981 to 1998, sea surface temperatures exceeded the previous 60-year mean in all but a single year, 1988. 

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(0) Comments  •   Labels: Global Warming, Oceans, Seymour Photographs   •  Permalink (link to this article)

March 10, 2010

Dr. Eric Johnson Heller is a member of the Physics and Chemistry faculties of Harvard University,  where his recent research has focused on the occurrence of rogue waves like the ones that crashed into a Mediterranean cruise ship last week.  This week’s issue of TIME Magazine describes what happened, and details the long history of these unpredictable ocean events.

Dr. Heller is not only a science professor, he is also an artist. He says that he uses his art to illustrate "secrets of Nature only recently uncovered." He has created a series of computer art works called ROGUE WAVES, in which the patterns replicate the flow of these monster waves.

© Dr. Eric Johnson Heller

As he describes it: "The Rogue image series arises from the complex branching patterns of energy flow that result as ocean waves negotiate a sea filled with complex currents (like the Gulf Stream and the eddies that it spins off)....The branches are the danger zones: places where rogue waves are more likely to develop. The branches result from an unexpected focusing of wave energy." He makes these images as a way of visualizing the way the energy of the waves builds, sometimes resulting in rogue waves like the ones we saw in the Mediterranean last week.

What a wonderful blending of science and art, helping us all to understand this powerful natural phenomenon. 

Posted by: Liz Nealon

(0) Comments  •   Labels: science news, Oceans   •  Permalink (link to this article)

March 8, 2010

I took this photograph while walking on the beach in Florida over the weekend. My wife thought it was a jellyfish (and most people would say the same). What do you think it is?

In fact, this is a baby Portuguese Man-of-War. The balloon-like bladder you see here is called the pneumatophore (pronounced new-MAT-oh-fore), and it is the part of the Man-of-War that floats above the water, acting like a sail. They were named after Portuguese sailing ships for that reason.

There is a lot of the Man-of-War that you don’t see in this photograph. M-O-W are really colonies of different kinds of animals which act together as a single living thing. Their long tentacles trail behind them, underneath the water. These trailing tendrils are are covered with venom-filled nematocysts used to paralyze and kill fish and other small creatures. That’s why, if you’ve ever encountered one of these creatures in the ocean, you get a painful sting.

The animals that make up the Portuguese Man-of-War are all invertebrates, which means they do not have a backbone or spinal column. Insects, worms, and shellfish are all invertebrates.

Click this link to see an excellent video from National Geographic about the Portuguese Man-of-War. 

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(0) Comments  •   Labels: Oceans   •  Permalink (link to this article)

November 26, 2009

About the Census of Marine Life |  Census of Marine Life: "The Census of Marine Life is a global network of researchers in more than 80 nations engaged in a 10-year scientific initiative to assess and explain the diversity, distribution,  and abundance of life in the oceans. The world’s first comprehensive Census of Marine Life - past, present, and future - will be released in 2010."


Posted by: Seymour Simon

(0) Comments  •   Labels: science news, Oceans   •  Permalink (link to this article)

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