Lightning is more powerful over oceans

A new study shows lightning over the ocean--such as this strike in 2015 in California--can be much more powerful than that over land.

A new study shows lightning over the ocean–such as this strike in 2015 in California–can be much more powerful than that over land.  (Vern Fisher/The Monterey County Herald via AP)

It’s a popular myth that golfers account for most deaths from lightning strikes. In fact, the Palm Beach Post reports more than three times as many fishermen die from lightning strikes than golfers.

A study published in Geophysical Research Letters in February and recently getting some attention may explain why. Researchers from the Florida Institute of Technology found that lightning strikes over the ocean can be much more powerful than strikes over land.

It’s the first independent study to show what others have long believed, according to a press release. Researchers studied lightning over Florida and its coasts from 2013 to 2015, measuring the peak currents of the strikes.

They found strikes over the ocean carried more charge than those over land. In fact, they estimated that lightning with peak currents of more than 50 kilo amperes is more than twice as likely to occur over the ocean.

This could mean people living on or near the ocean may be at greater risk from lightning. Worth noting: Deaths from lightning strikes in Florida—a state with a whole lot of coastline—regularly outpace those in the rest of the country.

‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ is worse than thought

This file 2008 photo provided by NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center shows debris in Hanauma Bay, Hawaii.

This file 2008 photo provided by NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center shows debris in Hanauma Bay, Hawaii.  (AP Photo/NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, File)

There’s an enormous, floating “island” of trash in the Pacific Ocean, and it’s much bigger than previously believed, reports the Guardian. Environmentalists from Ocean Cleanup who set out to survey the so-called “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” were stunned by the density of plastic containers, fishing nets, and other refuse.

Reconnaissance flights over the heart of the swirling dump between California and Hawaii found chunks of garbage, mostly plastics, many of them measuring more than half a yard.

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Ocean Cleanup’s founder Boyan Slat called the refuse a “ticking time bomb because the big stuff will crumble down to micro-plastics over the next few decades if we don’t act.” Fish and other marine life eat the micro-plastics, passing them up the food chain.

The patch measures about 1.3 million square miles, with the heart of it spanning about 386,000 square miles. The UN says it is growing so quickly, it can be seen from space.

This was the first-ever aerial survey of the garbage patch, notes a post at Science Daily, which adds that “more debris was recorded than what is expected to be found in the heart of the accumulation zone.” In fact, “it was impossible to record everything,” Slat tells the Guardian.

“It was bizarre.” Next year the group plans to test a V-shaped rubber boom that aims to herd floating rubbish into a cone. An estimated 5 trillion pieces of plastic are floating in the world’s oceans, damaging the food chain, one 2014 study found.

(By one projection, our oceans will have more plastic than fish by 2050.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ Worse Than Thought

A buoy noticed a wave in 2013 that was ‘remarkable’

In this Nov. 1, 2011, file photo released by Nazare Qualifica/Polvo Concept, Garrett McNamara of Hawaii surfs what is being called the tallest wave ever ridden at Praia do Norte beach in Portugal. At 78 feet (24 meters), it's been certified by Guinness World Records.

In this Nov. 1, 2011, file photo released by Nazare Qualifica/Polvo Concept, Garrett McNamara of Hawaii surfs what is being called the tallest wave ever ridden at Praia do Norte beach in Portugal. At 78 feet (24 meters), it’s been certified by Guinness World Records.  (AP Photo/Nazare Qualifica/Polvo Concepts, Jorge Leal)

The world’s “highest significant wave height as measured by a buoy” was 62.3 feet, located in the (very) high seas between the UK and Iceland, and occurred in 2013, the World Meteorological Organization has confirmed.

The wave formed after a strong cold front passed through the remote area, which is home to “intense extra-tropical storms” sometimes called “bombs.” Other waves have been reported to be taller, including tsunamis, rogue waves, and a 95-foot wave observed by a ship in the same waters in 2000, but this is the highest to be confirmed by a buoy, which is arguably the most exacting tool we have, reports USA Today.

Estimates by satellites and ships “are generally unverifiable, since there is no ground truth for the satellite, and the others tend to be from pitching and rolling platforms,” one wave expert says.

The 62-footer is now part of the WMO’s Global Weather & Climate Extremes Archive, reports the Guardian. The archive logged two other records earlier this year: the longest distance of a single lightning flash (in Oklahoma), and the longest duration of one (in southern France).

As for other waves, the Smithsonian reports that the tallest tsunami wave ever recorded (though not by a buoy) was a 100-foot wave that followed a landslide in 1958 in Alaska’s Lituya Bay, which destroyed trees 1,700 feet upslope.

And the National Ocean Service and European Space Agency confirm that freakish rogue waves, once “dismissed as a nautical myth,” do exist, though they’ve only been measured by the ships that suffer their wrath.

(A rogue wave killed a mom bodysurfing with her son in Hawaii.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: A Buoy Noticed a Wave in 2013 That Was ‘Remarkable’

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Scientists explore a ‘jacuzzi of death’ beneath the sea

The brine pool. (Ocean Exploration Trust)

The brine pool. (Ocean Exploration Trust)

Scientists have sent back eerie photos from deep under the Gulf of Mexico of what’s been called a “jacuzzi of death,” a salty lake with a pretty coastline sitting at the bottom of the sea.

The formation is actually a brine pool, and because the undersea body of water is so salty and low in oxygen, it’s deathly for critters, like fish and crabs, that end up in it.

Crew members from a research ship, the E/V Nautilus, have referred to the undersea lake as the “jacuzzi of despair.” The brine pool has an “ominous crater-like image on seafloor maps,” according to the Nautilus website. The research vessel explored the rare formation and posted photographs and video of it.

The water in the pool is warmer than the rest of the sea, too— hence the jacuzzi nickname.

“It’s warm, but super salty,” Scott Wankel, a scientist with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution said, according to Seeker. “When [marine creatures] fall in they die and get pickled and preserved.”

The pool of death is roughly 82 feet across and is thousands of feet below the surface of the ocean, and while it might be hazardous for most sea life, it is fascinating looking, with edges that have “a  jewel-like rim,” according to the Nautilus Exploration Program.

Beware of the “jacuzzi of despair”! Deep in the Gulf of Mexico, super salty brine pools are toxic to most life: 

Follow Rob Verger on Twitter: @robverger

Could massive white cliffs be forming beneath Antarctica’s ocean?

 Coccolithophores are tiny algae that form calcium carbonate shells.

Coccolithophores are tiny algae that form calcium carbonate shells.  (<a href=” “>PLoS Biology, June 2011</a>)

The White Cliffs of Dover, the steep, chalky cliffs that fringe England’s southeastern coastline, formed about 100 million years ago thanks to a “Goldilocks” set of ocean conditions, new research suggests.

What’s more, a massive new set of cliffs could be forming right now in theSouthern Ocean near Antarctica as tiny algae shed their calcium-laden shells. However, depositing enough of that mineral, called calcite, to form similar cliffs could take millions of years.

“While we don’t have the great cliffs of the Southern Ocean, there is solid evidence that the calcite is making it to the seafloor,” William Balch, a biological oceanographer at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay, Maine, and lead author of the new study, said in a statement. [Photos: The Strangest Places on Earth]

White cliff formation

The White Cliffs of Dover, which overlook the English Channel, formed from the chalky detritus of single-celled algae called coccolithopohores. Looked at under a microscope, coccolithopores form a kaleidoscope-like set of intricate, interlocking shapes, thanks to outer shells made up of overlapping wheel-like plates of calcite. When the coccolithophores die, their calcite plates sink to ocean depths, accumulating in heaps on the seafloor. Over millions of years, the shells were squashed as more shells accumulated, the heaps rose, and the cliffs of Dover eventually emerged from the sea.

While researchers already knew that England’s iconic cliffs formed about 100 million years ago, they didn’t know exactly what caused the prolonged coccolithophore bloom in the first place.

Shimmering belt of water

To answer that question, the team decided to analyze coccolithophores in their natural habitat. They traveled to the remote reaches of the Southern Ocean, where a ring of blinding-bright blue and green water pops out in satellite imagery. This shiny circle of water forms the Calcite Belt, and it gets its brilliant shimmer because the water is teeming with tiny coccolithophores whose chalky armor reflects sunlight, brightening the water’s hue.

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“If you take the Earth and look at it upside down, it looks like a bullseye,” Marlon Lewis, an oceanographer at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia who was not involved with the study, said in a statement.

The team then did a detailed analysis of the water conditions that allow the Calcite Belt to thrive. It turned out that coccolithophores bloomed when conditions simultaneously allowed them to grow quickly, while starving out ecosystem competitors such as diatoms, another type of algae.

For instance, coccolithophores bloomed with high nitrate levels, while iron levels had to be too low for diatoms to bloom but high enough for coccolithophore needs. Since diatoms use silicate, the coccolithophores did best when silicate concentrations were low, preventing their competitors from thriving, the researchers reported Aug. 10 in the journal Global Biogeochemical Cycles.

The coccolithophores also seemed to do well at the nexus of ocean currents, where upwelling brings nutrients and minerals from the deep.

“These regions can be oases of fertilizer coming up to the surface for these plants,” Balch said.

Original article on Live Science.

Rare ‘whale fall’ spotted by deep-sea scientists

 Scientists aboard the Exploration Vessel Nautilus spotted these whale bones on the seafloor.

Scientists aboard the Exploration Vessel Nautilus spotted these whale bones on the seafloor. (NOAA)

A rare sight was recently captured by scientists aboard a deep-sea exploration vessel: the skeleton of a fallen whale. Researchers say these bony remains provide a feast of nutrients for sea creatures, including bone-eating “zombie worms.”

Newly released video footage from the Exploration Vessel Nautilus shows the whale bones on the seafloor, in what researchers term a natural “whale fall.”

“Coming across a natural whale fall is pretty uncommon,” a Nautilus researcher said in the video. “Most of the ones that have been studied have been sunk intentionally at a certain spot.” [Extreme Life on Earth: 8 Bizarre Creatures]


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The ecological impacts of a whale fall are far-reaching. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), whale carcasses provide a “sudden, concentrated food source and a bonanza for organisms in the deep sea.” Scavengers arrive on the scene first, consuming the soft tissue over the course of a few months, and the remaining detritus can enrich the ocean floor sediment for more than a year, NOAA said.

The whale skeleton itself is also a rich supplier of resources — particularly for a type of parasitic creature often referred to as zombie worms (Osedax roseus) because they feast on the dead.

“They burrow down into the bone and digest the lipids,” a Nautlius researcher said in the video.

According to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, the species was discovered feasting on a rotting gray whale carcass in 2002. In what could be considered an evolutionary hack to avoid searching for a mate, only female worms perform the necessary drilling to get to the fat within the bones.

“The males live inside the females — sometimes 100 males to one female,” Nautilus researchers said.

Skeletons from whale falls also serve as a hard substrate for invertebrate colonization. “It almost looks like a type of anemone,” the Nautlius researchers said, while observing a mysterious white orb on the whale’s jawbone.

Upon further inspection, though, the scientists said the orb was likely a coral making use of the surface.

Based on the shape of the whale jaw, the researchers speculated it was a baleen species, and could have been a juvenile, based on its relatively small size.

The new footage offers insights into the fate of a peculiar object that was spotted recently by an Australian fisherman. The strange, floating object turned out to be a bloated whale carcass, which scientists say will eventually result in a whale fall after it deflates and sinks to the seafloor.

The Exploration Vessel Nautilus, a 210-foot-long (64 meters) research vessel operated by the Ocean Exploration Trust, is investigating the Southern California continental margin from July 24 to Aug. 12.

Original article on Live ScienceCopyright 2016 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Planet’s Deepest ‘Blue Hole’ Has Been Found

Image result for Planet's Deepest 'Blue Hole' Has Been Found
Scientists announce discovery in South China Sea
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 26, 2016 11:59 AM CDT
Exclusive video of world’s deepest blue hole in the South China Sea.
(YouTube/CCTV News)

(NEWSER) – “Blue holes” are mystifying to look at, the large, deep pits appearing a shade of blue that’s just as deep and in stark contrast to the shallow waters around them. And what we’ve long considered the planet’s deepest—the 663-foot Dean’s Blue Hole in the Bahamas—has been relegated to second place, say Chinese researchers. They announced Friday that 11 months of study have confirmed that an underwater sinkhole in the South China Sea crushes that record. At 987 feet, it could nearly swallow the Eiffel Tower, reports theWashington Post. Known colloquially as “Dragon Hole” and the “eye ” of the South China Sea, the depth was confirmed using a VideoRay Pro 4 underwater robot equipped with a depth sensor, reports Xinhua.

The researchers further found that oxygen exists only in the top third of the blue hole, and they identified more than 20 fish and marine species in that top layer. The local government has drafted measures related to the protection and study of the hole. In its report on the discovery, Kyodo notes that when it’s humans, not robots, exploring these blue holes, the situation is “extremely dangerous.” On Nov. 17, 2013, a 32-year-old free-diver from Brooklyn drowned at Dean’s Blue Hole. The Economist ranks free-diving—relying on a single breath to dive as deep as you can —as second only to BASE-jumping in terms of its danger level. “Diving at extreme depths brutalizes the lungs, which at a depth of [100 feet] compress to a quarter of their normal size.” (This blue hole in Belize may hold the secret to the Mayan collapse.)

Navy funds study of underwater glue made using protein extracted from mussels

 Belgian cook Alexandre Vanlancker holds a handful of mussels at the Chez Leon restaurant in central Brussels November 24, 2011. Mussels start as larva, until they are heavy enough to sink to the bottom of the sea, where they grow wiry threads -- known as beards -- that allow them to latch on to anything around, forming great clumps of dark and heavily encrusted shells

Belgian cook Alexandre Vanlancker holds a handful of mussels at the Chez Leon restaurant in central Brussels November 24, 2011. Mussels start as larva, until they are heavy enough to sink to the bottom of the sea, where they grow wiry threads — known as beards — that allow them to latch on to anything around, forming great clumps of dark and heavily encrusted shells (REUTERS/Francois Lenoir )

Anyone who has ever made the mistake of wearing a Band-Aid in the shower knows all too well that adhesives which appear to be secure when dry quickly peel off when they get wet.

The challenge of creating glue that works underwater is the focus of Bruce Lee, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Michigan Technological University. To help him crack this conundrum, Lee has just been awarded three years of funding from the Office of Naval Research as part of its Young Investigator Program award.

Lee’s work is based on looking at one of the strongest natural undersea adhesives we know of — namely, that used by mussels to adhere themselves to rocks and the underside of boats.

“Mussels use a protein adhesive in order to attach to surfaces,” Lee tells Digital Trends. “It’s almost like injection molding: they inject it as a liquid, and then it adheres to a surface. One of those main proteins is an amino acid called DOPA. What we’ve done is to take that molecule and used chemistry to incorporate it into a synthetic adhesive.”

Lee says that there are two main possible applications for his work. The first of these would be useful for naval work involving the attaching of underwater sensors or devices on ships, submarines, or underwater robots. The second is a medical application involving the creation of dressings that will stay attached when a person sweats or otherwise gets wet.

As if underwater glue wasn’t enough of a challenge, Lee also wants to create an adhesive that can be switched “on” and “off” — meaning that it could be made sticky or non-sticky at will. Doing this means figuring out how to temporarily block the DOPA molecule, thereby triggering a structural change in the adhesive.

“By making our adhesive reversible, the hope is that we’ll be able to attach something underwater by turning it on, and then if you want to detach it, you simply turn it off again,” he says. “That’s something that’s quite novel, and is what makes the project exciting.”

The Office of Naval Research funding will help Lee study the biochemistry involved with the concept. “Once we have worked out the basic mechanism, then we can focus on establishing the materials to turn this into a physical application,” he said

So, smart underwater adhesives by 2020, then? We’ll stick around to find out.

Incredible ‘ghost fleet’ site could become national marine sanctuary

  • Aerial shot of wrecks in Mallows Bay (Photograph by Donald G. Shomette)

    Aerial shot of wrecks in Mallows Bay (Photograph by Donald G. Shomette)

An incredible site in the Potomac River, which is home to the “Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay”, has been nominated as a national marine sanctuary.

The 14-square mile area of the tidal Potomac River adjacent to Charles County, Md. is home to a bewildering number of shipwrecks. The wrecks include nearly 200 known vessels spanning from the Revolutionary War through the present, and include the remains of the largest “Ghost Fleet” of World War I wooden steamships built for the U.S. Emergency Fleet, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The ships were burned and scuttled in Mallows Bay in 1925.

Related: Navy divers raising armored wreckage of Confederate warship CSS Georgia in 5-ton chunks

With public comment on the designation starting Wednesday, experts have highlighted the importance of the proposed Mallows Bay-Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary.

“It is one of the richest maritime archaeological concentrations in our nation, indeed a national treasure in the process of being discovered,” wrote Maritime Historian and Archaeologist Donald Shomette, in an email to “Should it achieve sanctuary status, it will become a living laboratory of unparalleled uniqueness combining both nature in the raw with the grand sweep of American history itself, for all Americans to visit, enjoy, study and learn from.”

Largely undeveloped, Mallows Bay has been identified as one of the most ecologically valuable waterscapes in Maryland, with NOAA noting that the ship remains provide an important habitat for fish and wildlife. Mallows Bay is also a popular site for kayaking and bass fishing.

“This section of the Potomac River contains unique and nationally significant historical, cultural, ecological, and recreational resources,” wrote Charlie Stek, chair of the Mallows Bay-Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary Steering Committee, in an email to “Designating this section of the Potomac as a National Marine Sanctuary offers outstanding opportunities to educate and engage the public, and particularly our youth, in our nation’s rich maritime and cultural history.”

Stek added that the Mallows Bay site would become the first sanctuary designated in America’s largest estuary and serve as a lasting commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the country’s entry into World War I in 2017.

Related: Hull of Confederate sub, first in history to sink enemy warship, revealed

In September 2014 the state of Maryland submitted a nomination for Mallows Bay to be to be added to NOAA’s inventory of places to be considered as national marine sanctuaries. Mallows Bay was listed on the National Register of Historic Places earlier this year.

America’s waterways contain a fascinating array of archaeological artifacts. Earlier this year, for example, Navy divers began raising armored wreckage of the Confederate ironclad CSS Georgia from the Savannah River in Georgia. The hull of the H.L. Hunley, a Confederate vessel that made history when it became the first submarine to sink an enemy warship, was also cleaned and revealed this year.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers


Originally available here

Killer robot is coming after you, killer starfish

Killer robot is coming after you, killer starfish

This undated handout photo released by the World Wide Fund for Nature shows a crown-of-thorns starfish. (AP Photo/WWF, Jason Latorre)

A robot tasked with the unusual job of killing starfish is nearly ready for deployment at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, reports the BBC. The Cotsbot was designed by Queensland University of Technology to eradicate crown-of-thorns starfish, labeled “one of the most significant threats to the Great Barrier Reef” by the reef’s Marine Park Authority.

The starfish eat up surrounding coral, and have significantly contributed to a 50% decline in coral cover over the past 30 years, says the authority. Hence, the robot.

“This system has been trained to recognize [crown-of-thorns starfish] from among a vast range of corals using thousands of still images of the reef and videos taken by COTS-eradicating divers,” explains researcher Matthew Dunbabin.

After identification, the robot moves in and injects the starfish with a deadly chemical. The technique is already being tested in Brisbane’s Moreton Bay, and the Cotsbot will be dispatched to the Great Barrier Reef later this month.

“Over the next five months we plan to progressively increase the level of autonomy the robot is allowed, leading to autonomous detection and injection of the starfish,” Dunbabin says.

Crown-of-thorns outbreaks occur about every 17 years. (Meanwhile, researchers elsewhere in Australia have discovered another coral reef that may rival the Great Barrier Reef.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: Killer Robot Is Coming for You, Killer Starfish

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