Planet has lost half of all marine life since 1970

Planet has lost half of all marine life since 1970

Tuna species are among those declining the fastest. (AP Photo/Chris Park)

The oceans, with more than 90% of the habitable space on Earth, still contain most of the life on our planet, but there’s a lot less of it than there was just 45 years ago, according to a deeply dispiriting report from the World Wildlife Fund.

The group, which surveyed 10,000 populations of more than 3,000 species, says marine life—including mammals and birds as well as fish—has declined by 49% between 1970 and 2012, the BBC reports.

The WWF says humans have caused the decline in marine species through overfishing, destruction of habitats like seagrass beds and mangrove swamps, and through climate change, which has caused ocean acidification.

Experts warn the latter could cause a “Great Dying” even worse than what has taken place over the last few decades. Some of the steepest declines were among fish caught for food, including tuna and mackerel, which are down almost 75%, the BBC reports.

“In less than a human generation, we can see dramatic losses in ocean wildlife—they have declined by half—and their habitats have been degraded and destroyed,” a WWF spokesman tells Discovery.

“Driving all these trends are human actions: from overfishing and resource depletion, to coastal development and pollution, to the greenhouse gas emissions causing ocean acidification and warming.” Not as much is known about deep-sea populations, though declining catches suggest they’re also dropping fast, the Independent reports.

(Wildlife on land isn’t faring any better.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: Sea Life Has Halved Since 1970

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World’s oldest message in a bottle discovered in Germany


The world’s oldest message in a bottle has reportedly washed up in Germany after 108 years at sea.

Renowned researcher George Parker Bidder released the bottle into the sea in the early 1900s, and it was discovered in April by a woman walking the beach on Amrum Island in the North Sea, according to Amrum News reports

“It’s always a joy when someone finds a message-in-a-bottle on the beach,” Marianne Winkler, who found the bottle, told the site.

After making the find, she took it home to her husband, Horst Winkler, for further inspection, and that’s when they noticed the message, “Break the Bottle. Inside they found a postcard with no date but a return address listing the British Marine Biological Association. The message, written in German, Dutch, and English, promised a reward of one shilling to the person who returned it.

According to the MBA, Bidder released approximately 1,020 bottles between 1904 and 1906 as part of an experiment to understand currents. The bottles were designed to float above the sea bed so they could be carried by the deep sea currents. And thanks to those bottles, Bidder proved for the very first time that the currents flowed from east to west in the North Sea, valuable information for local fisherman, The Telegraph reported.

The MBA is still waiting for the bottle to be recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records. But in the meantime, the Winklers say the organization has fulfilled its promise: they’ve received their reward of one shilling.

After all the excitement, the couple says they can’t wait to visit Amrum Island again.

“We know and love the island,” Horst Winkler said. And while they might not uncover another piece of history, they’re planning for another adventure next year.

Amrum News and The Telegraph contributed to this report.


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Robotic rock climbers could aid hunt for Mars life


A ‘Cliffbot’ is lowered over some rocks during a field test in Morocco in 2013. (© OeWF (Katja Zanella-Kux))

A robot that can scale the faces of steep cliffs might one day help explore Mars and find signs of life.

The latest experiments with this “Cliffbot” showed it could help examine places otherwise difficult or impossible for astronauts to safely reach, although further improvements are needed for it to overcome obstacles, according to findings detailed in the journal Astrobiology.

Gullies and canyons with steep cliffs are seen all over Mars. Ancient channels of water may have cut many of these valleys into the rock of the Red Planet, suggesting water may once have flowed on the surface of what is now a dry and dusty world. [The Search for Life on Mars (A Photo Timeline)]

The possibility that water flowed on Mars raises hope that life might once have existed there, or could live there still, perhaps hidden in underground reservoirs. Liquid water is an essential ingredient for life as we know it, and there is life virtually everywhere there is liquid water on Earth.

To see whether the history of Mars includes life, scientists would like to learn more about the planet’s past. On Earth, researchers often do this with digs — the older the material is, the deeper it is typically buried. However, digging on Mars is difficult, as doing so requires heavy equipment that is not easy to fly to another planet.

Instead of using robotic or human missions to dig on Mars, researchers want to see if they can take advantage of how naturally occurring gullies and canyons already slice into the Red Planet and expose strata — that is, layers of rock. A robot that can scale the cliffs of these valleys could uncover clues to Martian history. In a sense, the more it would descend, the further back in time it could travel.

Since 2001, the Association Planète Mars, the French chapter of the Mars Society, has experimented with probes capable of being lowered down faces of steep cliffs using cables. The goal is for astronauts to manually operate a Cliff Reconnaissance Vehicle (CRV) or Cliffbot instead of dangling off rock faces themselves, and use cameras and other scientific instruments aboard the robot to analyze difficult-to-reach locations.

The latest series of tests of the Cliffbot were conducted as part of the Austrian Space Forum’s MARS2013 project in February 2013. The researchers worked near Erfoud in the Moroccan desert, where the Saharan geology and topography is similar to that of Mars.

Cliffbot was steered by operators as they wore the Aouda.X spacesuit, an outfit designed to simulate what an astronaut in a real spacesuit might experience on Mars. Although the Aouda.X suit is not truly airtight like a real spacesuit, it could simulate many of the major limitations to dexterity and movement that a real suit on Mars would present (for instance, a system that weighs 100 pounds and takes two hours to put on).

The scientists experimented with Cliffbot by descending higher cliffs than ever before (previously the robot was tested on cliffs less than 59 feet high, in areas such as France and Utah). They succeeded in lowering Cliffbot on a cable of up to 150 feet long. These experiments included lowering the robot into a cave mouth on a mud mound, a space that’s difficult for an astronaut in a spacesuit to fit through. The researchers added that Mars’ lower gravity should make it easier for Cliffbot’s operators to lower it to look at items of interest, since on the Cliffbot would weigh roughly 38 percent of what it weighs on Earth.

A wide-view, high-definition camera on Cliffbot helped transmit pictures of numerous fossil seashells embedded in the Moroccan cliffs, suggesting the robot could help astronauts spot any similarly anomalous features on Mars. [7 Biggest Mysteries of Mars]

“The important implication of the Cliffbot experiments is to demonstrate that you can replace a deep drill on Mars with a vehicle going down a slope,” said study author Alain Souchier, a mechanical engineer and president of the Association Planète Mars in Vernon, France.

Cliffbot did encounter problems during the tests. In one instance, the operators could not retrieve the robot from a debris-laden slope because a boulder 15.7 inches long became wedged between the right wheel spokes. One way to solve this challenge in the future might be to use solid wheels without spokes.

The scientists placed a camera with a rear-facing mirror on Cliffbot, and the “Hazcam” helped operators see the robot’s surroundings to anticipate the hazards it faced. However, when a rock became stuck between Cliffbot’s spokes, the operators could not see this problem from the Hazcam or its mirror. The scientists suggested that in the future, they could add cameras directed at its wheels to detect such problems.

“These modifications are technically rather easy to implement,” Souchier said.

He added that the Hazcam did help operators understand what the robot was doing when it was hanging over cliffs out of sight.

The researchers noted Cliffbot might in the future carry the same kinds of scientific instruments that are used on other Mars rovers to better explore Mars. For instance, it could bring along a detector of methane, an organic gas whose existence on Mars might suggest the presence of life. Another useful instrument would be the L.I.F.E. laser, which could detect other molecules that are potential signs of life, such as chlorophyll.

Future experiments with Cliffbot are planned in Utah in 2015. A team of aerospace engineering students “expect to bring improvements to the vehicle,” Souchier said.

This story was provided by Astrobiology Magazine, a web-based publication sponsored by the NASA astrobiology program.

Why rubber blocks keep appearing on Europe’s beaches

Why rubber blocks keep appearing on Europe's beaches

A woman takes a photograph on her phone of the view from a beach in Portsmouth, England, on Oct. 31, 2014. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

From Britain to Spain to Denmark, rubbery blocks have recently washed up on beaches, all bearing the same word: Tjipetir. It’s still not certain where each block comes from, but a woman who found one while walking her dog in England has a pretty good idea, the BBC reports.

After Tracey Williams posted on a Facebook page about her investigation into the matter, two individuals who haven’t been publicly identified told her about a Japanese ship sunk 150 miles west of Britain’s Scilly Isles during World War I.

The Miyazaki Maru carried the blocks, and it has recently been subject to salvage work, resulting in their release, the sources explained. The blocks have their origins in Indonesia, where they get their name from a 19th- and 20th-century rubber plantation in West Java.

The rubber-like stuff—likely a tree gum called gutta-percha—was once used for such diverse purposes as insulating cables and making golf balls. Williams’ theory is supported by a British official in charge of the country’s wreck laws—the Receiver of Wreck, as she’s known.

But “many ships would have been carrying gutta-percha, so it’s possible that the cargo is coming from more than one source,” Williams notes. One of those sources could be the Titanic, which listed such blocks among its cargo, the Daily Mail reports.

Interesting pieces of history, but not so appealing to conservationists: “The thing we find most worrying is that this is biodegradable rubber and here it is, 100 years later, in near-perfect condition,” says one.

(In other weird beach finds, a two-headed dolphin recently washed ashore.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: Why Rubber Blocks Keep Appearing on Europe’s Beaches

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Did ocean’s big burps end last ice age?



File photo – A surfer drops in on a large wave at Praia do Norte, in Nazare Dec. 11, 2014. (REUTERS/Rafael Marchante)

A massive outpouring of carbon dioxide from the deep ocean may have helped end the last ice age, scientists report today.

There is strong evidence that changes in Earth’s orbit set the pace of the planet’sice ages, by altering how much sunlight reaches the Northern Hemisphere. Yet, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere also wobble with the advance and retreat of massive ice sheets, according to observations of ice cores and old ocean sediments. Carbon dioxide levels are lower during an ice age and higher when an ice age ends.

Now, scientists have documented a source for the massive exhalations of potent climate-altering gas seen at the end of the last ice age, about 16,000 years ago. [Photos: The 8 Coldest Places on Earth]

“The oceans are leaking carbon dioxide to the atmosphere,” said study co-author Gavin Foster from the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom.

The researchers, led by Miguel Angel Martínez-Botíz of Britain’s National Oceanography Center in Southampton, looked at ice-age seafloor sediments in two regions where ocean currents force deep- ocean water to the surface. They examined the shells of single-celled microbes called foraminifera, which preserve the ratio of chemicals in seawater as they grow. A certain chemical ratio involving boron is a proxy for the carbon dioxide concentration in seawater thousands of years ago, when the microbes lived and died.

The samples tested in the study come from two seafloor drilling sites. One is located in the southern Atlantic Ocean, midway between South America and Africa, and the other is offshore Ecuador on the underwater Carnegie Ridge.

Very high concentrations of dissolved carbon dioxide suddenly appeared in surface waters of the southern Atlantic Ocean and the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean at the end of the last ice age, the researchers said Feb. 11 in the journal Nature. Surface waters in both regions show a dramatic rise in dissolved carbon dioxide levels at the same time as the recorded rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide in ice cores, the researchers report.

During the early Holocene Epoch, about 10,000 years ago, the carbon dioxide exhalations continued, yet gas levels stabilized in the atmosphere, according to the new study. This suggests that something starting sucking up the gas, perhaps re-growing forests or expanding peat bogs on land, the researchers said.

The findings suggest these regions were pumping carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. The gas concentrations in the two regions spiked at different times, hinting that different processes underlie the rise in ocean carbon, the researchers said. However, in both cases the scientists think carbon dioxide levels in these two regions jumped because water rich in carbon and nutrients welled up from the deep ocean.

This is not the first study to suggest that sharp increases in carbon dioxide coincided with the warming that began as Earth emerged from its most recent ice age. Earlier studies from the western equatorial Pacific Ocean also suggest the tropics were a significant source of carbon dioxide during deglaciation. Antarctic ice cores also record a jump in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, followed by warmer temperatures.

Yet scientists still puzzle over what triggered these giant burps in greenhouse gas. Leading theories include changes in ocean currents or wind patterns. Some researchers recently suggested that sea-level drops triggered underwater volcanoes to erupt more vigorously, belching carbon dioxide in the process.

“We don’t know the ultimate case,” Foster said. “[But] we’re one step toward the answer.”

The researchers plan to test additional sites and examine how carbon dioxide levels changed through the glacial cycle, he said.



US Navy’s new ‘Star Wars’-style railgun hits Mach 6

 Image result for US Navy’s new ‘Star Wars’-style railgun hits Mach 6

War Games: Navy debuts new Star Wars-style railgun

The Navy and Marine Corps’ new ‘Star Wars’-style weapon made its debut in the nation’s capital this week.

The Electromagnetic Railgun, developed by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) with BAE Systems, has the potential to revolutionize naval warfare.

The weapon was on display to the public for the first time at the Naval Future Force Science and Technology EXPO at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. Wednesday and Thursday. The biennial event showcases the latest advances in power projection and force protection, including this year’s star – the EM Railgun.

To defend ships, conduct surface warfare against enemy vessels and support U.S. Marines and ground forces, EM Railgun-armed ships will be able to fire hypervelocity projectiles giving US forces even greater reach and lethality.

The EM Railgun is one immensely powerful weapon.

How does it work?

The EM Railgun launcher is a long-range weapon that uses electromagnetic energy, instead of conventional chemical propellants, to fire projectiles.

The ship generates electricity and this electricity is stored over several seconds in the pulsed power system and an electric pulse is sent to the railgun.

It gets its name from its use of rails. High electrical currents accelerate a sliding metal conductor between two rails and this creates magnetic fields to launch projectiles.

The electromagnetic force is so powerful that it launches the projectile up to Mach 6, firing projectiles farther and faster than current options. These projectiles reach an amazing 4,500 mph and precisely hit targets more than 100 miles away.

Mach 6 is more than six times the speed of sound.

To put how fast that is in context, Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works has built the fastest manned airplane, the Blackbird, and that flies around Mach 3.

Once launched, the projectile uses its extreme speed, the kinetic energy, rather than conventional explosives to destroy targets on land, at sea or in the air.

And to put the improved distance in perspective, the current Mk 45 naval gun mount has a range of about 13 nautical miles with conventional ammunition.

What does it fire?

With ONR, BAE Systems is developing the next-generation HVP, Hyper Velocity Projectile, that can be fired by the EM Railgun and future models of railguns.

The HVP will also be compatible with current weapons systems like the Navy 5-Inch Mk 45, and Navy, Marine Corps, and Army 155-mm Tube Artillery systems.

It’s designed to be a guided projectile with low drag for high-velocity, maneuverability and decreased time-to-target. It has advanced guidance electronics and in flight, the HVP will be 24 inches long and weigh 28 pounds. The ammunition will be easy to handle and transport.

The Navy’s EM Railgun will fire 10 of these rounds per minute. When fired with an Mk 45 the HVP will be 20 rounds per minute and extend range to 50 nautical miles.

What are the advantages?

Railguns are a smart alternative to current large artillery and this weapon represents significant advances in U.S. Navy and Marine Corps capabilities.

It also provides additional benefits like enhancing safety aboard surface ships while greatly reducing cost.

Since this system that does not use gunpowder or propellant to fire the projectile, it reduces the need for high explosives to be carried on ships and the related hazards in doing so.

Off the ship, the EM Railgun will improve safety as well. Since it uses its extreme speed on impact, the danger of unexploded ordnance on the battlefield will be reduced.

Another key advantage is cost. Railgun projectiles are a mere fraction of the cost of those currently used in missile engagements – possibly even one percent of the cost of today’s missile systems.

Achieving this “Star Wars” – style weapon has not been easy. For years, many programs have sought to build such a powerful weapon, but a design that works, and works on a practical level, has been incredibly difficult to crack. Generating the power necessary to accelerate rail gun projectiles and creating materials capable of resisting the extreme temperatures generated are just two of the enormous obstacles a successful railgun needs to overcome.

Development of ONR’s Electromagnetic Railgun began about ten years ago. Phase I focused on developing the launcher, pulsed power, and risk reduction for the projectile. In 2012, Phase II began further advancing the technology, such as a firing rate of 10 rounds per minute.

What’s next?

The railgun program continues to perform impressively and is on track for its scheduled at-sea testing next year.

Ballet dancer turned defense specialist Allison Barrie has traveled around the world covering the military, terrorism, weapons advancements and life on the front line. You can reach her at or follow her on Twitter@Allison_Barrie.

Amazing slow-motion video reveals secrets of undersea world


 (Screenshot from Daniel Stoupin Vimeo video)

An amazing video by nature photographer Daniel Stoupin reveals the stunning slow-motion world of corals and sponges. The three-and-a-half-minute “Slow Life” Vimeo video is composed of 150,000 shots, offering an astonishing insight into vibrant undersea life.

“Corals and sponges build coral reefs and play crucial roles in the biosphere, yet we know almost nothing about their daily lives,” explained Stoupin, in a post accompanying the video on Vimeo.  “These animals are actually very mobile creatures, however their motion is only detectable at different time scales compared to ours and requires time lapses to be seen.”

Each frame of the video is actually a stack that consists of between three and 12 shots where in-focus areas are merged, according to Stoupin, who runs theMicroworlds Photography website. Stoupin, a doctoral student in marine biology at the University of Queensland in Australia, said that nine months of work went into producing the spectacular video.

Beautiful, eerie fluorescent glow of Hong Kong seas indicates harmful algal bloom at work

  • Sea Sparkle-1.jpg

    This Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015 photo made with a long exposure shows the glow from a Noctiluca scintillans algal bloom along the seashore in Hong Kong. The luminescence, also called Sea Sparkle, is triggered by farm pollution that can be devastating to marine life and local fisheries, according to University of Georgia oceanographer Samantha Joye. Noctiluca itself does not produce neurotoxins like other similar organisms do. But its role as both prey and predator tends can eventually magnify the accumulation of toxins in the food chain, according to R. Eugene Turner at Louisiana State University. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung) (The Associated Press)

Eerie fluorescent blue patches of water glimmering off Hong Kong’s seashore are magnificent, disturbing and potentially toxic, marine biologists say.

The glow is an indicator of a harmful algal bloom created by something called Noctiluca scintillans, nicknamed Sea Sparkle.

It looks like algae and can act like algae. But it’s not quite. It is a single-celled organism that technically can function as both animal and plant.

These type blooms are triggered by farm pollution that can be devastating to marine life and local fisheries, according to University of Georgia oceanographer Samantha Joye, who was shown Associated Press photos of the glowing water.

“Those pictures are magnificent. It’s just extremely unfortunate that the mysterious and majestic blue hue is created by a Noctiluca,” Joye wrote in an email Thursday.

This is part of a problem that is growing worldwide, said Joye and other scientists.

Noctiluca is a type of single-cell life that eats plankton and is eaten by other species. The plankton and Noctiluca become more abundant when nitrogen and phosphorous from farm run-off increase.

Unlike similar organisms, Noctiluca doesn’t directly produce chemicals that can attack the nervous system or parts of the body.

But recent studies show it is much more complicated and links them to blooms that have been harmful to marine life. Noctiluca’s role as both prey and predator can eventually magnify the accumulation of algae toxins in the food chain, according to oceanographer R. Eugene Turner at Louisiana State University.

Federal scientists discover new coral species in underwater canyons off California’s coast


This photo released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows a catshark egg nest showing yellow “mermaids purses,” which are sacs containing eggs. (AP Photo/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say they’ve discovered a new species of deep-sea coral off the Northern California coast.

NOAA announced Wednesday that a research team using small submersibles found the coral in September near national marine sanctuaries off the coast of Sonoma County.

The coral from the genus Leptogorgia was discovered about 600 feet deep in underwater canyons close to the Gulf of Farallones and Cordell Bank national marine sanctuaries.

The Farallones sanctuary’s superintendent says studying these life forms helps determine the ecological importance of deep sea communities and the threats they face.

Scientists say they also found a “highly unusual” nursery area for catsharks and skates during their research.

Surprise! Life discovered inside deep-sea rocks


Towering carbonate rocks rise hundreds of feet off the seafloor at Hydrate Ridge off the coast of Oregon. New research finds that these rocks are home to microbes that live off of methane bubbling from below the ocean floor. (Victoria Orphan)

Towering rocks at the bottom of the ocean hold a surprising secret: Life.

These rocks, near natural methane seeps on the seafloor, are home to methane-munching microbes, new research finds. What’s more, it appears these tiny rock-dwellers may chow down on enough methane to effect global levels of the gas, which can contribute to climate change.

“We’ve recognized for awhile that the deep ocean is a sink for methane, but primarily it has been thought that it was only in the sediment,” said study researcher Jeffrey Marlow, a graduate student at Caltech. “The fact that it appears to be active in the rocks itself sort of redistributes where that methane is going.” [Gallery: Amazing Images of Atlantic Methane Seeps]

Methane and microbes

About 15 years ago, Caltech geobiologist Victoria Orphan and her colleagues discovered that the mud on the seafloor near methane seeps is anything but dead dirt. Instead, it’s full of microbes bacteria and nucleus-free organisms called archaea that eat the natural methane bubbling up from subsurface reservoirs. Between 6 and 22 percent of the world’s methane (a greenhouse gas) is released through these seeps, or cracks in the ocean floor, said Marlow, who is one of Orphan’s students. Microbes eat about 80 to 90 percent of that.

Dominating the landscape at these sites, however, are enormous rocks, hundreds of feet tall and hundreds of feet long. The rocks are carbonates, meaning they are made of minerals from the surrounding seawater. No one had ever studied these rocks to see if they, like the seafloor mud, hosted life, Marlow said. [See Photos of Weird Deep-Sea Life]

The researchers launched two expeditions to the deep at a place called Hydrate Ridge 62 miles off the coast of Oregon. This undersea formation is dotted with methane vents. There, in the near-freezing waters 2,625 feet down, the scientists took samples of rock near active methane seeps as well as from spots without methane activity. One expedition used Alvin, a manned research submersible operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). The other used the remotely operated submersible Jason, also run by the WHOI.

Rock-dwelling life

Jason and Alvin returned 24 rock samples, which the researchers studied alongside samples from other methane seep areas in the Eel River Basin off northwestern California and the Costa Rica margin off Costa Rica. Using microscopes, they saw that rocks adjacent to the methane seeps were full of clusters of microbes. DNA analysis revealed both bacteria and archaea in similar ratios as seen in the seafloor mud.

But what were these microbes doing? To find out, the researchers attached certain molecules to methane that they then exposed to the rock-dwelling microbes. These molecules acted as tracking devices, allowing the researchers to see where the methane and its components ended up.

The tracking studies revealed that the methane ended up in the bellies of the microbial beasties discovered inside the rocks and then in the rocks themselves. It appears that the microbes process the methane and excrete byproducts that mineralize around them, forming the towering rocks in a process of “gradual self-entombment,” the researchers report today (Oct. 14) in the journal Nature Communications.

“We think that the microbes are processing the methane into bicarbonate, and then that bicarbonate links up with calcium in the seawater to make calcium carbonate,” Marlow explained.

Granted, entombing oneself in rock doesn’t seem like the best bet for survival, Marlow said. But it’s likely that the microbes still get their methane supply through pores or fissures in the rock. Researchers only sampled from the first few inches of rock, so they aren’t sure how deep the microbial communities penetrate below the surface.

Like carbon dioxide, methane is a greenhouse gas, capable of trapping heat from the sun in the Earth’s atmosphere. Though carbon dioxide is more abundant and thus contributes a greater proportion of global warming, methane is actually about 30 times as potent as CO2 at trapping heat. Marlow, Orphan and their colleagues aren’t yet sure how much of the microbial methane-munching activity happens in rocks versus in seafloor mud, but the rock-dwellers “might be a very strong contributor,” Marlow said.

What’s more, the methane-eating microbes are likely the basis of an alien ecosystem on the seafloor, playing the same role that plants play on land.

“There are worms crawling in and around in the rocks, in the sediments, that are very likely eating these clumps of cells,” Marlow said. “So they really are the primary producers in this entire system.”