Undersea Volcano Chain Found Off Antarctica

A little over a week ago, scientist located a chain of volcanoes off Antarctica.  Located near the United Kingdom territories of Georgia Islands and South Sandwich Islands, the volcanic discovery proved much more vast than expected.  Volcanologist Phil Leat was quoted as saying, “It was amazing finding them.  There were so many of these volcanoes we had no idea about.”

The dozen or so undersea volcanoes were located through research by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS).  The British Antarctic Survey “is a component of the Natural Environment Research Council.”  For over 60 years, BAS has stood at the helm of Britain’s scientific research on Antarctica and the surrounding islands.  Based in Cambridge, the organization is considered the premier research and logistic group in Britain.

According to National Geographic’s website, BAS was undergoing a month long expedition, working to fill in gaps of existing seabed maps.  The team used multibeam sonar survey to conduct research covering a 370-mile by 90-mile range.  Researchers acknowledged they expected to find volcanoes, based on the fact that the South Sandwich Islands are actively volcanic and a 1962 incident of a passing British naval ship that encountered large patches of pumice – a rock formation formed by trapped gases in lava.  However, scientists were taken aback by the sheer scope of their discovery.

Some of the giant volcanoes rose to heights within 225 feet of the water’s surface.  Collected data placed measurements of the mammoth volcanoes in the same scale as Japan’s Mount Fuji, which scrapes the sky at 12,388 feet or just over two vertical miles.  In previous documented seabed charts, areas where the volcanoes lie where considered nothing more than deep water.  Phil Leat said the mass of the volcanoes could be unnerving, but also very exciting discovering a huge volcano that was previously unknown.

The new discovery will also help scientist monitor potential tsunamis.  As on land, volcanoes can collapse causing landslides.  Underwater, a collapsing volcano can produce devastating tsunamis.  Fortunately, the South Sandwich Islands provide an ideal research area were no islanders would be in danger.  Scientists hope to continue conducing research to discover how volcanoes generate tsunamis.

Researchers also hope to explore volcanic sea life.  Active volcanoes are known to have hydrothermal vents, which “provide unique habitats for life, some of which might be analogous to organisms that might survive around hot springs on other worlds, such as Jupiter’s Europa.”  Leat said there is no coral on the volcanoes, but the vents act as coral allowing sea life to exist.  He continued by saying previous areas similar to these have lead to findings of new species. 

In related undersea mapping, a United States Navy research is underway to create detailed charts of the ocean floor from South Africa to Chile.  Research ship Melville, setoff from Cape Town in mid-February.  With the use of a sonar system, the ship has reported mountains around 14,763 feet high.  Melville hopes to contribute efforts of providing more accurate seabed mapping.  Many of the sea charts used today were done via satellite data, making charts not nearly as precise.  However, sonar systems cost a great deal more than satellite data.  The cost difference allows for only about 7% of deep water ships to use updated means of mapping.  Professor of geophysics at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California, David Sandwell, said time also can pose a problem using sonar.  He went on to state “it would take a single ship equipped with a sonar scanner 125 years to map the deep ocean basin completely.”            

Photo Credit:  nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=100385                

Coastal Fish in Gulf of Mexico Recover After Oil Spill

Populations of coastal fish along the Gulf of Mexico seem to be relatively unscathed after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, according to recent research published in the international online journal PLoS ONE.

The research comes as a joint effort from marine ecologists at the University of South Alabama and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who discovered that there has actually been an increase in the number of juveniles found in at least 12 of the 20 species of coastal fish studied since the disaster occurred.  Overall, the species-by-species catch rates of coastal fish recorded within a five-year data set went from (1,080±43 fishes km-towed−1 [μ ± 1SE]) in 2006 to (1,989±220 fishes km-towed−1 [μ ± 1SE]) in 2010.

This increase appears despite the fact that vulnerable larvae have been exposed to oil-polluted water, which contains toxic contaminants such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).  PAHs are known to result in genetic damage and physical deformities, and can alter or delay the developmental onset of adulthood in fish eggs/larvae.  These same PAHs are responsible for causing sickness and even death amongst workers involved in the aftermath of the oil-spill clean up efforts.

For many, including the researchers themselves, this news comes as a surprise, considering that the explosion at Deepwater Horizon caused the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry–reportedly 20 times greater than the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska in 1989.  Between the months of April and July 2010, the collapsed drilling rig gushed 4.4 million barrels of crude oil at a rate of 53,000 barrels a day over a protracted 84 day period.  In addition to spilled oil fouling hundreds of miles of sea water, the initial explosion at the Macondo Prospect killed 11 workers, with many more hospitalizations of local residents and workers occurring during clean-up efforts due to high levels of exposure to dangerous carcinogens.

The researchers suspect that the main reason these coastal fish have avoided catastrophe is due to the fact that much of the oil released did not rise to the surface; instead, it emulsified at the well head and throughout the water column, allowing the majority of spawning coastal fish to become resilient enough to survive the oil’s effects.

Other factors may also be contributing to the apparent stability of these coastal fish populations, including a reduction in the number of major predators who eat their juvenile fish and larvae, which is also a result of the oil spill.  Coastal fish species may also be uniquely resilient to oil pollution “due to their mobility or foraging ecology.”  Lastly, a release from harvest pressure due to fishing bans in about one-third of the Gulf after the oil spill may account for increased spawning activity, although no significant statistics were found to prove this.

Even though researchers admit that “these data provide reason for early optimism,” the good news should be taken with a grain of salt, in that “attention should now turn to possible chronic effects of oil exposure on fishes,” as well as any “delayed indirect effects” which may not be seen until years after oil exposure.  Such was the case with the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989, which resulted in Alaskan coastal wildlife being exposed to residual sub-lethal levels of toxic oil up to 20 years after the initial incident.

In the case of Deepwater Horizon, the early concern over the Gulf of Mexico’s coastal ecosystems will likely shift towards a long term study of the spilled oil’s effects in the the deep ocean, where the majority of it is found today.

Photo Credit: flickr.com/photos/skytruth/3255227497/

Cyclists Bike for Clean Water Awareness

Twenty-six year old Michiel Roodenburg and twenty-eight year old Joost Notenboom are on a mission to bring awareness of the world’s water crisis.  The two men set off on bikes from Deadhorse north Alaska on July 4, 2010.  Through their non-profit, Cycle for Water, they will pedal over 30,000 kilometers (roughly 18,642 miles) in an 18 month period.  Michiel and Joost hope to complete their journey at the southern most tip of Argentina in Ushuaia.

Michiel was raised in Scotland by adventurous parents who focused on international cultures and languages.  As a teenager he enjoyed “tracking elephants and building multi-platform tree huts in Gabon, West Africa.”  Moved by one of the world’s top motivational speakers, polar explorer and environmental leader, Robert Swan, Michiel committed himself to doing something great. 

Dutch born Joost was first confronted with the heartbreak of unsafe drinking water during his efforts as a volunteer in the African Bush within the Amakahala Game Reserve.  His experience provided the foundation for his sustainability and natural resource management thesis focused on transboundary water management in conflict situations.   

The two men met while pursuing a student exchange program in Tel Aviv, Israel.  While cycling through dry regions of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iran the men developed a passion for spreading clean water awareness.  They witnessed heartbreaking scenarios of parents struggling to supply clean, safe drinking water for their families.  Both credited their biking experiences through the Middle East and Africa with planting the seed for Cycle for Water.  The bike excursion showed the importance of clean water and the blaring reality that over 1 billion people are without such a basic necessity.  

With clean water propelling the motivation, the men set out from Alaska on Calfee Design bamboo bikes.  Calfee Design was started by Craig Calfee in 1987 near Santa Cruz, California.  An ever expanding company, bamboo bikes were created as a publicity stunt in 1995.  Positive feedback for the bamboo frame was overwhelming leading to production for the general public in 2005. 

Bamboo provides a smoother ride with the ability to create vibration damping.  To prevent splitting the bike is smoked and heat treated along with hemp fibers tying together lugs.  Each bike is individually customized for the rider with a built to order concept making each bike unique.  Overall, Calfee bamboo bikes use the least amount of carbon dioxide emissions during production.  Design, custom fit and eco-production made Calfee bike a perfect selection for Michiel’s and Joost’s journey.  The choice of bamboo allowed the men to lower their carbon footprint and prove “challenges can be overcome using sustainable solutions.”

Along the sixteen country expedition, Michiel and Joost are pedaling with a bottle of Alaskan Beaufort Sea water.  Their goal is to bike essentially all of North and South America carrying the bottle until reaching Tierra del Fuego in Ushuaia, Argentina.  The act provides a symbolic completion of water’s natural cycle.  Throughout their journey they consistently stop at local villages to learn more about the area’s respected water needs.  They hope to both learn and spread awareness on issues of rain catchment methods and the challenges people face in collecting daily water supplies.   

As of their latest posting on June 15th, the pair was in a little city called Popayan outside of Columbia.  Thus far they’ve completed 362 days of the journey, providing many interviews and spearheading the initiative of clean water for all.     

Photo Credit:  tn.gov/environment/parks/economic_impact/  

Annual World Oceans Day Celebrated

June 8th marked the third annual World Oceans Day (WOD).  WOD works in partnership with The Ocean Project and the World Ocean Network bringing awareness to oceans’ vast importance in our lives and how we can help protect the waters and marine life.  Collaborate efforts of the three organizations provide an opportunity for people to be directly involved in solidifying a positive future for the world’s oceans.

Officially recognized by the United Nations in 2008, World Oceans Day originated during the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.  Proposed by Canada, WOD is celebrated yearly on June 8th and sees more growth and participation annually.  The Ocean Project and the World Ocean Network began promoting World Oceans Day in 2003 using a network of over 1,200 organizations throughout the world.  The day puts an emphasis on changing people’s views and actions toward the oceans.  Celebrations across the world encourage people to participate in clean up projects along with becoming more educated on sustainable seafood options.

Increased over-fishing, environmental disasters such as oil spills and dumping of waste are taking a toll on our oceans.  Such a beautiful and delicate eco-system is being damaged.  Oceans provide essential needs for humans such as oxygen, climate regulation, food and even medicines.  To help remind communities of the vital necessities oceans provide events are held across the world.  In 2010, over 300 events in 45 countries were held from the United States to Australia and many countries in between.

This year’s event focused on the youth of society using the theme Youth:  the Next Wave for Change.  Market research provided by The Ocean Project “clearly show[ed] that youth are the most promising members of the public to reach out to if you want to effect lasting change.”  Youth provides the energy and motivation to change negative actions on the environment.  According to research, when it comes to environmental issues young adults are the most knowledgeable group in society with adults seeking advice from them on environmental topics.  Society’s youth dictates change with their awareness of current events and free time to take action.

Youth took the helm for this year’s WOD event, but several other groups helped spread awareness on the day.  Leading global lifestyle brand, Nautica and ocean conservation organization, Oceana, helped host events in both New York and Washington D.C.  Nautica introduced a new line of World Oceans Day t-shirts themed “A Deeper Understanding.”  Coral reef designed shirts can be found at Nautica.com.  For Oceana’s part, the organization created The Ocean Hero Award.  Established in 2009 the award honors “an exceptional personal commitment to ocean conservation.”   Both Nautica and Oceana employees helped clean up the Hudson and Potomac Rivers.  According to centredaily.com, over 60 employees participated in last year’s event collecting over 300 pounds of trash.

No matter how people decided to celebrate World Oceans Day, organizers hope the outcome is universal:  Change perspectives – encourage each other to think about the oceans’ importance and how to preserve it for other generations.  Learn – oceans beautiful ecosystem keeps humans in balance and our actions can positively or negatively affect the waters.  Change our way – the ocean links all living things.  Through small modifications of daily habits we can help our oceans.  And finally to celebrate – it is necessary to celebrate victories for the ocean’s sustainability.  As Oceana CEO Andrew Sharpless said, “The public doesn’t often see it, but the key to saving our oceans is amassing policy victories one by one, country by country.”  

Photo Credit:  ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/watercyclesummary.html