AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: Ocean

Gasping For Air

Fish! We all love fish, right? From enjoying amazing fish taco to gazing at their beauty at an aquarium, fish are a very important part of many cultures. However, the fish are in need of our help. Climate change is rapidly increasing, the ocean’s waters, and we need to step in before it’s too late.

A study analyzing the climate suggests that the rising temperatures of the ocean as a result of climate change are directly impacting the ocean’s ecosystems. The warmer the water, the less availability there is for oxygen to dissolve, which is why there is much less algae and other sea life in warmer places like Florida or the Caribbean. It may seem like the oceans in these tropical places are much cleaner and healthier because of the beautiful crystal clear waters, but it is quite the opposite. In waters in the Northeast, the darker green water is primarily due to the large amount of plant life as a result of the plentiful amount of oxygen dissolved in the waters.

This deoxygenation of the waters can become detrimental to the ocean’s sea life if left ignored. It is estimated that 70% of the ocean’s sea life will be suffocating due to climate change by the year 2080. It may seem far away, but if left ignored, it will come faster than expected.

The layer of the ocean that is most effected is known as the mesopelagic zone. This zone is roughly 200-1000 meters from the surface, so unlike the surface region, does not get the same amount of oxygen from photosynthesis. As we learned in class, plants need light to perform photosynthesis, and as the ocean gets deeper, there is less light available, meaning less photosynthesis to be done, and therefore less oxygen available to the marine life.

Large fish school

This zone is home to most of the fish that we eat as a result of commercial fishing, which is why it is so important we begin to fix the issue. Fish is a staple food in many different countries and cultures, and if we let the ocean heat up too much, their availability is at severe risk.

Studies show that by lowering greenhouse gas emission, we can slow down the rate of global warming and therefore preserve our precious oceans. This is not going to happen over night, and requires everyone to help out. There’s no greater time than the present, so let’s start saving our oceans one step at a time!


Manta Ray “Eat”fficiency

Bonjour, tout le monde.

Manta Rays are Cool

So, as we know, manta rays are really cool. I mean, what kind of organism has wing-like features, can soar through water at nine miles per hour (two times faster than the speedy Michael Phelps), and is pretty cute? The answer: manta rays. The fact that they can swim really fast is no coincidence; nature built them this way. Researches just found another way that these rays are built to be the Lightning-McQueen of the sea (Lightning McSea). It has been discovered that manta rays have some sort of special filtration system used to separate their meal (plankton) from all other unnecessary stuff (fluid).

Well, yes, they are Filter Feeders, so what’s the Big Deal?

Most people used to think that all filter feeders were able to filter the same way: like pasta in a strainer. However, this analogy is not applicable to the awe-striking manta rays. They use a series of lobes and gaps to separate their meal from all the other stuff that comes into their mouths. The lobes act as walls, kind of, so that when the water passes through this space, the plankton ricochet off of the lobes, kind of like pinball, until it reaches the esophagus and goes down the hatch. The water in the vortex is able to eventually maneuver out of the manta ray’s mouth and back into the ocean (backwash much?). More specifically, the water gets pulled into vortexes that release it back into the ocean. The plankton are able to avoid these vortexes by bouncing off of the lobes which will eventually lead them to the esophagus. This contributes to their efficiency because with this system, they can just continuously have their mouth open. They don’t need to close their mouth to ‘clean their filter’.

Did Researches Watch Manta Rays Eat Until they Noticed Something?

The way this was discovered was by running a set of simulations to test what would get clogged in the ‘filter’. The researches noticed that when testing particles smaller than the pore size (which would be expected to go through if it were a pasta-draining mechanism) did not go through. With further analysis including dying particles to track their journey, they concluded that the manta ray had some sort of pinball mechanism helping them out. This new finding could help other studies in trying to capture small particles. This is really ground-breaking because until now, filter feeders’ mechanisms were all thought to be pretty much the same. This completely opens the door for more research to be done on other animals that are presumed to have the same mechanisms. It’s great to ask questions like ones that lead to this discovery, and even better to find their respective answers.


Do you think this discovery will lead to more research on filter feeders?

What other applications of this finding can you think of?

If other particles do manage to get through, do manta rays have cells that are able to break down things that aren’t what they normally eat?

Would they rather be in areas with low concentrations of small stuff, so it’s less of a chance something might get caught or in high concentrations, so there is more food per square foot? Would you hypothesize a taxis or kinesis reaction?


Hide Your Kids, Hide Your Wife, ‘Devil Weed’ is Coming.

No, it’s not what you’re thinking, but Devil Weed is invasive brown algae disrupting ecosystems across the globe. This seaweed, Sargassum horneri, has existed along Japanese and Korean shores and has now popped up along California coasts. The major concern in each location is the Devil Weeds rapid and unstoppable growth. It pops up in rocky reef areas, harms and alters surrounding wild life, and completely takes over like a weed. Evidently, its controlling nature inspired its name and has raised great concern for affected ocean life as it continues to grow at an unbelievable rate.

S. horneri  is a 10 to 50 foot tall annual species, completes its life cycle in one year, though there are “overlapping generations” in the same seasons. This allows it to remain in the same habitats for years and years, forming dense ‘forests’ and hijacking specific areas.

Image Credit: Sargassum

Researchers at the Santa Barbara Costal Long Term Research Project (LTER) and National Science Foundation (NSF) used various approaches to try and learn how to clean and control Devil Weed in the most efficient and powerful way. This proved a challenge because of the seaweeds unpredictable and unknown behavior, but the researchers were able to tests some ideas. They experimented and discovered that partially cutting the stems of the seaweed, instead of completing removing the plant, would stop the plant from self-reproducing and it would later die off. They also discovered that the best way to remove a lot of the Devil Weed was to use an underwater suctioning machine though this only allowed two scuba divers to work at once and it was very time consuming and costly. Lastly, they figured out that the plant thrives in warmer climates and reproduces the most during those times, but overall they couldn’t find an efficient and effective removal approach like they had hoped for.

The biologists concluded that it’s better to attack S. horneri during the early winter by slashing the stems of the seaweed and using an “underwater suction device”, though these tactics only slow down its spreading and make no significant long-term impact. This issue should be of concern of many and I believe we all should care about our underwater ecosystems. So with that being stated, if more research isn’t done, awareness isn’t raised, and action isn’t taken S. horneri  will continue to grow at rapid rates. It will most likely harm and take over big portions of our underwater life and this intrusive and cynical behavior is only typical, of a Devil.

Seagrasses: Benefitting the Ecosystem

Seagrasses have been known to improve water quality greatly, however it was only recently that scientists discovered other major benefits of the plants that reside in the ocean. The name seagrasses is a misnomer, for they are actually plants that grow in shallow ocean water. Seagrasses are one of the largest stores of carbon in the ocean, and they also remove excess nitrogen and phosphorous from the water.

A few years however, ecologist Joleah Lamb’s colleagues fell ill with amoebic dysentery. This is an intestinal illness that they contracted while conducting research on coral reefs in Indonesia. The illness can be caused by the release of raw sewage into the ocean by a city, which leads to a drastic increase in the populations of shoreline bacteria. The water collected close to the shore had been compared to offshore tidal flats and coral reefs with seagrass beds. The two different sites were very close to one another, yet the water where the seagrass was had a significantly smaller amount of Enterococcus bacteria. The bacteria in areas with seagrass was only 1/3 of that in other areas that did not have the plants. This bacteria is not only dangerous for humans, but is harmful for fish and other species as well.

While at this moment it is uncertain how the seagrasses clean the water, we know that seagrasses trap small particulates and prevent them from flowing on in the ocean. It is believed that the plants would catch the bacteria in the same way, or that the leaves might emit antimicrobial compounds that directly kill the bacteria. Another possibility could be that seagrasses release oxygen made during photosynthesis, and the oxygen is toxic to pathogens. Also, it is noted that seagrass meadows often are located next to coral reefs, so some suggest that they work together to protect one another from bacteria and other possible dangers.


Further reading:

Too Hot to Handle?

Climate scientist Axel Timmermann has recently stated that “this summer has seen the highest global mean sea surface temperatures ever recorded since their systematic measuring started. Temperatures even exceed those of the record-breaking 1998 El Niño year.” Timmermann has been studying the global climate system and according to his studies, the “Global Warming Hiatus” came to an end in April 2014.

He says that the North Pacific has been the cause of most of the global ocean warming, whose temperature has risen far above any recorded temperatures, has shifted hurricane tracks, and has changed trade winds. There has even been coral bleaching in the waters surrounding the Hawaiian Islands. Apparently, this began in January 2014 when the sea-surface temperatures suddenly began to rise at an unusual rate. Then in April and May, the warm waters of the western Pacific spread to the eastern Pacific, releasing large amounts of heat into the atmosphere. This heat hadn’t been in the atmosphere for nearly a decade.

Ocean Temperatures

(Sea Surface Temperatures 2003-2011)

Timmermann says that “record-breaking greenhouse gas concentrations and anomalously weak North Pacific summer trade winds, which usually cool the ocean surface, have contributed further to the rise in sea surface temperatures.” These warm temperatures have been spreading all the way to the Gulf of Alaska.

As this 14-year break in the ocean warming comes to an end, more questions come to the surface: What can we do? What other effects will this have on other environments? Will there be another hiatus?

Certainly this is just another piece in the puzzle of the larger global warming issue, and if it isn’t reversible, how can we stop other similar issues?

Seals in the Antarctic

Today, thanks to modern technology and social networking, there are few parts of the world that remain inaccessible. You can learn things about places you have never been just from looking on your computer screen. However, there are still small parts of the world unexplored and untouched by humans. Antarctica is one of those places sheltered from humans by impossible weather and environment conditions.  “In fact, About 98% of Antarctica is covered by ice that averages at least 1 mile (1.6 km) in thickness” and the average temperature of the continent is -49 degrees celsius.

Explorers and scientists have attempted to learn what they can about the frozen continent but time spent there is limited. Even more seemingly impossible to reach is the Antarctic Ocean Floor. It is tough to study the “extreme Antarctic environment, where observations are very rare and ships could not go”.  To fix this gap of knowledge, scientists attached sensors to the heads of elephant seals. These seals are adapted to the freezing conditions so they can survive in the Arctic ocean with a temperature average of .5 degree celsius.

Southern Elephant Seal image taken from WikimediaCommons


Thanks to the elephant seals, “scientists better understand how the ocean’s coldest, deepest waters are formed, providing vital clues to understanding its role in the world’s climate”. The seals allowed greater insight to the Antarctic bottom water-

“a layer of water near the ocean floor that has a significant impact on the movement of the world’s oceans”. These areas were previously known of but no real data had been obtained. The seals went to areas of the coast line where “no boat could ever go”.

Studies have shown 50 year long trends in these deep water changes. Scientists hope the new data obtained through the seals will help to further uncover these trends that affect global climate change.

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