The Deep Green Sea

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Last week, President Bush declared large parts of the Pacific Ocean as marine national monuments, permanently restricting commercial usage (like fishing and oil exploration) in those areas. Described as "vast," the protected areas total more than 195,000 square miles, which the New York Times reminds us is "an area larger than the states of Washington and Oregon combined" and also "bigger than California." Involved in the decision to protect those waters was Dr. Sylvia A. Earle, an oceanographer who has explored and studied the ocean for more than 55 years. Yesterday the Times profiled Dr. Earle's new book Ocean: An Illustrated Atlas, and it sounds like an impressive volume, detailing her life's work as an ocean scientist. Here are some awesome bits of trivia from the book, as written in the Times:

Dr. Earle's passion extends to the far horizon. In the atlas, she reports that some 90 percent of deep-sea creatures use bioluminescence in their life strategies and that the eerie glows may turn out to constitute the planet's most common form of communication.

[Earle] describes how sunlight filters through seawater to surprising depths (its blue component penetrating to at least 250 meters, or 820 feet) but notes that scientists have yet to determine the maximum depth at which sea life can engage in photosynthesis.

One algae, she notes, thrives more than 650 feet down — far deeper than scuba divers go.

[The book contains] a beautiful map that reveals the ocean's highly variable concentrations of chlorophyll — the green pigments that power most photosynthetic organisms. Remarkably, the satellite map shows chlorophyll hot spots in the icy waters around the north and south poles.

While the maps reveal much hidden terrain, the atlas notes that the seabed "is still not as well imaged or mapped as the Moon or the surface of Mars."

[M]ore than 300,000 marine mammals are estimated to die annually in fishing gear. A mosaic shows the scores of debris (cigarette lighters, toy parts, bottle tops) removed from the digestive tract of an albatross chick after its diet proved fatal.

Read the rest for a great look at a pioneering ocean scientist, and a look at her latest book.

January 13, 2009 - 10:07am
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