CLOSE

A Plankton Bloom Turns the Bosphorus Strait Turquoise

The word turquoise comes from the French for “Turkish stone.” But right now, the term describes nothing better than it does Turkey's most famous body of water, the Bosphorus Strait, where microbes have sent clouds of aquamarine waters swirling into the flowing waters all the way down to Istanbul—as you can see in the image above—and out to the Sea of Marmara.

In May, NASA’s Aqua satellite first spotted the vivid swirls in the Black Sea, where the Bosphorus originates.

Plankton bloom in the Black Sea as captured by the Aqua satellite, May 2017.
NASA

From there, the bright bloom drifted all the way down to Istanbul, transforming the strait—which divides Turkey into its Asian and European sides—from royal to electric blue.

a family fishes on the bosphorus strait in Istanbul
A family fishes in Istanbul on the Bosphorus on June 14.
Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

This is far from the first time these bright colors have appeared; images from space have spotted them year after year in early summer. This is last year's bloom.

Aqua waters swirl in a blue sea.
The 2016 bloom.
NASA

These grand, painterly sights are made possible by a type of phytoplankton called coccolithophores. These single-celled, plant-like, disk-shaped organisms live near the water’s surface.

Like full-size plants, coccolithophores take in sunlight and other organisms’ discarded nutrients and turn them into food. They’re an essential part of both the food chain and the carbon cycle, helping collect and sink excess carbon to the sea floor.

Each soft coccolithophore is armored in a limestone shell, or coccolith. The shells reflect the sunlight back up through the water, producing a milky turquoise visible from space.

Experts say that while larger and more frequent plankton blooms can block sunlight at the water’s surface and harm other organisms, a modest annual color change is no cause for concern. And this year's show is especially brilliant.

Original image
iStock
arrow
science
Why Adding Water to Your Whiskey Makes It Taste Better
Original image
iStock

Don’t ever let people tease you for watering down your whiskey. If they’re true aficionados, they’ll know that adding a splash of water or a few cubes of ice to your drink will actually enhance its natural flavors. But how can something as flavorless as water make a barrel-aged scotch or bourbon taste even better? Chemists think they’ve found the answer.

As The Verge reports, researchers from the Linnæus University Centre for Biomaterials Chemistry in Sweden analyzed the molecular composition of whiskey in the presence of water. We already know that the molecule guaiacol is largely responsible for whiskey’s smoky taste and aroma. Guaiacol bonds to alcohol molecules, which means that in straight whisky that guaiacol flavor will be fairly evenly distributed throughout the cask. Alcohol is repelled by water, and guaiacol partially so. That means when a splash of the water is added to the beverage the alcohol gets pushed to the surface, dragging the guaiacol along with it. Concentrated at the top of the glass, the whiskey’s distinctive taste and scent is in the perfect position to be noticed by the drinker.

According to the team’s experiments, which they laid out in the journal Scientific Reports [PDF], whiskey that’s been diluted down to 40 percent to 45 percent alcohol content will start to show more guaiacol sloshing near the surface. Most commercial whiskey is already diluted before it's bottled, so the drink you order in a bar should fall within this range to begin with. Adding additional water or ice will boost the flavor-enhancing effect even further.

As for just how much water to add, the paper doesn’t specify. Whiskey lovers will just have to conduct some experiments of their own to see which ratios suit their palate.

[h/t NPR]

Original image
Gray, George Robert; Hullmandel & Walton; Hullmandel, Charles Joseph; Mitchell, D. W / Public Doman
arrow
Animals
DNA Tests Show ‘Extinct’ Penguin Species Never Existed
Original image
Gray, George Robert; Hullmandel & Walton; Hullmandel, Charles Joseph; Mitchell, D. W / Public Doman

Science is a self-correcting process, ever in flux. Accepted hypotheses are overturned in the face of new information. The world isn’t flat after all. Disease isn’t caused by demons or wickedness. And that Hunter Island penguin? Yeah, apparently that was just a figment of our imaginations. Researchers writing in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society say the remains of one supposed species are in fact a “jumbled mixture” of bones from three extant species.

The bones were unearthed in the 1980s during the excavation of a prehistoric trash heap on Tasmania’s Hunter Island. Two scientists named Tets and O’Connor argued that the remains were different enough from other penguins to constitute their own genus and species, one which must have died out during the Holocene epoch. The proud potential penguin parents dubbed the apparently extinct bird Tasidyptes hunterivan, and that was that.

Except that this is science, where no story is ever really over. Other biologists were not satisfied with the evidence Tets and O’Connor presented. There were only four bones, and they all bore some resemblance to species that exist today. Fortunately, in 2017, we’ve got ways of making fossils talk. A research team led by Tess Cole of the University of Otago used DNA barcoding to examine the genetic code of each of the four bones.

“It was a fun and unexpected story,” Cole said in a statement, “because we show that Tasmania’s ‘extinct' penguin is not actually an extinct or unique penguin at all.”

Snares penguins dive into the water.
Snares penguins (Eudyptes robustus).
Brocken Inaglory, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

The bones were “a jumbled mixture of three living penguin species, from two genera": the Fiordland crested penguin or Tawaki (Eudyptes pachyrhynchus) and the Snares crested penguin (Eudyptes robustus), both of New Zealand, and the Australian little fairy penguin (Eudyptula novaehollandiae).

“This study shows how useful ancient DNA testing can be,” Cole said. “Not only does it help us identify new but extinct species, but it can help us rule out previously postulated species which did not exist, as in this case.”

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios