At the recent conference Song for the Blue Ocean, sponsored by the Spring Creek Project, it was especially pleasing to hear the high regard for OSU’s marine science activities, and to hear and see the inspiring presentations by our own faculty and staff.
The event wove the best new science into the context of the best in literature, ethics, and art about the ocean. It was evident that OSU gives thoughtful, informed trans-disciplinary attention to our oceans and our earth, and that we offer the expertise to help further understanding and addressing of the immense challenges.
To introduce featured speaker Julia Whitty, I expressed appreciation of her exemplary style of communicating about science, making important information not only accessible but also memorable and beautiful.
Here are three examples in which I have selected particular (uncited) chunks of the peer-reviewed literature and some of Julia Whitty’s treatment of the same subject:
Here’s how we oceanographers described one of the most revolutionary discovers of ocean chemistry:
The surface ocean is everywhere saturated with respect to calcium carbonate (CaCO3). Yet increasing atmospheric CO2 reduces ocean pH and carbonate ion concentrations [COH2−] and thus the level of saturation.
Reduced saturation states are expected to affect marine calcifiers even though it has been estimated that all surface waters will remain saturated for centuries. When atmospheric CO2 reaches 550 ppmv, in year 2050 under the IS92a business-as-usual scenario, Southern Ocean surface waters begin to become undersaturated with respect to aragonite, a metastable form of CaCO3. These changes will threaten high-latitude aragonite secreting organisms including cold-water corals, which provide essential fish habitat, and shelled pteropods, an abundant food source for marine predators.
Here’s how Julia describes it:
“Increasing levels of carbon dioxide are incrementally acidifying the World Ocean, and experiments now suggest that the shells and skeletons of everything from phytoplankton to reef-building corals will begin to dissolve within 48 hours of exposure to the acidity expected by the year 2100. One forecast predicts that the rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide will condemn coral reefs – the seas’ most biodiverse realms and food sources for one in six humans – to extinction within fifty years. Jœrmungandr, the world serpent, is chewing the bones of her tail, one vertebra, one seashell at a time.”
Let’s try PHYSICS
The physical oceanographers: Substituting the above given values in the conservation equation gives, for Vo and V, 1.09 Sv and 30.65 Sv respectively. This simple scheme illustrates the thermohaline nature of the fresh water redistribution where the northward mass transport in the upper layer is 29.04 Sv and the southward transport in the bottom layer is 30.11Sv.
“The changeover between these two currents occurs near the northern reach of the Gulf Stream’s range, around Greenland, Iceland and Norway. In these high latitudes, the warm surface waters shed their heat to the cold, windy Arctic air – incidentally warming Europe. As the water cools, it also evaporates, resulting in fewer water molecules in relation to salt. This cooler, saltier Gulf Stream, now too dense to remain afloat, dives down, a process known as the
meridional overturning circulation – a transformation as profound as that of a moon jellyfish polyp becoming a medusa.”
And finally, BIOLOGY
Whale-falls represent localized areas of extreme organic enrichment in an otherwise oligotrophic deep-sea environment. These results indicate that whale-falls can favor the establishment of metabolically and phylogenetically diverse methanogen assemblages, resulting in an active near-seafloor methane cycle in the deep sea.
“On the vast desert of the ocean floor, a whale fall is an unexpected oasis literally dropping out of the blue and providing a nutritional bonanza of a magnitude that might otherwise take thousands of years to accumulate from the background flow of small detritus from the surface. A 35-ton gray whale takes one and a half years to be stripped to the bone by the scalpels and stomachs of the deep.”