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There’s a ‘Desert’ in the Middle of the Pacific Ocean, and Now We Know What Lives There

It’s as far away from land as you can get!

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Ocean Desert
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(TMU) — Have you ever heard of an “ocean desert”? While the concept may sound odd, it is changing how biologists are perceiving some areas of the ocean that are not “rich” in sea life.

“Biological deserts” is another name given to these portions of the ocean due to the low amount of life.

The lowest level in the ocean food web consists of abundant and productive phytoplankton—tiny ocean plants that convert carbon dioxide to organic carbon and whose green chlorophyll is visible from space. Satellites detect this chlorophyll and scientist use the data to estimate ocean productivity.

Illustrations of types of phytoplankton.

Phytoplankton are extremely diverse, varying from photosynthesizing bacteria (cyanobacteria), to plant-like diatoms, to armor-plated coccolithophores (drawings not to scale). (Collage adapted from drawings and micrographs by Sally Bensusen, NASA EOS Project Science Office.)

We saw that the low-productivity area of the west Pacific was expanding, and we wondered if it was unique or if it was happening globally,” said ocean biologist and satellite data enthusiast Jeffrey Polovina. It is predicted that the warmest portions of the oceans will become less productive thanks in part to climate change.

Polovina explained:

The climate models are on century timescales and suggest that the rate of expansion of these expected low-productivity areas will be slow.

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Bremen, Germany have been assembling an inventory of microbial life in the world’s most remote ocean region, the South Pacific Gyre (SPG). This is considered to be an ocean desert. However, due to its vast size the microbial inhabitants of the area contribute to global biogeochemical cycles. This insight was achieved by creating a modern tool that enables the on-board analysis of the smallest organisms in the ocean.

Infinite waters: The South Pacific Gyre is the largest ocean gyre, covering 37 million km2. (© Tim Ferdelman / Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology)

The SPG covers 10% of the ocean’s surface. A cruise from Chile to New Zealand helped test the pipeline used to study organisms living in this zone and found that the overall microbial community of the SPG was highly similar to those of other oceanic gyres.

Looking at our planet from the right side, there is a lot of water and little earth. RV Sonne crossed the SPG from Chile to New Zealand. The picture also shows chlorophyll concentrations derived from NASA imagery. Dark areas show the gyre middle or

Chile to New Zealand. The picture also shows chlorophyll concentrations derived from NASA imagery. Dark areas show the gyre middle or “desert”. (© modified from Google Earth / NASA)

The SPG was dominated by 20 major bacterial clades such as SAR11 (part of the Pelagibacterals, composed of free-living bacteria, making up roughly one in three cells at the ocean’s surface). The distribution pattern showed that most of the bacterial clades had a strong vertical (20 m to 5,000 m) but only a weak longitudinal (80°W to 160°W) concentration.

The alphaproteobacterial AEGEAN-169 marine group was particularly abundant in the surface waters of the central gyre, indicating a potentially interesting adaptation to ultraoligotrophic waters and high solar irradiance. This is defying the perception of the “ideal” environment that we had before about where these microorganisms can proliferate.

This research was made possible thanks to the method that enabled the scientists to analyze samples right after collection.

Greta Re­intjes, a member of the Max Planck Institute for Mar­ine Mi­cro­bi­o­logy said:

We de­veloped a novel on-board ana­lysis pipeline… which de­liv­ers in­form­a­tion on bac­terial iden­tity only 35 hours after sampling.”

Considering the complete process, these analyses may take many months.

The out­come of our method de­vel­op­ments is a read­ily ap­plic­able sys­tem for an ef­fi­cient, cost-ef­fect­ive, field-based, com­pre­hens­ive mi­cro­bial com­munity ana­lysis”, Re­intjes also said. “It al­lows mi­cro­bial eco­lo­gists to per­form more tar­geted sampling, thereby fur­ther­ing our un­der­stand­ing of the di­versity and meta­bolic cap­ab­il­it­ies of key mi­croor­gan­isms.

By Manuel García Aguilar  | Creative Commons | TheMindUnleashed.com

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Animals

Scientists Thrilled by Discovery of Rare, Mammoth 400-Year-Old Coral

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A massive 400-year-old hard coral discovered on the Great Barrier Reef has scientists expressing their sense of surprise and excitement.

Named Muga dambhi by the Manbarra people, the Indigenous group who have traditionally taken care of the land, the “exceptionally large” brown and cream-colored coral is located off the coast of Goolboodi or Orpheus Island in the Great Barrier Reef.

It is believed that the coral was spawned some 421 to 438 years ago, meaning that its age predates the arrival of Captain James Cook and the advent of colonization in Australia, notes the Guardian.

The spectacular coral is about 35 feet wide and over 17 feet high, and is double the size of the nearest coral.

Scientists and members of the community participating in a marine science course discovered the specimen earlier this year.

While not the largest coral in the world, the huge find is of major significance to the local ecosystem, according to Adam Smith, an adjunct professor at James Cook University who wrote the field note on the find.

“It’s like a block of apartments,” Smith said. “It attracts other species. There’s other corals, there’s fish, there’s other animals around that use it for shelter or for feeding, so it’s pretty important for them.”

“It’s a bit like finding a giant redwood tree in the middle of a botanic gardens,” he added.

It is likely that the coral hasn’t been discovered for such a long time due to its location in a relatively remote and unvisited portion of a Marine National Park zone that enjoys a high degree of protection.

“Over the last 20 or 30 years, no one has noticed, or observed, or thought it newsworthy enough to share photos, or document, or do research on this giant coral,” Smith said.

The coral is in remarkable condition, with over 70 percent of its surface covered in live coral, coral rock and microalgae. No disease, bleaching or recently deceased coral has been recorded on the specimen.

“The cumulative impact of almost 100 bleaching events and up to 80 major cyclones over a period of four centuries, plus declining nearshore water quality contextualise the high resilience of this Porites coral,” the field note added.

The specific coral has been given the name Muga dhambi, meaning big coral, out of respect for the Indigenous knowledge, language, and culture of the Manbarra Traditional Owners.

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Environment

Greenland Ice Washed Away as Summit Sees Rain for First Time in Recorded History

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For the first time in recorded history, torrential downpours of rain have struck Greenland’s icy summit nearly two miles above sea level.

Greenland, an environmentally sensitive island, is typically known for its majestic ice sheet and snowy climate, but this is fast changing due to a massive melt taking place this summer.

However, the typical snowfall has been replaced in recent years not simply by a few showers, but by heavy rainfall. The torrential downpour last week was so huge, in fact, that it washed away a terrifying amount of ice across some 337,000 square miles of the ice shelf’s surface, reports Earther.

Temperatures at the ice shelf had simultaneously warmed to a significant degree, with the summit reaching 33 degrees Fahrenheit – within a degree above freezing and the third time that the shelf has surpassed freezing temperatures this decade.

The fact that rain is falling on ice rather than snow is also significant because it is melting ice across much of southern Greenland, which already saw huge melting events last month, while hastening rising sea levels that threaten to submerge whole coastal cities and communities.

To make matters worse, any new ice formed by the freezing rainwater will not last long. The ice shelf currently existing on Greenland was formed by the compression of snow over innumerable years, which shines bright white and reflects sunlight away rather than absorbing it, as ice from frozen rain does.

The huge scale of the melt and accompanying rainfall illustrate the growing peril of rapidly warming climate conditions across the globe.

“This event by itself does not have a huge impact, but it’s indicative of the increasing extent, duration, and intensity of melting on Greenland,” wrote Ted Scambos, a senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado. “Like the heat wave in the [U.S. Pacific] northwest, it’s something that’s hard to imagine without the influence of global climate change.”

“Greenland, like the rest of the world, is changing,” Scambos told the Washington Post. “We now see three melting events in a decade in Greenland — and before 1990, that happened about once every 150 years. And now rainfall: in an area where rain never fell.”

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Environment

South Korean Toilet Turns Poo Into Green Energy and Pays Its Users Digital Cash

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What if your morning #2 not only powered your stove to cook your eggs, but also allowed you to pay for your coffee and pastry on the way to class?

It seems like an absurd question, but one university in South Korea has invented a toilet that allows human excrement to not only be used for clean power, but also dumps a bit of digital currency into your wallet that can be exchanged for some fruit or cup noodles at the campus canteen, reports Reuters.

The BeeVi toilet – short for Bee-Vision – was designed by urban and environmental engineering professor Cho Jae-weon of the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), and is meant to not only save resources but also reward students for their feces.

The toilet is designed to first deliver your excrement into a special underground tank, reducing water use, before microorganisms break the waste down into methane, a clean source of energy that can power the numerous appliances that dorm life requires.

“If we think out of the box, feces has precious value to make energy and manure,” Cho explained. “I have put this value into ecological circulation.”

The toilet can transform approximately a pound of solid human waste – roughly the average amount people poop per day – into some 50 liters of methane gas, said Cho. That’s about enough to generate half a kilowatt hour of electricity, enough to transport a student throughout campus for some of their school day.

Cho has even devised a special virtual currency for the BeeVi toilet called Ggool, or honey in Korean. Users of the toilet can expect to earn 10 Ggool per day, covering some of the many expenses students rack up on campus every day.

Students have given the new system glowing reviews, and don’t even mind discussing their bodily functions at lunchtime – even expressing their hopes to use their fecal credits to purchase books.

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