31 May 2010

Census of the Seas ~ Documenting Marine Life

I was surfing around the MIT Center for Ocean Engineering site and was delighted to find their pointer to Colin Nickerson's piece in the Globe a few months ago about The Census Under the Sea, an epic decade-long $650M effort of 2,000 scientists from 80 countries to create the Census of Marine Life quantifying...
"...the abundance, diversity, and distribution of organisms that rove the oceans' sun-dappled surfaces, patrol the mysterious middle depths, or lurk at the pitch-black bottom. The census already has made discoveries that could help fight human disease, probed never-before-seen water worlds, and identified thousands of new creatures. "We've been especially surprised by the movements of some marine species, whether swirling in eddies the size of Ireland or commuting [5,000 miles] across ocean basins," said project senior scientist Ron O'Dor in an interview from Washington. Some animals are journeying to age-old spawning sites. Some may be responding to changes in ocean temperatures or currents. Others seem to be simply seizing the moment -- charging opportunistically into new waters as rival species decline. For example, jumbo Humboldt squid once largely confined to waters off Mexico have begun foraging up the California coast and on to the Gulf of Alaska. The aggressive cephalopods can reach lengths of 6 feet and weigh up to 100 pounds; they reputedly attack skin divers. "They are big, rapacious, and on the move," O'Dor said. [...] An advanced sonar system, developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, enabled researchers to capture "snapshots" of hundreds of millions of fish coalescing into mighty mega-shoals moving as one entity. "If we can see what’s in the ocean, we may be more mindful of conserving it," said Nicholas Makris, the MIT ocean engineering professor who led development of the sensor system."
Fascinating stuff! And never more timely, since the importance of -- and challenges facing -- the oceans have never been greater.

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