Saturday, March 2, 2013

Science Saturday: Underwater Edition

Photo by Bob Carney/LSU
Where else in Pottstown do you get news from
the underwater world of the giant isopod? 
Only at The Digital Notebook.
If you've been buggin' for news of the world of science, today's the day to scratch that itch!

It's the day news of the unexplained world around gets explained -- to a point anyway.

That's right, it's...


As regular readers know, items of scientific interest occasionally catch my eye and then I gather them gently together and weave them into a seamless science narrative....

Or, alternatively, I stash a bunch of odds and ends I think are cool and throw them up here whenever I feel like it of when I have nothing else to write about.

Either way, YOU are the beneficiary dear reader. Without further ado, let's begin:

Underwater Hunger Games

Sure, clubbed baby harp seals, abused puppies and starved horses garner all kinds of emotional investment from the general public.

But who weeps for the giant underwater isopod?

The answer is Takaya Moritaki.

He works at the Tokyo Aquarium, home to particular giant isopod -- an underwater relative to the ubiquitous cement bugs you see whenever you turn over a good-sized rock in summer -- which hasn't eaten since President Obama was elected -- the first time.

Here's some video of Moritaki trying to get the isopod, which I have named Sheldon, to eat a dead mackerel, which was the last thing he is known to have eaten. 

 Japanese speakers may find it a bit more informative than I did.

Luckily, we have National Public Radio to translate for us, which is where I first heard of Sheldon's plight.

Sheldon, who the Japanese rather unimaginatively call "No. 1," has seven pairs of legs, four sets of jaws and can grow more than two feet in length.

According to NPR:
As scavengers, the animals are built to survive long periods between meals. 
"Giant isopods are always in a state of semihibernation because they don't know when they can eat, so they limit their energy on breathing and other activities," marine ecologist Taeko Kimura tells Japan Times.
"For that purpose they sometimes keep a large amount of fat in their livers, so maybe No. 1 still has a source of energy in its body, and that's why it still has no appetite."
But aquarium staff are concerned, especially as the tank No. 1 is in previously housed a healthy, and hungry, giant isopod. The artificial seawater it contains is "highly unlikely to generate organic substances" to sustain the animal, Japan Times notes.
Let's just chalk this one up to being one of the many mysteries of the sea and move on shall we?

Next on our tour of weird stuff under the ocean is brought to us courtesy of the venerable New York Times, which posted this article about...

Underwater Antarctic Bacteria!

For those of you who think bacteria is just something to spray with Lysol, shame on you.
Map cribbed shamelessly
from The New York Times

True, some bacteria can make us ill, but in many ways it is the foundation on which the entire food chain is built. So, a little respect if you please.

What has been discovered are "a vast ecosystem of microscopic life in underground lakes in Antarctica."

Not only is this cool in terms of showing how tenacious, stubborn and innovative life can be, but also because it "might advance knowledge of how life could survive on other planets or moons."

Writing for the Times, article author James Gorman also notes:
There is no sunlight, so the bacteria must depend on organic material that has drifted into the lake from other sources — for instance, decaying microbes from melting glaciers — or on minerals in the rock of the Antarctic continent.
Chris McKay, a NASA senior scientist, said in an e-mail that such analysis could determine if the bacteria in Lake Whillans have implications for the possible discovery of extraterrestrial life.
"If it was using a local energy source, it would be interesting,” he said. “If it’s just consuming organics carried in from elsewhere, it is of much less interest.” The reason, he said, is that elsewhere in the solar system where there is good evidence of liquid water under thick ice sheets, life would have to depend on minerals alone.
Brightly colored tube worms cling to life around underwater"
volcanic vents.
One eco-system on earth that is living off an energy source other than the sun are those marked by tube worms and other creates that live off the heat and chemical energy from underwater volcanic vents on the ocean floor.

Crabs, shrimp and, of course, bacteria have all been found around those vents.

What makes the discover in Antarctica so interesting is it raises the possibility that life could subsist in one of the harshest environments on earth with no apparent energy source.

“Our stateside DNA sequence work will tell us who they are,” John C. Priscu of Montana State University, a leader of the scientific expedition, said of the microbes, “and, together with other experiments, tell us how they make a living.”

But he said he was confident that the researchers had achieved the first glimpse of an ecosystem that had been completely unknown. “It’s the world’s largest wetland,” Dr. Priscu said.

And speaking of things hidden under the ocean, would you believe there's a lost continent there?

The Sands of Mauritia

No, it is not Atlantis... which would be so awesome...

The Super-continent Rodinia:
Mauritia is shoehorned between India and Madagascar.
No, scientists have called it Mauritia and its existence goes waaaaaayyyyyyyy back (more than 85 million years) to the time of a super-continent called Rodinia. 

(Who comes up with these names anyway, comic book writers?)

Mauritia was a "micro-continent" sandwiched between the land masses that today make up Madagascar and India, which was in turn part of a supercontinent known as Rodinia that existed between 2 billion and 85 million years ago.

That's before the better known Pangea, when all the continents got together for a mega party lasting many millions of years.

Mauritia was a sliver of land that broke apart and disappeared under the sea as the Rodinia ripped itself apart as part of the process of plate tectonics, scientists believe.
The BBC quotes the study's lead author, Trond Torsvik, as saying the sand his team examined dates to a 9-million-year-old eruption near the modern-day islands of Marion and Reunion that spewed much older material.
"We found zircons that we extracted from the beach sands, and these are something you typically find in a continental crust. They are very old in age," said Torsvik of the University of Oslo in Norway.
Torsvik believes pieces of Mauritia have been interred under 6 miles of surface and spread over a swath of the Indian Ocean, according to the BBC. 
Scientists looked at lava sands from beaches on Mauritius to determine when and where the material might have originated.

Their conclusion? The lava sands, containing particles called zircon xenocrysts, came from "Mauritia," which were once north of Madagascar. 

The Seychelles Islands, sitting in the middle of the Indian Ocean, may be the last part of Mauritia to be above the waves.

What other blog, I ask you dear readers, brings you into contact with "zircon xenocrysts," giant hunger strike isopods named Sheldon, underwater bacteria, and guys with names like Trond Torsvik?

That's Science Saturday for you.

No comments:

Post a Comment