Ocean Action Hub

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Newly Discovered Garbage Patch in the South Pacific Is 1.5 Times the Size of Texas, Study Says

27 July 2017 - A largely unstudied area of the South Pacific Ocean is home to a newly discovered garbage patch that researchers estimate to be 1.5 times the size of Texas, according to a r

27 July 2017 - A largely unstudied area of the South Pacific Ocean is home to a newly discovered garbage patch that researchers estimate to be 1.5 times the size of Texas, according to a recent study. 

This new patch found in the ocean's gyre is estimated to be as large as 965,000 square miles, reports ResearchGate. Gyres are areas of the ocean that are surrounded by circulating currents. They help circulate ocean waters around the world, but they also suck in pollution. 

Algalita Marine Research and Education scientist Cpt. Charles Moore and his team of volunteer researchers made the discovery during a six-month expedition. 

“We discovered tremendous quantities of plastic,” Moore, who was the first to discover the North Pacific garbage patch in the 1990s, told ResearchGate. “My initial impression is that our samples compared to what we were seeing in the North Pacific in 2007, so it’s about ten years behind.”

The South Pacific patch is primarily made up of tiny pieces of plastic that are even smaller than a grain of rice. 

“We found a few larger items, occasionally a buoy and some fishing gear, but most of it was broken into bits,” said Moore. “We haven’t yet done lab analysis, but based on my visual impression, an enormous area of the South Pacific has millions of plastic particles per square kilometer.”

These tiny particles of plastic can cause massive problems. In June, officials at the first-ever U.N. Ocean Conference cited a study that estimates plastics dumped into the world’s oceans could outweigh fish by 2050.

Microbeads are among the most common types of plastic found in the world’s waterways. These are tiny bits of plastic smaller than 5 mm that can be found in our toothpastes, soaps, face washes and cleaning products. These plastics never really go away because they can last for decades, fragmenting over and over again into smaller pieces. 

Researchers estimated that 8 trillion microbeads are being released into U.S. aquatic habitats per day. Some marine life species tend to mistake them for food. Scientists are analyzing how these microscopic plastics are affecting marine life once ingested and whether the chemicals in them can be transferred to people that may consume the marine life later.

Once tiny particles of plastic make their way into the gyre, they’re nearly impossible to clean up. Researchers say the best method of prevention is to stop the plastic at the source. 

“Gone are the silly notions that you can put nets in the ocean and solve the problem,” Eriksen told ResearchGate. “This cloud of microplastics extends both vertically and horizontally. It’s more like smog than a patch. We’re making tremendous progress to clean up smog over our cities by stopping the source. We have to do the same for our seas.”

"If we don't understand where the plastic is, then we don't really understand what harm it does and we can't really work on solving the problem," oceanographer Dr. Erik van Sebille told BBC.

Currently, Moore and his team are in the process of cleaning and analyzing the plastic so they can provide more details. 

“There’s a sense of urgency to get information out about this area because it’s being destroyed at an enormously accelerated rate,” said Moore. “For much of the unexplored ocean, we will never have pre-plastic baseline data.”

Moore’s team is only the second to collect samples from the South Pacific gyre. It was first studied by marine pollution researcher Marcus Eriksen in 2011, according to ResearchGate. Since then, researchers believe an additional tens of millions of tons of plastic have made their way into Earth’s oceans. 

CONTINUE READING: https://weather.com/science/environment/news/garbage-patch-south-pacific...

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The Underwater Forest

The Underwater Forest, a new documentary by Ben Raines produced by This is Alabama, details the discovery and exploration of an ancient cypress forest found sixty feet underwater in the Gulf of Mex

ico, due south of Gulf Shores, Alabama. The forest dates to an ice age more than 60,000 years ago, when sea levels were about 400 feet lower than they are today.

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Rare view of underwater forest preserved since Ice Age

19 July 2017 - An ancient underwater forest found south of Alabama's Gulf Shores in the Gulf of Mexico could provide a time capsule to a pre-human era on Earth.

19 July 2017 - An ancient underwater forest found south of Alabama's Gulf Shores in the Gulf of Mexico could provide a time capsule to a pre-human era on Earth.

The cypress forest dates back to an Ice Age more than 60,000 years ago when sea levels were 400 feet lower than today, according to the new documentary "The Underwater Forest," made by environmental reporter and filmmaker Ben Raines. Raines first went in search of the site after he was tipped off by a savvy local source, he explained in a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" forum. 

"I first learned of the Underwater Forest from a dive shop owner in Alabama," Raines said. "He discovered the forest about a year after Hurricane Ivan, when a fisherman came into the dive shop and said, 'I've found this spot that's just loaded with fish but there's barely anything in terms of structure that shows up on my depth finder. Why don't you go out there and take a look?'"

It took years, but Raines finally convinced the shop owner to show him the exact site, he said. He wrote a story about the discovery, and immediately received a call from paleoclimatologist Kristine DeLong of Louisiana State University asking if she could carbon date some samples from the site. 

With that, Raines and DeLong formed a partnership to extract as much knowledge from the site as possible while also preserving its natural wonders — the story of which is told in the film. 

The first scientific expedition to the site happened in 2012, and DeLong continues leading a team of scientists studying its secrets. Unique conditions have sealed the forest in a sort of "underwater time capsule," the team said. 

It's believed to be the world's only preserved coastal Ice Age forest, long hidden beneath the sea.

Cypress trees should decompose on a 10,000 year time scale — suggesting that, at this particular site, the cypress has survived much longer thanks to low-oxygen sediments that bar bacteria from decomposing the wood, DeLong explained on Reddit. 

In analyzing the site, DeLong's team of dendrochronologists (specialists in tree-ring dating), geologists and paleontologists is collecting rare information on Ice Age-era climate, rainfall, insects and plants, building new insights into what Earth looked like before humans inhabited it. 

Further research into the forest could shed light on a phenomena currently gripping humans on Earth: rapid sea level rise due to climate change. Sea level rise was particularly intense across the planet back when the forest was thriving, Raines said. 

In the U.S., chronic flooding linked to sea level rise is expected to destabilize hundreds of communities by the end of this century, according to recent analysis from the Union of Concerned Scientists. More than 90 coastal communities in the U.S. already cope with chronic inundation.

In sharing their story, the team remains cagey on one crucial detail: the precise location coordinates of the site. 

To protect the forest remnants, the team generally follows scuba diving proceduresused in the world's precious but fragile coral reefs, avoids disturbing the floor of the site, and uses only noninvasive scientific instruments that move above the seafloor to map the area, DeLong and Raines explained on Reddit. 

The team is working with federal agencies like the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to preserve the site.

CONTINUE READING: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/underwater-forest-preserved-since-ice-age-al...