Nitrate Levels Rising in Northwestern Pacific Ocean

Yellow Sea. The area studied included the Yellow Sea, the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea. The researchers found that the phosphorus levels in the ocean water remained the same through time. (Credit: MODIS Data/NASA)

Changes in the ratio of nitrate to phosphorus in the oceans off the coasts of Korea and Japan caused by atmospheric and riverine pollutants may influence the makeup of marine plants and influence marine ecology, according to researchers from Korea and the U. S.

“Normally in a marine environment nitrate is the limiting factor, but increased nitrate in the ocean can spur growth and create a situation where phosphorus becomes the nutrient in short supply,” says Raymond G. Najjar, professor of oceanography, Penn State. “This change in nutrients could favor organisms that are better suited for high nitrate and low phosphorus.”

According to the researchers, the effects of anthropogenic nitrate pollution from the air have been shown to be significant in local lakes, streams and estuaries in Norway, Sweden and the U.S.

“This is the first evidence of increases in nitrate in ocean waters not in an enclosed estuary like the Chesapeake Bay,” said Najjar. “These are large, very deep bodies of water and it is surprising to see increased nitrate in these large seas.”

Najjar and his Korean colleagues, Kitack Lee, professor, and Tae-Wook Kim, graduate student, School of Environmental Science and Engineering, Pohang University of Science and Technology; Hee-Dong Jeong, National Fisheries Research and Development Institute; and Hae Jun Jeong, professor, School of Earth and Environmental Science, Seoul National University, studied trends in nitrate and phosphate in the coastal waters of Korea and Japan since the 1980s. They also compared the amount of nitrogen deposited from the air between 2002 and 2008 for Korea and Japan with the amounts of nitrate in the water during that same time period to show that the increased levels in the water are directly correlated to an increase in human-generated atmospheric nitrogen.

The area studied included the Yellow Sea, the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea. The researchers found that the phosphorus levels in the ocean water remained the same through time.

“The abundance of nitrogen relative to phosphorus in northeastern Asian marginal seas has increased significantly since 1980,” the researchers report in the Sepembert 23 online edition of Science Express. “Anthropogenic atmospheric nitrogen deposition has narrowed the deficiency of nitrogen relative to phosphorus across the study area and has even resulted in a nitrogen surplus in the East China Sea, Yellow Sea and East Sea, commencing in the mid-1990s.”

The other source of nitrate into the oceans is from runoff from industry and agriculture that reaches the seas via rivers. In most cases, this nitrogen is quickly diluted.

Story Continues -> Nitrate Levels Rising in Northwestern Pacific Ocean


New Deep-Sea Pictures: Snailfish, Eels Found in Trench

Ghost of the Deep

Image courtesy Oceanlab, University of Aberdeen

It”s no apparition—this new species of ghostly white snailfish was photographed swimming at depths of 4.3 miles (7 kilometers) during a recent expedition to the Peru-Chile trench (see map) in the southeastern Pacific Ocean.

The deepest dwelling vertebrates on Earth, snailfish have been discovered in ocean trenches in other parts of the Pacific. The deepest known fish, found at 4.8 miles (7.7 kilometers), are snailfish filmed in the Japan trench in 2008.

“The tantalizing thing is we”ve got a very clear photo of the species,” said Monty Priede, director of Oceanlab at Scotland”s University of Aberdeen, which co-sponsored the expedition. “No one has ever seen this before, and it”s never been captured before.”

Living so far underwater, the newfound, 6-inch-long (15-centimeter-long) snailfish can withstand pressures equal to 1,600 elephants standing on the roof of a Mini Cooper, according to Oceanlab.

“If you saw that fish in the aquarium you wouldn”t say, Wow that”s weird,” Priede said. “But at a molecular level, in the details of its biochemistry, it is highly adapted in order to survive the high pressure.”

Christine Dell”Amore

More pictures ->

Deep Diversity

Image courtesy Oceanlab, University of Aberdeen

Overall, the scientists found a variety of species during the recent Oceanlab expedition, including those seen above in pictures taken at depths between 2.8 miles (4.6 kilometers) and 5 miles (8 kilometers).

“Our findings, which revealed diverse and abundant species at depths previously thought to be void of fish, will prompt a rethink into marine populations at extreme depths,” the U.K.”s Telegraph newspaper reported Jamieson as saying.

More pictures ->

Abandoned By The Media, The Fisherman Of The Gulf Coast Struggle Along

By Rocky Kistner – Media Associate, NRDC

This Columbus Day, there is little rejoicing among the fishermen of the Gulf Coast. Although this fishing-rich region is close to the Cuban shores Columbus first visited 500 years ago, there is not a lot to celebrate these days. The aftermath of the BP oil disaster hangs like a pall over the fishing communities of the Gulf, and people are only certain of one thing; it will get worse before it gets better.

Most Americans are unaware of this. The country remains gripped in unshakable economic doldrums. Millions are hurting and many have lost their homes. But along the Gulf coast, fishermen are even more desperate. Their livelihoods have been destroyed and they have no idea if their culture will return. They see the oil continuing to wash up on their shores while no one seems to be paying attention.

Their future lies in the hands of men like government BP claims czar Ken Feinberg, yet people here have little idea when or if they will receive a check to compensate them for their ruined way of life. Government officials pronounce the fish clean of oil when fishermen themselves say they are seeing oil in some of their catches. Even NOAA representatives have gone into schools to try to convince kids their seafood is safe when some fishermen refuse to feed seafood to their families.

The media has gone AWOL. Last week at a meeting in Buras, LA, fishermen gathered to talk about ways to show the public the oil is not gone. They felt abandoned and desperate. Some have had to accept free groceries and school supplies because they have run out of money to feed their families or buy gas for their trucks. They are incensed by million dollar ad campaigns aired during Saints games touting how BP “will make it right.”

They know what’s coming. The cleanup boats are being pulled off the job and their only income will be handouts from government and charities. And those sources are drying up too.

“It’s time to standup,” local shrimper Darla Rooks told the assembly of fishermen in this fishing town still devastated by Katrina. “This is my land and I cannot let me children fish here anymore. We need to stand up and fight or there will be nothing left. If you say nothing, you get nothing.”

Fishermen in this community agreed, but there’s still great uncertainty about what they can do. Even as the meeting took place, reports came in over cell phones to fishermen whose friends still working for BP describing thick peanut butter oil slicks coming into Barataria Bay, one of the hardest hit areas of the Gulf.  It comes in at night and sinks during the day, they say.

“People out there don’t have a clue what’s going on,” says Acy Cooper, an official with the Louisiana Shrimp Association. No one wants to buy our shrimp. We can’t say for certain it’s safe while there’s still oil coming in here.”

Meanwhile, the lawyers are circling. As the government claims process grinds on, fishermen and business owners along the coast will be put in the position of trying to decide between accepting whatever the government gives them or getting a lawyer to represent them, a process that could take years — perhaps decades.

Mike Brewer, an oil cleanup expert who ran for a local council seat here, says a fisherman friend from Alaska just received a check from the Exxon Valdez disaster, more than 25 years after the fact. “It wasn’t even worth the money for him to fly to Alaska to get it,” Brewer says.

So as the six-month anniversary of the oil blowout approaches next week, I can vouch for the fishermen of the Gulf coast. I have been here with them since early May, following their various stages of shock, anger and grief over what has happened to their livelihoods. I have watched proud fishing families struggle with a seemingly unassailable foe, an army of oil, powerful PR and an aura of government complicity that exacerbates this ongoing disaster.

If history is any lesson, this culture and these people will not be easily defeated. They have a lot of fight left in them to survive. But it’s important for all Americans who celebrate Columbus’ discovery of the America’s to know that a culture that lived here before the Europeans is in danger of extinction. The tribe of the United Houma Nation still live by these waters where they have fished for centuries, as do the Italians, French and African Americans who came later and fish them now. For them and for all of us, we need to preserve the culture and environment Columbus found when he first sailed into our world. We need to restore the Gulf coast and make sure this oil disaster never happens again.

600-Year-Old Worms Among Surprises of 10-Year Sea Survey

A Census of Marine Life researcher eyes specimens in a lighted aquarium off Australia (file photo). Photograph courtesy Gary Cranitch, Queensland Museum

Ten-year Census of Marine Life uncovered thousands of likely new species.

Helen Scales in London

for National Geographic News

Published October 4, 2010

Uncovering thousands of likely new species, and sending thousands of scientists on hundreds of expeditions from pole to pole, the ten-year Census of Marine Life, which ended Monday, can seem as overwhelming as the ocean itself.

But a look at just five of the census”s great discoveries gives a sense as to just how much the ten-year ocean inventory accomplished—and how much remains unknown.

(Related: our picks of the 13 best Census of Marine Life pictures.)


Inhabitants of the perpetual dark of the deep sea, yard-long (meter-long) tube worms called Escarpia laminata were found by the Census of Marine life to live for around 600 years—making them some of the oldest known animals on Earth.

Another age-defying denizen of the deep is a new species of giant oyster, Neopycnodonte zibrowii, also discovered during the census. These species” seashells form reefs on deep underwater cliffs and were shown, using radiocarbon dating, to reach 100 to 500 years old.

(See pictures from the final batch of Census of marine Life new species.)


Ninety percent of the living biomass in the oceans is made up of hard-to-see microbes, together weighing the equivalent of 35 elephants for every living human—another fact uncovered by the Census of Marine Life.

(See pictures of Census of Marine Life microbes.)

“Microbes play a huge role in how ecosystems function,” said Tom Webb, an ecologist from the U.K.”s University of Sheffield, who was not directly involved in the census.

“The census has suggested there might be millions of microbe species in the oceans,” he said, “and we hardly know anything about any of them.”

That”s despite the project”s globe-spanning efforts to catalogue every ocean species—even the tiniest. As marine biologist Nancy Knowlton said, “This is the first time anything like this has been attempted.”


Even after 540 Census of Marine Life expeditions to countless corners of the Earth, more than 20 percent of the oceans remain totally unexplored, organizers say.

And though it”s brought the tally of estimated known marine species from 230,000 to 250,000, census scientists “still could not reliably estimate the total number of species, the kinds of life, known and unknown, in the ocean,” according to a press statement. They do say, though, that a million species is a fair guess.

Knowlton, co-director of the Census of Coral Reefs, a field project of the census, said, “As well as chipping away at the unknown and turning it into the known, the census also gives us a sense of the scale of the unknown.”

The University of Sheffield”s Webb said, “A big part of the achievement of the Census is getting a handle on what we don”t know.

“The deep pelagic ocean is, by a very long distance, the largest habitat on Earth and one that we”ve hardly touched with our surveying,” he said. “These are areas that don”t really have an edge, with living things that never meet a hard surface.”

(Related pictures: “”Alien” Jellyfish Found in Arctic Deep.”)


Tens of millions of Atlantic herring have been tracked in the Gulf of Maine (map) forming a school the size of Manhattan (map) during the Census of Marine Life. The schools sometimes contained more than eight of the roughly foot-long (30-centimeter-long) fish per square yard (0.8 square meter).

The discovery was made in part by an acoustic system created by the census that allows scientists to track fish over thousands of square miles—one of several new standardized tools created during the census.

The tools should improve future ocean research, said Knowlton, also a marine biologist at the U.S. National Museum of Natural History.

“If we want to think about Census II,” Knowlton said, “we really know what to do next.”

If a second census is in the offing, this would be the week to get the ball rolling.

More than 300 Census of Marine Life participants are gathering in London from October 4 to 7 to share their results, consider what happens next, and debut some of the fruits of their labor, including the National Geographic Society book Citizens of the Sea: Wondrous Creatures From the Census of Marine Life, a new National Geographic map of ocean life, and a free online directory that allows anyone to find out which species live where in the oceans.

(The Society owns National Geographic News.)


Looking like empty dollhouses, Automated Reef Monitoring Structures (ARMS)—developed for the Census of Marine Life—allow scientists to accurately compare the coral reef diversity in different regions for the first time.

Mimicking the natural nooks and crannies of coral reefs, the 600 or so layered acrylic structures, now deployed in coral reefs around the world, will encourage species to move in while researchers look on.

The ARMS are helping reveal that coral reefs are “so diverse we really can”t put a firm number on” their species variation, Knowlton said.

(Watch video of new species found on Australia”s Great Barrier Reef during the Census of Marine Life.)

Census of Marine Life More Than Just Academic?

As with a human census, findings from the Census of Marine Life will be put to a variety of real-world uses.

The U.S. $650 million inventory has helped clarify which areas of the ocean most need protecting and provides a baseline with which future changes can be compared—including the impacts of climate change, overfishing, and oil spills and other forms of pollution.

“We”re increasingly recognizing how under-threat the seas are from all kinds of human activities,” the University of Sheffield”s Webb said.

“I”m hopeful,” he added, “that the Census of Marine Life will act as a clarion call for the biodiversity of the oceans and how much we depend on them for our well-being.”

Two More Gulf Spills?

By Kate Sheppard

The BP oil spill is still dominating headlines, 50 days after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded. But how much oil leaks into the Gulf on any other day of the year? Satillite images and photographs from the region indicate that there may be two other offshore drilling units leaking oil into the ocean.

John Amos, head of the West Virginia-based nonprofit SkyTruth, was looking at satellite images of the oil from the Deepwater Horizon site when he noticed what appeared to be another small slick of oil about 11 miles off the coast of Louisiana and about 40 miles from the major spill. Amos’ group uses the images to assess environmental problems; he was among the first independent experts to point out that the spill estimates from BP and the government were far too low, which has now been confirmed. Amos reported a “small but persistent leak or oily discharge” at a second site in the Gulf, one that appeared to be coming from platform 23051 in the Gulf of Mexico. It can be seen on multiple satellite images of the region. Minerals Management Service (MMS) records indicate that the platform belongs to Taylor Energy Company.

Amos contacted J. Henry Fair, a New York-based photographer who specializes in artistic renderings of the human impact on the environment. Fair was in the Gulf last weekend taking aerial photos of the spill with the group Southwings, and at Amos’ suggestion sought out platform 23051. Fair found a rig with an oily sheen extending out into the water and snapped a series of photos. But upon closer inspection, it was a different rig—the Ocean Saratoga rig owned by Diamond Offshore. In some of Fair’s photos, a platform is visible in the background, possibly the one he was originally searching for, 23051. Amos couldn’t give an estimate on how much oil might be coming out of either site, though he noted that it is a “very small” amount.

That would mean there are potentially two other operations in the Gulf leaking oil. So just how common are such leaks? The sad reality is, we really don’t know.

Right now, oil companies are required by law to report any spills to the National Response Center, Coast Guard or Environmental Protection Agency if there is a “visible sheen.” Oil companies report spilling roughly 1.3 million gallons of oil into US waterways in an average year. But that figure is largely reliant on self-reporting; the government trusts that operators are following the law and reporting all of the spills, Amos says. Coast Guard 1st Class Petty Officer Zach Zubricki told Mother Jones that they do not know of any other spills in the Gulf at this point in time. “I’m only aware of one leak,” said Zubricki. He noted that it’s possible the sheen is related to the major spill from the Deepwater Horizon, since “you get oil everywhere” with a leak of that size. (I’ve also put in calls to the companies that own these two units and will update as I hear back from them.)

Amos believes that these other visible sheens are independent of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. SkyTruth is using images from NASA and the Center for Southeastern Tropical Advanced Remote Sensing (CSTARS) at the University of Miami, which draws the images from several international satellite data providers.  “We’re not routinely using satellites to monitor regions where offshore drilling is occurring,” says Amos. “If we were, what would we learn? Would we learn that small spills like this are uncommon, or would we learn that there’s a day to day, background nature to spills?”

“I don’t want to speculate on frequency or regularity,” says Amos. “Maybe this is a rare occurrence and this was incredibly fortuitous that we happened to stumble across it. I don’t know. I do know we have the tools to answer these questions, but we’re not using them.”

Kate Sheppard covers energy and environmental politics in Mother Jones’ Washington bureau. For more of her stories, click here. She Tweets here.

Invention Awards: A Fish-Friendly Tidal Turbine

ECO-Auger John B. Carnett

An underwater energy extractor that doesn’t harm sea life

By Rena Marie Pacella

W. Scott Anderson spent the past five decades creating complicated machines for manufacturing, including a lipstick labeler and a plastic-straw maker. So when two years ago the 77-year-old industrial engineer invented a fish-friendly underwater turbine that looks like a giant screw, it seemed a cruel twist of fate that every manufacturer he approached said it was too complex to produce economically. But that didn’t stop him.

Invention: ECO-Auger
Inventor: W. Scott Anderson
Cost: Undisclosed
Time: 5 years
Is It Ready Yet? 1 2 3 4 5

There are a handful of companies using windmill-like turbines to capture the untapped energy in tidal streams, bays and inlets and convert it to electricity. But these projects tend to be huge and expensive, and require permanent installations that can disrupt marine life.

How the ECO-Auger Works: The auger creates enough torque to drive a hydraulic pump, which moves oil out of a storage tank through pipes to drive a generator located outside the water. Excess oil pumped in strong currents is diverted to an accumulator tank until the current slows, when it’s used to keep the generator turning at the proper speed.  Paul Wootton

Anderson’s ECO-Auger is based on a much different design, enabling it to access energy that regular water turbines can’t. Rather than using blades, it produces power when the current spins a drill-shaped device called an auger, which has tapered ends that don’t harm fish. Instead of using gears to drive an attached generator, a hydraulic pump in the nosecone pumps high-pressure oil to turn a generator outside the water. The arrangement lets the turbine capture energy in shallow waters, and to tether to bridges and other structures so that the auger is relatively easy to lift out of the water for maintenance. Whereas most bladed turbines need at least 30 feet of water to operate, Anderson’s smallest units need only 10.

Anderson had used a revolving horizontal corkscrew to feed plastic to machines in his New Jersey factory and knew that ancient Egyptian farmers used augers to irrigate high ground. To see if a water-driven auger could do the job of conventional turbine blades, he tested an eight-inch plastic prototype in a pool, measured the torque, and ran it in a tank of minnows. When he saw that it worked without affecting the fish, he spent four months in his garage handcrafting a two-foot-diameter polyurethane-and-fiberglass auger that in a test captured 14 percent of the water’s energy—not as much as the 25 to 45 percent that huge propeller-driven turbines can get, but Anderson says that percentage will go up as the auger’s diameter increases, and for a fraction of the cost.

Recently the inventor bought two cast-aluminum molds to make the first few six-foot-diameter prototypes and has persuaded a plastic-molding company to produce them in segments. If he gets approval, he will have them spinning in inlets around the world this year. In a 10-knot current, each will generate five to seven kilowatts, enough to power four to six homes. Most important, he wants to show that his method of mass production is sound, so he can move on to the full-scale, 16-foot-diameter augers. “We already know it will work,” he says. “Now it’s just a matter of doing it.”

Giant Oil Plumes Found In Gulf Depths

Thought: With all the oil dumping into the Gulf, I wonder what the impact will be on the weather.  Since that amount of oil (which is growing) will impact currents and evaporation.

Article by JEFFREY COLLINS for AP/Huffington Post

ROBERT, La. — Oil from a blown-out well is forming huge underwater plumes below a visible slick in the Gulf of Mexico, scientists said as BP wrestled for a third day Sunday with its latest contraption for slowing the nearly month-old gusher. One of the plumes is “as large as 10 miles long, 3 miles wide and 300 feet thick in spots,” the New York Times reported. “The discovery is fresh evidence that the leak from the broken undersea well could be substantially worse than estimates that the government and BP have given.”

BP, the largest oil and gas producer in the U.S., has been unable to thread a tube into the leak to siphon the crude to a tanker, it’s third approach to stopping or reducing the spill on the ocean floor nearly a mile below the surface. Engineers remotely steering robot submersibles were trying again Sunday to fit the tube into a breach in a seafloor pipe, BP said.

Oil has been spewing since the rig Deepwater Horizon exploded April 20, killing 11 people and sinking two days later. The government shortly afterward estimated the spill at 210,000 gallons – or 5,000 barrels — a day, a figure that has since been questioned by some scientists who fear it could be far more. BP executives have stood by the estimate while acknowledging there’s no way to know for sure.

The Times noted:

BP has resisted entreaties from scientists that they be allowed to use sophisticated instruments at the ocean floor that would give a far more accurate picture of how much oil is really gushing from the well.
“The answer is no to that,” a BP spokesman, Tom Mueller, said on Saturday. “We’re not going to take any extra efforts now to calculate flow there at this point. It’s not relevant to the response effort, and it might even detract from the response effort.”

BP also owns a rig that operated with incomplete and inaccurate engineering documents, which one official warned could “lead to catastrophic operator error,” records and interviews show.

Two months before the Deepwater Horizon accident, 19 members of Congress called on the agency that oversees offshore oil drilling to investigate a whistle-blower’s complaints about the BP-owned Atlantis, which is stationed in 7,070 feet of water more than 150 miles south of New Orleans.

The Associated Press has learned that an independent firm hired by BP substantiated the complaints in 2009 and found that the company was violating its own policies by not having completed engineering documents on board the Atlantis when it began operating in 2007.

Word of huge submerged oil plumes, meanwhile, raised the specter of more damage to the ecologically rich Gulf. It also adds to questions about when large amounts of crude might hit shore.

“It’s just a matter of time … and the first significant amount of oil is going to show up around the U.S,” said Hans Graber, director of the University of Miami’s satellite sensing facility, who has been tracking the oil slick.

Researchers from the National Institute for Undersea Science and Technology said Saturday they had detected the underwater oil plumes at depths between just beneath the surface to more than 4,000 feet.

Three or four large plumes have been found, at least one that is 10 miles long and a mile wide, said Samantha Joye, a marine science professor at the University of Georgia.

Researchers Vernon Asper and Arne Dierks said in Web posts that the plumes were “perhaps due to the deep injection of dispersants which BP has stated that they are conducting.” BP has won government approval to use chemicals on the oil near where it is gushing to break it up before it rises to the surface.

The researchers were also testing the effects of large amounts of subsea oil on oxygen levels in the water. The oil can deplete oxygen in the water, harming plankton and other tiny creatures that serve as food for a wide variety of sea critters.

Oxygen levels in some areas have dropped 30 percent, and should continue to drop, Joye said.

“It could take years, possibly decades, for the system to recover from an infusion of this quantity of oil and gas,” Joye said. “We’ve never seen anything like this before. It’s impossible to fathom the impact.”

Joye’s lab was waiting for the research boat to return so a team of scientists can test about 75 water samples and 100 sediment samples gathered during the voyage. Researchers plan to go back out in about a month and sample the same areas to see if oil and oxygen levels have worsened.

BP has been unable to stop the gusher with huge blowout preventers on the well or by putting a 100-tone box above the flow to trap and siphon it to a tanker on the surface. The latest effort, inserting a mile-long pipe into the largest of two leaks, hit a snag Saturday.

BP chief operating officer Doug Suttles said one piece of equipment, called the framework, had to be brought to the surface and adjusted to fit with the tube.

The framework holds a pipe and stopper. If it works, the tube could capture more than three-quarters of the leak. BP also must contend with a smaller leak that’s farther away.

One expert said BP’s latest idea seems to have the best chance for success so far. Inserting a pipe into the oil gusher would be easy at the surface, said Ed Overton, a LSU professor of environmental studies. But using robots in 5,000 feet of water with oil rushing out of the pipe makes things much more difficult.

“It’s something like threading the eye of a needle. But that can be tough to do up here. And you can imagine how hard it would be to do it down there with a robot,” Overton said.

BP is also drilling a relief well that is considered the permanent solution to stopping the leak. It’s about halfway done and still months away from being completed. The company also is still considering using a smaller containment dome known as a “top hat,” as well as a “junk shot,” in which golf balls and rubber would be inserted to try to clog the leak.


Associated Press writers Ramit Plushnick-Masti in Houston; Noaki Schwartz in Los Angeles; Janet McConnaughey near Fort Jackson; Jason Dearen in New Orleans; Erica Werner, Matthew Daly and Frederic J. Frommer in Washington, and Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, contributed to this report.