Archive for 08/29/2011

Mike Dunne –

The swells of the Coral Sea rose and fell gently, nudging me toward a nap. Then a stir and a splash just off the port side of the boat caught my eye. Before my mind could register what I’d seen, the skipper shouted, “There’s a shark!”

“Oh, great,” replied my wife, Martha. Not 30 seconds before, our granddaughter Brittney, two other scuba students and their instructor had slipped over the side, disappearing underneath, leaving a trail of faint and lazy bubbles.

I’m not going to nap now.

 The skipper added, “Oh, it’s only a reef shark.” His voice was as calm and flat as the water. He might as well have said “tadpole.” I accepted his knowledge and assurance, though the ensuing 30 minutes seemed like the longest half-hour of my life.

The reef in question is the Great Barrier Reef. We’re bobbing just off Green Island due east of the northern reaches of the Australian state of Queensland. We’re on the third day of a trip inspired by Brittney.

When she’d graduated from Woodcreek High School in Roseville a year earlier, we told her we’d take her wherever she wanted to go. Her twin passions are environmental science and fashion design. She pondered the fashion sense of Florence, the environmental drama of the Amazon rain forest.

When she settled on the Great Barrier Reef, I drew up an itinerary I’d hoped would deepen and refine her interest in environmental matters.

She and the others soon bobbed up beside the boat. She climbed aboard, and through chattering teeth told us of the exotic fish, colorful coral and a giant clam she’d just seen. She’s oblivious of any shark in the vicinity.

Our initial base was Cairns, an old sugar cane settlement transformed into a lively jumping-off point to the Great Barrier Reef. When we landed, I asked a Qantas attendant for the correct pronunciation of Cairns. She sized me up astutely, saying, ” ‘Cans,’ like cans of beer.”

And beer does flow generously in and about Cairns, thanks in part to the area’s many Irish pubs. I was perplexed, however, why so many young Aussies shunned their fine homegrown brews in favor of insipid Corona, especially at $9.50 a bottle. A local bloke set me straight: “Marketing, mate,” he said.

Full story…

Richard Black –

A subterranean river said to be flowing beneath the Amazon region of Brazil is not a river in the conventional sense, even if its existence is confirmed.

The “river” has been widely reported, after a study on it was presented to a Brazilian science meeting last week.

But the researchers involved told BBC News that water was moving through porous rock at speeds measured in cm, or inches, per year – not flowing.

Another Brazilian expert said the groundwater was known to be very salty.

Valiya Hamza and Elizabeth Tavares Pimentel, from the Brazilian National Observatory, deduced the existence of the “river” by using temperature data from boreholes across the Amazon region.

The holes were dug by the Brazilian oil company Petrobras in the search for new oil and gas fields, and Petrobras has since released its data to the scientific community.

Using mathematical models relating temperature differences to water movement, the scientists inferred that water must be moving downwards through the ground around the holes, and then flowing horizontally at a depth of several km.

They concluded that this movement had to be from West to East, mimicking the mighty Amazon itself.

A true underground river on this scale – 6,000km (4,000 miles) long – would be the longest of its kind in the world by far.

But Professor Hamza told BBC News that it was not a river in the conventional sense.

Full story…

Ron Dzwonkowski –

What is it ? “Essentially, it’s a national park out in the water that is dedicated to protecting the Great Lakes and their rich history,” said superintendent Jeff Gray, 39, a Livonia native and Dearborn Divine Child graduate who has degrees in maritime history and underwater archaeology.

The sanctuary, designated in 2000, covers 448 square miles of Lake Huron off the northeast Lower Peninsula, an area known as shipwreck alley in the heyday of Great Lakes shipping because of its fog and dangerous shallows. About 200 shipwrecks have been identified in and around the sanctuary, which Gray says may be only half the actual number on the lake bottom in the area.

So do I have to swim or scuba dive to see the place? You can, but there’s plenty to see and experience if you don’t. The area is popular with divers from around the world because of the clear fresh water, which provides excellent visibility and has preserved many of the deep water wrecks. But some are visible to snorkelers and within easy distance from shore. If you don’t want to get wet, there’s a glass-bottom boat, Lady Michigan, that accommodates 110 passengers and provides outstanding views of several wrecks.

I’d really rather avoid the water altogether. No problem. Check out the visitors center, featuring a full-scale model of the aft portion of a 19th-Century lakes schooner. Climb aboard and brace for a simulated storm, with lightning, thunder and wind. “We’ve actually had a few people get a little seasick,” Gray said.

Full story…

Bob Berwyn –

A record-breaking Florida 2010 cold snap resulted in a 40 percent coral-tissue mortality rate for several important reef-building coral species — especially in shallow and near-shore reefs, according to the University of Miami researchers who carefully study the Florida Reef Tract.

The cold temperatures did more damage to coral reefs than warm-water events since 2005, which caused a less than one-percent tissue mortality rate. Coral species that had previously proven tolerant to higher-than-normal ocean temperatures were most affected by the cold-water event.

The state’s corals grow in an area spanning about 160 miles from Miami to the Dry Tortugas. It’s the only living barrier reef in the continental U.S. and one of the northernmost areas for coral development. Corals have adapted to a specific temperature range and are typically not found in areas where water temperatures drop below 60 degrees.

“It was a major setback,” said Diego Lirman, associate professor at the UM Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science. “Centuries-old coral colonies were lost in a matter of days. This was undoubtedly the single worst event on record for Florida corals,” said Liman, lead author of the study that was published last week in the August 2011 issue of the journal PLoS One.

The chilly January temperatures caused the most catastrophic loss of corals ever recorded in Florida, according to members of the Florida Reef Resilience Program, a group comprised of Florida scientists and resource managers, after conducting a month-long survey of 76 reefs sites from Martin County to Key West, both during and shortly after the unusually cold weather.

Full story…