November 1, 2007
In the wake of the November 7 spill of 58,000 gallons of fuel oil into San Francisco Bay, environmental chemist Chris Reddy of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) has collected and analyzed oil samples to help assess the long-term impact on the environment. With support from WHOI’s Coastal Ocean Institute and the environmental group Baykeeper, Reddy and colleagues collected oil-covered rocks from beaches around the Bay and used two-dimensional gas chromatography to delineate the precise chemical composition of the mixture. The “bunker oil” that spilled from the Cosco Busan and fouled at least 40 miles of California coastline is very similar to the oil that was spilled into Buzzards Bay (along the Massachusetts coast) in April 2003. Both contained polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are known to be toxic and carcinogenic. Reddy, who specializes in examining the breakdown and longevity of oil compounds in the marine environment, collected this initial oil sample because long-term studies of impacts require an understanding of which oil compounds have weathered or degraded and which ones linger in the water and sediments. Reddy has forwarded his results to environmental groups in the Bay area, as well as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He hopes to compare his samples with an original batch of oil directly from the ship to see how much the composition has already changed, and to have a baseline for assessing how nature breaks down the oil in the future.
November 1, 2007
Examining more than 50,000 seafloor images, geologists have created the most detailed map ever assembled for a volcanic eruption along a fast-spreading mid-ocean ridge. Researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, University of Florida, and University of Hawaii mapped where fresh new lava had paved over sediment-covered seafloor, while also identifying eruptive fissures and channels where lava had flowed. Scientists’ understanding of deep ocean volcanic eruptions has been limited by the ability to observe them. In April 2006, researchers got an unprecedented opportunity to investigate the dynamics of eruptions after discovering a recent lava flow along the East Pacific Rise (EPR) between 9° 46’ N and 9° 56’ N (900 km southwest of Acapulco, Mexico). Lead author Adam Soule and colleagues used support from the National Science Foundation’s RIDGE2000 program to conduct 37 surveys of the site with WHOI’s digital deep-sea towed camera system, plus another 10 dives in the submersible Alvin. In analyzing the imagery, they identified 186 sites where new lava met old. They documented that the eruption covered an area of 14.6 square kilometers with lava averaging 1.5 meters deep. More than 22 x 106 meters of lava were estimated to flow out of the Earth, yet it was only about 15 percent of what was stored in the magma chamber below the surface. The team observed that areas with the largest lava output coincided with the greatest concentrations of previously known hydrothermal vents. The map and findings were published online on November 26, with a printed version coming in the December issue of the journal Geology.
November 1, 2007
Penguins sing, are you listening? Lava flows, snow is glistening. Through the use of the Web and satellite technology, researchers and communicators from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution are bringing the sights, sounds, and smells of the seasonthat is, the summer season in Antarcticato students and museum-goers across America. In the third installment of WHOI’s Polar Discovery project, photographer Chris Linder and science writer Hugh Powell will accompany researchers who are continuing a 55-year-long study of Adélie penguins in the Ross Sea. They will then hitch a helicopter ride to the interior of the continent, camping with WHOI geologists and chemists on Mount Morning to study how ice and rock shape and carve each other over time. They will send photos, audio clips, and daily dispatches from the field to the Polar Discovery Website from November 26 to December 23, while also talking to students and museum visitors via satellite phone during a series of “Live from the Poles” events. Funded by the National Science Foundation as part of the International Polar Year (March 2007 to March 2009), Polar Discovery takes the public on a virtual expedition to observe how polar exploration is conducted and to learn what real scientists are likewhat excites them, how they cope with their environment, and what challenges they face as they try to gain a better understanding of our planet.