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Lebanon oil spill crisis
The Lebanese government has appealed for help to clean up a huge oil spill along its coastline created after Israel bombed a power plant.
The environment ministry says up to 30,000 tonnes of oil flooded into the sea after Israeli jets attacked storage tanks at the Jiyyeh power plant south of Beirut on July 13 and 15.
The spill has affected more than 100 kilometres of the Lebanese coast.
Yacoub al-Sarraf, the Lebanese environment minister, said: "We have never seen a spill like this in the history of Lebanon. It is a major catastrophe." ...
Stavros Dimas, the EU environment commissioner, said: "Wars do cause enormous human suffering as we are witnessing now in Lebanon. But another aspect is also the significant environmental destruction caused by it.
"[The spill] could affect the livelihood and health of the Lebanese and people in neighbouring countries as well as the status of the marine environment in the region."
(29 July 2006)
Altered Oceans: 5-part series on the crisis in the seas
Kenneth R. Weiss and Usha Lee McFarling, LA Times
Parts 1 to 4 are posted already. Multimedia presentations are online.
Part 1: A Primeval Tide of Toxins
Runoff from modern life is feeding an explosion of primitive organisms. This 'rise of slime,' as one scientist calls it, is killing larger species and sickening people.
Part 2: Sentinels Under Attack
Toxic algae that poison the brain have caused strandings and mass die-offs of marine mammals - barometers of the sea's health.
Part 3: Dark Tides, Ill Winds
With sickening regularity, toxic algae blooms are invading coastal waters. They kill sea life and send poisons ashore on the breeze, forcing residents to flee.
Part 4: Plague of Plastic Chokes the Seas
On Midway Atoll, 40% of albatross chicks die, their bellies full of trash. Swirling masses of drifting debris pollute remote beaches and snare wildlife.
(2 August 2006)
Long but very readable articles. In the first, scientist Jeremy Jackson says "We're pushing the oceans back to the dawn of evolution, a half-billion years ago when the oceans were ruled by jellyfish and bacteria." They authors note that "dead zones aren't really dead. They are teeming with life — most of it bacteria and other ancient creatures that evolved in an ocean without oxygen and that need little to survive."
A 'jaw dropping' discovery in earth's oceans
Many more bacteria than expected
Anne McIlroy, The Globe and Mail
Scientists charting life in the earth's oceans have found 10 to 100 times more species of bacteria than expected, including many new and rare microorganisms.
"These observations blow away all previous estimates of bacterial diversity in the ocean," says Mitchell Sogin, with the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.
He and his colleagues from the U.S., the Netherlands and Spain did a genetic analysis of eight samples of water taken from different sites in the Atlantic and the Pacific, from depths ranging from 550 to 4,100 metres. They were astonished by what they found. There were 20,000 species of microbes in just one litre of sea water.
They had expected fewer than 3,000.
"Our jaws dropped," says Dr. Sogin.
This means a swimmer taking just a swallow of seawater could consume 1,000 different forms of bacteria.
Most don't cause disease in humans, and in fact, are essential to life as we know it on earth. They break down organic material, and make nutrients available to other sea creatures.
Most of the bacteria they found were relatively common, but about 20 per cent were rare, new species. Scientists aren't sure what they do, or where they fit in.
(31 July 2006)
Thousands of microbes in one gulp (BBC)
Scientists try to find out why the krill is gone
Mark Prado, Marin Independent Journal
Researchers are worried about the dearth of krill, tiny, pinkish, shrimp-like crustaceans that help give an area off the Marin coast the moniker "the lunch bucket of the North Pacific."
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration crews have just returned from a 10-day research cruise in the Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank marine sanctuaries off the coast of Marin. The purpose of the trip was to get a pulse on how the marine areas are doing...
The absence of krill affects the entire food web, researchers said.
"Some bird species are not breeding this year because there is not enough krill," Roletto said, noting the Cassin's auklet, rhinoceros auklet and common murre have been affected. "The humpback whale was easily seen because they eat fish and krill. But we saw only two blue whales, which only eat krill."
Because krill is not as abundant, reproduction is affected.
"Species spend more energy finding food, so they are conserving energy by not reproducing," Roletto said. "It is a domino effect. It becomes a worry when you place human influence on top of it. Overfishing, gill netting, oil spills, if you have major human impacts like these, then you really could see a big decline in populations."
But that is not case - so far.
"The oceans are clean and the populations are stable," Roletto said. "It's pretty natural to see this krill number drop and overall it's a resilient system. This is the second year of the drop. But if it continues for five years, then it could become an issue."
Researchers theorize weather patterns - too much wind or too little wind - are having an affect on the "upwelling" process that nurtures krill.
The fertilizing nutrients necessary for krill begin in the cold, lower depths of the ocean. Those nutrients eventually must come near the surface and bask in sunlight for photosynthesis to occur, which, in turn, generates conditions in which krill flourishes.
To get to the surface, nutrients ride funnels of water that are created by winds. That process - upwelling - is the key process that begins the food chain. Too much or too little wind can upset the process.
(26 July 2006)
Earlier research claimed that Southern Ocean krill numbers have dropped by about 80% since the 1970's.
See also the 25 July EB headlines on Oceans and climage.