National Environmental Education Week
This week (April 10-17, 2011) is National Environmental Education Week (EE Week – a sister program of Earth Gauge), the nation’s largest environmental education event held each year the week before Earth Day to inspire environmental learning and stewardship among students and the public. This year’s EE Week theme is “Ocean Connections,” highlighting that no matter how far from the coast, water in every stream or river ends up in the ocean. The oceans impact weather and climate, house a vast array of wildlife and provide 70 percent of the oxygen on earth.
To celebrate EE Week, Earth Gauge will provide daily “Ocean Connections” information and tips to share with your audience this week. Find additional tips in English and Spanish at http://eeweek.org/ocean_connections/facts.
Friday: Water Connects Us
The ocean is connected to major lakes, watersheds and waterways because all major watersheds on Earth drain to the ocean. Oceans provide us with food, cycle our water, generate most of the oxygen we breathe, balance our climate, supply us with medicines and much more.
- Humans consume 90 million metric tons of seafood every year. This translates to more than 900 fully armed aircraft carriers being dredged up from the world’s oceans every year.
- Carrageenan is an important ingredient in many of the products we use every day – such as toothpaste, shampoo and ice cream – and it comes from seaweed.
- Oil is an ingredient in many of the products that are part of our daily routine, from sneakers to dish soap, and it’s also used to heat and light homes and fuel cars. Nearly one third of the world’s oil comes from offshore fields in our oceans.
- More than 90 percent of the trade between countries is carried by ships and about half the communications between nations use underwater cables.
- Marine microbes hold great promise for drugs and agricultural processes including anti-inflammation chemicals from sea feathers, virus killing proteins from sea grass molds and cancer cell killing compounds from soft corals.
The diversity of major groups of organisms is much greater in the ocean than on land. Of the 1.5 million known species on Earth, some 250,000 live in the ocean.
- There are more than 360 known species of shark in the sea. Sharks are much older than dinosaurs – their ancestry dates back more than 400 million years.
- Great White Sharks migrate long distances. Some make journeys from South Africa to Australia – a round-trip of 20,000 miles. It’s the longest recorded migration of any fish.
- The largest mammal on Earth is the blue whale, which can be 100 feet long and weigh 200,000 to 300,000 pounds – equivalent to 15 adult male elephants.
- Coastal mangrove forest ecosystems shelter over 200 species of fish, 180 species of birds and dozens of reptile, amphibian and mammal species.
- Coral reefs provide habitat for over 4,000 species of fish and about 25 percent of marine life. Deep-water corals on Davidson Seamount, off the Big Sur coast, may grow to ten feet tall and live for several hundred years. The Great Barrier Reef is the largest structure ever built by living organisms on Earth.
Wednesday: Ocean Exploration
The ocean is the last and largest unexplored place on Earth—less than five percent of it has been explored.
- Deep below the ocean’s surface is a mysterious world that takes up 95 percent of Earth’s living space. It is so deep that it could hide 20 Washington Monuments stacked on top of each other. But it remains largely unexplored.
- Deep sea vents are openings in the ocean floor that release scalding hot water and toxic chemicals into the cold, dark water surrounding them. Some very unique animals, such as giant clams, 8-foot tall tube worms and fish with no eyes, have adapted to living around the vents.
- Scientists estimate that there are at least a million new species to be discovered in the deep oceans.
- Tens of thousands of underwater mountains, called seamounts, dot the ocean floor. Less than one percent have been explored.
Tuesday: Climate & Ocean Acidification
More acidic waters mean there are fewer carbonate molecules in the water available to the organisms that build their bodies out of calcium carbonate, such as coral, oysters and tiny plankton. All of these organisms are crucial for the health of ocean ecosystems that provide the fish that humans eat. Did you know…
- The oceans are currently absorbing about 22 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) each day.
- The oceans have absorbed an estimated 525 billion tons of CO2 over the last 200 years.
- As oceans take CO2 out of the atmosphere, the waters become more acidic.
- On the pH acidity scale (which ranges from zero to 14, with zero being the most acidic and seven being neutral) the world’s oceans have fallen from a pH of 8.2 in the late 18th century to a pH of 8.1 today, a 30 percent increase in acidity.
- The tiny planktonic foraminifera that live in the Southern Ocean around Antarctic have shells that are now one-third thinner than they were in pre-industrial times.
Sources: Hoegh-Guldberg et al. “Coral Reefs Under Rapid Climate Change and Ocean Acidification.” Science 318 (2007): 1737 and “Oceans Becoming More Acidic, Potentially Threatening Marine Life.” Science Daily 23 February 2009. Accessed Online 25 February 2009 <http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090223091752.htm> and Moy, AD et al. “Reduced calcification in modern Southern Ocean planktonic foraminifera.” Nature Geoscience 2 (2009): doi:10.1038/ngeo460.
Monday: Oceans and Weather
- The ocean controls weather and climate by dominating the Earth’s energy, water and carbon systems.
- Most rain that falls on land originally evaporated from the tropical ocean.
- Coastal wetlands, like salt marshes and mangrove swamps, help to shield coasts from hurricane storm surges and flooding.
Everyone is connected to the ocean! As part of National Environmental Education Week 2011, Earth Gauge meteorologists from across the United States have shared videos explaining the ocean’s role in weather in their regions.
Image courtesy of NOAA.