Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Ocean


Plastic pollution has been well documented in natural environments, including the open waters and sediments within lakes and rivers, the open ocean and even the air, but less attention has been paid to synthetic polymers in human consumables. Since multiple toxicity studies indicate risks to human health when plastic particles are ingested, more needs to be known about the presence and abundance of anthropogenic particles in human foods and beverages. This study investigates the presence of anthropogenic particles in 159 samples of globally sourced tap water, 12 brands of Laurentian Great Lakes beer, and 12 brands of commercial sea salt. Of the tap water samples analyzed, 81% were found to contain anthropogenic particles. The majority of these particles were fibers (98.3%) between 0.1-5 mm in length. The range was 0 to 61 particles/L, with an overall mean of 5.45 particles/L. Anthropogenic debris was found in each brand of beer and salt. Of the extracted particles, over 99% were fibers. After adjusting for particles found in lab blanks for both salt and beer, the average number of particles found in beer was 4.05 particles/L with a range of 0 to 14.3 particles/L and the average number of particles found in each brand of salt was 212 particles/kg with a range of 46.7 to 806 particles/kg. Based on consumer guidelines, our results indicate the average person ingests over 5,800 particles of synthetic debris from these three sources annually, with the largest contribution coming from tap water (88%).

Concepts: Water, Lake, Water pollution, Polymer, Average, Sea, Ocean, Great Lakes


Climate change and fisheries are transforming the oceans, but we lack a complete understanding of their ecological impact [1-3]. Environmental degradation can cause maladaptive habitat selection, inducing ecological traps with profound consequences for biodiversity [4-6]. However, whether ecological traps operate in marine systems is unclear [7]. Large marine vertebrates may be vulnerable to ecological traps [6], but their broad-scale movements and complex life histories obscure the population-level consequences of habitat selection [8, 9]. We satellite tracked postnatal dispersal in African penguins (Spheniscus demersus) from eight sites across their breeding range to test whether they have become ecologically trapped in the degraded Benguela ecosystem. Bayesian state-space and habitat models show that penguins traversed thousands of square kilometers to areas of low sea surface temperatures (14.5°C-17.5°C) and high chlorophyll-a (∼11 mg m(-3)). These were once reliable cues for prey-rich waters, but climate change and industrial fishing have depleted forage fish stocks in this system [10, 11]. Juvenile penguin survival is low in populations selecting degraded areas, and Bayesian projection models suggest that breeding numbers are ∼50% lower than if non-impacted habitats were used, revealing the extent and effect of a marine ecological trap for the first time. These cascading impacts of localized forage fish depletion-unobserved in studies on adults-were only elucidated via broad-scale movement and demographic data on juveniles. Our results support suspending fishing when prey biomass drops below critical thresholds [12, 13] and suggest that mitigation of marine ecological traps will require matching conservation action to the scale of ecological processes [14].

Concepts: Biodiversity, Demography, Fish, Ecology, Climate, Ecosystem, Ocean, Sea surface temperature


Over thirty years ago anecdotal accounts of the undescribed Larger Pacific Striped Octopus suggested behaviors previously unknown for octopuses. Beak-to-beak mating, dens shared by mating pairs, inking during mating and extended spawning were mentioned in publications, and enticed generations of cephalopod biologists. In 2012-2014 we were able to obtain several live specimens of this species, which remains without a formal description. All of the unique behaviors listed above were observed for animals in aquaria and are discussed here. We describe the behavior, body color patterns, and postures of 24 adults maintained in captivity. Chromatophore patterns of hatchlings are also shown.

Concepts: Biology, Ocean, Mollusca, Cuttlefish, Chromatophore, Cephalopod, Octopus


The subtropical ocean gyres are recognized as great marine accummulation zones of floating plastic debris; however, the possibility of plastic accumulation at polar latitudes has been overlooked because of the lack of nearby pollution sources. In the present study, the Arctic Ocean was extensively sampled for floating plastic debris from the Tara Oceans circumpolar expedition. Although plastic debris was scarce or absent in most of the Arctic waters, it reached high concentrations (hundreds of thousands of pieces per square kilometer) in the northernmost and easternmost areas of the Greenland and Barents seas. The fragmentation and typology of the plastic suggested an abundant presence of aged debris that originated from distant sources. This hypothesis was corroborated by the relatively high ratios of marine surface plastic to local pollution sources. Surface circulation models and field data showed that the poleward branch of the Thermohaline Circulation transfers floating debris from the North Atlantic to the Greenland and Barents seas, which would be a dead end for this plastic conveyor belt. Given the limited surface transport of the plastic that accumulated here and the mechanisms acting for the downward transport, the seafloor beneath this Arctic sector is hypothesized as an important sink of plastic debris.

Concepts: Earth, Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Ocean, Arctic Ocean, Arctic, Antarctica, Marine debris


Reproducible climate reconstructions of the Common Era (1 CE to present) are key to placing industrial-era warming into the context of natural climatic variability. Here we present a community-sourced database of temperature-sensitive proxy records from the PAGES2k initiative. The database gathers 692 records from 648 locations, including all continental regions and major ocean basins. The records are from trees, ice, sediment, corals, speleothems, documentary evidence, and other archives. They range in length from 50 to 2000 years, with a median of 547 years, while temporal resolution ranges from biweekly to centennial. Nearly half of the proxy time series are significantly correlated with HadCRUT4.2 surface temperature over the period 1850-2014. Global temperature composites show a remarkable degree of coherence between high- and low-resolution archives, with broadly similar patterns across archive types, terrestrial versus marine locations, and screening criteria. The database is suited to investigations of global and regional temperature variability over the Common Era, and is shared in the Linked Paleo Data (LiPD) format, including serializations in Matlab, R and Python.

Concepts: Ice, Climate, Weather, Climate change, Degrees of freedom, Ocean, Global warming, Latitude


The past was a world of giants, with abundant whales in the sea and large animals roaming the land. However, that world came to an end following massive late-Quaternary megafauna extinctions on land and widespread population reductions in great whale populations over the past few centuries. These losses are likely to have had important consequences for broad-scale nutrient cycling, because recent literature suggests that large animals disproportionately drive nutrient movement. We estimate that the capacity of animals to move nutrients away from concentration patches has decreased to about 8% of the preextinction value on land and about 5% of historic values in oceans. For phosphorus (P), a key nutrient, upward movement in the ocean by marine mammals is about 23% of its former capacity (previously about 340 million kg of P per year). Movements by seabirds and anadromous fish provide important transfer of nutrients from the sea to land, totalling ∼150 million kg of P per year globally in the past, a transfer that has declined to less than 4% of this value as a result of the decimation of seabird colonies and anadromous fish populations. We propose that in the past, marine mammals, seabirds, anadromous fish, and terrestrial animals likely formed an interlinked system recycling nutrients from the ocean depths to the continental interiors, with marine mammals moving nutrients from the deep sea to surface waters, seabirds and anadromous fish moving nutrients from the ocean to land, and large animals moving nutrients away from hotspots into the continental interior.

Concepts: Plant, Fish, Ecology, Oceanography, Ocean, Mariana Trench, Whale, Forage fish


Feeding strategies and predator-prey interactions of many deep-sea pelagic organisms are still unknown. This is also true for pelagic cephalopods, some of which are very abundant in oceanic ecosystems and which are known for their elaborate behaviors and central role in many foodwebs. We report on the first observations of the giant deep-sea octopus Haliphron atlanticus with prey. Using remotely operated vehicles, we saw these giant octopods holding medusae in their arms. One of the medusae could be identified as Phacellophora camtschatica (the egg-yolk jelly). Stomach content analysis confirmed predation on cnidarians and gelatinous organisms. The relationship between medusae and H. atlanticus is discussed, also in comparison with other species of the Argonautoidea, all of which have close relationships with gelatinous zooplankton.

Concepts: Predation, Ecology, Lotka–Volterra equation, Jellyfish, Ocean, Scyphozoa, Octopus, Seven-arm Octopus


The linking of North and South America by the Isthmus of Panama had major impacts on global climate, oceanic and atmospheric currents, and biodiversity, yet the timing of this critical event remains contentious. The Isthmus is traditionally understood to have fully closed by ca. 3.5 million years ago (Ma), and this date has been used as a benchmark for oceanographic, climatic, and evolutionary research, but recent evidence suggests a more complex geological formation. Here, we analyze both molecular and fossil data to evaluate the tempo of biotic exchange across the Americas in light of geological evidence. We demonstrate significant waves of dispersal of terrestrial organisms at approximately ca. 20 and 6 Ma and corresponding events separating marine organisms in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans at ca. 23 and 7 Ma. The direction of dispersal and their rates were symmetrical until the last ca. 6 Ma, when northern migration of South American lineages increased significantly. Variability among taxa in their timing of dispersal or vicariance across the Isthmus is not explained by the ecological factors tested in these analyses, including biome type, dispersal ability, and elevation preference. Migration was therefore not generally regulated by intrinsic traits but more likely reflects the presence of emergent terrain several millions of years earlier than commonly assumed. These results indicate that the dramatic biotic turnover associated with the Great American Biotic Interchange was a long and complex process that began as early as the Oligocene-Miocene transition.

Concepts: Biology, Ecology, Earth, Ecosystem, Pacific Ocean, South America, Ocean, Isthmus of Panama


Concentrations of floating plastic were measured throughout the Mediterranean Sea to assess whether this basin can be regarded as a great accumulation region of plastic debris. We found that the average density of plastic (1 item per 4 m2), as well as its frequency of occurrence (100% of the sites sampled), are comparable to the accumulation zones described for the five subtropical ocean gyres. Plastic debris in the Mediterranean surface waters was dominated by millimeter-sized fragments, but showed a higher proportion of large plastic objects than that present in oceanic gyres, reflecting the closer connection with pollution sources. The accumulation of floating plastic in the Mediterranean Sea (between 1,000 and 3,000 tons) is likely related to the high human pressure together with the hydrodynamics of this semi-enclosed basin, with outflow mainly occurring through a deep water layer. Given the biological richness and concentration of economic activities in the Mediterranean Sea, the affects of plastic pollution on marine and human life are expected to be particularly frequent in this plastic accumulation region.

Concepts: Water, Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic Ocean, Spain, Sea, France, Ocean, Marine debris


Wind turbines continuously remove kinetic energy from the lower troposphere, thereby reducing the wind speed near hub height. The rate of electricity generation in large wind farms containing multiple wind arrays is, therefore, constrained by the rate of kinetic energy replenishment from the atmosphere above. In recent years, a growing body of research argues that the rate of generated power is limited to around 1.5 W m(-2) within large wind farms. However, in this study, we show that considerably higher power generation rates may be sustainable over some open ocean areas. In particular, the North Atlantic is identified as a region where the downward transport of kinetic energy may sustain extraction rates of 6 W m(-2) and above over large areas in the annual mean. Furthermore, our results indicate that the surface heat flux from the oceans to the atmosphere may play an important role in creating regions where sustained high rates of downward transport of kinetic energy and thus, high rates of kinetic energy extraction may be geophysical possible. While no commercial-scale deep water wind farms yet exist, our results suggest that such technologies, if they became technically and economically feasible, could potentially provide civilization-scale power.

Concepts: Energy, Water, Atlantic Ocean, Ocean, Wind, Wind power, Wind farm, Wind turbine