By Emily Greenhalgh
Today, June 8, is World Oceans Day. Started in 1992 by the United Nations, World Oceans Day is for acknowledging and celebrating the role of the oceans in everyday life and inspiring action to preserve, protect, and sustainably use marine resources.
“Being tossed around in a storm in a small boat far from land can make the ocean seem vast, deep, and immensely more powerful than humans. But slowly, over the centuries, humans have changed the oceans in large and small ways,” says Anne Giblin, director of the MBL’s Ecosystems Center.
Oceans cover 71 percent of the planet’s surface. They moderate our climate and help regulate the water and carbon cycles of the planet. Healthy oceans are also crucial in limiting the effects of global warming. A blanket of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere traps heat and prevents it from escaping into space. Most of that excess atmospheric heat ends up in the ocean, which can absorb massive quantities of heat without a large increase in temperature. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the ocean absorbs more than 90 percent of excess heat from Earth’s system.
In order to protect the oceans, we must first understand them. Take a look at just some of the research revolving around oceans at the Marine Biological Laboratory:
Secrets of the Deep Sea
An estimated one-third of the Earth’s microbes are literally hidden, buried in sediments deep below the ocean floor. MBL scientist Emil Ruff and colleagues showed that these “deep biosphere” microbes aren’t staying put, but are bubbling up to the ocean floor along with fluids from buried petroleum reservoirs. These hitchhikers in petroleum seeps are diversifying the microbial community that thrives at the seafloor, impacting deep-sea processes, such as carbon cycling, that have global implications.
Cyanobacteria and Climate Change
Among the most abundant bacteria in the ocean are Synechococcus, which obtain their energy through photosynthesis. As such, they help moderate the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, one of the most abundant greenhouse gases. MBL Hibbitt Fellow Kristen Hunter-Cevera and her lab in the MBL’s Bay Paul Center are studying this important group of cyanobacteria as the climate warms.
Coastal Wetlands vs. Sea Level Rise
Although coastal wetlands cover only about 2 percent of the ocean surface, they are estimated to sequester more than half of the carbon captured by the ocean each year. And they fix carbon in their sediments at rates 10 to 100 times higher than forests. Research from MBL Ecosystems Center scientist Jianwu (Jim) Tang finds that even though sea level will continue to rise, coastal wetlands will keep up with climate change.
Cape Cod Corals
When you think corals, you probably think tropical. But we have our very own coral species here on Cape Cod. MBL scientist Loretta Roberson studies how organisms respond to human impacts on coastal marine systems. In a recent episode of our digital learning initiative—MBL SciShoots—Roberson talks all about the local cold-water coral species, Astrangia poculata, her research, and gives us a look at some underwater footage.
Understanding the Carbon Cycle
MBL Fellow Maureen Conte and her group are in charge of one of the longest-running ocean time-series experiment in the world—the Oceanic Flux Program, which started in 1978. Conte and her team study particle flux in the deep Sargasso Sea, spanning over forty years of continuous observations.
On the Frontline of Climate Change
For more than 40 years, MBL scientists have been on the frontline of research on Cape Cod and worldwide to understand how ecosystems function, respond to stress, and recover—or not. With a deep understanding of Cape Cod ecosystems borne from decades of research, MBL scientists are best positioned to predict and mitigate the impacts of climate change on the region.