Tag Archives: underwater

Researchers develop underwater WiFi

The technology could enable divers to send information to the surface reliably and quickly. It’s quite cheap, too.

Give me a Raspberry Pi and I’ll build anything. Credit: KAUST; Xavier Pita

The internet has become an indispensable tool, becoming essentially a human right. But while the internet has penetrated to some of the farthest corners of the world, there’s still one place it hasn’t yet reached: under water.

If you’re a diver or a marine researcher or explorer and want to send information from beneath the waves to the surface, you have three options: radio, acoustic and visible light signals. However, all these options come with significant drawbacks. For radio, data can only be carried over short distances, for acoustic the transmission speed is very slow, and for visible light, you need a clear path between the transmitter and receiver. If you wanted to have the best of all worlds, there was no possible option — until now.

A team of researchers has developed a system for transmitting wifi under water, using lasers and LEDs.

“People from both academia and industry want to monitor and explore underwater environments in detail,” explains the first author, Basem Shihada.

The system, called Aqua-Fi, does not require any additional underwater infrastructure as it can operate using self-contained batteries. It also uses standard communication protocols, which means that it can communicate with other systems with relative ease.

Aqua-Fi uses radio waves to send data from a diver’s smartphone to a “gateway” device — the Raspberry Pi, the classic single-board computer used in engineering projects all around the world. The device then sends the data via a light beam to a computer at the surface

The researchers tested the system by simultaneously uploading and downloading multimedia from computers a few meters apart. The maximum speed they achieved is 2.11 megabytes per second, with an average delay of only 1 millisecond for a round trip.

To make matters even better, the whole system is cheap and relatively easy to set up.

“We have created a relatively cheap and flexible way to connect underwater environments to the global internet,” says Shihada. “We hope that one day, Aqua-Fi will be as widely used underwater as WiFi is above water.”

“This is the first time anyone has used the internet underwater completely wirelessly,” says Shihada.

However, this is more a proof of concept than anything else. The system used basic electronic components, and researchers want to improve its quality using faster components. They also need to ensure that the light beam remains perfectly aligned with the receiver in moving waters.

So it will still be a while before Aqua-Fi becomes publicly available, but it’s getting there, the team concludes.

Journal Reference: Basem Shihada et al. Aqua-Fi: Delivering Internet Underwater Using Wireless Optical Networks, IEEE Communications Magazine (2020). DOI: 10.1109/MCOM.001.2000009

The iconic ‘Dumbo’ octopus stars in the deepest-ever octopus sighting

The adorable cephalopod has been photographed on the bottom of the Indian Ocean in the Java Trench, at around 7,000 meters of depth.

Image credits amieson, A.J., Vecchione, (2020), Mar Biol.

This is roughly 2 kilometres deeper than any previous reliable sighting of a cephalopod, the family that includes octopus and squids. Given that we now know how deep these animals can live — seemingly very comfortably, too — the findings “increase the potential benthic (ocean floor) habitat available to cephalopods from 75 to 99% of the global seafloor”.

The deep end

The researchers who spotted the boneless animal say it’s a species of “Dumbo” octopus, so named due to its distinctive side fins. Due to their size and shape, they’re very reminiscent of an elephant’s ears, most notably to those of Disney’s 1940s’ animated elephant Dumbo.

Still, spotting the octopus at this depth was no mean feat. Lead author Dr Alan Jamieson from the School of Natural and Environmental Sciences, Newcastle University is a pioneer of the use of “landers” for deep-sea exploration. These landers are crew-less craft, in essence large metal frames outfitted with various instruments that are dropped overboard and land on the seafloor. Once there, they observe their surroundings and record any passers-by.

And record they did. The lander picked up two octopuses, a 43-cm-long one at a depth of 5,760m and the other (35 cm) at 6,957m. Based on their physionomy, Dr. Jamieson and his co-author Michael Vecchione from the NOAA National Systematics Laboratory are confident that they belong to the Grimpoteuthis family, the group commonly known as the Dumbo octopuses.

God, it’s so cute.
Image credits amieson, A.J., Vecchione, (2020), Mar Biol.

Further down, the landers also spotted octopus fragments and eggs. The study provides the deepest-ever sightings of cephalopods. Previously, the deepest reliable sighting was a 50-year-old black-and-white photograph of one such animal taken at a depth of 5,145m.

For starters, it’s impressive that anything can live at such depths, where pressure is literally crushing.

“They’d have to do something clever inside their cells. If you imagine a cell is like a balloon — it’s going to want to collapse under pressure. So, it will need some smart biochemistry to make sure it retains that sphere,” Dr. Jamieson explained.

“All the adaptations you need to live at pressure are at the cellular level.”

Furthermore, it helps fill out our understanding of hoe octopuses live. The authors explain that the study shows that such animals can (potentially) live across 99% of the global seafloor, as the Java Trench is one of the deepest points on Earth.

The paper “First in situ observation of Cephalopoda at hadal depths (Octopoda: Opisthoteuthidae: Grimpoteuthis sp.)” has been published in the journal Marine Biology.

This algorithm lets you delete water from underwater photos

Image credits: Derya Akkaynak.

Underwater photography is not just for Instagram feeds — they are very important for biologists who monitor underwater ecosystem such as coral reefs. Coral reefs are some of the most colorful and vibrant environments on Earth, but like all underwater photos, photos of coral reefs tend to come out tainted by hues of blue and green. This makes it more difficult for researchers to identify species and traits of species from images, and makes monitoring considerably more difficult.

Now, there’s a solution for that: it’s called Sea-Thru.

Engineer and oceanographer Derya Akkaynak and her postdoctoral adviser, engineer Tali Treibitz, spent four years working to develop and improve an algorithm that would essentially “remove” the water from underwater photography.

The way the light is absorbed and scattered in water causes photos to be dim and overtaken by blue tones. Sea-thru removes the color cast and backscatter, leaving behind a crisp and clear image.

Image credits: Derya Akkaynak.

The method relies on taking multiple images of the same thing, from slightly different angles factoring in the physics of light absorption. Then, the algorithm produces a model of the photo, reversing the effects caused by the scattering and absorption.

“The Sea-thru method estimates backscatter using the dark pixels and their known range information,” the researchers describe the method in a working paper. “Then, it uses an estimate of the spatially varying illuminant to obtain the range-dependent attenuation coefficient. Using more than 1,100 images from two optically different water bodies, which we make available, we show that our method with the revised model outperforms those using the atmospheric model. “

The downside of this is that it requires quite a lot of images, and therefore, large datasets. Thankfully, many scientists are already capturing images this way using a process called photogrammetry (a technique that uses photographs to make certain measurements). Sea-Thru will readily work with photogrammetry images, Akkaynak says, which already raises intriguing prospects.

Results on different processing methods. Image credits: Derya Akkaynak.

This method is not akin to image manipulation — it’s not photoshopping or image manipulation. The colors are not enhanced or modified, it’s a physical correction rather than a visually pleasing modification, says Akkaynak.

Although the algorithm was only recently announced, it’s already causing quite a stir due to its potential. Any tool that can help scientists better understand the oceans, particularly at this extremely delicate time, can’t come sooner enough.

“Sea-thru is a significant step towards opening up large underwater datasets to powerful computer vision and machine learning algorithms, and will help boost underwater research at a time when our oceans are increasing stress from pollution, overfishing, and climate change,” the researchers conclude.

Underwater volcanoes can produce stadium-sized bubbles

An underwater volcano off the coast of Alaska has erupted more than 70 times over 9 months, producing a distinctive grumble before each eruption. The volcano also belched ungodly large gas bubbles.

Map of Bogoslof Volcano and two satellite images of the partially submerged summit and crater during the eruption. Image credits: Lyons et al / Nature.

Shallow submarine volcanoes are difficult to study as they are often remote; this can make data acquisition difficult and costly. The interaction between magma and surface water is also complex. It can create violent explosions, but because these interactions are so inaccessible, researchers don’t really understand the entire process. Furthermore, these explosions can also pose risks to nearby ships and planes.

To better understand these processes, researchers installed low-frequency microphones around the Bogoslof volcano to better study this interaction — of course, they couldn’t install the microphones right next to the volcano, so they installed them 59 kilometers to the south.

| Infrasound signals from an explosive eruption of Bogoslof on 13 June 2017. Image credits: Lyons et al / Nature.

The volcano has been known for a long time. Its peak forms Bogoslof Island, an uninhabited island that barely rises above the water surface (but which hosts a thriving seal colony). The first known emergence of the island above sea level was recorded during an underwater eruption in 1796, and since then, the volcano has been steadily adding more surface to the island through new eruptions. The volcano’s eruptive belches have also been documented.

In July 1908, a medium-sized cutter called Albatross was cruising around the island when the sea began to swell. The account of this event reports that the sea bulged and bulged until it ruptured, releasing a terrifying plume of gas and steam. It was a dazzling display that few humans have witnessed, and it’s exactly what researchers wanted to study with the microphones: how big do these bubbles really get?

Schematic depiction of how a bubble forms around a submerged eruption — it all starts with gases coming inside the magma and ends with a bubble collapse. At some point, the bubble reaches its maximum radius; that’s when the pressure is lowest. Image credits: Lyons et al / Nature.

Shallow submerged explosions are often described as beginning with a swelling of the water surface, but these descriptions are qualitative in nature (“giant”, “huge”), not quantitative; researchers wanted to put some numbers on those adjectives but obviously, hanging around a volcano and waiting for it to erupt is not exactly a safe idea. Previous research has shown that smaller bubbles produce infrasound when they oscillate, and their size can be calculated based on these oscillations. This is where the microphones kicked in — they picked up the infrasound and based on this, enabled the researchers to calculate how big the bubbles were without actually seeing them.

You can actually hear the bubbles below. The audio has been adjusted for human ears and sped up 300x. Each of the spikes is a signal from a separate bubble.

via Wired.

According to the calculations, volcanic bubbles reached up to 750 feet (228 meters) across, with a volume of over 180 million cubic feet (5 million cubic meters) of gas. The size of the bubble depended on the radius of the crater and the depth at which the bubbles form.

“The range of initial bubble radii thus varies from the vent radius, 25m, to 200m, or slightly smaller than the approximate radius of the crater area around the time of the observed signals. In our model, large bubbles most probably formed at or near the vent in the base of the shallow submerged crater and thus the height of the submerged portion of the bubble is controlled by the depth of the water,” the study concludes.

The study has been published in Nature Geoscience.

underwater cave

Longest underwater cave in the world found in Mexico

Not far from the beach resort of Tulum, Mexico, lies a cave system called Sac Actun — this may be the largest flooded cave in the world. The discovery was made by a team of divers who found a connection between two underwater caverns in eastern Mexico.

underwater cave

Credit: GAM.

Previously, Sac Actun was measured at 263 km but now, researchers working with the Gran Acuifero Maya (GAM) — a project concerned with preserving subterranean waters in the Yucatan peninsula — say the cave system communicates with the 83-km-long Dos Ojos system. This would make the entire system a unitary 347-km-long (216-mile) cave.

The connection between the two cave systems was identified after speleologists spent months navigating the intricate maze of underwater channels.

Like the vast majority of the planet’s cave systems, Sac Actun lies in limestone rocks. This karst setting occurs when acidic water starts to break down the surface of bedrock, causing cracks and fissures. In time, these fissures start getting bigger and bigger, until they create sinkholes or caves. It’s amazing to think about it, but these incredible features were created by groundwater. Since in the Yucatan area, where the Sac Actun system is located, groundwater is portrayed as flowing in underground rivers, caves also tend to be quite lengthy.

Map of the connection area between Nohoch Nah Chich and Dos Ojos regions. Cartography by Peter Sprouse.

GAM researchers underscore the importance of the finding in relation to the cultural heritage of the Maya civilization that dominated the area before the Spanish conquest.

underwater-cave-mexico

Credit: GAM.

Many people are aware of the famous Mayan pyramids and other cultural landmarks. It’s a lesser known fact that the Mayan cities in which these relics were built drew upon an extensive network of sinkholes linked to subterranean waters known as cenotes. Some of these cenotes are known to have acquired a religious significance to the Maya, as well as their descendants.

“It allows us to appreciate much more clearly how the rituals, the pilgrimage sites and ultimately the great pre-Hispanic settlements that we know emerged,” Guillermo de Anda, director and underwater archaeologist on the Gran Acuifero Maya team, told Reuters.

The auxiliary cutter.

First deep-sea mining operation scheduled to start in 2019 — here are the bots that will do it

Canadian-based firm Nautilus Minerals Inc. plans to launch the world’s first deep sea mining operation in early 2019. The company will launch three remote-controlled mining robots off the coast of Papua New Guinea to the floor of the Bismark Sea to mine rich metal deposits.

Each of the robots is the size of a small house and equipped with huge rock-crushing, teeth-riddled devices to chew through the ocean’s bottom. The smallest one weighs 200 tons and they will be propelled from spot to spot on huge threads in their search for paydirt.

The auxiliary cutter.

The first bot, known as the auxiliary cutter, clears the way for the other two to operate.
Image credits Nautilius Minerals Inc.

“A lot of people don’t realize that there are more mineral resources on the seafloor than on land,” Michael Johnston, CEO of Nautilus,  said for Seeker. “Technology has allowed us to go there.”

Pressed by looming shortages on one hand and the prospect of lucrative exploitations on the other, companies and governing bodies have started joining hands to bring sea-bed mining into the picture. To date, over twenty exploration contracts have been issued by the International Seabed Authority (ISA), a part of the UN tasked with regulating areas of the seafloor that lie outside of any national jurisdiction.

“In the seabed, resources are incredibly rich,” said Michael Lodge, Secretary-General of the ISA. “These are virgin resources. They’re extremely high-grade. And they are super-abundant.”

We’ve recently talked about how current levels of mining exploration and exploitation just won’t be able to supply future demand. As populations grow and economies develop, current raw material exploitations will need new additions to satisfy that extra demand. There’s also the need to create a strong mining base to support the development of low-carbon economies — which rely on technology materials that are in short supply currently.

Seabed mining offers an attractive solution to this problem: untouched resources just waiting to be taken in the form of massive sulfide deposits of copper, nickel, cobalt, gold, and platinum.

“It’s no exaggeration to say that there are thousands of years’ supply of minerals in the seabed,” Secretary-General Lodge said. “There is just absolutely no shortage.”

The Auxiliary Cutter.

The Auxiliary Cutter removes rough terrain and creates benches for the other machines to work on.
Image credits Nautilius Minerals Inc.

Nautilius says that early tests in the Bismark Sea site, have shown the area is over 10-times as rich in copper as comparable land-based mines, and has more than three times the concentration of gold than the average figure of land exploitations. These fantastic numbers generally come down to the fact that surface resources have been thoroughly explored and long exploited, meaning that the richest deposits on land aren’t around anymore — they’re now cars, or copper wires, or planes. So by comparison, the deposits locked on the sea floor look like a cornucopia of resources just waiting to be harvested.

And I’m all for that. Considering the need, it may not be a question of ‘do we want to exploit the sea floor’ but rather one of ‘how are we going to make it if we don’t?’ That being said, we’ve had a lot of time and opportunities up here on dry land to see what rampant exploitation without care for the places being exploited leads to. As the idea of seabed mining comes closer to reality, we should really think about what the consequences of our actions would be — and how not to make a mess down there as we did topside. Some think that we’re better off just banning the practice altogether.

“There are too many unknowns for this industry to go ahead,” said Natalie Lowrey of the Australia-based Deep Sea Mining Campaign. “We’ve already desecrated a lot of our lands. We don’t need to be doing that in the deep sea.”

“There’s a serious concern that the toxicity from disturbing the deep sea can move up the food chain to the local communities [who live along the coast of Papua New Guinea].”

The Collecting Machine.

The Collecting Machine gathers cut material by drawing it in as seawater slurry with internal pumps and pushing it through a flexible pipe to the riser and lifting system.
Image credits Nautilus Minerals Inc.

One of her main concerns is that plumes of sediment stirred up during mining operations will travel along sea currents and interfere with ocean ecosystems. The clouds of silt could prove harmful to filter-feeders which often form the lower brackets of food chains — so a hit here would impact all other sea creatures.

Michael Johnston said that the company is taking the sediment plume issue seriously and have designed their equipment to minimize any undersea clouding generated by the collection procedure.

“When we’re cutting, we have suction turned on,” he said. “It’s not like we’re blowing stuff all over the place. We’re actually sucking it up. So the plume gets minimized through the mining process.”

“We go to great efforts to minimize the impact of the plumes. We’re quite confident that the impact from these activities will be significantly less than some of these people claim.”

Still, going forward we should primarily be concerned with not messing stuff up that much — because as we’ve seen, there’s no such thing as a free meal. We’ll have to wait and see how it all develops. In the meantime, one thing is certain.

“If Nautilus goes ahead, it’s going to open the gateway for this industry,” Lowrey concludes.

Squished-booms: looking at the behavior of underwater explosions

Some things go boom, others don’t. The first category is definitely more fun.

Other things go boom in unusual places — these are arguably the best.
Image via Youtube / Slow Mo Guys.

A material explodes when it increases in volume rapidly and releases a lot of energy. The most usual energy storage used to create explosives is of the chemical kind, but explosives can be created using atomic, electrical, or mechanical sources. The characteristic boom or bang of an explosion is how your ears pick up on the “changing volume” part of the explosion, the shockwave. This is the force that lends explosions their destructive nature. The biggest part of an explosive’s energy is expended as light, heat, and work.

Not all explosions are made the same. The medium in which detonation takes place has a huge influence on the way the explosion and its shockwaves behave. And, while surface explosions are pretty ubiquitous in movies, underwater explosions aren’t — which is a shame, because they’re really pretty.

So let’s watch some

First thing first: explosions are inherently hard to enjoy properly — they’re ephemeral, gone in a flash of the eye.

That is, unless you film it thousands of times faster than the eye can see, which is exactly what the Slow Mo Guys did. They took a firecracker, set it alight, then submerged it in a fish tank to blow up — all under the watchful lens of a 120.000 fps high-speed camera. The resulting reel slows the detonations down enough for us to observe some basic principles of underwater explosions. I’ve taken the explosions and turned them into gifs below, but the whole video is pretty good and you should watch it.

Here are the firecrackers exploding.

Image via Youtube / Slow Mo Guys.

Underwater detonations spread out in the begging, creating a hollow sphere inside the liquid. This soon collapses in on itself, as water rushes to fill the gap.

Image via Youtube / Slow Mo Guys.

This happens for two reasons. One, water is much denser than air, so it’s a lot harder to push around. Then there’s the fact that water, unlike air, can’t be compressed. This is the same property that underpins hydraulic systems (incompressibility) and because of it, the firecracker has to act on the fluid as a whole. In essence, this means that it has to perform work on a much denser, much larger medium. This property is also used by SWAT teams and military personnel to breach doors in the form of water impulse charges — water here is used to direct the force of the blast evenly onto a surface.

A firecracker set off in normal conditions can propel gas and fragments a few meters away, but underwater the explosion has enough energy to expand only a few centimeters across.

In this gif, the detonation took place closer to the water’s surface and you can actually see the liquid pouring in on the collapsing bubble.

Image credits Youtube / Slow Mo Lab.

Apart from this shot, the video itself doesn’t add that much from the one above (the guy shooting it does have a necktie though). You can see it here.

The shockwaves

The gases released during detonation are then squashed by the liquid’s weight. This compression-explosion interplay can become quite lively, as the water compresses the gas as far as it can, then gets pushed back, and repeat. The collapse of the hollow bubble generates the first shock wave. Secondary shock waves are created as gas and water wrestle.

TheBackyardScientist can help explain with his liquid nitrogen bomb. He only shot with a 240 fps camera, so you can’t actually see the liquid being pushed during the explosion — but you can see the awesome gas-water play after it.

Here are some highlights.

Wub dub dub dub.
Image via Youtube / TheBackyardScientist.

Wub dub dub dub, the sequel.
Image via Youtube / TheBackyardScientist.

TBS conveniently placed some balloons around the point of detonation, to pick up on the shockwaves’ motions. As you can see, there’s a lot of motion going on throughout the fluid as the gas gets compressed then expands.

The surface

So this one will feature a nuke ’cause its the last part — why not go big?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qDMUekfOR-E

As you can see, the highest point the water is thrown upwards lies directly above the point of detonation — the center point of the shockwave. If you pause the video or look at the thumbnail image you’ll see that the shape of the column of water being pushed upwards follows an exponential curve — not the round shape we saw in the bubbles.

 

Underwater maintenance robot-snakes look scary but are actually quite cool

Eelume  developed a snake-like robot for underwater maintenance tasks. The deceptively simple robots could drastically reduce operating costs for deep sea rigs.

Image via youtube

Remember “Terminator”? Or that diamond of modern cinema, “Snakes on a Plane”? Both terrifying in very different ways. Now scientists, not content to be one-upped by mere movies, mixed the two together into a whole new blood curling package — underwater robot snakes.

Admittedly they’re not out to hurt anyone. In fact, they’re here to help: the Eelume bots were developed to maintain underwater equipment in working order, an otherwise very pricey task. They will be permanently deployed on the seabed, where they will tend to gear that is difficult and expensive to reach for human personnel.

The robot is designed with this snake-like form so it can slither in and around underwater rigs to clean and perform quick visual inspections. The robot’s head can clamp down on small components so it can perform tasks such as adjusting valves, for example.

Eelume, the company behind this project, is a spin-off company out of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). It collaborated with oil and gas company Statoil and Norway’s Kongsberg Maritime in developing the robot. The latter — with over 25 years experience, including operating the robot that captured the Sherlock Holmes movie model of the Loch Ness monster last week — lent its underwater robot know-how to the project, while Statoil provided real-life installations for testing.

The developers hope that the robot snakes can take over the bulk of subsea inspection tasks, drastically reducing the need for costly vessels. Eelume stated that the bots can be permanently deployed to both new and existing underwater systems, where they will serve as a “self-going janitor on the seabed.”

The videos below show how the snakebot swims, both with thrusters attached and just with slithering motions. For now, they require a cable connection to a surface power supply, but this is presumably for test purposes only.

Huh, they’re actually quite awesome. Can I have one as a pet?

Story source Kongsberg.

Underwater Stonehenge-Like Monolith Found Off the Coast of Sicily

Archaeologists have uncovered an enigmatic monolith deep off the coast of Sicily, Italy. The 15 tonne Stonehenge-like monolith is at least 10,000 year old and may shed new light on ancient Mediterranean civilizations.

Underwater composite photographs taken from divers, showing the discovered monolith and some details.(Lodolo et al/Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports)

Archaeologists were stunned to find the huge monolith, but they explain that there’s no way this is a natural phenomenon/process – these are clearly the remains of man-made activity.

“There are no reasonable known natural processes that may produce these elements,” Zvi Ben-Avraham, from the Department of Earth Sciences at Tel Aviv University, and Emanuele Lodolo, from the National Institute of Oceanography and Experimental Geophysics in Trieste, Italy, wrote in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Now broken into two parts, the monolith has a regular shape and features three holes going right through the middle. But its sheer size and weight make it impressive – sculpting, moving and installing it was a monumental effort for the time.

“The monolith found, made of a single, large block, required a cutting, extraction, transportation and installation, which undoubtedly reveals important technical skills and great engineering. The belief that our ancestors lacked the knowledge, skill and technology to exploit marine resources or make sea crossings, must be progressively abandoned.” This shows just how motivated and capable humans were 10,000 years ago. “The recent findings of submerged archaeology have definitively removed the idea of ‘technological primitivism’ often attributed to hunter-gatherers coastal settlers.”

But how did this remarkable monument get to the bottom of the sea?

Well, 10,000 years ago, the coasts of Italy looked significantly different than they do today. The monolith was found in what was once an island in the Sicilian Channel. As the Ice Age reached its end, temperatures rose and so did sea levels. The entire Mediterranean basin changed its appearance.

“The Sicilian Channel is one of the shallow shelves of the central Mediterranean region where the consequences of changing sea-level were most dramatic and intense,” the researchers wrote.

Slowly but surely, parts of the island were flooded, until the entire island became submerged.

“The gradual increase of the sea level caused the flooding of most of the peninsula, with the exception of some morphological highs that, until at least the Early Holocene, formed an archipelago of several islands separated by stretches of extremely shallow sea,” the researchers said.

It’s not clear if the monolith had any structure or if it was parte of a larger complex. It seems quite likely that even more important discoveries await discovery at the bottom of the sea.

“Almost everything that we do know about prehistoric cultures derives from settlements that are now on land. On the contrary, an extensive archaeological record of early settlings lies on the sea-floor of our continental shelves,” Lodolo said. “If we want to trace the origins of civilization in the Mediterranean region, we must focus on the now-submerged shelf areas,” he added.

 

Oldest most complete skeleton found in the New World

In what is quite an exciting study, a mixed team of researchers and cave divers announced the discovery of a near-complete early American human skeleton with an intact cranium and preserved DNA.

Credit: Paul Nicklen/National Geographic.

Over 40 meters (130 feet) below sea level, in the Hoyo Negro area in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, there lies an intricate cave system which was once above the sea. There, the divers found not only the bones from a teenage female, but also bones from extinct animals.

“These discoveries are extremely significant,” said Pilar Luna, INAH’s director of underwater archaeology. “Not only do they shed light on the origins of modern Americans, they clearly demonstrate the paleontological potential of the Yucatán Peninsula and the importance of conserving Mexico’s unique heritage.”

Indeed, the discoveries are significant on many levels. First of all, finding paleontological and anthropological remains in underwater caves is always quite interesting – definitely not something you do every day. Second of all, this is the first time researchers have been able to match a skeleton with an early American (or Paleoamerican) skull and facial characteristics with DNA linked to the hunter-gatherers which inhabited Asia some 20.000 years ago (they started to move towards the Americas some 17.000 years ago). This is also one of the oldest skeletons ever found in the Americas, and it is clearly the most complete skeleton older than 12,000 years, including preserved DNA and almost all the body parts

According to the paper’s lead author, James Chatters of Applied Paleoscience:

“This expedition produced some of the most compelling evidence to date of a link between Paleoamericans, the first people to inhabit the Americas after the most recent ice age, and modern Native Americans. What this suggests is that the differences between the two are the result of in situ evolution rather than separate migrations from distinct Old World homelands.”

The conditions in which the findings were made were extremely difficult, which is why archaeologists and anthropologists had to collaborate with professional divers in what is a laudable multidisciplinary work. The effort made by the divers is complex and difficult as the one made by researchers.

Alberto Nava with Bay Area Underwater Explorers explains:

“We had no idea what we might find when we initially entered the cave, which is the allure of cave diving,” said Nava. “Needless to say, I am incredibly proud to be part of the efforts to share Hoyo Negro’s story with the world.”

 

Underwater… lakes !

underwater-lake-1

The lake floor, composed mostly of mussels

Boy I’ve gotta tell you, my jaw really dropped when I heard this one. There are actual lakes, on the bottom of oceans, especially in the Gulf of Mexico region; they’ve got their own shores and all. The brine water of these lakes actually hosts unique wildlife, creating an absolutely amazing environment. The fact that these are brine water means that they have an extremely high salinity, way more than the rest of the ocean, which means of course they are heavier, which is why they stick to the bottom.

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Think about the very bottom of the ocean, below the waves, below the light. What’s the first thing that comes to mind ? For me, it’s a cold dark environment filled with weird squids and fish with sharp teeth. I’m guessing your first picture is (and probably should be) something else, but it most definitely wouldn’t be an underwater lake ! I didn’t even know such a thing existed until recently. I’m telling you, you really REALLY should look at these videos


These lakes are located in brine pools, which formed during the Jurassic period. During that period, the shallow lakes from the Gulf of Mexico dried out, as a result of tectonic movements in a salt-rich area and perhaps the overall heat in the Jurassic period (it was so hot there were no polar caps). Later on, the 8 km saline layer was covered with sediments and preserved, becoming an underwater lake.

Of course such extreme amounts of salt make it almost impossible to live there, but as (almost) always, some extremophiles will adapt to the extreme conditions. Such is the case with some bacteria, shrimp or mollusks that managed to find a way to survive off of the methane, which is quite abundant in the area. The bacteria get the necessary energy from it through a process called chemosynthesis and then pass it on through symbiosis, which means they rely only on chemical energy instead of solar energy, like the other ecosystems on Earth.

4 hottest volcano events of 2009

Boy 2009 passed quite quickly, but it didn’t go without a blast, that’s for sure ! I’m gonna show you some really amazing stuff that happened during 2009, most of which you probably have no idea of, and this is the first one from that series.

4th place (honorable mention): Mayon, Philippines

Photo by C.G. Newhall.

It may have happened just a week ago, but it was spectacular nonetheless. Mayon has been keeping everybody on their toes, despite not technically erupting: 50.000 people have been evacuated because of lava fountains flowing freely downhill, and geologists reported they expect a major boom during 2010.

Photo by Tryfon Topalidis.

The sights it created may be absolutely stunning, but trust me, Mayon is not the place you want to be the following year.

 

3rd place: Redoubt, Alaska

Photo by R. Clucas.

Since the beginning of the year, Redoubt had us wondering; it seemed certain it will make a boom, and the only question was how big it will be. Well, it wasn’t that big really, but any volcanic eruption (especially in the US) is definitively an event. It was also what you can call the first “digital” eruption, with updates being constantly posted on twitter, among other channels.

2nd place: Underwater eruptions, Tonga

The underwater eruptions were absolutely amazing, and good thing is no people were threatened by them.

 

1st place: Sarychev peak, Russia

Photo by The High Fin Sperm Whale.

Yep, it’s old Mother Russia that gets this award, though I’m not sure it’s one you’d be happy to receive. It was big enough to be seen from the ISS, and they took some stunning pictures. The eruption absolutely stunned all flights above the Pacific over the Kuril islands for weeks and despite taking place practically in the middle of nowhere, everybody (well, that’s an exaggeration really) got a good look at it.

17650 Species that have never seen sunlight

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The researchers from the Census of Marine Wildlife have accomplished a truly amazing task; they have inventoried a fantastic abundance of marine species, more specifically deep sea species that live below the point where sunlight can penetrate the water, creatures that live more than 5 km below sea level, in a cold and dark environment.

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In order to do this, they used the best science has to offer (deep-towed cameras, sonars and other such technologies), and they found a really surprising variety of species that thrive there, adapting to the extreme environment. A significant part of them has adapted to a meager diet based on droppings from the sun penetrated layers above, some eat bacteria, while others feast on sunken whale bones and other such things you wouldn’t believe are eatable. Just in case you’re wondering how many species they counted, here’s the figure: 17650 (that live below 200m, where light virtually stops existing).

“Abundance is mostly a function of available food and decreases rapidly with depth,” says Robert S. Carney of Louisiana State University, co-leader (with Myriam Sibuet of France) of the Census project COMARGE, studying life along the world’s continental margins. The continental margins are where we find the transition from abundant food made by photosynthesis to darkened poverty. The transitions display the intriguing adaptations and survival strategies of amazing species,” says Dr. Carney.

According to the census, in order for live to thrive at these depths, it requires at least one of the following:
* Swift current, which increases an animal’s chance of encountering food;
* Long-lived animals, populations of which grow numerous even on a meager diet;
* Abundant food in higher layers that either settles to the depths or to which deep animals can migrate;
* An alternative to photosynthesis of food, such as chemosynthetic production.

“In the bathy- and mesopelagic zones – the largest 3D deep-sea living space – animals either have to cope somehow with food scarcity or migrate long distances up to find food,” says MAR-ECO project leader Odd Aksel Bergstad of University of Bergen. “Because it provides an oasis of topographical relief in the center of the ocean, we found a high concentration of animals on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Distribution is pretty straightforward for animals in the deep sea,” says Dr. Carney. “The composition of faunal populations changes with depth, likely a consequence of physiology, ecology and the suitability of seafloor habitat condition for certain animals. Diversity is harder to understand. Although the mud on the deep sea floor appears monotonous and poor in food, that monotonous mud has a maximum of species diversity on the lower continental margin. To survive in the deep, animals must find and exploit meager or novel resources, and their great diversity in the deep reflects how many ways there are to adapt.”

I’ll come back with some more details and a post on the most amazing species that live deep in the oceans, so if you have any questions or tips about that, don’t hesitate to contact.

39 unbelievable underwater pictures that will blow your mind

First of all, I don’t know for sure if any of these are shopped or tampered in any way; underwater photography is really peculiar and has its own ways of manipulating light and perspective. But let’s not worry about that for the moment. Let’s just sit back, relax, and enjoy our planet’s wonderful waters.

Image by Open Stax College

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Photo by Gabriel Barathieu.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Photo by SuNeko

Photo by SuNeko

Photo by Pseudopanax.

Photo by Steve Jurvetson.

Photo by Steve Jurvetson.

Photo by Hodgers.

Photo by Fascinating Universe

 

 

 

 

All photos CC BY 3.0 or CC0

Spectacular underwater volcano eruption near Tonga

Near Tonga’s capital Nuku’alofa, an underwater volcano has been shooting smoke, ash, steam, etc for thousands of feet, and the good thing is the islanders are not threatened by this. Still, it remains such a spectacular phenomenon that scientists just had to inspect it and make a photo shoot. Tonga is one of the most geologically active places in the world

Deep Sea Discoveries

dumbo octopusLife emerged and evolved initially in the water – every creature we see today stems from creatures who initially evolved underwater. But even after so much time, there there are many things don’t understand about marine ecosystems, and to be quite honest, the ecosystems we probably know least about are underwater.

Researchers from Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Memorial University of Newfoundland joined their forces and they made a survey of unexplored depths of the Atlantic Ocean for three weeks; they surveyed deep water animal life off the coasts of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland using an underwater robot known as ROPOS (Remotely Operated Platform for Ocean Science) and their focus represented by the corals. The results were weird in a good way. The life in these waters is more diverse than they believed.

They made over 3,000 high quality photographs that displayed this diversity, including an octopus with large fins near its eyes, known as “Dumbo,” a potentially new species of scallop and an organism which was believed not to be found there. This organism is made out of a single cell.

The results were so good that they are going to make another survey next year at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Dartmouth. The focus of that is going to be how the newly discovered species fit in the food chain and how they affect it. Findings are very important for biology and medicine, possibly providing valuable medicines.