Topic: Oceans

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Friendly Floatees

Toys Shipwrecks Oceans

Friendly Floatees are plastic bath toys marketed by The First Years, and made famous by the work of Curtis Ebbesmeyer, an oceanographer who models ocean currents on the basis of flotsam movements. Ebbesmeyer studied the movements of a consignment of 29,000 Friendly Floatees—yellow ducks, red beavers, blue turtles and green frogs—which were washed into the Pacific Ocean in 1992. Some of the toys landed along Pacific Ocean shores, such as Hawaii. Others traveled over 17,000 miles, floating over the site where the Titanic sank, and spent years frozen in Arctic ice to reach the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, British and Irish shores 15 years later in 2007.

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Indian Ocean garbage patch

Oceans Polymers

The Indian Ocean garbage patch, discovered in 2010, is a gyre of marine litter suspended in the upper water column of the central Indian Ocean, specifically the Indian Ocean Gyre, one of the five major oceanic gyres. The patch does not appear as a continuous debris field. As with other patches in each of the five oceanic gyres, the plastics in it break down to ever smaller particles, and to constituent polymers. As with the other patches, the field constitutes an elevated level of pelagic plastics, chemical sludge, and other debris; primarily particles that are invisible to the naked eye. The concentration of particle debris has been estimated to be approximately 10,000 particles per square kilometer.

A similar patch of floating plastic debris in the Pacific Ocean, the Great Pacific garbage patch, was predicted in 1985, and discovered in 1997 by Charles J. Moore as he passed through the North Pacific Gyre on his return from the Transpacific Yacht Race. The North Atlantic garbage patch was discovered in 2010.

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Whale fall

Cetaceans Mammals Oceans

A whale fall occurs when the carcass of a whale has fallen onto the ocean floor at a depth greater than 1,000 m (3,300 ft), in the bathyal or abyssal zones. On the sea floor, these carcasses can create complex localized ecosystems that supply sustenance to deep-sea organisms for decades. This is unlike in shallower waters, where a whale carcass will be consumed by scavengers over a relatively short period of time. Whale falls were first observed in the late 1970s with the development of deep-sea robotic exploration. Since then, several natural and experimental whale falls have been monitored through the use of observations from submersibles and remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROVs) in order to understand patterns of ecological succession on the deep seafloor.

Deep sea whale falls are thought to be hotspots of adaptive radiation for specialized fauna. Organisms that have been observed at deep-sea whale fall sites include giant isopods, squat lobsters, bristleworms, prawns, shrimp, lobsters, hagfish, Osedax, crabs, sea cucumbers, and sleeper sharks. In the past three years whale fall sites have come under scrutiny, and new species have been discovered, including potential whale fall specialists. It has been postulated that whale falls generate biodiversity by providing evolutionary stepping stones for multiple lineages to move and adapt to new environmentally-challenging habitats. Researchers estimate that 690,000 carcasses/skeletons of the nine largest whale species are in one of the four stages of succession at any one time. This estimate implies an average spacing of 12 km (7.5 mi) and as little as 5 km (3.1 mi) along migration routes. They hypothesize that this distance is short enough to allow larvae to disperse/migrate from one to another.

Whale falls are able to occur in the deep open ocean due to cold temperatures and high hydrostatic pressures. In the coastal ocean, a higher incidence of predators as well as warmer waters hasten the decomposition of whale carcasses. Carcasses may also float due to decompositional gases, keeping the carcass at the surface. The bodies of most great whales (baleen and sperm whales) are slightly denser than the surrounding seawater, and only become positively buoyant when the lungs are filled with air. When the lungs deflate, the whale carcasses can reach the seafloor quickly and relatively intact due to a lack of significant whale fall scavengers in the water column. Once in the deep-sea, cold temperatures slow decomposition rates, and high hydrostatic pressures increase gas solubility, allowing whale falls to remain intact and sink to even greater depths.

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Aral Sea

Central Asia Oceans Lakes Central Asia/Kazakhstan Central Asia/Uzbekistan

The Aral Sea ( ARR-əl; Kazakh: Арал теңізі, romanized: Aral teñızı; Uzbek: Орол денгизи, romanized: Orol dengizi; Karakalpak: Арал теңизи, romanized: Aral teńizi; Russian: Аральское море, romanized: Aral'skoye more) was an endorheic lake lying between Kazakhstan (Aktobe and Kyzylorda Regions) in the north and Uzbekistan (Karakalpakstan autonomous region) in the south which began shrinking in the 1960s and had largely dried up by the 2010s. The name roughly translates as "Sea of Islands", referring to over 1,100 islands that had dotted its waters. In the Mongolic and Turkic languages aral means "island, archipelago". The Aral Sea drainage basin encompasses Uzbekistan and parts of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, and Iran.

Formerly the fourth largest lake in the world with an area of 68,000 km2 (26,300 sq mi), the Aral Sea began shrinking in the 1960s after the rivers that fed it were diverted by Soviet irrigation projects. By 1997, it had declined to 10% of its original size, splitting into four lakes: the North Aral Sea, the eastern and western basins of the once far larger South Aral Sea, and the smaller intermediate Barsakelmes Lake.

By 2009, the southeastern lake had disappeared and the southwestern lake had retreated to a thin strip at the western edge of the former southern sea. In subsequent years occasional water flows have led to the southeastern lake sometimes being replenished to a small degree. Satellite images by NASA in August 2014 revealed that for the first time in modern history the eastern basin of the Aral Sea had completely dried up. The eastern basin is now called the Aralkum Desert.

In an ongoing effort in Kazakhstan to save and replenish the North Aral Sea, the Dike Kokaral dam was completed in 2005. By 2008, the water level had risen 12 m (39 ft) above that of 2003. Salinity has dropped, and fish are again present in sufficient numbers for some fishing to be viable. The maximum depth of the North Aral Sea was 42 m (138 ft) (as of 2008).

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called the shrinking of the Aral Sea "one of the planet's worst environmental disasters". The region's once-prosperous fishing industry has been devastated, bringing unemployment and economic hardship. The water from the diverted Syr Darya river is used to irrigate about two million hectares (5,000,000 acres) of farmland in the Ferghana Valley. The Aral Sea region is heavily polluted, with consequent serious public health problems. UNESCO has added historical documents concerning the Aral Sea to its Memory of the World Register as a resource to study the environmental tragedy.

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