A Changing Environment where the Sun Don’t Shine

Dr. John Bruno introduced me to NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch website last year.  It’s a online tool for tracking global sea surface temperature data in real-time. But, really, all you need is an affinity for color scales to find it useful. Reddish areas on the map mean corals beware; temperatures are unusually high. For sleep deprived master’s students, pretty colors are easier on the eyes that plotted regressions.

But what about temperatures, say, a quarter mile beneath the surface?  There are no user-friendly websites or pretty maps for tracking anomalous temperatures in deeper waters. Little light reaches to this depth and it is nearly impossible for satellites to gather data. Perhaps that’s why awareness of climate-induced changes in the mesopelagic environment is only recently gaining ground.

Last week, NPR’s Science Friday hosted Dr. William Gilly of Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Lab. His lab is investigating the recent population increase and geographic spread of the deep-water  Humbolt Squid up the California coast. This tropical jumbo-sized squid has even been spotted in Sitka, Alaska!

Why are there more and why are they moving? One theory suggests that their mesopelagic habitat is changing, and the squid are following new temperature and oxygen gradients. New science does conclude that oxygen levels off California are changing at about 1000m depth. But very little is known about how mesopelagic creatures are responding

The full NPR interview is worth a listen for those of you interested in new indicators of mesopelagic environmental change. The deep deserves attention, too.

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