The ocean is always shining.
The Greeks and Romans were aware of glowing sea creatures as well as the more general phenomenon that seawater could light up blue.
Charles Darwin, while sailing near South America one dark night aboard the HMS Beagle, encountered luminescent waves. He called it “a most wonderful and beautiful sight”. As far as the naked eye can see, he adds, “the crest of every wave is bright” – so much so that “a bright flame” lights up the sky.
Now, scientists report that bioluminescence in the ocean can be so powerful and large-scale that satellites orbiting five hundred miles up can see microbial mats of light when They appear at sea. Last month in the journal Scientific Reports, eight investigators talked about finding a bright patch south of Java in 2019, larger than the combined regions of Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut.
“It was an epiphany,” said Steven D. Miller, lead author of the bioluminescence study and a satellite observer at Colorado State University. When a hidden wonder of nature comes to light, he adds, “it captures your imagination.”
The scientists say a close examination of images collected between December 2012 and March 2021 from a pair of satellites allowed them to identify dozens of extremely large events – about once every Eight months. Even the smallest one is a hundred times bigger than Manhattan.
This image is opening a new window on the world’s oceans, scientists say, and promises to aid the tracking and study of luminous seas whose origins are still unknown. clear.
Kenneth H. Nealson, a pioneer in bioluminescence research at the University of Southern California, called the discovery “a huge step forward in understanding how the “long-standing mystery of the sea” actually came to be. “.
The new paper notes that the high concentrations of live lamps have long “evaded rigorous scientific investigation, and therefore little is known about their composition, mechanism of formation, and role in the ecosystem.” sea Thai.”
Bioluminescence in the sea is often associated with creepy creatures on the deep sea floor. An iconic spotlight is the anglerfish, which hangs bright baits in front of needle-like teeth. In contrast, the glowing sea seems to originate when trillions of tiny bacteria glow together.
Dr. Nealson, who was not involved in the satellite study, and colleagues reported in 1970 that a dilute suspension of a particular bacterium does not emit light. However, if allowed to multiply, microorganisms can suddenly light up as if a switch has been thrown. Scientists now theorize that these glittering clumps of bacteria attract fish, whose guts provide a nutritious habitat.
Dr. Miller’s trail of discovery began nearly two decades ago when a lunchtime conversation raised questions about whether marine bioluminescence was visible from space. While working at the US Naval Research Laboratory in Monterey, California, in 2004, he began examining images from a weather satellite. Before long, he discovered in the northwestern Indian Ocean what turned out to be a bright patch about the size of Connecticut.
The blur is barely visible, but Dr. Miller and his colleagues are quite excited because they know that a new generation of satellite sensors will soon provide much higher sensitivity and sharpness. The innovative sensors debuted on a pair of satellites launched by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2011 and 2017.
The sensitive detectors proved adept – at least on dark nights – at capturing the glimmers of light from the sea and providing images for the present report.
One surprise, Dr. Miller said, was that the events turned out to be long-lived. For example, the major patch on Java in 2019 lasted at least 45 nights. That raises the possibility that a rapid response team of oceanographers may have enough time to access patches and samples for detailed studies.
So far, Dr. Miller said, no research team has been successful. He added that television companies making nature documentaries have shown an interest in using satellite detectors to track and film sparkling seas.
Peter Herring, a British marine biologist known for his work on deep bioluminescence, calls the satellite work important because, after periods of uncertainty, it has increased the development of The last hope provided real proof of the power of glowing vortices.
The finding, he added, “is a large array and will have significant ripples.”