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Executive Summary for January 5th

In our weekly news summary, we report on the Trump administration’s unprecedented offshore drilling proposal, a new historic temperature record of the global ocean and a project that aims to help scale-up coral restoration efforts.

Published on Jan. 5, 2018 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Trump Offshore Drilling Proposal Sparks Bipartisan Opposition

The outcry was swift on Thursday when the Trump administration announced an unprecedented proposal to open more than 90 percent of United States’ outer continental shelf to offshore oil and gas leasing, including areas long off-limits on the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic coasts, as well as the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and other officials cited the need to achieve American “energy dominance.

The proposal, cheered by the fossil fuel industry, prompted immediate bipartisan opposition from governors and members of Congress in California, Florida, Maryland, New Jersey and other states that have long opposed drilling because of the risk that oil spills could wipe billions of dollars from their coastal economies. There haven’t been lease sales off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts since the early 1980s. The Ocean Conservancy and other environmental groups also said drilling in remote and sensitive areas, such as northern Alaska, “would be virtually impossible to clean up” and questioned the administration’s authority to so quickly reverse Obama’s moratorium on drilling in the Arctic Ocean.

The Surfrider Foundation said it would be necessary to mobilize national opposition, as environmental groups did in response to the Obama administration’s more limited consideration of drilling in parts of the Atlantic and Arctic that was ultimately scrapped. A 2016 Pew Research Center survey found that 52 percent of all Americans opposed offshore drilling, while 45 percent were in support.

The Interior Department’s noted its proposal is the first step in a multi-year process involving public comments and hearings.

How the Ocean Once Warmed

A new study, published in Nature this week, provides the most accurate record yet of rising global ocean temperatures at the end of the last Ice Age, a finding that could help climate scientists model today’s warming conditions.

Led by researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the authors used a novel technique for measuring historic ocean temperatures that relied on measuring air bubbles deep in the ice of Antarctica. The concentration of certain gases in the bubbles could be directly linked to the global average ocean temperatures at the time the bubbles were trapped. The results, wrote Rachel R. Radley, a chemist at Wellesley College not involved in the study, give unprecedented accuracy and temporal resolution (to within 250 years) to the ocean temperature record from 20,000 to 10,000 years ago.

That record reveals that the ocean warmed about 2.6C between the last glacial period and a few hundred years ago (before the industrial era), closely linked to warming in the Southern Hemisphere. That number will help improve models that aim to predict future climate change. The study also presents a mystery: why the ocean seems to have warmed faster than the atmosphere during a key period known as the Younger Dryas, about 12,000 years ago.

Coral Sewing Kit

As the pace of destruction of coral reef ecosystems increases, researchers have devised a new method for planting corals onto reefs that could help scale up a growing number of restoration efforts.

Usually, divers restore reefs manually, attaching corals one by one – costly and labor-intensive work that presents a barrier to large-scale restoration. With the new method, published in the journal Scientific Reports, coral larvae are “sewed” onto specifically designed, stable substrates (“seeding units”) and simply wedged into crevices in the reef. The units then attach naturally to the reef over time.

A pilot scale test near the Caribbean island of Curacao was moderately successful. Although a majority of the corals eventually died after being colonized by algae, the researchers found that, a year later, over half the test units were recovered and harbored at least one coral. The researchers say the method could cut the time needed to attach 10,000 corals by 90 percent, according to a statement from SECORE International, the nonprofit coral restoration organization that led the work. The next step is to improve on the substrate design and test the method with more than 50,000 substrates in a single location, a major project that will involve the Nature Conservancy, California Academy of Sciences and other partners.

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