The Ocean Blog

Walter Adey and the NMNH coral reef tank

The Evolution of a Reef Aquarium

Adey in front of the original reef microcosm in the National Museum of Natural History. Credit: Smithsonian Institution Archives In the late 1970s, Walter Adey, a paleobiologist and coral reef researcher at the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), wanted to build a tank that would make it possible to monitor and experiment on a coral reef ecosystem in the laboratory—what scientists call a microcosm. The first challenge he encountered was building a tank that successfully simulated natural processes. To mimic nature as closely as possible, Adey invented an Algal Turf Scrubber (ATS) . In...Read more

Deep-sea octocorals: An ecosystem of their own

Octocorals dominated the seafloor on Chris Mah's Okeanos mission to Johnston Atoll in the remote Pacific Ocean. Credit: NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2017 Laulima O Ka Moana The deep-sea is a vast part of the world’s ocean. Even today, it often surprises people to discover how much life lives in this largely unexplored and inaccessible world of darkness, cold and high pressure. In fact, it was once thought to be lifeless, before early explorers dredged the deep-sea bottom and pulled up creatures never before seen. This summer, I joined the NOAA research vessel Okeanos...Read more

Bringing the Western Flyer, and History, Back to Life

Video of Western Flyer: A New Chapter As a first year graduate student in marine biology, I shared a large office with other students. I normally did a good job of not disturbing them, but I totally failed in this while reading John Steinbeck’s The Log from the Sea of Cortez . I am sure my laughter was heard by everyone in the office, and by passers-by in the hall as well. Why was I reading Steinbeck instead of a scientific paper? Steinbeck is, of course, best known as the author of Of Mice and Men , The Grapes of Wrath , and other literary masterpieces. But in 1940 he sailed to Mexico's Sea...Read more
Sea otters floating on the surface of the ocean.

Not Just Another Fuzzy Face

A raft of sea otters grooming and resting after foraging. Credit: © Elise Newman Montanino Who hasn’t grinned at the sight of a sea otter floating on its back while grooming itself? No doubt about it, the sea otter is adorable. But it’s not just another fuzzy face. It’s a sharp-toothed predator and darn good at its job. So good that sea otters starred as the heroes in an eco-mystery that unfolded in an estuary near Monterey Bay in California. Marine biologist Brent Hughes, who works out of the University of California at Santa Cruz-Long Marine Laboratory , studies the intertidal ecosystem of...Read more
Turbinolia stephensoni

Ocean Objects of Wonder

An unidentified earplug from the National Museum of Natural History collection. The light and dark layers come from a build up of keratin and lipids and can be used to estimate whale age. Credit: Megan Chen, NMNH As humans, we are constantly learning. Not only as individuals from the moment we are born through our inevitable death, but as a society through time. We learn not only from people, but also from objects. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History is home to more than 145 million artifacts and specimens to study and constantly learn from. A hand-selected collection of some...Read more
Earth as seen from a satellite.

The Time For Earth Optimism is Now

Earth as seen from a satellite. Credit: NASA Here at the Smithsonian we think the time for Earth Optimism is now. So we are bringing together stories of success at the Earth Optimism Summit to be held April 21-23rd, 2017 in Washington, DC. The gathering will bring global leaders, everyday citizens, scientists, journalists and students to discuss and share solutions – what are the best minds, boldest experiments, and most innovative community practices telling us about how to preserve biodiversity, protect natural resources, and address climate change? We will be featuring stories of Ocean...Read more

What We’re Reading 11/14

An estimated 5 tons of plastic are fed to albatross chicks each year at Midway Atoll. Credit: Chris Jordan Last week we read a lot about the U.S. Presidential election and its outcomes. Over the months ahead we will learn about new approaches to solving the problems that will continue to be front and center for the ocean. If you need a refresher on the science we suggest you take a look at our overview pages: Climate Change Ocean Acidification Sea Level Rise But the elections also brought some local results that have immediate benefits for the ocean. For example: California Supports Plastic...Read more

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