Welcome to the Oceans Page, where research on the Oceans Projects will be posted. I am a senior studying at the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University. I am majoring in mechanical engineering and am pursuing a certificate in markets and management studies. In addition, I am spending a large amount of time on the Oceans Project, studying interesting oceanic phenomena in the Oceans of Australia. During my oceanic studies I am staying at Harbor View Hotel, Sydney with a group of oceanic and marine researches. Together, we shall post our findings here as we complete our paper.
The coastline of Australia (excluding its offshore islands) stretches for 34,218km (21,262 mi), making it the world’s largest island by many estimations (Commonwealth of Australia, 2006). Australia’s oceans cover more than 16 million km2 (6.2 million mi2) – which equates to more than double the area of the Australian continent itself (DEWHA, 2008).
Australia’s waters span nearly 60 degrees in latitude from Torres Strait to Antarctica, and 72 degrees in longitude from Cocos (Keeling) Island in the west to Norfolk Island in the east (Zann, 1995). They also encompass all five marine climatic zones: tropical (25 to 31ºc or 77 to 87.8ºF); subtropical (15 to 27ºc or 59 to 80.6ºF); temperate (10 to 25ºc or 50 to 77ºF); subpolar (5 to 10ºc or 25 to 50ºF); and polar (-2 to 5ºc or 28.4to 25ºF). Because of this, Australia’s seas boast a huge diversity of geologic and oceanographic features, including deep ocean basins, tropical coral reefs, temperate rocky reefs, submarine canyons, seagrass beds, mangroves, estuaries, and approximately 12,000 islands (DEH 2005). Within this area live thousands of marine species, many of which are unique to Australia and all of which help make Australia the most biodiverse developed nation in the world. (DEWHA)
According to Zann, Australian ocean waters are generally low in nutrients, which also make them relatively low in biological productivity (1995). This is due to a number of factors, including the region’s predomination of low-nutrient tropical water masses; the absence of major upwellings of nutrient-rich deep water; and the low nutrient run-off from the mostly arid mainland. However, some inshore areas are abundant in mangroves, seagrass and coral communities which have adapted to low-nutrient waters. The low nutrient levels also contribute to the country’s relatively low fisheries production.
Despite this, fishing is an important industry in Australia, producing wealth and employment through processing, distribution, recreation and retail activities (AFMA 2009). Covering nearly 9 million km2 (3.5 million mi2), Australia’s fishing zone is the world&rsquo:s third largest, and supports many fisheries collectively worth more than A$2.5 billion (US$2.25 billion) (CSIRO, 2009).
While Australia’s fisheries are designed to help sustain populations of fish and other marine species, some commercial fisheries, particularly southern bluefin tuna, southern sharks and gemfish, have experienced significant declines (Zann 1995). Reasons for these declines include overfishing, use of non-selective fishing gear, pollution, loss of habitat, and the complexity of Australia's marine jurisdiction, which hinders management of fish stocks.
As Zann has indicated, fishing has direct effects on marine ecosystems – the most significant of which includes overfishing of non–target (or ‘by-catch’) species, which can outnumber the target species by as many as 8 to 1 (1995). Fishing may also cause indirect and very poorly understood effects, such as alterations to food chains and population structures. Increasing pressure from recreational activities such as fishing and collecting is of significant concern, especially near coastal regions.
Consequently, the fisheries management sector is marked by uncertainty. In 2005, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) identified the following major influences as likely to impact on ecological sustainability, fishery economics and organisational resources over the next 5 years:
The principal concern regarding the future of Australia’s oceans is climate change. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) predicts that global warming will significantly impact Australia’s ecology and climate (Preston and Jones 2006). Observations since 1961 show that approximately 80% of the heat added to the climate system has been absorbed by the sea, where temperatures have increased to a depth of at least 3,000 metres (9,843 feet) (CSIRO 2008). By 2030, it is estimated that Australia’s sea surface temperature will increase by 0.6-0.9ºC (approximately 33 ºF) in the southern Tasman Sea and off the north-west shelf of Western Australia, and 0.3-0.6ºC (approximately 32.5ºF) elsewhere.
Effects of climate change on marine ecology have already been widely observed (CSIRO 2008). For example, recent warming of tropical waters has precipitated repeated mass coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef and elsewhere, an occurrence not seen globally before 1979. Researchers predict that the Great Barrier Reef and reefs around Lord Howe Island could be destroyed as a result of the rise in water temperature (IPCC 2007).
Australian research indicates that climate change holds inevitable implications for societies and economies, especially those in coastal areas, which depend strongly on the ocean and its resources (CSIRO 2008). Coastal communities face risks from rising sea levels, though over a long period based on current estimates (IPCC 2007).
A result of increasing concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, rising sea levels contribute to erosion and inundation of low-lying coastal areas. They also lead to saltwater intrusion into aquifers, deltas and estuaries, which can impact on coastal ecosystems, water resources, and human settlements. With the majority of the Australian population living near the coast, rising sea levels could affect millions of people (CMAR 2009).
Although rising temperatures have a strong influence on observed changes in Australia’s marine environment, other factors such as fishing, coastal run-off, pollution and ocean acidification also play a significant part, and threaten to reduce decrease ecosystems’ resilience to climate change (CSIRO 2008).
Little data exists on the effects of climate change on Australian oceans, mainly due to a lack of long-term data collection (2008). Because little modelling has been conducted to predict future changes in Australia’s marine ecosystems, this remains a crucial impediment in developing a strategic assessment climate change effects, which will enable appropriate policies and strategies to be established.
During the biological process of photosynthesis, carbon dioxide and water combine with sunlight to create glucose and dioxygen. It is estimated that green algae and cyanobacteria in marine environments, such as the oceans of the world, provide about 70% of the free oxygen produced on earth. All of the rest of the oxygen that we breathe comes from terrestrial plants. That is an important fact to know as all living terrestrial mammals need oxygen to breath. So the health of our oceans not only supports a vast network of ecosystems, it also provides a significant amount of the oxygen that humans, cows, fish, chickens and all of the other animals that we rely on to survive in our ecosystem. It is estimated that 6 billion tons of oxygen are inhaled by humanity each year. That is why it is so important for humans to treat the world’s oceans as their own backyards, stop dumping unnecessary waste into water systems that will inevitably be mixed into the oceans. Marine flora and fauna in certain parts of the world are literally being strangled to death by the amount of plastic pollution in the great Gyres that are a vital resource within marine ecosystems. The amount of oxygen in these gyres is greatly depleted due to pollution that drives out precious green algae and cyanobacteria. The oxygen that is usually created as a result of photosynthesis by these organisms is used by marine aerobic organisms during the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in oxidative phosphorylation. Aerobic organisms, such as humans, need a constant supply of oxygen in order to produce ATP aerobically and provide vital energy on a cellular level. Other marine fauna are entirely anaerobic, meaning they don’t need any oxygen at all. These organisms are still susceptible to changing levels of oxygen in the ocean as they rely on aerobic organisms to survive. The entire world and the ecosystems that are present here are incredibly delicate and it is important that we weigh decisions that affect world ecosystems with the utmost caution.
As we mentioned, many students from Duke and other schools will have the opportunity to work out on the open ocean doing research along with experienced professors. Internships and research opportunities give students valuable experience that will help them to stand out on their resumes, in job applications and graduate school interviews. Many students who are just getting started with research will find themselves running the equipment and gathering a large amount of raw data to later be analyzed and evaluated. While some students will look at these tasks as menial and necessary, it can actually be a great time to get acquainted with some sophisticated equipment that is normally only available to professionals. Often times, students have the opportunity to work with linear encoders; small gadgets that encode position and record that position either on an analog or digital signal. Encoders come in 5 different scales based on the way that they operate; optical, magnetic, capacitive, inductive, and eddy current. Each of the encoders and encoder products is measured with CMM, laser scanners, calipers, gear measurement, tension testers and digital read outs. Having experience with these types of machines and understanding how they work will give you a better understanding of the research that you are doing. Just like when you are doing experiments in the lab, it is much more rewarding to understand the full scope of the concepts that you are using.
People have been able to watch, as Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), has become a compound that has completely revolutionized the human existence. Better known as plastic, PET, is used in just about every aspect of human life. Here in the United States, people use plastic, or some kind of plastic, in almost every activity they do, from sleeping to eating, travelling, communicating, even cleaning yourself. Think about a watch, or a clock, items that used to be made from all metal pieces are now made almost exclusively with plastic. From the watch strap or band, the watch screen and case and even the internal mechanisms of the watch, it’s all plastic. And that's the beauty of plastic; it's incredibly cheap, relatively durable, incredibly light and in most cases, completely sanitary. But if plastic is so great because it doesn't break down like other storage containers, what happens to all of the plastic that we throw away? Wood, grass, or food scraps are all made of organic material, so they are easily broken down by the detritus that naturally lives in our ecosystems. Things like paper materials or cardboard are made from organic materials, but they are also processed and treated with non-organic chemicals and compounds to give them utility in use, so they are not broken down nearly as easily by the environment. Instead, these compounds are broken down with the assistance of bacteria in landfills. Plastics, like those used to make watch straps on the other hand, have no organic compounds in them, so there are very few bacteria that can break down plastic in landfills like other waste items. Instead, plastic breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces. Landfills have filtration systems that catch these small pieces from getting into the environment. But what about all of the plastic that doesn’t make it into landfills? The unfortunate answer is that plastic usually ends up in water system where it is eventually deposited into the ocean. And from our article above, we know that everything that enters the ocean, eventually at one time will be deposited into a gyre.
Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AAFMA). [Internet]. [updated 2007 Oct 25] [cited 2009 Oct 27]. Available from: http://www.afma.gov.au/default.htm
Commonwealth of Australia. 2005. National Marine Bioregionalisation of Australia: Summary. Canberra: Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH). p. 7-10.
Commonwealth of Australia. State of the Environment 2006 [Internet]. [updated 2006]. [cited 2009 Oct 26]. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/soe/2006/publications/drs/indicator/142/index.html
Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). Climate change, fisheries and the marine environment [Internet]. [updated 2008 Dec 5] [cited 2009 Oct 25]. Available from: http://www.csiro.au/science/Marine-Climate-Adaptation.html
CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research (CMAR). Sea Level Rise: Understanding the past – Improving projections for the future [Internet]. [updated 2008 Oct 28]. [cited 2009 Oct 26]. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/coasts/species/index.html
Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA). Marine species conservation [Internet]. [updated 2008 Sep 19] [cited 2009 Oct 26]. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/coasts/species/index.html
Preston B.L and Jones R.N. 2006. Climate Change Impacts on Australia and the Benefits of Early Action to Reduce Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Aspendale: CSIRO.
United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 2007. Climate Change 2007: Fourth Assessment Report of WGIII IPCC. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Zann, P. Our Sea, Our Future: Major findings of the State of the Marine Environment Report for Australia [Internet]. [updated 1995]. Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories; [cited 2009 Oct 25]. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/coasts/mbp/publications/general/pubs/nmb.pdf