Two weeks ago, an accident in the Red Sea sliced through three fiber-optic telecommunications cables that carried phone calls and connected Internet users in Africa and the Middle East. Then, on Saturday, a ship dropped its anchor at an inopportune spot off the Kenyan city of Mombasa, severing another cable. With those four cables out of commission, a single cable is left to shuttle information into and out of East Africa, slowing down connection speeds by 20% in six countries in the regions for weeks until the other cables are fixed.
It seems, in the increasingly interconnected and wireless world, like a clumsy system at best to rely on cables crisscrossing the ocean floor—particularly when two relatively small maritime mishaps are enough to throw that system out of whack. But as Clay Dillow explains over at Popular Science, these undersea links are actually an impressively efficient, powerful, and—yes—stable way to connect the globe:
Along the top of this satellite image lies the coast of South Africa, but follow the sheets of clouds south about 500 miles, and a beautiful, incongruous-looking blue swirl appears. That plankton-laced eddy, which is 90 miles wide, is the oceanic version of a storm, spun off from a larger current and caused by roiling of water instead of air. Eddies in this region bring warm water from the Indian Ocean to the South Atlantic, and they can even pull nutrients up from the deep sea, fertilizing surface waters and causing blooms of plankton in areas that are otherwise rather devoid of life. It is just such a bloom that lends this eddy its cerulean hue.
Image courtesy of NASA’s Earth Observatory
What’s the News: Astronomers have known for many years that Saturn’s moon Titan sports lakes of liquid methane. And in the past couple years, scientists have suggested that it also has an underground ocean composed of water and ammonia. Now, based on past observations by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, astronomers are saying that Titan’s rotation indeed points to an underground sea—and where there’s water, there may also be life. “Our analysis strengthens the possibility that Titan has a subsurface ocean, but it does not prove it undoubtedly,” researcher Rose-Marie Baland told Astrobiology Magazine. “So there is still work to do.”
“Massive acoustic trauma.” It sounds like an ’80s metal band, but according to scientists at the Technical University of Catalonia in Spain, it’s what happens to squid and other cephalopods when they are exposed to sounds similar to boat noise. After exposing 87 cephalopods to low-volume, low-frequency noises for two hours, the researchers found damaged nerves, lesions, and other trauma in the creatures’ hearing organs. There are some holes in the team’s methods (see below), but if the findings hold, squid will be added to the long list of marine animals (including whales, dolphins, and crustaceans) endangered by human-made noise in the oceans.
What’s the News: Scientists have created the first rechargeable battery that uses seawater and freshwater to generate electricity. If installed into every ocean-discharging river in the world (that’s not a realistic scenario—just a frame of reference), the process could produce 2 terawatts, or about 13% of worldwide electricity use. As the researchers write, this battery is “simple to fabricate and could contribute significantly to renewable energy in the future.”
How the Heck:
What’s the Context:
Not So Fast:
Next Up: Noting the limited supply of freshwater on Earth, lead author Yi Cui says that “we need to study using sewage water … If we can use sewage water, this will sell really well.”
Reference: Fabio La Mantia et al. “Batteries for Efficient Energy Extraction from a Water Salinity Difference.” Nano Letters. doi: 10.1021/nl200500s
Image: Nano Letters