our mysterious ocean skin

Where the ocean and the atmosphere interact is a thin thin very very thin new ecosystem.

  1. The top hundredth inch of the ocean is chemically distinct.
  2. The top hundredth-inch of the ocean is like a sheet of jelly.
  3. The top hundredth-inch is an odd habitat thinner than a human hair.

sea-surface microlayerThe research ship Kilo Moana and it’s robotic skimmers are back to port.

Scientists have learned that the top .25mm of the ocean is an ecosystem all its own – a special kind of habitat for microbes that act as a biological pump, a critical gas membrane and primary food web.

It’s the ocean breathing through its skin.” [nytimesWall]

Bacteria within the biofilm play a key role in controlling greenhouse gases and our nitrogen cycle among other things. The lively boundary layer has a rich food supply of sticky carbohydrates in a broth of dissolved carbon, nitrogen, phosphorous and amino acids which enable vast microbial respiration across the globe. [pdf]

There’s much to learn about the sea-surface microlayer; this ‘layer of sudden change‘.

The ocean’s gelatinous gas-managing biofilm is strong enough to withstand typical winds, whitecaps, downwelling and bubble swarms.

But pollution?

Tests show microbe-destroying chlorine and surfactants penetrating via the water column. And of course, dioxins and PCBs, our standby poisons. Plus polybrominated diphenyl ethers already leaching from e-waste. Plus our typical sampling of ibuprofen and mood drugs, the pouring antiseptic over the globe kitchen-and-bath bug killer triclosan…. Not to overlook the average blend of hydrocarbons and toxic dust.

One day I hope we manage our crushing industrial detritus along with the retail silt that has spread so far so deep so high we now call it micropollution.

Fixing Earth is not a burden, but an era of opportunity and good sense.
/end rant/