Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

How are satellites used to observe the ocean?

This item was filled under Basics, Economy, Ecosystems, Facts, Health, Ocean Observations


Satellites are amazing tools for observing the Earth and the big blue ocean that covers more than 70 percent of our planet. By remotely sensing from their orbits high above the Earth, satellites provide us much more information than would be possible to obtain solely from the surface.

Using satellites, NOAA researchers closely study the ocean. Information gathered by satellites can tell us about ocean bathymetry, sea surface temperature, ocean color, coral reefs, and sea and lake ice. Scientists also use data collection systems on satellites to relay signals from transmitters on the ground to researchers in the field—used in applications such as measuring tidal heights and the migration of whales. Transmitters on satellites also relay position information from emergency beacons to help save lives when people are in distress on boats, airplanes, or in remote areas.

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What is a sea lamprey?

This item was filled under Ecosystems, Facts, Health, Ocean Life


Among the most primitive of all vertebrate species, the sea lamprey is a parasitic fish native to the northern and western Atlantic Ocean. Due to their similar body shapes, lampreys have sometimes inaccurately been called "lamprey eels," but they are actually more closely related to sharks!

Unlike "bony" fishes like trout, cod, and herring, lampreys lack scales, fins, and gill covers. Like sharks, their skeletons are made of cartilage. They breathe through a distinctive row of seven pairs of tiny gill openings located behind their mouths and eyes.

But the anatomical trait that makes the sea lamprey an efficient killer of lake trout and other bony fishes is its disc-shaped, suction-cup mouth, ringed with sharp, horny teeth, with which it latches on to an unfortunate fish. The lamprey then uses its rough tongue to rasp away the fish's flesh so it can feed on its host's blood and body fluids. One lamprey kills about 40 pounds of fish every year.
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What is an oil seep?



Did you know that naturally occurring oil seeps from the seafloor are the largest source of oil entering the world ocean? In fact, they account for nearly half of the oil released into the ocean environment every year. Seeps occur when crude oil leaks from fractures in the seafloor or rises up through seafloor sediments, in much the same way that a freshwater spring brings water to the surface. The waters off of Southern California are home to hundreds of naturally occurring oil and natural gas seeps.

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What are beach advisories and beach closures?

This item was filled under Basics, Economy, Ecosystems, Facts, Health, Places


A beach advisory leaves it up to users as to whether they wish to risk going into the water. In the case of a beach closure, the state and/or local government decides that water conditions are unsafe for swimmers and other users.

How can beach-goers avoid the disappointment of arriving at their summer vacation destination only to find that authorities advise them not to swim there or that the beaches are closed altogether?

Unfortunately, there is no central database that provides information on beach closures and advisories in real time. The best way to find information on the current water quality of a particular beach is to plan ahead.

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What are microplastics?

This item was filled under Basics, Ecosystems, Facts, Health, Ocean Life


Plastic is the most prevalent type of marine debris found in our ocean and Great Lakes. Plastic debris can come in all shapes and sizes, but those that are less than five millimeters in length (or about the size of a sesame seed) are called “microplastics.”

As an emerging field of study, not a lot is known about microplastics and their impacts yet. The NOAA Marine Debris Program is leading efforts within NOAA to research this topic. Standardized field methods for collecting sediment, sand, and surface-water microplastic samples have been developed and continue to undergo testing. Eventually, field and laboratory protocols will allow for global comparisons of the amount of microplastics released into the environment, which is the first step in determining the final distribution, impacts, and fate of this debris.

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How does land-based pollution threaten coral reefs?

This item was filled under Basics, Ecosystems, Facts, Health, Ocean Life


Impacts from land-based sources of pollution—including coastal development, deforestation, agricultural runoff, and oil and chemical spills—can impede coral growth and reproduction, disrupt overall ecological function, and cause disease and mortality in sensitive species. It is now well accepted that many serious coral reef ecosystem stressors originate from land-based sources, most notably toxicants, sediments, and nutrients.

Within the U.S., there are numerous locations where coral reef ecosystems are highly impacted by watershed alteration, runoff, and coastal development. On U.S. islands in the Pacific and Caribbean, significant changes in the drainage basins due to agriculture, deforestation, grazing of feral animals, fires, road building, and urbanization have increased the volume of land-based pollution released to adjacent coral reef ecosystems.

Many of these issues are made worse because of the geographic and climatic characteristics found in tropical island areas. Together they create unique management challenges.

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Can a coral reef recover from bleaching and other stressful events?

This item was filled under Basics, Ecosystems, Facts, Health, Ocean Life


Climate change and ocean acidification can result in mass coral bleaching events, increased susceptibility to disease, slower growth and reproductive rates, and degraded reef structure.

There are no quick fixes when it comes to a changing climate. In the long term, coral reefs around the world will benefit the most from the reduction of greenhouse gases. In the short term, we can improve coral reef resilience by addressing local stressors, like runoff from land-based sources of pollution and overharvesting of fish.

NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program is helping local managers and communities do just that. The idea is simple. We know climate change is the single greatest global threat to coral reefs. Promoting reef resilience is a local solution. A resilient coral reef is one that can either resist a large-scale stressful event or recover from it. For this to happen, local threats must be kept to a minimum to reduce stress and improve overall reef condition. Scientists are also honing ways to evaluate how resilient a coral reef ecosystem is so that managers can take targeted actions that have the greatest impact.

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How does overfishing affect coral reefs?

This item was filled under Basics, Ecosystems, Facts, Health, Ocean Life


Coral reef ecosystems support important commercial, recreational, and subsistence fishery resources in the U.S and its territories. Fishing also plays a central social and cultural role in many island and coastal communities, where it is often a critical source of food and income.

The impacts from unsustainable fishing on coral reef areas can lead to the depletion of key reef species in many locations. Such losses often have a ripple effect, not just on the coral reef ecosystems themselves, but also on the local economies that depend on them. Additionally, certain types of fishing gear can inflict serious physical damage to coral reefs, seagrass beds, and other important marine habitats.

Coral reef fisheries, though often relatively small in scale, may have disproportionately large impacts on the ecosystem if conducted unsustainably. Rapid human population growth, increased demand, use of more efficient fishery technologies, and inadequate management and enforcement have led to the depletion of key reef species and habitat damage in many locations.

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How does climate change affect coral reefs?

This item was filled under Basics, Ecosystems, Facts, Health, Ocean Life


Climate change is the greatest global threat to coral reef ecosystems. Scientific evidence now clearly indicates that the Earth's atmosphere and ocean are warming, and that these changes are primarily due to greenhouse gases derived from human activities.

As temperatures rise, mass coral bleaching events and infectious disease outbreaks are becoming more frequent. Additionally, carbon dioxide absorbed into the ocean from the atmosphere has already begun to reduce calcification rates in reef-building and reef-associated organisms by altering seawater chemistry through decreases in pH. This process is called ocean acidification.

Climate change will affect coral reef ecosystems, through sea level rise, changes to the frequency and intensity of tropical storms, and altered ocean circulation patterns. When combined, all of these impacts dramatically alter ecosystem function, as well as the goods and services coral reef ecosystems provide to people around the globe.

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How does NOAA help clean up oil and chemical spills?


Just like we may need sponges, scrub brushes, and a disinfectant to expel a mess in our house or yard, emergency responders employ a variety of tools and techniques to remove oil and chemicals spilled in our rivers, bays, and oceans, and washed up on our shores.

For more than 30 years, NOAA's Office of Response and Restoration has played a leading role in the evolving science of hazardous materials (also known as "HAZMAT") spill response. Check out our collection of THREE infographics for a clear explanation of this always complex process.

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