Tuesday, November 13, 2007

"Excuse me, could you take our picture in front of this dormant volcano?"

Know-It-All's Guide to Krakatau

1. Bioluminescence: what, why, and how?


What: Based on Richard's sating they were a plankton, I'm thinking the ones we saw were probably Dinoflagellate, which sounds to me like the Latin word for "dinosaur fart". Check out the wiki picture above of these guys in a breaking wave!


Why: There are four main accepted theories for the evolution of bioluminescent traits: Attraction, Repulsion, Communication and Illumination.

How: Has something to do with "Quorum sensing", which I would have guessed is something City Councils do. Actually, if I'm reading the science-speak right, it's a way for the critters to control their population density.

The glowing blue light is a result of a "luciferase" enzyme, which I would like to suggest from now on we call "Satan's Spit".

Cool bonus fact #1: All cells, including human, emit some kind of bioluminescence, but the wavelengths are more often outside the visible light spectrum. That's cool. That means we glow in the dark, you just can't see it.

Cool bonus fact #2: You might remember Alba The Glow-Bunny in "news of the weird" headlines a few years ago. An artist named Eduardo Kac paid to have Alba's DNA spliced with some "Satan's Spit" -generating DNA from a jellyfish. Here's a sort of obituary for Alba, whose existence "highlighted" all sorts of ethical issues.

2. Effervescence, on the other hand, is a real word that means "the escape of gas from an aqueous solution". Schweppervescence is a marketing campaign for ginger ale and tonic water invented in 1946.

Superfluous chemical reaction example to make me seem more smarter: H2CO3 -> H2O + CO2

Cool bonus fact #1: This guy suggests another definition for Schweppervescence - "thousands of tiny bubbles that last the whole drink through."


Cool bonus fact #2: Schweppervescence is also the name of a race horse:


3. Whirlwinds - what are they?

During the trip I suggested they might be like tornadoes that rotated in the opposite direction. Wrong.

A whirlwind is a class of atmospheric event that includes tornadoes, water spouts and land spouts. Also includes those little harmless spinning wind vortexes popularized in the film "American Beauty". As far as I can tell, only Indonesia's state-run news agency Antara reported the story about the one in Bali over the weekend. Here's what I think happened: Antara often uses strange vocabulary for things, probably because they use an automatic text translator like toggletext. So they called it a whirlwind instead of a tornado. Possible conspiracy theory: they said 'whirlwind' because it doesn't sound as bad as 'tornado'.


Cool bonus fact #1: What's a "land spout", you ask? WHy, it's a slang-term coined by meteorologist Howard B. Bluestein in the early 1980s for a kind of tornado not associated with the mesocyclone of a thunderstorm.

Cool bonus fact #2: There's a supervillain named Whirlwind. Last we knew, he was an active member of the Masters of Evil formed by Baron Zemo.

5. Sea Angels. On the way back to the boat from the reef on Sunday, I found myself surrounded by these little translucent thingies with maroon and purple insides and cool little wingey things. They have some at the Singapore Underwater World that are from the Arctic.


Sea angels are small pteropod mollusks of the suborder Gymnosomata. Their feet have developed into wing-like appendages (parapodia) and their shells have been lost, both adaptations made to suit their free-swimming oceanic lives. These adaptations also explain the common name sea angel and the New Latin name of the order; from gymnos meaning "naked" and soma meaning "body." Within the order are approximately eight families and 17 genera.

Cool bonus fact #1:

Another large polar species of sea angel, Clione antarctica, defends itself from predators by synthesizing a previously unknown molecule, named pteroenone. As predators will not eat the sea angel some animals, such as amphipods, take up home inside them. Local population density of Clione antarctica may reach claustrophobic levels; up to 300 animals per cubic metre have been recorded.

Cool bonus fact #2:

The IPCC reports that increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide is causing acidification of the oceans which could eliminate pteropods from the Southern Ocean and cause serious repercussions through the food chain.

6. Jellyfish and Pee: Really? Does it work?

Someone filed a story about the whole urine-on-stings idea. Conclusion: not helpful, sort of silly. Go with vinegar. In fact, Wikipedia says "Rubbing the wound, or using alcohol, spirits, ammonia, or urine will encourage the release of venom and should be avoided."


And how do jellyfish stings work?

Nematocysts; generally, each nematocyst has a "trigger" (cnidocil) paired with a capsule containing a coiled stinging filament, as well as barbs on the exterior. Upon contact, the filament rapidly unwinds, launches into the target, and injects toxins. It can then pull the victim into its mouth, if appropriate."

Most stings are not deadly.

Here’s a bit from a site called “Jellies Zone”…

“Jellyfish toxins include a poorly understood array of complex chemicals, many of which are proteinaceous. Many have deleterious effects on cell membranes and cause them to rupture. This may, for example, lead to the breaking up of red blood cells, certainly not a desirable response to a sting. Other toxins have disruptive effects on the action of nerve and muscle cell membranes and impair their normal function. Throw in toxins that degrade collagen, break down proteins and lipids, and disrupt cellular influx of ions like calcium, and you can see why jellyfish mean business.“

Cool bonus fact #1: A group of jellyfish is often called a "smuck". Seriously.

Cool bonus fact #2:

Chinese and “other Asians” eat jellyfish. Only jellyfish belonging to the Order Rhizostomeae are harvested for food. The rhizostomes are favored because they are typically larger and have more rigid bodies than other scyphozoan orders. Traditional processing methods involve a multi-phase processing procedure using a mixture of table salt and alum, and then desalting. Processing makes the jellyfish drier and more acidic, producing a "crunchy and crispy texture." Nutritionally, jellyfish prepared this way are roughly 95% water and 4-5% protein, making it a relatively low calorie food.

Cool bonus fact #3: Factoid warning: "sources specualte" that some jellyfish stings have a "Viagra" affect...http://www.boingboing.net/2004/07/21/jellyfish-toxin-prod.html

7. What's up with pumice? Chris gave us a good overview. Here's more...


"It forms when gases exsolving from viscous magma nucleate bubbles which cannot readily decouple from the viscous magma prior to chilling to glass. Pumice is a common product of explosive eruptions (plinian and ignimbrite-forming) and commonly forms zones in upper parts of silicic lavas. Pumice has an average porosity of 90%, and initially floats on water." Yup. Sure does.

Cool bonus fact #1: Pumice is considered a glass because it does not have a crystal structure.

Cool bonus fact #2: (actually this is more of a 'smuck' of facts)

After the 1883 explosion of Krakatoa, rafts of pumice drifted through the Pacific Ocean for up to 20 years, with tree trunks floating among them. In fact, pumice rafts disperse and support several marine species. In 1979, 1984 and 2006, underwater volcanic eruptions near Tonga created large pumice rafts, some as large as 30 km that floated hundreds of miles to Fiji.

8. This is just a really cool site:


9: Poop in the sky…


9: The Crown Of Thorns Starfish, and the cross it must bear.


The cut-and-paste of it:

The starfish is a coral reef predator and preys on the coral polyps by climbing onto them, extruding its stomach over them, and releasing digestive enzymes to then absorb the liquified tissue. They feed alone at night, maintaining a constant distance between themselves and other crown-of-thorns starfish. During times of food shortage, these creatures can live on their energy reserves for over six months.

Notable predators of Ancanthaster planci include the Giant Triton (Charonia tritonis), a species of shrimp, a species of worm, and various reef fish (especially the Humphead wrasse) which feed on larvae or small adults. It is quite likely that the decline of these predators (through overharvesting, pollution, etc.) has been a factor that led to the rise in the population of the starfish, making outbreaks more likely to occur.

Cool bonus fact #1: They're called corallivores because, well, they eat coral.

Cool bonus fact #2: Outbreaks of huge numbers of these starfish are believed to be caused by agricultural runoff which causes algal blooms.