Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A slimy subject

One of the things we noticed on our trip to Ireland was that, every time we explored the actual coastline (beaches, rocky cliffs, fishing piers, etc.), there were a surprising number of jellyfish.

I mean, a really surprising number.

Somebody mentioned that maybe this was actually a known and studied phenomenon, so I went searching.

Anyway, once you start reading this article in The New York Review Of Books you won't stop thinking about it: They’re Taking Over! .

Our changing climate is also having many impacts on jellyfish. As the oceans warm, the tropical box jellyfish and the Irukandjis are likely to extend their ranges, while other species will benefit from the lowered oxygen levels that warmer waters contain. Remarkably, jellyfish may have the capacity to accelerate climate change. This can happen in two ways. Jellyfish release carbon-rich feces and mucus (poo and goo) that bacteria prefer to use for respiration. As Gershwin puts it, “jellyfish blooms turn these bacteria into carbon dioxide factories.” But jellyfish also consume vast numbers of copepods and other plankton. These creatures migrate vertically through the water column, taking in carbon-rich food at the surface and releasing it as fecal pellets, which fall to the sea floor and are buried. The plankton are thus a major means of taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and oceans. If their loss occurs on a large enough scale, it will hasten climate change.

Perhaps we will soon be seeing bumper stickers: "Save the plankton, eat a jellyfish!"

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