Unexplainable: 7 ocean mysteries scientists haven’t solved but

The Earth is especially a water world — greater than 70 p.c of its floor is roofed by oceans — and but we all know so little about what resides beneath the waves.

The ocean, on this gentle, is like an alien world inside our personal. Many of its creatures are nonetheless unknown to us — each in sort and quantity. Their behaviors and diversifications stay inexplicable. Even the very contours of this world are nonetheless unmapped: We in all probability know extra concerning the floor of Mars than we all know concerning the ocean flooring.

Understanding the ocean is to know our planet higher, at a elementary degree. “There’s so much about how the planet works that is basically preserved in this sort of underwater museum,” Vicki Ferrini, senior analysis scientist at Columbia University, instructed Vox’s Mandy Nguyen final yr.

But not solely is the ocean a supply of thriller, it’s additionally a spot of journey. On UnexplainableVox’s podcast about massive mysteries and all of the issues we be taught by investigating the unknown — we’ve been speaking to the scientists who’ve gone on journeys to know this watery realm. They’ve come throughout fearsome creatures like the enormous squid, performed forensic investigations of mysterious deaths, visited octopus cities, and ventured down as deep as humanly doable.

“How could you not be excited about it?” Ferrini mentioned of ocean exploration. “People have this passionate enthusiasm for outer space, which is totally understandable. But the ocean is equally if not more exciting to me because it’s here. It’s the same planet that we’re on.”

And there are numerous discoveries but to make in it. So let’s dive in! Here are seven nice ocean mysteries we’ve uncovered, beginning on the floor, after which taking place deep, deep into the darkish.

For extra mysteries, take heed to and observe Unexplainable wherever you take heed to podcasts.

Where is plastic air pollution within the ocean hiding, and the way does it get there?

A plastic bag floating on the ocean off the coast of France.
Fred Tanneau/AFP by way of Getty Images

First off, a narrative that begins on the floor, on land.

Every yr, tons of plastic manufactured on land is dumped into the ocean. But scientists have but to finish the work of determining all of the nooks and crannies our plastic air pollution nudges its approach into.

“Ninety-nine percent of all the plastic is missing,” oceanographer Erik van Sebille says on Unexplainable. “We have dark plastic. Like the astronomers have dark matter and dark energy, we oceanographers, we don’t have an idea where most of the plastic in our ocean is. We’ve lost it.”

Researchers like van Sebille wish to know the place the plastic goes to allow them to higher perceive its results on marine life. What hurt is that this plastic inflicting to marine life, and might or not it’s undone?

Further studying: Oops, cleansing the Great Pacific Garbage Patch was in all probability a nasty concept

Why do whales strand themselves on seashores? And are people in charge?

As seen from above, a large whale on its side on the sand with people dotted around it.

Rescuers attempt to assist a sperm whale stranded on a seaside on April 19, 2022, in China.
VCG by way of Getty Images

Diving deeper, we discover marine life. Scientists are continuously asking questions on their most peculiar behaviors.

For instance, yearly, hundreds of marine mammals like whales find yourself trapped on seashores or within the shallow waters close to shore. According to some research, these strandings have been rising.

But why do the animals do that? And are people in charge?

It’s an extremely tough query to reply as a result of whereas we all know that people are affecting the ocean setting, it may be laborious to parse how these results impression particular person species.

But it’s necessary to determine it out. Because how do you defend animals if you’re unsure precisely the way you’re harming them?

Enter Darlene Ketten, (a.ok.a. “Dr. Doom”), a Woods Hole researcher who focuses on forensic investigations into whale deaths. She conducts Law and Order-type investigations into whale deaths. “What keeps us in the lab and on the beach is looking for more and more information,” Ketten says on Unexplainable, the place she explains how she conducts her investigations.

Further studying: The curious case of the traditional whale bones

Can a human actually be buddies with an octopus?

Close-up of a standard octopus (Octopus vulgaris).
A. Martin UW Photography/Getty Images

In 2020, the documentary My Octopus Teacher provoked an interesting query: Can a caring relationship type between people and a sea creature like an octopus? It’s not identified whether or not the friendship within the documentary was real from the octopus’s perspective. The inside lives of animals might by no means be absolutely understood.

But it’s an interesting query to suppose by means of. “It’s like interstellar travel,” science author Ferris Jabr says on an upcoming episode of Unexplainable. “It’s like the closest we can come to that kind of alien contact moment.” If we are able to join with an octopus, what else may we join with?

The Unexplainable episode on octopuses drops on Wednesday, April 27.

Further studying: Why will we care how sensible animals are?

How many fish dwell within the ocean’s mysterious “twilight zone”?

A graphic showing the layers of the ocean ranging from the sunlight zone near the surface through the twilight zone down to 1,000 meters and the midnight zone below that.

Amanda Northrop/Vox

As you dive deeper into the ocean, much less and fewer daylight shines by means of. About 200 meters beneath the floor, you attain an space referred to as the mesopelagic, or the “twilight zone.” Sunlight fades nearly utterly out of view, and our data about these darkish depths fades too.

“It’s almost easier to define it by what we don’t know than what we do know,” Andone Lavery, an acoustician on the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, instructed Vox’s Byrd Pinkerton. “It’s remote. It’s deep. It’s dark. It’s elusive. It’s temperamental.”

Yet this area of the ocean is extraordinarily necessary. It’s doable — however not sure — that extra fish reside within the twilight zone than the remainder of the ocean mixed, and these creatures of the darkish ocean play a big function in regulating the local weather.

Further studying: Scientists are probing the depths of the ocean’s Twilight Zone. So are industrial fisheries.

Why achieve this many sea creatures glow?

It’s unsuitable to say there’s no gentle within the depths of the ocean. There’s gentle, it simply doesn’t come from the solar. Deep within the ocean (and in addition on the floor), divers discover other-worldly shows of bioluminescence, glowing like fireworks at midnight. Almost each deep-water creature lights up indirectly.

“There was just all of this flashing and glowing and sparkle all around me,” marine biologist Edie Widder recounts on Unexplainable about her undersea adventures. “You’re not viewing it at a distance. You’re in the center of the display. In fact, you’re part of it because any movement you make triggers flashes all around you.”

Widder has spent her profession making an attempt to determine why so many marine creatures glow. The quest has led her to confront a few of the weirdest, most elusive creatures on Earth.

Further studying: The underwater “eye” that’s unlocking ocean secrets and techniques

Only 20 p.c of the ocean flooring has been mapped. What’s down there?

Currently, solely 20 p.c of the seafloor has been mapped, making it a extra mysterious place than the floor of the moon or Mars. That means each time explorers go right down to the underside, they’re doubtlessly seeing issues no human has ever laid eyes on earlier than. More individuals went on the Apollo missions to the moon than have been to the Challenger Deep, the deepest a part of the deepest trench within the ocean.

Nicole Yamase is a kind of fortunate explorers. She instructed Unexplainable what it’s like down there.

Further studying: The weird deep-sea creatures dwelling on the Endurance shipwreck

Can we drill by means of the seafloor, to the mantle of the Earth?

Scientists’ curiosity doesn’t simply cease on the backside of the ocean. They’re additionally taken with what lies beneath it.

Sixty years in the past, geologists tried to drill down by means of the seabed to tug up a bit of the Earth’s mantle, a deep layer of the Earth no human has straight noticed. Their mission didn’t go precisely as deliberate. But it sowed the seeds for a brand new subject of science that has helped rewrite not solely the historical past of the planet however, doubtlessly, our definitions of life itself.

Further studying: How an ill-fated undersea journey within the Nineteen Sixties modified the best way scientists see the Earth

If you have got concepts for matters for future reveals, ship us an e-mail at unexplainable@vox.com.

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