January 2018 Archives

The Hunt for Red Tides

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Most kindergartners will tell you that the ocean is blue. But seasoned mariners have often marveled at the ocean's many other colors. From the burnt green of Samuel Coleridge's "witch's oil" water to the "white squalls" of Herman Melville, to Homer's "wine-dark sea," each color tells a different story.

What story does it tell, then, when the sea is red?

You might have heard of "red tides." This is a colloquial term for what scientists call "harmful algal blooms" or sometimes just "harmful blooms." Many of them do paint the surface of the ocean a distinct color, ranging from orange to brown, or even golden. In 1770, in one of the earliest recordings of a red tide, Captain James Cook wrote: "The Sea in many places is here cover'd with a kind of a brown scum, such as sailors generally call spawn; upon our first seeing it, it alarm'd us, thinking we were among shoals, but we found the same depth of water where it was as in other places."

Cook was describing the type of algal bloom that has become the focus of research and resource management around the world. Some stain the sea to such an extent that they are visible from outer space, while others leave no visible trace at all. 

In Maine, stories about algal blooms have become more common. Much of the coast was shut down to shellfish harvesting the past two falls after blooms downeast. Scientist were monitoring another algal bloom in Casco Bay last September. 

Here are three stories about harmful blooms that affect everything from the water we drink to the air we breathe.

...READ THE REST HERE

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