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Earth Science

Alaskan Blob Is an Algae Bloom 130

Posted by timothy
from the no-sixes-here-just-a-couple-of-nines dept.
Bryan Gividen writes "Time.com is running a story on the previously unidentified blob floating off of the coast of Alaska. The article states that the blob is an algae bloom — far less sinister (or exciting) than any The Thing or The Blob comparison that was jokingly made. From the article: '"It's sort of like a swimming pool that hasn't been cleaned in a while." The blob, Konar said, is a microalgae made up of 'billions and billions of individuals.'"
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Alaskan Blob Is an Algae Bloom

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  • by Ihlosi (895663) on Monday July 20, 2009 @10:15AM (#28755871)

    ... how we can turn this thing into something useful. Gasoline, maybe?

    • by LeoPercepied (1564829) on Monday July 20, 2009 @10:18AM (#28755917)
      It already works as oxygen generator...
      • by Sinn3d (1594333) on Monday July 20, 2009 @10:32AM (#28756089)
        Till it dies off .. then we might get another dead zone.

        When algal blooms die off, oxygen is used to decompose the algae which creates hypoxic conditions.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dead_zone_(ecology) [wikipedia.org]

        Ofcourse I didn't RTFA... maybe this isn't a harmfull kind.
        • Summer's here! The Algae's in bloom and love is in the air! Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.

        • by Talennor (612270)

          Look on the bright side, a dead zone is carbon sequestering! Organics that should rightly be metabolized into CO2 are left out of the atmosphere since there's no O2 hanging around!

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            It's true, and a side benefit is we get a layer of water saturated with toxic hydrogen sulfide. Millions of years later, all of that sequestered carbon may be returned to us in the form of coal or oil.

            There's a fair amount of evidence indicating this has happened on a global scale. Mostly we call that evidence 'Arabia'.

        • That'd be good, I thought that was a good show. Will it be on the USA channel again?

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Hatta (162192) *

          Don't worry. Gohan will just lock Garlic in there again.

        • by j-turkey (187775) on Monday July 20, 2009 @01:53PM (#28758943) Homepage

          Till it dies off .. then we might get another dead zone. When algal blooms die off, oxygen is used to decompose the algae which creates hypoxic conditions. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dead_zone_(ecology) [wikipedia.org] Ofcourse I didn't RTFA... maybe this isn't a harmfull kind.

          That's an excellent point - and I was going to visit this idea until I read your post. It would be very interesting to see a study on the local ecosystem, and if there are any issues with nutrient runoff nearby from local human population, logging, or agriculture (the usual suspects for nutrient loading and algal blooms). I found it dubious that a quote in the article seemed to indirectly point to global climate change as a cause (the quote was "...as a result of global change"). Seems like it's so easy to scapegoat that as the villain responsible for any malignant ecological change without the need for any, you know, real science. (It's also easier to get grants when a hypothesis or grant proposal's title suggests an agenda-based search for a causal link between phenomena X and global climate change)

          The phenomena that most commonly leads to algal blooms, anoxic water columns, and ultimately a dead zone (or fish kill) is known as eutrophication [wikipedia.org]. I spent my first years of undergrad (literally) knee deep in poo studying nutrient loading in water tables...ultimately leading to eutrophication. What a great wake-up call for me to get the hell out of the natural sciences. Poo stinks almost as much as academic bureaucracy and begging for grants! :)

        • by Guppy (12314)

          Till it dies off .. then we might get another dead zone.

          When algal blooms die off, oxygen is used to decompose the algae which creates hypoxic conditions.

          Not going to happen in the cold waters off the coast of Alaska. Think about it a little bit. Oxygen solubility is at near maximum in these waters, while decomposition rate decreases with lower temperatures.

      • I'd like to remind you all of the post I made the other day in the Dow/Algenol article. So, now that we know the blob is algae, let's really hope it doesn't get pissed at Dow!
    • Isn't that all The Blob was doing - Turning us in to something useful for itself?
      How would doing that that make us any better?
    • Miso Soup? (Score:3, Funny)

      by yogibaer (757010)
      ... just add Tofu.
    • by A. B3ttik (1344591) on Monday July 20, 2009 @11:03AM (#28756447)

      ... how we can turn this thing into something useful. Gasoline, maybe?

      Nope. Can't do that. Leave it alone.

      This Study was performed by an independent panel of researchers from Miskatonic University, peer-reviewed by a group of scientists from Innsmouth, Massachussettes.

      Nothing to see here, folks, move along.

      • What do we know? Noctilucent clouds migrating south, strange blotches on Jupiter, huge algae blooms off of Alaska-- and, most damning of all, a malfunctioning toilet on the ISS.

        Something is happening out there. Something BIG. :-)

        • Something is happening out there. Something BIG. :-)

          Shh... don't let them know you're on to them, or you'll [be reassigned] just like that other guy who I will neither confirm nor deny being an associate of...

        • by Sumbius (1500703)
          Just wait till this Bob the Blob starts growing synapses between it's algae and finds the pleasures of dopamine production. Living, breathing and thinking blob is in the coast of Alaska, and its horny. Our worst fears come true. Lets just feed it some caffeine too... On the more serious note, I have seen algae blooms quite a many times in my life but that one really is big. I too hope that it will not create a huge dead zone, but what can we do? I don't want to blame the global warming, but it does increas
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Divide By Zero (70303)

      Harvest it for pearls, but beware the mindworms. They'll turn you crazier than Sister Miriam Godwinson.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by b4upoo (166390)

      In my area we feed algae to the talapia and other exotic, food fish. There are lots of good fresh water fish that love gobbling up weeds an algae.

    • Wow, nice. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by GameboyRMH (1153867) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {hmryobemag}> on Monday July 20, 2009 @02:34PM (#28759685) Journal
      News: Previously unidentified life-form identified.

      First response: How can we turn this thing into something useful, like gasoline?

      Moderation: +5 Interesting.

      Slashdot: News for greedheads, stuff you can sell.
      • by MrMista_B (891430)

        What, you'd rather wait till it dies and creates another dead zone?

        Slashdot: News for enviromental destruction loves, stuff you can mock.

      • by iggymanz (596061)

        what's the problem? it would be carbon-neutral biofuel.

        • There's nothing wrong with it technically speaking, but it's sad that the first responses had to do with turning the algae into fuel, rather than things that had to do with the algae themselves. I'd wonder if algal blooms like this had happened before, and if not, why is this one here all the sudden?
      • Like the guy a couple posts up, I prefer it be gasoline rather than just another dead zone that kill fish and plants.

  • by thisnamestoolong (1584383) on Monday July 20, 2009 @10:18AM (#28755913)

    The blob, Konar said, is a microalgae made up of 'billions and billions of individuals.'"

    Am I the only one who could not help but hear that quote in Carl Sagan's voice?

    • Even weirder, the first time I read it, I thought the blob's name was Konar and was communicating with us.

      Now that would be News for Nerds...

    • Anyway, the technical term is Zillions.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by ajs (35943)

      Wikipedia points out:

      From Cosmos and his frequent appearances on The Tonight Show, Sagan became associated with the catch phrase "billions and billions". As Sagan himself stated, he never actually used the phrase in the Cosmos series.[18] The closest that he ever came was in the book Cosmos, where he talked of "billions upon billions":[19]

      A galaxy is composed of gas and dust and stars -- billions upon billions of stars.

      -- Carl Sagan, Cosmos, chapter 1, page 3[20]

      However, his frequent use of the word billions, and distinctive delivery emphasizing the "b" (which he did intentionally, in place of more cumbersome alternatives such as "billions with a 'b'", in order to distinguish the word from "millions" in viewers' minds[18]), made him a favorite target of comic performers including Johnny Carson, Gary Kroeger, Mike Myers,[21] Bronson Pinchot, Harry Shearer, and others. Frank Zappa satirized the line in the song Be In My Video, noting as well 'atomic light.' Sagan took this all in good humor, and his final book was entitled Billions and Billions which opened with a tongue-in-cheek discussion of this catch phrase, observing that Carson himself was an amateur astronomer and that Carson's comic caricature often included real science.[18]

      I read an interview with him once where he was asked about it, and he responded that it makes him kind of frustrated, since the phrase is nonsensical. There's no change in order of magnitude, so there's no point in tacking on the extra "and billions."

      • by StikyPad (445176)

        Yeah, well, anyone who's ever watched Cosmos knows that he's said plenty of nonsensical things. It may have made sense to someone baked out of their gourd, but his spiritual commentary was just inane, and his earnest effort to convey his excitement about the universe made the "billions and billions" quote quite plausible. So while it may not have been something he ever said, it certainly captures the essence of (the public image of) Sagan.

    • by erroneus (253617)

      Ah... I miss Carl Sagan. We really need some more "science celebrities" out there like him to inspire young children everywhere the way Sagan did. Perhaps I am missing out on something or we simply don't have those people any longer. My earliest recollections were of this really old guy with an angry face and an angry voice who played with toys while demonstrating physics. Not sure I ever knew his name, but as a child, I was fascinated by the things he did. I didn't grow up with Mr. Wizard on his first

      • by Zerth (26112)

        My earliest recollections were of this really old guy with an angry face and an angry voice who played with toys while demonstrating physics. Not sure I ever knew his name, but as a child, I was fascinated by the things he did.

        From that description, I can only assume you mean Julius Sumner Miller [wikipedia.org], because "physics is my business" is burned into my brain.

        When I was a kid, I'd rather watch him instead of cartoons, even if he was freakin scary.

        • by erroneus (253617)

          Thanks for that. Yes, that's the man. I kinda knew he wasn't from the U.S. but it was a little hard to tell exactly where he was from. The information you linked to explains a lot. Yes, it was kinda scary looking but I got over that pretty quickly.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        a paleontologist, a geologist, an astrophysicist, an archaeologist

        walk into a bar...

  • so... (Score:5, Funny)

    by gEvil (beta) (945888) on Monday July 20, 2009 @10:19AM (#28755925)
    So, it is alive!
  • Ok, guys... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 20, 2009 @10:20AM (#28755935)
    Whose turn was it to chlorine the ocean?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Alaskan Bob. Then I thought to myself, "hey, isn't that the guy who eats raw fish and is cool?"

  • Alaksan Bob (Score:5, Funny)

    by Hanners1979 (959741) on Monday July 20, 2009 @10:22AM (#28755947) Homepage
    For some reason I initially read the headline as "Alaksan Bob", and assumed it was going to be about Sarah Palin's replacement.

    Mind you, she probably can see this blob from her house...
  • how does that huge thing stick together?
  • I, for one, welcome our new photosynthetic overlords.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    i thought it was a shoggoth.
  • It missed Jupiter after all. :-)
  • Microalgae? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Hatta (162192) * on Monday July 20, 2009 @10:32AM (#28756097) Journal

    If that's microalgae, I'd hate to see macroalgae.

    • by cylcyl (144755)

      yeah thinking the same thing.
      They say that it's square miles in area, so, let's say 2. As this is microalgae. algae would be 2x10^6 sq miles in surface area. Earth is 197x10^6 sq mile in size.
      so, a hecto-algae would cover the entire earth!

  • Because when these die most will fall to the bottom of the deep ocean and get buried taking their carbon with them. Perhaps millions of years from now this bloom WILL be back as oil! :)

    • At which time future "intelligent" life use it up at unsustainable rates to power a new fangled invention called distance vision so they can watch re-runs of a comedy called "Cheers."

      Uh, wait a minute....

  • I first thought it was a ton of barber hair dumped in the ocean that had become a bacterial colony. That's what it looked like. But I can see it being algae now.

  • Whale Semen (Score:5, Funny)

    by Stu1706 (1392693) on Monday July 20, 2009 @10:37AM (#28756143)
    It would have been way funnier if it turned out to be whale semen.
  • Far less sinister? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sxltrex (198448) on Monday July 20, 2009 @10:50AM (#28756293)

    How do we know? Maybe The Blob was just a really angry algae bloom? Those Deadliest Catch guys better not piss this one off!

  • siiiigh (Score:1, Funny)

    by PumpkinDog (1253988)
    just when i thought my monday couldn't get any more boring :(
  • by quixote9 (999874) on Monday July 20, 2009 @11:04AM (#28756459) Homepage
    algal blooms. One of the prime symptoms of anthropogenic warming is disproportionate warming at night and at the North and South Poles. We're a smart bunch here at Slashdot, right? (Right?) We can figure out what that means.

    Like a previous commenter said, yes, when they die they'll take some of their incorporated carbon down to the sea floor. Along the way, microbes are going to be decomposing it. They use oxygen to do that. If there's enough algae (and this sounds like there is) what that means is that all the fish and everything else that needs oxygen dies in that whole zone. It's like the dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico.

    This is major Not Good.
    • by gandhi_2 (1108023) on Monday July 20, 2009 @11:29AM (#28756711) Homepage
      You are saying this cannot be a symptom of non-anthropogenic warming? I think you are tilting at windmills!
    • by daem0n1x (748565)
      There's not a lot of oxygen [untamedscience.com] on the ocean floor.
      • There's not a lot of oxygen [untamedscience.com] on the ocean floor.

        I'm not sure exactly what you meant by pointing out that fact...
        so I'm just going to assume you wanted to inspire a free-association session stemming from that statement. Here goes:

        In deep ocean conditions there is very little oxygen near the ocean floor, in shallow water the environment should have abundant oxygen all the way down.

        If you deprive a poor man and a rich man of all of their resources, they will be equally broke and unable to sustain their dependents.

        If you deprive a oxygen poor environment and

    • by martas (1439879)
      i for one think it'd be a lot neater if there were fewer life forms on earth, and specifically in the oceans. seriously, wouldn't it be awesome if all the seas in the world were covered my a similar goo?
    • by TigerTime (626140)

      The difference is the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico takes up a huge area because of how shallow it is there, and does not have the deep ocean floor as compared to the Pacific. The hypoxic conditions can be much more readily diluted in the Pacific.

    • "One of the prime symptoms of anthropogenic warming is"

      FFS, dude, anthropogenic warming is a damned THEORY. And, here you have laws already written in stone. You might have got away with that shit had you said "global warming". The globe is warming, but the idea that man is responsible for that warming is about 30% theory, 35% speculation, and 35% political manipulation.

  • Read 'Stark'

  • by WindBourne (631190) on Monday July 20, 2009 @11:44AM (#28756833) Journal
    These do not happen at the poles. It normally requires warmer water. So, what is feeding this in such cold water?
    • by Kreigaffe (765218) on Monday July 20, 2009 @12:20PM (#28757325)

      I think it's a bit much to say these do not happen at the poles. We simply haven't encountered one yet. Algae do live in cold water, the question's just why are there so many all of a sudden? This area of the ocean is pretty rich in marine life normally, though the water is cold. There's a ton of fishing and even a show about crabbing in the general area, and colder waters (especially where they mix with warm water) are incredibly rich in nutrients (though I don't know enough offhand to say this is one of those areas, it.. prroooobbably is, or is close to one).
      Algal blooms in the gulf and off the west coast tend to be caused by runoff from agricultural waters rich in fertilizers. I doubt there's much of that so far north, but there may have been some nutrient-stirring or even -releasing during the recent earthquakes up there? That's a total stab in the dark. I'm not a scientist or even an amateur in this field, but I do know that shaking water can stir stuff up from the bottom.
      though looking at wikipedia.. this has happened before, at least near this area. Down near the bottom there's a picture of a bloom from 1998 in the Bering Sea (the rich sea area I was talkin about) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algal_bloom [wikipedia.org]

      This might really be more a case of people unfamiliar with a phenomenon blowing it way out of proportion because they don't know that it's happened before. The original article did mention there was concern it was an oil spill, and that quite often there's investigations into strange things in the area that are thought to be oil spills but rarely turn out to actually be so... so at this point I'm thinking this has happened before, if maybe not quite on this scale, but it just wasn't picked up widely by news organizations so you and I never knew about it.

      • I think it's a bit much to say these do not happen at the poles. We simply haven't encountered one yet.

        If that statement was logically sound, couldn't you use it to refute any negative 'fact'?

        Simple statement: People can't fly
        Your response: Don't say that, we just haven't found any people who can do that YET

        Simple statement: People can't drink a gallon of arsenic laced with Hydrofloric acid.
        Your response: Don't say that, we just haven't found any people who can do that YET

        • by Kreigaffe (765218)

          That's stretching it a bit. We can explain why people can't fly, and why they can't drink a gallon of arsenic and hydrofluoric acid. I don't believe we could explain why an algal bloom like this couldn't happen. There's still quite a bit about the oceans and marine life that we don't really have a good handle on, so making definite statements like that just doesn't seem prudent.

          Oh, and for the record.. people *can* fly, it just takes some sort of machinery to get it done ;)

          • I have now, in my head, reworded a counter argument to myself and convinced myself that you are more right.
            E.g. that is it more possible for there an algae bloom in cold water than it is to be impossible.

            So, what is feeding this in such cold water?

            Probably Nutrients, but from where? oceanic currents? earthquake volcanic activity? runoff?

      • by migla (1099771)

        Considering how drivers over here are surprised by icy roads in the winter, every winter, leading to numerous crashes come first snow, I'm inclined to believe your theory about this news.

      • The gist of my post was that something fed it to get it to bloom. It is possible that it does occur and we just were not looking for it, but I would still want to examine other possibilities.
        • by Kreigaffe (765218)

          Well sure, obviously.. I'm just fairly used to people jumping on things like this and screaming about a man-caused global catastrophe, over what turns out to be a natural phenomenon we simply haven't observed yet. That seems to be the popular thing to do these days, but it makes about as much sense as, upon hearing of the discovery of a new species, shouting about how this species was never there before and therefor must be caused by humanity changing the environment.

      • "and colder waters (especially where they mix with warm water) are incredibly rich in nutrients (though I don't know enough offhand to say this is one of those areas, it.. prroooobbably is, or is close to one)."

        While spending a year on Adak, I learned that the Bering Sea is supposed to be the coldest body of water on earth, and the Pacific Ocean is the warmest. Since then, I've questioned that assertion - but it's true enough to ensure very frequent severe storms in the Aleutians all the time. And, I mean

  • It isn't exciting ??
    We kept hearing a few years ago that this was exactly the kind of activity that
    was responsible for much of the breathable air on our planet, plus food the the fishies...
    And this isn't something to be marveled at ??? Cripes...
  • by Anonymous Coward

    they said it was a vegetarian, well heres their chance to prove it.

  • For more factual information about algal blooms, the Geological Survey has produced: http://74.125.113.132/search?q=cache:PYtvMJ0lJ3QJ:pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2006/3147/pdf/FS2006_3147.pdf+usgs+algal+bloom&cd=2&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us [74.125.113.132]
  • ..they said birds were getting stuck in it, and all that was coming out the other side was feathers and bones - is this typical of algae to consume small mammals?
    • Excuse me for being ignorant but I was taught that birds were not mammals they were more akin to dinosaurs than to mammals. Guess I need to go back to school and get a refresher course or have they changed the laws of physics so would I have to retake that also and does 1+1=3 now because of inflation. Next thing you know they are going to tell me that Columbus didn't discover the North American continent and the world is still flat.
  • There has to be a way to link this to Sarah. I am counting on the smart slashdot users to post the elegant response and make my day :-)

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