The Oceans cover 71 per cent of the earths surface, yet we still know so little about what wonders are contained beneath the waves. Ever since man began leaving the safety of land and venturing into the unknown, sailors have brought back with them tales of incredible phenomena.
Although we are now beginning to understand more about the secrets held by the earths Oceans, there is still much that baffles scientists. Hidden from sight, an entire world of wonders exists that we are only just beginning to scratch the surface of. From strange lights glowing in the night, to poisonous blood red tides, here are my choices for 5 strange and incredible Ocean phenomena.
5. Red Tide
Like something out of the Bible, a red tide is the name given to a phenomenon also known as algal bloom, which causes the ocean to turn red, giving it the disturbing appearance of blood.
A red tide can occur when the concentration of certain types of algae in the water shoots up, causing whats known as an algal bloom and changing the colour of the water. Millions of the tiny algae reproduce and cluster together, and although the water will often appear to turn red, it can also change to other colours including pink, purple, yellow or even green. They can often reach massive sizes, with one recent red tide off the coast of Florida measuring 90 miles long, 60 miles wide, and 100 feet deep.
The algae that cause these red tides can contain a toxin that is harmful to both animals and humans. The toxin can affect the nervous and digestive systems of marine life that come into contact with it, often resulting in a huge die off of fish in the area of the red tide, along with the birds and animals that feed on fish.
If the red tide gets close to a beach, waves hitting the beach can release the toxins into the air, affecting anyone who breaths it. This can cause respiratory problems, and has been described as being like breathing pepper spray. Humans can also be affected by eating shellfish and oysters which have been contaminated by the red tide algae, experiencing symptoms such as dizziness and disorientation, and even death by asphyxiation in extreme cases.
Red tides can occur worldwide, and some reports suggest that they are happening with greater frequency. Although natural processes such as warmer than usual surface water and low salinity are often the cause of red tides, human activity has also been blamed. A recent toxic red tide near Chile which stretched across hundreds of miles was blamed on the salmon farming industry. It was alleged that the dumping of rotten salmon in the ocean, coupled with the high presence of salmon food and faeces, caused an algal bloom to grow much larger than usual. The resulting red tide caused a health emergency – dozens of people were poisoned and huge amounts of local fish were killed.
4. Underwater Crop Circles
These strange geometric formations were first found in 1995 off the coast of Japan, and remained a mystery for nearly ten years. They began being referred to as underwater crop circles due to their resemblance to crop circles found on land, and were the subject of great speculation as to what could be causing them.
The six feet diameter patterns would come and go seemingly at random, their creator a mystery. in 2011 the mystery was finally solved, when a male pufferfish was caught crafting one of the strange formations. The circles were formed by the fish repeatedly swimming in and out of the circle, and using his fins to dig the ridges in the sand. He would even decorate the circle with small fragments of shell and coral.
So why would the little five inch fish go to such great lengths to make these patterns? The answer is simple, to impress females.
Scientists believe that a higher quality circle would make the female fish more likely to mate with the male who built it. If the circle was deemed good enough, the female fish would lay her eggs in the centre.
The elaborate design wasn’t just for aesthetic reasons though, it also served a practical purpose. The force of the male swimming would stir up fine sand particles, which would be pushed into the middle of the circle and gather together. This section would serve as the nest for the eggs, with the ridges providing protection for the eggs against ocean currents. The decorative rocks, coral and seashell would also double as food for the young fish.
3. The Great Blue Hole
The great blue hole is the name given to a giant underwater sinkhole located off the coast of Belize. It is thought to be the largest of its kind at over 980 feet across, and plunging to a depth of over 400 feet.
It appears as a giant dark blue circle looming in the ocean, and is surrounded by reef and lighter blue shallow waters. In fact water levels can be so shallow around the sinkhole that parts of the reef are known to break the surface of the water at low tide.
The sinkhole was formed thousands of years ago, when sea levels were much lower than they are today. It was originally a limestone cave which flooded as ocean levels began to rise, causing it to eventually collapse, creating the deep vertical hole in the earth that we can see today.
Similar sinkholes can often be found on land, which are often caused by natural processes such as erosion causing the collapse of a cave, however they can also be the result of human activity. The Berezniki sinkhole in Russia is 80 metres long and 200 metres deep, and was formed when a mine in the area was flooded and collapsed. In 2007 a giant sinkhole appeared in Guatemala City with a depth of over 100 metres, and was caused by the cities corroded sewage system releasing fluid which eroded the ground underneath the city. Five people were killed when the dark chasm opened up, and 1000 people had to be evacuated from the area.
The great blue hole is now a popular diving location and has been declared a world heritage site by the UN, however there is something foreboding about this dark blue chasm in the middle of the ocean.
2. Rogue Waves
Rogue waves are large, unexpected and dangerous waves that are usually defined as waves at least twice as high as the surrounding waves in a given area. It’s for this reason that rogue waves are so dangerous, even to huge ships like oil tankers and ocean liners, as they usually involve waves that are far larger than ship designers were expecting when designing their ship.
Simply put, most ships are simply not designed to withstand the force with which these giant waves can hit with. Modern ships are usually designed to tolerate forces as high as 21 psi, however some rogue waves have been recorded as generating upwards of 140 psi. The chances of any ship surviving contact with a huge wave like this are very small indeed.
Rogue waves used to be considered nothing more than myths, tales told by old sailors with too much rum in their belly, however eyewitness accounts as well as damaged ships have long hinted that they were more than just legends. That all changed in 1984 when the first scientific evidence to prove that rogue waves existed was gathered at an oil platform in the North Sea. A wave measuring 11 metres was recorded when surrounding waves were much smaller. This was later dwarfed however, when in 1995 another North Sea oil platform recorded a wave with a height of 25.6 metres, which was so big that it actually inflicted damage upon the sturdy oil platform. Since then, other rogue waves have been recorded in the open ocean as high as 29 metres of more.
Rogue waves don’t seem to have one individual cause, however they tend to occur when high winds and strong ocean currents combine to create a monster sized freak wave. More often than not that will happen far out in the open sea, and they don’t seem to be confined to just one part of the world, they can and do happen all over the globe.
Rogue waves should not be confused with Tsunamis however. Tsunamis are caused by massive displacement of water, usually as a result of an earthquake moving the ocean floor. They tend to be unnoticeable in deep water, only becoming dangerous when they reach land. As such Tsunamis rarely cause damage to ships. Rogue waves are very much noticeable in the open seas, and have been linked with several cases of ships being lost at sea, including the MV Derbyshire in 1980, which at 91,655 tons, was the largest British ship to have ever been lost at sea.
1. The Milky Sea Phenomenon
Sailors have long told tales of strange goings on far out at sea. One of the more unusual tales spoke of the surface of the ocean glowing milky white in the darkness of night, stretching as far as the eye can see. Such tales were often dismissed as legends and myths, however in 2005 researchers matched eyewitness accounts of the phenomenon with satellite images taken in 1995 which appeared to show an area of the Indian Ocean about the size of Connecticut, glowing an eerie milky white colour. The sea was observed glowing over three consecutive nights, and the phenomenon was so large and bright that satellites were able to record it from space.
What was causing this strange effect remained a mystery, however a research vessel took samples of ocean water during a milky sea event, and scientists later concluded that high concentrations of a certain type of bacteria were causing the milky light by converting chemical energy to light energy. The bacteria was using the light to attract fish, as it wanted to be eaten due to it thriving inside the gut of a fish. When such bacteria gathered in large enough numbers, the milky sea effect would appear.
However this theory is still disputed, and there is doubt over whether bacteria or plankton could gather in large enough numbers to cause an effect which covers such a large area of ocean. In 1995 the SS Lima reported a milky sea event and described it as a whitish glow stretching to the horizon. Crew members said that it appeared as if the ship was sailing over a field of snow or gliding over the clouds.
Milky seas have been reported 235 times since 1915, and seem to mostly occur in the Indian Ocean, yet there exact cause is still a mystery, and they highlight just how little we still know about the oceans which cover most of the worlds surface.
So those are my choices for 5 incredible Ocean Phenomena, I hope you enjoyed the video – let me know what you would have included in the list in the comments below!