Coming to Grips with a Watery World
With fanfare that even snared some attention outside scientific circles, the 10-year Census of Marine Life came to a conclusion Oct. 1. The headlines and self-congratulation were deserved: our “ocean planet” is predominantly covered with salt water, and the Census had strength in numbers: 2,700 scientists from more than 80 nations spent $650 million exploring life in salt water. Working in 25 groups, the scientists sifted and collated old data and performed new studies on 540 field expeditions.
(From The Why Files) — The Census also crafted the ground-breaking Ocean Biogeographic Information System. This public database contains 30 million records on more than 100,000 marine species, derived from new studies and about 800 existing databases that were harmonized for easy digital access (or so we’re told; we confess we’ve not looked up our favorite lobster in the database).
The effort was monumental, but necessary, considering that roughly 71 percent of our planet is covered by ocean. For reasons of remoteness, expense, logistics and physics, ocean science is difficult and expensive, and as a result, we know a lot less about life in the oceans than on land.
And even on land, scientists cannot agree on the total number of multicellular species, let alone count the bacteria and other one-celled critters.
The effort to explore salty sections of the planet that began in 2000 has already boosted the number of known marine species from 230,000 to 250,000. About 5,000 more candidate species await analysis in jars and freezers around the world.