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No. 73: Jan-Feb 1991

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An Amusing Assemblage Of Anomalies

We don't read much about "waterguns" in the modern scientific literature, but a century ago Nature published many ear-witness accounts of them. These muffled detonations heard near the coasts of almost all the continents are believed by some to be caused by eruptions of methane from the seafloor. The same eruptions probably also account for the myriads of "pockmarks" found in the sediments of shallow seas. Whether this outgassing of methane comes from shallow accumulations of organic matter or from deep within the crust is still debated.

Here, geophysics merges with biology. Recently, a group of researchers discovered a large (540 square meters) patch of chemosynthetic mussels in a brine-filled pockmark, at a depth of 650 meters, off the Louisiana coast. The mussels grew in a ring around the concentrated brine. The mussels harbor symbionts which consume the methane still seeping up through the brine from a salt diapir (a massive fingerlike intrusion 500 meters below the brine pool. The origin of some diapirs is not well-understood.) The mussels get the oxygen they require from the ordinary seawater covering the dense brine. Like the biological communities surrounding the "black smokers" and other ocean-floor seeps, the brine-filled pockmark community includes several species of shrimp, crabs, and tube worms. We have here another example of the astounding ability of lifeforms to take advantage of unusual, even bizarre niches. (MacDonald, I. Rosman, et al; "Chemosynthetic Mussels at a BrineFilled Pockmark in the Northern Gulf of Mexico," Science, 248:1096, 1990.)

Comment. Such examples of life's adaptability are so common one hesitates to label them as anomalous. Yet, one wonders how and why life acquired this property. Is the human urge to go to the planets a genetically derived extension of this urge to colonize new terri tories.

From Science Frontiers #73, JAN-FEB 1991. 1991-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:

Quotes

  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987