The Census of Marine Life: this is a job for… the counting vampire from Sesame Street

I'd ask Cookie Monster to help, but: He's not really... Counting isn't his strong suit, you know?Courtesy planetschwaI only say that because the Count doesn’t seem to have a lot of ambitions beyond counting, which he loves, and because I think vampires and vampire puppets live a really long time, and whoever takes the job I have in mind will need lots of time. Because there’s plenty of counting to be done. Lots and lots.
Everyone is census–crazy these days, marine biologists included. Scientists are working on a Census of Marine Life—an attempt to classify and quantify all the life in the world’s oceans. Counting all the whales and mermaids and fish and things would be hard enough, but most of the life in the sea is much smaller than that, and it has to be counted too. So the Census of Marine Life has four departments focusing on the itty-bitties of the sea; microbes, zooplankton, larvae, and “burrowers in the sea bed” (like little worms and things.)
More than 2,000 scientists have worked on the census over the course of the last ten years. More than 5,000 new forms of marine life have been discovered, and researchers think there may still be several times that number still waiting to be found. The research is also changing the view of the deepest parts of the ocean from a harsh, and nearly lifeless wasteland to the sort of vibrant, living seascape you’d want to send your kids to on an educational field trip (if they didn’t drown and get crushed by the extreme pressure). Thousands of species can live in a very small area, with huge numbers of individuals—one sample found over half a million worms in a square yard of deep-sea mud. 500,000 worms! That’s like the Count’s dream!
Their sheer numbers are what make these organisms so significant to the global ecosystem. Ocean microbes, for instance, often too small to be seen by the naked eye, are estimated to have a population of about one nonillion. A nonillion, as the article puts it, is “1,000 times 1 billion, times 1 billion, times 1 billion.” Or, as I put it, it is 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. Or, as the Count will put it, “One microbe! Two microbes! Three microbes! Four microbes!” Anyway… That number of microbes weighs about the same as 240 billion African elephants, and each microbe in that mass is decomposing organic material, or creating waste, or photosynthesizing, or getting eaten by other organisms… It’s a highly complex and totally massive system, and life on the planet depends on it, so as strange (or hopeless) as counting it may seem at first, it’s an important job.


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Karen's picture
Karen says:

There is no marine life in my glass of water, which is the sample I'm using to extrapolate all of my data. Therefore I must conclude there is no life in water. (pity that)

posted on Fri, 04/23/2010 - 6:35pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Sure there's life in your water. You're just not looking hard enough.

posted on Sat, 04/24/2010 - 3:10pm

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