Seventy percent of the world is coated with goo
April 8, 2015 10:38 PM   Subscribe

At the very top of oceans and inland waters lies a distinct micrometer-thick microbial habitat. It influences climate change, fosters unusual and deadly bacteria, and is made of jelly. It is the surface microlayer.
posted by bismol (24 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is why i don’t lick the ocean.
posted by D.C. at 1:27 AM on April 9, 2015 [8 favorites]


I totally love coming across journal articles like that first link, which present a broad and explanatory overview of some topic area, because I've got a fairly shallow science background from a few high school courses plus liberal-arts-college physics electives and those sorts of articles are usually pretty intelligible to me if read with Google handy. Is there a term for that sort of article? And is there a good directory anywhere of them or blogs pointing them out, especially open-access articles?
posted by XMLicious at 2:26 AM on April 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


Oooo-kay. Never going swimming in the ocean or lakes again.
posted by happyroach at 2:30 AM on April 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


I wonder if you could harvest and sell it.
posted by Nevin at 2:34 AM on April 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's a high-protein feed for animals, insulation for low-income housing, a powerful explosive, and a top-notch engine coolant.
posted by Segundus at 3:06 AM on April 9, 2015 [8 favorites]


Actually I think it might be Flatland.
posted by Segundus at 3:10 AM on April 9, 2015 [7 favorites]


> Is there a term for that sort of article? And is there a good directory anywhere of them or blogs pointing them out, especially open-access articles?

They're called review articles. If you know what topic you're interested in, PubMed will let you filter for just these.
posted by penguinicity at 3:31 AM on April 9, 2015 [13 favorites]


Actually I think it might be Flatland.

Solaris.
posted by ennui.bz at 4:36 AM on April 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


Seventy percent of the world is coated with goo.


More if you have small children.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:40 AM on April 9, 2015 [28 favorites]


Paging J.G. Ballard, paging J.G. Ballard.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:42 AM on April 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Is this the corollary to the bit about us land mammals and everything we touch being covered in a molecule thick layer of poop?
posted by Sphinx at 6:00 AM on April 9, 2015


Wow, this is really cool! I hadn't realized how difficult it would be to only collect the very tip of the surface of a body of water. The nitrogen technique they use is fascinating. Imagining trying to do that from a very small boat at very high wind speeds is, um.... well, better them than me!
posted by sciatrix at 6:52 AM on April 9, 2015


It's their world. We just live in it.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:14 AM on April 9, 2015


That's why if your drinking from a lake cap the water bottle with your hand and plunge it below the surface and then open it up. That way you avoid drinking the top layer.
posted by kuatto at 7:22 AM on April 9, 2015


It seems like almost all of the sample-gathering in the review article was done fairly close to land. Is the microlayer as durable and present way out in the "ocean deserts" far from land, I wonder?
posted by clawsoon at 8:09 AM on April 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Segundus: Actually I think it might be Flatland.
Not to them.

We're more like HyperSphereland.

Or are we the Flatlanders? When was the last time you thought, "Hmm, that person is walking toward me, and the sidewalk is narrow... I believe I will just go over him" ? Even on the ocean, we have a 2D existence, with some bungee-cord-like excursions up and down.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:48 AM on April 9, 2015



It's a high-protein feed for animals, insulation for low-income housing, a powerful explosive, and a top-notch engine coolant.
posted by Segundus


Also a dessert topping and a floorwax.
posted by ZeusHumms at 9:15 AM on April 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Shimmer!

I get your pop references, Z.
posted by davelog at 9:52 AM on April 9, 2015


IAmBroom: "When was the last time you thought, "Hmm, that person is walking toward me, and the sidewalk is narrow... I believe I will just go over him" ?"

The Mangaboos do this.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:21 AM on April 9, 2015


Does this layer also exist wherever bodies of water touch other surfaces? Like the ocean floor? They should check for this, because it would be pretty cool.
posted by orme at 10:45 AM on April 9, 2015


This is why i don’t lick the ocean.

But you do. Waves make whitecaps full of bubbles; bubbles rise to the surface and burst; when they burst each one create hundreds of droplets; those droplets are so small (microns) that they float in the air and you breathe them in, saying "Ah, that familiar smell, I can almost taste the ocean!"

Basically, the foam is aerosolizing the sea surface microlayer and all that's in it.

At least, that's my read of the links. Yum.

Similar thing happens when it rains.
posted by brambleboy at 12:07 PM on April 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's their world. We just live in drink it.
posted by Fizz at 12:36 PM on April 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


I've been fooling around with the edges of this research recently, looking at a particular kind of biofilm found on ocean mudflats. EPS --- extracellular polymeric substances, or exopolysaccharides depending on who you talk to and how specific they're being --- is sort of an environment certain consortia of microbes make to live in. Not only is it a habitat, it's also a really important food source/medium for many shoreline creatures. So, it may also make a decent dessert topping, provided you're migratory waterfowl or a shoreline feeder.
posted by bonehead at 6:45 PM on April 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Hmm . . . This may be part of the mechanism that gave rise to life. In Biology 101 we were taught the importance of hydrophobic and hydrophilic membranes. At the molecular level, all cell membranes do is pump molecules back and forth, powered by adenosinetriphosphate, if I remember correctly. Analogous to this is how digital systems operate by pumping ones and zeros back and forth, powered by electricity.
posted by rankfreudlite at 9:52 AM on April 11, 2015


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