Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Glowing life in an underwater world

Awak’d before the rushing prow,
The mimic fires of ocean glow,
Those lightnings of the wave;
Wild sparkles crest the broken tides,
And flashing round, the vessel’s sides
With elfish luster lave;
While far behind, their livid light
To the dark billows of the night
A blooming splendour gave

From Lord of the Isles (1815) by Sir Walter Scott

Some 80 to 90 percent of undersea creatures make light -- from headlights on fish to incredible spiraling light shows on jellyfish, we know so very little about how or why it happens. Bioluminescence expert Edith Widder explores this glowing, sparkling, luminous world, sharing glorious images and insight into the unseen depths (and brights) of the ocean.

Edith Widder spoke on the Mission Blue voyage in the Galapagos Islands about her passion – bioluminescence.
Bioluminescence is the light chemically produced by many organisms found in the deep ocean. Not only is she is a specialist, but she has also helped design and invent new submersible instruments and equipment to study bioluminescence and enable unobtrusive observation of deep-sea environments.
One of these instruments, the Eye in the Sea observatory, has produced footage of rare sharks, squid, and never-before-seen bioluminescent displays.

In 2005 she founded the Ocean Research & Conservation Association (ORCA), which is dedicated to protecting aquatic ecosystems and the species they sustain through the development of innovative technologies and science-based conservation action.
In an effort to protect and revitalize the ocean she loves she has been focusing on developing tools for finding and tracking pollution -- a major threat to all of our water ecosystems and ultimately to human health.

Dr. Widder
, who is also a winner of a MacArthur Fellowship “genius” 2006 award, received the prestigious invitation to give a TED talk due to her long track record of pioneering work in marine exploration and conservation.
“I’m thrilled. I’m ecstatic. It’s so wonderful to be included in such an energetic group. We’ve had a lot of depressing talks about the ocean and I can do that. But, I want to get you excited about all the things in the ocean that are yet to be explored.”

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