If you were a nerdy oceanographer prone to falling in love with large bodies of water, you’d totally pick the Southern Ocean. Firstly, it’s the ONLY ocean in the world that flows right around our planet without being hindered by land mass (so when it slows down or speeds up, it affects the speed at which the planet spins!). It’s also a global ocean because it links the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans. It’s kind of a big deal.
I also love this ocean because it’s so impossible to love. In winter, when much of the Antarctic is covered in ice, up to 19 MILLION square km of this ocean is completely unmappable by conventional oceanographic methods. It’s icy cold and hostile, and whipped by some of the strongest winds imaginable. Most of the time, it’s really just best to adore this ocean from a distance. As in, from deep space – by satellite.
We do this by looking at ocean colour, which sounds weird until you really LOOK at our seas. Blue tropical waters, cold dark green swell or even rusty red tides… all thanks to microscopic critters called phytoplankton. It’s pretty much the easiest way to see where the oceans are ‘happening’ – everything alive in the oceans is based on photosynthesizing phytoplankton, so where you find green waters, you have a party. Phytoplankton get eaten by zooplankton, which get eaten by everything else – from teeny fish to massive blue whales. And the things that don’t feed on zooplankton eat the things that eat the zooplankton. Hey presto! We have a food chain! Please pass the nachos.
The thing about the Southern Ocean is that it pretty much looks like the unhippest party out there. According to satellite data, there’s just not enough phytoplankton in their frigid waters to make it ‘cool’.
This is where I start to wonder how animals like southern elephant seals get to be such FATTIES if there’s no food? Maybe this is one of those parties where you need a secret knock before they let you in…
And this is where my investigation into ‘The Conundrum of Weight Gain’ began!