Finally, the unexpected cause of the strange ocean slicks that seem to swirl about the Baltic Sea’s surface has been discovered by scientists, and it just so happens to be tree pollen.
Bizarre Ocean Swirls on the Baltic Sea – NOT Sea Snot
The strange slicks have been observed on numerous occasions in recent years, most notably in a color-corrected satellite image taken off the coast of Gdansk, Poland, on May 16, 2018.
Researchers have discovered that unusual swirling “slicks” that occasionally appear on the Baltic Sea are actually made from floating tree pollen.https://t.co/kSfRrXGmqk
— Live Science (@LiveScience) May 13, 2023
Though they were aware that the swirling patterns were the result of waves and wind-driven currents shifting the slicks around on the surface of the ocean, scientists were unclear of their specific composition.
Initial speculation among experts was that they were “sea snot,” a sticky byproduct of some plankton, or algal blooms.
Pine Tree Pollen
But when scientists examined the reflecting qualities of the enigmatic substance in a paper published in the scientific journal Remote Sensing of Environment, they discovered that it was more like pollen from pine trees (Pinus sylvestris).
Researchers claimed that this was later corroborated by the way the slicks looked and by direct observations made by local scientists.
According to State Woods Poland, pine trees are the most prevalent tree in Poland, making up more than 55% of the nation’s woods, which in turn occupy just under 30% of the country’s area.
But the pollen of the trees was not before known to be carried thus far offshore.
Climate Change, Pollen Levels, and the Time of the Year
Following the identification of the pollen, the researchers reviewed earlier satellite pictures and discovered that similar slicks have previously emerged 14 times between 2000 and 2021.
They found that the slicks are starting to develop earlier in the year and that the pollen content has increased year over year.
The variations in pollen concentrations across the study period are consistent with a global trend of rising pollen concentrations brought on by climate change.
According to a study published in the February 2021 issue of the journal Environmental Sciences, between 1990 and 2018, pollen levels in North America grew by 21%, and the average length of the pollen season was extended by about 20 days.
These alterations, according to NASA’s Earth Observatory, are the result of more carbon dioxide being present in the atmosphere, which enables plants to generate more pollen.
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Pollen and its High Organic Carbon Content
The team thinks additional research is required to properly understand the impact pollen plays in maritime ecosystems because of its high organic carbon content.
If the research group can track pollen aggregation in several locations, this may provide useful information for fisheries studies, according to lead study author Chuanmin Hu, who is also an optical oceanographer at the University of South Florida.
The information might be used in conjunction with land-based pollen detectors to track long-term trends that may affect allergy sufferers, Live Science reported.
According to NASA’s Earth Observatory, the abundance of pollen may have effects that go beyond just making people sneeze.
Pollen grains can impact aquatic ecosystems by adding carbon to the sea, despite the fact that this is not fully understood.
Pollen grains may be a significant source of nutrients for some crustacean species, insect larvae, and other invertebrates that dwell in coastal Baltic Sea waters, just as the way leaf litter feeds food webs in lakes and streams.
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