MYSTICLAND PRESENTS THE WEEK THAT WAS: Episode 3
DEADLY DISEASE FOUND IN AMERICAN WATERS
“Florida and the Caribbean corals are under attack! The culprit has been found. It’s the stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD). It’s relentless and determined to wipe out all corals. May the MysticLord come to their aid,” Felix said to the other Mysticals in the school’s library. The librarian shushed him.
Scorch whispered, “What happens to the corals when SCTLD attacks?”
“Corals are invertebrate animals. When the SCTLD strikes, colonies of corals start developing white patches and lose their beautiful colors. The white patches spread to other parts of the colonies and continue to wipe corals out. Within weeks or months after it strikes, infected corals die,” Felix explained.
“Coral disease specialist in Florida William Precht said it’s the worst thing he has ever seen,” said Verum.
“My crystal ball tells me that SCTLD was discovered in 2014 in coral reefs near Miami. Carried forward by a virus or bacterium, the disease has spread to the coasts of Florida and the northern Caribbean. Currently, SCTLD is present in at least 20 countries. Scientists are still trying to figure out what causes the disease and how we can help corals fight it,” Verum added.
“True. One assumption is that commercial ships are carrying the disease with them via ballast water and spreading them wherever they discharge it. Ballast water is saltwater or freshwater that ships store to maintain stability when they’re not carrying heavy cargo.
In January 2019, SCTLD arrived suddenly near the shipping port of Crown Bay, United States Virgin Islands. The disease then spread around the island. In November 2019, coral reefs of Freeport city (the Bahamas) had been infected. In March 2020, when marine scientists examined about 96 km of reefs, they found that the majority of infected colonies had died. Colonies that took hundreds of years to grow died within weeks.
Marilyn Brandt, a student of coral studies at the University of Virgin Islands, says that coral death will affect fish populations. It’ll also crush the economy of the surrounding areas that depend on coral reefs for tourism.
One solution is to ask ships to be more careful about where they’re discharging their ballast water. They shouldn’t do it near ports or coral reefs. Strict laws need to be put in place,” concluded Felix.
“I hope the corals recover soon,” Scorch whispered, upset about the situation.
SECRET BEHIND PERFECT PEARLS REVEALED
“Oh my MysticLord,” Scorch said, “there’s a pearl inside that oyster.” The four Mysticals were in the middle of their scuba diving session when they spotted oysters on the ocean floor.
“Wow,” Verum marveled, “it’s so perfectly round and symmetrical.”
“Yes,” Orak nodded enthusiastically, “and scientists have discovered how oysters create such perfectly round, symmetrical pearls.”
“Tell us the secret too!” Scorch demanded.
“But first, I will tell you how oysters make pearls,” Felix said, “Oysters are sea animals. They belong to the family of mollusks. Oysters live in the sea inside their shells. Pears are precious stones or gemstones. They are made by oysters.
When an oyster is hungry, it peeps out to grab some food. Sometimes, sand grains or rocks enter the shells. The grain or rocks start pricking and irritating the oyster. So, it starts the process of covering the prickly object with a substance known as nacre to stop it from hurting its body. It makes the grain/rock smooth and shiny. Thus, a pearl is formed.”
“So, oysters grow a round pearl from an irregularly shaped grain or a rock?” Scorch said, surprised, “That’s incredible!”
“Isn’t it?” Orak agreed, “Scientist Laura Otter and her colleagues discovered that each new layer of nacre smooths out previous irregularities, resulting in a round pearl.
The team studied Keshi pearls from Akoya pearl oysters at an eastern Australia coastal pearl farm. They cut the pearls, polished them, and examined the gems. One pearl had 2,615 layers of nacre deposited over 548 days!”
“It must take years and years to form a pearl,” Verum noted in awe.
“Yes, that’s true,” Felix said.
Orak continued, “Oysters correct all the growth irregularities that appear as the pearl forms with nacre. It prevents the pearl from becoming lopsided. Oysters also control the thickness of nacre layers. For example, if one layer of nacre is thick, the next layer will be thinner. It helps the pearl become perfectly round.”
“Nacre is a light but tough material,” Felix added, “Nacre is made of calcium, carbonate, and protein. But it is 3000 times stronger than the materials it is made of!”
“The research will help us create super tough materials in the future,” Orak concluded, “such as more efficient solar panels or heat-resistance spacecraft materials.”
SCIENTISTS FIND NEW MINERAL INSIDE EARTH
“I have news from deep inside the Earth,” Orak announced, “Scientists have found a new mineral in Earth’s mantle. They have named it davemaoite, after the well-known geophysicist Ho-Kwang (Dave) Mao.
Geophysicists are scientists who study the physical processes occurring in the Earth and its vicinity. Earth is made of four layers, the inner core, the outer core, the mantle, and the crust. The mantle is the Earth’s thickest layer. It is the layer below the crust and above the outer core.”
“How did they discover the mineral davemaoite?” Felix wanted to know.
“Well, scientists already knew such minerals existed in Earth’s lower mantle through lab experiments. But this is the first time scientists have managed to gather proof that davemaoite exists in nature,” Orak answered.
Orak continued, “Do you know which precious mineral and gemstone forms in Earth’s mantle? It’s diamonds. Scientists found a davemaoite rock inside a diamond from a Botswana mine. Botswana is a country in Southern Africa. Scientist Oliver Tschauner and the team conducted several tests to identify the chemical structure of the new mineral.”
“But how did the mineral enter a diamond of all things?!” Scorch said, confused.
“Diamonds are formed in Earth’s mantle under immense pressure and heat. But on their journey towards the surface of the Earth, they sometimes lock in minerals in their original forms,” Orak said.
“How is the discovery going to help?” Verum said.
Orak replied, “Davemaoite has opened a new window into the research of Earth’s lower mantle. What does the mantle look like? What other minerals can be found in the layer? The research can help scientists answer these questions.
It is difficult to study minerals found deep inside the Earth. It’s because they are stable in the intense heat and pressure of the mantle. But as soon as they are removed from the layer, there is a change in pressure level, and they rearrange their chemical structures.”
“Earth’s lower mantle is very hot. The study will help scientists identify the sources of this heat,” Orak continued, “Davemaoite is host to different chemical elements. It includes radioactive elements such as uranium, thorium, and potassium. Such radioactive elements (unstable elements that release particles or energy) produce one-third of the heat in the Earth’s lower mantle.
Scientists can study the chemical structure of davemaoite and find out in which part of the mantle the elements exist!”
“Isn’t it amazing how the discovery of one mineral can solve so many questions about the Earth?” Felix said.
Stay tuned for episode 4 next Friday!
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