Coastal Lights and Coastal Smells

August 7, 2018

The First Congress federalized existing lighthouses, built by the colonies, on August 7, 1789.  On that date, they also appropriated funds for lighthouses, beacons and buoys. The lighthouse directed ships safely through episodes of fog, storms and other weather events.  Sound was also used to guide ships and in colonial times cannons fired from shore warned ships away from fog shrouded coastlines.  A fog bell was first used in 1852 with a mechanical bell in 1869, a fog trumpet in 1872 and an air siren in 1887.  Those that serviced these devices were members of the Lighthouse Service, often performing their duties in extreme hardship.  On August 7, 1939, the administration of the lighthouses was transferred to the Coast Guard. With the "coast" previously referenced, on your trips to the coast you know your close when you smell the salt air. Science Magazine reported that the fishy, tangy smell is actually a bacteria gas.  Andrew Johnson of the University of East Anglia posted a study suggesting that sea smell emanates from a pungent gas called dimethyl sulfide, originating in the emission of sulfur from the ocean.  DMS is produced when bacteria feast on dying sea plants and plankton. He also believes that humans aren’t the only ones acclimated to the smell.  Some seabirds use the odor to locate coastal food sources. During the experiment a scientific team opened a bottle containing DMS-producing bacteria, after the opening, the team was bombarded by hungry seabirds.

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