Saturday, November 30, 2013

Deep water : an unforgettable journey into one man's heart of darkness

DEEP WATER is the stunning true story of the first solo, non-stop, round-the-world boat race, and the psychological toll it took on its competitors.
Sponsored by the Sunday Times of London, the much-ballyhooed event attracted a field of nine, including amateur sailor Donald Crowhurst, who set out to circumnavigate the globe in late 1968. 
Battling treacherous seas and his own demons, Crowhurst almost immediately comes apart as he faces the isolation of nine months on the high seas.
Part adventure yarn and part metaphysical mystery, DEEP WATER is an unforgettable journey into one man's heart of darkness. 
Absolutely stunning story about a man, honor, dignity, family and loneliness. 

From The Guardian

After 240 days at sea, Donald Crowhurst was sailing home in triumph - a novice who'd beaten the world's best in the sport's most gruelling race.
But then his empty boat was found adrift in the Atlantic.
Forty years after the compelling and tragic mystery, Robert McCrum meets the family of the infamous 'lone sailor'.

I have always been convinced that Donald didn't commit suicide," says the bright-eyed 77-year-old grandmother, sitting by her fireside in Seaton, a south Devon coastal town.
"It's such an awful story and I suppose we will never know what happened at the end."
Outside, it's thriller weather: grey skies, an icy swell breaking on the deserted front, and the plaintive commentary of a few stray seagulls.
Clare Crowhurst recollects the terrible past calmly enough today, but 40 years ago she was known to news-paper readers as the "sea widow".

Race map
Follow the progress of the Golden Globe Race from March, 1968 to July, 1969, tracking Donald Crowhurst's journey and those of his competitors.
See who finished, who won and who paid the ultimate price. 
Positions on the map are estimated.

Back in 1969, her husband, Donald Crowhurst, was the protagonist of the strangest, most disturbing story of its time, part adventure, part mystery, but mostly tragedy.
He was the yachtsman who fooled a credulous press and public into believing that, after a voyage of 240 days, he was sailing home to England in triumph, apparently the winner of the Sunday Times's Golden Globe Race, the fastest nonstop single-handed round-the-world race.
Thousands prepared for his happy return.
Then Crowhurst vanished.
When his trimaran was found, ghosting through the mid-Atlantic under a single sail, there were clues to its last voyage in three log books, but its lone captain was missing, and when the truth came out his fate was swamped by the larger story of his hoax.

"I used to dream about it for years," says Clare.
"In fact, during June 1969, I imagined I heard the front door open and Donald calling out 'Clare', as he always did."

Her second son, Simon, a young middle-aged man with a premature shock of white hair and the bright, questioning eyes of a lost boy, is also haunted by his father's fate.
He holds a chunky wooden model of the boat, and talks about the curse of the past.
"I feel compelled to think about my father's story," he says.
"He's the Ancient Mariner, of course, but I feel like the narrator."
Simon sees it as an existential cliffhanger.
"My father becomes this solitary hero in the limelight of history," he says.

"When you're alone, just you and the ocean, it's the whole of your universe... It's no longer about heroes and adventures at sea. It's about isolation and the delicate mechanism of the mind."
—Ron Winspear, Donald Crowhurst's closest friend

Poignant, ominous and unforgettable, the story has inspired many elegiac narratives: by the American poet Donald Finkel, the playwright Chris Van Strander, and an opera, Ravenshead.
Responding to its archetypal depths, director Nic Roeg developed a film script in the 70s, though it was never made.
In 1982, the French based Les Quarantièmes Rugissants (The Roaring Forties) on the Crowhurst story. In 1992, the American novelist Robert Stone based Outerbridge Reach on the strange events of that long-ago summer.

The story starts in 1968, the climactic year of the 60s: to the soundtrack of Sergeant Pepper and the Doors, tides of workers and students demonstrated against the Vietnam War; just a few weeks apart, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated; Soviet tanks rolled into Prague; and, out in space, Apollo moonshots were pitching man against the universe.

Here in Britain, the mood was nostalgic and quasi-Elizabethan.
Seafaring adventure was in the air.
The year before, Francis Chichester had sailed his Gipsy Moth into Plymouth to a tumultuous welcome, a media frenzy, and a knighthood from the Queen, conferred on the quayside, as if she were Gloriana herself.
The Americans might hurtle upwards in their rockets, but here on earth plucky Brits still ruled the waves.
The press, scenting a new audience for drama on the high seas, splashed yachting stories across its front pages.
Chichester's account of his voyage, The Lonely Sea and the Sky, became an instant bestseller.
During the spring of 1968, in direct competition with the Observer's Transatlantic Race, the Sunday Times launched a nonstop challenge, the Golden Globe round-the-world yacht race.

Finish of the 1968 Sunday Times Golden Globe Single-handed Race around the world. Sir Robin Knox-Johnston was the only one to finish of 9 starters and completed the voyage in 312 days.
He was in his 32 foot ketch Suhali.

"Nonstop" was to be the supreme test.
Chichester had broken his journey in Australia.
It was widely held that neither a solo yachtsman - nor his boat - could endure the stresses and strains of single-handed sailing for months on end.
However, swept up in the mood of the moment, nine sailors stepped forward to compete for two prizes.
Setting off any time before 31 October, the first man home would take the honours, a Golden Globe, while the fastest circumnavigation would scoop a tempting £5,000.

The competitors came from the cream of international yachting. There were high-profile challengers, the transatlantic oarsmen Chay Blyth and John Ridgway, in rival monohulls.
There were two veteran French sailors, Bernard Moitessier and Loïck Fougeron, an ex-merchant seaman, Robin Knox-Johnston, the Italian Alex Carozzo, two former naval officers, Bill King and Nigel Tetley.
Finally, a very late entry, almost as an afterthought, there was the "mystery man", an obscure West Country electronics engineer named Donald Crowhurst.

Compared with the field, Crowhurst was hopelessly inexperienced, at best a Boy's Own hero, at worst a fantasist.
Occasionally described as a "businessman", Crowhurst was British, but really an orphan of empire, born in the India of the British Raj in 1932, where his father worked as a superintendent on the railways.
After Independence in 1947, the family had returned with their meagre savings to England, but discovered that life in the suburbs of Reading was not an idyllic homecoming.
The climate was brutal; money was tight; almost at once Crowhurst senior dropped dead from a heart attack. Like a character from Dickens, young Donald was forced to leave school early and train as an apprentice at the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) in Farnborough.

Restless, broke and ambitious, a fish out of water, Crowhurst drifted from a commission with the RAF into the army, but was forced to resign after a rowdy evening involving a stolen car brought him before Reading magistrates.
Eventually, he married Clare O'Leary, an Anglo-Irish protestant girl from Killarney, moved to the West Country, and started a small computer business, Electron Utilisation Ltd.

An obsessive tinkerer, Crowhurst had invented the Navicator (a radio direction-finding gizmo that is now commonplace in any weekend sailor's arsenal), which he believed would make his fortune. Crowhurst was scarcely more than an enthusiastic amateur sailor, but when the Sunday Times's Golden Globe Race was announced, its £5,000 prize money (the equivalent of £65,000 today) seemed a heaven-sent way to stave off impending bankruptcy, until sales of the Navicator took off.

Impetuous, charming and headstrong, a self-confessed "romantic" in search of fame and glory, Crowhurst persuaded a local caravan dealer and millionaire, Stanley Best, to sponsor his entry, and commissioned a Norfolk boatyard to build a trimaran.
From the moment of Best's involvement, the Crowhurst story takes on a darker hue.
He hired a publicist, Rodney Hallworth, a provincial hack and former crime reporter for the Daily Mail and Daily Express, who fed Crowhurst's fantasy life and persuaded him to headquarter his race campaign in Teignmouth.
Race fever took hold.
Crowhurst mortgaged his house and his business against the sponsorship.
He was Icarus, with an overdraft.

It was a desperate gamble.
Time was running out.
Competitors had to set sail before 31 October and some had already left.
The "mystery man" was coming into the race with an untried boat, seriously unready and ill-equipped.

"I don't think," says Simon Crowhurst carefully, "that my father realised how badly things could go wrong."

On its first sea trial, from East Anglia to the West Country, Crowhurst's yacht, the Teignmouth Electron, underperformed so badly in the Channel that a three-day trip took two weeks.
Now there was no time to equip and provision the vessel properly for the race.
Up against the departure deadline, Crowhurst was faced with a stark choice: set sail with a dodgy boat or withdraw from the race and face humiliation and bankruptcy.

So, in the afternoon of 31 October 1968 - the last possible moment - after an embarrassing false start, Crowhurst set out from Teignmouth.
"Look after your mother," he whispered to his son, a strangely prophetic command. Simon remembers the departure well.
"We were watching from the shore. I don't think any of us quite knew what was going to happen next."
It was the beginning of Crowhurst's career as the Ancient Mariner.
Few could have anticipated how cursed, and literally fabulous, his voyage would become.

Gods of the Sea

To sail round the world in the 60s was to embark on a voyage of the ages.
There was no GPS, satellite communication, or internet: just a fuzzy radio link, and perhaps a morse code transmitter.
The lone sailor was a speck on the ocean, relying on sextant calculations. Simon Crowhurst believes that this is part of the lasting appeal of his father's story: one man against the elements, a man on the edge of oblivion, risking all.
"It's a story that people remember, and that's a consolation," he says.
"It's a story that tells you something about what it means to be human."

As the Teignmouth Electron slipped down the Channel on the long leg to the Cape of Good Hope, the first act of the Crowhurst drama was concluded.
All the elements of tragedy were in place: a curious public; a hungry media machine; and a weekend sailor heading into dangerous water.
Worse, and grimmer still, it was only once he was properly at sea that Crowhurst's secret fears were realised.
His boat, so hastily assembled, was a dud.

Ever optimistic, before departure he had calculated that, however late he set off, the superior speed of his trimaran would enable him to overhaul the other competitors and record the fastest circumnavigation.
He had never done much more than cruise up and down the south coast in a small sloop at weekends, but with impressive self-belief he had estimated that the Teignmouth Electron could be made to sail some 220 miles per day.

After a fortnight at sea, Crowhurst had not averaged more than 130 miles a day, and had barely passed Cape Finisterre and the coast of Portugal.
More alarming than his boat's underperformance, it had sprung a leak.
He wrote in his log, "This bloody boat is just falling to pieces!!!"
As well as the terror of the seas, waves as high as a 12-storey building, merciless winds and the terrible apprehensions induced by solitude, Crowhurst was now battling a more insidious, mental terror: the fear of not winning the all-important £5,000.

Crowhurst's solution to his predicament was a version of the truth that he, alone, could verify.
On 10 December, after about six weeks at sea, he cabled Rodney Hallworth with the astounding news that he had just sailed, in one day, a record 243 miles.
To himself, he described his false record as "a game".
As the remorseless logic of the hoax corrupted his relationship with reality, this game became a matter of life and death.

Now the media side of this strange tale kicks in.
Hallworth had only one concern: to hype his client's story.
In these early days of modern media relations, flogging the hell out of a scrap of news, unsourced, unverified and over-exaggerated, was all in a day's work for the publicist.
All at once the "mystery yachtsman" became the record-breaking "lone sailor".
Francis Chichester was privately sceptical and referred to Crowhurst as "the joker".
He could never have anticipated how audacious the joker's prank would become.

The race was still front-page news.
As Crowhurst struggled to get the Teignmouth Electron to make headway, the Sunday Times ran a story, "The Week it all Happened", describing how Carozzo, Fougeron and King had been forced to retire from the race from which Blyth and Ridgway had already withdrawn, while Robin Knox-Johnston battled mountainous seas off New Zealand after a horrendous capsize.

There was nothing to report about Crowhurst, trailing at the back of the pack, but this did not stop his press agent parcelling out his client's progress with teasing hints of more record-breaking feats. Hallworth's public faith in the yachtsman he called "my boy" was part of his charm as a PR man.

On Fleet Street, indeed, only the Observer yachting correspondent, Frank Page, evinced any disbelief about the progress of the Teignmouth Electron, sceptically describing "a typically forthright claim from Donald Crowhurst, currently lying a poor fourth in the race".
The truth of his situation was infinitely worse. Even with the trade winds of the mid-Atlantic, he was making painfully slow progress south and had barely crossed the equator.

Deep Water Trailer
or the 2006 feature documentary from Met Film Production.
"To watch this documentary is to invest exhaustively in its compelling cast of characters.
One can be lost at sea for days after..." - Independent
"Compassionate, tragic, troubling; this extraordinary documentary recounts one of the sailing community's legendary stories." - FilmFour Cinema
"A movie that will reduce the hardest of hearts to a shipwreck" - The Daily Telegraph

The log books tell the true story. In parallel with the fake co-ordinates of Crowhurst's record-breaking voyage, pages of meticulous fabrication, is the record of a man dawdling about the South Atlantic in a leaky boat, slowly going out of his mind.

Christmas came.
While her skipper was claiming to be "somewhere off Cape Town", the Teignmouth Electron was actually sailing past Brazil weeks behind the race leaders, a deception that would be impossible today.
Crowhurst spoke to his wife, but he was vague about his location and did not confess the truth of his predicament.
Soon after this, blaming a broken generator, he shut down all ship-to-shore communications.

Simon Crowhurst remembers that he and his brothers used to trace their father's progress by sticking pins into a map of the world.
Slowly, through January, February and March 1969, this comforting ritual faltered, and stopped.
Things were bad at home.
Clare Crowhurst was now drawing the dole.
Her youngest son, Roger, was suffering nightmares in which his father stood staring at him from the doorway of his bedroom.
Simon says that, "The sense that something was badly wrong began to grow at the back of our minds."

Renowned French yachtsman Bernard Moitessier in Deep Water

Out on the ocean, a terrible race continued to take its toll.
Bernard Moitessier, having sailed past Cape Horn, decided that he preferred the solitude of his boat to the strain of la vie normale.
The Frenchman cabled his wife an enigmatic au revoir and changed his course to begin a second circumnavigation.
He would finally make landfall in Tahiti.
Now in a field of three, Crowhurst was still lying last.

Then he came up with the narrative twist that changed everything.
On 10 April 1969, Crowhurst broke radio silence with a typically ebullient message, claiming to be heading back up the Atlantic, having cleared Cape Horn.
"What's new ocean-bashingwise?" he asked.
"It was as if," in Simon's words, "he had come back from the dead."
Hallworth hammered out an excited press release.
Across Fleet Street, a frisson of spring fever sent the Teignmouth Electron "rounding the Horn" and Crowhurst into serious contention for the £5,000 prize.

Ahead of him in the race were just two boats, Robin Knox-Johnston's battered ketch, Suhaili, and Nigel Tetley's trimaran.
Knox-Johnston was almost home, but Tetley looked most likely to be the winner of the prize for the fastest circumnavigation.
With a message that now seems richly ironic, Hallworth cabled Crowhurst: YOURE ONLY TWO WEEKS BEHIND TETLEY PHOTO FINISH WILL MAKE GREAT NEWS STOP.
The stage was set for the denouement of this "seafaring classic".

Crowhurst's plan relied on Tetley's two-week lead.
His deception - the circumnavigation that never was, the fake log books, the whole hoax of his nonexistent voyage - depended on not winning.
It was essential, having survived undiscovered, that he should come in last.
He would be the plucky small-town loser who had flown the flag for weekend sailors everywhere taking on the world's most gruelling endurance test and making it home to his loved ones...

This was the kind of hogwash in which Rodney Hallworth specialised.
If Crowhurst sailed into Teignmouth, behind Robin Knox-Johnston and Nigel Tetley, as seemed inevitable, no one would give his phoney log books a second glance.
He could slip ashore and resume civilian life as that quintessential British hero, the nearly man.
He reckoned without Tetley's British naval bloodymindedness, a determination to win that would shortly prove disastrous.
To keep ahead of the Teignmouth Electron, now reportedly coming up fast behind him, the ex-naval commander piled on the canvas, ploughing through a gale in the mid-Atlantic to maintain his position as race leader.

 Crowhurst's Position Points
Point 1 - Day 1 - October 31st
Departed Teignmouth at 16:32 hours.
Point 2 - Day 15 - November 15th
Off Portugal having logged 1,300 miles, was only 800 miles along his intended route, a distance he intended to cover in six days.  He was beginning to realize that there was no way in which he could win the race with such slow progress.  Trouble with generator.
Point 3 - Day 29 - November 29th
Off the Canary Islands, was possibly now having thoughts about falsifying  the voyage.
Point 4 - Day 36 - December 6th
Off Cape Verde Islands. The start of the false route. He would now use two Log Books, one with actual route for navigation and one with the false route.
Point 5 - Day 49 - December 19th
Crossed the Equator.
Point 6 - Day 55 - December 26th
Off Brazil. Damage found to the starboard hull.
Point 7 - Day 75 - January 15th
His claimed position off Gough Island at the commencement of his radio silence, said to be due to generator problems, heading apparently for the Southern Ocean.
Point 8 - Day 126 - March 6th
Landed at Rio Salado, in Argentina for repairs to starboard hull.  This would have disqualified him if it had been known by the race organisers.  Departed Rio Salado 8th March.
Point 9 - Day 150 - March 29th
Off the Falkland Islands after slowly meandering around the South Atlantic to waste time while his false route apparently rounded Cape Horn.
Point 10 - Day 161 - April 9th
Having slowly sailed north he breaks radio silence to send false signals about his position.
Point 11 - Day 185 - May 4th
His false route through the Southern Ocean to Australia, New Zealand and Cape Horn would have taken him to this position on this date.  He picks up his actual route, restarts serious racing and ceases the deception.
Point 12 - Day 202 - May 21st
Position on the day that the race leader's boat sank; Cmdr Nigel Tetley in Victress.  This now put Crowhurst apparently in the lead.
Point 13 - Day 217 - June 5th
Crowhurst now caught in a tangled web of deceit over his false voyage and begins to doubt whether he can contain the guilt when he returns to Teignmouth as the apparent winner. He crosses the Equator sailing north.
Point 14 - Day 230 - June 18th
Increasing despair over his situation.  Log books filled with strange entries.  His mind appears to he breaking down.
Point 15 - Day 235 - June 23rd
Last entry in navigation log.  Other Log books now contain more strange    entries - poems, quotations, etc.
Point 16 - Day 237 - June 23rd
Teignmouth Electron sighted by SS Cuyahogg.
Point 17 - Day 243 - July 1st
Presumed point when Crowhurst went overboard.
Point 18 - July l0th
Teignmouth Electron found abandoned by the RMS Picardy, taken aboard and shipped to the West Indies where she is still to be seen on the small island of Cayman Brac.  Of the four Log books carried, one was found to be missing.

In the storm, Tetley sustained more damage.
Finally, off the Azores, just 1,000 miles from home, his trimaran began to sink.
Air-sea rescue plucked him to safety from a life raft on 21 May.
Now Donald Crowhurst - the last man afloat now that Knox-Johnston was home - was going to take the £5,000 prize for the fastest circumnavigation.
The de facto winner, he would come home to face the inevitable scrutiny of race officials and yachting correspondents.

Crowhurst's lies had helped sink Tetley, now - in June, the final month of the race - the same lies returned to drive him to the edge of a breakdown.
"He went downhill after he heard the news of Nigel Tetley," comments Simon Crowhurst, sadly.

On board the Teignmouth Electron, the Marconi transmitter had finally conked out.
Crowhurst could receive incoming news, but he couldn't communicate with the outside world.
He was alone with the self-inflicted fiction of his voyage.
On a boat clogged with the weeds and jellyfish of the Sargasso Sea, his imagination was driving him to the brink of madness.

Simon, reflecting on his father's last days, says,
"It's a psychological maelstrom that can drag you down."
In particular, he is unnerved by Crowhurst's final record, in the ship's log books.
"I'm wary of the log books," says his son.
"My wife doesn't like me thinking about them. They have a bad effect on me."

The log books, which had begun as a mundane record of a circumnavigation, had become the disturbing repository of a cumulative lie, the painstakingly contrived details of a false voyage.
Now, in these final weeks, they became a more terrible document: the record of a mind at the end of its tether, 25,000 words of confessional philosophising and deranged speculation about the nature of the cosmos in which he, Donald Crowhurst, saw himself as the son of God.
"It is finished," he wrote on the final page.
"It is finished. IT IS THE MERCY... I will resign the game."
It was 1 July 1969.

At this point, a bizarre hoax becomes the stuff of myth as much as literature.
On 10 July 1969, the Royal Mail vessel Picardy, steaming through the mid-Atlantic towards the Caribbean, encountered a yacht, drifting under a single sail, like the Marie Celeste.
The Teignmouth Electron was cluttered and untidy, with dirty dishes and filthy bedding, but of her crew there was no sign.
Baffled and frustrated in his search for the missing yachtsman, the captain of the Picardy hoisted the trimaran on board, sailed on and began to read Crowhurst's three log books...

The mystery of Crowhurst's disappearance made him famous worldwide, though not in a way he would have wanted.
There were reports of Crowhurst sightings from Cape Verde to Barnstaple.
Simon recalls the British media staking out the family home in the hope of news about the "mystery man".
For the Crowhurst family, the reality was more tragic.

"At first," he remembers, "we were told he had just disappeared.
Then one day two nuns came to the house.
My mother said: 'The boat's been found, but he's not on it.'"
The children huddled upstairs in a bedroom.
"We knew something was very badly wrong," Simon recalls.
Clare, who had so bravely held the family together for months, began to break down.

 Donald and his wife Clare

Two days later, the log books began to yield their secrets.
The air-sea rescue was called off.
Simon, his brothers and sister were left to puzzle over a new mystery.
Why was no one looking for their father any more?
For years after, Clare Crowhurst could not bring herself to discuss the loss of her husband, or his embarrassing hoax.
A great, and painful, silence descended.
Accident or suicide?
This is just one element of the Crowhurst mystery.

To extract maximum publicity from the sensational story of the "Missing Yachtsman", the Sunday Times sent one of its top correspondents, Nicholas Tomalin, to interview the captain of the Picardy, inspect the Teignmouth Electron and collect whatever papers had been found on board.
Instead of a thrilling front-page story, they got the embarrassing tale of the amateur yachtsman who had fooled Fleet Street.
Tomalin turned an awkward moment into a sensational scoop.
With co-author Ron Hall, he now raced against the clock to unravel the mystery of the log books and publish The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst, widely regarded as the definitive account.

 Teignmouth Electron wreck

Simon Crowhurst, who works as a research technician in the Earth Sciences department of Cambridge University, wonders if he should not make a pilgrimage to see the Teignmouth Electron, still beached amid weeds and driftwood on the dunes of Cayman Brac in the Caribbean, and said by the locals to be haunted.
He feels the curse of the past.
"When I was a small boy, I was excited by my father's story. Then it became quite visceral, upsetting and exciting. When I was about 16, I read the Tomalin-Hall book. That was a bizarre experience. At first there was a terrible revulsion. I didn't talk to anyone. I just absorbed it."

There is another dimension to this tale, rarely explored.
Having spoken at length to Simon, I went to visit his mother, Donald's widow, Clare, at her seaside home on the Jurassic coast, some 20 miles from Teignmouth, for a very rare interview.
"I definitely think about Donald every single day," she says, almost before I am inside the house, a gloomy, cluttered Victorian pile at the end of a terrace behind the Seaton seafront.
"No, I don't talk to him," she says. "I genuinely feel that that's it - there really is nothing left."

All this comes out in a rush, but, once the conversation settles down, Clare concedes that she "used to be angry with Donald", as well as angry with herself.
"It was a terrible thing to do to the children."
Could she have worked harder to stop her husband from sailing?
"You know, I never thought he would raise the money. Then he was so full of excitement. Of course I wish I'd said, 'Don't go.' But at the time I thought he was doing the right thing - I was not being brave, but being loyal to his dream, as a wife."

Her main regret is that she did not take more control of the story.
"If I'd had my wits about me, I'd never have released the log books."
She has consistently set her face against publicising the story.
"Nic Roeg [the film director] used to buy me dinner regularly. Roeg thought he was very charming. But I couldn't agree."
She has wanted to keep the tragedy to herself, at a considerable cost.
"I've lived on very little money these 40 years," she says, sadly.
"I've muddled through. I still feel as if I'm muddling through. There are moments when I do feel extraordinarily happy, but then I feel guilty about it."

She has known some other terrible moments.
Ten years after Crowhurst disappeared, her eldest boy, James, was killed in a motorbike accident.
Now, in her 77th year, Clare Crowhurst seems at peace.

"There it is," she says, having shown me the famous log books.
"I still feel as if it could all have been yesterday, or last week."
Has she never thought of emigrating to Australia (where she owns property) or remarrying?
"After it happened, I was just another mum, really. I was pursued for a while by one or two locals, but I really wasn't interested. Something died with Donald."

Links :

Friday, November 29, 2013

How Google Earth is busting Persian Gulf nations for overfishing

Caught in the act.
Large fish traps in the Persian Gulf could be catching up to six times more fish than what’s being officially reported,
according to the first investigation of fish catches from space conducted by University of British Columbia scientists.
Hasan Jamali/AOP
From Quartz

Weapons-grade uranium isn’t the only thing Iran may be hiding. 
The country does not report its fishing catch to the United Nations, which is problematic given that the Persian Gulf, like other areas of the world, suffers from overfishing. 
But thanks to Google Earth, scientists now know that Iran hauls in more than 12,000 tonnes a year from 728 weirs, large structures built in intertidal zones to trap fish.

In a first of its kind study, scientists at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver used Google Earth images to calculate how much fish was actually caught by Persian Gulf nations compared to what they reported. 
The result: The official numbers are nothing but one big fish tale. 
Researchers Dalal Al-Abdulrazzak and Daniel Pauly estimated the fish catch in 2005, for instance, was 31,433 tonnes, six times what nations bordering the Persian Gulf reported. 
“Our results document the unreliability of catch data from the Persian Gulf, a small part of a global misreporting problem,” the authors write in the study funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts and published in the ICES Journal of Marine Science

“Underreporting fish catches can jeopardize a country’s food security, economy, not to mention impact entire marine ecosystems,” Al-Abdulrazzak told Quartz in an email.
“This is particularly important in the case of the Persian Gulf, where fisheries are the second most important natural resource after oil.”

 A Persian Gulf weir.

It’s just the latest use of Google Earth satellite images to monitor environmental destruction, such as illegal logging in remote locations.
Similarly, the researchers say Google Earth can be used to detect illegal fishing and underreporting of fish catches.
To give some “ground truth” to the Persian Gulf’s fisheries take, Al-Abdulrazzak and Pauly studied Google Earth images from 2005 to 2010.
Unlike fishing boats, weirs are big structures—as long as 321 meters (1,053 feet)—that remain anchored in place and are easily detected by satellites.
The researchers spotted 1,656 weirs in 2005.
But after running an algorithm to correct for poor visibility, they estimated there were actually around 1,900 weirs.

Locations of Persian Gulf weirs.

The scientists used a Google ruler tool to measure the size of each weir’s traps and then calculated daily fish catch based on historical records, the length of the fishing season and composition of fish species, such as mackerel, crab, lobster and sardines, at each location.

Half the weirs belonged to Bahrain, giving that nation 54% of the Persian Gulf’s estimated catch. Bahrain’s actual catch was 142% higher than what it reported to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, according to the study. Iran accounted for 37% of weirs and 39% of the region’s fish catch.

At least one nation was more or less honest.
The researchers found that the estimated catch for Kuwait was within 300 tonness of what it reported to the UN. 

Links :

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Master of the high seas: new Turner exhibition that gloriously evokes Britain's maritime past

The Power of Art - Turner (BBC Documentary)

From DailyMail ( by Andrew Marr)

The critics are right.
This is an astonishing show.
But it’s a show about Britain as well as about the painter.
It tells the story of a people surrounded by salt water, fishing, trading and fighting, and marked by their relationship with the sea as much as with the land.
Warm and safe in the gallery, the viewer huddles among huge storms and flinches at flying spray.
It’s quite an experience.

Turner’s greatest work was mostly done during the long and murderous struggle between Britain and Napoleonic France.
Showing these pictures at Greenwich, one of the Navy’s spiritual homes, in the first full-scale exhibition of the artist’s maritime work, means we look differently than we would at Tate Britain or the National Gallery.

But there’s a melancholy coincidence in the exhibition opening shortly after the announcement that naval shipbuilding would end at Portsmouth.
The curators could have called the exhibition: Requiem for an Island Nation.

The Battle of Trafalgar (1824): Turner's only royal commission, this huge canvas combines separate aspects of Britain's greatest naval victory

The exhibition 'Turner & the Sea' at the National Maritime Museum brings together 120 works of art by the great British painter

The very successes of Nelson’s navy, which the mature Turner celebrated, make it hard to imagine the political world in which the younger Turner began painting.
But the English coast had long been a place of danger, going far beyond bad weather.
It’s where the enemy was always just about to appear over the horizon.

At just the time when Turner was first becoming famous, invasion was seriously threatened by Napoleon, whose barges and ‘Armee d’Angleterre’ were marshalled on the Dutch and French coasts.
(Napoleon also contemplated invasion by balloon, but was put off by the fickle winds of the Channel.)

The threat was taken utterly seriously, and for good reason.
The defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 had been as much an achievement of the weather as the small English Navy.

In the latter part of the century before Turner started painting — in 1667 — the Dutch had successfully penetrated the Thames estuary, destroying English warships and attacking the naval dockyard at Chatham in Kent.

Dutch soldiers had been landed successfully and the rich fled London in panic.
Shortly afterwards, the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688 began as a Dutch-led invasion of French, German and other continental troops, landed in Devon after the Royal Navy utterly failed to catch King William’s fleet.

The Shipwreck (1805): The young artist's mastery of drama at sea is evident - chaos, courage and crests of foaming waves

So Britain’s naval forces in Turner’s day were not simply a matter of nostalgic patriotic pride, they were the state-of-the-art and solitary bulwark against invasion and the destruction of the state itself.

Go down to the South Coast, and look out, as Turner did, and you might imagine French or Dutch invaders appearing out of the mist.
When he paints the cliffs and shorelines of England, he is painting the front line.

By the time Turner was painting his great nautical masterpieces for public display at the Royal Academy, however, the Royal Navy in its finest years, was turning the tide.
The first-rate men-of-war of Nelson’s Navy were awesome constructions, vast and complicated.

Turner often portrays them from the waterline up, like floating tower blocks, or airy castles.
He paints from perspectives that make you feel dizzy and over-awed; and that’s part of the point.
He took great pains to be accurate, going to the River Medway to draw warships close-up.

The rigging, the planking and every detail had to be right.
In the Navy-obsessed London of the early 1800s, mistakes would have been quickly spotted and ridiculed.

Keelmen Heaving In Coal by Moonlight (1835) : Has hard work ever been so romantic?

The Fighting Temeraire (1838): Showing the sunset of ghostly sail and the onset of brash steam

Although he was a painter of many moods and subjects — English landscape and townscape, as well as scenes in France, Switzerland and Italy — for Turner, Britain was her coastline.
There has never been a greater nautical or maritime painter, and there probably never will be.

This did mean, of course, charting the triumphs of the Navy. His only Royal commission, The Battle of Trafalgar, celebrating Nelson’s 1805 victory over the combined fleets of France and Spain, is the jaw- dropping, stand-out masterpiece of this exhibition.

Here, you can stand close to the vast picture, so that you almost feel as if you are drowning in the bloody water, as you look up at the enormous ships.
It’s an astonishing achievement.

There had been a long tradition of painting sea-battles of course, and the Dutch painters were the masters of it.
But here the land-locked viewer is drawn not simply into the spectacle, but into the terrifying, exhilarating experience of the fight.
This was the closest you could get in the early 19th century to an immersive, 3D wraparound sound experience.

And it still beats anything in the cinema hands down.

A woman views 10 plates from the 'Liber Studiorum' by J.M.W. Turner at the exhibition

The great age of the ‘wooden walls of England’ driven by sail didn’t last long, and Turner was still around to lament its ending in his most-loved painting of all, The Fighting Temeraire, Tugged To Her Last Berth To Be Broken Up, painted in 1838.

As an angry sun sets, the old warship, which had fought at Trafalgar, is dragged by a steam tug, representing the new age, to be broken to pieces.

The old ship has a personality — grand, dignified and solemn.
The tugboat has one, too — a bustling, busy little terrier.
Towards the end of his life, the steam age brought Turner new opportunities — the pumping black smoke used to accentuate the mayhem of a snowstorm at sea, for instance.
But he was a painter of the age of sail.

One of the revelations of this show, however, is how much Turner focused on maritime action that had nothing to do with war.
Right at the beginning of his career he is celebrating the bravery of fishermen.
Again and again, he fills the forefront of beach scenes with skate, cod and other fish.

Maelstrom: Turner's sketchbooks displaying a study of a shipwreck

Holding the exhibition at National Maritime Museum in Greenwich adds to the poignancy of Turner's work, writes Andrew Marr

From the whiting fishing at Margate to the hunt for whales, he gave the fishermen the same attention to detail that he gave the Tars.
For them, too, the great danger was the sea itself — unpredictable, dark and heaving with menace, laced with foam.

Using jagged diagonals which made me feel seasick on a bright Saturday morning, he emphasises the mercurial and slippery dangers of life on the water.
Just getting a passenger ‘packet’ from France to England seems a perilous business; and when a major ship goes down it’s the fishermen, in their tiny wooden boats, who are there to try to save the drowning.

For Turner, the sea is the place where the British work.
There’s a wonderful painting of colliers loading coal by moonlight at Newcastle.
Here it is contrasted with a relaxed, sunlit view of Venice, and the implication is clear: the British strive and struggle; effete foreigners loll about.
For the British, the sea means wealth, food — everything.

A portrait of J.M.W Turner by Charles Turner (1841)

Finally, by the last rooms of this show, the sea has become almost his only subject.
In watercolour, Turner was painting with lightning-fast whips and squiggles of colour; in his notebooks, it’s as if his subject and his material had become the same thing.

In his last great oils, very close to abstract painting (but not abstract), he is being as fluent and risk-taking as Monet was in his final years.
This show allows you to go right up close to iconic paintings such as Snow Storm — Steam-Boat Off A Harbour’s Mouth, which horrified the critics in 1842, one of whom branded it a mess of ‘soapsuds and whitewash’.
The often-told story of Turner having himself lashed to a mast so he could experience such a storm feels all too true. It’s a painting of nature at her most hysterical; the slatherings of paint flying in all directions — up, down, sideways — are the storm.
It’s dizzying. It’s nauseating, but in a good way.

Joseph Mallord William Turner, the son of a humble barber, was always a prickly, publicity-conscious and highly competitive painter.
He sold for big sums, relatively speaking, and attracted rich patrons.
But he never made things easy for himself, and year after year he challenged the public with unfamiliar and radical work, mostly about the sea.
We all have some salt in our blood, but his was saltier.

He ought to have died at sea in the middle of a storm, though, in fact, he expired at his mistress’s house in Chelsea, having apparently declared ‘the sun is God’.
During his lifetime, Turner perplexed and fascinated the public in equal measure, which was just what he liked.
He wanted to be talked about and he wanted to be seen, which is why he spent so much time working on prints which were sold everywhere in Britain.

Well, right now, he is being talked about and seen as never before.

Turner & The Sea is at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich until April 21, 2014.
See for details.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Acid test

The world’s seas are becoming more acidic.
How much that matters is not yet clear.
But it might matter a lot.

From The Economist

Humans, being a terrestrial species, are pleased to call their home “Earth”.
A more honest name might be “Sea”, as more than seven-tenths of the planet’s surface is covered with salt water.
Moreover, this water houses algae, bacteria (known as cyanobacteria) and plants that generate about half the oxygen in the atmosphere.
And it also provides seafood—at least 15% of the protein eaten by 60% of the planet’s human population, an industry worth $218 billion a year.
Its well-being is therefore of direct concern even to landlubbers.

That well-being, some fear, is under threat from the increasing amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, a consequence of industrialisation.
This concern is separate from anything caused by the role of CO2 as a climate-changing greenhouse gas.
It is a result of the fact that CO2, when dissolved in water, creates an acid.

That matters, because many creatures which live in the ocean have shells or skeletons made of stuff that dissolves in acid.
The more acidic the sea, the harder they have to work to keep their shells and skeletons intact.
On the other hand, oceanic plants, cyanobacteria and algae, which use CO2 for photosynthesis, might rather like a world where more of that gas is dissolved in the water they live in—a gain, rather than a loss, to ocean productivity.

Two reports attempting to summarise the world’s rather patchy knowledge about what is going on have recently been published.
Both are the products of meetings held last year (the wheels grind slowly in environmental bureaucracy).
One, in Monterey, California, looked at the science.
The other, in Monaco, looked at possible economic consequences.
Together, the documents suggest this is an issue that needs to be taken seriously, though worryingly little is known about it.

Omega point

Regular, direct measures of the amount of CO2 in the air date to the 1950s.
Those of the oceans’ acidity began only in the late 1980s (see chart).
Since it started, that acidity has risen from pH 8.11 to pH 8.06 (on the pH scale, lower numbers mean more acid). This may not sound much, but pH is a logarithmic scale.
A fall of one pH point is thus a tenfold rise in acidity, and this fall of 0.05 points in just over three decades is a rise in acidity of 12%.

Patchier data that go back further suggest there has been a 26% rise in oceanic acidity since the beginning of the industrial revolution, 250 years ago. Projections made by assuming that carbon-dioxide emissions will continue to increase in line with expected economic growth indicate this figure will be 170% by 2100.

Worrying about what the world may be like in nine decades might sound unnecessary, given more immediate problems, but another prediction is that once the seas have become more acidic, they will not quickly recover their alkalinity.
Ocean life, in other words, will have to get used to it.
So does this actually matter?

The variable people most worry about is called omega.
This is a number that describes how threatening acidification is to seashells and skeletons.
Lots of these are made of calcium carbonate, which comes in two crystalline forms: calcite and aragonite.
Many critters, especially reef-forming corals and free-swimming molluscs (and most molluscs are free-swimming as larvae), prefer aragonite for their shells and skeletons.
Unfortunately, this is more sensitive to acidity than calcite is.

An omega value for aragonite of one is the level of acidity where calcium carbonate dissolves out of the mineral as easily as it precipitates into it.
In other words, the system is in equilibrium and shells made of aragonite will not tend to dissolve. Merely creeping above that value does not, however, get you out of the woods.
Shell formation is an active process, and low omega values even above one make it hard.
Corals, for example, require an omega value as high as three to grow their stony skeletons prolifically.

As the map above shows, that could be a problem by 2100.
Low omega values are spreading from the poles (whose colder waters dissolve carbon dioxide more easily) towards the tropics.
The Monterey report suggests that the rate of erosion of reefs could outpace reef building by the middle of the century, and that all reef formation will cease by the end of it.

Acidic Oceans: Why Should We Care? - Perspectives on Ocean Science
The ocean absorbs almost half of the carbon dioxide emitted by human activities, changing its chemistry in ways that may have significant effects on marine ecosystems.
Join Scripps marine chemist Andrew Dickson as he explains what we know -- and what we don't -- about this emerging problem. 

Other species will suffer, too.
A study published in Nature last year, for example, looked at the shells of planktonic snails called pteropods.
In Antarctic waters, which already have an omega value of one, their shells were weak and badly formed when compared with those of similar species found in warmer, more northerly waters.
Earlier work on other molluscs has come to similar conclusions.

Not everything suffers from more dissolved CO2, though.
The Monterey report cites studies which support the idea that algae, cyanobacteria and sea grasses will indeed benefit.
One investigation also suggests acidification may help cyanobacteria fix nitrogen and turn it into protein.
Since a lack of accessible nitrogen keeps large areas of the ocean relatively sterile, this, too could be good for productivity.

Oyster farmer's under threat from ocean acidification :
The rise in global carbon dioxide is causing dramatic ocean acidification is threatening a number of aquatic species, including oysters farmed for human consumption.

The Monaco report attempts to identify fisheries that will be particularly affected by these changes.
These include the Southern Ocean (one of the few areas not already heavily fished) and the productive fishery off the coast of Peru and northern Chile, where upwelling from the deep brings nutrients to the surface, but which is already quite acidic.
The principal threat here, and to similar fisheries, such as that off the west coast of North America, is to planktonic larvae that fish eat.
Oyster and clam beds around the world are also likely to be affected—again, the larvae of these animals are at risk.
The report does not, though, investigate the possibility of increases in algal plankton raising the oceans’ overall productivity.

At the back of everyone’s mind (as in wider discussions of climate change) are events 56m years ago.
At that time, the boundary between the Palaeocene and Eocene geological epochs, carbon-dioxide levels rose sharply, the climate suddenly warmed (by about 6°C) and the seas became a lot more acidic.
Many marine species, notably coccolithophores (a group of shelled single-celled algae) and deep-dwelling foraminifera (a group of shelled protozoa), became extinct in mere centuries, and some students of the transition think the increased acidity was more to blame for this than the rise in temperature.
Surface-dwelling foraminifera, however, thrived, and new coccolithophore species rapidly evolved to replace those that had died out.

On land, too, some groups of animals did well.
Though the rise of the mammals is often dated from 66m years ago, when a mass extinction of the dinosaurs left the planet open for colonisation by other groups, it is actually the beginning of the Eocene, 10m years later, which marks the ascendancy of modern mammal groups.

Oceanic acidity levels appear now to be rising ten times as fast as they did at the end of the Palaeocene.
Some Earth scientists think the planet is entering, as it did 56m years ago, a new epoch—the Anthropocene.
Though the end of the Palaeocene was an extreme example, it is characteristic of such transitions for the pattern of life to change quickly.
Which species will suffer and which will benefit in this particular transition remains to be seen.

Links :

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Volcano creates new Japan island

A volcanic eruption hundreds of miles south of Tokyo forms a new island.
Japanese Coast Guard observed the growing island on an aerial survey.
 Video shows white smoke mixed with black material, including rocks.
"It's too soon to tell" if the island will grow or erode into the sea, expert says.

From CNN

Japan is getting bigger and bigger and bigger -- one volcanic blast at a time.
The growth so far -- compared to the size of the Asian nation's main Honshu island or the vast continent of Asia -- is minuscule, about 200 meters (650 feet) long by about 50 meters wide.

That's small enough that, if the volcanic activity stops, the newly created island could wash back into the sea in months.
But if it keeps going, it could enlarge even more and stick around for the long haul, expanding Japan's footprint in the process.

 Surtseyan activity where a new island was formed.
It is just off the coast of Nishino-Shima Island, a small, uninhabited island in the Ogasawara chain, which is also known as the Bonin Islands.
The approximately 30 islands are 1,000 kilometres south of Tokyo, and along with the rest of Japan are part of the seismically active Pacific “Ring of Fire.

"A lot of it depends on how fast it erodes," said Ken Rubin, a University of Hawaii at Manoa professor and expert in deep submarine volcanism.
"Until it shuts off, it's too soon to tell."
Even it slips away, and even if such volcanoes poke up from the sea floor like this every few years, what's happened so far is exciting for volcanologists.

According to the JCG, the eruption occurred about 500 meters south-southeast of Nishinoshima island, with black volcanic smoke billowing up about 600 meters high.
An oval-shaped piece of land 200 meters long at its longest point emerged under the smoke.
Volcanic activity was also observed around Nishinoshima island in 1973.

A new islet was created in September that year, and eventually connected to Nishinoshima.
photos Ibtimes

And video of the steady eruption -- a stream of white smoke, interrupted by occasional blasts of blackish material -- is powerful imagery of what's unfolding, even if what's emitted doesn't spew anywhere as high into the sky as land-based volcanoes like El Chichon or Mount Pinatubo.

Nishinoshima island (NGA 97000 chart)
Japan's chief government spokesman welcomed the news of yet another bit, however tiny, of new territory :
"If it becomes a full-fledged island, we would be happy to have more territory."
The Japanese archipelago has thousands of islands.
In some cases, they help anchor claims to wide expanses of ocean overlying potentially lucrative energy and mineral resources.
Japan has plans to build port facilities and transplant fast-growing coral fragments onto Okinotorishima, two rocky outcroppings even further south of Tokyo, to boost its claim in a territorial dispute with China.

Unlike these deadly examples, this Pacific volcano started its eruption -- on Wednesday, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency, at the least -- in shallows off the small, remote island of Nishinoshima, hundreds of miles over sea due south of Tokyo.
The national agency since issued a warning for those around the island crater.
 Nishinoshima evolution in 30 years

The most common type of volcano, by far, are those that erupt and spew material underwater: Rubin estimates "probably more than 80% happen in the oceans, and we never know about them."
Volcanoes that erupt on land get the most attention, for good reason, given their impact on people, vegetation and (by virtue of their expansive eruptions into the atmosphere) on things like air traffic patterns and climate.

 Nishinoshima island, off the coast of Japan around 620 miles south of Tokyo
(Japan Coast Guard)

What's happening near these isolated Japanese islands is more of a sea-land hybrid.
It is rooted on the flank of a string of underwater volcanoes a few hundred feet from the main island, Rubin explained.
What's being expelled into the air -- a mixture of water that appears as whitish, fluffy steam and darker coarse rock fragments -- is distinct from the magma, he adds.
"In the shallow sea water, ... it causes it to behave explosively," Rubin said.
"It's kind of a short-term thing. If it kept growing, it would act differently."
By "differently," he means acting like a more traditional land volcano with the crater well out of the water.

Bathymetry around the Nishinoshima island

Whether or not that happens, people should be able to safely set foot on the island "pretty soon after it stops erupting," Rubin notes -- assuming experts are 100% sure it won't blow again.
If it's feasible, say, a year from now, remains to be seen.
There was a similar case two years off the Canary Islands (El Hierro) in 2011 where there was no breakthrough, and thus no new island.
Two years earlier, a new island did emerge in such circumstances near the Pacific island of Tonga -- as happened in 1963 with Surtsey, an island that built up over four years in the 1960s off Iceland.

Links :

Monday, November 25, 2013

Watching Earth's winds, on a shoestring

A Portrait of Global Winds
High-resolution global atmospheric modeling provides a unique tool to study the role of weather within Earth’s climate system.
NASA’s Goddard Earth Observing System Model (GEOS-5) is capable of simulating worldwide weather at resolutions as fine as 3.5 kilometers.
This visualization shows global winds from a GEOS-5 simulation using 10-kilometer resolution.
Surface winds (0 to 40 meters/second) are shown in white and trace features including Atlantic and Pacific cyclones.
Upper-level winds (250 hectopascals) are colored by speed (0 to 175 meters/second), with red indicating faster.
This simulation ran on the Discover supercomputer at the NASA Center for Climate Simulation.
The complete 2-year “Nature Run” simulation—a computer model representation of Earth's atmosphere from basic inputs including observed sea-surface temperatures
 and surface emissions from biomass burning, volcanoes and anthropogenic sources—produces its own unique weather patterns including precipitation, aerosols and hurricanes.
A follow-on Nature Run is simulating Earth’s atmosphere at 7 kilometers for 2 years and 3.5 kilometers for 3 months.
Image Credit: William Putman/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
( video )


Built with spare parts and without a moment to spare, the International Space Station (ISS)-RapidScat isn't your average NASA Earth science mission.

Short for Rapid Scatterometer, ISS-RapidScat will monitor ocean winds from the vantage point of the space station .
It will join a handful of other satellite scatterometer missions that make essential measurements used to support weather and marine forecasting, including the tracking of storms and hurricanes.
It will also help improve our understanding of how interactions between Earth's ocean and atmosphere influence our climate.

Scientists study ocean winds for a variety of reasons.
Winds over the ocean are an important part of weather systems, and in severe storms such as hurricanes they can inflict major damage.
Ocean storms drive coastal surges, which are a significant hazard for populations.
At the same time, by driving warm surface ocean water away from the coast, ocean winds cause nutrient-rich deep water to well up, providing a major source of food for coastal fisheries.
Changes in ocean wind also help us monitor large-scale changes in Earth's climate, such as El Niño .

Scatterometers work by safely bouncing low-energy microwaves - the same kind used at high energy to warm up food in your kitchen - off the surface of Earth.
In this case, the surface is not land, but the ocean.
By measuring the strength and direction of the microwave echo, ISS-RapidScat will be able to determine how fast, and in what direction, ocean winds are blowing.

"Microwave energy emitted by a radar instrument is reflected back to the radar more strongly when the surface it illuminates is rougher," explains Ernesto Rodríguez, principal investigator for ISS-RapidScat at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
"When wind blows over water, it causes waves to develop along the direction of wind. The stronger the wind, the larger the waves."

ISS-RapidScat continues a legacy of measuring ocean winds from space that began in 1978 with the launch of NASA's SeaSat satellite. Most recently, NASA's QuikScat scatterometer, which launched in 1999, gave us a dynamic picture of the world's ocean winds.

But when QuikScat lost its ability to produce ocean wind measurements in 2009, science suffered from the loss of the data.
In the summer of 2012, an opportunity arose to fly a scatterometer instrument on the space station. ISS-RapidScat was the result .

Most scatterometer-carrying satellites fly in what's called a sun-synchronous orbit around Earth. In other words, they cross Earth's equator at the same local time every orbit.
The space station, however, will carry the ISS-RapidScat in a non-sun-synchronous orbit.
This means the instrument will see different parts of the planet at different times of day, making measurements in the same spot within less than an hour before or after another instrument makes its own observations.
These all-hour measurements will allow ISS-RapidScat to pick up the effects of the sun on ocean winds as the day progresses.
In addition, the space station's coverage over the tropics means that ISS-RapidScat will offer extra tracking of storms that may develop into hurricanes or other tropical cyclones.

Artist's rendering of NASA's ISS-RapidScat instrument (inset), which will launch to the International Space Station in 2014 to measure ocean surface wind speed and direction and help improve weather forecasts, including hurricane monitoring.
It will be installed on the end of the station's Columbus laboratory.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Johnson Space Center.

Anywhere the wind blows

"We'll be able to see how wind speed changes with the time of day," said Rodríguez. "ISS-RapidScat will link together all previous and current scatterometer missions, providing us with a more complete picture of how ocean winds change. Combined with data from the European ASCAT scatterometer mission, we'll be able to observe 90 percent of Earth's surface at least once a day, and in many places, several times a day."

ISS-RapidScat's near-global coverage of Earth's ocean -- within the space station's orbit inclination of 51.6 degrees north and south of the equator -- will make it an important tool for scientists who observe and predict Earth's weather.
"Frequent observations of the winds over the ocean are used by meteorologists to improve weather and hurricane forecasts and by the operational weather communities to improve numerical weather models," said Rodríguez.

Space-based scatterometer instruments have been built before, but much of what makes ISS-RapidScat unusual is how it came to be. "Space Station Program Manager Michael Suffredini offered us a mounting location on the space station and a free ride on a SpaceX Dragon cargo resupply mission launching in early 2014," explained Howard Eisen, the ISS-RapidScat project manager at JPL. "So we had about 18 months to put together an entire mission."

This accelerated timeline is a blink of an eye at NASA, where the typical project is years or decades in the making.

Free ride

Next, Eisen and his team turned to getting creative and crafty with the mission's hardware. In lieu of using newly-designed instruments, which would be expensive and take too long to develop, ISS-RapidScat reuses leftover hardware originally built to test parts of the QuikScat mission.
That process involved dusting off and testing pieces of equipment that hadn't seen the light of day since the 1990s. Fortunately the old hardware seems ship-shape and ready to go.
"Even though they were spares, they've done an excellent job so far," said Simon Collins,ISS-RapidScat's instrument manager at JPL.
Despite their age, the old parts are more than capable of collecting the ocean wind data that ISS-RapidScat need to be a success.

In addition to old spare parts, some new hardware was needed to interface this instrument to the space station and the Dragon spacecraft. ISS-RapidScat will use off-the-shelf, commercially-available computer hardware instead of the expensive, hardened-against-radiation computer chips that are typically used in space missions.
"If there's an error or something because of radiation, all we have to do is reset the computer. It's what we call a managed risk," said Eisen.
The radiation environment on the space station is much less severe than that experienced en route to Mars, for example, or in more traditional sun-synchronous orbits.

This animations is a collection of beauty shots of cloud model output over Africa, Europe, Australia, North America, Florida, South America and Antarctica.
The clouds are derived from the Goddard Earth Observing System Model, Version 5 (GEOS-5). GEOS-5 is a system of models integrated using the Earth System Modeling Framework and used to help refine atmospheric weather models.
The lighting of this scene is completely artistic and not scientifically accurate.
If accurate lighting were used the diurnal effect would pulse across the globe approximately every 90 frames (3 seconds when played at 30 fps).
The slow strobing would have been undesireable for the intended purpose of this animation, which is to highlight the cloud model output.
credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio

Science bounty

Cost-saving decisions like this are shaping up to make ISS-RapidScat an exceptional bargain of a space mission.
"We're doing things differently, and we're trying to do them quickly and cheaply," said Eisen.
Considering that the typical launch alone can cost $200 million, ISS-RapidScat's estimated $26 million price tag seems like a bargain.
Last year, NASA estimated the cost of a new, free-flying scatterometer satellite mission at approximately $400 million.

The real challenges of getting ISS-RapidScat into space lie in the details.
One of the major headaches of such a hurried schedule has been getting the special connectors that will allow ISS-RapidScat to physically attach to the International Space Station.
"They're special robotically-mated connectors that haven't been made in years," Eisen said.
"We're having to convince the company that produces these connectors to make us a small run in time for the mission, and it hasn't been easy."

The logistics of operating an instrument on the space station are also tricky.
"Typically, spacecraft are designed for the instruments they carry," said Collins.
"In this case, it's the other way around."
For example, ISS-RapidScat's docking point on the space station faces outward toward space - not down toward Earth and the ocean that the instrument is looking at.
The space station's flying angle will also change as new pieces are added to it, in response to changes in the station's drag profile.
ISS-RapidScat's mount can compensate for both of these challenges.

The Jet Stream
(NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio)

Another concern the ISS-RapidScat team confronted early on was that one of the space station's docking ports lies squarely within the field of view of the scatterometer.
"Bombarding astronauts and visiting supply vehicles with microwave radiation from the instruments was out of the question, and turning the instrument off when there were things docked there would take away too much science," explained Collins.
The project's engineers instead devised a plan where the instrument avoids irradiating docking vessels, but continues to scan across the vast majority of its viewing range.

Rodríguez is confident that the reward for overcoming such difficulties will be a bounty of vital science information.
"Because it uses much of the same hardware QuikScat did, ISS-RapidScat will allow us to continue the observations of ocean winds already started," said Rodriguez.
"Extending this data record will help us observe and understand weather patterns and improve our preparedness for tropical cyclones."

Links :

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The longest straight line you can sail on Earth ?

The longest straight line only touching water ?
Note : the line does not appear straight on this image due to the Plate Carrée 2D projection. 
see Great Circle demo
 - map from gcmap -

source : wikipedia
From the south coast of Balochistan province somewhere near Port of Karachi, Pakistan (25°25′N 66°25′E) across the Arabian Sea, south-west through Indian Ocean, near Comoros, passing Namaete Canyon, near the South Africa coastline, across the South Atlantic Ocean, then west across Cape Horn, then north-west across the Pacific Ocean, near Easter Island, passing the antipodal point, near Amlia island, through the South Bering Sea and ending somewhere on the east-north coast of Kamchatka, near Ossora (59°38′N 163°24′E).
This route is almost 32,000 km (20,000 mi) long.

Actually, the video shows the best representation of “the way things are”:

kml file for use with Google Earth (17302 Nm / 32043 km)
GE “ruler” tool allowing you to calculate “straight line” distances over the globe
from Kamchatka Peninsula in Eastern Russia (south of the end of the Aleutian Islands archipelago)
to a point near to Graham’s Land (the long finger-like peninsula on Antarctica that points toward the Falkland Islands),
then directly between Madagascar and the African continent for ending in Pakistan

The longest straight line only touching water ? Really ?

Who would have guessed you could sail in a straight line from the Kamchatka peninsula in Russia to Pakistan ?
Actually not really because the straight line crosses over the Aldabra islands in the Indian Ocean...

 Aldabra atoll

 crossing line about 15 km inside the Alabra atoll in the North,
but only 7 km outside Anjouan island (Comoros) in the South

Note : by the way, if you tried to sail it you’d probably be sunk by drifting icebergs in the Southern latitudes, but that’s beside the point.

Southernmost passage (latitude : about 61°30' S)