Saturday, August 6, 2016

Taking the pulse of our planet from space


Earth Observation explained to kids.
The value and beauty of Earth. 
Talk by Pierre-Philippe Mathieu (ESA)

Links :

Friday, August 5, 2016

Virtual reality film explores deepest ocean

Come with us on part one of our 360 virtual reality 'Journey to the Deep', and unlock the mysteries of the ocean as you descend to its inky depths.
This experimental animated 360 degree film recreates the journey from the ocean surface to 'Challenger Deep' in the Marianas Trench of the Pacific.
Nekton Mission is a scientific expedition doing deep ocean exploration in the North West Atlantic. We're conducting the XL Catlin Deep Ocean Survey – a health check of our deep ocean, the planet’s beating heart

From RoyalGazette by Sarah Lagan

Explorers of the deep ocean Nekton who have been exploring Bermuda’s sea bed have produced a 360 degree virtual reality video that allows viewers to experience a virtual submersible dive to the deepest point of the world’s ocean.

The film shows footage of Challenger Deep which is located 6.83 miles under the Pacific Ocean in the Mariana Trench.

The video’s release marks the launch of Nekton’s first mission, sponsored by re/insurer XL Catlin, to investigate the condition of the deep ocean.
The findings will be released as part of the XL Catlin Deep Ocean Survey, a multidisciplinary marine research program investigating physical, chemical and biological indicators to assess the function, health and resilience of the deep ocean.

Scientists from a dozen marine research institutes are joining the four-week mission launched by the newly founded scientific research charity, Nekton.
The research program, based aboard two sea going vessels, is focusing on Bermuda, Nova Scotia, and the High Seas (north west Atlantic and the Sargasso Sea).

Nekton’s co-founder and submersible pilot, Oliver Steeds, who narrates the descent, said: “Whilst 12 people have walked on the moon, only three people have been to full ocean depth.
“People have spent 300 hours on the moon and only three hours at full ocean depth. Viewers will experience the descent into the darkest depths of the ocean, and encounter the inhabitants and hundreds of facts about the least known frontier on our planet.
“Look out for hammerhead sharks, blue whales, sperm whales and the terrifying fangtooth fish.”

The 10 minute video, Journey to the Deep, is divided into three episodes to be released over the course of the mission.
The first episode takes the viewer from the surface into the Twilight Zone (200m-1000m); the second explores the Midnight & Abyssal Zones (1000m-6000m); the third descends into the Hadopelagic Zone (6000m-11000m).

The videos can be viewed online at the Nekton Mission YouTube Channel and Facebook page via a smartphone and virtual reality headset or via tablet and computer using keystrokes to move through a 360 degree line of sight.

The Nekton team, in partnership with XL Catlin and Digital Explorer, has also developed an educational programme to support the mission, including a series of science challenges where students can earn Mission Badges, with a special Submarine Explorer certificate awarded when all six are completed.

Targeting eight to 14-year-olds, the resources support the Submarine STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths) initiative which aims to inspire STEM learning and young people’s environmental engagement.
All the digital resources are available online so that children can access the materials via their PC, tablet and smartphone at home.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Who’s driving that boat? No one

 Sea Machines Robotics builds Autonomous Control & Navigation Systems
to enable the new era of Advanced Oceanic Operations

From Boston Globe by Janelle Nanos

As the hulking gray vessel sluiced through Boston Harbor, all of the elements were in place for a stunning day at sea: clear blue skies, a light breeze, and calm waters.
The only thing missing was a driver.
A warning was painted on the side to explain the absence of a captain, in big red letters: “Unmanned vessel.”
It prompted a few double takes from slack-jawed boaters.

The era of autonomy is upon us, with driverless cars, airborne drones, and robot vacuums programmed to seek out and destroy dust bunnies.
So perhaps it’s inevitable that maritime engineers are beginning to develop unmanned boats for commercial use as a safer, cheaper alternative to having humans steer vessels into dangerous situations.
But just as driverless cars have raised safety concerns — most recently after the death of a man using Autopilot in his Tesla — the prospect of building unmanned ships comes with challenges.


Sea Machines' Remote Command System, called RC NXT, provides PLC-based wireless control of a vessel and is well suited for day-vessel operations such as work boats, tugs, and launches operating within 1000m of the pilot.
Sea Machines' Autonomous Navigation System, called DP NXT, uses vessel-based sensors and proprietary algorithms to give the watercraft a degree of self-awareness, enabling her to efficiently self-motor from point-to-point while avoiding active & passive obstacles or collaborate in tandem with another vessel.

The boat turning heads in the harbor earlier this month was a prototype created by an East Boston startup called Sea Machines.
Its team is developing the technology to help convert ships into drones that can be controlled remotely by their captains or programmed to operate autonomously, patrolling harbors for security purposes, or ferrying cargo back and forth.
They’re targeting the commercial maritime market, hoping that tugboat operators, oil rig overseers, and fishery mangers might want to add a robotic mate to the crew.
“If you look back to the 1700 and 1800s, the marine and shipbuilding space was really the Silicon Valley of the time. Some of the brightest engineers and the latest technology was going into those vessels,” said Sea Machines’s Michael Johnson as his cofounder, Alex Lorman, maneuvered the 24-foot boat off the dock in East Boston, using a remote control the size of a toaster.
The cofounders met while responding to the wreck of the Italian luxury ocean liner Costa Concordia after it ran aground in 2012.
While working to salvage what they could from the sinking ship, Lorman witnessed a crowded mess of boats zigzagging through the shallow waters, each with its own crew, he said.
“They were doing repetitive tasks that could easily be automated,” he said. A drone boat, they realized, would be far more efficient.



He and Johnson developed the company’s technology with the help of Jaybridge Robotics, a Cambridge autonomous-vehicle design shop that was recently acquired by Toyota as part of its push into the driverless car market.
They are now building the company through the MassChallenge accelerator and hoping that the technology will provide an alternative for dangerous maritime situations.
Tugboats, for example, are tasked with helping to maneuver hulking oil tankers as they enter a harbor, work so risky that it at times can be fatal.


Jeff Bartkowski of Sea Machines took the helm of a chase boat while a colleague controlled one of the company’s unmanned vessels during a test run in Boston Harbor.
Barry Chin / Globe staff

This concept isn’t exactly new on the open ocean.
Marine scientists at places like the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution have developed remotely operated underwater vehicles that allow them to explore the floor of the sea from the deck of a ship.

 DARPA’s Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) program has designed, developed and constructed an entirely new class of ocean-going vessel—one intended to traverse thousands of kilometers over the open seas for months at a time, all without a single crew member aboard.
The ACTUV technology demonstration vessel was recently transferred to water at its construction site in Portland, Ore., and conducted speed tests in which it reached a top speed of 27 knots (31 mph/50 kph).
The vessel is scheduled to be christened on April 7, 2016, with open-water testing planned to begin in summer 2016 off the California coast.

And the Navy has been using its own forms of automated vessels for over two decades, first for target practice, then for military drills, said Larry Dickerson, an unmanned systems analyst for the Forecast International aerospace and defense firm.
“The market is very much in its infancy, but it’s starting to get more attention,” Dickerson said.

He estimates that driverless boats are a $6 billion industry, which might explain why major players like Rolls-Royce are hopping on board.
In March, the company unveiled plans to develop a land-based control center that would need only a dozen people to orchestrate the movements of an entire a fleet of cargo ships as they carry goods around the world.
“Autonomous shipping is the future of the maritime industry,” Mikael Makinen, president of Rolls-Royce’s marine division, said at the time of the launch.
“As disruptive as the smartphone, the smart ship will revolutionize the landscape of ship design and operations.”


 courtesy of Sea machines

But unmanned surface vessels, or USVs, are starting conversations about how autonomous boats would fit into the rules of the sea, many of which have been established for centuries.

Earlier this month, Lloyd’s Register, the UK-based organization that works to classify ship construction standards, outlined its first autonomy levels for cyber-enabled designs.
They range from crafts that are manual and rely entirely on humans to the most tech-savvy vessels that can operate without any human supervision at all.

And while he doesn’t expect completely autonomous ships to be out on the water in the next few years, getting protocols in place is important, said Nick Brown, the register’s spokesman.

But standardizing shipbuilding regulations might prove easier than sussing out the uncharted waters of maritime law as it applies to these new vessels, said Sam Blatchley, an attorney in the admiralty and maritime practice group at the Pierce Atwood law firm in Boston.
“In order for this to go forward there has to be change to the legal framework,” he said.
“The same kind of laws don’t apply if you’re in Boston Harbor versus if you’re in the briny blue.”

Among the challenges: determining who is responsible if an unmanned vessel crashes into another boat.
And there are maritime rules that require on having a lookout onboard, so would someone watching via a remote camera count?


An un-manned boat cruised Boston Harbor in a test run.
What regulations cover unmanned ships in international waters?
Barry Chin / Globe staff

At the outset, Johnson and Lorman of Sea Machines are focused on smaller-scale commercial operations and have self-funded their efforts up to this point, they said.

And they hope to allay fears that robot boats would take jobs from humans, saying they could instead help fix the looming shortage of merchant mariners that the United States may soon face.
In March, the head of the Maritime Administration issued a warning: The country will need 70,000 more people to support the maritime fleet by 2022.
“The marine space is really the last big domain for autonomy,” Johnson said.

Links :

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

NASA's PACE mission will uncover new information about health of our oceans

Off the coast of Argentina, two strong ocean currents recently stirred up a colorful brew of floating nutrients and microscopic plant life just in time for the summer solstice, Dec. 21, 2010.
The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA's Aqua satellite captured this image of a massive phytoplankton bloom off of the Atlantic coast of Patagonia.

Credit : NASA's Earth Observatory/Norman Kuring, Ocean Color Web

From EurekAlert

NASA's Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) mission is a first-of-its-kind project that aims to answer key questions about the consequences of climate change on the health of our oceans and their relationship with airborne particles and clouds.
PACE will use a wide spectrum of wavelengths from an "ocean color" instrument to provide scientists with this information.
"PACE represents a major effort to truly combine ocean research with atmospheric research," Project Scientist Jeremy Werdell said.
"We are going to go beyond just seeing that Earth's climate is changing to better understanding why the change is occurring." PACE was approved to move forward out of its preliminary stage of planning on June 16 at the Key Decision Point A (KDP-A) event.

 Fraction of an area that was cloudy on average each month (NASA Terra/MODIS)

A significant milestone for this next stage is that the official mission budget becomes available for use on July 1, Project Manager Andre Dress said.
The primary instrument for this mission is named the Ocean Color Instrument (OCI), which will collect hyperspectral measurements from the ultraviolet to the shortwave infrared--a range that is broader than its predecessor satellite instruments, SeaWiFS, MODIS, and VIIRS -- to examine and monitor how phytoplankton communities in the ocean are changing in space and time.
The OCI will provide precise measurements of the ocean surface to allow researchers to see the concentrations of different phytoplankton communities all over the globe.



The spectral range and resolution of the OCI design will substantially advance the ability to distinguish between different species of phytoplankton compared to predecessor satellite instruments.
Phytoplankton play an essential role in ocean ecosystems.
They are the base of the marine food chain and, like land plants, produce much of the oxygen we breathe and play a role in reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.
With growing concern about the impact of rising global temperatures on our oceans, PACE data will be used to unveil new information about changing patterns in phytoplankton composition and the emergence of potentially harmful algal blooms.
Satellites that currently exist are adept at detecting algal blooms, but cannot unequivocally determine their composition - for example, if they are harmful to fish or can contaminate drinking water.
The spectral range of OCI will help scientists figure out more about where blooms occur and how they are changing.



The possible addition of a polarimeter, an instrument that could provide multi-angle polarized radiometric measurements to advance studies of aerosol particles and clouds, is currently under consideration by the PACE team.
A polarimeter would allow improved measurement of atmospheric particle compositions that will ultimately improve observations of ocean color.

 Rising global temperatures are affecting our oceans in ways we have not yet fully explored. NASA’s PACE mission will use an ocean color imager to track phytoplankton communities over time, as well as monitor the health of our oceans and their relationship with the atmosphere.
The data collected from the PACE mission will allow us to fully examine the consequences of climate change on our planet.

Normally, roughly ninety percent of what an ocean color satellite instrument measures when over the oceans is the atmosphere, which has to be subtracted out to reveal the ocean signal.
Ongoing field campaigns and the collection of data at sea provide critical information that helps scientists and engineers plan and design this new mission.
For example, the North Atlantic Aerosols and Marine Ecosystems Study (NAAMES) campaign, which had its most recent deployment during May 2016, collected a wealth of information from both a ship and an airplane to validate satellite measurements and give a three-dimensional perspective that includes what's happening beneath the surface.
"NAAMES is helping us answer fundamental questions we have about processes in the ocean," said PACE Communications Coordinator and scientist Stephanie Uz.
"The measurements they and other field campaigns collect at sea contribute to PACE being a giant leap forward in ocean and atmosphere research."

All preliminary planning for PACE is currently being done at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.
The unique information that this mission will provide, in combination with climate models, will allow for scientists to monitor the health of our oceans and their response to climate change like never before.
"We are putting all this carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and causing oceans to be more acidic at the same time that the oceans are warming and coming under stress from a range of human activities," Uz said.
"All of this is affecting the ocean in ways we don't fully understand...PACE will help us comprehend what we have now and how it is changing.

Links :

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Explorers spot mysterious purple orb on ocean floor

 Update : We're still working on a species ID with our science partners at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology, but currently we're thinking the purple orb is a pleurobranch, a nudibranch relative.
Both are types of sea slugs, like this one

From CNET by Amanda Kooser

The research vessel Nautilus is a floating laboratory equipped with cameras that can peer deep down to the ocean floor.
Researchers with the Ocean Exploration Trust posted a video on Monday showing an unusual find.
The Nautilus spied a small bright-purple orb underwater in the Channel Islands off the coast of California.
The main focus for the vehicle's Channel Islands mission is to study deep-sea corals, but the odd sphere attracted the scientists' attention.
The video includes a soundtrack of the researchers making real-time observations as the camera sweeps along.
They call it a "purple blob" and then wonder aloud "What is that?"
The researchers throw out some scientific names as possibilities before deciding to suck it up into a tube for a closer look.
They wonder if it might be an egg sac or an embryo of some sort.
There's a moment of suspense as a crab closes in on the orb and jars it with its leg, but the Nautilus successfully grabs the sphere using a remote-controlled suction tube.

 Channel Islands, offshore California with the GeoGarage platform (NOAA chart)

The Nautilus website offers an update on the oddball discovery: "This unidentified purple orb stumped our scientists onboard. After sampling, it began to unfold to reveal two distinct lobes. This could possibly be a new species of nudibranch."
Nudibranchs are marine mollusks.
They have soft bodies and some of them are quite colorful, appearing in bright shades of orange, blue and pink.
Some have slug-like shapes, while others have small branch-like protuberances.
If you're looking for answers as to exactly what the purple orb is, you'll probably have to wait for some time.
The Nautilus team notes, "It could take several years for scientists to determine if this organism is a new species."

Mysterious purple ocean orb starts to reveal its secrets

Scientists get a closer look at a strange purple sphere found in the ocean and have some ideas about its origins.

Everybody loves a good mystery.
Researchers with the Exploration Vessel Nautilus peered down through a camera at the ocean floor in mid-July and found something very odd there.
A bright-purple sphere glowed in the camera's light. Scientific curiosity kicked in and the researchers suctioned up the strange creature for a closer look. Now they're sharing the latest information on the discovery.
The Nautilus team initially thought the critter might be a nudibranch, a type of soft-bodied marine mollusk.
Current thinking is that it could actually be a close relation called a pleurobranch.
"Pleurobranchs have rhinophores (ear-like structures) in a particular location and a gill under the emantle on the right side, but we are still determining if this is present on this sample. Currently none of the known species of California deep-sea pleurobranchs are purple, so this could be a new discovery," the team said on its website Wednesday.
The orb was found in Arguello Canyon, an underwater canyon west of the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Southern California. It was living at a depth of 5,301 feet (1,616 meters).
It's only about 2 inches (5 centimeters) in size. Researchers sent samples of the creature to the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology for further identification work.
Closeup photos of the purple orb show a more complex creature than could originally be seen on underwater video.

The purple orb actually has two lobes.
photo : Ocean Exploration Trust
 
It's not just a single sphere but seems to have a couple of lobes, making it look a bit like a sci-fi alien brain.
There's also a slug-like part of the creature, which fits with the pleurobranch idea.
Pleurobranchs are a type of sea slug.
The Nautilus is funded by the Ocean Exploration Trust, an organization dedicated to studying the scientific wonders of the seafloor.
The Nautilus is a high-tech floating laboratory that aims to "explore areas of the ocean that have never been explored before, seeking out new discoveries in the fields of geology, biology, maritime history, archaeology, and chemistry."
Think of it as the USS Enterprise of ocean vessels.
The Nautilus team isn't rushing to conclusions: "It could possibly take years for scientists to definitively determine whether it's a newly discovered species!"

Links :

Monday, August 1, 2016

NOAA to develop new global weather model

Hindcast of the peak of the 2008 hurricane season, one of the most active on records, simulated by an FV3-powered GFDL model at 13-km resolution.
FV3 improves representation of small-scale weather features such as hurricanes while maintaining the quality of large-scale global circulation.

From NOAA

The new global model will continue to be called the GFS. As with the current GFS, the new GFS will run in the background of NOAA’s suite of weather and climate models improving skill across all NOAA's forecast mission areas.

“Using our powerful supercomputers, our new dynamic core which drives the model, and the newest modeling techniques, we are poised to develop and run a more accurate and reliable global model that is used as a basis for all weather forecasts in the U.S.,” said Louis W. Uccellini, director, NOAA’s National Weather Service.

The new dynamic core, Finite-Volume on a Cubed-Sphere (FV3), was developed by NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, New Jersey.
The FV3 core brings a new level of accuracy and numeric efficiency to the model’s representation of atmospheric processes such as air motions.
This makes possible simulations of clouds and storms, at resolutions not yet used in an operational global model.

The FV3 core enables the model to provide localized forecasts for several weather events simultaneously all while generating a global forecast every six hours.
Looking 10 years ahead, the GFS model with the FV3 core will run in higher resolution and be able to zoom in on smaller and smaller storm systems to provide forecasters better pictures of how storms will evolve.

Goals for the new model are:
  • a unified system to improve forecast accuracy beyond 8 to 10 days
  • better model forecasts of hurricane track and intensity, and
  • the extension of weather forecasting through 14 days and for extreme events, 3 to 4 weeks in advance.
Engaging the meteorology community during model development and improvement is a priority for NOAA.
The agency plans to develop a program to involve researchers in testing and improving algorithms, data assimilation methods and physics.
The goal is to incorporate successful enhancements into operations.
“We are collaborating with the best model developers in the U.S. and around the world to ensure the GFS has the most recent advances in weather prediction modeling, and so we can accelerate improvements to the model as they are developed,” Uccellini added.

FV3 offers 'zoom-in' capability when threats loom

An example of FV3's capability to zoom in on critical weather events: here, the model resolution has been enhanced to better represent hurricanes threatening the Southeastern US.
The reverse side is coarser resolution because we are less concerned with that part of the world.
By enhancing the resolution only over a part of the earth, we are able to economically get to ultra-high resolution simulations of important areas, or on a potentially-dangerous storm, anywhere around the globe.
The colors represent the grid spacing lengths, and the grid is partially outlined in black. (NOAA)

Building the Next Generation Global Prediction System will take a tremendous amount of testing, analysis and verification.
Model components, including the physics package, data assimilation and post processing—all parts of the existing architecture—will be rebuilt and improved to work with the new software.                                                         
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Sunday, July 31, 2016