From The Conversation by Richard K.F. Unsworth, Benjamin L. Jones & Leanne Cullen-Unsworth
Some 95% of the ocean is completely unexplored, unseen by human eyes.
That naturally means that there are many marine environments that we don’t know much about, but that we’re still putting at risk from damaging activities such as bottom trawling.
Meadows of seagrass – flowering plants that live in shallow, sheltered areas – are a prime example of such a habitat.
Knowing the location and value of environments such as seagrass meadows, which are a nursery for fish, is key if we are to tackle our biodiversity crisis.
With 70% of the Earth covered by ocean, exploring it all presents an enormous challenge.
Thankfully, seagrass meadows are restricted to the shallow waters (less than 90 metres deep), but finding them still isn’t easy.
From charismatic and endangered species like seahorse, turtle and dugong to important food fishes like cod and herring, seagrass meadows support rich biodiversity.
Importantly, 22% of the world’s most landed fish species (including the Atlantic cod) use seagrass as a home at some stage in their life.
Seagrass meadows also provide one of the most effective stores of carbon on our planet.
Sustaining this store may be an important part of mitigating the worst impacts of climate change.
Marine vegetated habitats, which include seagrasses, salt-marshes, macroalgae and mangroves, occupy only 0.2% of the ocean surface, but contribute 50% of carbon that is stored in ocean sediments.
Knowing where this carbon is stored will help us to keep it in the ground.
The use of satellites is often considered to be a panacea for understanding habitat distribution.
This is not the case for shallow water seagrass meadows though.
If you can’t see the seagrass (due to turbid water) with a snorkel and mask, then how do you expect a satellite to see it?
Solutions for locating and mapping seagrass are needed that go beyond space observation.
Seagrass meadows are present around the coasts of all continents except the Antarctic.
The scale and cost of responding to this challenge appears to be beyond the capacity of most governments.
This is a logistical, as well as a financial issue.
Even in developed countries such as the UK there is not a reliable estimate of seagrass extent, which could be over 600km².
Enter citizen scientists
To plug this significant global information gap a new approach is needed.
This approach should enable partnerships and encourage data sharing between governments, private enterprises, conservation groups and the general public.
To achieve this we need user-friendly tools and resources that can draw on a global community of citizen scientists to help understand these amazing habitats.
Citizen science has contributed to major scientific breakthroughs, most notably in space.
They represent a potential research team that could be drawn upon to help solve some of the challenges facing seagrass meadows today.
Citizen science enables us to crowdsource data and engage people in conversations about why we need to protect biodiversity and other resources provided by nature.
As seagrass prefers sheltered and shallow coastal bays, it is an ideal candidate for citizen science programmes.
It is easily accessible, and its functional characteristics mean that answering broader questions about its health, reproductive status or even associated fauna can be met using targeted citizen science campaigns.
Our new research, published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin, illustrates how citizen science platforms can be a key means of collecting much needed information to secure a future for seagrass.
Such platforms can also inspire a new generation of seagrass scientists wishing to conserve them – and help meet the challenge of making seagrass a familiar species.
Pictures taken of intertidal seagrass can be a valuable way of citizen scientists helping to map seagrass.
One platform, SeagrassSpotter (created by scientists at Swansea University, Cardiff University and the marine conservation charity Project Seagrass), was developed to engage and support budding seagrass citizen scientists.
In a Pokémon-Go style, SeagrassSpotter aims to engage citizens from around the world to find and document seagrass meadows.
They may do this when walking at low tide, snorkelling or when diving underwater.
In effect, the programme provides a means for untrained scientists to collect reliable and geo-referenced data on seagrass presence and condition – data that is typically costly and logistically difficult to collect on a regular basis.
SeagrassSpotter was officially launched in 2015.
To date, over 750 observations have been recorded by 360 users from 94 locations throughout the North Atlantic, Mediterranean and Caribbean regions.
This includes one sighting of a seagrass meadow in Wales that was last recorded in 1891.
Over the coming months, SeagrassSpotter will be expanded to include more regions of the world.
We believe that while governments should have a statutory responsibility to monitor, map and understand our important seagrass resources, it’s unrealistic to expect this to be complete.
If recent viewing figures for the documentary series Blue Planet II are anything to go by, members of the public are becoming more interested in the marine environment.
Securing a future for seagrass could well lie in the hands of local people (literally) acting as citizen scientists.
The first ever all-electric cargo ship is in operation in China's Pearl River. While it's a step in the right direction to eliminate fossil fuels, the ship is being used to carry coal — the very material that encouraged the shift to clean energy.
First of its kind: electric cargo ship
China is now the proud owner of the world’s first all-electric cargo ship and has already put the vehicle to use.
As reported by China Daily, the 2,000-metric-ton ship was launched in the city of Guangzhou last month and runs in the inland section of the Pearl River.
Constructed by Guangzhou Shipyard International Company Ltd, it can travel 80 kilometers (approximately 50 miles) after being charged for 2 hours.
As noted by Clean Technica, 2 hours is roughly the amount of time it would take to unload the ship’s cargo while docked.
Other stats for China’s cargo ship include being 70.5 meters (230 feet) in length, a battery capacity of 2,400 kWh, and a travel speed of 12.8 kilometers per hour (8 mph).
It’s definitely not the fastest electric vehicle we’ve seen hit the water, but it’s designed for transporting numerous objects rather than speed.
China’s all-electric cargo ship.
Image Credit: China News/Peng Yonggui
Oh, the irony
“As the ship is fully electric powered, it poses no threats to the environment,” said Huang Jialin, general manager of Hangzhou Modern Ship Design & Research Co, the company behind the ship’s design.
“The technology will soon be likely … used in passenger or engineering ships.”
While the ship is yet another sign of the changes coming to our relationship with fossil fuels, its cargo shows we’re still a ways off from a complete shift.
Ironically, the world’s first all-electric cargo ship is being used to move coal, according to Chen Ji, general manger of Guangzhou Shipyard International.
Yes, despite generating zero emissions on its own, the cargo ship is still, in a way, contributing to the generation and spread of gas emissions that led to global warming.
It’s still an objectively better scenario that a traditional cargo ship carrying coal, but one can easily see how using clean energy to make coal cheaper misses the entire point of clean energy.
Hopefully the electric cargo ship won’t be carrying coal for long, and China can find it better haulage. Perhaps parts for wind turbine construction.
Or even additional lithium-ion batteries. Whatever the short-term future holds, we’re seeing more of the means we need to improve in the long-term.
The water temperature in the Tasman Sea is well above normal - a whopping 6 degC more than average for the start of December.
The anomaly exists only between Australia and New Zealand Photo credit: EarthWindMap
The increase has been driven by a La Nina climate system, and scientists say a continued warming of our ocean could permanently damage our fisheries and lead to tropical cyclones.
Seven and thirty day NZ sea temperature anomalies November 2017.
NIWA meteorologist Ben Noll says the "very impressive marine heatwave" has led to the largest deviation from normal temperatures in the world.
"The sea surface temperatures in the Australia-New Zealand region are presently the most anomalous on the globe," he says.
"Typical La Nina signature but intensity turned up many notches."
A very impressive marine heatwave is unfolding near the east coast of Australia, across the Tasman Sea, and in New Zealand coastal waters ... average anomaly is +1.98°C and max anomaly is a gaudy +6.16°C off NZ's West Coast. courtesy of Ben Noll
Global water temperature maps show the Tasman Sea between New Zealand and Australia stands out, both with the largest increase and largest area affected.
The warmth is more than just skin-deep.
Temperature anomalies of 1degC to 3degC are being found in the top 200 metres.
The sea surface temperatures in the Australia-New Zealand region are presently the most anomalous on the globe ... typical La Nina signature but intensity turned up many notches. courtesy of Ben Noll
NIWA climate scientist Nava Fedaeff says this is due to the lack of storms, which churn up the ocean and reduce temperatures.
However she warns that calm conditions now could increase the strength of tropical storms and cyclones when they do hit.
"Warm seas can act like fuel," she says.
"If we do get a tropical storm this could add more moisture to the system."
The warmth is more than just skin-deep ...
anomalies of 1 to 3 degrees found in the top 200 m (650 ft) of the sea. courtesy of Ben Noll
NIWA marine biogeochemist Professor Cliff Law says this ocean warming is likely to continue, and could lead to more invasive species and possibly new diseases in our fisheries.
"The average warming around New Zealand is 2.5degC by the end of this century, which will affect how the ocean mixes and the nutrients available for plankton growth, with knock-on effects on the foodweb and fisheries," he says.
"All regions will see a reduction in food supply, because of a decrease in particulate material sinking from the surface - and that is what links climate change to our fisheries."
The world’s oceans are under the greatest threat in history, according to Sir David Attenborough.
The seas are a vital part of the global ecosystem, leaving the future of all life on Earth dependent on humanity’s actions, he says.
Attenborough will issue the warning in the final episode of the Blue Planet 2 series, which details the damage being wreaked in seas around the globe by climate change, plastic pollution, overfishing and even noise.
Previous BBC nature series presented by Attenborough have sometimes been criticised for treading too lightly around humanity’s damage to the planet.
But the final episode of the latest series is entirely dedicated to the issue.
“For years we thought the oceans were so vast and the inhabitants so infinitely numerous that nothing we could do could have an effect upon them.
But now we know that was wrong,” says Attenborough.
“It is now clear our actions are having a significant impact on the world’s oceans.
[They] are under threat now as never before in human history.
Many people believe the oceans have reached a crisis point.”
Attenborough says: “Surely we have a responsibility to care for our blue planet.
The future of humanity, and indeed all life on Earth, now depends on us.”
This world-exclusive introduction to the show is narrated by series presenter Sir David Attenborough and set to an exclusive track developed by Hans Zimmer and Radiohead.
The prequel features an array of some of the most awe-inspiring shots and highlights from the new series, as well as several exclusive scenes that will not feature in any of the seven episodes which are set for UK broadcast on BBC One later this year.
BBC executives were reportedly concerned about the series appearing to become politicised and ordered a fact-check, which it passed.
The series producer, Mark Brownlow, said it was impossible to overlook the harm being caused in the oceans: “We just couldn’t ignore it – it wouldn’t be a truthful portrayal of the world’s oceans.
We are not out there to campaign.
We are just showing it as it is and it is quite shocking.”
Brownlow said much of the footage shot of albatross chicks being killed by the plastic they mistake for food were too upsetting to broadcast.
The programme also filmed on the Great Barrier Reef in 2016, witnessing the worst bleaching event in its history.
A bleached section of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
Photograph: BBC NHU
Climate change is causing ocean temperatures to rise, bleaching the corals vital as nurseries for ocean life, and waters are warming rapidly in Antarctica too.
Jon Copley, from the University of Southampton and one of many scientists appearing in the final episode, says.
“What shocks me about what all the data shows is how fast things are changing here [in Antarctica].
We’re headed into uncharted territory”
Carbon dioxide from fossil fuel burning also dissolves in seawater, making it more acidic.
Prof Chris Langdon, at the University of Miami, says it is “beyond question” that the problem is manmade.
“The shells and the reefs really, truly are dissolving. The reefs could be gone by the end of the century.”
The noise from shipping, tourism, and fossil fuel exploration is also revealed as harming sea life.
Steve Simpson, at the University of Exeter, who works on coral reefs in southeast Asia, says: “There is a whole language underwater that we are only just getting a handle on.
They use sound to attract a mate, to scare away a predator.
You hear pops and grunts and gurgles and snaps.”
He shows the noise of motorboats distracting saddleback clownfishes from warning against a predator attack.
Lucy Quinn from the British Antarctic Survey with an albatross on South Georgia
credit : John Dickens
The Blue Planet 2 team found plastic everywhere they filmed, even in the most remote locations such as South Georgia island, an important breeding site for wandering albatrosses.
There, Lucy Quinn from the British Antarctic Survey says many chicks are killed by plastic fed to them by their parents, including one young bird whose stomach was punctured by a plastic toothpick.
Overfishing, which remains prevalent around the world, is also addressed.
“Every night thousands of miles of fishing lines laden with hooks are set – there is enough, it is said, to wrap twice around the world,” says Attenborough.
But the programme also highlights some success stories, such as the revival of sperm whales off Sri Lanka and herring stocks off Norway after bans or restrictions were put in place.
Strict management of the herring fishery in Norway has saved it from collapse.
Herring now draw in humpback whales and orca.
Photograph: Audun Rikardsen
Attenborough also visits Trinidad, where the conservationist Len Peters has transformed the prospects of the giant leatherback turtles who come to the island to lay their eggs and whose numbers have fallen catastrophically in recent decades.
“I grew up in a house where turtle meat was normal,” says Peters.
But his work to end turtle hunting and encourage tourism has seen numbers rise from 30-40 to more than 500.
Quinn says the oceans are of vital importance for the whole world: “The oceans provide us with oxygen, they regulate temperature, they provide us with food and energy supplies.
It is unthinkable to have a world without a healthy ocean.”
Daniel Pauly, who leads the Sea Around Us programme at the University of British Columbia in Canada, and was not involved in Blue Planet 2, endorsed its stark conclusion.
He said vast, subsidised fishing fleets were scraping the bottom of the barrel and that ocean acidification could be terminal for many species.
Pauly also warned of the dangers of plastic attracting toxic chemicals and then being eaten: “They become poison pills.” Pauly said the question facing humanity now was simple: “Are we going to fight for the oceans or not?” Links :
A recent forecast of future trade suggests that by mid-21st century
container ships could carry double the capacity of the largest present
By then, a new potentially competitive sailing route could
An artist render Samsung Heavy Industries’ 21,100 TEU container ship.
A decade ago, the bulk of the world’s sea-going container trade was
carried aboard Panamax-size container ships of 5,000 TEU capacity.
combination of increased international trade and developments in
transportation logistics required the development of larger container
ships to sail between Europe and Asia, also between Asia and West Coast
There was also a perceived need to upgrade the Panama Canal to
transit much larger container ships and also increase the transit
capacity of the Suez Canal by building a section of parallel navigation
channel, with future plans to extend that parallel section.
At present, the Suez Canal allows passage to vessel of under 1,006
square meters submerged cross section, restricting passage to container
ships of under 16.75 meters draft by 60 meters beam.
Within the next
decade, container ships built to 18 meters draft by 65 meters beam by
420 meters length and carrying over 28,000 TEUs could appear on the
trans-Pacific service between west coast American ports and Asian ports,
also between Asian ports and selected Brazilian ports such as Fortaleza
(Pecem) sailing via the southern tip of Africa.
Changing weather patterns could provide a route for such ships between Asia and Europe.
Photograph by Mukul Joshi
Earth’s Weather History
Geologists and climatologists have discovered much about the earth’s
weather history, dating back over several thousand years.
region has undergone multiple repeat cycles occurring every 10,000-years
of warm periods where the region was free from ice.
change may contribute to a warming Arctic, the region has been free from
ice during several previous periods.
There is also a long-term cyclical
history of El Nino and La Nina weather patterns and the earth has
undergone several cycles of warming and cooling.Changing weather
patterns are part of the earth’s long-term climatic history.
Northern Sea Route season length
Canada’s Northwest Passage
While the sailing draft along Russian side of the Arctic sailing
route is suitable for Seaway-max size of ships, most of the Canadian
passage through McClure Strait and Barrow Strait between the Beaufort
Sea and Baffin Bay exceeds a depth of 200 meters.
Within the next
decade, container ships of 28,000 TEUs could appear, as changing weather
patterns and a warming Arctic could allow the Canadian passage to
transit container ships for perhaps a period of three months per year.
Perhaps within a quarter of a century, Canada’s northwest sailing season
could extend from early May to late October.
Container ships that sail via the Canadian Arctic would likely sail from
Asian ports such as Shanghai, Busan, Qingdao, Fuzhou and Hong Kong to
east coast American ports such as Newark, Sydney NS and Melford Terminal
NS as well as to European ports such as Rotterdam – Antwerp.
The future competitiveness of the Canadian passage will depend on the
pace at which average temperature increases at the Arctic.
enlarging the Suez Canal to transit larger container ships would depend
on traffic sailing west from Asian ports such as Singapore, Vizhinjam
(India) and Colombo to Europe and North America.
Caada C3 participants watch as the Polar price exits the Bellot Strait
photo : Jackie Dives / The Goble and Mail
Beyond the next decade, container ships of more than double the
capacity of neo-Panamax container ships could enter service and
potentially sail via the Arctic for a few months per year.
development could divert traffic sailing between Asia and east Coast
North America, away from the Panama Canal and to ship-to-ship container
transshipment terminals currently being developed in Eastern Canada,
from where a multitude of smaller vessels would sail to mainly American
east coast ports and ports located along the St Lawrence Seaway.
Shippers could seek to maximize container movement during the northern
While the northern passage is open to shipping, super ships from
western Asia ports will still sail via the Suez Canal to European and
east coast North American ports.
The future seasonal closure of the
northern passage would result in a seasonal increase in mega-ship
traffic sailing via the Suez Canal and involve ships sailing from
eastern Asia ports to European ports, Port of Newark and east coast
North American transshipment terminals.
The combination of the
development of larger future container ships and trans-Arctic navigation
via Northern Canada represents future competition for the Panama Canal.
Liverpool2 is a new deep water container terminal at the Port of Liverpool, costing up to £300m. Photo: courtesy of Peel Ports Group. Mega ships
Future Port Modifications
While reconstruction was underway for the Panama Canal to transit
larger ships, corresponding reconstruction began at many ports
internationally to berth and provide service to larger ships.
present time, a small number of international ports and planned ports
that are under construction offer sufficient depth to clear the draft of
the next generation of mega-size container ships.Most ports that serve
the present generation of mega-size ships will require further dredging
with possible modification to port entrances to deflect prevailing
ocean currents so as to minimize build-up of silt following port
There may be scope to modify a few deep-sea ports that presently
serve only bulk cargo carriers to function as stop-over ports-of-call
for future mega-ships.
Such ports would include Richard’s Bay and
Saldanha Bay in South Africa, both located on the Asia – Brazil
By mid-century if projected trends in international
trade continue, container ships of up to 35,000 TEUs could enter service
and approach 19 meters draft, 39 meters height, 69 meters beam and 450
Some ports would require that bridges be raised in the
future for such ships to arrive at quayside.
18,000 TEU ships less efficient for ports, expert says
Long-term market projections suggest that by mid-century,
international trade could require container ships of up to 50,000 TEUs
Concept ships of up to 35,000 TEUs could fit into the envelope
(draft, beam and length) of the largest oil tankers.
This will be the world’s first autonomus battery-powered containtership
Unmanned vessels can be built entirely differently from current ships...
source : NTU & Sintef, Yara Birkeland
would likely appear on the Asia – Brazil service and the trans-Pacific
service between east Asia and west coast America.
Depending on the pace of Arctic warming and a future northern
navigation season, future mega-size container ships could sail via the
Canadian Arctic route on voyages between east Asia and Europe, also
between east Asia and east coast North America.
sailing to the North American east coast and Europe from Asian ports
such as Vizhinjam, Colombo and Singapore would provide future business
for the future twin channels of the Suez Canal, perhaps with a wetted
cross section increased from 1,006 square meters to 1,200 square meters
and perhaps even greater.
Future mega-size container ships could likely
sail exclusively between transshipment terminals.
Major Global Ocean Currents at the surface (red) and bottom of the ocean (blue) Our ocean currents are part of the most powerful machine on Earth. Did you know?: Sea water is 832 times as dense as air, providing a 5 knot ocean current with more kinetic energy than a 350 km/h wind.
The Sea Level Thematic Center (SL TAC), part of the Copernicus Marine Service is in charge of providing satellite sea surface height and wave observation data.
“We then went with the current of the sea's greatest river, which has its own banks, fish, and temperature. I mean the Gulf Stream. It is indeed a river that runs independently through the middle of the Atlantic, its waters never mixing with the ocean's waters. It's a salty river, saltier than the sea surrounding it. Its average depth is 3,000 feet, its average width sixty miles. In certain localities its current moves at a speed of four kilometers per hour. The unchanging volume of its waters is greater than that of all the world's rivers combined.” (Jules Verne, 20,000 leagues under the sea)
Our vision of ocean currents is slightly more complex now than in 1869 when Jules Verne published his novel, but some of the above statement still remain true (it was mostly coming from the oceanographer Matthew Maury, who wrote « The Physical Oceanography of the Sea », published 1855).
The complexity lies in the turbulence: the ocean currents are not “straight” rivers crossing the seas as might be interpreted from the citation above, but turbulent flows shedding eddies all along their paths.
Their observation now is done not only at sea, but also from above: satellites enable to measure the reliefs of the sea surface.
These in turn can be used to compute the currents which are turning around the “hills” and “valleys” of this surface.
The steeper the slope of the relief, the faster the currents, so that we can map ocean currents any day of the last 25 years over the whole world from observations.
Over those 25 years, no less than 12 satellites has been used, with currently 6 of them measuring, enabling to make the most detailed daily maps of ocean surface ever.