Sunday, February 23, 2020

NASA slowly drains the oceans in an incredible animation, revealing hidden underwater mountain ranges and ancient land bridges

Draining Earth's oceans, revealing the two-thirds of Earth's surface we don't get to see
A NASA animation drains the oceans to reveal the majority of Earth's surface that lies beneath.
A planetary scientist remade the video to highlight its most fascinating features: the world's longest mountain range and the ice-age land bridges that ancient humans crossed. 

From BusinessInsider by Morgan McFall-Johnsen 

Oceans cover most of the Earth, including its longest mountain range and the ancient bridges that humans crossed to reach other continents.

In a recent remake of a 2008 NASA video, planetary scientist James O'Donoghue shows what it would look like if all that water drained away, revealing the hidden three-fifths of Earth's surface.

O'Donoghue works at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and was formerly at NASA. For the video, he took an animation that NASA physicist and animator Horace Mitchell created in 2008 and gave it a few additions.
He edited the timing and added a tracker to show how much water drains throughout the animation.

As the oceans slowly lose water, the first bits of hidden land that emerge are the continental shelves – the undersea edges of each continent.
"I slowed down the start since, rather surprisingly, there's a lot of undersea landscape instantly revealed in the first tens of meters," O'Donoghue told Business Insider in an email.

The continental shelves include some of the land bridges that early humans crossed as they migrated from continent to continent.
Tens of thousands of years ago, our ancestors could walk from continental Europe to the UK, from Siberia to Alaska, and from Australia to the islands surrounding it.

"When the last ice age occurred, a lot of ocean water was locked up as ice at the poles of the planet. That's why land bridges used to exist," O'Donoghue said. "Each of these links enabled humans to migrate, and when the ice age ended, the water sort of sealed them in."

By removing that water, the animation offers a glimpse at the world of our ancient ancestors.

It also shows Earth's longest chain of mountains, which appears once the sea levels have dropped 2,000 to 3,000 meters (6,500 to 9,800 feet).
That's the mid-ocean ridge, which stretches over 37,000 miles (60,000 kilometers) across the globe.
Over 90 percent of it is underwater.

The volcanic mountains spring up at the seams where Earth's tectonic plates inch away from each other, creating new ocean floor as molten rock rises from beneath the plant's crust.

Once the animated oceans drain by 6,000 meters (20,000 feet), most of the water is gone. But it takes nearly another 5,000 meters (16,000 feet) to empty the deepest reaches of the Marianas Trench.
"I like how this animation reveals that the ocean floor is just as variable and interesting in its geology as the continents," O'Donoghue said.
He added that emptying the seas unearths not only "not only the ocean bottom, but also the ancient story of humanity."

Links :

Saturday, February 22, 2020

I am vital

Water is necessary for the survival of all living things on the Earth's surface.
Around our planet, it appears in many forms, liquid, gas or solid.
Almost 70% of the freshwater on our planet is held within glaciers and ice-sheets.
We take water for granted, even though it is something we all depend on.
Our future, amongst other challenges, depends on the capability of preserving the ice.
Simply as we cannot live without the air, many species cannot live without ice.
This short documentary was filmed in Greenland, Antarctica, Nunavut, Svalbard, Iceland, over 3 years.

Friday, February 21, 2020

The rise of the wind ships

Econonwind’s ventifoil system installed on the deck of the DFDS cargo vessel Lysbris Seaways

From The Engineer by Jon Excell

Could a new generation of innovative propulsion technologies that harness the power of the wind help the shipping industry clean up its act ?

Commercial shipping – for many years resistant to the low carbon revolution sweeping other areas of transportation – is changing fast.

Faced with a combination of rising fuel prices and an industry-wide strategy to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 per cent over the next 30 years, the sector (thought to be responsible for around 2.5 per cent of global GHG emissions) is innovating as never before in an effort to boost fuel efficiency and reduce its environmental impact.

From the development of novel hybrid electric propulsion systems to AI driven improvements in operational efficiency, no stone is being left unturned in the quest to slash emissions.
But arguably some of the most intriguing advances are being made in a field that harks back to the earliest days of seafaring: wind propulsion.

Whilst no-one’s quite proposing a return to the great age of sail – where world trade was utterly reliant on the power of the wind – many believe that a new generation of wind propulsion systems – an eclectic mix of innovative sails, strange deck mounted wings, kites and weird hull designs – could play a key role in the sector’s future.

Gavin Allwright, who heads up the trade body representing companies in this field – the International Windships Association (IWSA) – has witnessed this growing interest first-hand.
The association has grown from 12 to just over 100 members and partners since 2014: a clear reflection, says Allwright, of the growing seriousness with which wind propulsion is being treated.
“We don’t see how we can make the speed and depth of the change without wind propulsion taking a significant load,” he told The Engineer.

Many of the technologies at the heart of this burgeoning field have actually been around for some time.
Flettner rotors, for instance (discussed later in this article) were invented over a century ago.
What’s changed, said Allwright, is that there are now tangible examples of these systems in action and, in many cases, verified figures to back up the developers’ claims.

At the most recognisable end of the wind-assist spectrum are innovations in soft sail systems.
The increasing sophistication of automation and route optimisation systems have revived interest in seafaring’s original power source, and there are now a growing number of examples of larger vessels using smart soft sails alongside auxiliary propulsion systems.
In one notable development, French naval architect VPLP recently unveiled a design for a 121 metre long roll-on/roll-off (RORO) vessel that will be used to transport components of the Ariane 6 rocket from Europe to Guiana.
The ship’s main propulsion system (a dual fuel LNG MDO engine) will be assisted by four Oceanwings; fully automated wing-sails which are each supported by a 30m high mast and measuring a total of 363 square meters.

VPLP’s design for a RORO vessel that will be used to transport components of the Ariane 6 uses four fully automated Oceanwings

There is also growing interest in the use of rigid hard sails, which are sometimes preferred over soft sails because of the potential for incorporating different aerodynamic structures or even photovoltaic coatings.

As with soft sail innovations, there are numerous ongoing initiatives in this area exploring the application of the technology to vessels of various different sizes.
In one recent development, Japanese firms Mitsui OSK lines and Oshima shipbuilding received Approval In Principle from marine classification body ClassNK to build a 100,000 DWT bulk carrier equipped with a telescopic hard sail system that the group claims could reduce fuel usage by as much as 8 per cent.

Whilst the ability to automate, deploy new materials, and use data to optimise performance is breathing fresh life into the use of traditional sails, they do come with some significant challenges as they are scaled up in size.
Not only do they take up large amounts of deck space (valuable real-estate in the commercial shipping sector) but they can also induce a significant amount of heeling (or tipping from side to side) in the vessel.

One concept that potentially gets around this problem is an innovative device known as a suction wing, a deck mounted vertical foil claimed to provide considerably more power per square metre than a normal sail at a fraction of the height.

Based on technology originally pioneered by marine explorer and conservationist Jacques Cousteau, these systems use a powered suction device mounted within the wing to suck in the boundary layer around the foil and increase its propulsive efficiency.

One of the key players here is Netherlands firm Econowind, whose so-called Ventifoil technology – a non-rotating wing with vents and a powered internal fan – can either be retrofitted to the deck of a vessel, or deployed within containers that are added and removed as and when required.

Econowind’s technology can be deployed in containers that are added to and removed from the deck as and when required

The company’s CEO Frank Nieuwenhuis explained that during operation and when the wind conditions are favourable, the system increases the speed of a vessel enabling the captain to throttle back the propulsion system without reducing the voyage time.

Late last year (2019) the firm installed a prototype system, consisting of two 10 metre foils that automatically fold out of a 12 metre container, on the deck of DFDS Cargo vessel, Lysbris Seaways.
According to Paul Woodall, director, Environment & Sustainability at DFDS, although a mechanical fault has brought this trial to a premature end, preliminary results show that a positive effect was achieved.

At the time of writing, Econowind was also poised to install a larger permanent system aboard MV Ankie, a 3,600 DWT cargo vessel operated by Van Dam Shipping.
Commenting on the potential fuel savings resulting from this application Niewnhuis said: “we expect that on a really good day we will save 20 per cent and over the year we would expect the unit to do between 8 – 10 per cent.”

Whilst Econowind’s unit takes up a fraction of the deck space occupied by conventional sails, other innovators are looking beyond the deck, and eyeing up the use of giant kites to tap into the potential of the considerably greater wind resource in the skies above a vessel.

One of the most exciting technologies in this area is Seawing, an autonomous system developed by French company Airseas.
The firm was spun out of Airbus in 2016 with the express purpose of finding marine applications for modelling and flight control expertise gained in the aerospace sector.

Concept image of Airseas’ Seawing technology in action

The technology consists of a giant kite that is deployed and refurled at the push of a button, and which, the company claims, can deliver average fuel savings of 20 per cent.

Luc Reinhard, who heads up the firm’s business development activities, explained that whilst other kite-based systems have been trialed, Seawing’s autonomous operation, and the software tools and flight control systems that underpin its operation set it apart from other technologies.
“What is really innovative about our solution is this notion of automation software, digitalisation of the product so it’s really simple to use by the crew members onboard ships”

The key components of the system are a mast that allows the wing to be deployed, a winch to roll the 500m long cable, storage for the wing when it’s not being operated, and the wing itself.

During operation the wing flies at an altitude of around 150m metres at a 30 degree angle from the ship.
A flight control pod positioned directly beneath the wing dynamically adjusts the flight path, moving it through a series of positions and repeatedly dragging it out of what Reinhard describes as “its comfort zone”.
It’s the wing’s efforts to return to this position that generate most of the device’s traction.

The company has already conducted a number of ground tests and sea trials using scaled down versions of the technology, and is now poised to begin its first commercial installation, which will see a 500 square metre wing installed on an Airbus RORO vessel used to transport aircraft parts.
The firm also recently signed a contract with Japanese Ship owner Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha Ltd (aka K Line) to install an even larger 1000 m2 wing on one its vessels, with an option to install upto 50 further systems if this application is successful.

Ship design changes slowly – which is why many of these technologies currently being deployed are retrofittable solutions.

The Vindskip concept turns the ship’s hull itself into a giant wing

However, Vindskip, a radical concept developed by Norwegian engineer Serje Lade, offers a glimpse of how future vessels might be designed from the ground up to tap into the wind resource.
Lade’s aerospace inspired design turns the hull of the boat itself into a wing, a symmetrical airfoil that generates lift that can be used to generate pull.

Lade told The Engineer that the hull works in tandem with the propulsion system and meteorological data to keep the ship at a constant speed.
He has also been working with engineers from the Fraunhofer Center for Maritime Logistics and Services on the development of algorithms to calculate the optimum wind angle for the design of the vessel.

Tank testing and wind tunnel tests of scale models and CFD simulations indicate that the design could enable fuel and emissions savings of as much as 60 and 80 per cent respectively, he said.


Whilst concepts like Vindskip are probably many years away from commercialisation, other technologies are already having an impact.
And the most widely deployed of the emerging systems is the Flettner rotor, an intriguing concept originally developed almost a century ago, which is now under serious consideration by some of the shipping industry’s biggest players.

Similar in appearance to suction wings, Flettners operate on a very different principle, exploiting a curious aerodynamic phenomenon known as the magnus effect, the same force that causes a spinning tennis ball to swerve.

Looking rather like vertical cylinders mounted on the deck of a ship, these powered devices rotate around their own axis.
This rotational speed can be adjusted depending on the wind speed and direction, and the interaction between the surface of the rotor and the wind creates a lift force that generates additional thrust.

Whilst a number of firms are actively working on the development of the technology, the leader in terms of the number of installations is Finnish company Norsepower systems, which makes the bold claim that its Rotor Sail technology – if applied to the entire global tanker fleet – would reduce annual CO2 emissions by more than 30 million metric tonnes.

Back in 2018, the company was behind the first ever application of the technology to a passenger vessel when a Rotor Sail technology was installed on Viking Grace, an LNG-fueled passenger ferry.
Last year, it announced plans to install a 30 metre high system aboard the M/V Copenhagen, a hybrid passenger ferry operated by Scandlines.

Flettner rotors installed on the Maersk Pelican , a 109,000 DWT tanker.

The firm also recently announced results of a year-long installation of two 30 x 5m Rotor Sails on the Maersk Pelican , a 109,000 DWT tanker.
The results of this trial were analysed by Chris Craddock, Technical Advisory & Ship Performance Manager at Llloyds Register, who told The Engineer, “We have independently verified the performance of Norsepower’s Flettner rotor system through a 12 month in-service trial – the aggregated total fuel saved for propulsion was 8.2 per cent.
This was closely in-line with the expectation of Norsepower.”

Craddock added that the lessons learnt from this project have been incorporated into a Flettner rotor savings calculator which can be freely used to estimate the fuel savings for many types of ship types sailing on any trading route across the globe flettner.lr.org

Having demonstratable figures like this has, said Allwright, created real momentum in the sector.
“Two or three years ago we had very few demonstration vessels out there and there weren’t enough reference points for the industry to say ‘right now we understand’ and get an understanding of what the savings might be.”

Lloyds Register’s Craddock, though broadly positive about the role that could be played by wind assist systems, warned that there is still a long way to go.
“ Wind technologies are generally acknowledged as a credible energy saving technology that could be applied to merchant shipping and reduce carbon emissions for certain ship types and sailing routes,” he said.
“However, since wind technologies are generally at a low level of technology readiness, there is a cautious interest by most of the market, with some of the larger charterers directly investing in technology development programs and pilot projects.
As more technology demonstration pilot projects are successfully completed raising confidence in the technology, and new build contracts are placed specifying these technologies, payback periods will drop and there will be a steady increase in the uptake of the technology.”

Flettner rotors exploit the same aerodynamic phenomenon that causes a spinning tennis ball to swerve: the Magnus effect

DFDS’s Paul Woodall took a similarly balanced view.
“We can leave no stone unturned in pursuit of continued efficiency improvements.
This must include being available for testing any new technology, including various types of wind assistance.
There is no single silver bullet that will bring shipping’s GHG emissions down to the required levels, it is a long tough road.
Shipping is a multifaceted industry that will require a number of different solutions models.”

The technology’s current momentum will no doubt lead to a greater number of applications in the years ahead.
But it’s clear that while wind-assist has an important role to play, it’s not going to single-handedly address the shipping sector’s ambitious targets.

Links :

Thursday, February 20, 2020

What four years at sea taught me about our relationship to the ocean

Elle Hunt with her sister on the family boat.
Photograph: Elle Hunt

From The Guardian by Elle Hunt

Oceans are central to the story of civilisation – so why do so many of us feel disconnected from them?

It was on day 11, I think, that I stopped getting out of bed at all.
I had already let my hygiene standards slip to the point that a large knot was starting to form in my hair.
Later my mother would have to cut it out with scissors.
She didn’t mind.
We were all in the same boat.

I was nine years old, and nearly two weeks into sailing across the Atlantic with my family.
My father had sailed all his life, and introduced my mother to it; and they spent years preparing to sail around the world.
Including my little sister, that made four of us aboard a 52ft yacht – our home for four years from 2000, in which time we got from Dorset to New Zealand.

The longest period we spent entirely at sea was 21 days, and we did so twice: from La Gomera in the Canary Islands to Barbados, and then from the Galápagos Islands to Nuku Hiva, in French Polynesia.
The first trip I remember spending mostly in bed, below deck in the dark, listening to Wings on cassette, forging a new relationship to time.

I grew used to observing the ebb and flow of my thoughts with a languor that today would probably be praised as meditative.
The days slid by, mostly unbroken except for meals – you came to really anticipate meals – and milestones: quarter-way, halfway, crossing the equator, which we marked with little parties.

Not long after the sun had gone down, you’d go to sleep – partly because artificial light drained the boat’s battery, and partly because the sooner you went to sleep, the sooner another day would pass, and the sooner you would arrive.
(I was lucky – being nine, I was spared night watch.
My parents slept in alternating shifts of two hours for the whole journey.)

  ‘Not long after the sun had gone down, you’d go to sleep’
Photograph: Drew Buckley/Alamy

When we finally reached Bridgetown in Barbados, and set foot on land for the first time in three weeks, my knees wobbled, bracing for the next wave that didn’t come.

That transatlantic crossing is a well-trodden path, from 15th-century navigators from Italy and Spain to Greta Thunberg’s voyage to New York last year.
All of history, in fact, can be charted from the world’s oceans, as David Abulafia attempts in The Boundless Sea: A Human History of the Oceans, a 1,000-page doorstopper that he nonetheless makes no pretence is either “complete or comprehensive”.

Connections made by sea “have brought together peoples, religions and civilisations” through conquest and colonisation, migration and trade, writes Abulafia, an emeritus professor of Mediterranean history at Cambridge – and in the process changed the world.
Much of it has been driven simply by curiosity, and the desire to accumulate knowledge, he says.

“Even if you go back to the time before Christopher Columbus, when the open Atlantic was very little known, the myths and assumptions that developed about it – the ‘sea of darkness’ and then, on the other hand, ‘the isles of the blessed’ – the fascination with what lies beyond the horizon was certainly an important part.”

I see elements of that in my father, whose 50-year passion for sailing goes well beyond what you might call a hobby.
“He’s only happy at sea,” says Mum, who is happy at sea, but also in her garden, or at a concert hall, or with her children.

My parents remain “liveaboards”, sailing international waters from New Zealand.
For them, it is a lifestyle that they have opted into, a way to see the world from a relatively unique vantage point.

Portuguese explorers arriving in Kolkata in 1498, painted by Alfredo Gameiro.
Shipping spices from India was a lucrative industry for Portugal.

Yet for most of history there has also been “a mercenary dimension” to ocean exploration, says Abulafia, “the wish to exploit”: “You know you’re taking risks, but these are risks that can bring you the most fantastic returns.”
Maritime trade has been more productive and enduring than the Silk Road; in the 16th century, shipping spices from India proved so lucrative for Portugal that the Portuguese king made disclosing the route punishable by death.

The movement of not just goods, but people has been another constant – whether their migration was forced, such as by invasion or the slave trade; or voluntary, in search of a new life and opportunities.
Passages have been guided by the trade winds and currents that drive climate and weather all over the world.
More than 70% of the globe is covered by ocean; it produces around half the oxygen we breathe, and absorbs half of all man-made carbon dioxide.

At many levels, the story of civilisation is a story of the seas – but it is easy to overlook that from land.
Most people, even those who live by the coast, have no more personal connection to the sea than the limited or conditional view afforded by a passion for water sports, say, or the odd trip to the seaside.
A more intimate relationship can be incompatible with conventional ways of life and maybe – the knot in my hair might attest – its quality.

At the same time it changes you, in what can feel like a very profound way.
It was only relatively recently, I’m embarrassed to say, that I realised that my experience was not universally shared – that not everyone had known the open ocean, with no land in sight in any direction for many miles.
No other boats, either – just endless sea, sometimes even indistinguishable from sky; an expanse of grey or blue, entirely uninterrupted, except by you.

It is hard to convey what that feels like, the effect that it can have.
You feel dwarfed and insignificant, of course – but the mind cannot hold on to reverence for long.
I remember it more often playing tricks on me, registering patterns and shapes in the movements of the wave – my brain determinedly generating interest, overlaying meaning, as though it could not make sense of there being only water everywhere.

 Elle Hunt aged about nine in the bosun’s chair, with her father Anthony.

Even as a child, though, there was something about being at sea that made me feel well: more vital, clear-headed.
In fact the benefits of “blue space”, for body and mind, have been established by decades of research, from environmental factors such as more vitamin D and less polluted air and the increased activity that tends to go with being in nature.

More significant is the psychologically restorative effect, where the movement of water – its literal immersiveness – can force attention outwards, beyond the self.
But these effects on mood tend to be most acute at coastal margins, where the sea meets the land.
“The optimal environment has both,” says Dr Mathew White, an environmental psychologist with BlueHealth.
“If you’ve ever been on a cruise, or crossed to France, it’s pretty boring out there when you can’t see the coast.”

As a crew member on the inaugural voyage from New York to Macau in 1784 grumbled of their smooth passage: “It has been one dreary waste of sky & water, without a pleasing sight to cheer us.” Abulafia paraphrased: “One went to sea for excitement, and all that happened was that the captain fell against a railing and bruised his head and arm.”
He suspects that some ships’ diarists exaggerated the risk of storms and shipwreck so as to enliven accounts “of a flat sea and neutral sky for days and days”.

Yet, in imagining a life at sea, most people seem less inclined to think of tedium than terror.
Many have told me that the thought of being stranded in the open ocean is one of their greatest fears; I’m not sure that they would single out being lost in a forest, for example, or on a snowy mountain in the same way, though all three landscapes are alien and potentially dangerous.

In fact the first question I am most often asked about my childhood is “Were there any storms?” or, more to the point: “Were you scared?”
The answers are yes, only one, a freak occurrence overnight; and no – I slept through it.
My parents were highly risk-averse, setting out for sea only when the weather forecast was favourable and they had supplies – food, medical, electrical – to account for every possible eventuality.

HMS Erebus in the Ice, 1846, by François Etienne Musin.
The vessel had to be abandoned in the Arctic ice on a later journey.
Photograph: National Maritime Museum

The exhaustive (and expensive) logistics tend to be glossed over in the other image people have of being at sea – the romantic one, of chucking it all in and sailing off into the sunset.
Whether or not this idea appeals to you was found by data scientists at the dating app OkCupid to be one of the strongest predictors of romantic compatibility; I know enough to answer no.

Both scenarios, the worst-case and the rose-tinted, are telling of the disconnect most people feel from the ocean.
A sense of trepidation has figured in seafaring through history, except among those whose knowledge and mastery of the ocean was evolved over several millennia to seem almost innate – the early Polynesian navigators of the Pacific, the ancestors of the New Zealand Māori and Hawaiians.

There could be a genetic predisposition towards how we feel about travelling the seas: DRD 4-7R, the so-called “wanderlust” gene, is thought to be present in about 20% of the population.
In his book On the Ocean, the archaeologist Sir Barry Cunliffe pointed to scientific findings that this impulse to travel, “to satisfy an innate curiosity”, could be one explanation for why “the unknown engages the human imagination, and draws the curious out of the familiar place they inhabit into the threatening, but ever exciting space beyond”.

Even if my parents have wanderlust in their DNA, I’m not sure it was handed down to me.
Though I spent the first half of my life sailing, I acquired none of the skills – I couldn’t even manage a bowline knot.
I have blamed it on my being a child, but the truth is I have never had any interest in boats beyond as a means of accessing the open ocean.

I still feel a strong connection to the sea – but it has been challenging to maintain in my adult life, from the tower block in south London where I now live.
When I am struggling to get to sleep I play ocean sounds through my phone, a crude attempt to simulate the limitlessness, even transcendence, I remember feeling out in open water.

The ocean presents a potential passage through history, like handling an ancient piece of pottery; only more so, because it “is alive, like a person”, to paraphrase an Indigenous Australian saying.
You can be claimed by the sea without drowning.
I feel its absence on a bodily level like a mineral deficiency, and make regular visits to the coast to “top up”, as the geographer Catherine Kelly evocatively put it.
Now, although long-distance passenger travel by sea has become almost unheard of, Thunberg’s voyage across the Atlantic, and the growing “no-fly” movement to cut down on carbon emissions, could suggest turning tides.

The oceans face considerable challenges themselves, from plastic pollution and deep-sea oil drilling, to unsustainable shipping and fishing.
The rising acidity of the Pacific Ocean is causing crabs’ shells to dissolve.
Warming temperatures have already opened up new trade routes over the top of Russia and Canada.
We face the beginning of a new chapter in the history of oceans – for us along with them.

Abulafia notes that rising sea levels have been suggested as a precipitating factor in past migration, forcing people to go in search of new land.
A study last year predicted that warming temperatures will raise sea levels by 30cm by the end of the century, on top of the contribution from melting ice and glaciers.

These are uncharted waters that humanity is navigating – but not, there is some comfort in acknowledging, for the first time.

Links :

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Norway clarifies Svalbard treaty after Russian complaint

Nordsyssel, the ship of the Sysselmann on Svalbard, towed to the pier of Ny Alesund, Spitzbergen.
© Photo : Hannes Grobe

From Maritime Executive

Norway's Minister of Foreign Affairs Ine Eriksen Søreide and Minister of Justice and Public Security Monica Mæland have clarified the nation's stance on the Svalbard Treaty as it enters its 100th year.

The move apparently comes as Russia voices its concern over limits being put on its operations there, including coal mining and fishing.

 Svalbard with the GeoGarage platform (NHS nautical chart)

The Treaty

On February 9, 1920, Norway and eight other countries signed the Svalbard Treaty (originally the Spitsbergen Treaty) in Paris.
The Treaty entered into force in 1925, and Svalbard became part of the Kingdom of Norway.
The treaty, now with nearly 50 signatories, sets out that:
  • Spitsbergen is under Norwegian administration and legislation.
  • Citizens of all signatory nations have free access and the right of economic activities.
  • Spitsbergen remains demilitarized.
  • No nation, including Norway, is allowed to permanently station military personnel or equipment on Spitsbergen.
The situation in the archipelago before 1920 has been likened to the Wild West, full of adventurers, coal miners, gold diggers and fortune hunters taking the law into their own hands.
But once Norway’s sovereignty was formally recognized, it was possible to resolve property ownership issues and bring unregulated activities under control.

Many countries wanted to ensure that the Svalbard Treaty did not put an end to all foreign activity in Svalbard, so the principle of equal treatment was enshrined in the Treaty.
This means that, in certain areas, Norway is obliged to treat nationals and companies from states that are party to the Treaty in the same way as Norwegian nationals and companies.
They have, for example, an equal right of access and entry to the archipelago and equal rights to engage in fishing and hunting and other commercial activities.

Svalbard Treaty Signatories

Russia's Complaint

Earlier this month, Russia's Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov sent a message to Søreide calling on Norway to ensure "equal free access" to the archipelago and the possibility of conducting economic and economic activity there "on conditions of complete equality."

Lavrov notes Russia's concern about restrictions imposed on the use of the Russian helicopter [associated with Russia's coal mining activities on Svalbard], the establishment of a fish protection zone by Norway and “the artificial expansion of nature protection zones to limit economic activity in the archipelago.”
“On Svalbard, Russia - the only one except Norway - has been carrying out economic activities for many decades and does not intend to curtail its presence.
On the contrary, there are long-term plans for its strengthening, diversification and modernization.”
Lavrov has requested bilateral consultations to remove the restrictions.

Svalbard archipelago is one of the northernmost inhabited places of our planet, which is has settlements of two countries - the Kingdom of Norway and the Russian Federation.
The Russian part of region once-prosperous is now in the doldrums since for more than 20 years most of the settlements have been left and forgotten.
Today we are taking a 6-day hike and will hit the still living Russian village of Svalbard and abandoned villages of Pyramiden, Grumant, and Kolsbey.

Norway's Stance

“Norway has given high priority to fulfilling these obligations under international law ever since the Treaty was signed,” said the Ministers.
“It is worth mentioning that the provisions on equal treatment in the Svalbard Treaty are far less extensive than the corresponding provisions of the European Economic Area Agreement.”

According to Norway, the waters outside the 12 mile zone, but within the exclusive economic zone (200 miles) are waters where Norway can limit the rights of any third party.
This has been disputed by countries with interests in fisheries and oil and gas including Latvia and Russia.

The Ministers state that provisions on equal treatment apply only to nationals and companies from states that are parties to the Treaty.
Traditionally, however, Norwegian law in Svalbard has not made a distinction between nationals from contracting parties and nationals of other states.
This means that people from a country like Thailand, for example, have enjoyed many of the same opportunities as citizens from states that are parties to the Treaty.

“The right to equal treatment is not the same as the right to resources.
The Norwegian authorities can both regulate and prohibit activities, as long as there is no discrimination on the basis of nationality.
This is particularly important when we take action to safeguard Svalbard’s vulnerable environment or share limited resources.


 Magdalenefjorden (photo Lise Dreistel)

“At the same time, the Treaty does not preclude differential treatment on grounds other than nationality.
For example, it is only people resident in Svalbard who are entitled to hunt reindeer in the archipelago.
And only permanent residents of Svalbard are allowed to own cabins there.
Likewise, only vessels from countries that have traditionally harvested prawns in the area are entitled to catch prawns in the territorial waters of Svalbard.”

Certain states have challenged Norway’s interpretation of the Treaty’s provision on equal rights to engage in fishing and hunting.
Under the Treaty, ships and nationals from states that are parties to the Treaty have equal rights to engage in fishing and hunting on land in Svalbard and in the territorial waters around the archipelago, i.e. up to 12 nautical miles from land.

Nevertheless, the E.U. has cited the Treaty’s principle of equal treatment when, for example, the E.U.
member states Latvia and Lithuania have expressed an interest in harvesting snow crabs on the Norwegian continental shelf far beyond the territorial waters of Svalbard.

“But the wording of the Treaty is clear,” said the Ministers.
“The provisions on equal treatment apply only in Svalbard’s land areas and territorial waters.
We see that certain other states could have a clear interest in advocating a more expansive interpretation to include areas beyond the territorial waters.
However, any such interpretation would mean an expansion of their rights at Norway’s expense.

“States that claim that the reference to territorial waters in the Treaty also includes sea areas outside the 12-nautical-mile limit are interpreting this provision in a way that is contrary to international law.
This is clear not only from the Svalbard Treaty, but also from the Law of the Sea and the Vienna Convention on the law of treaties.

“The fact that there can be differing interpretations of the same provision of a treaty is a more general problem, and the Svalbard Treaty is a case in point.
Misunderstandings or a lack of knowledge about the actual substance of the Treaty can also in some cases lead to unrealistic expectations or opinions about the Treaty’s significance for the interests of specific stakeholders.
“Svalbard is part of Norway. Norway does not routinely consult with other countries about how it exercises authority over its own territory.”

Links :

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Russian intelligence agents reportedly went to Ireland to inspect undersea cables, and it's reigniting fears they could cut them and take entire countries offline

A map showing undersea cables around the world.
Submarine Cable Map (TeleGeography)

From Business Insider by

Russian agents have been sent to Ireland to inspect its undersea cables, and it's sparking fears they could be tapped or cut in the future, according to The Sunday Times citing Irish police.
Irish security services suspect that Russia's intelligence agency, the GRU, is using their country as a base to gather intelligence on targets in the EU and UK, The Sunday Times reported.
The large number of tech companies that are based in Dublin could be another reason for Russia's suspected monitoring, an expert on transnational crime and Russian security told the newspaper.
There have been longstanding fears that Russian spies could cut transatlantic undersea cables to disrupt communications and financial transactions, and take entire countries offline.

Russian intelligence agents have been sent to Ireland to make the precise locations of undersea cables connecting Europe to North America, and it's raising fears that they plan to tap or even cut them, The Sunday Times reported.
Irish security services believe that the agents were sent by Russia's foreign intelligence agency, the GRU, and are checking the fiber-optic cables for weak points, The Times also reported, citing police and military sources.
They were also seen monitoring Dublin Port, which prompted the country to ramp up security at a number of landing sites along the Irish coast, The Times reported.
It's unclear where else the agents have been seen.

 Microsoft's MAREA cable lands on Ireland's west coast
© RUN Studios / Microsoft

The vast network of transatlantic cables that run under the world's oceans power the internet, texts, calls, and global financial transactions.
About 97% of all intercontinental data is transferred through these cables, according to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

Ireland is an ideal location for these undersea maps, given its proximity to North America and Europe.
In 2015, Irish telecommunications company Aqua Comms set up a $300 million cable to connect the US to Dublin, and on to London and European continent, the Irish Examiner reported.

Irish police and military sources suspect the GRU is using Ireland as an operations base to gather intelligence on targets in the EU and the UK, The Times said.

Another reason for the Russians' presence could be Dublin's place as one of Europe's largest tech hubs, as authorities suspect the agents could also be spying on large tech companies, according to The Times. Google, Airbnb, Facebook, and Twitter all have headquarters in the city.

A map showing undersea internet cables landing in Ireland
© TeleGeography

The country also presents itself as an ideal target to the Russians, Mark Galeotti, an expert on transnational crime and Russian security at the Royal United Service Institute think tank, told The Times.
"Ireland doesn't have a counter-intelligence capability. It's a relatively soft target. Ireland is a major node for the global internet. It has a large concentration of tech companies," he said.
"This is the new battle space of the future."

News of the Russian agents' arrival in Ireland has prompted concerns that Russia might ramp up its information warfare by cutting or tampering with the cables, which could disrupt global financial transactions or even take entire countries offline.

John Sipher, a retired CIA officer, in Moscow, told The Times that there is a high chance the agents are either spying or planning to cut communications.
"They also may wish to show their capability in order to threaten the West," he told the British newspaper.
"Our FBI has caught Russians trying to gain access to underwater cables, including the areas where they come into land."
"They are also seeking to gain physical access to routers and communication nodes," Sipher added.

Western countries have long feared that Russia could cut undersea cables and interfere with the global economy and way of life.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, the UK's most senior military officer, said in December 2017: "There is a new risk to our way of life, which is the vulnerability of the cables that criss-cross the seabeds."
"Can you imagine a scenario where those cables are cut or disrupted, which would immediately and potentially catastrophically affect both our economy and other ways of living?"

Russian ships were seen in 2018 in the vicinity of vital undersea fiber-optic cables, sparking further speculation that the Kremlin was finding a new way to spy.

Submarine cable installations in the telecom, power and seismic industries have similarities and differences. But there is a common thread in every submarine cable lay: you need accurate real-time control over the position and bottom tension of your cable as it lands on the seabed. This video discusses a proven method for achieving this control being used by over 75% of the telecom cable ships in the world.

What are undersea internet cables?

More than 300 undersea cables, which run a total of 550,000 miles, keep the internet running around the world.

Most lines are owned by private telecommunications companies, including tech companies like Google and Microsoft.
Their locations, which have been built up over the decades, can be easily identified on public maps.

Despite their importance, little is being done to guard and protect these deep-sea cables.
Cybersecurity experts told Business Insider's Jim Edwards in 2018 that it's only "a matter of time" before hackers can access these cables and entire countries can be taken offline.

Links :

Monday, February 17, 2020

Met Office forecasters set for 'billion pound' supercomputer

The Met Office's existing supercomputer

From BBC by David Shukman 

Ever wondered why your village was suddenly flooded by a thunderstorm the weather forecasters hadn't mentioned?

Or why they failed to warn you about the dense fog shrouding your home in the morning?

The fact is that predicting the "big picture" of future conditions has got a lot better - Storm Dennis was spotted six days before it arrived.
But getting local forecasts right - street by street and hour by hour - is still a massive challenge.
And that might now change as the Met Office secures the help of a supercomputer project costing £1.2bn.

Better forecasting means handling more data, more rapidly, and running it through simulations of the atmosphere more accurately.
Already the Met Office is pulling in more than 200 billion observations from satellites, weather stations and buoys out in the ocean every single day, and that's set to increase.
And working out if a summer downpour will flood your home or one down the road requires more and more processing power.
"We'll be streets ahead of anybody else," according to Penny Endersby, chief executive of the Met Office.
"Ultimately it'll make a difference to every individual, every government department, every industry as people see forecasts becoming steadily better."

It'll be the biggest investment in the 170-year history of the organisation and will dwarf the £97m bill for the current supercomputer.
In the new project, the billion-plus cost will cover not just the hardware itself but all the running costs too over a ten-year period.
There'll be a first stage installation, which should be six times more capable than the supercomputer used now.

And then five years later there'll be a major upgrade to increase performance by a further three times.

The new supercomputer will be six times more capable than the current one

What will the supercomputer actually do?

It'll run what the Met Office calls its "digital twin" of the Earth's atmosphere, a highly detailed "model" of everything from the winds to the temperatures to the pressures.
To create this simulated picture of our weather, the globe is divided into grid squares.

These have become smaller as the technology has advanced - and the smaller the better because that means more accuracy.

At the moment, the model of Earth is divided up into a grid of squares that are 10km across.
The UK gets more detailed treatment: its squares are 1,500m across.
London is studied with the aid of even smaller squares - 300m wide - mainly to improve the accuracy of forecasts for the airspace above the big airports.
And the ambition, when the new supercomputer is up and running, is to operate at an even sharper resolution, down to a scale of 100m.

Original supercomputer installed at the Met Office in Dunstable in 1959

Will it really make a difference?

The Met Office certainly believes it will.
There's huge demand for better forecasting - from the military to the power companies to organisers of big outdoor events.

It could guide Environment Agency teams deploying mobile flood barriers or help the National Grid balancing fluctuations in wind and solar power.

And the prospect of rising global temperatures fuelling new and more dangerous extremes of weather makes accuracy all the more important.

There has been a huge improvement in recent years - every passing decade has seen forecasts reach a whole day further into the future.
A five-day forecast now is as accurate as a one-day forecast 40 years ago.

So will the new computing power continue that advance?
Penny Endersby prefers not to be make any promises.
"I won't hang my hat on getting another day in the next decade," she says.
"But it will make our forecasts more accurate, more timely and more localised."

And the government has calculated what that could mean in hard cash: that for every pound invested, there should be £19 in economic benefit.

Time lapse footage of our Cray supercomputer being installed in our new IT Hall 3.

And will it help with climate change?

That's the aim, with the digitally-simulated atmosphere also run far into the future to explore the effects of a hotter world.

The effects of the rise of 1C over the past 150 years are still not fully understood, let alone those of bigger increases to come.
It should mean researchers can add more detail to their projections, weaving in factors such as the way nitrogen reacts with the carbon in the air.

And as the UK moves towards its target of net zero emissions by 2050, there'll be a chance to explore different options for how the country uses the land.
For example, what will the effects be of planting new forests or protecting peat bogs or growing more biofuels?

Won't the new supercomputer itself add to carbon emissions?

Like any huge IT installation, it'll certainly need a massive supply of electricity.
That's why the Met Office is inviting the potential providers to come up with low-carbon options.
And that's led to a radical idea.

The last 14 Met Office computers have all been housed in the UK - and the new one might not be.
Around half of the processing work - the research devoted to climate change - could be located in countries blessed with easy sources of clean energy.
Iceland with its geothermal sources and Norway with its hydropower are both possibilities.

The offer is only open to countries in the European Economic Area - locating the facility on another continent has been ruled out because of the time lag in using a distant connection.
Invitations to the IT industry to bid for the project are being drawn up and will go out near the end of the year.
And the start date for the new machine will be sometime in late 2022.

Links :

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Historic bomb cyclone swirls in North Atlantic, will hit Iceland and sideswipe U.K. as Storm Dennis

Satellite view of an intensifying North Atlantic bomb cyclone,
named Storm Dennis by the U.K. Met Office, as of Thursday morning.
(NASA Worldview)

From The WashingtonPost by Andrew Freedman with contribution of Matthew Cappucci

Storm could rival the most powerful nontropical lows recorded in this region.


 NOAA GFS forecast with Weather 4D R&N

A massive storm is rapidly intensifying in the North Atlantic, and Mother Nature is pushing her limits with it coming within striking distance of the strongest storm on record in that tempestuous part of the world.

 Phenomenal seas forecast from Storm Dennis with waves over 16-18 meters forecast

Seen via satellite, the storm, which the U.K. Met Office is referring to as Storm Dennis since it will sideswipe that region over the weekend, resembles a giant comma drawn across a vast area of real estate.
Its clouds stretch from south of Iceland all the way into the Caribbean.
At its peak, the storm may extend for 5,000 miles, with a cold front’s tentacles extending from near Florida all the way near the center of the beastly storm northwest of Scotland.
As of midday, the storm was still strengthening, undergoing a rapid intensification process known as bombogenesis.
Computer models show a rare scenario playing out, with the storm maxing out at an intensity of 915 millibars, which would be just 2 millibars shy of the all-time North Atlantic record, set by the Braer Storm of 1993.
In general, the lower the air pressure, the stronger the storm.

Such an air pressure reading would be more than five standard deviations from the norm, and would place the storm in the top 10 list of the strongest North Atlantic nontropical storms on record.

The weather system is being aided by a powerhouse jet stream that is roaring across the North Atlantic, and may peak at around 240 mph by Friday or Saturday.
This could cause some transatlantic flights to challenge the record flight time set just last weekend by a British Airways 747-400, which flew the route from New York’s Kennedy Airport to London Heathrow in just 4 hours and 46 minutes.

The jet stream — a highway of air around 30,000 feet above the surface that helps steer storm systems — is the result of strong air pressure differences between Arctic low pressure and high pressure areas to the south.
It is helping to invigorate storm systems as they move off the coast of the United States and into the North Atlantic.

According to the National Weather Service’s Ocean Prediction Center, the storm’s minimum central air pressure had plunged to 940 millibars as of 8 a.m. Eastern time.
A satellite with a sensor that can detect wave heights and wind speeds at the Earth’s surface passed over the storm Thursday morning and found significant wave heights of up to 51 feet.
Since that metric is defined as the average of the highest one-third of waves in a particular period, this indicates that individual waves may be about twice as tall, up to a staggering and ship-sinking 100 feet.

 Rapidly intensifying storm over the North Atlantic on Thursday.
(RAMMB/CIRA)

The OPC’s forecast for the storm calls for it to pack sustained winds of up to 100 mph, along with “phenomenal seas” when it reaches peak intensity sometime between Friday and Saturday.

To qualify as a bomb cyclone, a nontropical storm needs to intensify by at least 24 millibars in 24 hours.
This particular low pressure area saw its pressure plummet at nearly twice that rate, deepening by 46 millibars in 24 hours, with further rapid intensification in the forecast.
Over a longer time period, the storm’s minimum pressure has dropped by 65 millibars in 36 hours.

 Strong winds will batter several countries before heavy rain hits this week-end.
Credit : Owen Humphreys / PA

European impacts

In the U.K., which just experienced deadly impacts from Storm Ciara, weather forecasters have issued amber warnings for heavy rain from Storm Dennis, noting the potential for several inches of rain to fall, along with damaging winds. Flood warnings are already in effect, given the one-two punch from Ciara.

Winds are forecast to gust past 50 to 60 mph in many areas this weekend, the Met Office said. Fortunately, the center of the storm is forecast to remain far enough to the northwest to spare even Scotland from the strongest winds, though gusts at hurricane force (74 mph) are likely there. Pounding surf and possible coastal flooding is also possible, given the huge swells generated by this weather system.
The storm’s impacts will also sweep into other parts of northwest Europe, including Denmark, Germany and Norway.

Iceland will be closer to the northern core of this storm as well as another intense low pressure area that’s already swirling around the North Atlantic near Greenland, with the most severe impacts hitting Friday into Friday night.

Storm Dennis is actually going to merge with that other storm after doing a unique meteorological dance, known as the Fujiwhara Effect, and the impacts of this interaction could be severe in Iceland.
That country’s weather agency issued orange and red alerts for sustained winds of greater than hurricane force and whiteout conditions in some locations, calling for heavy snow and sleet to fall across the entire country, with the greatest accumulations in mountain areas.

Downtown Reykjavik could see sustained winds in excess of 70 mph, the Icelandic Meteorological Office warned.
A forecast note issued Thursday warns of “violent easterly winds” through Friday in southern parts of Iceland, for example.
The aviation forecast for Keflavik International Airport calls for sustained winds of 71 mph with gusts to 92 mph Friday, which would be strong enough to halt all flights.


An unusual winter

This is the peak time of year for bomb cyclones in the North Atlantic, given the typical intensity of the jet stream and intense air mass differences that tend to move out over moisture-rich waters. What’s been especially noteworthy about the winter’s weather, however, is the frequency and intensity of the storms spawned in the North Atlantic.

It’s a 921mb inbound.
That’s worse than Ciara storm.

Very few of these storms typically see their minimum central air pressure drop to 930 millibars or lower; yet assuming Storm Dennis does so, this will have happened twice in the past 10 days.
The storm east of Greenland, which helped propel Ciara into Europe, over the weekend accomplished this feat as well.

The strong near-zonal — or straight west-to-east — jet stream is characteristic of periods when a weather pattern above the North Atlantic, known as the Arctic Oscillation (AO), is in a what is known as a positive state, with low pressure predominating near Greenland and a ridge of high pressure in the northeastern Atlantic.
On Monday, the AO set a daily record for its most positive reading since such record-keeping began.

The AO is one of the main reasons winter has been absent in much of the eastern U.S. and parts of Europe, and it’s helping to turn the North Atlantic into a virtual bomb cyclone express lane.

In addition to the deaths and damage from Ciara, the winter’s North Atlantic storms have also affected the North America.
Last month, for example, Newfoundland and Labrador were buried by one of their worst blizzards on record when a storm underwent rapid intensification and piled snow up to the second to third stories of buildings in downtown St. John’s.

This storm isn't going to stop us from having a great weekend... ;-)

Links :

Friday, February 14, 2020

High-Resolution Sea Surface Temperature data available in the Cloud

Multi-Scale Ultra High Resolution (MUR) 1km Sea Surface Temperature (SST) data
from June 2002 to present are available in the cloud.

From NASA by Emily Cassidy

High-resolution sea surface temperature data can be used to study marine heat waves and the health of marine ecosystems.

New high-resolution sea surface temperature data are now available in the cloud, as part of the NASA—Amazon Web Services (AWS) Space Act Agreement, executed by the Interagency Implementation and Advanced Concepts Team (IMPACT) for NASA's Earth Science Data Systems (ESDS) Program.
This development provides researchers with easy access to some of the highest resolution ocean temperature data available, which are optimized for cloud computing.

“It feels like this is an inflection point where computers go from being a tool for science to an enabler of science,” said Dr. Chelle Gentemann, senior scientist at Farallon Institute, who spearheaded the effort to move the data with the help of NASA's Physical Oceanography Distributed Active Archive Center (PO.DAAC).

Multi-Scale Ultra High Resolution Sea Surface Temperature (MUR SST) data are available from June 2002 to present at 1 km spatial resolution.
Making these data freely available in the cloud is part of a larger effort by ESDS to enable researchers and commercial data users to access and work with large quantities of data quickly.
These MUR SST data are optimized so that researchers can do large-scale analyses in the cloud.

“Something that took me three months and 3000 lines of code now takes me 10 minutes with 20 lines of code. Now you don't have to have a big supercomputer and a system administrator to figure out how to download, store, and access the data,” Gentemann said.
“This is a transformative technology that's paving the way for the democratization of science.”

High-resolution SST data can be used to study how climate is affecting marine ecosystems and contributing to more marine heat waves.
Marine heat waves can create toxic algae blooms that can disrupt marine ecosystems and threaten marine mammals and fisheries.
Dr. Gentemann has been using these data to see how marine heatwaves affected the U.S. West Coast.

MUR SST data reflect the truly international, multi-agency collaborations that are occurring as a result of NASA's open data policies.
They are produced by merging data from multiple sensors: NASA's Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer-EOS (AMSR-E), Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer 2 on GCOM-W1, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA's Aqua and Terra satellites, the U.S. Navy's microwave WindSat radiometer, the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) on several NOAA and European Space Agency satellites, and in-situ SST observations from the NOAA iQuam project.

Tutorials have been provided for accessing the MUR SST data using Python on the Registry of Open Data on AWS.
You can also view the data on PO.DAAC's State of the Ocean tool.
The MUR SST data were optimized for the cloud using computing credits provided by AWS Cloud Credits for Research Program and is available via the AWS Public Dataset Program.

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