Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Winds of change: the sailing ships cleaning up sea transport

Fairtransport ship Tres Hombres, which transports coffee for Shipped by Sail

From The Guardian by Nicola Cutcher

Ethically minded entrepreneurs are turning back the clock to sweep the scourge of bunker fuel from the oceans

They fan out across the seas like a giant maritime dance, a ballet of tens of thousands of vessels delivering the physical stuff that has become indispensable to our way of life: commodities and cars, white goods and gas and grains, timber and technology.

But shipping – a vast industry that moves trillions of pounds-worth of goods each year – is facing an environmental reckoning.
Ships burn the dirtiest oil, known as bunker fuel; a waste product from the refinery process, literally scraping the bottom of the barrel, the crud in crude.
It’s so thick that you could walk on it at room temperature.

As a result, shipping is a major polluter – responsible for about 2.5% of global carbon emissions.
Not surprisingly, innovators are starting to wonder if there is another way.

“Around 90% of everything we consume [in Britain] spends some time at sea, so we urgently need to make the transportation of goods more sustainable,” says Will Templeman, an environmental scientist-turned-entrepreneur.

Templeman’s eureka moment came during a visit to the supermarket when he was agonising over the food miles in his trolley.
He wondered if it would be possible to transport things such as coffee and chocolate with zero emissions.
Then he remembered that this was how goods used to travel.
By sailing ship.

A quick online search revealed that a Dutch company was doing exactly that.
The owners of Fairtransport were inspired to revive sail cargo after witnessing at first hand the yellow smog caused by commercial vessels.
They restored two ships, a 70-year-old minesweeper renamed the Tres Hombres and a wooden ketch called Nordlys that dates back to 1873.
Templeman arranged to board the Tres Hombres, sailing from the Azores to the Netherlands.
“I was watching the ocean and it came like a ghost ship through the dawn mist. It looked like a pirate vessel. I was so excited.”

He dreamed of launching his own ship but realised that the first step was to make full use of the sailing vessels already in service.
He set up as a broker and together with his business partner, Will Adeney, went in pursuit of products to sell.
They found their perfect olive oil in Portugal and arranged to have it shipped to Devon on board the Nordlys.
They later sourced coffee beans in Colombia, and shipped them to Europe on the Tres Hombres.
Their business, Shipped by Sail, was born.

It joined a growing network of brokers and sailors passionate about transporting goods by wind power.
The next step: to boost demand for this kind of transportation.
“Consumers already understand organic produce and fair trade, and the next step is clean transport,” says Cornelius Bockermann, who founded Timbercoast, a German sail cargo company that has restored a schooner from 1920, and is now refitting a second.

Clean transport is the missing link, as many so-called sustainable or ethical goods are currently carried on ships that pollute the air and sea.
The perfect example of this is plant-based meat, shipped around the world from California.

British couple Marcus and Freya Pomeroy-Rowden built their ship, the Grayhound, as a replica of an 18th-century lugger, and carry cargo between the UK and France, bringing West Country ale to Brittany and French wine to Cornwall.
They supply small businesses along the way, for example providing wines to Dibble & Grub on the Isles of Scilly.
The couple enjoy the lifestyle of spending months at sea, making a living, while making a difference.
Marcus says they’re bringing trade back to a human scale.
“We’re taking quality products and transporting them direct to a distributor.
We can understand and explain the whole chain for our products, from manufacture to the table.”

In France, TransOceanic Wind Transport has developed a labelling system with a voyage number, allowing the customer to see how products reached them.

Broker Alex Geldenhuys launched New Dawn Traders in the UK about six years ago and is still developing her “voyage co-op” model, bringing together farmers, ships and buyers.


Geldenhuys has been inspired by local food communities and vegetable box schemes and wants to extend that movement overseas, building relationships with distant farmers to bring ethically produced, high-quality produce to the UK with a carbon footprint that is close to zero.
She is seeking “port allies” to promote the idea in coastal communities, encouraging customers to pre-order products from the ships and turning collection events at the docks into celebrations of the whole process.

A few weeks ago a French schooner, De Gallant, sailed into Bristol laden with produce from Portugal; the first time a tall ship had brought cargo to the city for decades.
It was an emotional moment for Geldenhuys and the climax of years of work.
“It was beautiful to watch her sailing in under the suspension bridge,” she says.
Local people milled around the ship, sampling olive oil, almonds and wines.

Hong Kong, at the time the world’s largest container ship and capable of carrying 21,413 containers, docks in Felixstowe, Suffolk, in 2017.
Photograph: Steve Parsons/PA

Geldenhuys acknowledges that currently she can only deliver to her customers twice a year.
Templeman says: “Restaurants and other businesses need a regular supply to be reliable.
So we’re warehousing goods.”
Olive oil on De Gallant was transported by electric van to a restaurant in Bristol.

The biggest challenge for sail cargo is scale.
There are currently only a few small ships operating.
Most companies feel that the time is ripe for expansion and have plans to build larger vessels.
One of the founders of Fairtransport, Jorne Langelaan, has set up a new venture called EcoClipper to facilitate emission-free shipping worldwide.
He is planning for more sailing ships running more routes more frequently.

In Costa Rica, Canadian Danielle Doggett is building a sailing ship called Ceiba, which looks set to become the largest in the world.
The project uses tropical trees that have fallen in storms, and more trees are planted as the building proceeds.
Ceiba will be able to carry 250 tonnes of cargo (Tres Hombres and De Gallant take 35 tonnes), which is equivalent to around 10 containers.
Yet this is still much smaller than the historic tea clippers, such as the Cutty Sark, and dwarfed by the largest modern container ships, which can carry more than 20,000.

The shipping industry knows that change is on the horizon.
From next year new regulations will further limit sulphur oxide emissions from ships.
The International Maritime Organization has announced its ambition to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
The world’s largest shipping company, Maersk, has gone further, pledging to be carbon-neutral by 2050.

Templeman acknowledges that the largest companies want to make their fleets more energy-efficient, but points out: “We’re coming from the opposite direction and offering emission-free shipping right now, while asking what sail shipping could have been with another 100 years of development.”
Marcus Pomeroy-Rowden adds: “We’re waving a flag to say the world can’t carry on as it is.
We’re also showing what can be done in a different way.”

Bockermann stresses that industrial shipping is only cheap because it externalises the environmental costs.
“What you normally pay a shipping company doesn’t account for the damage to the environment, pollution or health.
Our costs are comparatively high but if you had to pay for the damage of conventional shipping then we wouldn’t seem expensive.”

Geldenhuys adds: “We might not be the solution to how everything is shipped in the world but we can make people think about what they’re buying and how it’s getting here.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless.
But we can all do something.
We don’t need one solution to everything, we need a thousand solutions that can exist simultaneously.”

Links :

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Spain (IHM) layer update in the GeoGarage platform

8 rasterized nautical charts added & 106 charts updated

Ocean acidification can cause mass extinctions, fossils reveal

Heterohelix globulosa foraminifera isolated from the K-Pg boundary clay at Geulhemmerberg in the Netherlands, shown at 8x magnification.
Study confirms fear that intense ocean acidification portends ecological catastrophe: ‘We have been warned’
Photograph: Michael J. Henehan/PNAS

From The Guardian

Carbon emissions make sea more acidic, which wiped out 75% of marine species 66m years ago

Ocean acidification can cause the mass extinction of marine life, fossil evidence from 66m years ago has revealed.

A key impact of today’s climate crisis is that seas are again getting more acidic, as they absorb carbon emissions from the burning of coal, oil and gas.
Scientists said the latest research is a warning that humanity is risking potential “ecological collapse” in the oceans, which produce half the oxygen we breathe.

The researchers analysed small seashells in sediment laid down shortly after a giant meteorite hit the Earth, wiping out the dinosaurs and three-quarters of marine species.
Chemical analysis of the shells showed a sharp drop in the pH of the ocean in the century to the millennium after the strike.

This spike demonstrated it was the meteorite impact that made the ocean more acidic, effectively dissolving the chalky shells of many species.
Large-scale volcanic activity was also considered a possible culprit, but this occurred over a much longer period.

The Cretaceous-Palaeogene boundary at Geulhemmerberg, in the Netherlands, where boundary clay samples were taken.
credit : Michael Henehan

The oceans acidified because the meteorite impact vaporised rocks containing sulphates and carbonates, causing sulphuric acid and carbonic acid to rain down.
The mass die-off of plants on land after the strike also increased CO2 in the atmosphere.

“We show ocean acidification can precipitate ecological collapse,” said Michael Henehan at the GFZ German research centre for geosciences in Potsdam, who led the study.
“Before we had the idea, but we did not have the empirical proof.”

The researchers found that the pH dropped by 0.25 pH units in the 100-1,000 years after the strike.
It is possible that there was an even bigger drop in pH in the decade or two after the strike and the scientists are examining other sediments in even finer detail.

Henehan said: “If 0.25 was enough to precipitate a mass extinction, we should be worried.” Researchers estimate that the pH of the ocean will drop by 0.4 pH units by the end of this century if carbon emissions are not stopped, or by 0.15 units if global temperature rise is limited to 2C.
Henehan said: “We may think of [acidification] as something to worry about for our grandchildren.
But if it truly does get to the same acidification as at the [meteorite strike] boundary, then you are talking about effects that will last for the lifetime of our species.
It was hundreds of thousands of years before carbon cycling returned to normal.”

The research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, analysed sediments that Henehan encountered by chance, during a conference field trip in the Netherlands.
The sediments, which straddle the moment of the impact, lie in caves that were used by people hiding from the Nazis during the second world war.
“It was so lucky,” said Henehan.

The rocks contained foraminifera, small-shelled marine organisms.
“In the boundary clay, we managed to capture them just limping on past the asteroid impact.
But you can see their shell walls were much thinner and poorly calcified after the impact,” he said.

It was the knock-on effects of acidification and other stresses, such as the “nuclear winter” that followed the impact, that finally drove these foraminifera to extinction, he said: “You have the complete breakdown of the whole food chain.”
He said oceans also faced additional stresses today, from global heating to widespread pollution, overfishing and invasive alien species.

When the Chicxulub asteroid landed in what is today Mexico, it didn't just extinguish the dinosaurs. It devastated life in the oceans, too.

Phil Williamson, at the University of East Anglia, who was not involved in the research, said: “It is relatively easy to identify mass extinction events in the fossil record, but much harder to know exactly what caused them. Evidence for the role of ocean acidification has generally been weak, until now.”
He said caution was needed in making the comparison between the acidification spike 66m years ago and today: “When the asteroid struck, atmospheric CO2 was naturally already much higher than today, and the pH much lower.
Furthermore, large asteroid impacts cause prolonged darkness.”
Williamson added: “Nevertheless, this study provides further warning that the global changes in ocean chemistry that we are currently driving have the potential to cause highly undesirable and effectively irreversible damage to ocean biology.”

Henehan said the generally lower ocean pH 66m years ago might have made shelled organisms more resilient to acidification.
“Who knows if our current [marine] system is as well set up to cope with sudden acidification?”

Links :

Monday, October 21, 2019

Croatia (HHI) update in the GeoGarage platform

25 new nautical rasterized charts added & 58 charts updated

Venezuela (DHN / INCANAL) update in the GeoGarage platform

26 inland nautical raster charts (INCANAL) added for the Orinoco river

Satellites to monitor whale strandings from space

Dr Jennifer Jackson: "Satellites get us to whales in those places that are hard to reach"

From BBC by Jonathan Amos

Scientists developing techniques to count great whales from space say the largest ever recorded mass stranding event was probably underestimated.

The carcasses of 343 sei whales were spotted on remote beaches in Patagonia, Chile, in 2015 - but this survey work was conducted from planes and boats, and carried out many weeks after the deaths actually occurred.

However, an analysis of high-resolution satellite images of the area taken much closer in time to the stranding has now identified many more bodies.

It's difficult to give a precise total for the number of whales involved but in one sample picture examined by researchers, the count was nearly double.

The new investigation, published in the Plos One journal, was undertaken as a proof of principle exercise by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and various Chilean organisations.

The WorldView-2 satellite will see features at the surface larger than half a metre across 
Image copyright Satellite image ©2019 Maxar Technologies

It's not easy to see an object, even one as large as a great whale, from several hundred kilometres up in space, but the international team believes the capability of modern satellites now makes this a practical task.

Being able to detect strandings more effectively will inform the ongoing conservation of whales.
It will also flag potentially deteriorating ocean conditions, something the fishing industry for example will be keen to know about.

The monitoring of whales from orbit is set therefore to become a powerful tool with which to assess the state of the environment.
"The technology is getting better all the time," said Dr Carlos Olavarría from the Centre for Advanced Studies in Arid Zones (CEAZA), La Serena, Chile.
"In this study, we were using 50cm resolution images, but the satellites now can see 30cm. In the future, we'd like also to be able to analyse the pictures automatically, rather than manually; and I'm sure as more minds are applied to the problem, this will become possible," he told BBC News.

Aerial survey image of stranded whales
Photo: Hausermann/BAS

What happened in the stranding event?

It's not clear why such a large number of sei whales beached en masse in early 2015.
One reason for the uncertainty is that researchers were very late in getting to the scene to run tests to establish the cause.

That was in part because the stranding occurred in a very thinly populated, and difficult to access, area of central Patagonia called the Gulf of Penas.
It has multiple fjords, channels and islands, and the deaths only came to light by accident when an unrelated expedition chanced on the carcasses.

This was a good month after the event and by then the sei whales had already started to decompose. Nonetheless, a ground team's inquiries led it to the conclusion that the cetaceans had probably been poisoned after consuming toxic algae.

Image copyright Satellite image ©2019 Maxar Technologies
Image caption The animals turn a pinkish orange when they decompose (Scale bar: 20m) 

How did the satellites gauge the event's size?

The planes and boats that surveyed the Gulf of Penas counted more than 340 dead whales, but the complex geography meant that some bodies almost certainly were missed.

"The aerial survey was done on a huge scale and was very impressive, but it's possible some of the carcasses got washed back out to sea in storms and simply weren't counted. The 343 number was only ever a best estimate," said BAS whale expert Dr Jennifer Jackson.

The high-resolution satellite imagery allowed scientists to do a count much closer in time to the event itself.
The researchers used pictures from the WorldView-2 spacecraft which can discern features larger than 50cm across from an altitude of 700km.
For a whale that may be 10-15m in length, this produces a good outline of the animal's overall shape, including its distinctive fluke.

The team examined two archive images of the gulf from mid-March in 2015.
In one, they counted slightly fewer whales than in the aerial survey work; but substantially more in the second picture.

Image copyright V.Haussermann
Image caption The aerial survey was conducted many weeks after the event actually happened 

So, how useful is satellite observation?

It's possible to see the big baleen whales, like the sei whale, from orbit, and with the WorldView series of satellites now offering 30cm resolution, the task should become even easier - and for smaller whale species too, not just the baleens.

Scientists could monitor any beach in world, but especially those remote coastlines where cetacean strandings are a regular occurrence - in places such as Tasmania, New Zealand, the Falkland Islands, and obviously South American Patagonia.

But it would be even easier if an automated detection system could be developed. The team tried this by training a computer to look for the spectral (light) signature of a dead whale in the Gulf of Penas (the seis turned pink and orange as they decomposed).

However, this approach was less successful than manual inspection of the pictures. The algorithms, though, are bound to improve.

"There are many more satellites planned to be launched with 50cm and 30cm resolution, so if we could automate the system it might be able to find these stranding events almost as they happen," BAS remote sensing specialist Peter Fretwell told BBC News.

Media captionZoom in to the Gulf of Penas
(satellite image ©2019 Maxar Technologies)

How will whales benefit from this science?

Getting to the scene of a stranding quickly will give greater certainty to the cause of an event.
Sei whales have continued to wash up in the Gulf of Penas every year since 2015 and so it's vital scientists understand fully what's happening off-shore.

Strandings more widely can be useful markers of the status of a population.
The dissection of washed-up bodies (a necropsy) will be an opportunity to investigate the general health of animals, and to study aspects of their behaviour such as their dietary habits.

Even just the pattern of strandings will provide information on which whales are present in an area and their likely numbers.
All this detail is facilitated by a more rapid response.

"It's important ecologically," commented Andrew Baillie, the Cetacean Strandings Officer at London's Natural History Museum.
"[Whales] are often top predators and they are very involved in the marine ecosystem. If they are suffering because of any actions of humans then we need to monitor that and mitigate it if possible."

Links :

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Magical video of whales blowing bubbles to catch dinner

A humpback whale swimming in a circular pattern while blowing bubbles to create a “net” to encircle its prey.
It’s a regular occurrence in the cold blue-green waters of Southeast Alaska, and University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa researchers and their collaborators have captured it on video from an amazing whale’s-point-of-view along with aerial video.
From CNET by Amanda Kooser

Get both a drone's-eye and an underwater view of how humpback whales use bubble-net fishing to round up krill.

Humpback whales have a clever way of catching prey.
They don't have thumbs to sit around weaving fishing nets with, so they use what they've got: bubbles from their blowholes.
A team led by researchers at the University of Hawaii at Manoa captured spectacular footage of humpback whales using a technique called bubble-net fishing in the waters near Alaska.
The whales were packing on the pounds before heading to Hawaii to breed.

Bubble-net fishing involves a group of whales near the ocean surface rounding up fish or krill inside a circle of bubbles exhaled from their blowholes.
As the whales rise toward the surface, they corral the fish in the bubble net.
It's a cooperative behavior that results in a good meal for the participants.  
The team used drones to capture the view from above.
Cameras and sensors attached to the whales by suction cups gathered video and data from the whale's point of view.
Put the two together and you get an incredibly detailed look at this fascinating feeding behavior.  
Lars Bejder, director of the university's Marine Mammal Research Program, called the footage "groundbreaking." 
"We're observing how these animals are manipulating their prey and preparing the prey for capture.
It is allowing us to gain new insights that we really haven't been able to do before," he said in a release on Sunday.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has noted a drop in the number of humpback whale sightings around Hawaii in recent years.
The Marine Mammal Research Program is looking into what might be causing a possible decline in the population.
Scientists are concerned about the impact of climate change and a loss of food resources.
We can't just call on the crew of the USS Enterprise like in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home to save the whales.
We have to start with gathering solid data on their feeding habits and changes in habitat.
This video footage is both beautiful and useful as scientists work to understand what's happening with these magnificent animals.

Links :

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Home review – gutsy doc charts harrowing, heroic journey by sea

Like Cheryl Strayed in Wild, Sarah Outen bravely explores mental health issues and grief as she chronicles her four-year round-the-world adventure

From The Guardian by Cat Clarke

The British adventurer Sarah Outen has made an introspective and emotionally brave film about her awe-inspiring journey around the world.
She travelled 20,000 miles in four years, powered entirely by her own steam – on bike, foot and rowing boat.
Documentaries about big adventures usually feature a scene or two in which the hero (usually male), with chest-beating bravado, goes mano a mano with nature.
Not here.
In Alaska, Outen giggles when a bear sneaks up on her having a wash.
And it takes real guts to open up as she does about mental health issues in her elegant, self-aware voiceover.

Her adventure begins in 2011 rowing across the Channel to France, and from there it’s five and half months on the bike.
A recent Oxford graduate, Outen describes herself as confident and accomplished, but feeling lost and grieving the death of her father.
In Kazakhstan, she falls for the landscape and the hospitality.
People constantly invite her in for tea and ask: “Where is your husband?”
She points to her bike, Hercules.
Make no mistake, Outen is a tough lady, but her warmth and gentleness are as helpful while travelling so far alone.
In China, she picks up a young lad, Gau, who has recently dropped out of business school – and for 2,000 miles to Beijing the film becomes a buddy comedy.

Her adventure doesn’t go entirely to plan; a tropical storm at sea wrecks her boat and causes lasting emotional and physical harm.
While recovering in the UK, Outen falls in love and asks herself what’s the point of going back to finish.
Her film – co-directed with Jen Randall – shares with Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild a sense of the redemptive and healing power of travel.
Outen also has the nerve to probe her motives: what is she running from and why is she always restlessly planning journeys?
And she calls her boat Happy Socks, which is the most pleasing boat name since Boaty McBoatface.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Old weather “time machine” opens a treasure trove for researchers


One key to the past is crowd-sourcing data recovery

It’s been the stuff of science fiction for generations: a time machine that would allow researchers to reach back into yesteryear and ask new questions about long-ago events.

This month, a NOAA-funded research team published an update to a weather “time machine” they’ve been developing since 2011.
This third version of the 20th Century Reanalysis Project, or 20CRv3 for short, is a dauntingly complex, high-resolution, four-dimensional reconstruction of the global climate that estimates what the weather was for every day back to 1836.

The newest update provides continuous estimates of the most likely state of the global atmosphere’s weather on 75-kilometer grids eight times a day for the past 180 years.
It’s the scientific fruit of an international effort led by researchers with NOAA's Physical Sciences Division (PSD) and CIRES and supported by the Department of Energy.

 This painting by James Gale Tyler depicts the crew of the USS Jeanette abandoning ship in 1881 after more than a year trapped in Arctic ice.
Barometric pressure observations from the ship's log comprise some of the data used to reconstruct global weather in the updated 20th Century Reanalysis dataset released by NOAA on Oct 9, 2019. Source: Wikipedia

The research opportunities that this work makes available are almost boundless, said Gil Compo, a CIRES scientist working at NOAA who leads the reanalysis project.
“We’re throwing open the door to lost history, and inviting scientists to pour through,” Compo said.
Old weather records fed into modern weather model

Using NOAA’s Global Forecast System, researchers reconstructed the global atmosphere from surface pressure readings, sea temperature and sea ice observations from archival records, some transcribed by citizen volunteers.
From this data, the model estimates temperature, pressure, winds, moisture, solar radiation and clouds.

 This U.S. Weather Bureau Map depicts northern hemisphere circulation patterns on Aug. 16, 1915, as the Galveston hurricane made landfall on the Texas coast.
Surface pressure observations from historic weather records like this allow scientists to reconstruct global weather using modern weather models.
Credit: NOAA Physical Sciences Division

Scientists have used previous 20th Century Reanalysis datasets as a foundation for a wide range of studies, from understanding large-scale climate trends to diagnosing the impacts of individual historical extreme weather events.
The dataset allows researchers to explore how climate change is influencing temperature, precipitation, and atmospheric circulation, and compare today’s storms, heat waves, droughts and floods to historic events.
“This tool lets us quantitatively compare today’s storms, floods, blizzards, heat waves and droughts to those of the past and figure out whether or not climate change is having an effect,” Compo said.
“This should be useful for climate attribution research.”

Enriching our understanding of long-ago events

Scientists have also used the previous versions of the “old weather” data to discover unknown hurricanes, study the climate impact of old volcanic eruptions, investigate the timing of bird migrations, and even explore the economic impact of diseases spread by the tsetse fly in sub-Saharan Africa.

Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach said he can’t wait to begin working with 20CRv3.
“I’m a huge fan of reanalysis products,” said Klotzbach.
“I’ll probably be diving in by next week and I know my colleagues are looking forward to working with it.”

Others have used the data to enrich the scientific understanding of specific weather lodged in cultural memory, like the sinking of the Titanic or the extraordinary winter of 1880-1881, which was chronicled by Laura Ingalls Wilder in her book “The Long Winter.”

“I’ve found reanalysis composites incredibly useful and accessible,” said Barbara Mayes Boustead, a meteorologist instructor with NOAA’s National Weather Service, who has studied the winter of 1880-1881.
“We introduce them in our course on operational climate services and to weather forecast offices who want to investigate climate events like the El Niño-Southern Oscillation.”

A big appetite for big data

20CRv3 uses millions more observations than previous versions of the reanalysis, especially for earlier periods.
The new reanalysis includes up to 25 percent more available observations for years prior to 1930.
Running the model and crunching all this data required astronomical computing resources.
To accomplish this third upgrade, the Department of Energy donated 600 million cpu hours to crunch 21 million gigabytes of data at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center.

The result?
This new update provides a much better indication of where the weather estimates are more reliable, and where more observations are needed.
“The atmospheric estimates from 20CRv3, as well as their uncertainties, are much more reliable than those from the previous reanalysis, particularly in the 19th century,” said Laura Slivinski, a CIRES meteorologist and the lead author of a recent paper in the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society that lays out improvements in their reanalysis techniques.
“We’re more certain about how much we know, and where we need to know more.”
Citizen scientists help chart a “virtuous circle” of discovery

Some of the key players in the reanalysis story are groups like Atmospheric Circulation Reconstructions over the Earth, which marshals professional scientists and ordinary citizens alike to pore over historical documents like ship logs and extract meteorological observations that are used to refine old weather reconstructions.
Targeted data rescue can be extraordinarily valuable - for example, logs of 19th Century wooden sailing vessels attempting to penetrate the Arctic and Antarctic.

“These data have been invaluable to us because they come from the otherwise data-sparse polar regions,” Slivinski said.
“20CRv3 also provides a literal map to further advances in precision by identifying regions and time periods where additional weather observations will improve model estimates,” she added.

Earlier time periods, especially in the Southern hemisphere, still have high uncertainty.
Luckily, data rescue can help fix that.
“This dataset can keep getting better as we unlock more observations from historical archives,” Compo said.
“It’s really a virtuous circle.”

Links :

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Unmanned ship to go on 400-year-old journey across the Atlantic

 The Mayflower Autonomous Ship will set sail in September 2020, 400 years after the first Mayflower, and this time AI and other advanced technologies will be at the helm.

From BBC by Jen Coperstake

A fully autonomous ship tracing the journey of the Mayflower is being built by a UK-based team, with help from tech firm IBM.

The Mayflower Autonomous Ship, or MAS, will launch from Plymouth in the UK in September 2020.

The Mayflower Autonomous Ship : max speed 20 knts, length 15 m, weight 5 tons

Its voyage will mark the 400th anniversary of the pilgrim ship which brought European settlers to America in 1620.

IBM is providing artificial intelligence systems for the ship.

 Timeline :
October 2019 - January 2020: Hull constructed in Gdansk, Poland
February 2020: Hull to arrive in Plymouth, UK
February - June 2020: Fitted out with advanced navigation and research equipment
July - August 2020: Testing at sea
September 2020: Sets off from Plymouth, UK, to arrive in Plymouth, Massachusetts, USA, two weeks later

The vessel will make its own decisions on its course and collision avoidance, and will even make expensive satellite phone calls back to base if it deems it necessary.
  • The sensor technology guiding its decision-making process includes:
  • Light detecting and ranging (LIDAR)
  • Radio detecting and ranging (RADAR)
  • Global Positioning System (GPS)
  • Satellites
  • Cameras
Data on hundreds of ships has already been collected in Plymouth Sound to feed its machine-learning algorithms.

Pilgrim journey

400 years ago, on 6 September 1620, the Mayflower set sail from Plymouth to Massachusetts, with 102 passengers and around 30 crew members.

The original journey took more than two months, landing at what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts, on 21 December 1620.
The passengers onboard, mainly Christian Puritans, became known as pilgrims.

A comparison of the original Mayflower with its futuristic version

This vessel will repeat their journey but without any humans on board, and a much faster anticipated crossing time of two weeks.

The ship is being built by ProMare - a non-profit marine research organisation - along with IBM.

The project's director, Brett Phaneuf, has ancestral roots in the area where the Mayflower landed on America's east coast, dating back to 1628.
Mr Phaneuf grew up in New England hearing family folklore about the early settlers, and visiting sites connected to the crossing.
He now lives in Plymouth, UK, and was inspired by his history to contribute to the commemorations of the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower.
But he wasn't interested in building a simple replica of the ship.
"Nothing really was going to do it justice," Mr Phaneuf says.
"My immediate interest is in autonomy and we needed something that would speak to the next 400 years."

Sleek design

The ship is a trimaran with one very long slender main hull optimized for propulsive efficiency.
The two smaller hulls are for stabilization and provide the surface area for the solar panels.
The vessel will run on solar and wind power, with an emergency diesel backup generator if needed.
The hull of the ship is currently under construction in Gdansk, Poland, and is due to arrive in Plymouth next February.

Virtual reality experience of the new Mayflower autonomous ship next to the original in Plymouth Port (University of Birmingham)

"On a ship with no people there is a huge amount of volume left to do things with - there's nowhere for people to sleep, no need for storing food or water - all the things that keep people alive go away," says Mr Phaneuf.

Mr Phaneuf says many ships already have highly automated systems, but keep skeleton crews of 6-12 people.
"The ship is going to do oceanographic research but it is also an active test platform for artificial intelligence and machine-learning algorithms for collision avoidance," he says.
The team will keep an eye on its progress from a control centre in Plymouth and can take over if there is an emergency.
"Once it's past the Isles of Scilly, it's on its own," says Mr Phaneuf.

Data collection

IBM's deep learning software will help the vessel collect and analyse data to avoid collisions at sea, according to the company's chief technology officer Dr Andy Stanford-Clark.
"We are fusing all that data to create a multi-dimensional view of the world," he says.
"The ship can't keep going back to the cloud and saying 'can you check on this' as there will be long periods of time where there is no connectivity," says Dr Stanford-Clark.

The ship will use IBM's sophisticated operational decision maker (ODM) tool, which is also used by the financial industry to produce billions of complex functions.

Artist's rendition of the Mayflower Autonomous Ship showing room for science pods

Different views of the ship's design showing solar panel placement


Three research pods in the hull of the ship are being designed by scientists at the UK's University of Plymouth.
Director of the University's Marine Institute, Richard Thomson OBE, says the voyage is the first opportunity to sample the oceans for plastics, from an unmanned vessel.
Professor Thomson coined the term microplastics in a paper published 15 years ago, to describe the accumulation of fragments of plastic in the world's oceans.
'We're trying to construct a heat map of the problem but it is based on pinpoint sampling and extrapolation," he says.
"This is an opportunity to get a much deeper and data-rich picture of the situation."

image Promare

The ship's ability to make its own decisions based on immediate data availability could lead researchers to remote areas where they wouldn't otherwise think to go.
"In the future, ten years from now, if the boat is in the middle of the deep Indian Ocean, and it detects something unusual but its humans want it to do something else, it can divert itself, as it will be seeing more data and say 'this is where I want to go'," says Mr Phaneuf.

The team inside the Mayflower Autonomous Ship mission simulation room


A future of autonomous vessels roaming across the world's oceans brings up several issues around insurance, cyber-security and piracy.

Mr Phaneuf says this first voyage is being insured by insurance company Gard, which wanted to be the first company to insure an unmanned ocean vessel.

The main threat in the North Atlantic, he says, will come from the weather and the ocean conditions, rather than other vessels.
But not knowing what the ship will find is an exciting prospect.
"We know more about the surface of the moon than the surface of the ocean.
This is the first of many ships that will bring us to that state of knowledge," Mr Phaneuf says.

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Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Greenland's melting ice may affect everyone's future

Icebergs in Disko Bay, Greenland.
Photograph by Michael Melford, National Geo Image collection

From National Geographic by Alejandra Borunda

NASA scientists are trying to understand how this region is responding to climate change—and how that will influence sea levels around the world.

A thousand feet above the glistening, iceberg-dotted water of the ocean off of East Greenland, oceanographer Josh Willis braces for balance, his feet spread wide on the metal floor of a specially-outfitted airplane.
He grips a wide grey cylinder, hovering it over a 6-inch-wide bottomless tube.
The pilot’s voice crackles over the intercom: “3, 2, 1, zero, DROP.”
Willis lets the cylinder go.
With a whoosh, it slips down the tube and into the wide-open air.

The plane banks hard to the right and everyone on board rushes to a window.
“I see it!” yells Ian Fenty, another oceanographer on the project, as the probe—designed to sink to the seafloor and record the properties there—splashes down.

Willis, Fenty, and a crew of other scientists and pilots are flying the edge of Greenland’s vast ice sheet to figure out how the ocean eats away at the ice, speeding or slowing its slide into the water, where it melts, raising sea levels worldwide.

In an airplane flying low over the eastern coast of Greenland, Josh Willis, the lead scientist for the Oceans Melting Greenland (OMG) research project, prepares to drop a probe through a chute in the floor of a retrofitted DC-3 plane.
The probe will fly through through the air and land in the coastal ocean, where it will measure the temperature and salinity of the water.
photograph : Jonathan Nackstrand, AFP/Getty Images

But exactly how much ice it will deposit, and how fast, is still an open question.
Greenland is currently the biggest contributor to global sea level rise.
By 2100, will its ice sheet’s melt add inches to the world’s oceans—or will it add much more?

That’s a trillion-dollar question.
Nearly 70 percent of Earth’s population lives within 100 miles of a coast, and vast amounts of infrastructure—from airports to ports to cities to roads to Internet cables—sits in zones that could flood within decades.
Small, low-lying island nations, city planners, insurance adjustors, homeowners—everyone is clamoring for the most accurate estimates of how much extra water they’ll need to prepare for.

And for that, says Willis, they need to know what happens here, where ocean meets ice.
“This is where it all happens,” he says. The flooding of the future is being defined here and now, in the glittering sea below.

A sudden lurch into melting

Greenland’s ice is shrinking, this we've known for a while, since the science of global warming, a famous climate scientist likes to say, is older than the technology that makes our iPhones fast and the Internet run smoothly.

But until the 1990s, the ice in Greenland was remarkably stable, even as air temperatures rose because of human-caused climate change.
Each year, the ice sheet lost some weight as ice flowed like taffy from the center of the ice sheet, through funnel-like outlet glaciers at its edge, spilling into the ocean.
But enough snow fell on top of the mile-high interior of the ice sheet to balance out the losses.

In the 1990s, scientists thought that the big ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica responded slowly to changes in climate, shuddering into motion like bears waking up from hibernation.
Yes, they’d respond to the human-caused climate change that was gripping the planet, the thinking went, but it would take decades or even centuries to really see the impacts.
“Early on, we weren’t thinking about Greenland as being really critical on these kind of decadal scales, and we didn’t have tools to look at them on those time scales,” explains Twila Moon, a glacier expert at the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

NASA's Oceans Melting Greenland (OMG) mission uses ships and planes to measure how ocean temperatures affect Greenland's vast icy expanses.
Jakobshavn Glacier, known in Greenlandic as Sermeq Kujalle, on Greenland's central western side, has been one of the island's largest contributor's to sea level rise, losing mass at an accelerating rate. In a new study, the OMG team found that between 2016 and 2017, Jakobshavn Glacier grew slightly and the rate of mass loss slowed down.
They traced the causes of this thickening to a temporary cooling of ocean temperatures in the region.

But around 1997, something changed.
Scientists studying Jakobshavn glacier, on Greenland’s western coast, watched in alarm as a tongue of ice that had for years poked out into a fjord started to shrink.
The tongue was about 15 kilometers long in 1997.
By the early 2000s—a scant half decade later—that tongue was gone.
“We suspected that this could happen from time to time, but this was the first time we’d seen anything like it,” says David Holland, who led the team studying the rapid disintegration of the ice tongue.

Huge chunks of ice break off the Jakobshavn glacier in Western Greenland.
Photo by James Balog, Nat Geo Image collection

Today, the Greenland ice sheet is losing mass about six times faster than it was just a few decades ago, whatever tenuous balance that existed before long since upended.
Between 2005 and 2016, melt from the ice sheet was the single largest contributor to sea level rise worldwide, though Antarctica may overtake it soon.

Within the past 50 years, the ice sheet has already shed enough to add about half an inch of water to the world’s oceans, and that number is increasing precipitously as the planet heats.
During this summer’s extreme heat wave that parked over Greenland for a week and turned over half its surface ice to slush, meltwater equivalent to over 4 million swimming pools sloughed into the ocean in a single day.
Over the month of July, enough melt poured into the ocean to bump sea levels up by an easily measurable half a millimeter.

Scientists at the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute used data from NASA’s Operation IceBridge to develop a more accurate model of how the Greenland Ice Sheet might respond to climate change in the future, finding that it could generate more sea level rise than previously thought.

Overall, there’s enough water locked up in the Greenland ice sheet to add about 25 feet to the world’s oceans.
It’s not likely that such catastrophic loss will happen soon, as in within the next few hundred years. But the whole of the ice sheet doesn’t have to collapse to cause massive, planet-wide reverberations.
“When I started this research, I never would have guessed that warm subsurface waters could unravel an ice sheet,” says David Holland, an oceanographer at NYU.
“But it’s becoming clear that they can, and that they are.”

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Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Ocean exploration changed human History—and the story started centuries before Christopher Columbus

Illustration of the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria, the fleet of Christopher Columbus.
Bettmann/Getty Images

From Time by David Abulafia author of The Boundless Sea: A Human History of the Oceans
(with additional content from WP by Max Fisher)

One of humanity’s greatest achievements has been mastering routes across the world’s oceans.
Communities separated by thousands of miles have been brought into contact and religious ideas have spread across the waters, while artistic creativity has been spurred on by the experience of seeing the products of different civilizations.
Customs have been decisively altered by the movement of ships across the oceans.
No one drank tea in medieval Europe, but once contact had been made with the tea-drinking Chinese, tea became the obsession of millions of people from Sweden to the United States — tea is part of the founding history of the United States, as the Boston Tea Party reveals.

We tend to think that the opening of the oceans was the work of the great explorers, especially the 15th century pioneers who edged their way through uncharted waters to southern Africa, the Indian Ocean and the spice lands of the Indies.
These were sailors such as Christopher Columbus, who chanced upon unsuspected lands that blocked the expected sea route from Europe to China and Japan.
But while these men did give the Age of Discovery its name, they didn’t start the exploration of the world’s oceans — and there were also scores of merchants who followed in their wake, taking full advantage of new knowledge about the open ocean to develop trade links across the world that were the precursors of modern globalization.
These were the people who really mastered the oceans and brought the continents into contact.

Already around 2500 BC, merchants were setting out from what is now Iraq, the seat of the ancient Sumerian civilization, carrying silver ingots to India, which was the seat of another even more mysterious civilization, that of the Indus Valley.
En route, they acquired copper from Oman and brought precious objects such as carnelian and lapis lazuli from India.
Accumulating and re-investing profits, they were the first capitalists.
The Indian Ocean became one of the great channels of trade between nations.
Greek merchants from Egypt exploited the monsoon winds to ensure a swift passage to south India.

The Chinese emperors tended to discourage uncontrolled trade, though prohibitions often did more to provoke traders into finding ways around the rules.
Early compasses were used for feng shui, not navigation.
But in the 12th century AD, when the coasts of China were open to the world, Hangzhou was at the peak of its prosperity.
Later, Marco Polo would bear witness to this vigorous commercial life, with its use of paper money and its links to Java and beyond.
And in the open Pacific, hundreds of scattered islands from Hawaii to Easter Island were settled over many centuries — the Polynesians only reached New Zealand around AD 1300.
Even without written records, the Polynesians transmitted exact knowledge of how to sail these apparently boundless waters from generation to generation.

By 1500 AD, the Portuguese had begun to show interest in what the Atlantic might offer.
That interest had resulted in the settlement of uninhabited islands including Madeira, which began to export phenomenal quantities of sugar.
Portugal also founded the slave trade, bringing captives from West Africa to Europe and later to the Americas without consideration for their humanity

 When Spain and Portugal dominated the world
This map shows the Spanish and Portuguese empires at their height.
They didn't hold all of this territory concurrently, but they were most powerful from 1580 to 1640, when they were politically unified.
Portugal would later pick up more territory in Africa, not shown on the map.
We often forget that Spain controlled big parts of Europe, in Italy and the Netherlands.
In the Middle Ages, Spain and Portugal were so powerful that they signed a set of treaties literally dividing up the globe between them.
They became so rich so quickly that their trade with the Ottoman Empire, perhaps the other great imperial power of the time, filled the Ottoman economy with more gold than it could handle and plunged it economy into an inflationary crisis so severe that the empire never fully recovered.

When European sailors — from Portugal, Spain, Holland, England, Denmark and France — entered the Pacific and the Indian Ocean starting in the 16th century, they found a lively maritime world that they could never truly dominate.
They still depended on the resources and supply lines of the inhabitants of the lands they visited, even as they created routes across the entire globe that brought Chinese porcelain and silk from Manila through Mexico to Havana and then on to Spain, or through Macao and then on past southern Africa all the way to Europe.
A symbol of these global links was the porcelain produced in China bearing the words E PLURIBUS UNUM made specially for the American market.

Major shipping routes in the colonial era
This map shows British, Dutch and Spanish shipping routes from 1750 to 1800.
It's been created from newly digitized logbooks of European ships during this period.
(Unfortunately, the French data is not shown.)
These lines are the contours of empire and of European colonialism, yes, but they're also the first intimations of the global trade and transportation system that are still with us today.
This was the flattening of the world, for better and for worse.
source : CLIWOC , image James Cheshire

Since then, the oceans have only continued to tie the world together — most dramatically when new routes were literally carved out, with the building of the Suez Canal in the 19th century and the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914.
The first goods to pass through the Panama Canal consisted of a cargo of tinned pineapples from Hawaii.
The Pacific and the Atlantic were more closely tied together than ever before.

 Americans have mostly come around to accept that, despite what our grade school teachers may have told us, Europeans did not "discover" America; the original arrivals had done that 15,000 years earlier.
But Europeans did discover lots of land that had never been before seen by human eyes.
You can, embedded in this map, see successive waves of European exploration: first the Portuguese, then the Spanish, then the British and much later the Americans.
The map's creator, the always-insightful Bill Rankin, writes, "this map particularly underscores the maritime expertise of Pacific Islanders.
Unlike the islands of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, nearly all of the Pacific was settled by the 14th century."

In the 21st century, however, new factors have changed entirely the way goods are carried across the seas, even though over 90% of world trade is carried on ships.
Containerization means that goods can be loaded in Chicago and unloaded in Warsaw without having to be unloaded at ports.
The great port cities of the world have been replaced by automated docks full of gantries and cranes.
Container ships carry many thousands of containers.

Map lets you visualize shipping traffic around the world
Interactive data visualization illustrates the incredible number of ships criss-crossing the world's oceans at any given time
source :

Business is conducted on a scale that utterly dwarfs that of even 20 years ago, transforming a familiar world.
And yet, through trade and cultural exchange, the seas continue to connect even the most distant lands.

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Monday, October 14, 2019

Typhoon, Cyclone or Hurricane? Different names for the same storms

Typhoon Hagibis approaching the southeast coast of Japan on last Wednesday. Typhoon Hagibis made landfall in Japan on Saturday, bringing violent winds, record rainfall and flooding.
Credit : NASA

From NYTimes by Mariel Padilla and Jennifer Jett

Powerful tropical storms occur all around the world, but what they’re called depends on where they form.

When a tropical storm pummeled Japan on Saturday with gusts of up to 135 miles per hour, forcing millions to evacuate their homes, it was called Typhoon Hagibis.
But the storm that carved a path of destruction across the Bahamas in September was Hurricane Dorian.
And when the most powerful storm to hit Bangladesh in years destroyed thousands of homes in May, it was called Cyclone Fani.

Surging waves in Kiho, Japan, on Friday.
credit : Toru Hanai/Associated Press

What is the difference between a typhoon, a hurricane and a cyclone?
It comes down only to the storm’s location.

All three are tropical cyclones — circular storms that form over warm waters with very low air pressure at the center, and winds greater than 74 miles an hour.
But different terms are used for such storms in different parts of the world.

The word “hurricane” is used for the storms that form in the North Atlantic, the northeastern Pacific, the Caribbean Sea or the Gulf of Mexico.
Typhoons develop in the northwestern Pacific and usually threaten Asia.

 The Century’s strongest super-typhoon Hagibis hitted Japan.
image : ISS

The international date line serves as the Pacific Ocean’s dividing marker, so when a hurricane crosses it from east to west, it becomes a typhoon instead, and vice versa.

The same kinds of storms in the Southern Hemisphere are easier to keep straight.

In the southern Indian Ocean or the South Pacific, they are called tropical cyclones or severe tropical cyclones.
In the Bay of Bengal or Arabian Sea, both in the northern Indian Ocean, they are simply called cyclones.

 The rising Isuzu River in Ise, Japan, on Saturday.
Credit Kyodo News, via Associated Press

A season for every storm

In addition to having different names, hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones also have different seasons.
The Atlantic hurricane season officially runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.
The Pacific season starts slightly earlier.
Typhoons can form year round, but are most common from May to October.
The next cyclone season in the South Pacific will begin on Nov. 1 and end on April 30, 2020.

In the southern Indian Ocean, the season begins two weeks later and ends at the same time, except in the island nations of Mauritius and the Seychelles, where it extends to May 15.
Cyclones in the northern Indian Ocean have no official season, but tend to be concentrated from May to November.

What are hurricanes, typhoons and tropical cyclones and how do they form?
James Chubb at MetOffice explains how we classify the different storms and how they are formed.

Whatever they are called, tropical cyclones generally become weaker after they hit land, since they draw their energy from water evaporating from the oceans below them.
But they can travel quite far inland before they dissipate, wreaking havoc through wind damage, torrential rains and flooding.

Storms whose winds are not quite strong enough to qualify as tropical cyclones are called tropical storms if their sustained winds are 39 to 73 miles an hour, or tropical depressions (a reference to the low pressure at their core) below that range.

Tropical cyclones around the world are named according to a listmaintained by the World Meteorological Organization.
The names of the deadliest storms, like Typhoon Haiyan or Hurricane Katrina, are retired.

 Typhoon Hagibis

Grading a storm’s intensity

Hurricanes are rated in categories from 1 to 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale, which is based on sustained wind speed.
According to the National Hurricane Center, storms in Category 3 or higher, which have wind speeds of at least 111 miles per hour, “are considered major hurricanes because of their potential for significant loss of life and damage.”

 Super Typhoon Hagibis. 
Earth's power & beauty on display.

Typhoons are monitored by the Japan Meteorological Agency, which also rates them by sustained wind speed.
It uses three classifications: “typhoon,” “very strong typhoon” or “violent typhoon.”

Powerful Typhoon Hagibis brings strong waves to the southern tip of Japan's Izu Peninsula.
It is forecast to crash into land in central or eastern Japan early Saturday evening, packing maximum gusts of 216 kilometres per hour (134 miles per hour), Japan's Meteorological Agency (JMA) said.

The super Typhoon Hagibis, now approaching Japan, is the 4th category 5 storm of 2019.
In the Pacific there was Typhoon Wutip, while in the Atlantic there was hurricane Dorian and Lorenzo.
The above animation shows the movement of Typhoon Hagibis using the Copernicus Marine Service product “Global Ocean Waves Analysis and Forecast updated Daily” significant wave height (in meters) from October 8th-14th, 2019.
Our forecast up to October 14th predicts up to 15 metre significant wave heights starting around October 10th, and these wave trains are expected to hit the southwestern coast of Japan on the 12th of October.
The significant wave height is the average height of the highest one-third of all waves. Hence, maximum wave height could be 1.5 to 2 times higher.
According to the Meteo France waves model team, that works on this Copernicus Marine Service product, wave height is generally predicted with good confidence for extreme weather events within wave models.
 source : Copernicus

The Joint Typhoon Warning Center, a United States military command in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, also issues storm advisories using the designations “tropical depression,” “tropical storm,” “typhoon” and “super typhoon.”

Cyclones in the Indian Ocean are classified according to two intensity scales, depending on where they are, with terms like “very intense tropical cyclone” and “super cyclonic storm.”
Australia rates cyclones much the way North America rates hurricanes, in categories from 1 to 5.

As violent as they are, these storms help to regulate the global climate, by moving heat energy away from the tropics and toward the poles.

Naming the storms

Storm terminology has been highly influenced by the histories and cultural interactions of different regions.

“Hurricane” appeared in English in the 16th century as an adaptation of the Spanish word “huracán.” “Typhoon” is variously described as coming from Arabic (“tafa”) or Chinese (“taifeng”), or perhaps both.
“Cyclone” was coined in the late 18th century by a British official in India, from the Greek for “moving in a circle.”

A fascinating look at how a little girl walking in the sand of the African desert could cause a hurricane 4000 miles away.

But a storm by any other name should still be taken seriously.

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