Thursday, October 18, 2018

Rolls-Royce wants to fill the seas with self-sailing ships

Rolls-Royce is a pre-eminent engineering company focused on world-class power and propulsion systems.

From Wired by Jack Stewart

“Helsinki VTS, thank you for permission to depart,” the captain says over the radio.
He checks with the Vessel Traffic Service to see if there’s anything to be looking out for.
Just one other big ship, but also lots of small boats, enjoying the calm water, which could be hazards.
Not a problem for this captain—he has a giant screen on the bridge, which overlays the environment around his vessel with an augmented reality view.
He can navigate the Baltic Discoverer confidently out of Finland's Helsinki Port using the computer-enhanced vision of the world, with artificial intelligence spotting and labeling every other water user, the shore, and navigation markers.

This not-too-far-in-the-future vision comes from Rolls-Royce.
(One iteration of it, anyway: The Rolls-Royce car company, the jet engine maker, and this marine-focused enterprise all have different corporate owners.) The view provided to the crew of the (fictional) Baltic Discoverer is an example of the company's Intelligent Awareness system, which mashes together data from sensors all over a vessel, to give its humans a better view of the world.
But that’s just the early part of the plan.
Using cameras, lidar, and radar, Rolls wants to make completely autonomous ships.
And it's already running trials around the world.

“Tugs, ferries, and short-sea transport, these are all classes of vessels that we believe would be suitable for completely autonomous operations, monitored by a land based crew, who get to go home every night,” says Kevin Daffey, Rolls-Royce's director of marine engineering and technology.
Suitable, because they all currently rely on humans who demand to be paid—and can make costly mistakes.
Over the past decade, there have been more than 1,000 total losses of large ships, and at least 70 percent of those resulted from human error.
The argument looks a lot like the one for self-driving cars: Machines stay sober and focused, beat out human reaction times, and can look in every direction at once.
Get their programming right, and they should crash less than humans do.

Moreover, the economic case for automating shipping is clear: About 100,000 large vessels are currently sailing the world's oceans, and the amount of cargo they carry is projected to grow around 4 percent a year, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.
Beyond preventing accidents, human-free ships could be 15 percent more efficient to run, because they don't need energy-gobbling life support systems, doing things like heating, cooking, and lugging drinking water along for the ride.

The ship's sensors are similar to those you'd find on your neighborhood self-driving car, with a few important changes.
Their cameras have to provide enough information to identify small objects on the horizon, which means they need a higher pixel count for better resolution, which means more data to sort through.
“It’s a terabyte of data a day,” Daffey says.
That requires a huge amount of processing power, so Rolls is working with Intel to install server rooms on its vessels.
The sensors generate a staggering amount of data.
All of it's stored onboard and uploaded to the cloud once per month, when the ships dock.

Collecting the data is only step one.
Understanding it comes thanks to a neural net, which Rolls-Royce is training with 5 million images scraped off the internet.
It’s using crowdsourcing to identify objects (like car companies do with road features) to train its AI what boats look like from every angle, how markers appear, and where coastlines begin and end.
It’s also running a trial system on a Japanese ferry out of Kobe, which typically runs at night, so is able to collect a lot of thermal-camera night-vision images, and on ferries which run off the southwest coast of Finland.
“The great thing about the sea there is the huge amount of traffic, so we see lots of different, difficult-to-identify craft, like pleasure vessels,” Daffey says.

We are pioneering a major advance in ship safety with the introduction of our new Intelligent Awareness (IA) system.
IA is an advisory system that enhances the situational awareness of vessel surroundings, critical to decision making, through intelligent sensor data fusion.
This enables safer operation in challenging and complex environments and improves operational efficiency.

The next step, again, like cars, is to run autonomous operations in areas that are well defined, with reasonably predictable conditions.
Self-driving car companies are flocking to Phoenix, Arizona, for that.
Rolls-Royce is using designated test areas off the coast of Norway.
It’s supplying 19 ferries with “autocrossing” systems.
Think Tesla’s Autopilot.
These systems are designed to handle some tasks of sailing, but there’ll still be a human onboard, in charge.
The computer could undock, cross between ports, and redock.
It could also optimize the route for fuel economy and automatically adjust power to take into account wear or fouling of the boat and propeller, weather conditions, and keep to timetables, which should help cut operating costs.

Rolls isn't the only company looking to take the humans off the high seas.
Buffalo Automation, a startup with close ties to the University of Buffalo in New York, has developed a system that can control ships up to 800 feet long, and has been testing it on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland.
Meanwhile, the International Maritime Organization is only just starting to consider new rules and permissions for autonomy, which makes sailing across international jurisdictions tricky.
Some ships, like those carrying hazardous cargo, may never go people-free, Daffey says, but that leaves plenty of market share.

Rolls-Royce believes it could speed things up by sticking to one country’s waters.
It wants to operate ferry services in welcoming countries like Norway, Finland, Denmark, Singapore, and the UK in two to three years, to start to deliver on the bigger vision, augmented and beyond.

Links :

Where do we map next?

Map showing multibeam data in the study area from the Global Multi-resolution Topography Synthesis (GMRT), National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), EMODnet and from the Spanish and Portuguese National Archives (modified after Woelfl et al. (2017)).

From Hydro by Anne-Cathrin W├Âlfl, Jennifer Jencks, Colin Devey

Mapping the world’s oceans is a tremendous task that would benefit from a prioritisation strategy.
In this article, an in-depth presentation of one such approach is given - a GIS-based analysis that identifies potential target areas for future mapping efforts in the North Atlantic Ocean.
The authors state that more knowledge about the seafloor could be significantly accelerated if all bathymetric data were publically available.

 North Atlantic Ocean with the GeoGarage platform (UKHO chart)

A Worldwide Data Gap

Bathymetry underpins the safe, sustainable and cost-effective execution of almost every human activity that takes place at sea, yet most of the seafloor remains virtually unmapped, unobserved and unexplored.
In fact, less than 15% of the depth of the world’s ocean waters have been measured directly and only about 50% of the world’s coastal waters (waters <200m deep) have ever been surveyed.
Knowledge of the seafloor is a crucial factor in using the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development, and hence attaining the UN Sustainable Development Goal 14.
With so much ocean floor out there that needs to be surveyed, how do we choose where to begin?

A Strategy is Needed

Any mapping of the seafloor is likely to cover ‘terra incognita’.
So, it may not seem particularly important to choose where to go - any mapping will yield new results.
However, as global and regional campaign mapping initiatives (e.g. Seabed 2030) gain momentum, more strategic approaches will be needed to avoid costly duplicative efforts and keep potential mapping-related environmental impacts (e.g. ocean noise) to a minimum.

Furthermore, there are regions within the ocean that are of special interest to a variety of stakeholder groups - prioritizing mapping in these regions may have advantages in terms of the blue economy or developing sustainable ocean management plans.

An Idea is Born

The idea to analyze and identify seafloor mapping areas for future bathymetric surveys in the North Atlantic was initiated by the Atlantic Seabed Mapping International Working Group (ASMIWG), whose aim is to develop and implement a cohesive mapping strategy in the Atlantic Ocean.
This working group was established in association with the 2013 Galway Statement on Atlantic Ocean Cooperation that was signed by Canada, the European Union, and the United States to enhance cooperation and increase knowledge of the Atlantic through better coordination and collaboration in ocean observation efforts.

The working group set out to determine which areas should take priority, based on pre-defined stakeholder parameters, of every 400 x 400km square within the North Atlantic High Seas area, and identify the three areas with both the highest suitability and least amount of previous bathymetric data coverage.
The basic assumption was: the greater the number of stakeholder interest at a certain site, the higher its suitability.
The area size of 400 x 400km was chosen as being mappable within approximately 100 days using modern techniques, equivalent to a single cruise campaign involving three ships, one from each of the major Galway partners.
The North Atlantic study area was defined as lying between 23°N (Tropic of Cancer) and 66°N (Arctic Circle) - excluding both national EEZ and their granted or pending extended continental shelf claims.

The Selection of Parameters

A key step in the analysis was to first determine where bathymetric data already existed.
Perhaps surprisingly, this was not a trivial task as only a small percentage of existing multibeam data and associated geographic information is easily accessible through online portals such as the International Hydrographic Organization Data Centre for Digital Bathymetry, Global Multi-Resolution Topography Synthesis (GMRT) and EMODnet Bathymetry.
To determine the current data coverage in an area, multibeam swaths accessed from these databases were combined and displayed.
Where only ship tracks were available and the swath coverage was unknown, a buffer of 2.5km around the track was used (see figure above).
A single-beam density grid from NOAA, showing the number of soundings per 0.02° cell, was also analyses but not included in the data coverage calculations, due to the lack of significant spatial coverage of single-beam data in areas where multibeam coverage did not already exist.

The working group then identified a set of parameters based on the interests of various stakeholder groups (such as scientists, industry and environmental organizations) that factor in areas of public interest, sensitive marine areas, and areas with marine resource potential.

The following parameters were then included in the analysis:
  • Ecologically or Biologically Significant Marine Areas (EBSA)
  • Marine Protected Areas Network (MPA)
  • Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VME)
  • Flight Lines (FL)
  • Shipping Lanes (SL)
  • Important Areas for Cobalt-rich Ferromanganese Crust Formation (FMC)
  • Important Areas for Manganese Nodule Formation (MN)
  • Important Areas for Massive Sulphide Formation (MS)
Map of the study area showing the GIS parameter layers of category I 
Environmentally-sensitive Areas (modified after Woelfl et al. (2017)).

The parameters were grouped into three categories:
  • Environmentally-sensitive Areas (EBSA, MPA, VME) - displayed above
  • Areas of Public Interest (FL, SL)
  • Areas with Marine Resource Potential (FMC, MN, MS), to ensure a balance between user-group interests
These parameters reflect the attributes a potential target area could possess to increase its priority for future planned bathymetric surveys.
Which parameter they use depends on the individual stakeholder’s interest.

The GIS Analysis

The target areas were defined using GIS techniques and included parameters of the marine environment as well as available information regarding data coverage.
The GIS analysis was performed with ArcGIS 10.4.
First, the three categories were integrated into the GIS as individual geospatial vector layers (shapefiles) and transformed into raster layers of 1 x 1km cells.
These layers were then combined using an overlay technique and an expression executed to add up the cell values.
The desired outcome of the analysis was to obtain information about the suitability of every cell as a target area by assigning it a suitability value.
Therefore, a value of one or zero was assigned to each cell for every raster layer, depending on the presence or absence of the respective category in the cell.
The result is a map showing the spatial overlap of the three categories.
The absence of all categories in a cell would result in very low suitability, one category occurring results in low suitability, two categories occurring equals medium suitability, and all three categories means high suitability.

Results and Discussions

Result map showing the suitability of the study area and the three selected target areas
(modified after Woelfl et al. (2017)).

For visualization purposes, the multibeam data coverage was classified into four bands (0-25%, 25-50%, 50-75%, and 75-100% of the area mapped with multibeam data) for each polygon.
The three regions of highest priority singled out by this analysis have not only a high occurrence of desired attributes, reflected in a high suitability class, but also a relatively low multibeam data coverage.

 Milne seamounts with the GeoGarage platform (UKHO chart)

The first target area, in the north of the study region, includes the Milne Seamount located close to the continental slope and reaching abyssal depths of 6000m.
Milne Seamount is part of the Milne Seamount Complex, a Marine Protected Area.
Of this area, 13% was classified as highly suitable, the rest, of medium suitability, with all three categories represented.
Only 13% of this area has been mapped in detail.

 Sohm Plain Area with the GeoGarage platform (UKHO chart)

Southwest of the Milne Seamount Complex is the Sohm Plain Area.
With 24% of the area mapped, the seafloor has been characterised as being made up of abyssal plains and hills.
14% of the area is classified as highly suitable with all three categories occurring.
The remaining area shows medium and low suitability classifications.

Directly east of the US coastline and north of the Caribbean is the Sargasso Sea Area.
Almost half of this target area is highly suitable (45%), the other half, medium suitability with the presence of all three categories.
This area is mostly categorised as the abyssal plain although a small area likely reaches below 6000m water depth and into hadal regions and shows 26% data coverage.

Conclusions and Outlook

Identifying the three target areas using a selection algorithm and a GIS-based overlay technique, is one approach to answering the question “Where do we map next?”.
However, we acknowledge that the interdependencies between some of the selection criteria (e.g.
data coverage density and the designation of Environmentally Sensitive Areas) can lead to the suitability of some areas being underestimated.
For example, many marine protected areas are designated based on knowledge of the seafloor (e.g.
data coverage).
Therefore, all presently unmapped regions warrant further study and may harbour features of particular stakeholder interest.
Changing this situation, and so gaining more knowledge about the seafloor, could be significantly accelerated if all bathymetric data were publically available and accessible to all.

The value of GIS analysis is that it can be easily adjusted and repeated to include new criteria depending on interest, or new data as it becomes available.
It provides an objective way to prioritize mapping areas.
We think that this approach can contribute to filling the large knowledge gaps in our oceans by highlighting unmapped areas and suggesting potential mapping targets.

From Pilot Analysis to Data Collection

On 12 July 2018, the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer left Norfolk, VA to conduct a 24 day exploratory mapping expedition in the Sargasso Sea Area.
The objectives of the first US-led mapping effort in support of the Galway Statement on Atlantic Ocean Cooperation were to collect critical baseline information about the unknown and poorly understood deep-water area.
The expedition mapped over 52,000 square kilometres (20,400 square miles), an area almost three times the size of New Jersey, and acquired multibeam bathymetry, backscatter, sub-bottom and water column sonar data.
More information on this expedition can be found on NOAA’s website.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

$48-million Triton 36000/2 submersible takes you to the bottom of the deepest oceans

The oceans are the largest, yet least understood ecosystems on our planet, and vital to our survival. Modern submersibles are finally allowing us to explore and witness the wonders at the heart of the ocean...

From New Atlas by David Szondy

If you like the water, don't mind cramped spaces, and have a spare US$48 million lying around, then Triton Submarines has a submersible that can take you and a passenger to the bottom of the deepest ocean.
With its support ship thrown in for the sticker price, the Triton 36000/2 Hadal Exploration System is designed to make repeated visits to the nadir of the seabed for science, exploration, or the ultimate joyride.

Submersibles have come a long way in the past half century.
In the 1960s they were the reserve of major navies, scientific institutes, and pioneering deep-sea engineering firms.
Today, they've become the playthings of the very rich.
For the right price, you can buy a wide variety of underwater vessels, with Triton even working on a luxury submersible with Aston Martin.

 Introducing the new Triton Submarines 'Hadal Exploration System - 36000/2'.
The world's first manned submersible commercially certified for repeatable exploration to the deepest point on Earth.
Triton 36000/2 during recovery (Credit: Triton Submarines)

But as with all luxury items, the private submersible market is a game of oneupmanship and the Triton 36000/2 is about as oneupmany as you can get.
This isn't just an acrylic sphere with electric motors and some ballast that can be dropped off the boat dock of a superyacht for a quick spin around the coral reef.
It's a cutting-edge deep-sea vessel that can rival the real record breakers.
And though anyone with the scratch can buy it, the system is also being marketed to governments, philanthropic organizations, and research institutes.

The Triton 36000/2 pressure hull

What sets the Triton 36000/2 apart is its spherical, 3.54-inch-thick (90-mm) titanium pressure hull that Triton says took new, advanced forging techniques to produce without any welds or similar weak spots.
With an inner diameter of 59 in (1.5 m), it can carry two passengers in its ergonomically-designed leather seats to the deepest spot in the ocean – the Challenger Deep, which bottoms out at about 36,000 ft (11,000 m).
At that point, the water is always near freezing, in total darkness, and the pressure is in excess of 16,000 psi (1,089 ATM).

 Triton 36000/2 being launched

This is a place that only three people have visited before and only as one-offs.
According to Triton, the Triton 36000/2 has been tested at the Krylov State Research Center in St.
Petersburg, Russia to 20,305 psi (1,382 ATM), as well as on deep dives in the Bahamas.
It has a pressure safety factor at least 20 percent greater than it will ever encounter.
In addition, it can go to those depths repeatedly on trips of over 16 hours – including the 2.5-hour descent.
Triton claims that this repeatability is a first for manned submersibles operating that such depths.

The Triton 36000/2 is built to make repeated dives to the deepest ocean sites on Earth

To achieve this, the 11.7-tonne (25,700-lb) vessel has a 64-kWh, 24-V electrical power system running on Li-Fe-P batteries that supply the life support systems, manipulator, 10 electric thrusters, four wide-angle cameras and ten 20,000-lumen LED lamps.
In the event of an emergency, it has life support for 96 hours and can jettison its batteries, thrusters, manipulator, and ballast to achieve positive buoyancy.

Because the Triton 36000/2 is designed for extreme ocean depths, the purchase price includes its support ship, the DSSV Pressure Drop.
This 224-ft (68-m) diesel electric vessel displaces 2,000 gross tons and can carry 47 passengers and crew as well as the Triton 36000/2.
The former US Navy submarine seeker and NOAA science and survey vessel has a stern-mounted A-frame for releasing and recovering the submersible, as well as a climate-controlled hangar, support systems, wet and dry labs, specimen freezers, and a media suite.
In addition it has the latest Kongsberg-Simrad EM-124 multi-beam sonar for topographic mapping of the ocean floor.

A lander on the seabed

And like any good seller, Triton is also throwing in three unmanned landers with L3 Systems-supplied acoustic modems to aid in the Triton 36000/2's navigation and to relay communications to the mothership.
They also have six push-core samplers for collecting geological and biological samples from the seafloor, as well as up to 10 L (2.6 gal) of seawater.
They can also record data on the way up and down using their conductivity, temperature and depth sensors, and their time-lapse cameras.

Locations for the Triton 36000/2 dive expedition

The Triton 36000/2 is currently on a world expedition during which it will conduct over 50 dives to the five deepest locations on Earth.
These include the Puerto Rican Trench, the Meteor Deep in the Southern Ocean, the Molloy Deep off Greenland, and the Challenger Deep in the Marianas Trench, along with other dives to historic shipwrecks.
Once these are completed, the Triton 36000/2 submersible will be available for delivery in 2019.

Links :

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Canada CHS layer update in the GeoGarage platform

36 nautical raster charts updated

Helping the shipping industry adapt to climate change

From Copernicus

Ships are responsible for ninety per cent of the worldwide transport of goods.
Playing such an important role in world trade and economy, the shipping industry needs to be able to predict how it will be affected by evolutions in the climate and to adapt accordingly.
This is where data from the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), implemented by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), come in.
Global climate datasets relevant to the shipping industry are being bundled into a Global Shipping Service to aid decision-making and support medium- and long-term planning.

The shipping industry is influenced both positively and negatively by climate change.
Increases in tropical storms and ocean temperatures can pose problems for ships, but rising sea levels allow larger ships to enter harbours that were previously too shallow, and melting ice makes it much easier for ships to traverse the Arctic.

The Northwest and Northeast Arctic Passages.
The opening of the Northeast passage is interesting for Europe.
Credit: Susie Harder, Arctic Council

When the Arctic passage is open, the time required to travel between parts of Europe and Asia is significantly reduced, decreasing the fuel usage and associated emissions.
Not only is this good for the environment, it also reduces operational costs – potentially leading to reduced prices for customers.

The industry is extremely interested in the opening of the route, although there are ethical questions surrounding sending ships to the Arctic.
Oil spillages, for example, pose huge dangers for the Arctic environment, and clearing pathways by breaking-up ice speeds up the melting process.

 Overview of the arctic route availability application.
The dotted red line represents the standard north-east passage route.
The white region is the average ice coverage for the selected month and year.
The bar plot depicts the time window during which the standard north-east passage route is considered navigable.
Different shades of green correspond to different route availability thresholds, i.e. the ratio between the ice-covered distance and total navigation distance.

C3S is currently working with a variety of contractors, including Offshore Navigation, who are developing the Global Shipping Service.
“This is the first service that allows the industry to see how the climate will affect shipping routes,” explains Carlo Buontempo, who oversees the project on behalf of C3S.
“Several companies have already expressed their interest in using the service when it is up and running.”

Overview of the shaft power application.
The map shows the average wind speed and wave contours, as well as the selected shipping route.
The percentile plot shows the required shaft power along the route to maintain the selected ship type at the selected speed over ground.

The Global Shipping Service will include a variety of tools to help the industry, including:
An Arctic route model that estimates the number of days per year that a given route will be available, based on projected ice conditions in the Arctic.
A fuel consumption model that calculates the impact of meteorological and oceanic conditions on set routes, as well as the seasonal forecast of the cost of a route.
An iceberg drifting model that defines areas containing icebergs, helping ships to navigate the northern oceans.

The drifting of very large icebergs from northern Canada into the open ocean, during which time they also shrink. The yellow colour symbolises icebergs that are ten times larger than those symbolised by the purple colour.
Credit: The C3S for Global Shipping Project Team

The Global Shipping Service uses many different types of data, including raw observations, seasonal predictions and climate projections.
C3S provides information on the wind, waves, ocean current, sea surface pressure and temperature, and ice thickness and concentration.
All of this information is publicly available via the Climate Data Store.

Exciting opportunities for new trade routes?
Last month, Maersk, one of the world’s largest logistics firms, sailed a cargo ship from Asia to Europe through a route north of Russia for the first time.

The Global Shipping Service will be built around a web application including a world map with predefined routes and charts of the essential climate variables most relevant to the shipping industry.

Kris Lemmens from Offshore Navigation explains further, “A menu allows users to select the month of interest, the desired variables to be represented, and the time scale. The user selects a route and sees their chosen climate variables plotted along that route on the map.”
The C3S data are available on three different time scales ranging from months to decades. This assists the industry with both short- and long-term planning and investment.”

Data from ECMWF showing the percentage of waves that are higher than 3.5 metres across the world.
The Global Shipping service uses this kind of data to help their users plan shipping routes.
Credit: ECMWF

Once these tools are ready for use, the team would like to expand their services with statistics related to cargo loss, ship hull stress and the accumulation of small plants and animals on the ship.
They are also considering a function that allows users to create their own routes.

“The development of this service would not have been possible were it not for the variety of skills and knowledge brought in by the different contractors,” concludes Lemmens.
“We are delighted that we have been given the opportunity to work on a project with such high importance and relevance to the world economy, and we are certain that this will be a fantastic service for the community.”

Links :

Monday, October 15, 2018

Norway NHS layer update in the GeoGarage platform

126 nautical raster charts updated

Expedition into Belize Blue Hole could unlock ancient Mayan secrets

The Mysterious Belize Great Blue Hole is a large underwater hole off the coast of Belize.
It lies near the center of Lighthouse Reef, a small atoll 100 kilometers (62 mi) from the mainland and Belize City.
The hole is perfectly circular in shape, over 300 meters (1000 ft) across (diameter), 3140 feet circumference and 125 meters (410 ft) deep.
It was formed as a limestone cave system during the last glacial period when the sea level was 400 to 500 feet below present time and was dry land.
Last glacial period began about 120,000 years ago and end about 15,000 years ago.
Reaching the maximum extension 26,500 years ago.
At the end the ocean began to rise, the caves flooded, and the roof collapsed.
Blue Hole in Belize with the GeoGarage platform (NGA chart)

From 9News by Mark Saunokonoko

A world-first submarine expedition, involving billionaire Richard Branson, will explore the darkest depths of Belize's Blue Hole, using military-grade sonar to map the sinkhole's vast underwater interior in wondrous detail.

Situated 70km off the Belize coast, the giant Blue Hole is one of the world's leading scuba dive spots, and the UNESCO site is believed to hold clues to the mystery of how the Mayan civilisation collapsed between 800 and 1000 AD.

The bottom of the Blue Hole, which measures 124 metres deep, has been reached by divers before. But the environment, enveloped in total darkness, is inhospitable and divers are unable to linger for long periods.

It is hoped that powerful lighting and sonar rigged to a number of agile three-man submarines will expose the immense space which formed hundreds of thousands of years ago during the last Ice Age.

Expedition leader Harvey Flemming says the large team, which includes Branson and Fabien Cousteau, grandson of famed ocean explorer Jacques, don't really know what they will find.
"It's a wildcard … I'm excited to get there and jump in and see what it is all about," Flemming tells from the Aquatica submarine base in Vancouver, Canada.

Flemming says his submarines will be armed with sonar so strong it will be possible to detect if a coin on the hole's floor is facing heads or tails, from 15 metres away and in the dark.

When the mission is complete high-resolution maps will be rendered from the sonar scans, giving scientists and oceanographers an extremely precise, never-before-seen understanding of the hole and its cave system.
"We're really excited to see what we'll see. We don't really know for sure. Maybe a body, who knows? It is totally open for discovery."

Geologists on the team will gather evidence in an attempt to better understand the effect of climate change over the last 100,000 years.
The role of climate change in the development and demise of the classic Maya civilisation has long been debated and studied by researchers.

Potentially significant rock formations and tiny imperfections on cave walls deep inside the hole, which will be made clearly visible by sonar, could add further weight to theories drought triggered the collapse of the Mayans.

What is certain is Flemming's submarines will come across huge stalactites, dripstone sheets and columns inside the blue hole.
Geologists believe these structures formed when sea levels were much lower.
There is no oxygen at all in the water in the farthest reaches of the hole, so marine life is sparse in the anoxic and black conditions.

Flemming says his team will probably make two dives each day over a fortnight period, allowing them to methodically build out the resolution and complexity of the sonar map.
Branson, a known intrepid explorer with an interest in air and space travel, will pilot some of the submarine dives, Flemming says.

Ramon Llaneza diving rebreather explore stargate the entrance to alien underworld in Belize and Bahamas.
Watch more details about this exploration at .
Believed to be the world's largest feature of its kind, the Great Blue Hole is part of the larger Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, a World Heritage site of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
The hole itself is the opening to a system of caves and passageway that penetrate this undersea mountain.
In various places, massive limestone stalactites hang down from what was once the ceiling of air-filled caves thousand of years before the end of the last Ice Age 15,000 years ago.
When the ice melted the sea level rose, flooding the caves.
This process occurred in stages.
Evidence for this are the shelves and ledges, carved into the limestone by the sea, which run the complete interior circumference of the Blue Hole at various depths.
The Blue Hole is a "karst- eroded sinkhole."
It was once a cave at the center of an underground tunnel complex whose ceiling collapsed.
Some of the tunnels are thought to be linked right through to the mainland, though this has never been conclusively proved.
Notable are the large population of sharks such as lemon, black tip, reef, hammerhead, and bull sharks. Mysterious and legends always have been around the Belize Blue Hole.
This was the entrance to Xibalba?.
It's the kind of underwater geology that inspires speculation about aliens creating geometrically perfect anomalies, mermaids and monsters living in darkness.
I explored the bottom of the Blue Hole perimeter (3,140 feet circumference).
To do this I dove down twice, reaching the depth of 375' feet which took 4 to 5 hours of diving each day.

Scuba divers will drop lines and various items of equipment into the hole.
A documentary crew will film the expedition, which will be live streamed to a global online audience.

The deeper divers go, the danger increases.
Divers can be hit with nitrogen narcosis below 30 metres, a phenomenon where one’s decision making is severely impaired.
Also known as the “martini effect”, fatalities can occur as divers are overcome by symptoms of dizziness, euphoria and panic.
"There are typical risks associated with any marine operation,” Flemming says.
"But we will bring the necessary equipment and rescue vehicles to circumvent that."

The Stingray SR500 model submarines, manufactured by Flemming's company, Aquatica, are fitted out with a 96-hour life support system, in case anything should go wrong.
Entanglement poses one of the biggest dangers to the submarines.

Flemming says the expedition, which last month was sanctioned by the Belize government, is likely to begin before Christmas.

Links :

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Drowning in plastic

Our blue planet is facing one its biggest threats in human history.
Trillions of pieces of plastic are choking the very lifeblood of our earth, and every marine animal - from the smallest plankton to the largest of mammals - is being affected.
But can we turn back this growing plastic tide before it is too late?
In this 90-minute special wildlife biologist Liz Bonnin visits scientists working at the cutting edge of plastics research.
She will work with some of the world’s leading marine biologists and campaigners to discover the true dangers of plastic in our oceans and what it means for the future of all life on our planet, including for us.
Liz travels 10,000 miles to a remote island off the coast of Australia which is the nesting site for a population of seabirds: Flesh Footed Shearwaters.
Newly-hatched chicks are unable to regurgitate effectively, so they are filling up on deadly plastic. In America she joins an emergency mission to save an entangled grey seal pup found in some of the world’s busiest fishing areas, and visits the Coral Triangle that stretches from Papua New Guinea to the Solomon Islands to find out more from top coral scientists trying to work out why plastic is so lethal to the reefs, a fragile ecosystem that contain 25 percent of all marine life.
Liz learns that the world’s biggest rivers have been turned into huge plastic arteries, transporting 50 percent of all plastic that arrives in the ocean.
She travels to Indonesia - where she watches a horrifying raft of plastic rubbish travel down one of the main rivers, the Citarum.
Here, 60 percent of fish species have died, meaning that fishermen are now forced to collect plastic to sell instead of fish.
With the world only now waking up to this emerging crisis, this film will look at whether scientists have found any solutions.
Liz meets the 24 year-old inventor of a monumental 600-metre construction that will travel across the ocean’s ‘garbage patches’, collecting millions of pieces of plastic pollution.
Liz also meets a local environmental campaigner who is working with volunteers and the Indonesian army to clean up the worst affected areas, and a young entrepreneur who has invented an alternative to plastic packaging made from seaweed.
Plastic in our oceans is one of the greatest environmental challenges of our time and this film hopes to add to the urgent and vitally important debate of how to solve this global crisis.

source : BBC program

In the 1950s, scientists invented a new material that would change the world forever: plastic.
Cheap, durable, sanitary, strong, and light – and, as we have seen in the years since, very, very difficult to get rid of once we are through with it.
About 70 percent of our discarded plastic winds up in open dumps or landfills, but much winds up in an even worse place: the ocean.
David Pogue reports on why, even with ramped-up recycling efforts, it is so hard to get rid of plastic.
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Saturday, October 13, 2018

The sea is the future

Autonomous maritime technology will change the world.
Making maritime logistics the most efficient, safest and most sustainable transportation alternative.

Friday, October 12, 2018

New Zealand Linz layer update in the GeoGarage platform

7 nautical raster charts updated

Scientists studying ocean productivity have uncovered a volcanic lost world teeming with marine life off the Tasmanian coast.

Mapped chain of volcanic seamounts
From CSIRO by Matt Marrison

Scientists studying ocean productivity have uncovered a volcanic lost world teeming with marine life off the Tasmanian coast.

The lost world was uncovered during detailed seafloor mapping by CSIRO research vessel Investigator while on a 25-day research voyage led by scientists from the Australian National University (ANU).

 CSIRO research vessel Investigator ©Owen Foley

The mapping has revealed, for the first time, a diverse chain of volcanic seamounts located in deep water about 400km east of Tasmania.

 Seamounts east of Tasmania with the GeoGarage platform
(not displayed on AHS nautical chart)

The seamounts tower up to 3000m from the surrounding seafloor but the highest peaks are still far beneath the waves, at nearly 2000m below the surface.

 Multibeam mapping of Tasmanian seamount chain

Dr Tara Martin, from the CSIRO mapping team, said the mapping offered a window into a previously unseen and spectacular underwater world.
“Our multibeam mapping has revealed in vibrant detail, for the first time, a chain of volcanic seamounts rising up from an abyssal plain about 5000m deep, Dr Martin said.
"The seamounts vary in size and shape, with some having sharp peaks while others have wide flat plateaus, dotted with small conical hills that would have been formed by ancient volcanic activity.
“Having detailed maps of such areas is important to help us better manage and protect these unique marine environments, and provides a stepping stone for future research.
“This is a very diverse landscape and will undoubtedly be a biological hotspot that supports a dazzling array of marine life,” she said.

Ship data collected during the voyage revealed spikes in ocean productivity over the chain of seamounts, with increased phytoplankton activity and marine animal observations in the area.

Dr Eric Woehler from BirdLife Tasmania, who was on Investigator with a team conducting seabird and marine mammal surveys, was astounded by the amount of life they saw above the seamounts.
“While we were over the chain of seamounts, the ship was visited by large numbers of humpback and long-finned pilot whales,” Dr Woehler said.
“We estimated that at least 28 individual humpback whales visited us on one day, followed by a pod of 60-80 long-finned pilot whales the next.
We also saw large numbers of seabirds in the area including four species of albatross and four species of petrel.”
“Clearly, these seamounts are a biological hotspot that supports life, both directly on them, as well as in the ocean above,” he said.

Humpback whales ©Eric Woehler
Research indicates that seamounts may be vital stopping points for some migratory animals, especially whales.
Whales may use these seafloor features as navigational aids during their migration.
“These seamounts may act as an important signpost on an underwater migratory highway for the humpback whales we saw moving from their winter breeding to summer feeding grounds,” Dr Woehler said.
“Lucky for us and our research, we parked right on top of this highway of marine life!”

The life and origin of the seamounts will be further studied later this year when Investigator returns to the region for two further research voyages departing in November and December.

A range of surveys will be conducted on these voyages, including capturing high resolution video of marine life on the seamounts using deep water cameras, and collecting rock samples to better understand their formation and origin.

Dr Woehler will be on the first of these voyages and expects further surprises on the return visit.
“We expect that these seamounts will be a biological hotspot year round, and the summer visit will give us another opportunity to uncover the mysteries of the marine life they support,” said Dr Woehler.

Other seamounts south of Tasmania

 also poorly reported on AHS nautical charts

Research vessel Investigator is Australia’s only research vessel dedicated to blue-water research, and is owned and operated by CSIRO – Australia’s national science agency.
The vessel conducts research year round, and is made available to Australian researchers and their international collaborators.

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Thursday, October 11, 2018

The hurricanes, and climate-change questions, keep coming. Yes, They’re linked.

Rising ocean temperatures have fueled some of the most devastating storms in recent years.
Kendra Pierre-Louis, a reporter on The New York Times’s climate team, explains how.

From NYTimes by Henry Fountain

Scientists are increasingly confident of the links between global warming and hurricanes.

In a warming world, they say, hurricanes will be stronger, for a simple reason: Warmer water provides more energy that feeds them.

Hurricanes and other extreme storms will also be wetter, for a simple reason: Warmer air holds more moisture.

And, storm surges from hurricanes will be worse, for a simple reason that has nothing to do with the storms themselves: Sea levels are rising.

 NOAA satellite image of Hurricane Michael off the Gulf Coast, (10/10/2018)

Researchers cannot say, however, that global warming is to blame for the specifics of the latest storm, Hurricane Michael, which grew to Category 4 with sustained winds of 155 miles an hour, as it hit the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday.
Such attribution may come later, when scientists compare the real-world storm to a fantasy-world computer simulation in which humans did not pump billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

There are already tantalizing suggestions, however, that the warming caused by all those greenhouse-gas emissions has had an impact on Michael.
A 2013 study showed that sea-surface temperatures in the eastern Gulf of Mexico have warmed over the past century by more than what would be expected from natural variability.
These are the waters that the hurricane churned across as it headed toward the Panhandle and its maximum wind speeds more than doubled.

“That general region has been one where there has been long-term climate warming,” said Thomas R. Knutson, a climate scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and lead author of the study.
“We have reason to believe humans have made the water warmer.”

While there is debate over whether global warming will lead to more frequent hurricanes — many models suggest there may actually be fewer in the future, although with a greater proportion of major ones — scientists are generally agreed about the effects of warming on intensity, as measured by wind speeds.
“We have a very clear theory on how tropical cyclones intensify,” said Suzana J. Camargo, an ocean and climate physicist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, N.Y.

The theory, largely the work of Kerry Emanuel, a scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, holds that the temperature difference between ocean and upper atmosphere determines how much a storm intensifies.
A bigger temperature difference leads to the release of more energy into the storm.
“The warmer you have the ocean, the bigger the difference,” Dr. Camargo said.

The theory has been reinforced by computer simulations that produce more intense storms with rising ocean temperatures.
“We understand the theory behind it, and we have seen it in the models,” Dr. Camargo said.

As for storms producing more precipitation, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has concluded that human-caused warming has affected the amount of water vapor in the air, and that extreme precipitation events have already increased in many parts of the world.
The group’s latest report, issued this week, found that such extreme precipitation will likely further increase if the world cannot limit overall warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (about 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).

Dr. Knutson cautioned that while this increase in rain and snow amounts has been seen in extreme events in general, of which hurricanes are a subset, “we haven’t actually seen this in the data for hurricanes yet.”
But if a given amount of air flowing into a hurricane carries more water vapor, he said, “that enhances the water supply to the storm so it can create higher rain rates.”

Photo 10/10/2018, 11:52 PM ; source : NOAA

As Hurricane Michael approached land on Wednesday, forecasters warned that the worst damage could come from a storm surge of as much as 13 feet.
Florida, both along the Gulf and the Atlantic Ocean, is exceptionally vulnerable to storm surge, with strings of low-lying communities on the coasts and along waterways that are connected to the sea.

Storm surge occurs when winds pile water up as it approaches land, and many factors — including the contours of the seafloor, topography of bays and inlets and the stage of the tide when the surge hits — can affect it.
But rising sea levels can have an impact, too.
“What’s not emphasized enough is the sea level-rise connection,” Dr. Camargo said.
“Even if there weren’t changes in the hurricane itself, just because you have sea-level rise you end up having more flooding.”

Seas are rising for two main reasons: water expands slightly as it warms, and glaciers and ice sheets add more water as they melt.
But the rise can vary because of local factors like uplift or subsidence of the land.

In the past four decades, global average sea levels have risen by about four inches. That may not seem like much, and in a 15-foot storm surge it may not add much to the destruction.
“But we’re not talking about a few inches anymore by the end of the century,” Dr. Camargo said.
“We’re talking about a foot or so. Then, it makes a difference.”

Links :

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

A 500-year-old map used by Columbus reveals its secrets

Previously hidden text on a 500-year old map reveals new clues about the cartographer’s sources and its influences on important maps that came later.
Images by Lazarus project / Megavision / Rit / Emel, courtesy of the Beinecke library, Yale university

From National Geographic by Greg Miller

Newly uncovered text opens a time capsule of one of history’s most influential maps.

This 1491 map is the best surviving map of the world as Christopher Columbus knew it as he made his first voyage across the Atlantic.
In fact, Columbus likely used a copy of it in planning his journey

Much of the text on the 1491 map by Martellus map had faded to the point of illegibility (top), until researchers used modern imaging tools to uncover much of it (bottom).

The map, created by the German cartographer Henricus Martellus, was originally covered with dozens of legends and bits of descriptive text, all in Latin.
Most of it has faded over the centuries.

 Multispectral imaging uses different wavelengths of light
in different combinations to reveal otherwise invisible features.
These images show the southern tip of India on Martellus’s map.

Invisible with regular light (left), a legend describing the panotii, a type of large-eared, part-human monster was revealed with multispectral imaging. 

This fragment of text on the Martellus map, revealed by multispectral imaging, appears to describe a porcupine that lives in a cave near the northern coast of Asia and throws its spines at men and dogs who hunt them.

But now researchers have used modern technology to uncover much of this previously illegible text.
In the process, they’ve discovered new clues about the sources Martellus used to make his map and confirmed the huge influence it had on later maps, including a famous 1507 map by Martin Waldseemuller that was the first to use the name “America.”

Martellus and Colombus

Contrary to popular myth, 15th-century Europeans did not believe that Columbus would sail off the edge of a flat Earth, says Chet Van Duzer, the map scholar who led the study.
But their understanding of the world was quite different from ours, and Martellus’s map reflects that.

Its depiction of Europe and the Mediterranean Sea is more or less accurate, or at least recognizable.
But southern Africa is oddly shaped like a boot with its toe pointing to the east, and Asia is also twisted out of shape.
The large island in the South Pacific roughly where Australia can actually be found must have been a lucky guess, Van Duzer says, as Europeans wouldn’t discover that continent for another century.
Martellus filled the southern Pacific Ocean with imaginary islands, apparently sharing the common mapmakers’ aversion to empty spaces.

Another quirk of Martellus’s geography helps tie his map to Columbus’s journey: the orientation of Japan.
At the time the map was created, Europeans knew Japan existed, but knew very little about its geography.
Marco Polo’s journals, the best available source of information about East Asia at the time, had nothing to say about the island’s orientation.

When Columbus made landfall in the West Indies on October 12, 1492, he began looking for Japan, still believing that he’d achieved his goal of finding a route to Asia.
He was likely convinced Japan must be near because he’d travelled roughly the same distance that Martellus’s map suggests lay between Europe and Japan, Van Duzer argues in a new book detailing his findings.

Van Duzer says it’s reasonable to speculate that as Columbus sailed down the coast of Central and South America on later voyages, he pictured himself sailing down the coast of Asia as depicted on Martellus’s map.

Multispectral imaging revealed remarkable detail about the rivers, mountains,
and cities of southern Africa on Martellus’s map.

Restoring a time capsule

The map is roughly 3.5 by 6 feet.
Such a large map would have been a luxury object, likely commissioned by a member of the nobility, but there’s no shield or dedication to indicate who that might have been.
It was donated anonymously to Yale University in 1962 and remains in the university’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Over time, much of the text had faded to almost perfectly match the background, making it impossible to read.
But in 2014 Van Duzer won a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities that allowed him and a team of collaborators to use a technique called multispectral imaging to try to uncover the hidden text.

The method involved taking many hundreds of photographs of the map with different wavelengths of light and processing the images to find the combination of wavelengths that best improves legibility on each part of the map.

interactive map created by one of Van Duzer’s colleagues here

Many of the map legends describe the regions of the world and their inhabitants.
“Here are found the Hippopodes: they have a human form but the feet of horses,” reads one previously illegible text over Central Asia.
Another describes “monsters similar to humans whose ears are so large that they can cover their whole body.” Many of these fantastical creatures can be traced to texts written by the ancient Greeks.

The most surprising revelation, however, was in the interior of Africa, Van Duzer says.
Martellus included many details and place names that appear to trace back to an Ethiopian delegation that visited Florence in 1441.
Van Duzer says he knows of no other 15th-century European map that has this much information about the geography of Africa, let alone information derived from native Africans instead of European explorers.
“I was blown away,” he says.

The imaging also strengthens the case that Martellus’s map was a major source for two even more famous cartographic objects: the oldest surviving terrestrial globe, created by Martin Behaim in 1492, and Martin Waldseemuller’s 1507 world map, the first to apply the label “America” to the continents of the western hemisphere.
(The Library of Congress purchased Waldseemuller’s map for a record $10 million in 2003.)

Waldseemuller liberally copied text from Martellus, Van Duzer found after comparing the two maps.
The practice was common in those days—in fact, Martellus himself apparently copied the sea monsters on his map from an encyclopedia published in 1491, an observation that helps date the map.

Despite their commonalities, the maps by Martellus and Waldseemuller have one glaring difference.
Martellus depicts Europe and Africa nearly at the left edge of his map, with only water beyond.
Waldseemuller’s map extends further to the west and depicts new lands on the other side of the Atlantic.
Only 16 years had passed between the making of the two maps, but the world had changed forever.

Martellus’s map shows it running north-south.
Correct, but almost certainly another lucky guess says Van Duzer, as no other known map of the time shows Japan unambiguously oriented this way.
Columbus’s son Ferdinand later wrote that his father believed Japan to be oriented north-south, indicating that he very likely used Martellus’s map as a reference.

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