Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Four new seamounts discovered in the high seas

Silhouetted in front of a map of Puerto Rico, Santiago Herrera (Principal Investigator, Lehigh University) gives a seminar to scientists and crew to familiarise them with the subject matter of the cruise.

Tallest of underwater features discovered by crew of research vessel Falkor (too) stands over 1.5 miles high

The crew of Schmidt Ocean Institute’s research vessel Falkor (too) discovered four underwater mountains — the tallest of which is over 1.5 miles high — on a January transit from Golfito, Costa Rica, to Valparaiso, Chile, the organization announced today.

The new seamounts, which range in size from approximately 1,591 meters (5,220 feet) to 2,681 meters (8,796 feet), add to the crew’s discovery last November of an underwater mountain that was twice the height of the Burj Khalifa at 1,600 meters (5,259 feet) in international waters off Guatemala.
seamount 2681 m found off of Chile
The largest of the four seamounts recently discovered by Schmidt Ocean Institute experts is 2,681 meters tall, covers 450 square kilometers, and sits 1,150 meters below the surface.
It was discovered during a mapping transit from Costa Rica to Chile in January 2024.
seamount 1591 m found off of Peru
seamount 1873 m
found off of Peru
seamount 1644 m found off of Peru
Using multibeam mapping, Schmidt Ocean Institute’s marine technicians and trained hydrographic experts, John Fulmer and Tomer Ketter, confirmed that the seafloor features had not been previously included in any bathymetric database.
The seamounts were found as the technicians plotted a course to examine gravity anomalies during the transit from Costa Rica to Chile.
Changes in the shape of the seafloor appear as very slight shifts in the Ocean surface; a deep trench will cause a slight depression, and a mountain can create an almost imperceptible bump on top of the Ocean. These subtle clues can help experts make discoveries and create better, more detailed maps of the seafloor.

“We were fortunate enough to be able to plan an opportunistic mapping route using these gravity anomalies in satellite altimetry data,” said Fulmer. 
Eulogio Soto (Scientist, Universidad de Valparaíso) and his colleagues work on sediment cores in the Dirty Wet Lab while images of multibeam sonar readings of the seafloor below them are rendered on nearby monitors.
“Examining gravity anomalies is a fancy way of saying we looked for bumps on a map, and when we did, we located these very large seamounts while staying on schedule for our first science expedition in Chile at the start of this year.”

Whenever sea conditions permit, the crew collects mapping data as the research vessel moves, or transits, from one location to another.
Since 2012, scientists on Schmidt Ocean Institute’s research vessels Falkor and Falkor (too) have mapped about 1.5 million square kilometers and discovered 29 seamounts, hills, and trenches.
Underwater mountains and trenches often host deep-sea coral reefs, sponges, and anemones living alongside organisms that find food, shelter, and a rocky surface to cling to along mountain slopes.
Research vessel Falkor (too) photographed during an expedition that tested new high-resolution mapping methods. Seafloor mapping is integral to oceanographic research.
Bathymetric data illustrates the seafloor’s depth, contours, and physical features.

“A map is a fundamental tool for understanding our planet — locating seamounts almost always leads us to understudied biodiversity hotspots,” said Dr. Jyotika Virmani, executive director of Schmidt Ocean Institute. 
“Every time we find these bustling seafloor communities, we make incredible new discoveries and advance our knowledge of life on Earth.”

STRM bathymetry off of Peru coast via the GeoGarage platform
The absence of detailed underwater topography, or bathymetric data, hinders the ability to manage marine resources sustainably, safely navigate vessels at sea, and safeguard coastal communities. Schmidt Ocean Institute is a partner of The Nippon Foundation-GEBCO Seabed 2030 Project – an ambitious effort accelerating ocean mapping efforts and working towards mapping the entire seafloor by 2030.

“These incredible discoveries by Schmidt Ocean Institute underscore the importance of a complete map of the seabed in our quest for understanding Earth’s final frontier,” said Jamie McMichael-Phillips, project director of Seabed 2030. 
“With 75 percent of the ocean still to be mapped, there is much to be uncovered. Ocean mapping is crucial to our understanding of the planet and, in turn, our ability to ensure its protection and sustainable management.”

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Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Industry majors join forces to face the situation in the Red Sea

About 15% of global trade flows through this region – 
making it one of the most important waterways on earth.
Credit: IBF

From Safety4Sea by The Editorial Team

In response to the persistent attacks by Houthis in the Red Sea area, international organizations with significant influence are actively seeking solutions on multiple fronts. 
The Houthis release an infographic showing all the ships that have been attacked

Continuous attacks posing threats

These ongoing attacks have become a cause for concern within the global community, posing security challenges not only for the crew members but also for the broader global supply chain.
Just yesterday, British maritime security firm Ambrey reported that a Belize-flagged, UK-registered, and Lebanese-operated open hatch general cargo ship came under attack in the Bab al-Mandab Strait, 35 nautical miles south of Yemen’s Al Mukha.

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) received the report, confirming an explosion in close proximity to the vessel, causing damage.
Fortunately, all crew members are reported to be safe.

This attack marks one of the many that have taken place since November.
In response, the industry strives to address these issues and find effective measures to safeguard both personnel and the integrity of the worldwide logistics network.
Yemen's Houthis attacked the British ship Rubymar in the Gulf of Aden, Al Mayadeen reports.
The Houthis said the ship was seriously damaged and was on the verge of sinking, the crew had been rescued from the water.
Joint statement by the International Transport Workers’ Federation and the Joint Negotiating Group

The International Bargaining Forum (IBF) social partners are increasingly concerned about the actions taken by Houthi forces that are threatening the safety of transiting seafarers and vessels.

Following continued incidents in the Southern Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, the IBF Warlike Operations Area Committee (WOAC) convened on 7 February 2024 and agreed additional measures to support seafarers’ safety and welfare.

In response to these attacks, the IBF WOAC have agreed to expand the High Risk Area to include the Gulf of Aden and surrounding waters, please see the latest updated IBF list of designated risk areas for more detailed information.
Credit: IBF

Additionally, the IBF WOAC agreed:
  • To include into the existing conditions for the designated IBF High Risk Area for the Southern Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, the seafarers’ right to refuse to sail into the areawith repatriation at company’s cost and compensation equal to two months basic wage.
  • The two months basic pay compensation shall not be applicable if the seafarer is transferred to another vessel belonging or related to the same owner/manager, on the same rank and wages and all other terms.
  • There shall be no loss of earnings or entitlements during the transfer and the company shall be liable for all costs and subsistence during the transfer.
  • Seafarers must give seven days’ notice prior to entering the area, given the logistical constraints of passage and the difficulty to facilitate disembarkation in a safe port and mobilise repatriation in the area.
  • Seafarers who are onboard vessels within the High Risk Area or are due to transit into the High Risk Area within the seven-day window from the initial date of publication, will not be able to exercise their right to repatriation.
  • Collaboration between local and international governments, flag states, ports and airports will be crucial for seafarers to be repatriated safely and expeditiously, should they request it.
  • In the event that a vessel which was not scheduled to sail through the High Risk Area but has received instructions to cross within the seven-day notice period, seafarers will have the right to refuse to sail in the area, be repatriated at the company’s cost and receive compensation equal to two months basic pay.
Regardless of what is agreed between the social partners, the safety and security of seafarers is a global responsibility that requires global solutions.
Therefore, the IBF WOAC urges the international community to collaborate with local governments in the area to support international shipping and to ensure the safety of seafarers so that vessels can transit free from threat and aggression, as is their right under international law.
The decision to include seafarers’ right to refuse to sail was not a step taken lightly as this could negatively impact global trade, but the safety of the seafarers is paramount.
… said IBF in their statement

In addition, the IBF WOAC strongly condemns the actions of the Houthi forces that hijacked the car carrier Galaxy Leader on 19 November 2023, the crew of which are still being held hostage.

The social partners also urged all governments that have an interest in international shipping to do whatever they can to secure the immediate release of the Galaxy Leader and its crew, and for the Houthis to immediately cease further hostile activities.

Galaxy Leader ship
Today marks the three-month anniversary since the Houthis seized the Galaxy Leader and its 25 seafarers in the Red Sea.
Photo: Screenshot from video shared by Yemeni Armed Forces

Joint industry statement on the Galaxy Leader

Also on the subject of the Galaxy Leader, as Monday 19th February 2024 – marks the three-month anniversary since the Houthis seized the Galaxy Leader and its 25 seafarers in the Red Sea.
The crew has remained with the Houthis since then.

The maritime industry has joined together from around the world to express their concern for the seafarers who have been held hostage, and call on the Houthis to release the crew of the Galaxy Leader.

It was emphasized in the statement that the 25 seafarers comprising the crew of the Galaxy Leader are regarded as innocent victims of the ongoing aggression against world shipping.

The challenging situation they face is a significant concern, given the continuous attacks on the merchant shipping community.
It was underscored that all possible efforts should be undertaken by international organizations and states to ensure the release of the seafarers.
It is abhorrent that seafarers were seized by military forces and that they have been kept from their families and loved ones for too long. All 25 crew members of the Galaxy Leader must be released now

… concluded the organizations in their statement

Operation Aspides

Additionally, the European Union Naval Force (EUNAVFOR) has officially launched Operation Aspides, a new maritime mission aimed at addressing the increasing instability in the Red Sea.
This initiative comes in response to the escalating disruption of shipping in the region and is designed to complement the ongoing U.S.-led Operation Prosperity Guardian.

The formation of Operation Aspides signifies a unified effort by European Union member states, who, despite some divisions over the conflict in Gaza, reached a consensus in January to create a naval mission in the Red Sea.
The primary objective of Aspides is to strengthen deterrence in the area and provide defense for commercial vessels facing threats from Houthi attacks.

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Monday, February 19, 2024

Ocean temperatures keep shattering records—and stunning scientists

video Getty Images

From Wired by Matt Simon

Sea surface temperatures have been skyrocketing beyond expectations.
That may be a bad sign for hurricane season—and the health of ocean ecosystems.

FOR NEARLY A year now, a bizarre heating event has been unfolding across the world’s oceans.
In March 2023, global sea surface temperatures started shattering record daily highs, and have stayed that way since.

You can see 2023 in the orange line below, the other gray lines being previous years.
That solid black line is where we are so far in 2024—way, way above even 2023.
While we’re nowhere near the Atlantic hurricane season yet—that runs from June 1 through the autumn—keep in mind that cyclones feed on warm ocean water, which could well stay anomalously hot in the coming months.
Regardless, these surface temperature anomalies could be triggering major ecological problems already.

Courtesy of University of Maine

“In the tropical eastern Atlantic, it’s four months ahead of pace—it’s looking like it’s already June out there,” says Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami.
“It’s really getting to be strange that we’re just seeing the records break by this much, and for this long.”

You’ll notice from these graphs and maps that the temperature anomalies may be a degree or two Celsius warmer, which may not sound like much.
But for the seas, it really is: Unlike land, which rapidly heats and cools as day turns to night and back again, it takes a lot to warm up an ocean that may be thousands of feet deep.
So even an anomaly of mere fractions of a degree is significant.
“To get into the two or three or four degrees, like it is in a few places, it’s pretty exceptional,” says McNoldy.

Courtesy of University of Maine

So what’s going on here?
For one, the oceans have been steadily warming over the decades, absorbing something like 90 percent of the extra heat that humans have added to the atmosphere.
“The oceans are our saviors, in a way,” says biological oceanographer Francisco Chavez of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California.
“Things might be a lot worse in terms of climate impacts, because a lot of that heat is not only kept at the surface, it’s taken to depths.”

A major concern with such warm surface temperatures is the health of the ecosystems floating there: phytoplankton that bloom by soaking up the sun’s energy and the tiny zooplankton that feed on them.
If temperatures get too high, certain species might suffer, shaking the foundations of the ocean food web.

But more subtly, when the surface warms, it creates a cap of hot water, blocking the nutrients in colder waters below from mixing upwards.
Phytoplankton need those nutrients to properly grow and sequester carbon, thus mitigating climate change.
If warming-induced stratification gets bad enough, “we don’t see what we would call a ‘spring bloom,’” says Dennis Hansell, an oceanographer and biogeochemist at the University of Miami.
“Those are much harder to make happen if you don’t bring nutrients back up to the surface to support the growth of those algae.”

That puts serious pressure on an ecosystem that depends on these phytoplankton.
Making matters worse, the warmer water gets, the less oxygen it can hold.
“We have seen the growth of these oxygen minimum zones,” says Hansell.
“Organisms that need a lot of oxygen, they’re not too happy when the concentrations go down in any way—think of a tuna that is expending a lot of energy to race through the water.”

In addition to plankton dealing with ever-higher temperatures due to global warming, there’s also natural variability to consider here.
Less dust has been blowing off the Sahara Desert recently, for example.
Normally this plume wafts over to the Americas, forming a giant umbrella that shades all that Atlantic water.
But now the umbrella has partially folded up, allowing more of the sun to beat down on the ocean.

Weirder still, another contributing factor to ocean warming might be the 2020 regulations that drastically reduced the amount of sulfur allowed in shipping fuels.
“Basically overnight, it cut this aerosol pollution by about 75, 80 percent,” says Robert Rohde, lead scientist at Berkeley Earth, a nonprofit that gathers climate data.
“That was a good thing for human health—the air pollution was toxic.”

Courtesy of University of Maine

But sulfur aerosols attract water vapor, meaning that previously those ships would produce clouds in their wake—known as ship tracks—which, similar to Saharan dust, would bounce some of the sun’s energy back into space.
“Now that we’ve cut it back, it has the side effect that some of that air pollution—that marine smog, if you might—is no longer there,” Rohde says.
“The sky is clearer, so a little bit more sunlight is coming through.”
Thus shipping regulations may have contributed a little bit of ocean warming in heavily trafficked areas like the North Atlantic.
(In the graph above, the solid black line again shows 2024’s temperatures, this time specifically in the North Atlantic. Orange is 2023.)

Over in the Pacific, an El Niño band of warm water formed last summer and is now waning, both accounting for a good chunk of ocean warming globally and adding heat to the atmosphere to influence weather around the world.
El Niño is now waning.
The phenomenon and its counterpart La Niña—a band of cold water in the same area—are perfectly natural, but now they’re happening on top of that warming of the oceans that humans are responsible for.
“One of our challenges,” says Chavez, “is trying to tease out what these natural variations are doing in relation to the steady warming due to increasing CO2 in the atmosphere.”

Courtesy of Mbari, adapted from MESSIÉ AND CHAVEZ 2011

Now check out the graph above, which shows sea surface temperature anomalies since the late 1800s.
Things really started warming up in the 1980s, but notice the red spikes well before, in the early 1940s.
That’s associated with El Niños, says Chavez, showing just how powerful the events can be in influencing global ocean temperatures.

Still, sea surface temperatures started soaring last year well before El Niño formed.
Also, independent of that band of warm water in the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean has been boiling, as you can see in this map of January’s temperature anomalies relative to the mean between 1910 and 2009.
“The Atlantic has been record-breakingly warm since early March of 2023,” says McNoldy.
“It’s not even close.
That’s kind of the head-scratcher: Will it ever be back to just normal record-breaking instead of record-crushing? It’s just kind of crazy.”

Courtesy of MBARI, adapted from NOAA/ESRL/PSD

If you know that a warm ocean fuels Atlantic hurricanes, you might be wondering whether we’re now in danger of a cyclone forming in February.
But worry not.
“There are quite a few ingredients that hurricanes need, and warm ocean temperatures is just one of them,” says McNoldy.
For one, the low wind shear that hurricanes require to form isn’t there yet.
But, McNoldy adds, when those conditions do appear, they’ll take advantage of that warm ocean.
“We actually did see that a year ago with two named storms, Brett and Cindy, both in June in the middle of the tropical East Atlantic, which is incredibly odd,” he says.
“We were also looking at extremely warm ocean temperatures out there, where normally they would have been a little too cool.”

Last week, the US Climate Prediction Center put the odds of La Niña developing between June and August at 55 percent.
Whereas El Niño tends to create wind shear in the Atlantic, which beats down hurricanes, La Niña reduces wind shear.
“All other things being equal, La Niña acts to enhance Atlantic hurricane activity,” says McNoldy.
“When you have that influence on top of a very warm ocean, it’s probably cause for some concern.”

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