Tuesday, May 24, 2022

International satellite to track impacts of small ocean currents

NASA and CNES (French Space Agency) are collaborating to make the first global survey of Earth's surface fresh water and study fine-scale ocean currents with a new mission called SWOT, or Surface Water and Ocean Topography. 
SWOT will collect data on the height of Earth’s salt and fresh water – including oceans, lakes, and rivers – enabling researchers to track the location of water over time, which will help measure the effects of climate change.
SWOT is expected to launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base in central California in November 2022.
SWOT is a collaboration between NASA and the French space agency Centre National d’Etudes Spatial (CNES), with contributions from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and United Kingdom Space Agency (UK Space Agency).


The Surface Water and Ocean Topography mission will explore how the ocean absorbs atmospheric heat and carbon, moderating global temperatures and climate change.

Though climate change is driving sea level rise over time, researchers also believe that differences in surface height from place to place in the ocean can affect Earth’s climate.
These highs and lows are associated with currents and eddies, swirling rivers in the ocean, that influence how it absorbs atmospheric heat and carbon.

Enter the Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission, a joint effort of NASA and French space agency Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES), with contributions from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and the United Kingdom Space Agency.
Launching in November 2022, SWOT will collect data on ocean heights to study currents and eddies up to five times smaller than have been previously detectable.
It will also gather detailed information on freshwater lakes and rivers.

Observing the ocean at relatively small scales will help scientists assess its role in moderating climate change.
The planet’s largest storehouse of atmospheric heat and carbon, the ocean has absorbed more than 90% of the heat trapped by human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.

Much of the continued uptake of that heat – and the excess carbon dioxide and methane that produced it – is thought to occur around currents and eddies less than 60 miles (100 kilometers) across.
These flows are small relative to currents such as the Gulf Stream and the California Current, but researchers estimate that in the aggregate they transfer up to half the heat and carbon from surface waters to the ocean’s depths.

Better understanding this phenomenon may be key to determining whether there’s a ceiling to the ocean’s ability to absorb heat and carbon from human activities.

“What is the turning point at which the ocean starts releasing huge amounts of heat back into the atmosphere and accelerating global warming, rather than limiting it?” said Nadya Vinogradova Shiffer, SWOT’s program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
“SWOT can help answer one of the most critical climate questions of our time.”

Thinking Small

Existing satellites can’t detect smaller-scale currents and eddies, limiting research into how those features interact with each other and with larger-scale flows.

“That’s a place where we will learn a lot from having better observations of the small scales,” said J.
Thomas Farrar, a SWOT oceanography science lead with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Falmouth, Massachusetts.

In addition to helping researchers study the climate impacts of small currents, SWOT’s ability to “see” smaller areas of Earth’s surface will allow it to collect more precise data along coastlines, where rising ocean levels and the flow of currents can have immediate impacts on land ecosystems and human activity.

Higher seas, for example, can cause storm surges to penetrate farther inland.
Also, currents intensified by sea level rise may increase saltwater intrusion into deltas, estuaries, and wetlands, as well as groundwater supplies.

“In the open ocean, the whole phenomenon of drawing down heat and carbon will affect humanity for years to come,” said Lee-Lueng Fu, the SWOT project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.
“But in coastal waters, the effects of currents and sea height are felt over days and weeks. They affect human lives directly.”

So how will measuring ocean height lead to better knowledge of currents and eddies?

Researchers use height differences between points – known as the slope – to calculate the motion of currents.
The math accounts for the force of Earth’s gravity, which pulls water from high to low, and the planet’s rotation, which, in the Northern Hemisphere, bends the flow clockwise around high points and counterclockwise around low points.
The effect is the opposite in the south.

Systems of currents hundreds of miles wide flow around broad expanses of the ocean.
Along the way, smaller currents and eddies spin off and interact with one another.
When they come together, they drive water from the surface downward to colder depths, taking along heat and carbon from the atmosphere.
When those smaller currents and eddies flow apart, water from those colder depths rises to the surface, ready to absorb heat and carbon again.

This vertical movement of heat and carbon also occurs at eddies themselves.
In the Northern Hemisphere, clockwise eddies generate downward flows, while counterclockwise eddies create upward flows.
The reverse occurs in the Southern Hemisphere.

Filling in the Gaps

By measuring ocean heights down to 0.16-inch (0.4-centimeter) increments, as well as their slopes, SWOT’s two Ka-band Radar Interferometer (KaRIn) antennas will help researchers discern currents and eddies as small as 12 miles (20 kilometers) across.

SWOT will also employ a nadir altimeter, an older technology that can identify currents and eddies down to about 60 miles (100 kilometers) wide.
Where the nadir altimeter will point straight down and take data in one dimension, the KaRIn antennas will tilt.
This will enable the KaRIn antennas to scan the surface in two dimensions and, working in tandem, collect data with greater precision than the nadir altimeter alone.

“Currently, to get a two-dimensional view from a one-dimensional line, we take all of our one-dimensional lines and estimate what’s happening between them,” said Rosemary Morrow, a SWOT oceanography science lead at Laboratoire d’Études en Géophysique et Océanographie Spatiales in Toulouse, France.
“SWOT will directly observe what’s in the gaps.”

More About the Mission

SWOT is being jointly developed by NASA and CNES, with contributions from the CSA and the UK Space Agency.
JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California, leads the U.S.
component of the project.
For the flight system payload, NASA is providing the KaRIn instrument, a GPS science receiver, a laser retroreflector, a two-beam microwave radiometer, and NASA instrument operations.
CNES is providing the Doppler Orbitography and Radioposition Integrated by Satellite (DORIS) system, nadir altimeter, the KaRIn RF subsystem (with support from the UK Space Agency), the platform, and ground control segment.
CSA is providing the KaRIn high-power transmitter assembly.
NASA is providing the launch vehicle and associated launch services.

To learn more about the mission, visit:
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Monday, May 23, 2022

Safe Passage

NGA’s Safety of Navigation mission provides critical guidance to mariners and pilots

From NGA by Jim Hodges

While in the Navy, Ray Chartier, Jr. was the officer of the deck leading a submarine through undersea canyons using only instruments, training, and paper charts.
He was also the officer of the deck navigating an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf and back to the United States with faith in digital and paper charts to guide the ship through challenging areas of the world.
“I didn’t know where those charts came from,” Chartier said.
“I didn’t really care as long as they were accurate, I could do my mission, and I could get back home.”

Overseeing the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s (NGA) Safety of Navigation (SoN) mission as its Senior GEOINT Authority, Chartier cares passionately now.
While most know NGA for imagery and mapping, few know SoN is also a core mission for the agency.
Mariners and pilots invest trust in NGA’s SoN products to help them make decisions—sometimes life-or-death ones—but few understand their origin.

The SoN mission is charged with ensuring the Department of Defense’s 13,000-plus aircraft and the U.S.
government’s 16,500-plus ships, submarines, and other vessels have the geo-referenced data and charts necessary to operate safely around the globe.
The mission has received more resources and attention in recent years following the grounding of the USS Guardian, a mine countermeasures vessel, in January 2013 on Tubbataha Reef off the Philippine coast.
The after-action report cited inaccurate digital navigation charts as contributing to command errors in the incident.

In 2017, Chartier led a team in developing a 10-year Safety of Navigation Strategy that offers insight into mission products and a way to streamline their creation.
“Not only is it the first strategy that’s ever been written for Safety of Nav, we also have performance metrics in our oversight with the Pentagon,” Chartier said of biannual combat support agency readiness reports.
“We’ve shared [the strategy] with our customers, and they’re holding us accountable and we’re holding ourselves accountable to produce what we need to meet the requirements.”

Those requirements include meeting the global needs of customers and embracing digital while continuing to ensure the accuracy of SoN data and charts.
The strategy pushes data-centricity to enhance timeliness and increase productivity.

 NGA’s Safety of Navigation Strategy, October 2017.
(Image credit: NGA)

What is SoN?

Perhaps the best way to understand SoN is through examples of its products in action.

When a devastating earthquake struck Haiti in 2010, military and civilian agencies galvanized relief efforts.
But before sending supplies and repair equipment, their delivery needed security assurance.

Capt. Brian Connon assessed Port au Prince and other Haitian harbors aboard the USNS Henson, an oceanographic survey ship, one of the service’s six charged with a daunting mission: measure the world’s oceans and harbors and verify existing charts, some of which date back to primitive sonar instruments and the practice of sounding bottoms with lead and line.
Only about 15 percent of the world’s oceans are mapped to modern standards, according to Connon.
“We were surveying anchorages in Haiti, and the hospital ship (USNS Comfort) was coming in,” said Connon, who now commands NGA’s 300-person Maritime Safety Office, one of three SoN components at NGA.
“The anchorage [Comfort] was supposed to go to actually had several containers on the bottom that had been knocked off a pier by the earthquake and sunk,” Connon continued.
The anchorage was cleared and once Comfort was able to arrive safely, its crew treated 1,000 Haitians and performed 850 operations.

The Maritime Safety Office used the Navy-collected data and generated safe, up-to-date charts within a week for Haiti relief operations.

Overhead, NGA’s Aeronautical Navigation Office assessed the capability of regional airstrips to receive relief supplies by helicopter and plane.
Data and charts that included airfield vectors, potential vertical obstructions such as cellphone towers, and instrument flight procedures were verified and certified.

“Some of the safety data had changed. There were areas that had flooded and others that had shifted because of the earthquake,” said Air Force Col. Timothy McDonald, who is well qualified to head NGA’s Aeronautical Navigation Office.
While in the Navy for 10 years, he flew S-3 Vikings off aircraft carriers.
After switching to the Air Force, he flew the U-2 high-altitude reconnaissance airplane.

Within days, relief supplies were arriving in Haiti by air.

While those missions were event-generated, the third leg of NGA’s SoN responsibility, the Office of Geomatics, performs one of the world’s most important tasks daily.
It provides data to ensure the accuracy of the World Geodetic System (WGS-84), the foundation of geospatial referencing.

“Anyone who uses GPS is depending upon our products,” said Richard Salmon, Senior GEOINT Authority for NGA’s Office of Geomatics, which combines aspects of photogrammetry, elevation, geometry, geophysics, GPS, and mathematics into an engineering discipline.
“When you’re driving around in your car … when you’re [flying] in a commercial aircraft … when you’re on a smartphone, our data is supporting that activity.”
How SoN Works

To perform NGA’s SoN mission, the Maritime and Aeronautical offices cull data from monthly reports delivered by 100-plus nation-partners as well as by domestic agencies such as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The Office of Geomatics contributes specialized surveys and other technical products, such as reports based on its Earth Gravitational Model—which acknowledges that gravity varies around the globe and, thus, requires data adjustment—and World Magnetic Model, which chronicles migration of the Magnetic North Pole toward Siberia at about 65 kilometers a year.

Industry partners contract with NGA to generate products issued under SoN auspices and with SoN review and certification.
Formats generally adhere to international and community-driven standards.

SoN staff analyzes incoming data and extracts that which it considers new and relevant to the mission.
It issues reports—most of them every 28 days, others ad hoc—of changes and additions to existing data, publications, and charts.

Accuracy is paramount.
Without it, the trust that Chartier invested while at sea and that McDonald had when piloting planes could not exist.
And that trust has many levels, beginning with determining the quality and validity of the sources that provide data.

All data is geo-referenced, catalogued, and preserved—ready for retrieval in case of incident investigations.

Events such as the Maersk Alabama piracy in 2009 off the coast of Somalia generate additional data.
Though the SoN customer base is the military and federal government, the mission offers commercial ships as many as 800 event messages a month, including incidents such as a craft lost at sea, a man overboard, iceberg travel, and pirate activity.
In October, the message system led the USS Ashland to rescue a disabled sailboat in waters off Japan after the hobby mariners were lost at sea for months.

NGA’s SoN leaders meet quarterly with combatant commands and other stakeholders to determine upcoming needs, and there are standard reviews of frequently visited ports and airfields.
Ad hoc requests are handled through special priorities.
For example, when the USS Oscar Austin, a guided missile destroyer, was dispatched to Klaipeda, Lithuania, in July 2014, Cmdr.
Brian Diebold, the ship’s skipper, declined to enter the harbor and tie up at a new pier until he had official charts from NGA to guide him.

Those charts, normally generated in three to four months, were provided in two days using high-resolution imagery and existing information to verify Lithuanian government data.

CO-LABS Colorado in 2015 recognized the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences and the geomagnetism group of NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information in Boulder for a newly updated representation of Earth’s magnetic field—the World Magnetic Model—used daily by millions of people for military, mobile phone, and other navigation needs.
(Video credit: CO-LABS Colorado)

What’s Ahead

NGA’s SoN offices acknowledge some of their tools are antiquated.
Part of the timing of the 10-year SoN strategy is federal budget-driven.
“The strategy should influence the next three [Program Objective Memorandum] cycles for funding,” Chartier said of an early step in the budget process.

The strategy emphasizes new, modern means of collecting and analyzing data and disseminating results.
Paper, for example, is downgraded in priority.
Automation and digitization are the tools of tomorrow.

“As the world changes, there are ways in which we can get information quicker than in a paper chart or an old standard publication,” Chartier said.
“We also can get that information digitally to your system so you can make better informed decisions, faster.”

For instance, SoN would like to see its data overlaid with other operationally relevant data on the Electronic Chart Display and Information System on a ship’s bridge.
Technology at both ends of the delivery process is stalling the effort for now.

The Aeronautical Navigation Office needs to become more digitally enhanced to meet paperless cockpit advances such as those of the Air Force Air Mobility Command, and the performance-based navigation aims of the FAA concept of operations.

To meet its goals, NGA’s SoN offices need modernized IT infrastructure to collect, organize, analyze, and deliver data digitally.
Likewise, customers need to update their systems to receive data in new and faster ways.
And a culture change needs to happen.

“The old way is not going to get us to the new way,” Chartier said.
“We have to update infrastructure and tradecraft.”

The Maritime Safety Office is already working toward the new way, hiring graduates of maritime academies that bring blue-water experience and the latest Geospatial Information System knowledge to the job.

“It’s going to take a large muscle movement from industry, other agencies, other governments, and us to be able to meet (paperless goals),” McDonald said.
“It’s really taking up a large part of our efforts, staying ahead and making sure we get there to meet the warfighter needs for less paper.”

Salmon said the Office of Geomatics is developing a new system for collecting magnetic data in anticipation of the end of life for Europe’s Swarm satellites in the early 2020s.
Swarm, a European Space Agency constellation, measures the Earth’s geomagnetic field.

The SoN mission pushes new goals, but with caution.

“We can’t trade quality for automation and speed for higher production capacity,” Chartier said.
“At the end of the day, it’s got to be safe for navigation and trusted.”

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Follow the 'Yellow Brick Road' to geologic features of Liliʻuokalani Ridge Seamounts | Nautilus Live

What may look like a "yellow brick road" to the mythical city of Atlantis is really an example of ancient active volcanic geology!
Our Corps of Exploration have witnessed incredibly unique and fascinating geological formations while diving on the Liliʻuokalani Ridge within Papahānaumokuakea Marine National Monument.
At the summit of Nootka Seamount, the team spotted a "dried lake bed" formation, now IDed as a fractured flow of hyaloclastite rock (a volcanic rock formed in high-energy eruptions where many rock fragments settle to the seabed).
The unique 90-degree fractures are likely related to heating and cooling stress from multiple eruptions at this baked margin.
Throughout the seamount chain, the team also sampled basalts coated with ferromanganese (iron-manganese) crusts from across different depths and oxygen saturations as well as an interesting-looking pumice rock that almost resembled a sponge.
Our exploration of this never-before-surveyed area is helping researchers take a deeper look at life on and within the rocky slopes of these deep, ancient seamounts.
Scientists are studying the microbial communities residing within the ferromanganese crusts found over rock surfaces and how the characteristics of the crusts vary from region to region in ocean basins as well the microorganisms that live on and within them.
These studies will help provide baseline information on the living communities of seamounts which can inform management and conservation measures.
“I feel like I’m looking at the road to Atlantis,” a crew member aboard the Exploration Vessel Nautilus murmurs partway into a clip of the team’s undersea exploration. 
“Are you kidding? This is crazy.”

Perhaps the scientist, one of the Corps of Exploration team studying the Liliʻuokalani Ridge in the Pacific Ocean, could be so metaphorical because he’d already partially identified what the structure really was.
Localization with the GeoGarage platform (UKHO nautical raster chart)
After describing the underwater feature as a “dried lake bed,” a post on the Nautilus’ site gives more context.
What may look like a “yellow brick road” to the mythical city of Atlantis is really an example of ancient active volcanic geology.

The crew posted a video to the official Nautilus YouTube channel earlier this week, pictured below. There are also clips of the crew collecting rock samples and commenting on nearby sea life.

Last month, CNET reports the team found some beautiful, otherworldlyspecies during their submarine excursions.
The “unidentified gelatinous creature” gave the team a thrill, with one team member exclaiming “Very charismatic. Yay!” during a clip of the voyage.

It’s pretty heartwarming to see marine scientists get excited over new discoveries, but it’s also sad to know there are so many things we don’t know about the ocean given how fast we’re destroying it.
Coral reefs are bleaching again, animals are living in plastic wastelands and scientists say a potential mass extinction is on the way.

The Nautilus team can’t be everywhere all at once, nor can other oceanic researchers.
What kinds of sea life will they leave uncatalogued because it died before they got a chance to study it? 

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Waves story

A short film about my affinity for the ocean, its mystery and power.
filmed in: Tahiti, Indonesia, Hawaii, Australia, Barbados, Maldives, Philippines and California
Arnaud Jerald exploring the legendary wave of Teahupoo.
Shot by Tim McKenna Filmed in Teahupoo, French Polynesia.
Links :

Friday, May 20, 2022

Murky provenance of a Chinese fleet clouds Madagascar shrimp fishery

Madagascar in July imposed a prohibition on industrial trawlers fishing in waters within 2 nautical miles (3.7 kilometers) of the country’s coast.

From Mongabay by Rivonala Razafison
  • Thirty-nine trawlers are licensed to catch up to 4,170 metric tons of shrimp in Madagascar’s waters during the 2022 campaign, which officially began on March 1.
  • Chinese-owned company Mada Fishery, which holds eight exploration rights did not apply to catch shrimp this year, and its eight vessels are now sitting idle.
  • Three of the vessels were previously engaged in fishing violations in the Gambia, and under Malagasy law should not be eligible to fish in Madagascar now — unless there’s been a change in their ownership.
  • But a murky document trail and general lack of transparency into the vessels’ ownership makes it unclear whether that has happened; transparency advocates say the implementation of simple measures would have made a significant difference in the investigation of Mada Fishery.
ANTANANARIVO — During the current shrimping season, 39 trawlers will catch just over 4,000 metric tons of shrimp in Madagascar’s waters.
But one company, with a five-year exploitation right, didn’t apply for licenses to trawl this year.
Its idle vessels highlight both improving regulation and potential weaknesses in monitoring of the country’s fishing sector.
An artisanal fisherman next to a ship in Madagascar.
Image © Pierre Baelen / Greenpeace.
The company bought exploitation rights for eight vessels.
The company says it also bought eight shrimp trawlers, which spent part of last year being repaired at the state-owned shipyard at Antsiranana, on the northern tip of the island.

But Mada Fishery’s boats have a troubled history, according to an investigation by the Environmental Justice Foundation, an NGO that promotes environmental sustainability around the world.
EJF says three of these trawlers previously violated fishing regulations off the West African coast and should be banned from operating in Malagasy waters.

“As recently as 4 November 2020, the vessels were intercepted by the Gambian Navy, Gambian Department of Fisheries and Sea Shepherd,” Steve Trent, founder and CEO of London-based EJF, told Mongabay.

“The trawlers were found to have been fishing inside protected waters reserved exclusively for small-scale fishers in Gambia,” he added.
“The Gorde 105 and Gorde 107 vessels were also double-bagging their nets — another offense under Gambian fisheries regulations. As a result of the Gambian Navy and Department of Fisheries findings, fishing trawlers Gorde 105, Gorde 106 and Gorde 107 were impounded and escorted to the Gambian port of Banjul.”

Malagasy regulations state that “no vessel with a history of illegal fishing should be allowed to fish in the country’s waters” — unless there’s proof of a change in ownership.
A fishing trawler — the Cap-Saint Augustin, not one of Mada Fishery’s — off the shore of Nosy Faly.
Image by Mongabay.

Messy paperwork

EJF says it’s not clear that the vessels have actually changed hands.
When Mada Fishery’s fleet of trawlers anchored in Seychelles en route to Madagascar, documents submitted by the captains of at least four of the boats appeared to have been forged.

EJF says the identification numbers for Gordes 105-108 correspond to ships in an entirely different fleet, officially registered to a company called Shandong Roncheng Dafa Fisheries Co.
But EJF found no such company listed in Chinese vessel registration records: every Chinese corporation has a unique number called a Unified Social Credit Identifier, but the number provided on the Gorde fleet’s documents for Shandong Roncheng Dafa does not match that of any existing company.

The ships’ documents and hulls all had the same call signs, making it difficult to identify them individually.
Worse yet, the 16-digit number used by the Chinese government to identify fishing vessels also appeared to be wrong.

In light of these irregularities, the campaigners say the ships should not be licensed to fish until clear proof of ownership is provided.
Perhaps tellingly, Mada Fishery did not attempt to register the disputed boats to fish for shrimp this year.

But what about the future?
If they are now owned by Mada Fishery, the eight trawlers should qualify for fishing licenses.

“That could be the case if they respect the existing laws and regulations,” Mahatante Tsimanaoraty Paubert, Madagascar’s minister of fisheries and the blue economy, told Mongabay.
“The vessels changed names and owners. According to the Malagasy laws and regulations, we can issue license as long as they comply with our laws. They can apply for fishing licenses as they hold fishing rights they bought.”
A fishing trawler fishing off the shore of Nosy Faly in northwest Madagascar.
Image by Mongabay.

Improving fisheries monitoring

While Mada Fishery’s boats are idle, the trawlers fishing off Madagascar this year will be more closely monitored than in the past.
Paubert said the government’s own surveillance will be supplemented by several international collaborations.
“Apart from the Fisheries Surveillance Center (CSP) within the ministry, the European-funded Ecofish Program, by the mean of its OSIRIS II ship intervening in the Western Indian Ocean, helps us stop any eventual illegal fishing activities in our waters.”

Other support will come from Amsterdam-based NGO Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
“They are to fully put a ship with its crew at our disposal to patrol our waters under the control of the government,” Paubert told Mongabay.
“Madagascar hasn’t to pay for their service.
What we have to do is to make available onboard the nearby 25 Malagasy fishing inspectors and the navy’s forces for the ship’s security.”

Paubert was only appointed to his role as minister overseeing fisheries in October last year.
Just weeks later, Madagascar joined the Fisheries Transparency Initiative (FiTI).
Its mission is to improve the sustainability of global fisheries by increasing the transparency of government management of stocks.

Links :