Saturday, July 17, 2010

Crowdsourcing ocean navigation data

MCZ project interactive map

The Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 created a new type of Marine Protected Area (MPA), called a Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ).
Together with other types of existing MPAs in England, MCZs will help to deliver the Government's aim for an 'ecologically coherent network of well managed Marine Protected Areas'.

What is the MCZ Project Interactive Map?

The Interactive Map is a web based Geographic Information System, which is essentially a way of displaying interactive maps online.
The MCZ Project Interactive Map allows you to view maps of the United Kingdom and display additional relevant information above it, using layers selected from our marine spatial planning database.
The tool also allows you to add your own information to the map by drawing and labelling areas that you use or have information about.

Using the Interactive Map to achieve two goals:
  1. To communicate the diversity and range of information that is being used by the MCZ Project. We hope that you find the investigation of the spatial data to be an interesting experience and that you discover more about the relationship between mankind and the coasts and seas of the United Kingdom.
  2. To collect information from stakeholders who are using the seas around England; these include groups such as sea anglers, divers, wildlife watchers, charterboat owners, recreation and leisure users as well as commercial fishermen. Using the Interactive Map, users and commercial fishermen. Using the Intercative Map, users can draw and label areas they use or places where they know certain species and habitats occur.
The Marine Conservation Zone Map is an online crowd-sourcing map project that allows different users to participate through marking-up how they are using the marine environment and coast lines. Several individual layers are included in the project.
The demand for information on status and trends of the European environment is continuously increasing.
The general public, decision makers and researchers are major interest groups in this context.

Other crowdsourcing projet : TeamSurv, the do-it-yourself survey project.

TeamSurv is a self-help community that shares depth and position information, collected from the boat’s own GPS and depth sounder, as you go about your normal cruising.

How does it work?
  1. As a TeamSurv data logger, the user is provided with a data logger that automatically records the data from your instruments. If you use a PC on board then this is a software logger, or otherwise we will loan you a hardware logger. During each trip a log file is automatically created, and once ashore you upload it to the TeamSurv web site.
  2. The logged data is loaded into our database and then corrected for various factors, including tide and sea level height. Tracks and point data can then be displayed overlaid over Google Maps.
  3. As we collect more data for an area, we will be able to convert it into a bathymetric model and create a detailed chart. All data is made anonymous, so privacy is assured.
TeamSurv welcomes data submitted from anywhere in the world, but to ensure that TeamSurv uses the project's resources well the project is initially concentrating on a number of trial areas, e.g. in the UK this is from Poole to Chichester on the South Coast, and the Thames Estuary to the Wash on the East coast.
Within these areas TeamSurv can supply the hardware loggers on free loan, and these will be the first areas for which TeamSurv will be producing charts.
Outside of the trial areas the user is free to use the software logger, or to purchase a hardware logger.

But an important question remains regarding all these crowsourcing data for their contributors : what kind of data license is used for these different projects ?
Open Database License (ODbL) would be an excellent initiative and would also help to develop another crowsourcing project : OpenSeaMap.

Links :

Friday, July 16, 2010

Ship tracks reveal pollution's effects on clouds


NASA's MODIS satellite instrument is revealing that humans may be changing our planet's brightness. Pollution in the atmosphere creates smaller, brighter cloud droplets that reflect more sunlight back to space and may have a slight impact on global warming.

This narrated visualization illustrates how we can study the effect against a clean backdrop by looking for zones of pollution in otherwise pristine air - in this case the North Pacific Ocean near the Aleutian islands.
On an overcast day, the clouds look uniform.
However, MODIS' sesor reveals a different picture - long skinny trails of brighter clouds hidden within.

As ships travel across the ocean, pollution in the ships' exhaust create more cloud drops that are smaller in size, resulting in even brighter clouds.
On clear days, ships can actually create new clouds.
Water vapor condenses around the particles of pollution, forming streamers of clouds as the ships travel on.

The ship tracks themselves are too small to impact global temperatures, but they help us understand how larger pollution sources such as industrial sites or agricultural burning might be changing clouds on a larger scale.

Links :

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Far from Mexico Gulf, a spill scourge 5 decades old

From NY Times

Big oil spills are no longer news in this vast, tropical land.
The Niger Delta, where the wealth underground is out of all proportion with the poverty on the surface, has endured the equivalent of the Exxon Valdez spill every year for 50 years by some estimates.
The oil pours out nearly every week, and some swamps are long since lifeless.

Perhaps no place on earth has been as battered by oil, experts say, leaving residents here astonished at the nonstop attention paid to the gusher half a world away in the Gulf of Mexico.
It was only a few weeks ago, they say, that a burst pipe belonging to Royal Dutch Shell in the mangroves was finally shut after flowing for two months: now nothing living moves in a black-and-brown world once teeming with shrimp and crab.

Not far away, there is still black crude on Gio Creek from an April spill, and just across the state line in Akwa Ibom the fishermen curse their oil-blackened nets, doubly useless in a barren sea buffeted by a spill from an offshore Exxon Mobil pipe in May that lasted for weeks.

The oil spews from rusted and aging pipes, unchecked by what analysts say is ineffectual or collusive regulation, and abetted by deficient maintenance and sabotage.
In the face of this black tide is an infrequent protest — soldiers guarding an Exxon Mobil site beat women who were demonstrating last month, according to witnesses — but mostly resentful resignation.

Small children swim in the polluted estuary here, fishermen take their skiffs out ever farther — “There’s nothing we can catch here,” said Pius Doron, perched anxiously over his boat — and market women trudge through oily streams.
“There is Shell oil on my body,” said Hannah Baage, emerging from Gio Creek with a machete to cut the cassava stalks balanced on her head.

That the Gulf of Mexico disaster has transfixed a country and president they so admire is a matter of wonder for people here, living among the palm-fringed estuaries in conditions as abject as any in Nigeria, according to the United Nations.
Though their region contributes nearly 80 percent of the government’s revenue, they have hardly benefited from it; life expectancy is the lowest in Nigeria.

“President Obama is worried about that one,” Claytus Kanyie, a local official, said of the gulf spill, standing among dead mangroves in the soft oily muck outside Bodo.
“Nobody is worried about this one. The aquatic life of our people is dying off. There used be shrimp. There are no longer any shrimp.”

In the distance, smoke rose from what Mr. Kanyie and environmental activists said was an illegal refining business run by local oil thieves and protected, they said, by Nigerian security forces.
The swamp was deserted and quiet, without even bird song; before the spills, Mr. Kanyie said, women from Bodo earned a living gathering mollusks and shellfish among the mangroves.

With new estimates that as many as 2.5 million gallons of oil could be spilling into the Gulf of Mexico each day, the Niger Delta has suddenly become a cautionary tale for the United States.

As many as 546 million gallons of oil spilled into the Niger Delta over the last five decades, or nearly 11 million gallons a year, a team of experts for the Nigerian government and international and local environmental groups concluded in a 2006 report.
By comparison, the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 dumped an estimated 10.8 million gallons of oil into the waters off Alaska.

So the people here cast a jaundiced, if sympathetic, eye at the spill in the gulf.
“We’re sorry for them, but it’s what’s been happening to us for 50 years,” said Emman Mbong, an official in Eket.

The spills here are all the more devastating because this ecologically sensitive wetlands region, the source of 10 percent of American oil imports, has most of Africa’s mangroves and, like the Louisiana coast, has fed the interior for generations with its abundance of fish, shellfish, wildlife and crops.

Local environmentalists have been denouncing the spoliation for years, with little effect.
“It’s a dead environment,” said Patrick Naagbanton of the Center for Environment, Human Rights and Development in Port Harcourt, the leading city of the oil region.

Though much here has been destroyed, much remains, with large expanses of vibrant green.
Environmentalists say that with intensive restoration, the Niger Delta could again be what it once was.

Nigeria produced more than two million barrels of oil a day last year, and in over 50 years thousands of miles of pipes have been laid through the swamps.
Shell, the major player, has operations on thousands of square miles of territory, according to Amnesty International.
Aging columns of oil-well valves, known as Christmas trees, pop up improbably in clearings among the palm trees. Oil sometimes shoots out of them, even if the wells are defunct.

“The oil was just shooting up in the air, and it goes up in the sky,” said Amstel M. Gbarakpor, youth president in Kegbara Dere, recalling the spill in April at Gio Creek.
“It took them three weeks to secure this well.”

How much of the spillage is due to oil thieves or to sabotage linked to the militant movement active in the Niger Delta, and how much stems from poorly maintained and aging pipes, is a matter of fierce dispute among communities, environmentalists and the oil companies.

Caroline Wittgen, a spokeswoman for Shell in Lagos, said, “We don’t discuss individual spills,” but argued that the “vast majority” were caused by sabotage or theft, with only 2 percent due to equipment failure or human error.

“We do not believe that we behave irresponsibly, but we do operate in a unique environment where security and lawlessness are major problems,” Ms. Wittgen said.

Oil companies also contend that they clean up much of what is lost.
A spokesman for Exxon Mobil in Lagos, Nigel A. Cookey-Gam, said that the company’s recent offshore spill leaked only about 8,400 gallons and that “this was effectively cleaned up.”

But many experts and local officials say the companies attribute too much to sabotage, to lessen their culpability.
Richard Steiner, a consultant on oil spills, concluded in a 2008 report that historically “the pipeline failure rate in Nigeria is many times that found elsewhere in the world,” and he noted that even Shell acknowledged “almost every year” a spill due to a corroded pipeline.

On the beach at Ibeno, the few fishermen were glum.
Far out to sea oil had spilled for weeks from the Exxon Mobil pipe.
“We can’t see where to fish; oil is in the sea,” Patrick Okoni said.

“We don’t have an international media to cover us, so nobody cares about it,” said Mr. Mbong, in nearby Eket. “Whatever cry we cry is not heard outside of here.”

Links :
  • TheGuardian : Nigeria's agony dwarfs the Gulf oil spill. The US and Europe ignore it
  • BBCNews : Nigeria, 'World oil pollution capital'
  • Amesty Int.: Oil industry has brought poverty and pollution to Niger Delta
  • National Geographic : Nigerian oil
  • Africa Review : In Nigeria's oil delta, spills and gushes raising fewer eyebrows

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Musicians send timely message to protect oceans

"Gotta say it now
Better loud than too late"

As part of an effort to raise awareness about ocean preservation, Pearl Jam has launched a new web page called “Oceans” which features the video “Amongst the Waves,” the group’s third single from Backspacer.

A note on the “Oceans” page reads, “There is only one Ocean for everyone and everything. It is a finite, precious resource under tremendous economic and environmental pressure. Look after it.”

Along with the video, Pearl Jam provides a list of 11 things that can be done to protect the planet’s oceans from encouraging renewable energy to contacting government officials to supporting local organic farming.

Currently “Amongst the Waves” is available for download from iTunes with proceeds from U.S. sales benefiting the Conservation International’s ocean campaign.

From Brendan DeMelle (Huffingtonpost)

In an other style, a new music video from Barcelona-based musician Sam Lardner spreads a timely message about the importance for all people to work together to save our oceans.

With footage of the BP Deepwater disaster in the Gulf of Mexico contrasted by majestic images of beaches and marine life from around the world, the video is an eye-opening look at the perils and pleasures found in the blue depths of our oceans, which cover 70 percent of the Earth's surface.

"Blue Planet" is the first video released from Sam Lardner's new "Oceans Are Talking" CD.

Featuring groups of children singing out for ocean protection from D.C. to Dominica, Spain to Australia, the video is a rallying call to all ages that the time to save our oceans is right now.

Sam Lardner told me today from Barcelona, "When we started working on this project, Ann Luskey from the Ocean Foundation and I were focused on how to enlighten and empower children, but halfway through the process, we realized this isn't a children's CD at all."

"The fact is, the oceans can't wait for our children to grow up and save them. There isn't time to wait for that. It's all of us, right now, who have to solve this. We all have to change," Lardner says.

The "Blue Planet" video is dedicated to the life work of Sylvia Earle and her TED-prize project, Mission Blue.

Links :
  • DailyMail : Jackson Browne blames bottled water for the oil spill!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The impact of climate change on the world's marine ecosystems

From HuffingtonPost

The impacts of climate change on the world's oceans include decreased ocean productivity, altered food web dynamics, reduced abundances of habitat-forming species, shifting species distributions, and a greater incidence of disease. Further change will continue to create enormous challenges and costs for societies worldwide, particularly those in developing countries.

Those are the primary conclusions of a review article published in June in Science by John Bruno and his colleague, Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg Director of The University of Queensland's Global Change Institute.

The article was a comprehensive synthesis on the effects of climate change on the world's oceans. We concluded that man-made greenhouse gases are driving irreversible and dramatic changes to the way the ocean functions, with potentially dire impacts for hundreds of millions of people across the planet.

Professor Hoegh-Guldberg likes to point out that the ocean, which produces half of the oxygen we breathe and absorbs 30% of human-generated CO2, is equivalent to the planets heart and lungs:

Quite plainly, the Earth cannot do without its ocean. This study, however, shows worrying signs of ill health. We are entering a period in which the very ocean services upon which humanity depends are undergoing massive change and in some cases beginning to fail. Further degradation will continue to create enormous challenges and costs for societies worldwide.
The "fundamental and comprehensive" changes to marine life identified in the report include rapidly warming and acidifying oceans, changes in water circulation and expansion of dead zones within the ocean depths.

These are driving major changes in marine ecosystems: less abundant coral reefs, sea grasses and mangroves (important fish nurseries); fewer, smaller fish; a breakdown in food chains; changes in the distribution of marine life; and more frequent diseases and pests among marine organisms.

Additionally, the distribution and abundance of phytoplankton communities throughout the world, as well as their phenology and productivity, are changing in response to warming, acidifying, and stratifying oceans. The annual primary production of the world's oceans has decreased by at least 6% since the early 1980s, with nearly 70% of this decline occurring at higher latitudes and with large relative decreases occurring within Pacific and Indian ocean gyres. Overall, these changes in the primary production of the oceans have profound implications for the marine biosphere, carbon sinks, and biogeochemistry of Earth.

Among the most clear and profound influences of climate change on the world's oceans are its impacts on habitat-forming species such as corals, sea grass, mangroves, salt marsh grasses, and oysters. Collectively, these organisms form the habitat for thousands of other species. Although some resident species may not have absolute requirements for these habitats, many do, and they disappear if the habitat is removed. For example, mass coral bleaching and mortality, the result of increasing temperatures, is already reducing the richness and density of coral reef fishes and other organisms.

What strikes me the most about the recent science coming out on this topic, is the degree to which we are modifying fundamental physical and biological processes by warming the oceans. The warming doesn't just kill sensitive species, it modifies everything from enzyme kinetics, to plant photosynthesis and animal metabolism, to the developmental rate and dispersal of larval (baby) fish to changing the ways food webs and ecosystems function. And the big surprise, at least to me, is how quickly this is all happening. We are actually witnessing these changes before we predict or model them. This isn't theoretical; this is a huge, real-world problem. Moreover, we, not just our children, will be paying the price if we don't get a handle on this problem very soon.

Links :
  • images from the study
  • NASA : Climate change, how do we know?
  • NewObserver : His mission: heal the oceans before it's too late

Image of the week : Indian Ocean’s internal waves photographed

An image showing internal and surface waves on the Indian Ocean near the Andaman islands has been published by NASA’s Earth Observatory website.

“When tides drag the ocean over a shallow barrier such as a ridge on the ocean floor, it creates waves in the lower, denser layer of water,” Earth Observatory explains.
“These waves, internal waves, can be tens of kilometers long and can last several hours.”

The steady crash of waves pounding the shore draws vacationers to beaches across the world when temperatures climb.
Driven by the wind and tides, these familiar waves ride across the top of the ocean.
But deeper waves also move through ocean waters, visible only from their influence on ocean currents.
These waves are internal waves, and they run through lowest layers of ocean water, never swelling the surface.

This image shows both internal waves and surface waves on the Indian Ocean near the Andaman Islands.
The active Barren Island Volcano, part of the Andaman Islands, is shown emitting puffs of steam on the left side of the image.
The Advanced Land Imager (ALI) on the Earth Observing 1 satellite acquired the image on March 6, 2007.
Sunlight reflecting off the water’s surface gives it a pale, silvery blue color.
The tiny wrinkles running roughly horizontally across the ocean are surface waves.
Internal waves paint long diagonal lines across the ocean on the right side of the image.

Internal waves happen because the ocean is layered.
Deep water is cold, dense, and salty, while shallower water is warmer, lighter, and fresher.
The differences in density and salinity cause the various layers of the ocean to behave like different fluids.
When tides drag the ocean over a shallow barrier such as a ridge on the ocean floor, it creates waves in the lower, denser layer of water.
These waves, internal waves, can be tens of kilometers long and can last several hours.

As internal waves move through the lower layer of the ocean, the lighter water above flows down the crests and sinks into the troughs.
This motion bunches surface water over the troughs and stretches it over the crests, creating alternating lines of calm water at the crests and rough water at the troughs.

It is the pattern of calm and rough water that makes the internal wave visible in satellite images.
Calm, smooth waters reflect more light directly back to the satellite, resulting in a bright, pale stripe along the length of the internal wave.
The rough waters in the trough scatter light in all directions, forming a dark line.

Links :
  • NASA : internal waves, Sulu Sea
  • NASA : internal waves in the Tsushima Strait
  • NASA : internal waves in San Francisco bay
  • NASA : internal waves, Strait of Gilbraltar (other)

Monday, July 12, 2010

How much plastic is in the ocean ?

From Michael Reilly (DiscoveryNews)

Stiv Wilson of the ocean conservation group 5 Gyres has made a first attempt to tally how much plastic is in the global ocean.

We've all heard about the Texas-sized "garbage patch" swirling in the North Pacific, and recently we've been warned that the Atlantic's got a plastic problem, too. Rather than distinct patches, the planet's interconnected watery parts are effectively a thin soup of plastic refuse, with perhaps larger concentrations of rubbish in five large rotating gyres of water like the Pacific's.

The more people look, the more grim the situation looks. But how can we get our heads around how big the problem really is? How much plastic is really in the ocean, and can we clean it up?

In a new post on, Wilson takes what appears to be the first-ever stab at trying to figure it out.

The number he comes up with is staggering: he conservatively estimates there are 315 billion pounds of plastic in the oceans right now.

Now, Wilson will be the first to admit a lot of assumptions were made in order to arrive at that number, but most of them err on the side of caution. It's worth going through his thought process and calculations here.

To help visualize that massive heap of trash, Wilson divides by a "supertanker" -- that is, a giant ship that could theoretically sail through the seas, skimming out the plastic junk as it goes (much of which hovers down to 90 feet below the surface).

No such ship has been outfitted to skim plastic. But let's say it did, and it could hold 500 million pounds of plastic. You'd need 630 of them to do the job (143 billion kilograms), or about 17 percent of the planet's current fleet of oil tankers.

To make it a little more personal, every American produces about 600 pounds of garbage each year. The proportion of plastic varies from household to household, but overall about half of all waste is synthetic. Some of that probably ends up in landfill, or recycled (Wilson says only about 3 percent of virgin plastic gets recycled).

Either way, the pile of plastic you inadvertently dump into the ocean each year is probably more than you can lift.

The point of the calculations is this: cleaning up the plastics in the ocean ain't gonna happen. Well-intentioned programs designed to take the fight to the high seas, like Project Kaisei and the Environmental Cleanup Coalition, for example, are exercises in futility.

"I'm not trying to call them out," Wilson told Discovery News. "What I really fear is a barge full of plastic coming in under the Golden Gate bridge, the media taking pictures and people thinking 'oh good, we've solved that problem.'"

A real cleanup would be astronomically expensive, both in terms of dollars and equipment.

But hope is not lost. Wilson added that if we can ratchet down the amount of plastic we throw away, the gyres will naturally spin out much of the junk floating in them. Eventually it will wash ashore, where it can easily be removed.

"I really want to see people's efforts focused on beach cleanups," he said. "They're free, can be organized in a grassroots way, and they can make a massive difference. A hundred people on a beach picking up plastic for a weekend can clean up as much as a barge can hold."

Links :

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The long-term fate of the oil spill in the Atlantic

From University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa

The possible spread of the oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon rig over the course of one year was studied in a series of computer simulations by a team of researchers from the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.

Eight million buoyant particles were released continuously from April 20 to September 17, 2010, at the location of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.
The release occurred in ocean flow data from simulations conducted with the high-resolution Ocean General Circulation Model for the Earth Simulator (OFES).

“The paths of the particles were calculated in 8 typical OFES years over 360 days from the beginning of the spill,” says Fabian Schloesser, a PhD student from the Department of Oceanography in SOEST, who worked on these simulations with Axel Timmermann and Oliver Elison Timm from the International Pacific Research Center, also in SOEST.
“From these 8 typical years, 5 were selected to create an animation for which the calculated extent of the spill best matches current observational estimates.”

The dispersal of the particles does not capture such effects as oil coagulation, formation of tar balls, chemical and microbial degradation.
Computed surface concentrations relative to the actual spill may therefore be overestimated.
The animation, thus, is not a detailed, specific prediction, but rather a scenario that could help guide research and mitigation efforts.

The animation shows the calculated surface particle concentrations for grid boxes about 10-km-by-10-km in size into April 2011.
For an estimated flow of oil from the Deepwater Horizon of 50,000 barrels per day over a 150 day period, a concentration of e.g. 10 particles per grid box in the animation corresponds roughly to an oil volume of 2 cubic meters per 100 square kilometer.

The oil spreads initially in the Gulf of Mexico, then enters the Loop Current and the narrow Florida Current, and finally the Gulf Stream.
“After one year, about 20% of the particles initially released at the Deepwater Horizon location have been transported through the Straits of Florida and into the open Atlantic,” explains Timmermann.

This animation suggests that the coastlines near the Carolinas, Georgia, and Northern Florida could see the effects of the oil spill as early as October 2010.
The main branch of the subtropical gyre is likely to transport the oil film towards Europe, although strongly diluted.
The animation also shows that as the northeasterly winds intensify near Florida around October and November, the oil in the Atlantic moves closer to the eastern shores of the US, whereas it retreats from the western shores of Florida.

The narrow, deep Straits of Florida force the Florida Current into a narrow channel, creating a tight bottleneck for the spreading of oil into the Atlantic.
As the animation suggests, a filtering system in the narrowest spot of the Florida Current could mitigate the spreading of the oil film into the North Atlantic.

This research was supported by the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC), NASA and NOAA through their sponsorship of the International Pacific Research Center in the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.

Links :
  • NASA image of the oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico (acquired July 4)