Saturday, August 21, 2010

Study measures Atlantic plastic accumulation

The mid-cruise update from the Plastics at SEA Expedition
describes a record number of plastic pieces observed by SEA in more than 25 years
of sampling plastic marine debris in the Atlantic Ocean.

From BBC

A study has measured the amount of plastic debris found in a region of the Atlantic Ocean over a 22-year period.

US researchers, writing in Science, suggest the volume of plastic appeared to have peaked in recent years.
One reason could be tighter marine pollution rules that prevent vessels dumping their waste at sea.

The team said monitoring the free-floating plastic also provided an insight into the behaviour of ocean surface currents.
They found plastic, most pieces measuring no more than a few millimetres, in more than 60% of 6,136 samples collected by dragging fine-meshed nets along the ocean's surface.

The researchers - from the US-based Sea Education Association (Sea), Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the University of Hawaii - described plastic as a "major contaminant".

"Plastic marine pollution is a significant environmental concern, yet a quantitative description of the scope of this problem is the open ocean is lacking," they wrote.
"Their chemically engineered durability and slow rate of biodegradation allow these synthetic polymers to withstand the ocean environment for years to decades or longer."

The impacts caused by the debris include:
  • sea animals becoming entangled
  • seabirds and other marine creatures eating the plastic
  • the debris being used as a "life raft" by some species to reach areas outside their normal distribution range
"While high concentrations of floating plastic debris have been found in the Pacific Ocean, only limited data exist to quantify and explain the geographical range," they said.
"In the Atlantic Ocean, the subject has been all but ignored."

The team analysed data from ship surveys collected over 22 years between 1986 and 2008, which involved in excess of 6,000 net tows that gathered more than 64,000 pieces of plastic.
The largest number of plastic pieces in the data set was collected in 1997, in which 1,069 pieces were recovered by researchers in a single 30-minute tow. This equated to 580,000 pieces per square kilometre.

The team observed that the highest concentrations of floating plastic were "clearly associated" with a convergence of surface ocean currents and prevailing winds.
"This convergence zone... extends across most of the sub-tropical North Atlantic basin," they reported.

"This correspondence not only explains the plastic distribution, but also illustrates how floating debris acts as a tracer of large-scale mean surface currents."

The study analysed data from more than 6,000 samples collected at sea
Using a series of tracers, the team was able to estimate that it took fewer than 60 days for plastic to be carried to the "collection centre" from coastal waters on the eastern shores of the US.

As for the source of the plastic, the team said that there was no study that quantified the volume of plastic entering the ocean.

However, they suggested that the increase recorded over the study period was likely to have come from land-based sources.
They said the global production of plastic materials had increased five-fold between 1976 and 2008, and the amount thrown away in the US has risen four-fold during the past two decades.

Meanwhile, the volume being dumped by vessels had fallen as a result of rules introduced in 1988 that prohibited the dumping of plastic at sea.

But the team said that the projected increase in plastic from land sources was not reflected in the data gathered by the ship surveys.
"It is unlikely that ocean circulation could account for an export of plastic from the region large enough to offset the presumed increase in input," they suggested.

They offered a number of possible reasons for the discrepancy, including the plastic being broken down into pieces that were too small to be captured by the surveys' tow nets, the debris sinking beneath the surface, or the material being ingested by animals.

In order to curb the long-term environmental impact of free-floating plastic in the world's oceans, the team said their study offered evidence that any effort that prevented discarded plastic from land sources from entering the water in the first place could be "measurably effective".

Links :

Friday, August 20, 2010

Sylvia Earle: the planet is 'in serious trouble'

From HuffingtonPost

Sylvia Earle has spent decades studying the vast life in our planet's oceans and advocating for its protection.
She is Chair of the Deep Search Foundation and is an Explorer-In-Residence at the National Geographic Society, has set a record for solo diving, and has even blogged for HuffPost.

In this video from CNN, Earle recounts highlights from her history in oceanography.
She talks about the 1969 program that was simultaneously working to put women under the sea while also putting men on the moon.

In 1979, she worked on a book for National Geographic, using a new diving suit that she likens to a "walking refrigerator," letting her individually explore the ocean floor.
She tells CNN, "It was just an extravaganza of life, and I had a chance to just walk among these creatures for the first time, and bring back the news of what was there."

Earle stresses the importance of protecting our oceans, saying that we need to "try to inspire an awareness of what the problems are, and to inspire those who have the capacity to solve problems to do just that."
She tells CNN that these next ten years may be the most important out of the next 10,000 "to secure for us an enduring future on this little blue planet that is already in serious trouble."

Links :
  • TreeHugger : Sylvia Earle on the Gulf Disaster and Saving the Seas (podcast)
  • The Guardian : Sylvia Earle: Swimming with sharks and oil
  • National Geographic : Sylvia Earle to U.S. Congress: Cheap oil is costing the Earth

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Travel to the East by sailing West from Europe

Overlay of the real “new world” and what Columbian era transatlantic explorers expected to see on their way to Cipangu, which is what the Portuguese were calling Japan at the time

From StrangeMaps

The Florentine mathematician, astronomer and cosmographer Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli (1397-1482) is probably best remembered for his proposal in 1474 to the Portuguese court of a scheme to sail west as a shortcut to reach the fabled Spice Islands in the east.
Toscanelli never made it across the ocean, but his proposal did inspire Columbus, who took Toscanelli’s map with him on his first transatlantic voyage in 1492.
The Genoese navigator was not only inspired, but also misguided by Toscanelli’s underestimation of the Earth’s circumference, leading him to think he had reached Cipangu (Japan) instead of a whole new, unknown continent lying in between Europe and Asia.

The eastern part of Toscanellli’s map, showing the extreme west of Europe and northwest of Africa, is quite accurate, even if the size of the land masses is exaggerated (in relation to the ghostly projection of the Americas); Portuguese mariners had travelled quite far south along the coast of Africa, and knew about the Azores (rediscovered in 1427).
The Canary Islands were conquered by the Castilians from 1402 onwards.
Nevertheless, many of the islands pictured here in the western Atlantic Ocean are quite clearly some of the many phantom islands that for a long time were recorded on maps, but were never more than legends.
One such example is Hy-Brasil, probably one of the islands pictured closest to Ireland.

Another phantom island, mentioned on this map, is Antillia, also known as the Island of Seven Cities or St Brendan’s Island, and often used as a synonym for the Isles of the Blessed or the Fortunate Islands.
The muddled legends of Antillia have been around since at least Plutarch’s time (ca. 74 AD).
Its name might be a corruption of Atlantis; or a derivation of anterioris insula, Latin for an island located ‘before’ Cipangu; or a transformation of Jazeerat at-Tennyn, Arabic for ‘Island of the Dragon’.
Toscanelli on his map uses Antillia as the main marker for measuring distance between Portugal and Cipangu.

The reference to Sete Ciudades (‘Seven Cities’) is reminiscent of an Iberian legend of seven bishops fleeing the Arab conquest of the peninsula and founding a city each on the island, which became a sort of Utopian commonwealth.
Some claim the legend of Antillia represents an earlier discovery of the islands that eventually became known as… the Antilles.
Improving nautical knowledge eventually led Antillia to disappear from maps, but the legends surrounding it continued to inspire explorers for a long time – e.g. the ‘Seven Cities’, that were sought in the Southwest of the US or even posited on Cape Breton Island in Canada.

Cippangu (also written as Cipangu, Zipangu or Jipangu) is the name by which Japan had been known in Europe since Marco Polo brought home the name of the island.
The name derives from an early Chinese word for Japan, Ribenguo, meaning ‘country of sun origin’.
Polo’s description of Cippangu as being extremely rich in silver and gold triggered the imagination of Europeans for many years to come.

Cathay as a European name for China also derives from Marco Polo, who used it for northern China (southern China being ‘Manji’ in his accounts).
Cathay probably comes from Khitan, a tribe in northern China.
Only in the 19th century was the usage in English of Cathay eclipsed by the word ‘China’. Russian still uses the word – there’s still an area of Moscow called Kitaigorod, ‘Chinatown’.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

White whale Migaloo spotted off Cairns

Awesome sight: The Cairns Post photographer Marc McCormack captures Migaloo in waters off Green Island, near Cairns, on Saturday.

From The Cairns Post

RARE, professionally-shot footage of Migaloo at play in Cairns waters will be a boon for the local tourism industry and help protect the famous white whale, a tour operator says.

Migaloo was spotted on Saturday about 2km from Green Island slowly travelling south.
(Position in the Marine GeoGarage)
The famous whale enjoyed clear skies and low winds and dived repeatedly into the blue depths before surfacing every 10 to 15 minutes.

GBR Helicopter Group director Deborah Ross said the footage taken by cinematographer David Farmer and pilot Chris Rose, of Chris Rose Flying Films, would be given to the BBC, which is producing a documentary on Migaloo.
"We’ve made it a professional goal to make sure we get Migaloo recorded so we can help protect him because he is so precious," she said.

"This is the first time Migaloo has been filmed anywhere professionally in the world.
"It’s about Migaloo and it’s all about the fact we were able to get the footage in Cairns on the Great Barrier Reef."

Ms Ross, who has worked in the tourism industry for 28 years, said the day was a career milestone for her. "I cried. I was so happy," she said.

"He was at play in the tropical waters. He was just rolling around having a lovely time."

About 70 Reef Magic Cruises passengers were treated to the rare sight.
Reef Magic Cruises owner Tim North said its whale watching vessel spent about five hours with Migaloo on Saturday.

"It makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up when you’re with him," he said.
Reef Magic worker Jenna Marino was thrilled to see her first whale.
"He was pure snow white," she said.
"People were amazed. They thought they were the luckiest people alive."

Migaloo was first sighted in 1991 and has been seen almost every year since then as the big white whale traveled along the Australian coast during the whale migration season.

Unlike Moby Dick, Migaloo is no killer whale.
One time she was reported to have caused destruction was when Migaloo surfaced just in front of a trimaran near Townsville in Queensland in 2003.
The boat was lifted and broke its centre keel. The concern was that Migaloo had been injured.

Dr Paul Forestell of the Pacific Whale Foundation contacted local Aborigines in 1992, the year after the first sighting of the white humpback, and was told albinos were considered to be special beings, "perhaps signs or tokens from the spirit world."
The name "Migaloo" was suggested which means "white fellah" in the local Aboriginal language.

The Pacific Whale Foundation says Migaloo is part of a population of humpback whales feeding in Antarctica in the southern summer and autumn and migrating along the east coast of Australia in the winter and spring (June to October) to the warmer waters of the Great Barrier Reef.

It's been a case of "spot Migaloo" every year in Australia since the white whale was first sighted in 1991.
Because of the whale's color (or lack of it), Migaloo is easily sighted and tracked by researchers without the use of radio tags.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Marine Brazil, iPhone/iPad universal application

Marine Brazil, universal iPhone/iPad application for seamless viewing 242 raster charts from DHN (Directoria de Hidrografia e Navegação, o Serviço Hidroceanográfico Brasileiro)

Tanks dumped in Gulf of Thailand to create artificial reefs

A fleet of disused tanks and trucks have been dumped into the sea off the coast of Thailand in a bid to form an artificial coral reef

From TheTelegraph

The unusual move is designed to boost the ecosystem in the Gulf of Thailand.
The rusting collection of trucks and 25 disused Army tanks are intended to form an artificial underwater structure to provide shelter for marine life and boost local fish stocks.

The vehicles were lowered into the sea off the Narathiwat coast by crane .
A wide-ranging marine conservation policy is being enacted in Thailand to preserve fish stocks and keep the seafood industry afloat.
The fertile waters of the Gulf of Thailand are crucial to the nation’s fishermen, but overfishing has left the ecosystem depleted in recent years.
The shallow arm of the South China sea harbours many natural coral reefs and is a popular scuba diving destination.
The Government announced a three-month ban on fishing in parts of the Gulf of Thailand last year in an attempt to improve breeding and replenish fish stocks.

By the way, a New Jersey program using subway cars to build artificial reefs has now been discontinued when it was discovered that the cars weren't holding up as expected.
The operation was originally suspended because the stainless steel cars were disintegrating after only seven months in the ocean.

Links :
  • YouTube : Pensacola, FL home to the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany, the world's largest artificial reef
  • NYTimes : Growing pains for a deep-sea home built of subway cars
  • Guidelines for Marine Artificial Reef Materials (January 2004)

Monday, August 16, 2010

What's new paddleboard? Extreme athlete Tom Jones travels 1,500 Miles to clean up the oceans

From NYDailyNews

He put the paddle to the metal - and finished the journey of a lifetime.

A California man went from Key West, Fla., to Battery Park City on a paddleboard, completing the harrowing 1,500-mile trip in just over 90 days to raise cash for his campaign to rid the ocean of plastic.

"Going out in the ocean and doing this campaign was a way for me to see how bad the situation was out there," said Tom Jones, 48, from Huntington Beach.
"Every day I was in the ocean I would see plastic bottles, food wrappers, all type of trash. It's incredible given the volume of the ocean."

He also saw the refuse during the physically exhausting trip into the city, where he was surrounded by tons of debris floating in the murky waters.

"Coming into New York City, where the waterways are tighter, the plastic is so dense," he said. "There's plastic forks, 5-gallon plastic buckets, bags, cups, all of that."

Jones left Florida on May 12 and hopes to raise half a million dollars for his nonprofit, Plastic Free Ocean.

It's an ambitious target, but he's no stranger to a challenge.
He says he has already paddleboarded 1,240 miles from Oregon to Mexico (video I/II/III) and ran 120 consecutive daily marathons from California to New York.

During this latest adventure, Jones hit an alligator in South Carolina and snagged his paddle on its hind leg.
He spotted a few sharks off New Jersey and was attacked by a horse fly.

A rescue worker traveled alongside him, passing him food, and a crew drove up the coast on land.

But the father of two was largely alone with his paddle and the unforgiving ocean, paddling on a strict schedule of more than 15 miles a day.

"The physical endurance was really tough," he said. "You didn't sleep if you didn't make it."
The toughest part, though, was leaving his children at home.
"I'm just looking forward to getting back home to them," he said.

Links :

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Ocean’s color affects hurricane paths

Animation depicting nearly a decades worth of SeaWiFS ocean chlorophyll concentration
and land Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) data

From American Geophysical Union

A change in the color of ocean waters could have a drastic effect on the prevalence of hurricanes, new research indicates.
In a simulation of such a change in one region of the North Pacific, the study finds that hurricane formation decreases by 70 percent.
That would be a big drop for a region that accounts for more than half the world’s reported hurricane-force winds.

It turns out that the formation of typhoons — as hurricanes are known in the region — is heavily mediated by the presence of chlorophyll, a green pigment that helps the tiny single-celled organisms known as phytoplankton convert sunlight into food for the rest of the marine ecosystem.
Chlorophyll contributes to the ocean’s color.

“We think of the oceans as blue, but the oceans aren’t really blue, they’re actually a sort of greenish color,” said Anand Gnanadesikan, a researcher with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, New Jersey.
“The fact that [the oceans] are not blue has a [direct] impact on the distribution of tropical cyclones.”

In the study, to be published in an upcoming issue of Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, Gnanadesikan’s team describes how a drop in chlorophyll concentration, and the corresponding reduction in ocean color, could cause a decrease in the formation of hurricanes in the color-depleted zone.
Although the study looks at the effects of a simulated drop in the phytoplankton population (and therefore in the ocean’s green tint), recently-published research argued that global phytoplankton populations have been steadily declining over the last century.

Gnanadesikan compared hurricane formation rates in a computer model under two scenarios.
For the first, he modeled real conditions using chlorophyll concentrations in the North Pacific observed by satellites.
He then compared that to a scenario where the chlorophyll concentration in parts of the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre — a large, clockwise-circulation pattern encompassing most of the North Pacific — was set to zero.

In the latter scenario, the absence of chlorophyll in the subtropical gyre affected hurricane formation by modifying air circulation and heat distribution patterns both within and beyond the gyre.
In fact, along the equator, those new patterns outside the gyre led to an increase in hurricane formation of about 20 percent.
Yet, this rise was more than made up for by the 70 percent decrease in storms further north, over and near the gyre.
The model showed that more hurricanes would hit the Philippines and Vietnam, but fewer would make landfall in South China and Japan.

In the no-chlorophyll scenario, sunlight is able to penetrate deeper into the ocean, leaving the surface water cooler.
The drop in the surface temperature in the model affects hurricane formation in three main ways: cold water provides less energy; air circulation patterns change, leading to more dry air aloft which makes it hard for hurricanes to grow.
The changes in air circulation trigger strong winds aloft, which tend to prevent thunderstorms from developing the necessary superstructure that allows them to grow into hurricanes.

A decrease in hurricanes in the North Pacific is just one example of how changing chlorophyll concentrations can have far-reaching, previously unconsidered, effects.
The specific outcomes over different patches of the ocean will vary based on local currents and ocean conditions, said Gnanadesikan.

A complete absence of chlorophyll in parts of the ocean would be a drastic change, Gnanadesikan admits.
Yet, its potential impact is still important to consider, he maintains.
The northern Pacific gyre that he studied is already the “biological desert of the ocean,” he said.
So the surprise, then, is that “even in this region that is apparently clear, biologically-mediated heating is important.”

This research was primarily supported by NOAA, with additional support from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.