Saturday, June 30, 2012

Image of the week : a glorious view

The Terra satellite captured a rainbow-like optical phenomenon called a glory over the Pacific Ocean.
Water droplets within clouds scatter light to produce the effect.


A layer of stratocumulus clouds over the Pacific Ocean served as the backdrop for this rainbow-like optical phenomenon known as a glory.
Glories generally appear as concentric rings of color in front of mist or fog.
They form when water droplets within clouds scatter sunlight back toward a source of illumination (in this case the Sun).
The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite acquired the image on June 20, 2012.

Although glories may look similar to rainbows, the way light is scattered to produce them is different.
Rainbows are formed by refraction and reflection; glories are formed by backward diffraction.
The most vivid glories form when an observer looks down on thin clouds with droplets that are between 10 and 30 microns in diameter.
The brightest and most colorful glories also form when droplets are roughly the same size.

From the ground or an airplane, glories appear as circular rings of color.
The space shuttle Columbia observed a circular glory from space in 2003.
In the image above, however, the glory does not appear circular.
That’s because MODIS scans the Earth’s surface in swaths perpendicular to the path followed by the satellite.
And since the swaths show horizontal cross sections through the rings of the glory, the glory here appears as two elongated bands of color that run parallel to the path of the satellite, rather than a full circle.

Glories always appear around the spot directly opposite the Sun, from the perspective of the viewer. This spot is called the anti-solar point.
To visualize this, imagine a line connecting the Sun, a viewer, and the spot where the glory appears. In this case, the anti-solar point falls about halfway between the two colored lines of the glory.
Glories are usually seen against a background of white clouds.
Clouds are white because the sunlight is scattered many times by multiple droplets within the clouds. The white light often obscures details of glories, but without them in the background, the glory would not be visible.

Another notable feature in this image are the swirling von karman vortices that are visible to the right of the glory.
The alternating double row of vortices form in the wake of an obstacle, in this instance the eastern Pacific island of Guadalupe.

Friday, June 29, 2012

The reef of the future

Stanford researchers help predict the oceans of the future with a mini-lab

From Stanford

Scientists from Stanford and elsewhere joined to create a mini-lab in Australia's Great Barrier Reef. The device can simulate predicted future ocean conditions – such as rising carbon dioxide levels – and their effects on ecosystems such as coral.

Stanford researchers have helped open a new door of possibility in the high-stakes effort to save the world's coral reefs.

Working with an international team, the scientists – including Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment Senior Fellows Jeff Koseff, Rob Dunbar and Steve Monismith – found a way to create future ocean conditions in a small lab-in-a-box in Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
The water inside the device can mimic the composition of the future ocean as climate change continues to alter Earth.

 Great Barrier Reef (photo David Doubilet)

Inside the mini-lab, set in shallow water two to six feet deep, elevated levels of water acidity were created to test the reaction of a few local corals.
(Other corals in the vicinity were not adversely affected.)

It was the first controlled ocean acidification experiment in shallow coastal waters.
The scientists' study, published in Scientific Reports, describes how they simulated predicted future ocean conditions off Heron Island in Australia's Great Barrier Reef, representing a new paradigm for analyzing how reefs respond to ocean acidification.

Focusing conservation efforts

"Installing systems like this at reefs and other aquatic environments could be instrumental in helping us identify how ecosystems will change and which locations and ecosystem types are more likely to remain robust and resilient," said Lida Teneva, a Stanford doctoral student studying with Dunbar.

A researcher conducts ocean acidification experiments off Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia.

"From this, we can determine which habitats to focus our conservation efforts on as strongholds for the future," Teneva said.

Oceans absorb more than a quarter of all atmospheric carbon dioxide, concentrations of which are increasing at a rate twice as fast as at any time in the past 800,000 years or more.
This leads to increasingly intense water acidification and widespread coral reef destruction.
The potential loss is tremendous: reefs provide aquaculture, protein and storm protection for about 1 billion people worldwide.

Standard in situ studies of ocean acidification have multiple drawbacks, including a lack of control over treatment conditions and a tendency to expose organisms to more extreme and variable pH levels than those predicted in the next century.
So, in 2007, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute developed a system that allows for highly controlled semi-enclosed experiments in the deep sea.
For their recent study, Stanford researchers modified the system for use in coral reefs.

The complex device, the Coral Proto – Free Ocean Carbon Enrichment (CP-FOCE) system, uses a network of sensors to monitor water conditions and maintain experimental pH levels as offsets from environmental pH.
It avoids many of the problems associated with standard in situ ocean acidification studies, and – unlike lab and aquarium experiments – makes it possible to study amid natural conditions such as seasonal environmental changes and ambient seawater chemistry.

The study was funded by the Australian Research Council, the Queensland Government, the National Science Foundation and the Pacific Blue Foundation.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Pedal from British Columbia to Hawaii

From DiscoveryNews

Are you feverishly hungry to pedal across the ocean? If you have roughly $82,000 to spare and an iron stomach, this crazy adventure could literally be at your feet.

Canadian entrepreneur and adventurer Greg Kolodziejzyk, 51, has a dozen Ironman triathlons and even more marathons under his belt.
His endurance both in cycling and on water led him to become a multiple-time world record holder, most recently in 2008 for the greatest distance traveled in 24 hours on flat water using only his muscles.

 The cockpit of Greg Kolodziejzyk's pedal-powered vehicle, called WiTHiN

That same year he advanced with plans to cross the Atlantic using a custom pedal-powered boat called WiTHin.
His initial goal: Beat the record set by rower Emmanuel Coindre, who went from the Canary Islands to Guadeloupe in 43 days.

Then his goal shifted, turning into a quest to become the first to cross the Pacific -- from British Columbia to Hawaii -- in a human-powered vessel.

Kolodziejzyk originally pulled the vessel together with nearly $119,000 through fundraising and donations.
Designed by a naval architect and human powered boat engineer, the lightweight WiTHin is constructed from carbon fiber, has six watertight compartments, a steel keel bulb for stability, and solar panels that power sophisticated navigation equipment.
The pedal drive unit sits in the cockpit's forward area.

 In 2010, Gizmag's Ben Coxworth called it "a marvel of marine engineering."

Kolodziejzyk wanted to show the potential for human power, but numerous offshore trials put him face-to-face with gales.
The vessel apparently stayed water-tight and rolled 360 degrees without leaking.
However, "because WiTHiN was designed to be very fast, she is narrow and as such, rolls quite a bit in rough seas," Kolodziejzyk explained on his site.
All that movement proved too much for him.

Now he hopes someone more cut out for sea travel will take over the pedals.
Kolodziejzyk recently announced he's selling WiTHin for $84,000 CDN (about $82,000 USD) or better offer.
He's throwing in all the necessary equipment and supplies, including a waterproof sleeping bag and a survival suit.
Whoever does end up purchasing the vessel better have some serious sea legs.

Links :
  • GizMag :One-of-a-kind pedal-powered "super sea kayak" can be yours for $84,000

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Meet the deep sea version of the Starship Enterprise

From Earthtechling

Captain James T. Kirk may have called space as the final frontier, but it’s actually the ocean that stands full of mystery.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the ocean covers 71 percent of the Earth’s surface, yet more than 95 percent of the underwater world remains unexplored.
Just like outer space, the world beneath the ocean presents a unique set of challenges to our oxygen-dependent bodies.
Just like it has taken decades of technology to create the vessels that could take us safely into space, and similar vehicles are necessary if we are to be permitted to look upon the ocean’s most private corners without suffocating or being crushed by the pressure.
The SeaOrbiter, a futuristic marine research vessel created by French architect Jacques Rougerie could be the self-contained ocean laboratory we’ve been searching for.

Image via SeaOrbiter/Jacques Rougerie

Half submarine, half sailing ship, the SeaOrbiter is designed to facilitate continuous observation of the underwater world without disrupting underwater ecosystems or polluting the ocean.
For the most part, the 58 meter-tall vessel will drift be carried by ocean currents while providing permanent living quarters for a team of 18 people who will carry out observational experiments.
Half of the vessel will be submerged underwater at all times.
Those moving between the upper and lower portions will pass through a locked, pressurized chamber similar to those used in space craft.

Life-support systems and as-needed propulsion to avoid storms and other ships will mostly be generated from clean technologies like wind, wave, and solar power.
According to CNN, a side project is underway in conjunction with the European Defense and Space Systems conglomerate, to develop a biofuel as the ship’s main power source.

Although the SeaOrbiter concept has been around for over a decade, and will cost around $43 million, sources say it’s likely to become a reality in the next few years.
It recently completed its industrial design phase and construction is slated to begin in October of this year. ”
All technical issues are resolved, all the modeling is done,” says Ariel Fuchs, education and media director of the SeaOrbiter project.
“We gathered institutional and industrial support five or six years ago and it’s been a real institutional and financial project for the last two years.”

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Rising sea levels: Is global warming making the US East Coast a 'hot spot?'

Recent trends in sea level rise with Jet Propulsion Laboratory climate science expert Josh Willis

 From CSMonitor

The pace of sea-level rise along much of the East Coast is accelerating three to four times faster than the worldwide average, a US Geological Survey study says. Global warming is the chief suspect.

The pace of sea-level rise along a swath of the US East Coast – from north of Boston down to North Carolina's Cape Hatteras – is accelerating three to four times faster than the worldwide average, according to a new study from the US Geological Survey (USGS), turning the region into a hot spot for sea-level rise.
At stake: the increased vulnerability of coastal communities to severe damage from storm surges or even high surf caused by storms off shore.

 NOAA viewer : Sea Level Rise and Coastal Flooding Impacts

The prime suspect: global warming, through its direct effect on heating water at the ocean surface as well as the effect warmed seawater and air temperatures can have on speeding the pace at which Greenland is losing ice.
Warmer seawater in the North Atlantic and increasing amounts of fresh water from melting Greenland ice can slow ocean-circulation patterns in the ocean basin, which can trigger the accelerated rise, modeling studies have suggested.

 This Aug. 2011 photo shows a flooded road on Hatteras Island, N.C., after Hurricane Irene swept through the area the previous day cutting the roadway in five locations.
From Cape Hatteras, N.C., to just north of Boston, sea levels are rising much faster than they are around the globe.
Jim R. Bounds/AP

Indeed, models indicated that the East Coast could develop such a sea-level hot spot – and in the location the new study identifies – because of these factors, explains Asbury Sallenger Jr., a research oceanographer who heads a USGS project to assess changes in the hazards that US coastal communities could face from climate change.

But earlier real-world measurements did not always support the theoretical models.
One study, published in May 2011, looked at more than a century's worth of tide-gauge measurements from around the US and globally.
The team not only found no US hot spot.
It found no acceleration of sea-level rise over the 20th century and into the first decade of the 21st.

The results triggered spirited debates as to why, in the face of other evidence to the contrary, the team came up dry.
If the warming the climate has experienced during the past century has triggered no rise in sea-levels, projections of future increases – already laced with uncertainties – would be heavily overstated at best.

Dr. Sallenger and two USGS colleagues decided to take their own look.
Tide gauge measurements from 1950 to 2009 revealed spots along the East Coast where sea levels rose faster in recent decades (redder means more acceleration).
Credit: Sallenger et al/Nature Climate Change 2012

They used tide-gauge measurements from around the US coastlines spanning a 60-year period beginning in 1950.
They found that from 1950 through 2009, as global average sea levels rose at a pace of 0.59 millimeters a year, they rose 1.97 mm per year in the East Coast “hot spot.”
Between 1970 and 2009, the pace picked up, with global average sea levels rising 0.98 mm per year and the hot spot's pace increasing to 3.8 mm per year.

South of Cape Hatteras the pace shows no significant change for either time span.
North of Boston, the pace either was zero or slightly negative for the 1950-2009 period, but between 1970-2009, the rate rose into positive territory well into the Canada, Sallenger's team reports.

The results were "surprising, actually," Sallenger says.
"We found what we call a hot spot of acceleration. This is the only location within the country and a good chunk of North America where this kind of thing is happening."

The team posits that a key difference between its study and the one published in 2011 is that the 76 percent of the tide gauge data used in the previous study goes so far back – when little or nothing was happening – that they inadvertently skewed the results toward little or no change.
The results imply that New York City could see at least an extra 20- to 29-centimeter (7.9- to 11.4-inch) rise in sea levels by 2100 above the heightened global average at the time.

 The last house on Holland Island, Maryland, where 360 people lived before tides took over
Photograph by Astrid Riecken for the Washington Post/Getty Images

The study by Sallenger's team, published Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change, follows a report from the National Research Council projecting as much as a four to five foot rise in sea levels along the US West Coast by 2100.

That study, requested by the State of California to inform its adaptation plans, as well as the USGS study, underscore changes in local sea levels that global averages can mask.
The factors that can alter the local picture range from subsidence – as people draw down aquifers along the coast or as they drain and develop marshlands – to changes in the distribution of Earth's gravity as ice caps melt and add their water to the oceans.

Even Earth's restless tectonic plates get into the act.
The NRC study suggests that sea levels in the Pacific Northwest might fall slightly during the first part of this century relative to the coast because the land is being pushed upward by movement along the subduction zone marking the western edge of the Juan de Fuca plate offshore.
At least in the near-term, the uplift could outpace sea-level rise.

The US East Coast isn’t the only US coastline hosting a sea-level hot spot.
Southern Louisiana is another one, although for a different mix of reasons.
There, over the past century, sea level has risen at a pace of about 10 mm a year.
But sea-level rise, measured at Pensacola, Fla., is occurring at 1.65 mm a year, according to a recent study by researchers at Tulane University, at a location where the land isn't subsiding. Thus, for the Mississippi Delta the global-warming component to sea level rise, while important, has been outpaced by subsidence.

Along the East Coast's hot spot, by contrast, the team's measurements suggest that subsidence isn't a significant player in the acceleration it found.
The pace is most consistent with the slowing of Atlantic currents along the coast, either from warming waters, melting ice, or some combination, Sallenger says.

The take-home messages, he says: “Acceleration is indeed happening within the United States and can be seen in data,” and sea-level rise does not manifest itself the same way everywhere; it's not like filling a bathtub.

“Rather, it varies over regional scales,” he adds.

Links :
  • ClimateCentral : sea level rise analysis
  • Nature : Hotspot of accelerated sea-level rise on the Atlantic coast of North America
  • TheGuardian : Scientists warn US east coast over accelerated sea level rise
  • NationalGeographic : Sea levels rising fast on U.S. East Coast
  • PIK : Significant sea-level rise in a 2-degree warming world

Monday, June 25, 2012

Ocean advocates find silver linings after Rio+20 disappointment

 From NationalGeographic

Although agreement was not reached on policing international waters, some firm commitments were made in Brazil.

In an email to National Geographic News from Rio de Janeiro, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Sylvia Earle said of the ongoing UN Conference on Sustainable Development, "Concerning oceans, there is reason to suggest that the outcomes could be characterized as Rio+20 minus 40."
(National Geographic News is owned by the National Geographic Society.)
Earle's words sum up the buzz in the halls of Riocentro—the massive suburban conference center that has hosted tens of thousands of delegates, activists, and journalists this week—as well as among the thousands of protesters that have taken the streets around the Marvelous City.

Still, Earle pointed out, "It is not all bad news, just discouraging to hear the French ambassador say that the will of 183 countries concerning developing a framework for governance of the high seas had come unglued owing to opposition from a small number of powerful countries."
Earle is referring to the United States, Russia, Canada, and Venezuela in particular, who, according to reports, moved to block specific rulemaking on environmental protections in international waters during late-night, closed-door negotiations earlier this week.
(See "Rio+20 Brings Hope and Solutions Despite Weak Talks")

Expressing his disappointment, Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International, told the Guardian, "What kept Greenpeace in the [Rio+20 negotiations] was that it looked like we could get a decent deal on the oceans, but we have now got a really watered-down text that has very little teeth."

Earle said she believes the U.S. government is resistant to start negotiations on a new international oceans treaty, since there has been recent movement to ratify the Law of the Sea Treaty, an international agreement that went into effect in 1994 but counts the U.S. as one of a handful of holdout countries.
The Law of the Sea Treaty does include some environmental guidelines, but not as many specific protections as Earle would like.

Earle added that the U.S. also has concerns about fishing interests and is worried about the United Nations gaining authority over U.S. interests, although, she said, the aim of Rio+20 talks was not to put the high seas under UN jurisdiction, but to establish a framework for international governance.
"Presently the High Seas, nearly half the planet, is like the Wild West, and a few industrial fishers from a few countries are wrecking entire ecosystems and depleting species already in serious trouble," said Earle.
"In my remarks [at a Rio+20 panel discussion] yesterday, I used [IUCN marine protected areas expert] Dan Laffoley's comment that we should call this a 'Half the Earth summit,' since the blue half—the high seas—are being seriously neglected."

Also speaking to National Geographic News from Rio, Susan Lieberman, deputy director of international policy for Pew Environment Group, said, "We came to Rio with high expectations for action to address the ocean crisis.
For a once-in-a-decade meeting where so much was at stake, Rio was a far cry from a resounding success.
The lack of progress on managing the high seas, which can and will only be addressed through international action, is discouraging and should have been dealt with here and now.
"It is frankly astonishing that world leaders all agreed this is a major problem needing an international, coordinated solution and then deferred any decision on action for another two and a half years. The future of life in the sea does not need more bureaucratic infighting," said Lieberman.

Some Progress Made

Still, Lieberman saw some positive developments in Rio.
"The final-outcome document contains good recommendations on ending overfishing, taking action to stop illegal fishing, phasing out harmful subsidies, eliminating destructive fishing practices, and protecting vulnerable marine ecosystems," she said.

Lieberman added that there was a decision to make regulating the catch of commercial species like tuna more transparent, although it will be up to governments to put those regulations into place.
National Geographic's Earle said, "The good news is that the Rio+20 conference may be more important for the enhanced exposure given to ocean issues and other topics not covered 20 years ago," during the first Earth Summit in Rio.
"Meetings over coffee, on the transport buses, and in hallways, bars, and beaches are likely to be more meaningful concerning policies that will endure than all of the exquisitely orchestrated formalities."

Earle pointed to major commitments from the Maldives and Australia for large protected areas within their exclusive economic zones.
She also pointed to the high amount of public participation in Rio+20, including the fact that people from 163 countries submitted nearly a million and a half votes online about environmental issues they wanted to see discussed.
(See more about sustainable oceans.)

"The conference has been a celebration of knowing that nature matters—for business, industry, health, security, and every breath we take, every drop of water we drink," said Earle.
"Whether the political leaders endorse what the people are saying or not is not as important as the lift this conference has given to the growing awareness that the planet has limits."

Earle added that 20 years ago scientists did not have nearly as much data or insight about the environment.
She called the current moment a "sweet spot," and warned that it will soon be too late to take action to reverse the increase of carbon dioxide, ocean acidification, ocean dead zones, deforestation, plastic pollution, mass extinctions, and so on.

"Too Big to Fail"

Earle said a highlight of the dialogues on oceans she participated in this week in Rio was when one panelist said, "We have to get over the idea that the ocean is 'too big to fail'"—that it will survive and thrive no matter what.

She added that ocean explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau said there are just three things that will save the ocean and ourselves: "Education, education, education!"

 Ideas Labs: Greg Stone, renowned oceanographer and Senior Vice President of Conservation International discusses the importance of creating an Ocean Health Index, with the aim to foster the conservation of our oceans in a systemic and highly effective manner.

One panelist, concerned that fishing interests were under-represented, asked anyone in the audience who made their living as a fishermen to stand up.
No one did.
But then Earle asked all of the fish in the audience to please stand up.
"We were determining their fate, after all, but I didn't see them at the table.  Only on the table," Earle reflected.
Pews Lieberman told National Geographic News, "I wouldn't call Rio a total failure, because a large number of countries recognize the need for international management of the sea, and there were commitments to deal with some of the key issues that are accelerating the deterioration of the marine environment."

Links : 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Raw Power on Volvo Ocean Race : crossing a North Atlantic storm

A North Atlantic storm during Leg 8 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 wreaked havoc on the fleet but provided powerful winds that saw race speed records fall and boats averaging over 30 knots on multiple stretches.

Relive some of the wave-crashing, high-speed sailing action from Lisbon to Lorient won by Groupama sailing team.