Saturday, September 12, 2015

The History of Cartography, the “Most Ambitious Overview of Map Making Ever,” now free online

The image above, appearing in Vol. 2, dates back to 1534.
It was created by Oronce Fine, the first chair of mathematics in the Collège Royal (aka the Collège de France), and it features the world mapped in the shape of a heart. Pretty great.

From OpenCulture by Dan Colman

Worth a quick mention: The University of Chicago Press has made available online — at no cost — the first three volumes of The History of Cartography.
Or what Edward Rothstein, of The New York Times, called “the most ambitious overview of map making ever undertaken.”
He continues:
People come to know the world the way they come to map it—through their perceptions of how its elements are connected and of how they should move among them. This is precisely what the series is attempting by situating the map at the heart of cultural life and revealing its relationship to society, science, and religion…. It is trying to define a new set of relationships between maps and the physical world that involve more than geometric correspondence. It is in essence a new map of human attempts to chart the world.
If you head over to this page, then look in the upper left, you will see links to three volumes (available in a free PDF format).
My suggestion would be to look at the gallery of color illustrations for each book, links to which you’ll find below.

Volume 1
Volume 2: Part 1
Volume 2: Part 2
Volume 2: Part 3
Volume 3: Part 1
Volume 3: Part 2

Note: If you buy Vol 1. on Amazon, it will run you $248. As beautiful as the book probably is, you’ll probably appreciate this free digital offering.

Links :

Friday, September 11, 2015

New international standards needed to manage ocean noise

 Humpback whales and tanker in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary in Massachusetts Bay.
Green Fire Productions/Flickr

From Duke Univ

As governments and industries expand their use of high-decibel seismic surveys to explore the ocean bottom for resources, experts from eight universities and environmental organizations are calling for new global standards and mitigation strategies.

Their goal is to minimize the amount of sound the surveys produce and reduce risks the surveys and other underwater human poses to vulnerable marine life.

Firms and agencies conducting the surveys would benefit from these new measures, the experts assert, because instead of having to navigate an assortment of rules that vary by nation or region, they would have a uniform set of standards to follow.
"In recent years, we've seen an increase in the use of seismic surveys for and research, and for establishing national resource claims on ever-larger geographic scales. Surveys are now occurring in, or proposed for, many previously unexploited regions including parts of the Arctic Ocean and off the U.S. Atlantic coast," said Douglas P. Nowacek, an expert on marine ecology and bioacoustics at Duke University.
"The time has come for industries, governments, scientists and environmental organizations to work together to set practical guidelines to minimize the risks," he said.
Nowacek and his colleagues published their recommendations in a peer-reviewed paper today (Sept. 1) in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

 Two sperm whales "fluke-up" near the Texas A&M Research Vessel Gyre.

Seismic survey impulses are among the loudest noises humans put into the oceans, and in some cases can be detected more than 2,500 miles away.
The increase in ocean noise they cause can mask sounds whales and other species rely on to communicate, navigate, find food or avoid predators.
Long-term exposure to the noise can also lead to chronic stress and disorientation in animals, and auditory damage.
To reduce these risks, the new paper recommends that ocean noise be recognized globally as a pollutant - something the European Union already recognizes - and managed through a revision to the existing International Convention on the Prevention of Pollution from Ships.
This will allow the establishment of consistent, scientifically based standards and monitoring programs for ocean noise levels, Nowacek said.
Using empirical data from this monitoring and from ongoing field studies the convention would support, scientists could more thoroughly assess surveys' cumulative long-term impacts on marine life and identify areas where seismic activities should be prohibited or temporarily limited to protect important habitats or vulnerable populations.

 A rising tide of man-made noise is disrupting the lives of marine animals.

Wider use of multi-client surveys could also cut risks.
By collecting data simultaneously for two or more firms or agencies, these surveys significantly reduce the number of surveys required in a region, without forcing clients to share proprietary data. They've been successfully tested in Norway.

A rare and endangered blue whale offshore near Long Beach, Calif.
Dave McNew/Getty Images

Emerging technologies could further reduce a survey's acoustic footprint.
Many of these technologies, including the marine vibrator - which conducts surveys using a steady pulse of low-pressure sound waves over a longer period - are "not that far away from industrial scale use," Nowacek said.
The need to implement these new protective measures and scale up these technologies is urgent, he stressed. As sea ice in the Arctic Ocean rapidly diminishes, bordering nations are eyeing new underwater oil and gas exploration and research prospects there. Increased activity is also proposed for lower latitudes.
"Survey permits are now being considered for oil and gas exploration along the U.S. East Coast that would allow surveys to occur as close as three miles from the coast. However, the current draft of the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management's five-year plan for East Coast oil and allows oil and gas lease areas to be no closer than 50 miles offshore. That's a pretty big difference," Nowacek said. "While gathering some data from beyond a lease area is necessary, allowing these industries to survey to within three miles of the coast is excessive."

Links :

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Seek-and-destroy robot to stop starfish killing the Great Barrier Reef

The venomous thorn-like spines that protect this starfish are the least of our problems - this species is destroying coral reefs in many parts of the world due to an imbalance in the oceans
source : Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation

From CNET by Michelle Starr

The Queensland University of Technology is developing an autonomous robot to deal with the one of the biggest threats to the Great Barrier Reef: Crown-of-Thorns Starfish.

The Great Barrier Reef, off the coast of Queensland, Australia, is dying.
However, while a great deal of the damage to the 344,400 square kilometres (133,000 square miles) of coral comes from climate change and pollution, one of the biggest threats comes from within: the Crown-of-Thorns Starfish, Acanthaster planci, which feeds on native coral.

 This animation shows the locations of Crown of Thorns Starfish (COTS) outbreaks
as measured over the last 30 years.
source : Dr Eric Lawrey, AIMS

In normal conditions, the venomous starfish feeds on faster-growing corals, which allows colonies of slower-growing corals to form, improving the diversity of a reef.
This is what occurs in other regions of the Indo-Pacific to which it is native.
But at the Great Barrier Reef, the starfish is a menace.
Every few years, the starfish's population explodes, leading to over a decade of havoc.
Three of these population explosions have been recorded over the last 50 years: 1962-1976; 1978-1990; and 1993-2005; and a new population observed in 2011 is believed to have been the vanguard of a new outbreak.
If not for these outbreaks, research from the Australian Institute of Marine Science predicts, coral cover would have increased in the last 30 years. Instead, it has declined by about 50 percent.

 Crown-of-Thorns Starfish off the coast of Indonesia.

What causes the Crown-of-Thorns Starfish population explosions is currently unknown, although it is believed that overfishing of the starfish's natural predators exacerbate them, and that destruction of predator habitat has led to declining predator numbers.
These are not easy to deal with.
Instead, a project from the Queensland University of Technology takes the direct approach.
Called the COTSbot (Crown-of-Thorns Starfish robot), it's designed to autonomously patrol and monitor the reefs without a tether, using robotic vision to find the starfish.
When it locates a Crown-of-Thorns starfish, it will administer a lethal injection of bile salts from a pneumatic arm.
This is not a pleasant death for the starfish.
It breaks out in blisters that burst open, exposing the internal organs.
This condition is infectious and can be passed to other Crown-of-Thorns starfish.
Infected starfish die within 24 hours, with a 100 percent mortality rate.
The robot, which has been in development for 10 years, completed its first sea trials in Queensland's Moreton Bay last week, testing its mechanical parts and navigation.

 Starfish have 20 seconds to comply.
This seek-and-destroy robot defends the Great Barrier Reef

"Human divers are doing an incredible job of eradicating this starfish from targeted sites but there just aren't enough divers to cover all the COTS hotspots across the Great Barrier Reef," said Matthew Dunbabin, who led the robot's creation at the QUT's Institute for Future Environments, in a statement.
"We see the COTSbot as a first responder for ongoing eradication programs -- deployed to eliminate the bulk of COTS in any area, with divers following a few days later to hit the remaining COTS.
The COTSbot becomes a real force multiplier for the eradication process the more of them you deploy -- imagine how much ground the programs could cover with a fleet of 10 or 100 COTSbots at their disposal, robots that can work day and night and in any weather condition."

The team has taken thousands of images and videos of the reef, and refined the COTSbot's stereoscopic vision system so that it can automatically and accurately detect the starfish. It currently has an accuracy rate of over 99 percent.
If it is uncertain that it has seen a Crown-of-Thorns Starfish, it will take a photo to be verified by a human. That data will then be incorporated into its memory bank.
The robot is designed to operate within a metre of the seafloor, and can cruise for up to eight hours at a time, with the capacity to deliver 200 injections.
Its ability to do so will be tested on the Great Barrier Reef later this month, accompanied by human researchers, who will verify the identified starfish before the robot is allowed to deliver any injections.
The autonomous work of the robot is then scheduled to begin in December.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Going deep: Cautious steps toward seabed mining

So far, the International Seabed Authority has issued 26 exploratory leases in sections of “the Area”—the vast international seabed that lies outside individual countries’ borders 
(indicated on the map in gray).
The exploratory leases issued to date cover approximately 2 million km2 of seabed.
No exploitation leases have been issued yet. 
(map : Jane Whitney)

From EHP by Charles W. Schmidt

The deep ocean was once assumed to be lifeless and barren.
Today we know that even the deepest waters teem with living creatures, some of them thought to be little changed from when life itself first appeared on the planet.
The deep ocean is also essential to the earth’s biosphere—it regulates global temperatures, stores carbon, provides habitat for countless species, and cycles nutrients for marine food webs.

The ocean floor is home to a wealth of species, some of which—such as this bamboo coral (Isidella tentaculum)—have only recently been discovered.
Proponents of seabed mining claim it causes less ecological damage than terrestrial extraction.
But some researchers are concerned that seabed mining could overwhelm deep-sea ecosystems, adding to concerns about the health of the oceans.

Currently stressed by pollution, industrial fishing, and oil and gas development, these cold, dark waters now face another challenge: mining.
With land-based mineral sources in decline, seabeds offer a new and largely untapped frontier for mineral extraction, and companies are gearing up to mine a treasure trove of copper, zinc, gold, manganese, and other minerals from the ocean floor.

Scientists, regulators, and mining companies are now collaborating on frameworks and strategies for mining the seabed responsibly.
Cindy Van Dover, director of the Duke University Marine Laboratory and chair of the school’s Division of Marine Science and Conservation, says that’s encouraging, given that seabed mining appears to be inevitable.

“There’s been a lot of engagement on the environmental side,” Van Dover says.
“A hundred years from now, people will look back and ask if we got this right. We need to be sure that we do.”

Copper grades, or the percentage of copper per unit of mined substrate, have declined with steadily rising extraction, from a high of 10–20% during the late nineteenth century to less than 1% today.
By contrast, copper grades in seabeds slated for exploitation in 2018 by the Canadian mining company Nautilus Minerals, lying under 1,600 m of water off Papua New Guinea, average 7.2%.5 It’s estimated that 500 billion metric tons of polymetallic nodules—mineral clumps loaded with varying levels of manganese, cobalt, nickel, and copper—lie scattered under waters up to 6,000 m deep in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian oceans.6

Proponents of seabed mining assert that extracting minerals from the deep ocean will inflict less environmental damage than mining on land, which displaces communities, removes entire ecosystems, exacerbates erosion, and pollutes groundwater, rivers, and streams.
But according to Craig Smith, a professor of biological oceanography at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, seabed mining will also stir up vast plumes of sediments, some of which could resettle over areas much larger than the mine sites themselves.
Scientists worry the plumes could cause widespread ecological damage and kill off deep-sea fauna that they know little about.
Without appropriate regulations, they say, seabed mining will further erode the ocean’s capacity to provide essential ecological services, adding to what are already acute concerns for the ocean’s overall health.

“Deep-ocean ecosystems can be incredibly fragile,” Smith says.
“And it’s possible that after the mining starts, huge areas could be impacted before any one of them has a chance to bounce back.”

ISA in the Decision Seat

To a large extent, environmental prospects for seabed mining hinge on the deliberations of a group called the International Seabed Authority (ISA).
The ISA was created by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), a treaty ratified by most of the world’s nations (although not by the United States).
The UNCLOS governs the use and protection of seabed resources.
Within that context, the ISA has a mandate to organize, regulate, and control all mineral-related activities in what’s known as “the Area,” or the international seabed lying beyond the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of specific countries.
Any coastal nation may claim an EEZ up to 200 nautical miles (370 km) off the country’s shore, within which the country is responsible for regulating mining.8

The UNCLOS defines the Area as a “common heritage of mankind” that is not subject to direct claims by sovereign states.
The ISA administers this heritage by issuing mining leases in the Area to countries or corporations that will, in turn, be obligated to pay mining royalties back to the ISA.
Because the royalties will come from mining a “common heritage,” the ISA will then redistribute the money to countries in the developing world using procedural mechanisms that are still being developed.

Given the inherent tension between the ISA’s dual mandates to collect and distribute royalties from mining licenses and to protect the marine environment, skeptics have described the organization as a “fox in the henhouse.”
Michael Lodge, the ISA’s legal counsel and deputy to its secretary-general, responds that “the system is full of checks and balances, with different interest groups in different chambers.”

Before the UNCLOS came into force in 1994, a so-called pioneer regime was established under the United Nations with the authority to issue “pioneer claims” to enterprises that had already invested in minerals exploration.
Lodge says six pioneer claims for minerals exploration were issued in 1984, each totaling an area of 75,000 km2.
Those claims transferred into official leases when the ISA became a legal entity 10 years later.

Between 1984 and 2011, Lodge says, the ISA issued no further leases, but then the numbers started surging, coincident with completion by the ISA of regulations for exploration.
According to Lodge, the ISA has so far issued 26 exploratory leases covering a total of approximately 2 million km2 of seabed.
Exploitation leases to actually extract minerals will follow when the corresponding regulations are final.

According to Maurice Tivey, a geologist and senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, two converging factors are driving the spike in exploration.
One of them is technological innovation leveraged from the oil and gas industries, which are migrating steadily toward the deep ocean.
The other factor is a projected surge in demand especially for copper, but also for other minerals, including “rare earth” minerals used in hybrid car components, smart phones, computers, solar panels, and many other electronic devices.
Duncan Currie, a legal and political advisor with the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, headquartered in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, says countries and corporations are taking a long view on seabed mining, anticipating mineral shortages and higher prices that will eventually make the practice cost-effective.

Polymetallic nodules—seen here with Psychropotes longicauda, a species of sea cucumber—dot the abyssal plains that cover nearly two-thirds of the earth’s surface.
These are some of the several billion metric tons of recoverable nodules estimated to lie in the Clarion–Clipperton Fracture Zone.
© Lenaick LEP (image license available at

Types of Deep-Sea Minerals

Desirable minerals are found in three types of seabed deposits.
Located in comparatively shallower waters 1,500–2,500 m deep, the most accessible deposits are called seafloor massive sulfides (SMS).
They occur where seawater percolates down through fissures in the earth’s crust—at volcanically active zones called midocean ridges (where tectonic plates diverge) and at submarine volcanic chains.
Cold seawater reacts with hot rock beneath these geologic features, resulting in hydrothermal vents that spew super-heated fluids into the water column.
In some cases, hydrothermal vents appear as “black smokers,” chimney-like structures discharging dark clouds of sulfur-bearing material that accumulates into SMS deposits.
These deposits typically contain high levels of copper and zinc, as well as gold and silver.

Polymetallic nodules are much more widespread deposits.
They are spread across the abyssal plains, which cover an estimated 60% of the earth’s surface.
These vast, flat expanses of the ocean floor lie an average of 3,000–4,000 m underwater.
Eighty percent of the exploratory leases for these nodules are located in a vast region called the Clarion–Clipperton Fracture Zone (CCZ), which extends from Mexico to Hawaii and ranges from 4,000 to 5,000 m in depth.
The CCZ is estimated to contain several billion metric tons of recoverable nodules, each roughly 5–10 cm in size, lying half-buried on the seafloor.

Cobalt-rich crusts make up the third class of seabed mineral deposits.
These crusts are found on undersea mountains, or “seamounts,” in shallower waters; most of the mineable crusts are at a depth of 700–2,500 m. Cobalt crusts are formed in areas where iron and manganese has precipitated from seawater over millions of years.
They’re also loaded with cobalt, nickel, tellurium, and rare earth metals that aggregate in concentrated layers up to 25 cm thick on hard rock surfaces.11

The different mineral types are surrounded by a variety of fauna.
Some SMS sites have low biodiversity, but others are populated by a rich assemblage of species, including tubeworms, clams, snails, shrimp, crabs, and cold-water corals.
The bacteria and other single-celled organisms at the bottom of hydrothermal vent food chains are chemosynthetic, meaning they derive energy from oxidation of inorganic molecules instead of from sunlight, as occurs with photosynthesis.
“It’s possible that all life on earth emerged from these hydrothermal systems,” says Richard Steiner, a marine conservation biologist and consultant based in Anchorage, Alaska.
“And since there are only [an estimated] five hundred to five thousand hydrothermal vent systems in the world ocean,13 each one averaging a square kilometer each, they’re also extremely rare.”

Scientists point out that SMS ecosystems evolved to recover quickly from violent disturbances. Indeed, the Solwara 1 site lies within 500 m of an active volcano that, according to unpublished findings from Tivey and colleagues, deposited 6 million tons of fresh sediments between 2005 and 2011.
However, mining has also been proposed for inactive vent sites, which may have lost some of this resiliency and thus may be likely to recover much more slowly, says Lisa Levin, a professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Scientists know little about the benthic (deep-sea) species residing in the abyssal plains, but what they’re learning shows them to be highly adapted to an extreme environment, where temperatures hover just above freezing and pressures become crushing.
Studies show much of the fauna to be limited in size, slow to mature and with low rates of metabolism, reproduction, and colonization.3

Moreover, the addition of new sediments in abyssal plains depends on the gradual rain of particles from the sea surface.
These include the remains of dead plankton and other organisms, plus tiny amounts of wind-blown grains of inorganic minerals, mainly quartz.
New sediments accumulate in abyssal plains at an average rate of just 2–3 cm per thousand years, according to Philip Weaver, managing director of Seascape Consultants, Ltd., in Romsey, United Kingdom.
And in the deepest plains, he says, it’s even lower, perhaps 0.5–1 cm over the same time scale.

According to Smith of the University of Hawai‘i, the sluggish biology and low rates of sedimentation virtually ensure that abyssal plain ecosystems won’t recover from mining for hundreds of years. Evidence supporting that view is already available: In 1978, scientists performing an experiment scooped polymetallic nodules from the CCZ and left a track in the sediments that was 1.5 km wide and 4.5 cm deep.
When a different research team returned to the same site 26 years later, the track was still clearly visible, analogous to the footsteps left by astronauts on the moon.
What’s more, nematode populations in the track were still disturbed, with the abundance and diversity significantly lower than in adjacent areas where nodules had not been removed.

By contrast, the seamounts where cobalt crusts are found tend to be high in biological productivity, Levin says.
“The physics is such that you have a lot of water motion, and that favors the growth of corals and fish,” she explains.
But these ecosystems also grow slowly, she says; some fish can be more than 100 years old.
“At this stage,” Levin says, “we expect these ecosystems will also recover slowly from disturbances.”

SMS deposits form around hydrothermal vents known as black smokers. 
The dark “smoke” is actually fluid expelled from the vents; minerals in this fluid settle around the base of the vent mound. 
This black smoker is located in the Eastern Manus Basin off Papua New Guinea.
©  Photo courtesy of Maurice Tivey and the WHOI Deep Submergence Laboratory, 
Cruise Manus 2006 with ROV Jason-2


Cobalt crusts, being stuck to rock, could be challenging to remove.
Miners will have to somehow recover the crusts without collecting too much rocky substrate, which would dilute the quality of the ore.
According to the ISA, only the Japanese have invested substantially in technologies to recover cobalt crusts.
Elsewhere, the technology remains in its infancy.

Substrate challenges are less daunting at SMS sites, where remotely operated vehicles will grind and cut their way through mineral deposits up to 30 m thick.
These sites also have a relatively small footprint. Nautilus Minerals’ site off Papua New Guinea, for instance, called Solwara 1, reaches 20–25 m into the seabed, yet the site occupies only 0.11–0.14 km2 of ocean floor, says Renee Grogan, the company’s environment manager.
Grogan says that compared with terrestrial mining, “this is a very small footprint for what we anticipate will be a very large yield of ore.”

SMS core samples await geologic analysis in a Japanese laboratory. Deep-sea deposits can be rich sources of precious metals, rare earths, and other valuable minerals.
© Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Polymetallic nodules, meanwhile, will be “vacuumed” from the top 5–10 cm of sediment on the seafloor.
According to the ISA, polymetallic nodules are only profitable when the yield exceeds 10 kg/m2.
By one estimate, a profitable site will mine 1 km2 of the seafloor every day, and a mature industry will disrupt up to 12,000 km2 around the world every year.
“But then again,” Smith says, “abyssal plains are probably the most widely distributed ecosystems on the planet. So the percentage impacted may be quite small, especially if [extraction is] well managed.”

Regardless of where it occurs, seabed mining will stir up some amount of sediment, creating plumes that in some cases could fall out over areas larger than the mine sites themselves.
These plumes could have a variety of potential impacts.
Plumes released near the surface may reduce light penetration and temperature and thus impair plankton growth, with rippling effects on the food web.
Sediment also might smother benthic organisms as it settles, particularly those living in abyssal plains, which never evolved to cope with such large amounts of sediment sinking from above.

Furthermore, the plumes could be toxic, especially those generated from mining SMS sites, which, according to Duke’s Van Dover, may liberate harmful levels of lead, arsenic, copper, and other elements that were once trapped in the deposits.
Van Dover points out that copper is an antifouling agent—“if it’s mobilized in the water,” she says, “then organisms will have to fight off the effects of the contamination.”

Plumes in some locations could have lesser impacts.
According to Grogan, modeling suggests that plumes generated from mining Solwara 1 will deposit within 600 m of the extraction zone, making it “a very small off-site impact.”
She adds that Solwara 1 is located next to an active volcano, which produces a significant plume of its own, reducing the impact of mining on organisms that have already adapted to these eruptions.

Nautilus Minerals plans to mine SMS deposits using various cutting and collection tools on the seafloor.
A slurry of minerals and seawater will be pumped to the surface via a riser and lifting system.
The slurry will be dewatered aboard a support vessel and the recovered minerals shipped to shore.
In an effort to limit potential ecological impacts, the filtered water will be returned to the seafloor through the riser pipes, providing hydraulic power to the pump as it goes.
© Nautilus Minerals

One research program that’s now studying the possible ecotoxicological effects of seabed mining plumes is MIDAS (Managing Impacts of Deep-Sea Resource Exploitation).
Funded by a three-year grant from the European Commission, MIDAS conducts broad-based research in a number of areas with the aim of developing best practices for the deep-sea mining industry.

According to Nélia Mestre, a postdoctoral research assistant at the University of Algarve, Portugal, who works with the program, much about how the plumes could affect life in the deep ocean remains unknown.
High pressure and low temperatures might influence the bioavailability of toxic elements, she says, and deep-sea species may be either less or more susceptible to plume toxicity than species in shallower waters.

“The tolerance difference could go both ways,” Mestre explains.
“For instance, SMS species are adapted to chemicals released by black smokers at levels that could be toxic to shallow-water species.
We hope that by the end of the MIDAS project we will have an indication of the potential hazard of chemicals present in plumes to local fauna in comparison to shallow-water fauna.”

Cobalt crusts, seen here with colonies of bubblegum coral (Paragorgia arborea) at a depth of 350 m, are found on undersea mountains swept by high currents.
Japan is the only country that has invested substantially in technologies to extract these deposits.

A Framework for Protection

During its July 2015 session, which ran for two weeks in Kingston, Jamaica, the ISA began to consider a draft framework for the exploitation of seabed resources.
Also in July, Smith and 10 colleagues published a paper in Science recommending a precautionary approach to seabed mining that would emphasize the creation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), and calling on the ISA to “[suspend] further approval of exploration contracts (and not approve exploitation contracts) until MPA networks are designed and implemented for each target region.”8 Smith argues that MPA networks are needed to guarantee that a significant proportion of the global deep-sea ecosystem remains intact and viable.

A provisional environmental management plan protecting roughly 1.4 million km2 was established for the CCZ by the ISA in 2012.
However, an environmental management plan has not been established for regions of the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic oceans, where the ISA continues to issue exploration leases.

These octocorals live at a depth of 1,500 m in the Gulf of Mexico.
The ocean is an essential regulator of the earth’s biosphere, and its deepest waters likely hold direct human health benefits in the form of yet-undiscovered therapeutic substances.
Of the researchers studying these waters, Cindy Van Dover says, “We are a new breed of scientists who think about the environmental management of a place that covers most of the planet, a place most people don’t think about from one day to the next.”
And while the seafloor still holds many mysteries, Van Dover adds, “What we do know is that the health of the planet depends upon the health of the ocean.”

Smith and his coauthors are concerned that MPAs might be spaced too far apart, without the connectivity needed to prevent localized extinctions.
“We don’t want to be overly critical of the ISA, but they really need to get these regional MPA plans in place soon,” he says.
“Exploration claims in the CCZ are already compromising our ability to create MPAs in some areas.”

In response, Lodge counters, “There is no basis for either suspending contracts or placing a moratorium on exploration, since exploration provides the only means for gathering environmental data. A suspension of exploration would be self-defeating.”

According to Lodge, the ISA is now reaching “saturation on exploration leases.”
He says there are perhaps 10 other promising areas that haven’t been leased for exploration yet, but the industry appears to be consolidating around a limited number of projects.
If exploitation ultimately succeeds in these areas, he says, then deep-sea mining is likely to experience a huge amount of growth.

The hope among scientists and other environmental stakeholders is that this growth is matched by successful efforts to protect key habitats.
Van Dover says these efforts might focus especially on protecting thermal vent communities, which she describes as “beautiful, rare, and important.”

Smith views potential extinctions in moral terms, pointing out that “the deep sea is raw material for evolution—large-scale extinctions would profoundly affect what makes our planet unique.”
And like other endangered habitats, such as tropical rainforests, the deep ocean likely harbors untapped biological resources that might one day be used to develop new drugs and other products that benefit humankind.
“We’re talking about the largest and least understood biome on earth,” says Steiner.
“And right now very little of it is protected.”

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

An act of extraordinary, underwater DIY

Week under water (British Pathe film)

From BBC by Dave McMullan

Fifty years ago, two young diving enthusiasts undertook an extraordinary act of DIY, building a capsule in which they could live at the bottom of the sea.
It was a symbol of an optimistic age.

The Breakwater Fort has stood guard at the mouth of Plymouth Sound for almost 150 years.
Its forbidding stone walls have seen a lot of maritime history, but perhaps no episode more intriguing than the Glaucus Project.
It was September 1965.
The Sixties were swinging.
The Rolling Stones were at number one.
The world was changing and anything seemed possible.

Colin Irwin, 19, and his friend John Heath, were both divers from Bournemouth and Poole Sub Aqua Club.
They were inspired by a series of big-money experiments in underwater living.
Jacques Cousteau created three Conshelf - short for Continental Shelf Station - underwater habitation and research stations at a depth of 100m (328ft) and funded by the French oil industry.

The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau 19 Conshelf Adventure

The American Navy's SEALAB I, on the seabed off the coast of Bermuda at a depth of 58m, held four divers for 11 days until an approaching storm cut the project short.

The Story of Sealab I

The two young British divers decided to have a go themselves.
Irwin, now 69, was convinced it was the way forward: "We all thought at the time, 'Well, this is the future. We may not populate the Moon, but we're going to have villages all over the continental shelf, and we thought it's about time the British did the same thing'."

It took months of work to scrape together the £1,000 budget to build the Glaucus habitat.
"One of the club members, his dad owned a shipyard, so we had someone who could actually make the underwater house on the cheap. So we were able to put it all together and get the job done," says Irwin.

Divers outside the Glaucus habitat

Documents and letters from the time, though, show how tight the money was.
The team had to beg the company supplying them with oxygen to let them have it for nothing.
But it was that shoestring budget that earned Glaucus its place in history.

Where Cousteau and the US Navy had been able to use huge compressors to pump oxygen down into their habitats, Irwin and his team simply could not afford that.
Their solution was a world first.
"We had to analyze the atmosphere, see what the oxygen level was, what the carbon dioxide level was and put out soda lime to absorb the CO2 and top it up with oxygen bottles. So by virtue of economics, we became the first underwater home with a self-contained atmosphere," says Irwin.

The Glaucus was towed into place on 19 September by a tugboat and lowered 11m down between the Breakwater and the Fort, where the waters would be calmer.

The Glaucus Habitat :
Metal cylinder weighing 1.8 tonnes, and measuring 3.7m, and 2.1m in diameter
Ballasted with pig iron and sections of railway line, weighing some 14,000kg
Container included a foldable table and two bunks, giving aquanauts free floor space of 2m x 1.4m

The finished habitat was a cylinder tank, made of steel, which weighed in at two tonnes and was 3.7m long and 2.1m high - just enough room to walk around.
Once Irwin and Heath were inside, they kept in contact by phone to a team stationed on the fort but apart from that, they were on their own.
Quarters were close, it was very cold and 100% humid - and the tank was open to the sea at the bottom through a hatch.

Irwin remembers it was quite a change from a normal dive.
"What was psychologically different about it was that normally if you get into trouble, you want to get up to the boat or dry land. But after we'd been down there 24 hours, we were on what's called a full saturation dive. Our fatty tissues were full of dissolved nitrogen. If we'd made an emergency ascent, we'd have got the bends."

The Glaucus being winched into Sutton Harbour

Nipping out for a "number two" toilet break was something of a challenge.
The aquanauts had to restrict themselves to only going every couple of days as they had to go through a hatch to a separate compartment, so their living area wouldn't get contaminated.
Luxury living it was not - but they survived the week.

It's an achievement that is still respected, says Dr John Bevan, chairman of the Historical Diving Society, who runs the National Diving Museum in Gosport.
"It's the fact that it was an amateur experiment, and so successful, in terrible conditions. It wasn't the Mediterranean or the Red Sea or California. It was cold and damp and probably the most difficult of all the underwater living experiments."

Back on dry land, Colin Irwin started work on designing a larger capsule and tried to find funding from the government and industry.
But what the Cousteau and American experiments had showed was that the dream of creating underwater living was too expensive and risky.
The '60s dream of underwater villages alongside dry land started to fade.

Irwin himself moved on to develop a career promoting peace around the world, working in Northern Ireland and the Middle East.
He now works at Liverpool University but has lost touch with his fellow aquanaut John Heath.

The Glaucus capsule itself came to a rather sad end.
It now lies just off the Breakwater Fort about 13m below the surface where it's quietly rotting, listing on its remaining legs.
Divers regularly go down to see it for themselves, and Colin himself went back for the first time over the summer with the BBC's Inside Out South West.

The underwater home can't be salvaged now as it is too badly damaged but it has been given a new lease of life.

The Human Interface Technologies Team at the University of Birmingham has been working for some time on creating a virtual reality seascape of Plymouth Sound, the final resting place of many wrecks.

The latest addition to this Virtual Heritage is a computer-generated dive down to, and inside, the Glaucus itself.
Prof Bob Stone, from the university's Human Interface Technologies Team, is leading the project.
"We're going for realism with this project," he says.
"We can get very detailed images indeed especially with the games technology we're using. So we can simulate turbid water, particles in the water, lighting effects underwater."

Glaucus capsule VR

It has been a long and painstaking process to build the virtual reality.
Bob's team used the original plans, as well as high-definition close-up and aerial photographs of the Breakwater, and sound recordings to make the recreation as realistic as possible.
"We're hoping eventually to put the simulation on a smartphone or tablet or to download as an app to show schoolchildren, particularly those in Plymouth who've got no idea that this kind of history is on their doorstep."

Colin Irwin visited Birmingham to take the first virtual trip down memory lane.
"They've got it spot on, the height, the dimensions. At one point I put my hand out to brace myself as I was getting up from the virtual reality hatch and, of course, there was nothing there."

The Glaucus itself may have come to a watery end - something Irwin regrets - but thanks to some technological wizardry, perhaps a little bit of that pioneering spirit lives on.

Links :
  • TED : Fabien Cousteau: What I learned from spending 31 days underwater

Monday, September 7, 2015

Canada CHS update in the GeoGarage platform

75 nautical charts have been updated (August 31th, 2015)

see : GeoGarage blog

Drone ships move closer to reality as Inmarsat gets on board

Crew of landlubbers: Autonomous ships will be controlled from the shore
when they are not navigating themselves

From TheTelegraph by Alan Tovey

Satellite communications group Inmarsat signs up to research project investigating how to build drone ships which can sail without a crew 

Shipping could be revolutionized by automatic cargo ships navigating the world’s oceans, only checking in with shore-based operators in emergencies.
Removing humans from long voyages would cut the cost of operating ships – crew can represent a third of a ship's running costs – and allow them to carry more cargo in the space normally taken up by people.
Inmarsat will provide expertise in data transfer and communications to the Advanced Autonomous Waterborne Applications (AAWA) initiative, with drone ships’ ability to stay in contact with land bases while out on the oceans being seen as key to their viability.

Global Xpress: Changing the future for us all
Hear from Inmarsat’s CEO and technology experts as we begin our transformational connectivity journey that is Global Xpress.
See how we are meeting people’s expectations to be connected wherever they go through our next-generation satellite broadband service, to bring faster speeds and higher capacity on land, at sea and in the air.

Last month Inmarsat launched its third Global Xpress satellite providing high-speed broadband connections from space, and when this satellite - located 22,000 miles above the Pacific - comes into service at the end of the year it will complete the FTSE 100’s company’s worldwide network.
This will mean that there will be no “coverage blackspots” on any of the world’s seas where drone ships would lose contact with their human operators, meaning they have constant and virtually real-time connections.

 How autonomous ships will work

“The Global Xpress mobile broadband network is a turning point for the future of the maritime industry and lends itself to the AAWA initiative,” said Ronald Spithout, Inmarsat’s maritime president, adding that satellite broadband is “fundamental” to autonomous ships.
“Global Xpress is the last big piece in the puzzle to bring about drone ships, although many other aspects need to be fleshed out, such as the legal and who is liable if something goes wrong.”
While the AAWA programme, which is being led by fellow blue chip Rolls-Royce, is still in its early stages, Inmarsat expects the research to produce spin-off technology which should boost its revenues before the first experimental drone ship makes its maiden voyage – something expected to occur within 10 years.
Mr Spithout said: “Before we get fully autonomous ships, there should be increased demand for maritime satellite broadband traffic as companies develop applications such as remotely monitoring cargo.”

Oskar Levander, Rolls-Royce’s president of marine innovation said that while much of the technology required for drone ships is available today, it is integrating it and developing the systems to operate unmanned vessels that is the next step.
“This gives us the chance to redefine what a ship really is,” he said.
“How it looks, how it operates and how efficient it is.”

Autonomous ships are increasingly catching the imagination of shipping companies looking for economies.
While crews could still be needed for complex operations such as docking, when a ship is in the open ocean they have little to do other than navigate and monitor systems, tasks which can easily be automated.
Crews could be ferried on and off to handle docking, or airlifted to a ship which runs into trouble or needs repairs.
Removing humans would also reduce the price of shipbuilding, with no need for heating and water systems, which add complexity and cost.
With no need for these systems, the amount of power a ship needs would be reduced, making them more efficient – a vital factor as regulation forces ships to reduce pollution.

 Without the need for facilites to house a human crew, ships could look very different

A single captain at a central base could also control several ships at a time, further reducing costs.
The threat of piracy could also be reduced, with ships being designed so they are harder to board or computer control meaning they can be shut off remotely, hampering criminals.
Mr Spithout added: “Without a crew on board, who is there for pirates to hijack?”
He added that cyber security would also need to be improved to prevent ships systems being hacked.
The AAWA project is being financed by Tekes, Finland’s technical research funding agency.

Links :

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Sea lion in a fishing net

Video shot in 600ft (185m)
GoPro Hero3 and 4's were used along with extreme depth camera housings/lights
manufactured by

This video was shot during while trawling a highly modified net.
This net was made specifically to sort juvenile fish from mature fish.
This selection process reduces by-catch to virtually nothing.
Of all the fish that you see coming into the net (overall about 50K lbs), only 10% were kept (bigger mature), while the others swam through the net unscathed.

Furthermore, this new design reduces bottom contact by 95%.
In this experiment, the trawler made 10 passes with the new net.
A ROV was then deployed to record the damage.
Several times, the ROV crew had to double check their position as there was no damage to the seafloor.
It wasn't until they got on the edge of the path that there was a slight 6cm depression, the width of the barndoor.
Needless to say, this new net could revolutionize global commercial fishing.