Saturday, December 31, 2016

Pretty far North

In spring of 2016, me and a couple of friends decided to head up to no-mans-land
above the arctic circle to explore, sail, fish & chase some spring slush.

Friday, December 30, 2016

The CIA is celebrating its cartography division’s 75th anniversary by sharing declassified maps

President Roosevelt and OSS globe

From The Smithsonian by Danny Lewis

Decades of once-secret maps are now freely available online

As much as James Bond is defined by his outlandish gadgets, one of the most important tools for real-life spies is actually much less flashy: maps.
Whether used to gather information or plan an attack, good maps are an integral part of the tradecraft of espionage.
Now, to celebrate 75 years of serious cartography, the Central Intelligence Agency has declassified and put decades of once-secret maps online.

1956 Antarctica claims

These days, the C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies rely more on digital mapping technologies and satellite images to make its maps, but for decades it relied on geographers and cartographers for planning and executing operations around the world.
Because these maps could literally mean the difference between life and death for spies and soldiers alike, making them as accurate as possible was paramount, Greg Miller reports for National Geographic.
“During [the 1940s], in support of the military’s efforts in World War II...cartographers pioneered many map production and thematic design techniques, including the construction of 3D map models,” the C.I.A. writes in a statement.

1958 Chinas Offshore Islands

At the time, cartographers and mapmakers had to rely on existing maps, carefully replicating information about enemy terrain in pen on large translucent sheets of acetate.
The final maps were made by stacking these sheets on top of one another according to what information was needed, then photographed and reproduced at a smaller size, Miller reports.
All of this was done under the watchful eye of the then-26-year-old Arthur H. Robinson, the Cartography Center’s founder.

Though World War II-era intelligence services like the Office of the Coordinator of Information and the Office of Strategic Services eventually morphed into the C.I.A. as we know it today, the Cartography Center was a constant element of the United States’ influence abroad.
Looking through the collection of declassified maps is like looking into a series of windows through which government officials and intelligence agents viewed the world for decades, Allison Meier reports for Hyperallergic.
From the early focus on Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire, the maps show shifting attention towards the Soviet Union, Vietnam and the Middle East, to name just a few examples.

 President Kennedy 1961 map

As interesting as these maps are to look at, it’s sobering to remember that they played a major role in shaping global politics of the 20th century.
These were the documents that U.S. government officials relied on for decades, whether it was predicting global trade in the 1950s or preparing for the Invasion of the Bay of Pigs in Cuba in the 1960s.

 1963 Cuba Soviet forces
Intelligence briefings may more often be done digitally these days, but whatever medium a map is made in, knowing where you are going remains critical to understanding—and influencing—world affairs.

Links :

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Diving drones are mining the ocean depths for data – and they could soon predict the weather

Drones can be used to track algal blooms which could threaten the lives of hundreds of ocean species
credit : NASA

From Wired by Emma Bryce

Autonomous gliders, cameras and sensors trawl the oceans looking for signs of environmental changes

In 2015, a weak monsoon season left parts of India with 40 per cent below average rainfall, its farmlands littered with withered crops.
To prepare farmers against future unpredictability, experts are now turning to a team of robots, adrift in the sea.
Researchers from the University of East Anglia and the Indian Institute of Science have joined up to deploy seven robots, called gliders, along India's coastline, for the £8 million Bay of Bengal Boundary Layer Experiment (BoBBLE).
Every three hours these winged machines autonomously sink to 1,000 metres and rise again, using sensors to detect mixing between currents in the ocean that bring heat to the surface and drive monsoons.
"They generate forward movement using their wings; they can direct their path to wherever you tell them to," says Ben Webber, a University of East Anglia oceanographer working on BoBBLE, and piloting the gliders from the UK.

In 2017, BoBBLE researchers will begin analysing the results: combined with atmospheric data, the robots' readings will provide closer predictions on the extent of monsoon rainfall and when it will hit land.
Fed back to farmers via weather stations and phone alerts, it could suggest best times for planting crops.
The BoBBLE gliders aren't alone: they join a 400-strong army of bots in the sea that are gathering varied data from around the world.
"The range of autonomous platforms that are becoming available is seen as the future of oceanography," Webber says.
Where we used to rely on costly ship missions to gather data from the ocean, we're turning to gliders, autonomous underwater vehicles and sensors - embedded on the sea floor, sunk into the water column or set adrift on the waves - to feed information back to us.
By exploiting the ocean as a vast information source, these instruments are providing unprecedented detail on everything from climate change to underwater volcanism and fisheries.
In 2017, as the technology makes its mark on the waves, we can expect to see an uptick in the data, bringing us new depths of understanding about the planet.

Operations engineer Chris Wahl deploys MBARI’s Wave Glider, Tiny from the R/V Paragon for another mission.
Tiny is an autonomous surface vehicle (ASV) that has a surfboard-like float with a tethered glider below, equipped with spring-loaded paddles that use wave energy for motion.
Solar panels on its surface power the scientific instruments and satellite communications as it travels.
We are beginning to use ASVs instead of ships for certain well-defined, repetitive oceanographic tasks.
We are also developing ways to use them as communication gateways and navigation aids for autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs).

Gliders have been deployed everywhere: from the Arctic (to measure the pace of melting ice) to the US East Coast (to watch for incoming hurricanes).
Elsewhere, other instruments are measuring short-term changes - such as sudden blooms of toxic algae that threaten human and ecological health.
Off the coast of Washington State, pods called Environmental Sample Processors, developed by California's Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, are sensing toxic blooms produced by Pseudo-nitzschia algae that threaten to infest edible shellfish onshore. "
[The Research Institute] had the vision of miniaturising a lab and leaving it out in the ocean," says Stephanie Moore, a scientist with the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's Northwest Fisheries Science Center, who's working with University of Washington researchers to carry out the project.

Using a robotic arm, the pod takes a water sample, then withdraws it into the main body where it's screened for algal toxins using filters and reagents.
Within four hours, the pod's results can be transmitted via satellite as a warning if there's a threat.
With the incidence of harmful algal blooms rising globally - marked by coastal closures and mass strandings of animals that succumb to its toxins - the relevance of these algae-detecting units will grow.

In terms of scale, the most impressive data gathering is coming out of the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI), a huge venture launched in 2016 after ten years of construction on the sea floor.
It's made up of seven data-transmitting arrays that flank North and South America.
Each is surrounded by moorings that act as centre-points for over 830 instruments situated throughout the water column and on the sea floor.
These instruments - gliders, autonomous vehicles, cameras and seismic sensors - will feed a stream of information back to the arrays.
"To have it in one cohesive package with such a geographic range is absolutely unprecedented," says Richard Murray, director for the Division of Ocean Science at the US National Science Foundation, the organisation funding the $386 million (£293m) venture.

OOI's research remit is broad.
Its instruments will track changes in sea-floor geology that could trigger earthquakes; detect minute shifts in temperature, salinity and ocean mixing to map long-term climate-change trends; and identify nutrient flows to pinpoint productive fisheries.
Already, it's having real-world impacts. OOI's autonomous underwater vehicles are sensing nutrient upwellings along the eastern US coastline, and predicting how they'll drive fisheries, says Glen Gawarkiewicz, an oceanographer at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Massachusetts.
"I have been using some of the data to communicate with commercial fishermen about recent changes in the region," he says.
The platform isn't just for researchers, however.
Throughout their existence the arrays will be streaming data via cable and satellite in near-real-time to whoever wants to tune in.
"Anybody can use it, any state, any country, anybody, anywhere," Murray says.
"That's the way science should be."
He sees OOI's potential as an undersea laboratory where future technologies may be tested, furthering innovation.
"The. science will enable people to answer questions we haven't even asked yet," he says.
With the spread of seafaring instruments in 2017 and beyond, our ocean-based intelligence is projected to rise.

Links :

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Arctic heatwave could break records

Temperatures on Christmas Eve at the North Pole could reach close to freezing on Christmas Eve 2016 
University of Maine /

From BBC by Victoria Gill

Temperatures at the North Pole could be up to 20 degrees higher than average this Christmas Eve, in what scientists say is a record-breaking heatwave.
Climate scientists say these unseasonably warm weather patterns in the Arctic region are directly linked to man-made climate change.
Temperatures throughout November and December were 5C higher than average.
It follows a summer during which Arctic sea ice reached the second-lowest extent ever recorded by satellites.

 Arctic sea ice extent is monitored and measured by satellite imaging 

Dr Friederike Otto, a senior researcher at Oxford's Environmental Change Institute told BBC News that in pre-industrial times "a heatwave like this would have been extremely rare - we would expect it to occur about every 1,000 years".
Dr Otto added that scientists are "very confident" that the weather patterns were linked to anthropogenic climate change.
"We have used several different climate modelling approaches and observations," she told BBC News.
"And in all our methods, we find the same thing; we cannot model a heatwave like this without the anthropogenic signal."
Temperatures are forecast to peak on Christmas Eve around the North Pole - at near-freezing.
The warm air from the North Atlantic is forecast to flow all the way to the North Pole via Spitsbergen, giving rise to clouds that prevent heat from escaping.
And, as Dr Otto explained to BBC News, the reduction in sea ice is contributing to this "feedback loop".
"If the globe is warming, then the sea ice and ice on land [shrinks] then the darker water and land is exposed," she said.
"Then the sunlight is absorbed rather than reflected as it would be by the ice."
Forecasting models show that there is about a 2% chance of a heatwave event occurring every year.
"But if temperatures continue to increase further as they are now," said Dr Otto, "we would expect a heatwave like this to occur every other year and that will be a huge stress on the ecosystem."
Dr Thorsten Markus, chief of NASA's Cryospheric Sciences Laboratory, said the heatwave was "very, very unusual".
"The eerie thing is that we saw something quite similar (temperatures at the North Pole of about 0C in December) almost exactly a year ago," he told BBC News.
The freeze and thaw conditions are already making it difficult for reindeer to find food - as the moss they feed on is covered by hard ice, rather than soft, penetrable snow.
Asked if the conditions on Christmas Eve were likely to affect Santa's all-important journey, Dr Markus said he was confident that his sled would cope with the conditions.
He added: "Santa is most likely overdressed though. Maybe in the future we'll see him in a light jacket or plastic mac."

Links :

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Wooden ships overview

From Google Maps Mania blog by Keir Clarke

Wooden Ships explores European maritime activity and observations from 1750 to 1850. The data consists of logbook entries written by the captain of each ship.
The location of each ship is spatially aggregated in hexagonal bins.
Filter the map by country or time to better understand varying shipping patterns by colonial powers. Hover over the ships or hexbins to view summary weather statistics.
Click a hexbin to view handwritten log entries about weather observations as well as candid events at sea from the captains!
Select ships with particular weather or climatic features, such as temperature recordings or encounters with sea ice.
Check out wind speed patterns across the Atlantic.
Users can also examine wind patterns, weather reports, and notes from the captains’ logs. 
This application will enhance your understanding of the geography and environmental history of maritime trade!
Data sources: Climatological Database for the World's Oceans 1750-1850 for digitized shipping logs, Natural Earth for line work, and The Noun Project for icons.
Cartographers/developers/designers/shipping enthusiasts: Scott Farley, Starr Moss, and Meghan Kelly.
Morgan Herlocker has also used the Climatological Database for the World's Oceans to create an interactive map of international ship traffic between 1750 and 1850.
These historical ship logbooks contain a wealth of data both about the routes taken by ships and the weather conditions encountered by the ships during their voyages.
Morgan took the location data from these 100 years of ship logs and plotted them on a Mapbox map. One thing that clearly emerges from mapping all this data is the routes of the major shipping lanes from 1750-1850.

Links :

Monday, December 26, 2016

Man on the moon : Thomas Coville slashes solo yachting round the world record

Huge congrats to Thomas Coville @Sodebo_Voile for sailing solo round the world
in less of 50 days, arriving on Xmas day.

From Sailing Anarchy

When Francis Joyon took nearly two weeks off the solo RTW record in 2008, we figured it would be a long, long time before anyone became king of that particularly mountain. 
Today, a new king will be crowned in what should go down as the most impressive feat of the year. 

Beating solo world record by more than 8 days isn’t just smashing it - its epic!

Thomas Coville is set to take more than a week off of Joyon’s still incredible mark when he arrives in Brest in a couple of hours, achieving a time that would beat even the crewed records until just a few years ago
It’s interesting to note that fewer people have sailed around the world alone, nonstop in a trimaran than have walked on the moon – just Ellen Macarthur, Francis Joyon, and Coville, and each of them now have owned that all-important trophy.

Coville, along with his sponsor – convenience-store-sandwich-maker Sodebo – deserve massive accolades, and not just for the second-most important ocean sailing record in the world: Their perseverence and tenacity has been nothing short of incredible! 
This is Thomas’ 6th attempt at the same record, and to come back and do it again after just the sheer heartbreak of missing it by just hours in 2014 – that’s the stuff of legends.

If you want to understand what it means to the French to have such ownership of the most important records in the sport, watch this video of a French naval pilot talking to Thomas a couple of hours ago.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race 2016 - Preview

With barely two weeks remaining before 'The Big Turn Right' on Boxing Day, a number of the grand prix performers – including Black Jack, CQS, Wild Oats XI and Ichi Ban - were to be seen offshore in training and work-up mode today, enjoying perfect sailing conditions.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Heavy seas! Bad weather in Atlantic Ocean | Life at Sea

JeffHK, who regularly makes videos about sailing, wanted to show off heavy weather.
And not the dramatic kind, like the stuff in The Perfect Storm.
Just regular bad weather, which he compares to being in flight turbulence for twenty-four hours a day.
The experience ultimately sounds unpleasant, but watching Jeff and the crew prepare for it—by tying chairs together or making sure every mug is in its place—will give you a feel for the real work of sea travel even with your feet on solid ground.
(from PopularMechanics by David Grossman)

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Earth doesn't just spin : it also shakes and wobbles

Earth does not always spin on an axis running through its poles. Instead, it wobbles irregularly over time, drifting toward North America throughout most of the 20th Century (green arrow).
That direction has changed drastically due to changes in water mass on Earth.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

From BBC by Nic Fleming

The ground we stand on is not as steady as it seems.
There are a host of factors that cause the entire Earth to judder and topple

The Earth beneath our feet seems reassuringly solid and unchanging most of the time.
But this is an illusion, born of our limited perspective.
Our planet rotates on its axis once every 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4 seconds.
It also orbits the Sun, while our Solar System dashes around the centre of the Milky Way, which is itself hurtling across the Universe towards a region of space called the Great Attractor.
The speeds involved are frankly dizzying.
Even if you ignore all that, the Earth is far from stable.
Beneath us, enormous chunks of rock are constantly grinding past each other to make valleys, pushing together to form mountains, or dragging apart to create rivers and oceans.
The ground under us is forever shifting, stretching and wobbling.
Most of the time, this is nothing to worry about.
However, our growing understanding of these phenomena is driving a better understanding of the inner workings of our planet.
It is also handy for anyone trying to track and land spacecraft.
Here, then, are seven things that make the Earth move for us.

Before about 2000, Earth's spin axis was drifting toward Canada (green arrow, left globe).
JPL scientists calculated the effect of changes in water mass in different regions (center globe) in pulling the direction of drift eastward and speeding the rate (right globe).
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Under pressure

A desktop globe is a perfect sphere, so it spins smoothly around a fixed axis.
However, the Earth is not spherical, and the mass within it is both unevenly distributed and prone to moving around.
As a result, the axis around which Earth spins, and the north and south rotational poles at each end of the axis, move about.
What's more, because the rotation axis is different to the figure axis around which its mass is balanced, the Earth wobbles as it spins.

This wobble was predicted by scientists as far back as Isaac Newton.
To be more precise, it is made up of a number of distinct wobbles.
The one that has the greatest impact is known as the Chandler Wobble, first observed by American astronomer Seth Chandler Jr in 1891.
It causes movements of the poles of around 26ft (9m) and takes some 14 months to complete a full cycle.
During the 20th Century scientists suggested a wide variety of causes, including changes in continental water storage, atmospheric pressure, earthquakes, and interactions at the boundary of the Earth's core and mantle.
Geophysicist Richard Gross of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California solved the mystery in 2000.
He applied new weather and oceanic models to observations on the Chandler Wobble from 1985-1995.
Gross calculated that two-thirds of the Wobble was caused by fluctuating seabed pressure, and one-third by changes in atmospheric pressure.
"Their relative importance varies with time," says Gross, "but the cause is now widely accepted to be the combination of changes in atmospheric and oceanic pressures."

The relationship between continental water mass and the east-west wobble in Earth's spin axis. Losses of water from Eurasia correspond to eastward swings in the general direction of the spin axis (top), and Eurasian gains push the spin axis westward (bottom).
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech 
Water works

The seasons are the second largest influence on the Earth's wobble.
That is because they cause geographical variations in the amount of rain, snow and humidity.
Scientists have been able to pinpoint the poles using the relative positions of the stars since 1899, and using satellites since the 1970s.
But even after removing the impact of the Chandler and seasonal wobbles, the north and south rotational poles still move about with respect to the Earth's crust.
In a study published in April 2016, Surendra Adhikari and Erik Ivins, also at JPL, identified two more important pieces of the Earth wobble jigsaw.
Before the year 2000, the Earth's spin axis was drifting towards Canada, a few inches per year.
But then measurements show the spin axis changed tack, heading instead towards the British Isles. Some scientists suggested this could be the result of the loss of ice caused by the rapid melting of Greenland's and Antarctica's ice sheets.
Adhikari and Ivins set out to test this idea.
They compared GPS measurements of the positions of the poles with data from GRACE, a study that uses satellites to measure changes in mass around the Earth.
They found that the melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets only explains around two-thirds of the recent shift in the direction of the poles.
The remainder, they concluded, is down to the loss of water held on continents, mostly the Eurasian land mass.
This region has been affected by aquifer depletion and drought.
Then they factored in the position of the areas affected. "From the fundamental physics of rotating objects, we know that movement of the poles is highly sensitive to changes at [around] +/- 45 degree latitudes," says Adhikari. That is exactly where Eurasia had lost water.
The study also identified continental water storage as a plausible explanation for another wobble in the Earth's rotation.
Throughout the 20th Century, researchers were puzzled because the spin axis shifted every six to 14 years, heading 0.5-1.5m east or west of its overall drift. Adhikari and Ivins found that, between 2002 and 2015, dry years in Eurasia corresponded to the eastward swings and wet years corresponded to westward movements.
"We found a perfect match," says Adhikari. "It's the first time anyone successfully identified a one-to-one match between the global-scale inter-annual wet-dry variability and inter-annual polar motion."

This video explains what's happening to Earth

Man-made meandering

While these movements of water and ice are caused by a combination of natural processes and human actions, other changes that impact the Earth's wobbling are all our own doing.
In a 2009 study Felix Landerer, also of the JPL, calculated that, if carbon dioxide levels double between 2000 and 2100, the oceans will warm and expand in such a way that the north pole will shift around 1.5cm per year towards Alaska and Hawai'i over the next century.
Similarly, in a 2007 study Landerer modelled the effects of the ocean warming caused by the same carbon dioxide increase on ocean bottom pressures and circulation.
He found that the changes would shift mass to higher latitudes, and that this would shorten the day by a little over 0.1 milliseconds: 1/10,000th of a second.

Quake shake

It is not just large volumes of water and ice that affect the Earth's rotation if they move around. Shifting rocks have the same effect, if they are big enough.
Earthquakes occur when the tectonic plates that make up the Earth's surface slip past each other suddenly. In theory, that could make a difference.
However, at first the amount of water involved seemed too small to have such an impact.
For example, Gross studied the massive 8.8-magnitude quake that hit the coast of Chile in 2010.
In as as-yet-unpublished study, he calculated that the plate movements shifted Earth's axis of mass balance by around 8cm.
However, this was only a model-based estimate.
Gross and others have since attempted to observe real shifts in the way the Earth is spinning, by following earthquakes in GPS satellite data.
So far this has proved unsuccessful, because it is tricky to remove all the other things that influence how the Earth rotates.
"The models are not perfect and there is residual noise masking the smaller earthquake signals," says Gross.
The movements of mass that take place when tectonic plates slip past each other also affect the length of days.
This is a little bit like an ice skater spinning on one spot: she can speed up by drawing her arms in and thus shifting her mass closer to her body, or slow down by doing the opposite.
For example, Gross calculated that the magnitude-9.1 earthquake that hit Japan in 2011 shortened the length of the day by 1.8 microseconds.

Storm force wobble

When an earthquake happens, it triggers seismic waves that carry its energy through the interior of the Earth.
There are two kinds. "P-waves" repeatedly squeeze and expand the material they pass through, with the vibrations travelling in the same direction as the wave.
Slower "S-waves" wobble rock from side to side, with the vibrations occurring at right angles to their direction of travel.
Intense storms can also create faint seismic waves like those triggered by earthquakes.
These waves are called microseisms.
Until recently, scientists have been unable to determine the sources of S-waves from microseisms.
In a study published in August 2016, Kiwamu Nishida of the University of Tokyo and Ryota Takagi of Tohoku University reported that they had used a network of 202 detectors in southern Japan to track both P- and S-waves.
They traced the waves' origins to a severe North Atlantic storm called a "weather bomb": a storm in which the atmospheric pressure at the centre drops unusually rapidly.
Tracking microseisms in this way will help researchers to better understand the internal structure of the Earth.

Lunar influence

It is not just Earth-bound phenomena that influence our planet's movements.
Recent research suggests that large earthquakes are more likely around full and new moons.
That could be because the Sun, Moon and Earth are aligned, increasing the gravitational force acting on our planet.
In a study published in September 2016, Satoshi Ide of the University of Tokyo and his colleagues analysed the tidal stresses in the two-week periods prior to large earthquakes in the last two decades. Of the largest 12 earthquakes, all of which had a magnitude of 8.2 or higher, nine happened close to full or new moons.
No such relationship was found for smaller quakes.
Ide concluded that the extra gravitational force exerted at these times could increase the forces acting on tectonic plates.
The changes would be small, but if the plates were under stress anyway, the extra force could be enough to turn small rock failures into larger ruptures.
While this may seem plausible, many scientists are sceptical because Ide's study only looked at 12 earthquakes.

Sun shakes

Even more controversial is the idea that vibrations originating deep within the Sun could help explain a number of shaking phenomena on Earth.
When gases move around inside the Sun, they produce two different types of waves.
Those generated by changes in pressure are called p-modes, while those that form when dense material is pulled downwards by gravity are called g-modes.
A p-mode takes a few minutes to complete a full vibrational cycle, while a g-mode takes between tens of minutes and several hours.
This amount of time is the mode's "period".
In 1995, a group led by David Thomson of Queen's University in Kingston, Canada analysed patterns exhibited by the solar wind – a stream of charged particles that flows out from the Sun – between 1992 and 1994.
They reported fluctuations that had the same periods as p-modes and g-modes, suggesting these solar vibrations were somehow influencing the solar wind.
In 2007, Thomson went on to report that unexplained fluctuations in the voltages of undersea communications cables, seismic measurements on Earth and even mobile phone call dropouts also had frequency patterns that matched the waves inside the Sun.
However, other scientists believe Thomson's claims are on shaky ground.
According to simulations, these solar vibrations, especially the g-modes, should be so weak by the time they get to the Sun's surface that they could not affect the solar wind.
Even if that is not the case, the patterns should be destroyed by turbulence in the interplanetary medium long before they get to Earth.
"When we looked at different time periods, the frequencies he had identified were shifting around, when to be g-modes in particular they should remain fairly constant," says Pete Riley of Predictive Science in San Diego, California.
Back in 1996 he published a study questioning Thomson's original results.
"We looked at the same data Dave Thomson looked at and applied the same analysis, and couldn't find any evidence for p-modes or g-modes."
Clearly, Thomson's idea might not pan out.
But there are plenty of other reasons why our planet wobbles and shakes.

Links :

Thursday, December 22, 2016

MH370: new report proposes shifting plane search to unexplored area

A Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C Orion flies past the Australian vessel Ocean Shield on a mission to drop sonar buoys to assist in the search for MH370.
Photograph: LSIS Bradley Darvill/DOD/EPA

From The Guardian by

Australia’s Transport Safety Bureau reveals it is ‘confident’ aircraft not in underwater zone that has been explored so far

The Australian authorities leading the search for MH370 have a “high degree of confidence” that the plane’s wreck is not to be found in the expanse of Indian ocean they have spent more than two years searching.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) on Tuesday released the findings from its MH370 First Principles Review summit of crash investigators, aviation experts and government representatives, held in Canberra over three days from 4 November.
The Australian-led search effort of 120,000 sq km of the southern Indian ocean, informed by satellite data, has cost $145m (£117m) and is due to end in January.
Fewer than 10,000 sq km remain to be searched, though progress has been slowed by bad weather.

But experts meeting in Canberra to reassess existing evidence and analysis say they are now confident the wreck of the plane is not there.
“There is a high degree of confidence that the previously identified underwater area searched to date does not contain the missing aircraft.”
New analysis of the satellite data, combined with drift analysis, has identified the most likely point that MH370 hit the water as being close to the so-called “seventh arc”, north of the current search zone.

In April, the ATSB commissioned the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) to perform a detailed study of the drift of recovered debris.
Its findings were also released on Tuesday, and served to narrow down the possible point of impact of the plane.

 The newly identified area of interest in the Indian Ocean (orange)
lies to the north of the current one (purple).

The CSIRO’s findings were reinforced by the timing and location of where confirmed debris of the plane has been found: in the western Indian Ocean and on the east coast of Africa.
Experts have identified a new area of approximately 25,000 sq km – between latitudes 33 degrees south and 36 degrees south – as “the area with the highest probability of containing the wreckage of the aircraft”, given the 110,000 sq km that have been eliminated.
“The experts concluded that, if this area were to be searched, prospective areas for locating the aircraft wreckage, based on all the analysis to date, would be exhausted.”

Whether the new prospective search will be carried out is dependent on funding from Australia, Malaysia and China, the three governments involved in the search effort.
A spokesman for the ATSB told Guardian Australia that the attendees of the first principles review summit “were not parties empowered to make decisions about any future search efforts”.
The report had been provided to the three governments “for their consideration”.
“If we are unable to locate the aircraft in the current search area, this new area represents the next most likely area to contain the aircraft.”.

How much it would cost to search the new 25,000 sq km area had not been determined, he said.
In July, the three transport ministers had agreed that, in the absence of credible new evidence, the search for MH370 would be suspended indefinitely upon the completion of the effort currently underway.
The Australian transport minister, Darren Chester, seemed to downplay the likelihood of the search being extended in a statement which reiterated the resolution of the tripartite meeting in July and said the report did “not give a specific location of the missing aircraft”.
“We are very close to completing the 120,000 sq km underwater search area, and we remain hopeful that we will locate the aircraft,” he said.
He repeated the decision made in July that the search would be suspended “unless credible evidence is available that identifies the specific location of the aircraft”.

The Malaysian transport minister, Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai, said it remained to be seen how the ATSB report could be used to help identify the aircraft’s specific location.
“I wish to reiterate that the aspiration to locate MH370 has not been abandoned and every decision made has and will always be in the spirit of cooperation among the three nations.”
The third anniversary of the plane’s disappearance from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing will be on 8 March 2017.
The ATSB began searching the 120,000 sq km area in October 2014.

Links :

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Obama invokes 1953 law to indefinitely block drilling in Arctic and Atlantic oceans

From CNBC by Tom DiChristopher

President Barack Obama on Tuesday moved to indefinitely block drilling in vast swaths of U.S. waters.
The president had been expected to take the action by invoking a provision in a 1953 law that governs offshore leases, as CNBC previously reported.
The law allows a president to withdraw any currently unleased lands in the Outer Continental Shelf from future lease sales.
There is no provision in the law that allows the executive's successor to repeal the decision, so President-elect Donald Trump would not be able to easily brush aside the action.
Trump has vowed to open more federal land to oil and natural gas production in a bid to boost U.S. output.
Obama on Tuesday said he would designate "the bulk of our Arctic water and certain areas in the Atlantic Ocean as indefinitely off limits to future oil and gas leasing, though the prospects for drilling in the affected areas in the near future were already questionable.

The White House also indicated Canada will take measures to prevent oil and gas exploration in its waters.

"These actions, and Canada's parallel actions, protect a sensitive and unique ecosystem that is unlike any other region on earth," Obama said in a statement.

"They reflect the scientific assessment that, even with the high safety standards that both our countries have put in place, the risks of an oil spill in this region are significant and our ability to clean up from a spill in the region's harsh conditions is limited."
The action potentially tees up a battle that touches on hot-button issues: environmental protection, energy independence, climate change, and the scope of executive power.

Like other efforts by the Obama administration to advance environmental protection through executive action, it could also be challenged in the courts.
It could get tied up there throughout much of Trump's four-year term.
The Republican-controlled Congress could also try to change the law.
The provision, contained in the 1953 Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, has been invoked in the past to set aside smaller portions of the Outer Continental Shelf, such as coral reefs or natural habitats. Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton used the provision to block drilling in much of the Outer Continental Shelf, but for limited periods.

 Oil drilling platform heritage
(Credit: Glenn Beltz/Flickr)

The Obama administration's action marks the broadest use of the statute ever because it would be far-reaching in terms of the lands it would protect and come without an expiration date.
Provision 12(a) of the law states, "The President of the United States may, from time to time, withdraw from disposition any of the unleased lands of the outer Continental Shelf."
Momentum to use the provision has been building this year. In May, a coalition of environmental groups circulated a fact sheet that highlighted the authority provided under 12(a).

In September, Democratic Congress members Frank Pallone, Jr. and Jared Huffman sent a letter to Obama urging him to exercise that authority.
The letter was signed by 74 lawmakers, almost all Democrats, and contained quotes from representatives from some of the groups that produced the fact sheet in May.
Environmentalists say drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic puts the waters at immediate risk, for oil and gas that would not come online for years, after a transition to cleaner energy sources could be under way.
The White House echoed that sentiment on Tuesday, saying, "it would take decades to fully develop the production infrastructure necessary for any large-scale oil and gas leasing production in the region — at a time when we need to continue to move decisively away from fossil fuels.

Shell's Kulluk rig ran aground off an Alaskan island in December 2012, illustrating the difficulty 
(Photo: Travis Marsh, Associated Press)

Industry groups acknowledge that offshore projects come with long lead times, but they say deepwater oil will be critical for meeting the country's future energy needs.
To be sure, any drilling in the affected waters already faced significant challenges in the coming years.
Energy companies have pulled out of Alaska's Arctic waters, where conditions can be perilous and weather conditions allow drillers to operate for only a few months of the year.
In light of more than two years of weak oil prices, drillers could not justify the costs and risks of exploration there.

Last month, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management did not include any blocks in the Atlantic, Arctic or Pacific in the latest five-year plan to lease offshore land controlled by the government. Trump could scrap that plan and develop a new auction schedule for the 2017 to 2022 period, but it typically takes two to three years to put together a new program.
Drilling in the Atlantic has also faced challenges from a number of other sources, including coastal states that could be affected by a spill, as well as the Pentagon, which said drilling in the Atlantic could disrupt naval exercises.
The federal government spent $1.5 billion to compensate drillers whose offshore leases were canceled due to local and state opposition in North Carolina, Florida, California and Alaska, according to a 2012 Congressional Budget Office review.
Fifty-nine percent of voters surveyed in September said they would support blocking leasing in the Arctic and Atlantic, according to a study from Hart Research Associates that was paid for by the NRDC and the League of Conservation Voters.
The survey polled 1,103 registered voters by phone and had a margin of error plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

In response, the pro-drilling Arctic Energy Center conducted a survey of 511 Alaskans that found 76 percent supported drilling in Arctic waters.
The margin of error was plus or minus 4.4 percentage points. Alaskans receive a cash disbursement from the state every year that is underwritten by oil revenues.
In his statement, Obama said significant production in the Arctic will not occur in the current low oil price environment, citing the Department of the Interior analysis.
He said Arctic communities must focus on economic diversification.

Links :

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Animated marine traffic in the San Francisco Bay

Scroll through the explanation in the sidebar on the left
or view the full-screen demo to explore the map.

From Mapbox by Sam Kronick

Though it may be easy to overlook from life on land, the waters of San Francisco Bay are alive with activity at all hours of the day.
To visualize how boats navigate the Bay, this is an animated map that takes you on a guided tour through 24 hours of marine telemetry data captured by the US Coast Guard.
Seeing the data in motion lets you discover interesting patterns that you might miss in a static map, such as this group of fishing boats leaving Half Moon Bay around the same time in the morning:

or the number of smaller boats that zip by a big ship as it turns around 180 degrees in the Oakland turning basin:

or the general traffic patterns in the central bay :

Monday, December 19, 2016

Scientists discover a host of new animal species

(a) “Knucker’s Gaff”; (b) “Jiaolong’s Palace”; (c) “Tiamat”; (d) “Fucanglong’s Furnace”; (e) “Ryugu-jo”; (f) “Hydra”; (g) “Jabberwocky”; (h) “Ruyi Jingu Bang”. 
Credits: Copley, et al. 

From Futurism by Dom Galeon
  • Deep sea explorers have discovered a treasure trove of new species who've make themselves at home on the Lonqui vents in the Indian Ocean.
  • There is still so much we do not know about the planet we live on, let alone the universe we inhabit.

 Longqi vent field localization with the GeoGarage platform (UKHO chart)

Unique New Species

An undersea expedition in November 2011 to study deep sea hydrothermal vents revealed previously unrecorded species of unique marine life.
The team behind the discoveries is composed of scientists from the University of Southampton, together with colleagues from the Natural History Museum in London and Newcastle University.
The results of their study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

 "Jabberwocky," a black smoker vent in the Longqi vent field on the Southwest Indian Ridge.
Credit: University of Southampton

The hydrothermal vents, undersea hot springs about 2.8 km (1.7 miles) deep, are located in an area called Longqi (Dragon’s Breath).
It’s an undersea region spanning an area the size of a football stadium located in the southwest Indian Ocean and about 2,000 km (1243 miles) southeast of Madagascar.
These Longqi vents are the first of their kind known in the region.
The team found more than a dozen mineral spires or “vent chimneys.”
Rising about 2 stories high from the seabed, these vents sustained a veritable ecosystem of living creatures surviving from the hot fluids gushing out of these rocks — and are rich in copper and gold.
The team analyzed the vents using a deep-diving remotely operated vehicle (ROV).

Deep Sea Exploration

The research team, led by Jon Copley, was the first to actually study the Longqi vents and the marine life attached to them.

 A group of hairy-chested ‘Hoff crabs’. 
Credit University of Southampton

After genetic comparisons with other species in different locations were done, the team identified six new species known only to Longqi: a hairy-chested species of ‘Hoff’ crab, two snail species, a species of limpet, a scaleworm species, and another species of deep-sea worm.

 The stalked barnacle Neolepas sp. collected from Longqi.
credit David Shale
Most of these are yet to be formally described, except for one snail species, given the scientific name Gigantopelta aegis.
“We can be certain that the new species we’ve found also live elsewhere in the southwest Indian Ocean, as they will have migrated here from other sites, but at the moment no-one really knows where, or how well-connected their populations are with those at Longqi,” Copley explained.
“Our results highlight the need to explore other hydrothermal vents in the southwest Indian Ocean and investigate the connectivity of their populations, before any impacts from mineral exploration activities and future deep-sea mining can be assessed.”
These discoveries show us that space isn’t the only frontier that still needs exploring.
We have much to learn about our planet’s own mysterious space, the oceans that comprise about 96.5% of the Earth’s waters.

Links :

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Pure adrenaline : divers facing great white sharks

In West Oz – Lucky Bay, more precisely, 60 clicks from Esperance – a filmer named Ash Gibb went diving to acquire footage for a shark conservation documentary he's planning to make.
It was during this dive – the first time shooting for the doco – that he was aggressively rammed in the back, before turning to see a great white shark circling him.
Let's hand over to Ash:
"I dove down. I was in about five metres of water getting a great shot of this fish and I felt this massive thump from behind. Very quickly I saw the great white shoot into the picture.
"At first I was quite excited. I thought, great, this is what I came for. The biggest thing for me was just focusing on my breathing. I didn't want to show that I was scared. I reminded myself of my belief about sharks, which is the fact that they don't eat humans on purpose. We're not their food.
"I think that's sort of what got me through a lot of nerves, because it was very intense. Even though I wanted to go and do that, it was a very testing situation.
"I went there to show people that they are beautiful creatures, so there was no chance of me fleeing that situation.
"I was there to film. I got the opportunity. The chances of that actually happening are one in a million, so I took that opportunity and did my best to keep my hand steady, and capture it on film.
"I want to continue on filming. I'd love to see another great white. The bigger the better.
"I have over 300 skydives and the Adrenalin does not compare.”

(courtesy of Stabmag)

On a recent great white shark cage diving trip we experienced a very rare event, a shark breaching the side of the cage.
What might appear to be an aggressive great white shark trying to attack the cage, this is not the case.
These awesome sharks are biting at large chunks of tuna tied to a rope.
When a great white shark lunges and bites something, it is temporarily blinded.
They also cannot swim backwards.
So this shark lunged at the bait, accidentally hit the side of the cage, was most likely confused and not able to swim backwards, it thrust forward and broke the metal rail of the cage.
There was a single diver inside the cage.
He ended up outside the bottom of the cage, looking down on two great white sharks.
The diver is a very experienced dive instructor, remained calm, and when the shark thrashed back outside the cage, the diver calmly swam back up and climbed out completely uninjured.
The boat crew did an outstanding job, lifting the top of the cage, analyzing the frenzied situation, and the shark was out after a few long seconds.
Everyone on the boat returned to the cages the next day, realizing this was a very rare event.
The boat owner, captain, and crew are to be commended for making what could've been a tragic event into a happy ending.
I'm sure God and luck had a bit to do with it too!

 New footage captures huge great white shark in Mexico
The massive predator, nicknamed Deep Blue, was spotted in the waters near Mexico's Guadalupe Island.
The shark, who is estimated to be around 50 years old, is believed to be one of the largest great white sharks ever seen.
She was featured last year in a Discovery network documentary after local researcher Mauricio Hoyos Padilla managed to tag her. (see Discovery article)
But Hoyos has posted new footage of Deep Blue that shows her come nail-bitingly close to a cage diver.
Hoyos posted the video on Facebook
on Monday, August 10, 2015, under the title, “I give you the biggest white shark ever seen in front of the cages in Guadalupe Island… DEEP BLUE!!!”
The unbelievable footage shows the mammoth shark swimming around the cage, seemingly ignoring the divers in a roof-less steel cage.
One brave diver decides to swim out of the cage and reaches out to touch the shark.
Divers from across the world travel to Guadalupe, which is located 165 miles west of Baja California, to see its famous great whites.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Distance between dreams

In “Distance Between Dreams,” the most historic year in big-wave surfing comes to life through the eyes of iconic surfer Ian Walsh, as he sets mind and body in motion to redefine the upper limits of what’s considered rideable.

With massive El Niño-powered swells building across the Pacific, Ian, Shaun, DK and Luke Walsh band together in a way that only brothers can to progress surfing to unimaginable heights.
Big-wave surfing’s transition from Jet Ski assists to paddling-in raises the stakes, putting Walsh’s intense physical and mental training, the latest technology, swell modeling, safety team and his brothers to the ultimate test.
Surfers John John Florence, Greg Long, Shane Dorian and more link up with Walsh as he rides an emotional rollercoaster through this momentous winter.

The second feature in Red Bull Media House’s “The Unrideables” franchise, “Distance Between Dreams” invites viewers right into the heart of the action with first-person perspective, state-of-the-art cinematography and captivating sound.
Through unprecedented access, prepare to truly experience Walsh’s quest to survive and thrive in one of the most hostile environments on Earth.

Friday, December 16, 2016

19-meter wave sets new record - highest significant wave height measured by a buoy

K5 wave buoy (64045) with the GeoGarage platform (UKHO chart)
Buoy K5 (a part of the UK Met Office’s network of Marine Automatic Weather Stations,
or MAWS)[59°07.3'N, 11°42.5'W, elevation: 0m)] 
Record Value : 19.0 m (62.3 ft) (Instrumentation Datawell heave sensor )
Date of Record : 0600 UTC 4/02/2013

From WMO

A World Meteorological Organization expert committee has established a new world record significant wave height of 19 meters (62.3 feet) measured by a buoy in the North Atlantic.
The wave was recorded by an automated buoy at 0600 UTC on 4 February 2013 in the North Atlantic ocean between Iceland and the United Kingdom (approximately 59° N, 11° W).

It followed the passage of a very strong cold front, which produced winds of up to 43.8 knots (50.4 miles per hour) over the area.
The previous record of 18.275 meters (59.96 feet) was measured on 8 December 2007, also in the North Atlantic.

Note that this is "significant" wave height -- in essence, what an observer would have seen if he/she averaged over 15-20 waves passing by the buoy -- that is a much better thing than "rogue waves" which really cannot be accurately measured.
According to one of our of panel's "wave experts": "There have been many more less reliable estimates of rogue waves from other platforms, and from satellite SAR. These are generally unverifiable, since there is no ground truth for the satellite, and the others tend to be from pitching and rolling platforms such as ships, and estimates are often based on damage to the superstructure, which may not have been level at the time."

Significant wave height recorded is four times the RMS value of the water level above the average level of the water surface measured over a 17½ minute period.
The factor of 4 applied to the RMS value is because the waves are trochoidal in nature.
(Waves at sea, especially those growing under the influence of the wind, tend to be short-crested, i.e. the wave crests project further above the mean level than the troughs are below it.)
The ‘average’ wave period, again over a 17½ minute sample, is the average of the periods over 7 successive 2½ minute samples (each determined from the number of wave cycles in the sample).
Figure (above) shows the hourly significant wave heights from the Datawell heave sensor, together with the wave measurements from the Triaxys sensor.

The WMO Commission for Climatology’s Extremes Evaluation Committee classified it as “the highest significant wave height as measured by a buoy”.
The Committee consisted of scientists from the United Kingdom, Britain, Canada, the United States of America and Spain.

The buoy (K5) which recorded the wave is a part of the UK Met Office’s network of Marine Automatic Weather Stations.
Moored and drifting buoys form a vital part of an extensive international observing network coordinated by WMO and its partners.
They complement ship-based measurements and satellite observations which monitor the oceans and forecast meteorological hazards on the high seas.

During the period of the highest waves the wind speeds measured on the buoy were over 35 kn for the 12 hours preceding the highest waves, with a maximum wind speed reported of 43.8 kn, as shown in Figure 2 above.
The winds were measured using a Gill windsonic (acoustic) anemometer on the buoy at around 3½m above sea level.
The synoptic situation at 0600 on 4th February  shows an intense depression to the north of the buoy with prolonged strong westerly to northwesterly winds at the K5 station.

Record was evaluated by the committee of J. Turton, M. Brunet .T. Peterson, V. Swail, and R. Cerveny.

“This is the first time we have ever measured a wave of 19 meters. It is a remarkable record,” said WMO Assistant Secretary-General Wenjian Zhang.
“It highlights the importance of meteorological and ocean observations and forecasts to ensure the safety of the global maritime industry and to protect the lives of crew and passengers on busy shipping lanes,” he said.
“We need high quality and extensive ocean records to help in our understanding of weather/ocean interactions,” said Dr Zhang.
“Despite the huge strides in satellite technology, the sustained observations and data records from moored and drifting buoys and ships still play a major role in this respect,” he said.

A separate record – that of the highest significant wave height as measured by ship observation – was measured in February 2000 in the Rockall Trough, also in the North Atlantic between the UK and Iceland.
Wave height is defined as the distance from the crest of one wave to the trough of the next.
The term “significant wave height” means the average of the highest one-third of waves measured by an instrument, and is comparable to what an observer would see as an average of about 15-20 well-formed waves over a period of about 10 minutes.

The highest waves typically occur in the North Atlantic, rather than the Southern Ocean.
Wind circulation patterns and atmospheric pressure in the North Atlantic in winter leads to intense extra-tropical storms, often so-called "bombs".
This means that the area from the Grand Banks underwater plateaus off the Canadian coast around Newfoundland to south of Iceland and to the west coast of the UK, including the Rockall Trough, are prime candidates for wave records.

 K5 buoy (64045)
conditions for Monday 4th of February 2013

 Weather & Wave data
(courtesy of Weather Underground)

“The new world record will be added to the official WMO archive of weather and climate extremes which is being constantly updated and expanded thanks to continued improvements in instrumentation, technology and analysis,” said Randall Cerveny, Joint Rapporteur on World Records of Climate and Weather Extremes for WMO.

Data buoy center

“Oceans cover some 70 per cent of the world’s surface. Ocean observations are therefore critical to understanding and forecasting our weather and climate,” he said.
The archive includes the world’s highest and lowest temperatures, rainfall, heaviest hailstone, longest dry period, maximum gust of wind, as well as hemispheric weather and climate extremes.
A WMO committee of experts earlier this year established two new records - the longest reported distance and the longest reported duration for a single lightning flash in, respectively, Oklahoma (United States of America) and southern France.

Links :