Saturday, August 27, 2016

Man of Aran

Man of Aran is a 1934 British fictional documentary (ethnofiction) film directed by Robert J. Flaherty about life on the Aran Islands off the western coast of Ireland.
It portrays characters living in premodern conditions, documenting their daily routines such as fishing off high cliffs, farming potatoes where there is little soil, and hunting for huge basking sharks to get liver oil for lamps.
Some situations are fabricated, such as one scene in which the shark fishermen are almost lost at sea in a sudden gale.
Additionally, the family members shown are not actually related, having been chosen from among the islanders for their photogenic qualities.
The Cripple of Inishmaan by Martin McDonagh is a play set on the Aran Islands at the time of the filming of Man of Aran.
The film won the Mussolini Cup for best foreign film at the 2nd Venice International Film Festival

Aran islands on the West coast of Ireland with the GeoGarage platform (UKHO chart)

Friday, August 26, 2016

Global warming is melting the Greenland ice sheet, fast

Cryosat reveals recent Greenland ice loss 
Between 2011 and 2014, Greenland lost around one trillion tonnes of ice.
This corresponds to a 0.75 mm contribution to global sea-level rise each year – about twice the average of the preceding two decades.
These results from the UK Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling (CPOM) at the University of Leeds combine data from the CryoSat mission with a regional climate model to map changes in Greenland ice-sheet mass. 
source : ESA

From The Guardian by John Abraham

The Greenland Ice Sheet is losing 110 million Olympic size swimming pools worth of water each year.

A new study measures the loss of ice from one of world’s largest ice sheets.
They find an ice loss that has accelerated in the past few years, and their measurements confirm prior estimates.

As humans emit heat-trapping gases, we expect to see changes to the Earth.
One obvious change to be on the lookout for is melting ice.
This includes ice atop mountains, ice floating in cold ocean waters, and the ice within large ice sheets or glaciers.
It is this last type of ice loss that most affects ocean levels because as the water runs into the oceans, it raises sea levels.
This is in contrast to melting sea ice – since it is already floating in ocean waters, its potential to raise ocean levels is very small.

So measuring ice sheet melting is important, not only as a signal of global warming but also because of the sea level impacts.
But how is this melting measured? The ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica are huge and scientists need enough measurements in space and time to really understand what’s going on.
That is, we need high-resolution and long duration measurements to fully understand trends.

In a very recent publication in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, an international team reported on a new high-resolution measurement of Greenland.
The lead author, Malcolm McMillan from the Centre for Polar Observation and Modeling, and his colleagues mapped Greenland with incredibly high resolution (5 km distances).

They accomplished this mapping by obtaining data from the Cryosat 2 satellite.
This satellite uses a technique called radar altimetry to measure the height of surfaces.
It is able to track the elevation of the ice sheets on Greenland with high precision.
If the height of the ice sheet is growing, it means the ice is getting thicker.
If the heights are decreasing, it means the ice layers are getting thinner.

Watch this documentary on Greenland which icebergs are said to be melting.

A simplistic view would be that if ice sheets become taller, then they contain more frozen water.
If they are shorter, they contain less water.
But, this isn’t the entire story.
Scientists also have to account for other changes, such as changes to density, surface roughness, and water content.
When you realize that the Greenland Ice Sheet is thousands of meters thick, and the top layers include both snow and firn (which later get buried and compressed into ice), it becomes apparent that accounting for the constitution of the ice sheet is important when estimating how much water is being delivered to the ocean.

The authors of this study did such an accounting and they discovered that not only is Greenland losing a lot of ice, but the loss varies a lot depending on location and year.
For example, 2012 was a year of incredible ice loss compared to other years.
Also, the western side of the ice sheet is losing much more ice than the eastern side.
They also found that a small part of the ice sheet (less than 1% of the sheet) is responsible for more than 10% of the mass loss.

Why are scientists out flying over Greenland, drilling into its ice, and monitoring it from space?
The answer is that they see it as a bellwether of future Earth.

In total, they estimate approximately 270 gigatons of ice loss per year for 2011–2014.
This result is almost a perfect match to independent measurements made by other researchers and builds our confidence in their conclusions.
To put this in perspective, the Greenland Ice Sheet is losing approximately 110 million Olympic size swimming pools worth of water each year.

New maps chart-Greenland glaciers melting risk

 NASA : First Map Of Thawed Areas Under Greenland Ice Sheet

Lead author Malcolm told me:
"Using high resolution satellite data from ESA’s CryoSat-2 mission, we have produced a detailed and comprehensive picture of how Greenland has changed in recent years.
In particular, we have been able to map the changing ice sheet in fine detail, and pinpoint where, and when, the greatest ice losses have occurred.
These observations reveal not only the extent of Greenland’s contribution to sea level in recent years but, thanks to their high resolution, allow us to identify the key glaciers that are showing the greatest signs of change.
The data also enable us to look at how much ice has been lost in each year and, for example, to quantify the large impact on the ice sheet of the record summertime temperatures occurring in 2012.
Within a wider context, satellite records such as these are crucial for systematically monitoring our climate system, and assessing the impact of rising temperatures across Earth’s polar regions.
In particular, they help us to understand the sensitivity of the ice sheet to changes in its surrounding atmosphere and ocean environment, and aid the development of reliable sea level rise projections."

The duration of this study is pretty short (4 years).
I will be very interested to see if the mass loss continues at the same rate in following years.
If the rate of mass loss increases, it may signify a larger future contribution to sea level from Greenland.
This would be bad news for vulnerable coastal cities like Miami and certainly something coastal areas should plan for.

Links :

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Canada CHS update in the GeoGarage platform

36 nautical raster charts updates

UNESCO wants to protect sites deep in the ocean that don’t belong to any country

From Quartz by Leslie Josephs 

The United Nations agency tasked with protecting the world’s cultural and environmental wonders is setting its sights really low.
As in, the bottom of ocean.
UNESCO has called out five areas in the high seas—from habitats of delicate coral to one of white sharks’ favorite hangouts—that it thinks should be among the next generation of World Heritage Sites.

The designation of “World Heritage Site” is more than a bragging right or marketing slogan. Countries apply for the designation to access the World Heritage Fund, which provides money to help preserve these areas.
There are currently 1,052 places worldwide have been declared UNESCO World Heritage sites.
The list spans from Persepolis to Grand Canyon National Park, from Lake Turkana to the Galapagos Islands.
There are already some underwater sites included on the list, such as Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, but ecosystems out on the high seas—in areas that are not governed by any sovereign nation—are a gray area for UNESCO.
That’s because governments are the ones who have to ask UNESCO to consider adding the site to its prestigious list, and ecosystems in the high seas don’t have anyone to apply for them.

“Although these sites are far from our shores, they are not safe from threats, whether it be climate change, deep seabed mining, navigation or plastic pollution,” says UNESCO.
It argued for the inclusion of five areas in the high seas in a report (pdf) last week (Aug. 3):
  • The Costa Rica Thermal Dome, a nutrient-rich area of the eastern Pacific where species like blue whales and leatherback sea turtles migrate and feed.
  • The White Shark CafĂ©, a stretch of the Pacific between North America and Hawaii that’s a habitat of white sharks
  • The Sargasso Sea in the Atlantic Ocean that’s home to free-floating algae.
  • The Lost City Hydrothermal Field, a deep-sea system of active hot springs and carbonate spires.
  • The Atlantis Bank, a sunken fossil island in the sub-tropical Indian Ocean that’s home to deep-sea coral species and large anemones
It’s not yet clear how the designation will affect those sites.
Often, the UNESCO seal gives sites much more international attention and can lead to a flood of tourists to the areas it is trying to protect—especially if there’s the chance that it is endangered.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The deep ocean: plunging to new depths to discover the largest migration on Earth

 Go on a 360° adventure with Greg Foot - Science Presenter​ and Triton Submarines​ pilot Kelvin, as they fly up the side of one the three underwater mountains (or seamounts) that make up Bermuda’s distinctive seabed landscape.
There are three significant seamounts in these waters: Argus, Challenger and Bermuda itself.

From The Guardian by Oliver Milman

The deep ocean makes up 95% of habitable Earth, yet only 0.0001% has been explored.
The Guardian joined a mission off Bermuda that is looking to unlock the secrets of the deep.

The largest migration on Earth is very rarely seen by human eyes, yet it happens every day.
Billions of marine creatures ascend from as far as 2km below the surface of the water to the upper reaches of the ocean at night, only to then float back down once the sun rises.
This huge movement of organisms – ranging from tiny cockatoo squids to microscopic crustaceans, shifting for food or favourable temperatures – was little known to science until relatively recently.

In fact, almost all of the deep ocean, which represents 95% of the living space on the planet, remains inscrutable, despite the key role it plays in supporting life on Earth, such as regulating the air we breathe.
Scientists are only now starting to overturn this ignorance, at a time when this unknown world is being subjected to rising temperatures, ocean acidification and the strewn waste expelled by humans.
“The deeper we go, the less we know,” said Nick Schizas, a marine biologist at the University of Puerto Rico.
“The majority of habitat of Earth is the deeper areas of the ocean.
Yet we know so little about it.”

 Explore the deep ocean in 360° with Nekton Mission

Schizas is part of a new research mission that will, for the first time, provide a comprehensive health check of the deep oceans that future changes will be measured against.
The consortium of scientists and divers, led by Nekton, is backed by XL Catlin, which has already funded a global analysis of shallow water coral reefs.
The new mission is looking far deeper – onwards of 150m down, further than most research that is restricted by the limits of scuba divers.
We already know of some of the creatures of the deep – such as the translucent northern comb jelly, the faintly horrifying fangtooth and the widely derided blobfish – where the pressure is up to 120 times greater than the surface.
The deep sea was further illuminated during the film director James Cameron’s cramped solo “vertical torpedo” dive to the 11km deep Mariana trench in 2012.
Yet only an estimated 0.0001% of the deep ocean has been explored.
The Nekton researchers are discovering a whole web of life that could be unknown to science as they attempt to broaden this knowledge.
The Guardian joined the mission vessel Baseline Explorer in its survey off the coast of Bermuda, where various corals, sponges and sea slugs have been hauled up from the deep.
“Every time we look in the deep sea, we find a lot of new species,” said Alex Rogers, an Oxford University biologist who has previously found a new species of lobster in the deep Indian Ocean and huge hydrothermal vents off Antarctica.

 Bermuda with the GeoGarage platform (NGA chart)

In Bermuda, the scientists have found fossilised beaches – a remnant of the last ice age when sea levels were much lower – and large black coral forests that the locals were unaware of.
“There are probably three or four new species of coral here, and some of the critters on the corals may be new too,” Rogers said.

Rogers is leading the scientific effort during a month-long survey of the three underwater volcanoes, known as seamounts, that lie near Bermuda – itself a volcano that pokes out of the north-west Atlantic.
The Nekton mission, which will also include analysis of the deep sea off Nova Scotia, is recording indicators such as temperature, salinity, currents and discarded plastics.
Mapping via sonar has also provided new data on previously unknown depths.
Peer-reviewed research from the trips will be accelerated and available, it’s hoped, by early next year.
Nekton’s next mission will be to explore the Mediterranean.
“We want to a get a big-picture understanding because no one knows the state of the deep ocean,” said Oliver Steeds, cofounder and mission director of Nekton.
“We’ve come to a point where the most important part of the planet is the least known, which isn’t healthy.”
Steeds, a former journalist, said he was inspired by the “Yuri Gagarins of the deep sea” – William Beebe and Otis Barton.
During the early 1930s, the duo plunged into the depths in the “Bathysphere”, essentially a hollow steel ball, after realising that submarines of the time were useless for viewing marine creatures.
The bathysphere, lowered by steel cables from a ship, surveyed sites around Bermuda and descended beyond 3,000ft.
The Nekton mission is a far cry from this.
The Guardian squeezed into an extremely cosy two-person Triton submersible lowered from the Baseline Explorer to survey the sloping face of a Bermuda seamount.
The 2.5-tonne Triton vessel, comprised of a tough goldfish-bowl-like pod with ballast and thrusters that control movement, is a nimble craft initially aimed at wealthy super-yacht owners.
Dragooned into the service of science, two Triton vessels – the Nemo and the Nomad – have been taking multiple dives down to 300m to assess this patch of the Atlantic.
A mechanical grabbing arm picks up samples of sponge and coral, with tubes capturing water samples.
The light blue of the surface turns a more navy hue as we descend further, with the sun becoming hazy as if it were obscured on a very smoggy day.
The warmth disappears and the light fades the further you go – by 4,000m the temperature is a little above freezing and all is dark around.

At 150m, however, it’s still possible to see the enormous walls of the Bermuda volcano, formed more than 30m years ago and, even at this depth, dotted with life.
Curly whip coral is strewn across the moon-like surface.
Small fish flit across the surface.
Depressingly, several lion fish, a voracious invasive species that has spread from Florida, can be seen.

The experience is much like exploring another planet in a slightly claustrophobic air bubble.
And given our lack of knowledge about the deep sea, the otherworldliness felt particularly apt.

The state of the deep sea has been somewhat overshadowed by alarm at a vast coral bleaching event, which has decimated shallow water corals on the Great Barrier Reef, the Caribbean and the Maldives. Schizas says the “horrible” bleaching, in which prolonged high temperatures cause corals to whiten and ultimately die, has spread to Honduras and could soon reach Bermuda – the far north limit of the coral zone in the Atlantic.
The warming seas have also become riddled with more than 5tn pieces of discarded plastic, which cause damage throughout the food chain and have inspired ambitious inventions to clean up the huge patches of seaborne garbage.
Visible problems near the surface can percolate downwards, given the dynamic nature of life that moves up and down the water column.
While coral bleaching isn’t an issue for deeper corals, the excess heat being sucked up by the ocean, as well as its increasing acidity, is altering the deep sea before we even know what we are changing.
“Climate change is a significant problem because it affects the means of primary food production, so there is less food going to deep water,” said Rogers.

“You also start getting more zones without oxygen.
This is a worry because the deep sea carries out important ecosystem services for us, such as food production, carbon sequestration, moderating the temperature of the planet and the gases around us.
They do a number of critical things that are more or less invisible to the average person on the street.”
Scientists are still thrashing out a theory about how coral, the building block for 25% of all marine life on the planet, is replenished. If, as thought, deep sea corals help spawn replacements for shallow water corals that bleach and die, then any deterioration of these hidden creatures could trigger even steeper declines than expected as bleaching events become more common.
Working this out will require ambitious scientific enquiry, something that has been sparse since the financial crash of 2008.
China has picked up the slack somewhat and has the most advanced submersible – the Qianlong, which can reach 4,500m – but Rogers and some of his colleagues fret that the exploration will simply be a precursor for deep-sea mining.
Chinese and Canadian interests are already working to open up the seabed off Papua New Guinea for minerals.
Localised and international protections are also lacking.
Bermuda has been largely denuded of marine life due to overfishing, with the government, which is under the auspices of Britain, last year shelving a plan for a new ocean reserve despite overwhelming public support.
The high seas, which lie beyond national maritime borders, is even more of a free-for-all, with the UN calling this month for five remote marine areas to be protected from overfishing, pollution and mining.
“Deep sea research needs to be funded at a similar scale to space research.
It’s as simple as that,” said Rogers.
“We want to get more people engaged in the deep seas, to feel inspired and care more about them.
Hopefully, people will then start to demand they are managed properly.”

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

China's empty oceans

Fishing boats sail from Shenjiamen port in Zhejiang province to fish in the East China Sea.
Photo: Xinhua

From Bloomberg by Adam Minter

On Wednesday, Indonesia celebrated its Independence Day with a bang -- blowing up several Chinese boats that had been caught fishing illegally in its waters and impounded.
China doesn't dispute Indonesia's territorial claims, but Chinese fishermen have more pressing concerns.
According to reports in Chinese state media this week, overfishing and pollution have so depleted China's own fishery resources that in some places -- including the East China Sea -- there are virtually "no fish" left.

That's a frightening prospect for an increasingly hungry country: China accounted for 35 percent of the world's seafood consumption in 2015.
Seeking catches further afield -- including in Indonesian waters -- isn't really a solution; fish stocks in the disputed South China Sea have themselves fallen by as much as 95 percent from 1950s levels.
If China doesn't want the rest of Asia's fisheries to suffer the same fate as its own, it's going to have to think much more ambitiously about how to create a sustainable food supply for the region.

As in other developing countries, China's ascent up the income ladder has been accompanied by an improvement in quality and quantity of diet.
Seafood -- once a pricey luxury in much of the country -- has become commonplace, even inland; China is now the world's biggest seafood consumer and exporter.
The economic impact has been extraordinary.
Between 1979 and 2013, China's fleet of motorized fishing vessels grew from 55,225 to 694,905 boats, while the number of people employed in the fishing industry exploded from 2.25 million to more than 14 million.
Meanwhile, the average fisherman's income increased from around $15 per month to nearly $2,000 per month.
Today, the fishing industry generates more than $260 billion annually, accounting for around 3 percent of Chinese GDP.

But in pursuing growth (and catch) at all costs, China's fishermen have exacted a terrible environmental toll.
Today, the Yangtze River, which supplies 60 percent of China's freshwater catch, produces less than a quarter of the fish it did in 1954, and most of the 170 species in the river are on the verge of extinction.
The situation is no better offshore.
The government acknowledges that Chinese fishermen routinely exceed annual sustainable catch limits in Chinese territorial seas by 30 percent or more.
A visit to any Chinese seafood market will turn up large inventories of under-sized fish that should never have been hauled in in the first place.

Blame for this state of affairs falls on both the fishing industry and the government, which spent $6.5 billion on fisheries subsidies in 2013 alone.
Nearly all of that money paid for cheap fuel that allowed and arguably encouraged Chinese fishermen to venture further from shore, often into the comparatively un-plundered exclusive economic zones of countries such as Indonesia.
Worse, the Chinese military has openly abetted those efforts by subsidizing everything from ice to GPS on Chinese fishing boats.
The goal: to solidify China's claim to "historical fishing rights" in the vast and deeply contested South China Sea.

Chinese regulators are fighting a losing battle against these other wings of the government.
In 1999, China imposed a seasonal fishing ban in the South China Sea, and in 2002 regulators did the same in sections of the Yangtze River.
But the continued deterioration of both fisheries only underscores how ineffective those restrictions have been.
In response, in 2013 one Chinese scientist proposed an outright 10-year moratorium on fishing in the economically essential Yangtze.
This week, Chinese officials signaled they were open to the idea and were even considering a wholesale culling of China's fishing fleet.

While both measures would be a boon to Asia's fisheries, they're only a start.
To make a real difference, China would need to demilitarize its fishing fleets and end the ruinous military-funded fuel subsidies that are encouraging unregulated catches, not to mention raising geopolitical tensions.
Fishing fleets should be regulated by civilian marine and agricultural authorities, not generals with little interest in environmental sustainability.

Equally important, China should explicitly link the task of reviving and preserving fisheries to the clean water and other environmental initiatives in its economic planning documents, including the government's five-year plans.
Doing so would raise them to a national priority akin to cleaning up Beijing's air.

Those priorities could then be extended to trade agreements, including the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) China's currently negotiating with other Asian nations, as well as bilateral deals with other claimants in the South China Sea.
The goal should be to make China a leader -- and perhaps even a brand -- in sustainable seafood.
With luck, that would buy China not just more fish to eat, but a reputation as a responsible global citizen.

Links :

Monday, August 22, 2016

What causes travel sickness? A glitch in the brain

Although one third of the population suffers from motion sickness, scientists aren't exactly sure what causes it.
Like the common cold, it's a seemingly simple problem that's still without a cure.
And if you think it's bad on a long family car ride, imagine being a motion sick astronaut!
Rose Eveleth explains what's happening in our bodies when we get the sea sick blues.

From The Guardian by Dean Burnett

With everyone holidaying for summer, travel sickness is going to be an issue for many.
But why? It could be an evolution-based glitch in the brain

lot of people, when they travel by car, ship, plane or whatever, end up feeling sick.
They’re fine before they get into the vehicle, they’re typically fine when they get out.
But whilst in transit, they feel sick.
Particularly, it seems, in self-driving cars.
One theory is that it’s due to a weird glitch that means your brain gets confused and thinks it’s being poisoned.
This may seem surprising; not even the shoddiest low-budget airline would get away with pumping toxins into the passengers (airline food doesn’t count, and that joke is out of date).
So where does the brain get this idea that it’s being poisoned?
Despite being a very “mobile” species, humans have evolved for certain types of movement.
Specifically, walking, or running.
Walking has a specific set of neurological processes tied into it, so we’ve had millions of years to adapt to it.

Think of all the things going on in your body when you’re walking, and how the brain would pick up on these.
There’s the steady thud-thud-thud and pressure on your feet and lower legs.
There’s all the signals from your muscles and the movement of your body, meaning the motor cortex (which controls conscious movement of muscles) and proprioception (the sense of the arrangement of your body in space, hence you can know, for example, where your arm is behind your back without looking at it directly) are all supplying particular signals.

There’s also the vestibular system, which includes the balance sensors; tiny fluid-filled tubes in our ears.
The fluid responds to the laws of physics, so moves about in response to acceleration and gravity, so we can tell when we’re upside down, for example.
And, of course, there’s our vision.
When we walk, the world travels past on our retinas at a steady rate, and there’s the gentle side-to-side rocking caused by our hips and legs etc.

 Being sick at home is hard; being sick on a boat can be unbearable!
Keep sea sickness from ruining your vacation by following a few of our easy steps.

When we’re walking, all of this sensory information is fed into the fundamental, subconscious areas of the brain, like the thalamus, that integrate it into one coherent and rich perception of ourselves and the world around us.
However, vehicles haven’t been around long enough for our brains, at such fundamental levels, to “recognise” when we’re travelling in one.
Because when you’re travelling, all the usual signals of movement are absent.
Your muscles are still.
You’re sat down.
Being inside the enclosed space of the vehicle even restricts your view of the outside world, so your eyes don’t see much passing by.
This all results in sensory information that says to the fundamental brains regions “we are stationary”.
Not the vestibular system though; the fluid in your ears obeys physics, travelling at high speeds means it sloshes around even more than usual, so it’s telling the brain “we are really moving”.
That means these fundamental regions are getting mixed signals; usually reliable senses are now disagreeing.
What the hell can cause that? As far as the lower brain is concerned, only one thing; neurotoxin, aka poison.
And what’s the quickest way to get rid of poison? Throw up.
And so, we feel nauseous, and often vomit.

 Deadliest Catch - Crews Get Over Seasickness
Production crew members try to find their sea legs and avoid hot-headed crewmen.

You can see why this might be more common in self-driving cars; there’s a lot of physical movement and watching the road when driving, so the signals aren’t so mixed.
Take that and its associated movements away, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see increased motion sickness.
Some of you will know I cover all this in my book The Idiot Brain, so why rehash it here.
Well, the US version of the book was released three weeks ago.
I did some publicity for it, one item of which was an appearance on NPR’s Fresh Air, hosted by Terry Gross.

In this interview, I was asked about the part of the book that looks at travel sickness.
An interesting little hook to bring up in the mainstream, perhaps.
The New York magazine certainly thought so, dedicating a whole article to my offhand mention.
It has since snowballed from there, spreading from platform to platform to platform to platform to platform to (scientifically questionable) platform, finally arriving back here in the UK, where it started.

Now it’s appeared in the Mail, the Sun and the Telegraph.
This puts us in the slightly weird scenario where the Guardian was likely to be the only UK paper that hasn’t mentioned it, despite the fact that the originator of the story is already working for them!
 So I felt I’d best address it here.

 Cruise ship caught in furious storm

Another reason to cover it is that, as with most things that spread like this, inaccuracies, distortions and misinterpretations gradually seep in.
Now I’m reading stories that mention me by name that include claims and assertions that I’ve never heard before.
So, I’d like to clarify a few points.
I did not discover this mechanism, I just read about it.

It is not a new discovery.
I read about it years ago and didn’t realize until recently it wasn’t common knowledge.
It even has a Wikipedia page.

This is not definitely the mechanism why which motion sickness occurs.
There are other theories.
It may be a combination of all these things, or something else.
The one described above is the most persistent theory though.
And finally, anyone who has classed me an “expert” on something should be approached with caution.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

A journey to the Arctic

Have you always wanted to meet a polar bear eye to eye?
We’re excited to tell you that now you can...
To best enjoy this virtual reality film, view it on your phone or a VR headset.
Visit to find out more