Saturday, March 17, 2018

Ant Steward : Sailing around the world alone in a tiny open boat

Ant Steward circumnavigated the world in 1992 on the tiny open boat called "Zulu Dawn"
but named "NCS Challenger" for the voyage.
In 1992 Anthony (Ant) Steward left Cape Town, SA amid warm farewells from hundreds of people. His goal: to be the first person to circumnavigate in an open boat.
The craft he selected was a Dudley Dix designed TLC 19 open cockpit day sailor.
Ant beefed it up with DIY structural upgrades, foam flotation, and rig and rudder modifications.
He had nowhere to build his boat and talked a friend into letting him do it inside his apartment.
Getting it into and out of the apartment must have been an interesting exercise.
Resin smells and woodwork noises in the early hours eventually led to an enforced removal to Royal Cape Yacht Club, where she spent the last couple of months before launching.
Many expected to never see him again and talked of his foolishness.
He said that if we thought that he was mad we should get to know his mother, then we would know where he got it from.
He had decided that he was sane and the rest of us were crazy for staying behind.
It would have been a crowded boat if we had not.
Tony Stewart lost his charts five days into the journey.
He figured that Columbus and others never had charts so he used a world map and a compass to complete the trip. 
For part of the voyage, Ant had a small video camera aboard.
This is his story... 

Friday, March 16, 2018

March 16th, 1978 : Amaco Cadiz oil spill, the day the sea turned black

 40 years ago, the oil tanker Amoco Cadiz ran aground on Portsall Rocks, 5 km (3.1 mi) from the coast of Brittany, France, on 16 March 1978, and ultimately split in three and sank, all together resulting in the largest oil spill of its kind in history to that date.
photo : Ouest France

From JerseyEvening

FOUR decades after a devastating oil spill off the Brittany coast threatened to pollute Jersey’s beaches, a special fund established in its wake is looking for more projects to support.

The Jersey Ecology Trust was set up in 1991 with £344,592, Jersey’s share of $155 million damages imposed by an American court on the Amoco Corporation, owners of the Amoco Cadiz oil tanker.

 Position of the 'Amoco Cadiz' shipwreck with the GeoGarage (SHOM)
48°35.56538' N / 4°43.05597 W

The vessel ran aground off the coast of Brittany on 16 March 1978 in extreme storm conditions.
Over the following two weeks, the 223,000 tonnes of oil and 4,000 tonnes of ship’s fuel spewed into the sea in what was the largest oil spill of its kind in history at that time, posing a serious threat to the Channel Islands.

 courtesy of

Thankfully, favourable tidal and wind conditions and rough seas – and the efforts of the Royal Navy, UK and local fishermen to disperse the 40-mile long slick – kept it at bay.

Deputy Scott Wickenden, chairman of the Ecology Fund, said: ‘The Amoco Cadiz spill had a devastating impact on wildlife and marine habitats across the Channel.
However, through the insight and hard work of Islanders who helped establish the Ecology Fund, some good has come out of it.
‘The projects it has helped fund over the years have addressed some of the ongoing environmental issues Jersey faces, such as declining habitat, and impact of development and commercial exploitation, and inspired and educated a new generation.’

 photo Portsall : Ouest France

More than £150,000 has been paid out since 1991 to almost 150 local projects.
These have included a nature garden at Mont à l’Abbé School, Birds on the Edge project to revive declining farmland bird numbers, a study of the local red squirrel population and woodland management training for Jersey Trees for Life.
Mont à l’Abbé School head teacher Liz Searle said: ‘We are grateful to the Ecology Fund for giving us a donation of £1,300 last year to enable us to carry out maintenance in the forest school area, so the children could continue to use this wonderful learning space.’

The threat to the islands from the Amoco Cadiz disaster was over by the end of March 1978.
The islands escaped relatively unscathed but dead birds and tar continued to be washed up on Jersey’s and Guernsey’s beaches for many months.

However, it took many years for the Brittany coast to recover.
By the end of April 1978, the slick had contaminated almost 200 miles of coastline, clogging holiday beaches with a thick black layer of crude oil, contaminating shellfish stocks and killing at least 20,000 sea birds and millions of molluscs, sea urchins and clams.
The clean-up operation involved 6,000 French soldiers and thousands of volunteers.
Some beaches had to be cleaned six times and traces of the pollution can be seen to this day.

Links :

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Warmer, saltier polar water could change global ocean currents

Visualization showing global ocean currents from Jan 01, 2010 to Dec 31, 2012
at sea level then at 2000 meters below sea level.
Credits: NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio

From Phys by Catherine Collins

Melting ice shelves are changing the ocean's chemistry at the South Pole and the result could be a change in global currents and increased glacial melt, according to scientists who are creating maps to feed into climate change models.

At the North and South Poles, cold dense water sinks, powering the so-called global ocean conveyor belt, a complex system reliant on heat transfer and density that drives ocean currents throughout the world.

When ice shelves melt, they dump freshwater into the sea which lightens the salty water.
Credit: Flickr/NASA ICE, licensed under CC BY 2.0
This system regulates regional climates but is threatened when large amounts of freshwater – such as glacial ice – fall into the sea.
Ice shelf melt means that more glacial ice will be dumped into the ocean, and this risks switching off the conveyor belt, because diluted, less dense saltwater is less likely to sink.In the Antarctic, at depths between 500 and 2000 metres, a surprisingly warm salty water mass can be found, called Circumpolar Deep Water.
At certain points under Antarctica, this warm water comes into contact with the underside of the ice shelves and melts the ice.
If more warm salty water is reaching the bottom of the ice shelves than in previous years, this could fuel an increase in ice-shelf melt.

Dr. Laura Herraiz Borreguero of the University of Southampton, UK, and coordinator of the OCEANIS project, is tracking the movements of this warm salty current, to see if there are any fluctuations or changes compared to previous years.

By analyzing and comparing data collected by other researchers, she has discovered that in the last 20 years, the warm salty water current has become more commonly found.
The effects are even more pronounced in the inhospitable East Antarctica region, a part of the continent that is generally less well-researched than West Antarctica, as it's much more difficult to access.

This visualization shows ocean surface currents around the world during the period from June 2005 through December 2007.
The goal was to use ocean flow data to create a simple, visceral experience.
This visualization was produced using model output from the joint MIT/JPL project: Estimating the Circulation and Climate of the Ocean, Phase II or ECCO2 (
ECCO2 uses the MIT general circulation model (MITgcm) to synthesize satellite and in-situ data of the global ocean and sea-ice at resolutions that begin to resolve ocean eddies and other narrow current systems, which transport heat and carbon in the oceans.
ECCO2 provides ocean flows at all depths, but only surface flows are used in this visualization.
The dark patterns under the ocean represent the undersea bathymetry.
Topographic land exaggeration is 20x and bathymetric exaggeration is 40x.
credit NASA

Speed bumps

Because ice shelves act as speed bumps for glacial ice flow and slow down the rate at which Antarctic glaciers reach the sea, an increase in ice-shelf melt would mean that glaciers could dump vast amounts of freshwater ice into the ocean unchecked.

'If we lose (the ice shelves), the speed of the glaciers could be four to five times faster,' said Dr. Herraiz Borreguero.

Her next challenge is to determine precisely what impact the change in circumpolar deep water will have.
'What I'm looking at now is how this alters the properties of the water around Antarctica, also in relation to the Southern Ocean circulation,' she said.
'Improving our knowledge of ice shelf-ocean interactions is a critical step toward reducing uncertainty in projections of future sea level rise.'

Ocean circulation is also being studied by Dr. Melanie Grenier of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), France, who coordinates the GCP-GEOTARCTIC project.
The project is part of a multinational collaborative effort called GEOTRACES that aims to better understand global ocean circulation and marine cycles by examining the distribution of dissolved and particulate chemical elements suspended in the water column.

Particle concentrations, distributions and exchanges can tell scientists a lot about what's going on in the water column.
Certain water masses have distinct properties, for example being nutrient-rich, or nutrient-poor, warm, cold, salty or fresh.

 Particles of ash from ancient volcanic eruptions are helping tie together climate records from different sources.
Credit: National Science Foundation/Josh Landis


Dr. Grenier uses a chemical tracer called thorium-230 to monitor the volume of particles and has found that the composition of water at the North Pole is changing.
'The Amerasian Arctic exhibits lower concentrations of this geochemical tracer than in the past, consistent with the increasing trend of sea ice retreat and a subsequent increase of particle concentrations.'

One of the reasons for this is a decrease in ice cover.
Less ice means that more light can enter the ocean and that more life can develop, leading to an increase of marine particles.
Less ice also means more interaction with the atmosphere, notably with the wind, which can increase the mixing in the ocean, and so particles lying in the sediment are re-suspended into the water column.

While this is not necessarily damaging by itself, it is indicative of changes in ocean circulation and could affect the global ocean conveyor belt.
However, it's not known how sensitive that system might be to change, so scientists will have to continue to monitor the situation.

Both OCEANIS and GCP-GEOTARCTIC intend to create maps based on their research – for OCEANIS, detailing the points where warm water reaches Antarctic ice shelves, and for GCP-GEOTARCTIC, a map of global thorium-230 distribution, with input from other GEOTRACES scientists.

Ocean Currents and Sea Ice from Atlas of World Maps,
United States Army Service Forces (1943)


These will be used to develop better-informed models to predict how the planet should react to changes in climate.
The models are also being enhanced by researchers who are aligning climate records from marine sediments and ice by using fine particles of volcanic ash as a common thread.

Vertical cylinders of marine sediment and ice, known as cores, are used by geologists to determine what past climates were like.
As ice freezes or sediment settles, they trap air, particles and fossils that provide clues to the climate at that time.
But, it can be difficult to match a particular piece of a marine sediment core to the corresponding time period of an ice core.

Dr. Peter Abbott of Cardiff University, UK, and the University of Bern, Switzerland, runs a project called SHARP to develop a method of doing just that.

'The technique that I'm using is called tephrochronology,' he said.
'We trace particles from past volcanic eruptions between the ice and the marine cores.
If you can find the same eruption, then it can act as a tie-line between those records as the particles were deposited at the same time in both environments.'

Dr. Abbott uses laboratory methods and optical microscopy to scan the cores and identify ash layers hidden within the ice and marine cores.
Each individual volcanic event leaves a unique chemical fingerprint on the material it expels, which means researchers can use the ash to correctly match up the ice cores and the sediment cores, giving scientists more accurate information about past climates, and consequently improving the predictive models.

'If we can explain how the climate has changed in the past, it gives us a better understanding of how it might be forced in the future,' said Dr. Abbott.

Links :

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

New Zealand Linz update in the GeoGarage platform

3 nautical raster charts updated

How illegal fishing is being tracked from space

From National Geographic by Sarah Gibbens

Environmentalists are chasing industrial fishers that may be threatening fisheries in developing waters and marine protected areas.

Ocean conservationists from watchdog group Oceana are hunting for illegal fishing activity, and one new method they are exploring for catching offenders is satellite data.

The data comes from a monitoring network called the Automatic Identification System, or AIS.
AIS was established so large ships could broadcast their locations and avoid collisions.

In a new report from Oceana, researchers detail examples of how they used AIS collected by conservation group Global Fishing Watch to track four fishing vessels that were "going dark," or trying to avoid detection.
They say the case studies are examples of how AIS data can be used to track illegal fishing activities in the future.
"Illegal fishing is a global problem that's threatening the sustainability of our world's fisheries," says Lacey Malarky, an analyst for Oceana and co-author on the report.
"It's a big deal for countries that rely on seafood for their livelihoods. [Illegal fishing] really impacts local communities that need oceans to survive."

A report released by Greenpeace last year estimated that illegal fishing in West Africa alone costs the region more than $2 billion annually.

Illegal fishing also threatens a number of marine protected areas that are set up to restrict fishing activities in order to keep marine animal populations healthy, but which may be difficult for many countries to patrol.

Tracking dark ships

In the specific cases Malarky and her co-author Beth Lowell analyzed, ships were transmitting AIS signals for some of the time, and algorithms were then used to identify when the signal ceased for longer than 24 or 48 hours.
"It really is happening everywhere in every ocean and in a lot of countries' national waters," says Malarky.
"These four case studies are just the tip of the iceberg."

A Panamanian ship called the Tiuna was the first fishing boat they identified going dark.
In October 2014, the vessel was transmitting AIS data on the western boundary of the Galápagos Marine Reserve.
The region is one of the most biodiverse on the planet and hosts a number of lucrative fish.
The ship was dark for 15 days before it began transmitting signals again on the reserve's eastern border.

A Panamanian commercial fishing vessel seemed to disappear on the west side of the Galápagos Marine Reserve, reappearing after 15 days on the east side of the reserve. 
Courtesy of Oceana

Over 2015 and 2016, an Australian commercial fishing vessel called the Corinthian Bay appeared to enter a no-take marine reserve on 10 separate occasions.
According to the data, the vessel turned off its AIS system before entering the reserve and turned on its system after exiting.

An Australian commercial fishing vessel appeared to disable its AIS near the Heard Island and McDonald Islands Marine Reserve on 10 separate occasions over one year.

In 2014 and 2015, a Spanish fishing vessel called the Releixo went dark when leaving the port of Dakar in Senegal and entering Gambian waters.
The ship went dark at least 21 times during this period, each time for an average of 16 days.

A Spanish commercial fishing vessel appeared to repeatedly go dark when approaching The Gambia’s national waters over a one-and-a-half-year period.

The final case study highlighted in the report looked at a Spanish vessel called Egaluze that, over a period of seven months from 2012 to 2013, appeared to turn off its AIS system while operating in national waters of five different African countries.
The vessel also turned off its navigation monitoring system while on the high seas.

Another Spanish commercial fishing vessel appeared to turn off its AIS signal consistently over a seven-month period while operating in the national waters of at least five African countries and on the high seas.

"The regions we're highlighting are illegal fishing hotspots," says Malarky.
"Going dark is not necessarily illegal. It may indicate that they're doing something suspicious, but we can't prove they're doing anything illegal because we can't see what they're doing."

Evading detection by pirates, for example, is one reason a fishing vessel may need to disable its AIS detection system.

"It is a difficult task to discern between intentional disabling of the AIS, equipment malfunction, or issues with satellite coverage," says Juan Mayorga, a marine data scientist whose report last month also used Global Fishing Watch data to estimate that industrial fishing covers a third of the planet.

"Despite these limitations, we can—for the first time—use this data to investigate patterns of suspicious behavior and close-in on potentially illegal behavior. A vessel going dark now triggers a signal that tells us when and where to look," Mayorga adds.

Increasing transparency

The report made several recommendations to increase transparency around ships turning off AIS systems.

One is around vessel size.
The International Maritime Organization requires all passenger ships, tankers, and ships above a certain weight to transmit AIS, but the EU mandates the rule only for vessels longer than 15 meters. Individual governments can mandate how to what extent that requirement is enforced and conservationists say this is a major loophole.
"There really is no global standard," adds Malarky.

To track commercial fishing activity around the world, SkyTruth, a small nonprofit based in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, has recently launched Global Fishing Watch in partnership with Google and Oceana.
This prototype tool analyzes a satellite-collected feed of tracking data from ships' automatic identification systems—which vessels use to communicate their location to one another—to map movement over time and automatically determine which ships are engaged in fishing activity.
Each vessel is pinpointed on a map outlining fishing laws around the globe.
This map is publicly available on the Web, allowing anyone with an Internet connection to act as a watchdog and see when and where commercial fishing activity is occurring.

Her report also recommends vessels be required to state why they stop transmitting AIS, paired with stronger enforcement by local governments to punish—and thus deter—law-breaking activities.
In addition to protecting developing nations' fisheries, the report states enforcing AIS best practices plays an important role in helping reach the UN goal of protecting 10 percent of the ocean by 2020 (a goal we likely won't reach).

Links :

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Microplastic pollution in oceans is far worse than feared, say scientists

From The Guardian by Damian Carrington

A study reveals highest microplastic pollution levels ever recorded in a river in Manchester, UK and shows that billions of particles flooded into the sea from rivers in the area in just one year

Plastic pollution is known to harm marine life and can enter the human food chain via our food and water.
Photograph: Will Rose/Greenpeace

The number of tiny plastic pieces polluting the world’s oceans is vastly greater than thought, new research indicates.

The work reveals the highest microplastic pollution yet discovered anywhere in the world in a river near Manchester in the UK.
It also shows that the major floods in the area in 2015-16 flushed more than 40bn pieces of microplastic into the sea.

The surge of such a vast amount of microplastic from one small river catchment in a single event led the scientists to conclude that the current estimate for the number of particles in the ocean – five trillion – is a major underestimate.

Microplastics include broken-down plastic waste, synthetic fibres and beads found in personal hygiene products.
They are known to harm marine life, which mistake them for food, and can be consumed by humans too via seafood, tap water or other food.
The risk to people is still not known, but there are concerns that microplastics can accumulate toxic chemicals and that the tiniest could enter the bloodstream.

“Given their pervasive and persistent nature, microplastics have become a global environmental concern and a potential risk to human populations,” said Rachel Hurley from the University of Manchester and colleagues in their report, published in Nature Geoscience.

The River Tame, near Manchester, has the highest microplastic pollution yet discovered anywhere in the world
Microplastics concentration in sediments and surface water

The team analysed sediments in 10 rivers within about 20km of Manchester and all but one of the 40 sites showed microplastic contamination.
After the winter floods of 2015-16, they took new samples and found that 70% of the microplastics had been swept away, a total of 43bn particles or 850kg.
Of those, about 17bn would float in sea water.

“This is a small to medium sized catchment in the north of England, it is one flood event, it is just one year – there is no way that [5tn global] estimate is right,” said Hurley.
The researchers said total microplastic pollution in the world’s oceans “must be far higher”.

The worst hotspot, on the River Tame, had more than 500,000 microplastic particles per square metre in the top 10cm of river bed.
This is the worst concentration ever reported and 50% more than the previous record, in beach sediments from South Korea.
But Hurley said there may well be worse places yet to me measured: “We don’t have much data for huge rivers in the global south, which may have so much more plastic in.”

Plastic microbeads, like these recovered from the River Mersey,
are now banned in cosmetics in the UK

“There is so much effort going into the marine side of the microplastic problem but this research shows it is really originating upstream in river catchments,” she said.
“We need to control those sources to even begin to clean up the oceans.”

About a third of microplastics found by the team before the flooding were microbeads, tiny spheres used in personal care products and banned in the UK in January.
This high proportion surprised the scientists, who said the beads may well also derive from industrial uses, which are not covered by the ban.

Erik van Sebille, at Utrecht University in the Netherlands and and not part of the research team, said the work does support a much higher estimate of global microplastic pollution in the oceans: “I’m not surprised by that conclusion.
In 2015, we found that 99% of all plastic in the ocean is not on the surface anymore.
The problem is that we don’t know where that 99% of plastic is.
Is it on beaches, the seafloor, in marine organisms? Before we can start thinking about cleaning up the plastic, we’ll first need to know how it’s distributed.”

Anne Marie Mahon, at the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology in Ireland and also not part of the research team, said: “I am actually glad to see the estimate going up a bit, just to show there is this huge contribution coming from the freshwater system.” However, she cautioned that not all the microplastics shown in the study to be flushed out by the floods necessarily entered the sea – some may have been washed over the floodplain instead.

“It is very difficult to tell how this plastic may be affecting us,” Hurley said.
“But they definitely do enter our bodies.
The missing gap is we need to know if we are getting contaminants inside us as a result of plastic particles.”

The smallest particles that could be analysed in the new research were 63 microns, roughly the width of a human hair.
But much smaller plastic particles will exist, and Hurley said: “It is the really small stuff we get worried about, as they can get through the membranes in the gut and in the bloodstream – that is the real fear.”

Links : 

Monday, March 12, 2018

Using deep learning to forecast ocean waves

IBM Reseach in Dublin has demonstrated that Simulating WAves Nearshore (SWAN) models previously requiring high performance computing could be done with lower-end computing devices such as a Raspberry Pi.

From IBM by Fearghal O'Donncha

Scientists have made amazing advances enabling machines to understand language and process images for such applications as facial recognition, image classification (e.g., “cat” or “dog”) and translation of texts.
Work in the IBM Research lab in Dublin this summer was focused on a very different problem: using AI techniques such as deep learning to forecast a physical process, namely, ocean waves.

Traditional physics-based models are driven by external forces: The tides rise and fall, winds blow in different directions, the depth and physical properties of water influence the speed and height of the waves.
These physical processes and their relationships are encapsulated in the differential equations that are coded into numerical models of wave transport.
The nature of the computations typically demands High Performance Computing infrastructure to resolve the equations.
This high computational expense limits the spatial resolution, physical processes and time-scales that can be investigated by a real-time forecasting platform.

  Representative heat maps of the difference between SWAN- and machine- learning-simulated Hs. The wave-height snapshot on the left shows some trends of local discrepancy (in this image, RMSE is 6 cm) not evident in the right figure, which actually has a higher RMSE (14 cm in this image).

We developed a deep learning framework that provides a 12,000 percent acceleration over these physics-based models at comparable levels of accuracy.
The validated deep-learning framework can be used to perform real-time forecasts of wave conditions using available forecasted boundary wave conditions, ocean currents, and winds.
The huge reduction in computational expense means that
  1. simulations can be made on a Raspberry Pi rather than a HPC centre and
  2. it enables investigation of a vastly increased set of physical conditions, geometries and time-scales by amending input datasets to the deep learning model.
Using a case-study site at Monterey Bay, California, a deep-learning framework was trained to forecast wave conditions at a fraction of the computational cost.
We use the physics-based Simulating WAves Nearshore (SWAN) model to generate training data for the deep learning network.
The model — driven by measured wave conditions, ocean currents from an operational forecasting system, and wind data from The Weather Company — was run between April 1st, 2013 and July 31st, 2017 generating forecasts at three hour intervals to provide a total of 12,400 distinct model outputs.
Specifically, images of 3,111 wave heights and periods could be replicated with the deep-learning algorithm with errors less than those for the SWAN model-verification exercise.
Outputs from SWAN and the deep learning network were compared to observed buoy wave data within the model domain demonstrating that despite the huge reduction in computational expense, the new approach provides comparable levels of accuracy to the traditional physics-based, SWAN model.

Accurate forecasts of ocean wave heights and directions are a valuable resource for many marine-based industries.
Many of these industries operate in harsh environments where power and computing facilities are limited.
A solution to provide highly-accurate wave condition forecasts at low computational cost is essential for improved decision making.

As an example, shipping companies can use highly accurate forecasts to determine the best voyage route in rough seas to minimise a desired metric (e.g. fuel consumption, voyage time, etc.). Aquaculture operators require timely, continuously updating forecasts to inform decision-making related to high-margin activities such as feeding and harvesting.

This study extends and builds on a collaboration between IBM Research – Ireland, Baylor University and the University of Notre Dame. Prof. Scott James from Baylor, who has extensive industry experience in wave forecasting applications, specifically for wave energy, joined the IBM Dublin Research Lab for a summer sabbatical to further an existing research collaboration.
The objective of the sabbatical was to leverage IBM’s skills in AI to extend wave forecasting capabilities beyond current state-of-the-art.
Yushan Zhang, a Ph.D candidate at the University of Notre Dame, brought experience in application of machine learning analytics to a number of research studies.
Together, the blend of modelling skills, machine learning capabilities and industry experience from the three institutions resulted in innovative deep learning solutions to enable wave forecasting at a fraction of the computational cost of current state-of-the-art methods. This method is illustrated in our paper “A Machine Learning Framework to Forecast Wave Conditions.”

Links :

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The deepest dive in Antarctica reveals a sea floor teeming with life

No one really knows what’s in the deep ocean in Antarctica.
Now we have the technology to reach into the ocean depths, we accompanied scientist and deep-sea explorer Jon Copley and became the first to descend to 1000 meters underwater in Antarctica for Blue Planet II.
The exotic creatures we found there will astonish you. 
other video

As the Alucia team worked with the BBC on “Blue Planet II,” advisor scientists Dr. Sylvia Earle (of Mission Blue ) and Dr. Samantha “Mandy” Joye descended in the Alucia submersibles to visit the brine pools and collect samples from this rarely visited ecosystem which could lead to medical breakthroughs or provide clues to the origins of life.
Very few humans have ever seen the mysterious brine pools in person, an alien landscape of underwater lakes so salty that they kill most fish who get too close.
The brine pools, however, are also thriving ecosystems, host to many species, and with a unique microbiological makeup that makes them extremely valuable to study.

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