Wednesday, May 22, 2019

A quarter of glacier ice in West Antarctica is now unstable

Map of satellite data shows how glacier ice thinning has spread deep into Antarctica

From ESA by

By combining 25 years of ESA satellite data, scientists have discovered that warming ocean waters have caused the ice to thin so rapidly that 24% of the glacier ice in West Antarctica is now affected.

A paper published in Geophysical Research Letters describes how the UK Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling (CPOM) used over 800 million measurements of Antarctic ice sheet height recorded by radar altimeter instruments on ESA’s ERS-1, ERS-2, Envisat and CryoSat satellite missions between 1992 and 2017.

The study also used simulations of snowfall over the same period produced by the RACMO regional climate model.
Together, these measurements allow changes in ice-sheet height to be separated into those caused by meteorological events, which affect snow, and those caused by longer-term changes in climate, which affect ice.

Velocity of recent ice flow around Antarctica. Thwaites Glacier is one of the smaller purple regions on the left side of this image.

New model finds processes that could help slow loss at some glaciers.

The ice sheet has thinned by up to 122 metres in places, with the most rapid changes occurring in West Antarctica where ocean melting has triggered glacier imbalance.
CPOM Director, Andy Shepherd, explained, “Parts of Antarctica have thinned by extraordinary amounts. So we set out to show how much was down to changes in climate and how much was instead due to weather.”

3D view of Thwaites Glacier’s grounding line migration over 500 years, for old models (green) where the bedrock is rigid, and our new model (red) where the bedrock is elastic.
Note that the ice shelf (floating part of the glacier) has been masked to show the underlying bedrock.
Credit: Eric Larour @JPL/NASA/CalTech

To do this, the team compared measurements of surface-height change with the simulated changes in snowfall.
Where the signal was greater they attributed its origin to glacier imbalance.

They found that fluctuations in snowfall tend to drive small changes in height over large areas for a few years at a time, whereas the most pronounced changes in ice thickness coincide with signals of glacier imbalance that have persisted for decades.

Prof. Shepherd added, “Knowing how much snow has fallen has really helped us to isolate the glacier imbalance within the satellite record.
We can see clearly now that a wave of thinning has spread rapidly across some of Antarctica’s most vulnerable glaciers, and their losses are driving up sea levels around the planet.

 Twaites glacier with the GeoGarage platform (NGA nautical chart)

“After 25 years, the pattern of glacier thinning has spread across 24% of West Antarctica, and its largest ice streams – the Pine Island and Thwaites Glaciers – are now losing ice five times faster than they were in the 1990s.
“Altogether, ice losses from East and West Antarctica have added 4.6 mm of water to global sea level since 1992.”

ESA’s Marcus Engdahl, noted, “This is a fantastic demonstration of how satellite missions can help us to understand how our planet is changing.
The polar regions are hostile environments and are extremely difficult to access from the ground.
Because of this, the view from space is an essential tool for tracking the effects of climate change.”

Scientific results such as this are key to understanding how our planet works and how natural processes are being affected by climate change – and ice is a hot topic at ESA’s Living Planet Symposium, which is currently in full swing in Milan.
This study demonstrates that the changing climate is causing real changes in the far reaches of the Antarctic.

Links :

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Netherlands (NLHO) layer update in the GeoGarage platform

37 nautical raster charts updated

China's scientists are the new kids on the Arctic block

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo berated China for using its growing Arctic research program as a Trojan horse for its military and commercial goals.

From Wired by Eric Niiler

For nearly a century, the Arctic has been a scientific playground for American, Canadian, and European researchers studying everything from magnetic fields to krill populations, as well as documenting rising temperatures and a changing climate.
But with China increasingly expressing an interest in all things Arctic, a geopolitical storm is brewing.
Traditional boundaries between science, commerce, and the military are melting as fast as the region’s sea ice.

On Monday, US secretary of state Mike Pompeo scolded China for using civilian polar research to further its military and commercial goals, including opening up a new “Polar Silk Road” for trade and shipping.
“China’s words and actions raise doubts about its intentions,” Pompeo said in Rovaniemi, Finland, where the eight members of the Arctic Council are meeting this week.
“Beijing claims to be a near-Arctic state.
Yet the shortest distance between China and the Arctic is 900 miles.”

Pompeo said the US welcomes Chinese investment in the Arctic but that the US needs to “examine these activities closely,” citing a Pentagon report issued last week that found that scientific research could support a strengthened Chinese military presence in the Arctic Ocean, which could include deploying submarines.

China sees nuclear-powered icebreakers as key to fulfilling its Arctic ambitions.
China's research icebreaker Xuelong, or Snow Dragon

Until about a decade ago, China wasn’t known as a polar nation.
In 2013 it became an “observer state” to the eight-member Arctic Council.
And these days it seems that China is trouncing the US when it comes to its presence north of the Arctic Circle.
China opened a research station in Iceland in 2018 to study space weather.
It has another one in Norway’s Svalbard Island, and it signed an agreement last month with Russia for a joint research center to forecast the ice conditions of the Northern Sea Route and provide recommendations for Arctic economic development, according to Russian officials.

Last fall, China launched its second polar icebreaker, dubbed the Xuelong (Snow Dragon) 2, the world’s first to crunch 5-foot-thick ice both forwards and backwards.
It has also commissioned a nuclear-powered icebreaker to be built in the next few years, along with several ice-capable patrol boats.

Meanwhile, the US's lone heavy icebreaker is more than 40 years old and is often in need of repairs.
Congressional funding for a new $746 million icebreaker was diverted to President Trump’s southern border fence last year, while a newly announced icebreaker won’t be ready until 2024.

So what is China doing in the Arctic? Experts and observers of the region say that China has a lot of reasons for wanting to be there.
Its leaders are worried about the effects of climate change, for one.
The Arctic is heating up faster than the rest of the world because of rising greenhouse gas emissions, scientists have warned.
Over the past five years, the region has been warmer than at any time since 1900, when record-keeping began, according to scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
China wants to learn more about connections between a warming Arctic and how that might lead to droughts in China’s mainland, for example, or sea level rise that could swamp its populated coastal cities.

Sun Yun, director of the China program at the Stimson Center in Washington, says Chinese leaders want their scientists to take part in Arctic research because they believe that “climate change impacts the whole world, so China needs to be there.”
That goes against historical precedent, in which the only countries with a permanent presence in the Arctic have been the ones to control territory within the Arctic Circle and generally set up research bases there.
US officials are skeptical that China is only pursuing science because of its history of staking out claims on both commercial fisheries and mineral extraction in far-flung places.
“It is an argument that raises a lot of eyebrows, but that is the Chinese argument."

At the same time it is engaging in legitimate scientific research, Yun says, China is also pursuing a strategy of scientific diplomacy to benefit its commercial resource development goals.
The melting Arctic has also opened a new sea route between China’s factories and European customers.
The first Chinese-built tanker sailed through the ice from Guangzhou, China, to Russia’s Murmansk seaport in January.

A comparison of select major icebreakers of Russia, the United States, and China.
(Malte Humpert)

Because China doesn’t have a claim to the Arctic, unlike the other eight nations of the Arctic Council (the US, Canada, Russia, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Finland, and Sweden), that means it must pursue partnerships with countries that do.
That’s how China got its space weather lab—by cooperating with Icelandic officials.

In Greenland, scientists from the Chinese Geological Survey have spent the past few years visiting mineral sites.
In 2017, Chinese officials announced plans for a joint China-Greenland polar research base, as well as a satellite ground station for climate change research.
These scientific partnerships are happening at the same time as China is backing five big mining or development projects in Greenland.

Yun says Chinese scientists don’t see the conflict between scientific research and national goals of resource development.
“When China says that we are studying how climate change affects wildlife in the Arctic, they are also collecting data for temperature change for the flow of the ice, the change of the shipping routes,” Yun says.
She spoke from Shanghai, where she is attending a forum on China in the Arctic this week.
“Is that information going to be used for future commercial activity? I think it certainly will.”

Others say that Western cooperation with China’s scientific projects in the Arctic will benefit both sides.
That’s because scientists usually share information and build trust with each other despite their national or political differences.
“There’s no one-way street in this,” says Rasmus Gjedssø Bertelsen, a professor of social science at the Arctic University of Norway, in Tromsø.
“We also learn something about China and its actions in the Arctic.
You can be suspicious about scientific collaboration because the Chinese side builds knowledge, but we build knowledge too.”

China and Russia are cooperating in the gas drilling.

Leaders of Nordic nations that border the Arctic tend to have a less confrontational stance than Secretary Pompeo.
In addition to finding fault with China, Pompeo also criticized Russia for malfeasance in the Arctic (and even picked on friendly Canada) at the meeting this week.

One thing Pompeo left out of his speech, however, was any mention of climate change.
He did, however, declare that "America is the world’s leader in caring for the environment," at the same time as US negotiators pressured the Arctic Council to remove any language on global warming from the group’s final resolution.
The group refused, so it won't issue any resolution at all.

Links :

Monday, May 20, 2019

Norway (NHS) layer update in the GeoGarage platform

84 nautical raster charts updated & 1 new inset added

Fyodor Konyukhov completes South Pacific crossing

Russian explorer Fyodor Konyukhov rowed his way through the Pacific ocean & set several world records, including longest solo sailing in the ocean (154 days), biggest distance covered by rowing (11,525 km) while being the oldest solo rowing sailor (67yo)
So far, Fyodor Konyukhov has sailed around the world five time, crossed the Atlantic Ocean 17 times and became the first Russian to complete the Explorers Grand Slam: he climbed the highest mountains on all seven continents and visited the North Pole and the South Pole.
In 2007, Konyukhov circumnavigated the Southern Hemisphere aboard a sailing yacht dubbed the Scarlet Sails when he crossed the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans.

From Explorerweb by Peter Winsor 

After 154 days, 13 hours and 13 minutes, Fyodor Konyukhov arrived at the Diego Ramirez Islands off Chile to complete the first leg of his Southern Ocean row.
The prolific Russian adventurer left New Zealand in November.

Fyodor Konyukhov began his solo circumnavigation around the world on a rowing boat on December 6, 2018, setting off from the port of Dunedin in New Zealand.
The expedition is divided up into three parts: Dunedin (New Zealand) - Cape Hown (Chile), Cape Horn - Cape Leeuwin (Australia) and Cape Leeuwin - Dunedin.
In total, Konyukhov will have to row 16,000 nautical miles (27,000 km).

Konyukhov’s support team intercepted him on the windward side of the islands in dangerous conditions (40-45 knot winds and 6-7 metre waves).
With the conditions predicted to worsen, his team decided to tow the rowboat into the Drake Passage.

The longitude of the Diego Ramirez Islands is considered the end of an east-west crossing of the South Pacific Ocean, according to the Ocean Rowing Society.

Russian adventurer Fedor Konyukhov, who is currently on his round-the-world voyage aboard a solo rowboat, became the first person in history to cross the southern part of the Pacific Ocean, from New Zealand to Chile, aboard a rowboat, the Ocean Rowing Society International said.
"On May 09, 2019 at approx. 18:00UTC Fedor crossed the finish line of Diego Ramirez Longitude (68.68W) within vicinity of land and with this has officially completed his row across the South Pacific Ocean from west to east," the statement says adding that it took the Russian traveler 154 days 13 hours and 37 minutes to do it.

Konyukhov planned to complete the journey in 120 days but endured several cyclones during his five months in the notorious Roaring Forties.
Fedor Konyukhov in his rowboat AKROS, off the coast of Chile.
The rowing boat dubbed Akros, which the voyageur is sailing to circumnavigate the Southern Hemisphere, was designed specifically for the expedition by British engineer Philip Morrison.
The nine-meter long boat has water-proof compartments for food storage and three independent systems of producing energy: solar modules, wind generators and a chemical power supply station that uses methanol to produce energy.
The boat is also equipped with two types of satellite phones, a satellite tracker and a few duplicate systems of connection and navigation.
Photo: Oscar Konyukhov

He lost more than 100km during one gale.
The second leg of Konyukhov’s 27,000km journey across the Southern Ocean will take him from Cape Horn to Cape Leeuwin in Western Australia later this year.
The final leg, which begins in late 2020, runs from Cape Leeuwin back to Dunedin, New Zealand, where he began.

 The Akros design.

In 2002, the adventurer set a world record by crossing the Atlantic Ocean solo on a rowboat in 46 days and four hours.
The record remained intact for around 11 years.
In 2013-2014, he finished a solo-rowing non-stop voyage across the Pacific Ocean, reaching the Australian coast after a 159-day adventure.
In 2016, Konyukhov also dared to break a world record and performed a non-stop solo hot air balloon flight around the globe in just 11 days and four hours. He covered over 21,800 miles. 

Links :

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Meet the Mule, America cup prototype

Take a behind-the-scenes look at the American Magic team's training sessions, which, aboard the small prototype called the "Mule", is testing the boat for the next America's Cup.
Throughout the winter, designers and crew established their base in Pensacola, Florida, where they worked a series of sailing hours.
And according to the sailors, this hydrofoil monohull would be even better than they had hoped. Look, it's crazy!

Links :

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Mysterious planetwide rumble may have come from the largest underwater eruption ever recorded

View of Mayotte island coast, 10 avril 2014
© AFP/Archives/Sophie Lautier

From Gizmodo by Robin George Andrews

On November 11, 2018, a deep rumble ricocheted around the world, one that humans couldn’t feel but that registered quite clearly on seismometers.
A new pre-print paper about the event is now suggesting that it was caused by the largest offshore volcanic event in recorded history.

 Mayotte island with the GeoGarage platform (SHOM nautical chart)

Originating 30 miles east of the island of Mayotte, near Madagascar, the mid-November signal immediately caught the attention of a disparate group of geoscientists.
They subsequently took to Twitter to express their fascination over this mysterious event—one even joked about a “giant prehistoric sea monster.”

Source of prolonged Mayotte earthquake swarm identified: new active volcano discovered 3.5km below sea surface, 0.8km high and 4-5km diameter.
Fluid release reaches 2km above volcano.

The rumble formed part of a prolonged seismic sequence that had started in the area back in May 2018, but the very low-frequency, potent growl in November stood out because it wasn’t immediately obvious what caused it.
These scientists eventually agreed that it could only have originated from a volcanic event, one involving the movement of a vast volume of magma beneath the seafloor, causing the ground there to significantly deflate.

Now, a new paper by researchers at the French Geological Survey and France’s Ecole Normale Supérieure has been uploaded to the public server EarthArXiv.
Although there are plenty of unanswered questions, this first-order estimation of what happened between May and mid-November matches up with the calculations of those geoscientists that took to social media.
In fact, the volume of magma involved is so huge that this is certainly one of the largest offshore volcanic events to be spotted by modern scientific instrumentation.

Another amazing view, in section, of the newly discovered active volcano 50km offshore Mayotte Topography of the volcanic edifice and the rising fluid column above it are clearly imaged.
Fluid column is ~2km high but do not reach the surface.

There is a major caveat to all this, however.
Compared to land-based monitoring, there’s a huge lack of offshore monitoring happening around the world today, and there are likely plenty of offshore events that have taken place since modern records began that scientists haven’t picked up on.

Make no mistake, though: The recent event offshore from Mayotte, which is still ongoing, is colossal.

Previous internet detection in Mayotte Region
10 min ago is confirmed by seismic signal 

According to the data from the onshore GPS stations, as well as the seismic signals—including the weird November 11 event—the rumbling is definitely being generated by volcanic activity of some sort.
The way the ground on Mayotte is moving implies that the seafloor off its eastern shoreline is sinking at a rate of around 0.4 inches per month.
At the same time, Mayotte itself is shifting eastward at a rate of 0.63 inches per month.
Both indicate something huge underground is on the move, causing some serious deflation.

The nature of these tremors suggest that the magmatic source is centered at a depth of 16 miles beneath the seafloor.
In the first six months of the sequence alone, at least 0.24 cubic miles of magma has shifted around.
That’s roughly equivalent to 385 Great Pyramids of Giza.

Last working day of MAYOBS cruise on the Marion Dufresne.
In total, we collected 6 OBS, relocated ~700 events, deployed 14 OBS, conducted 5 dredges, took 5 water column samples, collected plume data, and collected bathymetry and chirp data within 2 weeks

Helen Robinson, a geothermal expert and PhD candidate at Glasgow University, compared it to volumes of other submarine eruptions.
From the 1998 Axial Seamount eruption offshore from Oregon, to the Havre paroxysm north of New Zealand on the Kermadec arc, “it certainly seems this is the largest submarine event in terms of volume on record,” she told Gizmodo.

Samuel Mitchell, an expert in underwater eruptions at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa, and who worked on the Havre eruption, agreed that the amounts of volcanic material involved are definitely comparable.
“The 2018 event at Mayotte does appear to show a substantial volume of magma leaving a deep storage region which, if erupted, would make this indeed one of the largest recent submarine eruptions documented,” he said.

That’s a big “if,” though.
As Robinson also points out, and as the new pre-print paper acknowledges, what’s happening near Mayotte is not necessarily an eruption.

Pierre Briole, a geophysicist at France’s Ecole Normale Supérieure and one of the authors of the pre-print, told Gizmodo that the indirect evidence means that he’s “pretty sure it’s an eruption.
” But as there is currently no direct evidence of an eruption having taken place, “there is a significant probability that no lava reached the surface.”That the low-frequency rumble spread across the world was probably due to a “perfect storm.”

Failing to breach into the sea, the migrating magma might have injected itself into thick sediments in the seafloor and spread itself around.
Mitchell explained that this has been observed elsewhere, when the magma is denser than the surrounding sediment.

Although the overall volume of magma involved is comparable to the 2012 Havre eruption, the two are likely to be quite different events.
The former definitely involved plenty of eruptive material, whose huge pumice raft was first spotted from a plane.
At the same time, large, gloopy volcanic domes formed on the seafloor.

In Mayotte’s case, if an eruption did take place, Mitchell explained, it’s more likely to be some sort of fissure effusion involving more fluid lava, a bit like an underwater version of what happened on the slopes of Hawaii’s Kīlauea in 2018.

Jean Paul Ampuero, a seismologist and director of research at France’s Research Institute for Development, told Gizmodo that “this whole sequence is record-breaking in many aspects.” Along with the huge volume of magma, the November 11 signal was also easily one of the largest low-frequency tremors of its kind.

That the low-frequency rumble spread across the world was probably due to a “perfect storm,” according to Stephen Hicks, a seismologist at the University of Southampton.

In this case, that meant having both a very large source and vibrations at the exact right pitch to carry them across a considerable distance.

The November 11 signal’s individual elements still remain deeply puzzling.
In particular, its repeated high-frequency bursts, which are similar (but aren’t related to) industrial activity, are difficult to explain.
Ampuero said that they fall into a timing pattern that indicates they are strongly connected to the low-frequency pulses, indicating the two components “are talking to each other in some way.”

One highly speculative explanation is that the high-frequency events are related to the collapse of the rocky walls surrounding the magmatic monster.
This disturbs the magma reservoir, causing it to oscillate or ‘hum.’ At the same time, waves bouncing back and forth hit other flanks and trigger more collapses, generating more high-frequency events.
This all happens, Ampuero suggests, in a way that causes the low- and high-frequency events to synchronize, forming the November 11 signal.

It’s very difficult to say for sure.
Some smaller tremors in the sequence also had a similar signal, Ampuero added, so “perhaps they’ll catch another one” like the big tremor and take it apart to see what it’s made of.
There’s another element to the story that’s currently unexplained: the emergence of lots of dead fish offshore from Mayotte.

The earthquake swarm (BRGM)

The geological setting is also pretty weird.
This major volcanic event is taking place on the eastern end of the island chain, whereas the youngest volcanic islands are to the west.
So it appears to be happening in the ‘wrong’ place.

It’s also unclear what’s responsible for the volcanism in the first place.
It could be caused by action along a tectonic plate boundary, an upwelling plume of superheated mantle material, or even an extension of the East African Rift, a major tectonic event that’s slowly tearing the continent apart, said Hicks.

There is even an ecological element to the story that’s currently unexplained: the emergence of lots of dead fish offshore from Mayotte.
Volcanic gases can suffocate sea life during eruptions, but the pre-print reports that the gases remained trapped in the magma.

Briole has heard unverified reports that the fish that died were deep-sea fish.
The magmatic activity might have scared them up to the surface, where they experienced low pressures that they couldn’t survive in.
Robinson said that the magma, which may have intruded into seafloor sediments, cooked those sediments and released carbon dioxide into the water column, which could also have asphyxiated those deep-sea fish.

Like much about the event, this remains speculative for now.
Clearly more instrumentation is required, and the French National Centre for Scientific Research—with help from the BRGM and other authorities—are now deploying plenty.
This includes equipment on Mayotte, at the site of the activity, and on the Glorioso Islands to the east, so that they can ‘listen’ to the disturbances from the other side.

That still won’t solve all the enigmas.
Mitchell pointed out that underwater drones and ship-based radar surveys will be required to determine how much lava erupted at the surface, if any, and Hicks suggested that numerical simulations and laboratory work may be required to better comprehend what’s going on beneath the surface.

As Ampuero emphasizes, this isn’t just about scratching a scientific itch, but helping out the local communities, too.
“The people in Mayotte really want to know what’s going to happen next,” he said.
As a recent report on the situation notes, there is often an atmosphere of confusion and distrust on the island.
The more research that’s conducted, the better off everyone will be.

Links :

Friday, May 17, 2019

A massive Gulf oil spill is finally being contained after more than 14 years

The drillship Rowan Resolute in the Gulf of Mexico during a flight out of New Orleans in July 2018.
(Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)

From WP by Darryl Fears

Up to 1,000 gallons of oil per day are being removed from the site of the Taylor Energy spill, says the owner of company that installed a containment system.

The U.S. Coast Guard said Thursday that it is finally containing and collecting oil from a massive 14-year spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the longest offshore disaster in U.S. history.

More than 30,000 gallons of oil have been collected over several weeks since a containment system was installed about 12 miles off the coast of Louisiana, the Coast Guard said.
Capt. Kristi Luttrell, who is overseeing work performed by a contractor, the Couvillion Group, called the containment a major milestone that could significantly reduce the impact of the spill, which will enter its 15th year in September.

Location of the MC20 Taylor oil spill, off the southeast coast of Louisiana with the GeoGarage platform (NOAA nautical raster chart)
A 32-mile-long oil slick stretches east from the former site of Taylor Energy's Mississippi Canyon 20 A platform (X), which was knocked down and covered by a landslide during Hurricane Ivan in 2004.
(NASA Aqua satellite / Taylor Energy slick terra aqua 06.18.2013) 

see WaterMapping video

Luttrell entered into a contract with Couvillion last year after the company responsible for the spill, Taylor Energy, failed to follow her orders to do so on its own.

The system’s success could be a serious setback to Taylor Energy’s efforts to stop the containment effort.
The company filed a federal lawsuit in December, claiming that Couvillion lacked the expertise to install a system to capture oil leaking from its wells.
They broke open when Hurricane Ivan caused the walls of a deep sea canyon to collapse and sink an oil platform.

In a separate lawsuit, the company also claimed that Luttrell’s order to mount a more aggressive response to the spill was rash.
It came a day after The Washington Post revealed an expert analysis that contradicted Taylor Energy’s claims that almost no oil was present at the site.

The wake of a supply vessel heading toward a working platform crosses over an oil sheen drifting from the site of the former Taylor Energy oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico in 2015.
The Coast Guard says it has contained the oil spill.
Gerald Herbert/AP

The analysis by Oscar Garcia-Pineda, a geoscience consultant who specializes in impacts from oil spills, estimated that 1.5 million to 3.5 million barrels spilled into the gulf from the Taylor Energy site over more than 14 years.
Acting on that finding, as well as other scientific reports, the Coast Guard issued Taylor Energy an ultimatum to hire a company to build a device to contain the oil or face a fine of up to $40,000 per day.

Crews work to install the structure that will help contain the Taylor oil leak.
(Source: U.S. Coast Guard)

Weeks of monitoring by the Coast Guard shows that Couvillion’s containment system is working, Luttrell said Thursday.
The system was completed and fully operational April 29, but Couvillion started collecting oil 12 days before that.

The oil is pumped from deep-water storage tanks to a ship that brings it to shore to separate it from water.
Oil that can be salvaged is sent to a licensed receiving facility, and the rest is recycled or disposed.

 Taylor Oil Leak Site Containment System (Source: U.S. Coast Guard)

Recovered oil is U.S. property, Luttrell said, and proceeds from its sale are credited against Couvillion’s bill.

Timmy Couvillion, owner and chief executive of the company, said it is collecting up to 1,000 gallons of oil each day.
“We’re absolutely proud of what we’ve accomplished,” Couvillion said.
Workers, as many as 100 at times, battled inclement weather and rough waters as they installed the system.
They were sometimes caked in oil and had to guard against it entering their working quarters.
The large amount of oil “was no surprise at all,” Couvillion said, considering the length of the sheen on the gulf’s surface at the site and an acute smell.

As a result of the work, the oil sheen is nearly gone, but the oil is not, he said.
“It is a reminder that these wells need to be plugged . . .
per the federal government’s standard,” Couvillion said.
He called the containment “a temporary solution to an evolving problem.
We’ve contained the oil but it’s still being released into the environment.”

 The Taylor spill as seen from a 2015 Louisiana Environmental Action Network aerial patrol.

Todd Ragusa, a Taylor Energy spokesman, provided a company statement that said it “looks forward to receiving the information needed to confirm the Coast Guard’s statement, which, if accurate, is encouraging.”

During proceedings at the federal court in New Orleans where Taylor Energy’s case is being heard, U.S.
District Judge Ivan Lemelle asked pointed questions to both the Coast Guard and Taylor Energy about why the cleanup is taking so long.
Lemelle asked the Coast Guard’s attorney at a hearing in March why the containment effort took 14 years: “This occurred in 2004. How long does it take the government to decide what to do?”

OR&R Scientists Partner with the U.S. Coast Guard to Study Oil in the Gulf of Mexico

The attorney, Erica Zilioli, said new data shows that the site is ejecting more oil into the environment than previously thought.
Before now, the government relied heavily on reports from contractors hired by Taylor Energy to estimate the size of the spill.

Later the judge asked Taylor Energy why it was seeking to block the containment effort.
The company’s attorney, Carl Rosenblum, repeated its belief that the system would not work and stir up oil on the ocean floor.

Lemelle addressed Rosenblum directly.
“Look, you tried,” he said. “But it’s still going on after all this time. Let’s get someone else to look at this.”

Based on the results the Coast Guard reported, its attorneys are preparing a motion to declare that Taylor Energy’s claims are moot and request to have the case dismissed.
They anticipate filing the motion by Friday of next week.

It would be the second legal blow to Taylor Energy in as many months.
In April, the Court of Federal Claims dismissed its earlier lawsuit seeking to reclaim more than $430 million remaining in a trust fund to plug 16 wells at the site.

U.S. Federal Claims Court Judge Nancy B. Firestone ruled against the company’s claim that the federal government should not be allowed to control its funds indefinitely as it determines how to address the spill.

Firestone said the trust contract is valid until the Interior Department says, in writing, that Taylor Energy “has complied with all of its obligations under the . . . agreement,” the ruling said.

A group that was allowed to join on behalf of the Coast Guard in the current lawsuit cheered the revelation of the containment system’s success.

“After 14 years, we are glad the Coast Guard is taking action to contain this runaway oil spill,” said Dustin Renaud, a spokesman for the group, Healthy Gulf.
“Now we must make sure that they follow through on a permanent solution and ensure a spill like this never goes unchecked again.”

Links :

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Their islands are being eroded. So are their human rights, they say.

A view of Masig Island, north of mainland Australia.
As climate change pushes the tides ever higher, this island and others nearby are at risk of vanishing.
Credit Matthew Abbott for The New York Times

From NYTimes by Livia Albeck-Ripka

Indigenous Australians from low-lying islands in the Torres Strait argue that the government, by failing to act on climate change, has violated their fundamental right to maintain their culture.

MASIG ISLAND, Australia — Every weekend, Yessie Mosby visits the sandy, washed-out graves of his ancestors to gather their scattered bones.
Their shallow burial place, just yards from the shore of Masig Island, north of mainland Australia, has been eroded by rising seas.

“Other parents around the world go to the beach with their kids and pick up shells,” Mr.
Mosby, 37, a craftsman and father of five, said as he moved fragments of his sixth great-grandmother’s bones to a spot beneath a coconut tree.
“We pick up remains.”

The lives of the people here are tied to the island, one of 18 spits of earth in the Torres Strait inhabited by Indigenous Australians.
It holds the histories of those who came before; it protects and nourishes.
But as climate change pushes the tides ever higher, these islands, and their ancient culture, are at risk of vanishing.

So Mr. Mosby, and seven other Torres Strait Islanders, are taking action.

Yessie Mosby with his children.
Watertight plastic boxes hold their clothes and other household possessions.
His family is moving to another house after a cyclone damaged their home.
Credit Matthew Abbott for The New York Times

In a landmark claim to be submitted on Monday at the United Nations, they argue that Australia, by failing to take adequate steps to reduce carbon emissions, has violated their fundamental human rights, including the right to maintain their culture.

The action is part of a burgeoning movement in which litigants, including a group of 21 young people in the United States, have made the novel argument that governments face a fundamental duty to ensure a livable environment.

But the Australians’ argument is the first to seek the weight of the United Nations behind such a climate claim, and it could set a precedent for how the populations most vulnerable to the effects of global warming can seek redress under international law.

 Masig island with the GeoGarage platform (AHS nautical chart)

It is also the first time that the Australian government — which has failed to meet emissions reduction targets and continues to approve embattled coal mine projects — has faced climate change litigation that asserts a human rights violation.
The claimants call on the country to help fund sea walls and other infrastructure that might save the Torres Strait Islands, which have a population of about 4,500, and to meet the emissions targets set under the Paris climate agreement.

If successful, the case “would really break new ground internationally,” said John Knox, a professor of international law at Wake Forest University and a former special rapporteur on human rights and the environment to the United Nations.

Flooding on Boigu, part of the Torres Strait Islands.
Credit Matthew Abbott for The New York Times

While the United Nations cannot force Australia to take action, those leading the case say they hope it will apply pressure on governments around the world to protect the rights of marginalized citizens whose culture is tethered to a particular place, and for whom dispossession could reignite the trauma of colonization.

“They are losing everything — they can’t just pick it up and go somewhere else; their culture is unique to that region,” said Sophie Marjanac, a lawyer with ClientEarth, the environmental law organization that is lodging the claim.
“That’s the crux of the argument,” she said.
“If Indigenous people are disposed of their homelands, then they can’t continue to practice their culture.”

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a scientific body appointed by the world’s governments, global sea levels could rise by an average of up to 3.2 feet by 2100, which could force people from low-lying atolls in the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean and the Torres Strait to evacuate.

On Masig Island, which lies on average less than 10 feet above sea level, people are already struggling to combat the impacts of climate change.
As the shoreline has crept closer, fresh water wells have turned brackish, and coconut trees have been uprooted and fallen into the ocean.
Other trees, withering from the heat, have stopped bearing edible fruit.

Eric Nai, who lives on Masig Island, walking along a barrier intended to help protect the coastline from further erosion.
Matthew Abbott for The New York Times

“This is our mother,” Mr. Mosby said of the sickened trees.
“It’s scary.”

Local residents have tried to restore the sandbanks by creating barriers of concrete blocks, wood pallets, coconut husks and driftwood.
But their efforts are no match for the king tides that sweep through the island on full moons, sometimes flooding homes on the coast.

The erosion of the land, along with the unpredictability of the seasons and intensified cyclones, islanders said, also gnaws at their mental health.

Sacred sites for birthing and initiation ceremonies are vanishing beneath the water.
“The erosion is hurting us,” said Ned Mosby, a 61-year-old priest and police officer on Masig Island, who is not involved in the claim.
“The land is us, and we are the island.”

Kabay Tamu, a crayfisherman and another of the claimants, who lives on the island of Warraber, said even his 8-year-old son was anxious about their family’s future.
“He keeps asking, ‘Will we have to move?’ That’s one of the things that gets me, and drives me to do something,” Mr. Tamu said.

The eroded coastline on Boigu Island.
Credit Matthew Abbott for The New York Times

Ninety miles to the northeast, on the island of Boigu, the prospect of relocation is palpable.
Here, the unpaved roads are flooded, and a partially built sea wall has failed to protect the island — which lies on average just three feet above sea level — from having its cemetery inundated, or losing its white sand beach.

Standing in front of the Anglican church at the highest point on the island, Stanley Marama, the priest and one of the claimants in the case, pointed north across the water.
The shore, he said, used to extend at least 100 yards farther, and was a sacred place for conducting ceremonies.

 Boigu island with the GeoGarage platform (AHS nautical chart)

On weekdays, residents of Papua New Guinea travel a few miles across the channel to trade drums, woven mats and mud crabs.
They bring with them their own stories of the effects of climate change.
“A big high tide destroyed our crops,” said Ene Musu, a 38-year-old farmer from the village of Buzi.
“Now we have a shortage of food.”

In the Torres Strait Islands, stores import groceries, so the food supply is not similarly threatened.
But some of the items that supplement it — fish, crab, turtle and dugong, which are related to manatees — live in habitats that are threatened by coral bleaching and ocean acidification.
And saltier soil and flooding have made it more difficult to maintain gardens of banana, yam, cassava and taro.

“Normal people would say, Let’s pack up and get out of here,” said Dimas Toby, a councilor for Boigu Island, who is not involved in the claim.
But while some islanders have migrated to the mainland, he said he would remain to protect his culture.
Otherwise, he said, “we’ll go extinct, because we’ll have nowhere to practice it.”

The streets of Boigu Island after rain.
Credit Matthew Abbott for The New York Times

That is the foundation of the islanders’ legal argument in their claim at the United Nations.

Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights — a multilateral treaty to protect global freedoms — Australia has an obligation, the claimants say, to protect their culture, as well as their rights to family and life.

In recent years, countries including Ecuador and Bolivia have granted constitutional rights to nature.
In other cases, individuals have sued fossil fuel companies and governments for their contributions to, or inaction on, climate change.

 Magnus island with the GeoGarage platform (AHS nautical chart)

The United Nations has previously accused Australia of flouting international law in its detainment of asylum seekers on Manus Island.

“Australia has a poor record on human rights,” Ms. Marjanac, the ClientEarth lawyer, said, “but potentially, this is an opportunity to improve that.”

In October, the United Nations released a statement asserting for the first time that climate change and environmental degradation posed “some of the most pressing and serious threats to the ability of present and future generations to enjoy the right to life.”

The claimants hope this bodes well for their petition.
But for now, they will continue to try to save their heritage from being lost to the sea.

“I don’t want my child to grow up knowing that they are from Yorke Island, but there’s no island,” Mr. Mosby said, using the English name for his home.

Overhead, a flock of frigatebirds ascended into the darkening sky.

A structure designed to help protect the coastline from further erosion.
Credit Matthew Abbott for The New York Times 

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Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Strange things are afoot in the Strait of Hormuz

Four tankers, including the Saudi Arabian-owned Al Marzoqah, were “sabotaged” in the Strait of Hormuz on Sunday, raising tensions in the Gulf.
Reports said a US official had suggested Iran was responsible
photo : AFP

From The Economist by

Mysterious attacks and military planning are raising war jitters

When Donald Trump hired John Bolton to be his national security adviser, he reportedly joked that the mustachioed hawk was “going to get us into a war”.
It is easy to see why.
When serving under George W. Bush, Mr Bolton embellished intelligence on Cuban and Syrian weapons and lobbied hard for the invasion of Iraq.
After leaving government he argued that America should bomb Iran to set back its nuclear programme.
Now that he’s back, he appears to be on the warpath once again.

 About 40% of the world's traded oil passes through the Strait of Hormuz,
making it the global market's most important chokepoint

It was Mr Bolton, not the commander-in-chief, who announced on May 5th that America had dispatched an aircraft-carrier strike group and bombers to the Persian Gulf.
This was in response to undisclosed intelligence which, unnamed officials claimed, showed that Iran and its proxies were planning attacks on American forces (or its allies) in the region.
On May 9th Mr Bolton reviewed war plans, updated at his request, that call for sending up to 120,000 troops to the Middle East if Iran attacks or restarts work on nuclear weapons, according to the New York Times.
Such planning is not a sign of imminent conflict.
But Mr Trump is reported to be telling that joke again, now with more seriousness, as Mr Bolton also ratchets up pressure on Venezuela.

 An Emirati coast guard vessel passes an oil tanker off the coast of Fujairah, United Arab Emirates. Saudi Arabia said two of its oil tankers were sabotaged off the coast of the United Arab Emirates near Fujairah in attacks that caused "significant damage" to the vessels.

Some fear Mr Bolton is looking for a provocation by Iran, adding ominous undertones to recent events in the region.
On May 12th four oil tankers were struck by a “sabotage attack” off Fujairah, part of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The incident remains murky, but Emirati, Saudi and American officials claim that four ships—two Saudi, one Emirati and the other Norwegian—had 1.5-metre to 3-metre holes blown in their hull, near the waterline.
Unnamed American officials were quoted fingering Iran or its proxies as the likely culprit, without presenting evidence.
Fujairah lies just outside the Strait of Hormuz, a key chokepoint that Iranian officials have threatened to block if America attacks.

 Fujairah port with the GeoGarage platform (UKHO chart)

That was not the only flare-up.
On May 14th Saudi Arabia said two of its oil-pumping stations were attacked.
The damage was limited, but the Houthis, Shia rebels who control much of Yemen, claimed responsibility and threatened more such attacks.
They are fighting a Saudi-led coalition, supported by America, that backs the Yemeni government.
America and Saudi Arabia accuse the Houthis of being an Iranian puppet.
That is an exaggeration, though the Houthis have received arms from Iran.
The facilities that came under attack lie more than 700km north of the Yemeni border.
They were probably hit by long-range drones that the Houthis acquired last year.

More than 16 million barrels a day of crude and condensate was shipped through the Strait of Hormuz in the first four months of 2019

The two incidents taken together highlight the vulnerability of Gulf energy supplies—and thus Gulf economies.
Fujairah is connected via a pipeline to Abu Dhabi's oil fields.
The pumping stations hit in Saudi Arabia are part of the “east-west pipeline”, which moves crude from eastern oil fields to western ports.
Both pipelines are meant to help producers bypass the Strait of Hormuz.

Iran has a record of subversive action and supporting allied militias in the region—and of attacking shipping.
The so-called tanker war between Iran and Iraq ravaged international shipping in the 1980s.
Over 500 ships were attacked.
Four years into the tanker war, after an American-flagged ship was struck by an Iranian mine, America conducted its largest ever attack on Iran, destroying two oil platforms and sinking a frigate.
At least some in the White House look back fondly on that show of force.

But the timing of the incident in Fujairah, and the quickness with which American officials blamed Iran, has raised eyebrows.
Max Boot, a hawkish foreign-policy scholar, writes that Mr Bolton “may be trying to provoke Iran into striking first”.
He and others are reminded of the Gulf of Tonkin incident—a murky naval skirmish in 1964 used by America as a pretext for expanding its involvement in Vietnam.

Some officials have tried to calm matters.
On May 14th John Abizaid, America’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, who previously commanded American troops in the Middle East, called for a “thorough investigation to understand what happened [and] why it happened”.
Only then, he said, should America “come up with reasonable responses short of war”.
Mr Abizaid insists that it is not in America’s interest to have a conflict.

 Strait of Hormuz (marine vessel traffic)

 Strait of Hormuz with the GeoGarage platform (UKHO nautical chart)
The Strait of Hormuz is the only sea passage from Persian Gulf to Arabian Sea.

Even so, European officials are nervous.
On May 13th Jeremy Hunt, Britain’s foreign secretary, said he was “very worried about the risk of a conflict happening by accident with an escalation that is unintended”.
That was shortly before a meeting with Mike Pompeo, America’s secretary of state, who received a frosty reception from his European counterparts in Brussels.
On May 14th Spain, sensing trouble ahead, withdrew its frigate from the American aircraft-carrier strike group heading towards the Gulf.
Major General Christopher Ghika, the top British officer in the American-led coalition against Islamic State, said, “There’s been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria.”

Many in Europe blame America for the rising tensions.
Last year Mr Trump pulled out of a deal that curbed Iran’s nuclear programme in return for economic relief.
Now he seems intent on undermining what is left of the pact by imposing crippling sanctions on Iran.
On May 8th President Hassan Rouhani said Iran would abrogate parts of the deal and gave the remaining signatories—Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the European Union—60 days to work out how to relieve the economic pressure it was under.
If they cannot, Iran would feel free to enrich uranium to ever higher levels, which would shorten its path to producing fissile material for a nuclear bomb.

Mr Trump, for his part, runs hot and cold on Iran.
After Mr Rouhani’s announcement, he said Iran should call him for direct talks (Mr Rouhani has spurned several such offers).
After the incident in Fujairah, however, Mr Trump said, “It’s going to be a bad problem for Iran if something happens.”
But he said the war plans involving tens of thousands of troops are fake news: “We have not planned for that. Hopefully we’re not going to have to plan for that.”
Though he added, “If we did that, we’d send a hell of a lot more troops than that.”

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