Saturday, March 16, 2019

A stunning art installation showing projected sea-level rise

Interactive site specific light installation located @ Outer Hebrides

From Medium by World Ocean Observatory

Lines (57° 59′ N, 7° 16’W) — a breathtaking art installation in Scotland brings attention to projected sea-level rise by showing the projected height of sea-level rise

Recent studies in Science and other journals have shown that existing projections of sea-level rise have been extremely conservative.
New projections, in light of ocean warming that is 40% higher than previously estimated, show that sea-level rise will become a challenge much sooner than expected.
CNN and the New York Times have reported extensively on the effect of sea-level rise on the low-lying Marshall islands, a US territory whose president last week announced a new plan to raise the islands, in order to avert the worst.
These news reports rarely receive the attention they deserve, due to the nature of our current political climate in the U.S. and worldwide.

However, two Finnish artists this week punched through the news cycle with stunning images of their new art installation, showing a brightly lit line mounted on buildings in a town in Scotland, lying on one of the Hebridean islands.

Pekka Niittyvirta and Timo Aho describe their artwork:​
“By the use of sensors, the installation interacts with the rising tidal changes; activating three synchronized light lines by the high tide.
The work helps us to imagine the future sea level rise in undefined period of time, depending on our actions towards the climate warming.

The installation explores the catastrophic impact of our relationship with nature and its long term effects.
The work provokes a dialogue on how the rising sea levels will affect coastal areas, its inhabitants and land usage in the future.

 Loch Maddy with the GeoGarage platform (UKHO chart)

This is specifically relevant in the low lying island archipelagos like the Uist in the Outer Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland, and in particular to Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum & Arts Centre in Lochmaddy where the installation is situated.
The centre cannot develop on its existing site due to predicted storm surge.

We will let these stunning images speak for themselves, a terrific, terrifying example of breathtaking art in the service of a powerful, vital message highlighting — it seems appropriate to say — how the future of the ocean is inextricably tied to our own.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Something smells fishy: Scientists uncover illegal fishing using shark tracking devices

Transmitters for broad-scale tracking are usually placed under the dorsal fin of the shark, while acoustic tags are often implanted.
These enable fine-scale spatial monitoring of reef sharks with high fidelity to their tagging reef that remain within range of the receivers.
The sudden disappearance of 15 tagged reef sharks indicated an atypical event, in this case an illegal fishing operation.
Image by David Curnick, courtesy of ZSL.
From Mongabay by Sophie Manson
  • Sharks become unlikely detectives as marine ecologists discover a link between their acoustic telemetry data and the presence of illegal fishing vessels.
  • Researchers acoustically tagged 95 silvertip and grey reef sharks to assess whether the creation of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) Marine Protected Area was helping to protect these species.
  • Detailed in a recently released paper, the almost simultaneous loss of 15 acoustic tags coincided with the capture of two illegal fishing vessels, arrested for having 359 sharks on board.
  • While helping to map sharks’ movements around the reef, scientists expect that they will be able to use data collected from the acoustic tags to predict the presence of illegal fishing vessels.
In April 2015, researchers headed out to the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean to service acoustic receivers they had dotted around the archipelago, and to download tag data from the 95 grey reef and silvertip sharks they had tagged a year prior.
Little did they know that over the course of 10 days during the previous December, 15 of their tagged individuals had been illegally fished.

 Illegal fishing has increased in one of the worlds largest Marine Protected Area (MPA) since it was set up in 2010.
The Chagos Archipelago, otherwise known as the British Indian Ocean Territory, created among controversy, boasts the BIOT Marine Protected Area comprising of 210,040 square miles of marine habitat, including an archipelago of seven atolls, at least 70 islands, and some of the world's most pristine coral reefs.
Researchers had previously recorded sharp declines in reef shark abundances .which the creation of the MPA had hoped to reverse.
But research now suggests that the removal of reef fish has increased since 2013, and that sharks are being deliberately targeted.
Between 2010 and 2015, 91% of illegal fishing vessels in the BIOT had sharks on board, and when present, sharks made up 79% of the catch.
Over 2,000 sharks may have been caught in December 2014 alone, including more than 200 grey reef sharks and almost 900 silvertip sharks.
This would have constituted a loss of one-third of the shark population in that part of BIOT.
However, conservationists believe technology will enable conservation to make significant progress in coming years.

The Chagos Archipelago, otherwise known as the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), boasts one of the largest marine reserves in the world.
The BIOT Marine Protected Area was created in 2010 and comprises 544,000 square kilometers (210,040 square miles) of marine habitat, including an archipelago of seven atolls, at least 70 islands, and some of the world’s most pristine coral reefs.

Salomans Atoll in the Chagos Archipelago: the atolls are believed to serve as nurseries for juvenile sharks.
Image by Anne Sheppard.

The British Government created the reserve to conserve the archipelago’s biodiverse ecosystems, amidst concerns that increased fishing pressure from neighboring countries, including India and Sri Lanka, would decimate populations of important marine species.
The sheltered atolls of BIOT attract several species of pelagic and reef shark; here, mothers can give birth without their young being immediately threatened with predation, and juveniles can learn to hunt in lagoons before heading into the open ocean.

Researchers have been recording shark populations in BIOT since the 1970s, and it has become clear that the numbers they are witnessing now are not what they should be.

“[Researchers] recorded sharp declines in reef shark abundances… which the creation of the marine reserve in 2010 hoped to reverse,” said David Tickler, a researcher from the University of Western Australia studying the effects of illegal shark fishing in the Indian Ocean.

Sudden declines in populations of any species are never good news; however, sharks are particularly vulnerable to these changes due to their ambling life history.
“Sharks are very slow-growing,” David Jacoby, a Zoological Society of London (ZSL) researcher studying shark social networks in BIOT, told Mongabay.
“They’re very late to mature and they have very few offspring, so if you suddenly remove a large proportion of the population that are aggregating… then the recovery is long and the impacts can be huge.”

Acoustic telemetry of high-fidelity reef sharks

Acoustic telemetry is becoming an increasingly popular method of data collection for marine conservationists.
Researchers from ZSL, the University of Western Australia, and the Stanford University Hopkins Marine Station have collaboratively been using acoustic transmitters to track the movements of reef sharks around the marine reserve since 2013.

Researchers from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) fit a silvertip shark in the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) with a tracking tag.
Acoustic tags emit unique sound pulses that underwater receiving units record, along with the tag’s unique code, a time stamp, and optional environmental data.
Acoustic data can suggest residency patterns within the network of receivers, with gaps in detection assumed to be absences from the area.
Image by David Curnick, courtesy of ZSL.

“Acoustic tags transmit a series of sound pulses (a bit like Morse code), which are picked up by hydrophones [receivers] to locate the position of a tagged animal,” Tickler said.
“Depending on local conditions around a hydrophone, accuracy of position fixes can be a few hundred meters… [Therefore] acoustic telemetry is much better suited to relatively resident animals, such as reef sharks, whose movements are typically too short to be reliably detected with satellite tags.”

After rigorous development and strict ethical reviews, Tickler and colleagues acoustically tagged 47 grey reef sharks (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos) and 48 silvertip sharks (Carcharhinus albimarginatus) in BIOT.
They monitored the sharks throughout 2013-2014.

“When we were putting these tags in, we wanted to find out what areas within the marine protected area and the archipelago are more or less important at certain times of the year than others,” said David Curnick, a ZSL researcher investigating the relationships between marine reserves and sharks.
“Seeing whether there is social clustering both in time and space, you can then direct monitoring [of illegal activity] and enforcement to these areas.”

Illegal fisheries target sharks

In 2015, MRAG Ltd. published a paper detailing the extent of illegal fishing in BIOT.
The results suggested that the removal of reef fish has increased since 2013, and that sharks are being deliberately targeted.
Between 2010 and 2015, 91 percent of illegal fishing vessels in BIOT had sharks on board, and when present, sharks made up 79 percent of the catch.

These data concur with global fisheries statistics; the mass-capture of endangered sharks has been recorded off the coast of Argentina, along the Mid-Atlantic ridge, and in the Galápagos Marine Reserve where 6,000 sharks were found onboard one vessel.
These jaw-dropping figures are fueled by several factors; however, the demand for shark fin soup is by far the largest threat facing shark populations.

Shark fin soup is a traditional Chinese dish often served at weddings and other special occasions in China.
The soup usually contains meat from the dorsal fin of the shark, which gives the soup its texture, while other flavorings, such as chicken, provide the taste.

Since 2011, following a star-studded campaign, shark fin soup consumption in China has decreased by a staggering 80 percent.
However, growing popularity of the dish in other areas of Southeast Asia, such as Thailand and Vietnam, could indicate shark fin’s disassociation from the expensive, exclusive meat it once was, and represent an increase in its availability, thus making the policing of biodiverse areas like BIOT even more critical.

Acoustic telemetry data uncover illegal fishing

Collecting data through wildlife tracking does have limitations, including their inevitable malfunction, damage to the tag, or the migration or predation of a tagged animal.
Even though acoustic tags have a life expectancy of up to 10 years, a certain degree of tag loss is expected.

Before April 2014, shark researchers in BIOT saw an average loss of 4.1 tags per month.
However, in December 2014, 15 tags stopped recording data over the course of ten days.
The scientists investigated these potential causes of tag loss, but all seemed unlikely given the baseline tag loss rate that had been established.

“We’d heard about a big illegal fishing incident from the fisheries officer in BIOT during the April 2015 expedition,” Tickler said.
“We didn’t think much more about it until we plotted out the tag detections and saw a big drop off in activity during the same month.
When we looked at the sighting and arrest reports from the marine reserve’s patrol boat, we found the sightings had all occurred just after our tags stopped transmitting.”

The scientists’ graph displaying the trend in tag loss rate from April 2013 to April 2015.
In December 2014, there is a sudden drop-off, which represents the 15 tags that stopped recording data.
Image is Figure 1 of Tickler et al (2019), “Potential detection of illegal fishing by passive acoustic telemetry” in Animal Biotelemetry, CC 4.0

The BIOT patrol vessel encountered 17 suspected illegal fishing vessels in December 2014, which coincided with the dates the tags stopped transmitting.
Authorities caught two of the vessels and found a combined catch of 359 sharks on board; grey reef and silvertip sharks made up half their catch.
Using historical fisheries data, and assuming that this was a typical catch, over 2,000 sharks may have been caught in December 2014 alone, including more than 200 grey reef sharks and almost 900 silvertip sharks.
This would have constituted a loss of one-third of the shark population in that part of BIOT.

After modelling the fishing events and tag losses, the team were able to prove that there was a link between the loss of 15 tags and the illegal fishing vessels found in December 2014.
“Our study showed that a small number of tags (fewer than 50) was sufficient to detect an illegal fishing event,” Tickler added, “most likely because we were monitoring one of the key target species of the illegal fishery.”

Using acoustic tags to tackle illegal fishing in BIOT

The research team in BIOT showed that by combining acoustic telemetry data, historical fisheries data, and recorded illegal activity, conservationists can successfully implicate illegal fishing vessels.
However, acoustic technology has a way to go before it can be used as a routine tracking method for illegal activity in marine reserves.

“In this case we were only able to analyze the data several months after the tagged animals had been caught,” Tickler said.
“New tag technologies being developed will allow tags to report their location the instant they are removed from the water, pinpointing fishing and allowing direct interception or observation of the vessels.”

Until data can be uploaded from tags faster than they are currently, the extent of illegal fishing will remain elusive.
But the data the team have and are continuing to collect are already helping them to understand where sharks are going to be and when, which is essential if marine reserves are to reach their full potential.

“If we can identify ecological hotspots of shark aggregations or areas where you see high movements between specific areas, and we know at what time of year they occur,” said Jacoby, “then we can direct the enforcement vessels to be there at that time on the off-chance that fishermen also have that information and are purposely targeting that area.”

ZSL researchers release a silvertip shark in BIOT after fitting it with an acoustic tag.
Advances in electronic tagging may help law enforcement reduce illegal fishing in protected areas by remotely detecting fishing events as they happen.
Image by David Curnick, courtesy of ZSL.

With acoustic technology improving each year, the potential for it to help conservationists monitor and detect illegal fishing in marine reserves is increasing.
Alongside acoustic technology, ZSL researchers are carrying out research to evaluate the effectiveness of sensors borne by aerial and aquatic drones, paired with the use of satellite imagery, to identify illegal activity.

Tickler is optimistic that technology will enable conservationists to make significant progress in coming years.
“Managing our impact on marine ecosystems will be a vital challenge in the coming decades, and technology that increases transparency and fosters more sustainable use of the ocean will be needed to ensure we do not exceed its limits,” he said.
“Using animals as sentinels, both to detect illegal activity and to monitor environmental conditions, extends our capabilities and reach, making us more effective stewards of our oceans.”

Links :

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Chinese hackers fish for naval secrets

US Navy defense contractors and subcontractors have reportedly suffered “more than a handful” of disconcerting security breaches at the hands of Chinese hackers over the past year and a half. “Attacks on our networks are not new, but attempts to steal critical information are increasing in both severity and sophistication,” Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer said.
Although the secretary did not mention China specifically, evidence indicates that Beijing is responsible for what is considered a debilitating cyber campaign against the US.

From BBC 

Chinese hackers are alleged to have targeted universities around the world in a bid to steal naval secrets.

A total of 27 institutions, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are understood to have been singled out by a cyber-espionage group.

Security research company iDefence says hackers sent malicious emails to their targets.
One expert told the BBC that the attacks were "unsurprising".

A report by the Accenture-owned unit iDefense, first obtained by the Wall Street Journal, claims Chinese hackers carried out a targeted campaign against institutions in the US, Canada and South East Asia.

While the full list of universities has not been revealed, iDefense says they share a common interest in research on underwater warfare technology - particularly the launching of submarine missiles.

The attackers used a technique called "spear phishing", which involved sending emails that were made to look like they had been sent by other universities, but which contained malware that allowed the hackers to access stored research.
"If a university is operating with classified material it should operate to the same standards as the government," Ewan Lawson, senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi), told the BBC.
"But the reality of a lot of this is that [the hackers] are not necessarily going after classified material. They may be trying to identify who the researchers are, who the key thinkers are."

Many of the institutes targeted had ties to the largest hub of oceanographic research in the US, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
This in turn has strong ties to the US Navy. It is likely that the centre had been breached, according to iDefense.

The analysts behind the report say they have "moderate to high confidence" that the perpetrator of the hacks is a known Chinese group called Mudcarp, which goes by other names including Temp.Periscope and Leviathan.
They came to this conclusion after analysing the malware sent to the universities, and finding indicators associated with Mudcarp's previous activity.
"Any technology or program that involves the delivery or launching of a payload from a submerged submarine, or undersea autonomous vehicles, is of high interest to Mudcarp," the report says.
The group's connection to the Chinese government is not certain.

Chinese officials have not immediately responded to a request for comment from the BBC.
The country has previously denied state-sponsored hacking efforts.
In 2015 it labelled allegations that Chinese hackers had breached the US Office of Personnel Management "irresponsible and unscientific".

This follows a separate investigation by security firm FireEye, which similarly found evidence that a Chinese group - which it calls APT 40 - has pursued information relating to maritime technologies over the course of several years.
FireEye says it has also observed "specific targeting of countries strategically important to the Belt and Road Initiative", including Germany, the US and the UK.
The Belt and Road Initiative is an ambitious plan by the Chinese government that encompasses new global trade routes, across land and water.

According to Mr Lawson, Chinese cyber-espionage efforts to gather information about potential future naval routes is "unsurprising", particularly if the nation is seeking details on the underwater attack capabilities of other countries.
"If you're trying to keep you adversaries from as far as your shores as possible, having some understanding of their abilities to attack you [from] subsurface makes sense."
"Is the West trying to do the same with Chinese military technology? I wouldn't bet my money against it."

Links :

      Wednesday, March 13, 2019

      Ocean life in 3-D: Mapping phytoplankton with a smart AUV

      An artist's visualization of Harald in the ocean, detecting and measuring chlorophyll a as an indication of phytoplankton amounts and locations.
      Image: David Fierstein and Arild Hareide

      From Gemini Search by Nancy Bazilchuk

      Phytoplankton form the base of the marine food chain but are notoriously difficult for scientists to account for — a little like trying to identify and count motes of dust in the air.
      A truly independent underwater vehicle shows it can do the job.

      Trygve Olav Fossum watched an orange, torpedo-shaped instrument slide off the R/V Gunnerus and plop into the coastal waters near the island called Runde.
      It was June 2017 and Fossum, a PhD candidate at NTNU, was part of a team of researchers trying to find answers to a vexing problem.

      Runde, a triangle-shaped island off the mid-Norwegian coast, is known for its large seabird populations, including Atlantic puffins and Northern Gannets.

      In recent years, bird numbers here and in much of the North Atlantic have dropped precipitously.
      No one knows quite why.

      As a first step in their search for clues, NTNU researchers had assembled an interdisciplinary team of geologists, biologists, mathematicians, computer scientists and engineers, like Fossum, whose two metre-long autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) would contribute to one of the most unusual pieces of information on the Gunnerus’s week-long survey.

      Harald the smart AUV off on its hunt for phytoplankton patches.
      Photo: Trygve Fossum, NTNU

      Fossum’s AUV, named after the Norwegian oceanographer Harald Sverdrup, would collect information that allowed scientists to make a 3-D map of hot spots of phytoplankton.
      These are the tiny single-celled algal cells at the base of the food chain.
      Their microscopic size and tendency to collect in patches have made this information nearly impossible for biologists to gather in the past.

      The AUV was programmed to think on the go — “seeing” where the phytoplankton were, choosing its own course to zoom in on patches in an area to get a better sample.
      Scientists call this “adaptive sampling.” The 3-D maps, in turn, could provide important clues as to why bird populations around Runde were plummeting.

      Puffins, photographed on Runde Island during early summer.
      Populations of puffins and other seabirds that nest on Runde’s steep cliffs have dropped dramatically in recent years.
      Photo: Rick Strimbeck/NTNU

      Zooplankton eat phytoplankton.
      Little fish eat zooplankton.
      Bigger fish eat the smaller fish.
      Finally, seabirds like puffins feast on these patches of fish.
      If something was changing phytoplankton amounts or distribution, it could set off a chain reaction that could affect the birds.

      Having a smart AUV that can be programmed to seek out phytoplankton patches “is a complete game-changer,” says Geir Johnsen, an NTNU biologist is collaborating on the project.
      The results from Harald’s tour in the waters off Runde were recently reported in Science Robotics.

       The map is a screenshot that illustrates typical boat traffic near the island of Runde, which is indicated with the orange arrow.

       Runde island with the GeoGarage platform (NHS nautical chart)

      Large areas of unknown, and concentrated patches of fecundity

      Marine biologists face a fundamental problem.
      The ocean is deep, broad and generally poorly understood.
      Some areas are more interesting than others, especially the small, concentrated areas that teem with life, such as coastal waters or the places where currents meet.
      To do their job, biologists need to understand what factors make some patches of ocean fertile while others are not.

      Biologists describe this situation as, well, “patchiness,” Fossum said.
      The patchiness of phytoplankton is related to a number of different biophysical interactions, such as currents, turbulence and mixing, and biological processes, like how many other creatures are eating the phytoplankton.

      “That means it’s a very hard question to figure out what controls the patchiness of these organisms in the ocean,” Fossum said.

       Coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of Ceratium spp., one of the main types of phytoplankton being studied off Runde.
      Photo: NTB scanpix Science Photo Library

      Even if you are in a place that’s known to be a hot spot, patchiness can make it difficult to accurately quantify marine organisms in the area, especially if you are taking samples from a research boat, says Glaucia Fragoso, a postdoc at NTNU’s Department of Biology who was on the cruise with Fossum.

      “If we drop our sampler in the wrong spot, we may undersample and underestimate phytoplankton numbers,” she said.
      “Or if we drop our sampler right in the middle of a patch, we can overestimate.”

      Why patches are where they are

      That’s what makes the adaptive sampling of Harald, the AUV, so unique, Fragoso said.
      Given an area to explore, it can make a 3-D map of phytoplankton patches.
      And knowing where patches are allows scientists to study other characteristics of that area so they better understand why the patches are where they are.

      “Is the (phytoplankton) concentration there because of salinity?” said Fossum.
      “Maybe the phytoplankton are concentrated along a temperature or salinity layer, or maybe there is some other physical effect that is keeping them where they are?”

      Knowing where and why phytoplankton aggregate and cluster in different ways can help answer questions about creatures that depend on the ocean for food, like the seabirds at Runde.

      Seabirds typically nest in areas where they have easy access to food, since they have to feed themselves and their chicks, too.
      So figuring out phytoplankton amounts and where they are, in combination with other measurements, may help explain larger trends in seabird populations.
      Adaptive sampling for greater detail

      Harald was programmed with a sophisticated brain and equipped with a special measuring device called an ECOpuck nestled in its backside.
      When Fossum released it into the water that June day, Harald would roam the ocean’s depths in an area bounded by a 700×700 metre box, collecting information to make a 3-D map of phytoplankton.

      The ECOpuck doesn’t actually measure phytoplankton itself, but something called chlorophyll a fluorescence.
      Phytoplankton use chlorophyll a pigments in the process of photosynthesis, and the substance fluoresces red when exposed to light.
      The ECOpuck detects the fluorescence, which can indicate how much phytoplankton biomass is found in the water.

      At the start of the AUV’s journey, it takes measurements on the sides of the box and then gradually zooms into the area outlined by the box as it detects the region that seems to have the most chlorophyll a, Fossum says

      “It boxes in a volume of water and based on what it sees, it estimates what is inside,” he said.
      “Then it plans a route for inside and makes a map of the most interesting region.
      What I really want from this is an accurate map, with the accuracy where it is most needed — where the plankton aggregation is high.”

      The researchers also relied on other sampling methods to collect even more information about plankton around Runde, including a special camera that took pictures of individual plankton, and counted and identified them automatically to help verify the results from the AUV.
      A future for ships and AUVs

      In spite of the success of the AUV, Fossum and others explain that biologists still need to gather information from other sources — like research cruises aboard the R/V Gunnerus.

      “Oceanography is moving towards combined efforts to collect data, where robotic sampling is an essential part, providing capabilities and resolution that were previously unattainable with traditional methods,” Fossum said.
      “The ultimate goal is to effectively measure the impact of climate change in the ecosystem, for example.”

      Fossum says there’s a need for much more persistent monitoring of Norway’s coasts, marine protected areas, and fragile habitats.

      “The goal is to eventually automate much more of this work, but we are not aiming to replace ships, they are still vital in this endeavour,” he said.

       NTNU biologist Geir Johnsen works on a piece of equipment on a remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) that was also used on the Runde cruise.
      Photo: Glaucia Fragoso, NTNU

      The mystery remains

      For her part, Fragoso sees the value of having an AUV like Harald to help pinpoint where she and other biologists should conduct more detailed sampling.

      “Phytoplankton are just not easy to sample because they are constantly responding to an ever-changing environment,” she said.
      “This gives us a lot of additional information about how phytoplankton occur in the water column.
      And the more information we have, the better.”

      As for the mystery of the birds on Runde, Fossum and Johnsen say scientists need to do more research over a longer period.
      For example, the timing of food availability is very important for both fish and birds.

      “Birds need to find food especially when their chicks are hatching, and the fish need to be the right species and size for seabirds to survive,” Johnsen says.
      “Climate change and pollution are now rapidly altering conditions in the marine ecosystem, and we need to know more.”

      “We took a snapshot of that area, which tells us something about the current ecosystem at that time,” Fossum added.
      “But we’ll need to go back and get another snapshot to detect changes and identify potential causes to say something about why the birds are declining.”

      Check out this video for a look at Runde and Harald the smart AUV’s brother Fridtjof in action :

      The island of Runde, off the Norwegian coast near the town of Ålesund, is a well known paradise for seabirds, such as puffins.
      But in recent years, seabird numbers here and in the North Atlantic have plummeted.
      A team of researchers from NTNU and a smart autonomous underwater vehicle named Harald are on the hunt for clues as to why. 

      Links :

      Tuesday, March 12, 2019

      Xprize finalists test new technologies for $1M NOAA bonus prize

      From NOAA

       Unmanned Tools Track Underwater Sources Of Chemical And Biological Signals

      As the world’s leader in designing and managing incentive competitions to solve humanity’s grand challenges, XPRIZE announced this week that the three finalist teams competing for the $1 million Bonus Prize sponsored by NOAA, in its Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE, have tested their technologies in Ponce, Puerto Rico.

      The $1M NOAA Bonus Prize is part of the $7M Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE, a three-year global competition challenging teams to advance ocean technologies for rapid, unmanned and high-resolution ocean exploration.
      To win the NOAA portion of the prize, competing teams need to demonstrate that their technology can identify and track, or “sniff out,” a specified object in the ocean by tracing a biological or chemical signal to its source.
      The development of such technologies can help detect sources of pollution, identify hydrothermal vents and methane seeps, as well as track marine life for scientific research and conservation efforts.
      The winning devices could also be used to identify and track signals from sunken vessels including planes, ships, or submarines in the future.

      “The NOAA Bonus Prize teams are developing exciting, pioneering technologies that will help us uncover the mysteries of the ocean,” said Jyotika Virmani, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE.
      “Having the opportunity to bring these teams, and their technologies, to beautiful Puerto Rico as originally planned is a win-win for everyone involved, and we were delighted to be able to work with our local partners.”

      “XPRIZE represents the rapid scientific progress that can be gained through successful public-private partnerships,” said United States Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross.
      “Moreover, this competition plays a dual role: potentially providing NOAA with invaluable tools to oversee the health of our oceans, while also demonstrating the resilience of local Puerto Rican communities in the aftermath of the tragic hurricanes of 2017.”

      The final field test fulfills XPRIZE’s commitment to Puerto Rico, after initial plans to host its round one field tests for the Ocean Discovery XPRIZE were cancelled due to the destruction and devastation of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in September 2017.
      Between January 20 to February 2, the finalist teams showcased their technologies by trying to detect and track a plume from two sources in a test zone established off the south coast of Ponce.

      Advancing blue economy

      “New technologies that can detect and trace chemical and biological signals in the ocean is another stunning achievement in expanding the blue economy,” said retired Navy Rear Adm. Timothy Gallaudet, Ph.D., acting under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere at NOAA.
      “This great public-private partnership supports NOAA’s critical mission to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources.”

      For this final field test, XPRIZE partnered with the Government of Puerto Rico, the Port of Ponce Authority, the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez and its Department of Marine Science in La Parguera, the United States Coast Guard, the Caribbean Coastal Ocean Observing System (CARICOOS), Ponce Yacht and Fishing Club, and multiple other government, nonprofit and commercial organizations to provide additional support technology, vessels, and logistical assistance.

      “We are committed to providing the infrastructure and logistics to support the demonstration of new and exciting technologies, and at the same time show the scientific world the many benefits Puerto Rico offers as an attractive destination for research and innovation,” said Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló.
      “Puerto Rico’s privileged location in the Caribbean makes it the ideal destination to carry out world-class research.”

      The NOAA Bonus Prize finalists who opted to compete for this Prize were initially chosen by an independent judging panel of seven experts as semi-finalists for the Ocean Discovery XPRIZE.

       Team Tampa Deep Sea Xplorers, one of the finalist teams competing in Puerto Rico for the $1M Bonus Prize sponsored by NOAA, in the $7M Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE
      (Photo: Business Wire)

      Teams in the final round include:

      - BangaloreRobotics (Bangalore, Karnataka, India) – Led by Dr. Venkatesh Gurappa, this international team of students and enthusiasts from across the world share the common interest of making the world safe for human and other life forms through technology.
      BangaloreRobotics’s goal is to create intelligent and autonomous robots that can replace human presence in hazardous areas.
      The team is developing innovative and low-cost Underwater Swarm AUVs.

      - Ocean Quest (San Jose, CA, United States) – Led by Danny Kim, Quest Institute has a long track record of taking on the most challenging endeavors in science and technology for the purposes of education and inspiring the next generation of leaders.
      Quest is looking to innovate in the deep oceans arena to help foster not only new technology and techniques, but make ocean exploration and education accessible to the students around the world.
      The team endeavors to design a marine STEM platform for students worldwide to enable project-based learning with new technology and techniques.

      - Tampa Deep Sea X-plorers (Tampa, FL, United States) – Led by Edward Larson, the Tampa Deep-Sea X-plorers are an LLC registered in the state of Florida for the purpose of competing in the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE.
      The team seeks to harness the talents and resources of Central Florida's academic and business communities to design and build a viable solution to win the competition.
      The team is using existing technology and side scanning sonar on multiple AUVs.

      In addition to announcing its field test operations in Puerto Rico, XPRIZE also formed a new partnership with Ocean Infinity, the seabed survey and ocean exploration company that is credited for finding ARA San Juan, the Argentine Navy submarine which was lost on November 15, 2017.
      The partnership will provide XPRIZE with the highest-resolution ocean seafloor maps of the competition area.
      Combined with data from XPRIZE partner Fugro, these maps form the baseline against which teams’ technologies will be judged for the Grand Prize of the Ocean Discovery XPRIZE.

      The winners of the NOAA Bonus XPRIZE as well as the Grand Prize winner(s) of the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE will be announced by June 2019.

      For more information, visit

      About XPRIZE

      XPRIZE, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, is the global leader in designing and implementing innovative competition models to solve the world’s grandest challenges.
      Active competitions include the Lunar XPRIZE, the $20M NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE, the $15M Global Learning XPRIZE, the $10M ANA Avatar XPRIZE, the $7M Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE, the $7M Barbara Bush Foundation Adult Literacy XPRIZE, and the $5M IBM Watson AI XPRIZE.
      For more information, visit

      Links :

      Monday, March 11, 2019

      New Zealand (Linz) update in the GeoGarage platform

      12 nautical raster charts updated

      Canada (CHS) layer update in the GeoGarage platform

      69 nautical charts have been updated & 2 new charts added

      How the Internet travels across oceans

      Note: Cables shown in the map are ones that are currently in use, planned or being constructed.
      They do not show cables that were decommissioned.
      The content providers comprise cables publicly announced that Apple, Google, Microsoft or Netflix partly own, solely own or are a major capacity buyer of a cable owned by another company.
      Source: TeleGeography

      From NY Times by Adam Satariano

      ‘People think that data is in the cloud, but it’s not. It’s in the ocean.’ 

      The internet consists of tiny bits of code that move around the world, traveling along wires as thin as a strand of hair strung across the ocean floor.
      The data zips from New York to Sydney, from Hong Kong to London, in the time it takes you to read this word.

      Nearly 750,000 miles of cable already connect the continents to support our insatiable demand for communication and entertainment.
      Companies have typically pooled their resources to collaborate on undersea cable projects, like a freeway for them all to share.

      But now Google is going its own way, in a first-of-its-kind project connecting the United States to Chile, home to the company’s largest data center in Latin America.

       Source: TeleGeography

      “People think that data is in the cloud, but it’s not,” said Jayne Stowell, who oversees construction of Google’s undersea cable projects.
      “It’s in the ocean.”

      Getting it there is an exacting and time-intensive process.
      A 456-foot ship named Durable will eventually deliver the cable to sea.
      But first, the cable is assembled inside a sprawling factory a few hundred yards away, in Newington, N.H.
      The factory, owned by the company SubCom, is filled with specialized machinery used to maintain tension in the wire and encase it in protective skin.

      The cables begin as a cluster of strands of tiny threads of glass fibers.
      Lasers propel data down the threads at nearly the speed of light, using fiber-optic technology.
      After reaching land and connecting with an existing network, the data needed to read an email or open a web page makes its way onto a person’s device.

      While most of us now largely experience the internet through Wi-Fi and phone data plans, those systems eventually link up with physical cables that swiftly carry the information across continents or across oceans.

      In the manufacturing process, the cables move through high-speed mills the size of jet engines, wrapping the wire in a copper casing that carries electricity across the line to keep the data moving.
      Depending on where the cable will be located, plastic, steel and tar are added later to help it withstand unpredictable ocean environments.
      When finished, the cables will end up the size of a thick garden hose.

      A year of planning goes into charting a cable route that avoids underwater hazards, but the cables still have to withstand heavy currents, rock slides, earthquakes and interference from fishing trawlers.
      Each cable is expected to last up to 25 years.

      A conveyor that staff members call “the Cable Highway” moves the cable directly into Durable, docked in the Piscataqua River.
      The ship will carry over 4,000 miles of cable weighing about 3,500 metric tons when fully loaded.

      Inside the ship, workers spool the cable into cavernous tanks.
      One person walks the cable swiftly in a circle, as if laying out a massive garden hose, while others lie down to hold it in place to ensure it doesn’t snag or knot.
      Even with teams working around the clock, it takes about four weeks before the ship is loaded up with enough cable to hit the open sea.

      The first trans-Atlantic cable was completed in 1858 to connect the United States and Britain.
      Queen Victoria commemorated the occasion with a message to President James Buchanan that took 16 hours to transmit.

      While new wireless and satellite technologies have been invented in the decades since, cables remain the fastest, most efficient and least expensive way to send information across the ocean.
      And it is still far from cheap: Google would not disclose the cost of its project to Chile, but experts say subsea projects cost up to $350 million, depending on the length of the cable.

      In the modern era, telecommunications companies laid most of the cable, but over the past decade American tech giants started taking more control.
      Google has backed at least 14 cables globally.
      Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft have invested in others, connecting data centers in North America, South America, Asia, Europe and Africa, according to TeleGeography, a research firm.

      Countries view the undersea cables as critical infrastructure and the projects have been flash points in geopolitical disputes.
      Last year, Australia stepped in to block the Chinese technology giant Huawei from building a cable connecting Australia to the Solomon Islands, for fear it would give the Chinese government an entry point into its networks.

      source : TeleGeography

      Yann Durieux, a ship captain, said one of his most important responsibilities was keeping morale up among his crew during the weeks at sea.
      Building the infrastructure of our digital world is a labor-intensive job.

      With 53 bedrooms and 60 bathrooms, the Durable can hold up to 80 crew members.
      The team splits into two 12-hour shifts.
      Signs warn to be quiet in the hallways because somebody is always sleeping.

      The ship will carry enough supplies to last at least 60 days: roughly 200 loaves of bread, 100 gallons of milk, 500 cartons of a dozen eggs, 800 pounds of beef, 1,200 pounds of chicken and 1,800 pounds of rice.
      There’s also 300 rolls of paper towels, 500 rolls of toilet paper, 700 bars of soap and almost 600 pounds of laundry detergent.
      No alcohol is allowed on board.

      “I still get seasick,” said Walt Oswald, a technician who has been laying cables on ships for 20 years.
      He sticks a small patch behind his ear to hold back the nausea.
      “It’s not for everybody.”

      Poor weather is inevitable.
      Swells reach up to 20 feet, occasionally requiring the ship captain to order the subsea cable to be cut so the ship can seek safer waters.
      When conditions improve, the ship returns, retrieving the cut cable that has been left attached to a floating buoy, then splicing it back together before continuing on.

      Work on board is slow and plodding.
      The ship, at sea for months at a time, moves about six miles per hour, as the cables are pulled from the giant basins out through openings at the back of the ship.
      Closer to shore, where there’s more risk of damage, an underwater plow is used to bury the cable in the sea floor.

      The Durable crew doesn’t expect the work to slow down anytime soon.

      After the Latin America project, Google plans to build a new cable running from Virginia to France, set to be done by 2020.
      The company has 13 data centers open around the world, with eight more under construction — all needed to power the trillions of Google searches made each year and the more than 400 hours of video uploaded to YouTube each minute.

      “It really is management of a very complex multidimensional chess board,” said Ms. Stowell of Google, who wears an undersea cable as a necklace.

      Demand for undersea cables will only grow as more businesses rely on cloud computing services.
      And technology expected around the corner, like more powerful artificial intelligence and driverless cars, will all require fast data speeds as well.
      Areas that didn’t have internet are now getting access, with the United Nations reporting that for the first time more than half the global population is now online.

      source : ESRI
      The International Cable Protection Committee has emphasize the need for accurate charting of submarine cables and to respect UNCLOS due regard principle between deep sea mining contractors and owners of submarine cables.
      The map shows in general the large number of submarine cables around the world.
      Lots of communication and the Internet goes through submarine cables, damaging one could have a great impact around the world.
      The ICPC and the IHO MSDI WG will work together to develop a S-4XX product spec to be used for the maritime community.

      “This is a huge part of the infrastructure that’s making that happen,” said Debbie Brask, the vice president at SubCom, who is managing the Google project.
      “All of that data is going in the undersea cables.”

      Links :