Saturday, June 8, 2019

Ocean Day

A little girl speaks to the ocean.
Finalist of the World Oceans Day Photo Competition 2017 / Dragos Dumitrescu, Romania.

From UN

Why Celebrate World Oceans Day?

We celebrate World Oceans Day to remind everyone of the major role the oceans have in everyday life.
They are the lungs of our planet, providing most of the oxygen we breathe.
The purpose of the Day is to inform the public of the impact of human actions on the ocean, develop a worldwide movement of citizens for the ocean, and mobilize and unite the world’s population on a project for the sustainable management of the world's oceans.
They are a major source of food and medicines and a critical part of the biosphere.
In the end, it is a day to celebrate together the beauty, the wealth and the promise of the ocean.

Focus for 2019: Gender and the Ocean

We have an opportunity to explore the gender dimension of humankind’s relationship with the ocean.

This year, we strive to build greater ocean and gender literacy, and to discover possible ways to promote gender equality in ocean-related activities such as marine scientific research, fisheries, labour at sea, migration by sea and human trafficking, as well as policy-making and management.

The importance of gender equality — in particular for the effective conservation and sustainable use of oceans, seas and marine resources — is increasingly recognized.
However, there is very little data and research on these issues, and a concerted action towards gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls is still needed in all ocean-related sectors to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 5.

The UN is hosting a conference in celebration of World Oceans Day.
Storytellers and speakers from around the world will join to share perspectives to build greater ocean and gender literacy and discover possible ways to promote gender equality in ocean-related activities.

The Battle Against Plastic Pollution

This year, the President of the General Assembly launched 'Play It Out', a global campaign against plastic pollution.
Decades of overuse and a surge in single-use plastics has led to a global environmental catastrophe. Today, 13,000,000 tonnes of plastic leak into the ocean every year, what among other damage, kill 100,000 marine animals annually.
While most plastics are expected to remain intact for decades or centuries after use, those that do erode end up as micro-plastics, consumed by fish and other marine wildlife, quickly making their way into the global food chain.

From plastic straws to plastic bags, we all are at the frontline of efforts to #BeatPlasticPollution.

Coordinated By the UN Office of Legal Affairs, the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, the 2019 finalists of the UN WOD Photo Competition will be announced at the UN celebration on Friday, June 7th.
More information on the competition, previous finalists and this year's panel of judges is available on the World Oceans Day Photo Competition website.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Canada’s UN submission will (eventually) draw the last lines on the map

A map showing Northern Canada and the Arctic Ocean.

From The Conversation by Andrea Charron

In May 2019, Canada made a partial submission to the United Nations to recognize an extended continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles in the Arctic Ocean.
This means that Canada will soon have the last lines drawn on the map of Canada.

Canada’s submission was made to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) under Article 76 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

There was surprisingly little fanfare over this extraordinary accomplishment in a week of maritime-related accomplishments that included Canada acceding to an international moratorium to prevent unregulated commercial fishing in the central Arctic Ocean.

As a political scientist, I want to understand the processes used, the states involved and the international organizations and law that guided this extraordinary example of global governance.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS, is an international treaty that sets out the legal framework for ocean activities and boundaries.
In 2003, the Government of Canada set out to collect the scientific evidence needed to define our extended continental shelf.
But, how do we measure and define land that is hidden deep under water or ice?
This video, from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, outlines how the government measures and defines land that is hidden deep under water or ice.

Shelf’s edge

First, what is the continental shelf? Imagine you are standing on an ocean beach.
You decide to keep walking for as long as you can feel ground beneath your feet.
This ground is the seabed and subsoil, and coastal states have inherent right to explore and exploit the natural resources.

According to UNCLOS, this does not depend upon occupation or an express proclamation; in other words, Canada need not provide any justification.
And if the coastal state can provide evidence that its continental shelf extends beyond 200 nautical miles — the outer continental shelf — Canada can explore and extract mineral and other non-living resources from the seabed and subsoil.

An illustration showing the zones as pertaining to the limits of a state’s jurisdiction.

Canada’s partial submission to the CLCS, which includes written explanations and physical evidence, was led by branches of the federal government: Global Affairs Canada, Geological Survey of Canada and the Canadian Hydrographic Service.

There was also extensive assistance and participation by various Indigenous groups, Canada’s territorial governments, Parks Canada, the Canadian Ice Service, the Canadian Coast Guard, Defence Research and Development Canada and the Department of National Defence.

Collecting information

Collecting data in the Arctic is extremely difficult and costly.
It is only possible to navigate the Arctic in the summer months, and even then, the perennial ice coverage and weather, wind and current conditions pose challenges.

Data collected for Canada’s submission included bathymetric, gravimetric, seismic, areo-gravity and areo-metric information.
Retrieving 800 kg of rock samples and three piston cores involves engineering and scientific feats of marvel, bravery and sheer determination.

Considering Canada had more rock samples from the moon than from the Arctic, it is a reminder of how little is known about the Arctic.
Imagine, therefore, the scientific breakthroughs Canada and the world have yet to discover with this data especially now that government scientists helping with Canada’s submission are now at liberty to publish their findings in academic journals.

This map shows the outer limits of Canada’s continental shelf in the Arctic Ocean.
The map is part of Canada’s submission to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.
Jonathan Wilkinson, Canada’s minister of fisheries, oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, called this “a major step forward in ensuring Canada’s Arctic sovereignty.”
(Image courtesy of the Government of Canada)

A map from Canada’s UNCLOS submission showing the Lomonosov Ridge.
Source: Government of Canada 

Collaboration and geopolitics

Canada’s submission was aided by collaboration with the governments of Denmark, Sweden (and especially its icebreaker Oden), the U.S.
and Germany.

The Arctic Ocean is surrounded by five coastal states: Canada, Russia, the U.S., Denmark (via Greenland and the Faroe Islands) and Norway.
It was anticipated by all of the Arctic states that Russia, the U.S., Canada and Denmark, by virtue of their adjacent and opposite locations, could have overlapping claims.

 Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ: black line) and Extended Continental Shelves (ECS). Notes: Russian ECS submitted in 2001 not recommended by the UN Commission (CLCS) Norwegian ECS (white arrow) submitted in 2006 recommended by CLCS in 2009 and ‘accepted’ by Norwegian government in 2009. (GAC/DFO/NRCan)

 Arctic EEZ (extract from the GeoGarage platform)

It was expected that all four would collect data from at least some of the same areas of extended continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles.
Russia, Denmark and Canada have all made at least partial submissions to the CLCS which will review the scientific evidence and provide technical feedback regarding the scientific integrity of the data provided.

The CLCS cannot reconcile overlapping claims.
Annex 1 of the CLSC’s rules of procedure notes that “matters regarding disputes which may arise in connection with the establishment of the outer limits of the continental shelf rests with States.”
Establishing boundaries

Canada, Russia, Denmark and the U.S. are expected to continue to negotiate, as they will have the final say in determining the extent of the boundaries.
This means Canada has years to wait before the process is completed, and there are a few caveats to keep in mind.

First, given the highly technical nature of the evidence and the few number of commission members, Canada’s submission is not expected to be fully reviewed by the CLCS for many years.
Canada’s Arctic submission is currently number 84 on the CLCS’ list.

Second, the U.S. is not a party to UNCLOS although it does treat much of it, including Article 76, as customary law (meaning the U.S.
agrees to the outlined principles).
The U.S. has an active Extended Continental Shelf program and the government is collecting data in anticipation of ongoing negotiations.

Third, there is no time crunch for the resources of the extended continental shelf given the distance, cost and difficulties to access them.
Many tend to assume that resources do exist for exploitation, but it could also be that there is nothing of commercial worth available.

Fourth, any resources and activity within the water and airspace beyond 200 nautical miles from the coastal baseline belongs to everyone and is governed by international law.

Finally, there are limitations in UNCLOS on the extent of the continental shelf and Article 82 of UNCLOS provides for a system of revenue sharing by means of payments or contributions in kind with respect to the extraction of non-living resources of the continental shelf lying beyond 200 nautical miles.
Given the small size of the Arctic Ocean, however, most of it is already captured within the Arctic coastal states’ exclusive economic zones.

Canada’s Executive Summary submission is available for anyone to review.
Despite the complexity of the data, the submission is very readable and excellent scholarship.
This reflects the extraordinary work of Canada’s scientists and civil servants, and is an example of global governance working well.

Links :

Thursday, June 6, 2019

'Top Secret' maps reveal the massive Allied effort behind D-Day

Following months of top secret planning, U.S. Army troops wade ashore from a landing craft to Omaha Beach, Normandy, on June 6, 1944: D-Day.
photo by Granger/Album

From National Geographic by Neil Kagan and Stephen Hyslop

 This article is excerpted from Atlas of World War II, published by National Geographic Books. Copyright 2018 

As dawn broke on June 6, 1944, in northern France, the Allies began an invasion in the works for years: D-Day, the start of Operation Overlord that turned the tide against Nazi Germany.

THE ALLIED INVASION of German-occupied France that began in the early hours of June 6, 1944, was long in the making.
By gaining supremacy in the Atlantic in 1943, the Allies had cleared the way for a huge buildup of American troops and equipment in Great Britain.
Between January and June 1944, nine million tons of supplies and 800,000 soldiers crossed the Atlantic from the United States to bolster the invasion, designated Operation Overlord.

Meanwhile, Allied pilots exploited their hard-won superiority over the diminished German Luftwaffe by blasting French railways and bridges to keep their foes from rushing reserves to Normandy when troops landed there.
Anglo-American commanders battle tested in North Africa and Italy, including American Dwight D.
Eisenhower and Bernard Montgomery of the United Kingdom, prepared to lead invasion troops against their old foe, German general Erwin Rommel, assigned to strengthen French coastal defenses while the bulk of the German Army struggled to hold back resurgent Soviets on the Eastern Front.
(See also: Memories of D-Day come alive on the beaches where it happened.)

The German defensive barrier known as the Atlantic Wall included two areas that met the requirements for a massive Allied invasion—beaches that were accessible to landing craft, tanks, and other vehicles and were not too far from British ports or from Germany, the ultimate objective.
Suitable beaches around Calais were only 30 miles from the port of Dover and 200 miles from the German border, but their proximity to the Reich meant that they were well defended.
The other promising landing site—between the fortified ports of Le Havre and Cherbourg in Normandy—was farther from Germany but was chosen because beaches there were less heavily defended.
-map by NG maps-

The German wall

Planning for Operation Overlord began in London more than a year before the invasion took place.
Allied staff officers led by Lt.
Frederick Morgan debated where to pierce the Atlantic Wall, German coastal fortifications extending from Norway to the southwest coast of France.
The shortest route to Germany lay across the Strait of Dover (Pas-de-Calais), but landing around Calais meant attacking the strongest sector of the Atlantic Wall.

Morgan and staff decided instead to land on the coast of Normandy, which lay farther from Germany but was less heavily fortified.
Their original plan, drawn up in strict secrecy, called for three divisions to come ashore on a narrow front on D-Day.
But when Eisenhower and Montgomery arrived in London in early 1944 to serve respectively as supreme commander and field commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force destined for Normandy, they altered the invasion plan based on amphibious operations in Italy.
(See also: Excerpt: Rare World War II maps reveal Japan's Pearl Harbor strategy.)

Five divisions would land on D-Day on a broader front, supported by three airborne divisions and followed by an immense influx of men and material.
The huge commitment of landing craft and other resources to Normandy meant that a second invasion of France along the Mediterranean coast, which was meant to coincide with Overlord to prevent Germans in the south from being shifted to Normandy, would instead take place a few months after Overlord unfolded.

 Defending the coast :
Rommel (front row, third from left) inspecting a beach near Calais in April 1944, made sure that obstacles laid there were also installed on the Normandy coast.
His request to defend that coast with armored divisions to meet invaders head-on was denied.
photograph by Prisma by Dukas Presseagentur Gmbh

Germany’s defense

German commanders did not ignore the potential threat to Normandy.
Rommel—in charge of Army Group B under Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, German commander in chief in the West—laced beaches there with mines as well as obstructions that would force landing craft to disgorge troops at low tide, leaving them more exposed to enemy fire.
Rommel wanted panzer divisions deployed at likely landing sites in Normandy to repulse invaders before they established a beachhead and were reinforced.
“Everything we have must be on the coast,” he insisted.

Rundstedt disagreed, and Hitler decided to hold most German armored forces in reserve under his own control until the invasion took place.
Only one panzer division guarded the Normandy coast beforehand.
An elaborate Allied deception campaign called Operation Bodyguard—which included simulating phantom divisions and feeding false reports to Berlin from German agents under British control—led Hitler to view landings at Normandy as a diversion, which would be followed by a massive Allied thrust across the Strait of Dover.
(See also: The inside story of how three unlikely allies won World War II.)

Dawning of D-Day

The invasion of Normandy was preceded by daring coastal and aerial reconnaissance that yielded detailed charts of the five landing zones: Gold, Juno, Sword, Utah, and Omaha beaches.

Ensign Joseph Vaghi, a beachmaster at Omaha Beach, carried this top secret map to show where troops and equipment would deploy along the coast.
photograph by collection of Joe Vaghi
see full image

Omaha Beach, the largest of the of the D-Day attack zones, was subdivided into areas which were code-named Charlie, Dog (divided into Green, White, and Red sections), Easy (divided into Green and Red sections), and Fox (divided into Green and Red sections).

Foul weather forced Eisenhower to postpone Overlord until June 6.
Two more weeks would pass before the moon and tides were again favorable for paratroopers landing inland before dawn and soldiers landing on the beaches at daybreak.

The decision to proceed on the sixth, during a predicted lull in the storm, caught German commanders by surprise.
But some Allied landing craft and amphibious tanks sank in swells, and men who stayed afloat were seasick.
Nausea mingled with dread as they disembarked under fire.
“Many were hit in the water and drowned,” recalled Sgt.
Bob Slaughter of the U.S.
29th Infantry Regiment.
“There were dead men in the water and live men acting dead, letting the tide take them in.”

Nearly 3,000 Americans were killed or wounded on Omaha Beach, most of them in the first few hours.
As shellfire from Allied warships began silencing enemy gunners on the cliffs, however, soldiers rallied and pushed inland through ravines toward Colleville-sur-Mer.
Americans who landed at Utah Beach faced little resistance, and British and Canadian troops advanced several miles inland from their beaches and withstood a late-day counterattack by the 21st Panzer Division.

When Rommel returned that night to Normandy—after celebrating his wife’s birthday during the storm he thought would preclude an invasion—his worst fears were realized.
He had warned a fellow officer that their only chance was to stop the enemy in the water.
Now nearly 160,000 Allied troops had landed.

A map of Utah Beach, based on aerial photos, was used to plan landings there.
map by Library of Congress (CT002437A)
Expanding the beachhead

Following D-Day, the Allies had to transport troops and supplies to Normandy in vast amounts without access to a deepwater port.
Germans assumed that their foes would require such a port, which lent credence to Allied deceptions portraying the Normandy landings as a diversion, to be followed by a big push aimed at a deeper port like Calais.

While the German 15th Army remained in place around Calais to defend against that anticipated thrust, the Allies reinforced their Normandy beachhead by constructing artificial harbors called mulberries, using components prefabricated in British ports and towed across the English Channel.

Mulberry A, completed off Omaha Beach in mid-June and linked to shore by a pontoon bridge, was wrecked a few days later by one of the worst storms to hit the coast that season.
Mulberry B, constructed off Gold Beach near Arromanches, withstood that storm and helped boost Allied strength in Normandy to one million men by early July.

 Supply Line :
Landing craft disgorge tanks and trucks at Omaha Beach on June 8, 1944, under barrage balloons whose mooring cables deterred enemy aircraft.
photograph by US National Archives

Reinforcements for the troops who landed on D-Day were essential because expanding the beachhead proved even tougher than establishing it on June 6.
Inland from the beaches lay the forbidding bocage, consisting of low fields surrounded by dense hedgerows that sheltered German snipers, machine gunners, and anti-tank units.
Not until June 27 did American troops seize the deepwater port of Cherbourg, which German demolition teams rendered useless until later that year.

Another important objective, heavily defended Caen, was not taken on D-Day, as Montgomery planned, and held out against repeated attacks.
On June 13, the British Seventh Armored Division tried to outflank Caen but was repulsed at Villers-Bocage by elements of the First and Second SS Panzer Divisions.

Allied bombers blasted Caen on July 6, killing many French civilians but few Germans, who withdrew south of the city and resisted tenaciously as Montgomery tried to punch through their defenses.
Although held in check, his forces kept several German armored divisions tied down while American troops prepared to launch Operation Cobra from Saint-Lô, west of Caen, and break out of the beachhead.

High-resolution bottom morphology data acquired using LIDAR as part of the NHDF 2016-2017 project (SHOM and ROLNP) on the Normandy coast show elements of the artificial harbour "Mulberry A" in front of Omaha Beach or breakwaters sunk in front of Utah Beach.

Royal Navy Hydrographic surveyors played an important role in the D-Day landings by collecting bathymetry data to ensure the best landing sites were chosen.
These surveys were performed covertly at night. 
- courtesy of Duncan Mallace -

WWII multibeam shipwreck images / Arromanches
image : Bertrand Sciboz

Construction of temporary artificial Mulberry ports by the Allies.
To support the forces landed on June 6 in Normandy, the Allies built two artificial ports off Omaha Beach and Arromanches, code names Mulberry A (for "American") and B ("British") respectively.
The walkways are protected from the currents by floating metal caissons and 56 purpose-built breakwaters, while huge concrete caissons, designed and transported from England, are laid on the bottom to form dikes and jetties.
A storm destroyed Mulberry A on June 19, but the second port allowed some 2.5 million men, 500,000 vehicles and 4 million tonnes of equipment to land until the end of the Second World War.
Beginning of the end

Although the landings on D-Day were less costly than Allied leaders feared, American forces destined for Omaha Beach paid a dreadful price before securing that sector.
Casualties mounted as invasion forces advanced inland and met with fierce resistance.
Not until late July did they break out, aided by devastating air raids that gouged holes in enemy lines through which armor advanced, including tanks of Patton’s U.S. Third Army.
On August 15, a second Allied invasion designated Operation Dragoon unfolded on the French Mediterranean coast.
Resistance groups took up arms, and some began liberating Paris before Allied troops entered the city in late August.

The offensive in France and the Low Countries coincided with a massive onslaught by the Red Army, whose troops advanced into German-occupied Poland before invading Germany proper by entering East Prussia.
Hitler refused to concede defeat and launched a desperate counterattack at year’s end against the Western Allies, whose advance had stalled as they ran short of supplies and came up against the formidable West Wall (Siegfried Line) along the German border.

The resulting Battle of the Bulge, won in January 1945, delayed their advance across the Rhine until March while vengeful Soviets closed on Berlin.
“We may be destroyed,” Hitler had remarked earlier, “but if we are, we shall drag a world with us—a world in flames.” On April 30, with Berlin in flames and about to fall to the Russians, he committed suicide.
A week later, Germany surrendered unconditionally.

Links :

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Luxury cruise giant emits 10 times more air pollution than all of Europe’s cars – study

From Transport Environment

Carnival Corporation, the world’s largest luxury cruise operator, emitted nearly 10 times more sulphur oxide (SOX) around European coasts than did all 260 million European cars in 2017, a new analysis by sustainable transport group Transport & Environment reveals.[1]
Royal Caribbean Cruises, the world’s second largest, is second, yet four times worse than the European car fleet.
SOX emissions form sulphate (SO4) aerosols that increase human health risks and contribute to acidification in terrestrial and aquatic environments.[2]

In absolute terms, Spain, Italy and Greece, closely followed by France and Norway, are the European countries most exposed to SOX air pollution from cruise vessels while Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca and Venice are the most impacted European port cities, followed by Civitavecchia (Rome) and Southampton.

These countries are so exposed because they are major tourist destinations, but also because they have less stringent marine sulphur fuel standards which allows cruise ships to burn the dirtiest most sulphurous fuel all along their coastlines

Faig Abbasov, shipping policy manager at T&E, said: “Luxury cruise ships are floating cities powered by some of the dirtiest fuel possible.
Cities are rightly banning dirty diesel cars but they’re giving a free pass to cruise companies that spew out toxic fumes that do immeasurable harm both to those on board and on nearby shores.
This is unacceptable.“

NOX emissions from cruise ships in Europe also heavily impact some cities, equivalent to about 15% of the nitrogen oxides (NOX) emitted by Europe’s passenger car fleet in a year, the report finds.
In Marseille, for example, 57 cruise ships emitted in 2017 almost as much NOX as one-quarter of the city’s 340,000 passenger cars.
Along the coasts of countries such as Norway, Denmark, Greece, Croatia and Malta a handful of cruise ships are also responsible for more NOX than the majority of their domestic car fleet.

Europe should implement a zero-emission port standard as soon as possible, this could then be extended to other ship types.
The report also recommends extending emission control areas (ECAs), currently in place only in the North and Baltic Seas and English Channel, to the rest of the European seas.
Furthermore, the report recommends regulating NOX emissions from existing ships, which are currently exempt from NOx standards applying in emission control areas.

Faig Abbasov concluded: “There are enough mature technologies to clean up cruise ships.
Shore-side electricity can help cut in-port emissions, batteries are a solution for shorter distances and hydrogen technology can power even the biggest cruise ships.
The cruise sector are apparently not willing to make the shift voluntarily, so we need governments to step in and mandate zero emission standards.”

Notes to editor:

[1] There were more than 260 million passenger cars registered in the EU, Norway, Iceland, Montenegro and Greenland in 2017

[2] Sofiev, M. et al., (2018) Cleaner fuels for ships provide public health benefits with climate tradeoffs, Nature Communications, volume 9, Article number: 406 (2018)

Links :

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

This is what sea level rise will do to coastal cities

Sea level rise is already redrawing coastlines around the world.
What happens when the coast retreats through a major city?
We look at how the world map will change in the year 2100, and what coastal cities can do to defend themselves.

From The Verge by Mary Beth Griggs

By the year 2100, swollen seas and rivers will redraw shorelines as climbing temperatures melt ice caps.
In one of the most extreme scenarios, waters globally could rise by as much as eight feet, and even a smaller amount of flooding would inundate low-lying areas of the coast.
In places like New York, which is home to around 8.6 million people, even moderate flooding could drastically impact the city’s population and infrastructure.

The city got a taste of its future after Hurricane Sandy struck New York City in 2012.
Soon afterward, the city announced several resiliency projects, which are all designed to keep water away from New York’s streets.
While inspired (in part) by the dramatic onslaught of a storm, many of these projects are also designed to keep the Big Apple as dry as possible as sea level rise eats away at coasts around the world.

Sea levels are rising due to global warming, and part of the reason for this is ice on land is melting and flowing into the seas.
Tide gauges can measure the rising sea level, but different tide gauges show the sea level is rising at different rates in different places.
Why is this?
Ars looks at why sea level rise is more complicated than filling a bath tub.
How can that happen?
It happens because the Earth's not a bathtub—adding more water doesn't increase ocean levels evenly.
As this video details, there are lots of factors that add a local twist to the overall rise of the oceans. These factors range from the strength of ocean currents to the gravitational pull of large ice fields. The net result is that the US has some areas where ocean levels are actually falling a bit and many others where they're rising even faster than the global average.
While the effects are small, they can make a huge practical difference, determining whether your neighborhood is flooding now, or if you have decades to prepare for problems.
- courtesy of Ars Technica -  

The latest plan involves spending $10 billion to extend part of Lower Manhattan out into the East River, in addition to shelling out hundreds of millions of dollars on other resiliency projects.

Links :

Monday, June 3, 2019

Last American slave ship is discovered in Alabama

In this short film, the descendants of Africans on the last known American slave ship, Clotilda, describe what it would mean to discover and document the wreck site of the vessel.

From National Geographic by Joel K. Bourne Jr

The schooner Clotilda smuggled African captives into the U.S.
in 1860, more than 50 years after importing slaves was outlawed.

The schooner Clotilda—the last known ship to bring enslaved Africans to America’s shores—has been discovered in a remote arm of Alabama’s Mobile River following an intensive yearlong search by marine archaeologists.

"Descendants of the Clotilda survivors have dreamed of this discovery for generations," says Lisa Demetropoulos Jones, executive director of the Alabama Historical Commission (AHC) and the State Historic Preservation Officer.
"We’re thrilled to announce that their dream has finally come true."

One hundred and nine African captives survived the brutal, six-week passage from West Africa to Alabama in Clotilda’s cramped hold.
Originally built to transport cargo, not people, the schooner was unique in design and dimensions—a fact that helped archaeologists identify the wreck.
Jason Treat and Kelsey Nowakowski, NG staff.
art: Thom Tenery

The captives who arrived aboard Clotilda were the last of an estimated 389,000 Africans delivered into bondage in mainland America from the early 1600s to 1860.
Thousands of vessels were involved in the transatlantic trade, but very few slave wrecks have ever been found.
(See how archaeologists pieced together clues to identify the long-lost slave ship.)

"The discovery of the Clotilda sheds new light on a lost chapter of American history," says Fredrik Hiebert, archaeologist-in-residence at the National Geographic Society, which supported the search.
"This finding is also a critical piece of the story of Africatown, which was built by the resilient descendants of America’s last slave ship."

Rare firsthand accounts left by the slaveholders as well as their victims offer a one-of-a-kind window into the Atlantic slave trade, says Sylviane Diouf, a noted historian of the African diaspora.

"It’s the best documented story of a slave voyage in the Western Hemisphere," says Diouf, whose 2007 book, Dreams of Africa in Alabama, chronicles the Clotilda’s saga.
"The captives were sketched, interviewed, even filmed," she says, referring to some who lived into the 20th century.
"The person who organized the trip talked about it. The captain of the ship wrote about it. So we have the story from several perspectives. I haven’t seen anything of that sort anywhere else."

In 1927 Cudjo Lewis, then one of the last living Clotilda survivors, shared his life story with anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston.
Her book Barracoon, finally published in 2018, includes Lewis's telling of the harrowing voyage aboard Clotilda.

It began with a bet

Clotilda’s story began when Timothy Meaher, a wealthy Mobile landowner and shipbuilder, allegedly wagered several Northern businessmen a thousand dollars that he could smuggle a cargo of Africans into Mobile Bay under the nose of federal officials.

Importing slaves into the United States had been illegal since 1808, and southern plantation owners had seen prices in the domestic slave trade skyrocket.
Many, including Meaher, were advocating for reopening the trade.

Clotilda’s Journey

In 1860, Clotilda smuggled West African captives into the U.S.
Routes and dates are taken from the account of the ship’s captain, William Foster.

 Matthew Chwastyk and Jason Treat, NG staff.
source: Mobile Public Library

Meaher chartered a sleek, swift schooner named Clotilda and enlisted its builder, Captain William Foster, to sail it to the notorious slave port of Ouidah in present-day Benin to buy captives.
Foster left West Africa with 110 young men, women, and children crowded into the schooner’s hold.
One girl reportedly died during the brutal six-week voyage.
Purchased for $9,000 in gold, the human cargo was worth more than 20 times that amount in 1860 Alabama.

After transferring the captives to a riverboat owned by Meaher’s brother, Foster burned the slaver to the waterline to hide their crime.
Clotilda kept her secrets over the decades, even as some deniers contended that the shameful episode never occurred.

After the Civil War ended and slavery was abolished, the Africans longed to return to their home in West Africa.
Lacking the means, they managed to buy small plots of land north of Mobile, where they formed their own tight-knit community that came to be known as Africatown.
There they made new lives for themselves but never lost their African identity.
Many of their descendants still live there today and grew up with stories of the famous ship that brought their ancestors to Alabama.
"If they find evidence of that ship, it's going to be big," descendant Lorna Woods predicted earlier this year.
"All Mama told us would be validated. It would do us a world of good."

Mary Elliott, a curator at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, agrees.
"There are many examples today—the Tulsa race riots of 1921, this story, even the Holocaust—where some people say it never happened.
Now, because of the archaeology, the archival research, the science combined with the collective memories of the community, it can't be refuted.
They are now connected to their ancestors in a tangible way, knowing this story is true." (Their ancestors survived slavery. Can their descendants save the town they built?)

Shipwreck found in Mobile River identified as the Clotilda

The hunt for lost history

Several attempts to locate Clotilda’s remains have been made over the years, but the Mobile-Tensaw Delta is rife with sloughs, oxbows, and bayous, as well as scores of shipwrecks from more than three centuries of maritime activity.
Then in January 2018 Ben Raines, a local journalist, reported that he had discovered the remains of a large wooden ship during an abnormally low tide.
The AHC, which owns all abandoned ships in Alabama’s state waters, called in the archaeology firm Search, Inc., to investigate the hulk.

The vessel in question turned out to be another ship, but the false alarm focused national attention on the long-lost slaver.
The incident also prompted the AHC to fund further research in partnership with the National Geographic Society and Search, Inc.

Researchers combed through hundreds of original sources from the period and analyzed records of more than 2,000 ships that were operating in the Gulf of Mexico during the late 1850s.
They discovered that Clotilda was one of only five Gulf-built schooners then insured.
Registration documents provided detailed descriptions of the schooner, including its construction and dimensions.

Maritime archaeologist James Delgado scans a section of the Mobile River during the search for Clotilda’s final resting place.
Photograph by Asha Stuart, National Geographic

"Clotilda was an atypical, custom-built vessel," says maritime archaeologist James Delgado of Search, Inc.
"There was only one Gulf-built schooner 86 feet long with a 23-foot beam and a six-foot, 11-inch hold, and that was Clotilda."

Records also noted that the schooner was built of southern yellow pine planking over white oak frames and was outfitted with a 13-foot-long centerboard that could be raised or lowered as needed to access shallow harbors.

Based on their research of possible locations, Delgado and Alabama state archaeologist Stacye Hathorn focused on a stretch of the Mobile River that had never been dredged.
Deploying divers and an array of devices—a magnetometer for detecting metal objects, a side-scan sonar for locating structures on and above the river bottom, and a sub-bottom profiler for detecting objects buried beneath the mucky riverbed—they discovered a veritable graveyard of sunken ships.

Prior to the state survey, Raines continued his own search for the wreck, enlisting researchers from the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) to map the contours of the riverbed and detect any submerged objects.
The USM survey revealed the presence of a wooden wreck bearing some hallmarks of a 19th-century vessel.
"The dimensions of the ship have not been determined yet,” Raines reported in June 2018.
“It also remains unclear what type of vessel was found.
Answering those questions will take a more thorough and invasive examination, precisely the expertise of Search, Inc."

Ben Raines, a reporter for the Birmingham News, described on Jan. 24 his discovery of a shipwreck believed to be the last vessel to bring enslaved Africans to the U.S. nearly 160 years ago.

Delgado’s team easily eliminated most of the potential wrecks: wrong size, metal hull, wrong type of wood.
But the vessel Raines and the USM survey had highlighted stood out from the rest.
Over the next ten months, Delgado’s team analyzed the sunken vessel’s design and dimensions, the type of wood and metal used in its construction, and evidence that it had burned.
It "matched everything on record about Clotilda," Delgado said.

Samples of wood recovered from Target 5 are white oak and southern yellow pine from the Gulf coast.
The archaeologists also found the remains of a centerboard of the correct size.

Metal fasteners from its hull are made of hand-forged pig iron, the same type known to have been used on Clotilda.
And there’s evidence that the hull was originally sheathed with copper, as was then common practice for oceangoing merchant vessels.

No nameplate or other inscribed artifacts conclusively identified the wreck, Delgado says, "but looking at the various pieces of evidence, you can reach a point beyond reasonable doubt."

 From directly overhead, you can see the outline of a giant sailing ship. It appears to be the Clotilda, the last slave ship.
The photographers boat looks like a toy next to it, but is actually 22 feet long.
The wreck measured about 124 feet.
Ben Raines / via

A national slave ship memorial?

The wreck of Clotilda now carries the dreams of Africatown, which has suffered from declining population, poverty, and a host of environmental insults from heavy industries that surround the community.
Residents hope that the wreck will generate tourism and bring businesses and employment back to their streets.
Some have even suggested it be raised and put on display.

The community was recently awarded nearly $3.6 million from the BP Deepwater Horizon legal settlement to rebuild a visitor center destroyed in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina.
But what’s left of the burned-out wreck is in very poor condition, says Delgado.
Restoring it would cost many millions of dollars.

But a national slave ship memorial—akin to the watery grave of the U.S.S.
Arizona in Pearl Harbor—might be an option.
There visitors could reflect on the horrors of the slave trade and be reminded of Africa’s enormous contribution to the making of America.
Read about 13 museums and monuments that connect to important moments in African-American history.)

"We are still living in the wake of slavery," says Paul Gardullo, director of the Center for the Study of Global Slavery at the National Museum of African American History and Culture and a member of the Slave Wrecks Project that was involved in the search for Clotilda.
“We continue to be confronted by slavery.
It keeps popping up because we haven’t dealt with this past.
If we do our work right, we have an opportunity not just to reconcile, but to make some real change.”

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Sunday, June 2, 2019

Teams autonomously mapping the depths take home millions in Ocean Discovery Xprize

On May 31, 2019, XPRIZE announced winners in the $7M Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE, a global competition to advance ocean technologies for rapid, unmanned and high-resolution ocean exploration and discovery.
Meet our finalist teams from all over the world
From Techcrunch by Devin Coldewey

There’s a whole lot of ocean on this planet, and we don’t have much of an idea what’s at the bottom of most of it.
That could change with the craft and techniques created during the Ocean Discovery Xprize, which had teams competing to map the sea floor quickly, precisely and autonomously.
The winner just took home $4 million.

A map of the ocean would be valuable in and of itself, of course, but any technology used to do so could be applied in many other ways, and who knows what potential biological or medical discoveries hide in some nook or cranny a few thousand fathoms below the surface?

The prize, sponsored by Shell, started back in 2015.
The goal was, ultimately, to create a system that could map hundreds of square kilometers of the sea floor at a five-meter resolution in less than a day — oh, and everything has to fit in a shipping container.
For reference, existing methods do nothing like this, and are tremendously costly.

But as is usually the case with this type of competition, the difficulty did not discourage the competitors — it only spurred them on.
Since 2015, then, the teams have been working on their systems and traveling all over the world to test them.

Originally the teams were to test in Puerto Rico, but after the devastating hurricane season of 2017, the whole operation was moved to the Greek coast.
Ultimately after the finalists were selected, they deployed their craft in the waters off Kalamata and told them to get mapping.

“It was a very arduous and audacious challenge,” said Jyotika Virmani, who led the program.
“The test itself was 24 hours, so they had to stay up, then immediately following that was 48 hours of data processing after which they had to give us the data.
It takes more trad companies about 2 weeks or so to process data for a map once they have the raw data — we’re pushing for real time.”

This wasn’t a test in a lab bath or pool.
This was the ocean, and the ocean is a dangerous place.
But amazingly there were no disasters.

“Nothing was damaged, nothing imploded,” she said.
“We ran into weather issues, of course. And we did lose one piece of technology that was subsequently found by a Greek fisherman a few days later… but that’s another story.”

At the start of the competition, Virmani said, there was feedback from the entrants that the autonomous piece of the task was simply not going to be possible.
But the last few years have proven it to be so, given that the winning team not only met but exceeded the requirements of the task.

“The winning team mapped more than 250 square kilometers in 24 hours, at the minimum of five meters resolution, but around 140 was more than five meters,” Virmani told me.
“It was all unmanned: An unmanned surface vehicle that took the submersible out, then recovered it at sea, unmanned again, and brought it back to port.
They had such great control over it — they were able to change its path and its programming throughout that 24 hours as they needed to.”
(It should be noted that unmanned does not necessarily mean totally hands-off — the teams were permitted a certain amount of agency in adjusting or fixing the craft’s software or route.)

A five-meter resolution, if you can’t quite picture it, would produce a map of a city that showed buildings and streets clearly, but is too coarse to catch, say, cars or street signs.
When you’re trying to map two-thirds of the globe, though, this resolution is more than enough — and infinitely better than the nothing we currently have.
(Unsurprisingly, it’s also certainly enough for an oil company like Shell to prospect new deep-sea resources.)

The winning team was GEBCO, composed of veteran hydrographers — ocean mapping experts, you know.
In addition to the highly successful unmanned craft (Sea-Kit, already cruising the English Channel for other purposes), the team did a lot of work on the data-processing side, creating a cloud-based solution that helped them turn the maps around quickly.
(That may also prove to be a marketable service in the future.)
They were awarded $4 million, in addition to their cash for being selected as a finalist.

The runner up was Kuroshio, which had great resolution but was unable to map the full 250 km2 due to weather problems.
They snagged a million.

A bonus prize for having the submersible track a chemical signal to its source didn’t exactly have a winner, but the teams’ entries were so impressive that the judges decided to split the million between the Tampa Deep Sea Xplorers and Ocean Quest, which amazingly enough is made up mostly of middle-schoolers.
The latter gets $800,000, which should help pay for a few new tools in the shop there.

Lastly, a $200,000 innovation prize was given to Team Tao out of the U.K., which had a very different style to its submersible that impressed the judges.
While most of the competitors opted for a craft that went “lawnmower-style” above the sea floor at a given depth, Tao’s craft dropped down like a plumb bob, pinging the depths as it went down and back up before moving to a new spot.
This provides a lot of other opportunities for important oceanographic testing, Virmani noted.

Having concluded the prize, the organization has just a couple more tricks up its sleeve.
GEBCO, which stands for General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans, is partnering with The Nippon Foundation on Seabed 2030, an effort to map the entire sea floor over the next decade and provide that data to the world for free.

And the program is also — why not? — releasing an anthology of short sci-fi stories inspired by the idea of mapping the ocean.
“A lot of our current technology is from the science fiction of the past,” said Virmani.
“So we told the authors, imagine we now have a high-resolution map of the sea floor, what are the next steps in ocean tech and where do we go?”
The resulting 19 stories, written from all 7 continents (yes, one from Antarctica), will be available June 7.

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