Saturday, March 14, 2020

"Ready for sounding!", historical reconstruction film of a hydrographic survey in the early 1800s

This short film explains how the depth of the ocean was measured to make nautical charts during La Fayette’s time.
The Shom is the heir of the first national hydrographic service, the Dépôt des cartes et plans de la Marine, created in 1720.
Production by ECPAD, with the support of the Amicale des hydrographes, the Hermione - La Fayette association and the Ecole navale.

 A minute is a document used to prepare marine maps. It shows measured depths.
Minute of Gravelines (Hauts-de-France), 1879 

This movie (above) by the Shom has been produced on the occasion of the celebration of 300 years of French hydrography anniversary.

France was the first nation to establish a national hydrographic service.
On 19 Novembre 1720, was created the Dépôt des cartes et plans de la marine, which is Shom's precursor.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Saildrone forecast takes a data-driven approach to weather visualization

From SailDrone

Saildrone Forecast for iOS is one of only a few weather apps to leverage the power of Apple’s Metal framework to animate global and local weather on one beautiful and accurate map.

No matter where you live on the planet, knowing the weather is integral to your daily routine: In deciding what to wear to work, school, or play, if you need to carry an umbrella or can leave your jacket at home, if the garden will get enough water or if the frost will come early.
Weather impacts transportation, commerce, and public health and safety around the world.
Many of us check the weather several times per day—starting with an early morning notification delivered to the lock screen on our smartphone.

Customize your daily weather notifications inside Saildrone Forecast or swipe right to add the Saildrone Forecast widget to your home screen for quick access to the forecast for your last searched location.

Weather forecasting is a notoriously tricky business.
Forecasters get little credit when they get it right, and a whole lot of flak when they get it wrong. Historically, one of the limitations to weather forecasting has been a lack of data.
While this is still true, especially over the oceans, the other significant challenge is how forecasts are communicated to the end user—you.

Satellites, weather buoys, and airport weather stations have drastically increased the amount of data forecasters have to generate weather models, but data deserts—like the deep regions of our global oceans—still exist, which is why Saildrone is working to deploy regional fleets of autonomous ocean drones from pole to pole, including the Atlantic and Tropical Pacific, to augment existing data collection infrastructure with the goal of improving global weather and climate models.

Saildrone believes that better inputs make better outputs, but communicating those outputs requires better visualizations that can provide insights at the planetary level as well as at the local street level, wherever users might be located around the world.
This is what drove us to develop an animated globe, rather than the more traditional static map typical of local weather reports.

Achieving this feat boils down to a complex data compute task that needs to be efficiently managed right on the user’s device.
Saildrone Forecast is one of only a few weather apps to leverage the full power of Metal, a breakthrough graphics processing framework developed by Apple.
Metal is extremely popular in the game world because it provides real-time graphics; in the Saildrone Forecast iOS app, it makes visualizing data on the globe possible.

The globe in the Saildrone Forecast iOS app is developed on Apple’s Metal framework.
Spin the globe around and watch as it loads temperature data in and out (shown on iPad).

Most apps (and websites) present the weather as a static or animated series of pictures.
The National Weather Service’s Doppler Radar National Mosaic shows precipitation moving across the country by looping several flat images together.
Projecting a globe onto a flat surface creates inherent distortions to the distance, shape, and/or size of countries and regions, making it even more difficult to display accurate weather forecasts—the size and intensity of storms, contours of clouds and temperature gradients, and the movement of winds around the planet.
Not to mention ocean currents.

Saildrone Forecast sends highly optimized weather data directly to the device and uses the Metal framework to visualize it on a 3D globe.
The result is not only smoother, more accurate animations over a selected time range, but it also creates the ability to customize the visualization on the fly—activating Local Colors on the Temperature layer, for example—and combine data together.
Saildrone Forecast uses a combination of precipitation and temperature to visualize rain, snow, and mixed precipitation.
In the wind layer, you can switch between wind particles and wind barbs that show the speed and direction of the wind in any given location as you move around the globe because we’re sending wind speed and direction data to the app.

On the left, exploring the life of humpback whales in Google Earth; on the right, wind conditions on the US eastern seaboard.
Saildrone Forecast also provides information about wind gusts as well as average wind in the Weather Graph.

The experience of exploring the globe in the Saildrone Forecast iOS app is a little like spinning the globe in Google Earth, except that Google Earth is essentially a globe-shaped geo-spatial encyclopedia of the planet combining satellite imagery and Google’s vast repository of knowledge, while Saildrone Forecast takes a data-focused approach providing a revolutionary view of global andlocal weather, updated sub-hourly.

The engineering challenge of rendering Earth as a 3D globe was accomplished a while ago; the next challenge is adding a large amount of dynamic data to a 3D globe with a lightning-fast user experience.
We wanted to create something new and magical, where the data feels continuous as you spin the globe around and zoom in and out.
Loading the data for the layer you’re exploring has been a significant engineering challenge, but we are proud of the result and hope you will enjoy the experience.

Watch as moisture that has evaporated from the Pacific Ocean falls as rain and snow over land.

Zoom all the way out, and you can watch clouds formed by evaporation in the Pacific Ocean make landfall over North America.
Zoom in, and you can see if those clouds will release rain or snow in your neighborhood messing up your morning commute.
When you zoom out, you’re looking at standard definition global weather—it’s a satellite’s-eye view of planetary weather.
As you zoom in, the definition increases, revealing finer gradients in wind, temperature, and precipitation.

In some regions, like around San Francisco, Saildrone Forecast uses a hyper-local Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model to display ultra-high-definition weather data that takes into account local topography to visualize how the wind funnels under the Golden Gate Bridge and wraps north around Angel Island (wind is forecasted at an industry-standard level of 10 meters [33 feet] above the surface).

Saildrone is committed not only to providing the data needed to further advance long and short-term weather forecasting—we’re also committed to putting the power of the weather forecast in your hands.
And, as Metal and the hardware that powers it continues to improve, so will Saildrone Forecast.

Download Saildrone Forecast for free from the App Store for iPhone and iPad.
An Android app is also in the works!
As always, we welcome your feedback as we continue to re-invent the weather forecast experience.


European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, "Experts review ocean surface observations for NWP," January 29, 2018

Links :

Canada (CHS) layer update in the GeoGarage platform

47 nautical raster charts updated & 1 new chart added

American researchers want to fill the oceans with sensors

Ocean of Things

From The Economist by

Monitoring the high seas : They could track ships, storms, wildlife and weather

There is twice as much water on Earth as land.
Oceanographers are nevertheless fond of saying that science knows less about the high seas than it does about the moon.
If John Waterston gets his way, though, that could soon change.

Mr Waterston is the head of the “Ocean of Things” project at the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (darpa), an American military think-tank that has helped develop everything from the internet to stealthy fighter planes.
The project’s name is a play on the “Internet of Things”, the awkward phrase which describes the trend for stuffing sensors and an internet connection into all manner of ordinary objects, from cars and toothbrushes to factory robots and doorbells.
The Ocean of Things aims to likewise wire up the high seas with swarms of floating, connected sensors.

Such devices are not in themselves new.
There are around 6,000 floating sensors deployed around the world’s oceans, run by navies and research institutes.
What is unprecedented is the scale of Mr Waterston’s ambition.
Over the next few years he hopes to deploy 50,000 sensors across 1m square kilometres of sea, an area considerably larger than Texas.
The eventual goal—much more distant—is to enable the continuous monitoring and analysis of a significant fraction of the world’s oceans.

Peering into Neptune’s kingdom

The project’s main aim, mindful of the “d” in darpa’s name, is tracking ships.
But rather than building something that can do just one job, Mr Waterston wants the Ocean of Things to supply a wealth of other information, from water temperature to wave heights, weather conditions, nearby wildlife and more.
All this would then be made freely available to scientific and commercial users.

Existing “floating instrument packages”, known as floats or drifters, are often custom-built, and usually contain the highest-quality instruments available.
They therefore tend to be expensive, and are bought only in small numbers.
A typical existing float, designed for scientific research, is the Argo.
It costs around $20,000, and can measure water temperature and salinity.

The Ocean of Things takes the opposite approach.
The aim is to cram as many cheap, off-the-shelf components as possible into a single low-cost package.
Current float prototypes cost around $750, and Mr Waterston hopes that economies of scale could drive the cost down further.
That would allow tens of thousands to be deployed without breaking the bank.
Large numbers are crucial for coverage.
They also help compensate for inaccuracies in individual instruments.
“Can a $5 sensor do the same things as a $1,000 temperature gauge?” Mr Waterston asks rhetorically.
“The answer is ‘yes’ if you have a lot of them, because you can cross-correlate.
Maths solves the problem for you.”

The project’s researchers are evaluating three designs from different manufacturers, ranging in size from about six to 18 litres.
One, proposed by Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Centre, is made of glass, like a traditional Japanese fishing float.
A second, from a firm called Areté Associates, has an aluminium shell, and uses wood for buoyancy.
Both models feature solar panels.
The third, made by a company called Numurus, is made of lacquered cardboard, and relies entirely on its batteries.
All three are designed to last for a year or so and are made to be as environmentally friendly as possible, with minimal use of plastics.
That is important because, at the end of their mission, the floats are designed to scuttle themselves.

Some of the instruments on offer are common to any smartphone—gps sensors, accelerometers to detect motion, a compass, a microphone, temperature sensors and a camera.
Others are more directly tailored for the job, such as an underwater microphone, a gizmo to measure the water’s conductivity (and therefore its salinity), and detectors to pick up radar and radio signals, including transmissions from marine anti-collision beacons.
Some data from these instruments will be crunched on board, but most will be sent back to land in bursts, for onshore analysis.
For now, that connectivity is provided by the Iridium network of geosynchronous satellites.
But the modems necessary to talk to those satellites, says Mr Waterston, are the most expensive and power-hungry devices on the floats.
He hopes that new, lower-flying satellite networks, currently being built by firms such as Spacex and OneWeb, will provide cheaper alternatives.

Having lots of different sensors will help the floats build the best possible picture of what is going on around them.
For example, if the microphone picks up a sound at the same time as the accelerometer shows movement, it could mean that a bird has landed on the float.
Several birds landing on several floats could show how a flock is moving.
Their presence, in turn, might be an indicator of shoals of fish or other biological activity.

Similarly, a ship sailing through a float field will leave all sorts of traces.
It might be detected by its radio beacon, or its radar.
It might sail close enough for a float to take a picture, or hear it on the hydrophone, or be disturbed by its wake.
Correlating data from several floats will reveal the ship’s speed and direction.
By building a database of such encounters, the project’s scientists hope to learn quickly how to tell different sorts of craft apart.
Fishing vessels might be using fish-finding sonar or noisy trawl nets.
A giant supertanker will sound different from a naval frigate.
The range of sensors on a float will also produce a mass of data of interest to oceanographers, meteorologists and biologists.
The cameras and microphones on a field of floats could, for example, detect and track whales and dolphins.
At the moment, whenever a marine mammal is spotted in the shipping lanes off Los Angeles harbour, one of the busiest in America, traffic is slowed down.
Better tracking would allow traffic to be rerouted, benefiting both critters and commerce.
Float fields could watch for illegal fishing, smuggling and icebergs.
They could monitor and track oil spills and algal blooms.

That, at least, is the long-term goal.
So far, darpa has bought around 4,500 floats, and has tested them only in small numbers.
The next stage, starting this spring, will see fields of 1,000 at a time deployed in the Gulf of Mexico and in the waters off California.
The plan is to deploy one float for every three square kilometres of ocean.
The hope is that, as the technology matures, useful data could be gleaned from densities as low as one float per 20 square kilometres.
With 361m square kilometres of ocean on the planet, a true Ocean of Things, monitoring everything on and under the water, would require about 18m floats.
That will not happen for a while yet.
But Mr Waterston’s plans are a start.

Links :

Thursday, March 12, 2020

‘We used to be leaders’: the collapse of New Zealand’s landmark ocean park

Kina barrens have proliferated with the decimation of their natural predators

From The Guardian by Kate Evans

Two decades since its creation the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park is overfished and overrun with sea urchins. Community groups are calling for urgent action to save the once abundant habitat 

Tiritiri Matangi is one of the jewels of New Zealand’s Hauraki Gulf.
For the past 35 years the island, which is within sight of Auckland’s skyscrapers, has been a protected nature reserve.

Tiritiri Matangi island in the Hauraki Gulf with the GeoGarage platform (Linz nautical chart)

Step ashore and you’re enveloped in birdsong: kiwi and takahē thrive here, and vegetation envelops the cliffs to the sea.
But beneath the waves it’s a different story.

Marine ecologist Dr Roger Grace warned of the destruction of the gulf’s ecosystem

“It was solid kelp forest, beautiful ecklonia, crayfish bristling out of every crevice,” marine biologist Roger Grace, who started diving here in the early 1960s, told me shortly before he died last year.
Now, the kelp and the crays are almost gone.

The bare rock is overgrazed by sea urchins, or kina, which flourishin the absence of snapper and crayfish, their natural predators.
The entire seascape is an impoverished and degraded landscape.
“People just don’t realise what’s happened before their eyes, because it’s out of sight,” Grace had said.
“Unless there are some radical changes, it’s not going to get better.”

Tiritiri Matangi is one of the island sanctuaries in the nature reserve

In 2000, New Zealand established its first national park of the sea, the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park. Covering 13,900 sq km (5,370 sq mile), the park’s objective was to protectthe gulf’s “life-supporting capacity”, its nature and its history.
The legislation required the slew of local councils and government departments with jurisdiction over the gulf to consider these objectives in planning or fisheries decisions.

However, with the exception of a handful of tiny marine reserves, commercial and recreational fishing was allowed to continue throughout the entire gulf.
Twenty years later, the creation of the park has failed to prevent ecosystem collapse.

Last week the government body charged with administering the park, the Hauraki Gulf Forum, released a report highlighting what had changed over those two decades.
“It certainly hasn’t lived up to the vision we all had, which was a thriving and healthy Hauraki Marine Park,” says Nicola MacDonald, the Māori co-chair of the forum.
“Our taonga [treasure] is dying.”

It remains legal to drag dredges and trawls across the sea floor, even recreationally, and no-take marine reserves have increased just 0.05% in two decades, to 0.3% of the Hauraki park.
Crayfish are functionally extinct in most of the gulf: the few that are left play no meaningful role in the ecosystem, for example in keeping urchin numbers down.
Kina barrens – those forests of sea urchins – are proliferating.

In 2019, after dramatic declines in the commercial crayfish take, the government slashed the daily recreational quota from six crayfish to three. Most divers are lucky to even find one.
The snapper population is down to about 20% of what scientists calculate pre-fishing numbers would have been.
Lifelong fishermen report the virtual disappearance of baitfish such as anchovies and pilchards.

In 2000, 4% of the seabird species in the gulf were threatened with extinction.
Today, 22% are.
Spotted shags, which once flourished in their tens of thousands, are down to 300 pairs; scientists suspect a lack of food.

On Auckland’s beaches, stormwater and sewage overflows make 38% of the 50 monitored sites frequently unsafe to swim.
Three sites are never safe to swim.

The dairy industry is another disruptive factor.
The nearby Hauraki Plains are New Zealand’s dairy heartland, and despite efforts by farmers to fence off waterways and plant trees, the rivers still pump fertiliser and effluent – and 3,730 tonnes of nitrogen – into the gulf each year.
High nitrate levels lead to algal blooms and ocean acidification.
Some estuaries are badly affected by sediment flows.

Human settlements are growing, too – faster around the gulf than anywhere else in New Zealand. Land clearing has caused sediment to collect elbow-deep in some estuaries, choking delicate organisms.

Critics say this is all the more upsetting given New Zealand’s past role as a marine-protection trailblazer.
The country is unlikely to meet its commitment under the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs) to conserve at least 10% of coastal and marine areas by this year, let alone contribute to the global push to protect 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030.

The minister for conservation, Eugenie Sage, admits the government won’t meet the SDG target this year. “Overseas, we’ve seen visionary initiatives by some of our Pacific neighbours – Palau, the Cook Islands – to extend marine protected areas,” Sage says.
“We are a long way back, and that’s really disappointing.”

Stormwater and sewage overflows disrupt the delicate marine environment

“We had the first no-take marine reserves in the world. What happened to that leadership position?” says James Frankham, the publisher of New Zealand Geographic magazine.
“We’re 20 years on from our landmark national park of the sea, and it’s crashing.”

Frankham, 45, grew up sailing, fishing and diving in the gulf, watching the water roil as seabirds plunged among kahawai and kingfish.

Last week he came away fuming from an event run jointly by the department of conservation and Auckland council, commemorating the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park’s 20th anniversary.
“I don’t come to outrage very easily as a person, but I was outraged by the lack of political action [being planned to address the issue].
“I’ve seen incredible change over my lifetime in the Hauraki Gulf, and my father and grandfather had stories [of an abundance of biodiversity] that were equally preposterous to me as the stories I’m telling my children today. It’s really heartbreaking. I can’t describe it as anything other than a collapse.”

Simon Thrush, head of the Institute of Marine Science at the University of Auckland, says the decline in animal populations is extremely concerning, although there is still time to turn things around.
“You can think of these collapses [in biodiversity] as a series of ratchets. It’s not a waterfall that’s 100 feet high and it tumbles off the top and smashes on the cliffs at the bottom.
It comes down in steps. We can still stop it falling off the next step.”

He argued for immediate action on every problem at once: more marine reserves, a halt to trawling and dredging, and more efforts by developers and farmers to keep sediment out of the gulf.
Although more research is necessary, too, he called for action on the studies already done: for example, his research in the 1990s demonstrated the negative biodiversity effects of bottom-impacting fishing gear, but fisheries management has not adapted to the problem.

“We need agencies to not just commission another report and have another meeting, but to do something,” he says.
“We need citizens to vote appropriately. We want as many people as we can to stick their thumb in the dike.”

There have been some positive developments.
A voluntary speed limit for container ships of 10 knots has effectively eliminated whale collisions.
The creation of the island sanctuaries, such as Tiritiri Matangi, appears to have reduced mammalian pests.
Commercial longline fishers are collaborating with NGOs and the government to reduce seabird by-catch, including trialling a device to bait lines underwater so birds don’t get caught in them. Community and local Māori groups are reintroducing native species to the islands, removing old moorings from bays and seeding juvenile mussels, which act as natural water purifiers.

Auckland council, meanwhile, admits many building sites haven’t complied with sediment control regulations and is trialling new ways to enforce them.
Stricter rules for farmers aimed at curbing run-off will come into force this year.

In 2016, a report titled SeaChange – a collective effort from a diverse group of gulf users, including commercial and recreational fishers, Māori and conservationists – made ambitious recommendations to address these issues.
This summer, four years later, a special government committee will finally report on which to adopt.

 Crayfish are now functionally extinct in most of the gulf

In the past, however, commercial and recreational fishers have blocked many protection efforts.
“In the marine space there are many who assert their rights and fewer who assert their responsibilities,” says Sage, the minister for conservation.
“Any change is hotly contested, and I hope now that people realise how serious it is and how urgent. Our shared goal must surely be a healthy Hauraki Gulf. I hope people are putting aside their individual interests on behalf of the common purpose of restoring the mauri [life force] of the gulf.”
“The one thing that everyone around the table wants is a return to abundance – but the means of getting there is going to hurt,” Frankham says.
“If we could have taken an aspirin 20 years ago, we’re on to chemotherapy now.”
“It’s critical if we’re going to argue that we’re truly a sustainable nation,” Thrush says.
“The Hauraki Gulf is an exemplar of how we manage what most of New Zealand is – ocean.”

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Space radar movies track motion on Earth's surface

Satellite operator Iceye is now making videos that can show the Earth's surface through cloud and at night.

From BBC by Jonathan Amos

The short, 20-second movies are an extension of the standard still radar images it already produces.

In the examples released by the Finnish company on Monday, planes are seen taxiing across Britain's Heathrow airport and heavy plant vehicles are observed working in a Utah mine.

The videos are said to be a first for a commercial space operator.

Synthetic aperture radar (SAR) technology is already appreciated for its ability to "see" the ground irrespective of the weather or lighting conditions.
Retrieving motion in a scene literally now gives Iceye's products another dimension, says CEO Rafal Modrzewski.

"This is a powerful new capability.
The video that's my personal favourite is the mine.
You can see all the moving trucks and excavators, and all that activity going on in the mine that you would miss from a single frame," he told BBC News.

To make the videos, Iceye commands its satellites to stare at a location for 20-25 seconds as they fly overhead.

Software then processes out individual sections of the data into multiple separate frames, rather than only one.
Run together, they make a movie.

The demonstration videos are cropped to show quite small areas, but the full 1m-resolution scenes will cover several tens of square km.

"Being able to index moving objects and make activity maps is right now the most powerful use of these videos and their individual frames.
But our analytics team is very excited to see how we can use the fact that different frames come from slightly different angles.
The spread isn't huge, but it might give you additional information."

Image caption There has been a transformative reduction in size and cost for satellite rada
Image copyright ICEYE 

Dr Ralph Cordey, an Earth observation expert from aerospace giant Airbus, commented that he'd not seen this kind of product before but felt that its value still needed to demonstrated.

"Typically in the military world you use phase information to create moving target indicators.
So this would essentially be a map with the identification of vehicles - be they planes, ships or other vehicles - with all their vectors of movement.

"Clearly in these videos you see these objects moving.
The next question is what do you get out of it from doing it this way," he said.

Iceye is leading a wave of start-ups looking to exploit SAR data acquired from constellations of small, low-cost spacecraft.

The Helsinki-based outfit has four operational satellites in orbit currently, and hopes to get another 6-8 up before the end of the year.
A network of 18 is its ambition.

Space radar has traditionally been the preserve of the military and big space agencies, principally because of the high costs associated with the technology.

But there is a paradigm shift under way thanks to the advent of cheap miniaturised electronics, innovations such as cloud computing, and easier access to more affordable rocket launches.

Image caption Artwork: Iceye aims to put at least 18 satellites in its constellation 
Image copyright ICEYE 

New markets are emerging for Earth observation data.
An example of a burgeoning sector is finance, which will use radar data to independently verify the productivity of mines and factories.
And while thick cloud above a scene will frustrate a satellite using cameras that work at more familiar optical wavelengths, radar will always acquire its target.

Iceye was the first of the SAR start-ups to begin the roll-out of a constellation, but others are not far behind.

California-based Capella Space has one pathfinder satellite already in orbit, with a second primed for launch in the next month and perhaps half a dozen more going up before the year's end.

"The idea of putting up SAR satellites commercially has been around, I would say, for 20 years.
And as investors realise the opportunities in SAR, there are going to be more and more players," said Capella CEO Payam Banazadeh.

"But I think we'll be in a great place, not just because of our high-resolution imagery but because of the service we're putting in place to support our customers."

Links :

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

US (NOAA) layer update in the GeoGarage platform

7 nautical raster charts updated

The drone boat of "shipwreck alley"

Illustrations by Zoe van Dijk

From The Verge by Matthew Braga

Meet BEN, the self-driving boat that’s been tasked with helping lay bare the long-lost secrets of the lakebed

It was just past midnight when the Ironton punched a 200-square-foot hole in the side of the Ohio.
It was dark, the waters were rough, and the Ohio, a wooden bulk freighter loaded with flour and feed, was no match for the Ironton, a schooner heavy with coal.
The Ohio sank within half an hour, and the Ironton soon followed, taking five of its crew down too.

A tour of some of the 93 incredibly-preserved shipwrecks sunk in the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary of Lake Huron.

Their ghostly hulls have sat largely undisturbed at the bottom of Lake Huron since colliding in late September 1894 — just two of the many wrecks that lie in a treacherous stretch of water called Thunder Bay off Michigan’s northeastern coast.
Some are so well preserved by the lake’s frigid freshwater that their unbroken masts point definitely towards the surface, rigging still intact.
Others have dishes in the cupboards, a century late for dinner.
A few years ago, local media reported that divers found a 1927 Chevrolet Coupe amid the wreckage of a steamship, covered with algae and barnacles, but nonetheless pristine.
You can thank the rocky shoals, frequent fog, and sudden gales of Thunder Bay for turning what was once the bustling marine interstate of America’s early industrial age into a modern-day museum of Great Lakes maritime history.
Locals called it “Shipwreck Alley.”

Divers flock from all over the world to see the wrecks for themselves each year — and last spring, they were joined by an unusual interloper: an autonomous boat named BEN.
The boat was developed by researchers from the University of New Hampshire’s Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping.
Its name is short for Bathymetric Explorer and Navigator, but it also honors Ben Smith, the former captain of the university’s research vessel Gulf Surveyor, who unexpectedly died in 2016.
BEN is a self-driving boat that’s been tasked with making maps, and it was brought to Thunder Bay to help lay bare the long-lost secrets of the lakebed.

On land, we are spoiled for maps.
A few hundred imaging satellites now orbit the Earth, collecting new imagery each day, some at startlingly detailed resolution.
Our maps go far enough back that we can see how the planet has changed, and how we’ve changed the planet.
But on water, maps of this detail simply don’t exist.
Mapping is still largely done by boat, and unlike satellites, boats need crews.
It’s expensive, time-consuming work, and especially difficult in water that is shallow, rough, or remote.
It’s why we know comparatively little about what lies beneath the surface of our oceans and lakes — by some estimates we’ve mapped just 9 percent of the world’s oceans to modern standards— and why BEN and vehicles like it hold so much promise.
The thinking is that fleets of tireless, automated, uncrewed vehicles could one day criss-cross our waters, making maps where humans can’t or won’t.

Ask oceanographers about our lack of maps, and they’ll tell you it’s hard to know what’s important until you know what’s there in the first place.
Having the capacity to map more of our oceans, more often, and in higher detail than ever before, would give scientists an unprecedented amount of data — data crucial to our understanding of climate change, and the effects it has had on everything from melting Arctic ice to undersea life.
It would also be a boon for nautical safety and navy intelligence, for deep-sea miners in search of untapped resources, and for the telecom companies unspooling undersea cables from coast to distant coast.

For now, the researchers have set their sights on the more modest locale of Thunder Bay.
While the Ohio was discovered in 2017, the Ironton’s final location is still unknown.
As a test of its nascent map-making abilities, BEN was tasked with looking for the Ironton’s remains.
But the robotic explorer is more than just a seaworthy self-driving car.
It is an ambitious little boat with its own challenges to overcome and opportunities to seize.

In our oceans, there are countless more mysteries waiting to be solved, waiting for boats like BEN.

At the local marina, there was no shortage of curious onlookers drawn to the sight of the tiny, strange-looking boat.

BEN is about 13 feet long, or the length of a compact car, and a bright banana yellow.
It reminded me of an oversized jet ski — but with a tower of cameras, antennas, and other important sensors where a person would normally sit, and an array of computers packed inside.

The harbormaster, laughing from the driver’s seat of his pickup truck, asked if the research team had charged BEN’s batteries (in fact, BEN runs on diesel).
Another truck pulled alongside the boat launch, three small dogs jostling for position in the open window of the back seat.
“There’s no one in there?” the woman on the passenger side asked, eyes wide.
The man driving it asked if we could use BEN to catch fish.

It’s here in Alpena, Michigan, a small town of 10,000, that the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary is based.
The sanctuary is overseen by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and it protects some 4,300 square miles of freshwater — basically, the top half of Lake Huron on the American side.
Like the world’s oceans, much of it has never been mapped.

“If you can believe it in this day and age of technology, we have only surveyed about 16 percent of the sanctuary,” said Stephanie Gandulla, the sanctuary’s research coordinator.
Gandulla told me there are 99 known wrecks in the sanctuary’s waters, but at least 100 more that have yet to be found — the Ironton among them.
That’s not even including the countless wrecks that lie outside the sanctuary, which litter the lake’s Canadian side.
“There’s lots of work yet to be done,” she said.

Leading BEN’s sojourn on Lake Huron was Lindsey Gee, the mapping and science coordinator of the Ocean Exploration Trust, the ocean research nonprofit founded by explorer Robert Ballard of Titanic discovery fame.
Gee and his colleagues don’t typically map freshwater lakes, but they decided to collaborate with the sanctuary, and the University of New Hampshire researchers, in anticipation of using BEN at sea.

The boat’s size makes BEN well-suited to coastal waters, and regions too shallow for larger boats yet too deep for divers.
They planned to spend two weeks in and around Alpena mapping points of interest to the sanctuary’s staff — the Ironton among them.
The hope is that BEN — tireless, automated — will eventually be able to collect more data for analysis than the sanctuary’s own crewed research vessel Storm could collect on its own.
When I visited, the researchers were preparing to map some shallower shipwrecks that were close to Alpena’s shores.
It was a dry run of sorts for the Ironton search to come.

BEN’s minders sat across the marina, inside a small white tractor-trailer parked by a break wall — the mobile command and control center that is crucial to BEN’s operation.
It is much more spacious on the inside than it seems from outside, crammed with computers, tables, tools, and a trio of giant screens that let the researchers monitor BEN’s vitals and see what its cameras and radar see.
Blessed with a day of clear weather in an otherwise dreary week, the researchers offered to show me how BEN makes maps.

Val Schmidt, the university research engineer who leads BEN’s development, helped ease BEN down the boat launch and into place alongside one of the marina’s docks.
BEN’s automatic identification system declares itself a “pleasure craft”; there’s no option yet for “self-driving boat.” Fully fueled, it weighs about 2,000 pounds and can run for around 16 hours.

Should they ever lose contact, there’s also a kill switch on the side of the boat — a simple lanyard of red string tied to a cap.
Pull the string, the cap comes off, and the fuel stops flowing.
That way it can’t run away to Canada, one of Schmidt’s colleagues joked.

They turned the boat on, and Schmidt used his foot to push BEN away from the dock.
For the sake of expediency — and to minimize any chance of damage before reaching open water — a colleague back in the trailer manually guided BEN out into the lake using a knock-off Xbox controller, like a very expensive remote-controlled boat.
Once BEN is free of the break wall, they let the ship’s onboard computer take control.

“Mowing“Mowing the lawn” is what oceanographers call the slow, tedious craft of making maps at sea.

You drive your boat in a straight line while your sonar repeatedly pings the seafloor below with sound.
At the end, you loop around and start a new line, going back the other way next to the line that was just completed.
With each line, you collect more data until you’ve covered the area you want to map — like filling the outline of a shape in a coloring book.

BEN, however, can do all of this on its own, and neither waves nor wind can conspire to push the boat off course.
The whole process is mundane, but the researchers have to remain alert, continually looking for any potential hazards that might require them to take manual control.
Though BEN may be able to drive itself, it is still learning how to understand and respond to the world around it.

The idea is that, eventually, BEN will not only be able to tell the difference between a sailboat and a container ship, but also decide how to alter its path in response.
BEN only tops out at about 5 and a half knots — if it were a runner, it could race a 30-minute 5K — whereas big merchant ships might move at a swift 20 knots.
Realistically, BEN would only have a few minutes to identify a potential hazard — its location, what it is, whether it’s moving — and then figure out where to go.

Working to tackle this problem is Coral Moreno, a PhD student on BEN’s development team.
Her specialty is sensing and perception.
Moreno has been taking all of BEN’s various sensors — cameras, LIDAR, radar, GPS, and sonar — and attempting to fuse the data together into a comprehensive picture of potential hazards above the water, and eventually, below.
“There is no single sensor that can provide you all the information that you need,” Moreno said.
“They really complement each other because they are good for different ranges, and they provide you [with] different kinds of information.
So you really need to use all of them.”

While there’s lots to learn from the world of self-driving cars, it’s not as simple as putting car technology on a boat.
Water is rarely still, and BEN is constantly moving.
There are no stoplights, and no clearly marked lanes.
Getting good data to train BEN’s image recognition algorithm has also been challenging.
Images taken by BEN’s cameras are sometimes distorted by splashes and glare on the surface of the water.
Existing image sets — what researchers use to train their neural networks to recognize, say, faces — weren’t created with the marine environment in mind.

A small window on Moreno’s laptop flashed possible matches, giving me a glimpse at what BEN thinks it’s seeing.
Close to shore, it seemed to work, correctly identifying dogs and their owners walking along the pier, the boats in the marina, and the trucks that trundle along in the distance with a high degree of confidence.
But out on the lake, it’s mostly false positives.
Much to the researchers’ amusement, BEN mistook lighthouses for fire hydrants during early tests.
Less amusing is the possibility that BEN could misidentify a potential hazard, and meet the same fate as the wrecks it’s supposed to hunt.

BEN is so small that — here, Moreno made a splat noise — a larger boat could run into BEN “like it was nothing, and not even notice.”

While Moreno and her colleagues keep an eye out for any splat-worthy boats, they also have their eyes on the sonar data BEN is sending back.
BEN is equipped with a multibeam sonar, which uses sound to ping the seafloor in a wide, fan-like area, and then measures the reflection of each ping.
The time it takes for a ping to return is used to measure depth, and the strength of the ping’s reflection — the backscatter — can be used to characterize the makeup of the lakebed or seafloor.
Those measurements are then rendered, roughly, and visualized in real time on one of the trailer’s screens.

We could see what’s in the water column directly below BEN — that is, everything the pings hit on the way down — and the current depth.
In another window, an isometric, rainbow-colored cutaway of the seafloor slowly extruded, in cool colors for the valleys, and warmer ones for the peaks.
The operators are constantly watching the data to ensure the sonar is properly configured.
Shallow water requires different settings than deeper water.

Temperature and salinity can also cause sound to bend as it moves through the water, resulting in inaccurate readings, so any environmental changes — measured as soundspeed — must be accounted for too.
The idea is that BEN will eventually be able to set and correct these values itself, so it can not only drive — and successfully avoid hazards — but also make maps by itself.
Another graduate student, Lynette Davis, has been working on the feature, called “Don’t run aground BEN.” They plan to test it this spring, but for now, the researchers set the values themselves.

It’s all very interesting, but I was mesmerized by the backscatter the most.
New data slid into view like a side-scrolling video game, or the way images used to load over dial-up modems, line by line.
Rocks and mud reflect sound differently — as do the ghostly hulls of long-lost wrecks — and these differences can shed light on what makes up a lakebed or seafloor (or, in this case, what lies on top).

My eyes scanned the incoming telemetry, rendered in different shades of gray, and tried to make sense of the data.
I looked for tell-tale ripples and anomalies in the backscatter, any beams or fragments that might suggest a wreck.
As we passed over one of the sanctuary’s chosen sites, I saw what I thought was a hull.
But it’s easy to see ghosts in the backscatter — to my untrained eye, a lot of things looked like a wreck — and we won’t know for sure until later.
What we could see in real time is only a rough approximation of the polished data to come.

Once BEN is done here, the team’s mapping specialist, Erin Heffron, will process the collected data, and render it into a higher quality, more magnificently detailed map of the lake floor.
Until then, I looked for ghosts in the backscatter, imagining how it would look to see the Ironton slowly emerge, largely intact, like traveling back in time.

  BEN is about 13 feet long, or the length of a compact car, and a bright banana yellow.
Photo by Matthew Braga

BEN isn’t the only autonomous boat in operation, nor even the only boat to have emerged from the University of New Hampshire’s engineering department.
An international team led by researcher Rochelle Wigley of the Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping won first place in the Ocean Discovery XPRIZE, sponsored by Royal Dutch Shell.
The multiyear challenge required participants to map a 250-square-kilometer patch of seafloor in less than a day, without any human intervention.
Rather than map from the surface, Wigley’s GEBCO-Nippon Foundation team deployed an underwater mapping vehicle from an autonomous boat.
They were awarded a cool $4 million for their work.

Students at Denmark’s Arctic Research Centre, part of Aarhus University, have also been developing an autonomous vehicle similar to BEN for the purpose of researching ocean currents near icebergs and glaciers, which pose safety risks for larger crewed vessels.
There’s an ambitious project to build fleets of wind-powered boats, called Saildrones, that could rove the oceans in fleets for months at a time — mapping among their many potential capabilities.
Another company, SeaMachines, demonstrated an autonomous firefighting boat in 2018, and an autonomous oil spill skimmer in 2019.
The company said it’s currently testing its navigation assistance and perception technology on an A.P.
Moller-Maersk container ship, where it makes more sense to augment the crew’s ability to safely navigate a busy port than automate them out of existence.

As for oceanographers, some believe that even a handful of these vehicles set loose on the ocean could fill a sizable gap in our seafloor maps.
Roland Arsenault, a software engineer on the BEN research team, recalled the time he spent on a NOAA research vessel in the summer of 2018.
Each day, the NOAA crew sent a few people out on a smaller boat to do mapping surveys.
They would come back at night, process the data, and do it all again the next day.
But what if they had a fleet of boats like BEN they could send out instead? A small crew could run five or six boats at once.

“I’m not talking about the whole ocean filled with them yet,” he told me, “but heading in that direction, right?”

The data collected would aid in the study of our changing climate and the prediction of storms, yield safety improvements for fishing and freight vessels, and help oil and gas companies cut their survey costs.
An international organization of ocean mapmakers — the General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans (GEBCO) — has estimated that a collaborative effort between commercial shipping operators, international hydrographic organizations, oil and gas surveyors, fishing boats, scientific research vessels, and, yes, autonomous boats, could yield a complete map of our oceans by 2030.

Back at the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, it will be a while before researchers can say if the Ironton is present among all the data collected last spring.
The sanctuary’s own research vessel Storm covered an area of nearly 80 square kilometers in ten days, while BEN covered just over 73 square kilometers over 11 days — and the post-processing required to make sense of it all has been delayed by other mysteries.

After their time in Alpena, the researchers took BEN to sea aboard the Ocean Exploration Trust’s research vessel Nautilus.
In August, BEN aided in the search for another wreck — the long-lost plane of storied pilot Amelia Earhart.
They spent two weeks around Nikumaroro, a remote island in the western Pacific, but they came up empty this time, too.
Like the wreckage of the Ironton, it’s not clear where, exactly, Earhart went down, and searches have been limited by cost and time.
It’s the kind of mystery that would be perfectly suited for a fleet of autonomous boats like BEN.

I knew I couldn’t leave Alpena without seeing a wreck myself, so I visited one of the few you can see from shore: the remains of the Joseph S.
It lies about an hour north of Alpena, behind a lighthouse on the beach, a lattice of wood and bent iron rising from beneath the surf.

When the waves fell back, they revealed the twisted metal and weathered, blackened wood of the century-old wreck.
Though it was swept onto the rocks in 1905, there’s still a remarkable amount left.
It stretches like a scar down the beach, only a fraction of the ship’s total length.

I had a few seconds at a time to study the wreck before it was obscured by the waves, like an Etch A Sketch the length of the shore.
Then the wreck emerged again, and my eyes had a few seconds to adjust, to focus anew on a different part — like the backscatter from BEN’s sonar, looking for signal amid the noise.

Monday, March 9, 2020

With Sea Level rise, we've already hurtled past a point of no return

An iceberg floats in Disko Bay, near Ilulissat, Greenland, on July 24, 2015. Every year, the massive Greenland ice sheet is shedding 300 billion tons of ice into the ocean, making it the single largest source of sea level rise from melting ice. (Source: NASA/Saskia Madlener)

From DiscoverMag by Tom Yulsman

Climate negotiators in Madrid are trying to avoid 2 meters of sea level rise, but research suggests 10 times that — 65 feet — is already inevitable.
As 25,000 people from 200 countries were converging on Madrid this week for the start of climate change talks, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres voiced this stern warning:

When it comes to climate change, “the point of no return is no longer over the horizon. It is in sight and hurtling toward us.”

As sobering as it was, Guterres's statement had a hopeful flip side: We can still avoid crossing that Rubicon into the realm of dangerous climate change — if only we get more serious at cutting emissions of climate-altering carbon dioxide.

That's ultimately the whole point of these annual Conference of the Parties meetings, or COPs — finding ways to galvanize global action on climate change.

But there's just one problem: Research on past climates suggests we've already hurtled past one significant point of no return, one that should prompt us to pay more attention to adapting to climate change.

The research has focused on sea level during past times when carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was as high as today.
The work suggests that we've already committed ourselves to sea level rise far higher than the 2 or so meters that climate negotiators are trying to avoid with CO2 cuts.

"We’ve already baked in 20 meters of sea level rise,” says James White, a University of Colorado scientist who has studied ancient climates to gain insights about the future.
"The coast is toast."

So far, sea level rise has been relatively modest. As Greenland and Antarctica have shed ice, and sea water has expanded as it has warmed, global mean sea level has come up by about 7 to 8 inches since 1900.

But the rise is accelerating, with about 3 of those inches occurring since 1993.
Moreover, just those 8 inches have made high-tide coastal flooding more extensive and severe — as was demonstrated recently with the catastrophic floods in Venice.

In the U.S., coastal flooding exacerbated by sea level rise is a worsening trend that "threatens America’s trillion-dollar coastal property market and public infrastructure, with cascading impacts to the larger economy," according to the most recent U.S. National Climate Assessment.

Sixty-five feet of sea level rise is nearly 100 times higher than what we've experienced so far. Here's what that would do to just one part of the U.S. coast:

Twenty meters is 65 feet — enough to inundate vast swaths of coastal territory, displacing hundreds of millions of people.
(For a full-size, interactive map, see Climate Central's feature here.) 

In the map above, have a look at Delaware — the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution.
It's completely swallowed by the sea.

Or, as White describes it, "First in, and first out."

We haven't seen such a dramatic impact yet because parts of the climate system respond slowly to a rise in CO2.
In fact, a full rise of something on the order of 65 feet would play out on a timescale of centuries, not decades.
And that's obviously a good thing, because it means we have time to prepare.

But there's also a sobering flip side to that somewhat reassuring picture: The science suggests that such a rise is probably inevitable.
Yet even as we're already suffering through hotter and longer-lasting heat waves, more intense storms, and more frequent megafires (not to mention increased coastal flooding), we humans still haven't managed to turn the tide on rising levels of CO2.

There is some good news: Major research findings published this week show that global emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels and industry grew slowly in 2019 due to a decline in coal burning. The projected growth rate of just 0.6 percent this year is down from 2.1 percent in 2018.

Even so, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere hit a high of about 411 parts per million this year, up from about 280 in preindustrial times.

And, crucially, the rate of CO2's increase has been accelerating over the past decade, not slowing — as the following graphic shows:
On a decade-by-decade basis, the growth rate of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been rising, not slowing — as shown by the horizontal bars.
(Source: NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory)

You have to go all the way back to the middle of the Pliocene Epoch, 3.3 million years ago, to find atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations about as high as they are today.

For this and other key reasons, scientists regard this time period as a good analogue for where our climate is headed.

Thanks in large measure to that relatively high level of CO2 in the atmosphere, temperatures in the mid-Pliocene were about 2 degrees Celsius warmer than they are today.
And the Arctic was particularly warm. As science writer Alexandra Witze has written in Science News, "The warmth allowed trees to spread far to the north, creating Arctic forests where three-toed horses, giant camels and other animals roamed."

Today, the Arctic also has been affected more than other regions, warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe.

By gleaning chemical clues from the remains of tiny organisms that lived in the oceans during the mid-Pliocene, scientists have also sussed out how high the seas stood.
A scanning electron micrograph of the shells of tiny ocean organisms known as foraminifera.
The remains of foraminifera from 3 million years ago have yielded chemical clues to the height of the seas at that time.
(Source: NOAA/OER)

Among these organisms were foraminifera, single-celled planktonic animals with chalky shells. When these creatures died, they settled to the seafloor where their shells eventually became preserved in rock as they became buried by successive layers of sediment.
Today, scientists recover the shells in cores they drill from the seafloor.

The chemistry of the shells was strongly influenced by the conditions of the water in which these organisms lived.
Scientists have used that fact to work out the temperature of the ocean when the organisms were alive, and, crucially, how much ice was present on land.

A number of studies using this and other approaches have yielded a picture of Greenland during the mid-Pliocene as completely ice free, and Antarctica with a significant portion of its ice sheet gone. With that much ice missing, these studies suggest that sea level was 10 to 35 meters, or 30 to 115 feet, higher than today.

The relationship between peak global mean temperature, maximum global mean sea level, and sources of meltwater, are shown here for two periods in the past when global temperatures were comparable to or even warmer than at present.
The mid-Pliocene is on the right. Red pie charts over Greenland and Antarctica show how much ice is thought to have been missing compared with today. (Source: Fourth U.S. Climate Assessment)

Twenty meters is about in the middle of this range.
If, as the science suggests, we've already locked in that much sea level rise, then one could be forgiven for feeling a sense of resignation, or even despair.

But remember that the rise would occur over a very long time.
So, if we start thinking now about how to adapt to it, we'd have plenty of time to meet the challenge.
This could also be part of a broader effort to deal with serious climate change impacts happening right now.

Some argue that we have neither the time nor the resources to deal with adaptation given the pressing need to mitigate future impacts.
For example, David Roberts writes in Vox that a "just solution to climate change crucially hinges on maxing out near-term mitigation spending."

But climate impacts are already hurting millions of people worldwide.
"In 2016 alone, extreme weather-related disasters displaced around 23.5 million people," according to the Environmental Justice Foundation.
"This does not include the people forced to flee their homes as a consequence of slow-onset environmental degradation, such as droughts, sea level rise and melting permafrost."

Failing to help people adapt to these kinds of changes would be terribly unjust.

But working to protect people from what's already happening, as well as what's coming, could be an antidote for despair — a way for people to feel that they can make a difference.
And that could help galvanize action on arresting the rise of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Make no mistake: That's absolute necessary.
Failing to bring emissions down will make things much worse — so much so that it would be difficult to imagine how we'd ever cope.

If emissions of carbon dioxide continue to rise as a result of fossil fuel use, atmospheric concentrations could go from 411 parts per million today to 800 ppm by about the year 2080. Research on past climates shows that when CO2 in the atmosphere gets that high, "Antarctica melts," White says.

That would give us 80 meters — or about 260 feet — of sea level rise.
We clearly shouldn't go anywhere near that.
"But right now, we're in the denial phase," White says.
"We're good at it."

To get out of denial, it would be helpful if we faced up to just how much of an impact we're having on our planet's life-support systems.
Here's how White thinks of this:
"During the 1970s, we were passengers on spaceship earth. We’ve since moved up to the driver's seat, and we're buckled in and driving. This is a planet that no longer functions just on natural laws, but on natural laws plus humans."

It's time we grew up and started driving to a more sustainable future.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

In Mer Sion

IN MER SION, a contemplative film depicting the storms of recent years that have hit the Breton coasts:
2011 / Joachim
2014 / Ruth
2016 / Ruzica
2020 / Ciara
Images : Jean-René Keruzoré / Martin Keruzoré
Helicopter pilot: Thierry Leygnac