Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Plastic pollution: Green light for 'historic' treaty

Getty Images

From BBC by Helen Briggs
 
An international committee will look at options for reducing plastic pollution
The world is set to get a global treaty to tackle plastic pollution.
 
Nearly 200 countries have agreed to start negotiations on an international agreement to take action on the "plastic crisis".

UN members are tasked with developing an over-arching framework for reducing plastic waste across the world.
There is growing concern that discarded plastic is destroying habitats, harming wildlife and contaminating the food chain.

Supporters describe the move as one of the world's most ambitious environmental actions since the 1989 Montreal Protocol, which phased out ozone-depleting substances.
They say just as climate change has the Paris Agreement, plastic should have its own binding treaty, which sets the world on course for reducing plastic waste.

Prof Steve Fletcher of the University of Portsmouth advises the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on plastics issues.
He said the plastics problem spans international borders and boundaries.
"One country can't deal with plastic pollution alone, no matter how good its policies are," he said.
"We need a global agreement to enable us to deal with the widespread challenges that plastic gives us as a society."

What does this mean?

UN member states have agreed to start international negotiations on drawing up a global plastics treaty that could set rules for production, use and disposal of plastics.
The decision was made at a meeting of the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi.

Dr Jeanne d'Arc Mujawamariya, environment minister for Rwanda, which has been at the forefront of the proposals, said they were optimistic the negotiations would put in place a framework "to end plastic pollution".
Conservation charity WWF described the decision as one of the world's most ambitious environmental actions since the 1989 Montreal Protocol, which phased out ozone-depleting substances.
Addressing the full lifecycle of plastic products - production and use, as well as disposal - is key to turning off "the plastic tap", said senior policy advisor, Paula Chin.
"The next step is to make sure all signatories are ready to deliver on the promise of this ground-breaking agreement," she added.

What happens next?

World leaders have until 2024 to agree the plastic pollution treaty, including which elements will be legally binding and how the deal will be financed.
Environmental groups are calling for clear and strong global standards that incentivise nations to stick to common rules and regulations over plastics, while penalising harmful products and practices.

There will be pressure to help countries in the global south dealing with plastic problems created in the global north.
"There is debate about who pays and how do we make sure that countries in the global south have got the resources to deal with the plastic pollution crisis that they face," said Prof Fletcher.

The UK government, which supported the resolution, described the agreement as "truly historic".
"In the space of just one human lifetime, we have caused unimaginable damage to the global environment, choking every single part of the global ocean with plastic pollution," said Lord Zac Goldsmith, government minister for international environment.
"And although there is much to be done now to turn it into an ambitious and far-reaching treaty, we can now begin to close this ugly chapter. "


Plastic takes hundreds of years to degrade
Getty images

Facts on plastic:

It's thought more than five trillion pieces of plastic are in the world's oceans, which can take years to break down.
Each year, 400 million tonnes of plastic is produced and 40% of that is single-use - plastic only used once before it's thrown away

More than eight million tonnes of plastic enters the world's oceans each year and most of that escapes from land
Not all plastic can be recycled, either because of the way it's made or because it's too expensive or difficult to do so

Animals on land or at sea can be harmed by plastic.
They can get trapped in carrier bags or food packaging or mistake plastic for food.
 
Links :

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

The implications of a possible sunken continent in the North-east Atlantic

 
Bathymetric map of the NE Atlantic Ocean.
Magenta line—boundary of continental crust; magenta—Icelandia; magenta + beige— Greater Icelandia; GIR—Greenland-Iceland Ridge; IFR—Iceland-Faroe Ridge; JMMC—Jan Mayen microplate complex; WTR—Wyville-Thompson Ridge; FR—Fugløy Ridge; GBB—George Bligh Bank; LB—Lousy Bank; BBB—Bill Bailey’s Bank; FB—Faroe Bank; RB—Rosemary Bank.
(Base map: Google Earth)

From Hydro


Is Iceland the tip of a vast, sunken continent?
A new theory could revolutionize geological thinking.
Academics believe that they have identified a remarkable geological secret: a sunken continent hidden under Iceland and the surrounding ocean, which they have dubbed ‘Icelandia’.

STRM bathymetry in the GeoGarage platform
 
An international team of geologists, led by Gillian Foulger, Emeritus Professor of Geophysics in the Department of Earth Sciences at Durham University (UK), believes the sunken continent could stretch from Greenland all the way to Europe.
Professor Foulger is a world-leading geologist whose research has contributed to mapping the geological composition of the seabed in relation to continental land masses.

It is believed to cover an area of ~ 600,000km2, but when adjoining areas west of Britain are included in a ‘Greater Icelandia’ the entire area could be ~ 1,000,000km2 in size.
If proven, it means that the giant supercontinent of Pangaea, which is thought to have broken up over 50 million years ago, has in fact not fully done so.

New Source of Materials and Hydrocarbons

This new theory challenges long-held scientific ideas about the extent of oceanic and continental crust in the North Atlantic region and how volcanic islands like Iceland formed.
The presence of continental, rather than oceanic, crust could also spark discussions about a new source of minerals and hydrocarbons, both of which are contained in continental crust.

The revolutionary new theory was born from an innovative series of expert meetings held in Durham (UK) and is included in a dedicated chapter of In the Footsteps of Warren B.
Hamilton: New Ideas in Earth Science published in June 2021 by the Geological Society of America, which Professor Foulger has co-written with Dr Laurent Gernigon of the Geological Survey of Norway and Professor Laurent Geoffroy of the Ocean Geosciences Laboratory, University of Brest (France).

Redrawing the Maps of Our Oceans and Seas


Speaking about the new theory, Professor Foulger said: “Until now, Iceland has puzzled geologists, as existing theories that it is built of, and surrounded by, oceanic crust are not supported by multiple geological data.
For example, the crust under Iceland is over 40km thick – seven times thicker than normal oceanic crust.
This simply could not be explained.
“However, when we considered the possibility that this thick crust is continental, our data suddenly all made sense.
This led us immediately to realize that the continental region was much bigger than Iceland itself – there is a hidden continent right there under the sea.”

“There is fantastic work to be done to prove the existence of Icelandia but it also opens up a completely new view of our geological understanding of the world.
Something similar could be happening at many more places.
We could eventually see maps of our oceans and seas being redrawn as our understanding of what lies beneath changes,” Professor Foulger concluded.

Bathymetric map of "Icelandia" in the North East Atlantic Ocean. 
Rights to the Non-living Resources of Adjacent Seabed

The research team is now working with collaborators from across the globe to test their theory.
This work could involve electrical conductivity surveys and the collection of zircon crystals in Iceland and elsewhere.
Other tests such as seismic profiling and drilling would need millions of pounds to fund, but such is the importance of this work that funding may well be forthcoming.

This work has important legal and political ramifications as, under certain conditions, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea grants coastal states exclusive rights to the non-living resources of their adjacent seabed if scientists can prove that the seabed is a submerged extension of the continental landmass.

Professor Philip Steinberg, director of IBRU, Durham University’s Centre for Borders Research, noted: “Countries around the world are spending enormous resources conducting subsea geological research in order to identify their continental shelves and claim exclusive mineral rights there.

“Research like Professor Foulger’s, which forces us to rethink the relationship between seabed and continental geology, can have far-reaching implicatons for countries trying to determine what areas of the seabed are their exclusive preserve and what areas are to be governed by the International Seabed Authority as the ‘common heritage of humankind’.”

Monday, July 4, 2022

Why did two Antarctic Ice Shelves fail? Scientists say they now know.

Satellite images showed the Larsen B Ice Shelf splintering and collapsing from Jan. 31 to April 13, 2002.
Credit...NASA Earth Observatory

From NYTimes by Henry Fountain
 
The collapse of the two ice shelves was most likely triggered by vast plumes of warm air from the Pacific, researchers have found.
 

The rapid collapses of two ice shelves on the Antarctic Peninsula over the last quarter-century were most likely triggered by the arrival of huge plumes of warm, moisture-laden air that created extreme conditions and destabilized the ice, researchers said Thursday.

The disintegration of the Larsen A shelf in 1995 and of the Larsen B shelf in 2002 were preceded by landfall of these plumes, called atmospheric rivers, from the Pacific Ocean.
They generated extremely warm temperatures over several days that caused surface melting of the ice that led to fracturing, and reduced sea ice cover, allowing ocean swells to flex the ice shelves and further weaken them.

“We identify atmospheric rivers as a mechanism that can create extreme conditions over the ice shelves of the Antarctic Peninsula and potentially lead to their destabilization,” said Jonathan Wille, a climatologist and meteorologist at the Université Grenoble Alpes in France and the lead author of a study describing the research in the journal Communications Earth and Environment.

While there have been no collapses on the peninsula since 2002, Dr. Wille and his colleagues found that atmospheric rivers also triggered 13 of 21 large iceberg-calving events from 2000 to 2020.

Dr. Wille said the larger Larsen C shelf, which is still mostly intact and, at about 17,000 square miles, is the fourth-largest ice shelf in Antarctica, could eventually suffer the same fate as A and B.
“The only reason why melting has not been significant so far is because it’s just farther south compared to the others, therefore colder,” he said.
But as the world continues to warm, atmospheric rivers are expected to become more intense.
“The Larsen C will now be at risk from the same processes,” he said.


A rift in the Larsen C Ice Shelf in February 2017. Scientists say the C ice shelf could meet the same fate as A and B.
Credit...British Antarctic Survey, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Kyle R. Clem, a researcher at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand who was not involved in the study, said the work also showed that other parts of Antarctica that are not warming as fast as the peninsula could eventually be susceptible as well, since the mechanism that the researchers documented is more dependent on warming where the atmospheric river originates.

“The amount of heat and moisture that atmospheric rivers transport is higher than it would be without global warming,” Dr. Clem said. 
“So the air mass that slams into Antarctica is much, much warmer. And it’s these episodes of extreme events that lead to ice shelf collapse.”
“You could get this anywhere in Antarctica,” he said.

Shelves are floating tongues of ice that serve to hold back most of the ice that covers Antarctica to depths up to nearly 3 miles.
When a shelf collapses, the flow of this land ice to the ocean accelerates, increasing the rate of sea level rise.

While the Antarctic Peninsula ice sheet is relatively small (if it all melted, seas would rise by less than a foot) the collapse of ice shelves elsewhere on the continent could lead to much greater sea level rise over centuries.

A mystery solved.
Researchers have established that the collapses of two ice shelves on the Antarctic Peninsula over the last quarter-century were most likely triggered by vast plumes of warm air from the Pacific.
As the world continues to warm, such plumes are expected to become more intense.

A prickly plant in danger.
A new study estimates that, by midcentury, global warming could put 60 percent of cactus species at greater risk of extinction.
Poaching, habitat destruction and other threats already make cactuses among the most endangered groups of organisms.

Thawing permafrost.
Climate scientists, policy experts and environmental justice advocates announced a $41 million project aimed at assessing the contribution of thawing permafrost to global warming. The project is financed by private donors, including the philanthropist MacKenzie Scott.

Hurricanes.
A new study found that climate change contributed significantly to the severity of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, the most active on record.
The most extreme three-hour rainfall rates were 10 percent higher than they would have been without climate change.

Methane emissions

Levels of methane in the atmosphere increased last year by the largest amount since measurements began four decades ago, according to analysis by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, adding to concerns about this planet-warming gas.

Last month, a small ice shelf collapsed in East Antarctica, which is considered the most stable part of the continent. In the days before, an intense atmospheric river arrived in the region.
It led to record high temperatures, but researchers are not yet certain how much of a role it played, if any, in the shelf’s disintegration.

Atmospheric rivers occur when a large stationary zone of high-pressure air meets a low-pressure storm system.
A narrow stream of moist air flows from the confluence of the two.

In a typical Southern Hemisphere summer, the peninsula gets from one to five of these events, the researchers said.
They looked at only the ones that contained the highest volume of water vapor.

If a river is intense enough, it can lead to several days of surface melting of the ice shelf.
As the meltwater flows into crevices it refreezes, expanding and widening the cracks.
Eventually such repeated hydrofracturing, as the process is called, can cause the ice shelf to disintegrate.

The atmospheric river can also spur the process by melting sea ice, or if its associated winds push the sea ice away from the shelf.
That allows ocean waves to rock the ice shelf, further stressing it.

Some large ice shelves in West Antarctica are thinning as a result of melting from underneath by warm ocean water. Catherine Walker, a glaciologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts who was not involved in the study, said that regardless of the long-term trends of warming and thinning, “this paper brings up the important point that very brief weather events can push an ice shelf past its tipping point.”

Links :

Sunday, July 3, 2022

Frozen world

Experience our planet's natural beauty and examine how climate change impacts all living creatures in this ambitious documentary of spectacular scope.
In this episode: On the unforgiving frontier of climate change, polar bears, walruses, seals and penguins find their icy Edens in peril.

Saturday, July 2, 2022

Visualizing the impact of rising sea levels, by country

photo George SteinMetz (National Geographic)
 
From Visual Capitalist by Florent Lavergne

Climate change is already causing sea levels to rise across the globe. In the 20th century alone, it’s estimated that the mean global sea level rose by 11-16 cm.

How much will sea levels change in the coming years, and how will it affect our population?

In the below series of visualizations by Florent Lavergne, we can see how rising sea levels could impact countries in terms of flood risk by the year 2100.

These graphics use data from a 2019 study by Scott Kulp and Benjamin Strauss.
Their study used CoastalDEM—a 3D graphics tool used to measure a population’s potential exposure to extreme coastal water levels—and examined rising sea levels under different levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Flood Risk By Region

Which countries will be most severely affected by rising sea levels?

If things continue as they are, roughly 360 million people around the world could be at risk of annual flood events by 2100. Here’s what those figures look like across each region:
Africa



On the continent of Africa, one of the countries with the highest number of people at risk of coastal flooding is Egypt.

Over 95% of Egypt’s population lives along the Nile river, with some areas situated at extremely low elevations. The country’s lowest point is 133 m below sea level.

Asia



Asia’s population will be more heavily impacted by flooding than any other region included in the dataset.

According to the projections, 70% of the people that will be affected by rising sea levels are located in just eight Asian countries: China, Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Japan.

Europe



One of the most high-risk populations in Europe is the Netherlands.
The country has a population of about 17 million, and as of 2019, about half of its population lives in areas below sea level.

The country’s lowest point, the town Nieuwekerk aan den Ijssel, is 6.8 m below sea level.
North America



In North America, the U.S., Canada, and Mexico are expected to see the highest numbers of impacted people, due to the size of their populations.

But as a percentage of population, other countries in Central America and the Caribbean are more greatly at risk, especially in high emission scenarios.
One country worth highlighting is the Bahamas. Even based on moderate emission levels, the country is expected to see a significant surge in the number of people at risk of flood.

According to the World Bank, this is because land in the Bahamas is relatively flat, making the island especially vulnerable to sea level rises and flooding.

South America



As South America’s largest country by population and with large coastal cities, Brazil‘s population is the most at risk for flood caused by rising sea levels.

Notably, thanks to a lot of mountainous terrain and municipalities situated on high elevation, no country in South America faces a flood risk impacting more than 1 million people.

Oceania



By 2100, Polynesian countries like Tonga are projected to see massive increases in the number of people at risk of flooding, even at moderate GHG emissions.

According to Reuters, sea levels in Tonga have been rising by 6 mm each year, which is nearly double the average global rate.
The reason for this is because the islands sit in warmer waters, where sea level changes are more noticeable than at the poles.

What’s Causing Sea Levels to Rise?

Since 1975, average temperatures around the world have risen 0.15 to 0.20°C each decade, according to research by NASA.

This global heating has caused polar ice caps to begin melting—in just over two decades, we’ve lost roughly 28 trillion tonnes of our world’s ice.
Over that same timeframe, global sea levels have risen by an average of 36 mm.
These rising sea levels pose a number of risks, including soil contamination, loss of habitat, and flooding.

As countries are affected by climate change in different ways, and at different levels, the question becomes how they will respond in turn.

Friday, July 1, 2022

Nearly a quarter of Earth's seafloor now mapped



The oceans cover 70% of the Earth's surface.
Of that area, 23.4% is now mapped to modern standards


From BBC by Jonathan Amos

Slowly but surely the proportion of the global ocean floor that's been properly mapped is rising.

It's now up to just shy of a quarter of the total area under water - at 23.4%.

Better seafloor maps help us with navigation and conservation, among many other uses.

Some 10 million sq km (3.8 million sq miles) of new bathymetric (depth) data was added in the past year.
This is an area broadly equivalent to the land surface of Europe.

The update was given at the second UN Ocean Conference, taking place this week in Lisbon, Portugal.

Much of this additional data comes not from recent mapping efforts, however, but simply as a result of governments, institutions and companies agreeing to open up their archives.

It's thought a further 10-15% is still squirrelled away on servers, in part because the owners worry they might be giving away commercial or defence secrets if they release the information.
"But they really needn't worry," said Jamie McMichael-Phillips, director of Seabed 2030, the organisation that is trying to corral world efforts to obtain a complete picture of Earth's ocean bottom.
"One of the messages we're trying to get across is that we don't require high-resolution data. Hi-res is nice; we can work with it. But lower resolution is perfectly acceptable.
"One depth value in an area the size of a European football pitch, 100m by 100m or thereabouts, isn't going to give away national or commercial secrets."


Saildrone Surveyor's cruise to Hawaii from San Francisco added 22,000 sq km of depth data

This knowledge is needed for a host of reasons.

Sea maps are essential for safe navigation, obviously, but also for fisheries management and conservation.
Marine wildlife tends to congregate around the underwater mountains.
Each seamount is a biodiversity hotspot.

In addition, the rugged seafloor influences the behaviour of ocean currents and the vertical mixing of water.
This is information required to improve the models that forecast future climate change - because it is the oceans that play a pivotal role in moving heat around the planet.

At the moment, our knowledge of just over three-quarters of the planet's underwater terrain comes only from low-resolution satellite measurements that have inferred the presence of tall seamounts and deep valleys from the gravitational influence these features have on the sea surface.
Water piles up over the mass of a large submarine mountain and dips slightly where there is a trench.

It's super smart but an underwater mountain that's hundreds of metres tall can still fail to show up in such observations.


2nd tallest underwater mountain in all of Canada & we mapped it for the first time ever just yesterday
 



Seabed 2030, which is funded by Japan's Nippon Foundation, is encouraging anyone who ventures away from the land to switch on their sonar equipment and take depth soundings.
And this isn't just about measurements from big ships; small ocean-going yachts fitted with data loggers can also make a contribution.

One of Seabed 2030's stars is the American adventurer Victor Vescovo.
The Texan financier is using a submersible to visit the deepest places in the world's oceans, but everywhere he goes his support ship switches on its echosounder.
"We have a 'map the gap' strategy," Mr Vescovo told BBC News.
"We're not a commercial outfit so we don't have to follow the most fuel-efficient routes.
When we go on an expedition we ask [Seabed 2030], 'what are your priority areas?'; and we divert a little bit to cover those areas."

The former US Navy reservist has himself contributed over 3 million sq km.


Ocean Infinity is building enormous robot vessels

It's clear, however, that to come close to obtaining a full picture of the shape of Earth's ocean bottom, there will need to be a step change in approach and capability.
Many parts of the world are so remote, few ships will visit them, let alone acquire depth data in those regions.

To map these places is going to require direct tasking of autonomous or semi-autonomous technologies.

There is a glimpse of how this will work in one line of data featured in the map at the top of this page.
It was gathered by the Saildrone Surveyor on a cruise between San Francisco and Honolulu last year.

During this 28-day voyage, the robot boat mapped 22,000 sq km of seafloor.
Saildrone Surveyor is 22m in length.
But truly huge autonomous vessels are coming.

The marine robotics company Ocean Infinity is currently building a fleet of 78m-long ships in Vietnam.
Regulations will probably mean they have to be lean-crewed for the near future, but the goal eventually is to have them roving the ocean without anyone onboard.
Their work would be overseen from satellite-linked control centres in the UK, the US and a third location somewhere in Asia.

Such ships could be sent out on long missions to map hard to reach areas at much lower cost than would be incurred by a conventional crewed vessel.
 


Progress to full mapping of the seafloor was discussed in a side meeting at this week's UN Ocean Conference.
And while the participants recognised new technologies were essential to fulfilling the quest, Dr Lucy Woodall cautioned that the 2030 project would fail unless it engaged all communities with an interest in the data.

She cited examples of companies going into coastal areas to map the seafloor and then not sharing any of the information with the local people whose livelihoods depended on those waters.

"I would argue to those of you in the room who think technology has got to be the way - I would argue that, actually, people are the way because unless people are asking the questions, unless we have a dialogue with all the voices in the room, then we're not going to ask, and therefore we can't answer, those right questions," the chief scientist with Nekton, a UK-based oceans NGO, told the meeting.
 
Links :

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Where to draw the line in the Eastern Mediterranean


The deck of a French aircraft carrier sails off the eastern coast of Cyprus on Feb.
10, 2020.
Mario Goldman / AFP/ Getty images


From ForeignPolicy by Michaël Tanchum
 
As France sends aircraft carriers to the region, all sides should look to Bangladesh and Myanmar for a solution to the border dispute.

Turkey and Greece’s escalating Eastern Mediterranean conflict, based on an old maritime boundary dispute, is becoming a geopolitical nightmare for NATO and the European Union.
On Feb. 21, France sent its nuclear aircraft carrier to operate for several months in the Eastern Mediterranean as a show of force in support of Greece.
Athens, disappointed with many of its other EU partners’ conciliatory approach to Turkey, has mobilized an unprecedented level of military support from Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
A defiant Turkey, which maintains 30,000 troops in the northern part of ethnically divided Cyprus, now insists the EU member nation be partitioned to create an independent Turkic state.

The conflict is tearing at the fabric of Europe and eroding NATO solidarity.
Brussels and Washington need to draw the line with Ankara and Athens on their maritime boundary dispute before it is too late.
But where?

 Greece-Turkey EEZ with the GeoGarage platform
 
At issue for Turkey is the EU-recognized Seville map’s maritime boundaries of the Eastern Mediterranean.
Named after an EU-commissioned map study by the University of Seville, it drew maximal boundaries for Greece and Cyprus at Turkey’s expense by using the coast of every inhabited Greek island no matter how small and no matter how close to the Turkish coastline.
Particularly contentious was the Seville map’s use of Kastellorizo, a very small island just one mile from the Turkish coast, in defining the Greece-Turkey maritime boundary.

The Seville map followed the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea’s (UNCLOS) Article 121, which maintains that the coastline of an island that can “sustain human habitation or economic life” generates a continental shelf and an exclusive economic zone (EEZ), the same as any coastal land formation.
Yet at the same time, UNCLOS also provides for a principle of equity, and the international case law based on it creates the possibility of setting aside Article 121 when its application creates an unjustifiable encroachment on the maritime zone of a mainland coast.
Ankara has never explored this avenue for adjusting the Seville map since it is not a signatory to the convention.

Turkey instead found an international partner with which to draw its own map.
In 2019, Ankara signed a maritime agreement with war-torn Libya’s Tripoli-based government, which created a map that defines a maximal maritime zone for Turkey by denying any of Greece’s islands a continental shelf or an EEZ.
The agreement demarcates just an 18.6-nautical-mile segment of the maritime boundary between Turkey and Libya.
However, projecting out from that strip, the Ankara-Tripoli map divides the entire maritime zone exclusively between Turkey and Libya.
Turkey’s map would be invalid under any circumstance since the 3,219-square-mile Greek island of Crete in the middle of that maritime zone would unquestionably generate an EEZ for Greece.

The impasse over these two maps has turned the Eastern Mediterranean into the eye of a geopolitical storm.
Ankara and Athens both need to step back from their maximal demands.
If they do, progress on the maritime boundary dispute could jump-start the stalled negotiations on a Cyprus reunification plan.
If they don’t, the escalating crisis could engulf the region.

To understand how the borders could be drawn, the sides should look to the resolution of an analogous dispute between Bangladesh and Myanmar.

To understand how the borders could be drawn, the sides should look to the resolution of an analogous maritime dispute between the adjacent states of Bangladesh and Myanmar.
Although the Bay of Bengal may seem rather remote from the Eastern Mediterranean, both maritime regions are rich in offshore natural gas resources with similarly high geopolitical stakes.

The island of Kastellorizo, whose maritime jurisdiction is at the heart of the Turkey-Greece boundary dispute, has a very close analogue in the Bay of Bengal’s Saint Martin’s Island.
The 14-square-mile dot is home to 4,000 inhabitants and is Bangladesh’s southernmost point.
A tourist hotspot on account of its coral reef and beaches, the island also happens to lie five miles off Myanmar’s coast.
 
Saint Martin island with EEZ limitation and ENC viewing (BD307425) with the GeoGarage platform

As a piece of Bangladeshi territory located so close to Myanmar’s coast, Saint Martin’s Island exerted outsized influence on the maritime boundary line and severely boxed in Myanmar.

 Kastellorizo with ENC GR4APP07
 
ENC TR300321
 
Greece’s Kastellorizo is smaller than St. Martin’s and is located even closer to Turkey’s coast.
Popularized among tourists by the 1991 film Mediterraneo, the 3.6-square-mile island is home to no more than 500 people.
But the island has also been used to define the maritime boundary close to Turkey’s shores.

Unlike the Eastern Mediterranean antagonists, Bangladesh and Myanmar brought their dispute before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.
Rendering its judgment in March 2012, the tribunal rejected Myanmar’s argument, which used a similar logic to Turkey’s map.
The tribunal held that Saint Martin’s Island was a proper inhabited island that could sustain economic life.
Meeting the UNCLOS Article 121 standard, the island would generate a continental shelf and EEZ and should be included in the calculations of Bangladesh’s borders.
But that was not the end of the tribunal’s decision.

Taking a page from Beijing, Rome is positioning itself as the center of trade, energy, and transportation in Southern Europe and beyond.



Turkey’s adventures abroad are about more than hydrocarbons.
They’re a bold and expensive attempt at geopolitical revisionism.

Formerly competitors, Paris and Rome’s Pax Mediterranea may spell Ankara’s final estrangement from Europe.

On its own, Saint Martin’s Island would generate a 5,019-square-mile maritime area for Bangladesh at Myanmar’s expense.
Given that such a space “would cause an unwarranted distortion” in the seaward projection from Myanmar’s coast, the tribunal appealed to the principle of equity and ultimately decided that the island should have no effect on drawing the delimitation of the continental shelf or EEZ.

The ruling in the Bangladesh-Myanmar case points to an equitable endgame for Greece and Turkey.
Following the Bay of Bengal precedent, Kastellorizo would not be used in drawing the lines.
At the same time, UNCLOS’s Article 121 would still apply to Greece’s larger islands in the region.
The judgement showed that Article 121 could be set aside for reasons of equity but still upheld as a general approach to other islands.Although neither the United States nor the EU can draw a line in the Eastern Mediterranean and impose a solution on Turkey and Greece, the spiraling tensions between Ankara and Athens have become intolerable for the functioning of NATO and the European Union.
Following the late August 2020 clash between Turkish and Greek warships in the vicinity of Kastellorizo, the European Council, the EU’s supreme decision-making body, decided on two successive three-month cooling off periods to allow a NATO-brokered, de-escalation process to proceed.
But no clear direction for resolving the maritime dispute has emerged.

Following the Bay of Bengal case, Washington and Brussels can insist that negotiations between Turkey and Greece either include some formal adjudication acceptable to both sides or simply that negotiations take as their starting point the likely outcome of such adjudication.
Third parties competent in maritime law and perceived as even-handed by both the Turkish and Greek sides could facilitate the process.
Such an effort, rooted in legal principle and sufficiently flexible to accommodate and incentivize realpolitik, is where the United States and the EU should draw their line.
 
Links :

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

The battle for Snake Island




From The Economist by

Ukraine is stepping up its attacks on the strategically important rock

For a rock just twice the size of Alcatraz, Snake Island has played a surprisingly big role in the war in Ukraine.
 


The fortress was a target from day one, when Russia’s Black Sea flagship, the Moskva, arrived at its shores to request the surrender of its tiny guardpost.
The garrison’s famously impolite refusal became a rallying cry for the country.
The sinking of the Moskva in April, in turn, saw the rock take on a new defensive significance for Russian vessels in the Black Sea.
In the days that followed the sinking, the island was fortified with new anti-aircraft, missile and radar systems.
Ukraine responded when it could, using what it could: fighter jets, Bayraktar drones and anti-ship missiles.
But the Russians did not budge.
 

Ukrainian forces strike Russian missile systems on Snake Island
 
Ukraine now appears to be launching a new offensive to wrest back control.
An early morning attack on June 20th targeted the island and nearby gas platforms that Russia has reportedly been using as a radar and surveillance station.
The explosions were so loud they woke residents of Vylkove, the nearest settlement, 35km away on the mainland.

Of the 20 targets, only 5 remain.

Nikolai Izotov, who lives there, says he heard more than a dozen loud thuds coming from the direction of the rock at 4.30am.
“We’re used to sleepless nights, but this was something new,” he said.
Natalya Gumenyuk, a spokesman for Ukraine’s Southern Command, confirmed an “ongoing operation” on the island, but would not be drawn on the details.
In the days since, Ukraine has stepped up attacks, hitting the rock with new, long-range artillery.
The Russians’ fierce response, targeting Odessa with dozens of long-range missiles, suggests they are not happy.



Snake Island, which is known in Ukrainian as Zmiinyi, is only 45km from Romania, a member of NATO.
Its location overlooking the Danube delta and shipping channels to Odessa and other Black Sea ports make it a strategic prize.
It could also serve as a bridgehead for an amphibious attack on Odessa, some 140km away.
 
ENC UA4CC871 for Snake Island
 
Russia has already set up a reconnaissance station with a group of marine commandos from the 388th division, says Andrii Ryzhenko, a former Ukrainian navy captain now at the Centre for Strategies, a think-tank in Kyiv.
The unit’s main task is gathering intelligence and conducting subversion, he says, “but they haven’t cancelled plans for a landing.”

The shoreline around Vylkove has been long mooted as a potential first stop for any amphibious attack on Odessa.
The Ukrainian army this week closed off access to several islands surrounding the town, for reasons it did not disclose.
The islands had been a source of subsistence for some of the increasingly impoverished locals; they would head there to pick apples, figs, grapes and berries.
The ban has added to a tense mood in the city.
“We see these huge ships and imagine the horrors of a thousand Russian soldiers landing on our shore,” says Mr Izotov.
He jokes that he is personally worried since he has a cellar full of homemade wine and moonshine.
“You know what drunks they are.”

Ukraine has launched several daring raids on the Russian-occupied island since the sinking of the Moskva.
The most audacious came in May, when the Ukrainians used a combination of fighter jets and Bayraktar drones to destroy landing ships and a helicopter.
There was then a long pause, until June 17th, when reports came of the apparent sinking of a Russian supply ship and rescue tug, the Vasily Bekh.
Local media said the vessel was hit by two Western anti-ship missiles, and was in the middle of unloading a Tor air defence system that was unable or had not been set up to protect against the attack.
Unconfirmed reports suggest as many as 33 men were on board.

 
Satellite imagery suggests Russia still retains a strong presence on the island.
Brian Ramsey, the pseudonym of a former British army officer who has been monitoring such images and other intelligence, says Russian boats have been supplying the island at least once a week, typically at night.
“The trips are usually done on Wednesdays and Thursdays, depending on the vessel needed to move the equipment,” he says.
A satellite photograph dated June 14th shows new trench systems, fortifications, camouflage netting, fuel storage, military vehicles, radar and a dozen short-range air defence systems.
More recent footage shows significant damage in at least three places.

As in other theatres of the war, the battle for Snake Island could boil down to logistics: which side is able to get the right equipment to the right place first.
Russia had been in a stronger position for most of the war.
But Ukraine is beginning to take delivery of some advanced Western artillery systems and long-range rockets.
These are mobile, precise and have a long enough range to strike the island from the mainland.
They allow Ukraine to attack without risking its remaining fighter jets, as it did on June 20th.
The first attack using such weapons took place on the night of June 26th.
Ukraine claims to have destroyed a Russian air-defence system, although cloudy conditions have made it hard to assess the damage.

Ukraine is in no rush to put its forces back on the rock; it simply hopes to make it impossible for Russia to make any use of the island.
“With their superiority in the air and with the ships of the Black Sea, it is easier for them to kill us on Snake Island than it is for us to kill them,” says Mr Ryzhenko, the former Ukrainian captain.
But that, he adds, is why forcing Russians off the island will only be the beginning of a long story.
“We need to be sinking their ships if we are to stand a chance.”

Links :

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Icebreaker discovers deep glacial canyon

The AAD acoustics team used Nuyina’s multibeam echosounders to map more than 840 square kilometres of the seafloor in front of the Vanderford Glacier, following a canyon more than 55 kilometres long, and 2200 metres deep at the deepest point mapped (in purple).
Hydrographic Material reproduced with permission of The Australian Hydrographic Office.
(Courtesy: Commonwealth of Australia 2022, photo: Pete Harmsen/AAD)

From Hydro
 
A deep canyon at the front of the Vanderford Glacier in East Antarctica has been mapped for the first time by acousticians on board RSV Nuyina.
The previously unknown canyon, more than 2,200 metres deep, 2,000 metres wide and at least 55 kilometres long, was discovered after the ship left Casey research station following its refuelling operation.

As the ship navigated Vincennes Bay in front of the glacier, acousticians Jill Brouwer, Alison Herbert and Floyd Howard switched on the ship’s EM122 multibeam echosounder and were surprised by what they saw.
“Although we’ve been visiting this region for decades on the Aurora Australis, we haven’t had the capability to do this sort of detailed mapping before,” Mr Howard said.
“As a result, current navigational charts of this area are based on fairly limited surveys.
Our work has shown that the seafloor is deeper and more complex than we thought.”
 
Localization with the GeoGarage platform (AHS nautical raster chart)

Building a Picture of the Seafloor

The multibeam echosounder sends out pings of sound in a fan shape beneath the ship and ‘listens’ to the returning echoes to build a picture of the seafloor.
The sideways projection of sound also allowed the team to map the canyon underneath the glacier for up to three and a half kilometres from the front.

Voyage Leader Lloyd Symons said it’s not unusual to see interesting features in front of glaciers, which scour the seafloor as they advance or retreat and drop rocks or ‘erratics’ along the way.
But he wasn’t expecting a canyon this deep.
“It is truly mind-boggling to look northward to the nearby Browning Peninsula and know that there is 2,200 metres of water underneath the keel.”

“It will be really interesting to see how we can use Nuyina’s acoustic capabilities to improve our understanding of the seafloor bathymetry around our other stations in the future, particularly the approach to Mawson, which has a deep, narrow channel surrounded by pinnacles of rock.”
 
AAD acoustician Jill Brouwer monitoring the multibeam echosounder as the undiscovered canyon in front of the Vanderford Glacier is revealed.
(Photo: Pete Harmsen/AAD

Measuring Changes in Water Properties

The technical team on board also sampled the water in the canyon using a conductivity, temperature, depth (CTD) instrument, deployed to just three metres above the seafloor.
CTDs are used by oceanographers to measure changes in water properties – including ocean temperature and salinity near glaciers, to understand how warming water contributes to glacial melt from below.
The data from this and other mapping efforts on board Nuyina will feed into global efforts to map the world’s oceans by 2030.

Acoustics experts and science systems engineers on the ship are from the AAD’s Technology and Innovation Branch, funded by the Australian government to manage the suite of world-leading science systems on board RSV Nuyina.
 
 
RSV Nuyina in front of Vanderford Glacier in east Antarctica (Photo: Pete Harmsen/AAD

About RSV Nuyina

The icebreaker RSV Nuyina is the main lifeline to Australia’s Antarctic and sub-Antarctic research stations and the central platform of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean scientific research.
Nuyina makes it possible to cross thousands of kilometres of the world’s stormiest seas, navigate through Antarctica’s formidable sea ice barrier, and live and work for extended periods on the coldest, driest and windiest continent on Earth – some of the harshest conditions in the world.

Nuyina, pronounced noy-yee-nah, means ‘southern lights’ in palawa kani, the language of Tasmanian Aborigines.

Links :

Monday, June 27, 2022

The ocean is climate change’s first victim and last resort



Photo of a wave sculpture crafted out of recycled materials
Photograph and sculpture by Hugh Kretschmer
 
From Time by Elijah Wolfson

Rain forests may be known as the planet’s lungs, but it’s when standing before the seas, with their crashing waves and ceaselessly cycling tides, that we feel the earth breathe.
The ocean, say scientists, is the source of all life on earth.
It is also, say philosophers, the embodiment of life’s greatest terror: the unknown and uncontrollable.

This duality has become increasingly manifest in the climate discourse of recent years, as ice melts, seas rise, and shores everywhere face storms of a ferocity unseen in living memory.
But even as the ocean has become the subject of hand-wringing over what we’ve wrought, it has also become a keystone of hope that we may limit the damage if we act now.

First, the bad news.
While the front lines of climate change are emerging all around the globe, the first major wounds of global warming occurred in the low-lying island nations of the South Pacific, where communities have always lived and died by the sea and its bounty.
For years now, there has been far more dying, as they have been ravaged by climate-­change-related storms and flooding.
When these countries have implored larger and wealthier—and more culpable—countries to do something, they have mostly been met with silence.
Indeed, at a recent summit in Bonn, Germany, delegates from wealthy nations refused to support an effort to make sure that discussion about compensating poorer ­countries for climate-­change damages would be on the agenda for COP27, the U.N. climate conference set to be held this November in Egypt. But it won’t be long before these powerful nations are facing the sea’s wrath too.
The U.S., U.K., Germany, Brazil, China, India, Japan, and Indonesia are all among the countries with large populations living on land likely to be below sea level by 2100.

Other escalating tragedies are at hand beneath the waters that make up over 70% of earth’s surface, from coral mass-bleaching events to the destruction of marine biodiversity.
There is no going back. But to keep the damage to these already awful levels—and to even daydream of meeting the target the world theoretically agreed on in Paris back in 2015—we’ll have to find some way to work with, and not against, the sea.
As Jane Lubchenco, marine ecologist and former head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration under President Obama, told my colleague Aryn Baker a couple of years ago, “It’s time to stop thinking of the ocean as a victim of climate change and start thinking of it as a powerful part of the solution.”

We can start at the bottom.
The floor of the Pacific is littered with the rare metals we need to build the batteries necessary to power carbon-free travel.
Moving upward, by harnessing the force of the tides, we could plug another source of renewable energy into our struggling grids; offshore wind farms are also poised to expand exponentially as an essential power source.
And while we may think of road vehicles as the focus of electric-mobility efforts, decarbonizing maritime shipping may be what really brings the global economy into a green future.
 
Meanwhile, oceans are the central banks of earth’s carbon stocks. Researchers are hard at work figuring out how to affordably capture CO2 from fossil-fuel-­burning plants and inject the gas into the rock below the ocean floor.
And efforts are already under way to protect and rebuild oceanic ecosystems like mangroves, salt marshes, and seagrasses, that not only sequester more CO2 than their land-bound counterparts, but also act as natural breakwaters to protect coastal populations.

In an interview published in 2002, Werner Herzog, the filmmaker and intrepid philosopher of humanity’s relationship with the natural world, raised the idea that “civilization is like a thin layer of ice upon a deep ocean of chaos and darkness.”
At this moment, with record summer-heat highs and record sea-ice lows, Herzog’s metaphor might be taken literally.
Life as we know it, after all, exists only so long as the ice doesn’t melt, and the potential chaos of the oceans is not fully unleashed.
But it’s also worth considering something Herzog said nearly a decade and a half later.
Speaking about his documentary Into the Inferno, he noted that we face the climate problems we do “not because nature is angry” but rather because “we are stupid.”
He continued: “We’re not doing the right thing with our planet.”
If we did the right thing with our oceans, however, maybe their terrifying powers could save us.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Feeding the sea: phytoplankton fuel ocean life

Phytoplankton fuel ocean life by feeding other plankton, fish, and ultimately bigger creatures. 
This video explores the diversity of phytoplankton in the oceans and shows why these plant-like organisms play such a crucial role in life on Earth.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

AIS-based fishing effort

This little dataviz shows the daily hourly totals per grid for 2020 - the frames towards the end show the cumulative yearly totals.
Also showing the link between bathymetry and fishing activity more clearly - i.e. concentrated activity around the Whittard Canyon.
 with data from GlobalFishingWatch
 
It's interesting what patterns start emerging when you compare years.
Here green pillars show areas where there was less fishing activity in 2020 than 2019, whilst orange shows areas where there was more activity. Taller the pillar - greater the delta. 

Friday, June 24, 2022

Mapping shipping lanes: Maritime traffic around the world


From Visual Capitalist

Each year, thousands of ships travel across the globe, transporting everything from passengers to consumer goods like wheat and oil.

But just how busy are global maritime routes, and where are the world’s major shipping lanes?
This map by Adam Syminton paints a macro picture of the world’s maritime traffic by highlighting marine traffic density around the world.

It uses data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in partnership with The World Bank, as part of IMF’s World Seaborne Trade Monitoring System.

Data spans from Jan 2015 to Feb 2021 and includes five different types of ships: commercial ships, fishing ships, oil & gas, passenger ships, and leisure vessels. 

An Overview of Key Maritime Shipping Lanes

If you take a look at the map, you’ll spot some distinct areas where traffic is heavily concentrated.

These high-density areas are the world’s main shipping lanes.
Syminton provided some zoomed-in visuals of these waterways in detail, so let’s dive in: 

Panama Canal




The Panama Canal is a man-made waterway that connects the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.
For ships traveling from the east to west coast of the U.S., this route avoids the far more treacherous Cape Horn at the tip of South America or the Bering Strait in the Arctic, and shaves off roughly 8,000 nautical miles—or 21 days off their journey.

In 2021, approximately 516.7 million tons of goods passed through the major waterway, according to Ricaurte Vasquez, the Panama Canal Authority’s administrator. 

Strait of Malacca




This marine passage is the fastest connector between the Pacific and Indian oceans, winding through the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra.
It’s a slender waterway—at its narrowest point, the canal is less than 1.9 miles wide.
Approximately 70,000 ships pass through this strait each year. 

The Danish Straits



Connecting the North Sea with the Baltic Sea, the Danish Straits include three channels: the Oresund, the Great Belt and the Little Belt.

The Danish Straits are known to be a major passageway for Russian oil exports—which, despite sanctions and boycotts against Russian oil, have remained strong throughout 2022 so far.

Suez Canal



This 120-mile-long artificial waterway runs through Egypt and connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, saving ships traveling between Asia and Europe a long passage around Africa.
Over 20,600 vessels traveled through the canal in 2021.

Last year, the canal made headlines after a 1,312-foot-long container ship called the Ever Given got stuck in the canal for six days, causing a massive traffic jam and halting billions of dollars worth of traded goods. 

Strait of Hormuz



This 615-mile waterway connects the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman and ultimately drains into the Arabian Sea.
In 2020, the canal transported approximately 18 million barrels of oil every day. 

The English Channel




Located between England and France, the 350-mile-long English Channel links the North Sea to the Atlantic Ocean.
Approximately 500 vessels travel through the channel each day, making it one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

Some of the major European rivers are also clearly visible in these visualizations, including the Thames in the UK, the Seine in France, and the Meuse (or Mass) that flows through Belgium and the Netherlands.

COVID-19’s Impact on Maritime Transport

Though these maps show six years worth of marine traffic, it’s important to remember that many sectors were negatively impacted by the global pandemic, and maritime trade was no exception.
In 2020, global maritime shipments dropped by 3.8% to 10.65 billion tons.

While the drop wasn’t as severe as expected, and output is projected to keep growing throughout 2022, certain areas are still feeling the effects of COVID-19-induced restrictions.

For instance, in March 2022, shipping volume at the port of Shanghai screeched to a halt due to strict lockdowns in Shanghai, triggered by a COVID-19 outbreak.
Traffic was impacted for months, and while operations have rebounded, marine traffic in the area is still congested.
 
Links :

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Ocean oil slick map reveals enough greasy patches to cover France—twice

 
A rescue ship sprays water on a 300-tonne oil tanker which exploded and caught fire at the Zhangjianqi shipyard in Ningbo, east China's Zhejiang province on October 12, 2013, killing seven workers.
Credit: STR/AFP via Getty Images
 
From Scientific American by Sasha Warren
 
An algorithm-aided analysis of satellite images reveals the size, distribution and sources of oil slicks at sea

How many oil slicks are there in the ocean?
Where are they, and where did they come from?
These seem like simple questions, but with 139 million square miles of ocean, keeping an eye on these slippery streaks on the sea surface is no mean feat.
Now, however, researchers have used the unique capabilities of satellites to assemble what they say is the first global map of oil slicks.
Their results, published on Thursday in Science, suggest that oil covered a total area more than twice the size of France between 2014 and 2019 and that the vast majority came from human-linked sources.

Oil slicks are microscopically thin sheets of hydrocarbons.
In satellite images, they do not always appear to be a different color from the surrounding ocean because light can pass through them.
But the slicks do change the way the water reflects sunlight, just as gasoline that has leaked from a car can cause a rainbow sheen in a street puddle.
Oily surfaces also change the way water ripples when it is windy, making oil-covered patches of the ocean’s surface look calmer and smoother than surrounding areas.
For the new study, the researchers used computer algorithms to look for these “fingerprints” of oil in more than half a million radar images gathered by the European Space Agency’s Sentinel satellites, which can be used to measure the ocean’s smoothness.
Employing this new technique, the scientists spotted slicks as small as a few city blocks in size dotting 80 percent of the world’s ocean surface.

 
Credit: Amanda Montañez; Source: “Chronic Oiling in Global Oceans,” by Yanzhu Dong et al., in Science, Vol. 376.
Published online June 16, 2022


The largest total oil slick areas were detected in the Java Sea (between several islands of Indonesia), Mediterranean Sea and South China Sea.
Together, the slicks in these three areas accounted for nearly a third of all the oil the researchers spotted.
The region with the most concentrated oil cover was the Caspian Sea, where 20 percent of the water was covered in slicks, compared with a 4 percent average across all the world’s oceans.

The study’s lead author Yanzhu Dong and her colleagues wanted to go beyond pinpointing oil slick sizes and locations; they also wanted to identify sources.
The original goal of their study had been to find areas where oil naturally seeps from the seafloor.
This can be distinguished from human activity because natural slicks tend to be long-lived in one place, so any such slicks would show up again and again in the five years’ worth of satellite images used in the study.
These natural seeps occur globally, but they are particularly notable causes of oil slicks in the Gulf of Mexico, coastal region of Ecuador and Peru, and coast of California.

The new findings doubled the number of known natural slicks, and the researchers also noticed many more coinciding with shipping routes, oil pipelines and drilling platforms.
In some cases, leaky platforms and ships could even be spotted in the satellite images.
Based on earlier studies, “it was thought that natural seep and oil from human activities were roughly equal,” says Dong, a geographer at Nanjing University in China.
“But our new findings show that over 90 percent of all oil leaks in the oceans come from human sources.”

Most of this human oil footprint was concentrated within 100 miles of land.
“Since 2000 the population of the planet has increased by [about] two billion.
And those two billion people? Most of them are settled on the coasts,” says study co-author Ian MacDonald, a Florida State University oceanographer.
“With that population growth, you have industrial and road networks and vehicle transportation.
That runoff from the land contributes oil into the ocean.”

Unsurprisingly, the study found that the greatest contributions from pipelines occurred in areas known for their oil infrastructure, such as the North Sea and Gulf of Guinea.
(The researchers found the largest contribution from pipelines in the heavily drilled Gulf of Mexico, but it is harder to precisely single out oil leaked from that source in the region because it is also home to one of the largest natural seeps by area).
But on a global scale, leaky drilling platforms and punctured pipelines accounted for only a tiny fraction of oil coverage.
Almost all 550,000 square miles of human-related slicks—a little more than the land area of Peru—came from oil left trailing behind ships and washed off the land by rainfall.
“We have a globalized supply chain,” MacDonald says.
“Since 2000 the amount of international shipping ocean has increased nearly threefold.”

Signals that implicated shipping were most clearly seen in major port regions such as the South China Sea but also out in the deeper ocean.
It was in open-ocean areas that Dong and her team spotted 21 slicks near ships and in shipping lanes, where floating oil tends to form a telltale linear shape.
“It’s these small-scale spills that are dominating, rather than the big ones that capture the media attention and the public imagination,” says Ira Leifer, an oil seep scientist and CEO of a green-tech company called Bubbleology Research International.
Leifer was not involved in the new study but wrote an accompanying article in Science on the complex impact of oil on marine ecosystems.
“I never really expected that because I didn’t think about it.
But it’s one of those [instances] where you go give a Homer Simpson ‘D’oh!’”

 
Oil slicks from a May 2016 pipeline leak in the Northern Gulf of Mexico.
Credit: IR MacDonald, Florida State University


Leifer suggests that using algorithms to comb through satellite images could become a powerful and accessible method for assessing the effectiveness of efforts to prevent oil spills.
He cautions, however, that spotting oil at sea does not necessarily point to immediate destructive impacts in the involved areas.
Some microorganisms can break down the slicks to use as food, and although high concentrations of oil in the water are toxic to marine life, some ecosystems can likely tolerate small amounts.
Exactly how much oil is too much needs further study, especially in coastal areas.

The oil slicks discovered in the study could also point to where other industrial pollutants that cannot be observed remotely or broken down by organisms—such as PCBs and heavy metals—are likely to be found, says Deborah French McCay, an oceanographer and director of research and modeling at RPS Group, a company whose services include environmental consulting.
She was not involved in the new study.

Dong hopes that exposing the vast extent of human-related oil slicks will inspire international cooperation to better protect marine environments, particularly along coastlines—and not only in terms of oil pollution.
“The footprint of oil slicks can also be seen as an indicator of human activities,” she says.
“We think these results will alert humanity to the ways in which humans are stressing the ocean.”