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  • richardmitnick 12:59 pm on March 22, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Oceanography,   

    From SA: “Massive Network of Robotic Ocean Probes Gets Smart Upgrade” 

    Scientific American

    Scientific American

    March 22, 2016
    Jeff Tollefson, Nature magazine

    Initiatives aim to measure global warming’s impact on high seas and deep currents

    The Southern Ocean guards its secrets well. Strong winds and punishing waves have kept all except the hardiest sailors at bay. But a new generation of robotic explorers is helping scientists to document the region’s influence on the global climate. These devices are leading a technological wave that could soon give researchers unprecedented access to oceans worldwide.

    Oceanographers are already using data from the more than 3,900 floats in the international Argo array. These automated probes periodically dive to depths of 2,000 metres, measuring temperature and salinity before resurfacing to transmit their observations to a satellite (see Diving deeper). The US$21-million Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modeling Project (SOCCOM) is going a step further, deploying around 200 advanced probes to monitor several indicators of seawater chemistry and biological activity in the waters around Antarctica. A primary aim is to track the prodigious amount of carbon dioxide that flows into the Southern Ocean.

    “The Southern Ocean is very important, and it’s also very poorly known because it’s just so incredibly miserable to work down there,” says Joellen Russell, an oceanographer at the University of Arizona in Tucson and leader of SOCCOM’s modelling team.

    Scientists estimate that the oceans have taken up roughly 93% of the extra heat generated by global warming, and around 26% of humanity’s CO2 emissions, but it is unclear precisely where in the seas the heat and carbon go. A better understanding of the processes involved could improve projections of future climate change.

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    SOCCOM, which launched in 2014, has funding from the US National Science Foundation to operate in the Southern Ocean for six years. Project scientists’ ultimate goal is to expand to all the world’s oceans. That would require roughly 1,000 floats, and would cost an estimated $25 million per year.

    Interest in this global array, dubbed the Biogeochemical Argo, is growing. The Japanese government has put a proposal to expand use of SOCCOM probes on the agenda for the meetings of the Group of 7 leading industrialized nations in Japan in May. And the project is gaining high-level attention as a result: the SOCCOM team has briefed John Holdren, science adviser to US President Barack Obama.

    Project scientists are rushing to develop a plan to expand use of the next-generation probes. “It’s like, ‘Oh, couldn’t they wait a year?’” jokes SOCCOM associate director Ken Johnson, an ocean chemist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in Moss Landing, California. His team is drafting a proposal to present to the inter­national Argo steering committee at a meeting that begins on March 22.

    Meanwhile, another set of researchers hopes to extend the existing Argo array beyond its current 2,000-metre limit. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Admini­stration (NOAA) is spending about $1 million annually on a Deep Argo project to monitor ocean temperature and salinity down to 6,000 metres. The agency deployed nine Deep Argo floats south of New Zealand in January, and is planning similar pilot arrays in the Indian Ocean and the North Atlantic.

    The deep-ocean data will be particularly useful in improving how models simulate ocean circulation, says Alicia Karspeck, an ocean modeller at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. “From a scientific perspective, it’s a no-brainer,” she says—noting that the new floats are a low-risk investment compared with spending money on developing models without additional oceanographic data.

    NOAA is using two different models of float, both designed to withstand the crushing pressures at the bottom of the sea. And Argo teams in Japan and Europe are already using upgraded floats that can reach down to 4,000 metres. The goal is to establish a new international array of some 1,250 deep-ocean floats — most of which would need to dive to 6,000 metres. Doing so would provide basic data on 99% of the world’s seawater.

    “We are really still working the bugs out of the equipment and trying to show that we can do this,” says Gregory Johnson, a NOAA oceanographer in Seattle, Washington, and one of the principal investigators for Deep Argo.

    Even if scientists succeed in expanding next-generation ocean probes around the globe, he says, the data that they provide will not supplant detailed measurements of carbon, water chemistry, salinity and temperature that are currently made by ship-based surveys. Deep Argo measures only temperature and salinity, and the technology used in Biogeochemical Argo is not yet sensitive enough to measure subtle changes in the deep ocean.

    Still, ship surveys—which are done on average every ten years—cannot follow how heat is taken up by the deep ocean. By contrast, Deep Argo would allow researchers to continually watch heat move through the oceans. That could lead to a better understanding of how the oceans respond to global warming—and how the climate responds to the oceans.

    “This has all kinds of ramifications for ecosystems and climate,” says Johnson of NOAA.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 11:45 am on December 20, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Oceanography   

    From livescience: “New X Prize Challenge: Map Ocean Floor” 

    Livescience

    December 15, 2015
    Elizabeth Palermo

    1
    Credit: Albund/Shutterstock.com

    Attention, sea-loving explorers: There’s a $7 million reason to get serious about your passion for ocean research right now.

    Yesterday (Dec. 14), Peter Diamandis, chairman and CEO of X Prize, announced the launch of the Shell Ocean Discovery X Prize, a three-year global competition that challenges researchers to build better technologies for mapping what Diamandis called one of the “greatest unexplored frontiers” — Earth’s seafloor.

    “Our oceans cover two-thirds of our planet’s surface and are a crucial global source of food, energy, economic security and even the air we breathe, yet 95 percent of the deep sea remains a mystery to us,” Diamandis said yesterday at a keynote address during the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in San Francisco. Right now, researchers have better maps of Mars than they do of Earth’s seafloor, he added.

    To win the Ocean Discovery X Prize, researchers will need to develop an autonomous, relatively fast-moving vehicle that can be launched from the air or shoreline. The vehicle must be equipped with technologies that allow it to create high-resolution maps of the seafloor at depths of about 13,125 feet (4,000 meters). Throughout the competition, the underwater vehicles will also be tasked with creating high-res images of individual objects, including archeological, biological or geological features of the seafloor.

    The teams that enter the competition won’t just be competing for a chance to map the world’s oceans; they’ll also be going after some significant cash prizes. The winning team will take home $4 million, and whoever comes in second place will win $1 million. Additional monetary prizes will be awarded to the top 10 teams in the competition, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is offering a $1 million bonus prize to teams that demonstrate technology that uses biological and chemical signals to “sniff out” objects in the ocean.

    The NOAA portion of the prize is meant to spur the development of specific technologies that can help detect “sources of pollution, enable rapid response to leaks and spills, identify hydrothermal vents and methane seeps, as well as track marine life for scientific research and conservation efforts,” Richard Spinrad, chief scientist at NOAA, said in a statement.

    But don’t expect the winners of this competition to be announced anytime soon. The three-year contest includes a nine-month registration window and allows 12 months for the initial development of the underwater vehicles. Once the registered teams have built their vehicles, they’ll need to successfully complete two rounds of testing and judging by an expert panel before taking home any prizes.

    The Shell Ocean Discovery X Prize is just one part of the X Prize Ocean Initiative, a series of five competitions that will span a 10-year period. Millions of dollars in prizes will be awarded to those who help X Prize reach its goal of addressing critical ocean challenges by 2020. In 2011, X Prize awarded the Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X Challenge prize to a manufacturing team from the United States that developed technology for quickly cleaning up oil spills. And in July 2015, the Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health X Prize was awarded to another U.S. team for its development of ocean sensors that improve scientific understanding of how carbon dioxide emissions are affecting ocean acidification.

    The first ever X Prize was awarded in 1996 to a team of researchers that built and launched a spacecraft capable of carrying three people to an altitude of 62.5 miles (100 kilometers) above Earth’s surface, twice in two weeks. Virgin Galactic — the division of the Virgin Group tasked with making commercial space travel a reality — eventually acquired the technology that won the prize.

    More information about the new Ocean Discovery X Prize can be found on the organization’s website.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 4:54 pm on January 9, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Oceanography   

    From NASA Earth: “Coloring the Sea around the Pribilof Islands” 

    NASA Earth Observatory

    NASA Earth Observatory
    Jan 9, 2015
    No Writer Credit

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    The Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 captured this view of a phytoplankton bloom near Alaska’s Pribilof Islands on September 22, 2014. The Pribilofs are surrounded by nutrient-rich waters in the Bering Sea. The milky green and light blue shading of the water indicates the presence of vast populations of microscopic phytoplankton—mostly coccolithophores, which have calcite scales that appear white in satellite images. Such phytoplankton form the foundation of a tremendously productive habitat for fish and birds.

    Blooms in the Bering Sea increase significantly in springtime, after winter ice cover retreats and nutrients and freshened water are abundant near the ocean surface. Phytoplankton populations plummet in summertime as the water warms, surface nutrients are depleted by blooms, and the plant-like organisms are depleted by grazing fish, zooplankton, and other marine life. By autumn, storms can stir nutrients back to the surface and cooler waters make better bloom conditions.

    The complicated interaction and feedback between water conditions, predators, and plankton populations was the subject of a recent paper by Mike Behrenfeld, a phytoplankton ecologist at Oregon State University. He notes that most discussions of blooms center on the physical conditions that initiate blooms. But the “dance of the plankton” is more complicated and it may involve ocean grazers—predators of phytoplankton—and other marine disturbances a bit more than previously suspected.

    Together with colleagues at four institutions, Behrenfeld has developed a “disturbance-recovery hypothesis” in which blooms tend to be started by any process that disturbs the natural balance between phytoplankton and their predators. A disturbance may involve deep mixing of the surface ocean by storms, which brings up deep ocean water along coasts (coastal upwelling). It can involve a river plume carrying extra fresh water or sediment into the ocean. Such changes affect the health and location of both the phytoplankton and the creatures that consume them. How plankton ecosystems recover from a disturbance determines how large a bloom may grow.

    “Phytoplankton are rubber-banded to their predators,” Behrenfeld said. “As long as phytoplankton are accelerating in their division rate, they’ll stay ahead. As soon as they slow down, the predators that have been increasing along with the phytoplankton will quickly catch up, stop the bloom by consuming the phytoplankton, and then begin decreasing the numbers of phytoplankton.”

    See the full article here.

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    The Earth Observatory’s mission is to share with the public the images, stories, and discoveries about climate and the environment that emerge from NASA research, including its satellite missions, in-the-field research, and climate models. The Earth Observatory staff is supported by the Climate and Radiation Laboratory, and the Hydrospheric and Biospheric Sciences Laboratory located at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

     
  • richardmitnick 8:29 pm on December 19, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Oceanography   

    From NSF- “Geomagnetic reversal: Understanding ancient flips and flops in Earth’s polarity” 

    nsf
    National Science Foundation

    December 19, 2014
    Ivy F. Kupec, (703) 292-8796 ikupec@nsf.gov

    Investigators
    Masako Tominaga
    Maurice Tivey
    William Sager

    Related Institutions/Organizations
    Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

    Locations
    Western Pacific Seafloor , Hawaii

    Related Programs
    Marine Geology and Geophysics

    Imagine one day you woke up, and the North Pole was suddenly the South Pole.

    This geomagnetic reversal would cause your hiking compass to seem impossibly backwards. However, within our planet’s history, scientists know that this kind of thing actually has happened…not suddenly and not within human time scales, but the polarity of the planet has in fact reversed, which has caused scientists to wonder not only how it’s happened, but why.

    This week, as the National Science Foundation (NSF) research vessel R/V Sikuliaq continues its journey towards its home port in University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Marine Center in Seward, Alaska, she detours for approximately 35 days as researchers take advantage of her close proximity to the western Pacific Ocean’s volcanic sea floors. With the help of three types of magnetometers, they will unlock more of our planet’s geomagnetic history that has been captured in our Earth’s crust there.

    1
    Before leaving port, an undergraduate student acquires important control data with a gravitometer.

    “The geomagnetic field is one of the major physical properties of planet Earth, and it is a very dynamic property that can change from milliseconds to millions of years. It is always, always changing,” said the expedition’s chief scientist, Masako Tominaga, an NSF-funded marine geophysicist from Michigan State University. “Earth’s geomagnetic field is a shield, for example. It protects us from magnetic storms–bursts from the sun–so very pervasive cosmic rays don’t harm us. Our research will provide data to understand how changes in the geomagnetic field have occurred over time and give us very important clues to understand the planet Earth as a whole.”

    Flipping and flopping

    Reportedly, the last time, a geomagnetic reversal occurred was 780,000 years ago, known as the Brunhes-Matuyama reversal. Bernard Brunhes and Motonori Matuyama were the geophysicists who identified that reversal in 1906.

    5
    A supercomputer to model flow patterns in Earth’s liquid core.
    Dr. Gary A. GlatzmaierLos Alamos National LaboratoryU.S. Department of Energy.

    Researchers Tominaga, Maurice Tivey (from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) and William Sager (from University of Houston) have an interest that goes further back in history to the Jurassic period, 145-200 million years ago when a curious anomaly occurred. Scientists originally thought that during this time period, no geomagnetic reversals had happened at all. However, data–like the kind that Tominaga’s team will be collecting–revealed that in fact, the time period was full of reversals that occurred much more quickly.

    “We came to the conclusion that it was actually ‘flipping flopping,’ but so fast that it did not regain the full strength of the geomagnetic field of Earth like today’s strength. That’s why it was super, super low,” Tominaga explained. “The Jurassic period is very distinctive. We think that understanding this part of the geomagnetic field’s behavior can provide important clues for computer simulation where researchers have been trying to characterize this flipping and flopping. Our data could help predict future times when we might see this flipping flopping again.”

    Interestingly, historical records have shown points where the flipping seems likely to occur but then seems to change its mind, almost like a tease, where it returns to its original state. Those instances actually do occur on a shorter time scale than the full-fledged flipping and flopping. Again, scientists are looking for answers on why they occur as well.

    Better tools equal better data

    For approximately three decades, researchers like Tominaga have been probing this area of the western Pacific seafloor. With her cruise on R/V Sikuliaq, Tominaga and Tivey come with even more technology in hand.

    Thirty years ago, researchers didn’t have access to autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV) that could go to deeper, harder-to-reach ocean areas. However, that is just one of three ways Tominaga’s team will deploy three magnetometers during its time at sea. One magnetometer will work from aboard R/V Sikuliaq. Another will trail behind the ship, and the third will be part of the AUV.

    “The seafloor spreading at mid-ocean ridge occurred because of volcanic eruption over time. And when this molten lava formed the seafloor, it actually recorded ambient geomagnetic data. So when you go from the very young ocean seafloor right next to the mid-ocean ridge to very, very old seafloor away from the mid-ocean ridge, a magnetometer basically unveils changes in the geomagnetic field for us,” Tominaga said. “The closer we can get to the seafloor, the better the signal. That’s the rule of thumb for geophysics.”

    With the help of R/V Sikuliaq’s ship’s crew, Tominaga and Tivey, a cruise archivist who is also a computer engineer/scientist, and seven students (three of whom are undergraduates), the team will run daily operations 24 hours a day/seven days a week, deploying the magnetometers, collecting data and then moving on to the next site.

    Naturally, the weather can waylay even the best plans. “Our goal is always about the science, but the road likely will be winding,” Tominaga said. “The most enjoyable part of this work is to be able to work together with this extremely diverse group of people. The Sikuliaq crew, the folks at UAF and those connected to the ship from NSF have all been committed to seeing this research happen, which is incredibly gratifying…. When we make things happen together as a team, it is really rewarding.”

    Focus on fundamentals

    Not surprisingly, this kind of oceanographic research is among some of the most fundamental, serving as a foundation for other research where it might correlate or illuminate. Additionally, because the causes and impacts of these geomagnetic changes are unknown, connections to currents, weather patterns, and other geologic phenomenon can still be explored also.

    “NSF, along with the entire science community, has waited years for this unique state-of-the-art Arctic vessel, and the timing couldn’t be more critical,” said Rose DuFour, NSF program director. “Our hope is to use R/V Sikuliaq to help carry out the abundant arctic-based seagoing science missions that go beyond NSF-funded science and extend to those from other federal agencies, like Office of Naval Research as well.”

    Tominaga notes that another key part to the cruise’s mission is record keeping; it’s why an archivist is part of her team. He even will blog daily (with pictures). As foundational research, it’s important to “keep every single record intact,” and she believes this broadcasting daily narrative will assist in this effort. Additionally, the plan is to share the collected data as soon as possible with other researchers who can benefit from it as well. “Without going there, getting real data–providing ground truth–how do we know what is going on?” Tominaga said, explaining fieldwork’s importance.

    Tominaga is quite clear on what prompts her to keep one of the busiest fieldwork schedules, even during a season usually reserved for family and friends, sipping eggnog or champagne. “I was raised as a scientist/marine geophysicist, and I don’t just mean academically,” she said. “I really looked up to my mentors and friends and how they handed down what they know-so unselfishly. And when I was finishing my Ph.D., I realized that there will be a time I will hand down these things to the next generation. Now, as a professor at Michigan State University, I’m the one who has to pass the torch, if you will–knowledge, experience, and skills at sea. That’s what drives me.”

    See the full article here.

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    The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense…we are the funding source for approximately 24 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America’s colleges and universities. In many fields such as mathematics, computer science and the social sciences, NSF is the major source of federal backing.

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  • richardmitnick 2:47 pm on December 10, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Oceanography,   

    From astrobio.net: “Warmer Pacific Ocean could release millions of tons of seafloor methane” 

    U Washington

    University of Washington

    December 9, 2014
    Hannah Hickey

    Off the West Coast of the United States, methane gas is trapped in frozen layers below the seafloor. New research from the University of Washington shows that water at intermediate depths is warming enough to cause these carbon deposits to melt, releasing methane into the sediments and surrounding water.

    Researchers found that water off the coast of Washington is gradually warming at a depth of 500 meters, about a third of a mile down. That is the same depth where methane transforms from a solid to a gas. The research suggests that ocean warming could be triggering the release of a powerful greenhouse gas.

    b
    Sonar image of bubbles rising from the seafloor off the Washington coast. The base of the column is 1/3 of a mile (515 meters) deep and the top of the plume is at 1/10 of a mile (180 meters) deep.Brendan Philip / UW

    “We calculate that methane equivalent in volume to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is released every year off the Washington coast,” said Evan Solomon, a UW assistant professor of oceanography. He is co-author of a paper to appear in Geophysical Research Letters.

    While scientists believe that global warming will release methane from gas hydrates worldwide, most of the current focus has been on deposits in the Arctic. This paper estimates that from 1970 to 2013, some 4 million metric tons of methane has been released from hydrate decomposition off Washington. That’s an amount each year equal to the methane from natural gas released in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout off the coast of Louisiana, and 500 times the rate at which methane is naturally released from the seafloor.

    Dissociation of Cascadia margin gas hydrates in response to contemporary ocean warming
    Geophysical Research Letters | Dec. 5, 2014

    “Methane hydrates are a very large and fragile reservoir of carbon that can be released if temperatures change,” Solomon said. “I was skeptical at first, but when we looked at the amounts, it’s significant.”

    Methane is the main component of natural gas. At cold temperatures and high ocean pressure, it combines with water into a crystal called methane hydrate. The Pacific Northwest has unusually large deposits of methane hydrates because of its biologically productive waters and strong geologic activity. But coastlines around the world hold deposits that could be similarly vulnerable to warming.

    “This is one of the first studies to look at the lower-latitude margin,” Solomon said. “We’re showing that intermediate-depth warming could be enhancing methane release.”
    map of Washington coast

    The yellow dots show all the ocean temperature measurements off the Washington coast from 1970 to 2013. The green triangles are places where scientists and fishermen have seen columns of bubbles. The stars are where the UW researchers took more measurements to check whether the plumes are due to warming water.Una Miller / UW

    Co-author
    Una Miller, a UW oceanography undergraduate, first collected thousands of historic temperature measurements in a region off the Washington coast as part of a separate research project in the lab of co-author Paul Johnson, a UW professor of oceanography. The data revealed the unexpected sub-surface ocean warming signal.

    “Even though the data was raw and pretty messy, we could see a trend,” Miller said. “It just popped out.”

    The four decades of data show deeper water has, perhaps surprisingly, been warming the most due to climate change.

    “A lot of the earlier studies focused on the surface because most of the data is there,” said co-author Susan Hautala, a UW associate professor of oceanography. “This depth turns out to be a sweet spot for detecting this trend.” The reason, she added, is that it lies below water nearer the surface that is influenced by long-term atmospheric cycles.

    The warming water probably comes from the Sea of Okhotsk, between Russia and Japan, where surface water becomes very dense and then spreads east across the Pacific. The Sea of Okhotsk is known to have warmed over the past 50 years, and other studies have shown that the water takes a decade or two to cross the Pacific and reach the Washington coast.

    s
    Map of the Sea of Okhotsk

    “We began the collaboration when we realized this is also the most sensitive depth for methane hydrate deposits,” Hautala said. She believes the same ocean currents could be warming intermediate-depth waters from Northern California to Alaska, where frozen methane deposits are also known to exist.

    m
    The yellow dots show all the ocean temperature measurements off the Washington coast from 1970 to 2013. The green triangles are places where scientists and fishermen have seen columns of bubbles. The stars are where the UW researchers took more measurements to check whether the plumes are due to warming water.Una Miller / UW

    m
    Researchers used a coring machine to gather samples of sediment off Washington’s coast to see if observations match their calculations for warming-induced methane release. The photo was taken in October aboard the UW’s Thomas G. Thompson research vessel.Robert Cannata / UW

    Warming water causes the frozen edge of methane hydrate to move into deeper water. On land, as the air temperature warms on a frozen hillside, the snowline moves uphill. In a warming ocean, the boundary between frozen and gaseous methane would move deeper and farther offshore. Calculations in the paper show that since 1970 the Washington boundary has moved about 1 kilometer – a little more than a half-mile – farther offshore. By 2100, the boundary for solid methane would move another 1 to 3 kilometers out to sea.

    Estimates for the future amount of gas released from hydrate dissociation this century are as high as 0.4 million metric tons per year off the Washington coast, or about quadruple the amount of methane from the Deepwater Horizon blowout each year.

    Still unknown is where any released methane gas would end up. It could be consumed by bacteria in the seafloor sediment or in the water, where it could cause seawater in that area to become more acidic and oxygen-deprived. Some methane might also rise to the surface, where it would release into the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas, compounding the effects of climate change.
    researchers on ship

    2
    Evan Solomon (right) and Marta Torres (left, OSU) aboard the UW’s Thomas G. Thompson research vessel in October, with fluid samples from the seafloor that will help answer whether the columns of methane bubbles are due to ocean warming.Robert Cannata / UW

    Researchers now hope to verify the calculations with new measurements. For the past few years, curious fishermen have sent UW oceanographers sonar images showing mysterious columns of bubbles. Solomon and Johnson just returned from a cruise to check out some of those sites at depths where Solomon believes they could be caused by warming water.

    “Those images the fishermen sent were 100 percent accurate,” Johnson said. “Without them we would have been shooting in the dark.”

    Johnson and Solomon are analyzing data from that cruise to pinpoint what’s triggering this seepage, and the fate of any released methane. The recent sightings of methane bubbles rising to the sea surface, the authors note, suggests that at least some of the seafloor gas may reach the surface and vent to the atmosphere.

    The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy. The other co-author is Robert Harris at Oregon State University.

    See the full article here.

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    The University of Washington is one of the world’s preeminent public universities. Our impact on individuals, on our region, and on the world is profound — whether we are launching young people into a boundless future or confronting the grand challenges of our time through undaunted research and scholarship. Ranked number 10 in the world in Shanghai Jiao Tong University rankings and educating more than 54,000 students annually, our students and faculty work together to turn ideas into impact and in the process transform lives and our world. For more about our impact on the world, every day.

    So what defines us — the students, faculty and community members at the University of Washington? Above all, it’s our belief in possibility and our unshakable optimism. It’s a connection to others, both near and far. It’s a hunger that pushes us to tackle challenges and pursue progress. It’s the conviction that together we can create a world of good. Join us on the journey.

     
  • richardmitnick 7:55 am on November 11, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Oceanography   

    From livescience: “Robot Gliders See How Antarctic Ice Melts From Below” 

    Livescience

    November 10, 2014
    Becky Oskin

    Scientists suspect Antarctica’s shrinking glaciers are melting from the bottom up, and a fleet of robot ocean gliders may help explain why.

    Beneath the icy Weddell Sea in West Antarctica, the gliders discovered turbulent warm currents near ice shelves, the huge floating platforms where continental glaciers extend icy tongues into the sea. The swirling eddies carry pulses of warm water to the shallow depths underneath the ice, scientists report today (Nov. 10) in the journal Nature Geoscience.

    boat
    The research ship James Clark Ross in the Weddell Sea, January 2012.
    Credit: Andrew Thompson/Caltech

    “What we’re looking at is delivery of heat right up to the ice shelf, where the ocean touches up against the ice,” said lead study author Andrew Thompson, a physical oceanographer at Caltech. “It’s almost like a blob of warm water, a little ocean storm.” [Album: Stunning Photos of Antarctic Ice]

    Previous work already pointed to warm water — rather than hotter air temperatures — as the reason for Antarctica’s retreating ice shelves. (The disappearing ice is part of the continental ice sheet, not the sea ice that freezes and melts each year.) But to confirm these suspicions, the researchers needed to get under the ice to see how the process works.

    In 2012, Thompson and colleagues from the University of East Anglia, in the United Kingdom, used remotely operated gliders to probe the ocean conditions near ice shelves in the Weddell Sea. The gliders rise and sink without propellers, relying instead on a battery-driven pump that changes their buoyancy via a fluid-filled bladder. Every few hours, the six-foot-long (1.8 meters) glider surfaces and uploads its data via a satellite phone network. The gliders collected temperature and salinity data for two months, exploring the upper 0.6 miles (1 kilometer) of the ocean.

    When the gliders hit an eddy, the sleek yellow robots were often caught up in the powerful vortices. “You could almost know by where it came up that it had hit this anomalous region,” Thompson told Live Science. “The glider would go down and end up in a quite different place.”

    shelf
    An illustration showing how warm ocean currents circulate beneath Antarctica’s floating ice shelves. The continental shelf and slope are brown and the glacier is white.
    Credit: Andrew Thompson/Caltech and Lance Hayashida/Caltech Marketing & Communications

    The findings are the first to explain how warm water rises from deeper levels to reach the floating ice shelves. The results suggest the stormlike currents bring up pulses of warm water, which flow under the ice at irregular intervals. Now, researchers need to find out what happens when this heat reaches the grounding line, the spot where glaciers transfer their weight from the continent to the ocean. This is where most of the melting takes place, Thompson said.

    “What we’re seeing from the gliders is that it’s not a steady circulation in and out,” Thompson said. “This is really the first step of understanding of what heat goes in, and how efficient that heat is in melting the ice shelves.”

    Alternating layers of cold and warm water surround Antarctica, and it only takes a few degrees of difference to dissolve a glacier. The warmer water is typically in the middle layer of the ocean. It arrives from the north, delivered on a giant current called the global conveyor belt. Colder water lies on the surface, often formed when cold wind blows over the ocean and sea ice freezes up. Dense, cold water is also on the ocean bottom.

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  • richardmitnick 9:31 am on October 3, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Oceanography   

    From NSF: “New map uncovers thousands of unseen seamounts on ocean floor” 

    nsf
    National Science Foundation

    October 2, 2014
    Media Contacts
    Cheryl Dybas, NSF, (703) 292-7734, cdybas@nsf.gov
    Mario Aguilera, SIO, (858) 534-3624, maguilera@ucsd.edu

    Scientists have created a new map of the world’s seafloor, offering a more vivid picture of the structures that make up the deepest, least-explored parts of the ocean.

    The feat was accomplished by accessing two untapped streams of satellite data.

    Thousands of previously uncharted mountains rising from the seafloor, called seamounts, have emerged through the map, along with new clues about the formation of the continents.

    Combined with existing data and improved remote sensing instruments, the map, described today in the journal Science, gives scientists new tools to investigate ocean spreading centers and little-studied remote ocean basins.

    Earthquakes were also mapped. In addition, the researchers discovered that seamounts and earthquakes are often linked. Most seamounts were once active volcanoes, and so are usually found near tectonically active plate boundaries, mid-ocean ridges and subducting zones.

    The new map is twice as accurate as the previous version produced nearly 20 years ago, say the researchers, who are affiliated with California’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) and other institutions.

    “The team has developed and proved a powerful new tool for high-resolution exploration of regional seafloor structure and geophysical processes,” says Don Rice, program director in the National Science Foundation’s Division of Ocean Sciences, which funded the research.

    “This capability will allow us to revisit unsolved questions and to pinpoint where to focus future exploratory work.”

    Developed using a scientific model that captures gravity measurements of the ocean seafloor, the map extracts data from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) CryoSat-2 satellite.

    cryo2
    ESA Cryosat-2

    CryoSat-2 primarily captures polar ice data but also operates continuously over the oceans. Data also came from Jason-1, NASA’s satellite that was redirected to map gravity fields during the last year of its 12-year mission.

    j1
    NASA/Jason-1

    “The kinds of things you can see very clearly are the abyssal hills, the most common landform on the planet,” says David Sandwell, lead author of the paper and a geophysicist at SIO.

    The paper’s co-authors say that the map provides a window into the tectonics of the deep oceans.

    The map also provides a foundation for the upcoming new version of Google’s ocean maps; it will fill large voids between shipboard depth profiles.

    Previously unseen features include newly exposed continental connections across South America and Africa and new evidence for seafloor spreading ridges in the Gulf of Mexico. The ridges were active 150 million years ago and are now buried by mile-thick layers of sediment.

    “One of the most important uses will be to improve the estimates of seafloor depth in the 80 percent of the oceans that remain uncharted or [where the sea floor] is buried beneath thick sediment,” the authors state.

    Co-authors of the paper include R. Dietmar Muller of the University of Sydney, Walter Smith of the NOAA Laboratory for Satellite Altimetry Emmanuel Garcia of SIO and Richard Francis of ESA.

    The study also was supported by the U.S. Office of Naval Research, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and ConocoPhillips.

    See the full article here.

    The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense…we are the funding source for approximately 24 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America’s colleges and universities. In many fields such as mathematics, computer science and the social sciences, NSF is the major source of federal backing.

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  • richardmitnick 8:54 pm on August 18, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Oceanography   

    From M.I.T.: “Broadening the ‘SCOPE’ of microbial oceanography” 


    MIT News

    August 18, 2014
    Genevieve Wanucha | Oceans at MIT

    The Simons Foundation, a New York-based philanthropic organization that supports a range of basic science research, has made its first venture into microbial oceanography with a $40 million award to fund the creation of the Simons Collaboration on Ocean Processes and Ecology (SCOPE), a five-year program centered at the University of Hawaii at Manoa to study the role of microscopic organisms in the ocean ecosystem.

    ocean
    Marine diatoms, a common type of phytoplankton. Courtesy of Gordon T. Taylor

    Marine bacteria and phytoplankton, which inhabit every drop of seawater, essentially dominate the ocean ecosystem — so much so that some say that they are the ocean. Microbes manufacture oxygen from sunlight, regulate the cycling of nutrients, and produce and consume greenhouse gases, with enormous implications for the ocean, and the entire planet.

    SCOPE gives the field’s top researchers new ability to apply advanced genomics and systems-biology approaches to go after the most elusive details in the ocean biome — such as how the trillions of microbes living at the base of the food web respond to their environment, and how they influence it.

    “The idea is to connect the dots between the microscale activities of microbes and the role they play in larger-scale processes in climate and nutrient cycling, but it’s actually quite difficult to connect them,” says Mick Follows, an associate professor in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Science (EAPS). “This award enables us to explore these issues in a way we have always wanted to do but haven’t had the resources.”

    Follows is one of the eight founding SCOPE investigators, along with others at MIT, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the University of Hawaii at Manoa, the University of California at Santa Cruz, and the University of Washington.

    Home base for SCOPE is Station ALOHA, an established ocean research field site in the subtropical Pacific Ocean north of the Hawaiian island of Oahu. Since 1988, researchers on various projects have taken continual measurements of the biology, chemistry, and variability in the physical structure of the water column, yielding comprehensive time-series records. Now SCOPE researchers will build on the knowledge of this well-characterized patch of ocean at levels of higher and higher resolution.

    SCOPE researchers see the ocean as a sea of microbial genes — or, as SCOPE investigator Penny Chisholm, the Lee and Geraldine Martin Professor of Environmental Studies [M.I.T.], calls it, “dissolved information.” Microbes switch their protein-coding genes on and off in response to fluctuations in temperature, light, and nutrient availability; thus, the genes expressed by communities of microbes in the actual ocean over time reveals what microbes are doing, in a metabolic sense, in their home environment.

    Ed DeLong, a pioneer of technologies to study microbial gene transcription in the ocean, will co-direct SCOPE with David Karl, a professor of microbial oceanography at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. DeLong, who has been on the faculty of MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering for the past 10 years, recently joined the oceanography faculty at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

    Microbial genomic research is already in full swing at Station ALOHA: In work recently published in Science, DeLong and his MIT-led team deployed the free-drifting robotic Environmental Sample Processor, a device that floats along with a water mass, sampling from the same community of microbes every two hours. The team then used RNA-sequencing techniques, which take a snapshot of the genes turned on or off at any given moment in the microbial population.

    They found that marine bacteria have predictable 24-hour cycles of genetic activity. Some species start eating, breathing, and growing early in the morning; others “wake up” later. Their analysis suggested that multiple different species of marine bacteria coordinate their patterns of behavior over the day, as if working in shifts.

    To comprehend how this kind of small-scale biology impacts energy transformation across the northern Pacific, researchers need help from computer models of ocean dynamics. That’s where Follows comes in: He and his team in the Darwin Group in EAPS, who develop and explore models of marine microbial communities, have come up with ideas about how certain organisms function and interact, which they hope will guide research in the actual ocean. “We hope to help shape some of the measurements that are made in SCOPE,” Follows says, “so we can test some of these hypotheses.”

    In turn, Follows’ team will use the detailed physiological characterizations that emerge from SCOPE to better constrain their model organisms, bringing their virtual ocean closer to reality. “Ultimately, in a few years’ time,” he says, “we will be able to refresh our simulations with components that reflect new understandings about what’s happening in the microbial ecosystem.”

    With this new infusion of private funds, observationalists and ecosystem modelers — who usually work separately on small, individual projects — can immediately begin collaborating. Linking the ocean’s genome to the biome isn’t something one field can do alone.

    Microbial genomic research is already in full swing at Station ALOHA: In work recently published in Science, DeLong and his MIT-led team deployed the free-drifting robotic Environmental Sample Processor, a device that floats along with a water mass, sampling from the same community of microbes every two hours. The team then used RNA-sequencing techniques, which take a snapshot of the genes turned on or off at any given moment in the microbial population.

    They found that marine bacteria have predictable 24-hour cycles of genetic activity. Some species start eating, breathing, and growing early in the morning; others “wake up” later. Their analysis suggested that multiple different species of marine bacteria coordinate their patterns of behavior over the day, as if working in shifts.

    To comprehend how this kind of small-scale biology impacts energy transformation across the northern Pacific, researchers need help from computer models of ocean dynamics. That’s where Follows comes in: He and his team in the Darwin Group in EAPS, who develop and explore models of marine microbial communities, have come up with ideas about how certain organisms function and interact, which they hope will guide research in the actual ocean. “We hope to help shape some of the measurements that are made in SCOPE,” Follows says, “so we can test some of these hypotheses.”

    In turn, Follows’ team will use the detailed physiological characterizations that emerge from SCOPE to better constrain their model organisms, bringing their virtual ocean closer to reality. “Ultimately, in a few years’ time,” he says, “we will be able to refresh our simulations with components that reflect new understandings about what’s happening in the microbial ecosystem.”

    With this new infusion of private funds, observationalists and ecosystem modelers — who usually work separately on small, individual projects — can immediately begin collaborating. Linking the ocean’s genome to the biome isn’t something one field can do alone.

    See the full article here.

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