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  • richardmitnick 9:16 am on July 2, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , National Ocean Month: NSF's role in ocean science spans the globe, , Oceanography   

    From National Science Foundation- “National Ocean Month: NSF’s role in ocean science spans the globe” 

    From National Science Foundation

    Media Contacts
    Rob Margetta, NSF
    (703) 292-2663

    Foundation works with public, private partners to harness ocean resources

    Credit: Nicole R. Fuller, NSF

    June 29, 2018

    This month marks the annual celebration of oceans and all that they contribute to our planet, the surface of which is more than 70 percent water. The National Science Foundation (NSF) has a long history of support for ocean-related fundamental research, and so joins with public and private partners in marking new frontiers in exploring this critical global resource.

    “Ocean research, infrastructure and education advance our understanding of oceans and ocean basins and their interactions with people and the planet,” said NSF Director France Córdova. “Whether it’s embedding instruments on the ocean sea floor, studying the impact of ocean acidification, or understanding changes in ocean currents and sea level rise, NSF support will continue to shed light on this critically important part of our global ecosystem.”

    This month, the White House announced their new executive order, Streamlining Federal Ocean Policy and established the Ocean Policy Committee to grow the ocean economy, prioritize scientific research, coordinate resources and data sharing, and engage with stakeholders. A new White House report highlights oceans science research supported by federal agencies.

    The following are just a few examples of the wide range of ocean research that NSF supports.

    The following are just a few examples of the wide range of ocean research that NSF supports.

    Enhancing Security

    Unmanned vehicles, on and under water

    Unmanned vehicles, whether autonomous or human-guided, offer new opportunities for search and rescue, offshore supply and support operations, ocean sensing and exploration. Deploying a human-robot team can significantly reduce costs, improve safety and increase efficiency. Fundamental research will enable unmanned vehicles to safely perform complex tasks under marine navigation rules, in variable and unforgiving environments, and with intermittent communication.

    Coastal resilience from floods, storm surges, and tsunamis

    Inundations from storms and tsunamis have caused catastrophic damage to coastal communities and will continue to threaten growing coastal populations and trillions of dollars of infrastructure. With data collected from experiments and post-storm reconnaissance, researchers can understand and model potential damage from ocean forces, designing more resilient structures and coasts. NSF has begun a nearly $60 million investment in Natural Hazards Engineering Research Infrastructure (NHERI), a network of shared, state-of-the-art research facilities and tools located at universities around the country.

    Helping drive the U.S. economy

    Energy from waves

    Ocean waves, tides and currents hold enormous promise as a source of renewable energy. To harvest efficient, reliable and economical ocean energy requires research in fluid dynamics, communications and control systems, as well as the technology to convert the mechanical energy into electricity. Fundamental research can also illuminate system design, site and environmental considerations.


    To help meet growing demands on limited freshwater supplies, NSF invests in fundamental research for desalination of ocean and brackish waters. Research on a variety of membrane and solar technologies, anti-fouling and anti-scaling methods, as well as low-energy and low-pressure systems will help desalination become more efficient, sustainable and affordable.

    Living ocean resources

    Better understanding of ocean biology and sustainable fisheries practices will help ensure healthy marine environments and abundant food. Researchers are just beginning to explore the engineering of ocean microbes and algae for food and energy. Marine animals, ranging from sea lions to shrimp, inspire researchers to create stronger materials, more efficient robot motions, more sensitive sensor and imaging systems, and numerous other innovations.

    Advancing knowledge to sustain global leadership

    Navigating the New Arctic (NNA) Big Idea

    NSF is advancing understanding of the Arctic environment, supporting research that will predict rapid, complex environmental and social changes in this region and enable resilience for our world. NSF seeks to help members of the public and the next generation of polar scientists understand these changes. In this way, NSF will enhance the nation’s strategic and economic advantages in an international context while safeguarding human welfare and environmental sustainability in the Arctic.

    Seafloor science and engineering

    Despite its relevance to geohazards, mineral resources and biological diversity, the harsh and dynamic environment of the seafloor and sub-seafloor remain largely unexplored and poorly understood. Research in sensing and communications systems combined with studies of geological, physical, chemical and biological processes will enable new understanding, modeling and prediction of the seafloor environment. NSF is working to chart the future for instrumenting the seafloor for real-time data collection.

    Fluid dynamics

    Fundamental research in fluid dynamics (the flow of fluids) explores many areas, including turbulent flows and biological flow processes. New knowledge in fluid dynamics has implications for ocean energy harvesting, understanding ocean currents and convection, and dispersing oil spills at sea.

    Exploring the ocean floor and beyond

    At the Center for Dark Energy Biosphere Investigation (C-DEBI), researchers use advanced tools and infrastructure to study life under the ocean floor, using specialized technologies like sensor arrays, deep-sea submersibles, scientific drilling ships, remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and autonomous deep-sea laboratories. Recent analyses by C-DEBI teams suggest that deep-sea microbes play an important role in some of Earth’s most basic geochemical processes such as petroleum degradation and methane cycling.

    Remote sensing

    Equipped with advanced underwater robotics and an array of analytical instrumentation, a team of scientists will set sail for the northeastern Pacific Ocean this August. The researchers’ mission – funded jointly by NSF and NASA — is to study the life and death of microscopic plankton, tiny plant and animal organisms. More than 100 scientists and crew members will embark on the Export Processes in the Ocean from Remote Sensing (EXPORTS) oceanographic campaign.

    Voyage to the seafloor

    A team of 32 scientists aboard the research vessel JOIDES Resolution affiliated with the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) have mounted an expedition to explore Zealandia, Earth’s eighth continent. IODP is a collaboration of scientists from 23 countries; the NSF-supported organization coordinates voyages to study the history of the Earth recorded in sediments and rocks beneath the seafloor.

    Unlocking climate mysteries

    The Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modeling project is an NSF-sponsored program focused on unlocking the mysteries of Antarctica’s Southern Ocean and determining its influence on climate. In addition to being an enormously biologically proactive body of water, the Southern Ocean drives global ocean circulation, which helps regulate ocean temperatures.

    Providing educational resources today for tomorrow’s workforce

    NSF’s support for innovative STEM education, student research experiences and learning technologies keeps the nation’s workforce competitive and prepared for future challenges and opportunities involving the oceans. Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REUs) offer hands-on work to develop ocean current-based electricity. Additionally, NSF has supported access to ocean science education for rural communities and opportunities for students to operate a million-dollar business that makes and sells underwater ROVs at California’s Monterey Peninsula College (an outgrowth of the NSF-funded Marine Advanced Technology Education center) and an innovative University of Hawaii teacher training that incorporates authentic science and engineering practices.

    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.

  • richardmitnick 10:51 am on May 11, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , New UW vessel, Oceanography, RV Rachel Carson, , will explore regional waters   

    From University of Washington: “New UW vessel, RV Rachel Carson, will explore regional waters” 

    U Washington

    From University of Washington

    May 10, 2018
    Hannah Hickey

    The RV Rachel Carson is a 72-foot vessel built for fisheries research in Scotland. It will carry UW students and researchers on regional trips out to sea.Dennis Wise/University of Washington

    The University of Washington’s School of Oceanography has a new member of its fleet. After revamping its global-class research vessel earlier this year, it now also has a new ship that will allow UW researchers and students to explore waters in Puget Sound and nearby coasts.

    The RV Rachel Carson was built as a fisheries research vessel in Scotland in 2003, and the UW acquired it in 2017 and had it shipped to Seattle last winter. It completed its first science voyage in early April, and is expected to officially join the University National Oceanographic Laboratory System fleet this summer.

    “With its significantly greater capabilities, the Rachel Carson really expands our ability to take more scientists and students to sea, to provide better hands-on instruction, and to conduct a much wider portfolio of oceanographic science,” said Douglas Russell, the UW’s manager of marine operations.

    The 72-foot vessel was purchased with a $1 million gift from William and Beatrice Booth. The UW then made upgrades this spring to better equip the ship for teaching and research. It replaces the 65-foot RV Clifford Barnes, which served the UW for almost 35 years.

    UW undergraduates lower sampling bottles off the back of the RV Carson during a May 8 cruise in Puget Sound. The new ship has more deck space, larger lab space, more bunks and better equipment for doing research.Dennis Wise/University of Washington

    Unlike its predecessor, the RV Carson was built as a research ship. It has larger lab space, better tools for lowering equipment into the water, and space for 13 people to sleep onboard. It also has more stable handling, allowing it to venture out in stormier seas and along Washington’s outer coast.

    The vessel is named for Rachel Carson, the American marine biologist, author and conservationist.

    “It was truly an honor to lead the first group to sail on the RV Rachel Carson, literally researching ‘the sea around us’ in Washington,” said Jan Newton, an oceanographer at the UW’s Applied Physics Laboratory who was chief scientist on the ship’s first research cruise. “The ship is very stable, allowing us to work in rough conditions, and its increased capacity allows us to involve more students. I was very impressed!”

    That cruise was a five-day trip around Puget Sound to collect samples for monitoring by the state-funded Washington Ocean Acidification Center.

    The ship also has taken Oceanography 220 undergraduates on a cruise north of Seattle, and this week is doing half-day cruises out of Shilshole Marina for the Oceanography 201 class.

    The ship’s home port is on the UW Oceanography dock. It is available for use by oceanographic researchers and instructors from inside and outside the UW.

    For more information, contact Russell at 206-543-5062 or dgruss@uw.edu.

    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 8:27 am on February 19, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Meteotsunami, Oceanography   

    From COSMOS Magazine: “Prevalence and danger of little known tsunami type revealed” 

    Cosmos Magazine bloc

    COSMOS Magazine

    19 February 2018
    Richard A Lovett


    On 4 July 2003, beachgoers at Warren Dunes State Park, in the US state of Michigan, were enjoying America’s Independence Day holiday when a fast-moving line of thunderstorms blew in from Lake Michigan. They scurried for shelter, but the event passed so quickly it didn’t appear that their holiday was ruined.

    “In 15 minutes it was gone,” says civil engineer Alvaro Linares of the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

    But when swimmers re-entered the water, rip currents appeared seemingly from nowhere, pulling eight people out into the lake, where seven drowned.

    What these people had encountered, Linares says, was a meteotsunami — an aquatic hazard of which few people, including scientists, were aware of until recently.

    Few scientists have researched the phenomenon. May of those who have gathered recently at the annual American Geophysical Union Ocean Sciences meeting, held in Portland, Oregon, US, to compare notes.

    Conventional tsunamis are caused by underwater processes such as earthquakes and submarine landslides. Meteotsunamis, as the name indicates, are caused by weather. But while the catalysts are different, the effects are not.

    “The wave characteristics are very similar,” says Eric Anderson of the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

    To create a meteotsunami, what’s required is a combination of a strong, fast-moving storm and relatively shallow water. The sudden increase in winds along the storm front, possibly combined with changes in air pressure, starts the process by kicking up a tsunami-style wave that runs ahead of it. But the process would quickly fizzle out if the water was too deep, because in deep water, such waves propagate very quickly and would soon outrun the storm.

    What’s needed to produce a meteotsunami is a water depth at which the storm’s speed and the wave’s speed match, allowing the wave to build as it and the storm move in tandem. “The storm puts all its energy into that wave,” Anderson says.

    Furthermore, the wave can magnify even more when it hits shallower water or shoals. “That is when these become destructive,” Anderson says.

    In 2004, for example, a storm front 300 kilometres wide sped across the East China Sea at a speed of 31 metres per second, 112 kilometres per hour, says Katsutoshi Fukuzawa of the University of Tokyo.

    Water there is shallow, he adds, with depths mostly under 100 metres. This limits wave speed to about 30 metres per second — a near-perfect match to the storm’s. As a result, parts of the island of Kyushu were hit with a tsunami as big as 1.6-metres.

    Not that meteotsunamis have to be that big to be dangerous. The one at Warren Dunes was probably no more than 30 centimeters, says Linares — small enough not even to be visible in the lake’s normal chop.

    But unlike normal surf, meteotsunamis produce a sustained slosh that lasts several minutes between run-up and retreat. That means that even low-height waves carry a lot of water, creating the potential for strong rip currents when they withdraw. According to Linares’ models [Journal of Geophysical Research], these currents would have persisted for about an hour — plenty long enough to drag unwary swimmers far out into the lake, long after the storm had passed.

    It’s also possible for meteotsunamis to become “detached” from the storm front that created them, striking shores far away. Researchers reviewing records in the Great Lakes have concluded that that is what happened when such a wave hit Chicago in 1954, killing 10 people.

    “The wave came out of nowhere,” Anderson says. “It was a calm, sunny day.”

    It’s not just Japan and America’s Great Lakes that have seen such events. In May 2017, a storm raced up the English Channel, kicking up a metre-high wave that swept beaches in The Netherlands as bystanders looked on with awe, says Ap van Dongeren of the Deltares research institute in Delft, The Netherlands.

    Quirks of topography can magnify the effects of such tsunamis. On 13 June 2013, a group of spearfishermen in New Jersey were stunned when a surge of water threw them across a breakwater into the open ocean [nj.com]. A few minutes later, another surge threw them back where they’d come from. And that came from a meteotsunami that measured at well less than a metre on local tide gauges, says Gregory Dusek, a NOAA oceanographer at Camp Springs, Maryland.

    Meteotsunamis have occurred on all inhabited continents, including one that hit the port of Fremantle, near the Australian city of Perth, in 2014, causing a ship to break free from its moorings and crash into a railroad bridge in 2014, Sarath Wijeratne of the University of Western Australia reported in a conference abstract. In fact, Wijeratne concluded, a look back at historical water level records indicates that Western Australia may have seen more than 15 such events each year between 2008 and 2016.

    Other researchers are also finding these events to be surprisingly frequent. By studying tide gauge records back to 1996, Dusek has concluded that they occur on America’s eastern seaboard at a rate of 23 per year — though most are small enough nobody would ever notice. In Holland, Van Dongeren says that a quick check of historical tide gauge records revealed at least three such events in the past decade that had gone unnoticed because they happened at low tide. “They’re not that rare,” he says.

    Fukuzawa says that Japan saw 37 meteotsunamis exceeding one metre from 1961 to 2005.

    Furthermore, bigger ones are possible. In June 2014, Croatia was hit by a two-to-three metre tsunami sweeping in from the Adriatic Sea, says Clea Denamiel, of the Croatian Institute of Oceanography and Fisheries.

    But the mother of all meteotsunamis came in 1978, when Vela Luka, at the southern end of Croatia’s scenic Dalmatian coast, was smashed by a meteotsunami measuring a full six metres, with giant waves surging and retreating about every 17 minutes, just as might have occurred in the aftermath of a large offshore earthquake.

    As of now, scientists don’t know enough about meteotsunamis to be able to predict them, though efforts are under way to create models that can do just that. But as they dig back through old records, they are increasingly realising that meteotsunamis might have been with us for a long time.

    Or as Linares puts it with typical scientific understatement, “meteotsunamis are a beach hazard that has been overlooked”.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 10:13 am on February 16, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Atmosphere science, , NASA PACE, Oceanography   

    From Eos: “A Novel Approach to a Satellite Mission’s Science Team” 

    AGU bloc

    Eos news bloc


    12 February 2018
    Emmanuel Boss
    Lorraine A. Remer

    NASA Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, Ocean Ecosystem (PACE) mission satellite.

    The NASA Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, Ocean Ecosystem (PACE) mission, with a target launch within the next 5 years, aims to make measurements that will advance ocean and atmospheric science and facilitate interdisciplinary studies involving the interaction of the atmosphere with ocean biological systems. Unique to this Earth science satellite project was the formation of a science team charged with a dual role: performing principal investigator (PI)-led peer-reviewed science relevant to specific aspects of PACE, as well as supporting the mission’s overall formulation as a unified team.

    This science team is serving a limited term of 3 years, and recompetition for membership is expected later this year. Overall, the cooperative, consensus-building approach of the first PACE Science Team has been a constructive and scientifically productive contribution for the new satellite mission. This approach can serve as a model for all future satellite missions.


    The PACE satellite, as envisioned, would carry multiple sensors into space as early as 2022. These instruments include a radiometer that will span the ultraviolet to the near infrared (NIR) with high spectral resolution (<5 nanometers). This radiometer will also scan individual bands from the NIR to the shortwave infrared. In addition, the instrument suite would include two different CubeSat polarimeters. These devices are radiometers that separate different polarization states of light over several viewing angles and spectral bands.

    Measurements from these sensors would be used to derive properties of atmospheric aerosols, clouds, and oceanic constituents. Derived products could lead to better understanding of the processes involved in determining sources, distributions, sinks, and interactions of these variables with critical applications including Earth’s radiative balance, ocean carbon uptake, sustainable fisheries, and more.

    The PACE Science Team

    To help map out the scope of the PACE mission, NASA first established a science definition team that provided a report on the desired characteristics of PACE in 2012. Following that report and just before the decision to fund PACE was made, in 2014 NASA published a call for proposals for participants in the first PACE Science Team.

    The scientists funded under this call and selected for the science team were partitioned into two subject areas: One focused on atmospheric correction and atmospheric products, and the other addressed the retrieval of inherent optical properties of the ocean. The team was enhanced with NASA personnel with specific portfolios in two areas: data processing and applications for societal relevance.

    NASA’s solicitation specified “the ultimate goal for each of the two measurement suite teams is to achieve consensus and develop community-endorsed paths forward for the PACE sensor(s) for the full spectrum of components within the measurement suite. The goal is to replace individual ST [science team] member recommendations for measurement, algorithm, and retrieval approaches (historically based on the individual expertise and interests of ST members) with consensus recommendations toward common goals.”

    This new framework differed from past NASA science teams in that PIs not only proposed their own science objectives and coordinated their own research but were also expected to contribute to common goals as well.

    Science Team Activities

    Soon after forming, the science team identified several issues or subject areas of common concern and formed subgroups to address these individual concerns. These areas included construction of novel data sets for algorithm development (both in situ and synthetic data sets), cross comparison and benchmarking of coupled ocean-atmosphere radiative transfer codes, and cross comparison of instruments in the field to assess and constrain uncertainties in the measurements of oceanic particle absorption.

    The science team was also asked by NASA to assess the designs of the PACE radiometer and polarimeter and to determine the value of adding a high spatial resolution coastal camera. An ad hoc subgroup was formed to produce a stand-alone report on the advantages and requirements for polarimetry for atmospheric correction, aerosol characterization, and oceanic retrievals. The team contributed to both the design and content of the PACE website.

    The PACE science team also developed an alternative style for their last two annual meetings that emphasized discussion and interaction. To improve the efficiency of the PACE science team’s workshops, a “flipped meeting” format was adopted in which team members prerecorded their individual presentations in advance and posted these recordings to an internal site. Science team members were able to view and listen to the recordings at their leisure and arrived at the meeting itself readied with questions and discussion points for the presenters. This meeting strategy was successful and led to invigorating two-way discussions.

    Enhanced Collaborations

    The PACE science team is in the last phase of the 3-year term. Several consensus reports are being finalized to provide NASA with input and recommendations about the most likely paths forward for PACE atmospheric correction, atmospheric products, and oceanic optical properties [e.g., Werdell et al., 2018].

    PACE has set itself up to be a model for interdisciplinary collaboration. Early fruits of this can be seen in the multiple collaborations that have sprouted up between ocean and atmospheric scientists, whose vocabulary and culture were initially vastly different. Collaborative products range from published papers that build realistic radiative transfer models from within the ocean to the top of the atmosphere to the assembly of novel databases that contain ocean and atmospheric measurements useful to develop novel algorithms.

    We hope these collaborations will result in increased cooperation in PACE’s future and on future missions. In particular, we’re hopeful that collaborations will lead to enhanced study of processes at the air-sea interface, a complex domain that is relatively unknown, where a holistic and interdisciplinary approach will lead to better understanding of the functioning of our planet.

    PACE’s future is currently uncertain (it is in Congress’s continuing resolutions but was one of the missions the current administration did not support). Although we hope that the mission keeps its funding, we note that the cooperative, consensus-building approach of the first PACE science team was a constructive and scientifically productive contribution to the path forward for a new satellite mission. We expect that this framework to support mission activities will be adopted in future NASA missions to maximize their utility across disciplines.

    Science paper:
    An overview of approaches and challenges for retrieving marine inherent optical properties from ocean color remote sensing, Progress in Oceanography

    See the full article here .

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    Eos is the leading source for trustworthy news and perspectives about the Earth and space sciences and their impact. Its namesake is Eos, the Greek goddess of the dawn, who represents the light shed on understanding our planet and its environment in space by the Earth and space sciences.

  • richardmitnick 8:02 am on February 10, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Lake Under The Sea - Those Who Swim There Won't Come Back Alive, Oceanography,   

    From Science Alert: “Scientists Have Found a Lake Under The Sea – Those Who Swim There Won’t Come Back Alive” 


    Science Alert

    9 FEB 2018


    Scientists have discovered a ‘lake’ in the Gulf of Mexico. Everyone, who enters this pool at the bottom of the sea will suffer horribly.

    Erik Cordes, associate professor of biology at Temple University, has researched the pool and described his findings in the journal Oceanography.

    “It was one of the most amazing things in the deep sea. You go down into the bottom of the ocean and you are looking at a lake or a river flowing. It feels like you are not on this world”, Cordes told Seeker.

    The water in the ‘lake within the sea’ is about five times as salty as the water surrounding it. It also contains highly toxic concentrations of methane and hydrogen sulphide and can thus not mix with the surrounding sea.

    For animals (and people) who swim into it, these toxic concentrations can be deadly. Only bacterial life, tube worms, and shrimp can survive those circumstances.

    For scientists, this lake is like a playground for their research. They can explore how certain organisms can survive in extreme habitats.

    “There’s a lot of people looking at these extreme habitats on Earth as models for what we might discover when we go to other planets,” Cordes told Seeker.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 2:22 pm on January 15, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Annie Opel, Coral conservation, , Oceanography,   

    From Harvard Gazette: Women in STEM- “For answers on coral conservation, she followed the fish” Annie Opel 

    Harvard University
    Harvard University

    Harvard Gazette

    January 11, 2018
    Peter Reuell

    Researcher’s St. Croix project explores impact of restoration efforts.

    A new study suggests that efforts to restore coral reefs, such as this staghorn coral thicket outplanted at Great St. James, have a positive impact on fish populations, both short- and long-term. Photo by Kemit-Amon Lewis.

    Spending hours a day diving around the coral reefs off St. Croix might sound like the stuff of a dream vacation, but for Annie Opel ’17, it was serious business.

    Opel spent much of her Virgin Islands adventure on thesis research that shows that efforts to restore coral reefs have a positive impact on fish populations, both short- and long-term. The study was published in the December issue of Marine Biology with Opel as first author, a rare accomplishment for an undergraduate.

    “Reefs are not only biologically important — more than 4,000 species of fish rely on these ecosystems — they’re also really important for humans,” Opel said. “We depend on them for commercial and recreational fisheries, they provide protection for coastal communities, and they bring in a great deal of money through tourism.

    “But right now they’re threatened by a number of anthropogenic inputs, from pollution to the effects of climate change,” Opel said. “Coral reefs have experienced bleaching and mass mortality all over the world, causing ecosystem degradation that affects the marine life that rely on the reefs to survive.”

    Opel threads a nursery tree with lines of coral pieces. Photo by Kemit-Amon Lewis

    While there have been efforts to counter those threats by transplanting corals grown in underwater “nurseries” to damaged reefs, the impact of such projects on Caribbean reefs has been an open question, Opel said.

    “In St. Croix, they’ve been restoring corals since 2009,” Opel said. “[But] no one is really looking at what’s happening after the fact … so no one knows if this is an efficient way to restore reef systems.”

    What she found, Opel said, is that as little as a week after the introduction of experimental coral beds, significantly more fish and a greater diversity of species appeared. The research also showed that, over time, the fish community changed as additional species began visiting the sites.

    “Overall, it’s a success story — we outplanted corals and there were more fish,” she said. “That’s really exciting and something people took for granted in these restoration projects, but no one had quantified it before. I think it’s going to be interesting for future studies to use this as a benchmark to know what’s going on after transplanting corals.”

    Kemit-Amon Lewis

    John Melendez

    During a post-high school gap year, Opel worked with the Nature Conservancy on coral restoration projects in St. Croix. As a sophomore at Harvard, she joined the lab of Colleen M. Cavanaugh, the Edward C. Jeffrey Professor of Biology in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, and later proposed the coral study for her senior honors thesis.

    The project was helped along the way by Cavanaugh and postdoctoral fellows Joey Pakes Nelson and Randi Rotjan, who is now an assistant professor at Boston University.

    “This work was really cool for a variety of reasons,” said Nelson, an invertebrate biologist and ecologist. “As a global community, we spend a lot of money on coral reef restoration, but few studies describe how this practice affects the reef community, so Annie’s work provides justification for investments in this type of conservation.”

    Opel “had great resources because of her work in the Nature Conservancy, she knew about transplanting corals, she had diving experience, and she had a great question,” Nelson added.

    But answering a great question takes dedication.

    Courtesy of Annie Opel ’17

    “I went down to St. Croix in March over spring break and in collaboration with other researchers, outplanted four 2-by-2-meter plots of an endangered species of coral found in the Caribbean called Acropora cervicornis,” Opel said. “We also designated control plots 10 and 20 meters away.”

    Opel returned to the island at the end of the academic year to plant four additional plots and then began the hard work of collecting data almost entirely on her own.

    “Each survey day, I spent two hours underwater where I took five-minute surveys on each of my 16 plots,” she said. “I sat there with underwater paper and a clipboard, and I would basically mark every fish I saw for that five minutes. It was a steep learning curve, because I needed to learn how to identify every species of fish by sex and age before I started taking my surveys. I took surveys three times a week for all 16 plots, and I counted something like 15,000 fish in total, so it was a lot of sitting underwater in my bright orange wetsuit counting and identifying fish.”

    One of the most challenging parts of the project, she said, was finding partners to accompany her on dives.

    Opel surveys the fish around an outplanted colony near St. Croix. Photo by Sandra Schleier.

    “For safety reasons, you always dive with another person,” Opel said. “But it’s not like I had an assistant or anyone working with me, so I had to crowdsource my volunteers. I asked around at local dive shops in St. Croix and got put in contact with a lot of great people who wanted to help me with my research. One day my dad even came with me, so that was really special.

    “One of my favorite parts of the paper [Marine Biology] is the acknowledgments, because I got the chance to thank all the volunteer divers and all of the people who helped make this project happen. And I am really thankful to have had three rock-star female scientists to mentor me through this academic journey.”

    See the full article here .

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    Harvard University campus
    Harvard is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States, established in 1636 by vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was named after the College’s first benefactor, the young minister John Harvard of Charlestown, who upon his death in 1638 left his library and half his estate to the institution. A statue of John Harvard stands today in front of University Hall in Harvard Yard, and is perhaps the University’s best known landmark.

    Harvard University has 12 degree-granting Schools in addition to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The University has grown from nine students with a single master to an enrollment of more than 20,000 degree candidates including undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. There are more than 360,000 living alumni in the U.S. and over 190 other countries.

  • richardmitnick 7:45 am on January 11, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Argo floats, , , , CSIRO’s Research Vessel "Investigator", Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC), Laboratoire d’Océanographie et du Climat (LOCEAN France), Oceanography, Scripps Research Institute (USA), The vast Southern Ocean plays a major role in how climate variability and change will play out in future decades, These new generation data-collecting autonomous ocean robots will provide unprecedented information about oceans up to depths of 5000 metres   

    From CSIRO: “Deep diving for answers on climate” 

    CSIRO bloc

    Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation

    10 Jan 2018
    Chris Gerbing
    +61 3 9545 2312

    Dr Steve Rintoul is leading research to the Antarctic edge, deploying the first ever deep Argo floats in the region. ©Peter Mathew.

    For the first time scientists will deploy new model deep sea Argo floats in the Southern Ocean that will help build our understanding of oceans, how they are warming and the impact on our climate.

    A global network of over 3800 Argo floats already provide us with an understanding of ocean temperature and salinity up to 2000 metres, however these new generation, data-collecting, autonomous ocean robots will provide unprecedented information about oceans up to depths of 5000 metres.

    The deep water Argo floats will be deployed as part of a six-week research expedition that will set sail for Antarctica tomorrow aboard CSIRO’s Research Vessel “Investigator”.

    Researchers will be investigating climate contributions of the deep ocean, clouds and atmospheric aerosols through a series of projects that will fill information gaps about the magnitude and pace of future climate change.

    Voyage Chief Scientist Dr Steve Rintoul, from CSIRO and the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems CRC, said research from the voyage would provide unique information about the Southern Hemisphere’s ocean’s capacity to continue to absorb heat and carbon dioxide.

    “The world’s climate is strongly influenced by the oceans, and the vast Southern Ocean plays a major role in how climate variability and change will play out in future decades,” Dr Rintoul said.

    “We already know that the Southern Ocean makes important contributions to global sea level change through taking up more heat than any other ocean on Earth and through influencing how fast the Antarctic Ice Sheet loses mass.

    “To understand this system we need comprehensive and continuous measurements over a huge area of ocean, which has been very difficult in the past.”

    Dr Rintoul’s team will be deploying 11 deep-water floats near the Antarctic edge that have been supplied by the Scripps Research Institute (USA), Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC), and Laboratoire d’Océanographie et du Climat (LOCEAN, France).

    “It’s the first time these next-generation deep water Argo floats will be deployed near Antarctica. By providing year-round measurements through the full ocean depth, the floats will fill a massive data gap for the climate research community,” Dr Rintoul said.

    Scientists from the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre will also be making measurements of trace elements like iron, using ultra-clean techniques to avoid contamination. Phytoplankton, like humans, need small amounts of iron to be healthy. The voyage will help identify what controls how much biological activity occurs in the Southern Ocean.

    During the Investigator’s journey, an international team of scientists from agencies including CSIRO, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), and the University of Utah, will conduct experiments to explore the interaction between aerosols and clouds.

    Clouds and aerosols, which occur naturally and from greenhouse gases, both reflect and absorb heat from the sun, but as greenhouse gases change globally, so will this interaction.

    Bureau of Meteorology Project Leader Dr Alain Protat said that the experiments will use a unique combination of aircraft, ship-based and satellite observations to collect detailed data on clouds and the interactions between incoming radiation, aerosol production, and then the formation of precipitation.

    “The Southern Ocean region is the cloudiest place on Earth, yet we don’t understand why these clouds are different from clouds in other regions – the lack of pollution over this remote region is a possible explanation, which we will explore with these unprecedented observations,” Dr Protat said.

    “We know from reference satellite observations that global climate models struggle to represent the energy balance at the Earth’s surface over the Southern Ocean region, and what that means for the accuracy of future climate predictions is largely unknown.

    “The complexity of the problem requires collocated, state-of-the art, measurements of aerosol, clouds, precipitation and radiation to understand the interactions and feedbacks between them.”

    Ocean and atmospheric research conducted aboard the Investigator will provide valuable and unique insights to inform knowledge of climate change and sea level rise projections.

    The Investigator is run by the Marine National Facility and is Australia’s only blue-water research vessel, enabling scientists from across Australia and the world to study from the equator to Antarctica.

    See the full article here .

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    CSIRO, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, is Australia’s national science agency and one of the largest and most diverse research agencies in the world.

  • richardmitnick 11:46 am on December 31, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Daniel Vogt, Falkor research vessel, , NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Oceanography, PIPA-Phoenix Islands Protected Area, , ROV-remotely operated underwater vehicle, Schmidt Ocean Institute, , Squishy fingers help scientists probe the watery depths,   

    From Wyss Institute: “Squishy fingers help scientists probe the watery depths” 2017 

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    Wyss Institute

    October 28, 2017
    Lindsay Brownell

    Wyss researcher Daniel Vogt tests out soft robotics on deep sea corals in the South Pacific.

    As an engineer with degrees in Computer Science and Microengineering, Wyss researcher Daniel Vogt usually spends most of his time in his lab building and testing robots, surrounded by jumbles of cables, wires, bits of plastic, and circuit boards. But for the last month, he’s spent nearly every day in a room that resembles NASA ground control surrounded by marine biologists on a ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, intently watching them use joysticks and buttons to maneuver a remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) to harvest corals, crabs, and other sea life from the ocean floor.

    The squishy fingers are made of a soft, flexible material that is more dexterous and gentle than ROVs’ conventional grippers. Credit: Schmidt Ocean Institute.

    Deep corals of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area: How Wyss Institute researchers are changing underwater exploration. Credit: Schmidt Ocean Institute.

    This particular ROV’s robotic metal arm is holding the reason why Vogt is here: what looks like a large, floppy toy starfish made of blue and yellow foam. “Devices like this are extremely soft – you can compare them to rubber bands or gummy bears – and this allows them to grasp things that you wouldn’t be able to grasp with a hard device like the ROV gripper,” says Vogt, watching the TV screen as the “squishy fingers” gently close around a diaphanous bright pink sea cucumber and lift it off the sand. The biologists applaud as the fingers cradle the sea cucumber safely on its journey to the ROV’s collection box. “Nicely done,” Vogt says to the ROV operators.

    This shipful of scientists is the latest in a series of research voyages co-funded by NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research and the Schmidt Ocean Institute, a nonprofit founded by Eric and Wendy Schmidt in 2009 to support high-risk marine exploration that expands humans’ understanding of our planet’s oceans. The Institute provides marine scientists access to the ship, Falkor, and expert technical shipboard support in exchange for a commitment to openly share and communicate the outcomes of their research.

    Falkor is equipped with both wet and dry lab spaces, the ROV SuBastian, echosounders, water sampling systems, and many other instruments to gather data about the ocean. Credit: Schmidt Ocean Institute.

    Vogt’s shipmates are studying the mysterious deep sea coral communities of the deep ocean, which live below 138 meters (450 feet) on seamounts which are mostly unexplored.

    The best place to find those corals is the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA), a smattering of tiny islands, atolls, coral reefs, and great swaths of their surrounding South Pacific ocean almost 3,000 miles from the nearest continent. PIPA is the largest (the size of California) and deepest (average water column depth of 4 km/2.5 mi) UNESCO World Heritage Site on Earth and, thanks to its designation as a Marine Protected Area in 2008, represents one of Earth’s last intact oceanic coral archipelago ecosystems. With over 500 species of reef fishes, 250 shallow coral species, and large numbers of sharks and other marine life, PIPA’s reefs resemble what a reef might have looked like a thousand years ago, before human activity began to severely affect oceanic communities. The team on board Falkor is conducting the first deep water biological surveys in PIPA, assessing what species of deep corals are present and any new, undescribed species, while also evaluating the effect of seawater acidification (caused by an increase in the amount of CO2 in the water) on deep coral ecosystems.

    The deep ocean is about as inhospitable to human life as outer space, so scientists largely rely on ROVs to be their eyes, legs, and hands underwater, controlling them remotely from the safety of the surface. Most ROVs used in deep-sea research were designed for use in the oil and gas industries and are built to accomplish tasks like lifting heavy weights, drilling into rock, and installing machinery. When it comes to plucking a sea cucumber off the ocean floor or snipping a piece off a delicate sea fan, however, existing ROVs are like bulls in a china shop, often crushing the samples they’re meant to be taking.

    This problem led to a collaboration between Wyss Core Faculty member Rob Wood, Ph.D. and City University of New York (CUNY) marine biologist David Gruber, Ph.D. back in 2014 that produced the first version of the soft robotic “squishy fingers,” which were successfully tested in the Red Sea in 2015. PIPA offered a unique opportunity to test the squishy fingers in more extreme conditions and evaluate a series of improvements that Vogt and other members of Wood’s lab have been making to them, such as integrating sensors into the robots’ soft bodies. “The Phoenix Islands are very unexplored. We’re looking for new species of corals that nobody has ever seen anywhere else. We don’t know what our graspers will have to pick up on a given day, so it’s a great opportunity to see how they fare against different challenges in the field.”

    Daniel Vogt holds the ‘squishy finger’ soft robots aboard Falkor. Credit: Schmidt Ocean Institute.

    Vogt, ever the tinkerer, also brought with him something that the Red Sea voyage did not have on board: two off-the-shelf 3D printers. Taking feedback directly from the biologists and the ROV pilots about what the soft robot could and could not do, Vogt was able to print new components overnight and try them in the field the next day – something that rarely happens even on land. “It’s really a novel thing, to be able to iterate based on input in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, with no lab in sight. We noticed, for example, that the samples we tried to grasp were often on rock instead of sand, making it difficult for the soft fingers to reach underneath the sample for a good grip. In the latest iteration of the gripper, ‘fingernails’ were added to improve grasping in these situations.” The ultimate goal of building better and better underwater soft robots is to be able to conduct research on samples underwater at their natural depth and temperature, rather than bringing them up to the surface, as this will paint a more accurate picture of what is happening out of sight in the world’s oceans.

    PIPA may be somewhat insulated from the threats of warming oceans and pollution thanks to its remoteness and deep waters, but the people of Kiribati, the island nation that contains and administers PIPA, are not. The researchers visited the island of Kanton, population 25, a few days into their trip to meet the local people and learn about their lives in a country where dry land makes up less than 1% of its total area – a true oceanic nation. “The people were very nice, very welcoming. There is one ship that comes every six months to deliver supplies; everything else they get from the sea,” says Vogt (locals are allowed to fish for subsistence). “They’re also going to be one of the first nations affected by rising sea levels, because the highest point on the whole island is three meters (ten feet). They know that they live in a special place, but they’re preparing for the day when they’ll have to leave their home. The whole community has bought land on Fiji, where they’ll move once Kanton becomes uninhabitable.”

    Daniel Vogt tests the squishy fingers on the forearm of CUNY biologist David Gruber, who spearheaded their development along with Wyss Faculty member Rob Wood. Credit: Schmidt Ocean Institute.

    Research that brings scientists from different fields together to elucidate the world’s remaining unknowns and solve its toughest problems is gaining popularity, and may be the best chance humanity has to ensure its own survival. “One of the most eye-opening part of the trip has been interacting with people from different backgrounds and seeing the scientific challenges they face, which are very different from the challenges that the mechanical and electrical engineers I’m with most of the time have to solve,” says Vogt. “I’ve been amazed by the technology that’s on Falkor related to the ROV and all the scientific tools aboard. The ROV SuBastian is one-of-a-kind, with numerous tools, cameras and sensors aboard as well as an advanced underwater positioning system. It takes a lot of engineers to create and operate something like that, and then a lot of biologists to interpret the results and analyze the 400+ samples which were collected during the cruise.”

    Vogt says he spent a lot of time listening to the biologists and the ROV pilots in order to modify the gripper’s design according to their feedback. The latest version of the gripper was fully designed and manufactured on the boat, and was used during the last dive to successfully sample a variety of sea creatures. He and Wood plan to write several papers detailing the results of his experiments in the coming months.

    “We’re very excited that what started as a conversation between a roboticist and a marine biologist at a conference three years ago has blossomed into a project that solves a significant problem in the real world, and can aid researchers in understanding and preserving our oceans’ sea life,” says Wood.

    Additional videos detailing Vogt’s voyage, including the ship’s log, can be found here.

    See the full article here .

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    Wyss Institute campus

    The Wyss (pronounced “Veese”) Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering uses Nature’s design principles to develop bioinspired materials and devices that will transform medicine and create a more sustainable world.

    Working as an alliance among Harvard’s Schools of Medicine, Engineering, and Arts & Sciences, and in partnership with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston Children’s Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital, the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, Tufts University, and Boston University, the Institute crosses disciplinary and institutional barriers to engage in high-risk research that leads to transformative technological breakthroughs.

  • richardmitnick 12:11 pm on December 6, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Eddy currents: enter the whirlpool, Oceanography, Where do ocean eddies come from?   

    From CSIROscope: “Eddy currents: enter the whirlpool” 

    CSIRO bloc


    5 December 2017
    Sophie Schmidt

    “Can you spot the eddies? This NASA image shows a field of eddies in the waters around Tasmania. The swirling motion of eddies in the ocean cause nutrients that are normally found in colder, deeper waters to come to the surface. Here, phytoplankton (tiny ocean plants) feeding on these nutrients color the water beautiful shades of blue and green.” Image: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

    What do the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race and the Australian freshwater eel have in common? Every year, they head out of the confines of Sydney Harbour to the wild depths of the ocean on the ride of their lives.

    The Australian freshwater eel migrates north, swimming from far up the rivers on the east coast of Australia, eventually out to the ocean where it heads to the Coral Sea. Once there, it spawns abundant, tiny translucent larvae, which then hatch and embark on the big commute back to their mothers’ home.

    With distances up to 1500 km, it might sound like a very long way to go just to lay some eggs and raise your offspring – but for both parties (the Yacht crews ideally don’t produce spawn along the Bass Straight) the round-trip from their home to their destination and back again is made much easier, thanks to an ocean phenomenon called eddies.

    We’re not talking about legendary AFL player Eddie Betts or even this home energy tool we developed – we’re talking about ocean whirlpools that play a stunningly important role in the ecosystem, transporting heat, nutrients, salt and marine animals (including humans) around the ocean.

    Where do ocean eddies come from?

    The ocean is pretty darn big, and because of the nature of shifting wind cycles, it’s constantly in motion. We call these general patterns of motion currents.

    Australia’s major current systems include the East Australian Current in the east (made famous by some fishy friends hitching a ride in Finding Nemo), the Leeuwin Current in the west, and currents that connect the Pacific and Indian Oceans via the Indonesian Passages and in the Southern Ocean.

    Eddies peel off from boundary currents, and form in energetic ‘bowls’, hundreds of metres deep and hundreds of kilometres wide. The strongest currents in the deep ocean are found at the outer edge of these eddies, like winds around the highs and lows in the atmosphere. Although the currents are strong, the eddies themselves are more like gentle giants slowly moving through ocean, taking months to travel from Sydney to Bass Strait.

    Australia – home of the eddies

    Australia is unusual because we have two strong boundary currents: the Leeuwin in the west and the East Australian Current in the east. And where there are strong ocean currents, there are eddies. The region of southern NSW has actually been nicknamed Eddy Ave because of all the eddies that form there.

    For those crews sailing in the Sydney to Hobart Yacht race on Boxing Day, hitching a ride on an eddy can either slingshot them towards Hobart’s finish line, or push them back towards Sydney – depending on the direction of the rotation of the currents around the eddy.

    But what’s so fascinating about eddies is that they’re associated with upwelling, which can bring key nutrients from the deep, dark waters up to the surface of the ocean.

    Taking a sea change

    An upwelling sounds quite ominous, but in reality, it’s like a big family holiday destination for marine life.

    Our oceans are complex, inter-related communities of plants and animals. And when some eddies form, cold, nutrient-rich water can rise up from below to replace the surface water.

    Just like stirring a big pot of soup where the really good stuff is hanging around on the bottom, upwelling renews the nutrient supplies of the top-level surface, kick-starting a renewal of the food supply, which benefits many organisms in turn.

    How? It starts by the providing essential nutrients to phytoplankton (tiny ocean plants known as microalgae), which live near the surface. Phytoplankton provide a convenient food source full of fatty acids for many of the ocean’s invertebrates and fish species, including eel, yellow tail king fish, anchovy and dolphin.

    Because upwelling can trigger an increase in phytoplankton production, eddies produce enhanced conditions for breeding, and so are associated with an increase in spawning activity for many larval species.

    Spanning up to 50-200 km wide, eddies can sustain themselves anywhere from a number of weeks to a number of months, functioning as bustling oases for baby marine animals.

    Eddies provide essential nutrients to phytoplankton. Image: Neon Ja

    Our research

    When our atmosphere system changes significantly so as to affect the development of eddies, it can in turn have dramatic effects on the ocean circulation, which can have a big effect on the ocean’s ecosystem, and as a result, our weather patterns.

    One of the most useful tools for understanding eddies is the Argo fleet, which floats around the ocean measuring the temperature and salinity of the surface – up to 2 km in depth.

    Over the past twenty years we have been able to observe eddies in the ocean with satellite altimeters and in that time we have seen some significant changes in the number of eddies coming south past the Bass Strait, down to Tasmania. At the same time, we’ve observed that the temperature on the east coast of Tasmania has been warming. In 2015/16, a marine heat wave took place, which has impacted on the health of Tasmania’s kelp forests.

    So, whether it’s about finding the most strategic route down to Hobart, or looking for the best fishing grounds, it’s important that we study ocean currents and eddies in order to sustainably manage our marine resources and understand how the global ocean circulation is likely to change over the decades to come.

    See the full article here .

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    SKA/ASKAP radio telescope at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) in Mid West region of Western Australia

    So what can we expect these new radio projects to discover? We have no idea, but history tells us that they are almost certain to deliver some major surprises.

    Making these new discoveries may not be so simple. Gone are the days when astronomers could just notice something odd as they browse their tables and graphs.

    Nowadays, astronomers are more likely to be distilling their answers from carefully-posed queries to databases containing petabytes of data. Human brains are just not up to the job of making unexpected discoveries in these circumstances, and instead we will need to develop “learning machines” to help us discover the unexpected.

    With the right tools and careful insight, who knows what we might find.

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    CSIRO, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, is Australia’s national science agency and one of the largest and most diverse research agencies in the world.

  • richardmitnick 7:56 pm on October 6, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Long floating arrays of hydrophones pick up the sound waves, Marine seismic surveys, Ocean bottom seismometers, Oceanography, Seventy percent of Earth’s surface geology is under water,   

    From Eos: “Keeping Our Focus on the Subseafloor” 

    AGU bloc

    Eos news bloc


    3 October 2017
    Nathan Bangs and
    James A. Austin Jr.

    University of Texas at Austin Ph.D. students Kelly Olsen and Brooklyn Gose work on recovering, cleaning, and storing 1 of 50 streamer depth control birds on the back deck of the R/V Langseth during a marine seismic survey cruise. Although relatively few scientists go to sea to collect such data themselves, the data from these surveys provide valuable information on subseafloor structures to a much wider scientific community. Credit: Nathan Bangs

    Seventy percent of Earth’s surface geology is under water, but let’s face it: There are few options for exploring beneath the seafloor, and the limited number of techniques for subseafloor exploration presents a challenge. But with modern seismic imaging techniques it’s surmountable, and the opportunities are extremely exciting.

    The real challenge at present is finding financial support. We need a new funding commitment in the United States to address recent declines in National Science Foundation (NSF) seismic facilities support. We are at a juncture where an increment of additional support from U.S. funding agencies, academic institutions, and/or private contributions for seismic facilities will have a leveraging effect with tremendous science impact for a broad community. With less support, we will still progress, but with substantial new challenges and uncertainty throughout marine science.

    During marine seismic surveys, ships use pneumatic sound sources to generate acoustic waves beneath the water’s surface. Long floating arrays of hydrophones pick up the sound waves, reflected back by subsurface sedimentary layers and crustal structures, to provide a detailed picture of the geology below the ocean floor.

    This technique provides invaluable information for the scientific and petroleum exploration communities alike. However, research funding reductions continue to hamper the marine geoscience community’s ability to collect seismic data in areas of scientific interest.

    Although relatively few scientists are directly involved in collecting these data, a much larger community relies on the data they produce. Thus, a dwindling data stream produces ripple effects that extend far beyond the scientists and crews who go to sea.

    The science community needs to understand what those ripple effects mean. Below, we’ve outlined a few options that we see as the most likely going forward.

    Seismic Techniques Provide Context

    Data from beneath the ocean floor come from several sources, and each type has its own strengths and limitations.

    Drilling and piston coring provide valuable samples for establishing lithologies, ages, geochemistry, and physical properties, but they provide a keyhole view beneath the ocean floor. Cores are only a few centimeters wide, and the information we gain is generally limited by both depth of penetration and the cost of coring expeditions.

    Electromagnetic methods are designed for a broader view, but they provide only bulk property constraints, averaged over the sampling area.

    The reality is that only marine seismic data have the resolution to see into the subsurface, to reveal regional geologic structure, and to help us understand the broader context of “ground truth” sampling from cores.

    Coherence volume derived from the Costa Rica 3-D seismic data acquired on the R/V Langseth in 2011. These data show amazing 3-D detail in the subseafloor geology. Dark lines indicate the disruption in the continuity of seismic reflections from a complex pattern of faulting (mostly normal faults here) within margin shelf and slope cover sediment sequences. Horizontal slices are at 455 and 1,060 m depth. Credit: Nathan Bangs

    We have some amazing seismic data analysis techniques available to us: 3-D imaging, full-waveform inversion, and vertical profiling. We also have technologies to gather these data: Large spatial deployments of ocean bottom seismometers (OBSs), for example, are now possible with governmentally supported OBS instrument pools in the United States and other countries. Advanced multichannel seismic (MCS) reflection platforms, like the United States’ R/V Marcus G. Langseth, are equipped with multiple hydrophone arrays and streamers, which can be as long as 15 kilometers. And we have improved computational facilities for data analyses.

    United States’ R/V Marcus G. Langseth. https://marine.usgs.gov

    Together, these capabilities allow us to “see” into the subseafloor to address fundamental geologic questions on ocean crust formation and evolution, subduction zone earthquake genesis, fluid migration within the crust, continental rifting, and the list goes on.

    More Technology but Fewer Cruises

    However, the availability of high-quality seismic images is in decline. The International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) Science Evaluation Panel (SEP), scientific ocean drilling’s primary review body, sent the following statement for programmatic review in 2015:

    “The SEP wishes to convey concern regarding the increased pressures on the acquisition of academic active-source seismic data, some of which by design is conducted in support of scientific ocean drilling. Continued reduction in the international marine geoscience communities’ ability to collect seismic data in areas of scientific interest is jeopardizing the scope and impact of IODP science. The SEP consensus is that the IODP should stress the importance, both to member country funding agencies and environmental permit organizations worldwide, of high-quality subsurface images for science and safety in connection with expected continuation of IODP.”

    The SEP concern is justified. From 1995 to 2005, the R/V Maurice Ewing, then the primary U.S. seismic acquisition facility, conducted on average 4.7 seismic (MCS and OBS) cruises each year (in addition to higher-resolution surveys) and participated in multiship vertical seismic profiling projects.

    R/V Maurice-Ewing (Photo courtesy Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University)

    In contrast, during the past decade, the R/V Marcus G. Langseth, the Maurice Ewing’s successor ship, has conducted an average of 3.2 cruises each year, with only 5 total in 2016 and 2017.

    This decline raised questions explicitly addressed in the 2015 National Academy of Sciences’ decadal survey of ocean sciences: Should the National Science Foundation consider divestiture of this expensive facility to maintain a healthy balance between spending on technology and infrastructure and spending on science? Are seismic facilities serving too few scientists to justify such infrastructure?

    Worth the Investment?

    To address these questions, the University–National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS) conducted a June 2016 survey to assess the community’s seismic needs. Response was excellent; in 2.5 weeks, 263 completed the survey. (As a comparison, the virtual town hall that surveyed the ocean sciences community as input to the National Academy of Sciences report generated about 400 responses over 20 weeks.)

    The UNOLS survey confirmed that although a minority of the respondents acquire data at sea, and most of those are senior scientists (at least 20 years post Ph.D.), the seismic data they collect are used by many more. Half of the respondents considered themselves nonspecialists who rely only on processed seismic data and interpretations, without other involvement.

    The majority of respondents had never submitted an NSF proposal to acquire seismic data; 75% had not served as a primary investigator (PI) or co-PI on a seismic acquisition and processing project in the previous 5 years. Many stated that they do not have the background to acquire seismic data. However, 94% said they plan to use seismic data in the future, primarily through collaborations.

    The most commonly cited reason for not serving as a PI on a Langseth-type acquisition cruise was a lack of background in seismology or know-how with acquisition, processing, and interpretation techniques. Processing seismic reflection data requires extensive technical knowledge, advanced computer systems equipped with appropriate (often expensive) software, and generally 1–2 years or more of postacquisition processing effort.

    Overcoming these challenges is not practical or even possible for many; the pool of seismic specialists will remain small. Yet the UNOLS survey confirms the demand for seismic data beyond the small number of PIs who acquire and process them. Therefore, a loss of acquisition facilities would have wide-reaching effects on Earth sciences.

    The survey also confirms that many seismic tools (Figure 1) are needed to address the diverse science goals of current and envisioned U.S. Earth science programs, some of which include international partners and span shore lines (e.g., IODP, Geodynamic Processes at Rifting and Subducting Margins (GeoPRISMS), and subduction zone observatory).

    Weighing the Options

    Can we maintain seismic acquisition capabilities with reduced funding? With the exception of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography high-resolution (short-streamer) portable MCS system, Langseth is the only U.S. seismic facility. Langseth can acquire 3-D volumes and 2-D data with streamers more than 6,000 meters long, an “aperture” long enough to image at crustal scales.

    Fig. 1. Results of a June 2016 UNOLS survey to assess the scientific community’s needs for seismic data from the ocean floor and below. Shown here are the percentages of respondents for each type of primary interest and the facilities they use. Multiple responses were allowed. Credit: Nathan Bangs

    In August 2016, the NSF Division of Ocean Sciences distributed a “Dear Colleague” letter stating that “OCE anticipates spending an annual average of ~$8M for ship support and ~$2M for technical support, funding permitting, and supporting seismic infrastructure.” At current Langseth rates, this amounts to operations for some 90 to 112 days, only about 75% of the total 120–150 days per year considered viable for any UNOLS vessel.

    Operating fewer than 120–150 days in a given year actually increases the cost per day. This makes the Langseth operational costs stand out even more while limiting support for the highly experienced crew necessary for state-of-the-art seismic operations.

    Aside from making Langseth a general-purpose vessel and using it to serve other marine science programs, options are limited:

    Option 1. One option is to improve efficiency and increase funding. Since 2015, Langseth has operated according to a long-range framework to minimize transits and maximize opportunities through developing regional and international collaborations. In late 2017 and 2018, Langseth will operate offshore New Zealand, with support from that country, Japan, and the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, international support is limited because partner countries must also support their own facilities.

    Improved efficiency is also possible through sharing facilities internationally. Langseth is currently the most capable academic facility for crustal-scale 2-D/3-D imaging, but it is the only U.S. option for crustal-scale work. International collaboration to exchange Langseth with other international vessels would improve both opportunity and efficiency globally; the Ocean Facilities Exchange Group does this within the European Union.

    A scaled back seismic program will not only affect the PIs who responded to the UNOLS survey, but it will also affect U.S. institutions they represent through loss of NSF support: those who receive funding for seismic data acquisition and those relying on seismic results. Among international programs affected by scaled-back seismic facilities, IODP stands out. Broad support for seismic facilities from U.S. academic institutions would produce returns for these institutions.

    Institutional support could provide Langseth operational costs, but only through collaborative, multiyear commitments. As NSF described in their recent program solicitation “Provision of Marine Seismic Capabilities to the U. S. Research Community,” the agency is committed to providing Langseth or equivalent capabilities, but the proposed funding levels ($10 million per year) would be problematic for the current model. Is any other model viable?

    Option 2. Without Langseth, there will still be exciting science to do, using data from shorter streamers, archived data, and data available (occasionally and in certain areas) from industry.

    Unfortunately, this approach will change the foci of U.S. seismic studies. For example, reduced seismic imaging capability would limit large, successful international programs like IODP. Recent progress on understanding the largest earthquakes and tsunamis on Earth generated at subduction zones will be severely compromised in the future without an ability to see deep subduction zone structures and measure physical properties with seismic tools. Science would need to target shallower settings: submarine landslides, gas hydrates, fluid and gas migration, sea level change, and the like, using cheaper, portable (higher-resolution, smaller) seismic systems.

    Data would be less complicated and easier to process. Higher resolution could even be 3-D, using P-cable systems available from multiple U.S. institutions. However, these systems can rarely deploy streamers long enough or sources powerful enough to fully characterize even shallow stratigraphy and structure, and they can’t address crustal-scale problems at all.

    Going Commercial?

    In 2015, NSF conducted a workshop with invited members from the marine seismic community, primarily the now disbanded Marcus Langseth Scientific Oversight Committee, to consider a long-streamer portable system and commercial contracting. The workshop report concluded that the weight and size of portable systems incorporating long (6–8 kilometer) streamers with moderate-size, tuned acoustic sources made them impractical for current UNOLS vessels.

    Commercial contracting is viable for long-offset 2-D and 3-D acquisition; however, availability could be limited by high costs (especially mobilization costs for work far from oil and gas provinces, where commercial efforts tend to focus), cost volatility, and changes in ship availability due to hydrocarbon market cycles. These cruises would also lack simultaneous multibeam or gravity and magnetics data acquisition, which has historically been available on U.S. seismic vessels, and student training opportunities would be uncertain and problematic.

    Commercial contracting has been used successfully occasionally in the past, but it is risky to rely on contracting to maintain a regular, global crustal-scale acquisition program as we do now.

    Ironically, this development comes at a time when the IODP is increasing its number of operational days. Other exciting developments, such as seafloor geodesy, will also need an understanding of subsurface structure for tectonic context.

    There is considerable imaging science to be done, with or without Langseth. However, the broad impact of scaling back marine seismic facilities on Earth science makes it time to find more financial support for marine seismic acquisition.

    See the full article here .

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