Friday, November 28, 2008

Atlantic Hurricane Season Sets Records

Atlantic Hurricane Season Sets Records

November 26, 2008

The 2008 Atlantic Hurricane Season officially comes to a close on Sunday, marking the end of a season that produced a record number of consecutive storms to strike the United States and ranks as one of the more active seasons in the 64 years since comprehensive records began.

A total of 16 named storms formed this season, based on an operational estimate by NOAA's National Hurricane Center. The storms included eight hurricanes, five of which were major hurricanes at Category 3 strength or higher. These numbers fall within the ranges predicted in NOAA’s pre- and mid-season outlooks issued in May and August. The August outlook called for 14 to 18 named storms, seven to 10 hurricanes and three to six major hurricanes. An average season has 11 named storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes.

“This year’s hurricane season continues the current active hurricane era and is the tenth season to produce above-normal activity in the past 14 years,” said Gerry Bell, Ph.D., lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center.

Overall, the season is tied as the fourth most active in terms of named storms (16) and major hurricanes (five), and is tied as the fifth most active in terms of hurricanes (eight) since 1944, which was the first year aircraft missions flew into tropical storms and hurricanes.

For the first time on record, six consecutive tropical cyclones (Dolly, Edouard, Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike) made landfall on the U.S. mainland and a record three major hurricanes (Gustav, Ike and Paloma) struck Cuba. This is also the first Atlantic season to have a major hurricane (Category 3) form in five consecutive months (July: Bertha, August: Gustav, September: Ike, October: Omar, November: Paloma).

Bell attributes this year’s above-normal season to conditions that include:

  • An ongoing multi-decadal signal. This combination of ocean and atmospheric conditions has spawned increased hurricane activity since 1995.
  • Lingering La Niña effects. Although the La Niña that began in the Fall of 2007 ended in June, its influence of light wind shear lingered.
  • Warmer tropical Atlantic Ocean temperatures. On average, the tropical Atlantic was about 1.0 degree Fahrenheit above normal during the peak of the season.

Download as Quicktime (Credit: NOAA)

NOAA's National Hurricane Center is conducting comprehensive post-event assessments of each named storm of the season. Some of the early noteworthy findings include:

  • Bertha was a tropical cyclone for 17 days (July 3-20), making it the longest-lived July storm on record in the Atlantic Basin.
  • Fay is the only storm on record to make landfall four times in the state of Florida, and to prompt tropical storm and hurricane watches and warnings for the state’s entire coastline (at various times during its August lifespan).
  • Paloma, reaching Category 4 status with top winds of 145 mph, is the second strongest November hurricane on record behind Lenny in 1999 with top winds of 155 mph).

Much of the storm-specific information is based on operational estimates and some changes could be made during the review process that is underway.

“The information we’ll gain by assessing the events from the 2008 hurricane season will help us do an even better job in the future,” said Bill Read, director of NOAA's National Hurricane Center. “With this season behind us, it’s time to prepare for the one that lies ahead.”

NOAA will issue its initial 2009 Atlantic Hurricane Outlook in May, prior to the official start of the season on June 1.

NOAA understands and predicts changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and conserves and manages our coastal and marine resources.


Mother nature on display

Dalyellup resident Jaco Bosman snapped this image of a water spout forming off the coast of Bunbury on Saturday afternoon.

A DALYELLUP resident in the right place at the right time witnessed a marvel of Mother Nature on the weekend – a waterspout off Bunbury’s coast.

Jaco Bosman was driving past Dalyellup Beach on Saturday evening when the meteorological phenomenon caught his eye.

Mr Bosman pulled over and watched the water spout for about a minute or two before it disappeared out of sight.

“I just caught the last of the show,” he said.

“It is the kind of thing you see on the Discovery Channel.

“I didn’t expect to see it happen in real life.”

A waterspout is an intense columnar vortex usually appearing as a funnel-shaped cloud that occurs over a body of water and is connected to a cumuliform cloud.

Waterspouts have long been recognised as serious marine hazards and history is filled with examples of ships being destroyed or damaged by them.

Meteorologist Joe Courtney said the waterspout formed due to unstable weather conditions on Saturday and rotating columns of air.


News from Holland and Knight

DOJ – tanker firm pays additional fine

The US Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas issued a news release stating that an oil tanker firm an additional $3 million fine after pleading guilty to additional charges relating to false entries in the oil record book of one of the company’s tankers. Prosecutors previously credited the company’s self-disclosures, cooperation, and compliance measures by proposing fewer charges and reduced criminal fines. (11/24/08).

IMO – SAR agreement between Australia & New Zealand

The IMO issued a circular forwarding an agreement between Australia and New Zealand on search and rescue (SAR) regions and coordination. SAR.6/Circ.31 (10/21/08).


The scrapping of the Kursk.

Special Thanks to Bud Shortridge
U.S. Naval Ship Research Hobbiest

The K-141 Kursk sank on August 12, 2000 in the Barents Sea with all hands. These photo's below are from the salavge of the K-141 (Kursk).

The bow of the Kursk was sawed off with a diamond rope while she sat on the bottom of the Arctic Sea. You can see the antiship missiles still in their launchers all foamed in. And there is a nuclear power plant in in the wreckage.

The K-141 Kursk was a Russian nuclear cruise missile submarine which was lost with all hands when it sank in the Barents Sea on August 12, 2000. It was named after the Russian city Kursk, around which the largest tank battle in military history, the Battle of Kursk, took place in 1943.

The Kursk sailed out to sea to perform an exercise of firing dummy torpedoes at Pyotr Velikiy, a Kirov class battlecruiser. On August 12, 2000 at 11:28 local time , the missiles were fired, but an explosion occurred soon after on Kursk. The only credible report to-date is that this was due to the failure and explosion of one of Kursks new/developmental torpedoes.

The blast from the explosion registered 2.2 on the Richter scale. The submarine sank to a depth of 108 metres (354 feet), approximately 135km (85 miles) off Severomorsk. Severomorsk is a closed town in Murmansk Oblast, Russia and is located about 25 kilometers (16 mi) north of Murmansk along the Kola Bay. This is the main administrative base of the Russian Northern Fleet.Severomorsk has the largest dry dock in the Kola Peninsula.

A second explosion occured on the K-141, 135 seconds after the initial event and measured between 3.5 and 4.4 on the Richter scale, equivalent to 3-7 tons of TNT. Either this explosion or the earlier one propelled large pieces of debris far back through the submarine. The Kursk was eventually raised from her grave by the Dutch team, Smit International. using the barge Giant 4, and 115 of the 118 dead were recovered and laid to rest in Russia .

Russian officials have strenuously denied claims that the sub was carrying nuclear warheads. When the boat was raised by a salvage operation in 2001 there were considerable fears moving the wreck could trigger explosions.

The Salvage of the k-141 Kurst.

May her lost and brave souls rest in peace.


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Astonishing Life In Ocean's Depths: Major Progress Made Towards Historic Census Of Marine Life

Astonishing Life In Ocean's Depths: Major Progress Made Towards Historic Census Of Marine Life

ScienceDaily (Nov. 10, 2008) The 2,000-strong community of Census of Marine Life scientists from 82 nations has announced astonishing examples of recent new finds from the world’s ocean depths. Mollusk expert Patricia Miloslavich (Venezuela), Census co-senior scientist: “We are beginning to pull together a picture and clarify the complicated and interconnected global drivers of marine biodiversity patterns and changes, and we are starting to see the conservation-related implications and benefits, from the small coves of the near-shore to the vast abyss.”

Antarctic ancestry of many deep-sea octopuses worldwide

Within their mandate "to assess and explain the diversity, distribution, and abundance of marine life in the oceans – past, present, and future,” Census of Antarctic Marine Life scientists report the first molecular evidence that a large proportion of deep sea octopus species worldwide evolved from common ancestor species that still exist in the Southern Ocean.

Octopuses started migrating to new ocean basins more than 30 million years ago when, as Antarctica cooled and a large icesheet grew, nature created a “thermohaline expressway,” a northbound flow of tasty frigid water with high salt and oxygen content.

Isolated in new habitat conditions, many different species evolved; some octopuses, for example, losing their defensive ink sacs – pointless at perpetually dark depths.

This revelation into the global distribution and diversity of deep sea fauna, to be reported Nov. 11 in the journal Cladistics, was made possible by intensive sampling during Census International Polar Year expeditions.

Other findings are listed below.

Distribution of sea life

Scientists discover both a “White Shark Café” and a “sturgeon playground” in the Pacific, as others explore life on a “new continent” in the mid-Atlantic, in oceanic canyons, around Earth’s deepest hot vents, and in the world’s coldest, saltiest seawater;

Deep sea diversity

Deep sea explorers discover new forms of life, including behemoth bacteria, colossal sea stars, astonishing Antarctic amphipods and a mammoth mollusk, and find familiar species in many new places. Experts also estimate that, beyond the 16,000 marine fish species already known to science, another 4,000 await discovery, many of them in the tropics.


Researchers find a sea floor carpet of bugs and a city of brittle stars, and document bluefin tuna abundance in the early 1900s by scouring fishery reports, fishing magazines and other records.

Meanwhile, the Ocean Biogeographic Information System has grown to include more than 120,000 species. And a rapidly-expanding reference library of DNA barcodes of marine species recently helped reveal inaccurate labeling of sushi in New York City and elsewhere.

As well, the national and regional networks expediting much of the Census work expanded from 10 to 12 since 2006. They and the field projects of the Census established precedent-setting ethical standards for marine research.

As more than 700 delegates gather for the World Conference on Marine Biodiversity (Valencia, Spain Nov. 11-15), organized by the Census’s European affiliate program on Marine Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning, the report details major progress towards the first ever marine life census, for release in October, 2010.

Other research highlights

1) Exploring a “new continent” in mid-Atlantic: MAR-ECO ( scientists describe their work as “surveying a new continent half way between America and Europe.” Sampling along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge at depths down to 2,500 meters, they find many hundreds of species rare or unknown elsewhere in the world and collect environmental data to help explain their distribution and abundance.

2) World’s deepest known active hot vent: ChEss ( scientists in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge explore the world’s deepest known active hot vent, field named Ashadze, over 4,100 meters deep, dominated by anemones, polychaete worms and shrimp. They also discover marine environments with little or no oxygen harboring more life than expected.

3) Bacterial mats in Black Sea: ChEss scientists also find reefs deep in the Black Sea made of bacterial mats using methane (natural gas) as an energy source, the bacteria forming spectacular chimneys up to four meters high. Such reefs could contribute key insights into mechanisms controlling emissions of methane, an important greenhouse gas, from the ocean to the atmosphere.

4) Brittle Star City: Exploring off the coast of New Zealand, CenSeam ( researchers capture images of a novel “Brittle Star City,” whose inhabitants colonize the peak of a seamount – an underwater summit taller than the world’s tallest building. In a swirling circumpolar current flowing at roughly four kilometers per hour, tens of millions of brittle stars live arm tip to arm tip. The current kept away would-be predators while delivering an ample supply of food that residents of Brittle Star City collected simply by raising their arms.

5) Surprisingly different twins: NaGISA ( nearshore scientists in the Alaskan Arctic find a site with a rocky seafloor, rare along the normally soft and silty Arctic coastline. The hard substrate hosts a highly diverse community compared to surrounding soft bottom habitat. Comparison of this new site to a similar site surveyed by Census researchers in 2002 shows surprisingly different communities. Census nearshore scientists collaborating with local agencies also discover new species in the Aleutian archipelago, including a kelp, sea anemones, chitons, snails, and sea stars.

6) Pacific hotspots: TOPP ( researchers discover eddies of warm water in the Pacific may meld, forming hotspots in the open sea that support elevated levels of tiny phytoplankton that form the base of the marine food web. These green meadows in the vast Pacific in turn concentrate species from all tiers of the food web – from shrimp to large predators like tuna, seabirds, and whales.

7) Seep mega-sites: COMARGE ( and ChEss scientists discover more lively communities flourishing off cold gases such as methane seeping out of the sea floor. Around New Zealand, they map the “Builder’s Pencil” site covering about 180,000 square meters, among Earth’s largest known seep sites. Sensitive to human activities despite their depth, the communities keep revealing unique features. Finding both potential new species and scars from deep-water trawls by fishing vessels on the scientific surveys suggests the urgency for further conservation of these fragile habitats.

8) Philippine firsts: In the first deep-sea work in the area, COMARGE researchers sample to a depth of 2,300 meters, collecting about 300 fish and 400 mollusc species for barcoding. Some 320 decapod crustaceans are photographed, displaying their beauty and aiding future identification of many unique and subtly distinct specimens.

In 2008, COMARGE investigators return to explore the Philippine margin of the South China Sea, between 100 and 2,200 meters depth. Discoveries include the first Philippine record of the deep-water stony coral Lophelia pertusa, the first living specimen of Acharax bartschi (a large bivalve living in symbiosis with bacteria), rare deep-water snails living on a dog’s skull that had washed out to sea, and a likely new species of shrimp belonging to a group only known from hydrothermal vents. The trawl also collected many plastic shopping bags.

9) Potential new marine protected area, Africa: While largely unexplored, the rich Western Indian Ocean, including the Mozambique channel, suffers destructive fishing practices, such as use of dynamite. Census-affiliated explorers with the Sub-Sahara African Committee chart a proposed marine protected area off Tanga, Tanzania. Using SCUBA and remotely operated vehicles, Tanzanian scientists and students join international researchers to survey life along transects that could be periodically revisited, collecting samples for identification and barcoding.

10) Life in coldest, saltiest seawater: ArcOD ( researchers studying life in the Arctic find temperatures of –25°C in sea ice channels where brine is more than six times saltier than regular sea water. Representing the coldest conditions in the global ocean, researchers find sea ice algae, such as diatoms, and flagellates thriving in concentrations of thousands of individuals per liter.

11) 100 new species and records near Hawaii: CReefs ( experts census biodiversity in the French Frigate Shoals, the world’s largest, fully protected marine area in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Using a variety of new and proven methods over a diverse range of habitats, the team logs more than 100 species and new records.

12) Carpet of bugs: COMARGE researchers describe a new species of amphipod, Ampelisca mississippiana, inhabiting the head of the Mississippi Canyon about 460 meters deep in the Gulf of Mexico. These small crustaceans (less than 6 millimeters in length) and living in tubes, carpet the seabed in densities up to 12,000 individuals per square meter. Based on its abundance and the stabilizing effects this “carpet of bugs” has on sediments, researchers believe this amphipod may have great ecological importance.

13) Deepest comb jelly: CMarZ ( explorers find a potential new species of comb jelly, or ctenophore, at the record depth of 7,217meters in the Ryukyu Trench near Japan – the deepest ever recorded siting of this unique species, that flies like a kite on the end of two long “strings” attached to the bottom. The discovery raises questions about the availability of food resources at such depths, which had not been thought capable of supporting predators like this one.

14) Evolutionary mollusk: In the Southern Ocean, CAML ( researchers find many potential new species including sea cucumbers, sponges and komokiaceans – little known protozoa living in the depths of the ocean resemble the organisms that form chalk. They also collect a rare mollusk, named Laevipilina antarctica, believed to play a role in how segmentation evolved in marine invertebrates.

15) Arctic jellies galore: In the Canada Basin of the Arctic Ocean, ArcOD researchers find several new species and more than 50 taxonomic categories of gelatinous zooplankton. Almost two-thirds are medusae, one-fifth siphonophores, and one-tenth larvaceans. The first new species formally described from the expedition was named Sigambra healyae, in honor of the research vessel, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy.

16) 85 new zooplankton species: CMarZ scientists discover at least 85 new species of zooplankton, small drifting and swimming marine animals. Four genera and one family were officially deemed new to science, with many more expected to follow. In the Atlantic Ocean from Germany to South Africa, scientists collect zooplankton in a range from the surface to below 5,000 meters. Taxonomic experts and geneticists identify and barcode the DNA from hundreds of species. As expected, several new species of small crustaceans called ostracods or seed shrimp and other groups are found.

17) Antarctica’s big amphipod: CAML scientists exploring a 10,000 kilometer portion of the Antarctic Weddell Sea made suddenly accessible by the collapse of the Larsen A and B ice shelves sample an estimated 1,000 species. Of these, four presumed new species of cnidarians (organisms related to coral, jelly fish and sea anemones) are found, as well as 15 potentially new amphipod (shrimp-like) species, including one of Antarctica’s biggest-ever amphipod crustaceans, nearly 10 centimeters long.

18) Spectacular species in Celebes Sea: Zooplankton researchers with CMarZ travel to a biodiversity hot spot in the Celebes Sea in the southern Philippines, uncovering unexpected richness and diversity of marine life from the surface to the almost totally unexplored deep waters. Divers collect a remarkable variety of fragile and beautiful gelatinous species, while video cameras and collect images and organisms from depths beyond the divers' reach.

19) Surprising species richness: Recent advances in technology are opening up remote frontiers – deep-sea canyons. COMARGE researchers aboard the RRS James Cook off Portugal find that species richness was almost double in the more active Nazaré Canyon than in Lisbon Canyon. This is despite Lisbon Canyon receiving a substantial supply of river-borne organic matter that would foster large populations of filter-feeding organisms.

20) 11,130 known species in South African waters: Experts with the Census’ Sub-Sahara African Committee estimate 6,000 more species, primarily smaller marine animals, are yet to be discovered in South African waters, which are already known to feature some 11,130 species. A new shrimp (Hippolyte) and the first record of the enigmatic group Myzostomida from the region are discovered in False Bay, the most sampled site on the African coast.

21) 870+ squat lobster species: COMARGE scientists list 870 known species of squat lobsters and create an electronic library of relevant literature. Squat lobsters are colorful decapod crustaceans found in all oceans, at all depths, and in all marine habitats, but are especially abundant on continental margins.

22) Antarctic expressway: In the Southern Ocean, Census CAML explorers find evidence that deep sea octopuses ride the “Antarctic thermohaline expressway.” The northbound expressway is a mass of sea water with a high salt density caused by the ice that forms at the surface around the Antarctic, the water cascading like cream.

They find as well that sea birds feed on Antarctic zooplankton when the tiny organisms aggregate at a thermal front.

23) Animals in new places: ArcOD explorers make the first record of many marine animals in many areas of the Canada Basin. These include abundant and diverse ctenophore (comb jellies) under Arctic pack ice and a dense bed of sea cucumbers in what might be a pockmark. They also record more squid than ever before in the Arctic deep sea, and document the importance of sea ice ridges for marine life in the region.

24) White Shark Café: Satellite tagging by TOPP reveals a previously unknown behavior of white sharks (, travelling long distances each winter to concentrate in the Pacific for up to six months. During these months, both males and females make frequent, repetitive dives to depths of 300 meters, which researchers theorize may be significant in either feeding or reproduction.

25) Migration pathway: MAR-ECO researchers suggest the Mid-Atlantic Ridge may serve as an important pathway in colonization of North Atlantic continental slopes. Before their expeditions, scientists thought skates and rays, for example, migrated through the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, rather than taking up residence there.

26) New species in familiar waters: Systematically exploring two islands on the Great Barrier Reef and a reef off northwestern Australia, CReefs researchers find hundreds of new kinds of animals in waters were long familiar to divers. They also conduct the first scientific inventory of spectacular soft corals, named octocorals for the eight tentacles that fringe each polyp.

27) Australian expedition: One species in three new to science: The first results from the COMARGE “Voyages of Discovery” expeditions to the deep continental shelf and slope in Australia’s southwest region show 524 species of Decapoda—crabs, shrimps, prawns, lobsters, and the like. Some 33 percent of all species encountered are suspected to be new species, and 25 percent are new records in the region, eight percent are new records for Australia.

28) Sponge garden: COMARGE and ChEss researchers examining cold seeps in the Mediterranean Sea using remotely operated vehicles find surprisingly abundant marine life, including a garden of sponges around a brine lake. The sponge itself, likely Rhizaxinella pyrifera, harbours a multitude of small worms.

29) Behemoth bacteria: A diverse set of giant, filamentous, multi-cellular marine bacteria is discovered by ICOMM ( researchers in the eastern South Pacific. These bacteria may be “living fossils” that developed in the earliest ocean when oxygen was either absent or much diminished, living on the toxic gas hydrogen sulfide. Scientists hypothesize that communities of bacteria may hold potential for bioremediation of organically polluted bottoms and, because of their ability to survive in anoxic conditions, may be an important clue in the search for extraterrestrial life.

30) Colossal sea stars: CAML expeditions to the Southern Ocean find frequent examples of gigantism common in Antarctic waters. The researchers collect huge scaly worms, giant crustaceans, starfish and sea spiders as big as dinner plates.

31) Largest mollusk in class: A giant aplacophoran mollusk, Chaetoderma felderi, is collected in deep waters off Louisiana by GoMex, a Census-affiliated project working in the Gulf of Mexico. Measuring over 407 mm in length and 10 mm in diameter, about the size of a AAA battery, it is more than twice the length and three times the diameter of the next largest known mollusk in the subclass.

32) Gigantic oysters: With the assistance of a remotely operated vehicle, COMARGE explorers find dense communities of giant oysters 20 cm (eight inches) long at a depth of 700 m on the La Chapelle continental slope. Genetic studies will confirm if this is a new species.

33) Barcoding zooplankton: An international CMarZ team from 25 cooperating projects is analyzing data from roughly 6,000 historical samples to help create a catalog of described species diversity and distribution. DNA barcodes will identify approximately 7,000 known species of zooplankton in 15 phyla. This growing database will help scientists identify specimens, describe their geographic distributions, and recognize when a species is in fact new. Scientists envision a day soon when quick, automated sample barcoding analysis will be a reality.

34) Following fishers to find vents: Stymied in their search for active methane seeps in the Chilean margin, COMARGE scientists take a novel approach: follow the fishers. They launch their search in known fishing grounds of the Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides), suspecting that these fish congregate near methane seeps. Their hunch proves correct: Most fishing grounds were associated with hard grounds, with some made of carbonates associated with methane seepages.

35) Coral reef colonization: To learn what new creatures colonize coral reefs, CReefs scientists develop and test Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures (ARMS), to be colonized by fish and other creatures that inhabit coral reefs. The structures mimic the “nooks and crannies” of a natural reef. With this information, marine scientists can better understand the health of reefs and policy makers can develop scientifically-based management strategies.

36) Mapping microbes: To identify marine microbes and survey their distribution around the globe, ICoMM launches 40 separate projects using the same DNA sequencing technology, “454 tag-pyrosequencing.” The efficient identification by a standardized method allows scientists to inventory areas as diverse as polar biodiversity hotspots, coastal microbial mats, and sediments in tropical coral reefs. They can then create unprecedented global maps of the tiniest life in the ocean.

37) Arctic robots: Two new underwater robots give ChEss scientists a bird’s eye view of what lives on Gakkel Ridge in the Arctic Ocean. These exploration vehicles carry cameras and sophisticated arrays of instruments used by scientists to discover a new underwater volcanic chain covered by extensive microbial mats. Because the deep Arctic ridges are isolated from other ocean basins, the investigation of Gakkel Ridge provides clues about the evolution of fauna around underwater vents in isolated habitats.

38) Nearshore research expands worldwide: NaGISA expands nearshore research within the Caribbean, South America, and around the Indian Ocean through regional workshops aimed at standardizing protocols. Scientists use these protocols in monitoring and educational program to assess environmental impacts and to engage local communities in the process.

39) A highly detailed look at biodiversity in a well-documented bay: A unique collaboration of U.S. and Canadian GoMA ( researchers enhances knowledge of changing marine eco-systems by studying the nearshore zone of Cobscook Bay, Maine, from both historical and present-day perspectives. One of the most diverse coastal ecosystem on the North American east coast north of the tropics, this estuary features many different habitats, a tidal range of over eight  meters, two centuries of historical records dating back to 1842, and more than 800 species identified to date.

40) Engaging the public: NaGISA scientists studying the nearshore environment of the world ocean are present on six continents. Science education programs and training workshops aim to incorporate research protocols, which makes data gathered in the coastal environment comparable from place to place. The nearshore investigations engage the public in ocean and coastal issues and inspire the next generation of marine scientists.

41) International study of plankton bloom: In the Southern Ocean, collaborating CeDAMar ( researchers follow a plankton bloom from its onset until it changes to marine snow and finally sinks to the deep-sea floor. The scientists then examine the influence of the snow of fallen plankton on marine life on the floor itself. It is the first such collaboration undertaken since the Galathea expedition in the early 1950’s. In spite of bad weather and complicated logistics, the collaboration produces a trove of data.

42) Leading research for International Polar Year: Census projects play a key role in the International Polar Year 2007-2009. In the Arctic, the Census leads the marine biodiversity cluster of 13 projects from eight countries on more than 20 expeditions. They observe how mammals use diverse polar habitats, inventory life in a fjord, and explore seeps, pockmarks, and mud volcanoes on remote ocean floors. In the Southern Ocean, the Census coordinates the science on 10 major expeditions by vessels from nine different countries, the results reported live via the Internet. The Census also initiates a collaborative program focusing on Antarctic marine life in seven South American countries.

43) Race to protect sea turtles: The Great Turtle Race, an international race developed by TOPP to save a 100-million-year-old species from extinction moved to China in 2008. A Mandarin language version of an interactive webpage tracks the migration of endangered leatherback turtles, bringing the race to approximately 100 million Chinese citizens. Donations go to protection of leatherback turtle nesting areas in Indonesia, and raise awareness of the turtles plight.

44) Leatherback conservation: For more than 12,095 satellite-tracking days over three years, TOPP scientists track leatherback turtles and compile the largest, multi-year migration record ever. The data reveals that ocean currents shaped the migration corridor and turtle dispersal in the South Pacific.

45) Hydrothermal vents and seabed mining: ChEss scientists orchestrate a joint scientific and policy meeting for the spring of 2009 to discuss protection of the vent sites from the potential growth of deep sea mining. The meeting’s goal: set priorities for future research and balance the conservation of critical vent sites versus the value of ores.

46) Focusing fishery management: MAR-ECO research along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge strives to fill information gaps about the distribution and abundance of certain species of grenadier (, distant relatives of codfish in the North Atlantic. Amid the uncertainty, regional managers take precautionary measures to protect grenadier stocks and their habitats.

47) CSI in the sea: DNA barcoding shark fins: Demand for their fins and other organs impact global shark populations. The frequently inaccurate identification of sharks and rays confuses what fishermen are catching, what fins and organs markets are selling, and how populations are changing. Accordingly, researchers with the Marine Barcode of Life project ( develop DNA barcoding to identify species of sharks and their products, such as dried fins, essential to knowing how many sharks are being caught and to enforce prohibitions. (See also

48) Managing underwater mountains: CenSeam expeditions in the Southern Ocean and Antarctica expand knowledge of life on seamounts, providing a foundation for sustainable management of these ecosystems. Census researchers deliver a report to the United Nations General Assembly on the vulnerability of seamount corals to fishing and help develop guidelines for deep-sea fisheries.

49) Learning from the past: Rise and fall of tuna: Scouring fishery reports, fishing magazines, and other records, HMAP ( researchers document the presence of bluefin tuna ( in northern European waters several decades before the onset of major fisheries in the early 1900s. After fishing increased and techniques became more powerful, the fishery collapsed in the mid-1960s. Documentation of the historical abundance of this especially popular seafood species, and its subsequent collapse, will be used to inform future decisions.

50) Assessing human impact: HMAP brings together a worldwide network of experts from multiple disciplines to figure out why populations of mollusc have declined. They report their work in a book, Early Human Impact on Megamolluscs (Oxford: Archaeopress).

51) High mortality for young salmon: Using acoustic tagging, POST ( researchers track the progress of young Chinook salmon ( as they move from freshwater rivers in the Canadian and US northwest out to the ocean and eventually to the Alaska coast. The observations suggest that in just a few weeks, 40 percent of the tracked salmon perished in the ocean.

52) Sturgeon playground: POST researchers discover green sturgeon congregate at a “playground” off Vancouver Island before moving on to Alaska for the winter, contrary to scientists’ expectations. The reason for their layover is unknown, but it makes them susceptible to potential over-exploitation.

53) Conserving life in open ocean: MAR-ECO documentation of the quantity and patterns of diversity on the mid-Atlantic Ridge summit at 3,500 meters helps international management organizations protect habitats and assure sustainable resource use. Continued work by Census scientists and a variety of partners creates a better basis for conservation of marine life in the immense areas of the oceans that lie beyond national jurisdiction.

54) Tuna and Billfish distribution: FMAP ( researchers investigate the global distribution patterns of two highly migratory predators, tuna and billfish, and relate the information to the temperature tolerances of these species, work that may help anticipate the effects of ocean warming on biodiversity.

55) OBIS reaches 16 million records: Census experts creating the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (, log 16 million biological records, with 17 million expected by year’s end, received from nodes around the world. Collaboration with the Encyclopedia of Life, among others, expedites information sharing, creating an integrated system containing geographical, biographical, evolutionary, and genetic information, as well as images.

56) Counting all creatures in the Gulf: Scientists complete a comprehensive inventory of all marine life in the Gulf of Mexico. Published in a 79-chapter book written by 140 authors from 15 countries, the inventory shows 15,625 species from 40 different phyla in the Gulf. A second phase of the project currently underway will make the information available in a searchable online database.

57) Listing all species, eliminating aliases: The list of known marine species surpasses 120,000, placing the Census halfway toward its goal of cataloging the estimated 230,000 known species by 2010. The Census-affiliated World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS) identifies more than 56,000 aliases for ocean species, with one species, the “breadcrumb sponge,” alone having 56 scientific names.

58) 4,000 Marine Fish May Await Discovery: Employing a novel approach to count quantify global fish species, FMAP researchers estimate that almost 16,000 species of marine fish are recorded in publicly accessible databases. They suggest another 4,000 fish species await discovery and description, many of them in the tropics.

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Robin Sorm to all of you!


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

When It Comes To Sea Level Changing Glaciers, New NASA Technique Measures Up

When It Comes To Sea Level Changing Glaciers, New NASA Technique Measures Up

ScienceDaily (Nov. 10, 2008) A NASA-led research team has used satellite data to make the most precise measurements to date of changes in the mass of mountain glaciers in the Gulf of Alaska, a region expected to be a significant contributor to global sea level rise over the next 50-100 years.

Geophysicist Scott Luthcke of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., and colleagues knew from well-documented research that changes in the cryosphere – glaciers, ice caps, and other parts of the globe covered year-round by ice -- are a key source of most global sea level rise. Melting ice will also bring changes to freshwater resources and wildlife habitat. Knowing that such ice-covered areas are difficult to observe consistently, the team worked to develop a satellite-based method that could accurately quantify glacial mass changes across seasons and years, and even discern whether individual glacier regions are growing or shrinking.

The study's authors found that the annual ice mass lost from glaciers in the Gulf of Alaska has been 84 gigatons annually, about five times the average annual flow of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon and equal to the entire amount of water in the Chesapeake Bay.

"The Gulf of Alaska region is 20 times smaller than the ice-covered area of Greenland, yet it contributes nearly half as much freshwater melt as Greenland and accounts for about 15 percent of present-day global sea level rise stemming from melting ice," said Luthcke, lead author of the study which will appear this week in the Journal of Glaciology. "Considering that the Gulf of Alaska makes such a disproportionate contribution, it is vital that we know more about the nature of glacial change there."

Luthcke and colleagues found a way to remotely measure the "mass balance" of a glacier; that is, the net annual difference between ice accumulation and ice loss. Past measurements of glacial mass balance in remote mountain ranges have been sparse or imprecise. Ground-based sensors can provide long-term data, but such data points are scattered due to the inaccessibility of many remote mountain ranges. Altimeters aboard aircraft can measure changes in the height of glaciers, but the sampling is sporadic because flights are relatively infrequent.

Glaciers in the coastal environments on the edge of the Arctic or Antarctic shed and gain mass rapidly, a high mass turnover that is particularly sensitive to climate change. Warming seas can accelerate the motion of tidewater glaciers, and melt water on glacial surfaces can flow to the floors of glaciers and serve as a lubricant as the ice slides toward the sea. The subsequent addition of freshwater to the ocean contributes to one of two sources of global sea level rise; "eustatic" rise resulting from melted ice in the form of freshwater, with the other source set off by "thermal expansion," sea level rise that occurs due to warming ocean temperatures.

The Goddard-led research team developed a new data analysis technique for NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) mission. GRACE is made up of twin satellites that orbit Earth about 137 miles apart and 300 miles above Earth's surface. The positions of the two satellites change in response to variations in Earth's gravity field, which is stronger or weaker depending on the land or ice mass that they are flying over. Microwave ranging systems measure the distance between the two satellites down to the width of a human hair, so by measuring the change in the distance between the satellites over time, researchers can essentially "weigh" the changes in Gulf of Alaska glaciers.

Using data collected by the GRACE satellites from 2003-2007, as well as unique processing and analysis techniques, Luthcke and colleagues were able to measure the mass of the glaciers every 10 days across an area spanning 18,919 square miles, about the equivalent of Vermont and New Hampshire combined.

The team found the largest ice mass losses occurring in the Yakutat, Glacier Bay, and St. Elias regions. Those observations are consistent with recent studies from aircraft-based altimeters and other satellites.

"The consistent and direct measurement of ice-mass change made possible by the GRACE data and the analysis techniques applied in this study provide unprecedented observations that further our knowledge of the region's complex ice evolution," said Luthcke.

The most rapid glacial melt, according to Luthcke and colleagues, came in response to the summer heat wave of 2004, when the region's glaciers shed 374 gigatons of ice, or about 98 cubic miles of ice. In comparison, the record for Greenland ice melt was 500 gigatons, or about 131 cubic miles, during the summer of 2007.

"With such rapid change taking place in such a critical area, we need to be able to more reliably observe how these glaciers are responding," said Luthcke. "The direct measurement of ice-mass variation is important for improving our modeling capability and for ultimately predicting future changes."


Colors of the ocean make their way into a book

The compositions are simple: cresting waves, a stretch of sand, a field of sky. In some, glimmering sunlight highlights the ocean’s surface. In others, a protected cove is defined by water that ebbs and flows over sand. Gray cloudscapes sometimes threaten; the water might be rough.

Regardless, all the watercolor paintings seem serene, and project an air of solitude. No one inhabits these beaches—the viewer is one with the vista, alone, looking out to sea.

And this is exactly what artist Mike Solomon intended. It’s how he experiences the ocean while scanning sea conditions, waiting to surf. Waiting for the perfect time to put away his paints, grab his board and see how the shoreline view meshes with surfing reality.

The paintings can easily stand on their own. But closer examination brings a subtle surprise—there is writing across the bottom of the composition. At first, it seems like some sort of code: a numerical date, an actual time or time of day, a location. Notations on swell heights, air temperature, water temperature and weather-related information follow. The words are clinical, factual: a straight reporting of conditions. Then, unexpectedly, the personal.

A single sentence punctuates the text, changing the whole experience. The words can be simple like “(Michele’s Birthday)” or “A couple of guys out.” Sometimes the reference leans toward the poetic: “Strong offshores and shoulder high swell at low tide—all the elements baking in the sun.”

In some works, an unexpected twist concludes the text: “I sat and watched for a couple of hours but saw nothing worth enduring that cold for.” Or, “Claudia took her expensive sunglasses off and hid them in a crevice, never to be found again…” or “Xavier, the owner, offers me a beer.”

Yet other comments are more reflective: “They say Mike Diffenderfer used to surf the wave off the island. I would.” Or, “small surf can change on the tide—got it on the high a few days later—surprisingly good sometimes,” or “…No one out yet, just me with a few birds…” The cumulative effect changes the art and renders it more personal. Reading the small writing beneath the composition requires moving closer to the work, which the artist hopes will evoke the experience of feeling connected to the seascape and help viewers experience the artwork more intensely. These effects are of a piece with Mr. Solomon’s intentions.

“The paintings are deceptively simple,” he said. “They are memories of a specific time and place. The diaristic aspect is my way of bringing people closer to experiencing the ocean and the day the way that I did.”

Viewing a painting from close range also creates the sensation of “seeing” the view that lies beyond the 
parameters of the painting, Mr. Solomon explained.

“How we look at these paintings is important,” he said. “It’s not just what’s in the painting and what we see there. The work is about how we look at something.”

There’s no doubt the series of watercolor paintings is personal. The diaristic entries are part of it—but so are seascapes painted so that the emotional resonance of his experience radiates from the multi-layered composition.

The watercolor paintings take center stage in two manifestations. A series of 12 paintings is currently being shown in a solo show at John McWhinnie @ Glenn Horowitz Bookseller at 36 Newtown Lane in East Hampton. And 36 paintings are the substance of Mr. Solomon’s new book, “Meterological Watercolors,” with the title a nod to the weather and water notations that accompany each painting.

The 80-page book is self-created and will be available through the publisher,, in December, for $60. A foreword was written by Alicia G. Longwell, chief curator at the Parrish Art Museum. Signed copies are available now at Glenn Horowitz Bookseller, 87 Newtown Lane, East Hampton, for $75, and copies are also available through the artist’s website,

The book contains artwork made from 1999 to August 2008, printed in chronological order. The paintings occupy the right-hand page with the text set on the opposite page. The foreword is the only introduction and explanation for the artwork. Some of the art is already part of collections held by private individuals or museums.

Watercolors are not Mr. Solomon’s primary method of expression. He is known more for abstract expressionist paintings and minimalist sculptures. His subject matter is often inspired by waves and the ocean, reflecting his lifelong love of surfing and the sea. He decided to create a series of watercolor paintings after uncovering a sketchbook from his 20s when he lived and surfed on the California coast.

Like the current series of paintings, his notebook artwork was rendered in watercolors while on site. After examining the combination of words and images, Mr. Solomon decided there was something that still spoke to him in the work. So he set out to create a new series of paintings.

Most of the compositions are painted on site. The painting is then developed and completed in his studio using multiple layers of watercolors. Sometimes the views are local; other times they capture foreign locales. The local site names were changed to protect beloved surfing spots.

Mr. Solomon’s aim is to conjure the mood and experience of watching a specific stretch of ocean at a specific time while gauging the surf conditions. Sometimes the mood is based on a two-hour span; other times a full day of observation is synthesized.

“It’s not a photograph,” Mr. Solomon said. “It’s not an exact replica—it’s a painting. I’m capturing a memory of that moment and that particular place.”

The exhibition, “Mike Solomon/Meteorological Watercolors,” remains on view through November 29 at John McWhinnie @ Glenn Horowitz Bookseller, 36 Newtown Lane, East Hampton. The gallery is open weekends. For information, call 324-5561 or visit .

Further information on Mr. Solomon’s art can be found at He is represented by Salomon Contemporary (no relation). The book can be ordered in December through

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PhilNaRe's profit falls after paying for marine accident claims

MANILA, Philippines - The National Reinsurance Corp. of the Philippines (PhilNaRe) said profit fell by more than half as it paid claims to beneficiaries of marine accident victims, including those in the Princess of the Stars tragedy.

Net income for the third quarter of 2008 plunged 52 percent to P45.8 million from P95.6 million during the same period last year, the company said in a disclosure to the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE).

Claims and losses from July to September reached P236.2 million, 73.4 percent more than last year’s P136.2 million, said PhilNaRe, which helps other firms share their insurance risks.

“Claims incurred in the current quarter include large marine losses including, among others, Princess of the Stars, Sea Bass Carriers, and Oceanic Container Line," the company said.

However, the company earned from foreign currency gains as its investments and other income reached P119.4 million during the three-month period, higher than the P82.1 million reported from July to September last year.

During the period, expenses climbed to P43 million, 45.67 percent more than the P30 million it spent last year. The company hiked employee benefits and salaries and paid taxes, licenses, and professional fees.

Earnings for the first nine months declined due to the fall in underwriting and investment income.

“Net income for the first three quarters was P238 million, P179 million or 43 percent lower than last year’s performance," the company said.

Meanwhile, expenses for the nine-month period went up by 37.5 percent to P123.6 million as against last year’s P89.9 million.

On the other hand, investment and other income declined by 6.6 percent to P350.4 million in the first nine months of 2007, the company said.

“The decline was largely due to the absence of trading opportunities during the period owing to the steep drop in the Philippine stock market," the company said. “Higher interest rates also negatively affected the valuation of the company’s investment portfolio, which is concentrated largely in fixed-income investments." - GMANews.TV


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Deep Sea Expedition Sets Sail

Deep Sea Expedition Sets Sail

ScienceDaily (Nov. 11, 2008)Setting sail on the Pacific, a University of Delaware-led research team has embarked on an extreme adventure that will find several of its members plunging deep into the sea to study hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor.

The team, which will be conducting research in environments that include scalding heat, high pressure, toxic chemicals and total darkness, is part of the National Science Foundation-funded "Extreme 2008: A Deep-Sea Adventure."

The scientists are being joined by students from around the world on dry land who have signed up for an exciting virtual field trip. More than 20,000 students from 350 schools in the United States, Aruba, Australia, Canada, Costa Rica, Great Britain and New Zealand are participating.

The expedition, led by Craig Cary, professor of marine biosciences in the University of Delaware's College of Marine and Earth Studies, left Monday, Nov. 10, aboard the research ship Atlantis from a port in Manzanillo, Mexico, with an expected return date of Dec. 1.*

Team members – researchers and graduate students – are from the University of Delaware, the University of Colorado, University of North Carolina, University of Southern California, J. Craig Venter Institute, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and the University of Waikato, New Zealand.

The team is heading to destinations at two hydrothermal hot spots: Guaymas Basin in the Gulf of California and a group of vents in the eastern Pacific Ocean about nine degrees north of the equator.

Once above the vents, the researchers will take the submersible Alvin down from one to nearly two miles below the surface. Built to withstand crushing pressures and to pierce the utter blackness of the deep, Alvin will let the scientists observe life around the steaming vents and collect samples for analysis. Both Atlantis and Alvin are owned by the U.S. Navy and operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

The scientists' focus will be marine viruses and other tiny life called protists. These organisms prey on bacteria, the primary food for vent dwellers ranging from ghost-white vent crabs to bizarre-looking tubeworms.

"For many years, the vents have been explored with little to no attention to viruses and protists," Cary says. "Yet because these organisms eat bacteria, they have the most dramatic effect on the bacterial communities that support the vent system. Our research programs are among the first to focus on these remarkable scavengers."

Eric Wommack, an associate professor with joint appointments in both the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the College of Marine and Earth Studies, will join Cary in leading the UD contingent.

Wommack, who is based at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute, is an expert on marine viruses and will be deploying specialized equipment to capture them for analysis in the shipboard lab.

Wommack says hydrothermal vents, although characterized by caustic chemistry, hot temperatures and high pressure, are oases of life in the deep sea. The vents provide an ecosystem for ancient and unusual microbes that are capable of extracting energy from volcanic rather than solar energy, and are home to viruses.

"As a group, viruses are the most abundant biological entities on Earth and contain its largest reservoir of unknown genes," Wommack says. "We know that bacteria at the deep-sea hydrothermal vents are intimately associated with relatively abundant populations of viruses. Our goal is to explore the wilderness of viral genes existing at the vents."

David Caron, professor of biological sciences in the Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Southern California, will be studying protozoa, a class of protists that feed on other organisms and that may form a crucial bridge between bacteria and animal life.

If Caron is correct, the samples from the deep will show that protozoa feed on bacteria or on the products of bacterial activity and are in turn eaten by larger life forms. The most surprising thing about the theory may be the lack of evidence for it. While other studies have found a protozoan-animal link in surface waters, the analogous middle step in the deep ocean has been overlooked.

"Protozoa are everywhere and they're in virtually every environment. They play this intermediate food web role in a number of these environments, and there's no reason to believe that they aren't doing the same thing in the vents. It simply hasn't been looked at to any degree," Caron said.

As the scientists work at sea, they will be connected to students via an interactive Web site, where blogs, dive logs, video clips, photos and interviews will be posted daily. Students also will be able to write to the scientists, design experiments and participate in a virtual science fair.

A capstone experience for selected schools will be a "Phone Call to the Deep," linking classrooms with researchers working live in the submersible Alvin on the seafloor.

The University of Delaware and the National Science Foundation are sponsoring the expedition. Additional support is being provided by Olympus and by MO BIO Laboratories.

* For those interested in following the scientists, they will blog regularly about the voyage at the Extreme 2008 Web site . The program, coordinated by the Office of Communications & Marketing, is the sixth in UD's popular "Extreme" series, which has won state and national awards for public education.


Indiana Department Of Homeland Security Implements GIS-Based Disaster Response System

November 8, 2008

The Indiana Department of Homeland Security (IDHS) recently embarked on an ambitious campaign that provides a communication network built using ESRI geographic information system (GIS) software. The system takes advantage of a Web portal for linking local resources with state and federal stakeholders in the event of a large-scale emergency. This two-way stream of information flow is vital to disaster response. "We wanted to leverage resources already in place with other state agencies and in the universities across the state," says Roger Koelpin, GIS/critical infrastructure planner, Indiana Department of Homeland Security. "We are able to work with those partners as resources for our internal disaster recovery strategy and continuity of operations planning. Ultimately, we hope to turn this into a viable process for bottom-up reporting of data to meet federal data calls and to keep our federal partners informed as part of our routine, authoritative, common operating picture."

IDHS selected ESRI for its GIS software and services. ESRI Professional Services staff worked with IDHS staff to incorporate ESRI software, including ArcView, ArcEditor, and ArcInfo, into its disaster response system. The system's technology framework involves ESRI business partner ESi and its WebEOC Web-enabled crisis management system. In addition, FME from Safe Software, Inc, was selected to help extract data from stakeholders' Web feature services and transform the data to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security data model.

The enterprise disaster response system provides several functions. First, it is used for mitigation, with state agencies identifying high-risk populations, infrastructure, natural resources, and other assets. Second, it provides instant-response capabilities. When a disaster strikes, real-time situational awareness occurs. Commanders make quick decisions on where to send law enforcement, fire personnel, emergency medical services staff, and other responders. They can instantly see available resources, prioritize activities, and monitor events in real time as they unfold. This capability also helps with long-term recovery.

A major component of the system comes from Indiana university partners who are already using GIS and related technologies to publish IndianaMap: a single, statewide geospatial resource for Indiana that includes a wide variety of information in a format that is accessible to both expert GIS users and the general public. IDHS is currently working with county stakeholders to more fully integrate their GIS efforts with its own. Presently, 23 counties offer data in support of the IDHS disaster response system. Roughly one-third of Indiana's 92 counties host their own GIS software and databases. Another third of the counties have vendors hosting their data in proprietary 911 call-center applications. Some of these counties are working with their vendors so that they may help maintain the IDHS common operating picture. Some of the counties in the remaining third are using grants to bolster GIS operations, either with vendor support or on their own.

IDHS is also working to extend the system with more applications and data than are currently available.

About ESRI
Since 1969, ESRI has been giving customers around the world the power to think and plan geographically. The market leader in GIS, ESRI software is used in more than 300,000 organizations worldwide including each of the 200 largest cities in the United States, most national governments, more than two-thirds of Fortune 500 companies, and more than 7,000 colleges and universities. ESRI applications, running on more than one million desktops and thousands of Web and enterprise servers, provide the backbone for the world's mapping and spatial analysis. ESRI is the only vendor that provides complete technical solutions for desktop, mobile, server, and Internet platforms. Visit us at



Poor communication cited in tall ship training fatality

By Canadian OH&S News

FEDERAL (Canadian OH&S News) -- A Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) investigation into the sailing death of Laura Gainey has determined that insufficient crew communication and inadequate ship safety features were among the factors that lead to her death.

Gainey, the daughter of Montreal Canadiens general manager Bob Gainey, was swept off the deck of the Picton Castle tall ship by a large wave during a fierce storm on December 8, 2006. The foreign-registered ship had departed Lunenburg, Nova Scotia three days earlier and was en route to Grenada in the eastern Caribbean Sea. The body of Gainey, a deckhand on the vessel, was never recovered despite search and rescue efforts.

Gainey was carrying out a ship check — likely at the port breezeway section of the ship — when the wave struck. She was probably unaware of a temporary order to steer clear of the breezeway, which had been implemented because of the rough seas, the TSB notes in a final report released on October 30.

“A number of [past] TSB investigations have highlighted the fact that accidents are often the product of ineffective, incomplete, untimely, or misunderstood communications,” board investigators write.

The TSB also notes that important safety equipment was either missing or was not properly used on the Picton Castle.

“Despite the large amount of water being shipped on deck, safety nets were not rigged above the bulwarks of the main deck and breezeway,” the board states. It adds that “safety lines had been rigged inboard on the main deck, but their effectiveness was diminished because safety harnesses were not worn. The absence of established fastening points to which safety harnesses could be attached also negated the effectiveness of wearing a harness.”

Given unfavourable long-range weather forecasts, the ship’s departure from Nova Scotia should have been delayed, the TSB suggests. Heeding the forecasts would have been particularly advisable considering the “limited training of the crew in emergencies and the limited experience of the trainees.” The report says that time and financial considerations contributed to the decision to set sail.

Fatigue among Picton Castle crew members was another issue identified by the TSB. It notes that under the storm conditions, the crew — including Gainey — was unable to rely on the 16 trainees onboard. “Consequently, the crewing level became inadequate — with the result that crew members had to rely on each other to perform duties during off-watch periods.”

A general concern noted by the board is that neither Canada northe Cook Islands (where the Picton Castle is registered) require tall ship operators to have safety management systems in place. “Effective safety management requires all organizations, large or small, to be cognizant of the risks involved in their operation, to be competent to manage those risks, and to be committed to operating safely,” the TSB states.

New volunteer standards may be ineffective: TSB

Though the federal transportation department, Transport Canada, is in the process of updating voluntary safety standards related to tall ship construction and operation, this “may not result in the adoption of effective safety management systems,” the board worries.

Maryse Durette, a spokeswoman for Transport Canada, notes that the department has 90 days to review and respond to the TSB findings. The department, she adds, is already developing “a policy with respect to registration, crew training/certification, and requirements for foreign-registered sail training vessels entering and operating in Canada.”

Simon Fuller, president of Ottawa-based Bytown Brigantine Inc, a charitable organization that operates two tall ships, says that although Canadian-registered ships are not required by regulation to have formal crew training and safety programs, they typically do.

Nonetheless, Fuller, who is also secretary of the Canadian Sail Training Association, says he would support the formalization of crew training and safety program requirements through the creation of a legislated standard. “Let’s define once and for all what a responsible sail training program should look like and what it should comprise,” he says.


Monday, November 24, 2008

Will the Opening of the Northwest Passage Transform Global Shipping Anytime Soon?

Will the Opening of the Northwest Passage Transform Global Shipping Anytime Soon?

With the melting of Arctic Ocean ice, the fabled waterway between Europe and Asia has been open to shipping the past two summers--or has it?

It is said that the Inuit have many words for snow, but when it comes to the Northwest Passage only one type of frozen water matters: multiyear ice. It can slice through the hull of a ship like a knife through butter and it persists in the passage's waters despite unprecedented warming in the Arctic Ocean, thwarting shippers in search of a shortcut between Europe and Asia.

The fabled Northwest Passage has made headlines ever since it thawed last year for the first time. For three centuries the quest for an expedited route between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans rivaled today's space race, with European superpowers vying for the prize. Hundreds of sailors and countless expeditions ventured into Canada's Arctic waters, including such naval luminaries as Sir Francis Drake, Captain James Cook and the ill-fated Henry Hudson, who left his name—and lost his life—on the Canadian bay that marks its entrance.

Slide Show: View satellite images of the possible Northwest Passage

Now, with the Arctic's sea ice shrinking at a rate of 10 percent per decade, this coveted shipping lane has opened for business—but shippers are not rushing to use it. The reason: as fate would have it, global warming appears to also be increasing the amount of potentially deadly multiyear ice chunks lurking in the newly opened pathway.

Sea of Ice
"The thing is, the Canadian Arctic has a totally different ice regime than the Arctic Ocean," says Stephen Howell, a climatologist at the Interdisciplinary Center on Climate Change at the University of Waterloo in Ontario.

In fact, the Canadian Arctic Archipelago acts as a "drain trap" for ship-wrecking multiyear ice, Howell says. This year, for example, when the first-year ice in the passage had melted, it opened the way for multiyear ice (MYI) from the Queen Elizabeth Islands to flow into and clog the Northwest Passage. "We call it a 'MYI invasion' and that's going to be the threat as we transition to an ice-free summertime Arctic," he says.

"The first-year ice, that's sort of like Swiss cheese and you can just plow through it," Howell says. This ice freezes over a winter and is seldom thicker than three feet (one meter). Often, first-year ice melts the summer after it's frozen, but if it doesn't, it becomes thicker the following winter and becomes multiyear ice. "The multiyear ice isn't like Swiss cheese; it's solid and trouble" for ships that collide with it, he says.

"In places it was three meters (nearly 10 feet) thick, but in other places we had a five-meter (16.5-foot) drill bit and we still did not reach the bottom," says Bruno Tremblay, an atmospheric and oceanic scientist at McGill University in Montreal, who was taking ice cores of multiyear ice in the Canadian territory of Nunavut's Viscount Melville Sound last year.

"It's very dangerous," adds Ivana Kubat, an engineer at the National Research Council's Canadian Hydraulics Centre in Ottawa. "If a lower type of vessel hits a piece of multiyear ice, then the vessel can sink depending on the speed and damage." One study showed that multiyear ice was to blame for 74 percent of the damage suffered by ships traveling in the Canadian Arctic between 1976 and 2007.

A Route to Dodge Danger?
Still, there are several ways through the Northwest Passage. The southern, shallow and circuitous route through Peel Sound in Nunavut has been open the past three summers, thanks to warmer temperatures. "That's because that region is mostly first-year ice so with warmer temperatures it melts and it clears," Howell says.

But the northern route, which runs through the McClure Strait in a straight shot from Baffin Bay west of Greenland to the Beaufort Sea north of Alaska, is another story. "Everyone wants the McClure route because it's quicker, it saves money," he says.

The McClure route opened last year, and once before that, in 1998. The European Space Agency reported that the strait opened up this year—open water was visible from space—although it wasn't safe for ship crossings.

"You could in principle navigate through it [this year], avoiding ice floes, and looking for the narrow opening, but the wind can move the ice around within hours so it can be a bit tricky," says Christian Melsheimer, a researcher at the Institute of Environmental Physics at the University of Bremen in Germany, whose research group produces daily maps of sea ice. "Some interpret this as 'the passage is open'; some would rather wait until the ice concentration is near zero percent across the whole passage."

The minimum sea ice cover in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago shrunk by 6.6 percent and the hazardous multiyear ice by 8.6 percent each decade between 1979 and last year. So the amount of sea ice in the region is indeed decreasing, just not in the right way for the Northwest Passage to become a viable alternative to the Panama Canal anytime soon.

"Obviously, if the climate is warming then you would have less first-year ice," says Kubat. "But, based on our analysis of our work, there is ice [in the passage], and with some melt of first-year ice you have more multiyear ice in the shipping lanes."

Global Impact
Climate models predict that even as sea ice disappears from the Arctic Ocean in the summer, the northern part of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago will remain a stronghold for multiyear ice. That means hard, ship-wrecking multiyear ice in all the channels of the Northwest Passage.

"Even in 2040, when there is no more summer ice in the Arctic, the archipelago will still be clogged with ice," Tremblay says.

As a result, ships may be able to sail plumb across the Arctic Ocean to Eurasia before they can navigate the Northwest Passage to ply the waters along North America's Arctic coast safely. But by that time any gains from a shipping shortcut will have been dramatically offset by potential losses elsewhere in the Northern Hemisphere due to the effects of climate change. "There are certainly some positive benefits at least in the short term economically," says Walt Meier, a research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., "but the negative impacts, I think, ultimately outweigh that."

The U.S. Southwest, for instance, will dry up; ocean circulation, jet streams and storm tracks will probably all change, he says. "There definitely will be impacts on all the U.S. and Europe and Asia," Meier notes, "and at least [on] all of the Northern Hemisphere due to the loss of summer sea ice in the Arctic."


Bad Weather Makes for a Long Day

A strong jet stream can add or subtract microseconds from a day

By Keren Blankfeld Schultz

Do you ever feel like some days drag on longer than others? That feeling may be psychological, but actual day length really does fluctuate--by a fraction of a millisecond. (A millisecond is one thousandth of a second)

The length of a day, which is measured by the time it takes Earth to rotate once on its axis, can be measured to an accuracy of about 10 microseconds, or 10 millionths of a second. Earth's rotational rate depends on the distribution of mass across its surface. This includes the roiling aggregation of gases that comprise the atmosphere, the solid earth itself, its fluid core, and the sloshing ocean. For example, when a major earthquake shifts the planet's mass, it can slow or speed the day by as much as a few thousandths of a second.

In fact, the Indonesian Sumatra earthquake in December 2004 that spawned a deadly tsunami moved so much water that it slightly changed our planet's shape and sped its rotation by 2.68 microseconds, or nearly three millionths of a second.

This change in rotational speed, though it is minimal, has been observed for centuries. In 1695 English astronomer Sir Edmund Halley (who also discovered the eponymous periodic comet) hypothesized that the moon was accelerating in its orbit. In reality, Earth's rotation was slowing down, making it appear that the moon was gathering speed.

Since then, scientists have used various methods to measure our planet's rotation, including astronomical devices such as the sundial as well as satellites and lunar observations. And these days scientists have placed thousands of Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers around the world that can track Earth's orientation to within a few millimeters, says geophysicist Richard Gross of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. JPL keeps an in-house database of Earth's rotation dating back to 1962.

Gross says that the most important processes affecting day length are changes in the weather, especially unusual variations in the strength and direction of the winds, which bring on alterations in the global circulation of the atmosphere and ocean. In particular, the vast, high-altitude wind currents known as jet streams, which arise from the differences in temperature between the warm tropics and cooler high latitudes, are responsible for shortening or speeding the day.

Perhaps it's not surprising, then, that global warming may actually speed the day, a fact noted by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In one study published in Geophysical Research Letters in 2007, scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, Germany, estimated the mass redistribution resulting from ocean warming would shorten the day by 120 microseconds, or nearly one tenth of a millisecond, over the next two centuries.

Such changes—whether caused by global warming or earthquakes—remain too small to be reliably detected at present, Gross says. After all, there are 86,400 seconds in a 24-hour day and billions of microseconds. Even with GPS, predicting changes in day length remains as difficult as forecasting the weather.

On April 17, 2008, for instance, the day lasted 1.1686 milliseconds longer than the norm According to Gross, the excess varies: Just a few years ago, days were about three milliseconds longer. And all those milliseconds add up: Over the course of a year, scientists estimate that the fluctuations add about a second.

But don't worry, scientists are on top of the phenomenon. The National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colo., occasionally adds a "leap second" to the atomic clocks used to standardize time. The last such update took place on January 1, 2006. There's plenty of time to adjust your calendars: "If the excess length of day continues to be about 1.2 milliseconds, another leap second won't be needed for about three years," Gross wrote in an e-mail.


Coast Guard Rescues 2

ALAMEDA, Calif. - The Coast Guard rescued a man and a woman stranded onboard a 17-foot pleasure craft at Chipps Island. At approximately 6:50 a.m., Coast Guard Sector San Francisco received a cell phone call from the owners of a pleasure craft that their vessel was disabled and run aground. The people reported they were not in distress but were unsure of their location and needed assistance.

From descriptions by the passengers onboard, the Coast Guard was able to determine their location. At approximately 9 a.m., Coast Guard Sector San Francisco lost communication with the stranded people, and immediately launched an HH-65 Dolphin helicopter, from Air Station San Francisco, to the scene. By 9:35 a.m., the helicopter crew arrived on scene, located the stranded passengers and hoisted them to the helicopter.(Coast Guard video shot by Air Station San Francisco)

At approximately 9 a.m., Coast Guard Sector San Francisco lost communication with the stranded people, and immediately launched an HH-65 Dolphin helicopter, from Air Station San Francisco, to the scene. By 9:35 a.m., the helicopter crew arrived on scene, located the stranded passengers and hoisted them to the helicopter.

See more videos at Great Americans


Friday, November 21, 2008

Tsunami could cripple nuclear reactors, NRC says

Tsunami could cripple nuclear reactors, NRC says

Doesn’t that teeny weeny nuclear power plant on the bluff look like our very own San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station?!

This illustration, from a recent Nuclear Regulatory Commission report soberly titled “Tsunami Hazard Assessment at Nuclear Power Plant Sites in the United States of America,” says that those rogue waves most often caused by big earthquakes “can result in a severe hazard to safety-related cooling-water systems as well as other structures, systems and components important to safety of a nuclear power plant.”

“The primary effect of the tsunami waves on a plant site is flooding … and loss of cooling water (due to dry intakes during drawdown caused by receding tsunami waves).”

“However, there are also several other effects, mainly from hydrodynamic forces that can cause severe damage to structures and the foundations of these structures.”

The NRC last updated its construction guidelines for this type of thing more than 30 years ago - in 1977.


OK, so, the economy is crumbling beneath our feet and must we ponder a tsunami hitting the local nuclear power plant and sucking away cooling water and producing radioactive chaos?

“In the wake of the December 26, 2004, Sumatra earthquake and its accompanying tsunami that resulted in widespread loss of life and property in the Indian Ocean region, hazards posed by tsunamis have emerged as some of the most severe caused by natural phenomena,” the NRC’s report says. ”One operating nuclear power reactor was shut down during this tsunami, and, therefore, international nuclear power plant operators and reviewers felt the need to review the approach towards tsunami-hazard assessment for existing and proposed sites.”

Since dozens of new nuclear plants are in the pipeline to be built, the NRC is reworking regulations to be more confident plants can weather such rare but crippling crises. Like, specifically, making sure cooling water intake pipes are far enough off shore - and in deep enough water - that they won’t be left high and dry if water recedes.


There’s not much to worry about here, says Gil Alexander, the very good-natured spokesman for Southern California Edison, which runs San Onofre.

“San Onofre was engineered to meet the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s stringent safety design standards plus provide a large margin of safety beyond those standards,” Alexander said in an email (on his day off, after reading through the report and contacting company mucky-mucks). “The plant’s two operating units are designed to safely shutdown during natural disasters including major earthquakes and tsunamis.”

The NRC is accepting comments on its draft report through Dec. 5, and new regulations are expected to emerge some time after that.


'It's a tornado' cry terrified Suffolk residents

Powerful winds and a cold front in southern Britain created ideal tornado conditions

The 200 residents of a usually hushed East Suffolk village were left terrified and bewildered when a “twister” roared into Pettistree, near Woodbridge.

Trees and electricity lines were ripped out and homes and schools damaged as the freak weather system barrelled towards the East Anglian coast.

The Met Office and storm experts confirmed today that extreme weather fronts in South-East England yesterday afternoon created the perfect conditions for tornadoes.

“It was horrendous,” said Maureen Stollery, 67, who watched open-mouthed from her home in the village at about 2pm. “Everything was going round and round. It was spinning the top of a 35ft tree in our garden until it was ripped off. It was actually pulled clean off and the top spun round in the air.“The sound of the wind and the rain was like an apache helicopter. It went very dark and it was raining so much – it was lashing the house. It was much worse than the 1987 storm.”

Fellow villagers Dom and Cherry White agreed that it was the sound that warned them of the approaching storm.

“It was as if the walls were going to fall in,” Mrs White told the East Anglian Daily Times. “It was like a twister coming through the garden. We could see it and it was quite extraordinary. We heard the noise first.”

About 20 miles nearer the coast, the town of Leiston felt the same powerful force a few minutes later as the storm system swept across Suffolk. Paul Knightley, a severe weather expert from Torro, which monitors the British climate, said: “It’s almost certainly a tornado, there aren’t really any other phenomena that would have left such a narrow path of damage.”

Mr Knightley explained that tornadoes can form when a cold front is moving with a narrow ribbon of rain along its leading edge forcing warm air upwards very quickly. Dramatic air turbulence forming tornadoes can be created by wind shear, which sees wind speed and direction changing with altitude.

In the aftermath of a tornado, rotational damage can usually be observed - most often through signs of twisting in trees.

At Leiston High School by the Suffolk coast, a window was blown out, smashing to the ground in a courtyard between classrooms. Ian Flintoff, the headmaster, said: “The tornado came across the front of the school. I was talking to another teacher and it took my breath away. It stopped what we were doing - it was very eerie inside.”

He told the East Anglian Daily Times: “Very suddenly there was a major gust of wind in an extreme way I have not experienced before. Trees were moving around quite violently and the building shook.

“It caused damage to the roof, ripping off a sky light, and lifted bins off the ground. It was a very short lived but violent episode.

“It happened when school was in session so luckily there were no students about. It was really disturbing and lasted for about 30 seconds - no more than that. As a geographer I have seen it on the television but I have never experienced weather like it before.”

Weather fronts in the rest of southern Britain yesterday left two dead as roads were flooded and one powerful gust knocked over a crane in Essex, killing a man.

Strong winds have continued today, particularly in northwest Scotland. The worst of the weather is then expected to ease with sunny spells predicted for tomorrow and Thursday

Australia opens national tsunami warning center

CANBERRA, Australia – Australia became an integral link in a network of tsunami warning hubs across the Indian and Pacific oceans with the official opening of a national monitoring center Friday.

The Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Center that opened in the southern city of Melbourne joins India as a "tsunami watch provider" for 29 countries on the Indian Ocean rim that are prone to the killer waves, said Ray Canterford, head of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology's disaster mitigation office.

Work on the 69 million Australian dollar ($46 million) center developed by the government was launched six months after the catastrophic 2004 tsunami.

It will provide essential sea level and seismic data to the Pacific warning network to Southwest Pacific island nations. This data is critical to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii and the Japanese Meteorological Agency in Tokyo, Canterford said.

Eventually, there will be a network of several countries on the Indian Ocean rim with their own tsunami warning centers sharing scientific data, he said.

"We're actually enhancing the capabilities of other countries in the Pacific and in the Indian Ocean," he said.

The center relies on high-tech deep sea buoys, five of which are located northwest of Australia below Indonesia, one in northeast of Australia in the Coral Sea and two in the Tasman Sea off the southeast coast.

Indonesia, which bore the brunt of the 2004 tsunami that killed more than 230,000 people, is expected to have its own national warning center fully operational by the end of the year, Canterford said.


Report on Napoli Beaching Incident

On Nov. 6, The Maritime and Coastguard Agency delivered its in-depth 103 page Report to the Chairman of Devons local Inquiry into the circumstances leading to the beaching of the MSC Napoli off the East Devon coastline.

The Report summarises the Agencys activities from the moment the incident broke on the18th January 2007, when the MSC Napoli was on passage in the English Channel, loaded with 2,318 containers and bound for South Africa and when she suffered a catastrophic hull failure and got into severe difficulties.

A number of possible locations were assessed by both the French and British authorities for a place of refuge on both sides of the Channel; however, the south coast of England provided better options for a place of refuge. The conclusion was that the least environmentally risky option was to tow the vessel to a place of refuge in UK waters.

Working with the French authorities, the Secretary of States Representative for Maritime Salvage and Intervention (SOSREP) decided that the ship was in danger of breaking up and polluting the English Channel and should be towed to Portland Harbor.

The SOSREP consulted with local authorities and environmental bodies to the fullest extent possible within the time available. With the condition of the ship deteriorating rapidly, it was necessary for the salvors and the SOSREP to make a fast decision in order to avert a potential environmental catastrophe.

During towing, the weather deteriorated and the salvors and the SOSREP decided to beach the ship in Lyme Bay to minimize the pollution threat.

The MSC Napoli was beached in Lyme Bay on 20 January 2007. Over the next six months the 3,500 tonnes of fuel oil and the containers were systematically removed. The final container was removed on 17 May 2007. Explosives were used to split the MSC NAPOLI into two sections. On 20 July, the ship was successfully split into two pieces and the bow section was towed a short distance away.

The bow section of MSC NAPOLI was removed from Lyme Bay and taken to Harland and Wolffs dismantling facility in Belfast in mid-August 2007. The remaining stern section was left in situ in Lyme Bay, to be cut up and taken away to a recycling facility.

Toby Stone, Head of the Agencys Counter Pollution Unit said, “The successful way in which the MSC NAPOLI was handled demonstrates the effectiveness of the UKs arrangements for handling incidents at sea and the professionalism of all of those involved.”

“We also hope that our submission to the Inquiry will set the record straight on several issues, including of course, the overriding practical reasons for beaching the vessel at Branscombe, and the function of a Shoreline Response Centre. In this case there was no need for such a Centre to co-ordinate the shoreline clean-up operation because the third party insurers retained the services of contractors to do the necessary clean-up work.”

The finalized report will not only be published for general consumption but is intended also to form the Governments contribution to Devon County Councils MSC Napoli Public Inquiry, for which public hearings started on 3 November 2008 and will finish on 7 November 2008.

The report is a factual account of the response to the incident, with conclusions, lessons learned and recommendations. In addition to the response by the MCA, it includes coverage of the actions of other relevant authorities.

(Source: The Maritime & Coastguard Agency Press Office)

SCI Announces the Christmas at Sea Gala & Auction 2008

Event Opens 175th Anniversary Celebration

October 9, 2008. The Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI) announces its annual holiday party, the Christmas at Sea Gala & Auction on Tuesday, December 2, 2008, at the New York Yacht Club in midtown Manhattan. A party aimed at fundraising for the Institute, this event evokes a very warm sentiment. During the cold month of December, SCI celebrates the Christmas at Sea knitting program, the volunteer knitting program of SCI. It has, for 110 years, been collecting and distributing warmth in the form of scarves and hats to mariners working at Christmastime. This year’s event also marks an important year milestone in the history of the entire organization. The party jump-starts the Institute’s celebration of its 175th Anniversary in 2009.

Jennifer Koenig, Director of Special Events and Donor Relations at SCI, has been planning this event for months. “What I really like about this annual event is that the holiday spirit of goodwill and peace harmonizes with the mission of the Institute.” Koenig points out that SCI’s history of serving the maritime industry is a history filled with generous gifts in support of SCI’s mission to mariners. “People who come to this event are a part of spreading holiday cheer, and it means that we can continue the Institute’s various service programs to mariners.”

In addition to peace and goodwill, there is another aspect of the holiday which features prominently in the evening’s festivities, says Koenig—presents. The Christmas at Sea Gala & Auction includes, as its name suggests, an auction of various donated items. All of the proceeds go to the Seamen’s Church Institute. Auction items in the past have included tropical cruises, ski vacations, and historic maritime memorabilia. Koenig says of this year’s auction, “We will have some great items up for bid this year, and because the holiday is an atmosphere for fun surprises, we will have some of those too.”

Invitations for the Gala & Auction will go out next week. If you would like to receive an invitation, email Special Events Associate Carrie Brennan at Koenig hopes that the event will be well attended. She says, “As with all parties, the more the merrier. In the case of the Christmas at Sea Gala & Auction, with more people attending, we will be able to make merrier the Christmases of many mariners.”

NY Yacht Club Model Room CAS Gala

The Model Room at the New York Yacht Club, host to the 2008 Christmas at Sea Gala and Auction.


Messing About In Ships Podcast

Have a really great weekend..Snow and all!