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.
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 www.esri.com.
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.