Monday, November 29, 2010

Niwa Takes High-Tech Look Below Antarctic Ice Shelves

New Zealand: Niwa Takes High-Tech Look Below Antarctic Ice Shelves

NIWA's new Ice Tethered Profiler (ITP) places NIWA at the forefront of polar oceanography. It gives NIWA, and international scientists, insight into the interaction between the ocean, Antarctica's sea ice, and ice shelves - thereby unlocking mysteries in Antarctic polar oceanography.

NIWA transported the ITP to Antarctica. It was deployed by NIWA scientist Craig Stewart, and IRL's Tim Haskell. The very first set of data from below the ice was sent via satellite on 19 November 2010.

It will provide NIWA with the first-ever year-round data set of what is happening beneath the ice in McMurdo Sound. The ITP collects temperature and salinity profiles. This information is relayed in real-time, via satellite, to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute website.

"This will lead to a better understanding of the interactions between the ice sheet, the oceans, and what contribution this is making to sea-level rise. We are trying to understand how the ice shelf interaction is changing over time," says NIWA oceanographer, Dr Mike Williams.

In the Northern Hemisphere, the Arctic has lost vast amounts of its sea ice. In the Southern Hemisphere, such changes have so far largely appeared along the Antarctic Peninsula.

Predictions for the next century could see Antarctic annual mean sea ice decrease by 24%, so it is important that interactions between sea ice and both atmosphere and ocean are understood.

"The Ross Sea is fresher than it was 30 years ago, because the Antarctic ice sheet has been melting, and putting more freshwater into the ocean," says Dr Williams. "The warmer the water, the faster the ice melts, so what we are starting to see is warmer parcels of water making their way to the coast, and starting to increase the ice-shelf melt in coastal Antarctica."

Polar regions are where climate change is happening most rapidly. "It's well understood in the Arctic, but in Antarctica we don't really understand why we are not getting the same response. Our measurement programmes are decades behind what's happening in the Arctic, and the ITP gives us a chance to start catching up," says Dr Williams. The ITP was developed by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, funded by NIWA, and its deployment is supported by Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, and Antarctica NZ. It is the second ITP to be deployed in Antarctica. NIWA CEO John Morgan will be on the ice 24-26 November as part of the Antarctica New Zealand Invited Visitor programme.

Bone-eating critters among new underwater discoveries

Metro Halifax: Bone-eating critters among new underwater discoveries
Ten years ago, 95 per cent of Earth’s oceans remained unexplored. Now, experts are unveiling an unprecedented inventory of ocean life.

First, meet the Yeti Crab. It has hairy claws and reproduces its own bacteria, and is one of more than 5,300 new species discovered by the Census of Marine Life. Some 2,000 researchers from 80 countries set out to document every species in our oceans. “We knew that there were unknown species in the oceans, but we didn’t know if it was one, 10 or 100 million species,” says Dr. David Billett from Britain’s National Oceanography Center.

“Off the British coasts, only an estimated 10 per cent of species are unknown. But off the coasts of countries like Angola, the figure is 90 per cent.”

Experts found almost 200 new crabs, shrimps and prawns. “Rainforests have a reputation for biodiversity, but most of the species are insects,” explains Prof. Paul Tyler, a marine scientist from Southampton University. “By contrast, there’s an extremely wide range of animals in the ocean.”

Billett discovered new sea cucumbers, a common marine animal in the Indian ocean. “The deep waters aren’t dull places where nothing happens.”

The most charming discovery may be the osedax, discovered by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California.

This seabed creature looks like a wig with pink twigs sprouting out. But the osedax’s diet proves to be less enchanting: it feeds on whale bones.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Secret Of The Sharks' Hunting Success Revealed: It's All In The Scales

Underwater Timse: The Secret Of The Sharks' Hunting Success Revealed: It's All In The Scales
ST. PETERSBURG, Florida -- New research from the University of South Florida suggests that one of the evolutionary secrets of the shark's success hides in one of its tiniest traits -- flexible scales on the bodies of these peerless predators that make them better hunters by allowing them to change directions while moving at full speed.

The key to this ability lies in the fact that the scales control water flow separation across the creatures' bodies, says Amy Lang of the University of Alabama who will present work she performed with her colleagues at the University of South Florida today at the American Physical Society's Division of Fluid Dynamics (DFD) annual meeting in Long Beach, CA.

Flow separation is an issue in systems like aircraft design, explains Lang, because it tends to cause vortices that impede speed and stability.

"In nature, if you look at surfaces of animals, you'll see that they are not smooth," she says. "They have patterns. Why? One common application of patterning a surface is to control flow -- think of the dimples of a golf ball that help the ball fly farther. We believe scales on fast-swimming sharks serve a similar purpose of flow separation control."

Based on experimental measurements and models of shark scales, Dr. Lang's team discovered that the bases of shortfin mako scales (literally small teeth covering their body) where they attach to the skin are not as wide as the tops of the scales. This tapered shape enables the scales to be easily manipulated to angles of 60 degrees or more, endowing them with movement called "denticle bristling."

Also, these flexible scales are only found on parts of the body where flow separation is most likely to occur, such as behind the gills on the side of the body. Denticle bristling is the probable mechanism leading to flow separation control for the shortfin mako shark.

"As we investigate further, we imagine applications of controlling flow separation in design of aircraft, helicopters, wind turbines -- anywhere flow separation is an issue," Lang adds

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Survey Of Maui's Dolphins Off New Zealand Finds Genetic Surprise: Hector's Dolphins

Underwater Times: Survey Of Maui's Dolphins Off New Zealand Finds Genetic Surprise: Hector's Dolphins
CORVALLIS, Oregon -- The future survival of the critically endangered Maui's dolphin, which is found only off the west coast of New Zealand's North Island, may have gotten a boost from the discovery of two Hector's dolphins among its sparse population.

The more plentiful Hector's dolphins are found off the South Island of New Zealand but individuals are thought to remain within a limited home range for most of their lifetime. However, genetic analysis of 26 "Maui's dolphins" by scientists at the University of Auckland and Oregon State University found that two of these individuals were actually Hector's dolphins, likely originating from the west coast of the South Island.

The discovery is important, scientists say, because previous studies indicate the remaining population of only about 100 Maui's dolphins has low genetic diversity. The threat of "in-breeding depression" has been a source of concern to the New Zealand Department of Conservation, which conducted the surveys earlier this year.

"The potential for introduction of new genetic diversity through even occasional mating with Hector's dolphins is likely to be good for the long-term survival of the Maui's dolphin," said Rochelle Constantine, a lecturer with the University of Auckland who presented the results at the meeting of the New Zealand Ecological Society today (Nov. 23) in Dunedin, N.Z.

Scott Baker, associate director of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University, said that limited interbreeding between the two subspecies "might be the best chance of survival for the Maui's dolphin."

"Human activity has contributed to isolating these populations through a reduction in the range of Maui's dolphins," said Baker, an internationally recognized cetacean expert who coordinated the genetic analysis of the dolphins. "And further isolation is likely to reduce genetic diversity, without occasional genetic interchange with the more abundant Hector's dolphins."

The two Hector's dolphins found with the Maui's dolphins were both females, Baker pointed out.

The Maui's dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori maui) is the world's smallest dolphin at about five feet in length and weighing about 110 pounds. They are usually found close to shore in pods of several dolphins and only occasionally range further offshore. Females are not sexually mature until seven to nine years of age and they produce just one calf every two to four years, making population increases a slow process.

"It was quite a surprise to discover the Hector's dolphins that far north because they were thought to remain quite close to their place of birth most of their lives," said Becca Hamner, a Ph.D. student from Oregon State University who works with Baker. "This is almost certainly a rare dispersal event, as none of our previous samples of Maui's dolphins showed evidence of hybridization.

"Further genetic monitoring will be needed to determine if the new emigrants survive and are able to interbreed with the Maui's dolphins," Hamner added.

The DNA analysis was done following collection of small skin samples by New Zealand's Department of Conservation and the University of Auckland. Those samples were compared to a collection of 300 samples from the known range of both Hector's and Maui's dolphins around New Zealand.

Funding for the research was provided by the New Zealand Department of Conservation and the United States Marine Mammal Commission.

Trawlers dump 900 tonnes of fish

Belfast Telegraph: Trawlers dump 900 tonnes of fish
Over 900 tonnes of fish were dumped back into the sea by Northern Ireland’s fishermen last year thanks to a controversial European policy.

Both fishermen and environmentalists have condemned the waste incurred by discarding small fish that don’t meet the regulations set down in the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy.

Most of the discarded fish are dead, according to UUP deputy leader John McCallister, who questioned Fisheries Minister Michelle Gildernew about the practice.

Following the Assembly question, Ms Gildernew revealed that 906 tonnes of cod, haddock and whiting were discarded by Northern Ireland fishing vessels last year alone, despite dwindling cod stocks in the Irish Sea.

Over the last four years some 2,000 tonnes of whiting have been dumped, along with 1,100 tonnes of haddock and 20 tonnes of cod.

The minister said: “Fish may be discarded for several reasons other than the need to comply with fish quota limits.

“The majority of discards by our fleet are for fish below minimum landing size. These fish have no market value, as they cannot be legally landed or sold.

“The data shows relatively low discards of marketable size fish.”

Mr McCallister condemned the waste of discarding such huge numbers of small, dead fish, calling on the European Commission to invest in equipment that makes it impossible to catch them in the first place.

He said: “While I understand the need to have measures to protect the future of fish stocks in the Irish Sea, dumping 906 tonnes of dead fish back into the water is doing neither the animal nor the fishing industry any good.

“Rather than making fishermen dump small, dead fish, the European Commission should really be investing in measures and equipment that makes it almost impossible for these small fish to be caught in the first place.”

The debate comes as Ms Gildernew vowed to battle quota cuts proposed by the European Commission.

The cuts, which will be debated at the December Fisheries Council, include a further 50% cut in cod catches and a 15% cut in haddock.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Into the abyss: The diving suit that turns men into fish

Into the abyss: The diving suit that turns men into fish
Humans have proven themselves remarkably adept at learning to do what other animals can do naturally. We have taught ourselves to fly like birds, climb like monkeys and burrow like moles. But the one animal that has always proven beyond our reach is the fish.

The invention of scuba diving has allowed us to breathe underwater but only at very shallow depths.

Thanks to our inability to conquer the bends, diving below 70m still remains astonishingly dangerous to anyone but a handful of experts. Ultra-deep diving is so lethal that more people have walked on the moon than descended below 240m using scuba gear.

Related articles
More Science News
Search the news archive for more stories
Now an inventor in the United States believes he has solved the riddle of how to get humans down to serious depths – by getting us to breathe liquid like fish.

Arnold Lande, a retired American heart and lung surgeon, has patented a scuba suit that would allow a human to breathe “liquid air”, a special solution that has been highly enriched with oxygen molecules.

The idea immediately conjures up the terrifying spectre of drowning but our lungs are more than capable of taking oxygen from a solution.

“The first trick you would have to learn is overcoming the gag reflex,” explains Lande, a 79-year-old inventor from St Louis, Missouri. “But once that oxygenated liquid is inside your lungs it would feel just like breathing air.”

Lande envisages a scuba suit that would allow divers to inhale highly-oxygenated perfluorocarbons (PFCs) – a type of liquid that can dissolve enormous quantities of gas. The liquid would be contained in an enclosed helmet that would replace all the air in the lungs, nose and ear cavities.

The CO2 that would normally exit our body when we breathe out would be “scrubbed” from our blood by attaching a mechanical gill to the femoral vein in the leg.

By using oxygen suspended in liquid, divers would no longer have to worry about decompression sickness - the often fatal condition known as “the bends” which occurs when nitrogen dissolved in the blood under the immense pressures of deep water bubbles out as we rise. It could potentially allow them to descend to far greater depths than is currently possible.

Liquid ventilation might sound like science fiction – it played a major role in James Cameron’s 1989 sci-fi film The Abyss – but it is already used by a handful of cutting-edge American hospitals for highly premature babies.

Children born before 28 weeks have huge difficulties breathing, often because their lungs are not developed enough to comfortably adjust from the liquid environment of the womb to inhaling gaseous air. Immature alveoli, the final branchings inside the lung that feed oxygen into the blood, lack vital surfactants which stop the tiny cavities sticking together when we breathe out.

In response doctors have begun experimenting with highly-oxygenated PFCs with remarkable success.

Professor Thomas Shaffer, a paediatrics specialist from Delaware, has experimented with liquid breathing since the late 1970s. He spent much of his early career testing various animals in oxygenated PFCs.

Place a mouse in oxygenated liquid and instinct immediately kicks in as the animal flounders wildly. Everything the mouse has ever learned screams at it to avoid inhaling a solution it thinks will kill it.

Yet when we drown there comes a moment when the instinct not to breathe liquid is overridden by a stronger instinct to take in one last breath. It is a desperate final attempt to get oxygen into the blood. If the liquid we are in contains oxygen molecules that happily cross from the solution into our blood stream, life will return. After all, it is not water that kills us when we drown. It’s our inability to take oxygen from the water that condemns us.

By the mid-1990s, Shaffer and a handful of doctors had begun using liquid ventilation techniques on premature babies and were stunned by the results.

“A lot of the children I see have less than a 5% survival rate,” he explains. “But when we get them on to liquid breathing we see close to 60% going on to lead fully healthy lives.”

The technique remains rare, however, because of a chronic lack of investment.

“Liquid ventilation is not used widely because there is very little funding from the drug companies,” he says. “Unfortunately premature babies don’t have a voice. They don’t bring in money, so no-one really wants to invest. But it does work. Physiologically, liquid ventilation is very do-able.”

The recent oil spill in the Gulf may change that lack of interest. Although drug companies are reluctant to fully explore liquid breathing, the Deep Water Horizon disaster has reignited the debate over how to get divers safely down to extreme depths.

Currently the only way divers can work for long spells in the deep is either from the safety of robotic vessels and submarines; or by using saturation diving, an incredibly complicated technique where divers have to be brought up to the surface in a pressurised container over a matter of weeks.

With saturation diving, the deepest anyone has gone is 701m. Using scuba equipment the record is 318m, set by the South African diver Nuno Gomes in June 2005. It took him 14 minutes to descend and 12 hours to come back up to the surface.

The reason for these slow ascents is our reliance on compressed gasses to breathe in water. Under the incredible pressure exerted by billions of tonnes of ocean, gasses like nitrogen and helium dissolve into our bloodstream, much like CO2 is dissolved in a soda bottle.

Ascending towards the surface is like opening that soda bottle - the gas comes out of solution and into our bodies. If we don’t give our bodies enough time to expel those gasses by ascending slowly, we die.

“The beauty of doing it all from a liquid is that you don’t have to use these highly compressed gasses in the lungs that are going to dissolve into the blood,” says Dr Lande, who recently presented a paper on his patent to the first International Conference on Applied Bionics and Biomechanics in Venice. “You have a liquid that you can infuse just as much oxygen as you need.”

Shaffer has previously experimented with animals and PFCs at depth and found the technique to work. “I have personally put mammals down to a simulated depth of 1000 feet and then decompressed them in half a second and they have no decompression sickness,” he says.

The US Navy Seals also reportedly experimented with liquid ventilation in the early 1980s according to Shaffer who says he met a former Seal turned doctor that was on the team.

“This paediatrician never really revealed why they were doing it,” he explains. “Other than going very deep I don’t know what the point was. But they tried it. The Navy pushed them to the point where they did it several times a week.”

Being so much more viscous than air, liquid is difficult to breathe. Some of the Seals reportedly developed stress fractures on the ribs cause by the sheer force of trying to get a liquid in and out of the lungs.

But Lande envisages using a cuirass, a ventilation device named after a piece of medieval armour, which compresses the diaphragm and makes it easier to breathe liquid.

Now all he needs now are developers and a fresh set of human guinea pigs willing to test his ideas.

“I’m sure someone out there would be willing,” he says. “We’ve climbed the highest mountains, sent people into space. It’s time to find ways of exploring the deep oceans.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Experts demand better protection for sharks

PARIS – With their pointy teeth and fearsome reputations, sharks may not be the best poster child for species in danger, but environmentalists say the predators are in dire need of protection.

Marine experts and conservation groups hope an Atlantic conservation conference in Paris this week will bolster what they say are disastrously inadequate rules on shark capture.

"There are shark populations that have declined by 99 percent, so it's a real severe situation, and there are virtually no protections at an international level," said Elizabeth Griffin Wilson, a marine wildlife scientist at conservation group Oceana.

Oceana wants delegates to toughen the existing ban on shark-finning — the practice of slashing prized fins off the animals and tossing them overboard to die — as well as prohibiting the capture of some threatened Atlantic sharks and setting catch limits for others.

Right now, only one shark species is under international protection in the Atlantic — the bigeye thresher — and there are no catch limits on others, it said in a report released Monday.

Elaborate international fishing regulations and quotas govern other types of fish, such as tuna, the main focus of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), meeting this week through Saturday in Paris.

Sharks have historically been an afterthought in the fishing industry. ICCAT deals with highly migratory sharks because they are often an accidental catch for tuna fishermen.

Conservation groups say the rise of Asia's middle class, combined with the continent's penchant for pricey shark fin soup, a traditional delicacy, has turned sharks into a lucrative target.

"It's time the world looks at sharks and starts to set serious measures to save them, otherwise these creatures that have been around since before the time of the dinosaur will quickly go the way of the dinosaur," said Matt Rand, director for global shark conservation at the Pew Environment Group.

More than 1.3 million highly migratory sharks were caught in the Atlantic in 2008, the year with the most recent data, Oceana calculated based on figures from ICCAT. Even then, Oceana believes the figure is a "gross underestimate" because 11 out of ICCAT's 48 member countries didn't report any shark catches at all in 2008.

"If you took those sharks and lined them up, they would stretch from Washington D.C. to Los Angeles, and that's just (in) one year," said Oceana's Wilson.

Oceana said 21 of the world's 72 highly migratory shark species were reported caught in the Atlantic in 2008. It said three-fourths of those 21 species are designated as threatened with extinction in parts of the Atlantic by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Oceana, Pew Environment Group and others say the existing ban against shark-finning in the Atlantic has too many loopholes, and fishermen should be required to bring sharks back to shore without their fins severed.

Fishermen now are allowed to slice off the fins before they bring the sharks ashore as long as they don't throw the bodies overboard. That makes fraud easier to commit, since it's harder for inspectors to make sure no bodies have been thrown out to sea, environmentalists say.

While ICCAT and other regional commissions regulate fishing, trade bans are handled by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES.

Environmentalists were sorely disappointed by a CITES meeting in March, where six species of sharks failed to get protection despite studies showing their numbers had fallen by up to 85 percent because of the booming fin trade.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Lessons From Deepwater

Newswise: Lessons From Deepwater
Newswise — In the 24-hour news cycle era, the Deepwater Horizon oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico already feels like an event from yesteryear, an event that had its 15 minutes of news domination during the summer of 2010 then made room for the next big story once the wellhead was capped.

But though gulf residents fear that they will be forgotten as cleanup crews pack up and leave, the inquiry into the oil leak is only beginning on scientific fronts. As the federal government continues to review its initial response to the disaster, research institutions are seeking portions of a $500 million reserve that BP has pledged to studying the long-term effects of the leak.

The gulf's health isn't the only open question. Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego researchers were in the first wave of response within weeks after the initial explosion on the doomed oil rig. In separate field projects, Scripps science teams monitored marine mammals, looked for subsurface oil plumes using programmed gliders and brought dormant radar stations online to make near real-time maps of surface currents.

Now that the immediate crisis is over, several of them say that the accident illustrates the need for continuous oceanographic monitoring of all American coastlines and the need for rapid sharing of information, both of which were in short supply immediately following the leak-triggering disaster.

Scripps development engineer Ethan Roth's task was to retrieve and redeploy a scientific instrument that has been recording marine mammal sounds in the Gulf of Mexico for more than three months. The instrument bore vital information about how millions of gallons of oil might impact whales and dolphins in the region.

While he prepared for the recovery operation on Sept. 4, conditions in the gulf were clear and balmy. But the following morning, when Roth hit a button on a lunchbox-sized control box that sent an instrument rising 980 meters (3,215 feet) from the Gulf of Mexico seafloor to the surface—fewer than 10 miles from the Deepwater Horizon well explosion site—the skies were dark and imposing, but rain-free. Now, looking over their shoulders, Roth and others aboard the Ocean Alliance research ship Odyssey could feel the wind whipping and see a squall heading their way. Twenty minutes later, by the time the marine mammal sound recording instrument breached the sea surface and was spotted from the ship's deck, the heavens poured.

By now, Roth and Odyssey first mate Ian Glass were dispatched on a skiff to capture the floating HARP, or high-frequency acoustic recording package, and its precious cargo of data. Under the deluge they grappled, then seized the instrument, and moments later it was craned aboard Odyssey.

A soggy Roth brought the HARP safely inside the ship's main cabin just as the downpour ceased, marking the termination of the successful recovery operation.

Roth opened up the HARP's body and extracted 16 memory disks carrying nearly two terabytes of acoustic data. He later installed replacement disks and fresh batteries. The following morning, the reinvigorated HARP sunk back down to the dark bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.

In April, Scripps oceanography professor John Hildebrand joined the rest of the world in watching astonished as news feeds relayed the environmental horror of gushing oil. As head of the Scripps Whale Acoustics Lab, Hildebrand mulled over his options, having never conducted research in the Gulf of Mexico. A week after the explosion, he moved into action, coordinating the retrieval of a HARP instrument off La Jolla, Calif., on May 6. Within five days—the blink of an eye for similar scientific deployments—the device was on a plane headed to New Orleans, then stationed on a ship, and finally redeployed within sight of Deepwater Horizon.

HARPs employ hydrophones, or underwater microphones, to record clicks, moans, whistles and songs from marine mammals and allow Hildebrand and his team to monitor population sizes, behaviors, and habitats.

"After a week of the oil flowing I said, 'I've got to do this,' and then I did everything I could to get the HARP there as fast as I could," said Hildebrand. "We want to see if there are trends—do we see the number of animals trending downward?—and to find out what the impact of the oil is."

Hildebrand later deployed four additional HARPs around the gulf to augment the assessment, providing baseline data outside the area of the spill.

Upon Roth's return to Scripps and delivery of the disks to Hildebrand, the data recorded on them were immediately processed by sound analyzers to begin telling the tale of how oil affected some the gulf's largest inhabitants.

"It's important, given that we've developed this new technology for monitoring marine mammals, that it be brought to bear when there is a need," said Hildebrand. "It seemed like going there and providing expertise was the right thing to do because this is the best capability for figuring out the presence of marine mammals."

By mid-October, preliminary analysis of the data shows that whales and dolphins remained in the vicinity of the well during the leak. Further details are pending.

Hildebrand's challenges were not merely scientific. Like several other academic centers drafted into service during the leak, Scripps objected to BP's initial insistence on controlling the distribution of data such as his whose collection it funded. After negotiation, Scripps and its mission of making science available to all won out over BP's interpretation that data from a research project should be proprietary. Hildebrand will be free to publish his findings when they are ready.

Like Hildebrand, Scripps physical oceanographer Dan Rudnick rerouted an instrument from the Pacific Ocean to the gulf. Rudnick oversees the operation of Spray gliders, programmable craft that can dive and rise in transects to create profiles of salinity, temperature and current at various depths. The glider fed data to ocean circulation models that guided spill response overseers.

Rudnick also added a fluorometer and acoustic profiler to the payload of the glider to enable it to detect plumes of subsurface oil. On Sept. 20, his lab retrieved the glider after 105 days of measurements in the gulf. Because of the Scripps team's experience navigating gliders through strong currents, Spray was the lone glider among eight sent to the gulf to traverse the powerful Loop Current, which had been initially identified as a likely conduit by which oil from the leak would reach the Atlantic Ocean.

Rudnick found his experience of the overall mobilization a heartening demonstration of what science can do in a crunch but if the spill zone had the kind of monitoring network California had, “they would have had the observations from day one instead of day 30,” Rudnick said.

“The only way to assure that you have working instruments ready to go is to be using them,” he said.

Eric Terrill and the Coastal Ocean Research and Development Center (CORDC) at Scripps had been in the midst of a BP-funded project to mount high-frequency radar onto an oil rig 100 miles southwest of the broken wellhead when the disaster happened. Radar is used to view and track surface currents. .

Terrill's group was not able to get the radar station mounted onto the rig Atlantis operational until August. NOAA, however, funded a CORDC effort to bring online three Gulf Coast radar stations owned by the University of Southern Mississippi that had been turned off when funding for their operation ran out. For the duration of the oil leak response, Scripps added daily surface current data that gave responders their best guess as to where the oil was going to go. The data were used by NOAA forecasters to decide where to direct containment booms.

BP is also funding an experiment by Terrill's lab to test drifting buoys that measure surface currents and waves, a capability that could dramatically improve tracking the path of future oil spills. Like Rudnick, Terrill notes the advantage responders would have had if such extensive modeling were available before the oil leak. Networks in California had already proven their value during a 2009 oil spill in San Francisco Bay. It was also because of the existence of such networks that NOAA was familiar with the current maps that high frequency radar could provide. The $21 million in state funding for circulation monitoring efforts runs out at the end of the year. Terrill says the case for extending its funding is more obvious than ever.

“All too often, it's difficult to get the resources in place for sustainable observations, but then an event like this comes along to remind people that there is inherent risk with at-sea production and transfer of petroleum," said Terrill. "Hopefully this event will have some good in spurring a national investment in improved infrastructure designed to predict our coastlines.”

To hear some analyses, the gulf oil leak is an event that has concluded, having left ecosystems there in far better shape than many had feared it would have. Scripps marine ecologist Jeremy Jackson, however, knows better.

More than 20 years ago Jackson studied the impacts of a pair of oil spills off Panama that wreaked environmental havoc on the country's coastal ecosystems. Jackson saw death and destruction wherever the oil touched. Dead coral reefs. Black zones of destroyed mangroves. Devastated seagrasses.

Yet damage from the two million-gallon spills he assessed are a pittance compared with more than 200 million gallons gushed from Deepwater Horizon.

The full scope of the damage, Jackson says, is troublingly masked because many vital ecosystem components are too small or too deep to be seen by the human eye.

“Who cries for the plankton? Who cries for the minnows?” asks Jackson. “The stuff you can't see is the basis of the food chain and every bit as important as the charismatic birds, whales, and dolphins. The oil is certainly drastically disrupting the food chain of the entire northern gulf.”

Even with the enormity of the oil's damage, Jackson remains adamant that other, rising threats to the ocean's health are far more serious. Once the oil impacts lessen in the years and decades ahead, overfishing, pollution, and climate change will remain as dangers.

“We have to hope that there will be an increased awareness of the fragility of the ocean that will emerge from the horror that people have seen and experienced (in the gulf),” says Jackson, “so that there is a new seriousness about the magnitude of the other problems.”

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

IEO accept bids for maintenance and technical support of algae plant

FIS: IEO accept bids for maintenance and technical support of algae plant

The Directorate of the Spanish Institute of Oceanography (IEO) has begun accepting bids for the ongoing maintenance and operational technical support in algae and fish cultivation plants of El Bocal during the first half of 2011.

The bids are for a total of EUR 270,000, reports the Europa Press.

The assistance involves operational technical support for marine crop plants, such as cleaning tanks, sumps and floor installations, and removal of fish in tanks as often as necessary.

The successful bidder will also have to monitor aquaculture tank levels as well as emptying them, monitor and check water renewals. Also, they will need to collect data from physical-chemical parameters (temperature, salinity, etc), preparing the tanks for the various crops and take over the food supply or other treatments.

They must also deal with live or inert preparation of food for the larvae, help counts and biological sampling, and control egg collectors in breeding season, among other activities.

With respect to the maintenance of facilities, daily tasks will include:

Maintenance and control of machinery and equipment of facilities for a continuous supply of sea water.
Heating and air conditioning.
Cold and isothermal storage.
El Bocal belongs to the Oceanographic Centre of Santander. It is the largest seaweed farming plant in the country and was designed for semi-industrial scale to meet the demand of seaweed for human consumption.

This research facility has a 3,800 sq m greenhouse, laboratories and culture units from 1,000 to 50,000 liters in size. It also has a gene bank with 75 strains, the only one in Spain.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Long-range undersea robot does its own research

A new breed of undersea robot promises to give oceanographers a deeper understanding of ocean life by going faster, farther, and longer than its predecessors--and by doing a little thinking all on its own.

Scientists at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute say their newest autonomous underwater vehicle, called Tethys, introduces a new class of AUV that will take their oceanic research to a whole new level.

The two types of AUVs that researchers have relied on in the past both had their drawbacks. Propeller-driven vehicles could travel at a relatively quick pace and carry big payloads but could only be out at sea for a few days. Another type, called gliders, could endure weeks-long expeditions but were seriously lacking in the speed category. Traditional gliders top out at about 0.5 mph, according to the team's statement.

MBARI's Jim Bellingham, Thomas Hoover, and Bret Hobson work on Tethys in a test tank.

(Credit: Todd Walsh/MBARI)
Engineers at the institute said this week they've married the best traits of both those AUVs to create a new long-range underwater robot that can travel four times as fast as most traditional gliders, hover in place for weeks at a time, and carry a significant amount of scientific instruments. After four years of development, Tethys underwent real-world testing in Monterey Bay last month, successfully completing a four-day expedition with battery life to spare.

"In designing this AUV, we were actually trying to make a fundamental change in how we do oceanography," said MBARI Chief Technologist Jim Bellingham, who led Tethys' development and explained in a statement how the bot has already been used to track algal blooms.

"Tethys can travel to a spot in the ocean and 'park' there until something interesting happens," he said. "Once a bloom occurs, Tethys can move fast enough to follow the bloom and watch it evolve, the way a biologist on land might follow and study a herd of deer."

Tethys even has some decision-making skills of its own, giving it the ability to direct itself in response to the data it collects. That means the robot can carry on with a continuous expedition 24 hours a day without its human operators dictating its every move. So where traditional AUVs would collect data, send it back to oceanographers, and wait to receive its next set of orders--a process that took up copious valuable time--Tethys can actively follow a bloom as it drifts in the ocean currents.

For now, Tethys is designed specifically to monitor algae, but Bellingham says the hope is to eventually develop other AUVs capable of studying organisms higher up in the food chain

LSU oceanography researcher discovers toxic algae in open water

R&D Mag: LSU oceanography researcher discovers toxic algae in open water
BATON ROUGE - LSU's Sibel Bargu, along with her former graduate student Ana Garcia, from the Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences in LSU's School of the Coast & Environment, has discovered toxic algae in vast, remote regions of the open ocean for the first time. The recent findings were published in the Nov. 8 edition of one of the most prestigious scientific journals, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , or PNAS.

Harmful algal blooms, or HABs, are reported as increasing both geographically and in frequency along populated coastlines. Bargu's research shows that the ubiquitous diatom Pseudo-nitzschia - an alga that produces the neurotoxin, domoic acid, or DA, in coastal regions - actually also produces DA at many locations in the open Pacific. The presence of these potent toxins in deep water environments is worrisome, given that in coastal waters, where the phenomenon has been studied, DA can enter the food chain, forcing the closure of some fisheries and poisoning marine mammals and birds that feed on the contaminated fish. The main concern, though, is that the adding of iron to ocean waters - one of the most commonly proposed strategies to reduce global warming - appears now to likely result in promoting toxic blooms in the ocean.

Because both natural and artificial iron additions in open ocean waters can result in phytoplankton blooms in large areas of the sea that are deficient in the metal, and also because phytoplankton take up carbon dioxide and iron in addition to seawater, it has been suggested as a remedy to combat global warming. Basically, the new growth of photosynthetic cells draws carbon dioxide into the sea, reducing the amount of this gas in the atmosphere and thus reducing its warming effect. However, Pseudo-nitzschia-like cells have been known for a while to be common responders in a number of iron fertilization experiments conducted at sea over more than a decade.

To address the possible presence of the neurotoxin DA in regions where Pseudo-nitzschia occur in the open ocean, Bargu and one of the paper's co-authors, Mary Silver from University of California, Santa Cruz, or UCSC, sought and received funding in 2007 from National Science Foundation to look for the toxin producers in the open sea. They joined Ken Bruland, professor of ocean Sciences at UCSC, on a research cruise to study iron chemistry in oceanic waters of the Gulf of Alaska. During this expedition, they collected water samples and found the algae and its toxin in nearly all of the natural oceanic environments throughout the region. This prompted them to examine older, stored samples from other sites around the Pacific, and again they found the toxin in most samples.

Then, with the help of Kenneth Coale, director of Moss Landing Marine laboratories and principal investigator on several cruises that conducted classic iron enrichment experiments in the Pacific, they retrieved samples and found both Pseudo-nitzschia and substantial amounts of toxin. Their findings show that iron enrichment indeed promotes high levels of toxins in the open sea, sometimes as high as those in coastal regions, where deaths of seabirds and mammals occur. The authors of this PNAS paper also noted that iron enrichments can occur naturally, suggesting that the high levels of toxins may also have occurred when iron was added by wind-blown dust and other climate and geological processes.

Bargu, a principal investigator on the Gulf of Alaska phytoplankton study, was responsible for identification of all the Pseudo-nitzschia species and the toxin testing in the project. In addition to Bargu and her former graduate student Garcia, the coauthors of the PNAS paper include Silver, Coale, Ken Bruland, Susan Coale and Kathryn Roberts at UCSC; and Claudia Benitez-Nelson and Emily Sekula-Wood at the University of South Carolina. This research was funded by the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Office of Naval Research.

Impacts from HABs have been also the subject of regional interest in the northern Gulf of Mexico for many decades. Among the many HAB impacts in this region, those due to coastal blooms of the diatoms genus Pseudo-nitzschia and the associated DA are of particular concern. Studies of Louisiana coastal and estuarine waters have documented the occurrence of toxic Pseudo-nitzschia, often at bloom concentrations with annual occurrence of spring blooms exceeding a million toxic cells per liter. Current thinking suggests the annual spring peak in Pseudo-nitzschia probably occurs in response to the spring flood of the Mississippi River.

An ongoing study by Bargu's lab is studying the extent of Pseudo-nitzschia and its toxin, finding that that DA-producing Pseudo-nitzschia are frequently present in nearshore and offshore Louisiana waters. Her research group has already detected high levels of DA in water and at moderate levels in gulf menhaden from Terrebone Bay, La., the second largest fishery in the U.S.

Bargu is specifically studying the impact of these blooms on the food web, trying to better understand the impact such algae growth can have on the next level up the food chain. She argues that it is now critical to understand the extent of toxic algal blooms in the area and their causes.

"Given our dependence on the seafood industry here, it is critical to recognize and then reduce the causes of toxic algal blooms," she said. "Only by monitoring and addressing the causes of the blooms can we safeguard our fisheries and the people who make a living working in them."

High points of a half-century of science and engineering

Scripps: High points of a half-century of science and engineering

Charles David Keeling
Is carbon dioxide fully absorbed by the world’s oceans and vegetated areas, or does some of it rise into the atmosphere? Flip the calendar back to the early 1950s and you’d get little more than speculation from scientists.

The puzzle was solved, to a large degree, by Charles David Keeling, a climate researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla. Keeling revolutionized climate-change research by measuring the movement of CO2 into the atmosphere, a discovery that eventually would expose carbon dioxide’s role as a significant greenhouse gas.

Keeling took his first measurements in the late 1950s. But he and his colleagues continued taking the reading for decades, helping to pinpoint the impact of burning of fossil fuels and industrialization.

San Diego Super-computer Center
Sunday, Nov. 14, is the 25th anniversary of a center on the UCSD campus that’s known as much for helping to solve problems as it is for extraordinary computing power.

The center has helped hasten and improve the design of pharmaceutical drugs, led to better ways to grow food and a more effective means to battle the virus that causes AIDS.

The facility also has helped make it easier to predict solar disturbances that can damage satellites.

Scientists have used the center’s computers to improve weather forecast models and develop ways to track wildfires. Currently, the center is working on ways to make the Internet and various mobile platforms operate faster.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Scripps evolved from a small, independent laboratory founded in 1903 into the nation’s pre-eminent oceanographic institution. During the past 50 years, Scripps has helped explain the movement of Earth’s tectonic plates, the nature of waves, and the mechanics of weather and climate change.

The institution, now part of the university, has been home to heavyweight scientists such as Walter Munk, who is widely called the “greatest living oceanographer” for his studies of ocean circulation, waves and tides. Roger Revelle also led Scripps to greatness, mostly through pioneering work on climate change.

And Scripps scientists have played a pivotal role in studying the California Current, which affects everything from fish stocks to weather conditions along the West Coast.

Jacobs School of Engineering
Southern California shook hard Jan. 17, 1994. A magnitude 6.7 earthquake erupted in Northridge, killing more than 70 people and causing $20 billion damage.

Portions of some freeways were heavily damaged, but many key bridge supports withstood the shaking, having been reinforced with a jacket system developed by UCSD engineers. The program, now known as the Jacobs School of Engineering, also helped enhance the design of the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and created the nation’s first large outdoor shake table to test structures for clients like Caltrans.

The school has fashioned a simulator that helped reveal how bomb blasts damage buildings. The research is being used to reinforce American embassies.

The engineering school also continues to be well-known in aerospace and defense research. Early on, it helped design portions of missiles and satellites.

Margaret Langdon
Margaret Langdon wasn’t an “ivory tower” type of scholar. For years, the linguist moved among American Indian tribal leaders in the Southwestern United States, helping to preserve their languages.

Some of her best and most enduring contributions involved the Diegueño and Kumeyaay people on reservations in San Diego County. Langdon, a native of Belgium, created the first dictionary of Diegueño with scholars Christina Hutcheson and Ted Couro. The project enabled the tribe to expand beyond its oral history.

Langdon assisted many other Southern California tribes over the years, notably the Luiseño.

Her influence has extended across generations in another way: She served as an adviser on 17 graduate dissertations in linguistics. Her students included people who went on to become celebrated scholars.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Oregon Experiencing Spike Of Leptospirosis, Sea Lion Deaths; 'These Are Very Sick Animals'

Underwater Times: Oregon Experiencing Spike Of Leptospirosis, Sea Lion Deaths; 'These Are Very Sick Animals'
NEWPORT, Oregon -- A sharp increase in the number of sick and dead California sea lions has been reported along the Oregon coast in recent weeks and necropsies conducted on dozens of the animals suggest that many may have died from leptospirosis.

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease found in a variety of animal species and can be transmitted to humans, according to Jim Rice, an Oregon State University scientist who coordinates the statewide Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network.

"We are now getting calls for multiple sick or dead sea lions daily, which is higher than normal," said Rice, an OSU Marine Mammal Institute researcher who works at the university's Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. "The overall number of sea lions also has risen, so it's difficult to compare mortality rates from year to year, but certainly we're seeing an increase in animals that test positive for leptospirosis."

Rice and his colleagues at the stranding network have sent dozens of dead animals to the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in OSU's College of Veterinary Medicine. And though not all of the animals have tested positive, many showed clear signs of leptospirosis, which raises concern about human health.

Kathy O'Reilly, who heads the bacterial section of the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab, said leptospirosis can be virulent.

"There have been 50 to 100 cases per year in the United States reported to the Centers for Disease Control," O'Reilly said, "and in 31 percent of the human cases it is traced back to contact with infected rats, and in 30 percent of the cases, it is tracked to infected dogs."

Dogs can be infected with leptospirosis through contact with stricken seal lions. Rice said coastal visitors should always avoid sea lions on the beach and during outbreaks of leptospirosis should keep their dogs on a leash. The disease can be transmitted by direct contact, or even through contact with damp sand, soil or vegetation contaminated by the urine of infected animals.

Rice said that in 2009, the network had 350 reports of California sea lions stranded on Oregon beaches – either dead or severely ill and presumed to have died. And Oregon is on pace to surpass that total this year, he pointed out.

"Typically, sea lions with leptospirosis are quite emaciated and lethargic," Rice said. "Those that don't die on the beach may get washed out to sea and die, or they may move elsewhere. It's possible that some recover, but these are very sick animals."

The Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network is a collaborative volunteer effort to respond to reports of sick or dead marine mammals – including whales, seals and sea lions – and report data about the strandings to the National Marine Fisheries Service. It is headquartered at OSU's Marine Mammal Institute at the Hatfield Marine Science Center and coordinated by Rice.

Partners in the Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network include OSU, Portland State University, the University of Oregon's Institute for Marine Biology, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Oregon State Police, the Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation and others.

Persons seeing dead or sick marine mammals on Oregon beaches are encouraged to call the Oregon State Police 1-800-452-7888.

Marine life may suffer long after public forgets oil spill

Tampa Bay Online: Marine life may suffer long after public forgets oil spill
TAMPA - While the public has moved on from the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, scientists and fisheries managers worry it may have sparked a cascade of events that will lead to the collapse of entire Gulf species.

It happened to the herring after the Exxon Valdez oil spill 20 years ago.

But marine scientists meeting in Sarasota this week say Gulf creatures at risk could be spared if private and public agencies pool their knowledge of the effect of the oil and the state of the Gulf before the BP blowout.

"This is extremely important at this stage of the game," said William Hogarth, dean of the College of Marine Science at the University of South Florida.

The government plans to collect billions from BP in fines, but scientists and fishery managers who want some of that money will have to back up their protection and restoration plans with hard data, he said.

Representatives from more than 25 research and fishery management organizations gathered Monday and Tuesday at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota. They came from Canada and a dozen states, including Maine, Oregon, Louisiana and Mississippi.

USF, Mote and the National Wildlife Federation sponsored the meeting.

They plan to recommend a unified effort to study and manage the effects of the oil disaster as it ripples through the Gulf's marine web.

The Deepwater Horizon blowout on April 20 was clearly a disaster, but it's also an opportunity, said Michael Crosby, Mote senior vice president.

He called it a "wakeup call and an opportunity for us to begin to work together to bring together all of the information that is out there in a scientific way."

There's plenty of research going on, Crosby said, but no one's focusing it or organizing it to see the broader picture.

"We're calling, and there's urgency, for very applied research" to guide restoration efforts, Crosby said. "We need to act sooner, not later, not 10 to 20 years downstream."

It's crucial "that we make sure research is very focused on getting answers and providing information that will be focused on restoring the Gulf of Mexico."

Analyzed as a whole, the data could tell researchers if certain species are at risk, and public officials could act, imposing catch limits, for instance, to avert the loss, Hogarth said.

The group has realized this week, however, that some creatures may be past the point of saving.

Some Gulf species — certain sharks, for instance — were in trouble from overfishing when the Deepwater Horizon well blew, and the effects of all that oil in the water may have pushed them to their tipping point, Hogarth said.

A major concern of the group is that government agencies and BP aren't sharing all the data they're collecting in the Gulf.

John Hammond, regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation, said he understood the need for caution as the government assesses the extent of the damage and assigns blame. But the research data "should be shared with the general public and it should be shared with organizations prepared to act now."

The group will not produce formal recommendations until January, Crosby said.

But he said the members are likely to ask that a single group be established as a clearinghouse for all Gulf research related to the oil disaster and that it be based in the Gulf region.

"We all seem to be in favor of this," Hogarth said. "It's not trying to take anybody's authority away, but to try to be better coordinated."

Group members also agree that the fines collected from BP should come back to the Gulf, Crosby said.

"It's just common sense that the fines for the impact on this Gulf oil spill would come back to aid those impacts, as opposed to vanishing into the treasury of the United States of America."

Where Is The Gulf Oil? In The Food Web, Says Study; 'Shadows' Of Spill Appear In The Bodies Of Plankton

Underwater Times: Where Is The Gulf Oil? In The Food Web, Says Study; 'Shadows' Of Spill Appear In The Bodies Of Plankton
DAUPHIN ISLAND, Alabama -- Scientists at Alabama's Dauphin Island Sea Lab (DISL) confirmed a telling impact of the oil on the coastal marine food web in a recent scientific report titled "Oil carbon entered the coastal planktonic food web during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill," published today in the scientific journal IOP Publishing's Environmental Research Letters.

According to lead author Dr. Monty Graham, "Recently, much has been made of where the oil went. Because of the magnitude of the spill, the fact that the oil seemed to have 'disappeared' so quickly made many people uncomfortable with the unprecedented use of chemical dispersants to move the oil from its floating form on top of the water to micro-droplets within the water." Dr. Graham has been studying this issue as part of a research program funded by the National Science Foundation, the Marine Resources Division of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and BP's Gulf Research Initiative allocation to the Northern Gulf Institute.

Following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, about 200 million gallons of crude oil were released into the Gulf of Mexico. According to government and academic researchers, as much as 50 % of this oil may have been naturally or chemically dispersed into the water column. Concern over the ultimate fate of the oil with respect to productive northern Gulf waters has led to much speculation about incorporation of oil-derived carbon into the food-chain.

The evidence is in carbon, the element that forms the backbone of all life on the planet. There are two naturally occurring 'stable isotopes' of carbon: the typical carbon-12 and the slightly heavier carbon-13. The proportion of these isotopes in organisms' bodies has been widely used as a 'tracer' to describe food web connections.

In the Gulf, marine bacteria numbers multiply as they consume the carbon-rich oil. In turn, other micro-organisms feed upon the rich supply of bacteria, and following the paradigm of "you are what you eat," the relative proportion of these carbon isotopes moves up the food chain and can be used to identify the ultimate source of carbon. These can include the dissolved carbon in freshwater, microscopic plants called 'phytoplankton,' terrestrial sources such as grasses and trees…or oil.

Oil carbon lacks much of the heavier carbon isotopes typically found in food for bacteria. So Graham and his colleagues searched for, and found, the light carbon signature in the bodies of zooplankton during the oil spill.

Using this approach, Graham and his colleagues showed that as the oil approached the northern Gulf coastal waters in pulses, there was a dramatic decrease in the carbon isotope weight signature over about a four-week period. With all other possible sources of 'light' carbon ruled out, they concluded that oil-carbon entered the plankton food web as micro-organisms fed upon the oil-consuming bacteria. In fact, oil-carbon repeatedly showed up into August, well after the surface oil slicks were virtually gone.

According to Graham, it was not at all disputed whether the oil would be consumed by marine bacteria, but there was debate on what that would ultimately mean for the rest of the food web. "We showed with little doubt that oil consumed by marine bacteria did reach the larger zooplankton that form the base of the food chain. These zooplankton are an incredibly important food-source for many species of fish, jellyfish and whales," says Graham.

Graham emphasizes that this does not necessarily mean that crude oil toxins were transferred into the zooplankton, but it does show a food web pathway by which other components of the oil could reach higher in the food web. Because the Gulf's waters are so warm, the oil was being degraded extremely rapidly. According to Graham, "the continuing search for where the oil went should not only include direct evidence of existing pools of oil, but also the shadows of where the oil once was as indicated by so-called 'biomarkers' -- such as light carbon isotopes in the bodies of plankton."

Graham and his colleagues are using these findings to prepare experiments at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab to track just how, and how fast, the carbon from oil moves into specific larger plankton groups. They are also trying to determine whether the amount of carbon injected into the northern Gulf ecosystem added to the overall productivity of the system, or merely replaced productivity that otherwise would have occurred naturally.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Fishing “Down The Pricelist” Threatens Ocean Ecosystems

ScienceLine: Fishing “Down The Pricelist” Threatens Ocean Ecosystems
Overfishing has led Indian fisheries to rely on less marketable species for profit — a practice that could have severe ecological consequences

Would you consider purchasing starfish or sand dollars instead of lobster or snapper at your local supermarket? In India, shoppers have little choice. A steep population decline of commonly consumed species such as shrimp and grouper — from overfishing — has forced Indian fishermen to land a larger portion of less desirable varieties such as sardines and sea urchins, also referred to as bycatch. Although they used to discard it in the millions of tons, fishermen now sell bycatch for local consumption and poultry feed. And according to new research, Indian fisheries have become reliant on bycatch for turning a profit, a practice that could severely disrupt the entire offshore ecosystem where Indian vessels exhaustively trawl the waters.

Researchers examined changes in catches by Indian trawlers by interviewing fishermen in three locations and reconstructing trends in income, bycatch figures, and catch of marketable species over the past thirty years. The results revealed that the annual catch of more marketable species like shrimp and grouper has declined sharply in the past twenty years while the amount of bycatch sold has steadily increased. They also saw a steady rise in bycatch sales to India’s growing poultry industry, whose rapid expansion coincides with the country’s burgeoning affluence and consequential shift away from vegetarianism. As stocks of more commonly eaten species dwindle, the demand for bycatch from both local consumers and from the poultry industry has become critical to fisheries’ survival.

Aaron Savio Lobo, a Ph.D. candidate who studies ecology at Cambridge University in the U.K., was the lead author of the paper describing the research, which was published in August in the journal Conservation Letters. Bycatch commercialization is “definitely bad news” for the marine environment, Lobo said, with “profound implications” for the health of fish stocks. Fishers “scraping the sea floor and picking up whatever they can possibly get, from the tiniest bivalve shells to massive rays” could lead to “ecological catastrophe,” and may push marketable species beyond their ability to ever recover, Lobo warns.

William Cheung, a marine biologist at the University of East Anglia in the U.K., who was not part of the study, explained that the shift to bycatch targeting is referred to as “fishing down the food web,” or as in the case in India, fishing “down the price list.” As more desirable species become depleted, fishermen target cheaper and cheaper varieties “until we finally develop markets for jellyfish and plankton,” Cheung said. “I don’t think that would be a good way to go.” Moreover, Cheung explained, commercializing bycatch makes it even more difficult for originally targeted species to survive, since the incentive no longer exists for fishermen to move to a new location after marketable fish stocks have been exhausted. Fishers lingering on in a depleted area to collect bycatch leave no window of opportunity for population recovery of marketable species, as the next generation of juvenile fish is scooped up alongside the few remaining adults. As a result, Cheung concluded, fish stocks cannot fully recuperate and some species can even be driven to local extinction.

Lobo hopes his future research, which will concentrate on establishing bycatch figures, can further define the scope of the problem. If successful, his work could contribute to the design of strategies that would strike a balance between the livelihoods of fishermen and the survival of threatened species currently suffering the effects of overfishing. This would ultimately benefit the fishing industry through sustainable management of species populations, Lobo says.

But for now, Lobo says, no easy solution exists. “What are you going to do with all those fishermen? They pick up whatever they can possibly get, just to keep afloat.”

Sea Turtle Herpes Tumors Linked to Sewage?

National Graphic Daily News: Sea Turtle Herpes Tumors Linked to Sewage?
Rebecca Kessler
for National Geographic News

November 9, 2010

Tumors that have plagued green sea turtles worldwide for decades may be caused by pollution, a new study says.

Nitrogen-rich runoff from sewers and farms is fueling a rise in invasive seaweed that, when consumed by the reptiles, may trigger an otherwise dormant herpes virus. This virus in turn causes the often fatal growths.

The cauliflower-like tumors—which can sprout on a turtle's eyes, mouth, joints, and internal organs—have contributed to declines in the 4-foot-long (1.2-meter-long) turtles. Listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, green sea turtles are found in the world's tropical and subtropical waters. (See sea turtle pictures.)

In some parts of Hawaii, where green sea turtle strandings occur regularly, as many as 90 percent of stranded dead or dying turtles discovered have been afflicted with the disease, according to study leader Kyle Van Houtan, an ecologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center in Honolulu.

(Related pictures: "Millions of Sea Turtles Killed Accidentally?")

Wherever the turtle strandings occur, there is often evidence of sewage and invasive algae, Van Houtan said.

Until now, however, hard evidence that pollution factors into the turtles' disease has remained elusive, he noted.

Polluted Areas Are Turtle-Tumor Hot Spots

Van Houtan and colleagues analyzed human activities on land to calculate a "nitrogen footprint" for each watershed—an area that drains into a water body—on the Hawaiian islands of Oahu, the Big Island, and Maui (see map). The team also studied 28 years' worth of data on green sea turtle strandings on the islands.

Comparing the two data sets, the scientists found that diseased turtles strand more in areas with high nitrogen runoff from agriculture, sewers, and cities.

(See "Cocaine, Spices, Hormones Found in Drinking Water.")

These turtle-tumor hot spots are "the places that I wouldn't necessarily want to go surfing after a rain … because of the nasty stuff that would show up" in the ocean, Van Houtan added.

Nitrogen Awakens Herpes Viruses

The scientists don't think the nitrogen-loaded runoff causes tumors directly. Instead, there may be a chain of interactions that starts with a nitrogen-fed boom in nonnative seaweed, at least in Hawaii.

Nitrogen acts as a fertilizer in oceans, and is a main cause of oxygen-sucking algae blooms called dead zones.

Around the Hawaiian islands, several seaweed species were either accidentally introduced or deliberately harvested for food crops and later "escaped" cultivation and spread into the wild.

For instance, hookweed—native to the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean, and the Philippines—was introduced to Hawaii in 1974. Gorillo ogo and spiny seaweed came from the Pacific and Indian Oceans and Guam, respectively.

(Learn more about marine invasive species.)

The seaweed absorbs the extra nitrogen and converts it into an amino acid—the building block of protein—called arginine. When turtles eat the seaweed, arginine awakens dormant herpes viruses in the turtles' bodies that generate the tumors.

It's possible that nonnative seaweed in Hawaii is better than native seaweed species at converting nitrogen to arginine, Van Houtan noted.

And because Hawaiian green sea turtles now rely on the invasive seaweed for food, Van Houtan suspects the animals get dosed with tumor-triggering amino acids at every meal.

Turtle Tumors Have Other Causes?

Alonso Aguirre, a wildlife epidemiologist with the environmental nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance in New York, praised the study for confirming the link between pollution and sea turtle tumors.

But he also said that the tumors' cause may be more complicated.

The pollution-virus link is "a very simplistic pathway to explain the whole disease," Aguirre said, adding he suspects other factors, such as water temperature, and possibly additional viruses, are at play.

Regardless of exactly how the tumors form, Aguirre said the study shows that "the turtles … are telling us that something is happening to the oceans in a way that now, we have to pay attention."

Turtle-tumor research published September 29 in the journal PLoS ONE.

Research: Thinning Ozone Could Be Leaving Whales Sunburned; 'Exposure To Strong Sun Is Damaging'

Underwater Times: Research: Thinning Ozone Could Be Leaving Whales Sunburned; 'Exposure To Strong Sun Is Damaging'

LONDON, England -- Whales exhibit skin damage consistent with acute sunburn in humans, and it seems to be getting worse over time, reveals research published this week in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Scientists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), Queen Mary, University of London and CICIMAR, studied blue whales, fin whales and sperm whales in the Gulf of California to determine the effect of rising levels of ultraviolet radiation (UVR) on their health.

For a number of years scientists have observed blisters on the skin of whales. Now, using high-quality photos to give accurate counts of the blisters and analysing areas of damage in skin samples, this research has found that the three species of whale exhibit skin damage that is commonly associated with acute sunburn in humans.

Notably, the scientists also found that signs of sun damage were more severe in the paler-skinned blue whales, compared with the darker-skinned fin whales, and that in blue whales the symptoms of sunburn seem to be getting worse during the three years the study took place.

The UV index for the Gulf of California fluctuates between high and extremely high throughout the year. Lead author, Laura Martinez–Levasseur from ZSL and Queen Mary, says, "Whales need to come to the surface to breathe air, to socialise and to feed their young, meaning that they are frequently exposed to the full force of the sun.

"The increase in skin damage seen in blue whales is a matter of concern, but at this stage it is not clear what is causing this increase. A likely candidate is rising UVR as a result of either ozone depletion, or a change in the level of cloud cover."

Co-author Professor Edel O'Toole, from Queen Mary, says, "As we would expect to see in humans, the whale species that spent more 'time in the sun' suffered greater sun damage. We predict that whales will experience more severe sun damage if ultraviolet radiation continues to increase."

The next phase of the research will look at the expression of genes involved in the production of skin pigmentation and DNA damage repair and try to gain a greater understanding of the consequences of sun damage in whales.

Lead author Dr Karina Acevedo-Whitehouse, from ZSL says, "We have shown that exposure to strong sun is damaging to whales' skin. We now need to understand the knock-on effects and whether whales are able to respond quickly to increasing radiation by enhancing their natural sun-protection mechanisms."

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Scripps plays role in national research of sea trash

Sign On San Diego: Scripps plays role in national research of sea trash

Researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla will count plastic particles that were collected during an October voyage by scientists studying the impact of debris on marine creatures and humans.

Those on the expedition - sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - found the plastic and other items in the "great Pacific garbage patch." The Texas-sized mass of floating objects in north Pacific Ocean has attracted interest from researchers worldwide, including some in Indonesia who joined the NOAA voyage.

Scientists from Scripps, based at the University of California San Diego, have done their own research on the vortex of plastic and have talked about plans to search for plastic in the South Pacific Ocean. The northern gyre has included everything from detergent bottles to toothbrushes, though most of the items are microscopic.

Besides plastic, scientists on the October trip collected samples of plankton, small organisms that may have consumed plastic bits. The effort was intended to fill gaps in data from parts of the Pacific Ocean, such as the stretch between Guam and Hawaii.

"We need samples in these areas to better describe the diversity and distribution of plankton, so we may detect changes and better understand the plankton communities," said Michael Ford, a chief NOAA scientist.

After Scripps tallies the plastic pieces, NOAA scientists in Seattle will test them for chemicals such as the pesticide DDT and BPA, a substance used to make plastics. Both are considered harmful to living organisms.

This month, another group of researchers will embark on a separate journey that also will involve plastic pollution in the ocean.

Experts from the Santa Monica-based 5 Gyres Institute will sail from Rio de Janeiro to Cape Town, South Africa, to show "you can't cross an ocean today without finding plastic pollution," said Anna Cummins, an institute co-founder.

Members of that team also hope to study whether the plastic poses harm to marine life.

'Urgent change required' over fishing policy

BBC: North East, Orkney & Shetland News: 'Urgent change required' over fishing policy

Scotland's seas are a "graveyard for the EU's attempt at management", an independent panel has claimed.

The Future of Fisheries Management was set up by the Scottish government to look at ways of safeguarding fish stocks and fishing communities.

It has recommended a more regional approach to managing stocks, rather than having catches dictated by Brussels.

The inquiry panel also called on industry leaders to get more involved.

Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment Richard Lochhead established the group last year to look into the future of fisheries management in Scotland.

Urgent change

It was headed up by Alan Campbell CBE, the former chief executive of Aberdeenshire Council and Grampian Regional Council.

He said: "A major recommendation of the inquiry panel is that we need to move to a more regional management structure of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

Continue reading the main story

Start Quote
We will now work to study the report in detail and see how we can incorporate its findings into achieving a fishing industry that remains profitable and successful into the future”
End Quote
Richard Lochhead

Fisheries minister
"It is only in this way that we see these European regulations being more relevant, understandable and respected by Scotland's fishermen.

"Furthermore, the embarrassment of discards - which achieve nothing except the wasteful reduction of stocks - must stop being an inevitable outcome of CFP regulations."

He said during the next 10 years the Scottish industry was likely to face greater uncertainty than at any time since the early 1980s.

"That's why real change is now urgent," he added.

Mr Lochhead said: "This timely and powerful report will make a substantial contribution to the immediate debate on the future of EU fisheries policy and the long-term future of our fishing communities.

"Importantly, the report delivers a clarion call for the radical overhaul of EU fishing policy given the damage inflicted in recent decades by the Common Fisheries Policy.

"It rightly refers to Scotland's seas as the 'graveyard for the EU's attempt at management'."


Liberal Democrat Fisheries spokesman Liam McArthur congratulated the team for its analysis of the "complex challenges" facing the fishing industry.

"The recommendations they make are wide-ranging," he said.

"In many cases, they will make for uncomfortable reading not just for fishermen and ministers, but for all those with an interest and involvement in the sector."

Peter Peacock, Labour MSP for Highlands and Islands, said the report would be a useful contribution to shaping the future of fisheries management in Scotland.

He called on the government to step up efforts to protect the interests of Scottish fleets.

Dr Mireille Thom, marine policy officer at WWF Scotland said the report made it clear that the industry faced an "uncertain future" without additional steps at home and abroad.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Study: Melt Water Flowing Through Ice Sheets Accelerates Warming, Could Speed Up Ice Flow

Underwater Times: Study: Melt Water Flowing Through Ice Sheets Accelerates Warming, Could Speed Up Ice Flow
BOULDER, Colorado -- Melt water flowing through ice sheets via crevasses, fractures and large drains called moulins can carry warmth into ice sheet interiors, greatly accelerating the thermal response of an ice sheet to climate change, according to a new study involving the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The new study showed ice sheets like the Greenland Ice Sheet can respond to such warming on the order of decades rather than the centuries projected by conventional thermal models. Ice flows more readily as it warms, so a warming climate can increase ice flows on ice sheets much faster than previously thought, said the study authors.

"We are finding that once such water flow is initiated through a new section of ice sheet, it can warm rather significantly and quickly, sometimes in just 10 years, " said lead author Thomas Phillips, a research scientist with Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences. CIRES is a joint institute between CU-Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Phillips, along with CU-Boulder civil, environmental and architectural engineering Professor Harihar Rajaram and CIRES Director Konrad Steffen described their results in a paper published online this week in Geophysical Research Letters.

Conventional thermal models of ice sheets do not factor in the presence of water within the ice sheet as a warming agent, but instead use models that primarily consider ice-sheet heating by warmer air on the ice sheet surface. In water's absence, ice warms slowly in response to the increased surface temperatures from climate change, often requiring centuries to millennia to happen.

But the Greenland ice sheet is not one solid, smooth mass of ice. As the ice flows towards the coast, grating on bedrock, crevasses and new fractures form in the upper 100 feet of the ice sheet. Melt water flowing through these openings can create "ice caves" and networks of "pipes" that can carry water through the ice and spreading warmth, the authors concluded.

To quantify the influence of melt water, the scientists modeled what would happen to the ice sheet temperature if water flowed through it for eight weeks every summer -- about the length of the active melt season. The result was a significantly faster-than-expected increase in ice sheet warming, which could take place on the order of years to decades depending on the spacing of crevasses and other "pipes" that bring warmer water into the ice sheet in summer.

"The key difference between our model and previous models is that we include heat exchange between water flowing through the ice sheet and the ice," said Rajaram.

Several factors contributed to the warming and resulting acceleration of ice flow, including the fact that flowing water into the ice sheets can stay in liquid form even through the winter, slowing seasonal cooling. In addition, warmer ice sheets are more susceptible to increases of water flow, including the basal lubrication of ice that allows ice to flow more readily on bedrock.

A third factor is melt water cascading downward into the ice, which warms the surrounding ice. In this process the water can refreeze, creating additional cracks in the more vulnerable warm ice, according to the study.

Taken together, the interactions between water, temperature, and ice velocity spell even more rapid changes to ice sheets in a changing climate than currently anticipated, the authors concluded. After comparing observed temperature profiles from Greenland with the new model described in the paper, the authors concluded the observations were unexplainable unless they accounted for warming.

"The fact that the ice temperatures warm rather quickly is really the key piece that's been overlooked in models currently being used to determine how Greenland responds to climate warming," Steffen said. "However, this process is not the 'death knell' for the ice sheet. Even under such conditions, it would still take thousands of years for the Greenland ice sheet to disappear, Steffen said.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

From whaler to whales' saviour

Brisbane Times: From whaler to whales' saviour

A FORMER Norwegian whaling ship, docked in Melbourne this week, has been transformed into an anti-whaling specialist by the Sea Shepherd activists.

The 52-metre Bob Barker, coated in the activists' signature black paint and named after the former US game show host who helped Sea Shepherd buy the ship, will open to the public on Saturday as the activists prepare for their seventh battle against Japan's whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean.

Sea Shepherd's Australian co-ordinator Gillian Forbes said the ship was given a free berth by the City of Melbourne's Docklands Waterways Unit after the activists won support from state Labor MP Nathan Murphy and Lord Mayor Robert Doyle.

Advertisement: Story continues below A City of Melbourne spokesperson said Sea Shepherd ships had received free berths several times before.

Ship manager Andrea Gordon would not reveal the anti-whaling tactics Sea Shepherd is planning for the December to March whaling season. But she defended its past controversial use of butyric acid, which Japanese whalers said had injured their crews. ''It was essentially rotten butter; Sea Shepherd is very proud that we have not injured anyone and we always make sure we're a safe and non-violent organisation,'' she said.

''We expect we will have some additional tactics this year - you'll have to wait and find out.'' Ms Gordon was more forthcoming about the latest weapon; a high-speed, multi-hull vessel. ''The new interceptor … looks like something out of Batman. It will be able to go faster than the harpoon ships, so it will be very useful in finding the whaling fleet.''

Futuristic craft Ady Gil was spectacularly destroyed after clashing with whaling ship Shonan Maru No. 2, but its replacement is twice the size.

The Bob Barker will leave for Hobart in less than two weeks to join two other Sea Shepherd ships for the next anti-whaling campaign in Antarctica.

Animal Deaths from Gulf Oil Spill Estimated

Discovery News: Animal Deaths from Gulf Oil Spill Estimated
Restore the Gulf, the official federal government's website about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, has issued its latest report in an attempt to track the effect of the BP oil spill on animals in the region.

The group consolidates numbers from experts on the ground, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

What are the current counts from the November 1st report?

The latest numbers are: 6,104 dead birds, 609 dead sea turtles and 100 dead mammals, including dolphins. The tallies include counts for five states: Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

It must be noted that the report constitutes only an initial, field-level evaluation. Not all of the deaths were necessarily caused by Deepwater Horizon. Final determination of cause of death comes later.

When found or captured, the specimens get identification numbers. After initial counts, more thorough examinations of the birds and wildlife may include a search for oil in the throat, mouth and eyes, as well as a necropsy to rule if the spill was to blame.

The report also catalogs the number of birds and wildlife that have been collected alive and how many of those were visibly oiled. Experts collected 535 living sea turtles, 456 of which were visibly oiled. Mammals fared better, with two out of nine live mammals collected visibly oiled. Worst were the birds: 2,079 have been collected alive, every single one of them visibly oiled.

The report admits their counts may include birds and wildlife felled by natural causes.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Large-Scale Fish Farm Production Offsets Environmental Gains; 'Creates Large Scale Problems'

Underwater Times: Large-Scale Fish Farm Production Offsets Environmental Gains; 'Creates Large Scale Problems'

SAANICH, British Columbia -- Industrial-scale aquaculture production magnifies environmental degradation, according to the first global assessment of the effects of marine finfish aquaculture (e.g. salmon, cod, turbot and grouper) released today. This is true even when farming operations implement the best current marine fish farming practices.

Dr. John Volpe and his team at the University of Victoria developed the Global Aquaculture Performance Index (GAPI), an unprecedented system for objectively measuring the environmental performance of fish farming.

"Scale is critical," said Dr. Volpe, a marine ecologist. "Over time, the industry has made strides in reducing the environmental impact per ton of fish, but this does not give a complete picture. Large scale farming of salmon, for example, even under even the best current practices creates large scale problems."

The fish farming industry is an increasingly important source of seafood, especially as many wild fisheries are in decline. Yet farming of many marine fish species has been criticized as causing ecological damage. For instance, the researchers' found that the relatively new marine finfish aquaculture sector in China and other Asian countries lags in environmental performance.

Dr. Volpe added, "The fastest growing sector is Asia, where we found a troubling combination of poor environmental performance and rapidly increasing production."

With support from the Lenfest Ocean Program, Dr. Volpe and his team developed GAPI, which uses 10 different criteria to assess and score environmental impacts. Incorporating information such as the application of antibiotics and discharge of water pollutants, GAPI allows researchers to gauge which farmed species and countries of production have the best or worst environmental performance. The researchers examined the environmental impact of marine fish farming per ton of fish produced and the cumulative environmental impact for each country producing a major farmed species.

"GAPI provides a valuable tool for developing environmentally responsible fish farming. Governments can use GAPI to inform policies and regulations to minimize the environmental footprint of fish farming. Farmers can use it to improve production practices. And buyers can use it to compare and select better, more environmentally friendly seafood options," said Chris Mann, senior officer and director of the Pew Environment Group's Aquaculture Standards Project, which collaborated on the work.

Underwater robot can follow marine organisms over record distances

Nature News: Underwater robot can follow marine organisms over record distances
Versatile vehicle can spend months studying ocean ecology.

Sandeep Ravindran

The Tethys can travel much further than other underwater robots.Todd Walsh / MBARIAn underwater robot that can function in the ocean for months on end will allow scientists to study life in the open ocean, hundreds of kilometres from shore. The robot performed its first experiments this month, spending almost a week at a time tracking algal blooms in California's Monterey Bay.

"We really think this is a revolution in vehicles," says the robot's creator Jim Bellingham, chief technologist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) in Moss Landing. "It changes how we do oceanography."

Oceanographers currently use a variety of underwater vehicles in their research, none of which is ideal for studying marine life. Non-propelled vehicles called 'gliders' can stay in the ocean for several months and are great for studying its physical properties, but they are too slow and their sensors too limited for detailed studies of living organisms. Current underwater robots, meanwhile, are fast and have sophisticated sensors, but these drain their batteries within a day, leaving researchers with only brief snapshots of life in the ocean.

“I'm a big fan of Tethys. It has a combination of speed and endurance and range that other vehicles don't have.”
Eric D'Asaro
University of Washington
The new robot, called the Tethys, combines the speed of existing robots with the range of gliders. It's designed to pursue organisms while recording the physical and chemical properties of the water around them.

"The idea is to be able to develop 'life stories' of marine organisms by following them as they move through the ocean," says Bellingham. The Tethys will be only a little more expensive than gliders, which cost about $140,000 — cheap enough for individual labs to buy, he adds.

Bloom boon
The robot's first scientific expedition included studies of a bloom of the toxic algae Pseudo-nitzschia australis, says John Ryan, an oceanographer at MBARI.

The robot has the unique ability to 'park' itself in an algal patch and drift along with it]. Once the Tethys had pinpointed the centre of each patch, scientists sent in another short-range robot for more extensive analysis, and the two robots performed what Ryan calls a "robot ballet".

The robot finished its first experiments last week, tracking algal blooms in California's Monterey Bay.Todd Walsh / MBARIFrancisco Chavez, a senior scientist at MBARI, says he's excited by the thought of using the robot for other projects. One of his ideas is to study how whirlpool-like eddies hundreds of kilometres from shore affect the ocean environment. Because of the time taken to travel to them by ship, by the time a typical 20–30-day expedition reaches an eddy they have just five days or so to study it before they need to return to shore. The Tethys "will allow us to follow these eddies for essentially an unlimited time," Chavez says.

Eric D'Asaro, a professor of oceanography at the University of Washington in Seattle, says that he could use the Tethys to track algal blooms in the North Atlantic. He currently uses a combination of gliders, floating sensors and ships. The Tethys would be better at sampling the complexity and diversity of life in the ocean over long distances and timescales, D'Asaro says.

"I'm a big fan of Tethys," he says. "It has a combination of speed and endurance and range that other vehicles don't have."

Magic moment
MBARI scientists designed and built the Tethys over the past three and a half years. Bellingham says that they wanted to overcome some of the unique difficulties of tracking life in the ocean. A terrestrial biologist studying a forest can keep going back to it, but in the ocean, the current moves everything around, and if scientists try to go back to the same place after a two-day hiatus, he says, "instead of a forest, they're now looking at the Sahara Desert".

The Tethys will help oceanographers to conduct more experiments from shore, reducing expensive and time-consuming ship voyages, because scientists can modify the robot's missions and receive data from it via satellite. "To be at home at 2 a.m. and seeing the data coming in was pretty magical," Bellingham says.


MBARI researchers are working on a way for the Tethys to bring back water samples, and plan to outfit it with a small DNA analyser that can identify microorganisms. They could add more sensors later, including ones that track ocean carbon and acidification to monitor the effects of climate change.

The scientists are currently building a second version of the Tethys, and hope eventually to deploy a team of robots to simultaneously track different organisms in the food web, from algae to marine mammals. The Tethys will undergo longer tests next spring in preparation for major offshore experiments in July and August. Bellingham says he hopes to license the vehicle for commercial manufacture within six months. He is currently setting up collaborations with other researchers, and has already received funding from the National Science Foundation for a joint project to study mixing of ocean waters.

And if researchers really want to stretch the robot's abilities, "we should be able to drive it from Monterey to Hawaii on a single charge", says Bellingham.

President Obama is respected all over the world. Junior and the Chiseler are not respected anywhere in the world. Obama has done much to restore Ameri

Wall Street Journal: Standards for Gulf's Catch Put to Sniff Test After Spill
Gulf seafood is being held to less stringent safety standards than those used after some earlier oil spills, but officials say the overall risk to people remains low.

Among the measures in the Gulf of Mexico seafood-testing program that are less rigorous than those used after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska: how much cancer risk from eating seafood is acceptable, and how much of the region's seafood a person is likely to eat.

Government safety tests of Gulf seafood after the BP spill include evaluations by inspectors, above, and chemical tests for oil contamination.
There's no sign any oil-contamination level is high enough to make a person sick from eating a few meals of Gulf fish, shrimp, oysters or crab. At issue is whether the program is strict enough to protect frequent Gulf-seafood eaters from the buildup of toxins years down the road.

The tweaked guidelines were brokered after a debate among regulators who devised the massive testing program in the early days after the BP PLC well began spewing oil in April. Government officials say that even if they used test standards as strict as those in the Valdez spill, all the seafood they have collected from areas now open to fishing still would have passed. According to government tests, many samples have had levels of contamination they are essentially undetectable.

Louisiana, the Gulf's biggest seafood producer, has seen its production plummet since BP's well exploded, largely because many fishing waters were closed as a precaution, the state said.

Even now, with many fishing waters back open, grocery stores and restaurants around the U.S. have canceled orders for Gulf seafood because of concerns about the oil, said Harlon Pearce, chairman of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board. "We still have a major perception problem," though it's unfounded, he said.

Officials have subjected thousands of samples of Gulf seafood to chemical tests for oil contamination since the spill started. All, they said, have shown levels of contamination far below those set as "levels of concern." Based on those results, federal and state officials have reopened for fishing thousands of square miles of the Gulf. The chemical test looks for compounds that are in crude oil, some of which have been found to be potentially cancer-causing. Shellfish ingest contaminants that are in water, and fish can ingest them or take them in through their gills. Shellfish typically are the bigger human-health concern, because they take longer to process and purge the contaminants than fish do, scientists say.

When the scientific assumptions underlying the test standards were set in May, "there was a vigorous discussion about what was the appropriate [balance] between precaution and practicality," said Steve Murawski, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration official who helped lead the discussions.

The testing program divides the northern Gulf into dozens of seafood-monitoring zones. Any zone where oil is visible or expected to show up will stay closed to fishing, the rules say. In a zone where no oil is visible or expected, seafood is sampled and subjected to two rounds of tests.

If a seafood sample passes a sniff test—in which trained officials smell it both raw and cooked—it is sent for chemical testing. Only after all samples in a zone pass the chemical test can the area be reopened to fishing.

Regulators made judgment calls in setting the seafood-safety standards. One important decision was what level of lifetime cancer risk is acceptable for Gulf seafood eaters.

"There was a conflict there. So we had to work back and forth with the states" in coming up with a compromise, said Robert Dickey, a Food and Drug Administration official who works at the agency's seafood lab in Dauphin Island, Ala., and helped create the testing program.

Fishing waters along parts of the Gulf Coast have shown background levels of the contaminants for years, in part because of industrial pollution. Some Gulf states expressed the concern that, if the cancer-risk limits were made too strict, some seafood from their states might fail the test as a result of that background contamination, which hasn't caused public-health problems in the past, Mr. Dickey said.

The regulators opted for a one-in-100,000 cancer risk. That was the standard used in smaller spills in Maine and Alaska, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration study from 2002. A cancer risk of one in 100,000 is within the range that federal agencies consider acceptable when they set standards for food and drinking water, the FDA says.

But the "typical" level used in most cancer-risk assessments is stricter: one in one million, the NOAA study said. Officials used that stricter standard in the Valdez spill and in smaller spills in California, Oregon and Rhode Island, the study said. Standards are set on a case-by-case basis.

A Centers for Disease Control spokeswoman said officials weren't aware of any study showing people got cancer from eating seafood exposed to oil from a spill.

The FDA's Mr. Dickey said the Gulf standard was "more than adequate protection." He noted some Gulf states use a looser threshold—one in 10,000—for some seafood rules in near-shore waters they control.

An even bigger debate, regulators said, was how much Gulf seafood to assume people eat and how often. Assuming a bigger portion would mean tightening the contamination level each sample could have.

The Gulf tests presume, for example, that a person eats about one shrimp meal a week, each with about a fifth of a pound of shrimp. That's about four or five large shrimp a meal. That estimate is based on the consumption rate of the top 10% of U.S. seafood eaters—a standard that regulators say is plenty cautious.

Others say those levels are low, where seafood is central to the culture for the Gulf. The government standard "isn't representative of Gulf consumption," said Gina Solomon, a scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group.

Mr. Pearce, the seafood board chairman, figures a typical shrimp meal in Louisiana has eight or 10 large shrimp. That's basically double the amount regulators are assuming.

The FDA's Mr. Dickey said regulators couldn't find any peer-reviewed studies of local seafood consumption in the Gulf, so they stuck with the federal numbers.

Most seafood samples tested by the government showed contamination far below the thresholds set by the government as levels of concern; many samples showed levels so low that test machinery couldn't detect them.

Some question whether the government is taking enough samples. Scott Milroy, a marine scientist at the University of Southern Mississippi, said seafood samples he gathered in September along the Mississippi coast showed levels of one non-cancer-causing contaminant that were as high as one-third the government's level of concern. That's still too low to present an immediate threat to human health, he said, but it's hundreds of times higher than the levels the government tests found.

Joe Jewell, a Mississippi official helping oversee the seafood program, said he couldn't comment on Mr. Milroy's test results until he saw them. Mr. Jewell said he would be quick to recommend closing any fishing waters that reliable tests showed were unsafe.

Many Gulf seafood lovers are cautiously optimistic. Al Sunseri, president of P&J Oyster Co., an oyster processor and distributor, said he eats Louisiana oysters every day. In a decade or so, he said, "I'll be a perfect example to find out if they've caused any long-term problems."