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Ocean Research


September 2011 Issue

China Receives Approval to Explore Indian Ocean Seabed
The International Seabed Authority approved in July China's application to explore for polymetallic sulfides in the Indian Ocean's Southwest Indian Ridge for 15 years. China is the first country to win approval in the area, The China Daily newspaper reported.

The China Ocean Mineral Resources Research and Development Association (COMRA), a government-backed agency, wrote in its proposal it plans to explore the area using its research vessel DAYANGYIHAO. The area, which covers about 10,000 square kilometers, contains 100 blocks clustered into 12 noncontiguous groups, of which each has five to 19 blocks.

COMRA had submitted its application in May 2010. The International Seabed Authority also approved in July deep seabed exploration proposals from Russia, Nauru and Tongo.

The exploration project aims to improve Chinese deep-ocean research and investigation through international cooperative studies. Through a training cruise, COMRA will assist developing countries in using deep-sea investigation equipment and analyzing rock, sulfide and sediment samples. COMRA said these efforts will help the International Seabed Authority establish a geological model project to further study the hydrothermal system. For more information, visit www.chinapost.com.tw.

Facing Threats from Pirates, Researchers Ask Navies for Help
Scientists with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) have sought the help of the United States and Australian navies to deploy about 20 drifting profilers in the western Indian Ocean, where increasing pirate activity has prevented them from carrying out their research.

The two-meter-long drifting profilers are programmed to drift at 1,000 meters for 10 days, then fall to 2,000 meters and collect samples as they ascend to the surface, where they upload their data to satellites.

"We have not been able to seed about one quarter of the Indian Ocean since the increase in the piracy, and that has implications for understanding a region of influence in Australian and south Asian weather and climate," CSIRO scientist Ann Thresherm said.

Ten of the nondeployed profilers are provided by the United Kingdom Argo ocean and climate monitoring project, which deploys 3,000 robotic instruments to provide near-real-time observations of heat and salinity in the top 2,000 meters of the ocean. While Argo offers data to shipping and defense users, its main objective is to monitor ocean heat and salinity patterns that drive climate and monsoonal systems.

Thresher said the program is heavily reliant on commercial shipping and research and chartered vessels to deploy the instruments. CSIRO is shipping one profiler to Florida for deployment by the U.S. Navy and is asking the Royal Australian Navy for help in deploying an additional eight instruments in the area of highest risk.

A 20-meter South African yacht, Lady Amber, is under charter to CSIRO and has successfully deployed seven instruments near Mauritius in the Western Indian Ocean. Its working area, however, was severely restricted by pirate activity and some profilers' positions were changed to accommodate these restrictions, CSIRO said. For more information, visit www.csiro.au.

New Hydrothermal Vents Found Along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge
An Irish-led VENTuRE expedition aboard the RV Celtic Explorer discovered in August an uncharted field of hydrothermal vents along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge—the first to be explored north of the Azores—using the Marine Institute's ROV Holland 1.

Within two hours of the ROV arriving at the seafloor on its first dive, the crew found the edge of the vent field, which they named the Moytirra Vent Field. The crew said that in comparison to other vent fields, Moytirra contains monstrous chimneys and is in an unusual setting at the bottom of a cliff.

The mission, which involved geochemists, marine biologists, marine geologists, marine geneticists and technicians from Ireland and the U.K., was supported by the Marine Institute and the National Geographic Society, which filmed the work for inclusion in an upcoming National Geographic Channel series, "Alien Deep," premiering globally in 2012.

The marine biological team is now working to catalog and characterize the species found at the vents. For more information, visit www.marine.ie.

Recent US West Coast Erosion May Indicate Future Patterns
Scientists have finished assembling a coastal assessment from San Diego, California, to Seattle, Washington, of the damage wrought by extreme waves and higher-than-usual water levels in winter of 2009. The study, led by the U.S. Geological Survey and published in Geophysical Research Letters in July, is intended to help experts better predict changes for the Pacific coast.

The beach erosion observed across the U.S. West Coast during the 2009 to 2010 El Niño is linked to the El Niño Modoki phenomenon, where the warmer sea surface temperature is focused in the central equatorial Pacific rather than the eastern Pacific.

As a result of these conditions, the winter was characterized by above-average wave energy and ocean water levels along much of the West Coast, conditions not seen since the previous major El Niño in 1997 to 1998.

In California, for example, winter wave energy was found to be 20 percent above average for the years dating back to 1997, resulting in shoreline erosion that exceeded the average by 36 percent. Some of the most severe erosion was seen at Ocean Beach in San Francisco, California, where the winter shoreline retreated 184 feet, 75 percent more than in a typical winter, resulting in the collapse of one lane of a major roadway, which led to a $5 million remediation project.

As even warmer waters in the central Pacific are expected in the coming decades under many climate change scenarios, El Niño Modoki is projected to become a more dominant climate signal, the researchers said. This combination of still higher sea levels expected due to global warming and potentially stronger winter storms are likely to contribute to increased rates of beach and bluff erosion along the U.S. West Coast, producing regional, large-scale coastal changes.

For the study, researchers analyzed 13 years of seasonal beach survey data along 148 miles of coastline and tracked shoreline changes through a range of wave conditions. For more information, visit www.usgs.gov.


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