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Ocean Research


July 2015 Issue

UAVs Help Observe Sea Otters in Alaska
Watching marine life to gather data about behavior and abundance can be tedious and time-consuming for researchers. Unmanned aircraft may offer a way around such obstacles.

University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) scientists conducted two field studies with the Geophysical Institute’s Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration (ACUASI). The first study, with the U.S. Geological Survey, was to see if UAV cameras can take high-resolution video while hovering above sea otters to watch them feed without disturbing them. The second used unmanned aircraft to take photos of beaches at low tide to help make a monitoring program more efficient.

ACUASI sent two small rotary-wing aircraft to conduct the field tests in Homer, Alaska, to record what plants and animals are living on these beaches, so that they can monitor natural changes and changes that may be occurring with climate. This will let them see what changes happen in case of a big event, such as an oil spill.

Unmanned aircraft might be a good way to upload data from tagged animals without having to recapture them. They also might help monitor the coastlines of the Aleutian Islands, where it’s difficult for manned aircraft to fly.

Search, Prelim Inspection Of 20th-Century Shipwrecks
Odyssey Marine Exploration, Inc. has completed search and preliminary inspection operations on its Olympus Project, which includes a cluster of five 20th-century shipwrecks believed to be carrying significant cargo of gold and silver at the time of their sinking in the northern Atlantic.

All shipwrecks have been located. Reconnaissance work included multibeam surveys, sub-bottom imaging and visual inspections with an ROV.

The data are being analyzed to determine the financial and technical feasibility of recovery operations on one or more of the shipwrecks.

Salvage, Recycling Options For Concrete Subsea Mattresses
Jee Ltd. has completed a contract with Decom North Sea (DNS), the representative body for the decommissioning industry, to identify pioneering methods of salvage and re-use options for concrete subsea mattresses.

The significant cost of removing and disposing of aged subsea mattresses is an issue affecting the industry globally.

The aim of the project, conducted with Zero Waste Scotland, was to identify innovative new solutions for subsea mattress removal that would work without diver interventions during the lift procedure, resulting in improved safety and reduced costs.

Criteria were also identified to determine whether subsea mattresses should be removed or left in situ, the main consideration being the safety of the subsea divers and the environmental impact.

Suggestions developed for the re-use of mattress concrete include creating tidal lagoon structures and artificial reefs. The findings point to cross-over potential with other sectors, such as offshore renewables.

$57 Million for Canada Marine Science, Protection
The Canadian government announced more than $57 million in government support for Pacific salmon research, marine science facility upgrades, and the designation of four Marine Protected Area (MPA) candidate sites.

But the funds might not add up to meaningful protection for some of Canada’s most valuable ocean environments, the WWF said.

Canada still needs to pick up the pace to reach its international commitment to protect at least 10 percent of its marine environment by 2020, the WWF said.

The WWF is also concerned that some proposed MPA sites aren’t up to standard. The WWF is calling on the government to implement stronger conservation standards for all MPAs. This includes better management measures and plans, an exclusion of oil and gas and mining activities within MPA boundaries, and making at least 30 percent of all its marine regions “no-take” zones.

In addition to the $37 million earmarked under the National Conservation Plan for marine protection over the next five years, the WWF estimates that a yearly investment of $45 million is necessary to increase marine protection in Canada.

First Results From Tara Oceans Expedition
In a special issue of Science, researchers map the biodiversity of a wide range of planktonic organisms, exploring their interactions and how they impact and are affected by their environment.

Based on a portion of the samples collected from all the world’s oceans during the 2009 to 2013 expedition on board the schooner Tara, the data provide the scientific community with unprecedented resources, including a catalog of several million new genes, that will transform how we study the oceans and assess climate change.

The microscopic beings, plankton, that drift on the upper layer of the oceans produce half of our oxygen, act as carbon sinks, influence our weather, and serve as the base of the ocean food web that sustains the larger fish and marine mammals that we depend upon.

The scientists captured viruses, microbes and microscopic eukaryotes from major oceanic regions. They compiled their genetic material into comprehensive resources that are now available to the scientific community for further studies.

This is the largest DNA sequencing effort ever done for ocean science. Analyses revealed around 40 million genes, the vast majority of which are new to science, thus hinting towards a much broader biodiversity of plankton than previously known.

This comprehensive catalog is estimated to be derived from more than 35,000 different species. Nearly a billion genetic barcodes were sequenced for eukaryotes.

The researchers were able to predict with computer models how these diverse planktonic organisms interact. Most planktonic interactions are parasitic, recycling nutrients back down the food chain. Understanding the distribution and the interactions of the plankton will inform predictive models for climate change studies.


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Sea Technology is read worldwide in more than 110 countries by management, engineers, scientists and technical personnel working in industry, government and educational research institutions. Readers are involved with oceanographic research, fisheries management, offshore oil and gas exploration and production, undersea defense including antisubmarine warfare, ocean mining and commercial diving.