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Ocean Research


September 2015 Issue

Hexacopter and Camera Collect
Data on Whale Health

A research team has successfully demonstrated a new noninvasive tool to obtain hard-to-get health measurements of large endangered whales in the wild. Using a small, remote-controlled hexacopter, scientists for the first time collected breath samples from the whales’ spouts, combined with aerial photos of their body condition.

With breath samples, scientists can analyze whales’ DNA, hormones and bacteria levels for things such as family history, stress levels and health. The high-resolution photos provide researchers with a way to assess general health and body condition, such as fat level and skin lesions.

Scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and NOAA used the 32-in.-diameter, six-rotor hexacopter in an experiment on humpback whales in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary off New England. Rigged with a specialized camera system, the unmanned airborne vehicle flew 125 to 150 ft. above sea level to get full-body photographs of 36 animals. It swooped down to 10 ft. above sea level to collect 20 breath samples from 16 whales.

The breath samples will be analyzed to find the assemblage of micro-organisms in the whales’ respiratory tracts, the most common source of cetacean disease. The scientists plan to use the hexacopter next winter to collect breath samples from the same whale species living near the Antarctic Peninsula. They will compare the samples from animals living in relatively pristine conditions there with those from animals in Stellwagen, which has more ship traffic, fishing and pollution.

Seawater AC Could Cool
Caribbean Buildings

Makai Ocean Engineering has completed a feasibility study of a district cooling system that uses deep, cold seawater, known as seawater air conditioning (SWAC). The study was commissioned by CAF - Development Bank of Latin America, with co-financing from the Agence Française de Développement (AFD), and used Makai’s recently upgraded district cooling software.

Eight locations in the Caribbean were analyzed for SWAC development, which were then down-selected to the two most promising sites: Montego Bay in Jamaica and Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic.

SWAC replaces the chillers used in conventional AC systems that serve large buildings, such as hotels, greatly reducing their electrical consumption and costs of cooling.

The benefits of SWAC include: energy savings approaching 90 percent compared to conventional AC; low, stable operating costs almost entirely independent of volatile energy prices; proven technology; and reduced greenhouse gas emissions and fuel and water consumption.

MARAD Funds Study
On Hydrogen-Fueled Ferry

The U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) is providing $500,000 to support a feasibility study for the design, construction and operation of a high-speed passenger ferry powered by hydrogen fuel cell technology and a hydrogen refueling station.

The fuel cell would provide power for the ferry’s propulsion and auxiliary electrical systems, while the hydrogen refueling station—which would be the largest in the world—would service the ferry, electric cars, buses, and fleet vehicles, and other maritime vessels powered by fuel cells.

XMET Monitors Weather
To Aid Recovery Mission

The Scripps Institution of Oceanography, U.S. Air Force, Alaska Army National Guard, and Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency used a portable weather station (the Expeditionary Meteorology System, or XMET), developed with support from the Office of Naval Research (ONR), to monitor conditions at a 1952 crash site of a military transport aircraft on Alaska’s Mount Gannett.

The site can only be accessed by helicopter, and the XMET provided valuable meteorological measurements to let recovery crews know if it was safe to fly each day.

The solar battery-powered system uses sensors to compile real-time measurements of rain, wind, temperature and visibility, relaying hourly weather information via satellite to planners who can use the data to cancel or proceed with a mission. Previously, such detailed information could only come from observers on the ground.

Ice Cave Study for
Interplanetary Insight

The Mount Rainier Fumarole Cave Project, set for Aug. 13 to 22, was to collect data from inside an ice cave within a glacier atop Mount Rainier to study the impact of global climate change and how life can thrive in extreme conditions, including other planets.

Ball State’s Lee Florea, assistant professor of geology, joined researchers from New Mexico Tech and Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany, along with a team of experienced cavers, at the 14,410-foot-high summit of Mount Rainier for the project.

Tracking Huge Undersea
Waves via Satellite

A scientific research team spent seven years tracking the movements of skyscraper-high waves in the South China Sea. University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science scientists were part of the collaborative international field study, published in Nature, trying to understand how these waves, which rarely break the ocean surface, develop, move and dissipate underwater.

These waves, known as internal waves, occur in all the oceans, as well as in lakes and fjords. In the Luzon Strait, they can reach up to 170 m tall and travel several hundred kilometers, making them some of the largest waves in the world.

Using satellite imagery collected at UM’s Center for Southeastern Tropical Remote Sensing, scientists were able to detect and track them from above. The team discovered that internal waves are generated daily from internal tides, which also occur below the ocean surface, and grow larger as the water is pushed westward through the Luzon Strait into the South China Sea.

These waves move huge volumes of heat, salt and nutrient-rich water, which are important to fish, industrial fishing operations and the global climate. In addition, they are important to monitor for safe submarine operations. ST


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