France’s European affairs chief Pierre Lellouche on Feb. 24 tried to reassure ex-Soviet Baltic states that his country’s possible sale of a warship to Russia does not pose a security threat.
Lellouche told Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite in Vilnius that “the ship would be sold to Russia as a civil vessel, without any military equipment,” according to a press release from Grybauskaite’s office.
The senior French officials also told the Lithuanian head of state that “France had not yet received an official request from Russia to sell” the Mistral-class amphibious assault ship, a move which has raised concern in several ex-Soviet republics including Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia as well as Georgia.
The Baltic nations joined both NATO and the European Union in 2004, a move opposed by their Soviet-era master Moscow.
“On the French side we would really like to move beyond the Cold War, to turn the page on the Cold War,” Lellouche told reporters in Vilnius.
Lellouche began a tour Feb. 24 of the EU Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
France would become the first NATO country to sell advanced military technology to Russia if a deal is sealed for the Mistral-class ship, capable of carrying up to 16 helicopters, hospital facilities and a 750-strong landing force.
Earlier this month a NATO spokesman said the Western defense alliance had no objections to France’s plan to sell an advanced warship to Russia, but did note the concern of some allies about the sale.
Lying beneath the ocean is spectacular terrain ranging from endless chains of mountains and isolated peaks to fiery volcanoes and black smokers exploding with magma and other minerals from below Earth’s surface. This mountainous landscape, some of which surpasses Mt. Everest heights and the marine life it supports, is the spotlight of a special edition of the research journal Oceanography.
These massive underwater mountains, or seamounts, are scattered across every ocean and collectively comprise an area the size of Europe. These deep and dark environments often host a world teeming with bizarre life forms found nowhere else on Earth. More than 99 percent of all seamounts remain unexplored by scientists, yet their inhabitants, such as the long-lived deepwater fish orange roughy, show signs of habitat destruction and over exploitation from intense international fishing efforts.
Scientists from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego and colleagues from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, Oregon State University, University of British Columbia and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution were among those who contributed their expertise in seamount chemistry, physics, geology, hydrology, oceanography, biology and fisheries conservation to this special interdisciplinary effort to delve into the extremely broad research supported by seamounts and to communicate the science and threats facing them to the public.
“One of the key goals of this special issue was to bring together the extremely diverse seamount research community that ranges from fisheries science and conservation all the way to mantle geochemistry,” said Hubert Staudigel – a research geologist at Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics at Scripps and the lead guest editor of the special issue. “In my eyes, this volume of Oceanography goes beyond that by presenting amazing new research in a way that the public can understand and get excited about.”
“This issue of Oceanography offers a broad perspective on seamount research of all major disciplines to raise awareness of the diversity of seamount research and to promote collaboration among seamount scientists,” wrote the editors of the issue, which represents the most comprehensive volume of peer-reviewed research on the subject to date.
“I was pleased to see how many of the contributions in this special issue deal with very practical and societally important issues of seamounts,” said U.S. Geological Survey Director Marcia McNutt.
This Oceanography issue is the result of the work of a National Science Foundation-funded biogeoscience research coordination network organized by Staudigel and the co-editors of the volume.
This comprehensive synthesis will establish new collaborations between scientists while at the same time offer a unique educational opportunity for the public to learn about an important feature on Earth that remains vastly unexplored.
For the first time this year, the Colombian Navy found and destroyed a semi-submersible drug smuggling boat. This one was found near the Ecuador border, and was nearly 17 meters (55 feet) long and capable of carrying at least eight tons of cocaine. Troops also found a workshop and a camp (for at least 30 people) that apparently supported construction of the boat. Last year, the navy caught 20 of these boats (at sea and on land). In the last seventeen years, since this type of smuggling “submarine” was first encountered, the Colombian military has captured 54 of them.
In the last five years, U.S., and other navy and coast guard ships off the coast between Mexico and Colombia, have detected nearly 200 of these subs. Between 2000 and 2007, only 23 of these boats were spotted. But now, over 70 a year are detected or captured. Many of the captures are the result of intelligence information at the source, not air and naval patrols out there just looking for them. These boats are hard to spot (by aircraft or ships), which is why they are being used more often.
It’s estimated that about 75 of these subs are being built in northwest Colombia each year, and sent on one way trips north. Each of these boats carries a four man crew and about seven tons of cocaine (worth nearly $200 million on the street). The loss of each boat and its cargo cost the Colombian drug cartels over $10 million in costs (of building the boat and producing the drugs). The crews are often Colombian fishermen forced to make the long voyage, because their families were being held hostage. Running these boats is considered very dangerous work, and the crews are paid well if they succeed, whether they volunteered for the work or not. Because of the risks (about ten percent are believed lost at sea), the boats are nicknamed “coffins.” The crews are told to pull the plug (literally) and sink the boat (and its cargo) if spotted and about to be boarded. Even with the boarding party on the way, jumping off a sinking boat, usually at night, is dangerous. Laws have been changed so that the crews escaping from their sinking boats, can still be charged with drug smuggling (despite the loss of the evidence). The drug gangs are looking into automating the boats, so that no crew is needed at all.
These semi-submersible “submarines” have been operating off the northwest (Pacific) coast of South America for over a decade. More than a third of the of the 800 tons of cocaine coming out of Colombia each year leaves via the Pacific coast subs, that move the drugs north. Despite increased efforts, it’s believed that less than ten percent of these subs have been caught. The drug gangs still use other smuggling methods (aircraft, hidden in ship or aircraft cargo), but apparently the subs can move the most cocaine at once, with the lowest risk.
A typical Colombian “semi-submersibles” is a 60 foot long and 12 feet wide, fiberglass boats, powered by a diesel engine, with a very low freeboard, and a small “conning tower”, providing the crew (usually of four), and engine, with fresh air, and permitting the crew to navigate the boat. A boat of this type is the only practical kind of submarine for drug smuggling. A real submarine, capable of carrying five tons of cocaine, would cost a lot more, and require a highly trained crew. Moreover, a conventional sub actually spends most of its time running on the surface anyway, or just beneath it using a snorkel device to obtain air for the diesel engine crew. So the drug subs get the most benefit of a real submarine (which cost about $300 million these days) at a fraction of the cost. Actually, there are commercial subs available, for under $10 million, but the construction and sale of these are regulated.
Local boat builders created and refined the current semi-submersible design. Some foreign experts have been seen in the area, apparently to help the boat builders with some technical problem. These subs cost over $700,000 to construct, and carry up to ten tons of cocaine. The boat builders are getting rich, constructing the boats in well hidden locations up the rivers that empty into the Pacific.
At one point it was thought that as many as half of the subs were captured or lost at sea. But this is apparently not the case. That’s because most of these subs are built for a one way trip. This keeps down the cost of construction, and the cost of hiring a crew (who fly home). That one voyage will usually be for about a thousand kilometres, with the boat moving at a speed of 15-25 kilometres an hour. The average trip will take about two weeks, because the boats have learned to go very slowly during the day, to avoid leaving a wake that U.S. airborne sensors can detect.
In the past, some subs making long range trips were caught while being towed by a larger ship. Apparently the plan was to tow a semi-submersible, loaded with a ten ton cocaine cargo, long distances, and then be cut it loose for the final approach to the shore of California or some area in Europe or on the east coast of North America. While the subs are most frequently used from the Pacific coast of Colombia, they are showing up elsewhere as well (in Spain and Sri Lanka).
These subs are not stealthy enough to avoid detection all the time, and the U.S. has been trying to tweak search radars, and other types of sonar sensors, to more reliably detect the drug subs.
These stealthy boats are a concern to counter-terror officials. Bombs and terrorists can be transported in these vessels, and the technology for building them can be, and perhaps already has, spread to terrorist groups. The basic principles are available on the Internet, and any skilled boat builders can construct them. The technology is improving as well. Recently captured boats had a system installed that cooled the engine exhaust, making it more difficult for infrared (heat) sensors to spot it.
Iran Launches First Domestically Made Destroyer
This past Friday, Iran’s Navy took the delivery of the first indigenously designed and developed guided missile destroyer Jamaran in the presence of the Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei.
The Mowdge Class vessel has a displacement of around 1,420 tonnes and is equipped with modern radars and electronic warfare capabilities.
Jamaran, a multi-mission destroyer, can carry 120-140 personnel on board and is armed with a variety of anti-ship and surface-to-air missiles. It has a top speed of up to 30 knots and has a helipad. It also features highly advanced anti-aircraft, anti-surface and anti-subsurface systems. The vessel has also been equipped with torpedoes and modern naval cannons.
The destroyer’s launch marks a major technological leap for Iran’s naval industries. Iran said that the manufacture of Jamaran and the missile boat Paykan were among the greatest achievements of the Iranian Navy and the destroyer’s launch marks a major technological leap for Iran’s naval industries. More ships in its class are under construction.
State television also showed footage of the vessel and the ceremony at which it was launched by Khamenei flanked by the top Iranian military commanders.
Much of Iran’s naval equipment dates from before the 1979 Islamic revolution and is U.S. made. Since the revolution, Tehran has purchased a number of Russian-made submarines.
In the past year Iranian navy has carried out a number of missions in the Gulf of Aden and offshore Somalia where it was commissioned to escort Iranian merchant ships and oil tankers.
Tehran is enriching uranium, which many Western countries and Israel fear is a step toward manufacturing an atomic bomb. Tehran rejects such charges, saying its nuclear program is entirely peaceful. On Thursday, the U.N. atomic watchdog expressed concern that Iran might have been trying to develop a nuclear warhead. On Feb. 19, Iran dismissed the concern as “baseless.”
Iran is under U.N. sanctions for failing to obey Security Council resolutions demanding that it halt enrichment. Neither the United States nor Israel have ruled out military action if it does not eventually do so.
Iceland’s influential Marine Research Institute (MRI) has recently published an encouraging new report on the country’s cod stocks, the most crucial fishery for Iceland’s economy and European fish processing markets.
The MRI research has found that the 2008 cod stock was the strongest it has been since annual research trips began in the autumn of 1996.
Icelandic fishing quotas are usually based on Marine Research Institute findings which are always rigidly enforced, given the importance of fishing to the Icelandic economy. Two years ago Iceland dramatically slashed its cod quota to the dismay of fish markets in Britain and elsewhere, but last year some of that cut back was restored.
The Institute has released the final report on its autumn 2008 research mission which suggests that the cod stock last year might well have been higher than the long-term average since 1955. The fish are also larger in size, but it is too early to know if this encouraging news this will lead to further catch quota increases later this year.
The findings have surprised many observers since cod consumption is on the increase in Europe and North America and is in demand by emerging economies like China. Fishing technology has also improved which means that trawlers are far more efficient than a few decades ago. The increase in cod stocks can also be attributed to restricted fishing quotas in recent years aimed at saving the declining fish stock.
Waters from warmer latitudes — or subtropical waters — are reaching Greenland’s glaciers, driving melting and likely triggering an acceleration of ice loss, reports a team of researchers led by Fiamma Straneo, a physical oceanographer from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI).
“This is the first time we’ve seen waters this warm in any of the fjords in Greenland,” says Straneo. “The subtropical waters are flowing through the fjord very quickly, so they can transport heat and drive melting at the end of the glacier.”
Greenland’s ice sheet, which is two-miles thick and covers an area about the size of Mexico, has lost mass at an accelerated rate over the last decade. The ice sheet’s contribution to sea level rise during that time frame doubled due to increased melting and, to a greater extent, the widespread acceleration of outlet glaciers around Greenland.
While melting due to warming air temperatures is a known event, scientists are just beginning to learn more about the ocean’s impact — in particular, the influence of currents — on the ice sheet.
“Among the mechanisms that we suspected might be triggering this acceleration are recent changes in ocean circulation in the North Atlantic, which are delivering larger amounts of subtropical waters to the high latitudes,” says Straneo. But a lack of observations and measurements from Greenland’s glaciers prior to the acceleration made it difficult to confirm.
The research team, which included colleagues from University of Maine, conducted two extensive surveys during July and September of 2008, collecting both ship-based and moored oceanographic data from Sermilik Fjord — a large glacial fjord in East Greenland.
Sermilik Fjord, which is 100 kilometers (approximately 62 miles) long, connects Helheim Glacier with the Irminger Sea. In 2003 alone, Helheim Glacier retreated several kilometers and almost doubled its flow speed.
Deep inside the Sermilik Fjord, researchers found subtropical water as warm as 39 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius). The team also reconstructed seasonal temperatures on the shelf using data collected by 19 hooded seals tagged with satellite-linked temperature depth-recorders. The data revealed that the shelf waters warm from July to December, and that subtropical waters are present on the shelf year round.
“This is the first extensive survey of one of these fjords that shows us how these warm waters circulate and how vigorous the circulation is,” says Straneo. “Changes in the large-scale ocean circulation of the North Atlantic are propagating to the glaciers very quickly — not in a matter of years, but a matter of months. It’s a very rapid communication.”
Straneo adds that the study highlights how little is known about ocean-glacier interactions, which is a connection not currently included in climate models. “We need more continuous observations to fully understand how they work, and to be able to better predict sea-level rise in the future,” says Straneo.
The paper was chosen for advanced online publication Feb. 14, 2010, by Nature Geosciences; it will also appear in the March 2010 printed edition of the journal
A new University of California, Davis, study by a top ecological forecaster says it is harder than experts thought to predict when sudden shifts in Earth’s natural systems will occur — a worrisome finding for scientists trying to identify the tipping points that could push climate change into an irreparable global disaster.
“Many scientists are looking for the warning signs that herald sudden changes in natural systems, in hopes of forestalling those changes, or improving our preparations for them,” said UC Davis theoretical ecologist Alan Hastings. “Our new study found, unfortunately, that regime shifts with potentially large consequences can happen without warning — systems can ‘tip’ precipitously.
“This means that some effects of global climate change on ecosystems can be seen only once the effects are dramatic. By that point returning the system to a desirable state will be difficult, if not impossible.”
The current study focuses on models from ecology, but its findings may be applicable to other complex systems, especially ones involving human dynamics such as harvesting of fish stocks or financial markets.
Scientists widely agree that global climate change is already causing major environmental effects, such as changes in the frequency and intensity of precipitation, droughts, heat waves and wildfires; rising sea level; water shortages in arid regions; new and larger pest outbreaks afflicting crops and forests; and expanding ranges for tropical pathogens that cause human illness.
And they fear that worse is in store. As U.S. presidential science adviser John Holdren recently told a congressional committee: “Climate scientists worry about ‘tipping points’ … thresholds beyond which a small additional increase in average temperature or some associated climate variable results in major changes to the affected system.”
Among the tipping points Holdren listed were: the complete disappearance of Arctic sea ice in summer, leading to drastic changes in ocean circulation and climate patterns across the whole Northern Hemisphere; acceleration of ice loss from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, driving rates of sea-level increase to 6 feet or more per century; and ocean acidification from carbon dioxide absorption, causing massive disruption in ocean food webs.
Last week, the United States government donated five maritime interdiction patrol boats to Pakistan’s Maritime Security Agency (MSA), significantly enhancing the agency’s coastal interdiction and patrol capabilities.
The United States officially donated the 13-meter (42-foot) Fast Patrol Boats to Rear Admiral Khan, MSA Director General, during a hand-over ceremony in Karachi this past Saturday. The event was attended by Mr. Steve Fakan, U.S. Consul General to Karachi, and more than a dozen US. and Pakistani military representatives, says a press release.
Each of the new vessels are equipped with two 565-horsepower Caterpillar diesel engines that enable them to operate in inclement weather up to 300 nautical miles offshore with a maximum speed of 72+ KPH (45+ MPH). Known as Fast Patrol Boats, they greatly increase the MSA’s ability to patrol Pakistan’s coastal waters and conduct a wide range of maritime operations.
The US. government will donate four more Fast Patrol Boats to the MSA later this year. In total, the nine boats and spare parts are valued at approximately $10 million.
“These patrol boats are a gift from the United States to support Pakistan’s Maritime Security Agency to assist them in their critical mission as they protect and serve the people of Pakistan,” said United States Brig. Gen. Nagata. “Whether it’s search and rescue, combating smugglers, preventing crime or protecting Pakistan’s coastal areas, we hope the increased capabilities these boats provide greatly enhance the MSA’s ability to conduct the full spectrum of maritime operations.”
During the last three years, U.S. civilian and security assistance to Pakistan has totalled more than $4 billion. Assistance provided and delivered has included support for medical aid school refurbishment, bridge and well reconstruction, food distribution, agricultural and education projects, 14 F-16 fighter aircraft, 10 Mi-17 helicopters, more than 450 vehicles for Pakistan’s Frontier Corps, hundreds of night vision goggles, day/night scopes, radios, and thousands of protective vests and first-aid items for Pakistan’s security forces. In addition, the US. funded and provided training for more than 370 Pakistani military officers.
Beyond the Abyss: Deep Sea Creatures Build Their Homes from Materials That Sink from Near the Ocean Surface
Evidence from the Challenger Deep — the deepest surveyed point in the world’s oceans — suggests that tiny single-celled creatures called foraminifera living at extreme depths of more than ten kilometres build their homes using material that sinks down from near the ocean surface.
The Challenger Deep is located in the Mariana Trench in the western Pacific Ocean. It lies in the hadal zone beyond the abyssal zone, and plunges down to a water depth of around 11 kilometres.
“The hadal zone extends from around six kilometres to the deepest seafloor. Although the deepest parts of the deepest trenches are pretty inhospitable environments, at least for some types of organism, certain kinds of foraminifera are common in the bottom sediments,” said Professor Andrew Gooday of the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton (NOCS) and member of a UK-Japanese team studying these organisms in samples collected during a Japan-USA-Korea expedition to study life in the western depression of the Challenger Deep.
The researchers, whose findings appear in the latest issue of the journal Deep Sea Research, used the remotely operated vehicle KAIKO, operated by the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC), to take core samples from the soft sediment of the trench floor. Among many foraminiferans with an organic shell (or ‘test’), they found four undescribed specimens with agglutinated tests.
“The Challenger Deep is an extreme environment for agglutinated foraminifera, which construct their tests from a wide range of particles cemented together by calcareous or organic matter,” said Gooday. “At these great depths, particles made from biologically formed calcite and silica, as well as minerals such as quartz, should dissolve, leaving only clay grains available for test building.”
“Our observations demonstrate that coccoliths, and probably also planktonic foraminiferan tests, reach the Challenger Deep intact,” said Gooday. “These particles were probably transported to these extreme depths in rapidly sinking marine snow, the aggregated remains of phytoplankton that lived in the sunlit surface ocean, or in faecal pellets from zooplankton.”
It seems likely, therefore, that at least some agglutinated foraminifera living at extreme hadal depths build their homes from material that sinks down from the ocean above, rather like manna from heaven.
This study was supported by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science and the OCEANS 2025 Strategic Research Programme of the UK Natural Environment Research Council.
Recently, the Taiwanese Navy detected an unidentified submarine outside one of its major naval bases. Ships and helicopters pursued the contact, but the suspected submarine left the area. A Chinese boat was suspected, mainly because for the last decade, Chinese subs have increasingly been showing up close to Japan and South Korea as well.
Two years ago, Japan increased anti-submarine patrols in international waters, just outside Japanese territorial waters. Chinese submarines were apparently exercising there more frequently, looking for Japanese, South Korean and American warships to play tag with. The U.S. has also redirected more of its space based naval search capabilities to assist the Japanese.
Chinese Song class diesel electric and Han class nuclear powered boats have been detected and tracked with increasing frequency over the last few years. In that time, one of each of these was spotted stalking the American carrier USS George Washington, as it headed to South Korea for a visit.
China is rapidly acquiring advanced submarine building capabilities, and providing money (for fuel and spare parts) to send its subs to sea more often. Moreover, new classes of boats are constantly appearing. The new Type 39A, or Yuan class, looks just like the Russian Kilo class. In the late 1990s, the Chinese began ordering Russian Kilo class subs, then one of the latest diesel-electric design available.
Russia was selling new Kilos for about $200 million each, which is about half the price other Western nations sell similar boats for. The Kilos weigh 2,300 tons (surface displacement), have six torpedo tubes and a crew of 57. They are quiet, and can travel about 700 kilometers under water at a quiet speed of about five kilometers an hour. Kilos carry 18 torpedoes or SS-N-27 anti-ship missiles (with a range of 300 kilometers and launched underwater from the torpedo tubes.) The combination of quietness and cruise missiles makes Kilo very dangerous to American carriers. North Korea and Iran have also bought Kilos.
The Chinese have already built two Yuans, the second one an improvement on the first. These two boats have been at sea to try out the technology that was pilfered from the Russians. A third Yuan is under construction, and it also appears to be a bit different from the first two. The first Yuan appeared to be a copy of the early model Kilo (the model 877), while the second Yuan (referred to as a Type 39B) appeared to copy the late Kilos (model 636). The third Yuan may end up being a further evolution, or Type 39C.
Preceding the Yuans was the Type 39, or Song class. This was the first Chinese sub to have the teardrop shaped hull, and was based on the predecessor of the Kilo, the Romeo class. The Type 39A was thought to be just an improved Song, but on closer examination, especially by the Russians, it looked like a clone of the Kilos. The Yuan class also have AIP (Air Independent Propulsion), which allows non-nuclear boats to stay underwater for days at a time. China currently has 13 Song class, 12 Kilo class, two Yuan class and 25 Romeo class boats. There are only three Han class SSNs, as the Chinese are still having a lot of problems with nuclear power in subs. Despite that, the Hans are going to sea, even though they are noisy and easily detected by Western sensors.