An international team of researchers is surveying the Mid-Atlantic Ridge halfway between Iceland and the Azores to determine its biodiversity and search for new species and clues to deep-sea food webs. The project is part of a 16-nation effort to determine if the underwater mountain chain in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean has its own distinct animal communities. The research team is working aboard the 208-foot NOAA ship Henry B. Bigelow for six weeks as part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge Ecosystem Project, or MAR-ECO.
The MAR-ECO project is one of 14 field programs that are part of the Census of Marine Life, a 10-year global study of the abundance, distribution and diversity of marine life in the world’s oceans. The Census began in 2000 and seeks by 2010 to determine what lives in the ocean and how this life has changed with time. The Census also strives to make information about marine life more accessible and usable through products like an on-line encyclopedia of both old and newly-discovered species.
The mid-ocean ridge system is a huge feature of the earth’s surface but has generally been the subject of very little biological study. It is important to understand what lives in the deep waters around and above mid-ocean ridges because they are such a major component of our planet’s living space.
Much of the expedition, which began June 12 and ends July 17, is focused on an area of the ridge around 52 degrees north latitude known as the Charlie Gibbs Fracture Zone, which divides the ridge into northern and southern sections. Water depths range from 1,600 to almost 15,000 feet and the terrain is very rugged, making it a challenging environment to sample and collect data.
The Henry B. Bigelow is one of four new NOAA Fisheries research vessels and supports the Northeast Fisheries Science Center. The Bigelow’s primary mission is to study and monitor marine fisheries in the Northeast U.S., but the ship also conducts marine mammal and bird surveys, participates in habitat assessments and is an observing platform for weather, sea state and other environmental data. The vessel is equipped with advanced technology known as “quiet-hull” that reduces the impact of sound on marine life and other advanced technologies for sampling and on-board studies.
Because of its fishing capabilities, the Bigelow is especially well suited for the goal of this cruise: to sample the deep-sea animals like fishes, shrimps, and squids.
Despite an estimated $10 billion of expected orders failing to materialise as the global economy derailed in 2008 and 2009, the floating production sector is expected to recover in 2010 and over the period 2009 to 2013 a total of $46 billion is forecast to be spent on floating production systems installed worldwide. These are amongst the forecasts in a new report launched last week by energy analysts Douglas-Westwood.
Announcing the results of the study, Douglas-Westwood management stated that, “the study stated that the turbulent nature of energy and financial markets that developed in the second half of 2008 has persisted into 2009 and has had a dramatic impact on the FPS sector. E&P companies are reining in expenditure and delaying projects as they respond to lower commodity prices, constrained cash flows and to challenges faced in the global credit market. While the situation has improved somewhat in recent months. the current economic climate remains difficult. The oilfield equipment and services sector is inherently a capital and asset-intensive industry and its reliance on debt markets, to fuel expansion, has meant that many companies are feeling the effects of global financial constraints.”
“The impact on this sector has been massive and to see $10.4 billion of anticipated orders this time last year for 2008/9 not materialise is unprecedented. However, we are convinced that the long-term fundamentals for the sector are strong: the need to exploit reserves in deep waters, marginal fields and remote locations will undoubtedly increase as the offshore industry matures and floating production systems are a key enabling technology in these areas.”
“We forecast that a total of 121 floating production systems will be installed worldwide over the 2009-2013 period. FPSOs will account for the largest proportion of these installations (94 vessels), along with 12 TLPs, 11 FPSSs and four spars. With this level of demand, global capex in the FPS sector is forecast at $45.8 billion. Of this overall market value, the world’s three major deepwater regions – Africa, North America and Latin America – account for 59% of forecast global FPS capex.
“Our analysis of the leading operators in the FPS sector suggests that Brazil’s national oil company, Petrobras, was the biggest spender on FPS systems over the 2004-2008 period. Petrobras is also expected to continue this lead over the forecast period, although ‘super-majors’ such as Total, Chevron, Shell and BP are all expected to commit to significant FPS expenditure over the coming five years. The sector’s top ten operators by expenditure account for 55% of the installations and 68% of the capex forecast worldwide for the 2009-2013 period.”
NOAA’s Fisheries Service scientists and their partners have launched an unmanned aircraft to mount the vehicle’s first search for ice seals at the southern edge of the Bering Sea pack ice during the Arctic spring, in an effort to learn more about these remotely located species.
On May 13, the NOAA research vessel McArthur II departed Kodiak, Alaska, and headed for the Bering Sea to launch the ScanEagle, an unmanned aircraft that is being used to collect images and video along the ice edge.
NOAA’s Fisheries Service scientists will use the images, taken during the month-long expedition, to evaluate whether unmanned aircraft could be useful for estimating the abundance and distribution of ice seals. “The distributions of ice seals are broad and include areas very far from shore,” said Michael Cameron, NOAA’s Fisheries Service’s lead scientist on the expedition. “Using traditional, manned aircraft to survey all of the sea ice habitat in Alaskan waters would be challenging, expensive and potentially dangerous. We hope that the ScanEagle will provide a safe and efficient way to collect information in this remote environment.”
The ScanEagle, owned and operated by the University of Alaska Fairbanks, weighs less than 27 pounds. When loaded with fuel and survey equipment it can fly for about 20 hours at a cruising speed between 48 and 75 knots. The small aircraft is recovered through a modified “skyhook” system—a catch line, hung out over the water using a large deck crane, caught by airframe-mounted hooks on the ends of the ScanEagle wings.
“We tested the ScanEagle from two NOAA vessels, the Dyson and the McArthur II, in Puget Sound near Seattle,” said Robyn Angliss, deputy director of NOAA’s National Marine Mammal Laboratory. “It performed well and we expect the same in the far north.”
There are many potential applications of this technology. In addition to surveys for ice seals and other easily visible marine mammals such as walrus, the system could potentially be used to study near surface oceanography, sea ice conditions and movements, and to collect information on atmospheric and weather conditions.
YOKOHAMA — Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force commissioned its largest helicopter-carrying destroyer, with a 195-meter full-length flight deck, on Wednesday amid concerns about its resemblance to a light aircraft carrier.
One of the largest vessels ever built for Japan’s MSDF, the 13,950-ton Hyuga can carry up to 11 helicopters aboard by using the deck and the hanger deck beneath it.
The Hyuga also enables up to four helicopters, such as SH-60K antisubmarine helicopters, to take off and land almost simultaneously.
The government has taken the position that Japan cannot possess an offensive aircraft carrier due to its war-renouncing Constitution. The MSDF denies that the Hyuga is an aircraft carrier, saying the vessel does not have offensive capabilities like attack aircraft.
At a ceremony at IHI Marine United Inc.’s shipyard in Yokohama, Parliamentary Defense Secretary Ryota Takeda handed the MSDF’s rising sun ensign to the skipper, Capt. Katsunori Yamada, to hoist on the destroyer.
”I recognize that people’s expectations for the Hyuga are high,” Yamada told reporters after the event, saying his crew would try to live up to them so that the ship can be up to fighting strength soon.
With its sophisticated command, control and communications system, the Hyuga will serve as the nerve center for operations ranging from antisubmarine warfare to anti-disaster efforts at home and abroad, and for rescuing Japanese nationals overseas, the MSDF said.
Among the Hyuga’s roughly 340 crew members are 17 women — two officers and 15 sailors — who have become the first servicewomen on board a destroyer since the Self-Defense Forces were established in 1954. Their presence on a destroyer reflects the MSDF’s effort to expand the role of women in the force to make up for the chronic personnel shortage.
The flattop replaces the old 4,950-ton destroyer Haruna. The second Hyuga-class destroyer is to be commissioned in March 2011 to replace a similar destroyer.
Despite its look and feel of a light aircraft carrier, MSDF Chief of Staff Adm. Keiji Akahoshi said Tuesday at a news conference, ”An aircraft carrier, I believe, has a fair degree of offensive functions. Based on that definition, this Hyuga falls a little bit outside of the frame.”
The acquisition of a destroyer that could project the force far beyond Japan’s coast, however, raises concerns in some quarters, with some experts fearing it could spur rivalry with countries like China, which is rumored to be building an aircraft carrier of its own.
Japan denies itself offensive capabilities under its pacifist Constitution, but the government interprets the supreme law to mean that it can possess the minimum level of armed force necessary for its self-defense.
‘The detergents may be the best way to treat spills in the long term because the dispersed oil is diluted and degraded,’ said Queen’s University Professor Peter Hodson. ‘But in the short term, they increase the bioavailability and toxicity of the fuel by 100 fold.’
The detergents are oil dispersants that decrease the surface tension between oil and water, allowing floating oil to mix with water as tiny droplets. Hodson said such hydrocarbons pass easily from water into tissues and are deadly to fish during the early stages of life.
‘This could seriously impair the health of fish populations, resulting in long-term reductions in economic returns to fisheries,’ he said.
The researchers said they also determined that although chemical dispersants aren’t typically used in freshwater, turbulent rivers can disperse spilled diesel and create similar negative effects.
NATO is planning to carry out more anti-piracy duties off the coast of Somalia in coming months, the military alliance’s chief spokesman said Feb. 19. “You can expect to see another NATO naval operation off the coast of Somalia in the spring,” spokesman James Appathurai told reporters in Krakow, where NATO defence ministers were holding informal talks.
Diplomats have said the anti-piracy work will involve vessels from one of NATO’s standing naval maritime groups as they make their way to Singapore and on to Australia, via the Gulf of Aden, on a series of port visits. Parts of that trip could be changed to allow a short anti-piracy mission. The defence ministers were set to “discuss the details.
Pirates attacked more than 130 merchant ships in the Gulf of Aden last year, more than double the 2007 total, according to the International Maritime Bureau, which tracks piracy and shipping security issues. More than 150 suspected pirates were arrested by naval patrols in the Gulf in 2008.
Heavily armed pirates operate high-powered speedboats and sometimes hold ships for weeks before releasing them for large ransoms paid by governments or ship owners.
In late October, NATO launched its first naval mission against pirates, patrolling the waters off lawless Somalia, with two other ships protecting UN food aid convoys to the strife-torn Horn of Africa country.
The body which champions the UK’s subsea industry – an industry which employs 40,000 and contributes £4.5 billion to the UK economy – fears that oil and gas companies may be re-considering their R&D budgets in light of the recent drop in oil prices.
“A decline, even temporarily, in research and development activities could have a devastating effect on the industry and ultimately on security of supply. With oil and gas production taking place in more complex, challenging and deeper water environments, the need for new technology to successfully extract the remaining reserves, is critical,” says Alistair Birnie, chief executive of Subsea UK. He continues, “The creation and commercialization of new smart subsea technologies will have an impact on our ability to secure a major share of the predicted £41 billion global market in 2011.”
Subsea is rapidly becoming the technology of choice for the exploitation of reserves in mature offshore hydrocarbon provinces like the UK and the deepwater environments around the world. With new deepwater provinces coming into play together with the existing areas such as Brazil and Gulf of Mexico, subsea production has become a truly global technology used in every major offshore hydrocarbon province around the world. Global spend on deepwater developments is estimated to grow by 74% in the period to 2012.
Mr. Birnie adds: “Subsea technology is one of the great successes of the oil and gas industry in recent years but its future development could be at risk. The dramatic change in oil price, coupled with a cost base which has risen equally dramatically in the last few years will be forcing companies to reassess their business priorities and their budgets. At a time of escalating costs, we need more than ever to examine how technology can play a role in delivering improved value while enabling an increase in production. The industry must continue to work together to identify the gaps between the technology the oil and gas operators need and the technology currently being developed in the sector.”
In a somewhat related matter, last week the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear a case brought by two oil companies about the millions of dollars they are required to spend on research and development.
Hibernia Management and Development, which runs the Hibernia field off Newfoundland’s east coast, and Petro-Canada, the operator of the nearby Terra Nova field, had wanted the country’s top court to deliberate a dispute over research spending rules. Under the terms set by a federal-provincial board, both companies are required to spend some of the revenues they earn from offshore oil on research and development. The companies objected to the requirements set by the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (CNLOPB), and argued that the CNLOPB — which regulates the offshore oil industry — did not have jurisdiction in the matter.
Hibernia and Management and Development and Petro-Canada had previously lost similar challenges at Newfoundland Supreme Court’s trial and appeals divisions.
The Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the application last Thursday, February 19th.
According to an international group of scientists, carbon-dioxide emissions are threatening marine life and human food supplies by making the oceans more acidic.
More than 150 leading marine scientists are calling for immediate action to reduce CO2 emissions sharply so as to avoid widespread and severe damage to marine ecosystems from increasing ocean acidification—the “other CO2 problem”. They issued this warning in the Monaco Declaration, released on 30 January, 2009.
The surface ocean currently absorbs about one-fourth of the carbon dioxide emitted to the atmosphere (more than 20 million tons per day) from human activities, namely from fossil-fuel combustion, deforestation, and cement production. However, when CO2 dissolves in seawater, it forms carbonic acid. That increases the acidity of seawater, making it easier for the water to dissolve the shells of corals and shellfish. This ongoing ocean acidification also reduces the ability of many marine organisms to build their shells and skeletal structure. Increasing acidity and related changes in seawater chemistry also affect reproduction, behaviour, and general physiological functions of some marine organisms.
The scientists note that ocean acidification is accelerating. They caution that its negative socio-economic impacts could destroy coral reefs, threaten the fishing and tourism industries and affect the food supplies of millions of people unless policymakers work to curb carbon dioxide levels, the declaration said.
Measurements show that the acidity at the surface of the ocean has increased by 30 per cent since industrialization began in the 18th century. Scientists predict that if nothing is done to reduce CO2 emissions, most of the world’s oceans could be inhospitable to coral reefs by the middle of this century. The reefs currently provide important fish habitat and protect coastal areas from flooding. The rising acidity could also make it more difficult for the oceans to absorb additional carbon dioxide, thus exacerbating climate change.
For more information on this important topic, please visit The Ocean Acidification Network.