Massive array of robotic ocean probes in line for upgrade

Deploying a Deep Argo probe – click to enlarge – Core Education Ltd

Oceans can be monitored with increasing scope and quality with the use of Argo floats.

The Southern Ocean guards its secrets well. Strong winds and punishing waves have kept all except the hardiest sailors at bay. But a new generation of robotic explorers is helping scientists to document the region’s influence on the global climate. These devices are leading a technological wave that could soon give researchers unprecedented access to oceans worldwide.

Oceanographers are already using data from the more than 3,900 floats in the international Argo array. These automated probes periodically dive to depths of 2,000 metres, measuring temperature and salinity before resurfacing to transmit their observations to a satellite. The US$21-million Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modeling Project is going a step further, deploying around 200 advanced probes to monitor several indicators of seawater chemistry and biological activity in the waters around Antarctica. A primary aim is to track the prodigious amount of carbon dioxide that flows into the Southern Ocean…

Scientists estimate that the oceans have taken up roughly 93% of the extra heat generated by global warming, and around 26% of humanity’s CO2 emissions, but it is unclear precisely where in the seas the heat and carbon go. A better understanding of the processes involved could improve projections of future climate change.

SOCCOM, which launched in 2014, has funding from the US National Science Foundation to operate in the Southern Ocean for six years. Project scientists’ ultimate goal is to expand to all the world’s oceans. That would require roughly 1,000 floats, and would cost an estimated $25 million per year…

Meanwhile, another set of researchers hopes to extend the existing Argo array beyond its current 2,000-metre limit. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Admini­stration is spending about $1 million annually on a Deep Argo project to monitor ocean temperature and salinity down to 6,000 metres. The agency deployed nine Deep Argo floats south of New Zealand in January, and is planning similar pilot arrays in the Indian Ocean and the North Atlantic.

The deep-ocean data will be particularly useful in improving how models simulate ocean circulation, says Alicia Karspeck, an ocean modeller at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. “From a scientific perspective, it’s a no-brainer,” she says — noting that the new floats are a low-risk investment compared with spending money on developing models without additional oceanographic data…

…Ship surveys — which are done on average every ten years — cannot follow how heat is taken up by the deep ocean. By contrast, Deep Argo would allow researchers to continually watch heat move through the oceans. That could lead to a better understanding of how the oceans respond to global warming — and how the climate responds to the oceans.

Sooner or later, we have to hope our Congress is revitalized by the introduction of sensible, productive politicians instead of the current predominance of do-nothings and know-nothings. There can be a time when the United States resumes the leading role we offered the world for decades.

Much of that work continues. Witness this article by Jeff Tollefson. For now, the best parallel is a schoolhouse that holds bake sales for pencils and paper when the need is for computers, tablets and broadband.


Thanks, @jefftollef

Milestone: California condors reach key survival measure

A captive breeding program that at one time included every living California condor has passed a key milestone in helping North America’s largest bird return to the wild.

For the first time in decades, more condors hatched and fledged in the wild last year than adult wild condors died, said officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service…

Fourteen young condors took flight compared with 12 that died. Officials say it’s a small difference but a big step since the last 22 wild condors were captured in the 1980s to start the breeding program that releases offspring into the wild.

“That’s an indication that the program is succeeding,” said Eric Davis, the Wildlife Service’s coordinator for the California condor program. “We hope that wild birds start producing wild chicks, and that is what is happening more and more…”

The captive breeding program continues with the Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey near Boise being the top egg producer, with six eggs laid this spring and nine more expected…

Davis said about 20 to 40 condors, typically less than 2 years old, are released into the wild each year. They can live for about 60 years.

Majestic birds. I’ve seen one in the wild. Once.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

3-D interactive digital reconstruction of King Richard III

Click on the photo to go to rotatable 3D image – full screen is a gas!

University of Leicester archaeologists who discovered and helped to identify the mortal remains of King Richard III have created a 3D interactive representation of the grave and the skeleton of the king under the car park.

It is revealed…on the first year anniversary of the reinterment of Richard III when the coffin bearing the mortal remains first emerged from the Fielding Johnson Building at the University of Leicester.

The team from University of Leicester Archaeological Services has now created a fully rotatable computer model which shows the king’s remains in-situ as they were found during the 2012 archaeological excavation.

Using photographs taken during the project, sophisticated photogrammetry software has been used to create an accurate representation of the grave and the skeleton.

The interactive model, which can be explored via the 3D sharing platform Sketchfab, graphically reveals in a new and immersive way the minimal reverence with which the king was buried…

Archaeologists discovered that the poorly dug grave was not only too short for the king, but was messily dug with sloping sides and an uneven base. This made it awkward for the burial party to lay the body out neatly in the grave. Instead, it was left slightly slumped on one side with the head propped up because it would not fit properly – physical evidence which fits with historical accounts which say that Richard III was buried without pomp or solemn funeral…

Photogrammetry is used in a wide range of fields from topographic mapping to the movie and gaming industry and it is often used by archaeologists because it provides a quick, extremely versatile and cost-effective method of recording and analysing complex objects and surfaces using software that turns multiple two-dimensional digital photographs into a three-dimensional model. Under suitable conditions, the technique can produce geo-referenced results similar to those of laser scanning and can be applied to photographs taken during archaeological excavations, building surveys and laboratory conservation.

With the significant amount of archaeological work ongoing in my neck of the prairie – this procedure and protocols are a natural. I’ll bet it’s happening in New Mexico.