Plumbing the oceans could bring limitless clean energy

November 27, 2008 by  
Filed under Secrets of the Ocean

by Phil McKenna

For a company whose business is rocket science Lockheed Martin has been paying unusual attention to plumbing of late. The aerospace giant has kept its engineers occupied for the past 12 months poring over designs for what amounts to a very long fibreglass pipe.

It is, of course, no ordinary pipe but an integral part of the technology behind Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC), a clean, renewable energy source that has the potential to free many economies from their dependence on oil.

“This has the potential to become the biggest source of renewable energy in the world,” says Robert Cohen, who headed the US federal ocean thermal energy programme in the early 1970s.

This has the potential to become the biggest source of renewable energy in the world

As the price of fossil fuels soars, private companies from Hawaii to Japan are racing to build commercial OTEC plants. The trick is to exploit the difference in temperature between seawater near the surface and deep down (see diagram).

First, warm surface water heats a fluid with a low boiling point, such as ammonia or a mixture of ammonia and water. When this “working fluid” boils, the resulting gas creates enough pressure to drive a turbine that generates power. The gas is then cooled by passing it through cold water pumped up from the ocean depths via massive fibreglass tubes, perhaps 1000 metres long and 27 metres in diameter, that suck up cold water at a rate of 1000 tonnes per second. While the gas condenses back into a liquid that can be used again, the water is returned to the deep ocean. “It’s just like a conventional power plant where you burn a fuel like coal to create steam,” says Cohen.

Limitless Clean Energy from the Ocean

Limitless Clean Energy from the Ocean

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Sea levels set to rise faster than expected

November 27, 2008 by  
Filed under Global Warming

Geneva, Switzerland: Even warming of less than 2°C might be enough to trigger the loss of Arctic sea ice and the meltdown of the Greenland Ice Sheet, causing global sea levels to rise by several metres.

Ahead of next week’s meeting of governments in Poznan, Poland for UN climate talks WWF analysis of the latest climate science comes to the dire conclusion that humanity is approaching the last chance to keep global warming below the danger threshold of 2°C.

”The latest science confirms that we are now seeing devastating consequences of warming that were not expected to hit for decades,” said Kim Carstensen, WWF Global Climate Initiative leader.

“The early meltdown of ice in the Arctic and Greenland may soon prompt further dangerous climate feedbacks, accelerating warming faster and stronger than forecast.

“Responsible politicians cannot dare to waste another second on delaying tactics in the face of these urgent warnings from nature.

“The planet is now facing a new quality of change, increasingly difficult to adapt to and soon impossible to reverse.

“Governments in Poznan must agree to peak and decline global emissions well before 2020 to give people reasonable hope that global warming can still be kept within limits that prevent the worst.

“In addition to constructive discussions in Poznan we need to see signals for immediate action.”

The CO2 storage capacity of oceans and land surface – the Earth’s natural sinks – has been decreasing by 5 per cent over the last 50 years. At the same time, manmade CO2 emissions from fossil fuels have been increasing – four times faster in this decade than in the previous decade.

WWF is urging governments to use the Poznan talks for an immediate U-turn away from the fatal direction the world is heading in.

“We are at the point where our climate system is starting to spin out of control,” said Carstensen. “A single year is left to agree a new global treaty that can protect the climate, but the UN talks next year in Copenhagen can only deliver this treaty if the meeting in Poznan this year develops a strong negotiation text.”

Article copyright WWF

Secrets of the Ocean

November 27, 2008 by  
Filed under Secrets of the Ocean

Image: Pillars of Creation
Mark Spear / Woods Hole Oceanography

 

By John Roach, contributor

 

The oceans cover more than 70 percent of the earth’s surface, yet their depths remain largely unknown. It’s a frontier that scientists are racing to explore using tools such as the deep-ocean submersible Alvin, shown here. Click the “Next” arrow above to learn about 10 deep-ocean secrets that have come to light.

Introduction

 

Image: map of gamma ray bursts
Census of Marine Life

 

Deep-ocean octopuses have Antarctic origins

Many deep ocean octopuses trace their origins back to relatives that swam in the waters around Antarctica. The migration began about 30 million years ago when the continent cooled and large ice sheets grew, forcing octopuses there into ever deeper waters. The climate shift also created a northbound flow of deep, cold water that carried the cephalopods to new habitats. As they adapted to new niches, new species evolved. Many lost their defensive ink sacs because the pitch-black ocean depths required no camouflage screen. The species known as Megaleledon setebos, shown here, is the closest living relative of the deep-sea octopuses’ common ancestor.

 

 

Image: brittle stars
Census Of Marine Life / AP

 

‘Brittlestar City’ discovered atop underwater mountain

The orange and red starfish relatives called brittlestars have managed to defy the odds and colonize the flanks of a giant, underwater peak on the Macquarie Ridge, an 870-mile-long underwater mountain range that stretches south from New Zealand to just short of the Antarctic Circle. The peak, known as a seamount, juts up into a swirling circumpolar current that flows by at 2.5 miles per hour, delivering ample food for the brittlestars to grab while sweeping away fish and other would-be predators. Another brittlestar species has settled on the seamount’s flat summit, a habitat normally settled by corals and sponges.

 

 

Image: XMM-Newton
Wiebke Brokeland / Gcmb

 

Deep Antarctic waters, cradle of marine life

This pale crustacean from the genus Cylindrarcturus is one of more than 700 species new to science found scurrying, scampering and swimming in the frigid waters between 2,000 and 21,000 feet below the surface of the Weddell Sea off Antarctica. The discoveries were part of a research project to determine how species at different depths are related to each other there, and to other creatures around the world. “The Antarctic deep sea is potentially the cradle of life of the global marine species,” team leader Angelika Brandt, an expert from the Zoological Institute and Zoological Museum at the University of Hamburg, said in a statement announcing the discoveries.

 

 

Image: map of the early universe
Credit: Center for Geobiology/U. of Bergen

 

Northernmost black smokers discovered

Scientists working deep inside the Arctic Circle have discovered a cluster of five hydrothermal vents, also known as black smokers, which spew out liquid as hot as 570 degrees Fahrenheit. The vents are 120 miles further north than the closest known vents, which tend to occur where the seafloor spreads apart at a quicker pace. This image shows the arm of a remotely operated vehicle reaching out to sample fluids billowing from the top three feet of the tallest vent, which reaches four stories off the seafloor. The chimney is covered with white bacteria that feast on the freshly delivered minerals.

 

 

Image: W5
Timothy Kusky / Gondwana Researc

 

Black-smoker fossils hint at life’s beginnings

The discovery of primitive bacteria on 1.43 billion-year-old black-smoker fossils – a crosscut is shown here – unearthed from a Chinese mine adds weight to the idea that life may have originated in deep-sea hydrothermal vents, according to geologist Timothy Kusky at Saint Louis University. The ancient microbe dined on metal sulfide that lined the fringes of the chimneys. The oldest-known life forms on Earth are 3.5 billion-year-old clumps of bacteria found in Western Australia. That find suggested that shallow seas, not the deep oceans, were the birthplace of life. Neither discovery, however, serves as the definitive answer about life’s origins.

 

 

Image: Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope
NOAA/WHOI

 

Abundant, diverse microbes feast on ocean-bottom crust

Once thought barren and sparsely populated, the deep-ocean floor is home to rich and diverse communities of bacteria. In fact, scientists have found that the seafloor contains three to four times more bacteria than the waters above, raising the question of how the organisms survive. Lab analyses suggest that chemical reactions with the rocks themselves provide the fuel for life. The discovery is another tantalizing hint that life could have originated in the ocean depths. In a statement about the find, the University of Southern California’s Katrina Edwards said: “I hope that people turn their heads and notice: There’s life down there.”

 

 

Image: James Webb Space Telescope
Harbor Branch / E.widder

 

Deep-sea fish may gather around mountains to spawn

Life in the dark, cold and vast depths of the sea was long thought to be lonely for the few fish that dared eke out an existence there, mostly from organic detritus that sinks from shallower waters. That picture began to change in 2006, when researchers probing the Mid-Atlantic Ridge discovered that fishes may occasionally gather at features such as seamounts to spawn. The evidence for these gatherings comes from the sheer volume of fish collected at seamounts – much higher than would have been expected if the fish were purely nomadic wanderers. What’s more, images made from acoustical “scatterings” are suggestive of a massive fish aggregation. The 35-pound anglerfish shown here is one of the rare species hauled up from the deep during the project.

 

 

Colossal squid has, well, colossal eyes
Ross Setford / AP

 

Colossal squid has, well, colossal eyes

What did you expect? Would a colossal squid have anything but eyes big enough to generate a few over-the-top superlatives? Probably not – but still, when researchers thawed out this squid in New Zealand, the wow factor was undeniable. The creature’s eye measured about 11 inches across; its lens was the size of an orange. Scientists suspect the big eye allows the huge squid to capture a lot of light in the dark depths in which it hunts. The squid weighed about 1,000 pounds when caught in the Antarctic’s Ross Sea and measured 26 feet long. Scientists believe the species, which can descend to 6,500 feet, may grow as long as 46 feet.

 

 

Deep-sea corals record history
Rob Dunba / Stanford University

 

Deep-sea corals record history

Some coral reefs are found thousands of feet below the ocean surface, where they have grown amid frigid waters for millennia. Like tree rings, they serve as a faithful archive of global environmental change, according to Robert Dunbar, a professor of geological and environmental sciences at Stanford University. His team travels the world to collect samples of these corals, such as this one from a colony near Easter Island. In 2007, the team published a 300-year archive of soil erosion in Kenya, as recorded by coral samples collected from the bottom of the Indian Ocean. They are now analyzing 4,000-year-old corals discovered off Hawaii to create an archive of climate change.

 

 

Trawling destruction visible from space
Sky Truth

 

Trawling destruction visible from space

Some scientists are working urgently to expose more secrets of the deep ocean before unexplored treasures are plundered. Their biggest concern is the fishing practice known as bottom trawling. This image shows the billowing plumes of sediment left in the wake of trawlers dragging giant nets across the ocean floor in the Gulf of Mexico. The practice has been shown to strip coral reefs bare and ravage underwater ecosystems such as seamounts, where thousands of species are known to gather. Though the practice is increasingly restricted, tens of thousands of trawlers continue to ply the deep oceans.

 

 

Updated: 6:09 p.m. ET Nov. 19, 2008

© 2008 MSNBC.com

URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/27808563/

The Sensual Beauty of the Beach

November 26, 2008 by  
Filed under Ocean Beauty

The beach is a wonderous place where the sheer beauty and sensuality of the environment can reclaim even the most harried minds.

It can take you to a time where there was only mankind and nature — No cell phones, work left undone, cluttered minds and desks, financial problems or job worries…just you and nature in a simple yet intense relationship. The beach can be that side of nature that soothes, stimulates, invigorates and heals. One day at the beach and you are rejuvenated for a time….it stays with you…and that is worth protecting.

Saving Our Beaches – National Clean Beaches Week (Dates: July 1-7, 2009)

November 26, 2008 by  
Filed under Protecting Habitats

Clean Beaches Week is the “Earth Day” for beaches.
Held annually from July 1-7, it is a celebration of the healthy beach lifestyle.  The four main themes of the week are: food, recreation, travel and our environment.  Founded in 2003, the week has drawn enormous public support: over 150 coastal governors, mayors, and county commissions have now issued proclamations in support of the week.  In 2007, by unanimous consent, both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives passed resolutions enacting the week.

What it’s all About (aka, the “vision” thing)
We envision Clean Beaches Week as a seven-day celebration of consumers recognizing and embracing the benefits of beaches in their lives. We have developed four initial themes that highlight the importance of beaches to all Americans:

Environment: The 4th of July is the biggest beach holiday in America – and the dirtiest.   During Clean Beaches Week, the public will be strongly urged to “leave no trace” of litter, only footprints at the beach.

Dining: The American Heart Association recommends that all Americans eat seafood at least twice a week.  During Clean Beaches Week, Americans will be encouraged to have a healthy meal everyday during their visit to the beach.

Recreation: More than 180 million Americans visit the beach each year.  During Clean Beaches Week, the public will be urged to get out and get active everyday by playing, surfing, fishing, walking or reading during their beach visit.

Travel:  Each year Americans make 2 billion visits to ocean, gulf, and inland beaches.  During Clean Beaches Week, the public will be encouraged to reduce their carbon footprint though energy efficiency, conservation, carpooling, walking and other green activities.

Get Involved
Individuals, families and communities have several opportunities to support Clean Beaches Week:

Low-Carbon Beaches (offset program: available for individuals, businesses and municipalities)
Friends of Clean Beaches (includes: window-decal, guides (safety and seafood), magnet, and wristband)

Sponsorship
To learn about corporate sponsorship and/or licensing opportunities, visit www.cleanbeaches.com.

About Clean Beaches Council
CBC is the lead organization for this national public awareness campaign.  For nearly a decade, CBC has successfully delivered its message promoting clean beaches to over 100 million Americans through television, radio, and print media coverage.   CBC has been featured on The Today Show, CNN, Parade Magazine, Organic Style, Fox News, C-SPAN, The Weather Channel, CBS Radio, ABC Radio, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Newsday, and National Public Radio to name a few.

(source: Clean Beaches Council www.cleanbeaches.com)

Commerce and Interior Departments Announce Launch of National System of Marine Protected Areas

November 19, 2008 by  
Filed under Protecting Habitats

The U.S. departments of Interior and Commerce today jointly announced the availability of the final Framework for the National System of Marine Protected Areas of the United States, completing a cooperative, multi-year effort to provide a comprehensive approach to the protection of the nation’s natural and cultural marine treasures.

The National System of Marine Protected Areas is the first formal mechanism for coordinating MPAs across all levels of government. The agencies also announced the nomination process for federal, state, territorial, tribal and local sites to join the National System of Marine Protected Areas.

MPAs are defined areas where natural or cultural resources are given greater protection than the surrounding waters. In the U.S., these areas may span a range of habitats including the open ocean, coastal areas, inter-tidal zones, estuaries, and the Great Lakes.

“Today’s announcement highlights a new focus on working together across jurisdictions to conserve our common ocean heritage,” said Timothy Keeney, deputy assistant secretary for oceans and atmosphere. “Through the national system of MPAs, we will have a more efficient, effective approach to conservation of the nation’s important natural and cultural marine resources.”

Marine Protected Area

Marine Protected Area

The publication of the Framework for the National System of Marine Protected Areas of the United States of America provides a blueprint for building the national system of MPAs. The framework outlines key components of the national system, including overarching national system goals and priority conservation objectives; MPA eligibility criteria; a nomination process for existing MPAs to be included in the national system; and a science-based, public process for identifying conservation gaps in existing protection efforts where new MPAs may be needed.

“This lays the groundwork for a national system of MPAs that will ensure that our ocean’s resources are conserved for future generations,” said Kaush Arha, deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks. “Our nation as a whole will benefit from this comprehensive and representative system that not only enhances conservation and collaboration, but also will identify biologically or culturally important areas that are currently not adequately protected to ensure their long-term viability.”

In addition to public comments, extensive advice on the development of the national system and the Framework came from the 30-member MPA Federal Advisory Committee (MPA FAC) – a group composed of natural and social scientists, state and tribal resource managers, commercial fishermen, anglers, energy and tourism industry representatives, divers, and environmentalists. The MPA FAC was created in 2003 and has been working since then to develop recommendations for designing and implementing the national system.

Mark Hixon, MPA FAC Chair and Professor of Zoology at Oregon State University, notes that “Marine Protected Areas can be a controversial topic, yet the process we announce today is evidence that people with different views and interests can collaborate on the management of our valuable ocean resources.”

MPA FAC Vice-Chair Bob Zales II, owner of Bob Zales Charters in Panama City, Fla., and President of the National Association of Charterboat Operators, added, “The national system provides a science-based and transparent process for identifying areas where new protection efforts may be needed. This is the type of open process that ocean users want to see.”

Presidential Executive Order 13158 of May 2000, calls for a scientifically based, comprehensive national system of MPAs that represents the nation’s diverse marine ecosystems and natural and cultural resources. NOAA’s National Marine Protected Areas Center led its development on behalf of the departments of Commerce and Interior, and in consultation with federal agencies, coastal states and territories, tribes, federal Fishery Management Councils, and the public. The national system does not establish any new legal authorities to designate MPAs, but provides a mechanism for MPAs across all levels of government to work together more effectively to achieve common goals.

The Department of Commerce, through NOAA, and the Department of the Interior will build the national system gradually over time. Priority conservation objectives, identified in the Framework document, will guide the development of the national system and identify existing MPAs to be included, as well as conservation gaps which might be addressed through the establishment of new MPAs.

Today also marks the start of the nomination process for sites to join the national system.  MPAs meeting the eligibility criteria defined in the Framework are invited to nominate themselves through their federal or state managing agency. All nominated sites will be available for public comment.

MPAs that are accepted into the national system will be the focus of cooperative efforts to address common resource management challenges and will be placed on the official List of National System MPAs, which will be available to the public via the Federal Register and on the Marine Protected Areas Web site.

NOAA expects the final Framework document to be published in the Federal Register on Nov. 19. The Framework document is available for download.

NOAA understands and predicts changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and conserves and manages our coastal and marine resources.