NASA Set to Launch Salt-Measuring Satellite Tomorrow

June 9, 2011 by admin  
Filed under Secrets of the Ocean

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 9:23 p.m. to note the new launch time and date.

NASA is gearing up for the launch of its new Aquarius observatory, which will help map out the links between Earth’s climate and the saltiness of its oceans.

Aquarius is slated to blast off Friday (June 10) at 10:20 a.m. EDT (1420 GMT) atop a Delta 2 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. NASA had originally scheduled the launch for June 9, but the space agency announced Wednesday evening that it had pushed the liftoff back a day to work out some software issues with the rocket’s flight program.

The $287 million Aquarius/SAC-D will join 13 other NASA satellite missions devoted to studying Earth from above. But Aquarius will bring something new to the table, researchers say. Its precise measurements should allow unprecedented insights into global patterns of precipitation, evaporation and ocean circulation — key drivers of our planet’s changing climate.

“In order to study these interactions between the global water cycle and the ocean circulation, the piece that we’re missing is ocean salinity,” Gary Lagerloef, Aquarius principal investigator at Earth and Space Research in Seattle, said in a briefing Tuesday. “And that’s the gap that Aquarius is designed to fill.”

[ Video: Sea Salt Changes Ripple Around the World ]

Understanding ocean salinity

On average, the world’s oceans are 3.5 percent salt. That concentration doesn’t vary much; extremes range from 3.2 percent to 3.7 percent at various spots around the globe, Lagerloef said.

However, even such subtle differences can have big impacts. Salinity levels strongly influence ocean temperatures and circulation patterns, which themselves affect the exchange of water and heat between the oceans and Earth’s atmosphere.

So measuring ocean salinity precisely is important to better understand and predict Earth’s climate, researchers said.

“Aquarius, and successor missions based on it, will give us, over time, critical data that will be used by models that study how Earth’s oceans and atmosphere interact, to see trends in climate,” Lagerloef said in a statement. “The advances this mission will enable make this an exciting time in climate research.”

Until now, most ocean salinity measurements have been taken from ships and buoys. Such readings tend to be sparse and patchy; some regions of the globe, including the southern oceans, receive very little attention.

“What the satellite does is give you a systematic measurement over the whole globe,” Lagerloef said. Aquarius is expected to take measurements for at least three years. Its readings will complement and extend the efforts of the European Space Agency’s Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) mission, which launched in November 2009.

Sniffing salt from above

Shortly after liftoff, the Aquarius/SAC-D spacecraft is to settle into orbit 408 miles (657 kilometers) above Earth. Researchers will monitor the satellite’s behavior for 25 days, to make sure everything is working properly. Then they’ll begin to ready Aquarius for measurement-taking.

“It’s worth the wait, to check it out completely,” said Amit Sen, the Aquarius project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

When it’s up and running, Aquarius will use a set of three precise radiometers to measure microwave emissions coming from the ocean surface. Certain characteristics of these emissions are affected by salinity, so analyzing the readings will reveal just how salty the observed patch of ocean is.

Aquarius also boasts a scatterometer, which will use radar to measure waves at the ocean surface. Rough seas can create “noise” that confuses or degrades the salinity signal; the scatterometer will help researchers correct for this impact.

As Aquarius zips around the Earth every 90 minutes, it will take continuous salinity readings in a swath about 250 miles (400 km) wide and create a global salinity map every seven days. It will be able to detect salinity differences as small as 0.02 percent. That’s the equivalent of an eighth of a teaspoon of salt in a gallon of water, researchers say. [ The World's Biggest Oceans and Seas ]

Launch outlook looks good

Assuming NASA fixes the software bug, the outlook for a Friday launch is good. The weather should cooperate for tomorrow’s liftoff; NASA currently pegs the chances of a launch-delaying weather violation at 0 percent.

Aquarius/SAC-D is blasting into space aboard a Delta 2 rocket operated by the firm United Launch Alliance (ULA).

NASA recently  lost two other Earth-observing satellites, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory and the Glory spacecraft, to problems during
launches provided by Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp. However, NASA officials said those failures played no part in using with ULA for the Aquarius/SAC-D launch. The decision to go with the Delta 2 was made eight or nine years ago, Sen said.

Aquarius is one of eight instruments aboard the spacecraft. The other equipment will observe fires and volcanoes, map sea ice and collect a wide range of other environmental data.

The mission is a collaboration between NASA and the Comision Nacional de Actividades Espaciales (CONAE), Argentina’s space agency. The project also involves the participation of Brazil, Canada, France and Italy.

Mike Wall is a senior writer for SPACE.com, a sister site of OurAmazingPlanet. You can folllow him on Twitter: @michaeldwall.Follow
SPACE.com for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

© 2011 OurAmazingPlanet. All rights reserved. More from OurAmazingPlanet.

Article source: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/43339373

Reducing Ocean Mysteries will be the Legacy of the BP Oil Spill

April 19, 2011 by admin  
Filed under Secrets of the Ocean

Newswise — It has been one year since a massive explosion on board BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig spilled millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The disaster claimed 11 lives and became the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Damage was catastrophic along the Gulf Coast states. Oil and tar balls washed ashore, fouling beaches and estuaries. Marine organisms, seen and unseen below the surface, were sickened and killed in droves.

But on this infamous anniversary, some positive news can still be reported. The oil spill caused BP to provide millions of dollars to fund scientific research to gather basic information and determine the long-term impact of the spill. In doing so, scientists throughout Florida are unlocking the mysteries of the deep. Advancing oceanographic research will ultimately be the positive legacy of the spill among the negative ones.

BP provided a $10 million block grant to the Florida Institute of Oceanography (FIO) to fund researchers across the state to conduct projects that analyze the spill’s impact and address baseline parameters relating to the spill. All told, 27 projects were chosen. These projects ranged from measuring the chemical composition and breakdown of oil hydrocarbons and dispersants, to the behavior of the fish, plankton, and various deepwater invertebrates possibly exposed to oil.

Nova Southeastern University researchers are using BP money to collaborate with their colleagues at Florida International University and Florida Atlantic University to study sponge species near the spill site to examine possible clues about how marine invertebrates and microbes cope with chemical pollutants. Sponges are an ancient ancestor of most living animals, having fossils that are over 500 million years old. Modern molecular genetics methods are being applied to reveal the hidden biology of marine sponges and develop them as potential sentinels (bio-indicators) to detect massive or subtle environmental changes. This study will apply sophisticated DNA sequencing and microbial analyses to better understand these marine organisms’ biology.

A better understanding of marine processes and resilience to events like oil spills will be gained through unbiased scientific research. Other benefits will be developing safer ways to drill and develop natural resources, new protocols to study and protect the biological diversity of marine life living near the top and bottom of the ocean, and a greater realization for what we still do not know about the vast oceans. Moreover, there may be a greater appreciation for the bountiful products, nutrition and employment that the oceans provide society in general. All of these are positive results from the Deepwater Horizon tragedy.

The FIO research projects should be seen as one way to decrease marine mysteries, illuminating the depths of our ignorance by gaining knowledge of dark marine habitats and shy marine organisms that live in our oceans. More research into the planet’s largest natural habitat, the ocean, is needed. Unfortunately, funding limitations and a deep economic recession have adversely affected NOAA’s (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) ability to fund researchers and academic institutions like NSU that conduct oceanographic research.

As tragic as the oil spill was, it did present us more funding opportunities from private enterprise. Private funding can fill in for decreased public support. The BP oil spill caused monumental environmental damage, but indirectly helped advance marine research. The more knowledge we gain about the oceans, the more we can help to protect them for future generations to enjoy.

Jose Lopez, Ph.D., is an associate professor at NSU’s Oceanographic Center, who is using a BP block grant to measure the oil spill’s impact on marine sponge and symbiotic microbial communities.

Article source: http://www.newswise.com/articles/reducing-ocean-mysteries-will-be-legacy-of-the-bp-oil-spill

Tidal energy the way forward, says expert

December 25, 2010 by admin  
Filed under Secrets of the Ocean

Karachi

The creek network near Karachi has the potential to generate 8,000 megawatts (MW) of tidal energy at very cheap rates, which would be enough to end the severe power crisis the city of 18 million is facing, Dr Naseem A Khan, vice chancellor Hamdard University and former secretary Alternate Energy Board, told The News on Friday.

The Karachi Electric Supply Corporation (KESC) has an installed capacity of 1,700 MW and faces a shortfall of 500 MW, which it takes from the Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda), according to the vice chancellor.

The tidal energy generated from the creek network could become the base load and would be available for eight hours a day, he said.

Dr Khan, who has a PhD in engineering and is also an author, suggested that initially one should focus on data collection and involve local universities in that process. He said the second step must be the acquisition of the required technology, following which a feasibility report should be made.

Dr Khan believed that the project should be run by a public-private partnership. He said the project would cost $150 million and take time to become a reality, but it once does the people of Karachi would finally get rid of loadshedding.

Dr Khan said when he was secretary he made an elaborate proposal to the Alternate Energy Board. However, the government was reluctant to invest in the project despite the fact that a Turkish firm, Zorlu, was taking a keen interest in it.

He agreed that the oil lobby was so well entrenched in Pakistan that proposals for alternate energy were ignored. We have great potential for alternate energy and we also have enough human resources, but we lack initiative.

A study conducted by the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) some 23 years ago suggested that the complex creeks network in the Indus Deltaic region, extending over an area of 170 kilometres along the 990-km coastline that Pakistan shares with the Arabian Sea, could generate 900 MW of affordable energy, which would be adequate to meet the power requirements of Karachi.

A team of scientists, led by Dr GS Quraishee, a former director general of NIO, conducted the two-year study but it was ignored by the countrys bureaucracy, apparently because the latter allegedly had a vested interest in producing energy through oil imports and enjoying huge kickbacks.

Tapping renewable energy from the ocean was becoming increasingly important, and one reason was that ocean energies were renewable and could not deplete, the study said. The other reason was that, unlike solar or wind power, which manifests itself in kilowatts, ocean energies were being debated and planned, in some cases even executed, in terms of megawatts. A third factor in its favour was the environment.

According to the NIO study entitled Feasibility studies for the extraction of energy from current and haliohydro gravity along Pakistan coast, water flows with high velocity during floods and ebb tides, which was a very favourable requirement for the extraction of energy from the currents. The bays and lagoons along Makran coast west of Karachi have narrow entrances and enclose large sea areas. The salinities in these semi-enclosed areas were higher than the open sea due to the high rate of evaporation. If the narrow entrances of these bays and lagoons were closed artificially, the evaporation will create hydraulic head with higher elevation of water level on the seaside. This head can be utilised for obtaining power. The power resources of the creeks system were great assets for future energy supply in the region. The serious power shortage which the industry was facing at Karachi can be adequately met from these resources, the study said.

Investigations carried out in all the main creeks of Indus Delta, namely Korangi Creek, Phitti Creek, Chan Waddo Creek, Khuddi Creek, Khai Creek, Paitiani Creek, Dabbo Creek, Bhuri Creek, Hajamaro Creek, Khobar Creek, Qalandri Creek, Kahr Creek, Bachiar Creek, Wari Creek and Kajhar Creek showed that, about 900MW can be produced.

In the emerging scenario when developed countries were vying to tap into environment-friendly options of tidal energy, one wonders why it was not was never considered as an option in Pakistan.

Article source: http://www.thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=22237&Cat=4

Plumbing the oceans could bring limitless clean energy

November 27, 2008 by admin  
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

click here to read the rest of the article… 

Secrets of the Ocean

November 27, 2008 by admin  
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/

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