UNH Researchers Go Polar

At the end of August, researchers from the University of New Hampshire were in the midst of a six week tour of the Arctic Ocean. One of them, Kevin Jerram, has been on several mapping expeditions before. His main research focus is the detection and characterization of marine gas seeps. The other researcher happened to be a 2015-2016 scholar at the Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping Joint Hydrographic Center. Her name is Evgenia Bazhenova, and she studies marine sediment cores in the central part of the Arctic Ocean.

Myself, Jerram, Bazhenova, and nearly 70 other personnel took six weeks to travel through the Arctic Ocean on the Swedish icebreaker Oden, and they made a special stop in the North Pole.  Below are some of the beautiful pictures from this stop, taken by Jerram himself:

Techie Maps for Ocean Exploration

OceanThink about how many times you have used Google Maps to get around, just in the past year. Google Maps has become one of the most popular ways to find one’s way, as it is available as an app that helps people find their way in real time. Now, think about how a Google Maps approach could be used for Ocean Exploration. In order for safe ocean exploration to become standard, more than 5% of the ocean must be mapped. Therefore, scientists have turned to state-of-the-art technology to map sources of natural danger.

How are the scientists planning to accomplish this feat? They are planning to use advanced sonar on their roaming ships and other unmanned vessels. This sonar will allow the vehicles to pick up any natural ‘abnormality,’ such as foreign creatures, volcanoes, and strange changes in the sea floor. This advanced sonar is known as a multi-beam sonar, which can survey hundreds of meters of the sea floor at a time.

The deadline that scientists have given themselves to map out the entirety of the sea is the year 2030. As a Google Maps approach is being used, Google is offering help to the General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans, which is overseeing the mapping efforts. This project should take precedence above all else.

If we look to history, we can find several instances of disasters and collisions occurring at sea because we do not have adequate knowledge of the layout of the sea floor. There have been underwater mountains struck that have resulted in deaths, for example, and much more. In order for ocean exploration to continue as a lucrative profession, scientists need knowledge about all of the terrain.

As we all know, a great deal of time and money all over the world is spent exploring space, while most of our planet remains unexplored and, therefore, not understood. I am of the firm belief that ocean exploration should be put above all else, including above space travel. When we finally choose to fully focus on exploring and mapping the seafloor, we will generate a further understanding of the planet Earth and what lies in its deepest crevices. This will make travel safer, and will be a huge leap forward for science.

Ocean Floor Should Be Mapped Like Space

OceanIt cannot be contested that research technology has come a long way. We are now able to garner vast amounts of information by running pieces of it through a program, or by manipulating a robot with human-esque hands to explore the depths of the ocean. In the field of space exploration, new technology has been a game changer. Researchers have been able to generate detailed maps of the moon and mars with modern technology. Unfortunately, only 5% of the ocean floor has been mapped with said technology. In order to truly be able to understand the ocean, we must survey it like we would survey, say, the moon.

I believe that, with international commitment and cooperation, we could map the entire ocean floor for around the cost of one mission to mars. The reasons to do this are insurmountable. For example, measurements of the ocean floor would allow us to properly discover its usability. Offshore wind farms would be much more plausible if we knew how each section of the world’s oceans are shaped, and how deep they are. Also, it is a matter of safety. Further understanding the ocean will lead to better predictability of potentially catastrophic weather events, such as storm surges.

Our lack of knowledge about the ocean floor has been an issue in the past. For example, remember the crash of airliner MH370? The Malaysian plane crashed in a part of the ocean that has not been mapped with modern technology. Therefore, the ocean floor in that area had to be mapped out during the search for the airliner, which was months of work that would have been unnecessary had we already known about the size and depths of the ocean.

Of course, obtaining this necessary information about the ocean will be time-consuming and costly. This is the main reason behind our lack of knowledge about much of the ocean floor. However, if simply having more knowledge about the ocean is our goal, there are ways to cut down on costs and researchers necessary to complete the task. Personally, I have suggested releasing a large, unscrewed barge carrying equipment that could explore the ocean for much less than the cost of a conventional mission. It would have a sonar to sweep the ocean floor, and be able to be controlled remotely, meaning that it would never have to enter port. This is the most viable option to explore the ocean floor while addressing the concerns of cost and manpower.

All in all, we need more knowledge of the ocean floor. It is not ideal to be living on a planet that is 70% water without knowing about the water. That basically means we don’t have concrete details about 70% of our planet. I believe if the international community can band together and commit itself to mapping the ocean floor, we can further utilize oceans to help the planet and make them safer overall.

Arctic Scare Increasing

Over the past two or three decades the notion of Global Warming has been a problem regarding melting sea ice and the rapid decline in Polar Bears. Even though these are major concerns in the environment, what is now a real cause for concern is the warm temperature in the Arctic has caused  the thawing of frozen soil. Frozen soil is a lighter term for permafrost, and permafrost emits carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere. This emission can weaken the already beaten up Ozone Layer.

What makes researchers most nervous is, “There may be more than twice as much carbon contained in northern permafrost as there is in the atmosphere itself. That’s a staggering thought.” Even though there is already around 24% of permafrost currently emitted in the atmosphere, the idea of having close to or above 50% is frightening. 

Robert Max, senior scientist at Woods Hole Research Center explained in detail how permafrost works and how environmentally devastating it can be. “As permafrost thaws, microbes start to chow down on the organic material that it contains, and as that material decomposes, it emits either carbon dioxide or methane. Experts think most of the release will take the form of carbon dioxide — the chief greenhouse gas driving global warming — but even a small fraction released as methane can have major consequences.”

The reason for high levels of carbon and methane in the melting Arctic is the amount of dead animals and plants which have decomposed in the frozen Arctic and are beginning to thaw and release all of these gases at once. Even though permafrost is not the greatest concern of the melting Arctic, it still posses a threat which gives concerns to many researchers and scientists.

For more Arctic news and updates, please visit Larry Mayer‘s official website.