Marine Technology Reporter Blogs

Subsea Mountains in the South Atlantic-Brazilian Expedition uncovers striking biodiversity at the Rio Grande rise

June 16, 2013

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The Rio Grande rise is located around 1,000 km from the Brazilian coast off the southern state of Rio Grande. This submerged mountain chain has its highest point located 580 meters below the surface of the ocean in a region where the mean depth is around 4,000 meters. The Rio Grande rise is the size of the Brazilian state of Bahia and is packed with a wide variety of marine life, many of which are unknown to scientists. During the expedition researchers noticed that there was a greater number of whales and seabirds close to the rise than in other offshore areas. The project´s official name is Mar-eco Atlântico Sul, and can be considered as a sea life census.

Cruise Ships in the News: How Safe is Your Vacation?

January 23, 2012

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In light of the recent grounding of the cruise liner Costa Concordia, many people are pondering that next cruise ship vacation. It seems the problem may not only be with the Captain, but also with ill prepared crew. According to the CLIA, “U.S. Coast Guard inspections include conducting plan reviews of each cruise ship before construction is even started, inspecting the ship at the ship yard during construction, conducting a comprehensive initial Control Verification Examination upon delivery, and annually conducting a Certificate of Compliance examination (with quarterly re-inspections) for compliance with both federal and international regulations. This oversight system means, for example, if the U.S.

More Investments Needed Form Offshore Inspections in Brazil

June 21, 2013

With the recent Chevron/Frade spill, which has been ongoing for over 25 days, new light was shed on the shortcomings of ANP (The national O&G regulator). To begin with the regulator has only spent around $2.5 million of its allotted $8 million budget for inspection of oil and gas E&P in Brazil. As stated by O Globo, Brazil’s leading newspaper, that amount is about what Petrobras spends yearly in coffee for its employees. Only 3% of the agencies total budged is destined for O&G inspections. All that will most likely change in the near future, hopefully. For this to change there needs to be a change of policy in the Brazilian government regarding the importance of O&G activities inspections.

LNG: Factors and Fears

January 18, 2012

We have all heard the debate that rages on in the race to look at alternative fuels. Proponents of natural gas have weighed in on the discussion. Natural gas, which is largely methane burns more cleanly than other fossil fuels and is easily transported via pipelines and tankers. It can be used in homes in a variety of ways including heating and running appliances. It runs cleaner than gasoline and therefore can also be used in vehicles. It is relatively abundant and easy to distribute. Those concerned with the use of natural gas as a viable alternative point out that LNG is created by treating natural gas, (giving it a greater concentration of methane), and then cooling it into liquid form.

Off Shore Operations Meets Space Age Technology

January 14, 2012

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Space technology and off shore operations may not be as far apart as one would think. Both environments do have some common factors such as remote locations and extreme environments. Companies are always increasing technological advances in order to make these environments safer and easier to work in. There have been a number of advancements in space age technology that could be making their way to the off shore industry. Through research and development space-based materials and technologies could benefit offshore operations making them more efficient and safer. Space age materials and techniques that withstand the extreme environment in space could be used to with stand deep-sea ocean pressures and provide corrosion resistant metals.

Scientists Study Chemical Data from Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

January 12, 2012

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A recent study published in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, comprising a collection of data from the Deepwater Horizon Spill in the Gulf of Mexico tells a compelling story. The lead author on the study “Chemical data quantify Deepwater Horizon hydrocarbon flow rate and environmental distribution,” Thomas Ryerson, a NOAA research chemist, brought together 14 scientists from varying backgrounds and organizations. The new study provides scientists with an overview of oil and gas distribution from the spill. The study shows where the oil and gas were released and how those compounds were broken down and released into the environment.

Mapping the Oceans Floor

January 7, 2012

Mapping the ocean floor is important to scientists understanding of bottom topography. With a good understanding of the bathymetry in a given area researchers can focus their time and energy on the myriad of tasks at hand during ocean exploration. GPS or Global Positioning Systems collect data that are then combined with the latest bathymetric information collected using various technologies. Those technologies include ROV and submersible data, shipboard swath mapping, side scan sonar, and seismic reflection. Multibeam sonar is also currently used featuring hundreds of narrow adjacent beams arranged in a fanlike pattern that provides high angular resolution and accuracy.

Oil Rigs as Artificial Reefs

January 5, 2012

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Offshore Oil platforms at some point reach an end in their production lives and are generally decommissioned. This is a costly operation costing the operators between 4 and 10 million dollars. The Department of the Interior Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) issued new decommissioning regulations in 2010. The regulation (NTL 2010-G05) requires wells that have not been used for the last five years to be to be permanently abandoned, temporarily abandoned, or zonally isolated within 3 years after Oct. 15, 2010. If wells are zonally isolated, operators have 2 additional years to permanently or temporarily abandon the wellhead. Plus, platforms and supporting infrastructure that has been idle for five or more years must be removed within 5 years as of the Oct.

Ocean Observation Systems

December 30, 2011

Ocean observation systems are platforms designed to study ocean processes in real time. They return continuous data to researchers back on shore. Similar to other undersea tools they can be equipped with various tools and systems including computer command and storage capability, power supplies, sensors, Internet connections and communication systems. There are currently a number of ocean observatory platforms carrying out varied studies around the world. The Santa Cruz Ocean Observatory Platform also known as SCOOP out of UC Santa Cruz was designed to detect and investigate harmful algal blooms (HABs) and red tides. It also serves as a platform where instrumentation can be tested.

Scientists Cast Eyes to the Sea

December 30, 2011

Underwater biotechnology is a fast growing field. Scientists are looking to deep-water marine habitats that are relatively untapped resources. Active research programs are currently working in two areas of marine biotechnology with the use of marine microorganisms and the cultivation of invertebrates and their cells under laboratory conditions. With more than 80 percent of the Earth’s living organisms being found only in aquatic ecosystems this area of study shows significant promise. Specimens are collected using submersibles that have unique capabilities for collecting fragile specimens from the ocean floor. The submersibles allow the scientists to collect samples from sites including deep fore reefs, vertical walls, and boulder zones that are not accessible using trawls or dredges.

Deep Sea Mining: The New Frontier

December 26, 2011

Prospecting for metals beneath the oceans surface is not entirely new. During the 1960’s and 70’s the ocean floor mining of manganese nodules was a popular practice, but there is now a new branch of marine mining in deep-sea volcanic areas that are seeing a rise in interest. As technology changes and evolves allowing us to reach, work, and harvest in the world’s deepest parts of the ocean, mining companies are now turning their attention to seafloor massive sulphides (SMS), rocky ore deposits containing copper and gold. There are several companies using ROV technology that are at the forefront of deep sea mining including Neptune Minerals an Australian based company, and Nautilus Minerals based in Canada.

Study Examines DCS Avoidance in Diving Mammals

December 22, 2011

A new study at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute sheds light on the management of decompression stress in diving mammals. Most people, divers and non-divers alike know or have at least heard of “the bends”. The pressure related ailment that all divers need to contend with. Dive plans are carefully thought out to avoid this issue entirely. If a diver dives to a deeper depth and does not allow sufficient “off gassing” time between dives or ascends at a rate greater than the suggested 60 feet per minute, decompression sickness can be the result. There are also many contributing factors to DCS in humans, such as age, weight and alcohol consumption among others. But how do marine mammals manage to avoid DCS?

HROV Nereus Extends Deep Sea Exploration

December 16, 2011

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The Hybrid Undersea vehicle known as Neurus, named after the mythical deity with a fish tail and man’s torso took WHOI nine years to design and build. In 2009 Nereus dove to the deepest abyss, the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench, a dive to 36,000 feet with ambient pressures reaching over 1,000 times that of surface pressure. The hybrid vehicle know as an HROV can work as a free swimming vehicle or may be tethered to the ship by cable, making wide area ocean surveys and close up sampling and investigation of the sea floor possible. In its autonomous mode the vehicle is able to fly pre-programmed missions over the ocean floor to gather remote data. “Much of the ocean’s depth remains unexplored.

U.S. Falls Behind in Ice-Breaker Vessel Production

December 16, 2011

The United States has fallen behind in providing viable icebreaker vessels for polar research. It is no longer the case that the majority of logistically challenging polar research is done on board American vessels. Research in ice- covered waters requires specialized infrastructure, logistics and equipment to assure scientific data is being collected in an effective and safe manner. Although scientists have been boarding icebreakers and conducting research in these environments, for a number of years now, many questions still go unanswered. Questions regarding global environmental change and its effects on high latitude ecosystems are at the forefront of scientific studies in the polar environment.

Virgin Oceanic Designs New One Person Submarine

December 8, 2011

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Virgin Oceanic’s new submarine will carry one crewmember, weighing in at 8,000 lbs. the sub is designed to dive to depths of 37,000 feet (7 miles), while cruising at between 2.2 and 3 knots. It can descend or ascend at a rate of 350 feet per minute, and provides life support for up to 24 hours. It is made with the latest in composite technology and a completely unique flying wing to literally fly within the ocean environment. Adventurer Steve Fossett had intended to complete the first solo dive to the depths of the Mariana Trench. Sir Richard’s, a close friend and fellow explorer of Fossett commissioned the sub in an effort to finish what Fossett set out to accomplish. The vehicle is a unique design constructed from carbon fiber and titanium.

Promise and Challenges of Open-Ocean Aquaculture

December 2, 2011

With demand for seafood tripling by 2025 according to the Department of Commerce, and fishing stock exploited or overly exploited in some species, an eye is turning toward open-ocean aquaculture. Open-ocean aquaculture involves the rearing of marine organisms in exposed areas beyond coastal influence. Due to open-ocean currents, winds and wave action, excess feed and waste can be naturally removed maintaining water quality. And offshore farming does not conflict with recreational use. Some researchers are concerned with the ecological and environmental impact including the impacts on existing wild populations. Natural stocks could be threatened by disease outbreaks that are commonly associated with high-density fish farms.

USCGC Healy: Newest Addition to Polar Fleet

November 30, 2011

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The Coast Guard Cutter HEALY is United States' newest and most technologically advanced polar icebreaker. It was constructed as a result of an Interagency Polar Icebreaker study. The Ship is named in commemoration of Captain Michael A. Healy, a well know figure in Alaskan Arctic history. He was also commander of U.S. Revenue Cutters the Bear and Corwin in the late 1800’s. The Healy was designed as a high-latitude research vessel and has a wide variety of capabilities. With a length of 420 feet, and a beam of 82 feet it has a displacement of more than 16,000 tons. The icebreaker is designed to cut through ice up to 4.5 feet thick, and can do this at speed of up to 3 knots. Interest in research in the Atlantic Arctic Ocean Basin is at an all time high.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute to Extend Alvin’s Diving Capacity

November 23, 2011

In the next generation of Alvin, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute plans to design a submersible that can reach depths beyond the present limit of 4,500 meters. Dan Fonari, a scientist that studies deep-sea volcanoes, and has been on more than 100 Alvin dives said, “ Right now Alvin allows us to see 63 percent of the ocean, we want to see 98 percent.” That would require descending to depths in excess of 4 miles. The current proposal is for a next generation submersible that could go deeper and stay down longer with more room and better viewing ports. In 2004 the National Science Foundation awarded WHOI $22.91 million dollars. WHOI manages the National Deep Submergence Facility…

Chevron’s Frade Spill Fiasco

June 16, 2013

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The deep water oil spill off the coast of Rio de Janeiro at the Frade field in the Campos Basin, is definitely being contained. The amount of oil spilling from the fracture on the seafloor has greatly diminished but there is still much cause for worry. To begin with the oil slick will most likely hit some of the coast in the form of tar balls, as happened at the Deepwater Horizon tragedy at the GOM. What has exasperated the population and authorities alike is the lack of truthfulness from Chevron, which has withheld information, edited images of the spill in order to try to decrease its significance, simply lied about the number of vessels used in the cleanup efforts and disrespected cleanup procedures by throwing sand on the spilled oil instead of effectively skimming out of the water.

Using AUV Technology Beneath the Ice

November 22, 2011

Studies using Autonomous Underwater Vehicles to navigate relative position to icebergs, as well as mapping the underside of ice flows is not new, but it does have its challenges. AUVs have been operating under the ice for a number of years now. Because icebergs translate and rotate through inertial space, standard vehicle navigation methods are unable to provide iceberg-relative position estimates. AUVs currently use a combination of measurements including dead-reckoning, and acoustic transponder networks, or velocity measurements from a Doppler velocity logger for navigation and control. Coastal sea-ice conditions can change rapidly, and are complex.
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