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September 2013 Issue

Thermal Imaging System Helps Protect Whales
Physicists at the Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research tested a thermal imaging system aboard the research vessel Polarstern. The system automatically detects large whales by their spouts, day or night from distances up to 5 kilometers. As the scientists reported in a study published in PLOS ONE, the system was able to detect more whales than researchers using binoculars.

The thermal imaging camera and accompanying analysis software could help protect these marine mammals from intense underwater noise.

Pile driving during construction of wind farms and the use of airguns when searching for oil and gas result in noise pollution. To protect marine mammals in the vicinity of these activities, regulatory authorities have requested mitigation measures. One of these measures requires airguns to be switched off and pile driving to be stopped when whales approach the respective sound source too closely.

Because it is difficult to spot whales near vessels or marine platforms, a thermal imaging camera has been developed that detects differences in temperature of less than a hundredth of a degree Celsius. The whale spout, which in subpolar and polar regions is significantly warmer than the sea surface, appears as light gray or white fountains on the images. Whenever an animal is detected by the system, appropriate safety measures are able to be implemented.


Parks Canada Continues Search For Lost Franklin Ships
Leona Aglukkaq, Canadaís Environment Minister, announced that Parks Canada Underwater Archaeologists will return to the Arctic to continue an expedition to search for the lost vessels HMS Erebus and HMS Terror.

For almost six weeks—the longest continuous amount of time on the water to date—Parks Canada, along with several partners, will search for the shipwrecks during the fifth season of the effort.

The survey team will conduct the underwater search from aboard the Arctic Research Foundationís research vessel Martin Bergmann and will be supported by the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Sir Wilfrid Laurier. The teamís traditional side scan sonar surveying method will be boosted this year with the addition of a military-grade, side scan sonar and a new AUV and ROV.

The data acquired will be shared among partnering organizations, which contributes to safe navigation and environmental knowledge of the Canadian Arctic.


Team to Study Hot Spots in Arctic Waters
The Hanna Shoal ecosystem in the Chukchi Sea northwest of Alaska contains abundant marine life, in part because of the warm Bering Sea water that flows north during the summer. The richness of that ecosystem is the subject of a Bureau of Ocean Energy Management-sponsored science expedition.

Departing from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, a team of more than 40 scientists from federal and state agencies, universities, oceanographic research institutions and two public school districts have begun the second field season for the study.

Researchers are gathering specimens and data about the Hanna Shoal ecosystem over a two-week period. Scientists will be sampling marine life, from the microscopic zooplankton swimming in the water column to larger species such as brittle stars, crabs and soft corals. Using GPS devices, they will document observed locations of seabirds and marine mammals. Water will be analyzed for contaminants, chlorophyll, oxygen levels and other traits.

The excursion is one of more than 60 ongoing environmental studies associated with anticipating, avoiding or limiting potential impacts from oil and gas exploration and development in the Alaska Outer Continental Shelf.


Mine Recovery Project Underway
A project has been launched that will build on Cornwall, Englandís mining heritage with a proposal to recover tin deposits from the waters off of the northern coast of Cornwall.

Earlier this year, the 24-meter survey vessel, MV FlatHolm, carried out extensive vibrocore sampling of the seabed in three specified areas off the coast between Perranporth and St. Ives. The recovered cores will be used to assess the extent and quality of the tin deposits lying within the seabed sediments.

The site was predominantly compact sands overlying bedrock in places with coarse gravel, cobbles and subangular granite pieces.

The core samples are being studied by ecologists, geologists and metallurgists, as well as specialist consultants to provide insights into the flora, fauna and marine life of the proposed mining site.

The information will feed into studies to establish baseline conditions before preparation of environmental impact assessment reports.


Marine Snailís Future in Question
A small snail that makes its home in the waters off of Southern California and Mexico, the white abalone, may no longer be able to thrive in the wild, according to a study funded in part by California Sea Grant.

The white abalone was the first marine invertebrate to receive protection from the Endangered Species Act. This species may no longer be able to reproduce in its natural habitat.

A study in 2012 predicted that the population of white abalone in Southern California would drop by half every five years.

Using radioactive carbon, researchers from NOAA Fisheries Pacific Island Fisheries Science Center calculated the ages of five white abalone shells. They mapped the snailsí lifespan at about 30 years, a shorter expectancy than the previous 35 to 40 years.

With many of the snails nearing the end of their lifespan, scientists are looking to captive breeding to bring back the species. Researchers at the University of California, Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory have been able to raise white abalone offspring past their first birthday, a first for the snails in captivity.

The facility has more than 100 white abalone snails, and scientists hope to work toward recovering the species in the coming years.


2014:  JAN | FEB | MARCH | APRIL | MAY | JUNE | JULY
2013:  JAN | FEB | MARCH | APRIL | MAY | JUNE | JULY | AUG | SEPT | OCT | NOV | DEC

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