Bremeverhaven, Jan 24 (AP/UNB) — Scientists prepared Thursday to embark on an unprecedented, years-long mission to explore the Indian Ocean and document changes taking place beneath the waves that could affect billions of people in the surrounding region over the coming decades.
The ambitious expedition will delve into one of the last major unexplored frontiers on the planet, a vast body of water that's already feeling the effects of global warming. Understanding the Indian Ocean's ecosystem is important not just for the species that live in it, but also for an estimated 2.5 billion people at home in the region — from East Africa, the Arabian peninsula, South and Southeast Asia.
The Nekton Mission, supported by over 40 organizations, will conduct further dives in other parts of the Indian Ocean over three years. The research will contribute to a summit on the state of the Indian Ocean planned for late 2021.
The Ocean Zephyr is preparing to leave Bremerhaven, Germany, on the first leg of trip. Researchers will spend seven weeks surveying underwater life, map the sea floor and drop sensors to depths of up to 2,000 meters (6,560 feet) in the seas around the Seychelles.
Little is known about the watery world below depths of 30 meters (100 feet), which scientists from Britain and the Seychelles will be exploring with two crewed submarines and a remotely operated submersible in March and April.
Ronny Jumeau, the Seychelles' ambassador to the United Nations, said such research is vital to helping the island nation understand its vast ocean territory.
While the country's 115 islands together add up to just 455 square kilometers (176 sq. miles) of land — about the same as San Antonio, Texas — its exclusive economic zone stretches to 1.4 million square kilometers (540 million square miles) of sea, an area almost the size of Alaska.
Jumeau said the Seychelles aims to become a leader in the development of a "blue economy" that draws on the resources of the ocean. The archipelago relies on fishing and tourism, but has lately also been exploring the possibility of extracting oil and gas from beneath the sea floor.
"Key to this is knowing not only what you have in the ocean around you, but where it is and what is its value," he said. "It is only when you know this that you can properly decide what to exploit and what to protect and leave untouched."
"Research expeditions such as the Nekton Mission are therefore vital to help us fill those gaps and better know our ocean space and marine resources to make wise decisions in planning the future of our blue economy," Jumeau added.
The island nation of fewer than 100,000 people is already feeling the effects of climate change, with rising water temperatures bleaching its coral reefs.
"Our ocean is undergoing rapid ecological transformation by human activities," said Callum Roberts, a marine conservation biologist at the University of York, England, who is a trustee of the mission.
"Seychelles are a critical beacon and bellwether for marine conservation in the Indian Ocean and globally," he said.
The mission's principal scientist, Lucy Woodall of Oxford University, said the researchers expect to discover dozens of new species, from corals and sponges to larger creatures like types of dog-sharks.
The Associated Press is accompanying the expedition and will provide live underwater video from the dives, using new optical transmission technology to send footage from the submarines to the ship and from there, by satellite, to the world.
Cape Canaveral, Jan 24 (AP/UNB) — Astronomers managed to capture the moment of an impact during this week's eclipsed moon.
Spanish astrophysicist Jose Maria Madiedo of the University of Huelva said Wednesday it appears a rock from a comet slammed into the moon during the total lunar eclipse late Sunday and early Monday. The strike was seen by telescopes in Spain and elsewhere as a bright flash.
Madiedo said it's the first impact flash ever seen during a lunar eclipse, although such crater-forming impacts are common.
The object hit at an estimated 10 miles (17 kilometers) per second, and was 22 pounds (10 kilograms) and 12 inches (30 centimeters) across, according to Madiedo.
Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles also recorded the impact during its livestream of the eclipse. A second flash was seen a minute after the first by some observers, said Anthony Cook, an astronomical observer at Griffith.
"It was in the brightest part of the moon's image," Cook said of the second suspected strike, "and there might not be enough contrast for the flash to be visible in our video."
Madiedo said lunar impact monitoring generally is conducted five days before and after a new moon, when flashes can be easily observed. To take advantage of the three-plus-hour eclipse, he set up four extra telescopes in addition to the four he operates at the observatory in Seville. "I did not want to miss any potential impact event," he explained in an email.
"I could not sleep for almost two days, setting up and testing the extra instruments, and performing the observation during the night of Jan. 21," he wrote. "I was really exhausted when the eclipse was over."
Then computer software alerted him to the impact.
"I jumped out of the chair I was sitting on. I am really happy, because I think that the effort was rewarded," he said.
Moon monitoring can help scientists better predict the rate of impacts, not just at the moon but on Earth, Madiedo noted. He helps run the Moon Impacts Detection and Analysis System, or MIDAS , in Spain.
Sydney, Jan 22 (Xinhua/UNB) -- An extensive study into the health of Australia's Great Barrier Reef is underway this month, with a 25-day data collecting journey canvassing bleach affected parts of the reef not observed since 2016.
The Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) revealed details of the mission on Monday, with the organization's largest research vessel carrying a team of 18 specialists to survey the damage done by recent coral bleaching events, as well as collecting general data about marine life.
AIMS senior research scientist Dr Line Bay, who was on board for the first half of the trip, told Xinhua that coral reefs are particularly sensitive to the effects of global warming, making it vitally important to monitor them.
"We hadn't been to that part of the reef since before the bleaching so we went back to resurvey these reefs to look at the health and condition of both the coral communities, but also fish populations and sharks," Bay said.
Coral bleaching occurs when coral reefs are exposed to higher than usual water temperatures and prolonged periods of direct sunlight.
The Great Barrier Reef experienced two significant bleaching events in 2016 and 2017, the consequences of which were only just starting to be understood.
Bay's team made the most of the 34.9-meter modern research vessel, Solanda, using the boat's onboard wet lab to conduct heat stress tests on corals which had survived bleaching events.
While the study is still underway, Bay is tentatively optimistic about her findings so far, saying that not only did she see low numbers of a notorious species of starfish which damages the reef, but also seeing some resilience in the reef itself.
"What we could see is that there was variation among species, so not all coral species responded in the same way. We expected to find that," Bay said.
"However, we could also see that we're getting variation among individuals. And we take that as being a positive sign because if there's some individuals that do better than others then there's the potential for adaptation."
Coral reefs are widely recognized as being highly sensitive to anthropogenic warming, which considering the vital part they play in supporting life both above and below the water, Bay said is concerning for all.
"I think that there's no doubt that we need action on climate change, it's a problem we have to tackle on a global level," she said.
The voyage departed Cooktown, a town in northeastern Australia, on Jan. 4 and will conclude its journey on Jan. 29.
Cape Canaveral, Jan 21(AP/UNB) — The only total lunar eclipse this year and next came with a supermoon bonus.
On Sunday night, the moon, Earth and sun lined up to create the eclipse, which was visible throughout North and South America, where skies were clear. There won't be another until the year 2021.
It was also the year's first supermoon, when a full moon appears a little bigger and brighter thanks to its slightly closer position.
The entire eclipse took more than three hours. Totality — when the moon's completely bathed in Earth's shadow — lasted an hour. During a total lunar eclipse, the eclipsed, or blood, moon turns red from sunlight scattering off Earth's atmosphere.
In addition to the Americas, the entire lunar extravaganza could be observed, weather permitting, all the way across the Atlantic to parts of Europe.
Hawthorne, Jan 17 (AP/UNB) — SpaceX said Wednesday that it will build test versions of its Mars spaceship in south Texas instead of the Port of Los Angeles in another blow to the local economy that comes days after the company announced massive layoffs.
The decision was made to streamline operations, the Hawthorne, California-based company said in a statement.
SpaceX won approval last year to lease 19 acres at the port's Terminal Island. It planned to erect a new facility to do work on the interplanetary spacecraft, now called Starship, and its launch vehicle, the Super Heavy, which would be the largest rocket ever built.
The port facility would have allowed the giant craft to be barged or shipped to launch sites. It could have added about 700 jobs to the area.
SpaceX now won't proceed with that option.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk tweeted that development of Starship will continue in Hawthorne but prototypes will be built in south Texas. The company has a launch facility in Boca Chica near Brownsville, where one prototype of the spacecraft already has been assembled.
"We are building the Starship prototypes locally at our launch site in Texas, as their size makes them very difficult to transport," Musk said.
SpaceX will continue using its existing port facilities to recover its reusable Falcon rockets and Dragon spacecraft, which arrive by water.
Southern California officials have talked about luring high-tech operations to boost the waterfront and create a "Silicon Harbor."
"While we are disappointed that SpaceX will not be expanding their operations at the Port of Los Angeles, we are pleased that they will continue their recovery operations here," port spokesman Phillip Sanfield said. "Our ongoing work with SpaceX and other advanced technology companies is important to our efforts to advance the port through innovation and new technologies."
Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino said he felt crushed by the decision, but "I feel confident that other innovators will see the huge value they get in San Pedro."
Last Friday, SpaceX announced it would lay off 10 percent of its roughly 6,000 workers, most of them at its Hawthorne headquarters. The company said it needs to become leaner to accomplish ambitious and costly projects such as the Starship and Starlink, which would create a constellation of satellites to provide space-based broadband internet service.
Development costs for those two projects have been estimated at up to $10 billion each.