Categories
GeekWire

Explorers map the Everest of shipwrecks

Andrea Doria bow
The heavily encrusted bow of the Andrea Doria is dimly visible in this image captured from OceanGate’s Cyclops 1 submersible. (Credit: OceanGate)

A crew of undersea explorers from Everett, Wash., has gotten the best look in decades at the Andrea Doria, an Italian ocean liner that sank 60 years ago off Nantucket.

The hard-to-reach shipwreck has been called the “Mount Everest of scuba diving.” But this Everest is crumbling more quickly than expected, the OceanGate crew reported.

OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush told reporters at a Monday news conference in Boston that the ship looks “dramatically different” from images captured during previous dives. More than a dozen sonar images reveal that a significant portion of the ship’s hull has decayed, 240 feet beneath the Alantic Ocean’s surface. A large section of the bow appears to have broken off.

“Imagine it as a collapsing cave,” the Boston Globe quoted Rush as saying. “Once the cave loses its basic structure, it deteriorates very quickly.”

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Network shares undersea wonders online

Image: El Gordo
Sensors that are part of the Cabled Array monitor the El Gordo hydrothermal vent at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean off the Oregon coast. (Credit: NSF / OOI / UW / ISS; V15)

The National Science Foundation and its partners, including the University of Washington, are showing off the real-time data streams from the $386 million Ocean Observatories Initiative after more than a decade of planning and years of controversy.

Imagery and readings from the initiative’s network of undersea platforms and sensors have been flowing over the Internet for months, and the data flow is still on the increase. But the NSF is highlighting the project’s progress this week to celebrate World Oceans Day on June 8.

“The OOI is placing as much ocean data online as possible, and making it available in real time,” Roger Wakimoto, the NSF’s assistant director for geosciences, said in a news release. “In addition to scientific discovery, we hope to spark the public’s interest in the sea, and contribute to the safety of those who make their living on the water or vacation along the coast.”

The OOI Data Portal provides free access to the raw data from more than 830 instruments, spread across 83 platforms in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The offerings include seismic data, temperature readings, chemical measurements – and regularly scheduled real-time HD video feeds from the Mushroom, a 14-foot-tall, active hydrothermal vent located 250 miles off the Oregon Coast on Axial Seamount.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Whale sanctuary plan rides wave of support

Image: Orcas
Orcas swim in and around Puget Sound with the Seattle skyline in the background. (Credit: NOAA)

An effort to create the world’s first sanctuary set aside for rehabilitating whales and dolphins is moving ahead, but now the hard part begins.

Today marked the official launch of the Whale Sanctuary Project, a non-profit organization that aims to identify and build a refuge for whales, porpoises and dolphins that have been retired from entertainment facilities or rescued from injury or sickness in the wild.

Munchkin Inc., a baby-product company headquartered in California, put up an initial $200,000 contribution to begin looking at potential sites for a seaside sanctuary and draw up a strategic plan for the operation’s early phase. Another $1 million was pledged to complete the sanctuary once the site is selected.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

BluHaptics wins grant for subsea robot system

Image: BluHaptics control system
BluHaptics’ chief technology officer, Fredrik Ryden, controls a robotic arm using a haptic pen and an Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset. (Credit: BluHaptics)

BluHaptics has received a $747,197 grant from the National Science Foundation to work on a virtual-reality robotic control system that could transform underwater operations as much as drones have transformed aerial operations.

The project, which includes a subcontract to the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Laboratory, will use 3-D data fusion and machine learning to develop safer, more intuitive ways to pilot remotely operated vehicles, or ROVs. Such vehlcles can capture imagery and manipulate objects miles beneath the sea surface.

“Our technology will make subsea and underwater operations safer,” BluHaptics’ chief technology officer, Fredrik Ryden, said today in a blog posting announcing the NSF’s Phase II Small Business Innovative Research grant. “Divers can be replaced in hazardous situations by telerobots with improved control based on our products. The rate of untoward incidents, and their severity, will be mitigated for a large range of subsea activities.”

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Starfish die-off traced to virus plus warmer seas

Image: Sick Starfish
Sea star wasting disease can cause starfish to turn white, lose their limbs and disintegrate in a matter of days. (Credit: Kevin Lafferty / USGS)

The mass die-off of starfish off the West Coast is becoming a little less mysterious: Scientists say the starfish, also known as sea stars, fell prey to a one-two punch of virus infection plus unusually warm sea water.

The die-off started in 2013, reached a peak in 2014 and continued last year. Infected sea stars developed lesions that gradually dissolved the creatures from the outside, causing the arms to break away and leaving only whitened piles of starfish goop.

The outbreak has virtually wiped out ochre stars in the coastal waters of Puget Sound, the San Juan Islands and the Olympic Peninsula. More than 20 other species have suffered from Mexico all the way north to Alaska.

In a study published Feb. 15 by the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, scientists concentrated on what happened to the ochre stars. They already knew that the sea star wasting disease was linked to a densovirus – a pathogen that the scientists say apparently caused more limited outbreaks of the disease decades earlier. But what made the virus more virulent this time?

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

$7 million contest boosts ocean discovery

Image: Submersible
An artist’s conception shows a submersible vehicle mapping the ocean depths. (Credit: XPRIZE)

The latest high-tech competition from XPRIZE is offering $7 million to promote new ways to map our planet’s final frontier: the depths of the ocean.

“Our oceans cover two-thirds of our planet’s surface and are a crucial global source of food, energy, economic security, and even the air we breathe, yet 95 percent of the deep sea remains a mystery to us,” Peter Diamandis, XPRIZE chairman and CEO, said in a news release. “In fact, we have better maps of the surface of Mars than we do of our own seafloor.”

The Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE is meant to accelerate innovation in deep-sea mapping. Diamandis unveiled the three-year competition today during the American Geophysical Society’s fall meeting in San Francisco. He was joined on stage by representatives of the contest’s sponsors, Shell and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The teams that enter the contest will have to complete a series of tasks, including making a map of the seafloor, producing high-resolution images of a specific object, and identifying archaeological, biological or geological features. The technologies have to work at depths of up to 4,000 meters (2.5 miles).

Get the full story on GeekWire.