Robots And Right Whales

After using cutting-edge technology (for the time) to hunt and slaughter North Atlantic right whales to the brink of extinction, humans are using cutting edge technology to try and save them.

The latest tool in the game is an underwater robot that can hear and find whales, and then transmit their positions in near-real time:

Last month, two 6-foot-long (1.8-meter-long), torpedo-shaped robots from theWoods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Massachusetts used digital acoustic monitoring equipment to detect 9 North Atlantic right whales(Eubalaena glacialis) in the Gulf of Maine—the first-ever detection of baleen whales from these types of autonomous vehicles.

“Recording the sound creates a spectrogram, which to a scientist is almost like a sheet of music that visually represents the sounds you’re hearing,” explained WHOI researcher Mark Baumgartner.

The gliders process and classify these acoustic signatures, then surface every two hours and transmit evidence of whale calls to shore-based computers while the animals are still nearby. “We can use this information to very quickly draw a circle on the map and say, hey, we know there are whales in this area, let’s be careful about our activities here. The government can then alert mariners and ask them to reduce their speed and post a lookout.”

The effort to save right whales is a battle that pits scientists and conservation groups against all the oceanic intrusions of modern human culture, with its shipping, fishing, and pollution. It is an incredibly close battle, in which single lives count. So every technological wrinkle can make a difference.

Annals Of Climate Opportunism: Natural Gas Shipments Via The Arctic

Another example of the climate change-carbon economy loop, in which burning carbon leads to warming which in turn leads to new fossil fuel economy opportunities.

In this example, the reduction in Arctic sea ice is opening the northwest and northeast passages to fuel shipping. The first liquid natural gas tanker recently left Norway, and is headed toward Japan, escorted by a Russian nuclear-powered icebreaker:

“It’s an extraordinarily interesting adventure,” Tony Lauritzen, commercial director at Dynagas, told BBC News.

“The people on board have been seeing polar bears on the route. We’ve had the plans for a long time and everything has gone well.”

Mr Lauritzen says that a key factor in the decision to use the northern route was the recent scientific record on melting in the Arctic.

“We have studied lots of observation data – there is an observable trend that the ice conditions are becoming more and more favourable for transiting this route. You are able to reach a highly profitable market by saving 40% of the distance, that’s 40% less fuel used as well.”

Forty percent less fuel burned is good, I guess. But the whole thing, along with Arctic oil drilling, reminds me of a cartoon I posted on my Facebook page earlier today.


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