Indian Ocean pirates impede climate observations

Jul 14, 2011
Indian Ocean pirates impede climate observations
Deploying an Argo ocean profiler. Credit: CSIRO

Australian scientists have sought the help of the United States and Australian navies to plug a critical gap in their Argo ocean and climate monitoring program caused by Somali pirates operating in the western Indian Ocean.

"We have not been able to seed about one quarter of the Indian since the increase in the and that has implications for understanding a region of influence in Australian and south Asian weather and climate," says CSIRO Wealth from Oceans Flagship scientist, Dr. Ann Thresher.  Over 30 nations contribute to the multi-million dollar Argo project, in which 3,000 robotic instruments provide near real-time observations of conditions such as heat and salinity in the top 2,000 metres of the ocean.

Australia, through CSIRO and the Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS), ranks second among countries based on the number of profilers providing data, with more than 325 profilers reporting to international data centres from the Indian, Pacific  and Southern Oceans and the Tasman Sea. At nearly two metres in length the drifting profilers, or 'floats', are programmed to drift at 1000m for 10 days, then fall to 2000m and sample as they ascend to the surface to upload their data to satellites.

Although the Argo project offers shipping and defence benefits, its primary objective is to monitor ocean heat and salinity patterns that drive the climate and monsoonal systems which bring rain to Australia.

Dr. Thresher said the program is heavily reliant on commercial shipping and research and chartered vessels to deploy the instruments.

"With the region north of Mauritius being a no-go area for most vessels due to pirate activity, we have approached the US and Australian navies to assist us in deployments of around 20 profilers, including 10 provided by the United Kingdom Argo project.

"This level of international and military cooperation is tremendously important to us in building a sustainable operating ocean-borne system that is providing the data at the core of current weather and climate observations and prediction," Dr. Thresher said.

CSIRO is shipping one profiler to Florida for deployment by the US Navy, and is asking the Royal Australian Navy for help deploy another eight instruments in the area of highest risk.

A 20-metre South African yacht, Lady Amber, is under charter to CSIRO and has successfully deployed seven instruments near Mauritius in the Western Indian Ocean. Her working area, however, was severely restricted by pirate activity in this area and the positions of several profilers had to be changed to accommodate these restrictions. She will deploy another 15 instrument as she transits between Mauritius and Fremantle, where she will pick up another 39 floats for deployment northwest of the Australian North West Shelf – an area thankfully free of piracy. 

The International Argo Steering Team is co-chaired by CSIRO oceanographer, Dr. Susan Wijffels and Professor Dean Roemmich from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (US).

Dr. Wijffels said Argo is now an essential climate and ocean-observing infrastructure and researchers are continuing to review its coverage to ensure gaps in the global network do not open us, such as in the western Indian Ocean.  In the future Argo measurements might extend below 2,000 metres and reach into the ocean beneath the polar ice, where currently few measurements are routinely made.

Explore further: Earthquakes occur in 4 parts of Alaska

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Ocean robots network achieves universal coverage

Nov 12, 2007

Scientist’s efforts to fathom how the oceans influence climate and fisheries productivity enter a new era this month with the milestone establishment of a network of 3,000 futuristic, 1.5-metre tall ocean robots operating ...

Ocean study explores link with Australian rainfall

Jul 28, 2004

A five-nation oceanographic team is taking the first steps in a $3.6 million project studying the major flow of ocean currents between Asia and Australia and how they influence rainfall across Southern Australia and Indonesia.

East Coast gliders yield valuable marine life data

Feb 28, 2011

The influence ocean eddies have on marine life in the oceans surrounding Australia’s south-east is expected to become clearer after scientists examine data from new deep-diving research ‘gliders’ ...

'Ocean glider' home after two-month voyage

Apr 16, 2009

Scientists are celebrating the first successful deployment and retrieval in Australia of a remotely controlled, deep ocean-going robotic submarine destined to play a central role in measuring changes in two ...

Recommended for you

User comments : 0