Mission Aquarius, Celebrating 50 years of Ocean Exploration

Point Richmond, CA
By Deb Castellana

Followers of Planet Ocean News may have noticed that the page has gone dark these past few months as I have come up to speed in my new position as Director of Communications for Dr. Sylvia Earle’s ‘Mission Blue.’  Now I am looking forward to posting more often with some exciting, and always thought provoking content.  First up, Mission Aquarius!

(c) Brian Skerry

Training begins tomorrow off the coast of Key Largo in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, for Mission Aquarius, ‘Celebrating 50 years of Living Beneath the Sea.’  The mission seeks to highlight not only the achievements of Aquarius, but also its tenuous future in today’s uncertain economic and political climate.

A question for you. Have you ever heard of Aquarius Reef Base? Don’t feel badly if you haven’t. Somehow this incredible feat of underwater engineering has largely escaped the public eye for the all the years that it has been in operation.

Since 1993, the Aquarius undersea lab has supported 114 missions, with over 550 peer-reviewed scientific publications produced, numerous educational programs, and television pieces. NASA has participated in a number of programs to research everything from the psychological effects of living in close quarters to mining asteroids (see NASA/NEEMO Website here). The Aquarius Reef Base is also supporting one of the longest running and thorough coral reef monitoring programs in the world, critical given current ocean stressors such as climate change and ocean acidification.

Aquarius has provided the world’s leading marine scientists with the opportunity to live aboard and engage in complicated research projects that could only have been carried out from saturation diving. By living and working on the seafloor for an extended period of time (up to 10 days,) scientists are able to comprehensively and intimately study and document the coral reef ecosystem.

Says Dr. Sylvia Earle, who now embarks on her third saturation dive with Aquarius, “Being able to study the animals and plants in their home using an underwater habitat gives me the gift of time,” Earle said in a mission summary. “Time to see what these magnificent life forms are actually doing on the reef.”

A cohesive partnership has formed between Mission Blue, One World One Ocean,  Google, The Aquarius Foundation, NOAA, UNCW (The University of North Carolina at Wilmington,) National Geographic, and Reef Base Aquarius and the collaboration promises to be a powerful force bringing public attention to the achievements of Aquarius as well as to what may be lost if this should be the last mission.

The media teams will be transmitting across multiple platforms from Mission Aquarius through live feeds, social networks, feature articles, as well as mainstream media.  Dr. Earle and Principal Investigator Mark Patterson will speak live with students from Williams and Mary College, there will be a live feed with Chautauqua Institution, a Google + Hangout, and possibly even a call-in with Ira Flatow’s always entertaining and fascinating NPR show, ‘Science Friday.’ We’ll keep you posted.

One World One Ocean will be on site with IMAX cameras, and DJ Roller of Liquid Pictures 3D will be shooting in 3D. Yours truly will be there with my trusty Go Pro.

We hope that you will help us to maximize this educational and outreach effort, and to use this rare opportunity to increase ocean literacy. So tweet it, facebook it, and e-mail our news if you can. The ocean would thank you if she could!

Much more content on Mission Aquarius is on it’s way, so stay tuned!

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Howard Hall’s Blue Ocean

This holiday season, I’d like to share a video by Howard Hall that epitomizes why we love the ocean so… and why we dive.  The blue whale swim by is one of the most amazing pieces of film I’ve ever seen. Here’s raising a glass to working hard to save our ocean planet and the amazing creatures who share it with us.

Happy Holidays to all!

Diving in The Gardens of the Queen

Anderson Cooper takes viewers on an underwater adventure to one of the world’s most vibrant coral reefs, an anomaly at a time when many of the world’s reefs are in danger – or already dead. He talks to Cuban marine conservationists who show how protecting The Gardens of the Queen reef from fishing and pollution has resulted in an almost perfectly healthy reef.  Seeing these abundant reefs gives this diver hope that a network of Marine Protected Areas worldwide can eventually bring back what we’ve lost.

Click HERE to view the entire video feature!

Richard Branson: Time to Rethink Business as usual

Courtesy of NPR

Photo Credit: Clare Brown

Richard Branson has built a global business empire around the philosophy “have fun and the money will come.”

As the founder of Virgin Group, he grew a mail-order record company into a major record label and a chain of record stores; he started an airline; he created a space tourism company; and he has been actively involved in humanitarian efforts.

Now, Branson argues that it’s time to rethink the way businesses function. You can make money, he says, by doing good. In a new book, Screw Business As Usual, he posits that businesses can make a profit and actively care about people, communities and the planet at the same time.

Branson joins NPR’s Neal Conan to talk about his new philosophy.

Listen to Sir Richard’s inspiring philosophy here!

Shell sets deepwater Gulf oil record at 9,627 feet

Simone Sebastian
Houston Chronicle

A well in the Gulf of Mexico has set a global record for oil production in deep water, Shell Oil Co. says.

Shell said Thursday that it is producing oil from a well 9,627 feet below the surface of the Gulf, a depth more than six times greater than the Empire State Building’s height. It exceeds by 271 feet the depth of the previous record-holder, also a Shell project in the Gulf.

Both wells operate through the Perdido drilling and production platform, 200 miles southwest of Houston. The new record-holder is in the Tobago Field, which Shell jointly owns with Chevron and Nexen, according to the company. The previous record-holding well was in the Silvertip field.

The Perdido platform is moored in 8,000 feet of water, which the company says makes it the world’s deepest-water drilling and production platform.

The company did not say how much the new well is producing, but said the daily capacity of the platform is 100,000 barrels of oil and 200 million cubic feet of natural gas.

The Tobago Field well is several miles away from the platform, and the oil flow must follow an incline along the sea floor before being pumped vertically to the platform, Shell spokesman Jaryl Strong said.

Low pressure

Besides the water’s depth, the project posed a challenge because of the reservoir’s low pressure, which necessitated special technology to push the oil nearly two miles up to the platform on the water’s surface.

Shell noted that it did not have the technological ability to produce oil at such depths in 1996 when it purchased the lease where Perdido operates.

Engineers developed a system of electrical pumps embedded in the seabed that help ship the oil to the surface platform, Strong said.

”The industry is moving into these depths,” he said. ”As the industry expands the frontier, it is going to have to come up with solutions like this.”

Equipment in the pro-ject included FMC Technologies’ enhanced vertical deep-water tree system and the five electrical pumps that help push the oil to surface, that Houston-based company said.

Shell is majority owner of the Perdido platform. BP and Chevron also have investment shares.

Perdido serves wells up to seven miles away, Shell said. The company began development drilling in 2007 and oil and gas was first produced in 2010.

Don Van Nieuwenhuise, director of petroleum geoscience programs at the University of Houston, said the achievement has global implications.

”They’ve brought that water depth into the realm of being technologically and economically viable,” Van Nieuwenhuise said.

He noted, however, that the industry is pushing into depths that challenge existing emergency well control systems. Well control equipment developed in the wake of last year’s disastrous Gulf oil spill are designed for use in up to 10,000 feet of water.

Limits to safety?

”They are getting real close to the limit of what we can do safely,” Van Nieuwenhuise said.

Strong said Shell has addressed the risks of producing oil in deep-water conditions.

”There are a number of safety innovations built into the Perdido platform to accommodate the environment it is in, in terms of the great depths and long distance from shore,” he said. ”Safety was the No. 1 priority.”