Science briefs: Research ship will explore dead zone

  • Updated: August 10, 2013 - 5:26 PM
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The research ship Falcor was docked Aug. 1 in San Francisco ahead of the $60 million vessel’s mission to study a so-called “dead zone” in the Pacific Ocean.

Photo: Ben Margot • Associated Press,

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research ship will explore dead zone

A $60 million ocean research ship, carrying all the latest high-tech tools that Google money can buy, sailed from San Francisco’s waterfront en route to study a dead zone in the eastern Pacific and the ancient microbes flourishing around an undersea volcano.

The ship and its seagoing labs — with teams of researchers aboard — will mount a series of expeditions in the Pacific this fall. Named the Falcor, after the flying luck dragon in the film “The NeverEnding Story,” the ship is privately owned by the Schmidt Ocean Science Institute, co-founded by billionaire Google executive Eric Schmidt and his wife, Wendy.

On Falcor’s deck is ROPOS, the 2-ton Remotely Operated Platform for Ocean Science. Lowered gently down on steel cables, the unmanned submarine will carry cameras, rock drills, manipulators and precision instruments to explore a strange region of the seafloor off Vancouver Island called a “dead zone,” where crabs and fish and all of ocean life die each year from hypoxia — a periodic lack of oxygen in the water.

Scientists believe it’s caused by the changing climate or by poisonous effluents — probably sewage and surface chemicals — coursing into the water from the land above.

SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

Quakes can cause methane gas release

Major earthquakes can topple buildings, cause landslides and spawn tsunamis. Now scientists say they can do something else: set off the release of methane gas from the seabed.

In a recent study published online in the journal Nature Geoscience, European researchers report that an underwater quake off Pakistan nearly 70 years ago likely fractured seafloor sediments and created pathways for methane, a potent greenhouse gas, to bubble up from below. The researchers say the phenomenon may be widespread enough that climate scientists should take it into account when estimating the amounts of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere.

“We suggest there is a new source that they might want to consider in the future,” said David Fischer, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Bremen in Germany and the lead author of the study.

New York Times

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