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SCIENCE: What is Marine Forensics?

Wikipedia provides: The word forensic comes from the Latin adjective forensis, meaning “of or before the forum.” It roughly means to provide evidence upon which judgement can be made.

Marine Forensics applies this very broad definition to gathering evidence related to causation of incidents and accidents that have occurred on the greater than 70% of the earths surface that is covered with water.

It includes fresh water brooks, rivers and streams, Lakes great and small as well as the oceans.

  • A recent archaeology study on the Island of Crete in the Mediterranean sea proved that humans lived or visited there as far back as 130,000 years ago. Crete is many miles from the mainland and has been separated from it for over 5 million years. This implies that humans had some sort of water craft at least that far back into History. The earliest shipwreck remains ever found go back to several thousand BC.
  • A commercial fishing boat went down with 5 souls off New Jersey in 2009. An ongoing investigation seeks to determine the cause of this sinking. The possibilities range from a broken pipe in the engine room to being run down by a huge containership that passed through the area at that general time.
  • A rented power boat sank in Lake Tahoe a few years ago taking 4 souls to eternal rest. The investigation suggests that the boat was overcome by waves.
  • A 729 foot long iron ore carrier was down bound in Lake Superior on November 10th 1975, when a severe storm arose with hurricane force winds and a significant wave height of 7.9m. The Edmund Fitzgerald broke up and sank taking 29 lives and rests on the bottom in 520 feet of fresh water. The bow is upright, the middle exists as a collection of scattered metal shards, while the stern sits upside down.
  • The largest steamship ever built to that point left Southampton, England, on her maiden voyage on the well traveled route to New York. Of the 53 large steel ships that had struck icebergs in the previous 20 years, all but two had survived to reach port, and those two had time to discharge all their passengers onto other vessels before they went under. The Titanic was not especially concerned with icebergs until she struck one a glancing blow that sliced into or sprung riveted plates in 6 forward compartments. April 15th, 1912 gave us the most famous and enduring shipwreck legend of all time.
  • A ship laden with gold left one country to prop up the government of a friendly country but was lost in a storm at sea. The fall of the receiving government changed the course of history.
  • An earthquake and tsunami struck the largest and most important town in the Americas and destroyed most of it in a single afternoon. Port Royal on the Island of Jamaica went from the most important port in the Americas to a foot note in history in a single afternoon as it sank beneath the seas.
  • An invasion fleet from Kubla Khan reached the coast of Japan not once but twice when a typhoon came up and sank most of the vessels with a death toll that may have exceeded 100,000. In Japan this was seen as the divine wind, known forever after as the Kamikaze. It is no coincidence that the Imperial Japanese Empire chose to name their last ditch suicide mission against the US Navy at the end of World War II, the Kamikaze as it once again represented their last hope.

The list of marine casualties from ancient times to yesterday have shaped the history of individuals, countries and continents is long and varied. It is only since the end of World War II that humans have developed the technology that everyday makes the worlds waters more transparent. This is a new and exciting frontier to be explored by generations of clever and inquisitive minds.

Some Marine Forensic Investigations start with scuba gear, while others start with a newspaper clipping and a fist, head and computer full of equations. There are questions that can only be asked by each method. No amount to diving will ever explain the wave induced forces that caused the Edmund Fitzgerald to break into pieces, but modern computer tools are beginning to have that capability. No amount of computer modeling will ever tell an investigator about the damage to the hull of a sunken ship, but diving by one method or another can survey the damage and report back with evidence that can support the investigation by other means.

When a vessel sinks, there are physical circumstances that caused the sinking that may or may not leave traces. There are forces that can cause extensive damage as the wreck descends through the water column in deep water. The German Battleship DKM Bismarck, left the surface upside down and bow last, but hit the seabed right side up and bow first so complicated things happened in the water column.

There are bottom impact forces and associated damage. How does an investigator separate out which damage happened when? What damage caused the sinking and what happened before or after? These are not easy questions to answer but they are critical to understanding or discovering the truth of the matter.

The study of land based crime forensics has captured the popular imagination in recent years. Many of the techniques that the real experts use in a terrestrial setting will not work at all underwater. How does one take crime scene photos when the optical visibility is 6 inches or done at all? How does one measure off distances and angles when there is no fixed location to orient to?

The analyses desired can still be carried out but the means are forced to be quite different in the marine environment. There are acoustic “cameras” that can take quite good “pictures” using sound waves instead of light. You can’t buy these at any photo shop but there are commercial firms that can do this sort of work for a sizable fee, if you can wait up to several months for them to get under contract and come available.
When a vehicle, train or aircraft wrecks, all of the victims remains are recovered for burial by whatever traditions, beliefs and practices that the victims family, religion and country believe are necessary.

When a ship goes down, it is a very rare occurrence that anyone even tries to recover the bodies for burial on land. This is largely based upon tradition and also the cost and difficulty of doing so. In some cased like the Israeli submarine Dakar, or the Japanese fishing / research vessel Ehime Maru, great expense in what can take many years are expended to return the victims home for burial according to the customs of the group they came from.

The International Marine Forensics Symposium will discuss these and many other issues. We invite you to come listen, learn and help the next generation enter this new and exciting field.

Source: http://www.sname.org/Forensics2012/WhatisMarineForensics/

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SCIENCE | As Arctic warms, increased shipping likely to accelerate climate change

ScienceDaily | 2010.10.26)

As the ice-capped Arctic Ocean warms, ship traffic will increase at the top of the world. And if the sea ice continues to decline, a new route connecting international trading partners may emerge — but not without significant repercussions to climate, according to a US and Canadian research team.

Continue reading at http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101025161150.htm

You can also read the relevant study: Arctic shipping emissions inventories and future scenarios”.

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HUMAN RIGHTS | Water map shows billions at risk of ‘water insecurity’

Originally published in bbc.co.uk, 2010/09/29

About 80% of the world’s population lives in areas where the fresh water supply is not secure, according to a new global analysis.

Researchers compiled a composite index of “water threats” that includes issues such as scarcity and pollution.

The most severe threat category encompasses 3.4 billion people.

Writing in the journal Nature, they say that in western countries, conserving water for people through reservoirs and dams works for people, but not nature.

They urge developing countries not to follow the same path.

Instead, they say governments should to invest in water management strategies that combine infrastructure with “natural” options such as safeguarding watersheds, wetlands and flood plains.

The analysis is a global snapshot, and the research team suggests more people are likely to encounter more severe stress on their water supply in the coming decades, as the climate changes and the human population continues to grow.

They have taken data on a variety of different threats, used models of threats where data is scarce, and used expert assessment to combine the various individual threats into a composite index.

The result is a map that plots the composite threat to human water security and to biodiversity in squares 50km by 50km (30 miles by 30 miles) across the world.

Changing pictures “What we’ve done is to take a very dispassionate look at the facts on the ground – what is going on with respect to humanity’s water security and what the infrastructure that’s been thrown at this problem does to the natural world,” said study leader Charles Vorosmarty from the City College of New York.

“What we’re able to outline is a planet-wide pattern of threat, despite the trillions of dollars worth of engineering palliatives that have totally reconfigured the threat landscape.”

Those “trillions of dollars” are represented by the dams, canals, aqueducts, and pipelines that have been used throughout the developed world to safeguard drinking water supplies.

Their impact on the global picture is striking.

Global water availability, 'unmanaged' condition

Global water availability, 'unmanaged' condition

Global water availability, 'managed' condition

Global water availability, 'managed' condition

Looking at the “raw threats” to people’s water security – the “natural” picture – much of western Europe and North America appears to be under high stress.

However, when the impact of the infrastructure that distributes and conserves water is added in – the “managed” picture – most of the serious threat disappears from these regions.

Africa, however, moves in the opposite direction.

“The problem is, we know that a large proportion of the world’s population cannot afford these investments,” said Peter McIntyre from the University of Wisconsin, another of the researchers involved.

“In fact we show them benefiting less than a billion people, so we’re already excluding a large majority of the world’s population,” he told BBC News.

“But even in rich parts of the world, it’s not a sensible way to proceed. We could continue to build more dams and exploit deeper and deeper aquifers; but even if you can afford it, it’s not a cost-effective way of doing things.”

According to this analysis, and others, the way water has been managed in the west has left a significant legacy of issues for nature.

Whereas Western Europe and the US emerge from this analysis with good scores on water stress facing their citizens, wildlife there that depends on water is much less secure, it concludes.

Concrete realities One concept advocated by development organisations nowadays is integrated water management, where the needs of all users are taken into account and where natural features are integrated with human engineering.

One widely-cited example concerns the watersheds that supply New York, in the Catskill Mountains and elsewhere around the city.

Water from these areas historically needed no filtering.

That threatened to change in the 1990s, due to agricultural pollution and other issues.

The city invested in a programme of land protection and conservation; this has maintained quality, and is calculated to have been cheaper than the alternative of building treatment works.

Mark Smith, head of the water programme at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) who was not involved in the current study, said this sort of approach was beginning to take hold in the developing world, though “the concrete and steel model remains the default”.

“One example is the Barotse Floodplain in Zambia, where there was a proposal for draining the wetland and developing an irrigation scheme to replace the wetlands,” he related.

“Some analysis was then done that showed the economic benefits of the irrigation scheme would have been less than the benefits currently delivered by the wetland in terms of fisheries, agriculture around the flood plain, water supply, water quality and so on.

“So it’s not a question of saying ‘No we don’t need any concrete infrastructure’ – what we need are portfolios of built infrastructure and natural environment that can address the needs of development, and the ecosystem needs of people and biodiversity.”

Dollars short This analysis is likely to come in for some scrutiny, not least because it does contain an element of subjectivity in terms of how the various threats to water security are weighted and combined.

Developing countries are urged to think carefully about “concrete and steel” solutions

Nevertheless, Mark Smith hailed it as a “potentially powerful synthesis” of existing knowledge; while Gary Jones, chief executive of the eWater Co-operative Research Centre in Canberra, commented: “It’s a very important and timely global analysis of the joint threats of declining water security for humans and biodiversity loss for rivers.

“This study, for the first time, brings all our knowledge together under one global model of water security and aquatic biodiversity loss.”

For the team itself, it is a first attempt – a “placeholder”, or baseline – and they anticipate improvements as more accurate data emerges, not least from regions such as Africa that are traditionally data-scarce.

Already, they say, it provides a powerful indicator that governments and international institutions need to take water issues more seriously.

For developed countries and the Bric group – Brazil, Russia, India and China – alone, “$800bn per year will be required by 2015 to cover investments in water infrastructure, a target likely to go unmet,” they conclude.

For poorer countries, the outlook is considerably more bleak, they say.

“In reality this is a snapshot of the world about five or 10 years ago, because that’s the data that’s coming on line now,” said Dr McIntyre.

“It’s not about the future, but we would argue people should be even more worried if you start to account for climate change and population growth.

“Climate change is going to affect the amount of water that comes in as precipitation; and if you overlay that on an already stressed population, we’re rolling the dice.”


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INNOVATION | Shape-shifting plane to aid maritime rescues

David Teeghman | Discovery Channel

A European research project, coordinated by engineers in Cyprus, is focused on building a small and inexpensive unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that will help cut the human risk and cost of search-and-rescue missions on the high seas.

The project is part of the European Organization for the Safety of Air Navigation and a main goal is to reduce risks that oftentimes crop when the weather turns bad. Wind and high waves make it a major challenge for helicopter and fixed wing plane crews to save people at sea. Tragically, some rescuers die while conducting dangerous missions.

Using UAVs — or search-and-rescue snake robots on land — means there is less risk for humans to get injured in the response to a disaster.

nlike most helicopters and airplanes, the UAVs use shape-changing trim tabs, the small surfaces connected to the trailing edge of larger surfaces on planes. For example, you might have noticed that jet airliners have hinged pieces of metal — called ailerons — along the edges of their wings. That’s a trim tab. There are similar pieces on the tail fin, too. These all help the pilot control the plane’s flight.

On the UAV, the trim tabs vibrate to improve flight stability in gusting winds. In fact, the trim tabs reduced loads by as much 25 percent, allowing the UAV to fly in severe weather. On-board sensors monitor stability and provide constant feedback to the ailerons.

Even without the special trim tabs, the plane is more stable than other aircraft because it has a uniquely designed profile optimized for high lift at low speeds. And it’s able to fly for almost five hours with a 90-pound [40-kg] payload.

Researchers are still wrapping up testing on the island of Cyprus, but their UAV has flown steady at crosswinds of up to 60 mph [52 knots, or 96 km/h].

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SCIENCE | How the brain benefits with aging

Recently, I tried–really tried–to buy a book for my book club.

I went online and ordered The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho. Then, a week later, I had a free moment at work, and I thought, Oh, I should order that book club book. I went online and carefully typed in an order for The Alchemist–again.

A few days later, as I was jogging in the park, a faint bell went off in my head, and I thought, I bet I ordered the wrong book. At home, I checked my e-mail, and, sure enough, we were supposed to read The Archivist, by Martha Cooley.

I’d ordered the wrong book-twice.

And that wasn’t the end of it. Later that week, I was talking with a fellow book club member, a neurologist, who, after hearing my embarrassing story, started to laugh. It turned out that she’d gone to the library and had just as carefully selected a copy of The Alienist, by Caleb Carr.

So there you go. Two middle-aged brains, three wrong books.

We all worry about getting old. We all worry about getting sick. But we really worry about losing our minds. Will we forget to tie our shoes or zip our flies? Will we fumble our words and fall into our soup? Are our brains on an inevitable slide?

The quick answer is no. I looked into this subject partly because I wrote a book some years ago on the teenage brain. After it came out, I’d sometimes give talks on the topic for juvenile-justice or school groups, and I would usually be driven to the airport by the person who had arranged the event. More often than not, that person, like me, was middle-aged, and as we drove along, he or she would say something like “You know, you should write a book about my brain. It’s horrible-I can’t remember a thing. I forget where I’m going or why. And the names-the names are awful. It’s scary.” I would smile and nod, thinking of my own middle-aged brain. Where do all the names go?

Eventually, I spent considerable time tracking down those lost names, talking to researchers and digging into the latest science to find out what goes wrong in middle age and what it means. And I found something un-expected-not bad news but good.

Yes, the brain at middle age has lost a step. Our problems are not imaginary, and our worries are not unreasonable. But neuroscientists have found that the middle-aged brain actually has surprising talents. It’s developed powerful systems that can cut through the intricacies of complex problems to find concrete answers. It more calmly manages emotions and information and is cheerier than in younger years. Indeed, one new series of fascinating studies suggests that the way our brains age may give us a broader perspective on the world, a capacity to see patterns, connect the dots, even be more creative.

“From what we know now,” says Laura Carstensen, PhD, director of the Stanford Center on Longevity at Stanford University, “I’d have to say that the middle-aged brain is downright formidable.”

All this may be hard to believe. A friend once told me that she sometimes catches herself putting the bananas in the laundry chute. How can we possibly be smarter and be tossing the bananas into the laundry basket?

First, some evidence that we are, indeed, a bit smarter, at least in some ways. For that, look at one of the longest, largest, and most respected studies of people as they age, the Seattle Longitudinal Study, which has tracked the mental prowess of 6,000 people for more than 40 years. The study found that, on average, participants performed better on cognitive tests in middle age than they had in early adulthood. From age 40 through their 60s, people did better on tests of vocabulary, spatial orientation skills (imagining what an object would look like if it were rotated 180 degrees), and inductive reasoning than they had when they were in their 20s.

Sure, we feel dumber. Studies explain that too: They show that we really do have more difficulty with name retrieval, particularly the names of those we’ve not seen in a while. Our brains also slow down a bit. For instance, if chess players compete in a game that depends on speed–say they’re given a few seconds to move a piece–younger players usually beat older players. And brain scanners show that the parts of the brain that specialize in daydreaming get more active as we age–no wonder we feel so distractible. But the bottom line is that the middle-aged brain can deliver in ways that matter.

Some of my favorite research on this looked at people in jobs where performance really counts: air-traffic controllers and pilots. In both studies, the researchers put older and younger professionals into simulators to see how they responded to demanding tasks, like coping with computer crashes and conflicting information (for the air-traffic controllers) or avoiding traffic and keeping track of cockpit instruments (for the pilots). Younger controllers were a little faster than older ones; younger pilots performed better than older ones early in the three-year study. But the seasoned pros in both professions did just as well or better on what mattered: keeping planes apart.

You see the same thing in studies on bridge players, chess masters, and bank managers: Memory and speed decline, but experience makes up for it. “If what you are doing depends on knowledge, then you’re going to do very well as you get older,” says psychology professor Neil Charness, PhD, of Florida State University. “And it makes sense. Which would you rather have on your team: a highly experienced 55-year-old chess master or a 25-year-old novice?”

What accounts for the against-all-odds prowess of the middle-aged brain? Practice, for starters–all those years spent wrangling planes or managing a household or heading to the office. Compensatory strategies, too-like making lists, lots of them, and pausing before you go into a party to summon the names of the people you’re likely to see. But we’re also aided by measurable brain changes. Some make us more optimistic as we age. Consider the amygdala–a structure deep in the brain that operates as your body’s Homeland Security Department, the alert system that assesses potential threats. Researchers have found that as we get older, our amygdala reacts less to negative things. It still responds when there’s a real threat but is less likely to get fired up every time a passerby frowns at you. That seems to help us do a better job of maintaining emotional stability. And we all know that those who can calmly assess a situation generally have an advantage.

Older brains are also better at making connections, research shows. Yes, you take longer to assimilate new information. But faced with information that relates to what you already know, your brain tends to work quicker and smarter, discerning patterns and jumping to the logical end point.

A friend of mine who’s been a doctor for more than 30 years said she can now often instantly evaluate a situation, making it easier to come up with effective solutions. “When I walk into a hospital room, there’s a lot in my head already,” she said. “In many cases, I can foresee what will happen, and that helps a lot.”

All of this adds up to exciting news–and a dilemma. After all, age discrimination is a fact. In 2002, researcher Joanna Lahey, PhD, now at Texas A&M University, sent out 4,000 résumés and found that a younger worker was more than 40 percent more likely to be called in for an interview, compared with a worker over age 50.

We’ve extended our lives by dozens of years, and we’re finding tantalizing new ways to extend our brain spans too. But we haven’t taken a nanosecond to think about what to do with all those better years and better brains.

We need a new plan. Right now, we have to do too much in our early and middle adulthood–we frantically juggle kids and work, and it can feel like everything gets short shrift. Then later, when our brains are still blooming, we’re often forced to stop working; we’re made irrelevant. Perhaps it’s time for a middle-age revolution. The best way to start, to my mind, is to finally give our middle-aged brains the respect they deserve.

Source: Reader’s Digest

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