of Peaceful Turbulence
A Smorgasbord of Incidents, Events, and Happenings On, Under, and Over
By DON WALSH
Dr. Don Walsh served 24 years in the Navy, during which time he served
several tours of duty in submarines and oceanographic research-and-development
activities. He now heads International Maritime Inc., which he founded
Record R&D Increases
Because final action on the fiscal year 2002 federal budget was not completed
until 20 December 2001--the date that President Bush signed the final
appropriations bill into law--many government agencies were forced to
continue operations at the FY 2001 levels. The delay was caused in large
part, of course, because of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks against
the United States. One result of those attacks, though, was that the FY
2002 funding provided by Congress for federal research and development
(R&D) reached a record $103.7 billion, 13.5 percent more than had
been allocated for the previous fiscal year--and the single largest one-year
R&D increase in over two decades.
Most of the growth was for agencies that do not have significant ocean
R&D programs. Nevertheless, the ocean agencies all received budget
increases greater than the rate of inflation, so there was real growth
in this area.
Despite being called back for a lame-duck session after the 2002 elections,
the 107th Congress also adjourned without fully funding the federal government.
Only two of the 13 FY 2003 appropriations bills, including the Defense
Department Appropriations Bill, had been passed by Congress and sent to
the president for his signature before Congress adjourned for the year.
Since then, most federal agencies have had to operate under a "continuing
resolution" or CR, a legislative device permitting government agencies
to continue spending at the funding levels for the previous year. The
CR does not permit any new program start-ups, deletions, or changes in
funding for ongoing programs. It simply maintains the status quo.
The 11 appropriations bills covered in the FY 2003 budget are likely
to be passed early in the first session of the 108th Congress. Nonetheless,
none of those bills will be ready for the president's signature until
more than three months after the fiscal year started. For practical purposes,
more than a quarter of a year in new program initiatives has been delayed--a
matter of considerable concern for agency planners, and for American taxpayers
Through a Foggy Crystal Ball
The two FY 2003 appropriations bills that have been signed by the president
do provide funding for several agencies and departments that have ocean
programs underway. Among the larger and more important of them are the
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers,
the Office of Naval Research, the National Science Foundation, the Environmental
Protection Agency, the National Space and Aeronautics Administration (NASA),
and the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command.
There is an equally impressive list, though, of the major agencies still
waiting for final action on their FY 2003 budgets: the National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the Commerce Department, for
example; the Department of Interior's U.S. Geological Survey and Minerals
Management Service; and the Department of Transportation.
Complicating the current budget and planning uncertainties is the fact
that Congress passed, and President Bush quickly signed, legislation establishing
a new agency, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), that as of the
middle of December still had no headquarters, no ongoing operational programs,
and no detailed organization chart. It did, though, have a clear mandate
from Congress and the president: Make the U.S. homeland as secure as possible
from enemy attack.
It is not yet clear what ocean programs, and how many, will come under
DHS control when the department is fully functioning. President Bush asked
for a $2.3 billion R&D budget for the department, but how much Congress
will appropriate has still to be decided. Clearly, many of the homeland-security
issues DHS will have to manage involve coastlines, inland waterways, ports,
and harbors and are therefore ocean-related but it is too soon to estimate
how much these DHS issues will influence the national investment in ocean
The FY 2003 DOD budget includes substantial increases needed to continue
the global war on terrorism. Some of those increases translate into real
gains in Navy research and development funding, including the Navy's oceanography
The Bush Administration's budget plan for FY 2003 proposed a 5 percent
increase over FY 2002 for the National Science Foundation (NSF). This
was only slightly more than the rate of inflation. However, Congress authorized
a 12.5 percent increase (about $600 million) for the NSF. Assuming an
overall rate of inflation of about 4 percent, this means that NSF will
have a real growth of 8.5 percent, one of the largest single-year increases
in NSF history. Moreover, this might be only the first of a series of
increases that over the next five years could double the agency's overall
budget. If, as is generally agreed, R&D funding is the key to future
economic prosperity, this is very good news not only to NSF planners and
managers, but to the nation's taxpayers as well.
NASA received a 6 percent increase in R&D funding, or about 2 percent
over the rate of inflation. The agency's ocean-related programs should
receive a proportionate, albeit modest, share of the increase.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was provided an 8 percent increase
in R&D funding--giving it a net 4 percent of real growth. EPA's programs
for the protection and conservation of coastal waters and lands will bring
added funding to the ocean research community.
The appropriations estimates for the agencies not yet funded are considerably
less certain. The administration's original budget called for slight decreases
(from FY 2002 levels) for most of those agencies. In recent years, though,
Congress has usually increased the national investment in federal research
and development. If that pattern continues, agencies such as NOAA and
the Departments of Interior and Transportation all will receive real increases
of various magnitudes in their R&D budgets. In fact, the "best
estimates" (as of mid-December) of the final action likely to be
taken by the House and Senate on the appropriations bills still pending
after the lame-duck session suggest that FY 2003 may well be another record
fiscal year for overall federal R&D.
A Cold Ocean Warms Up
More than three decades of measurements--by submarines, satellites, and
surface ships-- of the Arctic Ocean have shown that the percentage of
that ocean covered by sea-ice has been decreasing almost annually. In
just 100 years, according to the experts in this field, the area of pack
ice has decreased by 25 percent. Moreover, the adjacent Bering Sea, which
is usually at least half-covered with seasonal ice in the winter, was
ice-free last year.
If this trend continues for a few more decades, there might be several
open sea passages through the Arctic Ocean available year-round in the
foreseeable future. Some experts have estimated, in fact, that the Arctic
could be substantially ice-free by as early as 2050. This also would mean,
though, that the Arctic would become considerably warmer as well. The
ice cover now acts as a reflector of incoming solar energy as well as
a "thermal blanket" that prevents warming by the overlying cold
polar air mass. A warmer Arctic Ocean could affect the circulation of
the Gulf Stream through the North Atlantic--and, paradoxically, could
mean a cooler climate for parts of Northern Europe.
Any major warming of the Arctic would have major consequences not only
for humans but for all flora and fauna that make the Arctic their habitat.
Today, more than two million people live above the Arctic Circle. All
would be affected in various ways--some of them adversely, but others
The Russians, who have long dreamt of a commercial trade corridor between
the Pacific and the Atlantic, are foremost among those who might benefit
from a warmer Arctic. Since the 1930s they have used what they called
the "Northern Sea Route" for their own military and merchant
ships--but, because of the numerous problems caused by heavy seasonal
icing conditions, it was impossible to keep that route open throughout
the year. It was largely for that reason that the USSR built several nuclear-powered
During the 70 years of Soviet control of Mother Russia, foreign ships
were banned from the Northern Sea Route. Post-Soviet Russia now invites
all shippers to use the route but, because of the short operating season
and the ice problems likely to be encountered, there have been relatively
Similar transit routes across the top of North America could be established,
perhaps using Canada's Northwest Passage. The availability of such "shortcuts"
across an ice-free Arctic Ocean would provide enormous time and monetary
savings for shippers and help world trade in other ways.
Coral Reefs in Deadly Danger
The world's coral reef systems have been in trouble for some time, and
recent studies show that the situation has gotten worse in just the last
two years. It is now estimated that between 10 and 27 percent of all of
the coral reefs on the planet already have died and that the "death
rate" could climb to as high as 40 percent by 2010, if not earlier.
Coral reef systems cover only one-tenth of 1 percent of the total surface
area of the world ocean, but they flank 101 nations. These "rain
forests of the sea," which support over one million species of marine
life, are the key element in a rich and complex environmental system.
Reefs not only support tourism and fishing activities but also serve as
natural breakwaters to protect adjacent coastlines. Their economic value
has been estimated at $375 billion a year.
Corals are extremely sensitive to changes in water temperature, clarity,
and salinity. Although periodic natural events--e.g., the physical damage
caused by hurricanes and the warming effects of El Niño--can and
do cause extensive coral losses, there is always an eventual recovery.
But for long-term stress and damage, the major culprit is man. When and
where reef structures are close to human activities the pollution from
sewage and agricultural wastes, combined with the suffocating sediments
from erosion and construction, contributes to more devastating and longer-lasting
Experts believe that, without "beneficial intervention" on
the part of humans, the world's coral reef systems will not be able to
withstand much longer the combined assault of coastal pollution, ocean
warming, and the rise in sea levels. Even if the most stringent environmental
laws imaginable were to be enacted, and rigidly enforced, it might take
from 10 to 20 years after the stresses had been mitigated before a reef
could be restored to good health. The worse news is that, once a reef
has died, it is almost impossible to recolonize it.
An Underabundance of Fish
The gradual but steady diminution of the world's fish stocks is another
major problem that, according to new empirical data now available, has
been getting worse on an almost annual basis. At present, two thirds of
the stocks are close to being overfished, and many are approaching the
status of "endangered species."
In each of the last two years the International Council for Exploration
of the Seas (ICES) has recommended that the European Union shut down all
cod fishing in the North Sea and Irish Sea, and in the coastal waters
of Scotland. The cod population is already endangered, the advisory group
believes, and could soon become extinct if drastic actions are not taken
in the immediate future.
Whatever action is taken, if any, would have a major impact on the cod
industry, of course. Some government experts estimate that a ban on cod
fishing would cost the United Kingdom, for example, some 20,000 jobs and
result in 1 billion pounds in economic losses. However, if the ICES estimates
are correct, these losses would be inevitable in any case. The only difference
would be that the cod industry could in time recover from a short- or
even long-term ban on fishing, but would never recover from a continuation
of the overfishing that now threatens the viability of the species.
It is interesting to note, in that context, that there have been two
previous major closures of the U.K. fisheries in the North Sea and the
home waters of the British Isles. One was imposed during World War I,
the other in World War II. The result in each case was a robust growth
in most fish stocks in the postwar years. If nothing else, these examples
show that a prompt and absolute closure can act to restore good health
to a fishery that has not yet reached the point of no return on the road
to permanent extinction.
Is Aquaculture the Answer?
Aquaculture--i.e., both fresh- and salt-water fish farming--accounts
for about one third of the world catch by weight. The world's aquaculture
industry is growing at about 10 percent a year. Norway has long supported
a major salmon farming industry--which earned about $1.2 billion in 2002--and
is now developing successful codfish "farms" in Norwegian fjords.
The cod farmers say they will be producing 400,000 tons of farmed cod
within 10 years, a catch that would be approximately twice the size of
Norway's open-ocean codfish catch in recent years.
Two-thirds of the U.S. aquaculture is fresh-water based--catfish and
trout are the primary products. The U.S. salt-water farming industry focuses
on salmon and shellfish. The U.S. aquaculture industry has developed somewhat
slowly, compared to the aquaculture industries of other countries, but
now registers about $1 billion a year in sales and has the potential for
much greater volume.
Aquaculture is not a magic bullet, though, that would solve the numerous
problems facing marine fisheries throughout the world. It faces several
problems of its own. It is a land-intensive industry that requires the
exclusive use of valuable coastal lands. In an era when most of the world's
populations are becoming more and more concentrated in coastal areas,
this means inevitable user conflicts of varying magnitude. In addition,
the dense concentration of marine life required to achieve economies of
scale results in significant pollution of waste-water effluents that must
be treated. The same population density also makes it easy for diseases
to propagate rapidly through the stock. Any aquaculture operation requires
extremely careful monitoring, if only because pollution or other adversities
can occur so quickly and cause such a massive loss of stock.
New Submersibles Join the Fleet
In 2002 there were four new manned submersibles under construction. All
four will be used primarily for tourist operations.
England Marlin Submarines is building the Alicia for an American owner.
It will carry six passengers and a pilot to a maximum of 1,000 feet. The
forward half of its pressure hull is made of acrylic plastic and is fitted
with one large viewing window for passengers and crew. Alicia should begin
sea trials in the late summer of 2003.
In North Vancouver, British Columbia, the Nuytco Research Company is
building the Dual DeepWorker submersible for an owner in Hamburg, Germany.
This small submersible is designed to carry its pilot and one passenger
to a depth of 1,000 feet. Nuytco already has built several one-person
DeepWorker submersibles; the Dual simply puts two of the company's pressure
hulls side-by-side on a common frame. Sea trials were scheduled to start
sometime in late December 2002 or early 2003.
The SeaMagine Company in Claremont, Calif., has two more of its SeaMobile
tourist submersibles under construction. These two-person submersibles
generally operate no deeper than 50 feet for tourist operations. However,
they have been approved for 150-foot operations for commercial and research
applications. There are three SeaMobiles now in service--in the Cayman
Islands; in Bodrum, Turkey; and on Catalina Island, Calif. The Bodrum
submersible is used primarily for underwater archaeology work by the U.S.-based
Institute for Nautical Archaeology.
In the research community there also is a project underway to develop
a replacement for the venerable research submersible Alvin. A Navy-owned
submersible based at the Woods Hole (Mass.) Oceanographic Institution
(WHOI), the Alvin is arguably the best-known manned submersible in the
world. With more than 3,800 dives since its launch in 1964, Alvin has
made major contributions to man's understanding of the ocean depths. Its
own depth is limited, though, to 14,764 feet and its overall configuration
makes it an unlikely candidate for many of the future scientific missions
likely in the deepest parts of the world ocean.
It is principally for that reason that the WHOI-based National Deep Submergence
Facility established the "New Alvin Design Advisory Committee"
to develop the requirements for a replacement submersible. The depth specification
for the new Alvin is expected to be about 21,500 feet (6,500 meters),
making it one of only two submersibles in the world that can go that deep.
Japan's Shinkai 6500, built in 1992, is the other.
What is important about having the ability to reach such a depth? An
area-vs.-depth plot of the global seafloor shows that the ability to dive
to 20,000 feet provides access to 97 percent of the ocean floor. The last
three percent is mostly the great deep-trench systems where the maximum
depth is close to 36,000 feet. This is not a bad tradeoff--designing a
submersible for roughly two thirds of the ocean's maximum depth actually
provides access to 97 percent of it.
Numerous other improvements for the new submersible will be based on
nearly four decades of operating experience with the present Alvin. The
committee estimates that construction of the new Alvin will take about
three to four years after the funding is in place.
History Under the Sea
Salvage diving operations continued last year at the 240-foot-deep USS
Monitor site 18 miles off Cape Hatteras on the East Coast of the United
States. The Monitor dives, a cooperative program between NOAA and the
Navy, offer extensive training opportunities for exercising the Navy's
deep-ocean diving and salvage capabilities.
After 140 years on the seafloor, Monitor's huge steam engine was recovered,
in July 2001, and then taken to the Mariners Museum in Newport News, Va.,
for long-term conservation work. It will take several years before it
can be put on "dry display"; until then, it can be viewed in
the conservation area. The museum now has some 400 Monitor artifacts in
In August 2002, the largest single object on Monitor was recovered--the
ship's turret, complete with its two massive 11-inch Dahlgren guns. After
many hours of diving operations, the 255-ton assembly was rigged by Navy
divers for a lift by the huge crane barge Wotan. The turret is now in
a conservation tank at the museum and will remain there for another three
to four years. Its interior was carefully mucked out to remove any artifacts
buried in the sediments. The skeletal remains of two bodies were recovered,
along with many small items such as buttons and coins. The bones are now
undergoing evaluation at the Army's Central Identification Laboratory
in Hawaii, which identifies war dead from skeletal remains.
Two more diving expeditions were made last year--in May and July, respectively--at
the wreck site of the WWII German battleship Bismarck. Using two Russian
Mir submersibles a total of nine double dives (both submersibles down
at the same time) were made to 15,500 feet. The May expedition was carried
out for filmmaker James Cameron, who has now completed a documentary on
the famous ship. In addition to filming from the submersibles, Cameron
used two small remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) developed by his company.
The camera-carrying ROVs were launched from a Mir and controlled by a
pilot in the submersible.
The July expedition to Bismarck carried out a number of tourist dives
and were used for television filming on another project. Each of the on-site
Mir dives on this site took about 12 hours, including five to six hours
of bottom time in the wreckage area. Remarkably, the cumulative bottom
time at the Bismarck site for the 2001 and the 2002 dives now is already
about seven days. Bismarck's wartime career lasted only eight days.
A Florida-based company, Odyssey Marine Expedition, may be hitting the
jackpot soon. After extensive search operations in the Mediterranean the
company finally located what it was looking for--the HMS Sussex, sunk
in 1694 while carrying several tons of gold (which was to be paid to the
Duke of Savoy for his allegiance to Britain in the war with France).
Sussex was a Royal Navy ship; the wreck still belongs to the British
Crown, therefore. Odyssey made an agreement with the British government
to salvage the ship's cargo and artifacts and to divide the proceeds with
Her Majesty's government. Salvage operations are expected to begin soon.
The value of the gold, assuming it is recovered, could range anywhere
from several hundred millions of dollars to a billion or more.
In the Antarctic, meanwhile, "Shackleton mania" has taken on
a new dimension. There has been serious planning for some time to locate
the wreckage of the intrepid British explorer's famous ship Endurance--which,
after almost a year in the pack ice, finally sank on 21 November 1915
and is now some 10,000 feet down under the mostly ice-covered Weddell
Sea. Recent reports from London suggest that an English company, Blue
Water Recoveries, is ready to take on the recovery project. The company,
headed by David Mearns, achieved a degree of fame in 2001 when it located
HMS Hood, the battle cruiser sunk by Bismarck in 1941.
Because the legendary Ernest Shackleton was one of the most famous of
all British explorers, Mearns may find it easier to obtain the considerable
funding needed for a project of such considerable magnitude--and so fraught
with potential dangers. The Weddell Sea is a hostile place at all times,
and the operating season there is extremely brief. Endurance's hull had
been battered and crushed by the ice for nine months before she sunk,
and it is far from clear how much wreckage will be found on, and recoverable
from, the seafloor in the area. The ship's boiler and steam engine will
provide the best magnetic and acoustic targets but whether anything else
of value has survived is open to speculation. Nonetheless, as with all
voyages of discovery, the search for the Endurance is worth the expedition,
even if the prize sought is never found. *