The perception that the ‘scientist’ sits in an ivory tower with no ability to communicate, let alone work, with others is one of the stereotypes the OnCirculation folks are trying to dismiss. The questions that earth scientists are trying to answer often need multiple teams from multiple countries, all coordinating and pooling resources to push our understanding further. As an example, did you know that we don’t know much about the topography and sea floor structure beneath the Southern Ocean? A recent press release by the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany (that I discovered through the Earth Science Picture of the Day, see inset) describes how scientists from 30 research institutes across 15 countries collaborated to reduce 4.2 billion individual values into coherent digital maps of the Southern Ocean seafloor, or officially the International Bathymetric Chart of the Southern Ocean (IBCSO).
Unbeknownst to this lover of all things Antarctic, previously the only detailed maps were of coastal zones. “The ocean south of the 60thparallel extends over an area of some 21 million square kilometres and is therefore around 60 times as large as the Federal Republic of Germany. Reliable bathymetric data have so far existed for only 17 per cent of this area” says Jan Erik Arndt. Rather than solely relying on data from multibeam sounding systems *, they were able to create detailed models of the seafloor by interpolating between points obtained through more traditional mapping. In an excellent description (and by that I mean accessible) a data modeling specialist from the Alfred Wegner Institue describes the process,
“We treated every existing measurement point like a tent pole to a certain extent and arithmetically covered these poles with a tarpaulin. In this way we obtained approximate values about the height of the tarpaulin between the poles”, explains the AWI specialist for data modeling”.
These maps will greatly assist scientists across an enormous range of disciplines from geophysicists who want to better describe the ocean currents, and chemical oceanographers that want to know what is in these currents, to geologists looking at structures and processes kms beneath the surface of the ocean and biologists trying to understand how communities emerge and where they disperse.
Makes my project feel a little small. Considering my study sites are just to the north of the Southern Ocean, perhaps I could request they swing their beams to the north a little, as far as 45S. I’ve a few questions I’d like to answer myself, and I much prefer playing with others. I get lonely in my tower.
* (Taken from the Alfred Wegener Website, for those who like a bit of technical detail) Multibeam bathymetric survey techniques provide a rapid means of determining the morphology and nature of the seafloor. The recent Hydrosweep DS-2 System onboard R/V Polarstern provides 59 individual soundings of the water depth and echo strength for each ping. Moreover sidescan information (2048 echos per ping) is retrieved. The system can be operated with 90 or 120 degrees fan angle and is designed for deep-sea observations.