Polar Challenge: Creating an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle for Under Sea-Ice Exploration

World Ocean CouncilWorld Ocean Council Partners with World Climate Research Programme and Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation to Promote Industry Involvement in Polar Research Innovation

The World Ocean Council (WOC) is working to foster private sector participation in the Polar Challenge – a competition to develop an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) capable of a 2,000 km mission under the sea-ice in the Arctic or Antarctic, with a prize of 500,000 Swiss francs to the winner.

The World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) and Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation hope the competition will stimulate innovation towards a cost-effective, autonomous and scalable observing network for ice-covered ocean regions.

“With the Polar Challenge, we hope to open new horizons in under-ice navigation,
endurance and environmental monitoring that is vital to understanding polar oceans,” said WCRP Director David Carlson.

“The reliability of long-term climate change outlooks in polar regions is severely limited by the scarcity and cost of observations of the sea-ice and below,” emphasized WCRP Senior Scientist Michel Rixen. “New generation AUVs such as underwater gliders provide a potential cost-effective option for scaling up observing networks for the Polar regions,” added Mr Rixen.

WOC CEO, Paul Holthus, noted that, “The use of AUVs and other intensive data collection technology can be cost-effectively augmented by harnessing the use of commercial vessels for data collection as they operate in polar waters, and we are working to advance this through the WOC ‘Smart Ocean-Smart Industries’ program.”

Currently AUVs are primarily used in ice-free zones, where they can surface to get a GPS fix and transmit data, e.g. temperature, salinity, chlorophyll and acidity. But under the sea-ice, the operating range, positioning and data transmission are a major challenge. Progress on power systems, navigation and communication create the potential to expand the scope of AUVs to under sea-ice operations. The Polar Challenge advances WCRP research priorities in polar oceans and will contribute to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) polar initiatives that benefit the wider community (weather, ocean, environment, safety, transport, energy, tourism, etc).

The WCRP invites contributions from all relevant stakeholders and provides more details, including competition rules and registration, at: www.wcrp-climate.org/polarchallenge.

The Polar Challenge was announced last week at the Arctic Observing Summit (AOS), in Fairbanks, Alaska. WOC co-organized the private sector theme sessions of the Arctic Observing Summit, which addressed industry experience in, and needs for, Arctic observations and data, and culminated in a workshop on fostering data collection and sharing by industry.

The AOS brought together 450 delegates from 30 countries – representing industry, science, indigenous peoples, government agencies, and NGOs. The AOS 2016 Conference Statement outlines seven major recommendations for developing a pathway towards an internationally supported, pan-Arctic observing system. Click here for the AOS Statement.

Life History Traits and Niche Instability Impact Accuracy and Temporal Transferability for Historically Calibrated Distribution Models of North American Birds

PLOS_ONEPLOS | One, Published 09 March 2016

By Guinevere O. U. Wogan

“A primary assumption of environmental niche models (ENMs) is that models are both accurate and transferable across geography or time; however, recent work has shown that models may be accurate but not highly transferable. While some of this is due to modeling technique, individual species ecologies may also underlie this phenomenon. Life history traits certainly influence the accuracy of predictive ENMs, but their impact on model transferability is less understood. This study investigated how life history traits influence the predictive accuracy and transferability of ENMs using historically calibrated models for birds.


“In this study I used historical occurrence and climate data (1950-1990s) to build models for a sample of birds, and then projected them forward to the ‘future’ (1960-1990s). The models were then validated against models generated from occurrence data at that ‘future’ time. Internal and external validation metrics, as well as metrics assessing transferability, and Generalized Linear Models were used to identify life history traits that were significant predictors of accuracy and transferability. This study found that the predictive ability of ENMs differs with regard to life history characteristics such as range, migration, and habitat, and that the rarity versus commonness of a species affects the predicted stability and overlap and hence the transferability of projected models. Projected ENMs with both high accuracy and transferability scores, still sometimes suffered from over- or under- predicted species ranges. Life history traits certainly influenced the accuracy of predictive ENMs for birds, but while aspects of geographic range impact model transferability, the mechanisms underlying this are less understood.”

Spatial analysis of visceral leishmaniasis in the oases of the plains of Kashi Prefecture, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, China

pvParasites & Vectors, 2016, 9:148, Published 15 March 2016

By Li-ying Wang, Wei-ping Wu, Qing Fu, Ya-yi Guan, Shuai Han, Yan-lin Niu, Su-xiang Tong, Israyil Osman, Song Zhang, and Kaisar Kaisar
Background: Kashi Prefecture of Xinjiang is one of the most seriously affected areas with anthroponotic visceral leishmaniasis in China. A better understanding of space distribution features in this area was needed to guide strategies to eliminate visceral leishmaniasis from highly endemic areas. We performed a spatial analysis using the data collected in Bosh Klum Township in Xinjiang China.

Methods: Based on the report of endemic diseases between 1990 and 2005, three villages with a high number of visceral leishmaniasis cases in Bosh Klum Township were selected. We conducted a household survey to collect the baseline data of kala-azar patients using standard case definitions. The geographical information was recorded with GIS equipment. A binomial distribution fitting test, runs test, and Scan statistical analysis were used to assess the space distribution of the study area.


Results: The result of the binomial distribution fitting test showed that the distribution of visceral leishmaniasis cases in local families was inconsistent (χ2 = 53.23, P < 0.01). The results of runs test showed that the distribution of leishmaniasis infected families along the channel was not random in the group of more than five infected families. The proportion of this kind of group in all infected families was 63.84 % (113 of 177). In the Scan statistical analysis, spatial aggregation was analyzed by poisson model, which found 3 spatial distribution areas 1) Zone A was located in a center point of 76.153447°E, 39.528477°N within its 1.11 mile radius, where the cumulative life-incidence of leishmaniasis was 1.95 times as high as that in surrounding areas (P < 0.05); 2) Zone B was located in a center point of 76.111968°E, 39.531895°N within its 0.54 mile radius, where the cumulative life-incidence of leishmaniasis was 1.82 times as high as that in surrounding areas (P < 0.01); and 3) Zone C was located in a center point of 76.195427°E, 39.563835°N within its 0.68 mile radius, where the cumulative life-incidence of leishmaniasis was 1.31 times as high as that in surrounding areas (P < 0.05).

Conclusions: The spatial distribution of visceral leishmaniasis-infected families was clustered. Thus, the proper use of this finding would be an improvement in highly endemic areas, which could help identify the types of endemic areas and population at high risk and carry out appropriate measures to prevent and control VL in this area as well.”

Locating Chicago’s Charter Schools: A Socio-Spatial Analysis

epaaEducation Policy Analysis Archives, Volume 24, Number 24, 14 March 2016

By Jennifer C. LaFleur

“This project contributes to the body of research examining the implications of the geographic location of charter schools for student access, especially in high-poverty communities. Using geographic information systems (GIS) software, this paper uses data from the U.S. Census American Community Survey to identify the socioeconomic characteristics of the census tracts in which Chicago’s charter schools tend to locate. Echoing the findings of other researchers who have examined charter school locational patterns, the present analyses found evidence of a “ceiling effect” by which many charter schools appear to locate in Chicago’s higher-needs census tracts, broadly cast, but avoid locating directly within those that are highest-need.

Map including portions of the following neighborhoods: South Austin, West Garfield Park, and West Humboldt Park. Yellow flags represent the location of charter schools. Shading reflects the number of standard deviation units the census tract’s socioeconomic need index score was from the city mean. Census tracts shaded in the lightest blue represent areas of lowest socioeconomic need, those shaded in the darkest blue represent areas of highest socioeconomic need.

Map including portions of the following neighborhoods: South Austin, West Garfield Park, and West Humboldt Park. Yellow flags represent the location of charter schools. Shading reflects the number of standard deviation units the census tract’s socioeconomic need index score was from the city mean. Census tracts shaded in the lightest blue represent areas of lowest socioeconomic need, those shaded in the darkest blue represent areas of highest socioeconomic need.

“The findings suggest that because Chicago’s charter schools face per-pupil expenditures that are often up to 20% less than those of traditional public schools, they may strategically leverage location to help shape student enrollment. By frequently locating near, but not directly within highest-need communities, charter schools may find it easier to attract a quorum of relatively higher achieving students who are less expensive to educate, therefore increasing their chances of meeting academic benchmarks and retaining their charters. By extending the findings of other researchers to the context of Chicago—where charters represent an ever-increasing share of the public school market—the present analyses may inform future revisions to the policies governing the authorization of charter schools in Chicago, with the goal of increasing access for highest-need students. ”

Habitat-based cetacean density models for the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico

Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 22615, Published Online 03 March 2016

By Jason J. Roberts, Benjamin D. Best, Laura Mannocci, Ei Fujioka, Patrick N. Halpin, Debra L. Palka, Lance P. Garrison, Keith D. Mullin, Timothy V. N. Cole, Christin B. Khan, William A. McLellan, D. Ann Pabst, and Gwen G. Lockhart

“Cetaceans are protected worldwide but vulnerable to incidental harm from an expanding array of human activities at sea. Managing potential hazards to these highly-mobile populations increasingly requires a detailed understanding of their seasonal distributions and habitats. Pursuant to the urgent need for this knowledge for the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, we integrated 23 years of aerial and shipboard cetacean surveys, linked them to environmental covariates obtained from remote sensing and ocean models, and built habitat-based density models for 26 species and 3 multi-species guilds using distance sampling methodology.

Predicted mean density of small delphinoids.

Predicted mean density of small delphinoids.

“In the Atlantic, for 11 well-known species, model predictions resembled seasonal movement patterns previously suggested in the literature. For these we produced monthly mean density maps. For lesser-known taxa, and in the Gulf of Mexico, where seasonal movements were less well described, we produced year-round mean density maps. The results revealed high regional differences in small delphinoid densities, confirmed the importance of the continental slope to large delphinoids and of canyons and seamounts to beaked and sperm whales, and quantified seasonal shifts in the densities of migratory baleen whales. The density maps, freely available online, are the first for these regions to be published in the peer-reviewed literature.”

OGC requests information to guide Arctic Spatial Data Pilot

The Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC®) requests information to help advance the “Arctic Spatial Data Pilot”. The Arctic Spatial Data Pilot is an OGC Interoperability Program initiative sponsored by the U.S. Geological Survey and Natural Resources Canada. This recently launched initiative aims to help all Arctic stakeholders benefit from improved access to the expanding universe of online Arctic geographic information. The emerging Arctic SDI, an evolving technical and organizational network of diverse information resources and collaborating players, will play a key role in pan-Arctic science and monitoring as well as societal, economic, regulatory, and environmental decision support.

“It’s important that scientists, resource managers, decision-makers and our citizens can discover, access and use trusted data to conduct research, make informed decisions, and respond to emergencies in the Arctic,” said Kevin Gallagher, Associate Director for Core Science Systems, U.S. Geological Survey. “This pilot is meant to advance the understanding of best practices for the distribution of geospatial data.”


The value of data increases with the number of users and with the number of linked data sets. An open Arctic SDI will be essential infrastructure for widespread Arctic geospatial data discovery, sharing, integration and commerce to support many different communities of interest.

This OGC Arctic Spatial Data Pilot Request for Information (RFI) will help the U.S. Geological Survey and Natural Resources Canada collect information to demonstrate the diversity, richness and value of Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) Web services that can be made available to Arctic SDI stakeholders. Information gathered and publicly reported by the initiative will expose opportunities for stakeholders to make better use of Web technologies for publishing, discovering, assessing, accessing, integrating, aggregating and analyzing geospatial data and related non-geospatial data.

The purpose of this RFI is to gain a better understanding of the full potential of an Arctic SDI to serve the Arctic community. What is it exactly? What data and Web services are available and what needed data and Web services are missing? What are the data sharing and data integration requirements of the different Arctic communities? What does the ideal architecture of an Arctic SDI look like? What key stakeholders need to contribute to a more concerted development process? What scenarios and use cases should be considered as part of this OGC Pilot? Readers of this RFI are encouraged to respond with recommendations for procedures, technology, data, or open standards that should be considered to be included in a recommended practice for Arctic SDI.

RFI responses will be discussed with an expanded set of sponsoring organizations that will review information interoperability and integration requirements and then outline funding opportunities for Arctic SDI standards technology developments planned for later this year. With consideration of active developments in OGC’s current Testbed 12 initiative and in its current work with ISO, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and other standards groups, OGC will document the needed interoperability and integration requirements in a Request for Quotations (RFQ). The RFQ will invite technology providers to describe work they offer to do to address those Arctic SDI interoperability requirements. RFI respondents will be considered in future Open Geospatial Consortium, Natural Resources Canada, United States Geological Survey, Academic funding bodies, or other opportunities. All RFI responses will contribute to Arctic SDI considerations moving forward.

Responses to the RFI are requested by March 18, 2016. The RFI includes instructions on how organizations can respond to and submit questions about the RFI.

[Source: OGC press release]

Memorial University Launches Marine Spatial Planning Program

Fisheries and Marine Institute, a WOC Affiliate Member, Creates Master of Marine Studies in Marine Spatial Planning and Management

The Memorial University Fisheries and Marine Institute will inaugurate the new Master of Marine Studies in Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) and Management, the first graduate program of its kind in Canada, in September 2016.

“Marine spatial planning is an emerging and important field that is gaining prominence as global demands on our coastal spaces and oceans increase,” said Carey Bonnell, head of the Marine Institute’s School of Fisheries. “We want to position our graduates to apply technology-supported knowledge and expertise and provide the best advice to sustain and use our marine resources through responsible ocean economic activity.”

The program focuses on governance, policy/legislative, ecological, socio-economic, cultural, and technological elements of sustainable ocean and coastal zone development, planning and management. Students will study the mapping and analysis of human activities and environmental features as part of planning environmentally/economically sustainable use of coastal and marine environments. Students will also learn conflict management and facilitation to effectively engage coastal and ocean regulators and stakeholders.

The program has been developed with input from international MSP experts from western Canada, the USA, Ireland, Scotland and the Netherlands, who also serve as key contacts for international internships and research projects. The WOC looks forward to engaging program participants as interns.

More information is available at www.mi.mun.ca/msp or by contacting Krista Sweetland at 709-778-0395 or Krista.Sweetland@mi.mun.ca.

[Source: World Ocean Council (WOC) news release]

Free Space Travel Posters from NASA

Imagination is our window into the future. New travel posters from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, envision a day when the creativity of scientists and engineers will allow us to do things we can only dream of now.

You can take a virtual trip to 14 alien worlds, and maybe even plaster your living room with planetary art, via the new, futuristic space tourism posters. The posters are available free for downloading and printing at http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/visions-of-the-future/.

Last year, five posters depicting planets beyond our solar system were introduced as part of JPL’s Exoplanet Travel Bureau series. They are included in the latest set of 14 posters, which also show such locales as Mars, Jupiter’s moon Europa, Saturn’s vapor-spewing moon Enceladus, and the dwarf planet Ceres.

The posters are the brainchild of The Studio at JPL, a design and strategy team that works with JPL scientists and engineers to visualize and depict complex science and technology topics. Their work is used in designing space missions and in sharing the work of NASA/JPL with the public.

[Source: NASA press release]

Transboundary dimensions of marine spatial planning: Fostering inter-jurisdictional relations and governance

mpMarine Policy, Volume 65, March 2016, Pages 85–96

By Stephen Jay, Fátima L. Alves, Cathal O’Mahony, Maria Gomez, Aoibheann Rooney, Margarida Almodovar, Kira Gee, Juan Luis Suárez de Vivero, Jorge M.S. Gonçalves, Maria da Luz Fernandes, Olvido Tello, Sarah Twomey, Inmaculada Prado, Catarina Fonseca, Luis Bentes, Guida Henriques, and Aldino Campos


  • Marine spatial planning requires a transboundary approach.
  • Differences between institutional systems and practices complicate joint-working.
  • A stronger understanding of governance frameworks is needed.
  • Project experience points to the importance of fostering multiple inter-linkages.

“There is broad agreement that marine spatial planning (MSP) should incorporate transboundary considerations, reflecting the cross-border nature of marine and coastal ecosystem dynamics and maritime resources and activities. This is recognised in the European Union’s recent legislation on MSP, and experience in transboundary approaches is developing through official processes and pilot studies. However, differences between institutional systems, priorities and practices may not easily be overcome in transboundary initiatives. This requires a stronger focus on understanding the governance frameworks within which MSP operates and fostering interlinkages between them.


TPEA data viewer for the southern pilot area.

“This article discusses a European-funded project in which emphasis was placed on joint-working in every aspect, based on principles of equity and mutual trust. This led to the development of inter-relations, not just of the geographies and maritime resources and activities of the marine areas concerned, but also of the systems of data management, governance and policy-making and of the participants involved as officials or stakeholders, including their means and cultures of exchange. It is suggested that transboundary initiatives in MSP would benefit by complementing current resource management-focused understandings with governance and policy-related perspectives, drawing on experience in other fields of territorial cooperation.”

A submarine landslide source for the devastating 1964 Chenega tsunami, southern Alaska

epEarth and Planetary Science Letters, Volume 438, 15 March 2016, Pages 112–121

By Daniel S. Brothers, Peter J. Haeussler, Lee Liberty, David Finlayson, Eric Geist, Keith Labay, and Mike Byerly


  • New geophysical evidence for a large landslide complex offshore Chenega Island.
  • Pervasive failure of glacimarine sediment along a perched sedimentary basin.
  • Earthquake-triggered submarine landslides are likely cause of tsunami in 1964.
  • Landslides display complex flow evolution from source area to deposition.

“During the 1964 Great Alaska earthquake (MwMw 9.2), several fjords, straits, and bays throughout southern Alaska experienced significant tsunami runup of localized, but unexplained origin. Dangerous Passage is a glacimarine fjord in western Prince William Sound, which experienced a tsunami that devastated the village of Chenega where 23 of 75 inhabitants were lost – the highest relative loss of any community during the earthquake. Previous studies suggested the source of the devastating tsunami was either from a local submarine landslide of unknown origin or from coseismic tectonic displacement. Here we present new observations from high-resolution multibeam bathymetry and seismic reflection surveys conducted in the waters adjacent to the village of Chenega. The seabed morphology and substrate architecture reveal a large submarine landslide complex in water depths of 120–360 m.

7.3-D perspective view of shaded relief bathymetry offshore Chenega village.

7.3-D perspective view of shaded relief bathymetry offshore Chenega village.

“Analysis of bathymetric change between 1957 and 2014 indicates the upper 20–50 m (∼0.7 km3) of glacimarine sediment was destabilized and evacuated from the steep face of a submerged moraine and an adjacent ∼21 km2 perched sedimentary basin. Once mobilized, landslide debris poured over the steep, 130 m-high face of a deeper moraine and then blanketed the terminal basin (∼465 m water depth) in 11±5 m11±5 m of sediment. These results, combined with inverse tsunami travel-time modeling, suggest that earthquake-triggered submarine landslides generated the tsunami that struck the village of Chenega roughly 4 min after shaking began. Unlike other tsunamigenic landslides observed in and around Prince William Sound in 1964, the failures in Dangerous Passage are not linked to an active submarine delta. The requisite environmental conditions needed to generate large submarine landslides in glacimarine fjords around the world may be more common than previously thought.”