THIS month, Perth was fortunate to have the ‘Lady Amber’ drop in. She has spent the last year traversing the Indian Ocean, launching drifting monitoring devices into deep waters to help map the ocean we know so little about.
At 38 tonnes and 20 metres long, with her own desalination plant onboard, the South-African flagged Lady Amber, is the only yacht from the southern hemisphere to have helped scientists from UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) complete research.
The journey began in June 2010 when Captain Peter Flanagan volunteered his expertise and his boat to the IOC’s Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS). The program asks merchant and research ships to deploy ‘Argo’ drifting robots into the ocean at specific points. Currently there are more than 3,400 active floats in the ocean however most of them are deployed in the northern hemisphere.
An Argo has amazing accuracy and releases pressure to sink 2,000 meters below the surface where it can stay for up to 10 days at one or varying depths. Data about ocean health, particularly pressure, salinity and temperature, are transmitted by satellite to reception stations and used for numeric modelling and climate forecasting. The Argo robots are also used to research and better understand ocean conditions (currents, sea surface heights) and hazards (internal waves), associated coupled climate hazards like cyclones and rainfall, and patterns in climate variability and climate change. While submerged they can be programmed to stay at one depth or change depths. The Argo can repeat the data relay for between 3-7 years depending on its design.
The final stages of Lady Amber’s trip deployed 57 Argo robots in the Southern Indian Ocean—a zone which is rarely visited by research ships. I am convinced focus on the southern hemisphere, especially the Indian Ocean which is the least understood of all our oceans, is vital. We are the ocean’s custodians and we need to understand it.
Captain Peter Flanagan has also used this as an opportunity to train young people and has shown that such a program could be used as a basis for the development of a scholarship program for disadvantaged WA students. I am so pleased the State Government, the Federal Bureau of Meteorology, CSIRO and UNESCO- IOC Perth can work in collaboration to help us understand our oceans. Science and Innovation Minister John Day and I were lucky to be able to speak with Captain Flanagan and learn about Argo’s work.
A permanent exhibit on the Argo and GOOS is due to be put on display at the WA Maritime Museum in late 2012. The display will include interactive hands-on exercises to download Argo data for use in school science and geography projects. Argo and GOOS information will also be exhibited at the WA Museum’s Perth, Geraldton and Albany facilities so that Western Australians are able to learn more about this fascinating and important contribution to understanding our oceans and climate.
This work is part of the Australian Climate Change Science Program, funded jointly by the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO.