Daily Archives: 2014/04/14

Into the ABYSS: Mission to explore the fifth deepest ocean trench on Earth begins

By Jonathan O’Callaghan

  • A 40-day expedition to the Kermadec Trench near New Zealand has begun
  • The trench is the fifth deepest in the world and also one of the coldest
  • The mission is being funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF)
  • One of the world’s most advanced submersibles will explore the region
  • The pressure on the ocean floor is 1,100 times that at sea level
  • But somehow marine life is able to thrive in this hostile environment
  • The goal is to discover how life can survive at such extreme depths

What lurks at the bottom of the ocean?

That’s a question a team of researchers funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) will be hoping to answer.

Using one of the most advanced robotic submersibles in the world, scientists have just plunged to one of the deepest points on Earth.

The 40-day HADES project (Hadal Ecosystem Studies Project), funded by the NSF (National Science Foundation), is aiming to discover how marine life can survive at extreme ocean depths. Pictured is an abyssal grenadier spotted at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean on a previous mission

The 40-day HADES project (Hadal Ecosystem Studies Project), funded by the NSF (National Science Foundation), is aiming to discover how marine life can survive at extreme ocean depths. Pictured is an abyssal grenadier spotted at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean on a previous mission

 

Their location is the Kermadec Trench, found just off New Zealand.

At a depth of 6.24 miles (10.04 kilometres) it is the fifth deepest trench in the world.

An inflow of deep waters from Antarctica also makes it one of Earth’s coldest trenches.

The 40-day expedition to observe this fascinating location began on Saturday.

The team will be using one of the world’s most advanced submersibles in the world, Nereus, in tandem with other technology.

THE NEREUS SUBMERSIBLE

The vehicle the team are using to explore the Kermadec Trench is Nereus.

According to the NSF it is the world’s only full-ocean-depth, hybrid, remotely-operating vehicle (ROV).

The hybrid design means it can be operated remotely both with and without a tether.

The advanced vehicle weighs 6,200 pounds (2,800 kilograms) and is slightly larger than an average car.

It is powered by 2,000 lithium-ion batteries and its hull can handle intense pressure.

The vehicle can operate remotely for up to 12 hours.

Imagery and video is streamed to a ship on the surface using a fibre-optic cable that is about the width of a human hair.

It has previously been used to explore the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of any ocean on Earth.

The project is known as the Hadal Ecosystem Studies Project (HADES), and its goal is to perform the first systematic study of life in ocean trenches.

‘The proposal to study the deep-sea environment as part of HADES was high-risk, but, we hope, also high-reward,’ David Garrison, program director in NSF’s Division of Ocean Sciences that funds HADES, says in a release.

‘Through this exciting project, we will shine a light into the darkness of Earth’s deep-ocean trenches, discovering surprising results all along the way.’

Ocean trenches like this are some of the least explored locations on the planet.

It’s often said that we know less about the bottom of the oceans than we do the surface of the moon.

According to Tim Shank, a biologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, one of the participating organisations, advances in technology now make such difficult missions possible.

‘We know relatively little about life in ocean trenches, the deepest marine habitats on Earth,’ he says.

‘We didn’t have the technology to do these kinds of detailed studies before.

‘This will be a first-order look at community structure, adaptation and evolution: how life exists in the trenches.’

The destination for this mission is the Kermadec Trench just off the coast of New Zealand, the world's fifth deepest trench and also one of the coldest due to inflow from Antarctica

The destination for this mission is the Kermadec Trench just off the coast of New Zealand, the world’s fifth deepest trench and also one of the coldest due to inflow from Antarctica

 

One of the world's most advanced deep-submergence vehicles, a remotely operated submersible called Nereus, will be used by the researchers in their explorations

One of the world’s most advanced deep-submergence vehicles, a remotely operated submersible called Nereus, will be used by the researchers in their explorations

 

 

Among the questions the scientists are trying to answer, they will be hoping to find out how marine animals can survive at extreme pressures of 15,000 pounds (6,800 kilograms) per square inch.

For comparison, the pressure at sea level on Earth is 14.7 pounds (6.67 kilograms) per square inch.

The mission will see research conducted at 15 stations, which include both sites at sea level for testing purposes and along the base of the trench.

At each station imaging probes outfitted with cameras and experimental equipment known as Hadal-landers will be deployed.

Included in the experimental equipment will be respirometers, which will study how animal metabolism works at such extreme depths.

Life within deep trenches, such as the cusk eel imaged previously at the depths of the Marianas Trench, is known to be unusual and unique. The researchers will be hoping to discover how marine animals can withstand pressures 1,100 times that at sea level

Life within deep trenches, such as the cusk eel imaged previously at the depths of the Marianas Trench, is known to be unusual and unique. The researchers will be hoping to discover how marine animals can withstand pressures 1,100 times that at sea level

Ocean trenches were once thought to be devoid of life.

Now it is believed that they are home to unique species unlike anything found elsewhere on Earth.

This mission will help to uncover not only how animals can survive here, but also what their food supply is.

The project will also provide important research for climate change studies.

Trenches are known to act as carbon sinks, so it is hoped the researchers can study how carbon and other chemicals are held on the ocean floor.

 

A crustacean scours the edge of the Marianas Trench in the central Pacific Ocean. It is not known how animals such as these are able to get food, something this mission will be hoping to discover

A crustacean scours the edge of the Marianas Trench in the central Pacific Ocean. It is not known how animals such as these are able to get food, something this mission will be hoping to discover

– “DM”

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Why black middle class fails to lead

The black middle class has not stepped up to the plate and taken its place as leaders of society, says Benedict Xolani Dube.

henri

True liberty for any country is measured by the evolutionary advancement of its middle class.

In terms of social stratification, the middle class is the centre that holds and the heart that beats.

Its core mission is that of the custodian, vanguard and torch bearer of society.

This sector of our society constitutes intellectuals (organic and traditional), entrepreneurs, innovators and progressive revolutionaries, and its role in South Africa’s transition in democracy is crucial.

Failure by this sector to honour and fulfil its role leads to anomalies which snowball into serious obstacles. Very often, when the middle class fails to lead, we see evidence of despondency, name-calling, the digging up our collective, unpleasant past and racial rhetoric.

The spontaneous unrest, or what we in South Africa call service delivery protests, are the consequences of middle-class failure. In fact, historical evidence clearly highlights and confirms the middle class as the leader of society.

In this country, the creation of a black middle class, or black bourgeoisie, was, and still is, part of the historical objective of the struggle for freedom. Without a black middle class, the realisation of a critical part of our constitution to create a non-racial society, and the deracialisation of ownership of productive property, will remain a mirage.

The eradication of racism cannot be divorced from the creation and strengthening of the black middle class.

The questions we as a nation need to ask ourselves are:

* In our 20 years of democracy, do we believe we have made comfortable progress or are we marching backwards with regards to these objectives?

* Is a black middle class up to the task of leading society?

* Do we have a critical mass of skilled, knowledgeable and internationally competitive black middle-class members?

* Is our black middle class passive or proactive?

* believe the prevailing socio-economic circumstances in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) suggest the middle class is consistently failing in its mission, which is to protect and be the torch bearers of society.

Economic opportunities are still entrenched in an apartheid stratagem and design, and the pillars of the apartheid economic model seem not to have been shaken.

This economic status quo proceeds regardless of various government interventions.

It is crucial to recall that Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) in KZN is not something new.

During apartheid rule, there was Zulu Economic Empowerment (ZEE), which was advocated by the then Kwazulu government under the leadership of Inkatha Yesizwe.

It is arguable whether the beneficiaries of Inkatha Yesizwe ZEE (IYZEE) made any impact on our society. They failed to tilt the economic scales for the inclusion of African people into KZN’s economic mainstream.

In the past 20 years, we have witnessed a burgeoning of the African middle class as consumers. Subsequently, the South African market coined the term Black Diamonds, which I believe is intellectually derogatory, because it defines the African middle class as infested with an appetite for “bling-bling” consumption.

Although the government has all the necessary tools, laws and institutions to decentralise the economy, ongoing statistics confirm that it is equipping and investing in the wrong calibre of middle-class individuals.

The most worrying factor today is the current discourse on what is now termed “the second transition”. The probabilities are that the trends experienced during the first transition will continue to dominate unless we conduct a frank and honest evaluation of the failures of this period.

Renaming the soapie but writing the same storyline and characters is a futile endeavour.

The lack of innovation among the African middle class has led to them being sandwiched between the government and the white corporate class. How can African people claim to be in power if this crucial sector cannot sustain itself?

As far as I can see, the African middle class has only managed to inflict embarrassment on the ruling class, and especially upon the African people, and it is only fair to ask whether the governing ANC can continue to trust and devote the country’s resources to the current African middle class?

Let’s, for instance, look at the example of the Afrikaner middle class, which succeeded in raising the Afrikaners from the bondage of British domination and turning themselves into a powerful nation. The Indian middle class, through collecting the crumbs that fell from the apartheid table, also managed to raise their communities.

Looking at the current African middle class, it’s very much a case of the more things change, the more they stay the same.

We are witnessing the failure of the post-apartheid African middle class to comprehend its role in society. It seems that it has no coherent and pragmatic agenda.

Instead, there is a prevalence of mediocrity, anti-intellectualism and decadence.

The relationship between knowledge producers and controllers of the means of production is indissoluble. In the present times, business people must be intellectuals.

But the truth is, we have very few intellectual tenderprenuers.

The dominance of any group of people can only be evident when the defeated start embracing its culture and language.

The Afrikaners, after their liberation from the British, scientifically developed their language and culture because they wanted to enjoy true liberty and their own identity.

Education is the primary agency and the main transporter of culture and language. Surely the defeated always adopt the culture, language and mannerisms of the victor?

The victor has always set the bar for the defeated.

My heart becomes heavy when I recall Frantz Fanon’s words: “However painful it may be for me to accept this conclusion, I am obliged to state it: For the black man there is only one destiny. And it is white.”

We need to ask ourselves: Has the adoption of the victor’s culture and language in South Africa now become a priority? Or is it a form of escapism, a way of abandoning the task at hand?

We cannot afford to remain silent on the question of the apartheid-like economic structures in our province.

– “iol”


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Expatriates vote for half an MP

Political parties are fighting for scraps when it comes to the votes of those living abroad.

henri

Just over 26 000 South Africans have registered to vote abroad, enough to constitute barely half a member in Parliament. And only a fraction of those registered will vote.

About 44 000 votes constituted a seat in Parliament in the last general election and the much-vaunted international vote will barely make a dent.

Yet political parties are fighting for scraps when it comes to the votes of expats.

Precisely 26 701 South Africans living abroad have registered to vote, according to figures provided by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to the Mail & Guardian this week, though the estimated number of South Africans abroad is generally put at more than two million.

The Freedom Front Plus (FF+) waged an arduous court battle to enable South Africans to vote abroad in 2009, and this time around would-be voters can register as well, thanks to the party’s efforts.

Novelty votes
The novelty of international voters has inspired much action from South Africa’s political parties.

The ruling ANC sent senior leaders on international missions to lobby for votes with South African communities abroad, including dispatching deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa to woo voters in Australia.

The opposition Democratic Alliance has an extensive online and social media campaign targeting international voters.

But the numbers they are chasing are minuscule. In one example, the United Kingdom has about 240 000 eligible South African voters, according to Homecoming Revolution chief executive Angel Jones. But only 10 000 registered to vote abroad.

To do so was simple if one was already registered in the country. A VEC10 form had to be filed online by March 12 advising the IEC of one’s intention to vote abroad, which was easy enough for Lihle Mtshali, who lives in New Jersey in the United States.

“This was a painless process as I filed online and received confirmation that I could vote just a few days later,” she told the M&G.

Voting obstacles
Those South Africans who are not registered have to travel to their closest embassy or consulate to register and make the trip back again to vote.

Other obstacles for South Africans abroad who want to vote include:

  • The massive distances to voting stations in some cases. Voting stations have to be South African territories such as embassies or consulates, IEC spokesperson Kate Bapela said.
  • Voting day for South Africans abroad is April 30 – a Wednesday – meaning those wanting to vote have to take time off work to do so.
  • A green ID book is required to register to vote if one is not already registered in South Africa, in addition to a passport. Many South Africans abroad only keep the latter.

Monty Naude, a 30-year-old South African IT technician who lives in Nottingham in the UK, decried the process. “To register I will have to travel for four hours at a cost of £50, and then travel again to vote later on,” he said.

It was slightly easier for Catherine Dowie, who lives in Malaysia with her husband. Their voting station is in Kuala Lumpur, just an hour away.

Australian contingent
Perth in Australia is home to 30 000 South Africans, according to the Australian population census, but it’s 4 000km away from the high commission in Canberra. Thus, just 1 243 South Africans registered in the entire country. Other South African hot spots – Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide – are also far from Canberra.

“People are not concentrated in the same area,” chairperson of the international relations subcommittee Obed Bapela told the M&G. “The distance discouraged many of them from registering in the first place.”

The Democratic Alliance’s Marike Groenewald, director of strategic markets, agreed and pointed out a similar problem in Canada where many South Africans live in Vancouver on the west coast – thousands of kilometres away from the voting station in Ottawa in the east.

“People felt disillusioned by that and said they couldn’t incur the cost or take [days] off work,” she said.

The numbers parties are chasing abroad are very low, given the latest figures from the IEC. But, politically, the international vote is an important litmus test for parties gauging their popularity with an influential group of people.

Negative perceptions
South Africans who live abroad are characterised as intensely negative about the country’s prospects, the parties the M&G spoke to agreed. But there were nuances within that.

“People overseas are overwhelmingly positive about the DA,” said Groenewald. “I think it means a high turnout for the DA from those numbers.”

Bapela said that South African voters in Britain, China, Cuba and countries in Africa would vote for the ANC.

“We’re banking on the change of sentiments. Once you leave South Africa your picture about the country changes. You realise that things are not that bad and the ANC is not destroying the country,” Bapela said.

It depends on who you talk to, though.

The FF+’s Pieter Mulder was surprised by the sentiments he encountered among his support base of conservative Afrikaners abroad.

“A lot of them were not informed. My experience from a few meetings there is they’re still 10 years behind in their political thinking,” he said. “They only see one side of South Africa and are very negative.”

Challenging territories
Australia and the US are likely to present a challenge for the ANC because of this, Bapela admitted. The DA and the FF+ are stronger in these countries.

“We know a lot of people who went to Australia hold negative views about South Africa, particularly the adult population. The students who have been sent to study through bursaries by private companies will vote for the ANC,” said Bapela.

The DA’s Groenewald noted a similar trend.

“I think there’s some generational thing going on there. In the queries we received the older generation who left earlier were definitely quite negative. They feel very disillusioned and angry, asking: Why is it so difficult for me to vote? No one wants to make it easier for me.”

Younger South Africans, particularly young professionals, were different. “They say: ‘This is just part of my career. At some point I’m going to return. We’re hopeful for South Africa.’ People are hungry to be communicated with overseas,” Groenewald said.

– “mg”


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