Pirate threat forces scientists to turn to Navy for help

Posted by Kate Taylor

Scientists are turning to the Australian and US navies to help protect them from Somali pirates in the western Indian ocean.

They say they've been unable to carry out their Argo ocean and climate monitoring program, in which 3,000 robotic instruments observe conditions such as heat and salinity in the top 2,000 metres of the ocean.

"We have not been able to seed about one quarter of the Indian Ocean since the increase in the piracy, and that has implications for understanding a region of influence in Australian and south Asian weather and climate," says CSIRO Wealth from Oceans Flagship scientist, Dr Ann Thresher.
 
The project is based on more than 325 profilers reporting to international data centres from the Indian, Pacific  and Southern Oceans and the Tasman Sea. Nearly two metres in length, the profilers, or 'floats', are programmed to drift at 1000m for 10 days, then fall to 2000m and sample as they ascend to the surface to upload their data to satellites.

The aim is to monitor ocean heat and salinity patterns that drive local climate and monsoonal systems.

However, the program has been heavily reliant on commercial shipping and research and chartered vessels to deploy the instruments - and this is becoming less and less possible.

"With the region north of Mauritius being a no-go area for most vessels due to pirate activity, we have approached the US and Australian navies to assist us in deployments of around 20 profilers, including 10 provided by the United Kingdom Argo project," says Thresher.

"This level of international and military cooperation is tremendously important to us in building a sustainable operating ocean-borne system that is providing the data at the core of current weather and climate observations and prediction."

CSIRO is now shipping one profiler to Florida for deployment by the US Navy, and is asking the Royal Australian Navy to deploy another eight instruments in the most dangerous area.