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Bios research project still sailing on Oleander

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Science ship: equipment installed on the succession of vessels named Oleander has collected vital data on the ocean (Photograph supplied)

Bermuda Container Line ships have picked up more than cargo for the past 28 years as they steamed between the island and New Jersey. Scientific equipment installed on the succession of vessels named Oleander has collected vital information on the health of the ocean.However, the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the work of scientists at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences. Ruth Curry, a Bios physical oceanographer, said: “The scientific instruments on the ship are mostly automated, and in theory the Covid-19 shelter-at-home rules should not have affected data collection.“The reality was a bit different because some of the scientific equipment is off the ship being repaired or updated.”Scientific equipment was transferred to the new Oleander ship, which went into service a year ago. Matt Enright, a Bios chemical oceanographer, travelled with the new ship last November for the first time to install equipment to measure carbon dioxide levels in the water and which also collects other information. He said: “I’ve been on lots of ocean research vessels. But this was different. With a research vessel you may stop to take samples. On the Oleander, the object is just to get there.“I had a smooth ride. And my room was very nice, very luxurious. The Oleander seems very big in Bermuda. When you get to Port Elizabeth though, it’s the smallest ship.”He installed the carbon dioxide equipment and expected to upgrade it in March. But Mr Enright said the lockdown disrupted plans and the new system was stranded in Miami.He added: “We’ve only just been allowed back to the Bios offices. We haven’t even started planning for how we’re going to get that equipment.” Ms Curry said: “We are watching and waiting for the opportunity to get these systems operational. “We don’t want to compromise the crew’s safety and security, nor be a burden to the Bermuda Container Line during this crisis.”The Oleander project is operated in a joint effort with a team of researchers from the University of Rhode Island, Stony Brook University in New York, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the University of Hawaii, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.Ms Curry said that over the past three decades, the data has shown significant ocean warming of between 1.8F and 2.1F from the edge of the US continental slope to Bermuda down to depths of 1,200ft.She explained that could have an impact on the frequency and strength of hurricanes. Ms Curry said: “This is something to be very concerned about. Heat provides the energy that fuels tropical storms and is a major factor determining their intensity.“Warmer waters between Bermuda, the Caribbean, and North America increase the chances of hurricanes blowing up into super storms that make landfall. It can also extend hurricane season to start earlier and end later.” She added: “The monthly Oleander temperature observations clearly show that surface waters are not cooling as much in the winter. This means it takes less time for the upper ocean to reach the threshold that feeds hurricanes.”Ms Curry added that there were no significant changes in the strength of the Gulf Stream, which flows past Bermuda.She said a weakened Gulf Stream could lead to faster melt of polar ice caps and a rise in ocean levels.But Ms Curry warned that there was no guarantee that the Gulf Stream would not be weakened in the future.The measurements from the Oleander are processed at Bios and forwarded to data centres in the US, where they are distributed through NOAA’s websites to researchers, forecasters, and the public.• For more information see http://oleander.BIOS.ed m

Oleander crew in the engine room, where some of the scientific equipment is installed (Photograph supplied)
Scientific equipment on the Oleander (Photograph supplied)