Saturday, April 27, 2013

Squashed science

Data gathered in the Indian Ocean off the Horn of Africa is used to advance many scientific questions, among them the following:
  • The mechanics of plate tectonics
  • The evolution of plankton
  • The study of oceanography
  • The preparation of weather models
  • The dynamics of monsoons
  • The prediction of global warming
Sarah Feakins of the University of Southern California is waiting for the chance to use the JOIDES Resolution (IMAGE ABOVE), a gigantic, high-tech oceanographic ship topped with a 200-foot-tall drilling rig, to obtain seabed core samples. The samples would contain ancient, windblown carbon isotopes associated with grasslands, definitively settling the debate about whether humankind's prehistoric ancestors climbed down from the trees when savannas expanded in Africa. Her research has been thwarted because the vessel would be a sitting duck. In addition to killing dozens of mariners, holding thousands more hostage, and causing economic losses to the tune of more than $18 billion a year, Somali pirates have brought science in the region to a standstill for more than 10 years now. Decries paleoanthropologist Tim White, "No question, it's been a serious setback. Piracy has stopped oceanographic work in the region. There's been no data coming out of this area for years. Zero."

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