China Launches 20th Satellite for GPS Alternative

By Wendy Laursen 2015-10-08 19:34:29

China has launched a new-generation satellite to support its global navigation and positioning network designed to rival the U.S.-operated GPS.

Launched from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in the southwestern province of Sichuan, the satellite is the 20th satellite for the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS), and puts China another step closer to providing a global alternative to GPS.

For the first time the satellite features a hydrogen atomic clock, reports Xinhua.

The first BeiDou satellite was launched in 2000 as part of a program to provide positioning, navigation, timing and short message services in China and other Asian countries.

The BeiDou system became operational in China in December 2011, with 16 satellites in use, and began offering services to customers in the Asia-Pacific region in December 2012. China plans to expand the BeiDou services to most of the countries covered in its “Belt and Road” initiative by 2018 and to offer global coverage by 2020.

China has reportedly already installed the navigation system on more than 50,000 Chinese fishing boats and in November 2014 the Maritime Safety Committee of the IMO formally included BeiDou in its listing of satellite navigation systems approved for use at sea.

In May this year, China and Russia signed a “China’s BeiDou system and Russian Glonass system Compatibility and Interoperability Cooperation Joint Statement” to promote the common development of the two systems.

Other systems, operational globally, include the European Union’s Galileo system which is expected to be in full service by 2020, the Indian Regional Navigational Satellite System (IRNSS) and the Japanese Quasi-Zenith Satellite System.

Tracking Civil Ships

China also launched three cube satellites (CubeSats) late last month designed to help track civil aircraft and ships in real time.

The satellites have polar observation cameras and automatic identification system (AIS) receivers to capture information from ships, and automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast receivers for messages sent from civil aircraft, reports China Daily.

The satellites are part of the nation’s STU-2 program, and they are expect to provide data that willl help avoid tragedies such as the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.

The CubeSats can also be used to provide information support for China’s icebreaker Xuelong (Snow Dragon).

Like a Rubik’s cube, the CubeSats are composed of smaller cubic units. They weight just 6.8 kilograms (15 pounds).

The STU-2 program is the first of its kind in China.

Remote-Sensing Constellation

China has also just launched a group of four satellites to be used for commercial remote-sensing services. The “Jilin-1” satellites, launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Northwest China’s Gansu province, include one optical remote-sensing satellite, two satellites for video imaging and another for imaging technique testing.

All four satellites were developed and produced by Chang Guang Satellite Technology Co Ltd. The company will also take charge of commercial operations of the satellites to provide remote-sensing data to be used for the monitoring, development and surveying of resources as well as mapping and disaster prevention for domestic and overseas clients.

Jilin, one of the country’s oldest industrial bases, is developing its satellite industry as one of the nation’s new economic pushes.


Third Global Coral Bleaching Event Declared

By MarEx 2015-10-08 16:30:32

As record ocean temperatures cause widespread coral bleaching across Hawaii, NOAA scientists confirm the same stressful conditions are expanding to the Caribbean and may last into the new year, prompting the declaration of the third global coral bleaching event ever on record.

Waters are warming in the Caribbean, threatening coral in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, NOAA scientists said. Coral bleaching began in the Florida Keys and South Florida in August, but now scientists expect bleaching conditions there to diminish.

“The coral bleaching and disease, brought on by climate change and coupled with events like the current El Niño, are the largest and most pervasive threats to coral reefs around the world,” said Mark Eakin, NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch coordinator. “As a result, we are losing huge areas of coral across the U.S., as well as internationally. What really has us concerned is this event has been going on for more than a year and our preliminary model projections indicate it’s likely to last well into 2016.”

While corals can recover from mild bleaching, severe or long-term bleaching is often lethal. After corals die, reefs quickly degrade and the structures corals build erode. This provides less shoreline protection from storms and fewer habitats for fish and other marine life, including ecologically and economically important species.

This bleaching event, which began in the north Pacific in summer 2014 and expanded to the south Pacific and Indian oceans in 2015, is hitting U.S. coral reefs disproportionately hard. NOAA estimates that by the end of 2015, almost 95 percent of U.S. coral reefs will have been exposed to ocean conditions that can cause corals to bleach.

The biggest risk right now is to the Hawaiian Islands, where bleaching is intensifying and is expected to continue for at least another month. Areas at risk in the Caribbean in coming weeks include Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, and from the U.S. Virgin Islands south into the Leeward and Windward islands.

The next concern is the further impact of the strong El Niño, which climate models indicates will cause bleaching in the Indian and southeastern Pacific Oceans after the new year. This may cause bleaching to spread globally again in 2016.

“We need to act locally and think globally to address these bleaching events. Locally produced threats to coral, such as pollution from the land and unsustainable fishing practices, stress the health of corals and decrease the likelihood that corals can either resist bleaching, or recover from it,” said Jennifer Koss, NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program acting program manager. “To solve the long-term, global problem, however, we need to better understand how to reduce the unnatural carbon dioxide levels that are the major driver of the warming.”

This announcement stems from the latest NOAA Coral Reef Watch satellite coral bleaching monitoring products, and was confirmed through reports from partner organizations with divers working on affected reefs, especially the XL Catlin Seaview Survey and ReefCheck. NOAA Coral Reef Watch’s outlook, which forecasts the potential for coral bleaching worldwide several months in the future, predicted this global event in July 2015.

The current high ocean temperatures in Hawaii come on the heels of bleaching in the Main Hawaiian Islands in 2014 ― only the second bleaching occurrence in the region’s history ― and devastating bleaching and coral death in parts of the remote and well-protected Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

“Last year’s bleaching at Lisianski Atoll was the worst our scientists have seen,” said Randy Kosaki, NOAA’s deputy superintendent for the monument. “Almost one and a half square miles of reef bleached last year and are now completely dead.”

Coral bleaching occurs when corals are exposed to stressful environmental conditions such as high temperature. Corals expel the symbiotic algae living in their tissues, causing corals to turn white or pale. Without the algae, the coral loses its major source of food and is more susceptible to disease.

The first global bleaching event was in 1998, during a strong El Niño that was followed by an equally very strong La Niña. A second one occurred in 2010.

October 2015-January 2016: NOAA’s standard 4-month bleaching outlook shows a threat of bleaching continuing in the Caribbean, Hawaii and Kiribati, and potentially expanding into the Republic of the Marshall Islands. (Credit: NOAA)

February-May 2016: An extended bleaching outlook showing the threat of bleaching expected in Kiribati, Galapagos Islands, the South Pacific, especially east of the dateline and perhaps affecting Polynesia, and most coral reef regions in the Indian Ocean. (Credit: NOAA)


Barack Obama Mourns El Faro Tragedy

By MarEx 2015-10-08 15:50:04

U.S. President Barack Obama has issued a statement on the El Faro tragedy:

The captain and crew of the El Faro were Americans and Poles, men and women, experienced mariners and young seamen. They were beloved sons and daughters and loving husbands and fathers. They were dedicated engineers, technicians and a cook. And these 33 sailors were united by a bond that has linked our merchant mariners for more than two centuries, a love of the sea.

As their ship battled the storm, they were no doubt working as they lived, together, as one crew. This tragedy also reminds us that most of the goods and products we rely on every day still move by sea. As Americans, our economic prosperity and quality of life depend upon men and women who serve aboard ships like the El Faro.

I thank everyone across our government and in the private sector who worked so tirelessly, on the sea and in the air, day after day, in the massive search for survivors. The investigation now underway will have the full support of the U.S. government, because the grieving families of the El Faro deserve answers and because we have to do everything in our power to ensure the safety of our people, including those who work at sea.

Today, 28 American families, from Florida to Maine, and five Polish families are heartbroken. May they be comforted, in some small way, in knowing that they have the love and support of their neighbors, the merchant mariner community and the American people.

May God bless the men and women of the El Faro. May He comfort their families. And may He watch over and protect all those who serve at sea on behalf of us all.


BP Settlement Could be Deductible

By MarEx 2015-10-08 15:00:59

While BP’s $20.8 billion dollar settlement has been described as the largest-ever, it may not be as punitive as it appears. The U.S. Public Interest Group (PIRG) said that BP may be able to write off more than $15 billion of the settlement.

PIRG says quirks in the U.S. tax code will allow BP to write the payments off as deductible costs of business.

Also, the $32 billion BP spent cleaning up the spill in the Gulf of Mexico was also tax deductible, and, ultimately, cost U.S. taxpayers aobut $10 billion.

U.S. businesses get to deduct most legal expenses and payments made to resolve litigation. Meanwhile, fines and penalties paid directly to the government are not tax deductible.

A federal court ruling said the Deepwater Horizon spill was due to gross negligence and the government could have issued about $13.7 billion in penalties under the Clean Water Act. But, the feds have only issued $5.5 billion in penalties. Most of the monies spent by BP has been for restoration efforts of multiple states and BP can treat them as a tax deductible costs.

BP will also be allowed to make $1.1 billion in payments over the next 18 years, which could erode the value of the payments due to inflation.

PIRG report states: “Federal agencies should disallow tax deductibility of settlement payments when companies wrongly treat public harm as an acceptable business risk. In cases where company costs truly are incurred from normal business activities, regulators should clearly define and distinguish, in the settlements, between the agreed-upon punitive payments which will not be tax deductible and normal costs of doing business.”

Click here to read PIRG’s full report.