Somali pirates operating in the western Indian Ocean have pushed Australian scientists from CSIRO and the Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS) to ask the navies of Australia and the United States to help plug a gap in the oceanic observation network known as Argo.
“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.
Argo is a project involving over 30 countries which has planted 3,000 robotic instruments into the ocean to provide real-time observations of conditions such as heat and salinity. The drifting profilers, or floats’, are nearly two metres in length and are programmed to drift at 1000 metres for 10 days, and then fall to 2000 metres and sample before they ascend back to the surface to submit their data to satellites.
Dr Thresher said the program is heavily reliant on commercial shipping and research and chartered vessels to deploy the instruments.
“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,” she said.
“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 already in the process of shipping one float to Florida for deployment by the US Navy, and is currently petitioning the Royal Australian Navy to help deploy another eight instruments in the area of highest risk.
The Lady Amber, a 20-metre South African yacht is already under charter by CSIRO and has already successfully deployed seven of the floats near Mauritius in the Western Indian Ocean. However, her working are was severely restricted so that she did not stray into pirate waters. She’ll deploy another 15 instruments on the way back from Mauritius to Fremantle, Western Australia, where she’ll then pick up another 39 floats for deployment northwest of the Australian North West Shelf; an area thankfully free of any pirate activity.