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tv   Tech Know  Al Jazeera  September 13, 2015 3:30am-4:01am EDT

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one of my favorite places in the world, 26 pieces of art along the so-called path of light. the show is expected to attract around 400,00 400,000 people. that is more than dumb the population of dashkai. can change lives. >> the science of fighting a wildfire. >> we're going to explore the intersection of hardware and humanity, but we're doing it in a unique way. this is a show about science... >> oh! >> oh my god! >> by scientists. tonight: techknow's journey to the arctic. 13 days... subfreezing temperatures... endless sun. >> it is passed midnight right now and the sun just is not
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gonna set. >> climb on board the u.s. coast guard icebreaker healy. >> so what would happen to the average ship if they tried anything like this? >> well you've hear of the titanic, right? >> but arctic ice is melting and oil drilling is starting up. >> how do oil spills and sea ice mix. >> if it does happen... it's gonna be a mess. >> what would happen if disaster struck this frozen paradise? >> you're looking for that needle in a haystack. >> a mission that can mean life... >> if you can picture looking down at a bowl of water through a straw. >> or death. >> so how'd it go? >> i'm phil torres. now, techknow's journey to the arctic. >> it's summer high up in the arctic circle - and this is what you expect to see - ice as far as the horizon. the only way through it is on this ship - the coast guard
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cutter healy. it's one of only two ice breakers in the united states built to handle polar ice. the ride can get a little rough. >> that noise there - that's the sound of being in the bow of an icebreaker. >> but there is trouble in this frozen paradise. now images like this are becoming more common in the summer months. we even caught a polar bear. >> look! look on the camera screen, he's dead center. >> we see it moving. >> like many species - forced to search further for ice and food - as sea ice retreats in this part of the world. the arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe - and that's causing a sea change in this frontier. summer sea ice has receded close to 25 percent since 1979. on land we saw it, birch trees are sprouting on the tundra, and
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melting permafrost is causing land - and structures to sink. captain jason hamilton is the healy's commanding officer. he's also a veteran of both poles. >> 10 years ago when i first was operating this was complete ice whereas now we have some open water. >> how does that affect your operations? >> well it affects our operations because there are more people operating up here. >> more tourists, more ships, and no more illustration of change than this - during the summer of 2015 - offshore oil exploration, as shell begins test drilling in the chukchi sea. >> what are the unique challenges to responding to a disaster in the arctic? >> well the unique challenges are the distance we have from any one port. the lack of resources and infrastructure aside from ourselves that can make it challenging. >> but the healy is designed to do more than respond in tough
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circumstances - it's also a floating science lab. here scientists work side by side with the coast guard to study the changing arctic and develop technology that will function in one of the world's harshest environments. this summer - techknow is invited aboard for the mission. along with several scientists, our instructions are to meet up with the ship outside the port of nome, alaska. we're issued these orange suits, called mustangs. protection in case someone goes overboard. a fall into frigid waters could mean death within minutes. ahead, our home for the next two weeks - the healy. once all the scientists and i are aboard, the ship gets underway.
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our journey will take us from nome to about thousand miles from the north pole. a region remote, pristine, and once all but impassable except for a polar icebreaker like the healy. but scientists say summers here could soon be ice free. >> we are now passing through the narrowest part of the bering strait, where we've got the united states to my left, and to my right, just 50 miles away, is russia. now during these warmer months hundreds of ships are passing through here, and that number is expected to rise as the levels of sea ice recede. and the bering strait is important to more than just ships - it is also a major migration way for hundreds of thousands of marine mammals every year. >> plan is to finish the brief here and then go in to the launch and recovery of the puma unmanned aircraft. >> it's just before 8:00am, july 9th... time to find out what this mission is all about.
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healy's first test of the day... an automatic capture system for a remote controlled aircraft. >> equipment? how confident are we in the machinery we're using, how reliable is it? >> before every operation, a briefing is held to determine risk. everyone involved gets to weigh in. >> i see a three... four. >>the higher the number, the higher the risk. >> i recommend we proceed sir. >> there will be a lot of traffic coming through here and with increased usage there's a higher potential for an incident to occur. >> scot tripp is the chief science officer for this mission. it's his job to oversee research operations aboard the healy. >> we want to increase our capability up here, we want to keep it safe for everybody. >> when it comes to safey during operations like this - orange is definitely the new black. time for me to suit up. today's test flights will be the first of many. drones are a big part of this
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mission - in the air, on the water, even under the ice. >> what's special about unmanned vehicles, why are you looking at them? >> well, two things - an unmanned vehicle is a nice extension of an asset, and you can look beyond the horizon and extend your reach. which is really good. also, because of the harsh environment up here there's times when its really dangerous to be out there with the manned asset and we can sacrifice a drone. >> alright, so what is this thing? >> so this is called a wave glider. it's basically a very small autonomous surface vessel. >> it looks like a fancy paddle board. >> yes it does, and that's kind of what it is. >> this glider will collect data on the ocean for noaa's pacfic marine environmental lab. the motion of the waves will propel it, while solar panels power its sensors and communications. >> so with this thing, what are you guys measuring? >> so this particular one is
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measuring carbon, both in the atmosphere, kind of right in here, it sucks air in here, and also how much carbon dioxide is dissolved in the water. we're pumping a lot of carbon dioxide into the air, so it's going somewhere and about 30 percent of it is ending up in the ocean. >> it is now july 10th - just past 11:00 am. go time for the noaa team's wave glider. a coast guard crew hooks the glider to the ship's crane and maneuvers it out over the water before release. as soon as it's in the water, the science begins. >> as long as nothing wears out, it can kind of stay out there forever. >> this wave glider is just one of many research devices noaa is using to study a 20 mile area of the chukchi sea. they'll measure everything from temperature, salinity and oxygen to chlorophyl blooms. >> why'd you guys choose here? >> so this is a site that we've been here for a long time. this is a concentrated area where we have a long time series of measurements. >> and i understand that incidentally this is near where shell will be?
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>> yes that just happens to be a coincidence actually. yes, we're probably going to be within ten miles of where they're gonna be drilling. >> is that of interest? >> umm... we will see. i mean the primary purpose of this project is to look at the physical and chemical kind of ocean properties as the ice melts and retreats. >> getting this big chem lab on a buoy into the water is a delicate operation. but this smaller buoy is much simpler to lower over the side. it's designed to track movement of water below the surface. as we head north, these buoys will continue gathering data on arctic water and ice - data that will help illuminate the impact
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of global warming and the changes we're aleady witnessing here. >> i sometimes feel like i have a front row seat to some very dramatic changes. >> andy mahoney is a geophysicist at the university of alaska, fairbanks. he's been studying polar sea ice for 15 years. >> regardless of whether those changes are positive or negative for some people, rapid change is always an alarming thing to see. >> there's much more science to be done - luckily here - the days are really long. >> the sun just is not gonna to set. we're that far north up here in the arctic. >> coming up the techknow teams heads north, and straight into this... when techknow's journey to the arctic returns.
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>> july 10th, 2015 - we've been in the arctic for two days and still no sign of ice. meanwhile, i'm learning my way around the coast guard cutter healy - sort of. of course the crew make getting around even the tightest spaces look easy. but on the third morning - this happened. >> last night when i went to bed it was open oceans, this morning when i woke up - it looks like this. >> we're in the chukchi sea north of the 71st parallel - and the healy is breaking ice.
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>> how does that actually work? >> well we're 16,000 tons and we can get up to 30,000 horsepower. you get a bunch of power, headed in a particular direction and a lot of weight coming down on the ice and it will break. >> so what would happen to the average ship if they tried anything like this? >> well you've heard of the titanic, right? >> (laughs) i've heard of this. >> ice flows can be hard on technology too - like drones. that's one of the reasons noaa and the coast guard are working with this unmanned aircraft -called a puma. it can take this kind of beating... and keep on flying. >> it's designed for the wings to come off on the wings to come off on impact and that's one of the ways it dissipates energy. but it is amazing how hard a hit it can take and just be put back together and fly it again.
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>> so this here is your puma, what can you tell me about it? >> so this vehicle - it's hand launched and it can be recovered after deep stall landing in the water, on the ice, on the road, on the grass, so it can really be used in all environments. >> inside - it carries a camera that shoots video and infrared. >> we think will be relevant in the arctic for dealing with oil spills, search and rescue, and science missions including the counting of wildlife. >> but launching a small boat in icy water to pick up the puma can also be risky. noaa is testing a gps guided system to land it automatically - into this net on the side of the ship. but the puma doesn't always make it to the net. >> how has that net recovery gone for you? >> we've had mixed results. and this is my third year working in the arctic with the puma system and i will say this is a tremendously challenging environment. we've seen gps having a hard
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time to get a lock because the satellites are so low on the horizon. >> this is what innovation looks like. it has its successes, it has it failures, and in this case, they literally picked up the pieces, putting it back together - going to launch again. >> there's a lot of projects going on right now on the healy, what do you think is the most exciting one. >> the isotope sniffer has a lot of potential to do some pretty interesting things. this could be a sentinel with an alert that replaces manned assets having to do patrols. >> this is the intake that we have for our continuous atmospheric sampling. >> this tube on healy's bow is the nose of the isotope sniffer. every second it sends air samples down to two isotope analyzers in a makeshift lab below. and if you are wondering why they are strapped down... >> we're up at the front of the ship so uh it's making some noise, hitting some ice? >> yeah, that's crashing through ice which is why we have all this strapped down. >> the isotope sniffer is being tested by jeff welker and eric klein - both scientists for the arctic domain awareness center
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at the university of alaska, anchorage. >> so when we're out here and we're getting this air in, to us it's just kind of misty, arctic air... >> but what you don't see are all the different isotopic compositions that will change depending on how much sea ice is there, the humidity, the temperature. >> contamination will also change the isotopic composition of the air - like oil. >> like shell in the arctic here we want to make sure we're well aware of any mishaps that might occur very early. well our vision is to take this device, put it inside a noaa buoy and then circle those buoys around an oil platform so that then we have guardians of this habitat. those buoys surrounding the platform could give us an immediate warning that something has happened, we need to do something now. >> it may be two years before this technology is ready to be deployed, but there's one big reason for it. the drilling shell will start here, is on everyone's mind.
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>> how do oil spills and sea ice mix? what happens when the two are involved? >> fortunately, nobody really knows because it hasn't happened yet. if it does happen it's going to be a mess. >> andy mahoney is an ice researcher on board the healy. >> it's going to be extremely challenging to separate the oil from that ice. ice will be somewhat like a sponge, and so you'll have a mix of oil covered ocean, oil covered ice, and oil impregnated ice to deal with. >> and if it gets in the ice it could also move as well? >> that's right and that's why it's important to understand ice motion. >> dr mahoney is working on enhancing ice radar so it can track ice movement as well as ice presence. >> so we're looking here at a screenshot from a radar that's mounted up in the bridge of the healy. >> this is a time lapse of images from that radar, as the healy navigates through ice.
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the ship is in the middle. >> the white, brighter areas show us where the ice is, and the dark areas indicate where there's likely open water. we use an image processing technique called optical flow, that allows us to work out how fast different bits of the image are moving at the same time. >> here's the same time lapse processed to show the ice movement as well as the ship's. >> we can calculate how fast the ice is moving over the ground... calculate the true motion of the ice. >> so from the ship's perspective we're moving past the ice, but from the ice's perspective it's moving a little bit too. >> exactly the ice is almost constantly adrift in the ocean. sometimes reaching speeds of 2 to 3 knots. >> how does this fit into your ice research? >> it's important to understand how the ice is moving dynamically over the ocean. that ties into how the ice is going to respond to all kinds of changes that may be predicted in the future. >> but the future is now...
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and that concerns scientists who study this delicate balance of water and ice. >> in this part of the arctic, the alaska arctic if you like, has seen some of the fastest and most extensive retreats of sea ice anywhere in the arctic. >> watching ice flows drift in mostly open water, we can see one reason scientists think the arctic is warming faster. that's because while sea ice reflects sunlight - the ocean absorbs it. >> it's a viscous circle. you remove the ice and you expose water, that water is more able to absorb sunlight, and heat, and so it causes more warming which melts more ice and propagates the cycle. >> coming up: search and rescue. >> okay, i got control of the aircraft. >> but not everything works as planned.
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>> it's july 14th, and this coast guard diver is taking part in the healy's biggest experiment during this two week mission, a simulated search and rescue in icy arctic waters. >> it's a top priority because as the arctic is opening there will be additional activity up here. and the coast guard wants to be prepared to respond if there is a search and rescue that needs to occur. >> the stakes could not be higher. despite precautions, accidents will happen here. losing someone overboard is one of the biggest fears since survival in this frigid environment would be extremely difficult. time will mean the difference between life and death. >> can you walk me through the search and rescue mission? >> we wanted to look at how to conduct a search and rescue
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mission up here on the north slope where the logistics are so tough and assets are so rare and infrastructure is almost non existent. >> the scenario... a plane goes down off prudhoe bay in alaska. and this will take the place of the pilot in the water, a 60 pound dummy called thermal oscar. it's designed to generate heat like a human body, so infrared cameras can find it. >> once this dummy goes into the water - that marks the beginning of a the search and rescue drill the coast guard has been planning for months. >> the location has one thing going for it - prudhoe bay and land is about 20 miles away. that means support from assets already in place, something much of the region lacks. a drone called a scan eagle, developed for surveillance in military operations like this in afghanistan, is launched from prudhoe bay to find the dummy. once it's in the air, an operator aboard the healy takes
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control and begins a search of the simulated crash site. >> alright, ready for the handoff? >> i got it. i got control of the aircraft. >> the idea is the drone operator finds the pilot, then provides the location to manned helicopters that fly to the rescue. but while the operation provided valuable information to the coast guard, the drone wasn't able to find the dummy. >> so how'd it go? >> the altitude they fly and things like that, you're looking at a field of ice in a camera's eye... if you can picture looking down at a bowl of water through a straw, that's basically what you've got. >> the puma's role was to cleanup and guide the ship to thermal oscar for pick up when the operation was complete. but puma operators also struggled to locate thermal oscar. >> it really made me think, you don't want to fall off the boat.
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>> why is it especially challenging flying over ice for a puma pilot? >> you're looking for that needle in a haystack. in the ice it became even more of a challenge because what your brain would usually register as land, which would be on the ice, is moving too. so we had both the ship drifting, and the ice drifting. and they're drifting at different relative speeds. >> finding out what works and what doesn't in the artic is the point of all these operations. during the search and rescue simulation, the isotope sniffer picked up helicopter exhaust - proof it can detect contamination in the environment. >> we've had two helicopters fly by the bow of the boat. and we are actually showing in real time that there are 2 pulses of co2. >> and there have been other technological successes. the puma's automatic capture system worked with a larger net set up on the ship's flight deck.
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for us, success of a different kind. we made it 74 degrees north. for that we got special recognition along with healy crew members who crossed into the arctic circle for the first time. >> all of you "polar bears"... go ahead and switch your covers. n-n?rs. >> it's july 18th and we're headed back to nome. >> just as we're heading south, another ship, just 20 miles away, is passing us heading north. >> it's the aiviq - lead ship of the shell fleet that is bringing the polar pioneer to the chukchi sea. the coast guard's research and development team is already preparing for the challenges ahead. >> up here you can't use a boom to collect the oil in an icy environment because it'll rip the boom apart. we've got oliofobic skimmers which collect the oil right up against the ice and clean it and we're looking at things like rovs that will go under the ice
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to see hey is there any oil left under there. >> it seems that the predictions have that the arctic is only going to start to get busier, with more and more ship traffic, do you think the coast guard is going to be ready? >> that's why we're here ahead of that busyness, we're trying to get as many tools to help as possible. at this point, yeah, we're already more ready than we were two years ago. >> after 13 days at sea - and zero sunsets - for techknow the mission is over and i return to the port of nome and dry land. but for the healy, the research continues. >> healy was designed and put together to support science, science that hopefully will give us some reasonable answers for whats going on in the arctic and also quite frankly, how we can operate effectively in the arctic. >> its in its very nature. >>absolutely. our motto is "from the arctic knowledge" and that's why were
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here, so that we can learn about literally the last frontier. >> dive deep into these stories and go behind the scenes at aljazeera.com/techknow. follow our expert contributors on twitter, facebook, instagram, google+ and more. >> we're in the "prairie state" yet we have such little of it left. >> now old-school methods meet cutting-edge science... >> we've returned this iconic mammal to illinois. >> with a much bigger long-term benefit. >> grasslands have a critical role in climate change. >> it's exciting. >> techknow's team of experts show you how the miracles of science... >> i'm standing in a tropical windstorm. >> can affect and surprise us. >> wow! some of these are amazing. >> techknow - where technology meets humanity.
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palestinian youths in a compound in jerusalem. this is al jazeera live from doha. also on the program, thousands across europe march in support of refugees calling on governments to do more to help them. six months after cyclone pam, we'll take a look at the efforts to rebuild

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