Archive for 09/07/2011

Forbes – 

Las Vegas has long been known for its card sharks that haunt the poker tables, but real sharks are the city’s best kept secret.

Sharks you can go for a dive with.

Shark Reef at the Mandalay Bay casino resort is a full-blown aquarium, but this being Vegas, it has a theme: it bills itself as “North America’s only predator-based aquarium and exhibit.”

This means its 1.6 million gallons of water are teeming with killers, from rare golden crocodiles to moray eels to jellyfish and piranhas, even a non-swimming but impressively fierce Komodo Dragon, along with plenty of gentler friends like giant endangered green sea turtles, rays, and the Giant Pacific Octopus, more than 2,000 creatures in all.

But the main event is its namesakes: Shark Reef is home to 15 different shark species, from the offbeat Epaulette and Zebra sharks to the fierce Sand Tiger, which has so many teeth it can’t even close its mouth.

The Sand Tiger has classic horror movie star looks, with dead eyes (“doll’s eyes,” in Jaws speak), endless teeth, and a sleek predatory body, a slightly scaled down version of the Great White.

These teeth are even scarier when they are passing a few feet away from your shoulder, which is exactly what happens when you sign up for the Dive With The Sharks experience at Shark Reef, the most unique and thrilling among many unique and thrilling experiences Las Vegas offers.

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More than 50 members of Colombia’s “Bandas Criminales” drug gangs have been indicted on U.S. charges they used planes or custom-built submarines to traffic tons of cocaine, U.S. and Colombian officials said Friday.

The roundup of dozens of suspects is seen as the most important bust yet by a U.S. team — co-operating closely with Colombian authorities — set up in February to smash the narcotics network that has gained notoriety for its unconventional underwater trafficking from South America to the United States.

In announcing the indictments of 56 traffickers, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Wifredo Ferrer spoke of the “proactive strategy” that allowed U.S. and Colombian authorities to hone in on the “Bandas Criminales.”

“Our common goal is simple: target the BACRIM leadership, dismantle their narco-trafficking operations, and eliminate the threat they pose to the security of the region and the international community,” Ferrer said.

Two separate operations were conducted. In Operation Under the Sea, 22 people were charged for what the U.S. Department of Justice described as “participation in a drug trafficking organization that built and used fully submersible and semi-submersible submarines to transport cocaine from Colombia to Central America, with the ultimate destination being the United States.”

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Gerard Wynn –

Stepping onto an Arctic ice floe on Monday, an unusually mild, easterly breeze blew at the end of the annual summer melt. The footprints of two polar bears from the night before were disintegrating in a dusting of snow.

At nearly 81 degrees latitude, the air temperature was 2.5 degrees Celsius — normal for a winter’s day in Europe but rather mild for the high Arctic, even in late summer. The previous day had been 4 degrees colder.

The monochrome scene was calm after the rolling swell of the Fram Strait between the Norwegian island of Svalbard and Greenland. We were embedded in an ice pack stretching half the area of Brazil, across the North Pole.

The Greenpeace icebreaker Arctic Sunrise nearby shuddered occasionally, nudged by white slabs of ice the size of a small car park, which jostled among threads of open water.

The water temperature was below zero, the ship’s log read, and the air was filled by the hum of its generators. The ship’s mooring ropes were driven by two giant stakes into ice up to 10 metres thick.

This entire Arctic landscape is forecast to disappear within decades and replaced by open sea each summer, perhaps for the first time in 7,000 years or more. The dramatic retreat signals the scale of humankind’s impact on the climate, experts say.

On Wednesday, the shrinking sea ice was closing in on the 2007 record low area of 4.1 million square km, according to the U.S.-based National Snow and Ice Data Centre. The annual minimum was 7 million square km in the early 1970s.

Environmental group Greenpeace wanted to draw attention to changes in the high Arctic, and ferried Cambridge University researchers from Svalbard to measure the thickness of the ice. Experts say it has been thinning for decades, possibly hastening an entirely ice-free summer as soon as 2020.

The sea ice area is easily read from satellites overhead. Measuring thickness is more difficult, and the most direct approach is to drill a hole and poke a tape measure down.

While doing just that the researchers on Monday were confronted directly with the annual seasonal melt which ends around mid-September each year.

They raced to evacuate the floe when a 3-metre wide crack appeared suddenly, in under a minute. A combination of melting, the swell of the sea and wind broke the floe apart.

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David Schneider –

Last year at about this time, crews in the Gulf of Mexico were working feverishly to bring BP’s blown-out oil well under control. Some of the more spectacular parts of that effort, as you may recall, involved the use of remotely operated vehicles, or ROVs. Perhaps you had the same thought as I did—that it would be cool to build one.

To be sure, no garage-workbench hacker is going to build an undersea robot that operates a diamond saw or wrestles with a stuck blowout preventer. But those vehicles also monitored events on the seafloor and streamed some amazing video to the Web in real time. A small inspection-class unit—one that carries just a video camera around underwater—ought to be within the grasp of an avid DIYer.

A quick search of the Web revealed no shortage of home-built ROVs. There are even competitions, such as the one for students that the Marine Advanced Technology Education Center in Monterey, Calif., has been running for 10 years. In a similar vein, MIT’s Sea Perch program trains teachers (who in turn train their students) to build a simple ROV as an educational exercise.

With all that going on, I thought it was high time for me to get my feet wet—again. As it happens, I’ve some background in this sort of thing, having worked briefly building underwater instruments at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, just north of New York City.

I even built an ROV for fun in the late 1990s. Its underwater thrusters, like the ones employed by most DIYers today, used DC motors mounted in watertight housings. Flexible shaft seals prevented water from getting to the innards of the motors. It used trolling motors, the kind you see pushing small fishing boats around. Submersible bilge pumps are another popular solution.

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