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July 5, 2006

The Carbon Explorer Takes the Prize

ESD is proud to announce that the Carbon Explorer, created and developed by a scientific team headed by ESD's Jim Bishop, has won one of R&D Magazine's coveted "R&D 100" Awards, as one of the 100 most significant proven scientific advances for 2005. As announced on July 5, 2006, the Carbon Explorer was one of four award-winning Berkeley Lab technologies for 2005-the most ever won in one year by Berkeley Lab.

{image details: Carbon explorer in the Pacific Ocean.}

Without the ability to accurately observe the faster-than-daily changes in ocean life cycles, over vast spatial scales, scientists lack the ability to predict how the ocean will respond to rising CO2 levels, crippling their ability to develop accurate models of global warming or devise strategies to prevent it. The Carbon Explorer meets this need by gathering unparalleled amounts and types of data to improve modeling capability in this critical scientific area.

The Carbon Explorer is a free-drifting float, roughly the size and shape of a gas cylinder, that submerges to measure particulate carbon in the upper layers of the ocean and then returns to the surface to report its data. With its system of carbon sensors, advanced communications devices, and remote operating capacity, the Carbon Explorer enables, for the first time, the continuous tracking of the biological processes of the carbon cycle in the ocean. It can stay in the ocean year-round to observe the annual variations in levels of particulate organic carbon (POC). The Carbon Explorer measures POC at a level of accuracy, precision, and frequency previously unachieved, and it does so in real time. Moreover, Carbon Explorers have been deployed to date in some of the world's most remote and extreme ocean environments (where ships could not safely operate), consistently yielding data that had never before been generated and resulting in two publications in Science (1 & 2).

In order to track the global carbon cycle, and particularly the exchange between atmospheric and oceanic carbon mediated by the sea's abundant zooplankton, Carbon Explorers descend and rise on schedules that can be reprogrammed by satellite. Carbon Explorers were the first instruments to observe natural fertilization of a plankton bloom in the North Pacific by iron-rich, wind-blown dust from a storm in Central Asia's phenomenon predicted but never seen before. Carbon Explorers recorded the first evidence of carbon exported to the ocean depths by artificially fertilized plankton in the Southern Ocean; reporting for over a year, the Explorers operated through the Antarctic winter, long after the plankton bloom had dissipated. Carbon Explorers instrumented with new sensors operated for months in the Atlantic to record coccolithophore blooms. Carbon Explorer research payoff has been momentous and promises to become even more significant in future.

Bishop wishes to thank the members of the team who brought the Carbon Explorer into being: Russ Davis and Jeffrey Sherman at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (La Jolla, California); Casey Moore and Alex Derr of WETLabs (Portland, Oregon), and Todd Wood and David Kaszuba of ESD. Funding of Carbon Explorer development and science was through the National Oceanographic Partnership Program administered by the Office of Naval Research; U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Biological and Environmental Research Program; and the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Office of Global Programs. For more information, go to this web site.