SpaceUP NL

science communication

IMG_20151003_103732

Last month, I attended my second Space Up event with some friends. As an unconference, it challenges the usual constraints found within a traditional conference environment and invites the participants to shape the topics and structure of the day.

IMG_20151003_103712 IMG_20151003_103737

Space Up NL took place at the Space EXPO, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) museum on the space campus here in the Netherlands.

Featuring a model of the Columbus module of the International Space Station, satellite mock-ups and more, it really was the perfect location to discuss why space matters, what’s next in the space industry and how to inspire the next generation.

IMG_20151003_105415 IMG_20151003_111951 IMG_20151003_112009

Of course, I had to take advantage of the Cupola module. Here I am, pretending to be an astronaut and posing with a cardboard cutout of one too!

IMG_20151003_112714 IMG_20151003_122501 IMG_20151003_135128

There was a great variety of talks on the day. A particular highlight of mine was on ESA’s Asteroid Impact Mission – which intends to crash into an asteroid to understand it. (Bruce Willis eat your heart out!)

Other talks were more personal, triggering discussions with the audience on topics such as entrepreneurship, science communication and whether we should ban commercial spaceflight.

IMG_20151003_101959 IMG_20151003_180112 IMG_20151003_193641

Space Up NL just so happened to fall on 3 October, or 3 Oktober – a national holiday in the city of Leiden where fellow Leiden blogger Molly and I live. Our neighbourhood turned into a funfair for the weekend, making for both a beautiful, if not fairly random end to the day.

If you’d like to take part in a space unconference too, the next Space Up is in Tokyo on 22 November, with the next European Space Up taking place next February 2016 in Helsinki.

-Nikita

Current Book Recommendations

All, science communication

DSCF6132 (3)Recently, I found that I’ve been reading less than I used to. It’s always been one of my favourite things to do, so to inspire both myself and hopefully some of you to dust those books off the bookshelf, here are some of my favourite books right now!

DSCF6144 (2) DSCF6147 (2)

DSCF6189 (3)

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Some of you may already know, I am a big fan of Amy Poehler. Her work, her voice and her honesty really speak to me. This book is the epitome of all three. She is down to earth and speaks frankly and light-heartedly about things that we all think, yet sometimes don’t say. Whether it be about who we are, what we want to do or who we want to be with – Amy dishes out some real life advice from her own experiences.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

This novel is a classic. Set in 19th Century England, it centres around the lives of the Bennet sisters, in particular Elizabeth Bennet. I’m one of those people that tends to forget the details once I complete a book, so I love having this one on hand to re-read it all over again. Also, I have a soft spot for Mr Darcy..

DSCF6155 (2)

DSCF6165 (2)        

The Hands-On Guide for Science Communicators by Lars Lindberg Christensen

This book is slightly different to those previously mentioned. Written by my former boss from my time at the European Southern Observatory, it is a great guide to science communication. The foundations of communicating scientific concepts are explored in the book, illustrated by graphics which concisely present the information in a colourful way. I’d recommend this for not only those new to the field, but also experienced science communicators out there. 

 DSCF6704 (2)

DSCF6184 (2)

The Picture of Dorian Gray

The first time I got my hands on this book I was around 15. I found it in my parent’s house and in an attempt to try something more mature, I gave it a try. Needless to say, I didn’t really understand a lot of the philosphical elements back then. But, now at the ripe ‘old’ age of 24, this book is one that I think anyone can read and gain something from. It’s quite a dense piece of literature and can be slow at times, however the character of Dorian Gray is so different to others I think it is worth the read.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Usually, I like to read the original book before watching the movie version of a story. This was a rare exception. I caught the movie on my flight home from Canada last year and immediately knew I had to read the book. I was not dissapointed. Let’s just say, you will not have a dry eye when reading this one. It’s a very heartwarming and touching storyline for all ages. I also like the fact that my new home of the Netherlands makes an appearance in the book too!

What are your favourite books right now? Let me know and I’d love to give them a try 🙂

-Nikita

A Week in Vienna: The European Geosciences Union General Assembly

All, science communication, Travel

2015-04-13 19.41.04

A few weeks ago, I travelled to the beautiful city of Vienna, Austria. Vienna is one of my favourite cities so I was really happy to be there again! 

My previous blog post gave a sneak preview of what the week was all about but now I can share the experience with you, illustrated by some photos along the way.

DSC_3299 DSC_3263 (1)

My office for the week was the European Geosciences Union’s General Assembly (EGU15), one of the largest conferences in the world on Earth, planetary and space sciences. 

DSC_3283~2 egu1 I worked as a Press Assistant in the Press Centre of the conference. It’s is the place to be for all things media-related. The Press Centre also acts as a great workspace for journalists to report on the many Press Conferences scheduled during the week.

Here, they can utilise interview rooms with scientists and gather quotes on fascinating research that’s announced during the week, before writing it up for publication that very day.2015-04-12 20.06.58

I was lucky enough to work alongside this bunch of lovely ladies. Together, we formed the Press Team and ensured that all things press, media and outreach related was going well at the conference.IMG_0040

cctvql9w4aevpul-2_b

Some EJR-Quartz colleagues attended as speakers, sharing insights and lessons learnt from ESA’s Rosetta Mission. Personifying spacecrafts using social media and engaging the public through competitions were discussed by them in outreach sessions. The German Aerospace Center (DLR) were also present, revealing the first large mosaic images of Mars ever at the conference! 

DSC_3545

2015-04-15 13.02.15-1

CCi0dPrVIAAkRTf_b

The highlight of the week for me was going to the ESA Rosetta Mission Press Conference. Here, scientists from DLR and ESA – such as Project Scientist Matt Taylor (pictured above mid-selfie) shared the latest results from the comet-chasing mission. I wrote an article for the EGU blog about it so take a look if you want to see what the spacecraft duo are up to right now.

I also wrote two articles about other new findings that were announced at EGU15. The first, is on the influence of climate change and the second describes interesting new findings from the NASA Dawn mission. I really enjoyed blogging about both space and environmental subjects and writing about time-sensitive topics.  

This week in Vienna was a wonderful experience, one that I shared avidly online through my Twitter account – especially when there was cake involved!

cake5

What can I say…food makes me happy 🙂

The next EGU General Assembly will be held in Vienna between 17 and 22 April 2016. I look forward to finding out what new science results are announced next year!

– Nikita

(Photo credits: EGU/Stephanie McClellan)

Introducing the European Geosciences Union – General Assembly 2015

All, science communication

For the rest of April, my blog will be dedicated to all things Earth, planetary and space sciences as I fly to Vienna tomorrow to work at the European Geosciences Union’s (EGU) General Assembly. I will write an in-depth post on the week-long conference when I return but for now, here’s a sneak peek of what I’ll be up to 🙂

CB-vKbbWIAEpgyQ

Credit: EGU Twitter

Made up of over 12,500 members, EGU is dedicated to benefiting humanity and our understanding of the world around us. Their annual General Assembly attracts over 11,000 scientists from across the globe and includes sessions, symposia, poster and oral presentations on a plethora of topics on our planet and the Universe that we live in.

Ranging from space and ocean sciences, to paleontology and volcanology — the conference invites international scientists to present their research, as well as journalists to share these fascinating science stories with the world.

Credits: BBC

Credits: BBC

This year’s theme is ‘A voyage through scales’- contemplating Earth’s extraordinary variability in the scales of space, time and spacetime. Sounds mindboggling? It is, but in the good way! I will be working within the Press Team during the conference to ensure the smooth running of the Press Centre. I’ll have the opportunity to interview scientists on their work, attend sessions and press conferences and write for EGU’s official blog GeoLog. Hosted by the Austria Center Vienna, I’m looking forward to visiting Vienna again after my first visit last April.

CBGy72NUkAE8YxP

Keep an eye out for blog posts written by me during the conference on EGU’s blog and follow me on Twitter here for daily updates on the conference and to join me on my trip to Vienna. 

See you there!

-Nikita

p.s  I have worked with EGU before, you might remember a blog post on an article that I wrote for them last year here.

Creating Communication: Blogging for Science

All, Creating Communication, science communication, Space

I recently interviewed EJR-Quartz colleague Daniel Scuka to discuss the field of science blogging. Daniel works as Senior Editor for Spacecraft Operations at ESOCESA’s Space Operations Centre in Germany. He had a wealth of information and advice to share on the best ways to blog, why it is a wonderful method of communication and also mentioned the challenges he has faced when blogging for science.

A sad Daniel on his last day blogging for ATV. (Credit: @AndreasSchepers )

A sad Daniel on his last day blogging for ATV. (Credit: @AndreasSchepers )

Daniel has been writing on the dedicated blog for ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) series of missions since 2007. Responsible for delivering cargo and reboosting the International Space Station (ISS) in orbit, the last ATV re-entered Earth’s atmosphere on 15th February 2015.

So Daniel, what exactly is ATV used for?

First of all, the ATV vessels are used to deliver cargo and supplies to the International Space Station. An ATV docks for about five or six months, comprising the so-called attached phase. There’s dry cargo that is carried inside the cargo compartment, including food, clothing, supplies and equipment for experiments on board the ISS. It also supplies wet goods, which is fuel, air, oxygen, gases, nitrogen, water and as all of that gets delivered to the ISS, garbage and waste gets loaded onto the ATV. So, when it undocks it takes all of this off the Station and it burns up in the atmosphere.

ATV has a thruster system so it can reboost the Station which naturally steadily decays with each orbit. Furthermore, it can be used to provide debris avoidance manoeuvres when any space debris  are predicted to come too close — then the ATV’s thrusters can be used to either raise or lower its orbit avoid whatever piece of debris is coming over. That’s ATV in a nutshell.

What’s so special about this particular ATV, ATV-5?

When ATV-5 was launched last July, it was the heaviest payload ever put in space by

ATV5 re-entry coincided with Valentines weekend. A lovely way to say goodbye don't you think? (ESA)

ATV5 re-entry coincided with Valentines weekend. A lovely way to say goodbye don’t you think?
(ESA)

Europe (weighing in with a mass of 20,245 kilograms). It’s interesting that the last of the five ATV vessels ended up being the biggest and the baddest.

What are the challenges of communicating technical topics to a general audience?

Well, knowing who your audience is, is rather important and you absolutely have to accept the fact that you will never satisfy your entire audience all the time because the audience for this kind of information or for what ESA does with space is so diverse.

Secondly – there’s a whole range of requirements to be satisfied there in the sense of knowing who is actually the right person to provide that kind of information. Therefore, as the blog editor, you’ve got to make sure that when you’re getting information, you then turn around and publish it in the right way: don’t quote the junior engineer working on the ATV propulsion system about the value of why the ISS flies at all. Conversely, a high-level programme manager may not know the details of how the propulsion system works, so maintaining contact with those working-level engineers can be pretty valuable. I don’t think that this is unique to ESA and it’s not a bad thing either. If you do want to quote about the value of flying ATV or Europe participating in the ISS, go to the source.

The third challenge has been technical because when we started off our blog, it was literally sitting on a server underneath somebody’s desk. It crashed a lot and it  took a long time to get the technology right. Now it’s finally properly hosted and properly

backed up. Now the only time it occasionally crashes is when it gets overwhelmed by NASA retweeting one of our posts such as this one – How many calories does it take to bring a calorie to the ISS?

Can you give any tips or advice on blogging for aspiring and practising science communicators out there?

1. Get your facts right. Be humble when it’s pointed out to you that you have got them wrong.

2. Understand your audience as best as you can and adapt how and what you write or publish to match your audience. Be dynamic, don’t just simply follow some kind of monolithic style that you think is the right style on Day 1, adapt your style over time because you’ll find that your audience is never monolithic.

3. Know your topic, know your domain. If you’re doing science communications, you’re talking about some specific domain. Find out who’s not providing some needed information and that’s where you’re really going to prove valuable.

One last question, what is your favourite ATV vessel?

I guess the first one and that’s because there was no way to test the ATVs in-flight prior to the  actual ATV-1’s launch. Every single line of code, every single mission activity, every single button that was pressed at ATV-CC was monitored by NASA and Russia to ensure that ATV was safe and that the ATV Control Centre team – staffed by ESA and CNES, the French space agency – knew their stuff.  I think in retrospect that it was the most impressive vessel in the series because it put the ATV design through everything it could do then and since then, they’ve all performed flawlessly and they’ve all done what they were meant to do. So ATV-1 was probably the most impressive and my favourite. Also, the ATV-1 mission was our first intro into blogging and our learning curve was certainly the steepest so that has given me lots of fond memories.

atvblog

A screenshot of the official ESA dedicated ATV blog updated by Daniel and other editors on the science and stories of ATV since 2007. (http://blogs.esa.int/atv/)

So there you have it! An insight into the world of science blogging from an expert who has spent almost a decade communicating the wonders of ATV in blog form. Blogs are definitely here to stay, it seems 🙂

-Nikita

An edited version of this article originally appeared online at EJR-Quartz.

Creating Communication: 5 Ways to Improve your Writing Style

Creating Communication, science communication

Doing what you love for a living is one of the best things in life. However, as a Science Editor, writing for both work and as a hobby can sometimes lead to times of creative slumps or writer’s block. Ever had that frustrating feeling of wanting to write and/or having something to write about but for some reason the words just don’t seem to flow? Or, maybe you’re writing something but your writing style is still not coming across how you would like it?

Stepping away from your desk and taking a walk, a coffee break or talking to someone are great to distract the mind from overthinking your style of writing. But what about when you attempt to write again? It’s sometimes easy to get lost in the pages and forget what you’re communicating. Here are five ways that I’ve found help me to produce great content whilst ensuring that my writing style stays on the right track.

  1. Read More

It may seem obvious, but great reading leads to great writing. It allows you to grow as a writer, grow in vocabulary, inspiration, story arcs and sentence structure. The next time you find yourself in a creative slump, dust off your bookshelf and settle down on your couch for a few hours with a good read. That’s always a good idea.

  1. Write Like You Talk

Overthinking can lead to writers block. Often, writers that are great communicators in person can struggle on paper. When in doubt, it’s always better to be conversational.

  1. Know Your Audience

Keeping your reader in mind during the writing process is a vital element to ensuring that your article engages, inspires and most importantly is understood by the audience you are directing your words towards. The only true measure of how good your writing is, is the impact that it has on your audience.

  1. Feedback

The first attempt is almost always never how the article will look upon publishing. Seeking comments and criticism from editors, other writers, friends and perhaps a mentor helps to identify where your writing falls short. From this, you can now return to it with a fresh set of eyes and hone your style of writing with further iterations.

  1. Write What You Know

Research is key. Write about things that you know about and through extensive research, have earned the right to communicate. The more you know, the more confidence and credibility will come across through your words.

Hope some of these tips prove to be useful, happy writing!

-Nikita

The Space Generation Advisory Council

Communications, Copy Editor, Job, personal, science communication, SGAC, Space, Space Generation Advisory Council, Space Generation Congress, Toronto, un, United Nations, Young generation
 

You may have seen my blog post on the Space Generation Congress (SGC) back in October in Toronto this year. Organised by the Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC), it’s the place to be if you’re a student or young professional interested in the key issues in space of this generation.

I am happy to say that I have recently been selected as one of the organisation’s Copy Editors. Joined by 5 other peers, we will work alongside the existing Copy Editors to shape the documents and papers presented around the world on behalf of space professionals and students.

 

Comprised of volunteer students and young professionals in the space industry from over 100 countries across the globe, SGAC is the voice of the space generation of today – the space sector leaders of tomorrow. The network connects us to leaders in the United Nations (UN), space agencies and academia. Working in conjunction with the United Nations Committee  on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UN COPOUS), SGAC has the power to communicate ideas across disciplines, generations and oceans.

I’m very happy to join the SGAC team and help to shape the innovative work that is being done here.

-Nikita

I Love to Sail Forbidden Seas

carl sagan, Erik Wenquist, Exploration, Herman Melville, humans, Inspiration, Moby Dick, outreach, Quotes, science communication, Short Film, Space, video, Vimeo, Wanderers
//player.vimeo.com/video/108650530?title=0&byline=0&portrait=0&badge=0&color=ffffff

This famous quote by Herman Melville in Moby Dick is featured in this recently released short film named ‘Wanderers’. Narrated by the legend that is Carl Sagan, the magical film by Erik Wernquist is a window into the future of humanity as we evolve into the space-faring species we are destined to one day become. It is inspiring, stunning and most of all makes me think I was born a century too early!

 
-Nikita

Disaster Playground: The Edge of Space Fiction with Nelly Ben Hayoun

Armageddon, Asteroid, Designer, Disaster Playground, Experience, Movie, Nelly Ben Hayoun, NEO, science communication, seti, Space, space safety magazine

You might have heard of French director and designer of experiences Nelly Ben Hayoun from her past creative concoctions such as the International Space Orchestra and her musical collaboration in space with Beck and Bobby Womack. Designing immersive experiences is her forté and her latest creation, Disaster Playground, is no exception. This creative platform explores the theme of catastrophic asteroid collision – both in real-life and Hollywood movies – dancing on the edge between space and fiction through an immersive exhibit and a feature film. Disaster Playground questions the notion of disaster and investigates the human response and cross-cultural reactions to the threat of potentially hazardous asteroids. I recently spoke to Nelly about this exciting new project.

“I am looking at designing ‘extreme experiences’ for the public in order for them to question what the future of space exploration might be, how could they make dark energy in their kitchen sink, and other surreal experiences,” explains Ben Hayoun. She also incorporates real-life space scientists and thinkers in her work. “Disaster Playground is a critical platform that engages the main actors of the project to reflect on their practice and get members of the public to engage with what the craft of space exploration is, who are the people ‘making’ it, and where is this all going?”

Dr. Peter Jenniskens, meteor showers specialist at the SETI Institute, and Director Nelly Ben Hayoun

Director Nelly Ben Hayoun (center) with Dr. Peter Jenniskens, meteor showers specialist at the SETI Institute, during disaster communication training at Disaster City, TEEX, Texas (Credits: Nelly Ben Hayoun/Nick Ballon).

The Real Armageddon

Disaster Playground: The Feature Documentary is about the scientists monitoring and planning the deflection of hazardous near Earth objects (NEO). It addresses the complex decision-making process of protecting the Earth from NEO impacts and the associated challenges. The plotline of the film follows the progress of NASA’s actual asteroid impact procedure. It depicts the chain of command required when there are only a few experts who understand the technology needed to tackle the threat of an asteroid collision with Earth.

“It is about the design of emergency procedures, nailing down who is in charge, who defines the procedures when things go wrong, and according to which rationale,” explains Ben Hayoun.

Ben Hayoun was inspired to create this film in response to pop culture views of space disaster such as the portrayal in the blockbuster Armageddon. In the film, Hollywood relied on Bruce Willis and a giant drill to save the world. How realistic is this and what is really needed to save our civilization from the next major asteroid impact? This is where Disaster Playground picks up the story, in what Ben Hayoun has dubbed space fiction.

“We are looking at the pop culture as a start and then we engage with the reality of each event, the real people who are the real Bruce Willis – thus the term space fiction,” she says. “The film aims to get you to engage critically with the human condition in place in the space program, the craft, the real people doing it, their quirkiness, their sometimes imperfect reactions, and their successes.”

Cowboy on red phone from Disaster Playground

The Stars of the Show

World-renowned space experts from NASA and the SETI Institute, as well as an all star team of composers, writers, and international collaborators, joined forces on this project. Names such as Dr. David Morrison, Director of the Carl Sagan Center and the SETI Institute; Dr. S. Pete Worden, Director of NASA Ames Research Center; Dr. Jacob Cohen, Chief Scientist at NASA Ames Research Center; and Dr. Jill Tarter, outgoing Director of the SETI Institute all reenact moments of discovery and key events from their research.

“Each of these scientists has a role in some form or shape with the chain of commands or the development of emergency responses…they informed the film and perform their role in the film,” says Ben Hayoun. “Basically, Disaster Playground is their film but it is directed to us. It is about sharing the experience of dealing with such decisions as: ‘Shall we send that asteroid there or there? Where shall we move it?’”

The Theater of Cruelty

Ben Hayoun has been called the “Willy Wonka of design and science” and her bold design practice has gathered the attention of many – including WIRED magazine, which awarded her its 2014 Innovation Fellowship. She carefully crafts creative modes of communication to explore the depths of design using the theme of space. She takes inspiration from French philosopher and socialist Jean Baudrillard and his text America, as well as dramaturges such as Antonin Artaud who introduced the concept of the Theater of Cruelty.

Ben Hayoun wanted to explore the moral ambiguity of using catastrophe to spark interest in space. The explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger, for instance, created an iconic image. That billowing stream of smoke and flame symbolized a horrific loss of life and severe misstep in the US space program, but it also reignited public interest in that program.

“Our interest for such mortal catastrophe can be identified as a perverse human curiosity,” notes Ben Hayoun. “We believe that this perversity captures one crucial element of what the viewer wishes to see: how technology and humans can beautifully ‘fail’ and, in turn, cause us to reflect on the making behind our discoveries.” She uses just that phenomenon in her work, exploring the situations created when existential danger threatens. “I believe that, by taking an extreme approach, you really get the audience to actively engage with a cause or an area of research and that is what motivates me when it comes to space exploration.” Ben Hayoun hopes that engaging the public will lead to increased support for space. “I want to see the next woman on Mars or on an asteroid, and without public backing that will not happen.”

Disaster City training on asteroid impact response

The Disaster Playground Media

The theatre in which Disaster Playground is exhibited blends the various media forms the project assumes: documentary feature film, book, and exhibition. A visitor walking into the exhibit experiences live reenactments, journeys through landscapes, and interacts with props ranging from model spacecraft to live goldfish. “Each of the media is connecting various audiences: the film audience, the digital audience, the academic audience, the scientific audience, the graphic audience, the design audience…each of these audiences is very different and so are their needs. This project is engaging the public at various levels with various outcomes and each are tailored for them,” Ben Hayoun explains.

These elements work individually and together to produce the final creative platform that isDisaster Playground.

Astronaut Rusty Schweickart catches a model asteroid Itokawa

Reigniting Every Kid’s Dream

The importance of sharing the space program’s catastrophes and failures is the driving force behind Disaster Playground. Utilizing the perverse human curiosity and interest in mortal catastrophe is a beautifully twisted method through which we can learn from our failures and reflect on our discoveries.

Ben Hayoun’s primary goal is outreach. Whether as Designer of Experiences at the SETI Institute or sitting on the International Astronautical Federation Space Outreach and Education Committee, Ben Hayoun strives to engineer situations that generate disorder and critical thinking. She aims to reconnect the public with the dream and the vision behind space exploration – one experience at a time.

Disaster Playground was previewed at the Victoria & Albert Museum as part of the London Design Festival Digital Weekend event in September 2014 and will be part of Future Fictions, Exhibition at Z33, House for Contemporary Arts in Hasselt, Belgium October 5, 2014 through January 4, 2015. The feature film will be launched in March 2015.

For updates visit: www.disasterplayground.com and www.nellyben.com.

 

Written by Nikita Marwaha for Space Safety Magazine.

Geosciences Column: Meshing models with the small-scale ocean

Biogeochemical Modelling, biology, chemistry, Chlorophyll, Computations, EGU, European Geosciences Union, Marine, Models, Ocean, Ocean Modelling, research, science, science communication, writing
The latest Geosciences Column is brought to you by Nikita Marwaha, who explains how a new generation of marine models is letting scientists open up the oceans. The new technique, described in Ocean Science, reveals what’s happening to ocean chemistry and biology at scales that are often hard to model…
Diving into the depths of the ocean without getting your feet wet is possible through biogeochemical modelling – a method used by scientists in order to study the ocean’s living systems. These simulated oceans are a means of understanding the role of underwater habitats and how they evolve over time. Covering nutrients, chlorophyll concentrations, marine plants, acidification, sea-ice coverage and flows, such modelling is an important tool used to explore the diverse field of marine biogeochemistry.

Barents Sea plankton bloom: sub-mesoscale flows may be responsible for the twisted, turquoise contours of this bloom (Credit: Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA GSFC)

There is one outstanding problem with this technique though, as the very-small scale or sub-mesoscale marine processes are not well represented in global ocean models. Sub-mesoscale interactions take place on a scale so small, that computational models are unable to resolve them. Short for sub-medium (or ‘sub- meso’) length flows – the smaller flows in question are on the scale of 1-10 km. They are difficult to measure and observe, but their effects are seen in satellite imagery as they twist and turn beautiful blooms of marine algae.
Sub-mesoscale phenomena play a significant role in vertical nutrient supply – the vertical transfer of nutrients from nutrient-rich deep waters to light-rich surface waters where plankton photosynthesise. This is a major area of interest since the growth of marine plants is limited by this ‘two-layered ocean’ dilemma. But the ocean is partially able to overcome this, which is where sub-mesoscale flows come in. Sub-mesoscale flows are important in regions with large temperature differences over short distances – when colder, heavier water flows beneath warmer, lighter water. This movement brings nutrient-rich water up to the light-rich surface. Therefore, accurately modelling these important small-scale processes is vital to studying their effect on ocean life.

Global chlorophyll concentration: red and green areas indicate a high level or growth, whereas blue areas have much less phytoplankton. (Credit: University of Washington)

A group of scientists, led by Imperial College’s Jon Hill, probes the technique of biogeochemical ocean modelling and the issue of studying sub-mesoscale processes in a paper recently published in the EGU journal Ocean Science.  Rather than simply increasing the resolution of the models, the team suggests a novel method – utilising recent advances in adaptive mesh computational techniques. This simulates ocean biogeochemical behavior on a vertically adaptive computational mesh – a method of numerically analysing complex processes using a computer simulation.
What makes it adaptive? The mesh changes in response to the biogeochemical and physical state of the system throughout the simulation.
Their model is able to reproduce the general physical and biological behavior seen at three ocean stations (India, Papa and Bermuda), but two case studies really showcase this method’s potential: observing the dynamics of chlorophyll at Bermuda and assessing the sinking detritus at Papa. The team changed the adaptivity metric used to determine the varying mesh sizes and in both instances. The technique suitably determined the mesh sizes required to calculate these sub-mesoscale processes. This suggests that the use of adaptive mesh technology may offer future utility as a technique for simulating seasonal or transient biogeochemical behavior at high vertical resolution – whilst minimising the number of elements in the mesh. Further work will enable this to become a fully 3D simulation.

Comparison of different meshes produced by adaptive simulations: (a) Bermuda, taking the amount of chlorophyll into account (b) the original adaptive simulation at Bermuda, without taking chlorophyll into account (c) adaptive simulation at Papa, taking the amount of detritus into account (d) the original Papa simulation, without taking detritus into account. (Credit: Hill et al, 2014)

The fruits of this adaptive way of studying the small-scale ocean are already emerging as the secrets of the mysterious, sub-mesoscale ocean processes are probed. The ocean holds answers to questions about our planet, its future and the role of this complex, underwater world in the bigger, ecological picture – adapting to life and how we model it may just be the key we’ve been looking for.
By Nikita Marwaha
Reference:
Hill, J., Popova, E. E., Ham, D. A., Piggott, M. D. and Srokosz, M.: Adapting to life: ocean biogeochemical modelling and adaptive remeshing. Ocean Sci., 10, 323- 343, 2014