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Billionaire’s Investment Pushes Ocean Sensors Deeper in Search of Climate Change’s Hidden Heat

Source: Science/Paul Voosen - September 11, 2017 in Featured, Science/Tech

Billionaire’s Investment Pushes Ocean Sensors Deeper in Search of Climate Change’s Hidden Heat
Photo: Alvesgaspar/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Every day, thousands of robotic floats bob up and down, tracking temperatures in the world’s oceans, which sop up an estimated 90% of the heat from global warming. In the course of a decade, the international Argo array has provided one of the steadiest signatures of the effect of greenhouse gas emissions. But Argo has its limits. The floats go no deeper than 2000 meters, warded off by the crushing pressures at greater depths.

Now, the array is going deeper, where hidden reservoirs of heat may lurk. On 7 September, billionaire Microsoft Co-Founder Paul Allen announced a $4 million partnership with the U.S. government that would be used to purchase 33 Deep Argo floats, capable of descending 6000 meters and reaching 99% of the ocean’s volume. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which pays for U.S. contributions to Argo, is calling it the first “formal public-private partnership for sustained ocean observation.”

In a time of tight budgets, cautious federal agencies might shy away from unproven technology such as Deep Argo, says Bob Weller, a physical oceanographer at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, who is leading a National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine panel investigating the future of ocean observation. That’s where billionaires can step in.

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