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Photo by Fernando Jorge on Unsplash
An 800-kilogram (1763.7+lbs) underwater observatory has gone missing.
On August 21st, a researcher in Kiel, Germany, noticed that transmissions from an underwater research observatory in the Baltic Sea suddenly stopped. At first, scientists thought there was just a delay in the signal or some other TEMPORARY problem. However, when divers went to investigate a week later, the observatory had vanished. The only thing left was a frayed cable that had once connected the station to land.
Theories Shot Down
The observatory weighed so much that movement by natural causes, such as storms, sea animals or strong currents, has been ruled out. Wayward military submarines accidentally ran into it isn’t likely. Thieves in search of scrap metal have been ruled out as well. Hermann Bange is a biogeochemist at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research in Kiel. He coordinates the observatory project and is the one who ruled the theories listed above.
His Evidence And Theories
“The station was on a seabed only 14.5 meters below the surface. That’s too shallow for a submarine, and while the station was incredibly valuable to us, it was made mostly of steel that wouldn’t have much resale value,” said Bange. The most likely explanation, according to what Bange said to ScienceMag.org, is a fisher trawler that accidentally caught a much heavier target than intended or whose anchor snagged on the station. The waters are a protected research area that is off-limits to all boats. However, Bange says that it’s usually ignored. “Fishing boats have transmitters that tell them they’ve entered the research area, but they just switch it off.” Police are investigating and have asked the campers nearby if they noticed any boats out that morning.
The divers have searched in a 100-meter radius of where the station had been. They did find tracks on the seafloor that suggest the observatory was dragged for quite some way. “But the tracks end and the observatory isn’t there,” said Bange. They also found a broken piece with one of the sensors. The GEOMAR plans on using a ship-based sonar to scan for signs of the equipment. If the station still isn’t found, the nearby navy base has offered to help with its minesweepers and other scanning technologies.
History Of The Observatory
The observatory was installed in 2016amd was designed to complement the monthly ship-based measurements researchers have been making at Boknis Eck. Boknis Eck is located at the entrance to the Eckernforde Bay, since 1957, and is one of the longest-running oceanography records ever. The observatory continuously recorded water temperature, salinity, currents, and levels of oxygen, methane, and carbon dioxide. It could capture data form shorter-term events such as storms or heat waves. It helped scientists understand the effects of those natural phenomena on the longer-term observations. Several new instruments were supposed to be installed in September. These included one to record fish populations and movements and another to measure dissolved organic material.
If the observatory doesn’t show up or is severely damaged, it will take up to a year to replace or restore it, said Bange. The observatory is insured, but it will take some time to sort out the claims. “We have to see if we find any pieces.”