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Childs at midday. to Big Ideas Extended Mix Hello and welcome I'm Tony Jones. of the work being done On today's show a glimpse by around 5,000 miniature robots around the globe that are floating in oceans of our undersea wildlife helping scientists make sense

and its chemistry. According to Tony Haymet, oceanographers, one of the world's top

are constantly monitoring these tiny robots and other data temperature, salinity of global warming. which is feeding our knowledge to use algae They may even help us find ways as a fossil fuel. of the Global Change Institute Dr Haymet was a guest at the University of Queensland. in the ocean. So let's talk about life What if I were to tell you blue whales in the ocean that there are 176 million

until about a decade ago. That's a pretty amazing statement and if I were in Queensland, to Federal Parliament you'd probably elect me saying something like that. out of the way as soon as possible. I like to get the Queensland joke But you'd be right LAUGHTER

is that 90% of life in the ocean and so what we now know

microbial life. is bacteria and viruses, think of as the iconic things - And indeed the things that we the sharks, the coral reefs, the whales,

the big tuna, the other big fish - for the ocean. they're just the PR spokespeople in the last decade, The real action we've come to learn that's in the ocean. is this amazing set of life that lies ahead. And that's the challenge to understand this life - And I'm one of those who thinks that we understand a little bit of it - we don't understand much of it, into the ocean with ships but we can't possibly get out in the traditional technologies - tolerate that kind of expense. no taxpayer or politician would And so to understand all these things of sea water - that exist in just one litre 1 billion bacteria, 10 billion viruses, 5 million protozoa per litre - that's used in the ocean half of the organic matter organisms. is used by these microscopic of the oxygen that we breathe And, of course, about 50% is created by the ocean. in preparation for this talk, And I read, that every second 10 to the 23 viral infections that there are approximately occurring in the ocean, a somewhat awesome statistic. may not show up And unfortunately this movie dinoflagellate in the middle there, but this is actually a dead about 20 micro metres across. of cholera bacteria It's surrounded by a halo to talk later on in the talk. which I might have a chance

we have in front of us. So this is the challenge I should declare up front

how to explore this life. that we don't quite know how to classify this life, We don't really even know so often with time it seems to change at a same location in the ocean to nearby location and it changes from nearby location within a few tens of kilometres. and in the rest of the talk, So that's what lies ahead in the next 40 minutes I'll try and describe the progress that we've made. Before I get back into my talk a bit about Scripps I want to tell you and since we're on video communication director and I have a very troublesome institution, not an institute. I have to say that we're an you'll know what I mean. If you belong in an institution

We were founded in 1903. There are 1,400 that I pay. there are another 500-600 volunteers What I mean by that is that and other volunteer aspects of it. who help me run our aquarium Little picture in the top right when we started. is what La Jolla used to look like just a very nice beach There was no suburb, no houses, which persists to this day. we're a soft money institution. Um, interestingly, who know what that means which means, for those of you it's an interesting way of life - every year to do our research. it means we raise the money very much money every year The government doesn't give us so it's a fairly Darwinian process. and talent You learn to live by your wits and you're a little bit susceptible of various governments to the comings and goings and administrations. One of the things that my great predecessor Roger Revelle, the fifth director of Scripps, did was not only start climate research, which we'll talk about in a second, but he created the University of California, San Diego, 49 years ago.

Probably the other thing you need to know is that it's a very beautiful place. That's Scripps at sunset - a pier that's been there in some form since 1916. My office is right at the foot of that pier. So I got this invitation to help you celebrate your 100th birthday and it was an oration. And I don't know about you - I've given lectures before but I've never given an oration before. And I thought I'd better do some practice on - in the oration department. And so I'm sure you'd like to think that professors wander all over the world so here I am a week ago in southern France. Unlike you, the audience seemed to leave quite quickly so... So I practiced this talk. So understanding the oceans, the biology of the oceans,

the atmosphere of the solid earth, it's a tough thing to do.

We're limited by the sheer vastness of the 71% of the planet that's covered by ocean and the great depths - average of seven kilometres. of the 71% of the planet to do this research. And so what I'm going to tantalise you with tonight is just some of the tools

that have come to the fore in the last decade that really allow us to do experiments that we've always wanted to do and people in the audience here knew 40 or 50 years ago we should do but they were just too darn expensive to do. So this graph here is the work of my late colleague Charles David Keeling - he was the first one to measure CO2 in the atmosphere. We've done that every month for the last 52 years. It's probably the most important graph to come out of Scripps and has led to a scientific understanding of what greenhouse gases, including CO2, are doing to the planet. This gives me a chance to show you the lab at Mauna Loa on top of a volcano in Hawaii

and a photo of Dave himself and also to show probably the next most important location for this kind of work

which is our very own Cape Grim in north-west Tasmania. In addition to this C02, which has now risen 39% above the value that nature gave us in about 1850, a lot of that CO2, somewhere between one-quarter and a third of it, has dissolved into the ocean and the red curve is the record of acidity of the ocean - so-called pH. Experiment started by none other than the very same Charles David Keeling. Unfortunately he started them much later than the 1958 CO2 experiments. And people who understand the acidity of the ocean are extremely alarmed by this graph which is persistent around the tops of the ocean throughout the world. It simply reflects the fact that when CO2 is in the atmosphere, there's nothing we can do to stop it dissolving in the ocean.

And when it dissolves in the ocean it creates more hydrogen ions so it increases the acidity,

but, more importantly, it decreases the availability of carbonate ion and so any little organism that wants to secrete a calcium carbonate shell at first has a great deal of difficulty in doing that and eventually starts dissolving as the acidity becomes such that a shell of a sea snail such as - we call them pteropods - or indeed coral - coral reefs - will eventually start to dissolve. So one of the things we'd like to do

is have a way of measuring the acidity of the ocean all over the world's ocean. At the moment we do that in just a couple of places. They turn out to be Bermuda and Hawaii and the peninsula in Antarctica.

I've never quite figured out why my scientists always seem to pick these exotic locations. But what we really need to do is measure the acidity as a function of depth and location and indeed the season of the year. There's a difference between summer and winter and autumn and spring. So the old-fashioned way to do that is to take your ships out to the ocean and this is the Scripps fleet - four vessels and a floating platform called FLIP that rotates 90 degrees. And it's still important that we have a few ships but the new robotic age is embodied by this successful experiment. And here are 3,255 robots - Argo floats, we call them - this is where they were on 9 April, 2010

a few days ago when I was finishing off this talk. More precisely, these were where they had surfaced in the last ten days, the last reported position of these robots. So rather than take out many hundreds of vessels and keep them constantly in the ocean to measure the properties that we need to understand what's happening to the planet - in this case the temperature and salinity as a function of location and depth we have these nifty little robots that have been developed over the last couple of decades.

And indeed a program of 26 countries has led to a fantastic experiment that I think is not well-enough known. The reason that I know about these floats

is partly because my colleagues at CSIRO were greatly involved in this experiment - indeed Australia is the third-largest contributor. And I'm playing a little movie here to show you how these robots work - they're dropped off vessels. They actually are little submarines so my colleague Russ Davis perfected a kind of a bladder...

MOBILE PHONE RINGS ..Your mother's on the phone! That's what I like to say to my first-year chemistry students. It somehow stops the phone calls. There's a little bladder in here that changes the density of the float so it's able to sink itself into the ocean

using very low power -

basically mobile phone batteries. It sinks down to a specified depth. We usually use something like a kilometre although if you're willing to use more power it can go deeper. It drifts along in the ocean currents for ten days and then after those ten days it pops to the surface, all the time measuring the temperature and salinity - the profile. These are very important properties, the most basic chemical properties of the ocean.

When it gets to the top of the ocean it beams its data back just in one direction through the satellite network. It all comes down to a computer server that happens to be at Scripps and then it's distributed free to everybody. And you can log on to and see all of the data yourself.

So this is another depiction of where these floats are. The colours actually indicate the country of origin of these floats. So this is an absolutely incredible experiment that works today. It's hit its design point in 2007. There's a constant program -

the floats last about 4.5, 5 years. They cost about $15,000. Compare that to the huge expense of taking scientists out on vessels and actually lowering instruments into the ocean to measure this. And so, already, very important things have been discovered by these floats.

In today's Australian newspaper I summarise the work of three different groups

about examining a hypothesis about the change in precipitation that's going on as the planet warms. Probably the most important result from this work combined with earlier measurements from vessels is an actual measurement of the heat content of the ocean. For those of you who understand the concept of heat capacity, the heat capacity of the atmosphere is the same as the heat capacity

of just the first metre or two of the ocean. And so the ocean is the great heat reservoir of the planet and if it is true, in fact, that the planet is heating up then you must see a signature in the ocean. And so this was one of the great experiments that really has its origin in the 1960s when Dave Keeling published his first seven years of data and wrote a report for the United States President, who at that time was President Johnson. That kind of stunning data, the rising of CO2 the fact that CO2 acts like a blanket, and instead of having three blankets on us, we had four blankets and that's why we are overheating.

The '60s were a time where these great experiments were designed by people who I'd call the true sceptics. So if global warming is really happening, then you have to see this heat signature in the ocean so had these curves been flat it would have definitively disproved the hypothesis. And there were many other great experiments that took decades to build - one I often talk about is the measurement of the ice mass on the planet, which was ultimately successfully done with a satellite instrument called GRACE which is able to detect ice mass from space. All of these things were done by people that were genuinely trying to test whether the global warming hypothesis was supportable or refutable. And often it took them their whole career and decades to do that. Let's move on to two quite remarkable children that come from the Argo program. Today we have something called a glider, which again doesn't have a motor but is able to direct itself through the ocean. So it looks a bit like a glider in the atmosphere, it has wings

and packed inside that torpedo-like object are batteries that are simply there to record the scientific data and a bunch of scientific instruments. And this Spray glider, it's called, built by my colleague Russ Davis actually sort of porpoises through the water

so the battery pack is moved mechanically forward inside that torpedo and causes the glider to move forward and dive and when it gets to a preselected depth, maybe after about 10 hours maybe a kilometre down, then the batteries are moved to the rear of the vessel, to the stern of the vessel and it proceeds still forward, but up. When it gets to the surface, it learns how to turn itself 90 degrees so what had been the wing of the glider becomes the antenna. And in this case we have two way communication with the glider so not only do we get the data back to the lab, but if it's slightly off course, or indeed if we've changed our mind we're able to reprogram the glider. So this again is just a remarkable invention of human ingenuity and comes from a set of scientists who had amazing faith in their fellow scientists. So my colleague Russ Davis, spent his life designing the bladders that would, at very low power, cause these floats to be able to go up and down in the water column every ten days for five years. And then invented this ingenious system

where the pitch and roll of this glider could be controlled

by mechanically moving the batteries around inside the glider and here's a little diagram of it. But he left to others the idea of developing batteries he somehow had great faith that we would need laptop computers and mobile phones so he didn't institute a research program to build his own batteries, every generation that came along was able to extend the life of his robot from a few weeks to five years

and indeed these Spray gliders we regularly send hundreds of kilometres off the coast of California, turn them around and bring them back over a five month period. And you see some of the miniaturised instruments that we are able to put inside these gliders we can measure pressure, temperature, salinity, velocity, chlorophyll fluorescence - so that's a measure of the productivity of the ocean and acoustic back scatter, which is the beginnings of our interaction with mammals

and also detecting other things that are in the water column. So here's an example of how this robotic technology is taking over from, eventually taking over from so much ship time. There's an experiment that we've done for the last 60 years, every three months, called CalCOFI it started after the crash of the sardines in Cannery Row in Monterey, attempting to understand why there were wild fluctuations in the populations of fish. So we go out and occupy these stations every three months,

drop a whole series of instruments into the water. And so since 2005 we've been continuously occupying these positions in the ocean doing some of those experiments by these kind of gliders, at a vastly reduced cost. I'm just going to flash a little scientific information in front of you - on the vertical axis here I have a depth and on the side here I have a distance from the shore. The upper plots are actually the experimental data

measured by the CalCOFI program and these gliders and the lower plots are a model that's been refined by understanding all of this data. So we have a very complete explanation of the California current and the counter-currents that are the environment in which very valuable fisheries exist and so we can help manage that fishery in a very scientific way. So there's Russ in all his glory, in his lab. I should say that this is an area in which Australia excels, and I want to just take a couple of minutes

to mention a set of collaborations going on under the name of IMOS with is the Integrated Marine Observing System, now run by my friend Tim Moltmann who was at CSIRO when I was there, and this is part of NCRIS program that many of you may know, the research infrastructure program that set up a few years ago and was a great example of many universities and agencies getting together. It was actually a refreshing change in the direction of collaboration. Ended up liberating about $50 million of your tax money to put together an integrated series of experiments in many locations around Australia using many different technologies, including these kind of robotic technologies. And here's a little bit of data from some of the scientists that are in this IMOS program looking at eddies - these famous eddies in the East Australian Current

which are sort of episodic, in some sense random, although they have a statistical distribution but obviously have a great influence on what's happening in the oceans off our eastern seaboard. So, using these kind of robotic technologies there's ways of interrogating that East Australia Current that go far beyond Nemo and cartoon movies that you might have seen. So this is a great example of how this kind of exploration of the global common ocean is done. Now let me move on more into the science fiction arena but this is a real experiment. And some in the audience may not have even seen this, this is Kyle Grindley who's just the most amazing engineer that we have at Scripps. One of the things that I love about our institution is that there are a bunch of pointy headed professors but then there are all these practical people

who turn weird ideas into working instruments that don't rust and report their data back every ten days and so on. And the special thing about this version of Russ Davis's float is that it actually generates its own power. And the way it does that is that as it's moving through the water column it uses the temperature change that you find in the ocean and it uses special phase change materials that expand a lot when they heat and they contract when they cool and that expansion and contraction is used to make an oil medium under high pressure and at certain times that oil flows through a dynamo to generate electricity which recharges the batteries that are storing the...experimental data. So, provided that Kyle has done his job and designed this robot correctly this robot is never going to run out of power. Presumably something will fail - we don't know because we've had this robot in the water since last November.

Every white dot here is where it's sunk itself and surfaced, all the time measuring its data and sending its data back to the lab. For the experts in the audience, it's not a perpetual motion machine because it really is taking energy out of the ocean and turning it into battery energy. It's obviously taking a very little amount of the ocean's energy but it really works. And so this opens the door - I'm sure you can use your imagination - what if we had so many of these things in the ocean

they were more numerous than the fish that we've almost entirely consumed, you know, maybe they'd be generating energy for us. Probably they'll end up being used as these kind of autonomous robots that can help us understand the ocean and don't need to be picked up or have their batteries charged or whatever. At Scripps we're building a whole new generation of mini robots. We call these Autonomous Underwater Explorers,

these are fantasies of two of my stranger colleagues - Jules Jaffe and Peter Franks. I say that with great affection. There they are. And so the idea is that in a very interesting part of the ocean

we would have hundreds of these little robots operating in a kind of swarming mode and when they detect something that they're trained to be interested in they might move themselves around that area. So, it might be a school of fish

or we might be studying a marine protected area to see how the ecosystem is bouncing back once we stop overfishing. So that's yet another extension of robotic technology. OK, so let's apply this idea of robots to the atmosphere as well and I'm going to sort of move into a bit of the fun here - I don't want to pretend that what I'm about to show you isn't fun as well as interesting science. So the same kind of attitude in reducing the cost of an experiment by a factor of 1,000 or 2,000 can be applied to the atmosphere and really it was my colleague Professor Ramanathan who taught me about this. Here he is flying three of these...un-personed aerial vehicles stacked in a line through the middle of clouds and indeed through brown clouds, through clouds of pollution. So these aircraft are not ones we make ourselves, they're commercially made little aircraft. We take whatever instruments were packed in the nose of them and have our own engineers who are able to make various atmospheric devices

to look at aerosol particles and pressure and humidity and so on. So let me see if we've got time here to have a look at this movie. You can probably imagine it's not too difficult to get graduate students to sign up to work for these kind of projects. Um, in this case - MOTOR REVS It sounds like a lawn mower but it is in fact an aeroplane. Um, it's strange that a lot of the airports around the world think that they actually own the atmosphere so one of the biggest trouble we have doing these experiments is finding places in the world where they'll let crazy scientists fly their aeroplanes around. In this case we're trying to understand some of the Asian monsoon factors and so I hope you can see these little aircraft taking off.

So, the take-offs and landings are actually done by graduate students. Once they get up into the atmosphere they - if we're flying three at a time we have them prepositioned, they circle around until they're ready to go and fly a program. And so, again, you could do every one of these experiments with a normal aeroplane and two pilots and so on but the cost is just prohibitively expensive, plus, we're learning

how to make these aircraft stay up in the atmosphere for 12 hours, 24 hours. So we can fly over the Arctic - we hope soon to be able to fly one following a cloud of pollution from Hawaii all the way to the coast of North America. And so, Ram really took advantage of this technology and pioneered this technology in order to understand clouds - both sort of normal white clouds and brown clouds. But of course, once an idea gets out to the scientific community, everybody wants to use these experiments for their work. So, one of my professors who studies geomagnetic anomalies decided he would turn one of our vessels into a little aircraft carrier and instead of steaming ship in a zig zag pattern to measure the geomagnetic anomaly, he decided the ship would steer in a straight line, thereby saving fuel. And that he would get the little aircraft to fly the zig zag pattern. So this is my colleagues at Scripps. I was kind of intrigued by this.

This is actually capturing the recovery of these things. And I kind of like to look at these movies, since I paid for all of this. So, I got this delightful email from the vessel saying, you know, "Great success. 19 successful launches,17 successful recoveries." Which is a scientist's way of telling you, you just lost two of your airplanes in the Southern Ocean.

There are just so many things we've learnt to do with these aircraft. Now, my colleague, Ken Melville, a proud Australian, who is back here often, is using these aircraft to study sea ocean interactions. And so part of the joy of doing these experiments, is as I said, doing experiments we've always imagined doing. Just reducing the cost by many orders of magnitude.

Before I go on, I should show you a couple of other products that have come out of Scripps, and we'll move on. You may have seen ocean in Google Earth, you know, you have undoubtedly gone to look at your own home, from space, but you may not have noticed that in the last year or so

you can actually splash through the ocean and the bathymetry that google used to make that ocean was actually from my colleague, Dave Sandwell. But Google is a big organisation. Sometimes we have trouble keeping track - if you look under Google Earth, you'll see a little acknowledgement to us here. That SIO stands for Scripps Institute of Oceanography. But here are Dave's initials carved into the Ocean, off Indonesia, that's done digitally, not disfiguring the planet. And we do that to keep track of exactly which version Google's using. So, one way to improve that bathymetry is actually from space, and I thought this was an opportunity for me to show you a spacecraft that my colleague, Francisco Valero has built, but has not yet launched. It's a spacecraft that's had a number of names - each Vice President of the United States gives it a different name, and the polite ones I can say are here: Discover. This is actually a satellite that Scripps built to orbit the sun. So it actually orbits the sun at exactly the same speed as the earth. and it sits between the earth and the sun. So there is a solar facing side of the satellite, which measures the solar radiance. And also provides an early warning system for solar storms which might disrupt communications. Then there is an earth facing side, that basically measures the heat flux coming out of the planet.

And it sits at a place - the Lagrange point one which is the equi-gravitational place between the earth and the sun. And so to give an example of the kind of data

that this satellite collects, you've undoubtedly heard some people give you an explanation for global warming that it's not CO2 and other greenhouse gases but it's changes in the solar flux. It turns out that's not true, but there is a measurable effect in the change of the solar flex, compared to the human induced influence from greenhouse gases. And it's important to pin this down. In fact, this satellite could actually create a much more tighter data set and look at solar fluxes. So I've shown you, I think, robots in the ocean, robots in the atmosphere, satellites, these are all kind of the remote sensing technologies. And these are happening right now, they're instruments that are working or at least built,

ready for launch. But, let me now spend the last ten minutes talking about the things that we have to do but are great challenges. And let me come back to where I started. This is the, the microbial life in the ocean. Here is my colleague Ferouk Assam who is a great expert in this area. Who has taught me about this subject. This is a brand new subject. When I went to school, and to Sydney Uni, people didn't know about the microbial life of the ocean. The idea that 90% of the life in the ocean was small, would have sounded crazy, when I was an undergraduate. And what we have now come to understand is that these viruses kill about a third of the bacteria every day in the ocean so this is the constant cycling of matter from just molecules in the ocean into life and back again. So this is constant flux of matter and energy, that is going on in our oceans and it produces oxygen that we breathe and it interacts with the CO2 that is naturally in the atmosphere, and the extra CO2 we've put there. And of course these viruses infect things just as they infect us and other terrestrial organisms

and so over the last few years people have been able to put together exactly the damage that these viruses do. It's probably incorrect to describe it as damage - it's part of the normal life and death of life on earth. But indeed there are some dramatic events that can happen when viruses get out of control, or a virus mutates and is able to find a niche and do a lot more damage than otherwise. So one of the things that my colleagues are studying at Scripps, is this cholera bacterium. And its getting sort of late at night for me, so maybe I'll just try and summarize this. The story of cholera is a fascinating one, and if you go in the waters off Bangladesh, you can figure out you can measure these things. You can pick up sea water that is full of cholera.

But there are three viruses that are associated with this story. There is a virus that activates the cholera bacterium - without that virus it doesn't do any damage. There is a second virus that kills that whole complex and there is a third virus, that Ferouk has discovered, which kills the virus that kills the bacterium or the bacterium virus complex. And so if he were here and if I wasn't so jet-lagged, I would try to explain to you this whole story. But here is an interaction of molecular biology, a complete story about how you could imagine regulating the cholera bacterium because you have at least two feedback cycles - a life and death cycle that you can interact with. So in certain circumstances, in certain parts of the ocean, indeed this third virus was actually discovered off the pier of Scripps. So Ferouk didn't have to go very far

to collect the raw materials for his experiments. So, what we're learning is that there's a whole secret world out there in the ocean, where energy and matter is constantly cycling between inorganic material, so non-living things, living things. And that's all mediated by this incredibly complicated microbial life. Do these viruses actually interfere with us? Yes, it turns out that understanding a lot of human disease can be understood by this sort of hidden world. Now, how on earth are we going to get a handle on these billions and billions of different species? Well, it's challenged the very definition of what we mean by a species, as we go back to the same location in the ocean and we find that microbial life is different than it was four months ago. If we just move our experiments 30 or 40 kilometres in the ocean, we find completely different sets of species. On the other hand, they do have many pieces of DNA in common,

if I could simplify it to that point. So this is a current challenge which we are yet to come to grips with. But clearly, we think that traditional methods of exploring the ocean can't possibly come to grips with that. And I am one of those who believes that the kind of technologies I've shown you earlier in the talk coupled with miniaturised biology experiments are ultimately going to be the way that we understand and indeed document these areas. Let me finish off by just showing you one practical thing as well as documenting climate change in the, well... ..what's the relationship of climate change to these viruses? Surely you've heard of people who want to go out fertilize the ocean, by changing the way CO2 and energy move through the ocean. As I've come to understand more about bacteria and viruses in the ocean I'm amazed by those propositions. We understand so little about how these things work - the fact that you'd want to go and interfere with it when it's such a crucial part of our planet sort of amazes me. Um, one of the things that we use to fund this kind of research on the mircrobial life of the oceans is actually algae - algae are the least studied plants in the planet. Turns out my institution has been studying them for 100 years but for 98 years nobody cared. But these days there's a great deal of interest because these little guys are actually put here on Planet Earth

by Mother Nature to turn CO2 and sunlight into matter. And so this is no longer a theoretical concept - just east of us there's an amazing place called the Saltan Sea which is like the Dead Sea, it's beneath sea level, and it's accumulated agricultural chemicals for the last 50 years so it's sort of lethal to birdlife but next door to it we're slowly seeing the replacement of good old traditional California agriculture with these algae ponds. So these are pilot plants that are growing a variety of species of algae

and there are a number of companies that have set up around the San Diego area that are looking at different species of algae, different mixtures of algae, different ways of growing them - a lot of them in open ponds, some of them in closed-loop systems - all with the idea of making a liquid fuel, a liquid transportation fuel that's at least neutral in the CO2 department. So, these algae take in CO2, yes that same CO2 is released when the fuel is burnt but the net contribution to the planet's CO2 is zero. So this is an example of a curiosity-based kind of science where people started studying algae just to figure out how they work and low and behold there is, I would say, about a 60% probability that this is going to be a practical way of making liquid fuels. My colleagues love me to show this picture buried behind these squares are a map of the United States and the orange - sorry, the yellow area is the area you would need to plant with corn to turn into biodiesel to replace 50% of the currently used petroleum diesel in the United States. The black square is how much soybeans you would have to plant and the tiny little green square is how much algae you need to do that. That's just a summary of how relatively super efficient algae are in turning CO2 and sunlight into fuel. So I hope I've given you a tour of these various kinds of robotic technologies.

I think we're just getting started.

As these robots start to cruise the ocean and measure not just physics and chemistry but biology. The whole field that we understand oceanography to be - biological oceanography - indeed our understanding of the atmosphere and in some cases the solid earth is going to change. And the best way I've learnt to describe is it's like medical doctors moving from a stethoscope to an MRI or a CAT scan - instead of oceanographers getting a couple of data points a day, we're about to be overwhelmed by terabytes of data a day. And I for one am looking forward to that. Thank you very much, I'm very happy to try and answer your questions. APPLAUSE Thank you very much, Professor Haymet. I should say, just like the main talk here, the question and answer session will be filmed. So there are microphones going around and so if you have a question if you put up your hand and just wait for one of the two microphones to get to you. So, um, who would like to ask the first question? We've got sort of a fireside chat with Professor Haymet here. Are you gonna come and join me by the fire? I will, I will. Very good. What's on the television? (CHUCKLES) Oh, there's a question over here. Always helps. WOMAN: Sorry, in the interest of kicking the questions off, thank you very much for your talk, very interesting, especially as someone who's not a scientist. Um, just tell me what happens to all these things when the batteries run out? Are we going to be filling the ocean actually with lots of bits of robot? Yeah, that's somewhat - the original generation of robots, yes, they sink to the bottom of the ocean so we're knowingly paying a price for that. The gliders come back to home base and even some of the earlier Argo floats come back - I think I can tell this story that one of our colleagues at CSIRO noticed that the GPS locator of one of the floats was reporting at Steve Irwin's crocodile park in Mooloolaba. And I think it was Janet, wasn't it? And so she drove up there in her holidays and found a fisherman who was just about to make himself a really nice mailbox out of the float. (CHUCKLES) So, yes, obviously in the evolution of technology we want to reuse these things and indeed the solo trek, the self-powered float, is designed to keep going for a long time

and eventually if it developed a fault we would go and pick it up, probably, or wait till it came close to an island and pick it up. So, the idea is ultimately to have no footprint on the ocean. Got a person here.

WOMAN: Hello, Dr Haymet, um, I'm studying microbiology - sorry, molecular biology - and I'm just completing my project on algae but I have a very interesting question which maybe goes to my interest in exobiology - I want to explore other planets - so the thing is, this beautiful little float you talked about, fantastic talk - I was just researching you before I came because I said "Let me make sure I don't have any silly questions before I come here," but the thing is, this float, what depth do they actually go up to? You said they go for 10 hours, the deeper you go into the ocean, the more pressure you withstand and then it can just burst. Right. My question, basically, is how deep can it go? Can it be used for an exploration of, say, Europa or something because the whole planet is covered by ocean as we understand with a whole sheet of ice. I think the answer is with proper pressure technology, yes to the last question. We send them to different depths depending on the experiments that we want to make. The real trade-off is the deeper you go the more energy you have to expend because you have to need the density in order to get -

you know, every ten metres is one atmosphere of pressure. So, there's a trade-off. In order to understand the heat content of the ocean, this committee of 26 nations decided on about one kilometre depth but we have different versions of the robot to explore the deeper ocean

but we have fewer of them and the last long - they last a shorter amount of time.

So, you can go down several kilometres into the ocean, indeed, you know... ..there's a very interesting parallel between exploration of the deep ocean and exploration of the planets.

As I'm sure you're aware, almost all the data we have from space comes from robots, although astronauts are very famous and quite inspirational, the real workhorses are the robots and the same is true in the ocean.

People become very famous by visiting the Mariana Trench but they didn't actually pick up much data. It's these kind of robots that are doing it, you know, once every ten days that are the ones that are going to help us explore the ocean. And of course robots have the great advantage that when they bust I don't have to call their families and explain what went on. Yes. Justin. Dr Haymet, I'm not sure if I heard you correctly

but I thought you mentioned that your colleague Dave Keeling was doing a report for Johnson back in the 1970s... '65, yeah. ..regarding the acidity levels in the ocean. I thought that President Johnson was busy in Vietnam at that stage but...were there concerns at that stage about the CO2 levels in the atmosphere? Yeah, absolutely. And there's - I've got a little quote from it, I was hoping someone would ask that question. So, Dave hadn't done the experiments on acidity at this point, this was just atmospheric CO2. This report is actually quite spooky, it sort of lays out the whole - I mean, there are seven years worth of data, so, in many fields of science that would be two PhD students worth of data and you'd be onto the next project. But what these scientists wrote,

and apparently explained in person to President Johnson, was, you know, this unwitting geophysical experiment that we were performing on the planet. And there's - they got everything right except one number, they said by the year 2000 the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere would've increased by 25%. It turns out the real number was 30% because even Dave Keeling didn't anticipate the rise of China and so on. Um, but all the other things, including the sort of community reaction - namely, we're not gonna see the effects of this until it's too late. You know, that this is an inexorable rise and to pull out the signal from the inexorable warming from the year to year fluctuations is going to take many decades. Most of us would say now we've started to see a signal to noise - significant signal to noise around 1985. Um, so this report was right on the money and, as I said, was really the golden age of sceptics because there were a lot of scientists who found this very troubling and many people who thought it was probably wrong but in those days people then set out to do big experiments to prove it was wrong. So if you look back to the origin of the ocean heat content experiement - it was another big experiment to measure the isotopic ratios of carbon on the basis that if the carbon was of natural origin it should have the same isotopic ratio as carbon found today but if the carbon truly was coming from fossil fuels that had buried for millennia it would be depleted in the higher isotopes. But in the 60s it was impossible to do that because people had just been doing atmospheric hydrogen bomb tests with radioactive isotopes. and so the atmosphere was alive

incredibly complicated analytical chemistry and indeed wait for the Bikin Atoll tests to start to decay before they could do that very profound test of the whole global warming theory. And so people ask me today what do you do when people come and tell you that global warming is wrong, well, if they show up with decades of data I spend all week with them. If they just sit in an armchair and say it's wrong without any data

then I tend not to pay attention. Dr Haymet, you talked about algae possibly producing substitute fuels. Is there any hope in oceanography that there might be a way of swallowing up our excess carbon in the atmosphere? Is there any hope in that sort of research?

I'm afraid not. That was actually Roger Revelle's original idea in 1957. He had this hope, which was not entirely unreasonable, that the oceans would actually soak up all the CO2

and that it would mineralise very quickly and fall to the bottom of the ocean.

And that is a correct statement of thermodynamics. It turns out the rates of that are 10,000 a year, 100,000 a year so it's not quick enough to actually save us from destroying ourselves with CO2. But, you know, it was a great idea. It just happened to be wrong, like almost all of my great ideas. You know, there is continued effort - so there is a lot of thinking, of people thinking, can we somehow seed the ocean so it'll absorb more CO2. But as all those experiments have rolled out, you know, I think, first of all they haven't worked out - there's no successful idea yet about how to do that. And I think most people develop a profound sense of humility as we understand more about this microbial life in the ocean. People say, "Wait a minute, even if that were theoretically possible, we'd have to be awfully sure before we took such a huge risk to interfere with such an important part of the planet." So, I mean, my sense is that after a brief period of geo-engineering being the flavour of the month, there's been a welcome wave of conservatism that have led people to think that maybe it's just better to make electricity without putting CO2 in the atmosphere in the first place. There's another one over here. Hello. Sorry, my questions not about your robotics, it's about your amazing vessel/structure FLIP. How many other vessels are there like that and what sort of research do you do off it? Well, I'm only aware of one but there's a very famous French architect who's trying to develop something called Sea Orbiter. So those of you who like Google and apparently have nothing better to do than Google my name can actually learn something by looking at Sea Orbiter. FLIP is an unpowered vessel. It's about 100m long. It's sort of half a submarine. It's the thing in the middle here. So you tow it out to where you would like to have an island in the ocean to be a platform and then you simply flood the ballast tanks as you would in a submarine and it turns upright. I mean, you know, let's be frank about it - we all go out to see it because the toilet rotates 90 degrees. And - Hopefully they give you good warning.

As an Australian I have to learn which American politicians would prefer to see the coffee pot rotate 90 degrees and which ones are, like, down-to-earth Australians who want to see the toilet do that. There's three or four levels of, um - it's very crowded. But it is an amazing place. It's very stable in the water column so it doesn't bob up and down. The waves go up and down but it stays. And so it's mostly used for acoustic experiments because it's a very stable and of course silent platform in the ocean. But it's actually getting increasing use. So if you look up Sea Orbiter is to have something you'll see that the idea maybe even has scuba divers that are constantly under compression you'll see that the idea is to have something that's permanently in the vertical direction - that has multiple levels, maybe even has scuba divers that are constantly under compression three or four or five or six levels into the ocean. And again, use the idea of making an island wherever you want to do your research. I've recently heard a lot about the algae and the research they're doing on the algae

and the different types they're looking into and the productivity of each type that they find - I guess they're strains of algae. Do you think that with the current strains that are known and are used we have enough - we can cover a small enough area to produce the amount of fuels we need or do you think we need more strains or newer strains that we have not yet found? Yeah, great question. There are two schools of thought. One correct and one incorrect. No! There are two schools of thought. So Craig Venter, who's on my board, a very famous biologist who shotgun sequenced the human genome, has a company, Synthetic Genomics, and his goal to genetically engineer algae to basically spit out a blob of oil every day. And that's very clever science.

I have a lot of reservations about the permitting process that any government would make you go through in order to do that. And so - but that's the company that's actually on my campus that attracted $300 million of investment from Exxon. So a lot of people think that's a good idea. I continue to have reservations about how long it will take to develop - for the community to have confidence that genetically engineered algae are safe to use. The other school of thought, which most of my scientists pursue, is to take existing algae, maybe put them in ecosystems, so maybe not just have a single strain like a monoculture in agriculture on the land but make an ecosystem, if you will, a fake ecosystem, that's resilient to things that might blow into the ponds and the wind. And so you can imagine having maybe 17 different strains of algae that function at different temperatures or, you know, in different regimes. And then the other thing that we look at is depending on the external conditions of the algae,

maybe temperature, pH, other things - the nutrients in which they sit - many of these algae will, in one set of circumstances, make more protein,

in other circumstances make more lipid. So if you want to make cosmetics and sell it at $200 a gram, you would want to make more protein. If, for some reason, you want to make biodiesel and sell it at $8 a litre, then you would change the conditions to do that. So I tend to think we've got a pretty complete library. We have algae from Antarctica all the way through to tropical waters. I think, you know, there are a lot of very tough engineering questions left in the algae business

but I think probably we've got the right raw materials. That was oceanographer Tony Haymet and the robots exploring our oceans. Well, that's all for today's Big Ideas. I hope you enjoyed the show. We'll see you next Tuesday at 11:00am right here on ABC1. But if you can't wait until then, head to our website where you can submerse yourself in a vast ocean of challenging ideas from the best think-fests from around the world. Set your browsers to: or better still, make us your home page. I'm Tony Jones. Have a splendid afternoon. Closed Captions by CSI

This Program is Captioned


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