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Science Fear of buccaneers opens a vast “data hole” in the Indian Ocean. Flash floods have marooned his vehicles in hip-deep pools of mud. Grazing wars between groups of nomads have blocked access to promising fossil beds.
And campfire visits by snakes and tarantulas are so routine they rank as minor nuisances. Yet nothing has stymied White’s pursuit of knowledge—or thwarted his scientific ambitions—like the hard-eyed men in flip-flop sandals who, valuing doubloons above Darwin, set sail hundreds of miles away in skiffs stocked with machine guns and rope ladders: Somali pirates. There’s been no data coming out of this area for years.
Scientists from around the globe, specializing in subjects as diverse as plate tectonics, plankton evolution, oceanography, and climate change, are decrying a growing void of research that has spread across hundreds of thousands of square miles of the Indian Ocean near the Horn of Africa—an immense, watery “data hole” swept clean of scientific research by the threat of Somali buccaneering.
The cost to science may be less visible to the public. But it won’t be borne solely by scholars. Years of missing weather data off the Horn of Africa, for example, will affect the lives of millions of people.
A scarcity of surface wind readings has already created distortions in weather models that forecast the strength, direction, and timing of rains that sustain vast farming belts on surrounding continents. Shelving a Rosetta Stone “This problem has been going on a long time and with virtually no public awareness,” says Sarah Feakins , a researcher at the University of Southern California whose work on paleoclimates has been hijacked by piracy fears. Nobody talks about the lost science.
Oceanic sediment cores offer researchers a valuable archive of Earth’s climate history. Ancient pollen, plankton, dust, and other clues collected from seafloors provide the bulk of what scientists know about global changes to the planet’s ecosystems over time. In , Feakins devised a novel way of harnessing this technology to test one of the oldest questions of human evolution: Did our ancestors actually climb down from trees because of expanding savannas in Africa?
By poring over cores from the seas off East Africa, she would be able to peel back layers of ancient, windblown carbon isotopes associated with grasslands, settling the debate. Her idea earned the coveted approval of the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program IODP , an elite international scientific organization that controls the most advanced drilling platform afloat—the JOIDES Resolution , a gigantic, high-tech oceanographic ship topped with a foot-tall drilling rig.
One casualty was paleoanthropologist White’s dream proposal: The ash, which is precisely datable under the ocean because of continuous layering, would offer a game-changing yardstick for correlating the ages of hominid fossils discovered throughout the Great Rift Valley.
In effect, the clearest picture yet of the human family tree would be pulled, shimmering, from the sea. View Images Thousands of fossils, such as this monkey skull, can be dated once drill cores are pulled from the ocean floor. Photograph by Tim D. They offer tantalizingly rich returns on anthropological and climatological research. And even Divins admits that the wait could be long. It could be “at least another five years or so” before the vessel returns to the region, Divins says.
Some beleaguered researchers, meanwhile, have sent out an SOS to the world’s navies. Among the armadas now hunting down Somali speedboats, the Australian Navy has shown a particular willingness to shoulder scientific work. It has agreed to lower oceanographic instruments from its warships. Some of that equipment has been retrieved pocked with bullet holes. Armed escorts, however, are another matter. Governments balk at guarding low-priority research vessels, especially when they resemble oil company drill boats—jackpot targets for pirates.
The scientific agencies operating the research ships also pan the idea, saying it would sink their insurance policies. Statistics compiled by the International Maritime Bureau show that brigands managed to force their way aboard only 14 ships in the region in , down from 31 in and 49 in In ports such as Djibouti city, just north of Somalia, it’s easy to see why. The militarization of the area’s waterways, particularly the strategic Bab-el-Mandeb Strait between Africa and Arabia, is virtually complete.
The U. Japanese corvettes sit ready at dock, their engines rumbling. Spanish, German, Turkish, and French soldiers assigned to antipiracy campaigns jam the port’s hotel lobbies. Offshore, merchant ships bob at anchor with razor wire coiled about their rails.
Big placards on their hulls warn that lethal force will be used to repel attackers. How long this martial pressure can be sustained is an open question. But for now the Somalis are outgunned.
A suspected Somali pirate is apprehended near Mumbai, India. Smith, Mark A. Bourassa, and Michael Long point out that routine wind readings collected by ships for decades are now interrupted by a colossal blank space that gapes across , square miles 2. In this case, ship captains have not simply avoided Somalia, but have refused to broadcast anything that might tip off eavesdropping buccaneers—including daily weather reports. That long radio silence has spawned a historic anomaly, or aberration, in oceanographic records.
One consequence: It has become harder to predict long-term changes in a weather system that disperses rain across immense agricultural zones in Africa, the Middle East, and especially South Asia. Clift is being generous.
His own research, which explores how the Earth’s geology and atmosphere interact, has been held hostage for more than a decade by the marauders off the African Horn. He needs a drilling ship. None will come. And he says he may never complete his life’s work: Along the way he is engaging with the major stories of our time—from climate change to technological innovation, from mass migration to cultural survival. Moving at the slow beat of his footsteps, Paul is also seeking the quieter, hidden stories of people who rarely make the news.
To read Paul Salopek’s latest dispatch, go to:
Aseem Kishore , Twitter: Rosetta Stone comes in a wide variety of different languages, allowing you to learn another language via specialized training software on your computer or mobile device. However, the software is a bit on the expensive side. The thing is, the way Rosetta Stone teaches languages may not be that effective for some people. Rosetta Stone focuses mostly on being able to speak quickly and not as much on grammar, sentence structure, etc. For many, classroom learning is a better method, as it involves more interaction with an actual person who speaks the foreign language, the teacher. If you want to get started learning a foreign language without buying Rosetta Stone or paying for classes, there are some decent free alternatives out there that you can try out.
VIDEO: A Hidden Victim of Somali Pirates: Science
They wandered into the gallery and stood near the Rosetta stone, an artifact that had always intrigued Remi. “Wouldn’t it be nice if the key to our cipher wheel. In the suit filed in , Rosetta claimed Google profits by allowing rivals that pirate its technology to buy the top “sponsored link” ad on search. Heaps of human history under one roof Pirate gold, a crystal skull, fanged demons Rosetta Stone Carved with a pharaoh’s decree from BC, this is the .