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How a west Cork lough is offering a window to the changing ocean

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James Bell and Valerio Micaroni from Victoria University of Wellington and Rob McAllen of UCC dive deep into the world of Lough Hyne.

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A version of this article was originally published by The Conversation (CC BY-ND 4.0)

Deeper than most scuba divers can safely work and above where most underwater robots are designed to descend lie some of the most poorly studied ecosystems in the world.

Between 30 and 150 metres down is the ocean’s mesophotic zone, meaning middle-light. Communities of life exist here at the limit of where photosynthesis can occur. On rocky surfaces in the cold water, seaweeds slowly give way to sponges, anemones and sea squirts – small tube-like creatures that filter plankton from the water.

Sandwiched between shallow and deeper environments, these twilight ecosystems offer food and habitat to the fish and other species we catch. The lower light levels mean they can forage with less risk of being seen and eaten by predators.

But the distance of these ecosystems from the surface doesn’t spare them from human influences. Sediment and nutrients from farms and mines obscure the light reaching the seafloor, while fishing pots and nets can damage the fragile animals living in mesophotic ecosystems. Rising sea surface temperatures are likely to be affecting these areas in ways we still don’t understand, as their remoteness makes it very difficult to study.

Remarkably, one of our best guides to what’s happening down there can be found much closer to the surface, in a saltwater lake tucked away on Ireland’s southern coast.

Lough Hyne marine reserve

Lough Hyne is the Republic of Ireland’s only marine reserve – a protected area of the ocean – and it supports more than 1,850 species in just half a square kilometre. The lough is more than 50 metres deep, but even in its shallows, animals and plants grow that would more typically be found in the mesophotic zone.

Sponges and anemones that are usually found 30 to 40 metres down occur in the lough as shallow as five metres. In research published 20 years ago, we described the wide range of animals living beneath the surface on the rocky cliffs, including cup corals, wandering lobsters and spider crabs. Most conspicuous are the sponges, which form dense gardens of more than 100 species.

The lough is connected to the Atlantic Ocean by a narrow, shallow channel. The rocky sill that runs across it restricts the water flowing in and out, with currents only detectable inside the lough during the incoming tide. This relative calm lets sediment in the water settle and reduces how much light can penetrate.

These conditions, combined with the lough’s sheltered nature, create ecosystems at shallow depths that would normally emerge in much deeper water. Lough Hyne lets scientists study the mesophotic without the logistical challenges of working there.

A dramatic shift

The mesophotic communities of the lough were thought to have changed very little for decades. That was until a 2016 visit, when we noticed a dramatic shift.

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In recently published research, we reported how the abundance of sponges in the lough shrank by half between 2000 and 2018. Slow-growing sponges, particularly those species which form branches, were worst affected. In some places, sponges had disappeared completely. In their place, faster-growing sea squirts and dense tufts of seaweed had proliferated.

These changes were most dramatic where water currents were at their weakest in the lough, to the west. There has been no consistent monitoring of the lough’s underwater cliffs, so it’s impossible to say exactly when the change occurred. But based on older surveys and conversations with regular visitors, we think it happened sometime between 2010 and 2015.

It’s difficult to be certain what caused the change, whether it was a natural event or the result of human activities. There could have been a sudden increase in the amount of sediment reaching the lough from the surrounding land, or an unusual quirk in the lough’s chemistry, or a sudden change in temperature.

Sponges living just outside the lough in shallow water don’t appear to have been affected. But we have no idea if mesophotic habitats around the coasts of Ireland and Britain, similar in species make-up to those in Lough Hyne, have changed too.

Thanks to support from Ireland’s National Parks and Wildlife Service of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, we’ve established new long-term monitoring stations – areas of the seabed we’ve marked out to return to year after year – on the underwater cliffs, to assess any further changes. Happily, we are already starting to see new sponges starting to settle and grow.

At this stage, it’s not clear if all the sponge species will return, or how long it might take for the larger sponges to grow back. To our knowledge, the sudden disappearance of sponge gardens on this scale has never happened in the lough before.

Our new surveys will help reveal how fast these unique communities recover from disturbances though, and allow us to track any future changes, as well as their causes. Not only will this help us better manage Lough Hyne, but also other mesophotic ecosystems across the world.

The Conversation

By James Bell, Rob McAllen and Valerio Micaroni

James Bell is a professor of marine biology at the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. Valerio Micaroni is a PhD candidate in coastal and marine biology and ecology, also at the Victoria University of Wellington. 

Rob McAllen is professor of marine conservation at University College Cork. He is also research coordinator for the university’s labs at Lough Hyne.

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Amazon Web Services outage hits sites and apps such as IMDb and Tinder | Amazon

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Several Amazon services – including its website, Prime Video and applications that use Amazon Web Services (AWS) – went down for thousands of users on Tuesday.

Amazon said the outage was probably due to problems related to application programming interface (API), which is a set of protocols for building and integrating application software, Reuters reported.

“We are experiencing API and console issues in the US-East-1 Region,” Amazon said in a report on its service health dashboard, adding that it had identified the cause. By late late afternoon the outage appeared to be partially resolved, with the company saying that it was “working towards full recovery”.

“With the network device issues resolved, we are now working towards recovery of any impaired services,” the company said on the dashboard.

Downdetector showed more than 24,000 incidents of people reporting problems with Amazon. It tracks outages by collating status reports from a number of sources, including user-submitted errors on its platform.

The outage was also affecting delivery operations. Amazon’s warehouse operation use AWS and experienced disruptions, spokesperson Richard Rocha told the Washington Post. A Washington state Amazon driver said his facility had been “at a standstill” since Tuesday morning, CNBC reported.

Other services, including Amazon’s Ring security cameras, mobile banking app Chime and robot vacuum cleaner maker iRobot were also facing difficulties, according to their social media pages.

Ring said it was aware of the issue and working to resolve it. “A major Amazon Web Services (AWS) outage is currently impacting our iRobot Home App,” iRobot said on its website.

Other websites and apps affected include the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), language learning provider Duolingo and dating site Tinder, according to Downdetector.

The outage also affected presale tickets for Adele’s upcoming performances in Las Vegas. “Due to an Amazon Web Services (AWS) outage impacting companies globally, all Adele Verified Fan Presales scheduled for today have been moved to tomorrow to ensure a better experience,” Ticketmaster said on Twitter.

In June, websites including the Guardian, Reddit, Amazon, CNN, PayPal, Spotify, Al Jazeera Media Network and the New York Times were hit by a widespread hour-long outage linked to US-based content delivery network provider Fastly Inc, a smaller rival of AWS.

In July, Amazon experienced a disruption in its online stores service, which lasted for nearly two hours and affected more than 38,000 users.

Users have experienced 27 outages over the past 12 months on Amazon, according to the web tool reviewing website ToolTester.

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South Korea sets reliability standards for Big Tech • The Register

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South Korea’s Ministry of Science and ICT has offered Big Tech some advice on how to make their services suitably resilient, and added an obligation to notify users – in Korean – when they fail.

The guidelines apply to Google, Meta (parent company of Facebook), Netflix, Naver, Kakao and Wavve. All have been told to improve their response to faults by beefing up preemptive error detection and verification systems, and create back up storage systems that enable quick content recovery.

The guidelines offer methods Big Tech can use to measure user loads, then plan accordingly to ensure their services remain available. Uptime requirements are not spelled out.

Big techs is already rather good at resilience. Google literally wrote the book on site reliability engineering.

The guidelines refer to legislation colloquially known as the “Netflix law” which requires major service outages be reported to the Ministry.

That law builds on another enacted in 2020 that made online content service providers responsible for the quality of their streaming services. It was put in place after a number of outages, including one where notifications of the problem were made on the offending company’s social media site – but only in English.

The new regulations follow South Korean telcos’ recent attempts to have platforms that guzzle their bandwidth pay for the privilege. Mobile carrier SK Broadband took legal action in October of this year, demanding Netflix pitch in some cash for the amount of bandwidth that streaming shows – such as Squid Game – consume.

In response, Netflix pointed at its own free content delivery network, Open Connect, which helps carriers to reduce traffic. Netflix then accused SK Broadband of trying to double up on profits by collecting fees from consumers and content providers at the same time.

For the record, Naver and Kakao pay carriers, while Apple TV+ and Disney+ have at the very least given lip service to the idea.

Korea isn’t the only place where telcos have noticed Big Tech taking up more than its fair share of bandwidth. The European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO) published a letter from ten telco CEOs asking that larger platforms “contribute fairly to network costs”. ®

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Twitter acquires Slack competitor Quill to improve its messaging services

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As part of the acquisition, Quill will be shutting down at the end of the week as its team joins the social media company.

Twitter has acquired the messaging platform Quill, seen as a potential competitor to Slack, in order to improve its messaging tools and services.

Quill announced that it will be shutting down at the end of the week as its team joins the social media company to continue its original goal “to make online communication more thoughtful, and more effective, for everyone”.

The purchase of Quill could be linked to Twitter’s new strategy to reduce its reliance on ad revenue and attract paying subscribers.

Twitter’s general manager for core tech, Nick Caldwell, described Quill as a “fresher, more deliberate way to communicate. We’re bringing their experience and creativity to Twitter as we work to make messaging tools like DMs a more useful and expressive way people can have conversations on the service”.

Users of Quill have until 11 December to export their team message history before the servers are fully shut down at 1pm PST (9pm Irish time). The announcement has instructions for users who wish to import their chat history into Slack and states that all active teams will be issued full refunds.

The team thanked its users and said: “We can’t wait to show you what we’ll be working on next.”

Quill was launched in February with the goal to remove the overwhelming aspects of other messaging services and give users a more deliberate and focused form of online chat.

In an online post, Quill creator Ludwig Pettersson said: “We started Quill to increase the quality of human communication. Excited to keep doing just that, at Twitter.”

The company became a potential competitor for Slack, which was bought by Salesforce at the end of 2020 for $27.7bn. The goal of that acquisition was to combine Salesforce’s CRM platform with Slack’s communications tools to create a unified service tailored to digital-led teams around the world.

Last week, Salesforce announced the promotion of Bret Taylor to vice-chair and co-CEO, just days after he was appointed independent chair of Twitter after CEO Jack Dorsey stepped down.

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