The Cold War resurfaces

 作者:丰弋闸     |      日期:2019-03-07 03:18:11
By Jon Copley and Duncan Graham-Rowe THE hunt for Red October seems to have become the hunt for glowing plankton. Last month, the Ukrainian security service accused four marine biologists of exporting state secrets, leaving their Western colleagues bewildered. Now New Scientist’s inquiries have revealed the probable reason for the Ukrainian authorities’ draconian action: the scientists all study bioluminescent plankton, which can reveal the whereabouts of submarines. On 15 October, the Security Bureau of Ukraine raided the Institute of Biology of the Southern Seas in Sevastopol. They interrogated four researchers—Sergei Piontkovski, Gallina Piontkovskaya, Yuri Tokarev and Boris Sokolov—and searched their homes. The scientists were told they could be charged with transferring secret information to foreign governments. However, their Western colleagues remain convinced that the biologists are innocent of any wrongdoing. The allegations centre on projects funded by Western agencies, including the European Union and Britain’s Darwin Initiative, which supports studies of biodiversity. Many species of plankton can generate light, so measurements of bioluminescence can be used to study their global distribution. But in releasing the results of bioluminescence studies done over the past three decades, the biologists found themselves in trouble. Bioluminescent plankton often glow when they are physically disturbed—by a submerged submarine’s wake, for example. A sub’s wake can leave a telltale scar at the surface, triggering a flash of light from bioluminescent plankton that can be spotted from surface vessels, aircraft or even orbiting satellites. Peter Herring of the Southampton Oceanography Centre, president of the International Society for Bioluminescence and Chemiluminescence, says that the plankton are very sensitive to disturbance. “Even swimming mackerel produce a nice effect,” he says. Glowing plankton have a long history in naval warfare. On 9 November 1918, the German submarine U-34 was destroyed in the Mediterranean after bioluminescent plankton betrayed its position. And last year, Captain Michael McHugh, former manager of the US Navy’s programme for assessing strategic threats to ballistic missile submarines, admitted in the magazine Undersea Warfare that the US military had developed a way of using bioluminescence to detect submarines. Britain appears to be doing similar research. “I know that one or two colleagues work on bioluminescence for the detection of subs,” says Simon Boxall, a remote sensing expert at the University of Southampton. The Ministry of Defence declined to comment. Whether or not a submarine triggers surface plankton to glow depends on its depth and speed, but many countries have satellites that would be able to detect submarines when conditions are right. Developing a system that can reliably detect submarine wakes means knowing a lot about the normal distribution and activity of the plankton, however. And it is this information that Ukraine seems so determined to protect. In June, for instance,