The bizarre giant whirlpool pairs, called modons, were captured by satellites. These pairs are believed to rotate 10 times faster than their single counterparts and can also suck up sea creatures, transporting them across great distances. Satellite images captured the "smoke rings" or modons, swirling away in the Tasman Sea, off the southwest of Australia and in the South Atlantic, west of South Africa.

Now that this bizarre phenomenon has actually been observed, scientists are attempting to uncover what causes these maelstroms and why they behave so weirdly.

"Ocean eddies almost always head to the west, but by pairing up they can move to the east and travel ten times as fast as a normal eddy, so they carry water in unusual directions across the ocean," said Chris Hughes, an oceanographer at University of Liverpool and one of the researchers behind the new discovery. "What we found was a pair of eddies spinning in opposite directions and linked to each other so that they travel together all the way across the Tasman Sea, taking six months to do it."

A more in-depth analysis revealed that these modons are actually not as rare as previously thought. Scientists behind the new discovery scanned satellite data from as far back as 1993, only to find evidence of nine separate modons. While eight of these were found around Australia, one modon was spotted forming southwest of South Africa, in the Atlantic Ocean.THE 44-member Alliance of Small Island States (Aosis) represents some of the world’s most vulnerable island nations fighting a virtually losing battle against rising sea levels triggered by global warming and climate change.

A negotiating voice of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), Aosis has memberships drawn from all oceans and regions of the world, including Africa, the Caribbean, Indian Ocean, Medi-terranean, Pacific and South China Sea.

According to the United States National Ocean Service (NOS), the two major causes of global sea level rise are thermal expansion caused by warming of the ocean (since water expands as it warms) and increased melting of land-based ice, such as glaciers and ice sheets.

It says the oceans are absorbing more than 90 per cent of the increased atmospheric heat associated with emissions from human activity.

Ahmed Sareer, foreign secretary of the Maldives and a former AOSIS chair (2015-2017), says “warming seas have already shifted the fish stocks that we rely on; back-to-back coral bleaching episodes have undermined essential marine habitats as well as critical ecotourism industries”.

He says rising seas, worsening coastal erosion and increasingly powerful storms have forced SIDS to climate-proof their infrastructure projects in the Caribbean and Pacific, and even threaten the territorial integrity of low-lying SIDS.

“The devastation caused by recent storms in the Caribbean are a reminder of how vulnerable small island states are, and how years of development and economic gains can be wiped out overnight, leaving these countries to start from scratch”, says Sareer, whose island nation has been threatened by rising sea levels triggered by climate change.

Described as “one of the world’s most geographically dispersed countries” and comprising more than a thousand coral islands scattered across the Indian Ocean, the Maldives has a population of nearly 440,000 people compared with India, one of its neighbours, with a hefty population of over 1.2 billion.

The Maldives was devastated by the December 2004 tsunami, and, according to one report, 57 islands faced serious damage to critical infrastructure, 14 had to be totally evacuated and six were destroyed. Twenty one resort islands were forced to close due to of tsunami damage estimated at over US$400 million (RM1.63 billion).

As part of its defences, the Maldives has been erecting a wall around the capital of Malé to thwart a rising sea and a future tsunami.

Addressing the United Nations General Assembly on Dec 5, Ambassador Robert Sisilo of Solo-mon Islands, told delegates that his country sat on the largest aquatic continent in the world and had a huge maritime exclusive economic zone (EEZ) that was much larger than its land territory.

The (June 2017) Ocean Conference had represented a ray of hope, and the international community must accelerate that positive momentum, Sisilo said, calling on the UN Security Council to address the issue of climate change.

Sareer says the Samoa (SIDS Accelerated Modalities of Action) Pathway, SIDS blueprint for sustainable development, calls attention to the crosscutting nature of climate change and sustainable development in areas as diverse as infrastructure development, agriculture, marine conservation and climate adaptation.

He says the reduction of harmful emissions, transitioning to renewable sources of energy, and investing in mitigation and adaptation are crucial for achieving the objectives of the Paris Agreement.

“As small island states, we are advocating for the more ambitious 1.5 degree goal, recognising that the impacts of climate change at 2 degrees are significantly worse. Therefore, these investments, particularly in the context of transitioning to renewable energy, need to be scaled up to a great extent, and also be sustainable and durable.”

The Maldives, as the chair of Aosis, in collaboration with the International Renewable Energy Agency, launched the Initiative for Renewable Island Energy (IRIE) in October, which will facilitate support for small island states in their transition to renewable energy and in achieving energy efficiency.

Sareer says meeting the financing goal of US$100 billion annually by 2020 is essential, and new partnerships with the private sector, non-governmental organisations and other institutions can mobilise the resources.

SIDS says required funding should be predictable, sustainable, adequate and easy to access.

In this regard, Aosis has been advocating for simplified access procedures for the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and greater transparency on how the funds are allocated and dispersed, with a clear understanding of what constitutes as climate financing.

The Adaption Fund (AF) is important to SIDS as the fund recognizes the particular challenges that many of SIDS face in addressing climate change. In addition, the AF is active in working to ensure its resources are always accessible by SIDS.

In the Fund’s governance, seats on the Adaptation Fund Board are reserved for special representatives of SIDS.

So far, 14 countries from SIDS have seen their projects or program approved by AF for a US$96,951,733 grant, including readiness grants. Projects in SIDS account for around 22 per cent of the total commitments of the Fund.

Even though the amount approved by AF is lower than that of GCF, AF has approved more projects than GCF, with less bureaucratic modalities, facilitating direct access through National Implementing Entities for small-scale projects adapted to SIDS particular circumstances.

Given the small size of SIDS, Sareer says, projects are more likely to be small-scale projects. It is therefore essential that this characteristic is understood and taken into account by the different funds under the Convention while reviewing proposals from SIDS.

As AF is tied to the Kyoto Protocol, it may need to undergo changes in its legal status and basic governance structure in order to serve the Paris Agreement

On oceans, Sareer says marine debris, plastics and micro-plastics are a global problem, as are the more permanent impacts of de-oxygenation and ocean acidification resulting from climate change.

He says aosis is actively engaged in shaping the outcomes of the first ever oceans conference, and “we are advocating strongly for the follow-up of the outcomes from this conference, as well as another conference in 2020”. — IPS

"I happened to notice one little feature down in the Tasman Sea [between Australia and New Zealand] that was behaving very strangely compared to everywhere else," Hughes told Popular Science. "Almost all these eddies drift slowly westwards, but this little feature was going quickly eastwards. It turned out to be this half smoke ring."

While the causes of the phenomenon are still unknown, researchers suggested that eddies could end up pairing together when they crash into each other in the ocean, or when eddies collide against the coastline. Scientists observed that when the swirling whirlpools merge, a U-shaped vortex is formed underwater, which connects the two eddies and can hold together for up to six months.

According to Hughes, this bizarre phenomenon could also transport organisms across massive distances. "The smoke rings require an area of calm water to 'puff' out through, which itself is quite unusual," Hughes said. "I've looked at other areas of other oceans but I've only seen them in the oceans around Australia, plus one in the South Atlantic. My thinking is that these linked, fast moving eddies could 'suck-up' small marine creatures and carry them at high speed and for long distances across the ocean."