Underwater observatory disappears without a trace

Underwater observatory disappears without a trace


The Bikinis Eck observatory, installed since the end of 2016 at a depth of 22 meters off Eckernforde Bay, north of Kiel in Germany and south of the Danish border, has mysteriously disappeared. Co-managed by the GEOMAR Helmholtz Kiel Ocean Research Center and the Helmholtz Geesthacht Center (HZG), the facility has suddenly stopped transmitting data on 21 August. After a few hours of floating, divers were rushed to the spot, noting with astonishment that everything had disappeared. Or almost.

“At first we thought about a transmission error,” says Hermann Bange, project coordinator for the Boknis Eck observatory. But when the divers reached the bottom of the sea, they found only a grounded cable. He was completely shredded.

A story of looting?
Several hypotheses were put forward at the beginning. That of currents, a storm or even marine animals. But all these explanations were quickly discarded because of the weight of the observatory (two buildings weighing a total of 740 kilos). For the authorities, the trail of looting remains the most plausible. If no boat is allowed to frequent the area, it is possible that a group of individuals managed to pass unnoticed.

We know that the looting of old submerged ships remains a very lucrative business today. Divers are particularly interested in metal for resale. It may be that the same thing happened here. The value of the missing scientific instruments is estimated at just under 300,000 euros.

Russia pointed the finger
Some also accuse the Russian Navy, which now has a large fleet of submarines. A recent report by Atlantic Council confirmed recently that northern Europe, and in particular the Baltic Sea region, had “become a critical area of friction between NATO and an assertive Russia. Seeks to change European security in its favor “. If Russia is indeed involved, was it simply a move to disrupt the West, or did it want to prevent the observatory from detecting something?

These are only suppositions. German police are currently investigating. Meanwhile, the researchers – in addition to crying the disappearance of their instruments – also deplore (and especially) the loss of their data. The station indeed collects a lot of information on its environment (water temperature, nutrient content, salinity, or concentrations of chlorophyll and methane). These parameters make it possible to monitor the health of the Baltic Sea ecosystem. It is thanks to these data that researchers can anticipate potential problems and implement solutions. They are blind today.