Archives for July 2013

NOAA-Supported Scientists Find Large Gulf Dead Zone, But Smaller Than Predicted

Map showing the hypoxia area on the Louisiana Gulf of Mexico shelf in 2013. (Credit: LUMCON/Rabalais)

(Click to enlarge) Map showing the hypoxia area on the Louisiana Gulf of Mexico shelf in 2013. (Credit: LUMCON/Rabalais)

Heavy rains increase nutrient pollution flow down Mississippi River

(From NOAA) – NOAA-supported scientists found a large Gulf of Mexico oxygen-free or hypoxic “dead” zone, but not as large as had been predicted.

Measuring 5,840 square miles, an area the size of Connecticut, the 2013 Gulf dead zone indicates nutrients from the Mississippi River watershed are continuing to affect the nation’s commercial and recreational marine resources in the Gulf.

“A near-record area was expected because of wet spring conditions in the Mississippi watershed and the resultant high river flows which deliver large amounts of nutrients,” said Nancy Rabalais, Ph.D. executive director of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON), who led the July 21-28 survey cruise. “But nature’s wind-mixing events and winds forcing the mass of low oxygen water towards the east resulted in a slightly above average bottom footprint.”

Hypoxia is fueled by nutrient runoff from agricultural and other human activities in the watershed. These nutrients stimulate an overgrowth of algae that sinks, decomposes and consumes most of the oxygen needed to support life. Normally the low or no oxygen area is found closer to the Gulf floor as the decaying algae settle towards the bottom. This year researchers found many areas across the Gulf where oxygen conditions were severely low at the bottom and animals normally found at the seabed were swimming at the surface.

Graph showing historical hypoxia trends. (Credit: LUMCON/Rabalais)

(Click to enlarge) Graph showing historical hypoxia trends. (Credit: LUMCON/Rabalais)

This is in contrast to 2012, when drought conditions resulted in the fourth smallest dead zones on record, measuring 2,889 square miles, an area slightly larger than Delaware. The largest previous dead zone was in 2002, encompassing 8,481 square miles. The smallest recorded dead zone measured 15 square miles in 1988. The average size of the dead zone over the past five years has been 5,176 square miles, more than twice the 1,900 square mile goal set by the Gulf of Mexico / Mississippi River Watershed Nutrient Task Force in 2001 and reaffirmed in 2008.

On June 18, NOAA-sponsored forecast models developed by Donald Scavia, Ph.D., University of Michigan, and R. Eugene Turner, Ph.D., Louisiana State University,  predicted the Gulf hypoxic zone would range in size from 7,286 to 8,561 square miles.

“NOAA’s investment in the Gulf of Mexico continues to yield results that confirm the complex dynamics of hypoxia and provide managers and the public with accurate scientific information for managing and restoring the nation’s valuable coastal resources,” said Robert Magnien, Ph.D., director of NOAA’s Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research. “For those who depend upon and enjoy the abundant natural resources of the Gulf of Mexico, it is imperative that we intensify our efforts to reduce nutrient pollution before the ecosystem degrades any further.”

This annual measurement provides federal and state agencies working on the 2008 Gulf task force implementation actions with the real consequences of inadequate nutrient pollution management. The task force’s actions are set for review this summer.

The hypoxic zone off the coast of Louisiana and Texas forms each summer threatening the ecosystem supporting valuable commercial and recreational Gulf fisheries that in 2011 had a commercial dockside value of $ 818 million and an estimated 23 million recreational fishing trips. The Gulf task force, in its 2008 report, states that “hypoxia has negative impacts on marine resources.” It further states that research on living resources in the Gulf show long term ecological changes in species diversity and a large scale, often rapid change, in the ecosystem’s food-web that is both “difficult and impossible to reverse.” Additionally, there are numerous annual areas of the Gulf where large scale fish kills occur as a result of hypoxia.

Two surveys conducted in June and early July, one of which was led by a NOAA-supported Texas A&M University team, suggested a large hypoxic zone was forming in the Gulf, though the LUMCON July measurement will be the official one as required of NOAA by the Task Force. NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, in conducting its Southeast Monitoring and Assessment Program groundfish surveys, also found large expanses of hypoxia in June-early July. Texas A&M will be conducting a follow-up cruise in mid-August to provide its final seasonal update.

Visit the Gulf Hypoxia web site for additional graphics and information concerning this summer’s LUMCON research cruise, and previous cruises.

NOAA’s National Ocean Service has been funding monitoring and research for the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico since 1985 and currently oversees the NGOMEX program, the hypoxia research effort for the northern Gulf which is authorized by the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act.

The National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science is the coastal science office for NOAA’s National Ocean Service.


Consortium for Ocean Leadership

Meet Thor’s Shrew: Scientists Discover New Mammal with Superior Spine

In 1917, Joel Asaph Allen examined an innocuous species of shrew from the Congo Basin and made a remarkable discovery: the shrew’s spine was unlike any seen before. Interlocking lumbar vertebrae made the species’ spine four times strong than any other vertebrate on Earth adjusted for its size. The small mammal had been discovered only seven years before and was dubbed the hero shrew (Scutisorex somereni), after the name give to it by the local Mangbetu people, who had long known of the shrew’s remarkable abilities.
ENN: Top Stories

Mexico’s conservative political party urges broad energy reform

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Lawmakers from Mexico’s conservative National Action Party (PAN) on Wednesday proposed opening up the state-run oil sector to private interests for the first time since the industry was nationalized in 1938, calling for changes to the constitution to give oil companies incentives to boost the country’s sliding energy output.


Reuters: Environment

GOES-R Satellite Magnetometer Boom Deployment Successful

GOES-R Satellite. (Credit: Lockheed Martin)

(Click to enlarge) GOES-R Satellite. (Credit: Lockheed Martin)

The GOES-R Magnetometer Engineering Development Unit made an important development in the construction of the spacecraft recently after completing a successful boom deployment test at an ATK facility in Goleta, Calif.

(From NASA) – The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – R Series advanced spacecraft and instrument technology will result in more timely and accurate weather forecasts.It will improve support for the detection and observations of meteorological phenomena and directly affect public safety, protection of property, and ultimately, economic health and development.

Click here to view the embedded video.

This video demonstrates a successful boom deployment from the GOES-R Magnetometer Engineering Development Unit. Credit:  NOAA

The magnetometer boom will deploy after the GOES-R spacecraft launches, separates from its launch vehicle and undergoes a series of orbit-raising maneuvers. The magnetometer will provide measurements of the space environment magnetic field, which controls charged particle dynamics in the outer region of the magnetosphere. These particles pose a threat to spacecraft and human spaceflight.

“First deployment is always exciting, and all the dynamic effects involved in the stowing and deploying need to be understood and characterized,” said Monica Todirita, instrument manager for the magnetometer on the GOES-R Project at NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service, Silver Spring, Md. “With first deployment we proved that the design principle of the magnetometer boom for our application is functional and reliable.”

GOES-R will be more advanced than NOAA’s current GOES fleet. The satellites are expected to more than double the clarity of today’s GOES imagery and provide more atmospheric observations than current capabilities with more frequent images.

“In geosynchronous orbit, Earth’s magnetic field can go through huge variations; sometimes nearly doubling in strength and at other times reversing direction. GOES-R will monitor these variations and enable forecasters at NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center to better predict the consequences of geomagnetic storms,” said Howard Singer, chief scientist, NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, Boulder, Colo.

NOAA manages the GOES-R Series Program through an integrated NOAA-NASA program office, staffed with personnel from NOAA and NASA, and co-located at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources.  

For more information about GOES-R, visit: www.goes-r.gov.


Consortium for Ocean Leadership

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China to invest $375 billion on energy conservation, pollution: paper

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China plans to invest 2.3 trillion yuan ($ 375 billion) in energy saving and emission-reduction projects in the five years through 2015 to clean up its environment, the China Daily newspaper reported on Wednesday, citing a senior government official.


Reuters: Environment

Fukushima clean-up turns toxic for Japan’s Tepco

TOKYO (Reuters) – Two and a half years after the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, the operator of Japan’s wrecked Fukushima plant faces a daunting array of unknowns.


Reuters: Environment

The UK’s anti fracking movement is growing

As fracking hits the headlines UK protests against the practice of blasting natural gas from shale rock are on the increase. Jan Goodey reports on the latest flashpoint in the urgent – and escalating – anti fracking battle
Environment news & analysis, climate change reports –
The Ecologist

Step Aboard America’s Most Advanced Ocean Research Vessel

NOAA research vessel, Shimada, docked in San Francisco at the Exploratorium.  (Photo: Ariel Zambelich/Wired)

(Click to enlarge) NOAA research vessel, Shimada, docked in San Francisco at the Exploratorium. (Photo: Ariel Zambelich/Wired)

Right now, off the west coast of the United States, the world’s quietest non-military ship is cutting through the waves and deploying advanced underwater sensors, high-tech trawling equipment and sensitive sonar arrays. All in search of a few good sardines.

(From Wired / by Joe Hanson) –  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration manages a fleet of aircraft and ships charged with collecting data on the nation’s oceans, atmosphere and everything in between.

Recently, NOAA’s ship the Bell M. Shimada docked at San Francisco’s Exploratorium (above), midway through a survey mission between San Diego and Vancouver Island, Canada. WIRED got a chance to look inside one of the most advanced marine research vessels on Earth.

The Bell M. Shimada, launched in 2010, measures 209 feet in length, and to the untrained eye looks a lot like a commercial fishing vessel. But instead of fish-processing conveyer belts, it’s full of advanced scientific instruments. The newest NOAA ship in its class, its crew is charged with monitoring west coast fisheries from Vancouver to Baja. With a range of 12,000 nautical miles, NOAA can conduct field studies stretching up to 40 days a time. Their current mission found them surveying schools of sardines and hake along the Pacific coast, both important food sources for larger fish and mammals.

Even the most advanced fisheries research vessel in the world, its bridge armed with multi-band radar, terrain-sensing sonar and forward-looking infrared sensors, still needs paper maps. Just in case.  Photo: Ariel Zambelich/Wired

(Click to enlarge)

(Above) Even the most advanced fisheries research vessel in the world, its bridge armed with multi-band radar, terrain-sensing sonar and forward-looking infrared sensors, still needs paper maps. Just in case.

From the bridge, the NOAA crew can not only pilot the ship, but also command the ship’s advanced sonar and fishing equipment. According to Commander Scott Sirois, they operate much like those on a commercial fishing vessel would, scanning the sea below them for the characteristic blip of a fish school and then trawling large nets behind them to reel in their study subjects. Photo: Ariel Zambelich/Wired

(Click to enlarge)

(Above) From the bridge, the NOAA crew can not only pilot the ship, but also command the ship’s advanced sonar and fishing equipment. According to Commander Scott Sirois, they operate much like those on a commercial fishing vessel would, scanning the sea below them for the characteristic blip of a fish school and then trawling large nets behind them to reel in their study subjects.

The equipment used by the crew of the Bell M. Shimada to net their catch has some key differences from that used by commercial fishermen. Photo: Ariel Zambelich/Wired

(Click to enlarge)

(Above) The equipment used by the crew of the Bell M. Shimada to net their catch has some key differences from that used by commercial fishermen. Instead of thousands of fish, the NOAA scientists only want to catch a few dozen at a time. Visible on the above right, their fishing net is armed with an array of GoPro cameras. This allows them to tally their haul one fish at a time, making every effort not to disrupt the populations they are studying.

On the left, a net has a large metal gate with bars. This device is wide enough to allow fish inside the net, but prevents marine mammals like dolphins and seals from getting tangled up in the gear by diverting them to the side. This science is dolphin-safe.

Phil White is the chief survey technician on board the Bell M. Shimada. Photo: Ariel Zambelich/Wired

(Click to enlarge)

Phil White (above) is the chief survey technician on board the Bell M. Shimada. Much of the work on this fisheries research vessel doesn’t involve the fish themselves, but rather the ocean they live in. Arrays of automated collection bottles called rosettes are lowered over the side to return water samples from various depths.

Inside the chemistry lab, White and fellow technicians analyze those water samples for characteristics like conductivity and density. These data are then uploaded to NOAA computers on shore to give scientists from Ghana to Galveston an up-to-date picture of ocean conditions.

The array of tubes and boxes on the wall behind him measures the seawater’s carbon dioxide content by spraying a droplet of seawater through a laser beam. Increased CO2 concentrations in the ocean caused by climate change can affect the health of plankton as well as the fish that depend on them for food.

Every hour while at sea, a pump aboard the Bell M. Shimada delivers a sample of seawater, and all the microscopic life it holds, to the ship’s chemistry lab. Photo: Ariel Zambelich/Wired

(Click to enlarge)

Every hour while at sea, a pump aboard the Bell M. Shimada delivers a sample of seawater, and all the microscopic life it holds, to the ship’s chemistry lab. There, plankton content is measured and any fish or squid eggs are counted and marked for species before storing them away in their freezer. Blood and tissue samples from the research catch are also analyzed here on this floating data collection platform. Depending on the mission, the scientists on board will collect data like sex, size, feeding behavior, age, and reproductive condition of the fish.

Above, Commander Scott Sirois holds a vial of squid eggs collected outside of San Francisco Bay.

The heart of the Bell M. Shimada’s cutting-edge science capability lies within the acoustics lab. Photo: Ariel Zambelich/Wired

(Click to enlarge)

The heart of the Bell M. Shimada’s cutting-edge science capability lies within the acoustics lab. Randy Cutter (above), a NOAA scientist, spends his days “listening” to the ocean. On the array of monitors before him, he can access all the data collected in the ship’s wake, including sonar surveys and images of the fish collected up in the processing lab.

A sonar array mounted to the bottom of the ship is used to echolocate fish and map shallow terrain. Photo: Ariel Zambelich/Wired

(Click to enlarge)

A sonar array mounted to the bottom of the ship is used to echolocate fish and map shallow terrain. Unlike military sonar, which has been linked to whale deaths, the high frequencies used by the scientists are not thought to interfere with marine life. Computers onboard the ship stitch these sound slices into 3-D reconstructions of the world below them, able to create models of fish schools and detailed landscapes.

The real marvel of a ship like the Bell M. Shimada is its acoustic signature. Photo: Ariel Zambelich/Wired

(Click to enlarge)

The real marvel of a ship like the Bell M. Shimada is its acoustic signature. Or, more accurately, the lack thereof. Every moving part on the ship, from the enormous diesel-electric engines to small ventilation fans and oil pumps, is mounted on specially-designed shock absorbers. Everything from the paint to the prop has been carefully engineered to minimize noise, which would otherwise contaminate the low-impact research. By decreasing vibrations within the hull, the ship is able to travel through the seas with the quietest sound signature of any non-military ship in the world.

Above, one of the 1,360 kW diesel generators is shown mounted on shock-absorbing dampeners.

All photos by Ariel Zambelich/Wired


Consortium for Ocean Leadership

Long-term CO2 production following permafrost thaw

The long-term loss of carbon from thawing permafrost in Northeast Greenland is quantified for 1996–2008 by repeated sediment sampling and incubation. Although the active layer has increased by >1 cm per year, there has not been a detectable decline in carbon stocks. Laboratory studies highlight the potential for fast carbon mobilisation under aerobic conditions, but indicate that carbon at near-saturated conditions may remain largely immobilised for decades.

Nature Climate Change doi: 10.1038/nclimate1955


Nature Climate Change – AOP – nature.com science feeds