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Posts Tagged ‘Navy

A year after the spill in the Gulf of Mexico, can we look for efficiencies as we move forward?

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photo of the drilling platform Deepwater Horizon

Transoceans Deepwater Horizon drilling platform was ablaze one year ago in the Gulf of Mexico. Now having had some time to step back, can we look to include some efficiencies as we guard against the next oil spill?

A question posed for the expert panel at the Smithsonian Institute’s event “One Year After the Gulf Oil Spill” at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC:

“There have been seemingly endless calls for “making sure nothing like this happens again” and accomplishing this ensuring that there are dramatic increases in response capabilities, both at the surface and at the challenging depths where drilling occurs. And there has also been a community of research scientists lamenting the limited availability of manned and unmanned craft which can readily access the depths to study the effects of the spill from the Macondo Prospect, or even doing simple background research before another event occurs in the future.

We need to combine these two concepts and use logic to drive a call for a discussion on the use of technologies which are very limited in their supply.

Do we want to develop large cashes of response equipment on perpetual standby, or should we call for a fleet of dual-use craft that could be used for major leaps forward in scientific study while also serve as emergency response technology in the case of accidents? A realistic view of resources, especially in this economy, says we can’t have a robust deep sea scientific program and also a robust set of emergency response deep sea craft that sits idle. Why not develop a program that maximizes day-to-day benefits for America through exploration and scientific study and also serves as the greatly improved deep sea response team that could be mobilized to address future undersea accidents?

And if you are looking at the government sector as a way to enhance the private sector (or as a guarantee that America’s assets are protected no matter how private sector interests react with their response), why not dramatically increase the oil spill and deep sea recon and salvage capabilities of the Navy’s office of the Supervisor of Salvage? We need those assets in our DoD portfolio as well – why not expand on the capabilities already there through a substantial increase in investment in Navy technologies, and when we do, make sure that the assets serve civilian needs when the military mission allows for their multiple use? We have a track record of success as the basis for civ-mil cooperation – think of the Navy’s NR-1 submarine and the civilian applications it also served. Why isn’t this approach being considered for the gulf?

-William Nuckols, Ocean Policy Expert and Government Efficiency Advocate”

A port bow view of the nuclear-powered research submersible NR-1

The Navy’s research submarine NR-1, recently decommissioned, is an example of how we can combine military defense needs efficiently with civilian needs to access deep offshore waters

The author is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy firm.
A bio for Mr. Nuckols is located at www.WilliamHNuckols.com

Written by Will Nuckols

April 20, 2011 at 9:40 pm

Focusing on U.S. government salvage capabilities at the Oil Spill Commission hearing in New Orleans

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While in New Orleans for the Oil Spill Commission’s 2-day hearing that kicked off their 6-month investigation of the causes of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster and to make recommendations to the President about the future of offshore drilling in the U.S., I provided testimony on the U.S. government’s salvage capabilities.

 Deputy Assistant Secretary of Energy Chris Smith introduces the session, followed by my 3-minutes of testimony in this video:

The author is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy firm.  
A bio for Mr. Nuckols is located at www.WilliamHNuckols.com

Written by Will Nuckols

July 25, 2010 at 3:18 pm

On Memorial Day we look forward to a day when a memorial to military divers will join the other monuments in Washington, DC

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Today is Memorial Day, May 31st, 2010. We look forward to a day when a memorial to military divers will join the other monuments in Washington, DC, that honor the contributions of those who have served our nation.

View the new the new video on YouTube that shows the preliminary design for the Man in the Sea Memorial Monument.

Written by Will Nuckols

May 31, 2010 at 10:00 pm

Why the rush to explore space, when the oceans are the likely key to life on earth?

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While much news for the past month focused on plans for NASA going – or not going –  back to the moon, then exploring the wonders of the sun, and yesterday a hearing on manned spaceflight, keep this in mind:  we’ve only ever been to the deepest point in the ocean once – and that was before much of the population of the United States was even born.  Since 1968, we’ve landed on the moon six times, and nine times we’ve flown by it.  Between 1968 and 1972 there were nine missions to the moon. And yet there has only ever been one mission to the deepest part of our ocean.  It was Jan. 23, 1960. It’s been 50 years since we’ve reached the deepest ocean depths. 

On May 12, 2010 at the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing on the Future of Manned Space Flight, Apollo 11 Astronaut Neil Armstrong noted President Bush’s plans to finish the International Space Station, return to the moon, establish a permanent presence there, and venture onward toward Mars. But there remain no analogous plans by that Administration nor the Obama Administration to commit to a serious exploration of our planet’s ocean depths. 

So other than the fact that some people like deep sea exploration and others like space exploration, does the difference matter? 

In a word – YES. 

1959 Navy photo of the Bathyscape Trieste hoisted from the water

1959 U.S. Navy photo of the Bathyscape Trieste hoisted from the water


Yes because unlike moon landings, when we failed to find any life, and have spent much time, money and effort wondering if it ever did support life, in 1960 when the Navy submersible Trieste reached Challenger Deep, the deepest ocean spot known, they saw with their own eyes what few suspected they would – life. 

Not just invertebrates, like shrimp and worms which some thought might live at such extreme depths – they saw fish.  Yes, fish at 35,800 feet.  There are flatfish in the shallows of our bays and estuaries all along the east coast.  As a young boy, still too small to hold a fishing rod, I remember catching other types of flatfish on a hand-line in my formative years on the Chesapeake Bay. And thanks to two brave men from the Navy, we know that flatfish also live seven miles beneath the sea. 

What is so much more exciting about the oceans than space?  Both have extreme conditions. Both require technology, engineering expertise and dedicated people to make visiting these places possible. But what sets the ocean deep apart from space is life itself. 

What is occurring on at the bottom of our oceans that allows for complex food chains that could support vertebrate life to exist? We have only one brief direct human observation to answer countless questions about life at the deepest part of the sea. 

We once saw the oceans as simply a form or transportation, a way to more easily move goods and armies long distances, and a way to fill hungry stomachs. But in the last century we have come to understand that terrestrial life itself depends on the oceans. Without the food it produces, the oxygen it releases into the atmosphere, terrestrial life on our planet would be very different, if it could exist at all. And now climate scientists and oceanographers alert us that the oceans have a significant role regulating climate too, and that the oceans have likely been serving as a sponge that have soaked up significant CO2 produced by human activity for some time now. How full is the sponge? We really don’t know yet, nor do we know whether the sponge keeps CO2 forever. Will the oceans later change and have a negative impact on our planet as atmospheric conditions continue to change? That is currently uncertain too. As are the impacts, either positive or negative, on life in the depths of the ocean. 

CO2 levels have been documented as changing over the last several decades. Does life in Challenger Deep it look any different than it did in 1960? Unless we build the craft to return to these vast depths, we can only guess. 

So should we stop exploring space and only explore our globe, and focus on the most extreme depths? My hunch is no, as space also provides a return on investment. Historically there has been significant technology spinoffs from the space programs – spinoffs that have been good for the American economy. How big that return on investment is for America, and whether we need to rush into expanded space exploration, or take a more metered approach, I will leave to others. 

Trieste pressure sphere

The small pressure sphere at the bottom of the Trieste is where the only direct observations of the deepest part of the ocean was made


But this year, the 50th anniversary of the only time humans sat, even ever so briefly, on the ocean’s deepest spot, I say that we have consistently underfunded the understanding of our oceans. And from this ignorance we likely risk further damaging our planet. Mankind does have a long history of harming that which we do not understand. 

So for even those of us who SCUBA dive, those who are able to see first-hand many wonders of the ocean’s first tens of meters, consider that we can spend years exploring those shallow depths and be left with one certainly: there is much of our planet that we still do not understand, not even at a rudimentary level. And while the advent of robots and autonomous sea vehicles will help us greatly expand our understanding of the undersea world, there is no substitute for a human seeing and experiencing first-hand, the most extreme places on earth.

Who will be the next to go back to the greatest ocean depths?  Will it be this generation, or will opportunity pass us by as it has the professional careers of those in decision making positions in the 70’s, 80’s 90’s and 2000’s? 

Let’s use this 50th anniversary of the Trieste expedition to build the support necessary to take ocean exploration seriously.  For when the next time humans make it back to the deepest of the ocean depths, and almost certainly make new discoveries, wouldn’t you like to tell your friends and children “did you hear about that new scientific discovery? I was a part of a group of visionary people who built the support to make it happen.” 

Navt All Hands Video image
Click on the Link below to view the Navy ALL HANDS VIDEO on the Trieste


The author is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy firm.

Navy hosts a great environmental forum, and enviro NGOs tag along to absorb the current enviro policy in today’s Navy

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On Wednesday March 31st the Navy hosted an environmental forum in Alexandria, VA, bringing together Navy environment and installations leadership from the DC area and around the U.S. to share information about current Navy environmental practices and policies – and in a welcome move toward the open government and transparency goals of the Obama Administration, they invited the NGO environmental community to be a part of the meeting.

Our military continues to be ahead of much of the nation on environmental policy. They know that climate change is happening, and they are already working to simultaneously mitigate emissions, reduce energy consumption, tightly control the release of any toxic materials, and find ways to adapt to the changing planet.

One aspect of the data presented could have been better: When the topic of climate change and rising seas arose some of the invited NGOs made presentations at the meeting using the same poor map products that show sea levels rising and whole communities, even large parts of states, inundated by seawater.  As with so many presentations designed to move people to action on climate change, maps were shown indicating that in the future huge portions of Florida, and other areas, were awash with rising seas.  The problem is that these are simple tricks of mapping, where one moves the water elevation from the current waters edge to a point higher on an elevation map.   What those maps don’t show is any reasonable prediction of the future given that people aren’t going to just throw up their hands and let the water come in anywhere it can.  We don’t act that way now and there is no evidence to say that we will uniformly change our behavior in the future.

What these groups are failing  use are a series of government-funded maps developed over several years that looked at the east coast of the United States. EPA worked with states and county planners and made educated professional estimates of where will communities work to hold back the sea, where will they likely abandon coastal lands, and which lands currently look like  a toss-up.

EPA spent years and an estimated two million dollars to develop maps of the east coast of the U.S. which show exactly what military installations managers and environmentalists need to know: what will the east coast of the U.S. look like when existing policies, practices and sea level rise come together at the shoreline.

So why aren’t people aware of the EPA study and the maps that contain the likely look of the U.S. east coast shoreline after seas continue to rise?  And why aren’t there maps of the Gulf of Mexico, the California-Washington State coastline, Alaska, Hawaii or the territories showing the same information for those communities? I’ll put for the likely answer to those questions in a subsequent posting, or at least provide a few facts and let you draw your own conclusions.

For now, kudos to the Navy for a great open and informative meeting on their plans to protected the environment and adapt to the changing climate that they readily admit is already underway.

The author is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy firm.
A bio for Mr. Nuckols is located at www.WilliamHNuckols.com

Written by Will Nuckols

April 1, 2010 at 1:55 pm

It is a sad day in Florida for corals, fish and the people who love them

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This afternoon Associated Press reported that a previously successful project in Florida comes to a halt.  The project, which I conceived, was designed to align the training needs of military divers, Army landing craft operations, and others in our armed services with the need for a massive salvage project that sought to remove hundreds of thousands of tires from an area a mile off of the sandy beaches of Ft. Lauderdale.

Once poised to save taxpayers $28 million, this project’s efficient use of existing government resources is stalled.

Brian Skoloff, an AP reporter in Florida, was able to get the answer to the question that many have been asking for months:  When will the divers and ship crews be back in Ft. Lauderdale for the next round of training and coral reef restoration?   It is unsettling that the answer is at least 2012.

The author is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy firm.
A bio for Mr. Nuckols is located at www.WilliamHNuckols.com

Written by Will Nuckols

February 10, 2010 at 4:13 pm