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Posts Tagged ‘oceans

University of Hawaii takes the lead on researching issues surrounding the debris in the Pacific coming from the 3-11 Tsunami disaster in Japan

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A storify compilation of the live tweets from the meeting begins to tell the story of the range of issues that need to be considered when governments, academia and industries think about the debris at sea coming from the March 11, 2011 tsunami that rocked the coast of Japan.

View the story “U of Hawaii hosts meeting on marine debris from the 3-11-11 tsunami” on Storify]

You can also follow the ongoing story about the 3-11 tsunami debris threat at the newly launched
http://311tsunamidebris.org website

materials at sea immediately following the 3-11 tsunami disaster in Japan

materials at sea immediately following the 3-11 tsunami disaster in Japan

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

You can follow Will Nuckols on Twitter at @enviroxpert and on Pinterest at http://pinterest.com/willnuckols/






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Follow Will on Twitter at @enviroxpert and on Pinterest at http://pinterest.com/willnuckols/

Written by Will Nuckols

February 28, 2012 at 10:47 am

13,0000 gallons spilled by Shell on Sunday. In the Gulf of Mexico, spills remain an all too common occurence.

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Transocean Deepwater Nautilus Drilling Platform

"Equipment failure" at the Transocean Deepwater Nautilus Drilling Platform, operating for Shell Oil in the Gulf of Mexico 20 miles from the site of the Transocean/BP Macondo well blowout, spilled over 13,000 gallons of oil and drilling fluid into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday December 18, 2011

On Sunday December 18, 2011 there has been a reported release of 13,000 gallons of oil and drilling fluids into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, some mere 20 miles from the site of the BP / Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Once again the drill rig is a Transocean Deepwater series rig, similar to the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform that was lost following loss of control of the wellhead.

While the driller, Transocean, is the same, the company they work for is different. In this case it isn’t BP, but rather Shell Oil, a company who extolled its safety programs and harshly criticized BP’s plans in the waves of criticism and finger pointing following the disaster at the Macondo well which spilled millions of gallons of oil and resulted in the loss of human lives.

Shell, which has been promoting its ability to operate safely, is the same company who is getting incrementally closer to achieving all the required permits for it to drill in the Arctic under conditions that some are too hazardous for any company to risk, given the sensitivity of the arctic environment and the questionable ability to address accidents including oil spills which could result from the drilling activity.

The fact that spill free drilling operations are not, in any real world conditions, possible continues to prove itself.

12/20/11 UPDATE: Shell reports that the fluid loss was synthetic drilling fluids, which they say are biodegradable. The fact that accidents, even in areas near the BP Macondo well spill which have heightened scrutiny, continue to occur, and the releases of materials are not gallons but tens of thousands of gallons, remains alarming.

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

You can follow Will Nuckols on Twitter at @enviroxpert



Non-partisan and Optimistic: Oceans bring out the best in Congress

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On Tuesday September 13, 2011, a non-partisan and optimistic group of senators came together to kick off the establishment of the Senate Oceans Caucus in the United States Senate. With remarks centered around bragging about who has more coastline or whose state borders not just one but two oceans, the mood was refreshingly friendly and full of optimism. With remarks about the common ground (water?) that brings them together these group of Senators seemed, well, positively senatorial. Acting with a sense of leadership and a commitment to protect those things that Americans hold dear, tonight there not only was an absence of the partisan bickering that has caused the Capitol to come to a virtual screeching halt but there was also actual friendly optimism indicating that we can work together in D.C.

Kicked off by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and followed up by co-chair Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) the remarks by all tonight centered around what we can do together rather than what we can do to do to undermine each other.

And if bi-partisan wasn’t enough, Representative Sam Farr, chair of the House Coastal Caucus, stopped by expressing his enthusiasm for the formation of an ocean-minder coalition in the Senate making oceans a bicameral effort.

As Senator Whitehouse remarked “this is day one.” The real test of the effectiveness of the caucus begins now.

The remarks of Senators Whitehouse and Murkowski from the Senate Oceans Caucus reception are available as MP3 files for download below.

microphone   http://whnuckolsconsulting.com/audio/whitehouse.MP3


photo of Senators kicking off the Senate Oceans Caucus

Senators Whitehouse and Murkowski will co-chair the bi-partisan Senate Oceans Caucus that was formed on September 13, 2011.

The members of the Caucus are: Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Mark Begich (D-AK), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Scott Brown (R-MA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tom Carper (D-DE), Chris Coons (D-DE), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Daniel Inouye (D-HI), John Kerry (D-MA), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

Also in attendance were a number of Obama Administration officials including Dr. John Holdren from OSTP, Nancy Sutley from CEQ and Jane Lubchenco from NOAA.

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
You can follow Will Nuckols on Twitter at @enviroxpert

Congressman Stupak highlights Exxon’s oil spill response plan’s focus on how to handle the media during an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico

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While most of the oil majors’ response plans are virtually identical – that is to say they all are insufficient – today on Capitol Hill the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Energy and Commerce hearing Congressman Bart Stupak called Exxon Mobil out on its attention to address media concerns as a significant part of their 500 page response plan. Exxon Mobil’s plan has one difference from those of their competitors – Exxon’s plan has a 40-page focus on how to handle the media, including 13 pre-drafted press releases to address oil spill accidents. This is in contrast to only five pages addressing wildlife and nine pages on oil spill cleanup. Clearly Exxon’s experience in AK informed it about the importance of communications with the public. But with a focus on pre-built press releases that address a range of issues including dodging criminal culpability and calling a spill an “accident” even before any criminal investigation can begin, rather than a focus on transparency and an open flow of information, the public affairs section of the Exxon plan is sorely out of step with the open and transparent communications needs that arise during an oil spill. To put in another way, of you think the lack of early video footage from BP’s contractors’ ROVs was bad, imagine how it might have played out if the Exxon media plan was put into effect.

Written by Will Nuckols

June 15, 2010 at 8:39 am

Ocean currents likely to carry oil along Atlantic coast…..well, maybe

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 Today the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) released finding from their computer model and announced that ocean currents are likely to carry oil along the Atlantic Coast. This statement, along with some fun looking video on YouTube seen below, has been carried in the news today in a number of places, including national broadcast news – NBC’s Ann Thompson’s piece tonight included the NCAR YouTube clip in the Evening News.  

But seemingly everyone is leaving out a key caveat that NCAR included, but didn’t emphasize, in their release: 

“The modeling study is analogous to taking a dye and releasing it into water, then watching its pathway.”  The NCAR article then added “The dye tracer used in the model has no actual physical resemblance to true oil. Unlike oil, the dye has the same density as the surrounding water, does not coagulate or form slicks, and is not subject to chemical breakdown by bacteria or other forces.” 

While it is impressive modeling that NCAR has produced, what the model may better portray is that nutrients and other particles that come down the Mississippi can be caught in the loop current and make their way half way up the eastern seaboard. A potentially more valid finding of the NCAR model is to be aware that what you put on the landscape and send down your drains in the middle of the country because there are models that show materials may make their way past the Florida Straits and even up to the Carolinas. 

But it doesn’t take an expert in fluid dynamics to tell that crude oil, and the unknown range of types of products that result from dispersants, weathering and biological degradation all are unlikely to act like a dye pack. 

It is good to use what science we have on hand to the extent it can help us plan for this oil spill moving to other areas, or for contemplating where future oil spills of crude or refined oil products might go, but let’s also make sure to pay close attention to the caveats in the models that are being touted in the news today. 

From NCAR’s website: “This animation shows one scenario of how oil released at the location of the Deepwater Horizon disaster on April 20 in the Gulf of Mexico may move in the upper 65 feet of the ocean. This is not a forecast, but rather, it illustrates a likely dispersal pathway of the oil for roughly four months following the spill.” and “The animation is based on a computer model simulation, using a virtual dye.”

Problem being, a spill of crude oil isn’t a dye pack.

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

Written by Will Nuckols

June 3, 2010 at 7:17 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.

Today is a good day to wear a Whale Tie

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It’s time for everybody to visibly show their support for these majestic sea creatures.Whale Tie   

This morning the U.S. House of Representatives held a hearing on issues surrounding the International Whaling Commission (IWC) – namely the fact that many years after signing a convention to put in place a moratorium on whaling we are still allowing the killing and consumption of a disturbing number of whales by Japan, Norway and Iceland.   

Even in places with names that make the uninformed of us feel quite happy about our progress on protecting marine life, like the “southern ocean sanctuary” which sounds nice, until one realizes that Japan still conducts whaling there too. Given that Japan is the nation with the largest whaling catch, the Japanese’s continuing to kill whales means it’s not much of a sanctuary.   

Similarly, a moratorium on whaling, with small exceptions for indigenous and subsistence take, sounds good too. Until you realize that one exception to the moratorium is “scientific collections.” Japan takes a lot of scientific collections, and unlike the U.S., which is able to conduct its DNA research with just a non lethal plug of tissue removed for study, Japan seems to think they need the whole whale. So what does one do with a whale after you kill it to study it? Well, you eat it of course. And make a commercial profit in the process. Such is the rationale that Japan, Norway and Iceland have been using for years to continue their commercial whale harvest.   

House Foreign Affairs Committe hearing on the International Whaling Commission

David Bolton, State, and Monica Medina, NOAA, testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee


So the question before the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee today was how do you get allies of the U.S. to change their behavior when it is clear that they adamantly do not want to stop the commercial harvest of whales? Are sanctions the answer? As David Bolton, U.S. State Department, stated today, no prior Administration has even been willing to use sanctions against allies to encourage them to stop the commercial harvest of whales. This begs the obvious question: Will the Obama Administration be any different from their predecessors?   

One solution to the illegal harvest of whales that is being floated by the International Whaling Commission is legalizing some portion of Japan, Norway and Iceland’s illegal commercial whale harvest. In a move that would never be acceptable to a community – politicians saying that an illegal activity is on the decrease, only because you eliminated killing from the definition of the illegal activities – the U.S. delegation is actually contemplating supporting some variation of the IWC proposal.   

Aside from my personal feeling that killing these majestic creatures as a luxury food item is wrong in the most basic sense of wrong, even if you didn’t think that whales are anything special the IWC proposal is flawed and quite dangerous.   

IWC experts testified today that even if you want to treat whales just like any other sea creature that we see fit to kill for our own pleasures, adopting the kill numbers in the IWC proposal is potentially devastating to whale populations. Why? Because the basic scientific stock assessment of most whale species, which needs to be completed before one could determine the Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) number is determined, has yet to be completed. In other words, while Norway, Iceland and Japan claim that their commercial harvest of whales is actually for science, here we are decades later and there is no international consensus on stock assessments for the whales being killed and eaten.   

And even if you don’t think whales are special creatures, and even if you don’t care if we carelessly pick harvest numbers which might cause the demise of various whale species, if you are on the side of promoting any size legal commercial whale harvest you are still wrong. Wrong because there is evidence that whales, orcas for instance, that are accumulating disturbingly high levels of dangerous chemicals in their bodies. Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society’s work to highlight “flame proof killer whales,” which are loaded synthetic flame retardant chemicals, is enough to make one think shouldn’t be eating whale meat. Check out Jean-Michel Cousteau’s video and his cautionary message to political leaders who are considering the IWC proposal. I think his message is spot on. And I hope the White House international trade staff break new ground and begins to do what no other Administration has done: bring the full political and economic influence of the U.S. to bear to address an ocean policy issue.   

Japan proved it could easily dominate the U.S. when we attended the CITES convention and supported the listing of blue fin tuna by CITES. Let’s hope that us getting our rears kicked in the tuna arena motivates the Office of the United States Trade Representative to get behind the members of the House Foreign Relations Committee and begins a serious dialog at the highest political levels about options to defeat the IWC proposal and to find other ways to stop Norway, Iceland and Japan’s illegal whaling.   

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

musings following the President’s SOTU address

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For those of us who track coastal issues it is notable, but not surprising, that not one mention was made to the oceans, with the exception of opening new areas of the OCS to devlopment.  Specifically, President Obama said “It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development.”

Any mention of other ocean or coastal issues?  Nope.  Nothing.  Not a peep.

Nothing about the continued downward spiral of many of our estuarine and ocean species which when they go, they take a piece of the national economy with them.

Nothing about the demise of corals – “the rain forests of the sea,” the link of an acidifying ocean to their continued demise, or the fact that this same ocean acidification is already harming parts of our shellfish industries.

Nothing about fixing the impediments to the blue-green industries who want to develop new ways to create power from wind and currents, but who spend their technology development money in other countries because there are so many impediments to ocean technology development here.

Is President Obama out of touch with public and the cry of millions to address the needs of our oceans and coasts?

He is not.  Not because there are no problems that need fixing, but rather because there are not millions of people calling for significant attention to be paid to this topic area.  The ocean community is far too quiet for political representatives to pay these topics the attention they deserve based on the substance of the issues and their importance to the health of our nation.

We are to blame for our lack of political relevance. Granted, some of us are in disagreement on what to do, thereby canceling out each others voices. But more importantly far too many are simply silent. Examine the public input into the work of the Ocean Policy Task Force.  Where are the multitude of voices of the many business interests whose viability requires that we do a better job of managing our oceans and coasts?  Far too few are even aware that the President called for policy recommendations so that he can issue our nation’s first national ocean policy.  We need to get significantly more engaged in our government.  Businesses, environmentalists, academics – all of us need to get back into the process of developing, and more importantly executing, effective coastal and ocean policies.

The broader community seems to have already given up on the idea of significant reform.  For example, the calls for an ocean czar, an accountable representative of the President who would be the focal point for ocean issues, are lately all but silent.  Senator Cantwell and a few of her colleagues have shown their annoyance at the lack of an accountable leader being established within the Administration, but more disturbingly, those of us who our government is supposed to represent – the public – have all but rolled over and decided that yet another matrixed approach to governing, which few in DC will understand or participate in, and yet fewer yet outside of DC will interact with as decisions are made, is just fine.

Perhaps we have gone into winter hibernation and with the warmth of spring we will wake up, once again attend one environmental event or another on a beach or along a river, and get inspired enough to get involved in the process.

But at that time it will likely be too late.  The President’s staff will have already set up the new org charts, determined their priorities, and be far to vested in their own ideas to revisit the idea of significant change. This is what happens when there is a vacuum of public input.

It is time for a broad community to get involved, speak directly to the President and call for more attention to be paid to oceans, coasts and the issues surrounding them.  We need a bigger tent if we are to make the headway we need.  So if you are in the ocean and coastal field, do what you can to invite others into the discussion.  Invite those with whom you agree.  Invite your opponents.  Invite as many people as you can so that when we get to the end of the process of setting a national policy that the process is both informed and has legitimacy.

And lets not wait until the next State of the Union to take stock of how we are doing.

Written by Will Nuckols

January 27, 2010 at 10:33 pm