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Environmental Monitoring


April 2016 Issue

ROCIS Characterizes
Loop Current in US Gulf

Fugro and technology partner Areté Associates have successfully delivered near real-time, synoptic, surface current data to characterize Loop Current and Loop Current eddy conditions in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico during a period of intense current conditions.

The new ROCIS (Remote Ocean Current Imaging System) was deployed on its first operational project in a five-month program during which Fugro surveyed currents over a distance of more than 125,000 km.

ROCIS combines digital camera technology and positioning systems with advanced algorithms to derive surface currents from wave spectra measurements. It can be installed on survey aircraft, together with an INS augmented by Fugro’s Starfix satellite positioning system.

US Shipping Corp.
Gets Environmental Prize

The U.S. Coast Guard recognized U.S. Shipping Corp. with the 2015 RAdm. William M. Benkert Environmental Protection Bronze Award. The biennial award program honors leaders in the field of marine safety and environmental protection.

U.S. Shipping Corp. provides long-haul marine transportation services in the U.S. Jones Act Trade. In 2015, the company safely transported over 1.8 billion gallons of petroleum, petrochemicals and chemical products with more than 600 cargo transfers.

Using GPS to Improve
Tsunami Warnings

Existing GPS instruments at monitoring stations worldwide could be used to increase the speed and accuracy of tsunami warnings according to a new study. Real-time GPS measurements can be used to show how major earthquakes displace the ocean floor, cutting tsunami warning times by nearly 20 min. and potentially reducing harm to coastal communities.

Tsunamis that originate from earthquakes near the shore are relatively rare but especially dangerous because they can arrive at the coastline within minutes. Quick and accurate warnings are essential to save lives.

The study finds that real-time GPS data gathered at hundreds of geophysical monitoring stations around the world can be used to estimate how an earthquake deforms the seafloor. Warning agencies can use that information to determine the resulting tsunami strength for vulnerable coastal areas in 2 to 3 min.

NOAA is in the process of incorporating this real-time GPS data into their existing tsunami and earthquake warning system. The goal is to create a local tsunami warning system incorporating this technology for the entire U.S. West Coast.

Untreated Coal Ash Waste
Flows Into Potomac River

Dominion Virginia Power recently acknowledged it dumped 33 million gallons of untreated coal ash wastewater in May 2015 from its Possum Point Power Station into Quantico Creek, which flows into the Potomac River, according to Potomac Riverkeeper Network. Dominion then met privately with Virginia DEQ and revised its number to 27.5 million gallons.

Possum Point includes five coal ash ponds, four of which are unlined and all of which have been leaking contaminants into groundwater and Quantico Creek for over 30 years. Pond D, the largest, has the capacity to hold over a billion gallons of toxic ash waste and water and is only partially lined.

Coal ash, the waste produced from burning coal to generate electricity, contains a range of metals that are toxic at high levels, including lead, arsenic, chromium, selenium, vanadium and other cancer-causing agents.

First Nodes Installed for
Whale Tracking Network

Ocean Sonics has installed the first three nodes of the Whale Tracking Network, which tracks killer whales in their critical habitat around southern Vancouver Island, using their sounds to determine their whereabouts in this busy shipping lane. When completed, the network will include 11 listening points, or nodes, using 28 icListen Smart Hydrophones. Most nodes will be configured as arrays to help in locating the killer whales.

Tern Metocean Buoys
For Mideast Monitoring

Ocean Scientific International Ltd. (OSIL) has shipped a network of eight metocean buoys to the Middle East for use in environmental monitoring.

The rugged 1.2-m Tern buoys were equipped with Hydrolab multiparameter sondes for water quality monitoring and GPRS telemetry equipment. The systems measure conductivity, temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, turbidity and pH at 10-min. intervals, which is reported to a base station every hour.

Fukushima Leak
Still Not Under Control

Five years after the Fukushima nuclear accident, there is still no U.S. federal agency responsible for studies of radioactive contaminants in the ocean. But scientific data about the levels of radioactivity in the ocean off U.S. shores are available publicly thanks to ongoing efforts of independent researchers, including Ken Buesseler, a radiochemist with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), who has led the effort to create and maintain an ocean monitoring network along the U.S. West Coast.

Since 2011, Buesseler has received contributions from citizens, small businesses, foundations and large companies to enable the sampling of nearly 1,000 seawater samples for Fukushima radionuclides.

Buesseler’s work reveals that levels of radioactive forms of cesium in the ocean off Japan are thousands of times lower than during the peak releases in 2011, however, his analysis of cesium and strontium indicates releases from the plant are not yet “under control”, a statement that has been used by the Japanese government to describe the situation when levels are below regulatory limits. Testing is performed on the two isotopes of cesium (137 and 134) and strontium. The cesium isotopes were the most abundant after the accident and provide the first indication of whether contamination from Fukushima is present in a seawater sample. Cesium was 40 times more abundant in the water after the accident than strontium, a ratio that is changing.

The changing concentrations of both these elements in the waters off Japan tell a story of continued small leaks and raise concerns about the materials still stored at the reactor site.


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