Archive for the 'Oil Spill' category

>Over 700 entries submitted so far to change BP's logo

Jun 17 2010 Published by under Art, Environment, Oil Spill

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LogoMyWay is giving away $200 to the winner, and The Blog Rules has a number of submissions, some of them really great.
From the contest page:

Help Redesign BP's logo! They need a NEW Brand.
I cant tell you how frustrated and upset we are about BP and how they are handling this oil disaster. Before this eruption of oil they had 17 violations. It's obvious this could have been prevented.
This is the biggest environmental disaster we have ever faced in this country.
I think the (6000) creative logo designers at LogoMyWay should update the BP logo with a more suitable design and brand.
The design community and the general public will vote on the winner of the redesign of the NEW BP LOGO.

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>Mapping the response and recovery efforts in the gulf

Jun 16 2010 Published by under Ecology, Environment, Oil Spill

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Found this site just a little bit ago, from the same folks that created the Conservation Registry, a database of conservation projects where users can sign up and add new details and pin the location of the project on a customizable Google Map. The same concept is applied for the Gulf Oil Spill Response and Recovery site; users can add and date pins to the map for efforts/observations that are currently or have been made, and then overlay additional information such as spill forecasts, locations of nesting sites and oyster beds, NASA satellite images, the explosion itself and dozens of other contextual layers.
More from the blog:
Users can search the map for impacts and recovery projects by activity type, species and habitats. Impacts and recovery efforts can be viewed in relation to sea turtle nesting sites, manatee locations, high priority federal lands and other relevant map layers. To report an impact or observation, or contribute a new project, users create an account through a simple one-step signup which requires a name and email address.

The types of notices that can be mapped include:

Observations: Oil slicks or sheen, oiled plants and wildlife, wildlife mortality, oiled beaches. Recovery and mitigation projects: Oil contamination management, boom and barrier placement, beach clean-up, wildlife rescue. Request assistance or search for volunteer opportunities. Post project needs for volunteers, special equipment or funding. Reach out to projects that need help.

Here are a couple of examples that have already been pinned:

Power of the Mighty Mississippi used to beat back oil spill
Six diversions have been set up along the Mississippi river to divert the river water to act as a flushing system for the coast. While there are fears that the flow of freshwater will upset salinity levels along the coast, affecting fisheries and estuaries; however, these damages are considered far less than the alternative. Officials are considering adding the Bohemia Spillway, originally designed for flood control, to these efforts as well. 

Plume spotted, leaking toward Mobile
Marine scientists have discovered a massive new plume of what they believe to be oil deep beneath the Gulf of Mexico, stretching 22 miles (35 kilometers) from the leaking wellhead northeast toward Mobile Bay, Alabama. The discovery by researchers on the University of South Florida College of Marine Science's Weatherbird II vessel is the second significant undersea plume recorded since the Deepwater Horizon exploded on April 20. 

UD Fish and Wildlife Services
Two rehabilitated birds that were rescued from the oil spill area are set to be released into the wild this afternoon, far from the massive oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries will release the birds in the Sherburne Wildlife Management Area in Iberville Parish.
If the site becomes prevalent enough, it should prove to be an invaluable way to keep track of what is actually happening at ground zero in this effort.

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>Gulf Oil Blog, by UGA scientist Samantha Joye & colleagues

Jun 10 2010 Published by under Ecology, Environment, Oil Spill

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Dr. Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia testified at a congressional hearing yesterday, reporting her findings after a two week trip to the Gulf. Joye's team also recorded much of what they found, journal-style on a blog called the Gulf Oil Blog, which is a great resource, obviously. She's even answering questions (most more complicated and relevant than "when will it stop").
Joye is focusing research on the plume - yes, the one that doesn't exist - and reports that the respiration rates in the plume, based on preliminary findings, are "at least 5-10 times higher" than control sites, which means more oxygen is being used up by bioremediating microorganisms in a specific area, which could potentially create a very large dead (hypoxic) zone where very little marine life will be able to live for quite a long time.
More on the plume from Joye:

At present, oxygen concentrations exceed 2 mg/L but if concentrations drop below that, it would spell problems for any oxygen requiring organisms. The Southwest Plume is, at a minimum, 15 miles long x 2 miles long and the plume is about 600 feet thick. Temperatures in the plume are about 8-12ºC. We do not know the absolute oil content at this time.
The plume is largely water. This is not thick oil like you see on the surface in some places, it’s diluted oil and it’s most concentrated closest to the leaking riser pipe. Unlike a natural oil seep, which is most intense on the bottom and whose signal decreases with depth above the seafloor, the plume we are studying starts 200m above the seafloor and its intensity decreases horizontally with distance away from the leaking wellhead.
The specific gravity of oil is irrelevant to this discussion. This is not oil like you buy at the auto supply store. Think of it as gas-saturated oil that has been shot out of a deep sea cannon under intense pressure – it’s like putting olive oil in a spray can, pressurizing it and pushing the spray button. What comes out when you push that button? A mist of olive oil. This well is leaking a mist of oil that is settling out in the deep sea.

Dr. Joye also spoke at UGA earlier this week:

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>Oil spill animations just released

Jun 03 2010 Published by under Ecology, Environment, Oil Spill

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Here's a series of models from the NCAR/UCAR website in addition to a news release of how the oil could spread in the following four months.
Description of the video above:

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. It assumes oil spilling continuously from April 20 to June 20. The colors represent a dilution factor ranging from red (most concentrated) to beige (most diluted). The dilution factor does not attempt to estimate the actual barrels of oil at any spot; rather, it depicts how much of the total oil from the source that will be carried elsewhere by ocean currents. For example, areas showing a dilution factor of 0.01 would have one-hundredth the concentration of oil present at the spill site.
The animation is based on a computer model simulation, using a virtual dye, that assumes weather and current conditions similar to those that occur in a typical year. It is one of a set of six scenarios released today that simulate possible pathways the oil might take under a variety of oceanic conditions. Each of the six scenarios shows the same overall movement of oil through the Gulf to the Atlantic and up the East Coast. However, the timing and fine-scale details differ, depending on the details of the ocean currents in the Gulf. (Visualization by Tim Scheitlin and Mary Haley, NCAR; based on model simulations.)

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>Continuing misinformation from BP, but on the bright side...

Jun 03 2010 Published by under Ecology, Environment, Oil Spill

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We should just start assuming that BP is not going to give us the facts and be thankful that there are independent researchers and relief workers in the gulf trying to find out what's really going on and formulate plans to mitigate the damage based on actual measurements, not freshly spun talking points.
Chris Pulaski of the NWF says that instead of just 30 acres (BP's estimate) it could be thousands of acres of affected marshland from what they've seen. Salt marshes seem to be one of the places where pollutants like oil persist, so having an accurate estimate is essential for cleanup.
The Gulf Coast Spill Coalition is also trying to get "citizen scientists" involved by plugging an Oil Reporter app (for iPhone and Android), which allows users to upload photos and text to a specific RSS feed for compilation and review.

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>Decades later, how has the ecology of coastal Saudi Arabia recovered from the largest oil spill in history?

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As the Deepwater Horizon spill progresses, I've been tracking down the science that has been done as a result of other large spills, particularly the monitoring of ecosystem damage and recovery. It's a mixed bag, apples and oranges in some cases, largely dependent on the communities affected, the extent of the spill, the cleanup effort and the environmental/species composition of the affected area.

I went straight to the biggest first, the Gulf War oil spill, which started in January of 1991 and ended up leaking 11 million barrels of oil (one barrel = 42 gallons) into the Persian Gulf, which eventually washed up on to the shorelines of the area, invading the beaches, salt marshes and mangrove forests. In 2001 and then again in 2008, Dr. Hans-Jörg Barth of the University of Regensburg reported on the ecological effects of the spill, which are apparent to this day.

A couple of things to keep in mind: First, every spill is different. Deepwater Horizon is much more widespread than the Gulf War spill, which means the coasts probably won't see as much inundation, but being more widespread could have other dire effects as well. Second, there was no focused cleanup effort in the Persian Gulf. Lastly, it's important to remember that this is an incredibly complicated analytical process. The term "oil" that we use actually describes a conglomerate of many different hydrocarbons and other chemicals which can have different effects in different areas or at varying concentrations. Combine that with the progression of other environmental problems, such as climate change, ocean acidification, lingering pollutants from previous incidents and potential contaminations from dispersants and the like and it becomes very difficult to make accurate predictions. In any case, as this situation changes, so will the outcome.

Two to four years after the spill in the Persian Gulf, natural regeneration began on the beaches and in the mangrove forests. The tides continued to batter the oil on the beaches and between the roots of the trees, breaking it loose, constantly aerating the sediments it clung to, bringing oxygen to the soils. In the mangrove forests, tidal channels brought fresh, oxygenated seawater and benthic invertebrates like crabs, which turned and moved the sediments (termed bioturbation), allowing oxygen to penetrate the substrate. After 10 years, 80 percent of the beaches had returned to a relatively normal state. The predictions from scientists spelled doom for the mangroves, but despite losing 30 percent of the affected Avicennia marina initially, seedlings began to sprout a mere two years after the spill. Those statistics certainly sound hopeful.

A decade after the spill,however, when scientists returned to the area for a quantitative analysis, they still found a million cubic meters of oil sediments remaining. According to Dr. Jacqueline Michel

...the oil got trapped into a very large bay and it was never allowed to keep moving and so it just piled in.  I remember sitting on the shore and looking out and not being able to see clean water, I could just see oil as far as I could see from the shoreline.

In 2001 and then again in 2008, the intertidal regions, particularly the salt marshes, had still not recovered. The oil crept in to the muddy home of halophylic grasses and filled the burrows of crabs. Cyanobacterial mats were allowed to cover the marshes, undisturbed, robbing the water of oxygen beneath. After 10 years only about 20 percent of these areas had recovered; 25 percent were completely dead. Oil remained in the sediments in concentrations similar to the initial estimates. The tar crust and the darker, oil-stained sediments have a lower albedo, absorbing more light and increasing the temperature in the immediate microclimate, in some cases beyond the tolerance of the marsh plants necessary to the ecosystem.

Salt marshes are at a disadvantage. The ecosystem relies on bioturbation, mainly from crabs, to keep the sediments oxygenated and to keep the cyanobacterial mats at bay. But the oil wiped out brachyurans in most of these areas; even in 2006 they had only just begun to recolonize in a few areas. Oxygen is the main fuel that keeps both abiotic and organismic hydrocarbon-metabolizing processes going, and in the anaerobic soup under tar crusts and cyanobacterial mats, those processes are largely halted, so the oil remains and the marsh is slow to regenerate.

So it comes down to oxygen and physical energy, the two main factors that explain the slow recovery of the salt marshes relative to the beaches or mangrove forests. The waves crashing on the beach and the numerous tidal channels through the mangroves helped to break up the oil and allowed organisms like crabs to oxygenate the sediments via bioturbation. In the marshes, as the oil lingered, it killed its residents, became sun-baked and allowed the cyanobacteria to take over, creating a largely hypoxic environment. The tidal channels in the marsh are relatively few, and the process of bioremediation slowed. But as Barth suggests, the existing channels will continue to bring in fresh water and healthy animals which can recolonize via the soft muds from the channel, burrowing up and through the hard, crusted-over surfaces of the marsh. In this situation, it's easy to see that if artificial channels could be created, better access would be given to these keystone animals and the process could be accelerated.

It's too early to make any useful comparisons between our current situation in the Gulf of Mexico and historic spills, but it's important to recognize the research that has been done in the past, and just how lasting of an effect these environmental disturbances can have on different types of ecosystems. Some will recover relatively quickly. Others will need very special attention paid to the functions of organisms that help hold the system together and scientists will need to find ways to assist those functions.

What is not so clear right now is how we're going to handle the resulting toxicity in our fisheries and how that will affect the economy of coastal communities (and the country) for the long term. Ecosystems usually have a particular carrying capacity for toxins, and can continue to function even under certain levels of chemical pressures. I don't think the seafood industry will be able to replicate the same tolerance.

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