Thursday, May 27, 2010

Video of Gulf Oil Spill from underwater

ABC News went underwater in the Gulf with Philippe Cousteau Jr., grandson of famous explorer Jacques Cousteau, and he described what he saw as "one of the most horrible things I’ve ever seen underwater."

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Gulf Oil Spill - Image

Nearly a month after a deadly explosion at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, the damaged well on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico continued to spill oil. In the weeks since the accident occurred, the oil slick has periodicallydrifted northeast toward the Mississippi Delta and reached the the Chandeleur Islands.

On May 17, 2010, when the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite acquired this natural-color image, a large patch of oil was visible near the site of the accident, and a long ribbon of oil stretched far to the southeast.

Oil slicks are not always visible in natural-color satellite images. A thin sheen of oil on an already dark background may be impossible to detect. On this day, however, the slick was located in the sunglint part of the image, which makes the slick stand out.

Sunglint is the mirror-like reflection of the Sun off the water. If the ocean surface were as smooth and calm as a mirror, a series of perfect reflections of the Sun would appear in a line along the path of the satellite’s northeast-to-southwest orbit. Instead, waves blur the reflection, creating a wide, washed-out strip through the ocean.

A coating of oil smoothes the sea surface relative to the oil-free water, causing it to reflect light differently. Depending on where in the sunglint area it occurs, the slick may look brighter or darker than adjacent clean water. In this image, the slick appears as an uneven shape of varying shades of bright gray-beige.

Delta decline linked to Sacramento sewage treatment in new study

Delta decline linked to Sacramento sewage treatment in new study

Posted: 05/17/2010

A new study that shows environmental problems in the Delta are primarily driven by toilet-flushing in Sacramento — and not the state's dams and pumps — is sure to get a lot of attention from water agencies that contend their effect on the Delta is exaggerated.

Discharges from the Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District and other sewer-treatment plants have profoundly changed the food web in ways that deprive Delta smelt and other native fish while favoring fish considered less desirable, the study says.

The paper, which has been peer-reviewed and will be published in Reviews in Fisheries Science, shifts focus from Delta pumping stations to another contributor of the Delta's problems.

Specifically, sewer discharges from Sacramento have dramatically increased the amount of ammonium in Delta waters, while another nutrient, phosphorus, has declined because of its phaseout from detergents.

That shift has changed the building blocks of the estuary's food web in ways that determine what kinds of fish can thrive, and which ones can't, according to the paper by Patricia Glibert, an ecologist at the University of Maryland's Center for Environmental Science.

The paper says the way to start fixing the Delta is to reduce the nutrient discharges from the Sacramento sewer system.

"Until such reductions occur, other measures, including regulation of water pumping or manipulations of salinity, as has been the current strategy, will likely show little beneficial effect," the paper concludes. "Without such action, the recovery of the endangered pelagic fish species is unlikely at best."

The research was funded mostly by the contractors who rely on water from Delta pumps.

Predictably, they trumpeted the results as proof that the influence of water diversions from the Delta have been overemphasized.

"This study reinforces how additional restrictions on water exports from the Delta will not provide for the recovery of the fish species. All the stressors harming the Delta need to be addressed," said Laura King Moon, assistant general manager for the State Water Contractors, a group of agencies from the Tri-Valley to Southern California that rely on the state's Delta pumps.

Source questioned

Officials at the Sacramento sewer plant attacked the funding source.

"This has been a line of thinking they (water contractors) have been trying to draw for some time," said Stan Dean, director of policy and planning for the Sacramento regional sewer plant. "You have to be careful about seeing the relationships (in trend analyses) that you want to see."

Glibert, who has not previously published work on the Delta but has extensive experience studying other estuaries, is a member of a prestigious panel of scientists that recently concluded that restrictions on Delta pumping operations are for the most part scientifically justified.

Researchers who have spent years studying the Delta were critical of several aspects of the paper.

"It's really stretching it to say ammonium is the root cause of the Delta smelt decline," said Bill Bennett, an ecologist at UC Davis and the foremost expert on Delta smelt. "You can see a decline in the food and a decline in the fish, when something else could be causing the decline in both."

Several researchers said Glibert was a solid scientist whose paper adds to what is known about the Delta. But Bennett and others said the findings, which come close to fingering a silver bullet, went too far.

"I think she's taking things a little too far, a little premature," Bennett said.

Glibert compared long-term trends to find correlations between discharges from Sacramento, Delta water quality and the kinds of plants and animals that grow there.

"The statistical method she used exaggerates trends, and suppresses the very real effect of natural variability," said Wim Kimmerer, an estuarine ecologist at the Romberg Tiburon Center at San Francisco State University.

"The overall approach is also based mostly on correlation and ignores important influences that we have learned about through more detailed methods, such as the effects of clams and other introduced species on the food web of the estuary."

In early 2005, state biologists who track the Delta's fish populations noticed a sharp decline in several fish species, setting off alarms that the Delta was in a widespread and unexplained ecological decline.

Potential causes

Since then, California's salmon population joined the collapse, for reasons that scientists have not untangled.

But in each case, most researchers agree that the state's system of delivering water through the Delta is at least part of the problem and other factors also contribute.

Ammonium from the Sacramento sewer plant, which discharges an average of 145 million gallons a day of treated sewage, has for few years been near the top of that list of other potential causes for the collapse, but most of the focus has been on whether ammonium discharges might be poisoning fish.

Glibert said the problem was more subtle.

The increase in ammonium changed the kinds of algae that thrive in the Delta, and that change rippled up the food web, she concluded.

Before 1982, the nutrients in the Delta were mostly nitrate and phosphorus, which fed algae called diatoms that in turn were eaten by zooplankton that made up the food that Delta smelt and other native fish eat.

That food web changed in the 1980s and 1990s, and in a third "era" identified by Glibert, since 2000 the base of the Delta food web is mostly ammonium and blue-green algae, which in turn are favored by another kind of zooplankton that is in turn favored by non-native fish, like inland silversides.

While her paper focused on one potential source of stress on fish, Glibert acknowledged that the National Research Council panel of which she is a member would likely find other problems in the Delta by the time it completes its study of the Delta's problems in late 2011.

"There is no doubt that when we look at other stressors we will find additional effects," Glibert said.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Gulf Oil Spill

How to Clean Up the Oil

By RP Siegel | May 14th, 2010 View Comments

In 1978, the oil tanker Amoco-Cadiz broke up off the coast of France, dumping 220,000 tons of heavy crude oil into the Atlantic. The spill was so large that the entire Brittany coast was impacted. Because of the tremendous costs involved, only selected sections were treated with detergents and dispersants. Ecological studies five years later showed that the untreated areas had fully recovered. But, the areas that were treated have still not recovered 32 years later. How could this be?

Oil is a naturally occurring material. It is not uncommon for oil to seep up from cracks in the ocean floor. According to Terry Hazen, a PhD micro-biologist working on bioremediation in the Earth Sciences division of the DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, there are thousands of varieties of petroleum-degrading bacteria who are happy to feast on the oil and break it down into simpler and generally safer compounds. Whenever an oil spill occurs, local concentrations of these bacteria are seen to increase up to 100,000 fold.

That means that if the oil is contained and remains at sea, eventually it will be broken down. That’s an important point to keep in mind.

Eleven years after the Amoco-Cadiz, there was the Exxon Valdez incident which resulted in 11 million gallons of heavy crude entering Prince William Sound and despoiling 1300 miles of pristine coastline. ExxonMobil has spent over $7 billion to date on the cleanup with relatively little to show for it. Crews attempted bioremediationthere, providing fertilizer to encourage the bacteria to grow. Some of the oil was broken down that way, though side effects, such as eutrophication, where the water becomes oxygen depleted and unable to support life, were significant. This effect is also responsible for numerous dead zones already existing in the Gulf of Mexico, the result of fertilizer-laden water coming down the Mississippi River as it passes through the Midwestern farm belt. Hazen is concerned that these dead zones may become significantly larger as the result of the recent spill because of the bacterial growth that will inevitably occur.

This is not to say that nothing that should be done. But the options are few and many of them, such as burning or the use of toxic dispersal agents can create as much or more harm than they are trying to prevent. Unfortunately, urgency and prudence don’t seem to mix any better than oil and water do.

According to Riki Ott, marine toxicologist and author of “Not One Drop: Betrayal and Courage in the the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill,” spraying Corexit 9527A (which contains 2-Butoxyethanol) in the Gulf, as BP is currently doing, in an attempt to minimize damage to the coast, will kill the shrimp eggs and larvae and young fish that are in the water column now. The chemicals in them can linger in the water for decades, especially when used in deep water, where low temperatures can inhibit bio-degradation. The use of this chemical was responsible for the collapse of the herring fishery in Alaska after the Exxon Valdez. What is so counterproductive about this is the fact that this chemical will also kill the very micro-organisms that would otherwise naturally break down the oil. Ott’s biggest concern is the “young of the year,” the eggs and embryos and very young fish who are so much more sensitive to these chemicals. “There will be a delayed reaction,” she said, “when these fish don’t show up as adults when they’re supposed to.”

Terry Hazen feels that chemical dispersants should only be used, if at all, in a lesser-of-two-evils scenario, where their use might keep the oil from reaching particularly fragile areas or those harboring endangered species. According to Hazen, the most effective and the safest things we can do are to try to prevent the oil from coming ashore and damaging wetlands by erecting barriers and then physically mopping up as much as the oil as we can get our hands on. But where can we possibly find a mop that big?

It turns out that a number of interesting ideas have been proposed, including the use of human hair and cotton gin waste. But by far the most compelling idea I’ve heard about comes from a Michigan woman named Adria Brown. Brown’s company, Recovery I Inc., has developed and patented a product called Golden Retriever that is designed to recover oil from water. It is made from corn cobs. Corn cobs turn out to be especially effective in this task, due to the fact that they are buoyant, and the fact that they tend to spin in moving water, which exposes their entire surface to the oil which clings readily to it. The material is simply dumped into the water and then retrieved twenty four hours later using skimmers. As an added benefit, the oil can be completely recovered by centrifuge and the cobs can be reused. Brown has been working with an extensive farm network across the Midwest, led by Feeders Grain and Supply of Corning, Iowa, to acquire the needed materials in quantity. Together, they have amassed a stockpile of close to 34,000 tons of material that is ready to be deployed to the Gulf, where it can be administered using barges, that is, as soon as someone down there asks for it. Sen. Chuck Grassley has also been involved, helping to move the paperwork in Washington.

Where will the manpower come from? How about the thousands of fishermen who are now out of work and are willing to do anything they can to save their livelihood? How about paying them instead of paying expensive outside consultants with their exotic chemical cocktails? According to Ott, who was on location in Lafayette, LA, when I spoke to her, “the people down here are looking for something that is “bayou-degradable.”

We can only hope that the folks in charge of the cleanup will listen to sensible suggestions, rather that continuing to rely on rash measures, in the appearance of “doing something” about the problem.

In the mean time, we will find out in about 75 days if BP’s effort, to drill a second well to release the pressure will work. By that time more than twice the oil that came out of the Exxon Valdez will have entered the Gulf waters.

It is very difficult to find any kind of silver lining in this story. All we can hope for is that the damage can be contained to the extent possible and that maybe all Americans will stop and reconsider the impact that our way of life is having on the planet that sustains us. I know, for me personally, every time I get in my car and drive somewhere, I imagine a few drops of oil being added to the Gulf of Mexico in my name.

RP Siegel is the co-author of Vapor Trails, a story about an oil spill and the man responsible for it.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Gulf Oil Spill Update – May 13th, 2010

Ocean Power Magazine

Gulf Oil Spill Update – May 13th

Posted: 13 May 2010 04:47 PM PDT

South Pass Inner Harbor Cleanup 1The news regarding the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico goes from bad to worse,to completely unbelievable when watching companies executives pass the blame to others. The only good news has been that the wind has kept most of the spill from reaching shore. Here are the latest details:

- Five oil and gas production platforms in the gulf have shut down operations voluntarily – Yay!

- BP PLC continues to stockpile and deploy oil-dispersing chemicals manufactured by a company with which it shares close ties, even though other U.S. EPA-approved alternatives have been shown to be far less toxic and, in some cases, nearly twice as effective. So far, BP has told federal agencies that it has applied more than 400,000 gallons of a dispersant sold under the trade name Corexit and manufactured by Nalco Co., a company that was once part of Exxon Mobil Corp. and whose current leadership includes executives at both BP and Exxon.(New York Times).

- Transocean, which owns the BP-leased offshore rig gushing oil into the Gulf of Mexico, filed a petition in a US court today to limit its liability in the spill to 27 million dollars. While British energy giant BP is responsible for the cost of the cleanup, BP executives told a congressional hearing Tuesday that Transocean was responsible for the failure of a key giant valve system. Transocean chief executive Steven Newman passed the buck back, saying: “All offshore oil and gas production projects begin and end with the operator.” Newman also pointed the finger at Halliburton, saying the US oil services behemoth was responsible for the cement work that may have failed to seal the exploratory well correctly.(AFP).

- Senate Democrats today lost a bid to raise the liability cap for oil companies to $10 billion when Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski raised objections. They vowed to try again. Murkowski said she supports lifting the cap from $75 million, but contends the $10 billion figure would prevent smaller, independent companies from drilling along the Outer Continental Shelf.

- According to Repower America, the well has leaked approximately 4 million gallons of oil to date.

- Six West Coast senatorsinstroduced legislation today that would ban permanently new oil-and-gas drilling off of the California, Oregon and Washington state coasts.

- Video of leak at the source, which BP was forced to release publicly – they did not want it to be seen by the public.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Short Video of Pennate Diatom

This big [about 0.2-mm long] golden diatom was in a sample from a Heron’s Head Park Salt Marsh Pond, San Francisco Bay. Shots were taken with a Swift FM-31 Field Microscope at 400X using a Nikon Coolpix 885 Digital Camera. Diatoms are algae in a glass case – the two shells that enclose a diatom are made of silicon. Algae are plants, so Diatoms get their energy and manufacture sugars from the sunlight and CO2. They also frequently move with a slow, but steady motion. Diatoms evolved at about the same time as mammals, so they are relative newcomers.