- Commemorating the 20th Anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Twenty years ago, our nation experienced one of the worst environmental disasters when the Exxon Valdez tanker ran aground in Prince William Sound, spilling nearly 11 million gallons of crude oil. The spill spread across 1,300 miles of pristine Alaskan coastline, resulting in significant impacts to natural resources, local industries and communities, subsistence livelihoods, and tourism. These impacts are still felt 20 years later. The Exxon Valdez oil spill was a landmark event that raised the public’s awareness of oil spills and the devastating effects they can have. This awareness led to the enactment of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which resulted in significant improvements in oil spill preparedness, response, and restoration. To highlight the anniversary, OR&R hosted an event on Capitol Hill and produced various podcasts and an award winning video, Hindsight and Foresight: 20 years after the Exxon Valdez Spill.
- Releasing the final report from an Arctic ice workshop. In January, the Coastal Response Research Center at the University of New Hampshire released the final report of an international workshop to address threats to the Arctic. The final report, Opening the Arctic Seas: Envisioning Disasters and Framing Solutions, provides a qualitative analysis of risk factors for five potential marine incidents likely to happen as shipping, tourism, exploration, and development of natural resources (e.g., oil and gas) occur with retreating Arctic ice cover.
Co-sponsored by OR&R, the U.S. Coast Guard Office of Spill Management and Preparedness, and the U.S. Arctic Research Commission, the three-day workshop united international experts from a range of disciplines to discuss the most probable oil spill threats for the fragile Arctic; strategies for coordinating and funding a holistic risk assessment in the Bering, Beaufort, and Chukchi Seas; potential resources at risk and other baseline needs such as real-time data; training requirements; and research and development needs.
- Debuting the Environmental Response Management Application (ERMA™). EMRA™ is a data management platform that integrates real-time data such as weather, currents, and Automated Information System data and static data sets with maps, resulting in high-resolution visualization on the Internet. An ERMA™ for Portsmouth, New Hampshire, recently debuted during an industry-led National Preparedness for Response Exercise Program.
ERMA™ allows users to collect, manipulate, analyze, and display spatially referenced data for solving complex resource issues. The Web delivery of the platform provides a common operational picture for all individuals involved in an incident, improves communication and coordination among responders and stakeholders, and provides resource managers with the information necessary to make faster and better informed decisions. Each version of ERMA™ is specific to a single geographic region.
- Conducting restoration activities in Commencement Bay. The bay is the harbor for Tacoma, Washington, located at the southern end of Puget Sound. Industrial and commercial activities, including pulp and lumber mills, oil refineries, and food processing plants, are located on or adjacent to the bay’s waterways. Contaminants from these activities affected the waterways, injuring marine life and the surrounding ecosystem.
Hundreds of drains, seeps, open channels, and other point and nonpoint discharges have been identified in the area, although only a fraction of the storm drains that empty into the bay have been associated with sediment contamination. Commencement Bay settlements have resulted in $26.8 million for natural resource restoration. Projects to be completed under the settlement include the development of 18.5 acres of mudflats and the removal of derelict vessel remains and other debris.
- Providing critical scientific expertise in assessing impacts from military munitions. NOS researchers are assisting the U.S. Department of Defense in addressing the potential environmental impacts from underwater military munitions. OR&R and Office of the National Marine Sanctuaries, in partnership with the University of Hawaii, deployed five high-precision sensors in the waters off of Oahu, Hawaii, at a site called Ordnance Reef. NOS will use data from the devices to determine where Pacific Ocean currents would potentially carry munitions materials if released into the marine environment.
The data will also be used in an integrated observing and prediction system that monitors ocean circulation, water quality, and biological productivity off Oahu’s south shore. The sensor deployment is part of a broader effort by NOAA, the Department of Defense, and the University of Hawaii to assess the potential impact of sea-disposed munitions on the environment.
- Releasing a new version of the Computer-Aided Management of Emergency Operations (CAMEO) response management tool, which is an integrated set of applications designed to assist first responders and emergency planners. The CAMEO suite of tools includes Aerial Locations of Hazardous Atmospheres (ALOHA); CAMEO Chemicals; Chemical Reactivity Worksheet; Mapping Application for Response, Planning, and Local Operational Tasks (MARPLOT); and Tier2 Submit. All modules work interactively to display critical information in an easy-to-understand format.
CAMEO Chemicals now has a separate desktop version in addition to the online version. The Chemical Reactivity Worksheet moved into a new platform that is compatible with current operating systems, and new gas byproduct predictions and documentation were added. MARPLOT has been redesigned to allow for improved map displays and integration with Web Mapping Services. With CAMEO, users can access chemical property and response information, model potential chemical releases, display results on a map, and manage planning data.
- Completing the Gulf of Mexico Marine Debris Project. The NOAA Marine Debris Program, working with the Office of Coast Survey (OCS), completed the Gulf of Mexico Marine Debris Project, which began in September 2006. The project team surveyed and mapped over 1,550 square nautical miles from Mobile Bay, Alabama, to the Louisiana/Texas border, and located more than 7,000 debris items in offshore fishing and shrimping grounds impacted by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The submerged marine debris posed a hazard to vessel traffic and could have adversely affected commercially viable fishing grounds.
OR&R and OCS worked closely with the U.S. Coast Guard, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Louisiana Department of Natural Resources to survey offshore areas in Louisiana, map the new sonar contacts, and post them on the project Web site. The Web site provides both static maps and geographic positioning system coordinates, and an interactive mapping option where users can zoom into a specific area to get more information. The project received a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Gulf Guardian award for its work and partnerships in the region.
- Completing the Suisun Bay environmental assessment. NOS, along with local stakeholders, completed a year-long study to characterize contaminant levels near the National Defense Reserve Fleet in Suisun Bay, California. Their findings are detailed in the NOAA report, Assessment of Environmental Contaminants Associated with the National Defense Reserve Fleet in Suisun Bay, California. NOAA conducted the environmental assessment at the request of Congress on concerns about the potential release of hazardous materials into Suisun Bay from the reserve fleet.
NOAA researchers examined over 200 sediment samples from 72 locations in the bay and tested mussels and clams collected from 15 sites. Scientists analyzed the samples for metals and other compounds found in vessel paint, including polychlorinated biphenyls and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons which are found in petroleum products. The researchers compared their findings with contaminant data collected from other locations. The report concludes that contaminant concentrations in the vicinity of the reserve fleet are comparable to those at other locations throughout the greater San Francisco Bay. NOAA is not recommending specific cleanup actions at this time.
- Restoring more than 2,500 acres of coastal wetlands in Port Arthur, Texas. NOAA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and the Texas General Land Office worked with the Chevron Corporation to restore habitats that were injured by releases from refinery operations that took place decades ago. The largest restoration occurred in the Lower Neches Wildlife Management Area (WMA) near the Gulf of Mexico, where a project restored historic water flow conditions to approximately 1,300 acres of coastal wetlands. Nearly 90 acres of estuarine intertidal marsh and more than 30 acres of coastal wet prairie were also created. At the J.D. Murphree WMA, approximately 1,500 acres of coastal emergent marsh plant communities have been restored to historical conditions through the installation of berms and other water-control structures. These habitats were restored to compensate the public for the natural resources that were harmed by historical releases of hazardous substances from the original Clark Chevron refinery in Port Arthur.
- Working with the Republic of Korea on a joint marine debris project. The most effective way to address the global problem of marine debris is to work across country boundaries to share best practices and information to eradicate marine debris from its source. The objective of the 2009 Marine Debris Abatement Workshop was to transfer information on new technologies, strategies, and critical implementation information on nearshore marine debris prevention projects and techniques between the Republic of Korea and the United States in order to reduce the harmful impacts marine debris has on our coastal environment. The results of this workshop included a summary report highlighting four Korean and four U.S. marine debris prevention projects.