Weekly News: July 2006
A team of scientists from the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS), Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, and Louisiana State University (LSU) is forecasting that the "dead zone" off the coast of Louisiana and Texas this summer will be larger than the average size since 1990. This forecast of the annual low oxygen (hypoxic) event in the Gulf of Mexico, which causes marine invertebrates, fish, and plants to die from lack of oxygen, is an example of an innovative environmental service – officially referred to as "ecological forecasting" – that NOAA scientists believe will become an important tool in coming years for both decision makers and the public. This NOAA-supported modeling effort, led by an LSU researcher, predicts this summer's "dead zone" will be 6,700 square miles, an area the half the size of the state of Maryland. The forecast is based on nitrate loads from the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers in May (provided by the U.S. Geological Survey) and incorporates the previous year's load to the system. NOAA funds research cruises to track development of hypoxia. For more information, contact Dave.Whitall@noaa.gov or Alan.Lewitus@noaa.gov.
A representative of the National Geodetic Survey recently attended the inaugural workshop on the African Reference Frame, which was held in South Africa. Twenty-two countries were in attendance, including representatives from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the University NAVSTAR Consortium from the U.S. Many of the African participants are familiar with NOAA's Online Positioning User Service (OPUS) and would like NOAA's help in getting OPUS running in Africa. OPUS allows users, such as professional surveyors, to submit their global positioning system (GPS) observations to NOAA, where the data is processed to determine an accurate position, resulting in significant time and cost savings to the user. For more information, contact Dave.Doyle@noaa.gov.
Invasive lionfish are making their way down the Florida coast, staff from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary learned at the Lionfish Technical Review Workshop, co-sponsored by the NOAA Invasive Species Program and the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council. Lionfish populations are now abundant off the coast of North Carolina at depths of 95-150 feet and have been observed in depths up to 300 feet. In surveys of the grouper/snapper complex off the Carolina coast, lionfish were the second most abundant species (after scamp). Lionfish are predators of fishes, particularly serranids and scarids, and also consume crustaceans and other invertebrates. They have been found reaching lengths of 45 centimeters, and their distribution appears to be limited by cold water temperatures (death ~ 10C, torpor (inactivity) at ~ 16C). In Florida, lionfish have been observed as far south as West Palm Beach, and they have been observed in the Bahamas since 2004. Movement into the Florida Keys appears inevitable, but control measures may still be feasible in the shallower, warmer waters of South Florida. For more information, contact Brian.Keller@noaa.gov.
National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science scientists, with funding from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), conducted a pilot study on the movements of buoy line used in the crab pot fishery to assess bottlenose dolphin entanglement in South Carolina. Recommendations from this study were published in the NMFS Bottlenose Dolphin Take Reduction Plan as "Non-regulatory recommendations for the blue crab fishery." For unknown reasons, South Carolina has the highest rate of bottlenose dolphin entanglements in the blue crab fishery in the southeast U.S. This study used various rope types with varying lengths, under various environmental conditions (e.g., current velocity, water depth, tidal stage) to determine the variables that may lead to entanglement. For more information, contact Wayne.Mcfee@noaa.gov.
Scientists and crew aboard the NOAA ship Nancy Foster assisted the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies (PCCS) to disentangle a humpback whale off the coast of Massachusetts on July 9. While tagging and tracking humpback whales in the NOAA Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, crew and scientists aboard the Nancy Foster found themselves at the right place at the right time.A local whale watch vessel, "The Whale Watcher," spotted the entangled whale on Sunday, July 9, and immediately notified the PCCS, as well as staff aboard the Nancy Foster. NOAA staff located the animal and assessed the severity of the entanglement. Scientists already were familiar with this particular whale: Years ago they named the whale "Sockeye," after the type of salmon, due to a deformity of the lower jaw of the whale.
When the trained and experienced PCCS rescue team arrived on scene, they quickly went to work. They added buoys to the gear dragging from the whale to provide additional drag. This helped slow down "Sockeye" so they could more effectively and safely work with him to get the gear off his body. A few precise cuts on the netting attached to the side of the animal and then some pressure applied to the other side proved to be the exact combination the whale needed. Researchers removed all of the gear from the whale, and he swam freely into the night. Once the whale was freed, researchers went back to work and tagged seven whales with high-tech tags that will provide a wealth of information on whale behavior. For more information, contact Anne.Smrcina@noaa.gov.
NOAA has returned once again to target marine debris, starting the second stage of a project aimed at locating and reducing the presence of marine debris on the shores of the main Hawaiian Islands. The removal effort follows an extensive helicopter survey earlier this year which revealed the presence of an estimated 129 tons of derelict fishing gear and other debris along the shores and nearshore reefs of six of the main islands. The initial removal effort focused on Oahu, where in sixteen days of operations, NOAA removed 216 net piles, totaling over 15 metric tons of derelict fishing gear, from the shorelines. The vast majority of the 176 debris sites were on Oahu’s windward coast, highlighting the influence of northeast tradewinds on debris accumulation patterns. For more information, contact Megan.Forbes@noaa.gov.
NOAA’s Air Resources Laboratory (ARL) has announced that it will establish a long-term atmospheric mercury monitoring site at the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) in Moss Point, Mississippi. The monitoring will allow researchers to study the emission, transport, and atmospheric deposition of mercury compounds in coastal waters. The presence of mercury in the environment, its wide distribution and cycling in coastal and aquatic ecosystems, and risks to human health constitute a major environmental resource management issue. Despite this fact, the implementation of cost-effective solutions is hampered by inadequate understanding of the processes of mercury emission and deposition. The National Science and Technology Council has urged expanded research and monitoring efforts on mercury deposition. The ARL decided to focus on the Gulf of Mexico because of the large number of mercury-related fish consumption advisories there. The Grand Bay NERR, part of the national system administered by the Estuarine Reserves Division of the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, was selected for the site because of its existing meteorological and water quality monitoring infrastructure, which is part of the System-wide Monitoring Program, as well as its location relative to the Gulf and potential sources of airborne mercury. ARL will measure mercury in the atmosphere and in rainfall. Eventually, instruments will be added to measure other compounds that are typically co-emitted with mercury. NOAA's Air Resources Laboratory, founded in 1948 as a branch of the U.S. Weather Bureau, provides monitoring, research and assessment of air quality nationwide, including forecasting. For more information, see http://www.arl.noaa.gov/. Contact: Susan.White@noaa.gov.
Archaeologists with NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Program made two remarkable discoveries at Kure Atoll, the most northwestern atoll in Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Maritime National Monument, while on a research cruise aboard the NOAA Ship Hi'ialakai. The discoveries are the remains of the paddlewheel gunboat USS Saginaw, which sank there in 1870, and the remains of another vessel believed to be the Dunnottar Castle, a 258-foot, three-masted British sailing ship reported lost with a load of coal in 1886. The team is also revisiting the wrecks of the British whaling ships Pearl and Hermes, the two oldest known wrecks in the Monument. Daily logs are being posted by the team on the NMSP Web site at: http://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/missions/2006nwhi/welcome.html. For more information, contact John.Broadwater@noaa.gov.
National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science researchers have determined that non-native lionfish have reproductive potential that will allow their populations to continue to grow in the Atlantic. Studies indicate that lionfish are capable of year-round spawning in parts of their current range along the U.S. East Coast. Although lionfish spawning season occurs in the summer off the coast of North Carolina, more southerly locations can support their reproduction in fall, spring, and winter. Managers will be able to use this information to plan responses to this and other invasive marine fishes. For more information, contact James.Morris@noaa.gov.
The next leg for the NOAA ship Nancy Foster will be for tagging humpback and fin whales in and around Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Scientists will use synchronous motion, digital acoustic recording tags that provide valuable data on the behavior of these threatened whales. The July 5-20 mission is being conducted by scientists from NOAA Fisheries, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the University of New Hampshire, Duke University, the University of Hawaii, and the Whale Center of New England. It is hoped that the tagged whales (including possible mother-calf pairs) will also be recorded with an acoustic recording field that covers much of the sanctuary. The acoustic information can track sounds from whales and vessels in the sanctuary. Data will be analyzed to determine if whale behavior is influenced by vessel traffic. These research studies will give NOAA resource managers valuable information on how whale behavior may be influenced by human activities in the Massachusetts Bay region. The management plan for Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary is being revised and this information will also support any proposed changes in the Draft Management Plan and Draft Environmental Impact Statement. For more information, contact David.Wiley@noaa.gov.
On July 5, a local pilot association contacted the NOAA Office of Coast Survey for assistance in surveying to identify several obstructions in numerous anchorage areas in Narragansett Bay near Newport, Rhode Island. NOAA Navigation Response Team 5 was deployed and has started conducting hydrographic survey operations in the identified areas. Side scan surveys of these areas will provide important information on hazards and marine debris that may exist in these anchorages, which are frequently used by US Navy vessels as well as large commercial traffic, such as bulk carriers containing coal. Multibeam surveys will also be conducted to provide full bottom coverage of the area, to ensure that the pilots can use the entire anchorage safely. For more information, contact Jake.Yoos@noaa.gov.
The Community Information Repository (http://ocean.us/cir/) is an information resource designed to help regional ocean observing systems find and share best practices in data transport and discovery. Information available at this site includes interpretations of policy, white papers, new data providers, and Wiki--a piece of server software that allows users to freely create and edit Web page content using any Web browser. This portal is a joint effort between the NOAA Coastal Services Center and Ocean.US. The requirements for this portal were defined in the Integrated Ocean Observing System's Data Management and Communication Plan. For more information, contact Dave.Stein@noaa.gov.
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