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Weekly News: November 2003

November 21, 2003
November 7, 2003

NOAA Responds to Texas City Acid Spill

Earlier this month, NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration (ORR) responded to an acid spill in the Texas City, Texas ship channel. On November 3, a barge loaded with 235,000 gallons of concentrated sulfuric acid, overturned shortly after arriving at a dock in the Port of Texas City, near Galveston. ORR provided on-scene scientific support to the U.S. Coast Guard to characterize the hazards, define the risk and potential environmental impacts, and mitigate the potential for an explosion. Because of the instability of the barge and the risk to responders and the public, the Federal On-scene Coordinator ordered the sulfuric acid released into the ship channel. The acid plume traveled into the deeper parts of the channel, to an area approximately 300-600 meters around the vessel. Natural resource trustees conducted both pH monitoring and limited trawling in the affected area to determine the nature and magnitude of impacts, and are working cooperatively with the responsible party to quantify impacts. For further information, contact Charlie Henry (response) or Lisa DiPinto (damage assessment).

West Coast Sanctuaries Report Mass Seabird Die-off

During the past several weeks, hundreds of dead and living northern fulmars (Fulmaris glacialis) washed up on beaches in the Monterey Bay, Olympic Coast, and Gulf of the Farallones national marine sanctuaries. Resource managers and volunteers collected about 160 of the dead birds for analysis. Scientists and technicians at the California Department of Fish and Game dissected the birds to determine causes of the mass mortality. Preliminary reports indicate that the majority were starved, young birds. For more information, contact Jennifer Parkin or Nicole Capps.

Tide Gauges Record Pacific Ocean Tsunami

An unusual tsunami was recorded recently at several NOS water level stations, mostly in the Hawaiian Islands and Midway Atoll. Preliminary data indicate that the tsunami, approximately one half meter high, was generated by a magnitude 7.5 earthquake on November 17, 2003, approximately 225 miles southwest of Adak, Alaska, in the Aleutian Trench. The tsunami also triggered NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL) Deep-Ocean Assessment and Reporting (DART) buoys. PMEL requested that NOS retrieve water level data from stations configured with a tsunami measuring capability for further analysis. NOS tide stations in Alaska, the Pacific islands, and along the West Coast have special software that allows for higher sampling rates when triggered by tsunamis. For further information, contact Mickey Moss.

November 7, 2003

NOS Researchers Help Tribe Test Shellfish

The Quileute Tribe in La Push, WA, is working with NOS and NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to develop rapid, cost-effective techniques to detect domoic acid in shellfish. Tribal nations along the Pacific Coast from Oregon to Alaska occupy some of the regions most affected by domoic-acid-producing algae. Blown onshore by winds, these harmful algal blooms (genus Pseudo-nitzchia) can produce high levels of the acid, which accumulates to lethal levels in commercial species such as razor clams and Dungeness crabs. Tribal members depend on clams and crabs for part of their diets, for use in ritual ceremonies, and as an economically important cash crop. However, the remoteness of the tribes’ villages and state budgetary constraints prohibit state officials from taking routine samples to test for the acid. In addition, the tests are expensive and must be conducted in laboratories nowhere near the tribes. NOS's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research, and the NMFS Northwest Fisheries Science Center conducted a recent workshop with the Quileute Tribe. They reviewed progress in the areas of test development, standardized assay procedures, and future sampling efforts. For more information, contact Wayne Litaker.

NOS Partnership Project in AL and MS

On November 4, NOS's Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (OCRM) and Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services (CO-OPS) hosted a meeting at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, to launch an NOS Partnership Project titled "Application of Water Level Information to Coastal Zone Management." NOS will install and maintain two tide gauges in Alabama and Mississippi at locations chosen by state coastal resource managers to showcase the use of water-level information for such purposes as habitat restoration, wetland mitigation, measurement of land subsidence, and boundary delineation. Data from the gauges will be collected for one year, and the information will be used to support state coastal management decision-making. The results will be disseminated to coastal managers nationwide. For more information, contact Josh Lott.

Texas Teachers Recognize Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary

At the recent annual Texas Conference for the Advancement of Science Teaching, held in Houston, TX, the Texas Marine Educators Association recognized Sarah Bernhardt, an education specialist at NOS’s Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, for "Outstanding Marine Education by a Non-classroom Educator.” Sanctuary education coordinator Shelley DuPuy and the sanctuary itself were recognized for "Outstanding Marine Education by an Organization." For more information, contact George Schmahl.

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