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Making Waves: Episode 80 (August 04, 2011)

Podcast script

You're listening to Making Waves from NOAA's National Ocean Service. I'm your host, Troy Kitch.

(NOS Responds to Yellowstone River Oil Spill)
You may have heard about the oil spill on the Yellowstone River out West last month.

Back on July 1, a 12-inch crude oil pipeline breached near or under the Yellowstone River close to the town of Laurel, Montana. This led to the spill of about 31,500 to 42,000 gallons of crude oil into the river.

For inland spills, the Environmental Protection Agency is the lead for coordinating spill response. But at the EPA's request, NOAA's Office of Response and Restoration is also playing a key role.

Last week, the Emergency Response Division of the Response and Restoration office deployed a Scientific Support Coordinator and a deputy to assist with estimating the fate and transport of the spilled oil on the river. Based on available information, these experts generated a report which is being used by the Unified Command overseeing clean-up operations. The Scientific Support Coordinator is also assisting with field observation, sample collection, and preliminary testing of a variety of natural sorbents to help mitigate the risks to wildlife due to contact with oiled debris. And lastly, the coordinator is providing technical support to Montana officials.

In addition to these activities, NOAA was also asked by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to lead the initial phase of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment on behalf of the Department of the Interior. Response and Restoration's Assessment and Restoration Division staff started the assessment process, which involved coordinating with the responsible party and state trustees, and collecting pre-assessment information. NOAA is now phasing out of the resource damage assessment and transferring duties back to the Interior Department, but they'll be continuing to advise as needed.

You can learn more about NOAA's role in the spill response effort and about oil spill clean-up and the Natural Resource Damage Assessment process at

(NOAA Study May Help East Coast Prepare for El Niño Years)

Coastal communities along the U.S. East Coast may be at risk of higher sea levels accompanied by more destructive storm surges during future El Niño years. That's according to a new NOAA study published in the Monthly Weather Review, a journal of the American Meteorological Society.

Principal investigator Bill Sweet, an oceanographer at NOAA's Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services, says that El Niños have important consequences for global weather patterns, often causing wetter than average conditions and cooler than normal temperatures across much of the central and southern U.S.

El Niño is a weather phenomenon that most people associate with the West Coast. It's characterized by unusually warm ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific that normally peak during the "cool season" (from October to April) in the Northern Hemisphere. These events occur every three to five years, with especially strong events occurring about once a decade.

In response to the highly active El Niño that occurred in 2009 through 2010, Sweet and his colleague Chris Zervas reviewed 50 years of data on cool-season water levels and storm surges at four East Coast sites: Boston, Massachusetts; Atlantic City, New Jersey; Norfolk, Virginia; and Charleston, South Carolina. A storm surge is defined as a rise in coastal sea level of one foot or greater.

They discovered that between 1961 and 2010, the average number of storm surges nearly tripled at the sample sites during strong El Niño years. Added to this, the sites experienced an average four-inch elevation in mean sea level above predicted conditions.

The study builds on previous ocean-atmospheric research which found that 'Nor'easters' –  storms with gale-force winds that blow in from the northeast – are more frequent along much of the East Coast during cooler El Niño months. El Niño and its impacts usually fade during warmer months, and often transition into a La Niña, during which eastern Pacific surface waters cool down and cause weather conditions generally opposite to those of El Niño.

According to Sweet, studies like this may better prepare local officials who plan for, and respond to, high-water conditions in their communities.

Check our show notes for links to learn more about El Nino and the Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services — NOAA's tides and currents experts.

(Ocean Fact)
We're going to wrap up this episode with a new occasional segment highlighting one of our over 160 Ocean Facts available on the National Ocean Service website. This week, I'm going to answer the question: What does peanut butter have to do with the ocean?

When it comes to eating, the ocean provides much more than just seafood. Many of the foods and products found in your local grocery store contain ingredients from the ocean.
For example, peanut butter and toothpaste both contain carrageenan. Carrageenan is a generic term for compounds extracted from species of red algae. Boiling the algae extracts the carrageenan, which in turn is used to make peanut butter more spreadable. Carrageenan also gives toothpaste its consistency and is used in other cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and industrial products.
You can find this and all of our other Ocean Facts at

That's all for this week.

If you have any questions about this week's podcast, about the National Ocean Service, or about our ocean -- or if you have an ocean fact you'd like answered -- send us a note at

This is Making Waves from NOAA's National Ocean Service.