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Making Waves: Episode 66 (Jan. 6, 2011)

... A new NOAA archive is launched on the web for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill
... Texas gets a new forecast system to warn of toxic algal outbreaks along the coast
... and do you remember the stories we had last year about the Scarlet Knight, the underwater glider that made it all the way from the East Coast to Europe? Well, it's now on display at the Smithsonian.

Those stories are coming up today ... it's January 6th, 2010. Happy New Year ... this is Making Waves from NOAA's National Ocean Service.

(New Deepwater Horizon Archive)
Last week, NOAA unveiled a new web archive of the maps, wildlife reports, scientific reports and other previously released public information during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The site is intended to serve as a learning tool and resource for scientists, students and historians of all backgrounds.

Here are some of the highlights of what you'll find there:

- 450 nearshore, offshore and cumulative oil trajectory forecasts
- 33 fishery closure area and 9 fishery re-opening maps
- 129 wildlife reports for animals including sea turtles and marine mammals
- 58 nautical chart updates
- 38 Gulf loop current location maps
- More than 4,000 "spot" weather forecasts requested by responders

The archive also contains image and video galleries, fact sheets and publications, press releases and transcripts, educational resources, and mission logs by crewmembers on board several of the eight NOAA ships responding to the spill and the damage assessment. NOAA will continue to update the site in the weeks and months ahead. The new archive is at

(Texas Harmful Algal Bloom Forecasts)
Texas officials and coastal managers will now receive early notice of outbreaks of toxic algae that threaten public health and affect beach and fishing activities along the coast. Beginning last month, NOAA's Harmful Algal Bloom Operational Forecast System is issuing weekly bulletins for this region based on observations from state and local partners, coupled with models, satellite ocean color imagery and data from NOAA's powerful current and weather systems.

The most common harmful algal bloom that occurs in the Gulf of Mexico is known as "red tide" and is caused by the algal species Karenia brevis. Occurrences of red tide have historically resulted in fish and marine mammal deaths, shellfish contamination and even human health risk in the form of respiratory distress. Economic impacts of harmful algal blooms in the United States average $75 million annually including impacts on public health costs, commercial fishing closures, recreation and tourism losses and management and monitoring costs.

NOAA has had an operational forecast in the eastern Gulf of Mexico for harmful algal blooms off the Florida coast since 2004. With the expansion of this operational system to include Texas, analysts can now review conditions daily with coastal managers from all of the Gulf of Mexico states.

The NOAA Harmful Algal Bloom Operational Forecast System is operated by NOAA's CO-OPS — that's the Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services — the nation's authoritative source for accurate, reliable and timely water-level and ocean current measurements. The system is also produced in close partnership with NOAA's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science. Operational forecasts are also available for most of Florida and are in various stages of development in other parts of the nation. We'll have a link to the weekly bulletins in our show notes.

(Scarlet Knight Goes to Washington)
The Scarlet Knight, the first underwater robotic vehicle to cross an ocean, is the centerpiece of a new exhibit now in the Sant Ocean Hall at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

The vehicle, called an ocean glider, is the product of a public, private, and academic partnership led by NOAA's Integrated Ocean Observing System, or IOOS®. It was operated by Rutgers University. The Scarlet Knight carried out the trans-Atlantic journey in 2009, just months before the technology was used to help in the Deepwater Horizon BP response effort.

Rutgers scientists and students launched the trans-Atlantic glider, dubbed "the Scarlet Knight" in honor of the school's mascot, off the New Jersey coast in the spring. They and their Spanish colleagues from the Spanish Port Authority recovered the glider off the Spanish coast after seven months at sea and brought it ashore in the small town of Baiona where Christopher Columbus' ship, the Pinta, landed with news of the New World more than 500 years ago. The glider reached Spain on Dec. 9, 2009 — one year to the day of the exhibit being launched within the Smithsonian's Sant Ocean Hall.

Some big benefits of gliders are that they use very little energy, are relatively cheap, and don't risk human lives. They can also travel to a lot of places it is difficult for people to get to and many can be out there at once.  This makes gliders great tools to gather information about the ocean. Gliders can also travel long, long distances underwater. How long? That was one of the things the Scarlet Knight project put to the test with the trans-Atlantic mission. In an interview with Making Waves last year, IOOS director Zdenka Willis said that, in the beginning, no one knew if the little device would make it all the way across the pond.

[Zdenka Willis] "This was an extremely challenging mission. If you would asked all of us when she started out whether we thought she could make it across we all hoped that she could but the percentages were pretty low. We had shipping to be careful of, we had a number of hurricanes that crossed the Atlantic that she had to be able to maneuver through and under, if you will. There's the biology. There are sharks, there are squid, there is the currents that we need to get her across the ocean, so it was a very, very challenging mission, and we are just pleased that we were able to accomplish this."

Zdenka said that gliders are increasingly important tools for ocean observing. While satellites are critical to give us information about wide swaths of the ocean, they can only see what's happening on the surface. Buoys in the ocean give us both surface measurements and specific real-time temperature, salinity, and waves at one location. Gliders compliment these tools by allowing us to see in three dimensions underneath the waves.

[Zdenka Willis] "So we can basically fly the gliders north to south, east to west in a three dimensional pattern, so when we take that water column with the individual buoy and marry it up with the satellite data, that allows us to assimilate all of this data into models and actually do forecasts, because it's good to know what the actual conditions are now, but it's even more critical to know for many applications, what the forecast is in six hours, 12 hours, 24 hours, and 48. Then all of this data is collected and recorded and eventually gets into a climate data record for long-term series so we can see how it changes over time."

The utility of the underwater robotic vehicles to collect ocean data was put to the test soon after the trans-Atlantic journey was completed. As part of the Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill response effort, IOOS partners deployed a fleet of gliders equipped with sensors to help indicate the presence of oil. Although scientists must still confirm the oil through water sampling, the gliders narrowed the search zone for subsurface oil.

Once again, the glider is now on display at the Sant Ocean Hall in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. So if you're in the DC area, be sure to stop for a visit. We'll have links to more information about the Scarlet Knight in our show notes.


That's the news for this episode. Come and visit us online. We're at

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Now let's bring in the ocean...

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