It’s probably not that surprising that the office leading scientific coordination on more than 100 oil and chemical spills every year would be flooding an event called the “International Oil Spill Conference” (IOSC). However, we did find one thing about this conference that was both unexpected and impressive: the diversity of organizations and individuals who attended. For example, tucked among booths sporting fire boom and remote-controlled submersibles, we spotted an exhibit advertising language translation services. When you think about the magnitude and scope of last year’s Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill—where Vietnamese fishers in the Gulf of Mexico were affected—it makes perfect sense.
Spills are complex situations that require complex and innovative solutions. It’s clear that oil spills are “no win” situations, but taking a look through the exhibit hall at the IOSC conference, which wrapped up yesterday, you can’t help but be inspired by the wide range of people who work every day to develop the technology, strategies, and approaches needed to prepare for, respond to, and recover from devastating oil spills.
Naturally, as one of the co-sponsors of the event, NOAA used our booth in the exhibit hall to reach out to nearly 1,000 passers-by to showcase our scientific expertise, along with the products and services that we use to combat spills. One of the major tools we highlighted was the Environmental Response Management Application (ERMA®), a tool that we publicly launched during the Gulf spill and is accessible via GeoPlatform.gov. Imagine it as the “Google Earth” of oil spills, sharing a similar look but layered with data critical to responders and public alike for identifying areas impacted by the spill, natural resources at risk (such as nearby wildlife), and scientific data collected by NOAA and partner scientists from land, sea and sky.
In addition to the flyers and brochures (and free loot!) that you’d expect at any conference exhibit hall, some organizations brought along high-tech equipment used for real-life spill situations, as well as some futuristic or experimental technologies that could be tested in future spills.
For example, one land vehicle, driven to the conference by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), was fully equipped with sampling equipment, hazmat suits, and other devices that EPA responders use when responding to chemical spills on shore or on land.
Another vehicle, a kind that could be tethered to a ship, would operate like an “underwater helicopter,” a two-seated device with a dome that could be deployed at various depths to observe oil and the marine environment.
If you weren’t able to attend the conference in Portland this week, you can learn more about it by visiting www.iosc.org. You can also get the story on oil spills in general at response.restoration.noaa.gov, where you can also take a look at some of the recent notable spills we have responded to in the past few years.