NOAA's Response and Restoration Blog

An inside look at the science of cleaning up and fixing the mess of marine pollution


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Staff Participate in NOAA Science Camp in Seattle

Girl in classroom pouring liquid into fish tank. Image credit: NOAA.

A camper pours a bit of sesame oil into a fish tank to simulate a marine oil spill. NOAA Science Camp participants learned the basics of how spilled oil behaves, effects the environment, and how we forecast where it might go. Image credit: NOAA

The U.S. Coast Guard announces a ship collision in Puget Sound off Shilshole Bay. What happens now?

Trying to answer that question started the journey of participants in this year’s NOAA Science Camp. Washington Sea Grant organizes the popular camp and each year participants discover how NOAA oceanographers, biologists, chemists, physical scientists and others from the Office of Response and Restoration respond to hazardous spills.

More than 90 campers participated in 10 two-hour sessions during the two weeks of science camp, held July 10-21 at NOAA’s Western Regional Center in Seattle. Guided by staff from both the Emergency Response Division and the Assessment and Restoration Division campers explored answering the five questions our response staff ask during spill incidents:

  • Where will the oil go?
  • How will it behave in, on the water, and on different types of shorelines?
  • What biological and human resources may be at risk during a spill?
  • How might the oil adversely affect these resources?
  • What can be done to help?

Camp participants learned what scientific data is gathered to answer those questions. They also were introduced to response tools like our GNOME modeling software, and Environmental Sensitivity Index maps.

Our staff also helped campers learn about pollutants from cars, homes, agriculture, and other types of land uses and the effects on the Puget Sound.

In other lessons, campers simulated the flow of water and pollutants in the environment, using tabletop watershed models and building groundwater models. They then brainstormed methods to clean up, contain, and prevent watershed pollution.

In another session, campers rolled up their sleeves, donned lab googles and gloves and become aquatic toxicologists for a day, testing samples for toxic chemicals and water quality parameters and learned how to interpret their data.

Later in the week, campers had to solve a science mystery. They visited several NOAA offices to gather more information about various aspect of the scenario and then applied what they learned to test their hypotheses.

Campers presented their findings and conclusions on the last day of camp each week and were evaluated by a scientist representative from each office.

Staff science camp instructors included Marla Steinhoff, Mark Dix, Dalina Thrift-Viveros, Dylan Righi, Chris Barker, Matthew Bissell, Gary Shigenaka, Nicolle Rutherford, Amy MacFadyen, and Rebecca Hoff.

Marla Steinhoff and Amy MacFadyen contributed to this article.


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Chinese Delegation Visits NOAA Office of Response and Restoration

People standing together with lake in background. Image credit: NOAA.

The Office of Response and Restoration hosted a delegate from China’s National Marine Hazard Mitigation Service in Seattle. From L: Yufei Lin, Jun Tan, Yijun Zhang, NOAA staff John Tarpley, Scott Lundgren, Glen Watabayshi, and Aijun Zhang. Image credit: NOAA

As part of our ongoing commitment to share our expertise in spill response with other nations, the Emergency Response Division recently hosted a delegation from China’s National Marine Hazard Mitigation Service.

The Chinese agency requested the meeting to learn about our strategies and tools for responding to environmental hazards and to exchange information about China’s marine emergency response programs.

The goal of the two-day meeting in Seattle was to learn about each other’s emergency response programs and to discuss the possibilities of collaborate in the future, according to Glen Watabayshi, chief of the Emergency Response Division’s Technical and Scientific Services Branch.

During the meeting, Watabayshi presented our oil spill response and planning tools including the GNOME modeling software and TAP trajectory planning software. Jill Petersen explained Environmental Sensitivity Index mapping and methodology. Mark Miller presented the CAMEO software suite and CAFE tool. Other emergency division staff participants included Scott Lundgren, Mark Dix, John Tarpley, Kristen Faiferlick, and Brianne Connolly.

The visiting contingent included executive director Yijun Zhang, senior research scientist Yufei Lin and senior research scientist Jun Tan.

“We spent a valuable two days with the staff from China’s National Marine Hazard Mitigation Service,” said Scott Lundgren, chief of the Emergency Response Division. “Staying in touch with other national counterparts on how they conduct and advance response and restoration is valuable. As large spills have declined in frequency with a strong prevention focus in oil production and transportation, it is even more important to stay current with practices and advances around the world.”

The Assessment and Restoration Division also participated in the meeting with Mary Baker presenting information on our environmental damage assessment techniques and tools and Ben Shorr explaining our online response management mapping tool, ERMA®. Jason Lehto from NOAA’s Restoration Center also presented. In addition, Aijun Zhang from NOAA’s Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services attended the meeting to help facilitate and act as an interpreter.

 

Glen Watabayshi, chief of the Emergency Response Division’s Technical and Scientific Services Branch, contributed to this article.


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How to Clear Out a Lab: Use it or Pass it on

Brown and clear glass bottles. Image credit: NOAA.

Beakers and jars are among the smaller supplies being cleared from the lab. Image credit: NOAA.

What do you do with excess beakers, boxes of test tubes, wind gauges, oceanographic buoys, and other science equipment that has been phased out of routine operations? In the spirit of reuse of viable material and the reduction of needless waste, you give it to other scientific organizations.

That’s what we are doing. In the past, we needed the lab and its equipment to conduct tests related to spill response and other environmental hazards. As new programs within NOAA and other organizations emerged, the need to collect our own environmental data and conduct lab work was distributed among those offices.

That left us with a lab we no longer needed, full of equipment no longer in use. The room quickly became more storage room than science lab, filled with items that were in excellent shape. Rather than let the equipment languish and continue gathering dust, we decided it was time to share. If you’re a government agency it gets tricky when you have equipment no longer in use but still useable. It can’t just be given away. There are rules that have to be followed before you can give away equipment to an organization outside your own.

“My job was to find a home for everything that could still be used,” said Ensign Matthew Bissell, a regional response officer with the Emergency Response Division. “I started calling offices within NOAA and then the University of Washington.”

After his initial calls, Bissell said about half of the equipment was snapped up, particularly the larger pieces like oceanographic buoys, wind gauges, and water current meters.

Man standing in front of chalkboard. Image credit: NOAA.

Ensign Matthew Bissell in the lab. Many of the excess supplies were redistributed to other NOAA offices. Image credit: NOAA.

The lab is behind a locked door inside one of the old aircraft hangars at NOAA’s Western Regional Center in Seattle, remainders from the campus’s former use as a naval air station. Despite the building’s size, work space is always in demand. The Seattle campus houses the largest variety of NOAA programs at a single location in the United States.

One of the challenges of the project was to figure out what some of the equipment was and determine if it was still operational. Then it was time to sort out what we may still need and what was excess.

“Some of the stacked boxes had not been opened in over twenty years,” Bissell said.“I felt like an archaeologist unearthing a new-found site.”

The task quickly turned into an exploration of how new technologies change the way we work. A case in point was the discovery of a 1979 Polaroid camera once used in a process to convert paper navigation charts into digital bathymetric files. These bathymetric files are vital for modeling ocean currents.

“At the time, this camera turned a 12-hour job into 2 hours of work – greatly increasing our response capabilities.This procedure has since been replaced by an even faster technology,” Bissell said.

Just because we no longer use the technology, didn’t mean someone else couldn’t put the working camera to use. Bissell found a home for the camera at the University of Washington’s School of Art and Design. It’s now used by a student focusing on antiquated photography techniques.

Now that many of the larger pieces have found new homes, our focus is on the smaller items like sample jars, flasks, scales, and other miscellaneous laboratory supplies. It’s expected to take about a year to complete the project. We are periodically holding “open houses” for other branches of NOAA to visit the lab and take what might be of use to them.

You can read more about how technology has changed our work in these articles:


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Incident Responses for June 2017

Close up of skimming device on side of a boat with oil and boom.

Skimmers come in various designs but all basically work by removing the oil layer from the surface of the water. Image credit: U.S. Coast Guard

Every month our Emergency Response Division provides scientific expertise and services to the U.S. Coast Guard. Our services include everything from running oil spill trajectories to possible effects on wildlife and fisheries, and estimates on how long the oil may stay in the environment.

Several calls in June required our help to determine areas that might be effected by possible chemical releases. In those incidents, we used our CAMEO Chemicals modeling software to identify areas at risk.

Our Incident News website has information on oil spills and other incidents where we provided scientific support.

Here are some of this month’s responses: