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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A Summer like NOAAther: A NOAA Intern’s Experience

Man standing in front of wave fountain. Image: NOAA.

Danny Hoffman, constituent and legislative affairs intern, standing in front of the wave pool at NOAA headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland. The pool, Coastline, is the work of artist Jim Sanborn and represents the Atlantic coastline. A NOAA monitoring station at Woods Hole, Massachusetts transfers instantaneous wave heights via modem to Silver Spring and then transferred to the wave pool. Image credit: NOAA.

By Danny Hoffman, Office of Response and Restoration intern

When I told my friends and family that I would be interning at NOAA this summer, the first reply I often got was “NOAA? Aren’t they the ones that do the weather report?”

I have to profess that as a government and history double major, my knowledge of NOAA did not extend much beyond that before starting my internship. When asked what I would be doing, I mostly rattled off phrases from the internship description posted, not knowing many more specifics.

However, after a very rewarding 10 weeks as a constituent and legislative affairs intern at NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration, not only do I know much more about NOAA than I could have previously imagined, I have also gained valuable experience working in a government agency.

As my time at NOAA ends, I’ll share some of my experiences, as well as my impressions of interning with the federal government.

What does Response and Restoration mean?

First, “Response and Restoration” is a bit of a misnomer. Rather than physically clean up oil and chemical spills, one of the office’s roles is to provide scientific support to the Federal On-Scene Coordinators during spills. The Emergency Response Division does this by calculating the trajectory of spilled materials in bodies of water and providing information on weather and resources at risk for the affected areas, among other support.

The Assessment and Restoration Division assesses damages to natural resources in the aftermath of a spill, and finally, the Marine Debris Division helps to monitor and cleanup the thousands of tons of marine debris in our waterways and oceans. Even after 10 weeks, I am still learning new aspects of this office every day.

Learning to Love Science

As someone coming from a social science academic background with limited scientific expertise, I initially felt intimidated interning for a government agency principally focused on science.

On top of that, this was my first internship. However, those worries were largely laid to rest on the first day, when to my surprise, rather than finding scientists in lab coats huddling around beakers—as I like to imagine my friends majoring in science do all day—I instead found an office with resource coordinators, communication specialists, NOAA commissioned officers, and scientists, none of whom were in lab coats.

Some of the things I learned my first day here were:

I quickly had to adapt to navigating the jungle of acronyms. Thankfully, I finally found an acronym that spoke to my feelings of sinking in the sea of letters and abbreviations: SOS. Which, incidentally, stands for both Science of Oil Spills, a class that helps train and educate spill responders, and Science on a Sphere, a room-sized globe that allows the over 400 data sets to be projected onto it.

Behind the Scenes

While providing scientific expertise during spills is one of the main missions of this office, their work extends far beyond that. During my internship, I worked under policy analyst Robin Garcia. She is responsible for communications between the office and Congress. This ranges from organizing tours of spill restoration sites in congressional districts, to requests for technical information about the office’s work to Congress. Though this job may be more behind-the-scenes, it provides vital support for the office’s mission.

 More than Just Brewing Coffee

When picturing an intern, you may think of someone delegated to the mailroom, licking envelopes and refilling the water cooler.

I actually did help refill the water cooler, but only because of my cubicle’s close location to it. Otherwise, I did little grunt work. When I wasn’t out attending Capitol Hill briefings, or outreach events, my main duties included tracking key legislation that would affect the office’s mission, and creating a tracker for the Strategic Plan that will continue be used through 2021.

My activities were varied; I attended an outreach event at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, helped review a training manual on environmental compliance, and went to a briefing on the Hill, all within the first week!

From white papers to windows

I was also fully integrated into the office, from sitting and participating in conference calls with the outreach team, to interviewing NOAA scientists in Hawaii. That interview was for one of my main projects this summer, researching and writing a white paper reviewing the office’s outreach efforts on oil-by-rail spills.

As someone used to writing historical and political science research papers, one of my biggest challenges was adapting to the more technical and explanatory, or scientific, writing style of a governmental white paper.

Also, while this may seem strange to some, getting my own cubicle proved more exciting than I was expecting. As part of that, I also learned to deal with a struggle affecting thousands of government employees: not having a view of a window by their cubicle (though thankfully I was no more than a five-second walk away from one).

Man sitting at desk in front of computer screen. Image: NOAA.

Intern Danny Hoffman sitting at his desk in his windowless cubicle. Image credit: NOAA.

Some other highlights of time include attending Capitol Hill Oceans Week, the nation’s premier ocean conference where I attended panels and met with leading ocean science and policy experts, and a communications training day, which included workshops on how to constructively talk to reporters during interviews, public speaking tips, and not one, but two mock interviews.

A true dive into the world of policy

As I leave NOAA to enter my senior year at the University of Maryland, I am thankful for the sweeping introduction this internship has given me to the world of policy, and for all of my NOAA coworkers who supported me during my internship.

From preparing white papers to speaking daily with leading professionals who make policy, much of what I have learned and experienced simply could not have been taught in a lecture hall.

I am excited for a possible future career with the federal government, and encourage anyone with an interest in policy, marine science, or public relations to apply for an internship with the Office of Response and Restoration in the future!

 

Danny Hoffman is a rising senior at the University of Maryland, College Park, and is currently double majoring in Government and History, with a minor in Spanish. Outside of interning for NOAA, Danny enjoys traveling (though not on Metro), reading about U.S. History, and playing his viola.


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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 May 2017

Gray whale rising from the ocean. Image credit: NOAA.

Gray whales are found mainly in shallow coastal waters in the North Pacific Ocean. Image credit: NOAA

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

In May, there were two incidents of dead gray whales in Washington state, one floating offshore near Long Beach, and another washed ashore in Bellingham Bay. In both cases, we were asked for trajectories.

In the case of a whale found floating at sea, we use our GNOME trajectory modeling software to map the possible drift route of the carcass. When a whale washes ashore, one of the things that officials need to know is how far they have to tow the carcass back out to sea to ensure it will not wash back to shore.

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:

 


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NOAA Open House 2017

Aerial ob buildings along lake shore.

NOAA’s Western Regional Center is in Seattle on Lake Washington, adjacent to Seattle’s Warren G. Magnuson Park. Image credit: NOAA

Explore your world and learn more about how NOAA works to understand and predict changes in Earth’s environment to help protect people and property and to conserve and manage coastal and marine resources. Join us at the Western Regional Center in Seattle, Washington for a series of free activities, including engaging science presentations and panels, interactive exhibits and tours. This event is perfect for the whole family.  (Adults – please remember to bring our photo IDs to gain access to the campus).

NOAA Open House is a FREE event, open to the public, with no reservations required.

Date: Friday, June 9, 2017

Time: 12 pm – 6:30 pm

Location: NOAA Western Regional Center
7600 Sand Point Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115

You will have the opportunity to learn more about a variety of NOAA programs, including the National Weather ServicePacific Marine Environmental LaboratoryNOAA Fisheries ServiceNational Ocean ServiceNOAA Corps, and more!

Tours:

Tours will be filled on a first come, first serve basis. Check back soon for tour times. Sign-ups will be available at the registration table. Guided tours include:

WEATHER – Take a tour of NOAA’s National Weather Service Seattle office forecast center and learn how meteorologists work 24/7 to forecast the Seattle area weather from the waters of Puget Sound to the Cascade Mountains and everything in between. Tour is 30 minutes in length.

OCEAN ENGINEERING – Step into NOAA’s engineering workspace where engineers are hard at work building and testing new technology to collect data from our oceans.  See the evolution of tsunami sensing moorings and new innovative technologies used to study the ocean. Tour is 30 minutes in length.

DIVING – Take a tour of NOAA’s Diving Center and take a (simulated) dive into the 30 foot deep training tower and hyperbaric recompression chamber. Get hands out experience with SCUBA diving equipment and learn how NOAA divers conduct research underwater. Tour is 45 minutes in length.

MARINE MAMMALS – This tour includes rare access to the NOAA marine mammal research bone collection that includes orca skulls and a narwhal tusk! Tour is 30 minutes in length.

SUSTAINABLE FISHERIES – Take a tour of NOAA Fisheries Net Loft where you will see how NOAA manages fisheries that produce sustainable seafood. Tour is 30 minutes in length.

Please visit the Facebook event invitation for more information.

Questions? Contact the NOAA Open House coordinators


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Podcast: Restoration of Industrial Waste Sites (Episode 5)

The Raritan River as it runs through a wooded area.

The American Cyanamid Superfund Site affected the Raritan River in northern New Jersey. Image credit: U.S. Geological Survey

An unfortunate by product of some industrial activities is the release of hazardous chemicals and heavy metals into the environment. NOAA Ocean Podcast talked with Reyhan Meharn, NOAA Regional Resource Coordinator with the Assessment and Restoration Division, about moving towards restoration at hazardous industrial waste sites.

Listen to the podcast:

http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/podcast/may17/nop05-restoration.html

Read the National Ocean Service podcast transcript (May 2017, 13;49)

 


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8 Ways to Keep the Earth Clean

Litter on beach.

Litter such as plastic detergent bottles, crates, buoys, combs, and water bottles blanket Kanapou Bay, on the Island of Kaho’olawe in Hawaii. This region is a hot-spot for marine debris accumulation. Image credit: NOAA

By: Amanda Laverty, Knauss fellow with NOAA’s Marine Debris Program

Earth Day is just around the corner and it’s the perfect time to get involved and support efforts working toward a clean environment and healthy planet. We want to remind ourselves to make these efforts throughout the year, so Earth Day is a great time to start.

This year, let’s challenge ourselves as consumers to make better daily choices so that we can collectively lessen our impact on the planet! It only takes a few consistent choices to develop new sustainable and earth-friendly habits.

Here are a few easy and effective ways you can choose to reduce your daily impact and make a world of difference:

  1. Bring a bag. Remember to bring reusable bags to the grocery store or for any other shopping activities to reduce consumption of disposable bags.
  2. Invest in a reusable water bottle. Acquiring a reusable water bottle would not only greatly reduce the amount of single-use plastic you use, but it would also save you money in the long run! If you’re concerned about the quality of your tap water, consider using a water filter.
  3. Bring your own reusable cup. Think about how many disposable cups are used every day in just your local coffee shop. Bringing a mug for your morning coffee can reduce the amount of waste you produce annually. Imagine how much waste we could reduce if we all made this simple daily change!
  4. Refuse single-use items. Take note on how often you rely on single-use items and choose to replace them with more sustainable versions. Refusing plastic straws and disposable cutlery when you go out and bringing your own containers for leftovers are a few ways you can start today.
  5. Avoid products with microbeads. Facial scrubs and beauty products containing plastic microbeads were banned in the United States in 2015, but won’t be fully phased out until 2019. Read the labels when purchasing products and opt for ones that contain natural scrubbing ingredients like salt or sugar.
  6. Shop in bulk. Consider the product-to-packaging ratio when purchasing items and choose larger containers instead of multiple smaller ones. When you have the option, also consider purchasing package-free foods and household goods.
  7. Make sure your waste goes to the right place. Do your best to ensure that the waste you dispose of ends up where it should. Recycle the materials that are recyclable in your area and make sure to reduce the likelihood of your garbage ending up in the environment by keeping a lid on your trash can when it’s outside.
  8. Compost. Composting at home reduces the volume of garbage sent to landfills and reduces the chance of some products becoming marine debris.

These are just a few ways that we can apply our Earth Day intentions to our everyday lives. By doing our part to work toward a sustainable and debris-free planet, we’ll also be providing others with inspiration and a good example to follow. As individuals we have the potential to make a big difference and together we can change the world.

This blog first appeared on the Marine Debris blog. Learn more about NOAA’s Marine Debris Program and its mission to investigate and prevent the adverse impacts of marine debris.


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NOAA Scientist Supports Alaska Pipeline Leak Response

Beluga whale dorsal in ocean.

An endangered Cook Inlet beluga whale dorsal. National Marine Fisheries has more information on the whales. (Credit NOAA)

NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration is assisting the U.S. Coast Guard in responding to a leaking natural gas pipeline in Cook Inlet, Alaska.

The leak was first reported to federal regulatory agencies on Feb. 7, by Hilcorp Alaska, LLC, which owns the pipeline located about 3.5 miles northeast of Nikiski, Alaska.

The 8-inch pipeline runs 4.6 miles from the shoreline to Hilcorp’s Platform A and then branches off to three other platforms in the inlet. The natural gas is used for fuel to support ongoing operations, as well as heating, and other life support functions.

The pipeline continues to leak between 200,000 and 300,000 cubic feet of processed natural gas a day into the inlet. This processed natural gas is 99% methane. The company said the presence of ice is preventing divers from conducting repairs, and the sea ice is not expected to melt until April.

Once notified of the leak, the U.S. Coast Guard contacted the scientific support coordinator in Alaska, Catherine Berg. She was asked for information on the expected area presenting flammability concerns in support of cautionary notices being broadcast to mariners. As scientific support coordinator, Berg routinely provides scientific and technical support during response for oil spills and hazardous materials releases in the coastal zone, helping to assess the risks to people and the environment.

Because of the nature of the release, in this case, Berg is providing technical support to the Coast Guard and the state as requested, drawing upon similar networks and expertise.

You can read more about NOAA’s work in response and restoration in Alaska in the following articles:

An Oiled River Restored: Salmon Return to Alaskan Stream to Spawn

At the Trans Alaska Pipeline’s Start, Where 200 Million Barrels of Oil Begin their Journey Each Year

Alaska ShoreZone: Mapping over 46,000 Miles of Coastal Habitat

See What Restoration Looks Like for an Oiled Stream on an Isolated Alaskan Island

Melting Permafrost and Camping with Muskoxen: Planning for Oil Spills on Arctic Coasts

National Marine Fisheries has more information on the endangered Cook Inlet beluga whales.