ONW: Week of March 30, 2015 – Number 268 Follow us on Twitter Like us on Facebook Email the Editor
Ocean News Weekly

Ocean Community News

Retired U.S. Navy Vice Admiral Paul Gaffney Appointed Ocean Leadership At-Large Trustee

The Consortium for Ocean Leadership is pleased to welcome retired U.S. Navy Vice Admiral Paul Gaffney as an At-Large Trustee to the Ocean Leadership Board of Trustees. His term will cover the period from March 20, 2015 to the Annual Meeting of Members in March 2018.   He has been a prominent community leader who has made countless contributions through his leadership of Monmouth University, his chairmanship of the Ocean Exploration Advisory Board and service on other important boards and panels, as well as his many years of military service, including his term as the Chief of Naval Research. For more information on Admiral Gaffney, click here.

U.S. West’s Marine Life Is Literally in Hot Water

This year’s slew of hungry pups washing ashore in California, which has generated a slew of media coverage replete with heart-tugging images, has roots in natural temperature fluctuations in the ocean. But in the coming decades, human-induced warming could make these types of conditions more common. And sea lion pups are just the tip of a larger shift in the Pacific and the rest of the world’s oceans if human emissions continue to warm the planet. In recent weeks, emaciated young sea lions have been washing up on California beaches (though a few healthy ones have also shown up, including one who got to hang ten with a local surfer). Roughly 1,800 stranded pups have been found on California beaches through the first two-and-a-half months of 2015. That’s well above the 100 or so that usually turn up through the end of March and “at least as high as anything in the historical record,” according to Nate Mantua, a scientist at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, Calif. In 2013 and 2014, large numbers of disheveled sea lion pups were also stranded on California’s beaches, though not at the same levels as this year. One of the main causes has been the unusual and in some cases, record setting—warm water off the West Coast of the U.S. and stretching all the way to the Gulf of Alaska.

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Antarctica is rapidly losing its edge

Antarctica’s icy fringe is dissolving in warming ocean waters—and the loss of ice has ramped up dramatically in the last decade, according to a new study. By piecing together an 18-year record of ice shelf thinning from three different sets of satellite data, the researchers found that some ice shelves in West Antarctica have lost as much as 18% of their volume in the last decade. But the story in East Antarctica is still murky, they report; although the volume of its ice shelves has fluctuated significantly, they found no clear trend of volume loss during that time period. The Antarctic ice sheet, the thick layer of ice covering much of the continent, is anchored in place by its floating fringe, shelves of ice that jut out into the surrounding ocean. The shelves act as a buttress to the “grounded” ice, helping slow the flow of the ice sheet’s glaciers into the ocean. But warming ocean waters have been eating away at the underside of these ice shelves, thinning them in many places and reducing their ability to buttress the ice. This effect is particularly apparent in parts of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS), long regarded as the more vulnerable part of the continent to climate change. Two regions of the WAIS, the Amundsen and Bellingshausen seas, have experienced especially dramatic losses of ice over the last couple of decades.

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As Sea Stars Die, New Worries About Urchins

Along California’s central coast, an unusual underwater scene is unfolding. Where sea urchins previously hid in cracks and crevices, they now carpet the seafloor. Yet a couple hundred miles away, in southern California, urchins are losing their spines and dying. This emergence of urchins, as well as the mass mortalities to the south, are newly discovered phenomena that appear to be connected to a die-off of sea stars that scientists have called the largest marine disease outbreak ever recorded. Effects of the sea star die-off seem to be reverberating along the California coast, altering the prey and predator relationships of urchins, sea otters, kelp, and even human anglers. The ecological spin-off begins with the lowly sea urchin, a pincushion-like creature that appears to be responding to sea star deaths in very different ways, depending on where it lives. In scattered southern seashore pockets from Santa Barbara to Baja California, urchins’ spines are falling out, leaving a circular patch that loses more spines and enlarges with time, marine scientists say. No one is sure what is causing it, although the symptoms are hallmarks of a disease.

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Climate-related disruptions of marine ecosystems: Decades to destroy, millennia to recover

A 30-foot-long core sample of Pacific Ocean seafloor is changing what we know about ocean resiliency in the face of rapidly changing climate. A new study reports that marine ecosystems can take thousands, rather than hundreds, of years to recover from climate-related upheavals. The study’s authors–including Peter Roopnarine, PhD, of the California Academy of Sciences–analyzed thousands of invertebrate fossils to show that ecosystem recovery from climate change and seawater deoxygenation might take place on a millennial scale. The revolutionary study is the first of its kind, and is published today in the Early Edition of the journal PNAS. The scientific collaborative–led by Sarah Moffitt, PhD, from the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory and Coastal and Marine Sciences Institute–analyzed more than 5,400 invertebrate fossils, from sea urchins to clams, within a sediment core from offshore Santa Barbara, California.

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Forecasting future flooding

The Pacific Northwest is dotted by small, low-lying, coastal cities where populations tend to cluster. These communities can be isolated and are susceptible to devastation from major storms that bring substantial wind, waves and storm surge. With climate change, it is anticipated that storms will only become more frequent and intense, signifying a need to understand how the areas will be affected. David Hill, a researcher at Oregon State University, is focused on the hydrology and hydrodynamics in coastal areas, which represent the boundary between terrestrial and marine environments. His research on future levels of flooding in Tillamook Bay was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research in January 2015. “This particular project is a blending of our interests in estuarine and coastal hydrodynamics and our interests in climate change,” Hill said. “We’re interested in getting a good quantitative understanding of the extreme water levels we can expect from coastal flooding.” Unlike the South or East coast of the United States, coastal flooding in the Pacific Northwest comes primarily from large waves generated by major storms instead of hurricanes.

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NSF Engineering boosts 146 early-career researchers with awards totaling $73M

Over the next five years, 146 early-career engineering faculty will have the freedom to explore important fundamental research questions about engineering, due to support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Directorate for Engineering. The creative work of these scholar-teachers will open new frontiers of knowledge in a wide range of engineering fields and address pressing questions of great societal importance in manufacturing, health, energy, environment, infrastructure and education. This amazing range of inquiry is enabled by funding from NSF’s Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) program. Begun in 1995, the CAREER program provides promising junior faculty the opportunity to pursue outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations. Each CAREER award from the NSF Directorate for Engineering provides a minimum of $500,000 over five years, a 25-percent increase over the previous award limit. This year’s awards total approximately $73 million. “NSF Engineering’s investment in CAREER awards demonstrates our unwavering and enthusiastic commitment to supporting the next generation of engineering faculty across the country,” said Pramod Khargonekar, NSF assistant director for engineering.

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NSF awards 2015 Graduate Research Fellowships

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has announced this year’s recipients of Graduate Research Fellowships (GRF). NSF awarded the GRF to 2,000 individuals from among 16,500 applicants in 2015. Awardees represent a diverse group of scientific disciplines and come from all states, as well as the District of Columbia, and commonwealths and territories of the United States. They are also a diverse group of individuals. Among the 2,000 awardees, 1,053 are women, 494 are from underrepresented minority groups, 43 are persons with disabilities, and 31 are veterans. The 2015 class of Graduate Fellows comes from 456 baccalaureate institutions, 72 more than in 2010, when GRFP began awarding 2,000 fellowships each year. Since 1952, NSF has provided fellowships to individuals selected early in their graduate careers based on their demonstrated potential for significant achievements in science and engineering. The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) is a critical program in NSF’s overall strategy to develop the globally-engaged workforce necessary to ensure the nation’s leadership in advancing science and engineering research and innovation.

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President Obama announces exceptional science, mathematics and engineering mentors

President Obama named 14 individuals and one organization as recipients of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM). PAESMEM recognizes outstanding efforts of mentors in encouraging the next generation of innovators and developing a science and engineering workforce that reflects the diverse talent of America. The mentors will receive their awards at a White House ceremony later this year. Mentors play a vital role for many science and engineering students and early career scientists, on both a personal and professional level. This is especially true for students from underrepresented groups–including minorities, women and people with disabilities. Without mentors, these students might lack the support and example they need to pursue successful careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The mentors announced today represent awardees from 2012 and 2013. They have influenced thousands of students from K-12 to Ph. D. candidates. Mentees have gone on to careers as doctors, engineers, teachers and researchers. The National Science Foundation administers PAESMEM on behalf of the White House. Since the awards were first made nearly two decades ago, more than 240 individuals and organizations have received the citation. It is America’s highest mentoring award.

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Senate passes budget as negotiations with House loom ahead

Senate Republicans corralled enough votes from fiscal conservatives and defense hawks to pass their budget on Friday, scoring a win for the new GOP majority and setting the stage for high-stakes negotiations with the House over a final budget deal. After a marathon voting session that stretched into the morning hours on Friday, the Senate passed its spending blueprint, 52-46. Throughout the “vote-a-rama,” much of the focus centered on the handful of Republicans mulling presidential bids in 2016: Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina backed the budget, while Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky opposed it. “The Democrat-led Senate for years refused not only to pass a balanced budget, but any budget at all,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said following the vote. “Those days are over, and the proof is passage of a balanced plan with ideas that Congress’ nonpartisan analysts tell us would boost jobs, raise income and drive economic growth.”

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U.S. to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 28 PERCENT as part of new treaty

The United States pledged Tuesday to cut its greenhouse gas emissions up to 28 percent as part of a global treaty aimed at preventing the worst effects of climate change, the White House said. The Obama administration’s contribution to the treaty, which world leaders expect to finalize in December, codifies a commitment President Barack Obama first made late last year in Beijing, when he announced a joint U.S.-China climate deal that raised global hopes that developed and developing nations can come together to fight climate change. The U.S. proposal has drawn intense interest around the world. Most nations will miss Tuesday’s informal deadline to convey their contributions to the UN — only the EU, Switzerland and Mexico unveiled their pledges before the U.S. By announcing its commitment early, the U.S. hopes to dial up the political pressure on other countries to take equally ambitious steps to cut emissions. White House senior adviser Brian Deese said Tuesday that, along with the U.S. pledge, countries that account for more than half of total carbon pollution from the energy sector have submitted or announced what they will do to combat climate change beginning after 2020.

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White House Climate Goals Leave Four Questions Unanswered

The United States and Russia yesterday joined Norway, Mexico, Switzerland and the European Union in becoming the first governments to set new targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions and explain to the world how they plan to meet those goals. The Obama administration’s promise to cut economy wide emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 held almost no surprises. The target and the route to getting there—a combination of Obama using his executive authority under the Clean Air Act with a raft of regulations on everything from heavy-duty trucks to buildings—were charted months earlier. But the formal submission to the United Nations of that plan now sets off what many leaders hope will be a race among developed and developing nations alike to step up to the plate. Collectively, the targets will form the core of a new global accord that will be signed in Paris in December.

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Lawmaker presses the Navy to buy an icebreaker

The Navy needs an icebreaker. So says one lawmaker, who noted at a recent hearing that with the Coast Guard down to one heavy icebreaker and lacking funds to build another, it ought to fall to the Navy to buy one. “You need an icebreaker to be able to get up there and break ice to be able to operate there,” Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., told Rear Adm. Kevin Donegan, the acting deputy chief of naval operations for operations, plans and strategy at a March 19 hearing. Donegan began to answer a question about the Arctic when he uttered the words, “climate change,” and Hunter cut him off. “So I don’t care about the climate change stuff at all, frankly. I’m curious about the actual icebreaker and acquiring a ship that can break ice to get the Navy and the Marine Corps and whoever else up there, or having to save somebody if you had to.” The admiral agreed the Arctic is important, but turned to his Coast Guard counterpart, whose service has responsibility for the region. Donegan noted that the Navy has its own shipbuilding priorities, including the tens of billions needed for supercarriers, the next-generation ballistic missile subs, littoral combat ships and amphibs.

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Looking for edge, Maine plunges into Arctic policy

Maine is positioning itself as a player in Arctic politics, which could increase opportunities for Maine’s climate researchers and for businesses in the advanced materials, construction, marine transportation, renewable power and logistics sectors. Maine’s interest in the Arctic may seem puzzling, considering its location some 1,500 miles south of the Arctic Circle. But the state’s geographic position at the northeast corner of the nation means ships passing through the Arctic reach Maine ports first, said Louie Porta, director of policy for The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Oceans North Canada campaign. As Arctic sea ice continues to melt because of climate change, shipping lanes across the top of the world will become more viable, including potentially the Northwest Passage, a sea route along the northern coast of North America, said Porta, who grew up in Portland and now lives in Ottawa, Canada’s capital. “From the U.S. perspective – as funny as it sounds – Portland is the port of entry to the Northwest Passage and Alaska is the place of exit,” he said. Maine’s Arctic push comes as the U.S. prepares in April to assume the chairmanship of the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum for Arctic states and indigenous people.

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Committee forms to tackle Arctic waterways safety

With increased vessel traffic in the Arctic and the region attracting new attention from the tourist and industrial sectors, a new committee has formed to develop the best practices for managing Arctic waterways. The Arctic Waterways Safety Committee held its first formal meeting this month in Juneau, electing its officers and meeting with the governor and Alaska’s state committee on the Arctic. “It is critical that we educate our state government on the importance of this effort to establish management principles for Alaska’s Arctic waterways,” said committee chairman Willie Goodwin. “Research, tourism and international commercial traffic increasingly are making use of the state’s waters and we need to make sure all waterway users remain safe as this traffic grows.” For committee members from Arctic coastal communities, the committee’s focus on protecting subsistence uses in the region is paramount. “Our Arctic coastal communities rely heavily on the ocean for our food gathering,” said George Noongwook of Savoonga on St. Lawrence Island. “In the Bering Strait region, the increases in large vessel traffic are becoming a very serious concern for our people on the water gathering food.”

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Laurie Schmidt New VP For Shell Alaska

As vice president of Shell’s Alaska venture, Pete Slaiby traveled the state to build support for Arctic drilling and defend the program against its critics. He left Anchorage almost two months ago for a new job at Shell’s corporate headquarters. That change wasn’t reported until last week, in the trade publication Petroleum News. For now, Shell is focused on securing legal permission to return to the Arctic this summer. And Laurie Schmidt is stepping in as the new vice president for Shell in Alaska. Schmidt is an attorney who’s been with Shell for 25 years. She has experience in internal auditing, overseeing contracting for drilling projects, and in community relations – both in Russia and in Nigeria. “So making sure that local people are trained and skilled to work on projects and can apply for and succeed in the jobs that are available anywhere where Shell works,” Schmidt said. Schmidt has already been sent to Barrow and Unalaska to meet with stakeholders since she took over February 1.

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THREE Factors Could Slow Arctic Drilling Despite Shell Go-Ahead

Oil drilling in U.S. Arctic waters may return this summer now that Shell has cleared a key government hurdle. Still, an energy bonanza in the frigid north won’t happen anytime soon. On Tuesday, shortly after the Obama administration pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, its Department of the Interior gave Shell the preliminary go-ahead. Interior approved its environmental review of Shell’s controversial lease for multiyear drilling in the Chukchi Sea, off the coast of Alaska. The energy-rich Arctic is drawing renewed interest because global warming is melting sea ice and making it potentially easier to develop oil and gas. Shell, which drilled in the Arctic more than 20 years ago, is the only company now seeking U.S. permission to return. Other companies are drilling off the coasts of Norway and Russia, although low oil prices and international sanctions have prompted some to cut back. “The Arctic is an important component of the Administration’s national energy strategy, and we remain committed to taking a thoughtful and balanced approach to oil and gas leasing and exploration offshore Alaska,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, adding the region’s “often challenging environment requires effective oversight to ensure all activities are conducted safely and responsibly.”

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New U.S.-Japan collaborations bring Big Data approaches to disaster response

When disaster strikes, it is critical that experts, decision makers and emergency personnel have access to real-time information in order to assess the situation and respond appropriately. It is equally critical that individuals and organizations have the capacity to analyze the wealth of data generated in the midst of the disaster and its immediate aftermath in order to produce accurate, customized warnings, particularly with the increasing ubiquity of smartphones, mobile apps and social media platforms. Rapid advances in information technology are providing new opportunities to improve disaster management. For example, new computer systems and networks–from sensor networks to smartphones and cyber-physical systems–are giving rise to powerful data streams that have the potential to facilitate timely and effective action during disasters. At the same time, dependence upon these systems requires considered resilience and responsiveness during disasters so as to ensure that real-time data analytics continues seamlessly in the face of disasters. To assist in future disasters, the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) have embarked upon a joint funding program to support research that leverages Big Data and data analytics to transform disaster management for individuals and for society at-large.

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Judge says jury can decide Alabama’s Gulf-oil-spill claims

A judge says Alabama’s Gulf oil-spill-damage claims under the federal Oil Pollution Act can be heard by a jury. BP had moved to block a jury trial for the state, saying that neither the Oil Pollution Act nor admiralty law provides the right to a trial by jury. U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans rejected the oil giant’s arguments in a ruling released late Monday. Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange hailed the ruling in a Tuesday news release. The civil cases arising from the 2010 spill have been consolidated in New Orleans. But Strange hopes that when the trial starts, as early as the spring of 2016, it will take place in Alabama.

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New England Takes on Ocean Pollution State By State

A group of state legislators in New England want to form a multi-state pact to counter increasing ocean acidity along the East Coast, a problem they believe will endanger multi-million dollar fishing industries if left unchecked. The legislators’ effort faces numerous hurdles: They are in the early stages of fostering cooperation between many layers of government, hope to push for potentially expensive research and mitigation projects, and want to use state laws to tackle a problem scientists say is the product of global environmental trends. But the legislators believe they can gain a bigger voice at the federal and international levels by banding together, said Mick Devin, a Maine representative who has advocated for ocean research in his home state. The states can also push for research to determine the impact that local factors such as nutrient loading and fertilizer runoff have on ocean acidification and advocate for new controls, he said. “We don’t have a magic bullet to reverse the effects of ocean acidification and stop the world from pumping out so much carbon dioxide,” Devin said. “But there are things we can do locally.” The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration says the growing acidity of worldwide oceans is tied to increased atmospheric carbon dioxide, and they attribute the growth to fossil fuel burning and land use changes. The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide increased from 280 parts per million to over 394 parts per million over the past 250 years, according to NOAA.

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