BP oil spill reaches coast, NOAA declares it a SONS, fisherman in a tight spot, Obama still supporting more domestic drilling

Oil from the BP oil spill has reached the coast of Louisiana and the first oiled bird was found. The most recent update from NOAA on the spill outlines the threat and projects the main slick will reach coastal wetlands in the region this weekend:

Today the Deepwater Horizon incident declared a Spill of National Significance (SONS).  A SONS is defined as, “a spill that, due to its severity, size, location, actual or potential impact on the public health and welfare or the environment, or the necessary response effort, is so complex that it requires extraordinary coordination of federal, state, local, and responsible party resources to contain and clean up the discharge” and allows greater federal involvement.

(see the full size trajectory map here)


This is far from the first major oil spill in this region.

The largest oil spill in North America occurred in the Gulf of Mexico. The 200- foot-deep exploratory well, Ixtoc I, blew out on June 3, 1979, in the Bay of Campeche, Mexico, releasing 10,000 – 30, 000 barrels (0.4 – 1.2 million gallons) per day for nine months. Nearly 500 dispersant air sorties were flown in Mexico.

Manual cleanup in Texas was aided by storms. Though the blowout preventer (BOP, valve designed to seal off a wellhead) failed, injection of metal and concrete balls into the well slowed the release. By the time the well was brought under control in March 1980 by drilling two relief wells to relieve pressure, an estimated 113 million to over 300 million gallons of oil had spilled (10 times the amount of oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez). Oil travelled 800 miles to the north, oiling more than 150 miles of shoreline in Texas and unknown miles of shoreline in Mexico.

And according to NOAA “more than 250 oil-related pollution incidents were reported in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, releasing an estimated total of 8 million gallons of oil directly into inland waterways and wetlands. Because many spills went unreported and others were never attributed to a specific source, the actual amount of oil released into the environment will never be known. Shallow nearshore areas, coastal and inland wetlands, and sand beaches were among the numerous habitats impacted by these spills.”


Meanwhile, NOAA scientists now think the rate of oil flow out of the well could be five times higher than originally though:

Estimates of the release rate increased to 5000 barrels (210,000 gallons) per day based on surface observations and reports of a newly discovered leak in the damaged piping on the sea floor.


The spill will at the very least, shut down the regions highly lucrative fisheries for months, possibly for years.  Fishermen are getting involved in cleanup efforts hoping to save their livelihoods and looking for new work.

About 1,000 angry and frustrated fishermen packed an elementary school gymnasium here Friday afternoon to receive training in how to clean up the oil spill that was creeping up on the nearby coastline. They were hoping to be hired by BP, the company blamed for the spill and responsible for response efforts.

Life in this coastal community centers on seafood — mullet, shark, shrimp and oysters. From May to September, dozens of boats haul shrimp here from the Gulf of Mexico. But the shrimp season was halted prematurely this week, only two days after the Louisiana Legislature had called for an early start to the season.

If the fishing jobs disappear this season, those who make their living on the water may be facing a cruel occupational twist: forced to seek employment with the company they blame for the spill.


“Environmental President” Obama gave a slippery response to a question about the spills impact on his new initiative to expand offshore drilling:

“I continue to believe that domestic oil production is an important part of our overall strategy for energy security,” Mr. Obama said on Friday, addressing concerns about whether the administration would continue with its plan to increase drilling in the Gulf.

Even so, he said, “the local economies and livelihoods of the people of the Gulf Coast as well as the ecology of the region are at stake.”

Rudd’s suspends Australia’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme until at least 2013

“Climate change is nothing less than a threat to our people, our nation and our planet.”

“It [climate change] is a threat that, if left unaddressed, has the capacity to permanently affect our way of life,”

“The incontestable truth of climate change is that a decision not to act is in fact an active decision; an active decision to place the next generation at grave risk.”

Kevin Rudd, 15th December, 2008

“When you strip away all the political rhetoric, all the political excuses, there are two stark choices ­– action or inaction.”

The resolve of the Australian Government is clear: we choose action, and we do so because Australia’s fundamental economic and environmental interests lie in action. Action now. Not action delayed.”

“It is time to be totally blunt about the agenda of the climate change skeptics in all their colours ­ some more sophisticated than others. It’s time to remove any polite veneer from this debate. The stakes are that high.”

“… by doing so, these do-nothing climate change skeptics are prepared to destroy our children’s future.”

“This brigade of do-nothing climate change skeptics are dangerous because if they succeed, then it is all of us who will suffer. Our children. And our grandchildren. If we fail, then it will be a failure that will echo through future generations.”

No responsible government confronted with the evidence delivered by the 4,000 scientists associated with the international panel could then in conscience choose not to act. In any public company, it would represent a gross contempt of the most basic fiduciary duty.

Kevin Rudd, 6th November, 2009

Somalian pirates are good for the livelihood and coral reef ecosystems of Kenya


Here’s one you wouldn’t expect… local fisherman celebrate Somali pirates (thanks to Brian for the link):

The fishermen of Malindi are celebrating and it’s all thanks to the pirates. Since piracy has scared away the international trawlers who were ravaging Kenya’s fish stocks, local fishing is thriving again. These fishermen are used to earning less than £5 a day but over the last few months they’ve been netting huge catches, increasing their wages by over 50 times. ‘Yesterday I made 20,000, I got a big shark’ boasts one fisherman. With only one patrol boat and thousands of miles of ocean, preventing illegal fisheries has been an impossible task for the Kenyan fishery department. Something, ironically, the pirates are taking care of. But it’s not only the fisherman who are benefiting from revived fish stocks, sports fishermen are having their best season in 40 years. ‘I have never seen a season like it’ beams Captain Massood, who takes tourists on deep-sea fishing trips. Marine biologist Steve Trott believes this ‘is the strongest indicator yet that these commercial scale fleets have had a destructive impact on Kenyan fisheries.’

Local fisherman celebrate Somali pirates from Sam Farmar on Vimeo.

Coral bleaching alert for the Western Indian Ocean

The NOAA hotspot maps highlights regions where the Sea Surface Temperature (SST) is currently warmer than the highest climatological monthly mean SST for that location. The HotSpot value of 1.0 °C is a threshold for thermal stress leading to coral bleaching. To highlight this threshold, HotSpot values below 1.0 °C are shown in purple, and HotSpots of 1.0 °C or greater range from yellow to red.

The CORDIO/IUCN working group on Climate Change and Coral Reefs have issued a bleaching alert for a moderate level of bleaching in the Seychelles:

The southeast monsoon in the WIO has set in early even before the end of march, dissipating the hotspot rapidly on the east African coast, but it persist over Seychelles granitic islands. No new or intensification of bleaching/mortality for East Africa though more may yet occur in Seychelles.

Field observations of bleaching and in some cases mortality have been reported in Kenya, Zanzibar, Madagascar & Comoros as follows, with more updates as we hear them:

Another week, another oil spill

The recent minor oil spill on the GBR is really small potatoes compared to the growing threats to marine and coastal wildlife from the 42,000 gallons of crude pouring from an offshore oil well every day.  The oil platform exploded and sunk last week in the Gulf of Mexico. The well is 5000 ft. beneath the surface and could take weeks to months to cap.

So much for our “environmental president’s” brilliant idea to expand offshore oil exploration and drilling in southeastern states of the US.

From the Associated Press:

NEW ORLEANS (AP)– Coast Guard crews raced to protect the Gulf of Mexico coastline Monday as a remote sub tried to shut off an underwater oil well that’s gushing 42,000 gallons a day from the site of a wrecked drilling platform.

If crews cannot stop the leak quickly, they might need to drill another well to redirect the oil, a laborious process that could take weeks while oil washes up along a broad stretch of shore, from the white-sand beaches of Florida’s Panhandle to the swamps of Louisiana. The oil spill already stretches across more than 1,800 square miles of water in the Gulf Of Mexico, according to the Coast Guard.

The oil is escaping from two leaks in a drilling pipe about 5,000 feet below the surface. The leaks threaten hundreds of miles of coastline in four states, with waters that are home to dolphins, sea birds, and prime fishing and tourism areas.

The oil began gushing out of the sea floor after the rig Deepwater Horizon exploded April 20 and sank two days later about 40 miles off the Mississippi River delta. Eleven of the 126 workers aboard at the time are missing and presumed dead; the rest escaped. The cause of the explosion has not been determined.

As of Monday afternoon, an area 48 miles long and 39 miles wide was covered by oil that leaked from the site of the rig, which was owned by Transocean Ltd. and operated by BP PLC.

Crews used robot submarines to activate valves in hopes of stopping the leaks, but they may not know until Tuesday if that strategy will work. BP also mobilized two rigs to drill a relief well if needed. Such a well could help redirect the oil, though it could also take weeks to complete, especially at that depth.

George Crozier, oceanographer and executive director at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama, said he was studying wind and ocean currents driving the oil.

He said Pensacola, Fla., is probably the eastern edge of the threatened area, though no one really knows what the effects will be.

“We’ve never seen anything like this magnitude,” he said. “The problems are going to be on the beaches themselves, that’s where it will be really visible.”

Aaron Viles, director for New Orleans-based Gulf Restoration Network, an environmental group, said he flew over the spill Sunday and saw what was likely a sperm whale in the oil sheen.

“There are going to be significant marine impacts,” he said.

Concern Monday focused on the Chandeleur and Breton barrier islands in Louisiana, where thousands of birds are nesting.

“It’s already a fragile system. It would be devastating to see anything happen to that system,” said Mark Kulp, a University of New Orleans geologist.

The spill also threatened oyster beds in Breton Sound on the eastern side of the Mississippi River. Harvesters could only watch and wait.

“That’s our main oyster-producing area,” said John Tesvich, a fourth-generation oyster farmer with Port Sulphur Fisheries Co. His company has about 4,000 acres of oyster grounds that could be affected if the spill worsens.

“Trying to move crops would be totally speculative,” Tesvich said. “You wouldn’t know where to move a crop. You might be moving a crop to a place that’s even worse.”

He said oil and oysters are not a good mix. If the oyster grounds are affected, thousands of fishermen, packers, processors might have to curtail operations.

Worse, he said, it’s spawning season, and contamination could affect young oysters. But even if the spill is mostly contained, he said oil residue could get sucked in by the oysters.

“You will have off-flavors that would be a concern,” Tesvich said.

If the oil continues oozing north, the white-sand beaches in Mississipi, Alabama and west Florida could be fouled.

In Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal asked the Coast Guard to use containment booms, which float like a string of fat sausage links to hold back oil until it can be skimmed off the surface. Crews were trying to keep oil out of the Pass A Loutre wildlife area, a 115,000-acre preserve that is home to alligators, birds and fish near the mouth of the Mississippi River.

In Mississippi, Gov. Haley Barbour said he has spoken with the Coast Guard mission commander, Rear Adm. Mary Landry but was uncertain what steps his state might take to protect its beaches.

“It’s a real difficulty in trying to determine what defenses will be effective,” he said.

A fleet of boats and containment equipment was working to skim oil from the surface of the Gulf late last week. But a weather system that spawned deadly tornadoes in Louisiana and Mississippi and stirred up heavy seas over the weekend forced crews to suspend their efforts.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Connie Terrell said 32 vessels are waiting for conditions to improve to resume the cleanup. She could not say when they will be back at work, but she said 23,000 feet of containment boom had been deployed, 70,000 more were ready to go when the effort resumes, and another 50,000 feet were on order.


Associated Press writers Kevin McGill in New Orleans, Emily Wagster Pettus in Yazoo City, Miss., and Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge contributed to this story.

Sausage ‘solution’ to Australia’s cane toad invasion

From the BBC

Scientists in Australia have designed a cane toad “sausage” that could help protect vulnerable predators from the poisonous toads.

The researchers developed the sausage as a bait that could help train animals to avoid eating the large toads.

They employed “taste aversion learning” – adding a nausea-inducing drug to cane toad meat.

This, the scientists say, caused animals to associate the smell of the toads with feeling sick.

Jonathan Webb from the University of Sydney, the senior member of the research team, explained: “It’s a really powerful form of learning.

“Many people might have experienced it when they get food poisoning and then associate the taste or the smell of whatever food it was that made them ill with feeling sick.”

His team focused on quolls – small carnivorous marsupials that used to be very abundant in northern Australia.

Their numbers have seriously declined in the last 20 years.

“These animals are a real icon in northern Australia,” said Dr Webb. “They’re very cute and have lots of personality.

It is not entirely clear why the quolls’ numbers have declined so much, but the arrival of the invasive cane toads seemed rapidly to make their situation even worse.

“When the toads came along, suddenly the quolls became extinct in Kakadu National Park,” said Dr Webb.

“What we were interested in doing was coming up with a practical solution to deal with this population crash when the toads invade.”

The challenge, explained Dr Webb, was that the toads have very large toxin glands in their shoulders, primarily containing chemicals called bufadienolides, which can very quickly induce a cardiac arrest.

“The quolls see the toad as a big frog,” he explained.

“It looks good to eat, so they just pounce on it and get a fatal dose of toxin. There’s no chance they can learn from the encounter.”

Catch and release

During the time when he was puzzling over this, he read a story to his children.

“It was a modern version of Little Red Riding Hood,” Dr Webb recalled. “And at the end, the grandma, to get her own back, puts a bag of onions in the wolf’s tummy so that he wakes up feeling sick.

“At that point I thought: what if we added a nausea inducing chemical to the toads?”

This unusual approach seems to work.

Cane toads have large toxin glands in their shoulders

Dr Webb’s University of Sydney colleague, Stephanie O’Donnell, trained 30 quolls – feeding them pieces of dead toad that were laced with a nausea-inducing drug.

“After they ate it, they started to get a little bit crook (ill),” he said.

“The animals didn’t vomit – just pawed at their faces for a while and then got back to normal. But the next time they were offered a toad they ignored it.”

Dr Webb and his colleagues then released the quolls into the wild with radio collars so they could monitor them.

“In the wild, they did encounter big toads and they ignored them,” said Dr Webb.

“You could see they were interested in the toads because they were big and they were hopping around. Some of them followed the toad for a while. But most of them just sniffed it, and then thought – yuck, you’re no good to eat – and walked away.”

Do Pressures to Publish Increase Scientists’ Bias?

Here’s an interesting paper published in the free-access journal PLoS ONE, discussing the growing pressures on scientific objectivity:

The growing competition and “publish or perish” culture in academia might conflict with the objectivity and integrity of research, because it forces scientists to produce “publishable” results at all costs. Papers are less likely to be published and to be cited if they report “negative” results (results that fail to support the tested hypothesis). Therefore, if publication pressures increase scientific bias, the frequency of “positive” results in the literature should be higher in the more competitive and “productive” academic environments.

The author (Daniele Fanelli from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland) introduces my definite word-of-the-week: HARKing (Hypothesizing After the Results are Known). Anyhow, Fanelli analysed 1316 scientific papers from the United States to determine the percentage of ‘positive’ results (i.e. supporting the hypothesis) vs negative (null) results. Interestingly, the percentage of positive results varied considerably between the states (between 25-100%):

ercentage and 95% logit-derived confidence interval of papers published between 2000 and 2007 that supported a tested hypothesis, classified by the corresponding author's US state (sample size for each state is in parentheses).

Seemingly, >90% is a pretty impressive ‘positive’ rate (NC sits somewhere towards the upper end – good effort JB!). Interestingly though, papers were:

…more likely to support a tested hypothesis if their corresponding authors were working in states that produced more academic papers per capita.

“Positive” results by per-capita R&D expenditure in academia.

So where did all the non-results go? This doesn’t necessarily imply that all results are positive as they are made up, but the lack of reporting of negative results (stuff that simply didn’t work, or wasn’t worth writing about) is surprising:

What happened to the missing negative results? As explained in the Introduction, presumably they either went completely unpublished or were somehow turned into positive through selective reporting, post-hoc re-interpretation, and alteration of methods, analyses and data.

So what does this all mean? Fanelli concludes that:

..these results support the hypothesis that competitive academic environments increase not only scientists’ productivity but also their bias. The same phenomenon might be observed in other countries where academic competition and pressures to publish are high.


Whale poo reduces carbon levels: ‘Huge Amounts Of Iron’

Full of…? Either way, this little gem has made for some of the best headlines this year (Poo for the Planet: The Many Functions of Feces, Australians say whale poo should not be poo-pooed, Save the Whales! We need their poo, Climate change: whale poop to the rescue! among others!). Judge for yourselves:

The important role whale poo plays in the productivity of the Southern Ocean has been revealed in a new study.

Scientists from the Australian Antarctic Division and the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems
Cooperative Research Centre (ACE CRC) are looking at how krill and whales contribute to the recycling of iron in the Southern Ocean.

Iron is a critical element in the ocean that enables the production of aquatic plants, known as algae
, which absorb carbon dioxide (CO2).

When algae die they sink and strip iron from the surface of the ocean, but much of the algae is eaten by krill, which in turn become prey for larger animals such as seals, penguins and whales.

Australian Antarctic Division scientist, Dr Steve Nicol, said the study looked at fecal and tissue samples from four species of baleen whales and tissue samples from seven species of krill.

“We found that krill concentrated the iron they consumed in their bodies and because they swim near the surface, they keep the iron in the top layer of the ocean,” Dr Nicol said. “There’s huge amounts of iron in whale poo.”

“Approximately 24% of the total iron in the Southern Ocean surface water is currently stored within krill body tissue.”

The most recent estimates of krill biomass in the Southern Ocean is 379 million tonnes, storing about 15,000 tonnes of iron.

“When whales consume the iron-rich krill, they excrete most of the iron back into the water, therefore fertilizing the ocean and starting the whole food cycle again,” Dr Nicol said.

“The baleen whales’ fecal iron concentration is calculated to be about 10 million times that of Antarctic seawater,” he said.

Before commercial whaling began early last century whales used to consume about 190 million tonnes of krill, converting this into about 7,600 tonnes of iron-rich feces.

“This monumental fertilizing effort means the whales may have been responsible for recycling about 12% of the current iron content in the surface layer of the Southern Ocean,” Dr Nicol said.

The recycling role of krill and whales in the ocean helps to explain how the ecosystem was able to support far larger populations of both predator and prey.

The research suggests that, in future, increasing populations of baleen whales and krill would have a positive effect on the productivity of the entire Southern Ocean ecosystem and could improve the ocean’s ability to absorb CO2.

The world will have to spend an extra $500 billion to cut carbon emissions for each year it delays implementing a major assault on global warming, the International Energy Agency said on Tuesday.

Given our current delay in dealing with the climate change issue, I was reminded of this interesting article.  Should those who are obfuscating on climate change be made to pick up the tab?

(Reuters) – Tue Nov 10, 2009 6:18am EST

At United Nations climate talks in Barcelona last week negotiators from developed countries said the world would need an extra six to 12 months to agree a legally binding, global deal to cut carbon emissions beyond a planned December deadline.

The IEA, energy adviser to 28 industrialized countries, said the world must act urgently to put greenhouse gases on a track to limit global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius.

Every year’s delay beyond 2010 would add another $500 billion to the extra investment of $10,500 billion needed from 2010-2030 to curb carbon emissions, for example to improve energy efficiency and boost low-carbon renewable energy.

“Much more needs to be done to get anywhere near an emissions path consistent with … limiting the rise in global temperature to 2 degrees,” said the IEA’s 2009 World Energy Outlook. “Countries attending the U.N. climate conference must not lose sight of this.”

U.N. talks meant to agree a deal in Copenhagen in December to extend or replace the existing Kyoto Protocol have struggled to overcome a rich-poor rift on how to split the cost of curbing carbon emissions, for example from burning fossil fuels.

Developed countries accept that they have to take the burden of cutting carbon emissions, but want developing nations to accept binding actions too under a new treaty.

Poor countries want financial help to implement carbon emissions cuts and prepare for unavoidable global warming, including droughts, floods and rising seas.

The IEA report estimated that the world needed to invest an extra $197 billion annually by 2020 to make the necessary emissions cuts in developing countries, compared with a global total of $430 billion by then.

“The Copenhagen conference will provide important pointers to the kind of energy future that awaits us,” it said.

To continue present trends of energy demand and burning of fossil fuels “would lead almost certainly to massive climatic change and irreparable damage to the planet,” it said.

To implement swinging carbon cuts, on the other hand, would require a huge shift in the world’s energy system.

That would raise, for example, the share of non-fossil fuels to 32 percent of total primary energy in 2030, from 19 percent in 2007. The share of the internal combustion engine in new car sales would fall to 40 percent by 2030 from more than 90 percent under current trends.