Saturday, May 22, 2010

Swampy Saturday: May 22 BP Oil Spill Update

1. Local Oil Forecast.

No significant changes from late yesterday afternoon. C'mon down and enjoy the water while you can. Or, at worst (and less likely) witness history being made before your very eyes.

2. Pensacola Perspicacity.

Yesterday's New York Times prominently mentioned Pensacola resident Taylor Kirschenfeld, an environmental official for Escambia County, Florida, and an adjunct instructor in environmental studies at the University of West Florida. He has since become something of a local hero in Pensacola for his perspicacity and pluck in successfully resisting NOAA's orders to send water samples he's been collecting to a Texas lab that "that counts oil firms, including BP, among its biggest clients."

Kirschenfeld was concerned that the Texas lab was not sufficiently independent of oil industry influence and control. He successfully chose instead, the Times reports, "to get a waiver so he could send his county’s samples to a local laboratory that is licensed to do the same tests."

Among other advantages of using a local lab, we imagine, Kirschenfeld has a higher level of confidence in the skills of lab technicians he knows. Plus, he is assured of getting the results back some time before the end of the century. After all, BP hasn't exactly been forthcoming, reliable, or honest in sharing oil spill data with the public.

The Times adds:
Mr. Kirschenfeld said he was also troubled by another rule. Local animal rescue workers have volunteered to help treat birds affected by the slick and to collect data that would also be used to help calculate penalties for the spill. But federal officials have told the volunteers that the work must be done by a company hired by BP.

“Everywhere you look, if you look, you start seeing these conflicts of interest in how this disaster is getting handled,” Mr. Kirschenfeld said. “I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but there is just too much overlap between these people.”

The local TV staff at WEAR-TV did a creditable job of featuring Kirschenfeld near the start of last night's newscast. As usual, however, Sinclair Broadcasting's station management is on the cheap and still busy turning localism on its head. As of this writing it hasn't made a video of the broadcast available on the station's web site -- and it probably never will.

3. Sand Berms for the Messes.

Today's Times also quotes another figure familiar to Pensacola Beach residents: Prof. Greg Stone of Louisiana State University's Coastal Studies program. Prof. Stone has made Pensacola Beach a special concern of his since his graduate student days under the late Dr. James P. Morgan. As visitors will recognize, Morgan Park on Pensacola Beach is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Morgan.
( See below)

Stone is quoted in today's paper as one of the experts 'expressing doubts' about a proposal to "build sand berms and plug holes in barrier islands in a desperate effort to stop oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill from destroying marshes, sounds and bayous." The proposal sounds very much like a mega-version of what Escambia County proposed, a couple of weeks ago: scraping the sand off a 2-mile stretch of Pensacola Beach and building a tempo
rary berm up-beach.

For the "complex inlets and bays" of coastal Louisiana, he told the Times, "
dredging and pumping large amounts of sand... could harm ocean life" and needs more study.
“I understand that time is of the essence, but I really think that we’re taking a gamble here,” he said.
Such a berm, however, would present problems of its own. Some of those problems are peculiar to Louisiana, such as the "degraded" marshlands of the Mississippi delta and the unavailability of high quality sand. Others may have equal applicability to Pensacola Beach. Among these, as we've mentioned before, are three that resound loudly for Pensacola Beach:
  • Some experts worry the sand scraping would be a colossal waste of money.
  • Sand engineering would disturb sensitive habitats for turtles and other species "which are already under threat from the oil slick."
  • If a tropical storm were to pass near Pensacola, the whole berm could be washed away.
All the experts we've talked to were definite in saying that scraping up berms for marshes and wetlands is much more problematic than for a sandy beach, as we have in Florida. But doubts remain about the wisdom, feasibility, and expense of the plan.

4. Remembering Dr. Morgan.

Mention of Dr. Morgan is timely. What's happening in the Gulf would have broken his heart. But it probably would not have surprised him.

Some years ago, Prof. Stone wrote an affecting personal remembrance of Dr. Morgan, published in the Journal of Coastal Research. There, Stone noted that throughout the course of his career Dr. Morgan compiled a "research record was nothing short of exemplary."

Much of it focused on the fragile Louisiana wetlands that are now being fouled by thick sheets of oil:
[T]he oil companies frequently attempted to lure him from academia with the promise of embarrassingly high salaries and assorted perks. He resisted industry, for he relished the challenge of teaching in the lecture room and had become devoted to the Coastal Studies Institute and Louisiana State University.

His meritorious teaching and research was rewarded in 1962 when he was promoted to full Professor of Geology. In 1966 he stepped down from the managing directorship of the Institute, to become leading scientist on research funded by the National Science Foundation and the United States Geological Survey, conducted on the Louisiana continental shelf. Toward the end of the project in 1970, he accepted chairmanship of the Department of Geology at LSU, a position he held until 1973.

After stepping down as chair, Dr. Morgan took sabbatical leave to write-up some of the data he had generated during his continental shelf research. He and his wife spent most of that time on Pensacola Beach where they developed a love for the area and made several new friends. That sabbatical helped solidify Dr. Morgan's decision to retire from LSU, and after 30 years in Baton Rouge, he and his wife relocated to Pensacola.
In retirement, Dr. Morgan continued his research, expanding it to the barrier island occupied by Pensacola Beach. Once he retired to the beach, he also became an early environmental activist. Through such community organizations as the Pensacola Beach Residents & Leaseholders Assn. and an ad hoc group known as the S.O.B.'s ("Save Our Beach"), he often found himself pitted against corporate and developer interests whose unbridled lust for profits at the expense of the public's ecological resources was not that different from BP's.

In a companion article in the same issue as the personal remembrance, J.M. Coleman and Prof. Stone described Dr. Morgan's pioneering research work. He was the first to study the "coastal and deltaic processes" of the Louisiana coastline.
It was Dr. Morgan and his students who first documented the high rates of shoreline change along the Louisiana coast. Realizing that much of the coastal change was episodic in nature, the monitoring program indicated that much of the erosion of the coastline took place during winter storms and the passage of hurricanes. Some of this information was published towards the end of the 1950's and concerned changes in the coastal landscape and damage to the marshlands following hurricanes, particularly hurricane Audrey which made landfall in Louisiana in 1957.

These papers are regarded as "classic" in that they were among the first quantitative data sets used to document the hurricane effects on coastal regions.
James M. Coleman and Gregory W. Stone, "James P. Morgan: Scientific Contributions," 14 Journal of Coastal Research 867, 868 (Summer, 1998).
5. Tropical Storm Concerns.

All of this seems timely because we are fast approaching the season of hurricanes, the very thing that Dr. Morgan identified decades ago as having deep and long-lasting effects on beach ecology. Already, there is a low pressure area in the Atlantic ("Invest 90") that has attracted the attention of hurricane watchers. Tomorrow Hurricane Preparedness Week begins.

"Scientists tracking the Gulf of Mexico oil spill are beginning to think about what would happen if a storm hit the growing slick," the New York Times warned the other day. Wherever the oil slick may wander in the Gulf, scientists believe a tropical storm could disrupt the Florida Loop and send it, and both the surface oil spill and the underwater lake of oil, almost anywhere.

"It's impossible to predict," says Prof. Frank Muller-Karger of the University of South Texas. Especially when hurricanes begin to hit, he adds, some of the oil is almost certain to affect not only Gulf coast states, but other nations like Cuba and Mexico.

"This is a problem," Muller-Karger says, "that we'll have to deal with for years, as opposed to months."

Just as Dr. Morgan documented many years ago.


Anonymous said...

Thank for this. Dr. Morgan was a great man. The oil leak would have outraged him.

~~Just Me in T~~ said...

Countdown to Hurricane Season
It has been over a month now since Deepwater Horizon – an oil rig leased by BP, exploded killing eleven people, and began the world’s worst oil leakage disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Listen to BP in the news media, and they tell us repeatedly they have and are doing everything within their power, to both stop the gushing spewing oil, and to clean up the environmental disaster.

With the start of hurricane season less than 10 days away, the idea of an Ivan, Charley or Katrina plowing through the Deepwater Horizon oil slick is fueling a sense of urgency (and fear for the local residents) about the ocean-floor gusher.

"A hurricane is certainly going to spread out the oil and take it places it hasn't been yet," said Jeff Masters, chief meteorologist of Weather Underground.

Anonymous said...

Total idiots operating a time bomb in the Gulf.

Lies about the amount gushing.

Completely unable to shut the damn thing off and talking about the option of building another well in August.

By August the Gulf of Mexico should be completely ruined if if isn't already.

I still do not understand why this is not a national emergency with a world wide all points bulletin seeking the experts to assist.

It appears there are no experts in the US.

Radar Detector Reviews said...

Im so glad they have finally capped the leak, I just hope that the economy here on the gulf coast dosent suffer to bad from it!