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August 2012 Issue

Coral Reef Watch System Can Predict Bleaching 4 Months Out
A new global seasonal outlook system and satellite monitoring have upgraded NOAA’s ability to predict mass coral bleaching, providing the probability of these events up to four months into the future. As of July, the Coral Reef Watch program had not predicted any large-scale coral bleaching in the Northern Hemisphere through October 2012.

Every week, the new system uses 28 runs of NOAA’s latest climate model and sea surface temperature forecasts from its operational climate forecast system. This builds upon the first global seasonal bleaching outlook system, released in 2008.

The Coral Watch System now also draws on daily 5-kilometer satellite monitoring of coral-bleaching thermal stress for reefs globally. This represents 100 times finer resolution, and more frequent observations and data than the present twice-weekly, 50-kilometer satellite coral-bleaching monitoring. NOAA and international partner environmental satellites provide the data.

During most mass bleachings, high ocean temperatures usually occur over a broad area that includes both coral reefs and adjacent open-ocean waters. Because coastal water temperatures over reefs are often higher than those in other areas, old products usually underestimated the thermal stress associated with a bleaching event or missed small-scale features found right over reefs. The 5-kilometer products should correct for these errors.


Foreign BWMS May Be Used in US Waters for Up to Five Years
The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) issued a policy letter in June outlining how ballast water management system (BWMS) manufacturers who have received approval from a foreign administration in accordance with International Maritime Organization rules can apply to be considered an alternate management system (AMS) to meet U.S. standards.

If the AMS is approved, a vessel will be allowed to use it for up to five years after the vessel is required to comply with the discharge standards. An AMS applicant must also submit a USCG type-approval application, compliance test results and findings and a description of any modifications made to the system after testing.

The BWMS must be installed prior to the vessel’s compliance date to be eligible.

Earlier this year, the USCG had removed a provision from its ballast water discharge rule to allow foreign type-approved BWMS to receive U.S. type approval. Instead, manufacturers could obtain approval with data from tests satisfying U.S. requirements. The rule went into effect in June, although BWMS use will be phased in and not required until after December 2013.

The letter is not a legally binding rule, but represents the USCG’s view on BWMS. Applicants may use an alternative approach as long as it satisfies ballast water statutes and regulations and can submit a proposal of such an approach in writing to the USCG Marine Safety Center in Washington, D.C.


Scientists Study Geoengineering Projects in the Baltic Sea
The Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management published in July a report evaluating two projects that use wind-powered turbines to mix oxygen into the hypoxic waters of the Baltic Sea: BOX (Baltic Deepwater Oxygenation) and PROPPEN (Controlling benthic release of phosphorus in different Baltic Sea scales).

The agency praised the “pioneering work,” which showed the oxygenation of below-pycnocline water in stagnant or semistagnant brackish-water coastal basins is feasible, but questioned the environmental effects and feasibility of scaling these pilot projects to the larger dimensions required for the Baltic Proper.

Researchers from Lund University recently called for these geoengineering efforts to be abandoned. In the past decade, an average of 60,000 square kilometers of the Baltic Sea bottom has suffered from hypoxia, professor Daniel Conley said in Nature in June. Citing geoengineering’s ecological risks (i.e., changes in large-scale mixing, reduction in salinity), expensive implementation and lack of focus on nutrient reduction, Conley suggests implementing the nutrient reductions outlined in the Baltic Sea Action Plan.

Anders Stigebrandt, an oceanography professor at the University of Gothenburg and head of the Marine System Analysis Group that maintains the BOX project, said possible ecological effects, such as mobilizing toxic substances, are not specific to oxygenation by geoengineering.

“For example, if one believes that oxygenation of the Baltic proper’s deepwater can be a problem, one should of course avoid even natural oxygenation by decreasing the outlet of nutrients,” he said.


Study Finds Winds Helped Keep Oil Spill Away From South Florida
Wind was a major factor in preventing spilled oil from the Deepwater Horizon from reaching South Florida and East Atlantic coastal areas in spring 2010, scientists reported in July.

At the time of the spill, the proximity of the Loop Current, flowing from the Yucatan Channel to the Florida Straits, raised concerns that oil on the ocean surface would head toward the South Florida and East Atlantic coasts. However, the dominant transport of oil was toward the Northern Gulf coastline, and no oil was observed in the Atlantic Ocean.

This is because northward winds led the surface oil to be pushed onto the Northern Gulf shelf areas, away from the gulf’s interior and the Loop Current.

In a study published in Environmental Science & Technology, University of Miami scientists used numerical simulations that accounted for the influence of winds on the surface of ocean waters through the generation of waves and additional circulation.

These wind effects are generally not represented in ocean circulation models, and they were missing from real-time ocean circulation predictions during the spill.

The oil spill simulations were verified through observational composites from the University of Miami and Roffer’s Ocean Fishing Forecast Service Inc.’s (Melbourne, Florida) Ocean Fishing Forecasting System.


2013:  JAN | FEB | MARCH | APRIL | MAY | JUNE | JULY | AUG | SEPT | OCT | NOV | DEC
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