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Environmental Monitoring


July 2012 Issue

Fish Pollution Detection AUV Undergoes First Trials
Intelligent robotic fish capable of working together to detect and identify pollution in ports and other aquatic areas have been successfully developed and delivered, the SHOAL Consortium, a European Commission-funded group of academics and private industry, said.

The first trials for the fish took place in Spain's Gijon harbor in May, the BBC reported. Results were expected around July. Funding is being sought for further testing, while plans for commercialization are being discussed.

The 1.5-meter-long fish can cut pollutant detection and analysis down from weeks to a few seconds. Chemical sensors, made and designed by Tyndall University, fitted to the fish permit real-time in-situ analysis, rather than the present method of sample collection and dispatch to a shore-based laboratory. The fish also have a Tritech International Ltd. (Aberdeenshire, Scotland) micron sonar.

Artificial intelligence enables the fish to manage multiple problems, including obstacle avoidance, knowing where to monitor pollution, finding the pollution source, maintaining communication distance from the other fish and returning to be recharged. The fish can also map where it is, where it needs to go, what samples it has taken, and the source and chemical composition of the samples, as well as communicating all this information back through shallow water to a base station, the other fish and the user interface.

The robotic fish have been developed to blend into the marine environment in such a way that marine life is neither disrupted nor affected negatively by their presence.

The Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs has estimated that the cost of water pollution in rivers, canals, lakes and coastal waters in England and Wales amounts to '1.3 billion per annum, the BBC reported.

Seagrasses Could Be Vital Climate Change Solution
Seagrasses could be a vital solution to climate change and, per unit area, can store up to twice as much carbon as the world's temperate and tropical forests, researchers said in Nature Geoscience in May.

Coastal seagrass beds were found to store up to 83,000 metric tons of carbon per square kilometer, mostly in the soils beneath them. A typical terrestrial forest stores about 30,000 metric tons per square kilometer, mostly in the form of wood.

Seagrass meadows are responsible for more than 10 percent of carbon buried yearly in the sea. The researchers found that seagrass meadows store 90 percent of their carbon in the soil, possibly many meters deep, and build on it for centuries.

At least 1.5 percent of global seagrass meadows are lost every year.

The study emphasizes that conserving and restoring seagrass meadows may reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase carbon stores.

'One remarkable thing about seagrass meadows is that, if restored, they can effectively and rapidly sequester carbon and reestablish lost carbon sinks,' said paper co-author Karen McGlathery, a scientist at the University of Virginia and National Science Foundation's Virginia Coast Reserve Long-Term Ecological Research site.

Japan Tsunami Debris Carries Invasive Species
A floating dock that washed ashore in Newport, Oregon, in June has been traced back to the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, spurring concerns about invasive species.

Scientists at Oregon State University's (OSU) Hatfield Marine Science Center said the cement float contains about 13 pounds of organisms per square foot. They have gathered samples of barnacles, starfish, urchins, anemones, amphipods, worms, mussels, limpets, snails, solitary tunicates and algae. There are dozens of species overall.

John Chapman, an OSU marine invasive species specialist, said it was 'mind-boggling' how these organisms survived their trek across the Pacific Ocean. The low productivity of open-ocean waters should have starved at least some of the organisms, he said.

Jessica Miller, an OSU marine ecologist, said that the brown algae Undaria pinnatifida, or wakame, was present across most of the dock. The algae is native to the western Pacific Ocean in Asia and has invaded several regions, including southern California.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and Oregon State Parks plan to scrape the dock and bag all the biological material to minimize potential spread of non-native species. There is no way of telling if any of the organisms have already disembarked in nearshore waters.

Invasive marine species are a problem on the West Coast, where they are usually introduced via ballast water from ships.

It is difficult to assess how much of a threat the organisms may present; future debris may carry more species. But this dock may be unique as it was debris submerged in Japan with a well-developed subtidal community, which may be rare, given the amount of debris that entered the ocean.

BSEE Tests Industry's Oil Spill Response Plans
The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) conducted a tabletop exercise in May with the U.S. Coast Guard, EPA, the Fish and Wildlife Service, NOAA, the state of Alaska, the North Slope Borough and Shell Oil Co. (Houston, Texas) to simulate the response to a well blowout in the Chukchi Sea.

The exercise began on day two of a simulated response to a subsea blowout with a flow rate of 25,000 barrels per day. Participants completed an incident action plan, coordinated response efforts among agencies, developed response objectives and identified response assets.

Shell has requested approval to conduct exploratory drilling in the Arctic Ocean this summer. Earlier this year, BSEE approved Shell's oil spill response plans for the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, but Shell must still seek and obtain approval from BSEE for well-specific drilling permits prior to commencing operations, and in-water testing and deployment of the capping stack and containment system must occur prior to drilling permit approval.

BSEE will conduct exercises and inspections throughout the year to test the industry's ability to meet the conditions of its oil spill response plans and effectively respond to a potential spill in the Arctic.


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