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Capital Report


October 2015 Issue

HRI Grant to Study Health
Of Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem

Scientists with the Harte Research Institute (HRI) for Gulf of Mexico Studies received a $398,349 federal grant to develop a framework for evaluating the health of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem and its ties to the well-being of coastal residents.

The goal of the project is to identify a matrix of scientific indicators, conditions that can be measured to capture a picture of the overall health of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem and the ecosystem services it provides. Ecosystem services are benefits and uses that residents gain from the environment. They include recreational activities like fishing and surfing to the pure personal enjoyment derived from living on the coast.

Researchers plan to develop an assessment and decision framework that can be used by federal, state and local agencies, NGOs, and other groups in support of ongoing restoration and protection projects in the Gulf of Mexico.

New England Coral Canyons, Seamounts
Could be Federally Protected

The Barack Obama Administration is considering what could be the first-ever monument in the Atlantic Ocean and the first in waters off the continental U.S. The announcement specifically identifies part of the New England Coral Canyons and Seamounts Area, which includes five underwater canyons and four seamounts as high as 7,000 ft. above the ocean floor.

The waters teem with diverse marine life, such as plankton, squid, sperm whale, seabirds and sea turtles, according to Brad Sewell, senior attorney at the NRDC’s Oceans Program.

This area is critical to the health of ocean fish, which are the lifeblood of many Atlantic coastal communities yet are highly vulnerable to long-term harm from commercial fishing, oil and gas exploration, mineral extraction and climate change.

Obama Administration Seeks
To Ramp Up Arctic Efforts

U.S. President Barack Obama is looking to accelerate the acquisition of additional icebreakers to ensure the U.S. can operate year-round in the Arctic Ocean. In addition, the Obama Administration will spearhead efforts to enhance scientific observations of the Arctic to increase understanding of this region.

The administration will propose to accelerate acquisition of a replacement heavy icebreaker to 2020 from 2022, begin planning for construction of additional icebreakers, and call on Congress to work with the administration to provide sufficient resources to fund these critical investments.

NOAA and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) will take action to promote safe marine operations and transportation in the Arctic through mapping and charting efforts in the Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, for which existing maps and charts are nonexistent or outdated.

Additionally, north of Dutch Harbor, located on the Aleutian Chain, there are no deepwater harbors in the U.S. Arctic capable of providing shelter to vessels operating in, or transiting through, the U.S. Arctic region. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has begun a process to evaluate the feasibility of deepening and extending Nome’s harbor capabilities. Such a project could potentially enhance the region’s ability to shelter ships from the Arctic weather and serve as a safe standby location for vessels involved in operations farther north.

NOAA will modernize and install additional instrumentation on the Arctic coast to monitor the effects of climate change and enable safe marine operations and transportation—including a permanent National Water Level Observing Network station to monitor sea level rise, and up to six temporary water-level stations.

In 2015, NOAA will announce the availability of a new operational Arctic sea ice thickness satellite product.

This year, the Arctic Marine Biodiversity Network (AMBON) will launch the first of three sampling cruises as part of a five-year demonstration project to gather a broad range of Arctic marine biodiversity data.

Report Focuses on Green
Infrastructure for Coastal Resilience

In conjunction with the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, the White House has announced the release of the report “Ecosystem-Service Assessment: Research Needs for Coastal Green Infrastructure,” which recommends prioritized areas for federal research to support coastal green infrastructure that will enhance the coastal United States’ natural defenses, particularly as climate change will contribute to an increased frequency and intensity of weather events.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina caused more than $100 billion in damages and killed more than 1,800 people. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy struck the Eastern Seaboard, causing 72 deaths and causing more than $50 billion in damages.

Federal recommendations made after Hurricane Sandy highlighted the use of green infrastructure to increase the protection and resilience of coastal communities, and called on agencies to advance their integration into disaster-readiness strategies.

Coastal areas are among the most populated, economically valuable and ecologically productive regions in the U.S. While many are protected by “gray infrastructure” like levees, seawalls and bulkheads, these can be expensive to maintain and can even damage the ecosystems around them.

Field Trials Start for First
Hydrogen Fuel Cell Prototype

The U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) celebrated the launch of field trials for the first prototype hydrogen fuel cell unit to power onboard refrigerated containers.

MARAD, through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy, provided $815,000 to fund the clean energy-powered container unit that could pave the way to dramatically reduced harmful emissions at the Port of Honolulu.

During the six-month deployment period, performance feedback and data will be recorded to determine the environmental, energy and cost savings from the hydrogen fuel cell unit. Afterward, Sandia National Laboratories will analyze the operational, safety and cost performance data to develop a business case for using hydrogen fuel cells for marine use.


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