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May 2015 Issue

Vancouver Oil Spill Leads To Criticism of Response
A major oil spill occurred in English Bay in Vancouver, Canada, last month, followed by a backlash of criticism aimed at what was considered to be the Canadian Coast Guard’s delayed response, the CBC reported. The Coast Guard released a statement detailing the timeline of events that were part of the response, indicating that they did notify emergency management partners four minutes after receiving a recreational boater’s notification of an oil slick surrounding the Marathassa, a bulk grain carrier. The Port of Vancouver sent out a harbor vessel to assess the spill, deeming it minor and unrecoverable, but an hour later, the Coast Guard determined the spill to be more serious.

Critics argued that cleanup did not occur until the day after the spill, but the Coast Guard declared that it occurred the night of the spill, with work done by the Western Canada Marine Response Corp. (Duncan, Canada). A boom was set up to surround the vessel completely, and 80 percent of the spill was contained and recovered within 36 hours, the Coast Guard said.

The Coast Guard emphasized that they communicated their message about the spill in a timely manner, but said there were glitches in the communication chain to the mayor of Vancouver.

Some birds were found covered with oil from the spill.

Two Studies Examine Origin, Effects of “The Blob”
A long-lived patch of warm water off the U.S. West Coast about 1 to 4°C above normal—a.k.a. “the blob”—is part of what’s causing unusual weather, according to two papers in Geophysical Research Letters.

“In the fall of 2013 and early 2014 we started to notice a big, almost circular mass of water that just didn’t cool off as much as it usually did, so by spring of 2014 it was warmer than we had ever seen it for that time of year,” said Nick Bond, a climate scientist at the University of Washington-based Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean, and lead author of one of the new studies.

One study explored the blob’s origins and found that it relates to a persistent high-pressure ridge that caused a calmer ocean during the past two winters, so less heat was lost to cold air above. The warmer temperatures now aren’t due to more heating, but less winter cooling.

The blob is affecting West Coast marine life, leading to fish sightings in unusual places and recent reports that West Coast marine ecosystems are suffering and the food web is being disrupted by warm, less nutrient-rich Pacific Ocean water.

The blob’s influence also extends inland. As air passes over warmer water and reaches the coast it brings more heat and less snow, which helped cause current drought conditions in California, Oregon and Washington.

The blob is just one element of a broader pattern in the Pacific Ocean whose influence reaches much further—possibly to include two bone-chilling winters in the eastern U.S.

A separate study in Geophysical Research Letters looked at the Pacific Ocean’s relationship to the cold 2013 to 2014 winter in the central and eastern United States. The study shows a decadal-scale pattern in the tropical Pacific Ocean linked with changes in the North Pacific sent atmospheric waves snaking along the globe to bring warm and dry air to the West Coast and very cold, wet air to the central and eastern states. That pattern, which also causes the blob, seems to have become stronger since about 1980 and lately has elbowed out the Pacific Decadal Oscillation to become second only to El Niño in its influence on global weather patterns.

Although the blob does not seem to be caused by climate change, it has many of the same effects for West Coast weather.

US Pledges 26 to 28 Percent Cut to Carbon Emissions by 2025
The U.S. has committed to cutting its carbon emissions 26 to 28 percent by 2025 as it submitted its climate change pledge to the United Nations. The formal offer to the UN was made in advance of a global agreement set to be signed in Paris, France, in December. Achieving the 2025 target will require a further emissions reduction of 9 to 11 percent beyond the U.S.’s 2020 target.

The EU has pledged to reduce emissions 40 percent compared to 1990 levels by 2030. Switzerland and Mexico also made pledges.

Analysts assessing the first country commitments made to the UN say they are not significant enough to restrict global temperature rise to the internationally agreed maximum of 2°C.

The U.S. announced the launch of a climate action plan in 2013 and introduced restrictions on power plant emissions and tougher standards on vehicles. President Barack Obama’s policies, however, are being resisted by Republicans in Congress.

Improved Hurricane Prediction For North Atlantic, GOM
A better method for predicting the number of hurricanes in an upcoming season has been developed by a team of University of Arizona (UA) atmospheric scientists. The new model improves the accuracy of seasonal hurricane forecasts for the North Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) by 23 percent, according to a study published in Weather and Forecasting.

The model can provide its forecast by the start of hurricane season, which can help cities and governments in emergency management planning.

The team developed the new model by using data from the 1950 to 2013 hurricane seasons. They tested the new model with successful “hindcasting” of the number of hurricanes that occurred each season from 1900 to 1949.

Until about the late 1990s, the existing models did a good job of predicting how many hurricanes would occur each year. However, in the 21st century the number of hurricanes per season became more variable, with 15 occurring in 2005 but only two in 2013.

The new model does a better job of forecasting the Atlantic hurricane season by incorporating the force of the wind on the ocean and the sea surface temperature over the Atlantic.

Damages from U.S. hurricanes from 1970 to 2002 cost $57 billion—more than earthquakes and human-caused disasters combined in that time.

2015:  JAN | FEB | MARCH | APRIL | MAY

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