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Archive for the ‘Science/Technology’ Category

Oil Flood in Hot Water

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

It’s not like we really needed this extra twist of fortune, but the hurricane season that began June 1 and runs through the end of November (or as long as nature wants) is forecast to be “one of the most turbulent ever.” The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts 14 to 23 named storms this year, of which 8 to 14 will become hurricanes and, of those, 3 to 7 will grow into major hurricanes with winds of up to 111 m.p.h. or more. Yes, that is the same NOAA that has just begun to confirm that the “oil plumes” that scientists have been talking about for several weeks now, and whose existence BP continues to deny, do in fact exist.

(Click here for a NOAA “Hurricanes and the Oil Spill” fact sheet, and here for NASA Earth Observatory images of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, some of which are trippy. And click here to see “Visualizing the BP Oil Spill Disaster” at IfItWasMyHome.com. Key in your zip code and check the spread.)

It’s hard to know what effect a storm would have on the oil that has been gushing into the Gulf of Mexico for 50 days now (since Earth Day, April 20). A hurricane could blow oil all over hundreds of miles of land and make yet another unprecedented mess. It could help disperse the oil that has already spilled. Winds only churn down to several hundred feet of water, scientists say, so it would not roil the waters a mile deep where the leak is gushing (or are there multiple leaks?). Oil on the water’s surface might sap the storm’s energy to some extent, according to some scientists, though NOAA experts seem to discount that likelihood. Kerry Emanuel, M.I.T. professor of atmospheric science and author of Divine Wind, says that by reducing evaporation, oil could be heating the waters in the Gulf of Mexico—precisely the conditions that intensify hurricanes—but he said it is difficult to determine because the oil sheen on the water surface distorts satellite measurements of water temperatures. Click here for an interview with Kerry Emanuel, recorded shortly after Hurricane Katrina, on how warm water intensifies hurricanes.


Welcome Back, Mr. President, to Louisiana, the Dark Underside of the Nation’s Guilty Conscience

Friday, June 4th, 2010


[ cross-posted at Daily Kos ]

Take a good look around. Our state bird, only recently removed from the Endangered Species list, now so soaked with crude oil it can’t lift its wings or even breathe. Our hearts are breaking for the dying pelicans and all that they represent, including the 11 dead oil rig workers and the idled shrimpers, oystermen, and fishermen.


It is probably a good thing that you have appointed former senator Bob Graham and former EPA administrator William K. Reilly as co-chairs of a BP Oil Spill Commission—though we hope they won’t be a blue-ribbon panel that serves only to justify further deep-sea drilling and oil addiction. We definitely do not want a return to oil business as usual. We are pleased that Attorney General Eric Holder has announced criminal investigations in the BP calamity. We like your call to roll back “billions of dollars in tax breaks” for oil companies to use the money for clean energy research and development—it’s about time. And it is good that Secretary Salazar is intent on cleaning house and reorganizing the Minerals Management Service by separating the regulation and enforcement functions from the oil exploration promotion and royalty collection part. But there’s more: We want your full backing of Senator Landrieu’s proposed Accelerated Revenue Sharing (see the Times-Picayune’s editorial “Louisiana Needs Its Share of Offshore Oil Revenue Now, Mr. President”). Louisiana has gone too long without its fair share of offshore oil and gas revenue royalties. We need that money now, not in 2017.

Large-Scale Action, and Action Now

. . . the time has come to aggressively accelerate that transition [to a clean energy economy]. The time has come, once and for all, for this nation to fully embrace a clean energy future.

Your remarks on the economy this week at Carnegie Mellon University were admirable in their breadth and priorities, but this vision is still not bold enough. We want you to Go Big—to push Congress to go big—for a full-blown energy reform movement. Administration officials’ insistence that “from day one” the federal government has been in charge of the oil spill response are meaningless and not reassuring. Actions speak louder.

Now is the time, Mr. President. Give us some audacity of hope, audacity of bold action, unmistakable action. Something equal to the U.S. war mobilization in World War II. (“Be Bold, Obama.” “Spend, Obama, Spend.”)

You have often spoken of the critical need to develop alternative, sustainable energy, and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the “Stimulus”) gave a strong injection of billions of dollars as “down payments.” Further, you and Vice President Biden have been vocal supporters of rail and public transportation and have allocated considerable federal funding, as with your announcement in January of $8 billion in funding for high-speed rail projects. But again, as you acknowledged at the time, this is only a down payment. We can’t—and we shouldn’t—wait any longer.

Mr. President, a major, massive, fully committed national shift toward alternative energy must begin now. (Talking to you, too, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, Jeff Bingaman, Mary Landrieu, David Vitter . . .) As your chief of staff says, let no crisis go to waste. Give us Energy Reform—change we can believe in. Push for Energy Reform on the scale of the Manhattan Project, the Interstate Highway System, the TVA, or the Apollo mission—or all of these combined.

Awaken the Green Giant

In addition to your full-throated, insistent support for the best elements of the Kerry-Lieberman American Power Act and the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act (passed in May 2009) and the Cantwell-Collins CLEAR Act—press Congress to pass them ASAP—what America needs immediately in massive doses is funding for an Energy Independence Act (or some catchy name—call it “Green Giant” if it makes people happy). Just do it. The public will be with you in great numbers. But you have to mean it. Take your health care reform passion and quadruple it. A New York Times editorial (“While the Senate Fiddles”) said it well last month:

. . . the [Kerry-Lieberman] bill has no chance unless President Obama steps up. Mr. Obama pledged to “engage” with the Senate to pass a comprehensive energy and climate bill “this year.” This was one of those ticket-punching statements that isn’t going to change any minds. What he should have said is that he is going to hammer on the Senate until it does what this country needs. [emphasis added]

Push now, push hard, push soon—we’ll push with you—and then we as a nation won’t feel so damned, pathetically helpless. The time is right. The timing has never been better. It is the politically astute thing to do and it is the morally right thing to do. We know you care. Now put your empathy into action.

“Break the Addiction” : A New Ad from Greenpeace

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

BP Celebrates Earth Day with Bonfire, Oil Spill:
Well Leaks 210,000 Gallons a Day into Gulf of Mexico

Monday, April 26th, 2010

But Seriously, Tragically, 11 Missing Workers Are Presumed Dead

On Saturday, April 24, Coast Guard officials reported that the damaged Deepwater Horizon well on the seafloor in the Gulf of Mexico was leaking oil at a rate of about 42,000 gallons (or 1,000 barrels) per day—since recalculated at 210,000 gallons per day, a fivefold increase. The leak, about 50 miles southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River, is some 5,000 feet (about a mile) below the surface. (Chris Kirkham of the Times-Picayune has written a detailed, illustrated report of efforts to cap the leak.) As of Monday afternoon, April 26, the Coast Guard said the oil spill measured about 48 miles by 39 miles, or 1,800 square miles, an area larger than the state of Rhode Island. John Amos of SkyTruth reports that NASA photographs taken Sunday, April 25, show that oil slicks and sheen (“very thin slick”) covered about 817 square miles. Amos, who in Nov. 2009 was invited to testify at a Senate hearing on the risks posed by offshore drilling, wrote yesterday (April 25):

This is bad news—it means the blowout preventer on that well is not doing its job, and that several attempts by BP, Transocean and the Coast Guard to operate a shutoff valve on the well using a robotic ROV have failed. The oil slick has grown rapidly and now covers 400 miles.

A friend in New Orleans who is an industry insider says the Deepwater Horizon well “was as sophisticated a rig as has been built operating in the Gulf of Mexico (not a rust-bucket).” He adds:

So far, cleanup efforts haven’t done very well. 126,000 gallons of oil have been spilled, but only 33,726 gallons of emulsion (which is part water) have been picked up, and this is when conditions are calm. If you assume a 50/50 water/oil mix (a conservative assumption, IMHO), the cleanup has only been 13% effective.

Dig deeper here: WWL-TV reportCoast Guard unified command updateUSCG District 8 Flickr streamMMS article on closing blowouts (big PDF)

Our friend Aaron Viles of Gulf Restoration Network reports after a flyover on Sunday (read the entire post here):

We were shocked at what we saw. The main spill was at least 8 miles across . . . and stretching for 45 miles, in a Northeastern and Southeastern direction. The crude at the surface of the Gulf has been churned into a ‘chocolate mousse’ material that was easy to spot from our altitude of 4,000 feet. The mousse covered approximately 100 square miles, and then faded into a heavy, then light sheen, which faded about 20 miles from the Chandeleur Islands, critical bird nesting and migration habitat.


Campaign to Save Ivor van Heerden’s Post at LSU

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

Click this video to see testimonies to the critical work of Ivor van Heerden by such experts and friends as John Barry, Dr. Marc Levitan, Harry Shearer, Sandy Rosenthal, Mtangulizi Sanyika, Jed Horne, and Dr. Oliver Houck.

There is a chance—and here there’s a strong hope—that LSU hurricane expert and experienced gadfly / whistle-blower Ivor van Heerden may be able to keep his position at LSU, currently set to expire on May 21. (The university decided last year that it would not renew his contract.) U.S. District Judge James Brady has denied Van Heerden’s request for a temporary restraining order to compel LSU to rehire him when the contract expires, but the judge has agreed to hear a motion on a preliminary injunction that would require the university to rehire him on May 19, before his contract expires. Ivor has said that Judge Brady’s agreement to allow an injunction trial indicates there may be reasonable grounds for preserving his job.

Van Heerden contends that LSU is firing him—and has downgraded the LSU Hurricane Center that he co-founded and served as deputy director—because his criticism of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers after Hurricane Katrina endangers LSU’s ability to bring in lucrative federal research grants. Click here (and see below) for our open letter to LSU Chancellor Michael Martin urging the university administration to retain this invaluable scientist and dedicated protector of Louisiana, its delicate landscape and infrastructure, its people and culture. As Harry Shearer asks in the video above, how is it fair that the one person to lose his job after Hurricane Katrina is a committed scientist who warned repeatedly that the state’s coastal defenses and flood protection infrastructure were vulnerable?


“Something Called ‘Volcano Monitoring’ ”

Friday, April 16th, 2010

[cross-posted at Daily Kos]

“[The Democrats’ stimulus] legislation is larded with wasteful spending. It includes . . . $140 million for something called ‘volcano monitoring.’ Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington, D.C.” —Bobby Jindal, Governor of Louisiana, Feb. 24, 2009

Remember Bobby Jindal’s celebrated response to President Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress in February 2009? It included some, uh, noteworthy moments, not the least of which was his sneer at such “wasteful spending” as “something called ‘volcano monitoring.’” Some speechwriter was probably pleased with that line, but this was a contemptuous display of ignorance on the level of Rudy Giuliani’s ridiculing “community organizer—what’s that?” (6:08) at the 2008 Republican National Convention, and just as deserving of a reality-based comeuppance.

The $140 million for the U.S. Geological Survey was partly intended to provide warnings of impending volcanic eruptions in the U.S. and around the world where American military bases are located. The Americans at Ramstein Air Base in Germany probably appreciate that monitoring equipment right about now.

With international air traffic to Europe disrupted for a second straight day following a massive volcano eruption in Iceland (some 17,000 flights were canceled Friday), we have to use the occasion to poke this over-ambitious governor in the eye and say: “Now do you get it?” Jindal the boy genius used to be respected for his intelligence (Rhodes Scholar) and precocious grasp of complex policy, but those days are over. He is not serving his state or the nation—and not his own career, either—by his know-nothing, anti-science statements and decisions. (See our earlier posts “Mr. Jindal, Tear Down This Ambition” and “From Rising Star to Black Hole.”)


Mr. Jindal, Tear Down This Ambition

Friday, February 20th, 2009


Who says brainy, high-I.Q. types can’t be stunningly obtuse? Or cold-hearted?

We were already highly irritated with Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, by some accounts an educated man, for supporting and signing the creationist, Orwellian-named Louisiana Academic Freedom Act, a law that officially weakens the teaching of evolution and now punishes New Orleans as a national science association sadly announces it would rather meet in Salt Lake City (!) than convene its 2,300 members in an anti-science state.

In today’s G.O.P., a governor with presidential ambitions is a curse that we would not wish on any state.

Now, Jindal says he’ll reject $98 million from the recently passed economic stimulus bill that would go to extend unemployment insurance for up to 25,000 Louisianans.


Swiftly Melting Planet 2007

Friday, October 19th, 2007


Does a global sea-level rise of 10 to 20 feet sound to you like a matter of national security?

Scientists are stunned at the unprecedented speed at which the Arctic ice cap is melting, and fear it may all be gone by 2030, The Guardian (UK) reports. In 2007 the ice melted 24 percent more than it did in 2005. An area almost twice the size of Great Britain disappeared in a single week in September. (The Washington Post’s Oct. 22 report—buried inside on page A10—appears here.)