Hurricane Katrina – 5th anniversary

Since the 5th anniversary will occur at the end of this month, several organizations have been reviewing the events and accomplishments.  The Brookings Institution has issued a series of reports on what has been learned since  Sept. of 2005; the listing of all reports is on the page titled The New Orleans Index at Five.

Their  overview paper (20 pp) is subtitled From Recovery to Transformation, is a very thoughtful report that provides a excellent discussion of the key elements of recovery.

Oil Spill Update – -Not all clear just yet

NOAA issued a major report on August 4, titled Federal Science Report Details Fate of Oil from BP Spill. Nevertheless, other scientists are questioning the methodology and results of the NOAA study.  See Scientists question government team’s report of shrinking gulf oil spill, Wash Post, Aug. 5.  Some quotes from that article:

* * *  in interviews, scientists who worked on the report said the figures were based in large part on assumptions and estimates with a significant margin of error.

Some outside scientists went further: In a situation in which many facts remain murky, they said, the government seemed to have used interpretations that made the gulf — and the federal efforts to save it — look as good as possible.

Regarding some of the human impacts of the spill, see  Oil Spill Has Far-Reaching Effects on Children and Families, a new report by Dr. Irwin Redlener, Columbia University. His study found significant impacts on  health, economic stability, and daily routines. August, 2010. From the report:

More than one-quarter (26.6%) of coastal residents said they thought they might have to move away from the Gulf Coast. Among those earning less then $25,000, the figure was 36.3%. Children whose parents think they may move are almost three times more likely to have mental health distress than are children whose parents do not expect to move.

BP Oil Disaster–Where is the oil?

Yesterday we reported the official estimate  that almost 5 million barrels of oil have been released into the gulf, yet, everyone seems to be asking the same question: Where did it all go?  A couple of interesting sources are available to address this quandary.

First, a Louisiana based television station took a camera and reporter out to a barrier island to investigate reports of oil beneath the sand. The beaches appeared clean, however, just walking in the sand provided hints to the trouble below as oil oozed up in the footprints, and many dead sand crabs littered the beach.

Secondly, another blog written by the University of Georgia Department of Marine Science, simply entitled “Gulf Oil Blog” also asked the question:  Where has the oil gone?  Their Aug. 1 blog posting attempts to quash rumors that the oil has just magically evaporated and/or been eaten by microorganisms. From that posting:

Should we be relieved?  Is this disaster over?

On the whole, I believe the answer to both questions is no.  It is a relief that the volume of surface oil is reduced, as this lowers the probability of oil-fouling of coastal beaches and marshes.  However, it’s likely that a great deal of oil is still out there in the Gulf of Mexico’s waters, it’s just no longer visible to us.

While some of the oil has most certainly evaporated, much of it was dispersed and this oil is still floating around, invisible to our eyes, within the ocean’s water column.   Some of the oil has probably sedimented to the seafloor, where it is also invisible to our eyes.  The fact that this oil is “invisible” makes it no less of a danger to the Gulf’s fragile ecosystems.  Quite the contrary, the danger is real and the danger is much more difficult to quantify, track and assess.

The Gulf Oil Blog also addresses the question of how to determine the long-term impacts from all of the dispersants used in this response. Although official tests have pointed to no more toxicity than oil alone (per yesterday’s EPA report), some scientists seem to be unconvinced. This Huffington Post article, originally posted on July 29 is entitled: “Scientist Find Evidence that Dispersant Mix are Making Their Way into the Food Chain“. The scientist they quote are from the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory and Tulane University.

Clearly there is much to learn, and this disaster will be with us for many years to come.

Thanks again to Claire for letting me blog, Kim.

Oil Spill Disaster–BP Muzzling Scientist?

Chairmen Waxman and Markey Question BP on Scientific Suppression

The Committee on Energy and Commerce seems to be just as concerned as we are regarding the suppression of scientific research from experts hired by BP. Last Thursday, July 29, a letter was sent to BP requesting their appearance on Aug. 6 to address the matter. From the Committee’s page:

Following recent reports indicating that BP has hired academic experts to study the oil spill and imposed confidentiality agreements on the independent scientists, Reps. Henry A. Waxman (D-CA) and Edward J. Markey (D-MA) requested full disclosure of the contracts today from BP.

“Mitigating the long term impact of the oil spill will require an open exchange of scientific data and analysis,” write Reps. Waxman and Markey to BP America CEO Lamar McKay.  “Any effort to muzzle scientists or shield their findings under doctrines of legal privileges could seriously impede the recovery.”

The  two congressmen ask BP to brief the Committee on Energy and Commerce by August 6, 2010, on the matter, and provide “copies of all contracts that BP has executed with any third party consultant, scientist, or academic, from the period April 20, 2010, to the present, relating to assessing the environmental and health impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill or restoration efforts in the Gulf of Mexico.”

See also this article from the LA Times.

Oil Spill Disaster – July 29 – followup on scientific research

After talking to two officials at the National Science Foundation, it is clear that the federal government is sponsoring essential research regarding the oil spill disaster. For details of their efforts, see the Gulf Oil Spill page on the NSF website. Attached is a recent list of NSF funded project — NSF-Funded Gulf Oil Spill RAPIDs — so that you can see the work that is, or soon will be, underway.  There are more than 40 awards for a total of about $5M.  Note that the NSF gives researchers full latitude to share their results. [Thanks to Dr. Josh Chamot of the NSF for this information.]

One example of an interesting website that provides details on the impacts and consequences of the Gulf Oil Spill is the work of Prof. James Corbett at the Univ. of DE.

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Oil Spill Disaster – Day 100 – issues re science research

The issue of the sharing of scientific findings is discussed in the July 27 in a Washington Post opinion piece titled Research on gulf oil spill shouldn’t take a backseat to litigation. Plus the article raises a new topic, that of the need for a comprehensive and strategic look at the research needed for such a major disaster event; I would argue both hard science and social science research should be included in such a comprehensive plan.

Our nation needs a comprehensive science plan to learn from and respond better to this tragedy. Those working in academia, federal and state government, nongovernmental organizations, and industry need to be consulted and included. The federal government must also make funding available, apart from the NRDA process, to enable independent, peer-reviewed science to be undertaken.

Also related to the topic is a recent statement by the American Assoc. of University Professors regard BP’s impact on academic freedom following the Gulf oil spill. See attached file titled  ACADEMIC FREEDOM.  One quote from that statement follows:

Perhaps this is the time to reexamine the increasing role corporations are playing in funding and controlling university research. Universities should work with faculty to set ethical standards for industry collaboration that champion the public interest and discourage faculty members from selling their freedom of speech and research to the highest bidder.

Thanks to Bill Cumming for bringing this statement to my attention. It is a timely addition to the topic discussed in today’s post.

CNN has posted an interesting summary of the effects, on the 100 day anniversary of the spill. See this article. And CNN also has posted some dramatic graphics of the spill since day 1.

Problems Conducting Research for Oil Spill – shortage of equipment and politics affect choice of researchers

Gulf Disaster Changes Landscape for Scientists Eager to Do Research. ProPublico, June 29.

At a time when some scientists are more eager than ever to gather information on the state of the Gulf, it seems their access to the Gulf is also more limited than ever. That’s because the federal government has swept up the available research vessels and hired consulting firms to do the work, according to Richard Shaw, associate dean of the School of the Coast and Environment at Louisiana State University. As a result, ship time–and direct access to the Gulf to take samples–is nearly impossible for independent scientists to come by.

Other problems include the Gulf State Governors directing research funds to their state institutions.