Thursday, July 31, 2008

Researchers Hope New Technology Can Increase Warning Times, Save Lives

Researchers Hope New Technology Can Increase Warning Times, Save Lives

Researchers Hope New Technology Can Increase Warning Times, Save Lives


July 25, 2008 —

As a record-breaking and increasingly deadly tornado season wreaked havoc across middle America this summer, researchers have been testing a new, high-tech radar system that could help forecasters better pinpoint when, where and how a twister  or any other storm for that matter  will strike.

The United States has the most powerful radar network in the world -- a national system called NEXRAD. But even so, the average tornado warning comes only 12 minutes before the storm strikes -- and three quarters of the warnings are false alarms.

"We don't want to have people who are waiting 10, 15, 20 minutes, and then nothing happens," said Kevin A. Kloesel, associate dean of the College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences at the University of Oklahoma.

To that end, university researchers, in conjunction with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which runs the National Weather Service, have been quietly testing a new high-tech system of radars that can see what current NOAA radars can't: storm activity that is close to the ground.

"The National Weather Service operates a radar network and those radars are located hundreds of miles apart. They cover huge areas, are large and do surveillance scanning over the area they cover," Kloesel said. "The problem with large scanning radar is that the farther you look out  when you send a beam straight out, the Earth is actually curving away from it as you get farther and farther away. When you get 90 to 100 miles out, that beam is sensing the storm at 8,000 to 10,000 feet."

According to Kloesel, who has worked on the project since it began six years ago, earth curvature creates an "umbrella" close to the ground that radars can't see; this new system, called Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere (CASA), is designed to look under that umbrella, where severe weather, like tornadoes, and hail actually form.

In order to achieve that, CASA is built around a system of radars that are low to the ground, on cell phone towers, for example, and scan smaller areas.

"We see what's going on down low much better than you can with the existing technology," Kloesel said.

Unlike existing weather radars, however, the CASA radars also communicate with one another, so if a tornado is tearing through an Iowa town for example, the radars can communicate with each other and follow it as it travels its path instead of continuing to examine random areas that aren't experiencing any storm activity.

"The current system of radars [doesn't] interact with one another. It just sits and spins," Kloesel said. "[With CASA], you can have multiple radars sensing the same storm. They work in many instances like air traffic controllers."

Kloesel doesn't view CASA as competition for current radar technology, but rather a great way for NOAA to get an even clearer picture from both the ground and the air of what's happening in a storm.

"Storms are three-dimensional, so even though a storm might be producing a tornado, the current technology is going to [only] give us a good look at what's going on in the upper part of that atmosphere," he said.

CASA could be especially helpful in areas that are prone to severe weather, like Houston, a city that often floods  the radars can accurately report rainfall  or other rain-related activity, in any part of tornado alley.

Another area where CASA could help? With warnings. Currently, the National Weather Service only delivers warnings when a tornado is detected. When a tornado warning is issued, for example, residents have an average of 12 minutes before the tornado hits. Some storm victims had even less than that. Like residents in Iowa and neighboring Kansas on June 11, when a series of tornados swept through. Four people were killed at a Boy Scout outing in Iowa, where some survivors said they had only three or four minutes notice.

Currently, before issuing a warning, the weather service often issues a less imminent tornado watch, that usually covers a wide area that experts say too many residents ignore.

"Sometimes people have to take a little more care," said Penn State meteorologist Jay Searles. "If people aren't able to look and take a little personally responsibility, it is a little hard to do. Educating yourself can really aid or help prevent disasters from happening as far as loss of life."

With CASA on the other hand, forecasters could do a "warning on forecast" model. Because the radars are watching what's happening with weather so close to the ground, forecasters would be able to issue warning with pinpoint accuracy up to two hours ahead of time where and when a tornado is likely to strike, according to Kloesel.

"We hope to be able to lower the false-alarm rate from the current 75 percent, maybe down to 10 or 20 percent," said Kelvin Deoegemeier, a professor of meteorology at the University of Oklahoma.

The study is facing a funding review from the National Science Foundation later this year and questions of infrastructure and cost are likely to be asked, said Kloesel, who declined to give cost estimates, saying they were out of date and not ready to be published. But whatever the cost, he says that as far as the researchers are concerned, the system is ready to be used.

"When you visit other states -- Texas, Wyoming -- they're clamoring for radars like this," said Jerry Brotzge, operations director for the CASA project at the University of Oklahoma. "They're willing to pay out of their own city money to buy a radar like this."


Tornadoes: Basic What-To-Dos
Tornadoes are the most violent storm and one of Earth's most dangerous catastrophes. Whirling winds usually exceed 100mph and can reach speeds of 300mph. An average of 1,000 tornadoes spin up beneath thunderstorms in the USA each year.

Tornadoes can occur any time of the year but they are most rampant during USA's spring season because spring brings favorable tornado conditions.

The National Weather Service's Glossary of Meteorology defines a tornado as "a violently rotating column of air in contact with the ground and pendant from a thunderstorm." The thunderstorm is the first step in the formation of a tornado. If other weather conditions are right, the thunderstorm will spin out more tornadoes and cast catastrophe in land.

In the US, it damages the central and mountain state areas stretching from Texas to Nebraska. These states include Iowa, Colorado, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas (known as Tornado Alley). In fact, tornadoes have already occurred in other states in the East Coast and West Coast but not as violent as what is normally occurring in the central and mountain states.

The six-tiered Fujita Scale ranks the damage that tornadoes make. F0 and F1 tornadoes on the scale are considered “weak” causing minimal to moderate damage with winds from 40-12 mph. F2 and F3 tornadoes are considered strong, packing winds of 113-206 mph that can cause major, severe damage. F4 and F5 tornadoes are classified with winds exceeding 206 mph.

Weak tornadoes travel in short distances for 10 minutes or less. Violent tornadoes, however, lasts for hours and can travel more than 100 miles.

Tornadoes can come without warning but there is always a tornado warning. Tornado warning means that a tornado has been sighted. If it is issued in your area, seek underground storm shelter immediately and bring emergency necessities like aid kits and important documents. Aid kits – first aid items, water, food, flashlight, transistor radio, batteries, and waterproof containers. Important documents – an inventory of your belongings, appliances, furniture, fixtures, for insurance purposes, and documents like birth certificates, etc.


Know the signs of a tornado: Weather forecasting science is not perfect and some tornadoes do occur without a tornado warning. There is no substitute for staying alert to the sky. Besides an obviously visible tornado, here are some things to look and listen for: strong, persistent rotation in the cloud base; whirling dust or debris on the ground under a cloud base -- tornadoes sometimes have no funnel; Hail or heavy rain followed by either dead calm or a fast, intense wind shift. Many tornadoes are wrapped in heavy precipitation and can't be seen; Day or night - Loud, continuous roar or rumble, which doesn't fade in a few seconds like thunder; Night - Small, bright, blue-green to white flashes at ground level near a thunderstorm (as opposed to silvery lightning up in the clouds). These mean power lines are being snapped by very strong wind, maybe a tornado; Night - Persistent lowering from the cloud base, illuminated or silhouetted by lightning -- especially if it is on the ground or there is a blue-green-white power flash underneath.

And lastly, have a family tornado plan in place. Flying debris are an added danger along tornadoes. When a tornado watch is issued, think about the drill and check to make sure all your safety supplies are handy. Or immediately check your storm cellar if you have available supplies down there.


Forget about the old notion of opening windows to equalize pressure; the tornado will blast open the windows for you!

The safest place to be during a tornado is underground. If there's hurricane safe room in your home, a small room in the middle of house -- like a bathroom or a closet -- is best. The more walls between you and the outside the better.


Keep your family together and wait for emergency personnel to arrive. Carefully render aid to those who are injured. Stay away from power lines and puddles with wires in them; they may still be carrying electricity! Watch your step to avoid broken glass, nails, and other sharp objects. Stay out of any heavily damaged houses or buildings; they could collapse at any time. Do not use matches or lighters, in case of leaking natural gas pipes or fuel tanks nearby. Remain calm and alert, and listen for information and instructions from emergency crews or local officials.


They sought shelter but the sea took them

The storm wrecked the San Cuvier and killed two of the crew. Photo / Alan Gibson

The skipper who lost his life when his fishing boat ran aground in treacherous seas yesterday was an experienced seaman who had lived through many violent storms.

Eric Barratt, managing director of Sanford, which owned the stranded San Cuvier, told the Herald last night the man and his crew had attempted to launch the liferaft at Haurere Pt near Opotiki when it became clear the boat would run aground.

The two men who died have not been named, nor have the two crew members who survived.

A minute's silence was held at the fish market in Auckland this morning to mark the deaths.

A 16-year-old from Auckland was in a stable condition in the surgical unit of Whakatane Hospital yesterday and a second man, also from Auckland, was treated for hypothermia and discharged.

Their two colleagues were among four people thought to have lost their lives in weather-related incidents over the weekend.

James Moore, 33, died when his outrigger canoe hit rough waters off Mt Maunganui on Saturday afternoon.

He had left Maketu with three friends and went missing in the rough seas. His body was recovered yesterday.

The fourth storm victim is a 38-year-old man who died in a house fire at Meremere in the Waikato which is believed to have been started by a candle after a power cut.

The crew of the San Cuvier had managed to set off a distress beacon at 3.30am yesterday from their location 11km east of Opotiki, but did not have time for a mayday call.

The survivors were picked up by helicopter about three hours later. The body of one of the men was recovered but the second was swept out to sea. A second attempt to recover his body is to be made this morning.

Mr Barratt said the San Cuvier was normally based in Auckland but was making trips from Tauranga. The ill-fated voyage was to have lasted four or five days, he said.

He did not know what had happened to cause the boat to run aground and wasn't sure if weather warnings had been received. There would be an investigation.

"We had several vessels out and once the storm warning came, they got to shelter. We fish all through the year and when storms come along, the vessels take shelter," said Mr Barratt.

Eyewitness Margaret Thompson, who lives at Haurere Pt, told the Herald the men were trying to take their boat out again after coming ashore to shelter from the storm.

Two of the four were rescued from rocks nearly three hours after setting off the distress beacon.

She had invited one of the survivors into her home to "keep warm by the fire and have a hot drink while he waited" for the helicopter to finish searching.

Maritime NZ spokeswoman Shona Brown said emergency services initially had some trouble tracking the emergency beacon from the vessel.

"The boat was under some rocks and the satellite system may have found it difficult to find it because of that."

A fixed-wing plane found the boat shortly after heading into the air about 5.50am, and the helicopter arrived about 6.30am.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Dust Storms In Sahara Desert Sustain Life In Atlantic Ocean

Dust Storms In Sahara Desert Sustain Life In Atlantic Ocean

ScienceDaily (July 19, 2008)
Research at the University of Liverpool has found how Saharan dust storms help sustain life over extensive regions of the North Atlantic Ocean.

Working aboard research vessels in the Atlantic, scientists mapped the distribution of nutrients including phosphorous and nitrogen and investigated how organisms such as phytoplankton are sustained in areas with low nutrient levels.

They found that plants are able to grow in these regions because they are able to take advantage of iron minerals in Saharan dust storms. This allows them to use organic or ‘recycled’ material from dead or decaying plants when nutrients such as phosphorous – an essential component of DNA – in the ocean are low.

Professor George Wolff, from the University’s Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences, explains: “We found that cyanobacteria – a type of ancient phytoplankton – are significant to the understanding of how ocean deserts can support plant growth. Cyanobacteria need nitrogen, phosphorous and iron in order to grow. They get nitrogen from the atmosphere, but phosphorous is a highly reactive chemical that is scarce in sea water and is not found in the Earth’s atmosphere. Iron is present only in tiny amounts in sea water, even though it is one of the most abundant elements on earth.

“Our findings suggest that Saharan dust storms are largely responsible for the significant difference between the numbers of cyanobacteria in the North and South Atlantic. The dust fertilises the North Atlantic and allows phytoplankton to use organic phosphorous, but it doesn’t reach the southern regions and so without enough iron, phytoplankton are unable to use the organic material and don’t grow as successfully.”

Professor Ric Williams, co-author of the research, added: “The Atlantic is often referred to as an ‘ocean desert’ because many nutrients, which are essential in plant life cycles, are either scarce or are only accessible in the darker depths of the ocean. Plants, however, need some sunlight in order to absorb these important nutrients and so can’t always access them from the ocean depths. They therefore need to find the nutrients from elsewhere. Now that we are able to show how cyanobacteria make use of organic material we can understand more clearly how life is sustained in the ocean and why it isn’t an ‘ocean desert.’

“These findings are important because plant life cycles are essential in maintaining the balance of gases in our atmosphere. In looking at how plants survive in this area, we have shown how the Atlantic is able to draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through the growth of photosynthesising plants.”

The research is published in Nature GeoScience.

The study also involved scientists at the National Oceanographic Centre, Southampton and the Plymouth Marine Laboratory. The work was funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council.


Powerful dust devil suspected in death

Associated Press - June 21, 2008 3:45 PM ET

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) - Meteorologists in Casper believe a strong dust devil is probably what blew over a 1,000-pound shed and killed a South Dakota woman this past week.

A micro burst was initially suspected in the accident that killed Jennifer Job-Massa, of Sioux Falls, S.D.

But National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Jones says a micro burst is usually a mile or more across and would most likely have caused other damage in the area.

Jones says a dust devil, or whirlwind, can have the similar effect of a tornado on a much smaller scale.

Authorities believe the 60-to 80-mph winds in the dust devil toppled the shed Wednesday as Job-Massa likely sought shelter behind it.

Waterspout Forms Off Deerfield Beach

DEERFIELD BEACH (CBS4) ― Beachgoers on Deerfield Beach had quite a sight Tuesday morning when a waterspout formed just offshore.

The short-lived waterspout was spotted around 10:00 a.m. It lingered there for a few minutes and didn't move much before it dissipated.

A few showers or storms could make it onshore throughout the morning and early afternoon hours, but no severe weather is anticipated.

Waterspouts can easily overturn boats and create locally hazardous seas. According to the National Weather Service, the best course of evasive action if threatened by a waterspout is to move at a 90 degree angle from its apparent movement. Seek safe harbor immediately.

(© MMVIII, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.)


Though the Compact is signed, Great Lakes are still at risk

THE Great Lakes Compact took 10 years to write and pass, generated a thousand adoring news releases, and now goes off to Washington for what the region hopes is quick approval by Congress. Great work, right? Not so fast - let's look past the self-congratulatory press releases.
Advertised as a guarantee of "a future in which the Great Lakes are forever sustained" (Gov. Ted Strickland of Ohio), "a strong regional warning to chronically dry regions of the South and West" (Chicago Tribune), and "something that will protect the Great Lakes for generations to come" (Wisconsin state Sen. Scott Gunderson), it's actually a way for bottled-water companies to gain rights to sell Great Lakes water.

What's the problem? Doesn't this pact set standards to limit or deny major Great Lakes diversions? Yes, for the most part through a pipe, but not in small containers. Also not addressed is the connection between groundwater and the Great Lakes. Groundwater is tied to the Great Lakes, supplying much of their flow.

To understand the biggest problem, it's important to remember how the whole thing got started 10 years ago.

In May, 1998, it suddenly became known through media reports that the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources granted a permit to a private firm, the Nova Group, that wanted to ship up to 50 tanker vessels of Lake Superior water each year to unidentified private customers in Asia.
Turning Great Lakes water into a product - especially the water of Lake Superior, the purest and coldest of the Lakes - fueled indignation among citizens on both sides of the international border. Chastened after public hearings and media scoldings, the Nova Group gave up its permit, and Lake Superior was given a reprieve.

To prevent the Great Lakes from ever being shipped out as a commercial product, the eight states plus Ontario and Quebec began drawing up a binding agreement to prevent it. But something happened in the 10 years it took to produce that agreement.

Instead of banning the conversion of the Great Lakes to a product, the Compact promotes selling it in small containers. The agreement allows pumping and packaging of Great Lakes water - in the hundreds of millions of gallons per project per year - as long as the packages are 5.7 gallons or less in volume. Michigan has already allowed this practice. Any of the eight Great Lakes states could have closed the loophole within their borders. None have.

It's not an accident that an agreement designed to forbid water exports from the Great Lakes by private entrepreneurs now condones them. The bottled-water industry, not a serious economic force in 1998, burst on the scene, lavished its favors on elected officials, and is now slurping up the benefits.

In the Ohio General Assembly, conservative compact opponents held up the agreement by requiring a vote on a state constitutional amendment that will give more ammunition to private interests who want to draw down Great Lakes and Ohio River groundwater. "The government is being encouraged to take people's property without paying for it," said State Sen. Timothy Grendell. "That is flat-out un-American."

The irony is that the compact and Ohio's proposed state constitutional amendment may confer a new private property right - to Nestle and other giant water-for-sale companies. That's something few Great Lakes citizens, but many Great Lakes lobbyists, can go for.

Under centuries of common law and common sense, water has been regarded as a publicly owned resource, too important for navigation, fishing, and ecology to be privatized. The compact turns that upside down and puts the essence of life up for sale to private parties. That is un-American.

Michigan, the Great Lakes State, generated its share of bubbly news releases when its compact approval and related legislation was signed into law by Gov. Jennifer Granholm on Wednesday. But its water conservation laws remain some of the weakest in the region. They allow the draining of up to 25 percent of a stream, don't subject most major water withdrawals to any state approval, and lack funding for implementation and enforcement. And, for the second time in three years, the state has affirmed that a torrent of water flowing out of Michigan in high-priced containers is not actually an export barred by law.

The Great Lakes won't be lost tomorrow. But they won't be saved by the compact the day after tomorrow. It's time for the people of the Great Lakes region to assert their common ownership and control of the water that feeds them and the lakes. It will take a pitched battle and vast persistence in every state to make it happen.

The clock is ticking. Water is the resource that will bring economic opportunities to the Great Lakes region. The lakes contain 95 percent of U.S. and 18 percent of the world's surface fresh water. It makes no sense to sell them off in boatloads or truckloads of bottles.

One Michigan newspaper said, "Without the compact, the region's water could be put at risk." The problem is that with the compact, the region's water remains at risk and in some ways may be in greater danger than before. The work of assuring that the Great Lakes are not exported and drained is only beginning.

Dave Dempsey is author of "Great Lakes for Sale," published by University of Michigan Press this year. He was environmental policy adviser to Gov. James Blanchard of Michigan from 1983 to 1989.


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

NOAA Reminds Beachgoers That Rip Currents Can Be a Threat

NOAA Reminds Beachgoers That Rip Currents Can Be a Threat

Heading to the beach for summer vacation? NOAA is urging beachgoers to learn how to “Break the Grip” of rip currents before getting into the water. Rip currents are a deadly threat — accounting for more than 80 percent of lifeguard beach rescues.

Rip currents are narrow channels of fast-moving water that pull swimmers away from the shore. They can occur at any beach with breaking waves, including the Great Lakes.

Moving at speeds of up to eight feet per second, rip currents can move faster than an Olympic swimmer and can easily overpower a victim. Panicked swimmers often incorrectly swim straight back to shore — putting themselves at risk of drowning because of fatigue.

If caught in a rip current, don’t fight it! Swim parallel to the shore and then swim at an angle – away from the current – toward shore.

“We have a constant education campaign about rip currents since many people visit the beach infrequently and may be unfamiliar with this leading surf hazard,” said Timothy Schott, meteorologist with NOAA’s National Weather Service Marine and Coastal Branch in Silver Spring, Md. “This year, we have developed bilingual English-Spanish signs to reach a wider audience with life-saving instructions on how to break the grip.”

"Rip currents can be killers. The United States Lifesaving Association estimates that the annual number of deaths due to rip currents on our nation's beaches exceeds 100,” said Peter Davis, president of the Gulf Coast Region of the United States Lifesaving Association and chief of the Galveston Island Beach Patrol. “The greatest safety precaution that can be taken is to recognize the danger of rip currents and always remember to swim at beaches with lifeguards."

NOAA also offers the following safety tips:

  1. Swim at lifeguard-protected beaches.
  2. Never swim alone.
  3. Speak to on duty lifeguards about rip currents and other expected water hazards.

Many coastal National Weather Service offices issue what's known as Surf Zone Forecasts that provide a low, moderate or high description of rip current risk. All NOAA National Weather Service offices include moderate to high risk of rip currents in their Hazardous Weather Outlook. These forecasts are available online at

More safety tips and educational materials are free and available to download at

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of our nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than 70 countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.


On July 13th 2008, 15 year old Chicago youth Devant Jackson was swept away from Kimel Beach at the National Lake Shore Park in Indiana. On July 16th his body was recovered. Recovery Photo by Team Robin Storm.Delete caption


Extra 3 trillion gallons of water in Lake Michigan Lake Michigan's water level has risen 8 inches above the same period a year ago. Once just 6 to 12 inches above all-time lows, lake levels are up in response to the same downpours that caused many area rivers to flood. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which monitors the Great Lakes, predicts the higher levels are to hold through the coming months, though, barring new waves of heavy rains, the biggest rises have probably already occurred. Interconnected Lakes Michigan and Huron are unlikely to change significantly in the next month.

The corps reports other Great Lakes have experienced increased levels as well, with Lake Superior 16 inches higher than a year ago. The rise in Lake Michigan means the lake has added approximately 3.12 trillion gallons since a year ago.

Blistering heat continues to grip the southern Plains. The heat has anchored northwest jet-stream winds over the area, which have slowed the eastward expansion of hot air in recent months.


Windoc Incident - Story Behind YouTube’s Most Chilling Video

July 21st, 2008 ·

<span class=Windoc Damaged and at anchor after collision and fire"
The Windoc blocks the canal. Alex Howard

In August 2001 the Bulk Carrier Windoc was lined up on the Welland Canal’s Bridge 11 in Ontario Canada. After recieving the flashing amber approach light indicating that the bridge operator was aware of the vessel the captain lined up on the centerline and maintained a speed of 5 knots. Minutes later while the vessel was half way through the bridge started descending.

A Time for Restraint: Maritime Disasters Usually Not What They Seem… A Time for Restraint: Maritime Disasters Usually Not What They Seem…

Cosco Busan case and a new crisis on the Mississippi River attracting speculation and needless drama – and sometimes, grandstanding.

I briefly considered putting together a couple of news articles regarding either the latest Cosco Busan case developments or the Mississippi River for the online edition this week, but what passes for "fact" seems to change so fast that I am quite sure I'd get it wrong. Hence, I'm going to let others make suppositions and prognosticate about what happened, didn't happen or who is to blame. However, that won't stop me from wondering if those who have continuously excoriated Captain John Cota in the news might just be backpedaling a notch or two.

In the latest twist out west, the Cosco Busan operator is now accused of fabricating records to hinder the NTSB and DOJ probes of the November 2007 allision in San Francisco Bay (see the USDOJ press release elsewhere in this e-newsletter). I don't know who else can be charged for what else, but it is getting pretty hard to follow along without a scorecard. To say that this has been the most bizarre set of circumstances I have ever witnessed in relation to any maritime accident would be a gross understatement. I've said it once before and I'll reiterate for you again: I'm not going to make any suppositions or predictions in this case.

Too often, we in the maritime industry are collectively quick to come to conclusions in any matter brought before us. I know that I received scores of "submitted articles" in the months that immediately followed the Cosco Busan allision, each purporting to know what went wrong, how and who was to blame. I'm glad that, at least in this case, I largely refrained from piling on or providing a venue for these papers. The only thing that I am sure of right now is that a great deal went badly wrong on that day and that the end result of all of it is going to be painful for a lot of people, companies, the environment and the list goes on…

Further east, on the mighty Mississippi River, a Liberian-flagged oil tanker collided with a US-flagged fuel barge near downtown New Orleans on Wednesday morning. According to official sources, as much as 375,000 gallons (8928 barrels) of oil spilled from the barge into the river. The incident resulted in the partial closure of one of the nation's most important waterways as a massive response was organized. The NTSB announced that they had an investigative team on the way at about the same time that the Coast Guard reported, "Representatives from the tug boat, Mel Oliver, report that there were no properly licensed individuals on the vessel during the time that the incident occurred."

It is again tempting to write my own piece about the Mississippi River collision and related oil spill, but I think I'll pass again. For example, I'm quite sure that any number of people will now speculate about the absence of "licensed individuals" on the vessel at the time of the collision. Like the Cosco Busan casualty, however, you can be sure that the general public – like you and I – are only looking at the tip of the iceberg in terms of the facts. At this point, the best any of us can do is look at the official news releases and get out of the way. There is serious work to be done.

In his AM e-newsletter today, Holland & Knight's Dennis Bryant succinctly outlined events happening on the Mississippi River and also told his readers, "The pressure on the Coast Guard will be intense due to the economic impact of the closure. Please be assured that everyone will be working on completion of this mission will all due dispatch. Now is not the time to divert resources to respond to inquiries from the media and others that can await a more in-depth analysis." I think that's pretty good advice.

In contrast, another press release, this time from a well-known Washington politician, characterized the Mississippi River incident as "Nothing Less Than a Tragedy." This gem of wisdom came from Congressman Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD), who also reassured all of us that "…my colleagues on the Subcommittee and I will be thoroughly examining the causes leading up to this devastating event." Well, duh. Cummings also said that it was his hope that "the members of the U.S. Coast Guard will approach this incident with the same effectiveness and efficiency that was demonstrated in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and I will be in close communication with them to ensure that this is the case."

I don't know about you, but I'm not going to sleep better tonight knowing that a Washington politician will be micromanaging the very people that are responding to this incident and spill. And, as others have said far better than I could do it, "Now is not the time to divert resources to respond to inquiries from the media and others…" The temptation to grandstand in these situations is enormous, especially when there are points to be scored. It's a little like having an aspiring presidential candidate fly into the middle of a disaster for a photo opportunity. Instead, I think we should all keep our eyes on the ball; and by that I mean, let the Coast Guard do their job unencumbered and the investigators sort out the mess.

Joseph Keefe is the Managing Editor of THE MARITIME EXECUTIVE. He can be reached with comments and/or questions on this or any other article in this newsletter at


Monday, July 28, 2008

Satellite View Of Cloud Tops Might Warn Of Storms

Satellite View Of Cloud Tops Might Warn Of Storms

ScienceDaily (July 11, 2008)
For three years, a new way to use data collected by NOAA weather satellites has been giving North Alabama short-term warnings of "pop-up" thunderstorms.

Developed by scientists at The University of Alabama in Huntsville, this new computer program is now spreading to other parts of the U.S. and the world. Later this summer a version of the UAHuntsville weather program will begin forecasting storms throughout Central America, Southern Mexico and the Dominican Republic.

The UAHuntsville Satellite Convection AnalySis & Tracking System (SATCASTS) monitors cumulus clouds as they develop, move and grow through time, according to the person who brainstormed the idea behind the program, Dr. John Mecikalski, an assistant professor of atmospheric science at UAHuntsville.

The program uses data from NOAA’s GOES weather satellites to provide 15-minute to one hour warnings of local thunderstorms. This is the first time forecasters anywhere have had a tool to forecast storms that develop locally. This differs from Doppler radar, which only tracks rain after it starts to fall.

"The radar tells you what's happening, but not what's going to happen," said Wayne MacKenzie, a research associate in UAHuntsville's Earth System Science Center and a member of the SATCASTS development team.

Operated by UAHuntsville scientists for the National Weather Service forecast office in Huntsville for about three years, SATCASTS has been accurate in its storm forecasts between 65 and 75 percent of the time. It has successfully identified hazards generated by thunderstorms, including lightning, hail, high wind, flash floods and turbulence.

Mecikalski got the idea for SATCASTS in 2001, when he was affiliated with NOAA’s Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Studies. He was looking for a way to determine which of the thousands of cumulus clouds present on any given summer afternoon will become thunderstorms. (One percent or less of clouds develop into rain clouds.) He has continued his research since joining the faculty at UAHuntsville in January 2004.

Using data from the GOES visible and infrared sensors, SATCASTS tracks changes in both cloud temperature (height) and water vapor. This data is updated every 15 minutes.

The UAHuntsville team has determined that one of the most important factors in predicting thunderstorms is temperature change. If the top of a cloud cools by 4 C (about 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) or more in 15 minutes, that means the cloud is growing quickly and there is a growing probability of rain beginning within 30 minutes to an hour. A 4 C drop in temperature typically means a cloud top has climbed between 1/4 to 1/3 of a kilometer.

Based on its success in the Huntsville forecast office, scientists at UAHuntsville are working with the National Weather Service to transition SATCASTS into the storm prediction systems in forecast offices in Birmingham, AL, and Nashville, TN, as well as both Melbourne and Miami, FL.

The UAHuntsville team is also working with NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to test SATCASTS' possible utility in aviation and air traffic control. The system is being tested at the FAA’s New York City air traffic control center. If successful, SATCASTS might be used worldwide to warn pilots of storms, turbulence and other weather threats before they occur.

Other organizations evaluating the operational implementation of the SATCASTS algorithm include the European Meteorological Satellite agency and the South African Weather Service. Discussions are also under way to bring SATCASTS capabilities to East Africa.

While SATCASTS joins a sophisticated and extensive network of weather monitoring systems in the U.S., it is expected to have special value in regions where storm forecasting and monitoring have been limited or non-existent. The system is relatively inexpensive to install and operate, since it uses freely distributed weather data from existing satellite sensors.

NOAA-funded research at UAHuntsville will focus on expanding SATCASTS' capabilities. In areas where Doppler radar networks do not exist, SATCASTS might be used in the future to track frontal storm systems and provide severe weather warnings that are not presently available, Mecikalski said.

"This makes SATCASTS and satellite-based rainfall predictions very relevant in many developing countries, when ground-based radar is absent but high quality satellite data are in place."

The UAHuntsville SATCASTS team includes Mecikalski, two other scientists and three graduate students. The project has been supported by more than $1 million in funding from NOAA, NASA and the FAA.

Research on improving SATCASTS is ongoing and is expected to continue for at least five years. New areas of research include 30-to-90-minute lightning and flash flood forecasts.

The UAHuntsville team is also working on a next generation SATCASTS, which will take advantage of the improved sensing systems that will be available when NOAA launches it GOES-R series of satellites beginning in 2016. Sensors on those satellites will collect data in more channels, more often and at higher resolution.


Thunderstorms and Camping Safety

When folks go camping, whether into the wilderness or just locally, they have to be prepared to deal with whatever weather happens to be going on during their campout. If you've done any camping at all, chances are you've experienced a few thunderstorms, up close and personal in a tent, or while hiking and otherwise enjoying the outdoors.

It's my "day job" to be involved in hazardous weather, mostly from thunderstorms. Thunderstorms have a beneficial side, but on some occasions, they become more than a minor inconvenience for campers and those involved in outdoor activities. Through my Scouting experiences, I've had many opportunities to see how young people and their adult leaders operate during a campout.

Teenage boys are legendary for trying to act "macho" and getting stuck in situations that have become dangerous. Unfortunately, adult leaders sometimes can be just as silly and ignorant as the boys. It's often said "What you don't know can't hurt you." Absolutely wrong!! Ignorance and macho trips can result in terrible tragedies once in a while, and I doubt that anyone would want that on their conscience.

Lightning hazards

Thunderstorms all produce lightning in varying amounts ... sometimes there's just an odd flash or two ... other times, the storms produce lightning nearly continuously, with lots of flashes to ground. It's the flashes from the cloud to the ground (CG flashes, for short) that create problems. They typically are only a small percentage of the total flashes produced by a thunderstorm; most lightning stays within the clouds. But it only takes one CG flash to get you! The human body is basically a bag of salty water, which conducts electricity a lot better than air, so the lightning will often try to travel through you to reach the ground.

Lightning and thunder are so common as to seem just part of the background. Often, as children, lightning and thunder frighten us. As young people mature (especially boys), it becomes a "macho" thing to show they are not afraid of a thunderstorm. Well, I'm certainly not advocating that we over-react, and head for home at the first sign of any thunderstorm ... but I want to suggest that we not go to the opposite extreme and pay virtually no attention to the threat that lightning strikes pose. Any thunderstorm should be a matter of concern, and the campers should already know what to do if the situation becomes hazardous.

It's pretty unlikely that you'll ever be struck by lightning. Scientists cannot make accurate predictions of when and where lightning will strike or how often, so for all practical purposes, it looks pretty random. Nevertheless, more people are killed by lightning year in and year out than by any other weather phenomenon; typically on the order of 100 people or so annually in the United States. Furthermore, lightning does not have to kill you to create major problems in your life. Several hundred people are affected by lightning in the U.S. every year, short of being killed. To get some idea of the non-fatal hazards of lightning from a medical point of view, check out this site and/or this one. Being struck is no joke and can affect you adversely for the rest of your life.

Anytime you're outdoors, you've increased your risk of being struck by lightning. For example, some golfers are struck every year ... many of you may have heard the story of Lee Trevino's non-fatal encounter! Another category of those who are at relatively high risk includes those who climb mountains. Since a lot of wilderness adventure camping includes hiking and camping at high elevations, campers and hikers are considerably at risk, whether they realize it or not. Consider the following statement from the 1997 Philmont Scout Ranch "Guidebook to Adventure": READ MORE


PRINCESS OF THE STARS : ‘You’re better off texting coordinates’

MANILA, Philippines—The ill-fated MV Princess of the Stars had all the fancy communications systems in the world, but for some weird reasons they all failed when they were needed, except for an antiquated single side band radio and the ubiquitous cell phones.

That’s the contention of Ernelson Morales, safety officer of Sulpicio Lines Inc.

The device that automatically submits a distress signal via satellite didn’t work.

There was no SOS received by maritime agencies or ships that could have immediately gone to the aid of the 860 people aboard the vessel only 56 of whom survived.

The ship also had a Navtex, used to get weather reports from nearby countries, Morales says. But Sulpicio chose to rely on the single side band radio and the cell phone to get reports from the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Administration (PAGASA). Its weather data are more localized, he says.

In addition, the ferry had a medium-frequency, a high-frequency (HF) radio and a very-high-frequency (VHF) radio along with a two-way radio tuned in to the emergency channel and an emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) that, once immersed in three meters of water, would automatically send a distress signal.

These were all required by maritime regulations, Morales says. “You won’t be allowed to sail if you don’t have complete equipment,” he said.

But apparently, these communication systems proved unreliable when the vessel was getting the brunt of Frank’s fury.

He theorizes that the strong winds damaged the antennas and transmitters, thus rendering the vessel incommunicado.

A distress signal sent by the EPIRB, installed outside the bridge on the top deck, would have been picked up by nearby countries with the capability to receive such data.

Winds knocked out system

“I was wondering why it did not send a signal. My presumption is, since it is outside, the strong winds knocked it out of its position and sent it hurtling against a wall, thus breaking it. That’s the only way for it not to send a signal because it’s automatic,” Morales says.

Sulpicio Lines senior vice president Edgar Go told the Board of Marine Inquiry (BMI) that the company used the single side band and cell phone to communicate with the ship captain during the emergency.

Retired Commodore Amado Romillo, who resigned from the BMI after being accused of being biased by Sulpicio, criticizes the ship’s reliance on the single side band radio to communicate with the ports.

Romillo also says there were hours when nobody was manning Sulpicio’s radio at the port.

The Philippine Coast Guard only has VHF and HF radios and has also taken to relying on cell phones, says PCG spokesperson Lt. Armand Balilo.

“As far as I know, the Philippine authorities have no capability to get the signal from EPIRB. Sometimes we ask, what’s the need for this EPIRB? You’re better off texting your coordinates, get it through your GPS,” Morales said.

P739-M distress system

Under the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS), vessels are required to secure certain communication equipment, including satellite-based ones, which enable them to transmit and receive distress information quickly or automatically, and to receive maritime safety information such as weather reports and navigation warnings.

But along with these requirements for ships, the country’s maritime agency should also have the counterpart equipment.

In 1998, the Department of Transportation and Communications (DoTC) signed a contract for the installation of 19 GMDSS stations nationwide with Thomson CSF NCS-France under a 25-year loan of 106.53 million francs, or P739 million, from the French government at 1.5 percent interest.

“It remains a big mystery why a contract was approved but no useful equipment ever came out of it,” says Sen. Manuel Roxas II, who is calling for an investigation of the deal, which he says could have avoided a string of sea disasters.

“Did the contractor deliver on their obligations, and if so, what happened to the GMDSS? If the winning bidder failed to comply, why didn’t the DoTC run after them? On the finance side, are we still paying off a foreign loan for an invisible GMDSS?” Roxas said, noting a 2006 Commission on Audit report saying the contractor abandoned the project in 2000 “due to a billing dispute.”

‘We really lack equipment’

At present, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) is equipped only with 108 VHF and 78 HF radios for communication. Sixteen other VHF radios are not working, says Lt. Cmdr. Daniel Gayosa of the PCG Weapons, Communications, Electronics and Information System Command.

These radios, which are used mostly for administrative matters, are inadequate for the PCG’s 10 districts, 52 stations and 180 detachments in the country’s more than 7,100 islands, Gayosa noted.

“The radios we have are not enough. We really lack equipment, and we have no budget to buy all that we need,” Gayosa says. He says far-flung PCG offices are supposed to be equipped with the HF radios, but many of them lack this basic tool.

Balilo says many Coast Guard detachments have taken to using cellular phones to communicate.

To monitor distress calls, the PCG listens in to the emergency channel on their radios, according to Gayosa. A good number of times, they also learn of maritime incidents through calls relayed by the vessel owners, other ships, local authorities and even international maritime organizations to the PCG’s offices.

The PCG’s land stations also do not have the capability to receive messages from the digital selective calling (DSC) radio, a device that automatically sends a distress alert and the ship’s identification, says Gayosa.

FROM gCaptain......

A Secret Look At Golden Shellback Water Resistant Coating

July 26th, 2008 ·

Photo By Tom Jervis

Last year Sid Martin, Director of Technology at Northeast Maritime Institute was faced with a dilemma. He had been hired to spearhead a project bringing the latest technology to the field of Maritime Security and test it in the field. Martin was the perfect candidate for this job. Prior to working at NMI he was a member of the project team responsible for the wheel bearings on the Mars Lander and in doing so became familiar with the obstacles faced in developing products for use in harsh environments. But the project was nearing completion and he needed to find new ways to use his experience at the institute. MORE


Friday, July 25, 2008

Early Warning System For Earthquakes: Seismic 'Stress Meter' Warned Of Earthquake 10 Hours In Advance`

Early Warning System For Earthquakes: Seismic 'Stress Meter' Warned Of Earthquake 10 Hours In Advance

ScienceDaily (July 10, 2008) Using remarkably sensitive new instruments, seismologists have detected minute geological changes that preceded small earthquakes along California's famed San Andreas Fault by as much as 10 hours. If follow-up tests show that the preseismic signal is pervasive, researchers say the method could form the basis of a robust early warning system for impending quakes.

"We're working with colleagues in China and Japan on follow-up studies to determine whether this physical response can be measured in other seismically active regions," said Rice University seismologist Fenglin Niu, the study's lead author. "Provided the effect is pervasive, we still need to learn more about the timing of the signals if we are to reliably use them to warn of impending quakes."

Today's state-of-the-art earthquake warning systems give only a few seconds' warning before a quake strikes. These systems detect P-waves, the fastest moving seismic waves released during a quake. Like a flash of lightning that arrives before a clap of thunder, the fast-moving P-waves precede slower moving but more destructive waves.

Findings from the new study indicate that the stresses measured by the new instruments precede the temblor itself, so a warning system using the new technology would be fundamentally different from current warning systems.

"Detecting stress changes before an earthquake has been the Holy Grail in earthquake seismology for years and has motivated our research," said study co-author Paul Silver of the Carnegie Institution of Science's Department of Terrestrial Magnetism. "Researchers have been trying to precisely and continuously measure these velocity changes for decades, but it has been possible only recently, with improved technology, to obtain the necessary precision and reliability."

In experiments near Parkfield, California, in late 2005 and early 2006, Niu, Silver and colleagues from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) gathered two months of measurements at the San Andreas Fault Observatory at Depth, or SAFOD, a deep well seismologists use to make direct measurements of the fault.

The team installed a high-precision seismic source made by a stack of donut-shaped piezoelectric ceramic cylinders that expand when voltage is applied -- a sophisticated device akin to a stereo speaker -- about one kilometer beneath the surface. At the same depth in an adjacent well, the scientists set up an accelerometer to measure the rhythmic signals from the source device.

When rocks are compressed, the stress forces air out of tiny cracks in the rock. This causes seismic waves to travel slightly faster through the rock. Niu said the variations are so slight they can be measured only with very precise instruments. For example, though the Parkfield instruments were more than a half mile below ground, the setup was sensitive enough to measure fluctuations in air pressure at the Earth's surface.

"Scientists tried as early as the 1970s to measure changes in wave speed that are associated with the stress changes that precede seismic activity," Niu said. "For a variety of reasons, their measurements were inconclusive. Using the precision instruments built by our collaborators at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, along with new signal enhancement techniques, we were able to reach the fine level of precision required."

In analyzing the seismic data, Niu and colleagues found that a distinct change occurred in the rock before each of the minor earthquakes near Parkfield during the test period. A measurable change preceded a magnitude 3 quake on Christmas Eve 2005 by 10 hours. This was the largest local event during the observation period. A smaller but closer magnitude 1 temblor five days later was preceded by a signal about two hours before the quake.

Additional co-authors include Rice graduate student Xin Cheng and LBNL scientists Tom Daley and Ernest Majer. The research was supported by the National Science Foundation, Rice, the Carnegie Institution and LBNL.


2008 Lightning Fatalities

Lightning deaths have occurred in 16 states. Ohio and South Carolina lead the nation with 2 fatalities.

lightning fatalities map, see list above

CBS4 Hurricane Specialist Bryan Norcross Ends 20 Years Forecasting Hurricanes

Plans To Devote Time To New Business Enterprise

Chief Meteorologist David Bernard To Direct Storm Team

MIAMI (CBS4) ― He has helped South Floridians face hurricane season for nearly 2 decades, becoming a household word after people huddled in the dark with him as Hurricane Andrew blew down their homes around them. But now, CBS4 Hurricane Specialist Bryan Norcross has made the decision to step away from round-the-clock coverage in the event a hurricane threatens to focus on a new business he hopes will make all Floridians safer if disaster strikes.


Port of New Orleans is formulating emergency plan

Posted by Jen DeGregorio, The Times-Picayune

July 10, 2008 5:00PM

After Hurricane Katrina wiped out electric controls and flood pump machinery at the Port of New Orleans, officials in charge of the cargo agency were left wondering whether better emergency planning could have prevented some of the storm's fallout.

The memory of Katrina's chaos has spurred the port to look more closely at its risk for future hurricanes and other disasters and to shore up facilities, which incurred nearly $250 million worth of damage during the storm. The analysis, which has been underway for more than six months, will ultimately take the shape of a formal hazard mitigation plan that would be the first of its kind for the Port of New Orleans. Although the port has protocols for disaster operations, officials have never before undertaken an inventory of its infrastructure or considered its chances for destruction during various types of emergencies.

In years past, hazard mitigation for the port was lumped in with overarching plans for Orleans Parish. But Katrina showed port officials that they needed more specific information than the summary provided in the New Orleans plan, said Deborah D. Keller, director of port development.

"We know it's going to generate ideas for projects" to protect the port, Keller said.

Scheduled for completion by the end of the year, the document will analyze data from the state and other sources to determine the port's penchant for different disaster scenarios, ranging from acts of terrorism to lightning. It will then outline steps for the port to fortify its assets from floods, fire and other catastrophes. Measures could be as simple as sealing windows or as complicated as repositioning power generators and controls.

Mitigation does not come cheap, and the port's plan could come with a hefty price tag. But with a formal report in place, the port would be eligible for mitigation funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Shenetia Henderson, a planner with the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said there is no doubt that better planning could have minimized the consequences of Katrina at the port and around New Orleans. Since the storm, more local governments, universities and other entities have embarked on mitigation planning efforts.

Indeed, better planning could have prevented the levee breaches that caused the flooding of August 2005. The Army Corps of Engineers found that poor maintenance of levees as well as failure to build levees as part of an integrated system caused the tragic ruptures that destroyed so much of New Orleans.

"It's always good to plan," Henderson said.

The port held a public meeting Thursday to announce the planning process and seek comment about strategies for the mitigation plan, which can be submitted through Aug. 1. To qualify for federal mitigation funds, the port's plan needs approval from FEMA and the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

Marine Safety Investigation Report - Final

Independent investigation into the near collision between the bulk carrier Ormiston and the roll-on/roll-off general cargo ship Searoad Mersey in Port Phillip, Victoria 16 May 2007

At about 0230 on 16 May 2007, the bulk carrier Ormiston sailed from Melbourne, Victoria, bound for Thevenard, South Australia. At about 0512, the ship rounded the Hovell Pile beacon and entered the South Channel in Port Phillip. At about 0521, Ormiston entered 'The Cut', the narrowest part of the channel, from the east making good about 15 knots.

At about 0230, the second mate on board the roll-on/roll-off general cargo ship Searoad Mersey contacted Point Lonsdale vessel traffic service (VTS) to provide an estimated time of arrival at the entrance to Port Phillip and was advised of the traffic movements within the port. At about 0420, Searoad Mersey's master, who also held a pilotage exemption for Port Phillip and had conducted over 1300 transits of the port, contacted VTS and received updated traffic information, including Ormiston's estimated movements.

At about 0435, Searoad Mersey passed Point Lonsdale lighthouse and entered Port Phillip. At about 0521, when the ship entered 'The Cut' from the west making good about 15 knots, the master had forgotten that Ormiston was approaching and did not see the approaching ship until immediately before the two ships passed. At about 0523, Searoad Mersey and Ormiston passed within 20 metres of each other in 'The Cut' at a combined speed of about 30 knots.

The ATSB investigation found that Searoad Mersey's bridge team members had not effectively implemented bridge resource management principles, were not keeping an adequate lookout and had lost situational awareness. The investigation also found that the ships did not communicate with each other until after the incident and that the Point Lonsdale VTS was not aware of the incident until after it had occurred.

The ATSB has issued four recommendations and one safety advisory notice to address the safety issues identified in the report.

Download complete report [PDF 1.9 MB]


Photo by Robin Storm

Messing About In Ships Podcast

Have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Large Cargo Ships Emit Double Amount of Soot Previously Estimated

Large Cargo Ships Emit Double Amount of Soot Previously Estimated

ScienceDaily (July 11, 2008)
Tugboats puff out more soot for the amount of fuel used than other commercial vessels, and large cargo ships emit more than twice as much soot as previously estimated, according to the first extensive study of commercial vessel soot emissions. Scientists from NOAA and the University of Colorado conducted the study and present their findings in the July 11 issue of the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

The primary sources of soot, or small particles of black carbon, are fossil fuel combustion, wildfires, and burning vegetation for agricultural purposes. In the Arctic, an increase in soot may contribute to climate change if shipping routes expand, according to the study.

“Commercial shipping emissions have been one of the least studied areas of all combustion emissions,” said lead author Daniel Lack, of NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) and the NOAA-CU Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences. “The two previous studies of soot emissions examined a total of three ships. We reviewed plumes from 96 different vessels.”

Lack and his colleagues observed emission plumes from commercial vessels in open ocean waters, channels, and ports along the southeast United States and Texas during the summer of 2006. From the NOAA research vessel, Ronald H. Brown, the team measured black carbon emitted by tankers, cargo and container ships, large fishing boats, tug boats, and ferries, many of them in the Houston Ship Channel.

Commercial shipping releases roughly 130,000 metric tons of soot per year, or 1.7 percent of the global total — much of it near highly populated coastlines, the authors estimate. In the coming years global shipping is expected to grow two to six percent annually.

Tugs emit nearly a gram of soot per kilogram of fuel burned — twice as much as any other vessel type, the authors found. The high levels point to their low-quality fuel — a thick, black tar left over from crude oil after the gasoline and kerosene have been removed. Engine age and maintenance also play a role. Tugboats have a disproportionate impact on air quality because they travel within ports, emitting potentially harmful particles near populous urban areas, according to the authors.

“Tugboats are a huge source of black carbon that may be under-reported or not reported at all in emissions inventories compiled by ports,” said Lack.

Oceangoing tankers and container ships emit half a gram per kilogram of fuel burned when at dock and slightly less when traveling, according to the study. That’s more than twice as much as previously estimated.

A 2007 study by American and German scientists linked particle pollution from shipping to tens of thousands of premature deaths each year, most of them along coastlines in Europe, East Asia, and South Asia. Soot makes up a quarter of that pollution, said Lack.

On a global scale, soot currently traps about 30 percent as much heat as does carbon dioxide, the most important greenhouse gas, according to the latest assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The small dark particles absorb sunlight, create haze, and affect how clouds form and make rain, further altering a region’s heat balance, according to the new NOAA study. If commercial shipping extends new routes through Arctic waters as they become navigable, soot emissions there could increase


Hurricane Season: Disaster Readiness Tips from James Lee Witt

James Lee Witt, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency under President Clinton and now a disaster recovery consultant, talks about readiness during this hurricane season

Diann Daniel, CSO

August 01, 2006

CSO: What should security executives be doing for hurricane season?

James Lee Witt: The first thing is to make sure that you have the insurance coverage you need, whether it's for wind or whether it's flood insurance if your business is in a 100-year flood plain. Second, I would make sure that every employee understood that if we had to evacuate, where we would go, where we would reconvene our business so that we could continue to operate. Then, I'd make sure that I [could] send out alerts to all my employees—particularly if it was during a weekend or if employees were traveling—about what was going on and what they needed to do.

So many times we forget that every dollar we invest in prevention or preparedness could potentially save us $3 to $5 in future losses, and with the business interruption side of it, it could be even higher.

I would also make sure that all my customers and suppliers understood my plan—what I would need to do, how I would do it—and then I'd ask them to do likewise to make sure that the supply chain wasn't broken.

Why do you think that some businesses don't prepare?

The biggest problem I have seen is getting the buy-in and support from upper management. When I was director of FEMA, we did a survey of small businesses after disasters and found that 20 percent to 25 percent of those businesses affected by a catastrophic event never reopened.

During Hurricane Fran in North Carolina, GE had a plant there. They had retrofitted their plant for hurricane resistance, and after the hurricane was over, their plant was still OK, but there were no employees to come back to work for the next two days because they were taking care of their families and their homes. Anheuser-Busch in Pasadena, Calif., before the Northridge earthquake, spent $25 million to retrofit their plant for an earthquake, and they were open and operating two days after the earthquake, making canned water for victims in the community. They said that $25 million probably saved them $150 million.

Every business should help their employees develop a plan for their families, so everybody has a contact place to call to [let family] know that they're OK. If you have a catastrophic event and you need to go back in to check your business, you need to work with your local government's fire, emergency management, police, and you need to meet with the fire chief and police chief and say, "OK, here's our plan. Can we get credentials to allow us back in to check on our business?"

Who has developed a great disaster recovery plan?

I think Chicago probably has developed the best public-private partner concept, particularly ChicagoFirst working with the city and private sector. They have brought the private sector to the table, sat them down and just really developed a very good concept of how they both could help each other. What are you going to do if you need ice? What are you going to do if you need water? What are you going to do if you need a generator? Just all the kinds of things that might help you get through the first five days. That's all part of that planning process.

What would you recommend businesses think about?

I would look at what resources and capabilities I have within the company, and then I would look at what resources I would need [from] outside of the company. Then, if I needed to, I would look at having pre-event contracts set up to provide those resources and capabilities. Then I would work with the state or local government and say, "Here's my plan, here are the resources that we have that we would have available to help if we survive an event, but here's the type of resources that we may need."

Published July 13, 2008

With the 25th anniversary of Hurricane Alicia approaching, many residents are discussing whether the Texas Coast is ready for the next big storm. John Simsen, emergency management coordinator for Galveston County, talked about the county’s plans.

Q: How would you rate our preparedness for hurricane season?

A: From a government standpoint, I would give us a B+. We have detailed local and regional plans for coordinating evacuations, identifying and assisting those with special needs, locating transportation resources and accommodating pets. We have excellent emergency facilities that can weather a severe storm, and we have public and private partners ready to launch a massive recovery effort if needed. But there is always more work to be done. You can never be completely prepared for a significant hurricane.

Q: Where do we get our highest grades?

A: Cooperation between the cities and counties in our region has never been better, in part because of the Hurricane Rita “wake-up call” and the strong influence of our local elected leaders. Galveston County’s conference call process for making evacuation and re-entry decisions has been embraced by the region, ensuring that our need to evacuate ahead of the Houston population is properly communicated.

We have countywide contracts in place for buses to help transport special needs residents to safety and agreements with UTMB and the city of Austin to help care for them. And for the first time in county history, every community in Galveston County has a contract in place to assist with debris cleanup after a major storm — a critical component of the recovery process.

Q: How about the lowest?

A: Public perceptions about government’s ability to coordinate a smooth evacuation of the Houston region remain low, despite significant improvements since Hurricane Rita.

The state, through partnerships with public agencies and private industry, is prepared to provide adequate fuel, wrecker services, welcome centers and shelters to assist the evacuating population along the primary evacuation routes.

A refined “contra-flow” or reverse-flow traffic plan is set for implementation 36 hours prior to landfall to help reduce traffic bottlenecks, and local and regional efforts to coordinate a phased evacuation of those areas susceptible to storm surge are now in place.

Yet citizens tell us at community meetings that they are worried about getting stuck in traffic or running out of fuel. Many say they just won’t leave if asked to do so. This is a dangerous position to take in a county that absolutely must evacuate when a Category 4-5 storm threatens. I lose sleep worrying about these citizens and hope their families and friends will convince them to leave when the time comes.

Q: Are we set to help out the most vulnerable populations — those that can’t get out of danger without help?

A: Galveston County has a robust plan to move upward of 6,000 special-needs evacuees from two departure points – the Island Community Center at 4700 Broadway and the Doyle Center at 2010 Fifth Ave. N. in Texas City. Rising gas prices may force more citizens to use this evacuation option, and emergency managers are preparing for this possibility by factoring in additional buses and shelter space.

Each city in the county maintains its own special-needs registry and takes responsibility for either transporting these citizens to the embarkation points or arranging other assistance such as an ambulance. Though we try to stay in touch with the citizens on our special-needs lists, some are hard to reach because they are transient and distrustful of government. We urge them or their families to call 211 or their local office of emergency management to register for assistance. They need to register today, not when a hurricane threatens.

Q: The 25th anniversary of Alicia is getting some attention. How has the picture changed since then? What should we be worried about now?

A: Emergency managers have spent countless hours preparing for the next massive, Rita-like hurricane. But the odds are just as good that the next hurricane to impact Galveston County will form on our doorstep, like Hurricane Alicia, and leave us with little time to react.

Hurricane Humberto formed in the Gulf just south of Galveston and reached Category 1 strength in 19 hours last September, making landfall on High Island and causing millions of dollars worth of damage. Had it formed a little farther south and west in the Gulf, it could have made landfall directly over Galveston Island as a Category 2 storm, with substantially more devastation.

The explosive population growth in Galveston County since 1983 makes it imperative that all citizens have both a well-stocked disaster supply kit and a family evacuation plan. We can’t pour enough concrete to make an evacuation through the nation’s third largest city trouble-free. Delays are inevitable, and so are false alarms. Take steps to minimize the impacts on your family by staying prepared and informed.

Q: If there were one thing you could convince the average resident of the county of, what would that be?

A: Galveston County is a beautiful place to live, work and raise a family. But with the good comes the bad — the ever-present threat of severe weather events. If you choose to live here, you must accept personal responsibility for the safety of your family, relatives and pets. At some point, government will not be able to assist, and your attention to details today will ensure your personal safety down the road.


USCG – AMVER anniversary

The US Coast Guard issued a press release stating that July 18 marked the 50th anniversary of Automated Mutual Vessel Rescue System (AMVER). As the only worldwide voluntary ship reporting system for safety of life and property at sea, AMVER was involved in 181 calls for assistance in 2007 and contributed to saving 450 lives. (7/18/08).

Chesapeake Bay – “smart buoy” deployed

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a news release stating that a “smart buoy” has been deployed at Stingray Point at the mouth of the Rappahannock River is Chesapeake Bay. The buoy collects weather, oceanographic, and water-quality observations and transmits this data wirelessly in near-real time. The measurements can be accessed at Buoy-Bay. (7/18/08).

Cleveland firefighter still missing in Lake Erie


Monday July 21 2008, 10:46pm


A search covering 12-square nautical miles of Lake Erie that used divers, sonar and a helicopter was unable to locate the body of a Cleveland firefighter who went overboard Saturday evening.

The search for Kenneth Alderman, a 44-year-old Cleveland firefighter, was suspended at 3 p.m. Sunday. The hunt will not resume until further evidence of his location is discovered, authorities said.

Alderman went missing after he fell in the lake about two miles east of the Sandusky break wall shortly before 8 p.m. Saturday, said U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer William Mitchell. He was aboard a 30-foot recreational boat with three other people, including his fiancĂ©e and the boat’s owner. He was not wearing a safety vest.

The circumstances that led to the firefighter ending up in the water still are not clear. Authorities said only that witnesses saw Alderman struggle in the water and then go under.

“The people on the boat tried to save him after he fell in the water ... but he was in a state of panic when he fell in and tried to fight off the people who tried to rescue him,” Mitchell said. “They saw him actually go underwater — fall beneath the surface of the water.”

Jim Kennedy, fleet manager with Lake Erie Towing, was the first on scene Saturday night and sent a distress signal to the Coast Guard. After releasing green dye into the water to mark the position of the boat, which he described as a white express cruiser with blue trim, Kennedy started searching for Alderman.

His efforts proved unsuccessful, and he found no sign of the man.

Many hours later, the efforts of many agencies were as fruitless. A boat from the Huron Fire Department used a side-scanner to survey Lake Erie’s murky depths. The Cleveland Fire Department sent divers searching for Alderman, and cadaver dogs were used to locate his scent. The Coast Guard continued its search through the late afternoon using two boats and a helicopter.

The search was finally called off after more than 18 hours.

All four people on deck of the recreational vessel were not wearing life vests, Mitchell said. Things may have ended differently if they had, he added.

“This is a typically tragic Great Lakes’ case, where you have people going out to enjoy the weather and have a good time, but because they don’t take precautions — a lifejacket, which would have changed the outcome of the night — it ended in death,” Mitchell said.

Larry Gray, spokesman with the Cleveland Fire Department, said Alderman has 21 years of experience as a firefighter, of which the last 17 he’s spent in the same station.




Wednesday, July 23, 2008

NOAA goes diving for U-boats in North Carolina

NOAA goes diving for U-boats in North Carolina
Politicizing Marine Safety – Never a Good Idea

As the Massachusetts Legislature tightens its death grip around the port of Boston, a key 'niche' intermodal hub in the northeast teeters on the brink of obsolescence.

I owe everyone an apology this week. Last week, as a sign-off from my weekly column, I trumpeted, "Massachusetts legislators vote to move Boston Harbor to Long Island Sound. Stay tuned!" Now, everyone knows that you can't vote to physically move a port from one place to another. That's just silly. The port of Boston will always reside right where it is at, just as it has for the past 400 years. Twenty years from now, however, and if the current situation on Beacon Hill does not radically change, Boston's waterfront will consist primarily of luxury, pier side condominiums, trendy shops and maybe a pleasure boat marina or two. It doesn't have to be this way.

As one of the more unusual ports in the country, and not coincidentally one of its safest, Boston is home to a myriad of cargo interests, from LNG to automobiles to gasoline and a raft of other miscellaneous goods. A popular and profitable cruise ship trade also makes port calls here. The port will never be a major cargo hub, but it is a key cog in the local MASSPORT machine and is, in no small part, important to local economy. The past three years have seen much turmoil in the harbor, most of it based around local disputes centering on who should and should not dock vessels, under what authority that might occur and at what price and under what conditions all of that might happen. But, there's more than one issue on table.

At issue (and most visible) is the question of whether the Commonwealth should license local so-called "docking masters," especially in the roiled wake of the COSCO BUSAN incident. The local contractors – most of whom work for one local tug boat company – dock and undock large, deep draft traffic. None of them are certificated by the state to do so. Boston marine pilots, in contrast, all licensed by the state, guide traffic in and out Boston. They are also qualified to dock and undock these vessels, and often do so. To my knowledge, there hasn't been a single accident of note associated with the pilots over the course of the last ten years. They charge the state-mandated fee of $350 per movement to dock or undock vessels; a private docking master bill can triple that amount.

Few in the Boston maritime community would dispute that the local, so-called docking masters should be licensed in Massachusetts. That they are allowed to direct ships without these certifications arguably leaves the Commonwealth open to significant liability on the very waters that they are supposed to be controlling commerce. The problem stems from the terms under which docking masters could eventually be licensed. These individuals want to remain virtually independent of the existing regulatory environment, charge fees to shippers unencumbered by state oversight and operate under conditions that would exclude them from the same degree of liability that local harbor pilots toil under. With few exceptions, the balance of the waterfront community opposes these terms.

The effort to certify the docking masters has failed miserably in the past, and when bill(s) tailored to meet the criteria of the docking masters have been turned aside in the Legislature, attempts to attach similar language to other, unrelated bills have become the weapon of choice. At the same time, the local harbor pilots are desperately trying to enact the first fee increase in ten years for local pilotage. That effort remains stymied and the bill held hostage in the State House. Today, special interests have attached a rider to that bill which would likely signal the end of competitive vetting of future pilot candidates. The implications for the port of Boston, down the road, are ominous.

The proposed rider to Pilot's rate bill (S 515) reads as follows: "…the pilot commission shall adopt regulations providing for preference to veterans as defined in clause Forty-third of section 7 of chapter 4 of the General Laws and those who were honorably discharged from or currently serving in the Armed Forces of the United States, including the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Officer (sic) Corps. If an active duty member or veteran applicant has a valid United States Coast Guard-issued Unlimited (sic) Master's License or First Class Federal Pilotage endorsement for any part of Boston Harbor, he shall be eligible for preference for appointment as a state-commissioned pilot apprentice." In general terms, the provisions of this language are tailored specifically for one or two individuals who probably could not otherwise make the bar. If the language is enacted, any individual with veteran status with twelve trips in and out of the harbor will now move to the front of queue, regardless of his or her experience in matters of shiphandling or other related skillsets.

The proposed amendment has put the local pilot association in an unenviable position. Like their Coast Guard brethren who were, earlier this year, reluctantly forced to oppose their own authorization bill due to several flawed amendments, the Boston Marine Pilots may now be forced to abandon a pay raise or allow the beginning of the degradation of local pilot skills. The proposed "preference" language, wrapped in red, white and blue, will not serve the common good in terms of safety, transparency of the pilot selection process, or the needs of a port that needs to continue to show itself as a safe and attractive place to deliver and load cargo. At a time when the national scrutiny of pilot credentials and certifications is ramping up significantly, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is preparing to dumb down the curriculum.

The future of Boston Harbor as a viable commercial cargo hub can be summed up neatly by three matters now before the state legislature; namely, (a.) the licensing of docking masters, (b.) a rate hike for the local marine pilots, and (c.) an effort to politicize the selection of future marine pilots. And, the rate bill isn't going anywhere unless everyone else gets what they want. In the meantime, the ability of local pilots to adequately fund the infrastructure necessary to a safe and efficient pilotage system has been seriously crippled.

No doubt, the laughter in Portland, ME, Providence, RI and other nearby ports carries long and loud across the water. And, if anyone doubts the errant course that Massachusetts find itself headed on, they need to look no farther than Long Island Sound, where 25 years of benign regulatory neglect has left the pilot system in organizational shambles, with no viable apprentice candidates to take the place of the remaining pilots when the bulk of them reach retirement age in the not-too-distant future.

Within the past two weeks, a bill designed to eliminate the Harbor Maintenance Tax was introduced in Washington. The bipartisan legislation, introduced in the U.S. Senate, would exempt coastwise shipping of containerized cargo from the Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT). Stated simply, the law, if enacted, would almost instantly revitalize the domestic, so-called "Shortsea Shipping" trades. The effort is right at the top of the U.S. Maritime Administration's wish list and Transportation Secretary and highway guru Mary Peters has to be absolutely delighted at the fact that the bill is now in play.

For Massachusetts, the exemption could remove literally tens of thousands of trucks from its highways that emanate up and down the I-95 & 128 corridor daily. The savings in air emissions, related health problems, highway wear and tear and a thousand other things would be substantial. For the port of Boston, a relatively shallow draft niche port, the change would be even more significant. Suddenly, commerce on coastwise, handy-sized vessels would explode and the port would be a logical place to bring that traffic. If only someone on Beacon Hill was listening…

I thought about writing a fiction piece this week depicting the events that would precede the death of a port. In the end, I knew that the real story in Boston, if written by Hollywood playwrights, wouldn't get much play in theatres, because it is just so unbelievable. In Arthur Miller's masterpiece, "Death of a Salesman", the main character, Willy Loman, is (arguably) used to illustrate how compromised ideals and missed opportunities could eventually yield tragic results. It is not a stretch to say that the same thing is underway in the Bay State. It IS silly to think that a port can be "voted" from one place to another. But, that won't stop Massachusetts legislators, spurred on by well-funded special interests, from trying. – MarEx

Joseph Keefe is the Managing Editor of THE MARITIME EXECUTIVE. A native of the Bay State, Keefe has followed and reported on the situation in Boston and Long Island Sound extensively over the past three years. He can be reached with comments on this or any other article in this e-newsletter at

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