Monday, July 7, 2008

Extreme Ocean Storms Have Become More Frequent Over Past Three Decades, Study Of Tiny Tremors Shows

Extreme Ocean Storms Have Become More Frequent Over Past Three Decades, Study Of Tiny Tremors Shows

ScienceDaily (Apr. 21, 2008)
Data from faint earth tremors caused by wind-driven ocean waves -- often dismissed as "background noise" at seismographic stations around the world -- suggest extreme ocean storms have become more frequent over the past three decades. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other prominent researchers have predicted that stronger and more frequent storms may occur as a result of global warming trends. The tiny tremors, or microseisms, offer a new way to discover whether these predictions are already coming true, said Richard Aster, a geophysics professor at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology.

Unceasing as the ocean waves that trigger them, the microseisms show up as five- to 30-second oscillations of Earth's surface at seismographic stations around the world. Even seismic monitoring stations "in the middle of a continent are sensitive to the waves crashing all around the continent," Aster said.

As storm winds drive ocean waves higher, the microseism signals increase their amplitude as well, offering a unique way to track storm intensities across seasons, over time, and at different geographical locations. For instance, Aster and colleagues Daniel McNamara from the U.S. Geological Survey and Peter Bromirski of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography recently published analysis in the Seismological Society of America journal Seismological Research Letters showing that microseism data collected around the Pacific Basin and throughout the world could be used to detect and quantify wave activity from multi-year events such as the El Niño and La Niña ocean disruptions.

The findings spurred them to look for a microseism signal that would reveal whether extreme storms were becoming more common in a warming world. In fact, they saw "a remarkable thing," among the worldwide microseism data collected from 1972 to 2008, Aster recalled. In 22 of the 22 stations included in the study, the number of extreme storm events had increased over time, they found.

While the work on evaluating changes in extreme storms is "still very much in its early stages", Aster is "hoping that the study will offer a much more global look" at the effects of climate change on extreme storms and the wind-driven waves that they produce. At the moment, most of the evidence linking the two comes from studies of hurricane intensity and shoreline erosion in specific regions such as the Pacific Northwest Gulf of Mexico, he noted.

The researchers are also working on recovering and digitizing older microseism records, potentially creating a data set that stretches back to the 1930s. Aster praised the work of the long-term observatories that have collected the records, calling them a good example of the "Cinderella science"--unloved and overlooked--that often support significant discoveries.

"It's absolutely great data on the state of the planet. We took a prosaic time series, and found something very interesting in it," he said.


FEMA plans evacuation exercise in New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS -- State and federal officials have scheduled an evacuation exercise next month in Louisiana as they prepare for the 2008 hurricane season.

The July 9 exercise for Orleans, St. Barnard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. Charles and St. John the Baptist parishes will test the ability of cities and parishes to register and transport people to shelters, according to a news release from the Federal Emergency Management Agency."FEMA is working closely with parish and state officials to provide what they need to evacuate anyone who needs help leaving. We're focusing on the elderly, hospital and nursing home residents and those who have no other transportation available to them," Michael Hall, who's leading FEMA's preparedness activities in Louisiana, said in the release.Mark Cooper, director of Louisiana's Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness office, said the state Department of Transportation and Development has signed contracts for 700 motor coaches to move those who are fleeing an approaching storm like Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the city and the Gulf Coast in 2005.

In addition to the state's bus contract, FEMA recently signed a national contract with AMTRAK to provide passenger trains to help move critical needs residents out of the area when an evacuation is ordered.The July exercise will test bus and rail resources, along with the role the Louis Armstrong International Airport will play.

Geospatial Intelligence and Imagery Aid in Midwest Flood Response

WASHINGTON, D.C. --The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to support flood response efforts in the Midwest.

NGA is providing analysis, unclassified commercial imagery of flooded areas and geospatial intelligence products to FEMA and emergency responders in the affected areas to aid in rescue and recovery efforts. The products include graphics of major infrastructure, such as the location of airports, hospitals, police and fire stations, emergency operations centers, hazardous material locations, highways and schools.

FEMA, state and local responders use the products to aid in damage assessments, estimate housing needs, position supplies and other resources and coordinate relief efforts. The graphics also provide a common operating picture that helps enable local, state and federal officials work together more effectively and efficiently.

Through the NGA's crisis response portal, the public has access to some of the images, allowing property owners to broadly assess property damage without having to physically visit the area. NGA established its Earth site in 2005 after realizing victims of Hurricane Katrina could use commercial geospatial imagery to check damage to their property along the Gulf Coast.

The NGA Earth site uses the Internet to provide emergency responders and the public a single, easy-to-use entry point for locating timely, relevant, unclassified geospatial information in the event of a disaster or crisis. The NGA Earth site ( is updated as new images are made available. In addition to the images hosted at this location, the site provides links to other federal agency sites and is an access point to leverage other NGA geospatial expertise and products.

NGA's mission is to provide timely, relevant and accurate geospatial intelligence in support of the nation. The term "geospatial intelligence" means the exploitation and analysis of imagery and geospatial information to describe, assess and visually depict physical features and geographically referenced activities on the Earth.

FEMA coordinates the federal government's role in preparing for, preventing, mitigating the effects of, responding to, and recovering from all domestic disasters, whether natural or man-made, including acts of terror.


Ship’s insurance limited

THE GOVERNMENT DOES NOT HAVE MUCH CHOICE BUT to take over the salvage operations for the sunken MV Princess of the Stars because the vessel’s insurance coverage is limited to passengers and cargo and does not extend to ship damage, Sen. Manuel Roxas said.

Roxas said the government should act fast to prevent the shipwreck from causing any more damage to the environment because of its dangerous cargo of fuel and pesticide.

It should not wait any more for the shipowner, Sulpicio Lines, to take action, the senator said.

Roxas said that while Sulpicio was not compelled to purchase such insurance under the law because it was mainly a passenger and not a cargo liner, it should have obtained the insurance out of prudence considering its long history of disasters dating back to the sinking of the MV Doña Paz in 1987, considered the worst civilian maritime disaster in history in terms of lives lost (more than 4,000).

The senator said this could be the reason why it was taking Sulpicio such a long time to salvage its sunken ship. He recalled the well-funded salvage operations for the capsized Solar I that caused the Guimaras oil spill in 2006.

“This is one of the regulation loopholes that we hope to plug in the Senate investigation,” said Roxas.

The Oriental Assurance Corp., Sulpicio’s insurer, said the estimated 800 people on board the Princess of the Stars were covered by an accident insurance policy with the firm.

“Yes, passengers of Sulpicio Lines are insured by us, and we guarantee the payment of claims,” said Luz Cotoco, executive vice president of Oriental Assurance.

She said Oriental Assurance was financially healthy and capable of servicing all claims.

Cotoco declined to give the amount of insurance coverage for each passenger, saying Sulpicio Lines has asked that all insurance-related queries be directed to the shipping company.

An industry source said, however, that Oriental Assurance would pay P200,000 per passenger, or a total of about P160 million, to cover the estimated 800 people on board the sunken ship.

The source said Sulpicio Lines also has a P350-million marine hull insurance policy with Oriental Assurance that covers the cost of the ship.

But the owner of a rival shipping firm said that insuring the passengers and the vessel was not enough.

He said Sulpicio should have gotten, aside from accident insurance coverage for its passengers, a protective and indemnity insurance (P&I).

All responsible shipping firms know that getting P&I is absolutely necessary in the shipping business, the source said.

P&I is a form of a third-party liability insurance. It covers the cost of cleaning up possible oil spills and messes resulting from a shipwreck. P&I also covers the cost of the damage when a ship collides with another, or causes damage to other assets.

P&I is like the CTPL [comprehensive third-party liability] for cars, the rival shipowner said.

He said Sulpicio tried but failed to get P&I coverage three years ago, because no insurance company wanted to provide cover, knowing that Sulpicio’s ships were not in perfect condition.

Oriental Assurance said Sulpicio did not have a P&I policy with the firm.

Denis Cabucos, chief of the licensing division of the Insurance Commission, said he knew that Sulpicio has accident insurance coverage for its passengers but was not aware if it had P&I coverage.

Cabucos explained that insurance companies are not required to provide the Insurance Commission with a list of their policy holders.

But he said the commission would act on any insurance-related complaints received by its public assistance division.

Vicente Suazo, administrator of the Maritime Industry Authority, confirmed that Sulpicio did not have P&I insurance. But he said P&I coverage was not required by law.

“What is more important is accident insurance coverage for passengers. That is the one required by law [Republic Act No. 9295],” Suazo said in a phone interview.

He said it was arguable whether P&I was indispensable for shipping companies, but Sulpico Lines did not break the law by not having one.