Researchers Studying Aftermath Of Hurricane

NOAA Biologists Looking at Marine Resources and Contaminants

The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Research vessel -- the Nancy Foster -- is working off the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama to study the effects of Hurricane Katrina on marine resources and the ecosystem.

During the cruise, biologists will take water samples and look at sediments in the Mississippi river. They will test fish and shrimp for evidence of toxic contamination and pathogens that might affect human health.

"I've asked our fisheries scientists to work with other NOAA scientists on a major research cruise in the areas affected by Hurricane Katrina," said Dr. Bill Hogarth, NOAA Fisheries Service director. "NOAA is implementing a suite of studies and tests to determine the effects of the hurricane on fish, marine mammals, sea turtles and the ecosystem they depend on for survival."

On Sept. 9, U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez announced a formal determination of a fishery failure in the Gulf of Mexico due to the devastation following Hurricane Katrina. The affected area includes the Florida Keys and from Pensacola, Fla., to the Texas border.

The action was made through provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which makes federal relief funds available to assess the impacts, restore the fisheries, prevent future failure, and assist fishing communities' recovery efforts after a natural disaster, and the Inter-jurisdictional Act, which makes funds available for direct assistance to fishermen to alleviate harm resulting from a natural disaster.

NOAA is working with the states to assess damage to the 15 major fishing ports and the 177 seafood-processing facilities in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.

"Our goals, and those of the fisheries directors of the affected states, are to determine the effects of the hurricane on the area's fish and shellfish, as well as the long-term impacts these might have on the commercial fishing industry," Hogarth added. "We also will be taking a look at the effects of Hurricane Katrina on inventories of fish processors, dealers and individual fishing related businesses."

In addition to the research cruise on the Nancy Foster, NOAA has chartered the shrimp-fishing vessel, the Patricia Jean, from Alabama to assist with sampling for evidence of toxic contamination and pathogens. NOAA biologists also are conducting overflights to look for marine mammals and sea turtles, and to assess the damage to wetlands.


NOAA Fisheries Service:

EPA Releases Additional Flood Water Sampling Data

EPA, in coordination with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, posted on Sept. 14 flood water sampling data for chemicals from Sept. 4 and 6. The data has been reviewed and validated through a quality assurance process to ensure scientific accuracy. Hexavalent chromium and arsenic, in addition to lead which was previously detected on Sept. 3, were detected at levels which exceeded EPA drinking water standards. These compounds would pose a risk to children only if a child were to drink a liter of flood water a day. Long-term exposure (a year or longer) to arsenic would be required before health effects would be expected to occur. Thallium was detected at one sampling location and while levels are slightly elevated, they are 10 times lower than levels at which there would be a health effect. Given these results, EPA and CDC advise the public and emergency responders to avoid contact with flood water when possible. If contact occurs, EPA strongly advises the use of soap and water to clean the areas if available.

The Sept. 5 data is currently undergoing review and validation. The data will be released once this process is complete, officials said.

Flood water sampling data for biological pathogens from Sept. 6 through 10, 2005 have also been posted for public review. E. coli levels are still greatly elevated and remain much higher than EPA's recommended levels for contact. The public and emergency responders should continue to avoid contact with flood water when possible. If contact occurs, EPA strongly advises the use of soap and water to clean areas if available.

EPA in coordination with federal, state and local agencies will continue to release data as it becomes available. To view the data, visit:

Dartmouth Flood Observatory Tracks the Aftermath of Katrina

Researchers with the Dartmouth Flood Observatory (DFO) at Dartmouth College announced on Sept. 12 they have been working with state and federal officials, along with others, to help map and analyze the flooding that has occurred as a result of Hurricane Katrina. The maps not only provide an overview of the impact and enormity of the flooding, they also preserve a day-to-day record of this flood to be analyzed in the coming months. The images also will be archived to support research into global flooding trends and climate change.

The DFO's director, G. Robert Brakenridge, said that the partnerships between organizations have been vital to quickly assembling maps that illustrate current flooding and outline other areas for potential flood activity.

Brakenridge, a research associate professor of geography at Dartmouth, explained that high-resolution data is not needed for initial mapping efforts. In fact, to obtain high-resolution data of specific sites, satellites require some lead time to orbit to reach the part of the Earth that's involved. Using NASA's MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) equipped satellites, the DFO receives images quickly.

Brakenridge said, "MODIS doesn't provide high spatial-resolution imagery. Each image pixel represents about 250 meters. We can't see individual houses or roads, but the entire Earth is covered, twice per day. The sensors are always on, and always downloading the image data, so we can obtain decent quality imaging of flood water quickly. That is important. MODIS was not planned at all for its use in natural disasters, but it has proven its utility time and time again."

Brakenridge participates in a daily teleconference with various officials representing the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Army and the Army Corps of Engineers, EPA, NOAA, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to name a few. On the table for discussion is coordination between the agencies; dissemination of aerial, satellite and field-based data; and avoiding duplication of efforts. This daily exchange of information speeds the map making and map distribution processes. Another helpful asset is the International Charter for Space and Major Disasters. Satellite data from other countries, such as from the French SPOT satellite, was made available to US disaster response organizations, including the DFO, and in agreement with a memorandum of understanding signed by most of the world's space agencies.

"University and college research groups, like the DFO, can help improve society's response to natural disasters," said Brakenridge. "We can sometimes be much more nimble than large federal agencies in using satellite data in new ways, and we can more quickly produce inundation maps that might be useful to emergency response personnel."

Brakenridge and his team have distributed similar maps during other flooding events, such as during the tsunami in the Indian Ocean in December 2004, and during the flooding in the Dominican Republic in May 2004. Maps, flood archives and more information available at the DFO's Web site:

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2005 issue of Environmental Protection.

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