Acidification monitoring buoys critical to Washington state’s $110 million shellfish industry
University of Washington professor appears in Senate hearing
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) highlighted the importance of ocean acidification monitoring buoys to Washington state’s coastal economy during an U.S. Senate Oceans, Fisheries, Coast Guard, and Atmospheric subcommittee hearing.
In 2010, Cantwell secured funding to acquire and deploy ocean acidification sensors near major shellfish hatcheries in Washington state. Today, these sensors, some of which are attached to buoys from National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s Integrated Ocean Observation System program, allow shellfish growers to monitor ocean acidity in real time and close off their shellfish tanks when ocean acidity is too high. Recent studies have shown a connection between ocean acidification and high mortality rates among young oysters and other shellfish like clams, geoduck and mussels.
During the hearing, Cantwell asked Dr. Jan Newton of the University of Washington about these monitoring systems and what could be done to grow the network.
“To me this is about information we can now acquire about oceans,” said Cantwell. “Not only are we collecting the information but we are making it available to people. In the case of shellfish, that was real information on ocean acidification that allowed them to do seeding at a different time which allowed them to be successful. How many ocean acidification sensors are deployed today and what else do we need to do to build that network?”
“In our region we really only have two,” responded Dr. Newton. “And I think this is very much underestimating the situation. We’ve been very successful with those two offshore buoys – one off La Push that I mentioned and one off Newport – because it tells the near shore growers when the ocean acidification events are coming.”
In the West Coast region, Washington state is by far the largest producer of farmed shellfish. Of the $110 million in shellfish grown in the Western United States, $97 million worth is grown in Washington. Shellfish growers contribute $110 million to Washington state’s economy and support over 3,000 jobs in the state’s coastal communities. Shellfish farming is the largest employer in Pacific County and is the second largest employer in Mason County.
Cantwell has long fought for additional scientific knowledge on the impacts of ocean acidification, as well as a nationwide program to address the problem. In May 2012, Cantwell questioned the former Administrator of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, Dr. Jane Lubchenco, about the agency’s decision to cut critical ocean acidification monitoring funding that supports thousands of jobs in Washington state. Cantwell also co-sponsored the Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act and worked to enact the bill into law in March 2009. The legislation established the nation’s first comprehensive research program to specifically study ocean acidification.
Cantwell also spoke at today’s hearing about the need to more effectively measure extreme weather events: “I’ve been a big fan of using our new high-tech Doppler radar system to get a better weather ready nation, in the context that so much can be known about these storms now. There are all sorts of algorithms that if people just put computing time behind they would tell us some of the potential damage that we are looking at coming at us and give us better preparation.”
Cantwell has previously highlighted how innovative weather technology can help identify storms faster and more accurately. During the nomination hearing for Penny Pritzker to be the next Secretary of Commerce, Cantwell secured a commitment that if Pritzker was confirmed she would lead the department in updating weather forecasting technology. At a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Hearing in 2012, Cantwell urged the Administration to improve weather forecasting technology to mitigate the impacts of severe weather and prevent loss of life and property.
A complete transcript of Cantwell’s exchange at today’s hearing follows.
Senator Cantwell: Thanks, Mr. Chairman. And thanks for holding this important hearing. From our part of the country these definitely are very important issues. So thank you to all the witnesses today. Dr. Newton thank you for bringing up that quote. That was actually, I think, Bill Taylor, maybe you said that, from Taylor Shellfish about putting headlights onto cars. To me this is about information we now can acquire about the oceans. In fact, my staff was just showing me this particular app that is a link to every buoy that the fishermen can link to and see weight, temperature, and all these various things. So not only are we collecting the information but we are making it available to people. In the case of shellfish, that was real information on ocean acidification that allowed them to do seeding at a different time which allowed them to be successful. How many ocean acidification sensors are deployed today and what else do we need to do to build that network?
Dr. Jan Newton, Senior Principle Oceanographer, Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington: I would say nationally I don’t know the number. I know the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) ocean acidification program probably has on the order, I’m going to guess, 20 nationwide, but I’ll get back to you on that. But in our region we really only have two. And I think this is very much underestimating the situation. We’ve been very successful with those two offshore buoys – one off La Push that I mentioned and one off Newport – because it tells the near shore growers when the ocean acidification events are coming. But when you look at the inland waters such as the Puget Sound or the Columbia River, we know that very different conditions exist. So my examples are all from the Pacific Northwest but this is certainly true for Alaska, certainly true for the Caribbean, the Northeast, and all of the areas around our nation. So I see that we need a significant investment in expanding these observations, but the great thing about the Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) is that the platforms are there. It’s not like we need to be putting a bunch of new buoys in the water, because we have a lot of buoys which could be adapted to be ocean acidification monitoring buoys. And we have the human infrastructure and the data delivery systems. The app that you saw that Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observing Systems (NANOOS) produced is also mirrored by other regional associations and by IOOS. I think we have some of the picture, but we need the sustained support and the way to grow it.
Senator Cantwell: I’ve been a big fan of using our new high-tech Doppler radar system to get a better weather ready nation, in the context that so much can be known about these storms now. There are all sorts of algorithms that if people just put high-power computing time behind they would tell us some of the potential damage that we are looking at coming at us and give us better preparation. Do you think using high frequency radar with the buoy system and combining all this data under NOAA in a forecasting situation would be good for us as it relates to hurricanes and some of the events we are seeing? Maybe some that we are seeing in the Northwest but certainly other parts of the country see way more frequently than we do?
Dr. Newton: I absolutely do. And I know that during Super Storm Sandy that was actually put to test and the HF radar measurements that were made on the middle Atlantic helped the weather forecasting capacities. I think these are critical. As Dr. Avery mentioned the oceans and the atmosphere intimately work together and if we have better weather over water measurements those can aid the forecasts. The HF radar that measures the surface current can be used to improve ocean circulation models and so that’s really critical for getting the weather right. So absolutely, I believe what you said is critical for a better weather ready nation and I think we have pieces there. We have HF radar in Oregon, but we don’t have them in Washington. And I know that’s true around the nation – there are places that have it and places that don’t. I think we need to fill in that system. I think the system is already integrated with modeling efforts. I think we need to sustain and expand those efforts.
Senator Cantwell: This is a resource issue not a technology issue, right? The technology exists.
Dr. Newton: Absolutely – technologies being used today, successfully.
Senator Cantwell: Dr. Cameron, what about this larger issue about ocean acidification? I know there is an X Prize that’s been announced to try to tackle this problem. Should we be looking to the private sector? You’ve done a lot but should we be looking to the private sector to try to stimulate more investment here as it relates to solving some of these problems?
Dr. James Cameron: I think we can. I think the prize model is a good model, but somebody put up the prize money so it’s still going to come back to the bottom line. I think there are incentives that you might consider for innovation and for partnership. A good example is the Center for Marine Robotics at Woods Hole Oceanographic. This is a place where we are hoping to have the oil and gas industry, especially offshore, and other extraction industries come to a common development place with academia, including Woods Hole, but also some other academic partners that specialize in robotics but not necessarily ocean robotics. So putting a group together where money can be brought into it where it doesn’t necessarily have to come from the federal government. But on the other hand we need to stimulate, let’s say, the offshore oil and gas industry to want to come and do this and develop common platform technology that could be used both for research and for commercial survey work for example. And this would apply, Senator Begich, to your issues in Alaska working underneath the ice. We’re looking forward 10, 15, 20 years to leases on the Continental Shelf and so on to be able to do those surveys. Currently we have to work under ice that’s seasonal that will continue to retreat over time. So this is an area where we need new ocean graphic tools – advanced robotics, the ability to communicate long distances under water, artificial intelligence – to be able to hone those robots back to their base stations to work autonomously, and so on. We believe we can create some common technology that can be used by industry commercially and can be used by the science community. The science community doesn’t have the resources always to create these new tool sets so this is a way to do that. If there is a way that you guys can imagine that can stimulate that so that it’s private money moving into essentially the research community with some kind of rebate system or something like that. That would be very helpful. For example, I built the Deep Sea Challenger Submersible in Australia, and we had an American component to the team. They provided a third of the sub but the assembly and most of the R and D work was done in Australia. Because Australia has a rebate system there for pure R and D. So entrepreneurs who want to create new technology can create that technology and receive a rebate from the government. That was significant to me to the tune of about half a million dollars. And on a small project like that that made a difference. That type of thing should be considered as well and might play in with the kinds of things we’re proposing with the Center of Marine Robotics.
Senator Cantwell: Thank you, that’s very interesting. I see my time has expired. Unfortunately I have to go but Mr. Chairman, I think this is a very important issue in the sense that I think we need to identify the issues Mr. Cameron brought up: this notion of the technology and getting a consensus between the public and the private sector. When we had our big Gulf implosion, we realized we didn’t even have any – the way the Coast Guard on cleanup – we didn’t have any agreed upon list of technology that we really were pursuing as the next great thing. There’s a whole big debate about what level of technology we should be adhering too. I think the oceans among many things where it suffers, because it’s out of a lot of people’s view. The issue is how much technology really could give us information and data that could be so critical to our ocean economy and fisherman, to science, to safety to all of these things. So many things with the oceans fall between the cracks of various organizations and agencies, and there is no prioritization of that next step in technology. So I certainly want to work with you and applaud you for having this hearing.
Maria Cantwell (US Senator for Washington) web page, 11 June 2013. Web site.