Monthly Archives: March 2009

On Board the OSV BOLD: A BOLD Beginning

For more than a month, EPA’s Ocean Survey Vessel (OSV) Bold is studying the health of the waters around Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. EPA scientists and non-scientists will blog about their research and what it’s like to live and work at sea.

March 3, 2009 – 7:30 p.m. (Day 23)

About the author: John Senn is a press officer in Region 2, New York City.  He covers water issues, including water permits, wetlands, coastal water and beaches, oceans and lakes, as well as RCRA, and Voluntary Programs.  John’s been with EPA for 2.5 years.

I’ve spent plenty of time on sailboats and in canoes and kayaks, but just boarding and getting acclimated to the OSV BOLD in St. Thomas was an experience unlike any I’ve ever had on a watercraft.

The ship is like a living organism. Even the smallest pieces of equipment and supplies have their proper place. And no matter where you may be on the ship, if She’s moving, so are you (your stomach included). That means newcomers like myself had better find or re-discover their sea legs pretty quickly or endure seasickness.

In the case of choppy seas most everything is attached to the floor or secured in some other way. All the drawers on my dresser and desk have locks, for example, so they won’t slide out if we hit an unexpected patch of rough water. Safety always comes first regardless of what type of boat you’re on, but on the BOLD, it comes first and second, partly because the ship is so big–224 feet long and 45 feet wide–and partly because of the complexity of what She’s expected to do on a daily basis.

image of ship at dock

After Her days as a Navy ship, the BOLD was transformed into a state-of-the-art research lab, complete with side scan sonar, biological sampling and analysis tools, and powerful computers to help process all the data that’s collected.

But the BOLD would just be a fancy boat without all the people who make Her work. The 18-person crew knows the ship inside and out, and there’s a chef on board who makes sure we all get three square meals each day.

The team of EPA scientists, who hail from every corner of the country, is nothing short of world class. The coral reefs they’re mapping right now have never been surveyed in such a comprehensive way. People often think that we’ve studied every inch of the planet, but this effort is showing that there are things we still don’t know, especially when the land and water are changing beneath our feet.

Well, we’re cruising back to port at a pretty good clip and the ship’s starting to rock a bit, so I think I’ll go catch up on sleep.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Question of the Week: Why do you use disposable or washable baby diapers?

Each week we ask a question related to the environment. Please let us know your thoughts as comments. Feel free to respond to earlier comments or post new ideas. Previous questions.

Cloth baby diapers require cleaning and care, but avoid replacement costs.  Disposable diapers are convenient but must be purchased and disposed of properly.

Why do you use disposable or washable baby diapers?

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Pregunta del la Semana: ¿Por qué usa pañales desechables o de tela para su bebé?

En español: Cada semana hacemos una pregunta relacionada al medio ambiente. Por favor comparta con nosotros sus pensamientos y comentarios. Siéntase en libertad de responder a comentarios anteriores o plantear nuevas ideas. Preguntas previas.

Los pañales de tela que se pueden lavar y reutilizar requieren limpieza y cuidado, pero evita los costos asociados con reemplazarlos. Los pañales desechabes son convenientes, pero tienen que ser comprados y desechados adecuadamente.

¿Por qué usa pañales desechables o de tela para su bebé?

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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On Board the OSV BOLD: Experimenting Under Pressure…Puerto Rico Highlights Continued

For more than a month, EPA’s Ocean Survey Vessel (OSV) Bold is studying the health of the waters around Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. EPA scientists and non-scientists will blog about their research and what it’s like to live and work at sea.

About the author: Mark Reiss is a marine environmental scientist with the dredging, sediments and oceans team in EPA Region 2, comprising New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He is one of the principal investigators on the OSV BOLD’s Puerto Rico voyage.

As I had talked about in yesterday’s post, we wanted to have a little fun after all the hard work the crew and science members had put in to complete our surveys. So, we decided to see what would happen if we securely attached foam cups, signed by students from three science classes at a Manhattan middle school and by three teachers from Puerto Rico that joined us on the OSV BOLD, and drop them down on the CTD to 2,500 meters. The weight of all that water produces incredible pressure, just over 3,600 pounds per square inch (PSI). Our instruments are built to withstand this pressure, but foam coffee cups aren’t. The pressure causes the cups to shrink to miniature versions of themselves, as it forces the air in the foam out and sticks the plastic together.

 image of styrofoam cups, soda can, an egg, and an orange on a table
Various items prior to being sent into the depths of the sea.

The crew had seen that before on other cruises so they knew what would happen to the cup. But this time we also sent down an uncooked egg, an unopened can of soda, an orange, a waffle, and a few floating key chains—basically anything that wasn’t tied down! Everyone on the boat made predictions about what would happen to the items, and they were hotly debated for the three hours it took to make the cast. We all gathered on deck waiting to see what happened.

I got mostly firm predictions about what would happen to the soda and the egg we sent down when I polled the boat and scientific crew (though a few people admitted that they just were guessing). And I got a lot of good theories to back those predictions up.

image of crushed styrofoam cups, soda can, an egg, and an orange on a table
Various items after exposure to the incredible pressure of the sea.

Some confidently predicted that that the egg and soda can would be “toast.” Some people thought that only one would make it or that the egg would break if it went down lying on its side, but would be okay if it went down on its end. Some said that the items would explode. The best one came from our captain who pointed out that the shell of the egg is an engineering marvel of nature so it would withstand the pressure, but the soda can has a weak spot built in and that would make it explode.

Well, maybe the captain did predict the egg would come back fine, but then why did the soda can make it okay, too?

An egg shell is indeed a natural engineering masterpiece, but that’s not why it survived. The reason the soda can, egg and orange did not crush is pretty simple. (By the way, things do not explode under pressure). They are mostly filled with fluid, and fluids do not compress or squeeze together like air does. The fluid inside pushed against the can and the shell from the inside and kept them from collapsing while the pressure outside tried to crush it. If the egg were hollow, even the engineering properties of its shell would not have saved it. The results of our little experiment definitely surprised most of us.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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On Board the OSV BOLD: Just Dropping a Line…Puerto Rico Highlights

About the author: Mark Reiss is a marine environmental scientist with the dredging, sediments and oceans team in EPA Region 2, comprising New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He is one of the principal investigators on the OSV BOLD’s Puerto Rico voyage

image of two men standing on ship deck near columnar instrumentAnother component of the work we do on the OSV BOLD is lowering an instrument called a Conductivity, Temperature and Depth recorder—we just call it a CTD—through the water column down to 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) about every two hours. It takes about 40 minutes to get the CTD down to that depth and then back up on deck, but it’s important to use the CTD because it tells us about the structure of the ocean.

People tend to think of the ocean as all the same but there is actually a lot of structure in the ocean, and our CTD casts showed that structure. The structure of the water is based on density. Less dense water floats on top of denser water; warm water is less dense than cold water, and less salty water is less dense than saltier water. So, a river that runs into the sea does not mix with the seawater, but rather floats on top of it because it has less salt—it’s less dense. Our software calculates the density using the temperature and salt content measured by the CTD.

We completed all of the Conductivity, Temperature and Depth Recorder drops to 1,000 meters (3,280 feet), and on our last cast we sent the CTD down to 2,500 meters or 8,200 feet. That’s pretty deep—picture it as eight Empire State Buildings stacked on top of each other. As you can imagine, it took a long time to go all that distance and back up. You might think that after all the waiting, everybody onboard would have been pretty bored, but everyone was eagerly waiting for the CTD to come back onboard. We’d decided to have a little fun with the test by adding a simple experiment to demonstrate depth pressure. Make sure to check in tomorrow to see what kind of fun experiment we did with the CTD Recorder!

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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On Board the OSV BOLD: Mobilization

For more than a month, EPA’s Ocean Survey Vessel (OSV) Bold is studying the health of the waters around Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. EPA scientists and non-scientists will blog about their research and what it’s like to live and work at sea

February 24, 2008 – 3 p.m. (Day 16)

About the author: Charles LoBue serves as the chief scientist and diver for the US Virgin Island leg of the OSV BOLD voyage. He is an environmental scientist in EPA Region 2 in New York City.

We arrived at our dock in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas after a steaming all night from San Juan, Puerto Rico. Fair cruising conditions during the crossing allowed most of us to get a good night’s sleep. We tied up at 6:30 this morning in the Crown Bay Marina, a popular cruise ship port.

image of three people donning gumby-like suitsToday we begin our acclimation to living and working at sea for the next few weeks on the BOLD. A drill had us all assembled on the upper deck prepared to abandon ship. The ship’s crew briefed us in life boat and emergency procedures, including the emergency exposure suit. They’re called “Gumby suits,” and when you see somebody dressed in one, no explanation is needed for that moniker. Those uninitiated to the pleasures of donning a Gumby suit had the privilege of being our Gumby models.

The morning was fast paced, with a series of meetings to discuss daily operations and scientific strategies. It’s very important that we’re all on the same page when coordinating loading 12 scientists and their equipment our three small boats several times a day in a heaving sea. It’s also important that each dive team is performing all the field assessment procedures in a consistent manner.

In the afternoon, we finally got in the water for our first dives. We deployed two boats to a nearby site to stage a series of rehearsal dives to practice the various survey and observation procedures.

underwater image of two divers studying coral reef

All went well, and the day ended with a one-hour science meeting to discuss the trial runs, and to come to consensus on certain details of documenting the observations. Now we’re ready to observe and measure the condition of these coral reefs around St. Thomas and St. John.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Green International Trade Missions

About the author: Jessica Arnold joined the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration’s Environmental Technologies Team in 2007 as an associate team member. Last spring, she spent a month in Sub-Saharan Africa with U.S. companies on a multi-sector trade mission designed to help facilitate U.S. exports to the region.

If you search the Internet for images of Lagos, Nigeria, you’ll probably find many photos. With more than 120 million people living in Nigeria, it is the most heavily populated country in Sub-Saharan Africa and, until recently, has put very little focus on the environment. Nigeria’s president, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, said in 2008 that, “the country’s annual losses stemming from environmental degradation total nearly $5.1 billion.”

In the spring of 2008, I participated in a multi-sector trade mission to three countries (Ghana, Nigeria, and South Africa) in Sub-Saharan Africa led by the International Trade Administration (ITA). Trade missions are one of the key tools ITA uses to help U.S. businesses export products and services and enter new markets.

So, with President Ya’Adua’s comment in mind, I thought, “We’re off to visit three countries that want newer and more efficient technologies to help them clean their air, their water, and their waste.” I set a goal for myself to make sure that multiple U.S. companies focused on environmental technology products were part of the trade mission and would have the opportunity to begin or expand exports to these markets where their products and services could truly be helpful.

I was very happy to find that the U.S. industry was both enthusiastic about and capable of filling this need as four of the 13 companies on the trade mission were environmental firms or involved with environmental technologies in some way. I’m also thrilled to report that as a direct result of this trade mission, at least one company, a renewable energy company based in Michigan, secured contracts to develop solar efficiency projects in Nigeria and South Africa.

As green technologies developed by U.S. industry continue to advance and the interest and demand for products and services derived from those technologies from foreign markets grows, ITA will be leading three green trade missions this spring: an environmental technology mission to Italy, Greece, and Croatia; a solar energy mission to India; and a green building products and services mission to Southeast Asia. I look forward to returning to Greenversations in the future to share experiences and report on successes from these trade missions. In the meantime, please visit us at: Export.gov.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Green De-icing Techniques

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

If you live along the Eastern states, you probably have been digging out from the snow this week. I must confess that it was nice to play in the powder-like snow again. We hadn’t had a similar snowstorm in our area for years. I actually spent several hours sledding down the hill in our back yard with my youngest daughter. However, all outdoor winter pastimes are not created equal. One of the lesser enjoyable winter activities is dealing with the icy sidewalks and roadways. If you’re not careful, you can do more harm than good to the environment as well.

Although we should avoid a slippery sidewalk and entrance to our home, we shouldn’t be too hasty in rushing to the local convenience store to buy bags of salt and chemicals for de-icing. There are greener techniques to clearing these walkways.  For example, consider using clean clay kitty litter, sand, or fireplace/stove ash to de-ice your sidewalk. Chemical de-icers can be harmful to your pets, your plants, and the environment as a whole. Furthermore, these toxic chemicals that melt from your driveway and roads can pollute waterways. These de-icing road salts can adversely affect ground water used for public water supplies if not applied and stored correctly.

So, next time a winter storm is approaching, take a moment to review some winter preparedness safety tips to better protect your family and the environment.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Técnicas verdes para deshelar

Sobre la autor: Lina M. F. Younes ha trabajado en la EPA desde el 2002 y está a cargo del Grupo de Trabajo sobre Comunicaciones Multilingües. Como periodista, dirigió la oficina en Washington de dos periódicos puertorriqueños y ha laborado en varias agencias gubernamentales.

Si vive en los estados del este de Estados Unidos, probablemente ha estado paleando bastante nieve esta semana. Tengo que confesar que es divertido poder jugar nuevamente con la nieve cuando recién ha caído. Hacía tiempo que no teníamos una tormenta de nieve así en nuestra región. Pasé gran parte del día deslizándome con mi hija menor en trineo en la pequeña montaña que tenemos detrás de la casa después de la nevada. Sin embargo, todas las actividades invernales al exterior no son iguales. Una de las menos agradables consiste en el tener que lidiar con el hielo en las aceras, caminos y carreteras. Si no toma las precauciones necesarias, el deshielo podría perjudicar el medio ambiente también.

Mientras hay que evitar el tener una acera o entrada de la casa cubierta de hielo, no deberíamos recurrir precipitadamente a la ferretería local a comprar el primer producto con sales y sustancias químicas para deshelar que encontremos allí. Hay técnicas para limpiar las aceras y caminos que son más beneficiosas para el medio ambiente. Por ejemplo, considere usar arenilla limpia para gatos, arena, o cenizas de su chimenea para cubrir el pasillo de entrada a su casa cuando hay hielo. Los productos químicos para deshelar pueden ser dañinos para sus mascotas, sus plantas, y el medio ambiente en general. Además, estas sustancias tóxicas que derriten el hielo en las aceras y carreteras pueden contaminar las vías acuáticas. Estas sales para deshelar el hielo de las carreteras pueden afectar adversamente el agua subterránea utilizada por los servicios públicos de suministro de agua si no son aplicados y almacenados correctamente.

Por ende, la próxima vez que pronostiquen la llegada de una tormenta invernal, revise algunos consejos para prepararse para el invierno y así podrá proteger mejor a su familia y al medio ambiente.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Science Wednesday: Smart Investments: Technology for the Planet and the Economy

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

About the author: April Richards is an environmental engineer with EPA’s Office of Research and Development, where she helps manage EPA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program. She recently organized the SBIR kick-off meeting for the new early-stage technology developers that received funding from EPA.

We recently held our kick-off meeting for new small businesses awarded EPA funding to develop innovative technologies for solving environmental problems. It was so exciting to have a room full of entrepreneurial engineers and scientists putting their collective brainpower toward solving such important issues as climate change, air pollution, renewable energy, infrastructure, and water quality monitoring.

“It’s great to know EPA wants us to succeed,” was one company’s way of summing up the meeting. We sure do!

The original idea of the SBIR Program was to tap into the wealth of engineering and scientific expertise of small businesses to address federal government’s pressing research and development needs. Given that small business (particularly in technology) is often referred to as the “engine of U.S. economic growth”—providing the majority of the country’s new jobs—this idea makes more sense now than ever before.

There’s never been a better time to match the need for economic growth with environmental protection through the creation of “green jobs.”

There is so much potential for developing technology that both benefits the environment and keeps the U.S. competitive in the global market. As EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a recent e-mail to Agency staff, we shouldn’t have a “false choice of a strong economy or a clean environment.” The concepts are mutually beneficial.

New, “green” technologies that use less raw and toxic materials, generate smaller streams of waste, and emit fewer emissions are good for the environment and the bottom line. For example, several of the SBIR companies represented at the meeting are exploring ways to harvest what is now considered waste to create building materials, cleaner energy, or other valuable commodities.

Companies face many hurdles getting their technologies into the marketplace, where they can ultimately have a positive impact on the environment. But the potential is tremendous, and it’s reassuring to know that so many smart people are working on this common goal, and with some help from EPA, can develop technologies which help the planet and the economy.

For more information about EPA’s efforts to match technology innovation with environmental needs, visit: http://www.epa.gov/etop/

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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