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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Weather data from nation’s largest wind farms could improve U.S. models, forecasts

November 14, 2012

NOAA Office of Education’s Bay-Watershed Education and Training (B-WET) Program participants.

Two of the nation’s largest producers of wind-generated electric power will share privately-collected weather data with NOAA, providing agency scientists with additional observations from wind farms across the nation for research and operations.

NOAA now has data sharing agreements with Iberdrola Renewables of Portland, Ore., and NextEra Energy Resources of Juno Beach, Fla.—the country’s two largest generators of wind-generated electric power, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

The companies will provide valuable weather observations from instrumented towers in their wind farms and wind speed data from instruments atop wind turbines. Since 2011, Xcel Energy of Minneapolis, Minn. has provided similar observations to NOAA.

“We appreciate this opportunity to work with industry and are eager to start similar data sharing agreements with other industry partners,” said Kathryn D. Sullivan, Ph.D., assistant secretary of commerce for environmental observation and prediction and NOAA deputy administrator. “Everyone who uses weather information will benefit from these additional data. These observations are made at altitudes that are not routinely observed. The more information we are able to collect leads to more accurate predictions.”

NOAA will use these weather observations in operational model forecasts produced by NOAA’s National Weather Service. Wind data at these heights are not routinely observed and are of great interest to many industries and researchers involved in renewable energy, aviation, and air quality.

While the observations are business-sensitive and will not be redistributed outside of NOAA, the agency’s scientists will use the data to validate and improve weather models at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory and at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Prediction.

“NextEra Energy recognizes that a better NOAA weather forecast will ultimately improve our operational decisions and our bottom line,” said Mark Ahlstrom, CEO for WindLogics, a NextEra Energy Resources subsidiary that also contributed data to NOAA. “Sharing data with NOAA makes sense because it helps NOAA deliver better forecasts for use by our company and the general public.”

Jerry Crescenti, Director of Meteorology for Iberdrola Renewables, added, “When it comes to observations, you can never have enough. Hopefully, other wind energy companies will consider securely providing their weather observations to NOAA to improve the foundational forecasts for all in the industry.”

NextEra Energy Resources is a clean energy leader and one of the largest competitive energy suppliers in North America, operating in 22 states and Canada as of year-end 2011. A subsidiary of NextEra Energy, Inc. (NYSE: NEE), NextEra Energy Resources is the largest generator of renewable energy from the wind and sun in the United States, owning and operating approximately 8,569 megawatts of wind and 158 megawatts of solar power generation at the end of 2011.

Iberdrola Renewables, LLC is the U.S. renewable energy division of parent company IBERDROLA, S.A., an energy pioneer with the largest renewable asset base of any company in the world. Iberdrola Renewables, LLC is headquartered in Portland, Ore., and has over $9 billion of operating assets totaling more than 5,000 megawatts of wind and solar generation.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Visit us at www.noaa.gov and join us on Facebook, Twitter and our other social media channels.


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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Study finds ocean acidification accelerated in nutrient rich areas

September 24, 2012

Carbon dioxide released from decaying algal blooms, combined with ongoing increases in atmospheric carbon emissions, leads to increased levels of ocean acidification, and places additional stress on marine resources and the coastal economies that depend on them, according to a new study published today.

Ocean acidification occurs when the ocean absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or from the breakdown of organic matter, which then causes a chemical reaction to make it more acidic. Species as diverse as scallops and corals are vulnerable to ocean acidification, which can affect the growth of their shells and skeletons.

Research by NOAA's William G. Sunda and Wei-jun Cai of the University of Georgia points to the process of eutrophication - the production of excess algae from increased nutrients, such as, nitrogen and phosphorus -- as a large, often overlooked source of CO2 in coastal waters. When combined with increasing CO2 in the atmosphere, the release of CO2 from decaying organic matter is accelerating the acidification of coastal seawater.

The effects of ocean acidification on the nation's seafood industry are seen in the Pacific Northwest oyster fishery. According to NOAA, ocean acidification is affecting oyster shell growth and reproduction, putting this multi-million dollar industry at risk. Annually, the Pacific Northwest oyster fishery contributes $84 million to $111 million to the West Coast's economy. According to an earlier NOAA study ocean acidification could put more than 3,000 jobs in the region at risk.

Sunda and Cai used a new chemical model to predict the increase in acidity of coastal waters over a range of salinities, temperatures and atmospheric CO2 concentrations. They found that the combined interactive effects on acidity from increasing CO2 in the atmosphere and CO2 released from the breakdown of organic matter were quite complex, and varied with water temperature, salinity and with atmospheric CO2.

"These interactions have important biological implications in a warming world with increasing atmospheric CO2," said Sunda. "The combined effects of the two acidification processes, along with increased nutrient loading of nearshore waters, are reducing the time available to coastal managers to adopt approaches to avoid or minimize harmful impacts to critical ecosystem services such as fisheries and tourism."

Sunda and Cai found that, given current atmospheric CO2 concentrations and projected CO2 released from organic matter decay, seawater acidity could nearly double in waters with higher salinity and temperature, and could rise as much as 12 times current levels in waters with lower salinity and lower temperature.

These model predictions were verified with measured acidity data from the northern Gulf of Mexico and the Baltic Sea, two eutrophic coastal systems with large temperature and salinity differences, which experience large-scale algal blooms. The observed and modeled increases in acidity from eutrophication and algal decay are well within the range that can harm marine organisms.

Funding support for the research came from the National Science Foundation, NASA and NOAA. The study can be found in this month's edition of the American Chemical Society's Environmental Science and Technology journal.

NOAA's mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Join us on Facebook, Twitter and our other social media channels at http://www.noaa.gov/socialmedia


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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Research reveals bottom feeding techniques of tagged humpback whales in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary

Contact: Vernon Smith, 301-713-7248
Anne Smrcina, 781-545-8026 x204 Research reveals bottom feeding techniques of tagged humpback whales in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary

New NOAA-led research on tagged humpback whales in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary reveals a variety of previously unknown feeding techniques along the seafloor. Rather than a single bottom feeding behavior, the whales show three distinct feeding approaches: simple side-rolls, side-roll inversions, and repetitive scooping.

A recently published paper, in the journal Marine Mammal Science, indicates that bottom side-roll techniques are common in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and the Great South Channel study area, a deep-water passage between Nantucket, Mass. and Georges Bank-further southeast.

The study further states that the observed feeding behavior also leads to vulnerability to entanglement in bottom set fishing gear, an issue which is a major mortality factor for the species. This finding reaffirms a NOAA Fisheries regulation that mandates the use of sinking line between fishing traps used in the lobster fishery as a way of reducing entanglements.

The new findings follow earlier NOAA-led studies detailing so-called "bubble net" feeding behaviors near and at the surface. Bubble net feeding is a behavior in which humpback whales corral and contain fish into a small area by trapping them in nets of air bubbles so they can more efficiently scoop them up in their large filter-feeding mouths.The behaviors are used by individual animals and as part of coordinated feeding behaviors involving two or more animals.

"Tagging technology is allowing us to observe whales underwater, much as land-based biologists study animal subjects in their specific environments," said David Wiley, sanctuary research coordinator and a co-author on the paper. "The data have allowed us to detect new feeding techniques as well as nuances in those behaviors. We have determined that bottom feeding is a much more commonly used technique than the more well known bubble net behaviors."

Bottom side-rolling feeding was previously hypothesized from observations of scars on the jaws of humpback whales and from earlier tagging projects. In the recent studies, researchers showed that this behavior happens for extensive periods of time at or near the seafloor, that it occurs in the presence of concentrations of sand lance (a preferred prey fish), and that the behavior is accompanied by the expansion of the animal's ventral (throat) pleats.

Information was collected through the use of DTAGs (synchronous motion and acoustic recording tags) and Crittercam™, National Geographic Society's underwater video and audio recording system.

Humpback whale with a scrape on its rostrum. Scientists say injuries such as this one are sometimes a result from bottom-feeding. (Credit: NOAA/Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary )"By visualizing the data with TrackPlot, we can actually see how the whale moves underwater and this enables us to discover different kinds of foraging behaviors," said lead author Colin Ware of the University of New Hampshire's Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping. TrackPlot is a custom software tool for DTAG data that produces a ribbon-like image in three dimensions. "With these 3-D visualizations, we can follow the path of the whale from surface to seafloor along with all of the pitch, roll and heading changes while underway. By adding Crittercam video, we now get a more complete understanding of these various bottom feeding techniques," Ware said.

A side-roll is defined as a roll of between 45 and 135 degrees from a normal orientation along the seafloor - the most common version uses a 90 degree roll with a downward head pitch of about 30 degrees, which matches favorably with earlier speculative sketches of bottom feeding. A side-roll inversion involves rolls that continue past the 135 degree orientation position. One humpback used a technique that employed a repetitive sequence of moves approximately every 20 feet during which the animal rolled from a 90 degree position to an inverted position, with some 10 to 17 of these "scoops" per dive.

The whale's body orientation during bottom side-roll feeding is depicted in this computer-generated image. (Credit: Colin Ware, University of New Hampshire Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping)Sand lance, also known as sand eels, tend to burrow into the sandy sediments at night or form nighttime horizontal schools close to the seafloor. In addition, Crittercam footage indicates that sand lance can form dense mats along the seabed during the day. The side roll feeding technique with extended pleats emphasizes width rather than height, resulting in more efficient feeding when encountering prey at or near the seafloor. Coordinated feeding may also help cluster prey or simply ensure that it does not escape. Crittercam footage also showed for the first time a head-to-head orientation for two animals that were side-rolling at the seafloor.

While this humpback bottom feeding behavior occurs at relatively slow speeds, it does involve the expansion of ventral pleats, which was once thought to require high speeds, as in lunging. The researchers theorize that humpback side rolls may be similar to the feeding technique of gray whales in the Pacific. The three types of bottom feeding techniques may be due to different prey distributions or may just reflect individual preferences between whales. In this 3D computer visualization, the roller coaster-like movement of a tagged humpback whale in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary is captured over a nearly two-hour period. The whale traveled at depths ranging from 30 to 150 feet deep. The red and blue triangles along the ribbon show the whale's powerful fluke, or tail fin strokes that propel it through the water. The yellow sections along the ribbons indicate where bottom side-roll feeding occurs. (Credit: Colin Ware, University of New Hampshire Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping)

Funding and additional support came from NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, NOAA Office of Marine and Aviation Operations, NOAA-University of New Hampshire Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping, Office of Naval Research, National Oceanographic Partnership Program, Duke University Marine Laboratory, National Geographic Society, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Pacific Life Foundation and the Volgenau Foundation.

Designated in 1992, Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary encompasses 842 square miles of ocean, stretching between Cape Ann and Cape Cod offshore of Massachusetts. Renowned for its scenic beauty and remarkable productivity, the sanctuary supports a rich diversity of marine life including endangered great whales, seabirds, more than 60 species of fishes and hundreds of marine invertebrates.

NOAA's mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Join us on
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Monday, December 2, 2013

New European satellite key for weather, climate prediction

September 17, 2012

Metop-B.

The European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) launched its second of three polar-orbiting satellites today. Information from Metop-B will complement data provided by NOAA's polar-orbiting satellites.

High resolution (Credit: EUMETSAT)

Today’s launch of a European environmental satellite from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan will enable NOAA to continue capturing data that feed sophisticated, numerical prediction models used to forecast weather and climate in the United States, according to the agency’s top satellite official.

The Metop-B spacecraft is the second of three polar-orbiting satellites launched by the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), a NOAA partner.

“This launch is another milestone in a partnership that continues our wide-ranging ability to detect the early signs of severe weather, climate shifts and distress signals from emergency beacons in the U.S., Europe and around the world,” said Mary Kizca, assistant administrator for NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service.

In 1998, the two agencies forged a partnership, known as the U.S. – European Initial Joint Polar System, (IJPS), in which NOAA and EUMETSAT agreed to fly sensors on each agency’s respective polar-orbiting satellites that circle the globe 14 times a day, but in different orbits. The Metop satellites fly in the mid-morning orbit, and NOAA’s polar-orbiting environmental satellites, which are the U.S. contribution to the IJPS agreement, circle the Earth in the afternoon orbit.

Together, EUMETSAT’s Metop satellites and NOAA’s polar-orbiting spacecraft provide the majority of global data for numerical weather forecasts, and provide observations that help predict environmental phenomena, including: wildfires, volcanic eruptions, snow cover, sea ice, vegetation health, sea surface temperatures, and disaster mitigation. Each agency’s satellites carry similar sets of sensors -- some used for forecasting, others for assessing surface conditions.

The Metop satellites include advanced sensors for greater accuracy of atmospheric temperature, water vapor and ozone soundings, which are vital for improving weather forecasts, and special sensors for search and rescue operations. NOAA has comparable sounding capabilities on its next-generation of polar-orbiting satellites, the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS).

NOAA provides five of the joint instruments on board the satellites and EUMETSAT developed and provides NOAA with the Microwave Humidity Sounder, which monitors water content in clouds and estimates the rate of precipitation.  NASA, on behalf of NOAA, manages the development, testing and integration of the five U.S. instruments that are flying on Metop-B.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Visit us at www.noaa.gov and join us on Facebook, Twitter and our other social media channels.


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Sunday, December 1, 2013

Researchers join large, international flash flood project in Europe

September 12, 2012

Mobile radar.

Over the next three months, NOAA researchers will operate a mobile radar, NOAA - XPol (NOXP), in southeast France as part of the HyMeX Experiment, the largest weather field research project in European history. 

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

NOAA, NASA and the University of Connecticut are representing the United States in the Hydrological Cycle in the Mediterranean Experiment (HyMeX), the largest weather field research project in European history.   

HyMex is a 10-year international effort to better understand, quantify and model the hydrologic cycle in support of improved forecasts and warnings of flash floods in the Mediterranean region.

The project targets central Italy, southern France, the Balearic Islands, Corsica and northern Italy — all areas particularly susceptible to devastating flash flood events. Improved understanding of the land, atmosphere and ocean interactions that contribute to flash flooding in this part of the world will advance the state of the science that will ultimately be represented in forecast models with application in the United States. 

NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) researchers will operate a mobile radar, NOAA - XPol (NOXP), in southeast France from Sept. 10 to Nov. 10. This is the first of several special observation periods during the HyMeX 10-year timeframe. Additionally, NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service is sponsoring scientists from New Mexico Tech to operate and evaluate a Lightning Mapping Array during HyMeX to support product development and validation for the future Geostationary Lightning Mapper on NOAA’s GOES-R satellite, which is scheduled to launch in late 2015.

The radar will provide high-resolution data and low altitude scans to help determine the size of the raindrops, the intensity of rainfall, and rainfall rates to help predict flash flooding conditions in the Cévennes Vivarais region of France.

Mobile radar.

A catastrophic flood event threatened the ancient Roman aqueduct bridge Pont du Gard in southern France in September 2002. The HyMex Experiment could help local officials in the Mediterranean region improve forecasts and warnings of flash floods. 

(Credit: Cévennes Vivarais Mediterranean Hydro-meteorological Observatory)

During autumn, onshore moisture from the Mediterranean Sea encounters the 5,000-feet high Cévennes Mountains in southeast France making numerous towns and villages particularly subject to severe flash flood events.

“Data collected in the air, at sea and on land will shed light on how catastrophic flash-flooding events begin, which may help local officials better prepare for and respond to these types of emergencies,” said Jonathan Gourley, Ph.D., an NSSL research hydrologist.

Other sensors include three instrumented research aircraft, three research ships, buoys, ocean sensors, additional mobile precipitation radars, cloud radars and microradars, hundreds of rain gauges, ten disdrometers (to measure size and speed of individual raindrops), a dozen lidars, sonar, instrumented balloons, wind profilers, and a lightning mapping array.

NSSL’s participation in HyMeX is sponsored by MétéoFrance, and operations are coordinated with the Cévennes-Vivarais Mediterranean Hydro-Meteorological Observatory, The University of Grenoble, NASA, University of Connecticut and Cemagraf.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Visit us at www.noaa.gov and join us on Facebook, Twitter and our other social media channels.


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