Plan may protect GulfBy GulfFederal and state governments are setting into motion plans to protect northern Gulf of Mexico communities from future hazards, policy makers invited to speak at a conference for scientists and coastal natural resource managers said Wednesday.
Thu, Nov. 30, 2006; Sun Herald
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Better storm tools in creation
By MIKE KELLER
MOBILE – Federal and state governments are setting into motion plans to protect northern Gulf of Mexico communities from future hazards, policy makers invited to speak at a conference for scientists and coastal natural resource managers said Wednesday.
A key architect of a presidentially appointed commission, whose job was to draft a federal plan to rehabilitate America’s oceans, said marine scientists must force action because the Bush administration’s response to the plan has been wholly inadequate.
"The ocean research budget is less now than it was 30 years ago," said Dr. Frank Muller-Karger, a member of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and a biological oceanographer at the University of South Florida. "If people like you don’t push to fix these problems, they won’t be fixed."
Among the most pressing concerns, Muller-Karger said, are pollution, overfishing, land development and wetland loss, climate change, evolving habitats, red tide and hurricanes.
Federal Emergency Management Agency officials said the work they are doing will help coastal residents better prepare and recover from hurricanes. The 2005 hurricane season forced decision-makers to redouble efforts to help plan for such dangers.
"Katrina is not the worst-case scenario," said Rob Lowe, who is leading FEMA’s efforts to create flood and storm surge maps. "This type of storm comes into the Gulf every 30 or so years. We need to look at a 500-year storm event."
Lowe’s group is using advanced models and Department of Energy supercomputers to crunch numbers for more accurate maps of flood and storm surge limits.
Brock Long, a member of FEMA’s evacuation planning team, said storm surge is the main reason people are forced to evacuate.
"Unfortunately, evacuation plans are too often made for political reasons," Long said.
Brock is also using advanced computer models to create effective evacuation plans.
"We are trying to build capacity for decision makers to make effective plans," Brock said. "We want to reduce the number of people evacuated and the distance they are evacuated to."
The officials spoke during the final day of a meeting concerning the current state of scientific knowledge on the northern Gulf of Mexico’s bays and bayous. Some 300 scientists and natural resource managers from around the region are attending the two-day event in Mobile.
Other researchers on Wednesday discussed findings of small, seasonal "dead zones" in Mississippi and Alabama waters similar to the large one found off Southwest Louisiana and that hurricanes cause deep, violent currents in the Gulf.
University of Southern Mississippi’s Dr. Charlotte Brunner said a low oxygen area – called a dead zone – south of Horn Island is showing the classic conditions like those seen in the one off of the coast of Louisiana, which can be as large as the state of Massachusetts.
Dr. Nancy Rabalais, a Louisiana dead zone expert, said the condition is caused by excess nutrients being pumped from the land through the Mississippi River. The nutrients, which are mainly comprised of agricultural fertilizer, cause blooms of aquatic plant life that sink to the Gulf bottom and use up the water’s oxygen when they die and decay.
Donald Johnson, also from USM, said computer models have shown that hurricanes like Ivan and Katrina cause violent spiraling currents in the Gulf over 1,600 feet below the water’s surface that can destroy aquatic communities.