CSP-SUPPORTED RESEARCH ON SHEDS LIGHT ON COPPER THREATS TO SALMON; STATE LAWMAKERS ACT
BRONZE MEDAL AWARD GOES TO CSP
CSP IS BUILDING PARTNERSHIPS FOR BETTER STORM HAZARD MANAGEMENT
CREDIBILITY OF FORECASTING INCREASED WHEN CSP BOLSTERS LOCAL OBSERVING CAPABILITIES
CSP SUPPORT INITIATES NATIONAL EXPANSION OF THE SWAN MODEL
SCIENTIST SUPPORTED BY CSP ACKNOWLEDGED FOR IMPROVING UNDERSTANDING BETWEEN STORMWATER AND SALMON SURVIVAL
IMPROVED RAIN FORECASTS ESSENTIAL TO WARNING THE PUBLIC ABOUT FLASH FLOODS AND DEBRIS FLOWS
State lawmakers have passed legislation in California and Washington requiring manufacturers to phase out copper and other metals from brake pads over the next ten years because of harmful effects of storm runoff on West Coast salmon populations. Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC) biologists Nat Scholz and David Baldwin, and Oregon State University scientists first studied the effect of copper on salmon olfactory senses in 2002. Their work led to an award-winning research paper in 2007, which raised awareness of brake pads as a major contributor to elevated copper levels in streams. Subsequent research by NWFSC and University of Washington scientists led to papers in 2008 and 2011 addressing issues associated with copper factory toxicity, such as the role of water quality and the impact on predator avoidance.
By braking, drivers release copper onto roadways, which ends up in freshwater through storm runoff. “Since a salmon’s sense of smell is crucial to its survival, even short-term disruptions of this sensory system due to copper exposure could put a salmon’s ability to survive or reproduce at risk,” Scholz says. Because of the ubiquity of copper in the aquatic environment and the difficulty of treating stormwater to remove it, reducing copper runoff is not feasible without addressing brake use as a significant source of copper loading.
Scholz, Baldwin, and others were involved in the hearings for brake pad legislation in Washington, California, and Oregon by presenting their scientific findings to legislative committees and answering committee member questions. Similar legislation to reduce storm-generated copper in waterways has been introduced in Rhode Island, New York, and Oregon. Some manufacturers have already altered their practices in response to increased concern over West Coast salmon health.
Meanwhile, Scholz and his colleagues emphasize that work still needs to be done to improve our understanding of copper toxicity. Two NWFSC-led efforts are underway to contribute to this end. One is to examine the link between copper toxicity in individual juvenile salmon to impacts on a salmon population. The other is to better understand the olfactory toxicity of copper in seawater. Scholz emphasizes that these studies could provide important information to inform management decisions.
In 2005, Coastal Storms Program (CSP) staff members were given the highest honorary award granted by the NOAA administrator. A Bronze Medal recognizes superior performance, characterized by outstanding or significant contributions that have increased NOAA's efficiency and effectiveness. The award was granted for leadership in establishing the CSP and successfully completing the program’s first effort in Florida.
PACIFIC NORTHWEST REGION – Interview with Pat Corcoran, Oregon Sea Grant Coastal Hazard Specialist
People who live near bodies of water are naturally interested in knowing whether the area is susceptible to flooding. The Coastal Storms Program (CSP) created a user-friendly geographic information system tool specifically for the Pacific Northwest Project that depicts the areas most vulnerable to flooding caused by coastal storms. “The tool helps planning and permitting agencies, transportation managers, and emergency response agencies identify an area within a shoreline segment and examine what level of shoreline erosion or flooding is likely,” Corcoran explains, “based on near real-time data collected from tide gauges and buoys”—including CSP’s weather buoy.
The tool employs an improved model based on analyses of the total water levels and the effect of wave run-up superimposed on the tides to assess the potential maximum extent of coastal flooding. Tsunami inundation zones have been added to the tool, and information from past storms can also be analyzed to guide current planning. “It’s another example of the emerging form of decision-support tools that incorporate near real-time data into their analysis and display. Scientists often shop their products around looking for a place to pilot them. The Coastal Storms Program creates tools that are directly requested by the locals.”
The work of a local outreach specialist in the project region is one of the reasons CSP creates tools that are so relevant to the area. “My job,” says Corcoran, “is to help NOAA develop the most useful models and tools for people in this region.” Sea Grant’s role is to connect local stakeholders and potential users of the tools with the NOAA researchers developing them, “in order to maximize the local utility of the data, models, and tools,” says Corcoran. The CSP has spent nearly $3.5 million on six projects in the region. The projects draw from four NOAA line offices and several program offices. The Pacific Northwest project serves as an excellent example of how NOAA resources can be put to the best use when local stakeholders are highly involved, and when NOAA offices are communicating and developing lasting partnerships focused on targeted areas.
SOUTHEASTERN FLORIDA and PACIFIC NORTHWEST – Interview with Andrew Shashy, National Weather Service, and Pat Corcoran, Oregon Sea Grant
The success and safety of people making their living in marine-related jobs is highly dependent on the accuracy of local weather forecasts. When weather forecasts over-predict storm conditions, mariners and fisherman will take their chances and decide to venture seaward even when forecasts suggest otherwise. “During the peak fishing seasons, staying off the water can mean missing out on a $5,000 dollar day,” says Corcoran. In 2005, the Coastal Storms Program (CSP) implemented a nearshore buoy in the Pacific Northwest, “which helps improve the accuracy of National Weather Service forecasts for marine and coastal waters,” Corcoran says, “and is particularly useful in issuing small-craft advisories that distinguish between inner and outer waters.”
CSP made similar improvements to observing capabilities in the Southeastern Florida project. Implementation of the St. Augustine buoy, development of a new CMAN station, and coordination of several tide stations were judged as critical to the National Weather Service’s Weather Forecasting Office (WFO) in Jacksonville, Florida. “These three data sources work together for all types of marine and coastal forecasts, advisories, watches, and warnings,” says Shashy.
Specifically, some of the products that benefit from that data include coastal waters forecasts, coastal hazards messages, surf zone forecasts, special marine warnings, marine weather statements, and zone forecasts. However, the most critical improvement occurred with updating the Jacksonville’s WFO local hurricane statements during tropical cyclone situations. “Simply put, we could not do a credible job without these very critical observation platforms, even though there are only a few of them,” says Shashy.
Better observations and forecasts, it seems, have led to better decision making as well. “I believe improvements have been made with better marine and coastal hazard forecasts and thereby have also helped enhance the marine community economy,” says Shashy. To reinforce this thought, the Jacksonville WFO has received many e-mails from local marine users of the value of the observing data from the St. Augustine buoy.
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA REGION – Interview with Troy Nicolini, National Weather Service
The surf is up in California, and the rest of the nation is catching this wave—the SWAN wave model that is. SWAN, Simulating Waves Nearshore, is a model that is helping marine weather forecasters develop their official wave forecasts. The model employs a high-resolution wave model that incorporates shallow water physics. “When coastal weather offices heard about the CSP SWAN pilot effort, they were very excited at the prospect of finally having a solution to this long-standing forecasting gap,” says Troy Nicolini of the NOAA Weather Forecasting Office in Eureka, California.
“The model is being run operationally at all West Coast weather forecasting offices of the National Weather Service and has been so popular it is now being deployed in three East Coast offices and the Honolulu office. We have also recently heard from the Australian Meteorology folks, and they are considering using at least some of the CSP SWAN concepts,” says Nicolini.
In 2005, the Coastal Storms Program (CSP) provided funds to the Southern California project area for the development of SWAN to help identify marine hazards, such as high surf at the beach or hazardous waves at sea. Currently, mariners in Humboldt Bay also benefit from this model, determining if it is safe to transit the harbor entrance by accessing tidal current information for the harbor entrance, wave height, and wave hazard forecasts. “Efforts are underway to develop similar bar forecasts for other harbor entrances on the West Coast,” noted Nicolini.
There has been a major paradigm shift in the way the National Weather Service develops and delivers weather forecasts. “Instead of typing worded forecasts, forecasters now develop gridded forecasts at relatively high resolutions,” Nicolini explains. “Before the CSP SWAN project, forecasters did not have wave model guidance that was compatible with this new style of forecasting. Forecasters had to rely on antiquated manual methods to generate wind waves.” Now CSP SWAN is fully integrated into the gridded forecast paradigm, and this has enabled forecasts to develop more accurate wave forecasts in less time.
“The ability of CSP to step in and provide the seed money was immense. The SWAN team only had an idea before CSP’s involvement.” CSP assisted the team through the proof-of-concept development phase and continues support in the final ongoing phase, which is the inclusion of the CSP SWAN technology in the nationally supported software that is deployed to all National Weather Service offices. “This kind of expansion simply would not have happened without CSP support,” says Nicolini.
SCIENTIST SUPPORTED BY CSP ACKNOWLEDGED FOR IMPROVING UNDERSTANDING BETWEEN STORMWATER AND SALMON SURVIVAL
PACIFIC NORTHWEST REGION – Interview with Nathaniel Scholz, National Marine Fisheries Service
Nathaniel Scholz, an ecotoxicologist with the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, teamed up with Oregon State University scientists to investigate the effect that copper, generated from stormwater, has on salmon olfactory senses. This collaboration turned out to be an award-winning combination when the journal Environmental Science and Technology (ES&T) voted “A Sensory System at the Interface between Urban Stormwater Runoff and Salmon Survival” as one of the top scientific papers in 2007. Out of 1,200 journal entrants, the paper was awarded “second runner-up” in “The Best of Environmental Science” category.
The specific threats posed by polluted stormwater runoff are still very poorly understood. “It is very difficult for resource agencies and local communities to manage stormwater in ways that will ensure the resilience of aquatic ecosystems and imperiled species,” acknowledges Scholz. “By sponsoring new research and outreach, the NOAA Coastal Storms Program continues to provide national leadership on this issue.”
“In salmon, the sense of smell is very important and they rely on it to find food and mates, navigate, and avoid predators,” says Scholz. Therefore, pesticides in stream waters, specifically copper, might interfere with a fish’s sense of smell. Copper in streams comes not only from pesticides, but also from the copper-containing brake pads that drop dust onto roadways. Stormwater later washes the copper dust into streams.
One important behavior associated with smell for salmon is predator avoidance. When a salmon smells pheromones from torn fish skin, it knows that a cohort has been attacked and responds by holding still near the streambed to avoid detection. This study links salmon physiology to behavior and shows that copper can have harmful effects on salmon at concentrations that are quite low. Scholz stresses, “These effects manifest on a time scale of minutes—well within the duration of a typical stormwater runoff event.”
Federal and state transportation agencies are carefully reviewing this research as they develop new mitigation strategies to reduce the loading of copper in highway runoff to rivers and estuaries that provide critical habitat for salmon. The work is also being used by state agencies and municipalities as part of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permitting process. “It will be a long road to change federal environmental regulations in order to decrease the quantity of copper entering streams from stormwater,” says Scholz. In the meantime, he continues to work with NOAA’s Coastal Storms Program to help community groups reduce contamination from stormwater in local watersheds.
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA REGION – Interview with Allen White, Earth System Research Laboratory
Coastal storms account for nearly 71% of annual U.S. disaster losses, which amount to about $7 billion dollars annually. As development continues to grow in coastal areas, more homes, businesses, and lives will be vulnerable to coastal storms. Therefore, it is vital that more accurate forecasts be developed to reduce risks associated with hazardous weather.
During intense winter coastal storms in California in 2008, a new water-vapor flux tool provided the potential for 5 to 8 hours of lead time for forecasters to put out warnings for conditions that have been documented to cause significant mountain rainfall. The NOAA atmospheric river observatory near Santa Barbara, California, detected these precursor conditions to heavy precipitation, which can cause debris flows in burn areas.
“Coastal and marine weather prediction suffers from a lack of available observations,” emphasizes Allen White of NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory. “Many satellite observations fail at the coast because of the interface between the continent and oceans.” As part of the Southern California Coastal Storms Program (CSP) effort, an atmospheric river monitoring station was installed at the Santa Barbara Airport in Goleta. “The CSP profiler really filled an important observation gap,” says White. “The location of the CSP station is well suited to help forecasters with flash flood forecasts for the many burn areas that scar Southern California.”
Currently, there are three atmospheric river monitoring stations along the coast of California. “Having this network in place aids in reducing losses by providing the NWS with the measurements necessary for improving short-term wind, precipitation, and aviation forecasts, including watches and warnings,” emphasizes White.
The profiler was intended for use by the National Weather Service Weather Forecast Offices and River Forecast Centers. However, during a recent evaluation (Sept. 2005- August 2006), feedback showed that the data were being received and used by 22 non-NWS users. White adds, “These responses indicated that the profiler data is being more broadly used than expected and include air quality applications, current weather, fire weather, marine navigation, public safety, recreation, and research.”
“Without CSP, it was difficult to sell the need to improve coastal observations of hazardous weather,” notes White. “And local agencies were hard-pressed to come up with the funding required to go out and buy a wind profiler on their own.”