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Acoustic Zoom promises to provide high-resolution images of offshore oil and gas reserves

News, Ocean, Seismic Surveys No Comments »

A small item in the Marine Technology Reporter just clued me in to what looks to be an interesting new line of acoustic imaging products that could have potential to augment, or perhaps reduce the need for, repeated seismic surveys of active oil and gas fields. PanGeo Subsea has announced new financing to develop their Acoustic Zoom, which they compare to a “deep earth telescope” capable of providing detailed imagery of subsea geology down to 6000m below the sea bed.  Current information does not clarify any details about the products’ acoustic output.

Most companies now utilize repeated seismic surveys in order to track the depletion of offshore oil fields; doing repeated 3D seismic surveys over time is termed “4D” surveying.   According to a recent PanGeo press release and backgrounder, one of the major limitations of current marine 4D surveys is that the resolution at reservoir depths is often too coarse to be able to focus the seismic attributes to a specific compartment or feature of the reservoir. Their Acoustic Zoom is pitched as a novel high resolution method which uses steered beams on reception and on transmission to produce images with higher definition than can be attained with conventional seismic techniques. They project that it will “reduce the cost, scheduling and logistics involved with 4D seismic imaging, including reductions in the amount of equipment, data acquisition time, as well as the time to compute and interpret seismic results. We expect our technology to become an important tool for permanent reservoir monitoring applications.”  To , read more about the Acoustic Zoom, see the these two press releases, announcing private funding received in July, and Canadian government funds received in February.

PanGeo Acoustic Corer: the arms turn to image a full circle below

PanGeo Acoustic Corer: the arms turn to image a full circle below

There is no information on the company’s website about the source levels or frequencies of the acoustic pulses used by any of their innovative systems.  In addition to the Acoustic Zoom, which is still under development, PanGeo has previously brought to market two related products, the Acoustic Corer and the Sub-Bottom Imager.  The Acoustic Corer provides high-resolution images that can be manipulated in great detail; each scan covers an area 14m in diameter and 30-80m deep.  See this page for three videos of the Acoustic Corer and its data.  The Sub-Bottom Imager is an ROV that moves along the seabottom, making images 5m wide and 5m deep.  Both of these products are more oriented toward pre-construction surveys to help avoid surprises as infrastructure is being placed on or into the seafloor.

Maine towns keep wind farms at arm’s length as state looks to far offshore sites

Human impacts, News, Ocean, Wind turbines 1 Comment »

“As goes Maine, so goes the Nation?”  While this old political truism has faded in recent decades, the State of Maine is currently blazing trails in carefully considered wind power development.  At the local level, small towns continue to pass moratoriums and strict setback standards.  Most recently, Thorndike became the third town to set a one-mile setback, with the neighboring town of Dixmont taking up a similar ordinance at this week’s town meeting.  Meanwhile, two more towns, Avon and New Vineyard, joined four others who have hit the pause button on any wind farm developments by adopting moratoriums on any permits.  These actions come in the wake of three projects that have generated significant noise issues for neighbors out to as far as 3000-3500 feet; thus, half-mile setbacks are being seen as not enough to avoid risk of disrupting rural lifestyles.

While these towns see the state as being overly aggressive in supporting ridgetop wind farms (abetted by the fact that a former Governor is one of the state’s leading wind developers), when it comes to offshore wind development, the state’s goals will be much more welcome for most coastal communities.  Instead of opening Maine state waters to windfarm leasing, the legislature’s Committee on Utilities and Energy is redrafting controversial ocean windfarm bill LD 1810 to do the very opposite. Under changes to be finalized today at the committee’s 2nd worksession on the bill, “An Act To Implement the Recommendations of the Governor’s Ocean Energy Task Force” will focus Maine instead on constructing floating deepwater windmills on land, and then deploying them at locations ten miles offshore and further, where wind speeds and higher and more consistent and fisheries are less impacted.

The plan received an enthusiastic response from the Maine Lobstermens Association, which has been very concerned about the impacts of any traditional bottom-mounted wind turbines on their activities near shore.  Habib Dagher, who leads the University of Maine’s offshore wind project, offered a timeline for getting deepwater wind energy going off Maine. “Our goal is build our first demonstration floating turbine – a third-scale turbine about 120 feet above the water – next year, and place it in the water the year after in the Monhegan site,” Dagher said. “In 2013 we would build the first 4 or 5 megawatt unit, In 2014 and 2015, a 25 megawatt farm.” He predicted that offshore wind would keep growing: “The next phase is development of a large scale 500 to 1,000 megawatt farm. We have at least one developer interested to do that and have it operational in 2020”

UPDATE: The offshore Maine project will not have its first scale model test unit in the water until 2013.

Right whale gives birth about 10 miles from proposed Undersea Warfare Training Range

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A whale surveying team enjoyed a rare sight yesterday, as a right whale gave birth as they watched from a small plane.  It was only the second time that a birth had been observed in this species, but the excitement was tempered a bit by the fact that it took place about ten miles from the border of the contentious Undersea Warfare Training Range (USWTR) being planned by the Navy off the Florida coast.  Navy planners have assumed that most whales would be in the designated critical habitat closer to shore, and about 30 miles from the USWTR–still close enough to hear sonar, and perhaps slightly affect behavior, but far enough that relatively few whales would likely react.  The Navy knew that some whales could be closer or even in the range at times, but this is the first dramatic encounter so close to the range.  An article in the Florida Times-Union provides a good sense of the excitement, and the concerns:

The Florida-Georgia coast is the only known calving ground for right whales, which gather each winter after traveling from New England and Canada. From a total population of about 450, more than 100 whales migrated to the area this winter. Environmental advocates, who have warned that ship traffic and sonar use at the training range could imperil the whales, said the discovery reinforces their concerns. “The Navy needs to go back to square one and reconsider,” said Sharon Young, marine issues field director for the Humane Society of the United States. The group is one of several that sued in January to challenge the training range plans.

Although whales are usually reported in shallow waters closer to shore, the Navy’s range project manager said some were expected to be in and around the training area. “The fact that there’s a birth was something a little unexpected. We all agree it’s a good thing,” said Jene Nissen, the project manager. He said the discovery would become part of a body of research that will factor into decisions about use of the range that is planned about 50 nautical miles – 58 miles – east of Jacksonville.

As outlined in preliminary plans issued last year, the Navy has agreed to slow its ships during the months that right whales are in the region, in order to minimize the risk of ship strikes, but so far it has rebuffed options that include setting the annual sonar training schedule so as to also avoid those months.   Up to 480 anti-submarine mid-frequency active sonar exercises are planned per year, including 100 ship-based events (2/week on average, lasting 3-4 hours each).  See these earlier posts for more details.

Will Senate swallow McCain’s bait on last-minute Grand Canyon overflight intervention?

Human impacts, News, Vehicles, Wildlands No Comments »

UPDATE 3/25: In response to a quick wave of outrage on editorial pages and some Park Service lobbying, Senator McCain has withdrawn his proposed amendment.  It remains to be seen whether he will let the NPS EIS process set the final rules, or seek to have the Senate write rules if the process lags or heads toward a resolution that differs from his sense of the proper balance.

That John McCain can sure be a puzzle.  Or is it a case of the old maverick’s bait and switch, staking the high moral ground while pursuing a typically old-guard agenda?  Whatever he’s up to, let’s hope the rest of his Senate colleagues don’t buy into it.  Way back in 1987 McCain led the push to enact the National Parks Overflights Act, which called for the FAA and NPS to come up with a plan to reduce the aircraft noise experienced by Grand Canyon visitors.  This was a truly welcome and indeed, maverick move.  In the 23 years since then,  as noted by the Arizona Republic this week, “the process of adopting a noise-management plan often seemed to move at the same geological pace as the forces shaping the Canyon. ”  This has frustrated advocates for natural quiet, and it has frustrated Senator McCain.  So when the Senator introduced an amendment last week to codify air tour rules, saying that  the amendment reduces excessive aircraft noise “without waiting another 23 years for progress,” it might appear that he’s still taking the high road, standing up to the ridiculous bureaucracy.

But wait: what the good Senator neglected to mention is that the NPS Environmental Impact Statement governing overflights is due out sometime in April.  Yes, the 23-year wait is at its end, after years of collaborative dialogue and NPS research, and within a few weeks, we’ll see what the NPS has proposed.  Yet for some reason, the great champion of the process wants to undercut that work and impose his own version of what would be right and good.  According to the National Parks Conservation Association, the plan McCain is putting forward would allow more air tours than are currently permitted, and otherwise constrain the Park Service’s ability to manage air tours in order to fulfill the original 1987 Act’s stated purpose of “substantial restoration of natural quiet.”  While most of McCain’s amendment seems to mimic what the NPS has indicated it’s aiming for, an FAA-convened working group fell apart over some of the NPS ideas, seasonal limits on certain popular air-tour corridors.  Air tour managers were upset at some NPS provisions, and in the wake of the group’s failure, the FAA’s role is diminished as the NPS moves ahead.  While the EIS is due in April, comment period will follow, and of course, lawsuits by air tour groups or environmentalists looking for more quiet could also delay implementation.  All this may well fuel McCain’s efforts to get something closer to the FAA or air tour groups’ sense of a fair balance into law, rather than wait through the likely challenges.

The Senate is likely to vote on McCain’s amendment this week; the measure may well slip through, as it is co-sponsored by both Arizona and both Nevada Senators (yes, Harry Reid); many air tours originate in Las Vegas.  The NPCA is urging members to call their Senators, and the Arizona Republic also weighed in against short-circuiting the nearly completed EIS.  (Ironically, the NPCA honored McCain in 2001 for his leadership on the overflight issue.)  See also Senator McCain’s floor statement, and the text of his amendment.  If you do call your Senator, this is Amendment 3528, being attached to the Senate’s consideration of HR 1586, which proposes a tax on bonuses paid by some recipients of TARP funds.

Natural England publishes wind farm planning guidance

Human impacts, News, Science, Wind turbines No Comments »

Natural England, a recently-established “statutory consultee” charged with advising the UK government on projects that may affect wildlife or the English countryside experience, has published a document that outlines its approach to providing guidance on wind farm siting.  The guidance considers both established parks and other unprotected wild lands and geo-diversity sites, as well as areas of deep peat, and areas of hightened bird sensitivity.  It also mentions previously-mapped areas of the greatest tranquility, though it is not clear just how much weight each of these various designations will carry as it balances the many factors that go into its recommendations.

Read more about the guidance on this post at New Energy Focus, or read Natural England’s press release here.  You can download the guidance document from this web page.

Listen to the Orchive: 20,000 hours of Spong orca lab tapes

Animal Communication, Bioacoustics, Ocean, Science No Comments »

Paul Spong and Helena Symonds are legends in the field of whale research; since the early 1970’s they’ve dedicated themselves to studying orcas from their independent lab on an island between Vancouver Island and the mainland.  Over those many years, they’ve accumulated 20,000 hours of tapes, which are now being digitized and cleaned up (to remove hiss and other noise and make the orca calls more prominent) by George Tzanetakis of the University of Victoria.  A recent article in the Toronto Globe and Mail focuses on Tzanetakis’ work, which is being posted online for researchers and curious listeners as the Orchive.  The entire collection isn’t online yet, but there’s plenty!

Those of us  who know the pleasures of cueing up Newport Jazz or good ol’ Grateful Dead shows from online taper archives like Archive.org and Bill Graham’s Wolfgang’s Vault will be familiar with the scope of this project: right now I’m nearly half-way through a 45-minute “set” from 9/1/05 known on the Orchive as Tape 449A.  As with jam band and jazz taper archives, the quality is decent though not crystal clear, creating a great background stream of pleasurable audio, ebbing and flowing from quiet and calm to more active, interspersed with moments of truly exciting interplay and melodic joy.  The audio is presented with a basic spectrogram, and even field notes (the scientific version of Dick Latvala’s show notes):

A sweet set from 9/1/05

A sweet set from 9/1/05

Visit the Orchive!

AEI annual report, Ocean Noise 2009 is now available

News, Ocean, Science, Seismic Surveys, shipping, Sonar No Comments »

The Acoustic Ecology Institute has published Ocean Noise 2009, the fourth in its annual series of reports reviewing new research and regulatory developments in ocean noise. AEI’s annual recaps are widely anticipated and circulated among ocean noise scientists and regulators, as well as within NGO and journalist communities.

The report can be viewed or downloaded as a 45-page PDF, or viewed in the SlideShare plug-in, below.

This year’s report includes coverage of two ongoing issues, seismic surveys and Naval active sonars, with particular focus on the Navy’s continuing roll-out of Environmental Impact Statements for its offshore training ranges and the targeting of Columbia University’s seismic research vessel by environmental activists.

This year’s report introduces a new feature that will be of special interest to journalists: AEI Resource Collections on two topics that will be central to ocean acoustics policy and research in the coming years.

More details below the fold Read the rest of this entry »

NPS research shows human noise limits animal listening area, alerting distance

Animal Communication, Bioacoustics, Effects of Noise on Wildlife, Vehicles, Wildlands, Wind turbines 2 Comments »

A key research paper from National Park Service and Colorado State scientists has been published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution.  The paper, which got a lot of press when it was first made available online in the fall, introduces two key new metrics for measuring the effects of noise on animals.  The first, “alerting distance,” is the distance at which sounds can be heard: these may be sounds made by a species to alert others to danger, or sounds made by predators (which prey animals want to hear, so as to take cover).  The second, is “listening area,” the full area around an animal in which it can hear other animals’ calls, footsteps, and wingbeats.  A key insight offered by this approach is that even moderate increases in background noise (from nearby roads, airplanes, or wind farms) can drastically reduce an animal’s listening area.  The paper, which was free while in pre-press, is now available only to subscribers to the journal or other academic journal services; an article published in Park Science magazine and free to view online introduces much of the same material (be sure to click on the links to the figures, as they illustrate the concepts very well): see the article here, and check out the entire special soundscapes issue of Park Science here.

A very good article in the Aspen Times introduces the research, and includes many extremely insightful quotes from the researchers.  Go read the whole article! Three bits that are especially worth keeping mind are:

  • “The male sage grouse, in its mating displays, produces high-frequency popping sounds and swishing sounds,” Fristrup said. “It also uses a low-pitch hooting sound, which carries the farthest from the display area as a long-distance advertisement. The danger is, it doesn’t take a lot of noise to substantially reduce the range at which females or other males could hear that low-frequency hoot. So the attraction radius of the display ground could contract substantially with the inability to hear a hoot.” The authors note that some species can reduce the effects of masking by shifting their vocalizations. This is especially true when members of a species are communicating with each other. However, when the sounds a species depends on emanate from another species (such as a mouse burrowing under the snow, which an owl needs to hear as it hunts), there is less room for compensation.
  • Carnivores like lynx, who sit at the top of the food chain, can be particularly sensitive to habitat degradation of any type — including auditory — since each individual requires a huge hunting territory. “If one part of the range of a top-level predator is compromised, it may not take much to squeeze it out,” Fristrup said.
  • Contrary to what one might expect, noise is not always more disruptive when it’s louder. Snowmobiles or cars, for example, might be less disruptive to elk or deer than a hiker or cross county skier would be. “There’s pretty good evidence that so-called quiet use can disturb wildlife. If it’s a noisy source, the animal perceives it a long way off and can track its progress. There are no surprises, and it can go on feeding or doing whatever else. A quiet sound, like a snowshoer’s footstep, is only perceptible when it is very close, potentially startling the animal,” Fristrup said.

To read AEI’s detailed lay summary of the research paper, published here in December, see this link.

New offshore wind turbine design: cheaper and easier to maintain

Science, Wind turbines No Comments »

A radical new approach to offshore wind turbines is being developed by UK researchers could solve one of the major challenges of offshore wind development.  The Novel Offshore Vertical Axis (NOVA) Demonstrator puts the moving parts at the bottom of the unit, greatly simplifying maintenance. (How they will deal with corrosive factors will be interesting to see!)  The units are 100m tall, and are planned to generate 5-10MW; however, they are some years away, with the initial test model planned for deployment in 2015.

Aerogenerator NOVA concept

Aerogenerator NOVA concept

For more on this new design, see this article in the Guardian and the NOVA website.

Zion Nat’l Park begins soundscape planning process

News, Wildlands No Comments »

Zion National Park is gearing up to begin incorporating soundscape planning into their management priorities.  Park Superintendent Jock Whitworth has announced two open houses in March on the topic, and public comments are being accepted until April 9 as part of an initial information-gathering stage.  This will inform the drafting of a Soundscape Management Plan Environmental Assessment, which will aim to to link soundscape management to the existing park management direction, and “ensure that natural soundscapes are protected for present and future generations.”

Zion NP.   Photo: David Iliff

Zion NP. Photo: David Iliff

To participate in the public comment process, see this National Park planning page.

You can also learn more about the Park Service’s efforts to protect natural soundscapes by visiting the NPS Natural Sounds Program website, and by reading this 2007 review of Park Service soundscape management by sound consultant Nick Miller.

Hawaii humpback sanctuary management review beginning now: will noise be on the table?

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The Hawaiian Islands Humback Whale National Marine Sanctuary is beginning a review of its management plan, and ocean noise activists are pushing for sanctuary managers to bring noise issues to the forefront.  The Sanctuary was established in 1992 to help protect the humpback whale winter nursery grounds in shallow waters around several of the islands.
hi_humpsanctmap_500pix

Beginning this month, and continuing through the spring, Sanctuary managers are hosting a series of pre-scoping “working group” meetings on several islands, which are designed to gather input from various interest groups, especially those who have not been involved in Sanctuary planning in the past.  Some time this summer, a formal scoping period is expected to initiate the process of assessing and likely revising the current management plan. See the Sanctuary Management Plan Newsletter for more on this process.

The Maui Weekly ran an article this week in which several ocean noise campaigners expressed their hopes that this process might lead to more formal protection from noise pollution sources, including boats and Navy sonar training. Dr. Marcia Green of the Ocean Mammal Institute and International Ocean Noise Coalition said it’s “imperative” that the Sanctuary follow Read the rest of this entry »

UK: Noise complaints at 37 of 255 wind farms

Human impacts, News, Wind turbines 1 Comment »

Here’s a bit of news that might be spun either way, depending on your predilection.  Jane Davis, who was driven from her home by wind farm noise, has been compiling information on English wind farms and noise complaints; she has found that 37 wind farms have spurred some sort of noise complaints nationwide.  This amounts to about 1 in 7 UK wind farms, in contrast to an oft-repeated mantra that “only four” UK wind farms had noise issues, and they’d been “resolved.”  The new numbers could support those cautioning that wind farm noise issues are more widespread than generally acknowledged, AND those who claim that noise issues are the exception rather than the rule; it certainly reinforces AEI’s theme that we need to acknowledge that a minority of people are affected by noise around wind farms, and that we must come to grips with how to address this.

This article in the Telegraph details some of the information shared at a gathering of wind farm noise campaigners, WindCon2010.  Gillian Haythornthwaite, who lives near the wind farm in Askam with her partner Barry Moon, said it has been a “devastating” experience. “It is a dreadfully irritating whoosh, whoosh noise,” she said. “It is unbearable to be outside in the garden when there is the noise.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Cornell listening systems could reduce risk of bird deaths from wind farms

Bioacoustics, Effects of Noise on Wildlife, Science, Wind turbines No Comments »

This one slipped past me when it happened last June, but it’s well worth noting now.  Complicating assessments of the risks of bird deaths at wind farms is the fact that two-thirds of migrating bird species migrate mainly at night; Cornell’s Bioacoustics Research Program, which has already done groundbreaking work in elephant communication and underwater listening systems, has proposed that combining their autonomous recording devices with radar data could provide the missing information on exactly when and where concentrations of migrating birds may exist near proposed wind farms.

A compelling animation highlights the large-scale patterns: The color-coded radar map illustrates areas of precipitation over the coasts as well as vast movements of tens of millions of birds, bats and insects across the entire country. In the densest areas, the color-scales indicate movement of 2,000 birds per cubic kilometer. “You’re talking about a massive movement of birds overnight,” said post-doctoral fellow Andrew Farnsworth.

Radar imagery of night-migrating birds, bats, and insects (click to see 24-hour animation)

Radar imagery of night-migrating birds, bats, and insects

Although radar data can show the magnitude, location, timing, speed and direction of migration patterns and provide information on key stopover sites, they do not identify types of birds or accurate flight altitudes, Farnsworth said. But combining radar data with data from flight call recordings and tracking tags on birds could allow researchers to identify many species in key areas. Bioacoustics program director Chris Clark added that recorders are cost effective, can be automated for many months at remote sites, provide data on many species simultaneously, increase the probability of tracking secretive and endangered species, and could allow regulatory agencies to develop computer models to assess risks to birds from wind turbines. He acknowledged, however, that using such acoustic technology could produce a massive “data crunch”; a single microphone over a three-to-four-month period can record 120 to 140 gigabytes of data, so data from several hundred microphones would be too much to process without advanced software. Also, researchers would need to better recognize the wide variety of flight calls and learn to integrate data from radar with those from acoustics and tracking tags, he added. More research is needed, Clark stressed, to determine at what altitudes species tend to fly and whether birds sense turbine blades and avoid them.  Read full account of the presentation in the Cornell Chronicle, with link to the radar map animation.