A month in, the outrage grows against British Petroleum after their contracted drilling rig explosion and massive uncontrolled discharge into the Gulf of Mexico. I am reluctant to call it an "oil spill." That is ar too much of an understatement for what has actually happened. Mere journalistic convention cannot begin to convey what really must be said about this environmental disaster happening just a few hundreds miles to my southeast. For that I will turn to a more skillful voice:
Slyvia Earle, Explorer in Residence at the National Geographic Society, gave crucially important testimony before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure on Wednesday, discussing how much cheap oil is costing the earth. Earle is the scientist and activist whom committee chairman, Congressman James Oberstar called "the only voice for the ocean," as he introduced her before the committee.
Earle made several important points during her statement on behalf of the ocean. First, burning fossil fuels releases Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere, "warming the planet and acidifying the ocean. . . the future of humankind depends on swiftly shifting to energy alternatives that do not generate carbon dioxide. . . the greatest problem facing us now with respect to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is ignorance, and with it, complacency." To quote further from her testimony (see her full statement in the 'cheap oil' link above):
. . . Ironically, fossil fuels have powered civilization to new heights of understanding . . . Fossil fuels took us to the moon and to the universe beyond, and made it possible for us to see ourselves in ways that no generation before this time could fathom. They have provided the backbone of the extraordinary progress we enjoyed in the 20th century and now into the 21st. We now know that those of us now alive have participated in the greatest era of discovery and technological achievement in the history of humankind, largely owing to the capacity to draw on what seemed to be a cheap but by no means endless source of energy.
At the same time we have learned more, we have lost more. . . Despite the years of research by hundreds of scientists and institutions, knowledge about the nature of Gulf of Mexico is still primitive, partly because the methods used for exploring the ocean are still primitive. Larry McKinney observes that we know more about the face of the moon than the bottom of the Gulf, and are better equipped to live and work in space than we are to explore the ocean on this planet.
We should be looking for the possibility of life in what is believed to be an ocean on one of Jupiter's moons, but why are we not at least as concerned about life in the ocean in this part of the solar system--the ocean that keeps us alive? Life in the sea, after all, supports the basic processes that we all take for granted--the water cycle, the oxygen cycle, the carbon cycle, and much more. With every breath we take, every drop of water we drink, we are dependent on the existence of Earth's living ocean.
The Deepwater Horizon was just one of nearly 4,000 oil and gas rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, according to the National Resources Defense Council map and photo tweeted by the National Wildlife Fund. FYI, much of my currently disheartening Gulf of Mexico crisis information comes from my Twitter list, Earth and Space Folks, where news of human activity in the the regions above the earth and beneath the sea meet.
NASA's current mission to the International Space Station is STS-132. This week's news coverage centers, ironically, around the Shuttle Atlantis' last planned flight before its retirement. There are only two missions left in 2010, and then the entire shuttle program ends, sending NASA into its next phase. What that is remains mostly unknown at this point. But we do know that NASA assets are vital to the government's efforts in the Gulf. NASA reported a week ago that, "Research Flights Take NASA Scientists Over Gulf Oil Spill." (05.13.10). To quote:
The Gulf oil slick is visible [in the blue photo above] as a bright diagonal swath in this image taken at 28,000 feet from a camera mounted on Langley’s B-200 research airplane. Credit: NASA
A team from NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA, made research flights over the Gulf of Mexico this week to help investigate potential uses of satellites for monitoring the thickness and dispersal of oil spills and the oil¹s impact on marine life.
The flights were part of a NASA-wide mobilization of its remote-sensing assets to help assess and research the spread and impact of the Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill. Langley's King Air B-200, outfitted with two sensing instruments, flew Monday and Tuesday over the oil slick created by the explosion of a drilling rig nearly three weeks ago.
Data gathered during the flights will underpin a new effort to use satellite data to enhance monitoring and detection of oil spills. Other measurements taken during the flights could be used to observe the ecological impact of the oil spill by observing the density of phytoplankton – critical in the marine food chain – in Gulf waters.