Safe Seas

JISAO scientists participate in Safe Seas 2006

More than 400 people participated in the Safe Seas 2006 oil spill response exercise held last week off the San Francisco coast. Safe Seas 2006 was a multi-agency effort lead by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in collaboration with U.S. Coast Guard, California Office of Spill Prevention and Response, Harley Marine Services, and the Department of Interior. The NOAA team included UW JISAO scientists Carl Childs and Matt Stumbaugh from HAZMAT.

The exercise was premised on a hypothetical collision between a bulk freight cargo ship inbound to San Francisco and an outbound barge. The collision results in an oil spill with significant threat to economic and ecological resources in the Gulf of the Farallones and the San Francisco Bay area.

The pollutants spilled during this exercise were simulated by the release of fluorescein dye and 3000 drift cards (photo). Vessels and aircraft from NOAA, the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Air Force Reserve, Marine Spill Response Corporation, Alameda County Sheriff’s Department, and Bodega Marine Laboratory participated in the exercise, simulating response activities and collecting critical environmental data. Some of the key scientific support function exercised included forecasting pollution fate and transport, evaluating response alternatives, documenting natural resource injuries, and conducting fieldwork to collect ephemeral data on water, wildlife, shellfish, and economic information.

The Central and Northern California Ocean Observing System (CeNCOOS) was actively involved in the exercise, marking the first time that an Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) Regional Association has been actively engaged in emergency response activities to dye release from abovethis extent. A key contribution of CeNCOOS was their network of high frequency (HF) radar stations that monitor surface currents. Safe Seas was a major step forward in the integration of this IOOS component into emergency response. Data from the California HF radar network was integrated into NOAA’s oil spill dispersion model (GNOME) and made available for integration into a Geographic Information System (GIS) for use in other parts of the Command Post.  An in-depth review of this part of the exercise will be conducted by personnel from the UW, JISAO, NOAA, CeNCOOS and San Francisco State University later in the fall.

Among the many response activities carried out during this exercise was the application of a dispersant to the spill. Dispersants are specially formulated soaps that can be sprayed onto oil spills causing them to disperse throughout the water column and reducing shoreline impacts. The efficacy of dispersant applications is carefully monitored by the US Coast Guard according to a protocol developed by NOAA. This protocol called SMART for Special Monitoring of Applied Response Technologies, was exercised during Safe Seas along with several proposed improvements that will enhance both the quality of the monitoring data and the ease of use of the system.