Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Gulf of Mexico Resilient but Scarred; Sea Turtle Population at Decade Low

In the wake of the BP oil spill, the Associated Press reports the Gulf of Mexico is resilient, yet scarred.

After BP issued a 40-page report in March pronouncing the Gulf mostly recovered (and noting that less than 2 percent of the water and seafloor sediment samples exceeded federal toxicity levels), AP surveyed 26 marine scientists about two dozen aspects of the fragile ecosystem to see how the waterway has changed before the 2010 spill.

Among other species that have been in decline, the AP reports the endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle’s population has declined to a decade low.

After the spill, Oregon State University professor Selina Saville Heppell said, the number of nests dropped 40 percent in one year in 2010.

“We had never seen a drop that dramatic in one year before,” she told AP. The population climbed in 2011 and 2012 but then fell again in 2013 and 2014.

Heppell said while there is not enough data or research to blame the spill, changing nesting trends could be due to many factors, including natural variability and record cold temperatures.

For more information on the report, click here.

Check out the Texas A&M University Press Gulf of Mexico Origin, Waters, and Biota series, which includes an economic snapshot of the Gulf of Mexico prior to the spill and looks at other facets of the Gulf: biodiversity, geology, and ecosystem-based management. The volumes are part of the Harte Research Institute’s landmark scientific series on the Gulf of Mexico.

Also, for more on the plight of sea turtles and meaningful related global volunteer opportunities, check out A Worldwide Travel Guide to Sea Turtles.

Monday, June 1, 2015

State of Texas Topped Number of Deaths Attributed to Flooding from 1995-2004

Experts on Thursday estimated that flooding across Texas could lead to insurance claims of more than $1.1 billion, topping the amount paid to policyholders in 2001 after the damage caused by Tropical Storm Allison, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

But, the aftermath of the most recent spate of floods is not the worst the state has seen.

 “Texans enjoy being number one in many fields,” writes Jonathan Burnett in the introduction to his 2008 book Flash Floods of Texas (Texas A&M University Press). “ Unfortunately, one area in which Texas is consistently foremost in the United States is the number of deaths attributed to flooding.”

From 1995-2004, Texas topped this list in seven of 10 years.

“One reason that Texas is typically near the head of this list is that the location and landscape of the Lone Star State make it prone to flash floods,” says Burnett. “Deluges at Del Rio in August 1998, in the Hill Country in October 1998, in Houston in 2001 and in the summer of 2007 in Marble Falls (where 12-18 inches fell in less than four hours) solidified Texas’ reputation as having some of the most flash flood-prone land in the world.

According to Burnett, no part of Texas is immune to flash floods; the state lies in the path of sources of copious moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean.

Current and ongoing flooding is hurting more than residences and businesses in the path of floodwaters.

Texas Parks and Wildlife is reporting the torrential storms that have continued to hammer much of the state for more than a week are now also leaving their mark on Texas’ State Park system. As of Wednesday, more than 50 state parks report some damage as a result of significant rainfall; about half of the sites are currently either closed or partially closed to the public due to flooding.

Houston has been one of the hardest-hit cities in the flooding, and it could see more storms in the next five days, according to the National Weather Service. And, areas farther north, including Dallas, could get another 2-4 inches of rain through Sunday.

For more information on the history of flash floods in Texas, check out Flash Floods of Texas.