Dirty Beaches in NYC: Which Ones Need a Bath?

June 30, 2011 by  
Filed under Water Quality

The Natural Resources Defense Council released its annual beach water quality report yesterday and found water at a total of 134 beaches in the five boroughs and its surrounding areas had bacteria levels that exceeded state health standards.

Nationally, the report found the number of beach closings and advisories was at the second-highest level in the 18 years that the report has been issued.

According to the study, one Brooklyn swimming hole—Gerritsen/Kiddie Beach in Southern Brooklyn— was closed at different points due to bacteria levels. Five other sites in Brooklyn — including three Coney Island beaches, Kingsborough Community College Beach and Manhattan Beach– had bacteria levels that were unsafe for swimming on various days last year when samples were taken.

Gerritsen/Kiddie Beach’s water was higher than the acceptable standards for swimming 14 percent of the time. It was closed a total of 14 days.

Both Coney Island’s Brighton 15th-16th and West 16th-27th beaches had pollution levels higher than the state standard nine percent of the time.

The study also found levels that were unacceptable for swimming by New York State health standards at nine sites in the Bronx, 31 in Nassau County, 67 in Suffolk County, 17 in Westchester County and two in Staten Island.

“America’s beaches have long suffered from pollution,” said Jon Devine, a senior attorney for the defense council. “The difference is now we know what to do about it. By making our communities literally greener on land, we can make the water at the beach cleaner. In the years to come, there’s no reason we can’t reverse this dirty legacy.”

The council, which is a non-profit environmental safeguard group that would formed in 1970, found that aging sewage treatment systems and contaminated storm water were the primary reasons for polluted beach water. Pollutants included litter, floating debris and “toilet-generated waste,” according to the defense council.

In Queens, Douglas Manor Beach, a private swimming spot, exceeded the state’s acceptable standard 25 percent of the time and was closed 54 times during the course of the study and Whitestone Beach exceeded the limit 17 percent of the time and was closed 21 times.

According to the study, Nassau County’s most polluted beaches were Crescent Beach, where samples were higher 27 percent of the time, and Seacliff Beach, which exceeded the limit 16 percent of the time.

But none of these beaches were listed in the study among the state’s most polluted.

“Generally, private beaches are more susceptible to closure due to higher bacteria levels, especially during times when there is rainfall due to their location. City beaches are classified as closed or under advisory when confirmed samples show that bathing beach water quality exceeds the water quality standard for marine water beaches,” said a spokesperson from the city’s Health Department.

“During the 2010 beach season, four public beaches – Coney Island, Orchard Beach, Wolfe’s Pond and Manhattan Beach- had exceedances when the weekly scheduled samples were collected, but re-sample results showed no exceedances. Therefore, the beaches were not closed.”

Related Topics: Beaches, Breezy Point, Brooklyn, Douglas Manor Beach, Douglaston, Environment, Gerritsen/Kiddie Beach, Nassau County, National Resources Defense Council, and coney island

Article source: http://bed-stuy.patch.com/articles/dirty-beaches-in-nyc-which-ones-need-a-bath

Groups: 2 coal operators breaking Clean Water Act – AP

June 29, 2011 by  
Filed under Dumping

A team of environmental groups says two coal companies that were fined in Kentucky last year for violations of the Clean Water Act continue to break the federal law.

ICG and Frasure Creek Mining exceeded the limits of pollution discharge allowed under law more than 4,000 times altogether in the first three months of 2011, the groups said. They made the allegations Tuesday in intent-to-sue letters required by the Clean Water Act.

Last year, the environmental groups took a similar action against the same two coal operators, but never filed suit because Kentucky officials and the companies reached a $660,000 settlement. The environmental groups are challenging the settlement in court, saying it’s not enough.

A spokeswoman for Arch Coal, which completed a merger with ICG in June, did not immediately return a call seeking comment Wednesday. A number for Frasure Creek, based in Scott Depot, W. Va., was disconnected.

Frasure Creek and ICG reported the violations from earlier this year to the state, according to Dick Brown, a spokesman for the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet. State officials are planning to issue citations based on the violations, but Brown said the fines are pending. The state recorded 937 violations for Frasure Creek, and ICG number is still being prepared, Brown said.

Appalachian Voices, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, Kentucky Riverkeeper and New York-based Waterkeeper Alliance said they filed the notices this week to force the companies to comply with federal law.

“These violations represent a toxic soup being poured into our drinking water and streams,” said Ted Withrow, a member of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth and former officials with the state Division of Water.

Under the Clean Water Act, the companies have 60 days to respond to the allegations in the notice letter. Then, if the violations are not corrected, the environmental groups have the option to sue.

Article source: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/43584067

Near Record High Number of Beach Closings in 2010

June 29, 2011 by  
Filed under Water Quality

Aluminum can buried in beach sand

June 29, 2011 — Last year, America’s beaches had the second-highest number of closings and advisory days in more than two decades. Dirty, polluted water was the main culprit.

In 2010, U.S. beaches were closed for 24,091 days, up 29% from 2009, according to the 21st annual beach water quality report, which was released by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an environmental action group headquartered in New York City.

The increase is mainly the result of heavy rainfall in Hawaii, contamination from unidentified sources in California, and oil washing up from the Gulf oil spill. Seventy percent of the closings resulted from too-high levels of bacteria from human or animal waste that finds its way into oceans in large part because of storm water runoff and sewage overflow. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that more than 10 trillion gallons of untreated storm water makes its way to surface water each year.

“This year’s report confirms that our nation’s beach water continues to suffer from serious contamination,” David Beckman, director of the water program at the NRDC, said during a teleconference.

Beach water pollution poses health risks including stomach flu, skin rashes, and pinkeye; and ear, nose, and throat problems. Overall, the Great Lakes region had the most frequently contaminated beach water in 2010, and the Southeast, New York-New Jersey coast, and Delmarva region had the cleanest beach water, the new report showed. Individual states with the highest rates of reported contamination in were Louisiana, Ohio, and Indiana. States with the lowest rates of contamination last year were New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon, Hawaii, and Delaware. The NRDC based their report on government data on beach water at more than 3,000 beaches nationwide, and also gave ratings to 200 popular public beaches based on their water quality.

Common Sense Advice for Beach Days

Beach goers can also do their share to make sure a day at the beach is nothing short of a day at the beach, said NRDC senior water attorney Jon Devine.

“A day at the beach doesn’t have to mean getting sick,” he says. “Don’t swim near or in front of storm drains and don’t swim within 72 hours of heavy rain,” Devine says.

And always make sure you check for closures or advisory notices before you hit the beach, he says. “If the water looks or smells funny, don’t go in,” he says.

“Picking up your garbage, not feeding birds or other wildlife, cleaning up after your pets, and directing water runoff from your house to soil, not the street also helps,” he says.

On a national level, green infrastructure — which involves the use of techniques that allow rainwater to infiltrate the soil, instead of flowing to storm drains that carry it to nearby water bodies — is part of the safer beach water solution. Congress is mulling over a Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act.

Article source: http://www.webmd.com/parenting/news/20110629/near-record-high-number-of-beach-closings-in-2010

New legislation protects NY waters from waste

June 25, 2011 by  
Filed under Dumping

Large industrial water users will have to get a state permit for water withdrawals under a bill that was a top priority for environmental groups this legislative session.

The Water Withdrawal Permitting Program bill was passed by the Assembly as part of its Earth Day package this spring and won unanimous approval in the Senate Thursday. It awaits Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature.

The measure requires anyone with the capacity to withdraw more than 100,000 gallons of water per day to first obtain a permit from the Department of Environmental Conservation.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos said implementing a statewide program to monitor the large-scale withdrawal of water is consistent with actions being taken in other states and is supported by both the environmental and business community.

For more Rochester, N.Y. news go to the website www.whec.com.

Article source: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/43437070

Disaster-Stricken Japanese Towns Still Struggle After Earthquake, Tsunami

June 25, 2011 by  
Filed under Toxic Spills, Water Quality

After seeing the news footage of the earthquake and the ensuing tsunami that slammed into Japan in March and hearing about the Fukushima nuclear power plant explosion, I thought I wouldn’t be making a return trip to the country anytime soon.

I traveled to Japan in December, and I couldn’t wait to go back. Seeing news accounts of the destruction and devastation of so many of its people was heartbreaking, and I presumed the country as a whole was no longer a desirable destination or a safe place to travel.

I was fortunate enough, however, to have been able to take another trip to Japan, where I’ve found that presumption to be untrue. Tokyo and other large metropolitan areas are bustling as usual. Radiation levels in most of the country are back to normal, except in areas surrounding the Fukushima power plant. Most of the food and water is safe to consume.

If I were to confine myself to Tokyo or many other cities here, I would never know an earthquake or tsunami had struck the country. I might convince myself that it never happened, as the pictures and other news footage seemed so unreal to begin with.

Unfortunately, denial was not in the cards on this trip. The purpose of traveling here with my significant other was to oversee the installation of temporary housing units for earthquake and tsunami victims.

His company, CTSS Group, has begun to ship these small but functional units to earthquake- and tsunami-ravaged villages to help people begin to live independently again, rather than in classrooms or gymnasiums.

The three-month anniversary of the disaster passed a few days ago, and by the looks of things on the coast, little progress has been made in the affected region.

Some roads have been rebuilt and some debris has been sorted, but the scale of the storm-related damage is unfathomable and the government has released little or no funding for relief efforts. The turmoil in the inhabitants’ lives continues.

While visiting the affected areas, all of your senses are thrown for a loop. The sight of the destruction is unimaginable. Many towns are deserted, so the silence is eerie. The pungent odor is what I imagine the beach would smell like in hell.

The winding drive along the coast, with views of green mountains and calm blue water, prompts you to stop and ponder how nature can be so beautiful, yet so incredibly deadly.

In one of the small towns we visited Saturday, we met the mayor, who now lives with his family in a nearby shelter. All 28 families in the town lost their houses, but they all survived. They had prepared for an evacuation and had fled to the hills before the tsunami hit.

The mayor came to watch the few new temporary housing units being set up amid the debris of the destroyed houses.  His house once sat by the water but had been pushed hundreds of yards inland. As he knelt down by the roof of his home, I watched and wondered what he was thinking.

Was he dreaming of his new life or mourning the loss of what once was? Either way, when I saw him gazing out over the ocean with the slightest gleam in his eye, I sensed he had hope for the future of his town.

As will many other towns in the United States that recently have been hit by storms, these small coastal villages will take years to recover. Still, I admire people who are so loyal to their hometowns and refuse to let Mother Nature deter them from calling a certain place home.

I can’t say that I’d definitely stay in Sewickley if such a catastrophe destroyed everything I once knew. I do hope that, like that mayor, I would look at my disaster-ridden community and believe that things eventually would be OK.

The author is currently visiting parts of Japan, including Sendai, which was destroyed  by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Article source: http://sewickley.patch.com/articles/disaster-stricken-japanese-towns-still-struggle-after-earthquake-tsunami

Missouri river flooding threatened America’s nuclear plant

June 25, 2011 by  
Filed under Water Quality

By IBTimes Staff Reporter | Jun 21, 2011 04:17 AM EDT

The swollen Missouri River had posed a serious threat to a riverside nuclear power plant in the state of Nebraska in the United States after levees built to hold back the rising floodwaters failed.

The Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant was reportedly very close to getting engulfed by the floodwaters, raising fears of a crisis similar to Japan’s Fukushima disaster.

Though the nuclear plant declared the event as “unusual,” the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) maintained that there was no risk of disaster.

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO)’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture, Japan, was devastated by Tsunami waves in March 2011, leading to leakage of radioactive water into the ocean.

As a massive earthquake and tsunami killed thousands of people in Japan, radiation woes and a much more severe nuclear crisis took the country’s economy into recession affecting businesses, consumer spending and tearing apart supply chains.

Federal officials widened flood gates last week to allow record, or near-record water releases to ease pressure on six major reservoirs swollen by heavy rains and melting snow, Reuters reported.

But later in the week, Missouri River floodwaters reached a levee built up to protect Hamburg, Iowa, after the main protection along the river failed, a county emergency official said.

Check out some of the latest pictures of Missouri river flooding below:

Missouri river flooding threatened Americas nuclear plant

A crew of U.S. Fish Wildlife Service employees reinforce a levy to stop flood waters more than a mile away from the Missouri River in rural Missouri Valley, Iowa, June 17, 2011. The Missouri River, swollen by heavy rains and melted snow, has been flooding areas from Montana through Missouri.

Source: REUTERS

 

Article source: http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/166612/20110621/latest-pictures-of-missouri-river-fort-calhoun-nuclear-power-plant-flooding-missouri-river-flooding.htm

Ocean energy can play important role in renewable resources mix

June 25, 2011 by  
Filed under Ocean Energy

Comments Off on Ocean energy can play important role in renewable resources mix

Renewable technologies could supply the world with more energy than it would ever need and at a very competitive cost, avers Steve Sawyer, secretary-general of the Global Wind Energy Council.

He adds that ocean energy may play a very important role in the future. Ocean energy derives from the potential, kinetic, thermal and chemical energy of seawater, which can be transformed to provide electricity, thermal energy or potable water.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report published recently, several technologies are possible, such as submarine turbines for tidal and ocean currents, heat exchangers for ocean thermal energy conversion, and a variety of devices to harness the energy of waves and salinity gradients.

Ocean technologies, with the exception of tidal barrages, are at the demonstration and pilot project phases and many require additional research and development. Some of the technologies have variable energy output profiles with differing levels of predictability (for instance, wave, tidal range and current), while others may be capable of near-constant or even controllable operation (for instance, ocean thermal and salinity gradient).

Tidal Power Plant in Northern Ireland
Sabine Sauter writes in Pictures of the Future about “tapping invisible rivers”.  Tidal flows represent a largely untapped source of clean energy.

Located off the coast of Northern Ireland, the world’s first commercial tidal current power plant is producing electricity for 1 500 household using energy generated by high and low tides. The Strangford Lough plant is operated by Marine Current Turbines, a British company in which Siemens acquired a 10% interest in 2010. The facility is similar to a wind turbine, the only difference being that it is driven by water instead of air. Each of its two drivetrains weighs 27 t and is equipped with a rotor 16 m in diameter.

The rotor blades can be turned through 180º, which means they can produce electricity for up to 20 hours a day regardless of whether the tide is coming in or going out.

The tower to which the two propeller turbines are attached through a cross member has a diameter of 3 m. Depending on the tide, the tower can protrude as much as 20 m above the sea. The rotors cannot be seen above the water – and it is even possible to take a small boat directly past the turbine because the rotors are located at least 3 m below the surface.

Although extensive installation costs make an investment in tidal current power plants around twice as high as those for offshore wind power facilities, the resulting electricity offers several benefits. For example, the energy density of water is 800 times higher than that of wind, which makes gene- rating electricity with water much more efficient. A 1,2 MW tidal plant like the one at Strangford Lough can produce as much electricity in a year as a 2,5 MW offshore wind turbine. The electricity yield from tidal facilities is also more precisely calculatable, which enhances planning security. After all, tidal currents are determined by the moon and the earth’s gravity, so they are not dependent on the weather and can be predicted years in advance.

The International Energy Agency estimates the global output potential of tidal power plants to be as high as 800 TWh/y, which is enough to supply 250-million households with electricity.

Marine Current Turbines continues to invest in tidal technologies. Besides other things, the company plans to start building a tidal turbine park near the Isle of Skye, in north-eastern Scotland, in 2013.

When it is complete, the facility will supply up to 4 000 households with electricity from the sea.

Article source: http://www.engineeringnews.co.za/article/ocean-energy-can-play-important-role-in-renewable-resources-mix-2011-06-24

On the path to clean energy

June 25, 2011 by  
Filed under Ocean Energy

The Southeastern Massachusetts region is positioning itself as a serious player in the growing clean energy industry, working to build an active supply chain for clean energy developments, even as the industry itself struggles to build momentum.

A recent clean energy study put Massachusetts third overall in the country in terms of clean energy development and, while the state’s southeast region may not be the driving force for that ranking, it also doesn’t plan to be left out.

“Conversations have begun with companies not just in the offshore renewable space, but in solar or whatever,” said Matthew Morrissey, executive director of the New Bedford Economic Development Center. “New Bedford is on the map as a player in a space that a lot of companies want to be in right now.”

While Morrissey and other city and regional officials are working to have multiple renewable energy resources represented, the biggest success to date has been in offshore wind energy with the city’s selection as a staging area for Cape Wind.

In fact, much of the anticipated regional growth hinges on the fortunes of the country’s first fully permitted offshore wind farm, a project that has faced numerous hurdles, but may still get in the water in 2012.

Although facing litigation and without financing, Cape Wind spokesman Mark Rodgers said the 130-turbine project expects to begin installation next year. At a June 16 Council on Sustainability meeting in Fall River, Rodgers didn’t seemed concerned about litigation, calling efforts “the last play of our opposition;” but, said securing financing has been difficult.

“(Financing) is a major challeng-It’s going to take some time and effort,” he said.

Rodgers said the New Bedford staging area, a $35-million port facility to be built on the city’s waterfront, needs to be ready in time for Cape Wind installation.

That won’t be a problem, according to Morrissey, who said the project is in the engineering stage and ground is expected to be broken this fall.

“That project is moving forward,” said Morrissey. “We’re much more concerned with Cape Wind’s need to finalize their program…The remaining 50 percent of power has to be worked out as well as financing.”

The port facility, on New Bedford’s active waterfront, will do more than just help the city get its foot in the clean energy door, it will also let the city leverage its working port, boosting its import and export trade business, according to Harbor Development Commission director, Kristen Decas.

Decas said the city is also tracking other offshore wind developments along with tidal energy keeping an eye on how the port can play a role in supporting development.

“We’re a sleeping giant and we have huge room for using this asset,” said Decas, about the harbor. “This facility will put us on the map for a variety of future opportunities in offshore energy development.”

Middleboro manufacturer, Mass Tank, will also benefit from offshore wind project, shifting its past expertise building steel tanks for the oil industry into building monopoles for wind turbines. Mass Tank, through its ECO Fab partnership, will build a new manufacturing plant, to supply steel structures to Cape Wind and other offshore wind developments. The plant is expected to employ at least 300 people.

Although the specific location of the facility is unknown, reports have suggested both Quincy and New Bedford are in the running.

According to Morrissey, opportunities for Mass Tank still exist in New Bedford but the decision will depend on whether or not the city can provide a site that meets Mass Tanks’ specific needs.

“They’ve been very clear all along, they would like to be in New Bedford,” Morrissey said in mid-June. “They’re from here; they’d like to be here and it is less expensive to do business here. The question is that the characteristics of the site that is required for the activity are not immediately available.”

While other industries continue to grow in the state, including solar which increased 20-fold between 2007 and 2010 according to Mass CEC, Massachusetts’ clean energy future may depend on offshore wind, according to some experts.

Offshore wind may be the state’s best resource or at least the best one that is technologically ready for implementation, according to Ron Pernick, co-founder and managing director of Clean Edge, an Oregon-based clean-tech research firm.

Pernick said Massachusetts is at a geographic disadvantage when it comes to producing renewable energy, compared to other states that have heavy wind or lots of sun.

“Massachusetts doesn’t have the wind resources on land like these other places,” said Pernick, citing states like Iowa and North Dakota, which are producing 15.4 percent and 12 percent of their electricity through wind respectively.

In Clean Edge’s leadership index, released in May, Massachusetts got high marks in categories like policy, venture and human capital, and clean energy patents, but still scored in the lower half of the country when it comes to energy production.

The state placed third overall, below California and Oregon.

The production category represents technical deployment including how much wind power, solar, biofuels, geothermal and other energy sources are in use, as well as the number of electric vehicles on the road, according to Pernick.

Still, Pernick, said, the Cape Wind project has the potential to change everything for the state.

“If you bring the Cape Wind project online, if you develop offshore wind and tidal energy, you’ll see yourself move up,” he said, referring to the state’s positioning.

And, while offshore wind is new to the state, it isn’t a new technology. There are more than 40 offshore wind farms off the European coast, according to Rodgers.

That’s different from ocean energy which is a relatively untested technology, Pernick said.

“I think, over time, wave and tidal energy offer significant promise, but I think it’s further out than a five year timeline,” he said.

At the Marine Renewable Energy Center in New Bedford, director John R. Miller believes ocean energy, including offshore wind, is the state’s alternative energy future.

“I always tell people that solar energy and biofuel are two things that are of great interest to venture capital people in Boston€but if you think of somebody who wants to build a big solar energy plant, they’re more likely to do it in Arizona or Spain where there’s a lot more sunshine,” said Miller. “If you look at what resource we actually have — the ocean is a resource that is literally on our doorstep.”

Miller said ongoing efforts to develop new ocean technologies, even if they are not created here in Massachusetts, will still need to be built and maintained locally. So it’s important that the region begin taking steps to develop a workforce and build a supply chain for the industry, he said.

Some of that is already happening through the Southeast Development Partnership, out of UMass Dartmouth, Miller said.

“They’re looking at all the pieces in the supply chain,” said Miller. “(Questions like,) what do we have now, what are we going to need in five years, and how can we convince the company who is manufacturing cables, for example, to locate in the Southcoast?”

While offshore wind may be the state’s bright future, it is also one of the most controversial forms of renewable energy, along with land-based wind, according to David McGlinchey, of the Manoment Center for Conservation Sciences.

As senior program leader for energy, McGlinchey said he participates in many conversations about wind energy and development projects. He wants to lessen the controversy by helping projects strike a balance between energy benefits and environmental and quality-of-life impacts.

“The challenges from my perspective are not technical, they’re social,” said McGlinchey. “There are real benefits (to wind projects), but they also have an impact. The key is balancing that, finding appropriate sites that balance benefits and impacts.”

McGlinchey said the Manoment center is putting together a guide, to be released in September, to help municipalities create bylaws based on the science behind wind and their own local values.

“It will give them the tools they can use to build an effective bylaw,” he said.

Despite frequent wind opposition, McGlinchey said he believes people are becoming more supportive of renewable energy ventures.

“I feel very confident that (issues) can be worked out. I think we’re getting better at it,” he said. “The vast majority of people in these conversations inherently want to find solutions. The key is having a reasonable, informed conversation which is not easy.”

Rodgers too said public opinion has shifted in the last few years. Despite a slightly battle-weary tone, he spoke very positively about clean energy technology and its potential impact on the region.

“A sustainability cluster is starting to take shape,” he said. “We have the makings to be one of those clean energy global hot spots.”

Article source: http://www.southcoasttoday.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20110624/NEBULLETIN/107040301/1036

Marine pollution problem for China

June 20, 2011 by  
Filed under Dumping

BEIJING, June 20 (UPI) — Explosive economic growth in China’s coastal regions has led to levels of ocean pollution that threaten human and marine life, a government report concluded.

The State Oceanic Administration of China says 18,000 square miles of Chinese coastal oceanic territory is seriously polluted, an increase of 7,000 square miles from last year, Inter Press Service reported Monday.

As expanding coastal centers dispose of a growing amount of industrial and domestic waste at sea, about 56,000 square miles of the country’s coastal waters failed to meet standards for “clear water” in 2009, the SOA reported.

Overall, 14 of the 18 ecological zones monitored by the SOA were found to have unhealthy levels of pollution. SOA’s 2010 China Marine Environment Bulletin reported that 86 percent of China’s estuaries, bays, wetlands, coral reefs and seaweed beds were below what the agency considers “healthy.”

Government officials acknowledge much remains to be done in tackling the problem of ocean pollution.

“Our environmental quality is only improving in certain areas, but overall the environment is still deteriorating,” Vice Minister of Environmental Protection Zhang Lijun said.

Article source: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2011/06/20/Marine-pollution-problem-for-China/UPI-42411308614779/?spt=hs&or=tn

NASA Set to Launch Salt-Measuring Satellite Tomorrow

June 9, 2011 by  
Filed under Secrets of the Ocean

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 9:23 p.m. to note the new launch time and date.

NASA is gearing up for the launch of its new Aquarius observatory, which will help map out the links between Earth’s climate and the saltiness of its oceans.

Aquarius is slated to blast off Friday (June 10) at 10:20 a.m. EDT (1420 GMT) atop a Delta 2 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. NASA had originally scheduled the launch for June 9, but the space agency announced Wednesday evening that it had pushed the liftoff back a day to work out some software issues with the rocket’s flight program.

The $287 million Aquarius/SAC-D will join 13 other NASA satellite missions devoted to studying Earth from above. But Aquarius will bring something new to the table, researchers say. Its precise measurements should allow unprecedented insights into global patterns of precipitation, evaporation and ocean circulation — key drivers of our planet’s changing climate.

“In order to study these interactions between the global water cycle and the ocean circulation, the piece that we’re missing is ocean salinity,” Gary Lagerloef, Aquarius principal investigator at Earth and Space Research in Seattle, said in a briefing Tuesday. “And that’s the gap that Aquarius is designed to fill.”

[ Video: Sea Salt Changes Ripple Around the World ]

Understanding ocean salinity

On average, the world’s oceans are 3.5 percent salt. That concentration doesn’t vary much; extremes range from 3.2 percent to 3.7 percent at various spots around the globe, Lagerloef said.

However, even such subtle differences can have big impacts. Salinity levels strongly influence ocean temperatures and circulation patterns, which themselves affect the exchange of water and heat between the oceans and Earth’s atmosphere.

So measuring ocean salinity precisely is important to better understand and predict Earth’s climate, researchers said.

“Aquarius, and successor missions based on it, will give us, over time, critical data that will be used by models that study how Earth’s oceans and atmosphere interact, to see trends in climate,” Lagerloef said in a statement. “The advances this mission will enable make this an exciting time in climate research.”

Until now, most ocean salinity measurements have been taken from ships and buoys. Such readings tend to be sparse and patchy; some regions of the globe, including the southern oceans, receive very little attention.

“What the satellite does is give you a systematic measurement over the whole globe,” Lagerloef said. Aquarius is expected to take measurements for at least three years. Its readings will complement and extend the efforts of the European Space Agency’s Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) mission, which launched in November 2009.

Sniffing salt from above

Shortly after liftoff, the Aquarius/SAC-D spacecraft is to settle into orbit 408 miles (657 kilometers) above Earth. Researchers will monitor the satellite’s behavior for 25 days, to make sure everything is working properly. Then they’ll begin to ready Aquarius for measurement-taking.

“It’s worth the wait, to check it out completely,” said Amit Sen, the Aquarius project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

When it’s up and running, Aquarius will use a set of three precise radiometers to measure microwave emissions coming from the ocean surface. Certain characteristics of these emissions are affected by salinity, so analyzing the readings will reveal just how salty the observed patch of ocean is.

Aquarius also boasts a scatterometer, which will use radar to measure waves at the ocean surface. Rough seas can create “noise” that confuses or degrades the salinity signal; the scatterometer will help researchers correct for this impact.

As Aquarius zips around the Earth every 90 minutes, it will take continuous salinity readings in a swath about 250 miles (400 km) wide and create a global salinity map every seven days. It will be able to detect salinity differences as small as 0.02 percent. That’s the equivalent of an eighth of a teaspoon of salt in a gallon of water, researchers say. [ The World’s Biggest Oceans and Seas ]

Launch outlook looks good

Assuming NASA fixes the software bug, the outlook for a Friday launch is good. The weather should cooperate for tomorrow’s liftoff; NASA currently pegs the chances of a launch-delaying weather violation at 0 percent.

Aquarius/SAC-D is blasting into space aboard a Delta 2 rocket operated by the firm United Launch Alliance (ULA).

NASA recently  lost two other Earth-observing satellites, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory and the Glory spacecraft, to problems during
launches provided by Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp. However, NASA officials said those failures played no part in using with ULA for the Aquarius/SAC-D launch. The decision to go with the Delta 2 was made eight or nine years ago, Sen said.

Aquarius is one of eight instruments aboard the spacecraft. The other equipment will observe fires and volcanoes, map sea ice and collect a wide range of other environmental data.

The mission is a collaboration between NASA and the Comision Nacional de Actividades Espaciales (CONAE), Argentina’s space agency. The project also involves the participation of Brazil, Canada, France and Italy.

Mike Wall is a senior writer for SPACE.com, a sister site of OurAmazingPlanet. You can folllow him on Twitter: @michaeldwall.Follow
SPACE.com for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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Article source: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/43339373