[Coral-List] Fwd: pros vs. cons of air guns (and social media)
douglasfennertassi at gmail.com
Mon May 11 20:48:38 EDT 2015
I thank you for this. Your points well taken in my opinion. I am not
a geologist, but I do listen to geologists, and learn a lot. I didn't
realize that air guns were used for geological research other than oil and
gas exploration, but that makes sense of course. Of course that research
has great value in saving human lives. What you say makes good sense to
me. So I appreciate all the information you provided to everyone.
I also want to say that I admire the many great contributions Gene
Shinn has made. My comments were not directed at belittling those
contributions, nor Gene himself. I've always regarded his contributions
highly. My comment was not a personal criticism.
But I think we need to respond to posts as they are written, no matter
who writes them. If a high school student writes a brilliant post, we
should accept what he or she has to say and celebrate their accomplishment,
just as we would someone who is an eminent scientist with a brilliant
career such as Gene. I think if a person writes a post that we think is
incorrect or has problems with it, we are justified in writing a post that
critiques what was written, so long as we write in a respectful way,
whoever wrote the post.
I am reminded of Linus Pauling, who won two Nobel Prizes for
Chemistry, one for the hydrogen bond, and one for protein helices, if I
remember. He competed with Watson and Crick to be first to discover the
structure of DNA (but lost that competition). Later in life, he advocated
mega-doses of Vitamin C for colds. My memory is that other scientists
criticized that, saying that there wasn't evidence that it was effective.
I haven't heard about that debate for a long time, and don't know how it
turned out. Point is, none of us are perfect, and perhaps we should all be
thinking equally critically about the posts on coral-list, no matter who
the author is. Of course, when the author is an expert on a subject, those
of us who are not experts on that topic (and I include myself), might be
wise to be very careful since we are much less likely to have solid grounds
than someone who is an expert in a field. (I believe Mark Twain once said
"We are all ignorant, just about different things.") But when someone who
is an expert on some subjects posts about something which they appear to be
wrong on, I think they should be questioned.
Gene has posted extensively in the past about his criticisms of the
view that humans are the major cause of climate change and global warming.
The discussion was moved to "coralreef freeforall" where it eventually
ended. Gene and I still exchange courteous, friendly, private emails from
time to time, in spite of our differences of opinion on a variety of
subjects. Gene holds that we should be critical, and he's just being
critical of the theory of human-caused global warming. I agree that it is
good to be critical, and I've been quite critical of Gene's ideas about
I'm not saying that you were saying that people can't criticize someone
as eminent as Gene, you were rightfully pointing out his many great
accomplishments, and I thank you for that, I learned about some of them for
the first time, as probably did many others.
In that spirit, I'm pasting in a review of Gene's autobiography in the
New York Times below for all to enjoy. Congratulations on both the book
and the review, Gene!
*New York Times book review*
*By Michael Pollak Nov 4 2013*
Then there is bootstrap science, personified by Gene Shinn, who retired in
2006 after 31 years with the United States Geological Survey and 15 years
with a research arm of the Shell Oil Company. In his autobiography,
“Bootstrap Geologist,” Mr. Shinn recounts his life and research, dispensing
advice and anecdotes — some hilarious — starting from his boyhood snake
catching, boat building, drumming and blowing up shipwrecks for scrap, all
the way to his receiving the top award in his field, sedimentary geology.
Most of his career was spent in South Florida, and much of it was spent
underwater. (Born in Key West in 1933, Mr. Shinn was the national
spearfishing champion in 1958.) He did spend a short time at Shell’s
Houston headquarters in a suit and tie, but he didn’t like it very much.
Based in field offices far from the centers of corporate and government
power, Mr. Shinn became a renowned carbonate geologist, a pioneer in the
science of ocean sediments, tidal flats and coral reef ecosystems. He
expanded the knowledge of America’s underwater oil reserves by discovering
how certain mud and rock patterns were forming on the ocean floor and
deducing which patterns were likely to become oil reservoirs in a few
hundred million years, allowing drilling specialists to focus on the same
patterns in rock buried under the Gulf of Mexico.
Without a Ph.D. and often without much financing, Mr. Shinn published more
than 120 peer-reviewed papers that helped change many experts’ views on
subjects like how coral reefs expand and the underwater formation of
limestone. Some of his papers, at odds with established scientific views,
were initially rejected, only to be seen later as visionary.
His bootstrap ingredients included boundless curiosity, big ideas —
“gee-whiz science,” he calls it — persistence, a sure hand at underwater
demolition (dynamite was comparatively easy to come by in those remarkably
innocent days) and versatility at improvising core-sampling equipment on
tight budgets. The ability to enlist the talents of other scientists, many
with doctorates, who shared his love of hands-on field work and his
impatience with official rules and permits added to the mix.
Activities like his exploding limestone samples off the ocean floor and
hiring a helicopter with government money fell under a favorite Shinn
maxim: It is easier to ask forgiveness than to ask permission. Mr. Shinn
invites the reader along in a conversational, enthusiastic style that is
impressively free of rancor for a scientist whose views were sometimes in
He keeps jargon to a minimum, explaining unavoidable terminology in highly
readable notes. Generous to a fault in giving credit to his mentors,
colleagues and friends, Mr. Shinn has apparently felt the need to throw in
their names as often as possible. The names will mean nothing to most
readers, and they slow the book.
But that is a minor distraction. Far more important are Mr. Shinn’s
warnings that his beloved reefs need all the help they can get. For some
decades, the entire Caribbean has been experiencing a huge die-off of
coral, long-spined sea urchins, sea fans and other reef life. Human
pollution was initially blamed. At one point, Fidel Castro accused the
United States of bioterrorism aimed at Cuba’s tobacco crop. But the deaths
were happening all over the Caribbean and the Florida Keys.
In 2000, Mr. Shinn published his first paper — initially rejected —
advancing the still-debated thesis that the deaths of many species were
being caused by micro-organisms in the millions of tons of reddish African
dust blown across the Atlantic each year. Researchers have since identified
many animal and plant pathogens from Africa that have settled in Caribbean
waters after making the Atlantic crossing.
Speculating that terrorists in Africa might add anthrax spores to the
westward-blowing mix, Mr. Shinn persuaded the mystery writer Sarah Andrews,
whose heroine is a forensic geologist, to write “Killer Dust,” a 2003
murder mystery based on research at Mr. Shinn’s St. Petersburg field
office. One of the scientists in the novel, a fairly cantankerous one, is
based on Mr. Shinn.
In thanking Mr. Shinn, Ms. Andrews described him as “coral reef
cognoscente, Key West conch, drummer, champion spear fisherman and mixer of
strong drink.” The readers of Mr. Shinn’s autobiography are likely to be
equally charmed. It is to be hoped, for science’s sake, that he is not
truly one of a kind.
*A version of this review appears in print on November 5, 2013, on page D5
of the New York edition with the headline: Science on His Own Terms.*
On Tue, May 5, 2015 at 9:38 AM, Storlazzi, Curt <cstorlazzi at usgs.gov> wrote:
> Doug and colleagues,
> Main point:
> Air guns are not solely used for oil and gas exploration - in the United
> States they are also used by federal agencies (like my own, the US
> Geological Survey [USGS], the U.S. National Science Foundation, etc) to
> understand coastal and marine catastrophic geologic hazards and are
> employed under very strict federal guidelines developed by government
> scientists (NOAA, etc) and academia.
> In the past decade alone, more than 250,000 people have lost their lives
> due to earthquakes along poorly understood marine faults and their
> resulting tsunamis.
> We must remember that air guns are a tool in the kit used not only to
> explore for oil and gas, but also to identify coastal and marine faults and
> past and potentially future underwater landslides. Currently, the USGS,
> other federal, state, and local agencies and academia are actively studying
> such hazards that can cause earthquakes and tsunamis off Southern
> California, the US East Coast, and in the Gulf of Alaska.
> Such studies that sometimes require the use of air guns so that the length
> of faults (potential earthquake and tsunami magnitude is a function of
> fault length) and the size of potential landslides (water displaced and
> thus tsunami size are a function of landslide size) can be determined to
> set building codes, delineate hazard zones, set insurance rates, etc. The
> lack of such knowledge can be devastating in places where such catastrophic
> hazards are common (pretty much the entire Pacific Basin surrounded by the
> "Ring of Fire", most of southeast Asia, and even the US East Coast and
> Europe that are potentially threatened by underwater landslides due to
> slope failures).
> Although I cannot speak for oil and gas exploration, federal, state, and
> local scientists and academia conduct such seismic (including air gun)
> surveys under very strict guidelines to minimize or avoid potential impact
> to marine animals, including (but not limited to) requiring marine mammal
> observers and to shut down activities when animals are sighted within
> specific radii of the research vessels. As stated previously, these
> guidelines were developed by government scientists (NOAA, etc) and
> academia. Furthermore, the US National Science Foundation, the USGS, and
> other US federal science agencies just completed two rounds of sound-source
> testing of most acoustic gear (swath-mapping multibeam and side-scan
> sonars, seismic reflection and refraction equipment like air guns) to
> better constrain the sound levels and thus delineate "hazard zones" for
> different marine animals and sound sources (e.g., equipment). The results
> of these controlled experiments should be out soon and thus there should be
> even better regulations and thus less impact to marine animals when using
> these different geophysical tools.
> So before people start running off and arguing to have all air guns (and
> potentially all seismic and swath seafloor mapping equipment) banned over
> concerns for marine life, I want to pose a question that I brought up at a
> meeting to NOAA's National Marine Sanctuary Program when the issue of
> banning seismic data collection in the U.S.'s west coast National Marine
> Sanctuaries was recently debated:
> Would you rather have a few days to weeks of noise, conducted under strict
> U.S. federal guidelines developed by NOAA, other federal agencies, and
> academia that require shutdowns of the sound sources when marine mammals
> are present within specified zones to minimize impacts to marine life,
> …..or have human lives lost, areas are devastated, and the ocean
> contaminated by debris as occurred across the Pacific during the 1964 Good
> Friday earthquake and tsunami, across the Indian Ocean during the 2004
> Boxing Day earthquake and tsunami, across the Pacific during the 2011
> Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, etc?
> Seeing this is the "Coral_List", is there concern by the coral reef
> community about the massive anthropogenic debris draped over the coral
> reefs off Indonesia, Thailand, the Maldives, etc following the 2004 Boxing
> Day earthquake and tsunami? Or those debris draped over the reefs in
> Faga'alu Bay on Tutuila in American Samoa (a US Coral Reef Task Force
> priority reef system) that resulted from the 2009 Samoan earthquake and
> tsunami? Maybe if those areas had better understanding of the potential for
> catastrophic geologic hazards, more stringent building codes would have
> been in place that would have resulted in less damage to those reefs by
> terrestrial debris....let alone to the deaths of people and the
> destructions of infrastructure and other terrestrial, coastal, and marine
> habitats and ecosystems.
> Only by better understanding faults and potential landslides can we, as a
> scientific community, better inform nations (governments and their people)
> about catastrophic hazards to hopefully minimize the loss of life and
> destruction of both infrastructure and natural resources, including coral
> reef ecosystems. And the only way that can be done is sometimes using air
> Personally, I think it is best that we evaluate all the “pros” and “cons”
> of any activity to try to minimize the impact of our actions on the earth,
> but we, too, are part of its ecosystem and - whether correct or not - the
> majority of the world's population lives along the coast and thus are
> susceptible to catastrophic coastal and marine hazards. I bet most
> non-environmentalists (and maybe some, if not most, environmentalists)
> would rank human life up there pretty high on their list of "pros".
> (For the record, I was an academic and now am a government environmental
> research scientist working to maintain the health and sustainability of
> coastal ecosystems who has never worked for oil and gas or used air guns
> but does value human life)
> My $0.02:
> Gene Shinn was an award-winning USGS researcher for 30+ years who did
> pioneering work on the development of....and threats to...coral reefs.
> Gene’s research on the effects of atomic weapons testing on Pacific reefs,
> modern stromatolites in the Bahamas (helping understand the development of
> reefs over the past 3 billion years or so), sewage impacts to Florida reefs
> (which led to several court cases and environmental hearings), and the
> impacts of African dust on Caribbean reefs was of such quality that
> included publications in NATURE and other esteemed journals. I therefore
> think simply labeling him as a "oil and gas" person due to his work in that
> field through the 1970s (where his knowledge of current coral reefs helped
> identify and understand fossil reefs in the Arabian Peninsula that are
> major reservoirs for oil in that region) does disservice to his more than 3
> decades of work for the US government and global scientific community on
> the health and sustainability of coral reef ecosystems.
> On Mon, May 4, 2015 at 4:00 AM, <coral-list-request at coral.aoml.noaa.gov>
> > 1. Re: Air Guns on Social Media (Douglas Fenner)
> > ----------------------------------------------------------------------
> > Message: 1
> > Date: Sat, 2 May 2015 10:15:03 -1100
> > From: Douglas Fenner <douglasfennertassi at gmail.com>
> > Subject: Re: [Coral-List] Air Guns on Social Media
> > To: Eugene Shinn <eugeneshinn at mail.usf.edu>
> > Cc: coral list <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov>
> > Message-ID:
> > <CAOEmEkFXwQmKKmvBwSxX=
> > 5-BE-EQt8iTgv2x8bCDyAS2qEFLRQ at mail.gmail.com>
> > Content-Type: text/plain; charset=UTF-8
> > Gene,
> > It only took me a few minutes on the Oceana website to find a whole list
> > articles about air guns.
> > Including this report, which has lots of references to peer-reviewed
> > and to government reports:
> > A google search on "air guns marine mammals" gets lots of hits, including
> > many peer-reviewed publications, and industry publications.
> > I would concur that people who want to decide whether or not to sign
> such a
> > petition should study up on the subject. But you seem to be telling
> > people to study up on it, without having studied up on it yourself.
> > (Disclosure: I haven't studied up on it, and so won't be taking any
> > positions on it until or unless I do.)
> > You call for peer-reviewed papers on the topic, and there are lots, yet
> > haven't taken the time to look for them. You present an interesting
> > anecdote, but you haven't published it in a peer-reviewed publication.
> > want others to do publishable controlled experiments and publish their
> > findings in peer-reviewed publications, but want to present yours as an
> > unpublished anecdote with no controlled experiments.
> > We ask that students do their own homework. You don't appear to have
> > your homework before posting this message, and you're a retired
> > Should we expect as much from professors as from students?
> > You talk about your bias because you filmed an air gun in use 40 years
> > ago. Should you also remind people that you used to work for an oil
> > company and that air guns are used to search for oil and gas?
> > You say that "It might be smart for scientists to shy away from any NGO
> > sponsored activities that may have financial or dubious political
> > Would it be smart for scientists to shy away from any oil company
> > sponsored activities that may have dubious financial motives?
> > Isn't "dubious" in the eye of the beholder? Don't you have a particular
> > set of views about what constitutes "dubious" and what doesn't?
> > Cheers, Doug
> > On Wed, Apr 29, 2015 at 7:17 AM, Eugene Shinn <eugeneshinn at mail.usf.edu>
> > wrote:
> > > The request for marine scientists to participate in a social media
> > > campaign to stop seismic surveys was certainly an attention getter. One
> > > must wonder if this is a proper use of social media? Readers are
> > > certainly aware that Social Media has been effective for creating flash
> > > mobs and riots (Baltimore riots?). One may wonder if responsible
> > > scientists will loose credibility by becoming involved in this kind of
> > > activity? I admit to being biased because about 40 years ago I filmed a
> > > seismic air gun firing from about 12 ft. away.As a mammal I am not
> > > that I suffered any harm, however, some readers will surely say that?s
> > > what is wrong with me.Of course any plankton, fish larvae, or clam
> > > larvae in close vicinity (say a few meters) are bound to be affected
> > > just as they would from outboard motor propellers or those giant
> > > propellers pushing cruise ships or closer to home; scientific research
> > > vessels? Where is the hard data that whales and turtles are harmed when
> > > they are thousands of feet away from the event? Have there been any
> > > controlled experiments? As a marine scientist I would hesitate to sign
> > > any activist letters purporting to represent reliable data. There is
> > > nothing new here. This anti exploration campaign has been going on ever
> > > since the industry switched from explosives to airguns. Are the signers
> > > aware that seismic survey vessels have long been required to transport
> > > and pay for marine mammal and turtle observers that have authority to
> > > stop seismic activity if any are spotted? It might be smart for
> > > scientists to shy away from any NGO sponsored activities that may have
> > > financial or dubious political motives. Doing so might harm your
> > > research opportunities in the future. On the other hand it might get
> > > a grant. If you get a grant I hope it is to do a publishable controlled
> > > experiment. Gene
> > ------------------------------------------------------
> Curt Storlazzi, Ph.D.
> U.S. Geological Survey
> Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center
> 400 Natural Bridges Drive
> Santa Cruz, CA 95060
> (831) 460-7521 phone
> (831) 427-4748 fax
> Staff web page:
> Pacific Coral Reefs:
> *http://coralreefs.wr.usgs.gov/ <http://coralreefs.wr.usgs.gov/>*
> Sea-level Rise and Pacific Atolls:
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