[Coral-List] pros vs. cons of air guns (and social media)

Storlazzi, Curt cstorlazzi at usgs.gov
Tue May 5 16:38:53 EDT 2015

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 of
> articles about air guns.
> http://oceana.org/search/google/air%20guns?query=air%20guns&cx=012855406829693131936%3Aikcdym8i5-s&cof=FORID%3A11&sitesearch=
> Including this report, which has lots of references to peer-reviewed papers
> and to government reports:
> http://oceana.org/sites/default/files/reports/Seismic_Airgun_Testing_Report_FINAL.pdf
> 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 other
> 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 you
> 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.  You
> 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 done
> your homework before posting this message, and you're a retired professor..
> 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 motives.."
>  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 aware
> > 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 you
> > 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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