September 10, 2009

Military-funded research ties Skagit Bay with North Korea

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John Ryan of Seattle’s KUOW station produced an interesting radio segment this week exploring some unusual links between the Puget Sound’s Skagit Bay mud flats and and those in North Korea.

It seems that the U.S. Office of Naval Research has been investing millions of dollars each year to study the Skagit tideflats, which mirror those of the Han delta near Seoul, North Korea — an area where soldiers frequently landed during the Korean War. Britt Raubenheimer, the oceanographer leading much of the research, said that soldiers face great risk of exposure crossing vast mudflats like that of the Han delta or Skagit. The idea is that through understanding the dynamics of the coastal wetland, the Navy might learn how to storm similar estuaries with greater ease. Reports John Ryan:

[Raubenheimer] says the best way for troops to minimize their exposure is to head up a deep channel at high tide. The Navy would like to be able to predict where those channels will form, so they can get personnel and equipment ashore as quickly as possible.

Raubenheimer says that the research could have military use in the future — no doubt, considering who’s funding it — but no “practical application” is expected for a decade. In fact, she believes the studies may have a more immediate effect on the area’s marine wildlife, such as Dungeness crabs and Chinook salmon.

And speaking of Chinook salmon, Oregon Public Broadcasting also released a fascinating radio piece this week by Christy George which took an in-depth look into how climate change is tormenting Oregon’s wild and captive-bred salmon. Elevating temperatures are stressing the ecologically sensitive fish, but scientists fear that that human-released carbon dioxide is not just warming the water — its changing its chemistry. Said Oregon State chemical oceanographer Burke Hales:

We’re talking about changes in ocean chemistry that we’ve probably never seen in geological record – and the magnitude of the change and the rapidity of the change are such that it’s very hard for these organisms to adapt.

Bill Peterson of the Northwest Fisheries Science Center and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration agreed:

We’ve had three phase changes from warm to cold, warm cold, cold warm in the last ten years. Which has never happened before. This is kind of what you’d expect from climate change, and if salmon have to deal with this on a year by year basis, they’re in big trouble. If you think they can maybe adapt to this, there’s no way. It’s really kind of sad.

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