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Research & Development

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The Texas General Land Office is a national leader in oil spill research. Groundbreaking work on oil dispersants, shoreline cleaners, bioremediation and high-frequency radar have been funded by the Land Office research and development program. Through the R&D program, the Land Office is improving response technology and developing alternative methods for removing oil from coastal waters.

A provision of the Oil Spill Prevention and Response Act (OSPRA) of 1991 called for a research and development component that is funded with $1.25 million per year from the Texas Coastal Protection Fund.

Over the years, the Land Office has coordinated with other state agencies, the state’s higher education institutions and private industry to establish viable research projects for oil spill prevention and response. Funded projects have involved preventive technologies, spill detection, environmental data collection, chemical countermeasures, recovered materials management and in situ burning.

star Texas General Land Office R&D Projects Funded for Fiscal Years 2013 - 2014

Identifying Compensatory Restoration Techniques that maximize Wildlife Recovery in Coastal Wetlands/ Assessing the Ecological Efficacy of Select Wetland Restoration Approaches in the Northwestern Gulf of Mexico
  • PI: Dr. Anna Armitage (Texas A&M University – Galveston, Dept. of Marine Biology)
  • Over the past 100 years the coastal wetlands of the United States have been substantially reduced in acreage.  These areas provide numerous irreplaceable functions including nursery habitat for many, if not most, of our commercial and recreationally important species such as shrimp, crabs, and fin fish.  These locales provide habitat for many species of both migratory and local bird populations, that not only adds to the importance in its protection for the sake of conserving the wildlife itself but also due to the economic value now being placed on having this resource available for recreations use, tourism and ecotourism.  These remaining areas are still vulnerable from many sources including from impacts from oil spills and from the response to cleaning up an oil spill itself.  The restoration/compensation of such impacted areas is of high importance to the TGLO oil spill program which this project addresses.

    Dr. Armitage has been working with the TGLO oil spill division since 2008 on the conservation and evaluating the effectiveness of landscape engineering (which includes sediment/solid sources, hydrology and vegetation establishment) to generate the predicted restoration of marsh functionality in a restored wetland in the Lower Neches Wildlife Management Area.  Her current project focuses on identifying wetland restoration techniques that maximize wildlife density and productivity.  The research will compare beneficial use dredge material (BUDM) and engineered wetland restoration techniques relative to reference marshes in terms of commercially and recreationally important bird, fish and invertebrate densities and populations structure.  The project will compare wildlife use in restored areas utilizing different planting strategies, and will characterize ecosystem health among restoration techniques by comparing food web length and complexity among habitats.  Dr. Armitage’s work will help provide a baseline to assist natural resource managers in understanding the impacts to wetland areas and how to better make comprehensive, informed decisions on how to mitigate for impacts.
Coastal Current Monitoring Network
  • PI: Dr. Philippe TissotTexas A&M University – Corpus Christi
  • The tracking of currents and water movement has been and continues to be fairly well studied in areas offshore and within the bay systems along the Texas coast.  The tracking and understanding of these flows is important to the protection of our valuable resources from oil spill but for other harmful impacts such and harmful algal blooms (HABs) and other water quality issues that have become more widespread.  Additionally, the understanding of these current flows assist in search and rescue (SAR) efforts and for shoreline erosion issues.

    An area that has not been as well studied is that of the nearshore environment, just offshore of the beach line of Texas coast.  It has been noted that existing current models often do not depict what is occurring in situ within this area. Dr. Tissot will place current monitoring Acoustic Doppler Current Profilers (ADCPs), in a horizontal configuration, on selected existing Gulf facing piers to monitor presently unavailable nearshore currents and wave climate and develop and test a new method to nowcast this information.  This information will be critical in better understanding model mixing and oiling of beaches and will assist in response and countermeasures.  Additionally, the 2-D velocity profile data will be provided to the GLO and the public for viewing and use by other such and local beach users for recreational use and for safety issues.
Tarball Classification and Similarity Index
  • PI: Dr. Terry Wade, (Texas A&M University – Geochemical and Environmental Research Group
  • Tarballs are an ever present and persistent occurrence on the Texas shoreline and in coastal waters. They can adversely affect ecosystems and the aesthetics of these public areas impacting the multi million dollar tourism industries. Tarballs can result from oil spills and natural seepage.  It is important for the TGLO to document the occurrence of tarballs, if they are oil related, and to attempt to determine if they are the result of a specific spill event or natural seepage. While the unambiguous determination of source is not always possible, the data generated can be used to determine if tarballs are similar to each other and to specific oils.

    The objective of this project is to develop and maintain a tarball classification and similarity index database. This system will allow TGLO to compare tarballs collected and submitted for analyses to the USCG to determine if they contain petroleum, are weathered, came from the same or similar source and in some instances if they were from a spill or natural seepage. This database would allow newly discovered tarballs to be compared to all other tarballs in the database to see how similar they are and if they have a similar source.
Tidal Inlet Protection Strategies Program for the Texas Coast
  • PI: Mr. Tony Wood,Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi
  • The Tidal Inlet Protection Strategies (TIPS) for the Texas Coast is a project designed to identify comprehensive and robust protection strategies for the protection of sensitive inshore habitats from significant offshore petroleum releases at each tidal inlet in Texas. The program will identify and present strategies in traditional formats as electronic data and tangible resources that will be useful to planners, logisticians, operational responders, and incident commanders in their efforts to plan and manage effective response efforts for such events.  The developed plans will be available to spill responders and offer pre-established and pre-agreed upon strategies and oil spill mitigation options pre-event.  The plans will assist the USCG, the TGLO and industry identifying a comprehensive response strategy unique to a particular location and situation. The TIPs are being developed for up to 22 of the larger identified passes between the Gulf of Mexico and sensitive inshore areas.
Design of a modern web interface to TGLO TABS model and data products
  • PI: Dr. Robert Hetland (Texas A&M University - Oceanography
  • This project is designed to improve the current TGLO TABS web page. The new web page will include information from both the real-time surface current buoys as well as the numerical model surface current nowcast/forecast. The intent is to provide information a variety of information to oil spill managers at TGLO, scientists, and the general public at a level of convenience and understanding appropriate to all. The web page will also be animated, and conform to modern web page design and practice.   The design will be based on the current page, but will contain drop-down menus for a cleaner look, will be mobile ready, conform to TAMU actability requirements, and old and dead links will be removed.

    The web visualization is based on leaflet. Leaflet is an open source javascript library similar to Google maps that uses OpenStreetmap. Leaflet produces maps that can display a wide variety of information, are able to pan and zoom, and have a wide range of open source supporting software available. A link on the main page will go to an exhaustive data portal, with other more advanced output from the model, such as error statistics based on model-data comparisons, as well as links to actual data from the TABS buoys through text files, and hydrodynamic model output through a THREDDS server.
Improving Hydrodynamic Predictions of Surface Currents Near the Texas Coast Used for Rapid Oil Spill Response - Phase 3
  • PI: Dr. Robert Hetland,  Texas A&M University – Oceanography
  • This project is a continuing effort to improve an existing nowcast/forecast hydrodynamic modeling system of surface currents over the Texas-Louisiana continental shelf.  Hydrodynamic model results from the TGLO Texas Automated Buoy System (TABS) Modeling Effort are presently used to forecast Gulf of Mexico surface currents for the purpose of oil spill trajectory prediction. The proposed work builds on a previous TGLO funded Research and Development project in which a new higher-resolution hydrodynamic model focusing on shelf circulation was designed and tested. This projects proposes to extend the current

    TGLO TABS Modeling Effort Research and Development project in three ways to continue improving the surface current prediction for oil-spill tracking purposes: 1) assess and improve a coupled wave-hydrodynamic capability that has been implemented into the current high-resolution mode! recently 2) improve surface heat and momentum forcing that drive the high resolution hydrodynamic model and 3) implement tides into the high-resolution model, The primary focus of the next phase will be assessing the coupled ocean current and surface gravity wave model and improving surface atmospheric forcing fields, which is believed to be the most important two steps in further improving our predictions of surface currents. The researchers  will also replace the old TGLO model grid that covers the whole Gulf of Mexico (See http://seawater.tamu. edu/TGLO) with the new high-resolution model setup, This new high-resolution model is ready to move to the operational mode.  This new, higher resolution grid will provide better surface current predictions for the General NOAA Operational Modeling Environment (GNOME).
Integrating next-generation models into the oil spill prediction system for Texas Bays 
  • PI: Dr. Ben Hodges (University of Texas – Center for Research in Water Resources
  • This project undertakes the next stage in the developing of new methods for automating hydro-dynamic and oil spill models have been developed with prior support of the Oil Spill Prevention and Response Division of the TGLO. In the next phase of this work, these new technologies will be integrated into the existing computer framework used by TGLO/TWDB for operational prediction of oil spills in Texas bays. This R&D project is focus principally on development of the operational system. The project will improve the existing operational prediction of oil spills by providing automated nowcast and forecast capabilities for multiple hydrodynamic models on a continuous basis for Texas bays. Using the Hyospy application previously developed at UT Austin, the new operational system will routinely download the latest weather and tide data (both hindcast and forecast) and continuously run sequenced hydrodynamic models. Integration of the Linux version of GNOME will be accomplished with a new Hyospy module and web interface developed under this project. The GLO/TWDB oil spill scientists and managers will be able to initialize an oil spill prediction and visualize the results through this new web interface.  Because the hydrodynamic models are continuously running, the response time for an oil spill prediction will be rapid —depending only on the execution speed of GNOME, NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration's (OR&R) oil spill modeling tool. The web interface for the system will be developed in two forms: 1) for oil spill response, and 2) for scientists and the general public. The former will focus on rapid prediction of the oil spill, while the latter will provide for more general data queries and visualization of tracer transport and currents throughout the bays.
Testing and Implementation of Advanced TABS Buoys
  • PI: Dr. Norman Guinasso/ Dr. Steve Dimarco  Texas A&M University – Geochemical and Environmental Research Group (GERG)
  • The TGLO is a leader in offshore oil spill remote sensing and predictions and continues to strive to maintain a firehouse ready status through the constant upgrade and funding of cutting edge research and technology.  Texas A&M GERG is world leader in such work and will, under this contract, outfit one existing coastal monitoring buoy and assemble two other offshore coastal monitoring buoys.  These units will be outfitted and built to house a SBE37-SI Microcat Conductivity, Temperature, and Pressure Sensors, a full suite of meteorological sensors and the new TABS COMS, and an integrated communications systems developed by GERG, for the GLO in 2013.  This TAABS COMS system is an integration of Iridium SBD, Freewave radio and GPS.  This system will be installed and tested on the new buoys and is expected to enhance our communication with the remote sensors as well as be more cost effective.
Colonial Waterbird Rookery Island Geoenvironmental Mapping for Oil Spill Response.  LIDaR Project
  • PI: Mr. Thomas A. Tremblay (Bureau of Economic Geosciences, The University of Texas at Austin
  • Using the latest in Light Detection and Ranging (LIDaR), and color infrared (CIR) imagery, this project will locate and precisely map topographic and bathymetric information, as well as spectral information and create a detailed inventory of Texas coastal colonial waterbird rookery islands that may potentially be impacted by oil spills and by the response itself. Each islands’ topographic information will be collected and characterized in regard to area, morphology and vegetation cover.  Vegetation height will be calculated through bare earth and vegetation removal algorithms. The avian populations that utilize these islands, including some threatened and endangered species are extremely vulnerable to oil impacts.  By creating this inventory, the protection of these areas will be able to be accomplished more efficiently and expeditiously.  Additionally, the Chiroptera LIDaR system employs a bathymetric laser that will capture subaqueous conditions adjacent to the island including vegetation and other structures.

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Steve Buschang
State Scientific Support Coordinator
512.475.1560 (FAX)
Steve Buschang