FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions

 

The relatively short answers to the following questions are intended for readers visiting this site for the first time. More detailed information can be found in the links provided at the end of most of the short answers.

 

Where and when do you propose to do this survey?

What do you expect to learn?

Who's funding this research?

Where, when and to whom would the results be made available?

How do you propose to collect the data?

What's an airgun?

How many airguns do you intend to use, and what will be seen and heard when they go off?

Why do you want to do this study offshore New Jersey?

Would the data you propose to collect help oil companies find oil or gas?

How do you know there's no oil or gas where you've proposed to survey?

You meant to complete this survey in 2014. What happened?

Did you collect any data in 2014?

I understand the New Jersey Dept. of Environmental Protection filed a lawsuit in 2014.  What happened?

Did you encounter mammals, turtles, fishermen or SCUBA divers while you were trying to collect data in 2014?

Fishermen say you'll harm or scatter fish. What's your response?

Why haven't you proposed to do this survey in the winter when there's less commercial and recreational fishing offshore New Jersey?

I read that your airguns would be 100,000 times louder than a jet engine. Is this true?

How do you propose to protect endangered marine mammals?

I read that the environmental effects of your seismic survey have been prepared by individuals lacking adequate experience and are based on incomplete and outdated studies. What's your response?

Can individuals or groups participate in the environmental compliance process?

 

Where and when do you propose to do this survey?

If we are authorized following the pending environmental compliance process, we plan to survey inside a 230 square mile area (roughly the size of Barnegat Bay) 18-45 miles southeast of Barnegat Inlet in early summer, 2015.  Our ship would be over the horizon and would not be seen or heard by people along the shoreline.   pdf See map... (7.02 MB)

 What do you expect to learn?

      Our goal is to track the geologic record of sea-level changes from the time of the last Ice Age to as far back as 60 million years ago and understand how these changes have caused the New Jersey coastline to advance and retreat.  Read more...

Who's funding this research?

The project was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) through a peer-reviewed award to researchers at Rutgers and the University of Texas at Austin.  If we are authorized following the environmental compliance review now in progress, we would use the R/V Langseth, the premier U.S. academic seismic research vessel, which is owned by the NSF and operated by the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University. Read more here... and here...

Where, when and to whom would the results be made available?

If, following the environmental compliance process, our survey is approved, our data will be computer-processed and ready for scientific analysis roughly five months after the cruise. It will then be placed in NSF-supported, public archives at the University of Texas at Austin and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University.  From there, any researcher will have access to this history of climate change and its effect on the world's shorelines. Read more here... and here...

How do you propose to collect the data?

Like a medical sonogram that uses sound to make an acoustic image of tissue beneath the skin, our proposed plan is to make acoustic images of sediment layers below the seafloor using seismic airguns as our sound source.

What's an airgun?

An airgun is a device towed roughly 100 feet behind a ship that at regular intervals releases a bubble of compressed air below the sea surface.  Like the pop of a balloon that creates a sound wave, an airgun creates a sound wave that travels down and into the seafloor.  Microphones towed behind the ship listen for airgun echoes to return from sediment layers below the seafloor.  Shipboard computers arrange these echoes to make acoustic images of this layering.

How many airguns do you intend to use, and what will be seen and heard when they go off?

We propose to use four airguns towed 15 feet below the sea surface.  They would release a total of 700 cubic inches of compressed air (the volume of air contained in an average-sized beach ball) that would rise to the surface as a cloud of small bubbles and spread out as a sheet of white foam about five feet in diameter.  No spray of water would rise off the sea surface, and the sound would not be heard from the deck of a ship as close as a few hundred yards away. See photo...

Why do you want to do this study offshore New Jersey?

Four features of the New Jersey coastline make it one of the world's most valuable archives of sea-level history:

  1. Ancient rivers deposited thick layers of sediment along the New Jersey coastline, and this has left a long and detailed record of sea-level change;
  2. New Jersey is free of large earthquakes and other processes that can disrupt the orderly layering of sediment;
  3. The region's temperate climate has supported abundant marine plankton that are now buried as microfossils in the sediments we'll study, and this gives us a reliable way to determine the age of the sediment layers we're examining; and
  4. Because of these advantages, a lot of scientific data has previously been collected along the New Jersey coast. This ensures that the state-of-the-art images of sediment layering we propose to collect will have a solid, world-class foundation on which to build. Read more...

Would the data you propose to collect help oil companies find oil or gas?

No. Previous acoustic profiling and drilling by research scientists has shown there is no oil or gas at this location.  Four previous research surveys did not result in oil or gas exploration, or even expression of commercial interest, in or around the survey site.  pdf See map... (7.02 MB)

How do you know there's no oil or gas where you've proposed to survey?

We know this for two reasons. First, studies to detect oil or gas were required before scientific drilling could begin in 2009, and the specialist hired by the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) determined on the basis of those data that the sites were free of hydrocarbons. Second, thus assurred, IODP Exp 313 drilled three sites and proved unequivocally there is no gas or oil at this location.  Our proposed survey is centered on those drill sites.   pdf See map... (7.02 MB)  and read more here... here... and here...

You meant to complete this survey in 2014. What happened?

Equipment breakdowns at sea prevented us from collecting data of the quality needed for our research.  We returned to port and spent 10 days making repairs, returned to sea to try again, but additional equipment failures arose and in consultation with NSF we decided to postpone the project.

Did you collect any data in 2014?

Yes, however none of it met the quality standards needed to reach our scientific objectives.

I understand the New Jersey Dept. of Environmental Protection filed a lawsuit in 2014.  What happened?

The State of New Jersey claimed that the National Science Foundation violated the National Environmental Policy Act, and that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration violated the Coastal Zone Management Act.  As part of the lawsuit, which was ultimately dismissed, NJ sought to halt our research.  The lawsuit, however, did not stop us - we were stopped by equipment failure.

Did you encounter mammals, turtles, fishermen or SCUBA divers while you were trying to collect data in 2014?

As required by the Incidental Harassment Authorization issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, five marine biologists (unrelated to and not funded by our research grant) serving as Protected Species Observers (PSOs) were aboard in 2014. The PSOs sighted 13 turtles while the airguns were operating, resulting in a total of 37 minutes of suspended operations while the ship continued to a safe distance from the animals and could resume acoustic profiling. None of the turtles observed during these encounters showed signs of injury or distress. No other protected species were detected while the airguns were operating that called for a shut down. We were not aware of any instances when our presence interfered with commercial or recreational fishing, SCUBA diving, or other types of boating activity.  If our survey is authorized for this year, five PSOs would again be on board the vessel.

Fishermen say that you'll harm or scatter fish. What's your response?

There was no evidence that fish were harmed during the 2014 survey or during any of four previous surveys in the same area that we propose to survey in 2015.  All of these earlier surveys were approximately one month in duration, between May and August, between the years 1990 and 2002.  One of those surveys used airguns that produced twice the total air volume that we propose to use in 2015.  Our survey would be in an infrequently fished region, would last about 1 month, and would cover an area roughly the size of Barnegat Bay.  pdf See map... (7.02 MB)

Why haven't you proposed to do this survey in the winter when there's less commercial and recreational fishing offshore New Jersey?

Many of the endangered animals we are most concerned about protecting spend the summer months elsewhere.  Between late fall and early spring they are more likely to be migrating along the mid-Atlantic coast than they are during the summer.  Swells and waves are typically largest during the winter and this presents several problems because they: generate acoustic noise that degrades data quality, make it hard to locate passive acoustic sensors trailed behind the ship, cause significant wear on equipment, and are a safety hazard to people deploying and retrieving heavy gear over the side of a rolling ship.

I read that your airguns would be 100,000 louder than a jet engine.  Is this true?

No it is not, and comparisons like this between sound in water and sound in air must be made carefully. It takes more energy to create sound in water than it does to create that same sound in air for the simple reason that water is denser than air. Try shouting while underwater and you'll find that what would be a very loud shout in air is astonishingly weak underwater. That's because to make sound your vocal chords have to work much harder to move water than they do to move air. But there's another reason to be careful when making water-air comparisons: the values we record in water and air are based on different scales.  It's similar to the differences we encounter with temperature measurements. While water freezes at 32° on the Fahrenheit scale, we call that same temperature 0° on the Centigrade scale, and comparing numbers between scales requires a conversion formula. The same is true in comparing sounds in water to sounds in air; a conversion formula is required. Acousticians use decibels (dB) to measure sound in both water and air, but they use different scales that require one to subtract slightly more than 60 dB from the value measured in water to arrive at the equivalent sound in air. For our proposed survey, we intend to operate so that no marine animals would be exposed to underwater sound levels greater than 180dB. Subtracting 60 dB from this value yields the equivalent sound in air: 120 dB.  For comparison, a jet engine at take-off generates 150-160 dB in air at a distance of 1 meter.  So rather than our airguns being 100,000 times louder than a jet engine, the sound produced by a single jet engine at takeoff would actually be far louder than the loudest sound that marine animals would be exposed to by our proposed survey. Read more...

How do you propose to protect endangered marine mammals?

We will adhere to protection protocols determined by the federal and state environmental compliance process, detailed explanation of which can be found in the National Science Foundation's Draft Amended Environmental Assessment (EA) and in the application for an Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) submitted to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).  A summary of the entire environmental compliance process is provided elsewhere on this site. A condensed overview is provided here. The pending request would require the R/V Langseth to employ a number of mitigation and monitoring measures to reduce potential impacts to marine species during the proposed survey, including vessel speed reduction or minor course alteration, and the use of passive acoustic monitoring of marine mammals.  In addition, five Protected Species Observers (unrelated to and not funded by the research grant) would maintain visual watches for marine species around the vessel from a tower 70 feet above the ship's waterline.  They would have absolute authority to enforce any terms and conditions of an IHA, including shutting down the acoustic source if marine species are observed entering a specified radius around the vessel.  With the proposed mitigation and monitoring measures, impacts to marine mammals and sea turtles would, at most, be expected to be limited to short-term, localized changes in behavior and distribution close to the vessel.  No injury or death of marine species would be anticipated from the proposed activities. Read more here...  pdf and here... (2.96 MB)

I read that the environmental effects of your seismic survey have been prepared by individuals lacking adequate experience and are based on incomplete and outdated studies. What's your response?

The purpose of the environmental compliance process is to evaluate the potential effects that the proposed research has on the environment.  These effects are determined by many science professionals with expertise in this area, supported by an extensive foundation of published literature. For example, the Draft Amended Environmental Assessment (EA) prepared by the National Science Foundation (NSF) cites 290 documents. The environmental compliance process begins with the preparation of this EA.  It continues with the submission of an application for an Incidental Harassment Authorization to the National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS) as required by the Marine Mammal Protection Act; completion of a formal inter-agency consultation between NSF, NMFS, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act; completion of a consultation for Essential Fish Habitat per the Magnuson Stevens Act; and submission of Consistency Determinations to the states of New Jersey and New York under the Coastal Zone Management Act.  At all levels, highly experienced individuals and agencies responsible for maintaining a balance between protecting the marine environment and advancing knowledge of our planet are evaluating this issue with the utmost care. Read more here... 

Can individuals or groups participate in the environmental compliance process?

Yes.  The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) gathers information and advice from the many agencies described above, yet does not issue a permit for Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) until it has also heard from those who respond to its call for public comments. Individuals and groups are invited to submit comments regarding the draft IHA, and are encouraged to include any supporting data or citations to help inform the final decision of the NMFS. A 30-day public comment period began on March 17, 2015, and an example of a submitted comment can be read pdf here (144 KB) .

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