NOAA Teleconference: Impressions

I neither liveblogged nor recorded today’s NOAA 3:30pm (CDT) teleconference, so these are my impressions and not a transcript. If a word’s in quotes, though, it was said. Hope you enjoy reading it more than I did listening.

Because, despite calling in at 3:22 CDT and waiting until everyone assembled at 3:37, I didn’t get to ask a question. Only one question per person; questions permitted only after NOAA administrator Dr Jane Lubchenco’s upbeat introduction. Questions were taken only from Legacy Media (AP, Reuters, Miami Herald (?), Houston Chronicle and two others).

Wrapped by 4:45pm CDT.

Here are the players:

* Dr. Jane Lubchenco, NOAA administrator
* Dr. Nick Shay, professor of Meteorology and Physical Oceanography, University of Miami, Rosensteil School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
* Lt. Cmdr. Nancy Ash, NOAA Corps, mission flight director

Also, NOAA Communications Director, a tense-sounding flack whose name I promptly forgot.

Here’s how it was billed:

A teleconference call with NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco to discuss the BP oil spill’s trajectory in relation to the Loop Current and preparations for NOAA research flight investigating the Loop Current.

And here are the questions I wanted to ask:

1. Why is BP’s spillcam from the wellhead (provided at Congressman Ed Markey’s insistence) only on a Capitol Hill server and not instead on the White House’s rich, robust worldwide electronic communications platform, with embedding permitted?

2. Does Dr Jane’s reference during Congressional testimony to bringing "all possible resources" to bear mean only "every possible NOAA asset", a phrase she also used? Or are university, research agency, corporate, country, NGO, US military, or other agency assets being tasked to provide NOAA plume measurement assets? How broad is this partnership and who determines entry into it?

3. Why is NOAA waiting on the return from Africa of its lead vessel (of only 19!) the research ship Ronald Brown? Why was it not called into the Gulf before 5/11? How long until the Ronald Brown reaches the Gulf?

4. When you say in your testimony (and repeated several times in your introductory statement) that a "small portion" of the slick has entered the Loop, Dr Jane, what scientific measure is that? Do you also know which portion of the PLUME has entered the Loop? How do you know what portion of the PLUME, since the PLUME is of unknown size?

5. What basis do you have for your 8-10 day estimate of when the oil will reach the Florida strait from the Loop current? Is that SLICK or PLUME?

6. Do you agree with BP COO Bob Dudley’s assessment to Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC this morning that independent scientists’ "ALARMIST" estimates of the ongoing volume of the continued spill hurt the Gulf more than the actual OIL? Do you agree with his assessment that "the beaches are clean and the fishing is great?"

Even though, as Andrea Mitchell point out to him, 45,000 square miles of fisheries are closed?

Dr Jane of NOAA, in her prepared statement, was all about the SLICK and not the PLUME, first of all. She was also very excited about her new P-38 with a ‘sophisticated’ measuring apparatus that is now (or will soon be, maybe?) flying over the SLICK constantly, dropping precise instruments to the surface of the Gulf to measure the SLICK’s depth, density, composition, and gunkiness.

But she can already report that the SHEEN of the SLICK is ‘very light sheen’ and ‘light sheen’ and the amount of the SLICK entering the Loop Current now is ‘isolated.’


In case any of the assembled reporters missed it, Dr Jane clearly enunciated and repeated the phrases "light sheen" and "very light sheen." Got it?

And in case you had not heard, Dr Jane wanted to emphasize very clearly — and also repeat several times — that the tar balls on the Florida coast are NOT, not, not from the BP event.

Got that? It’s unrelated. What is happening on the Florida coast — reportedly three- to eight-inch diameter tar balls discovered on the white beaches of Florida, is NOT from Deepwater Horizon. I wanted to point out that these tar balls are the diameter of a softball to a soccer ball, but — as I said up above — no bloggers’ questions.

Halfway through the question period, Miss Minimization (as I had started to think of her) paused for a moment and said she was ‘disappointed’ that none of the questions yet were about the P-38, because it is very exciting technology and she’d hoped they would have a chance to talk about it some more, since it’s very exciting and doing exciting things. On the SLICK. (Not the PLUME.)

Alas for Dr Jane, the P-38 did not come up in questions.

What did?

One reporter (maybe Houston Chronicle) was quite successful in getting a math/science question in, although in doing so he had to set up his formulae based on estimates provided so far by BP. He was (I think he got this treatment, although it might have been another) upbraided jocularly by Dr Jane for managing to ask a number of questions "cleverly" while operating under the one-question-please limitation.

Chortle. (Those darn journalists and their sneaking around our unagreed-to ground rules!)

His question was about the volcano:

The current official estimate remains 5,000 barrels per day at the wellhead, and one pipe has had an insert-tube stuck in it that goes up to a ship, but the video of this shows a lot of oil & gas leaking out around the contraption and NOT going up the insert-pipe to the ship. So, why has BP announced they are getting 5% or 10% or 20% or 50% of the escaping oil & gas when A. they don’t know how much is escaping and B. they have also announced they are getting about 5,000 barrels into the surface ship. When, if that was so, wouldn’t they be getting 100% of their official estimate into the ship which is C. clearly not so as shown on the video?

I was sorry then that we were on MUTE because I whooped, loudly, YESSSSSS!

The answer to this "cleverly" violation-ridden question was unmemorable.

There was also discussion about Dr Jane and NOAA’s ‘concern’ about the wildlife refuges near the Dry Tortugas and the Keys, in response to a question.

And, I swear to God, although this question was chopped up so much due to bad reception — so badly that it had to be repeated TWICE. But, one reporter tried to ask Dr Jane something about New Orleans ‘whores’ collecting hair to sop up oil and reaching out to their colleagues across the world for assistance. After the second repetition, the NOAA flack announced to the all-powerful Operator that we would move on to the next question, please.

As I said, it was very choppy but I know I heard the word ‘whores.’ I am willing to be corrected if someone wants to listen to the NOAA tape; they said they were taping it. Do you suppose our tax dollars paid for it? So can we see a transcript please?

There were questions from Legacy Media about "why no estimate yet?" on the volume of the ongoing spill. And, you know, this is HARD. It’s difficult to estimate, Dr Jane said, and they don’t want to "alarm people" by providing incorrect data, and maybe the media shouldn’t "alarm" people by providing these independent estimates either.

At this point I had to reflect: really, don’t Americans just want to be reassured that all is well? I mean, all is well, right? Or at least not alarming?

There was another Legacy Media question along the lines of "How big are these PLUMES anyway?" and, gosh darn it, but did you know that measuring them is also HARD? Especially since we know so little about the effect of the dispersant being used, at this incredible underwater pressure, and how that might make the oil behave.

This was, for a better name, what I would call the TapDancing Portion of the Program.

Dr Jane and her ‘partner’ Dr Nick discussed how very difficult all this was, again, in case we had missed it before. It’s HARD. And, did you know? — it’s never been done before. This is a unique and complex event.

In a unique part of the planet about which very little is known.

(Except, of course, that there’s oil in them there….)

As I mentioned, the call started late. There was a lengthy intro and (I think) about five questions, with an intermediate plea for questions about the P-38. The call ended at quarter past the hour.

I hope I’m invited back.

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