February 2012, Vol. 24, No.2


Natural History Museum of Utah goes for the gold

The new Natural History Museum of Utah building in Salt Lake City is equipped with many natural features, including an extensive stormwater catchment and management system.

The museum, located at the University of Utah, reopened to the public Nov. 18 in the Rio Tinto Center, according to a news release from Phil & Co. (New York). Funded by a public and private partnership, the $103 million Rio Tinto Center was designed to blend into the foothills with natural gradation and native vegetation, according to the museum’s website. In addition, approximately 20% of the construction materials came from within 805 km (500 mi) of the museum. The site’s stone walls were constructed using stone from the original excavation for the building, and more than 75% of the construction waste was recycled, the website says.

The Rio Tinto Center’s stormwater catchment and management system includes pervious concrete pavement in the parking area, water-efficient landscaping on the roof and around the museum, two 38-m3 (10,000-gal) cisterns that collect rainwater for irrigation, and high-efficiency plumbing fixtures, the museum’s website says.

For energy efficiency, the building includes 1400 solar panels that provide more than 24% of the energy needed to power the museum, a design that maximizes access to natural light, light-colored concrete and white roofing material to reduce elevated temperatures in the building, and motion detectors that turn off lights depending on occupancy.

The museum is seeking Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Gold certification, which would make it one of 18 buildings in Salt Lake City with this designation, according to the news release.

Board game teaches about flood risk management process

An award-winning board game teaches players about the Risk Mapping, Assessments, and Planning (Risk MAP) process used by the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The process builds on the agency’s flood hazard data and maps to provide flood risk data designed to increase public awareness and lead to action that can reduce risk to life and property, according to an Atkins (Tampa, Fla.) news release.

The game targets stakeholders responsible for environmental and flood risk management within a watershed, especially local planning/zoning and emergency management officials. Risk MAP is printed on a 635-mm × 1753-mm (25-in. × 69-in.) vinyl banner and includes 94 stakeholder and data playing cards. It communicates public safety information and reinforces how FEMA must depend on communities to be a part of the flood risk reduction process, the news release says.

“We are proud of the project’s success, and we hope that the Risk MAP board game will continue to be an effective, hands-on tool for FEMA to discuss the Risk MAP process with various stakeholders and encourage them to take action to mitigate risk,” said Jennifer Marcy, Atkins project manager, in the news release.

The game was developed by FEMA; Outreach Process Partners (Annapolis, Md.); and Strategic Alliance for Risk Reduction, which is a joint venture consisting of Atkins, CDM (Cambridge, Mass.), Greenhorne & O’Mara (Laurel, Md.), and Stantec (Edmonton, Alberta).

Scientists use floating sensors to understand changes in ocean chemistry

Scientists have devised a method to measure the acidity and total carbon dioxide content of ocean water. This method can help them understand changes in ocean chemistry, according to a U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) news release. The method relies partially on data provided by Argo floats — small, drifting oceanic robotic probes that have been deployed worldwide. The probes drift in ocean currents and transmit data by satellite, the release says.

The U.S.-based research team and Canadian colleagues developed this approach by determining the relationships among ocean water temperature, oxygen, acidity, and carbon dioxide data collections from ship-based expeditions during the last 5 years and applying this information to high-resolution observations of temperature and oxygen collected by an Argo float in the North Pacific Ocean in early 2010, the release says.

The 1.5-m (5-ft) cylindrical yellow Argo floats descend between 914 m (3000 ft) and 1829 m (6000 ft) into the water column to gather data. They transmit the data by satellite after they rise back to the surface about 10 days later. The floats are part of the Argo observing network of approximately 3000 active floats distributed by researchers in more than 30 countries, the release says.

The data enable scientists to supplement data acquired by ship expeditions. “Autonomous profiling systems, such as the Argo floats, give us a new perspective on ocean physics and chemistry, and a more comprehensive deployment of chemical sensors in the ocean interior will provide a much more complete view of the ocean carbon system,” said Richard Feely, a NOAA senior scientist and co-author of the study, according to the news release.

Irene’s gray blobs identified

As expected, Hurricane Irene brought heavy rains, high winds, flooding, and erosion when it made landfall on the East Coast in August 2011, but it also brought unidentified “gray blobs” that had queries streaming into the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences (VIMS; Gloucester Point), according to an institute news release.

Boaters and beachgoers encountered the blobs floating in waterways and strewn along beaches. The various sized blobs — the smallest is the size of a baseball — were reported to be rubbery or leathery, as well as soft and foul-smelling, the release says.

VIMS professor Emmett Duffy cracked the case when she identified the blobs as potato sponges. These sea dwellers filter microscopic food from ocean water by drawing water through channels in their porous bodies. As their name indicates, these sponges resemble potatoes. They attach to the ocean floor with a network of protein fibers and glassy, needlelike “spicules,” the release says.

When weather conditions cause large waves and strong currents, the sponges can dislodge from the ocean floor and wash to the surface and ashore, the news release says. If the sponges become clogged with storm debris, they die because they cannot filter-feed. As bacteria move in to consume the carbohydrate- and collagen-rich sponges, they begin to emit an odor, the news release says.


©2012 Water Environment Federation. All rights reserved.