NOAA to track munitions in sea
Monitors at weapons dumpsites will check environmental effects
By Gregg K. Kakesako
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jul 22, 2009
Nine ocean current monitoring sensors will be placed off Pokai Bay at two World War II weapons dumpsites Friday as part of the Pentagon’s continuing assessment of the potential effects of sea-disposed munitions.
Tony Reyer, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said yesterday that four sensors will be located at the conventional weapons dumpsite a few miles off Waianae known as ordnance reef. Two will be placed in 300 feet of water, and another two at 50 feet.
Five others will be anchored with 3,000-pound weights in 8,000 feet of water at a deep-sea chemical weapons munition disposal site 10 miles west of Pokai Bay. A string of sensors will be linked at depths of 40, 492 and 1,476 feet.
Kekaula Hudson, project manager for the Army Corps of Engineers, said the Army hopes to begin recovering some of the conventional weapons dumped at ordnance reef as early as next summer using underwater robots.
“The plan is to use a barge system,” Hudson said, “and to treat the munitions on the barge and then take the scrap metal out of the state for disposal.”
All of the sensors will be battery operated and will be in place for a year.
The sensors will record speed and direction of ocean currents to determine where they would carry munitions materials if they were ever released.
“These sensors will collect data that has not been previously available and will give us a better understanding of the ocean conditions in the area,” said Jason Rolfe, co-leader of the $1.6 million NOAA project.
The current data also will be used in other projects, Reyer added, such as coastal zone management, pollution control, tourism and search and rescue operations.
Sensors will be deployed from the 68-foot NOAA research ship Hi’ialakai, commanded by Cmdr. John Caskey, and the UH research vessel Klaus Wyrtki.
Sixty years ago, the military dumped munitions off the coast of Waianae and now the NOAA is launching a study to learn more about the potential impacts from those sites.
Reyer, who was involved in NOAA’s 2006 sampling of sediment, water and fish at ordnance reef, said the dumpsites have not caused any health problems. No explosives or related compounds were detected in the fish samples taken during the two-week survey. Most munitions are covered with coral growth.
No similar tests were done at the deep-water dumpsite, Reyer said.
Hudson said a follow-up screening at ordnance reef will take place next month.
Tad Davis, the Army’s deputy assistant secretary for the environment, safety and occupational health, said the Army will spend $3 million to remove or destroy in place up to 1,500 conventional munitions using remote underwater drones and other robotic techniques perfected by oil companies.
The weapons range from .50-caliber or smaller ammunition to 50- to 100-pound bombs and 105 mm projectiles. Many of the munitions have been in the water so long that they have been become part of the reef.
The Army’s goal is to clear the water from the shoreline to 120 feet offshore.