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N.C. scientific platform is flotsam after trawler hits it

It was a substantial platform on 16 pilings in the Pamlico Sound, built by a collaborative of North Carolina academic research scientists. A fiberglass instrument house was bolted to the platform, a wireless communication system and an antenna were in place, and a wind turbine and high-efficiency solar panels had just been installed. A product of a state initiative to spur innovative research, the 18- by-18-foot structure was ready for the installation of cutting-edge data collection instruments. That is, until a 71-foot steel trawler plowed it all down.

It was a substantial platform on 16 pilings in the Pamlico Sound, built by a collaborative of North Carolina academic research scientists. A fiberglass instrument house was bolted to the platform, a wireless communication system and an antenna were in place, and a wind turbine and high-efficiency solar panels had just been installed.

A product of a state initiative to spur innovative research, the 18- by-18-foot structure was ready for the installation of cutting-edge data collection instruments. That is, until a 71-foot steel trawler plowed it all down.

Now it's nothing but a pile of rubble, carted off last week by a marine salvager. A single piling, marked with a buoy, remains sticking out of the water.

"We were real, real close to having instruments plugged into it and having data flowing," said Rick Luettich, director of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Institute of Marine Sciences in Morehead City. "So it's a bit of a setback."

The accident puts the project back at least six months, not to mention the estimated $100,000 to $200,000 in losses.

Luettich said he learned on Oct. 1 that the research platform - built by the North Carolina... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

It was a substantial platform on 16 pilings in the Pamlico Sound, built by a collaborative of North Carolina academic research scientists. A fiberglass instrument house was bolted to the platform, a wireless communication system and an antenna were in place, and a wind turbine and high-efficiency solar panels had just been installed.

A product of a state initiative to spur innovative research, the 18- by-18-foot structure was ready for the installation of cutting-edge data collection instruments. That is, until a 71-foot steel trawler plowed it all down.

Now it's nothing but a pile of rubble, carted off last week by a marine salvager. A single piling, marked with a buoy, remains sticking out of the water.

"We were real, real close to having instruments plugged into it and having data flowing," said Rick Luettich, director of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Institute of Marine Sciences in Morehead City. "So it's a bit of a setback."

The accident puts the project back at least six months, not to mention the estimated $100,000 to $200,000 in losses.

Luettich said he learned on Oct. 1 that the research platform - built by the North Carolina Environmental Observation Network System, or NC-EONS, a collaboration of seven state universities and state and federal agencies - was missing, with only bits of wreckage left. For a while, no one could fathom what had happened.

"I think we were all discounting the likelihood that even a large-sized fishing boat would plow it over and steam away and live to tell about it," he said. The platform's lighting met Coast Guard standards.

Then Luettich heard that a trawler captain out of Bayboro reported that he had hit something in the sound the night before during a squall.

"It is our hope that the trawler's insurance company will cover this," he said, "but we don't know that at all."

Funded by a $200,000 General Assembly appropriation, NC-EONS is meant to create a coordinated system to model and observe water quality, fisheries and physical behavior of the little-understood Albemarle-Pamlico Estuarine System, the nation's second-largest estuary. Data will be used to monitor the health of the system and to respond to climate change.

"We have... worked pretty hard on this," Luettich said. "This had quite a lot of partners and... enthusiasm."

Instruments that were to be installed, Luettich said, included a weather station; instruments to measure currents, salinity, oxygen and chlorophyll at different water levels; a refrigeration unit; a radar system to read wind speeds at different heights; and an acoustic fish-finder.

If those had been on the platform, he said, losses would have shot up $150,000 or more.

"One thing we've learned," Luettich said, "is that we've got to have something resilient enough to take at least some impact from a vessel."


Source: http://hamptonroads.com/200...

OCT 12 2008
https://www.windaction.org/posts/17457-n-c-scientific-platform-is-flotsam-after-trawler-hits-it
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