UNH and the spill A SPECIAL REPORT: How a school from the Granite State became involved in the disaster in the Gulf
Thomas Gounley and Ryan Hartley TNH STAFF
Nancy Kinner remembers exactly where she was when she first heard about the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. “We were running a workshop up in Alaska - ‘Natural Resource Damage Assessment in the Arctic Waters: The Dialogue Begins,’” Kinner, the co-director of UNH’s Coastal Response Research Center (CRRC) and professor of civil and environmental engineering, said in an interview last month. “There were a lot of responders there, and all of a sudden their phones started lighting up, basically.” Though Kinner and her team couldn’t have recognized the true enormity of the incident at the time, they knew it was an event with serious implications. SPILL continued on page 3
The New Hampshire Vol. 100, No. 10
October 8, 2010
Serving the University of New Hampshire since 1911
Napkins not needed: Campaign for cones moves to Facebook Samantha Pearson STAFF WRITER
Napkin notes are a tried and true method of anonymous communication between the student body and UNH Dining Services. The wall of comments and responses next to the dish return in the three dining halls provides much entertainment for students who pass through the dining hall on a daily basis, with cheeky comments about dessert displays and serious concerns about vegetarian options making up just some of the usual array of content. Recently, there has been a movement to put ice cream cones in the dining halls, starting with – of course – a napkin note. Deb Scanlon, area manager of HoCo, responded to the request with a tongue-incheek “Blame Jon [Plodzik, dining director].” This week, the movement went online. Students put together a Face-
book fan page entitled “Bring Ice Cream Cones to UNH Dining Halls (Online Napkin Note).” The page description asks that fans of the idea invite their friends so that at least 1,000 people hit the infamous “Like” button. Currently, 285 students have joined the cause, but the page also inspired the birth of a Facebook group entitled “Online Napkin Notes,” also student-run with 22 members so far. Once the ice cream cone page has reached 1,000 fans, the creators intend to “petition” to Plodzik via a physical napkin note. “This is serious business,” reads the description on the fan page. “We love ice cream cones.” Scanlon said the movement could offer some fun opportunities for the dining community. “We could do ‘cone educaNAPKIN continued on page 3
ALEXANDRA CHURCHILL/STAFF Friends of Christina Nichols, who committed suicide in her SERC B suite two weeks ago, gathered in her memory for a candlelight vigil on the SERC promenade.
Friends hold candlelight vigil in memory, celebration of Nichols Alexandra Churchill STAFF WRITER
The streetlights on the SERC B promenade are dim in the descending twilight. A heavy silence permeates the candlelight vigil. People huddle in the autumn chill
with bowed heads and half-closed eyelids, cupping their candles in a moment of silence. The focus of this semi-circle of mourners is a display table simply adorned with a small pot of yellow mums and two framed portraits of
Christina “Christy” Nichols. In both pictures, she is smiling. The friends of Nichols held a commemorative service at the SERC B promenade last Tuesday night in honor and celebration of NICHOLS continued on page 3
This Homecoming Weekend provides a variety of events beyond the traditional football game.
JeRome Wilkins, a defensive back on the UNH football team, has been accused of raping a former UNH student.
The New Hampshire
Friday, October 8, 2010
SPILL: CRRC’s UNH location sets it apart Continued from page 1
“I was facilitating the meeting, and we had a moment of silence,” she said. “It was serious, serious business. And we knew it was a rig fire. We did not know the extent of the leakage at that point.” As the head of a center that deals with oil spill preparedness, response, assessment and implementation of optimum spill recovery strategies, Kinner quickly became in demand. In the next few months, she was quoted in hundreds of publications, talked on numerous television news programs and testified before Congress three times. But Kinner is just one example of UNH’s involvement in the aftermath of the Gulf oil spill. Across campus, numerous organizations have found themselves reacting to what President Obama dubbed “the greatest environmental disaster of its kind”: a leak that spewed more than 60,000 barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico daily for almost three months. A vision of neutrality Besides the CRRC, the nation’s other oil spill research centers are located in Louisiana, Texas, California and Alaska- all oil-producing states. The CRRC stands out because it is the only center affiliated with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and because of its somewhat bizarre location at UNH. But its placement couldn’t have been more deliberate. “The idea for the CRRC was
generated some years back as a result of a huge gap some in our office thought was not being filled,” David Kennedy, acting assistant administrator for NOAA’s National Ocean Service, said in the center’s annual report. “There was a void in the nation relating to the lack of science behind oil spill response.” When NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration was looking for a location to put a center to fill that void, UNH stood out because it already had several NOAA centers. Also, New Hampshire’s distance from active drilling locales was actually an advantage. “The big advantage to having UNH is that we’re not an oil state, and we’re never going to be an oil state,” Kinner said. “We bring tremendous credibility because our state isn’t going to be reaping revenue or being hurt economically.” This, along with UNH’s reputation for holding wide-open competitions to select the best researchers from around the world prompted NOAA to decide on UNH. The center was founded in 2004. Since the spill, the CRRC has focused on bringing people together for numerous discussions to formulate the best response. “[On one occasion], we brought together a group of 50 scientists and practitioners from around the country and the world to look at whether the use of dispersants was the best alternative as a trade-off for response,” Kinner said. “Our job was to pull all those people together.” Getting people from both sci-
ence and industry backgrounds to agree, while a country stood waiting, was a challenge. “All of these things were incredibly charged,” Kinner said. “You were having people who were in the thick of a media whirlwind, and in the thick of an emergency response where the president was involved.” However, Kinner believes that the center’s UNH location had the desired effect. “It was exactly like Kennedy envisioned it,” Kinner said. “He really envisioned having this neutral place where people could talk about this. And you saw that.” Millions of barrels, millions of hits The CRRC wasn’t the only oncampus center fixated on the Gulf. UNH’s Research Computing Center (RCC) has also seen one of its tools receive national attention. The Environmental Response Management Application (ERMA), established by the RCC in partnership with NOAA and the CRRC, was recently acknowledged as one of the top 10 government websites by Government Computer News (GCN). ERMA’s NOAA collaborators also received the 2010 NOAA Administrator’s and Technology Transfer Award. The original prototype of ERMA was developed two and a half years ago to facilitate the response and management of oil spills. Through testing drills performed by NOAA, the software proved simple to oper-
ate, provided access to specific response data and produced customized maps that supported operational decisions. Shortly after the BP Deepwater Horizon spill began, the RCC worked tirelessly with NOAA to ensure that a version of ERMA specific to the Gulf of Mexico was redistributed online as soon as possible. A public version of the program launched in June at www.geoplatform.gov to communicate nearreal-time information about the response to the public and garnered 3.4 million hits on its first day. “ERMA’s strength is that it puts all this data together and displays it in a meaningful way,” Philip Collins, a programmer with the Research Computing Center, said. “You also don’t have to be a GIS expert to operate the software.” Group members seemed pleased after receiving the accolades. “I was excited when I first heard about the award,” Patrick Messer, the director of the RCC, said. “My staff has worked extremely hard on this project and is very deserving of the recognition.” While the RCC played a big role in ERMA’s development, most of the program’s data comes from NOAA. “NOAA and other federal agencies are the primary users of the software,” Messer said. “Our role was to support the application and provide any technical assistance as required.” GCN’s website says that it will be holding an awards ceremony on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2010 at the Ritz-Carlton in Ty-
NICHOLS: Student remembered at vigil Continued from page 1
of her memory. Nichols was a junior living in SERC B when she committed suicide over two weeks ago. The idea behind the vigil was to celebrate her life rather than highlight the tragic circumstances of her death. Fifty people, from students to resident assistants, high school friends and hall mates to administrative officials like Vice President Mark Rubinstein, Director of Education and Promotion at Health Services Kathleen Grace-Bishop and Director of the Counseling Center David Cross, came to reflect on and remember Christy’s life. Pastor Larry Brickner-Wood from the Waysmeet Center led the vigil and spoke words of comfort to the quiet crowd. “We are here to celebrate Christy’s life,” Brickner-Wood said. “There is a tendency to remember people in their last moments, but we should always remember the person she was in life. We should always remember her smile.” The Nichols family provided a statement to be read at the memorial, which was read by BricknerWood. “We would like to thank everyone for their support during these troubled times,” the statement said.
Even after the hour-long service ended, people stood in silent prayer at Nichols’ memorial display, lighting candles and dropping dollar bills into a donation bucket for memorial contributions to be made in Christy’s name to the Northeast Animal Shelter in Salem, Mass. The close loved ones who knew Christy said that they would always remember her for being a fun-loving spirit, serious student, empathetic friend, sister, daughter, dog-lover and sports buff. She rooted for the Boston Red Sox, New England Patriots and Boston Celtics. Sophomores Abby Lehman and Jamie Sheppard, suitemates of Nichols, who both moved into the SERC B suite at the commencement of spring semester last year, said that they will never forget their first impression of Nichols on the day she moved in. “She jumped to her feet and was all like, ‘Oh, do you need any help?’” Lehman said. “She was the friendliest person I ever met in my life.” “If you were the least bit sad, she would ask what was wrong,” Sheppard said. “She just wanted to make sure things were okay for you.” “I think it speaks to Chris-
ty’s memory that so many people showed up for the memorial,” sophomore and friend Sara Fechner said. “It speaks to all of the lives she touched.” “She had so many friends,” Lehman said. “I could never walk to class with her. I’d always be late because she had to stop and say hi to so many people along the way.” More than anything, friends said Nichols loved the sun. “She loved, loved, loved the sun!” Lehman said. “She loved the beginning of school when it was hot.” They said that Nichols liked skipping out after classes to go to Hampton Beach and running through sprinklers. “She had such a sunny disposition,” Sheppard sad. “She practically lived in her bathing suit those first two weeks of school.” Another lifelong passion of Nichols was sports. Friends said that she played softball in high school, avidly talked about sports and rooted for Boston sports teams. She had an Antoine Walker basketball jersey that she cherished and hung on her dorm room wall. “She loved debating sports,” Sheppard said. “And she could hold her own with the boys.”
Her friends said that Nichols, a political science major with a minor in Spanish, had no concrete career plans for the future, but she was possibly considering law school and was serious about her classes and schoolwork. “She had a bright future,” Sheppard said. “She was really book-smart. She had her goofball moments but she was serious when she needed to be.” “She was the first one of us to goof off, but she was also the first one to do homework,” Lehman said. Friends said that beyond being a compassionate friend, she was a dog-lover as well and loved her puppy, Casey. “She would Skype with her mom and sisters to see her dog,” Lehman said. “She would ask her mom to put Casey on the phone.” When friends look back on Nichols, the one thing they said that they would always cherish is her smile and her happiness. “Symbolically bright things that represented happiness instinctively made her happy,” Fechner said. “Everything about her is a good memory,” Sheppard said. “Everyone misses her.”
son’s Corner. RCC programmer Robert St. Lawrence will be on hand to represent the center. Looking beneath the surface UNH’s Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping (CCOM) Joint Hydrographic Center has also been involved in mapping the spread of oil thousands of feet below the surface of the Gulf. On May 18, Larry Mayer, director of CCOM, participated in White House sponsored meeting on potential role academic institutions can play in response. He presented several slides detailing CCOM’s previous successful effort detecting a gas plume about 5,000 feet below the ocean’s surface off California, and proposed that the same sonar be used to detect the presence of oil below the surface of the water. The center was one of approximately 12 oceanographic facilities nationwide selected to assist with oil spill recovery. On May 27, CCOM Research Assistant Professor Tom Weber, along with a graduate student, embarked on the NOAA research ship Gunter. Seven days later, on June 3, Mayer set out on the research ship Thomas Jefferson. Both vessels mapped the spread of oil and took water samples. All told, CCOM researchers went on six cruises with NOAA vessels; Weber served as chief scientist on two of them. The center also provided onSPILL continued on page 5
NAPKINS: Popular notes make online movement Continued from page 1
tion’ and teach people how to fill and enjoy their ice cream cones,” she said. According to Scanlon, the reason that ice cream cones are not available in the dining halls is because of problems with the food in the past. When they were available, students would use the fragile wafers for more harm than good. Scanlon also said that it might be time to revisit the issue. As for putting napkin notes online, Scanlon said that the social experience of reading the physical wall is too important to go completely digital. However, students who want to leave comments on UNH Dining’s Facebook page may do so (and have been for quite some ti me).
The New Hampshire
Friday, October 8, 2010
Kinner presents as SPILL: Kinner in “over 500” outlets first event in Stateof-the-Art Series Samantha Pearson STAFF WRITER
Dr. Nancy Kinner, professor of civil and environmental engineering and co-director of the Coastal Response Research Center, presented in Dimond Library Thursday evening in the first event of the State-of-the-Art Lecture Series. Kinner’s presentation, entitled “Deepwater Horizon: Will it really change anything?” covered what she called “one professor’s opinion” on the events of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and how it fits into the bigger picture. Kinner spoke for about an hour on Thursday about the DWH spill, how it compares to the Exxon Valdez spill of 1989, what the shortterm effects are and what she believes the long-term effects will be. She will also be speaking on Saturday, Oct. 9 at 9 a.m. in the Hannaway Room in New Hampshire Hall as part of this year’s Homecoming events. In the wake of the spill, Kinner’s knowledge of her field has garnered her much media attention, which she said she had mixed feelings about. “There are experts everywhere,” she said. “So what’s true?” She also emphasized the fact that responders and scientists are not always the best teachers. “There’s a lot of scientific knowledge that most people just don’t know that I take for granted,” Kinner said. According to Kinner, these factors contribute to a “goat’s rope” – essentially, a series of good intentions that end up causing a train wreck – which has created some very misleading representations of
the spill. Much of Kinner’s lecture was centered on the idea of distinguishing these untruths from what actually happened, as well as how to move forward and deal with these major environmental issues. She said that at the core of every environmental disaster, there are four basic issues that prevent the release of the most accurate version of events. First, there has been a huge “explosion” of scientific knowledge. Second, politics get in the way. Third, the general public’s functional scientific knowledge is very limited. Fourth, we live in a world of immediacy, where people want to know everything right away. Additionally, Kinner said, public interest wanes over time. Once the initial crisis is over and the panic has ended, other issues become more important and start to dominate the media. “If I had given this lecture on May 5, I would have packed this room,” Kinner said to the few dozen people who attended the presentation. In order to prevent future panic, Kinner said, there needs to be an emphasis on interdisciplinary communication. In an interview before the lecture, Kinner also emphasized this idea. “I just think that, going forward, we really have to have interdisciplinary groups working on these questions and bringing in some of these perspectives,” she said. “One of the things I think is really important is to be able to take these very technical things and in some way make them understandable to people.”
shore analysis of data and assisted with wellhead integrity, monitoring from mid-July (when the well was capped) to mid-August. At one point, Mayer was reporting to Secretary of Energy’s Steven Chu’s science review team three times per day. And the center’s involvement is not over. “We have just been approached by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy for input on the feasibility of using acoustic techniques for mapping oil on the seafloor or in the sediment,” Weber said in an e-mail Thursday. Analyzing the impacts - to people
Finally, UNH’s Carsey Institute recently completed survey related to the oil spill as part of its “Community and Environment in Rural America” initiative. The surveys, which focus on residents in two Gulf Coast parishes of Louisiana and three counties in Florida, feature questions such as “Has the oil spill affected you and your family’s economic well-being?” and “What are the most serious impacts?” and “Who do you trust as a reliable source of information about the spill?” “I sent out the data to our research team yesterday,” Lawrence Hamilton, professor of sociology and senior fellow of the Carsey In-
stitute, said Thursday in an e-mail. “Now the analysis stage starts…we should be writing the first reports later this fall.” For Kinner, “a whirlwind”
Kinner flew home from the workshop in Alaska the Friday following the oil rig explosion. Ironically, she was scheduled to appear on CNN the next day, but they canceled because, at the time, it didn’t look like there was going to be a significant spill. “But by Monday morning, things were quite different,” Kinner said. The next couple of months would be, as Kinner described, “a whirlwind.” Yesterday, Potier estimated that an updated number would be “at least 500.” Kinner was featured in prominent publications such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, and appeared on CNN’s “The Situation Room” and PBS’ “NewsHour.” Kinner was so popular that Media Relations had to deviate from normal procedures. “Within a week she began getting up to 10 media requests a day,” Potier said in an e-mail. “So Erika Mantz [Director of Media Relations] and I stepped in and began to triage the calls, having reporters
contact us.” It wasn’t only the media that came calling. Kinner ended up testifying before Congress three times. “It takes a lot of work to do that,” Kinner said. “You have to have 10 single-spaced pages of writing; very concise writing about what your points are that go into the congressional record. And then you have five minutes - no more - to talk, and you have to have prepared remarks.” In what is likely the most bizarre twist of UNH’s involvement post-spill, Kinner, on one of those occasions, ended up sitting next to actor Kevin Costner, who was before Congress to promote an oil-water separator he had helped develop. She wasn’t exactly star-struck. “I got to sit next to him,” she said. “The only problem is, I don’t watch movies, so I don’t know him. I got the least out of it than anybody, from an enjoyment perspective.” Things wouldn’t get less hectic for Kinner until mid-July, when the leak was capped and media requests died down. But that’s not to say that the spill is no longer on her mind. “It will define the rest of my career,” Kinner said. “I’ll spend the rest of my career working on issues that will have come to a head out of this spill, and out of those issues of how to make response and restoration better.”