Congress to fund Sequim-based coastal security research effort

08/20/04

SEQUIM, Wash.--A $4.2 million Congressional appropriation will fund a new coastal security program designed to develop advanced sensors capable of providing early warning of biological, chemical or nuclear material releases in marine and coastal environments. The research program will be based at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's Sequim Marine Research Operations facility in Sequim, Wash.

The appropriation was secured with the help of Washington Congressman Norm Dicks, who discussed the new funding today during a visit to the PNNL Sequim research complex. The money is allocated to the Office of Naval Intelligence, and is part of a fast-growing coastal security research effort at the Sequim lab that is expected to bring increased federal funds and employment opportunities to the northern Olympic Peninsula over the next few years. The $4.2 million is for fiscal year 2005, and comes on top of a $1.7 million Congressional "earmark" secured this summer.

The newly-funded research program will involve laboratory work and field testing. It will draw on the scientific and technical experience and expertise the Sequim laboratory has developed for marine environmental issues over the last 40 years.

America's 95,000 miles of coastline is home to about two-thirds of the nation's population, as well as major industries, scenic and economically important natural resources, and some of the world's busiest maritime traffic. But America's coastal environment may be a target for terrorist activities as well.In recent testimony to Congress, Arizona Senator Jon Kyl, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security, noted that "our seaports offer access points for terrorists and their weapons, including weapons of mass destruction, to enter our country with relative ease." In the same hearing, Rear Admiral Larry Hereth, director of port security in the Marine Safety, Security, and Environmental Protection Directorate within the U.S. Coast Guard, said, "Our nation faces a growing array of threats from the sea that could harm maritime commerce, coastal population centers and critical infrastructure within America's maritime borders."

Karen Steinmaus, PNNL project manager for the effort, notes the program's initial research and development efforts will focus on improving the ability to rapidly acquire, analyze and interpret evidence from weapons of mass destruction, or WMDs, in marine and coastal environments.

One part of the program will be centered on developing a new generation of sensors and technologies to detect signs of WMD, sometimes referred to as signatures. For example, PNNL researchers will evaluate the use of living marine systems such as clams and mussels as biosensors to concentrate and detect the presence of biological, chemical or nuclear materials in coastal waterways, beaches and estuaries.

Another will look at developing novel ultra-small nanomaterials to serve as surrogate collectors and sensors. These "smart" sensors are designed to selectively capture and preconcentrate signatures in the marine environment. "The vision is to establish a network of sensors and biosensors that can be easily and inexpensively deployed across wide regions on or near the shore. This network would serve as an early warning system for coastal security," said Steinmaus.

Through this program, PNNL researchers also will enhance imaging technologies so intelligence and national and homeland security agencies can better identify and describe potential terrorism targets. Additionally, they will develop and improve ocean transport computer models that can analyze where a signature came from and predict where it's going.

PNNL scientists will draw upon existing technologies and capabilities at the Sequim laboratory, as well as PNNL's research facilities in Richland and Seattle. They also will partner with regional universities and industry, and engage local, tribal and state government agencies, including those on the northern Olympic Peninsula. The funding announced by Dicks is part of a PNNL effort to expand the Sequim laboratory's research base, most notably in the areas of marine biotechnology, coastal assessment and coastal security, said Marine Sciences Division Director Dick Ecker.

Already a recognized leader in marine sciences research, PNNL established a Coastal Security Institute in 2002 to provide a full set of measurement, assessment and interpretive tools and capabilities to federal, state and local governments and those in the commercial sector charged with the security of near-shore regions.

Ecker sees both environmental and security research benefiting from the new emphasis. "While PNNL scientists and engineers will apply what they've learned through environmental assessment research to our coastal security efforts, our new programs in coastal security will provide reciprocal value for our environmental science counterparts who can leverage them for other government agencies," Ecker said.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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