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Margo Edwards, UH Principal Investigator for the Hawaiʻi Undersea Military Munitions Assessment”>HUMMA project

Starting on March 29, 2014, a full array of state-of-the-art technologies including several owned and operated by the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s School of Ocean Earth Science and Technology will be used in the latest phase of an Army-funded research effort to further investigate sea-disposed military munitions. This research will take place south of Pearl Harbor at an area designated by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) as the Hawaiʻi-05 (HI-05) site.

HI-05 is a deep-water site that contains both conventional and chemical military munitions. (Consistent with an internationally accepted practice at the time, DoD disposed excess, obsolete or unserviceable munitions, including chemical warfare material, in ocean waters off the United States prior to 1970, at which time DoD discontinued this practice. Congress subsequently prohibited sea disposal of waste materials into the ocean in 1972.) UH is undertaking this research in partnership with the U.S. Army, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and Environet Inc., a local environmental consulting firm.

This effort is a continuation of previous research that used towed sidescan sonars, the Hawaiʻi Undersea Research Laboratory submersibles and remotely-operated vehicles to locate and assess the effects of the ocean environment on sea-disposed munitions and sea-disposed munitions on the ocean environment and those who use it.

Hawaiʻi Undersea Research Laboratory team members recover a float and time-lapse camera during an earlier investigation.

In 2012, a follow-on field program used the same tools to sample within 2 meters of likely chemical munitions. Analyses of sediment samples collected less than 2 meters from munitions show the presence of mustard agent and its degradation products. Shrimp scavenging nearby and sea stars living directly on top of munitions exhibited no trace of contamination from chemical constituents. The upcoming program will focus on these munitions to determine if there have been any changes in biota, sediment and water chemistry while testing the ability of UH’s new remotely-operated vehicle, Luʻukai, to collect these samples.

“The Hawaiʻi Undersea Military Munitions Assessment, or HUMMA, has dramatically increased our understanding of what is happening at historical sea disposal sites,” stated UH Principal Investigator Margo Edwards. “We’ve been able to bound the areas affected, characterize the method of disposal to focus on specific types of munitions and measure the infiltration of munitions constituents into the surrounding sediments at levels on the order of parts per million. We have also collected specimens living in direct contact with the munitions, but have not found evidence to suggest that the munitions constituents are affecting them. In contrast, our research shows that several types of animals use the munitions as habitats.”

“We have been sharing the methods developed and results discovered by UH at international meetings in support of an open dialogue for a global problem,” added Edwards. In that spirit, the upcoming expedition will host observers from Australia and Europe who will gain direct experience with the approaches and tools used to investigate sea disposal in Hawaiian waters. These international partnerships support a primary goal of UH’s Hawaiʻi Innovation Initiative (HI2—broadly transitioning UH research and knowledge to enhance global understanding.

A special peer-reviewed, public journal describing the results from HUMMA and comparing them with findings from the Baltic Sea is scheduled for publication by the end of 2014. The Army will make its report of this research publicly available once the data has been evaluated and the report has been approved. The Army does not anticipate this report being released prior to January 2015.

Read the UH Mānoa news release for the full story.

—By Marcie Grabowski

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