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Do undersea seismic tests threaten marine life?

Do the potential findings of seismic tests off-set any harm caused to marine life?
Do the potential findings of seismic tests off-set any harm caused to marine life?
Jan Pitman/Getty Images

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Researching active fault zones in earthquake-prone areas like California is a complex scientific process. One controversial testing technique involves the use of high-decibel air cannons to create detailed images of submarine fault zones, but the practice has environmental groups up in arms. Scientists and officials at power plants that run nuclear power facilities like Diablo Canyon and San Onofre are especially interested in the findings of such research following the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima facility in the aftermath of the March 2011 earthquake and subsequent tsunami.

The air blasts would sound every 15 seconds for 12 consecutive days at 250 decibels (jet engines are in the 140 decibel range,) meaning that the proposed research would subject undersea life to significant but temporary threats to their health and their habitats. Researchers say that the scans would be preceded by low-frequency sound waves designed to scare off fish and marine mammals.

Before the proposed tests are conducted off the coast of California, they must first be approved by a number of different agencies.

What kind of research is justified in the name of seismic science? How important are these kinds of tests around potentially hazardous facilities like nuclear power generating facilities?


Karen Garrison, senior policy analyst, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) oceans program

Bruce Gibson, district 2 supervisor, County of San Luis Obispo Board of Supervisors

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