Experimental Uses for US Military Technology

Converting United States defense technology to civilian use, taking advantage of military research labs, and declassifying data gathered by the military have been a boon to environmental scientists. Among the high-tech hardware:

* The Navy's Underwater Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS), developed for hunting submarines, now is used to track whales and study undersea volcanic activity.

* The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is lobbying to keep the Air Force's over-the-horizon radar station in Maine to track storms developing on the Eastern Seaboard. The Maine outpost and a sister station in California were built to detect incoming Soviet missiles or bombers. The California station has been mothballed.

* Classified military intelligence can also be of tremendous value to scientists, but the information can be difficult to obtain because of military secrecy and confusion about where to look for the data.

Among the data scientists have succeeded in obtaining or are trying to get:

* Data the Navy has collected and thrown away for decades on whales has been declassified for marine-mammal researchers to study.

* Formerly classified Navy data measuring the thickness of the Arctic ice cap has been released.

* Navy measurements of ocean temperatures and the location of "thermal blankets."

* Air Force measurements of wind direction and velocity.

* Space pictures of Earth from the Geosat Navy satellite.

* Topographic studies of the ocean floor made by Geosat. Civilian scientists have been given maps of the area below 30 degrees south latitude, but are still interested in the remaining ocean area.

* Studies of the movement of oil slicks in the Persian Gulf during the Gulf war.

* Geologic and marine studies of the Gulf of Mexico and the northern coast of Russia.

US laboratories doing defense-related research have also been put to use helping environmental research. Among lab projects put to environmental uses:

* Developing methods to clean up toxic waste.

* Developing global weather models.

* Electrical Resistance Tomography, developed to study underground nuclear tests, has been used to track pools of pollution underground.

* Mediated Electrochemical Oxidation has been used to neutralize hazardous waste using technology developed to treat wastes from nuclear weapons manufacturing.

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