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The Courts Government United States Science News

US Supreme Court Allows Sonar Use 374

Posted by samzenpus
from the dolphin-earplugs dept.
gollum123 writes "The US Supreme Court has removed restrictions on the Navy's use of sonar in training exercises near California. The ruling is a defeat for environmental groups who say the sonar can kill whales and other mammals. In its 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court said the Navy needed to conduct realistic training exercises to respond to potential threats. The court did not deal with the merits of the claims put forward by the environmental groups. In reinstating the use of sonar, the top US court rejected a lower federal judge's injunction that had required the US Navy to take various precautions during submarine-hunting exercises. The Bush administration argued that there is little evidence of harm to marine life in more than 40 years of exercises off the California coast. It said that the judges should have deferred to the judgment of the Navy and Mr Bush. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said overall public interest was 'strongly in favor of the Navy.' 'The most serious possible injury would be harm to an unknown number of the marine mammals,' Chief Justice Roberts wrote. 'In contrast, forcing the Navy to deploy an inadequately trained anti-submarine force jeopardizes the safety of the fleet.'"
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US Supreme Court Allows Sonar Use

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  • Re:Navy's response. (Score:4, Informative)

    by dex22 (239643) <plasticuser.gmail@com> on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @09:21PM (#25742047) Homepage

    I have the irrational need to stab you. Repeatedly. In the groinal area. Did I mention repeatedly?

  • Re:What? (Score:5, Informative)

    by moderatorrater (1095745) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @09:36PM (#25742147)
    I believe they were saying that the damage from the navy being unable to use the sonar was so much greater than the damage that the environmentalists were claiming that it doesn't matter. One of the chief responsibilities the government has is to protect its people, and without training on the sonar the government can't do that.
  • Re:What? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Atlantis-Rising (857278) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @09:56PM (#25742281) Homepage

    Look up Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co. v. Sawyer, yo.

    Or, for more recent examples:

    Hamdi v. Rumsfeld
    Rasul v. Bush
    Boumediene v. Bush

  • Re:Third world (Score:2, Informative)

    by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @10:00PM (#25742315)

    Yeah, third-world countries tend to have quiet submarines that our sailors would need to be ready for.

    Third World countries don't often have submarines. When they do, they're diesel submarines. Which tend to be quieter than nuclear submarines. And smaller. And harder to detect.

  • by sed quid in infernos (1167989) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @10:01PM (#25742325)

    Breyer wrote an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part. He agreed that the district court failed to follow the law when it imposed the two restrictions at issue on the Navy's sonar testing pending completion of the environmental impact statement. In this portion of his opinion, he agreed with the Navy. In the second part of his opinion, he disagreed that the proper response was to get rid of the two conditions.

    Stevens concurred in the first part of Breyer's decision and did not join the second part. In other words, he concurred in the judgment of the Court. In total, seven justices agreed with the Navy's position that the district court's order was not in accord with the law.

  • by usul294 (1163169) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @10:02PM (#25742335)
    Thats why they put microphones in the water with a marine biologist listening constantly during testing and another on the bridge with binoculars looking for whales. Its why they observe a half hour before starting a sequence as standard procedure to make sure there are no marine mammals. They do what has to be done to ensure that there is nothing that can be harmed by the sonar in the vicinity.
  • Re:What? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @10:24PM (#25742487)

    >My guess is they considered the science, not the Chicken Little hyperbole.

    So how do you explain the mass beaching of whales on the coast of southern england this year which happened approximately 15 minutes after a massive sonar drill at one of their sub bases? Coincidence?

    It's pretty difficult to determine "why" whales do such things. To scientifically link it on sonar would take massive studies, funding, and time.

    However, to dismiss anecdotal evidence completely is TRULY unscientific. Show me a study that says whales are completely unharmed by sonar, I'll show you a well-funded government propagandist.

    Lies, damn lies, statistics, and the MORONS who think they can KNOW anything all of the time.

    And BTW, putting "ergo" in your post doesn't make you sound knowledgeable. Quite the contrary.

  • Re:Navy's response. (Score:3, Informative)

    by mabhatter654 (561290) on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @11:29PM (#25742903)

    no, to the whales this is like a F22 breaking the sound barrier 1000 foot above your house. [http://www.nrdc.org/wildlife/marine/sonar.asp] The sonar the Navy uses is extremely high powered and can cause hurt, just like a sonic boom of a jet smashing windows over land. If those were decibels in air 140 is illegal in public as it causes physical pain and permanent hearing loss, 235 db in air causes your ears to bleed... if they were doing this on the street (loud enough to be legally ban 100 miles away!) they'd be told to stop too. In open ocean there is room for animals to run away, on the shallow coast those animals can't go to deeper water to escape.

    This is one of those cases where lazy engineers added "more power" until they're vastly overstepping what's reasonable, and the bosses damn anybody that asks for reason or to pay attention to what's going on around you. The navy is at sea, so they only have to follow rules of "civility" with their toys at port.... after all, they're just animals.

  • A sailor chimes in.. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 12, 2008 @11:53PM (#25743053)

    I routinely spend large amounts of time at sea for the US Navy. The ship I am on doesn't have active sonar, but:
      - We have a OS(W)or AB(W) topside at all times watching when we are underway watching for whales. The whale has the right of way.
      - We're not allowed to intentionally encroach within 1km to a whale. Dolphins and similar are fast moving/smart enough to think we might eat them. Most whales appear to think we are a really big whale and seem to like coming over to visit.
      - If our direction of travel is blocked by a whale, we must either steer to avoid or perform a rather unloved manuveur known as a 'crash stop'.
      - If we are operating with another ship we must abort operations if a whale enters the area.

  • by syousef (465911) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @12:52AM (#25743367) Journal

    Now, if the evidence was indeed that strong, maybe PETA or some other animal rights group

    Maybe PETA can drop off the face of the Earth or fall into a black hole or something. Those people are loopy, irrational nut-jobs.

    Other sane animals rights groups are welcome to stay.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 13, 2008 @01:01AM (#25743423)

    a better description of what ACTUALLY happened and why everybody's whining is a bunch of BS

    http://informationdissemination.blogspot.com/2008/11/media-disinformation-on-navy-sonar-case.html [blogspot.com]

  • Re:Navy's response. (Score:5, Informative)

    by digitalchinky (650880) <dtchky@gmail.com> on Thursday November 13, 2008 @01:36AM (#25743627)

    Ripped from the NASA website:

    Sonic booms produced by aircraft flying supersonic at altitudes of less than 100 feet, creating between 20 and 144 pounds overpressure, have been experienced by humans without injury.

    Damage to eardrums can be expected when overpressures reach 720 pounds. Overpressures of 2160 pounds would have to be generated to produce lung damage.

    So, at 1000 feet, pretty much sweet FA is going to happen (where FA = Fuck All)

    A house of extremely dubious quality might result in a little damage when overpressure reaches somewhere between 10 and 15 pounds, so your average house, of normal quality, is probably not going to sustain any damage at all. The whole windows breaking thing is almost entirely a myth for the types of supersonic aircraft you would ever encounter from regular suburbia through to the arse end of nowhere in the backwoods.

    Submarines rarely make use of 'active' sonar, that defeats their purpose. (I was Navy so I have some professional background here) You might want to study sonar (and RADAR for interest) a bit more if you think 'more power' is the solution to better 'vision' under water. It ain't so good sir.

  • Re:Similar test (Score:2, Informative)

    by LynnwoodRooster (966895) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @01:42AM (#25743665) Journal
    Sorry, no... Pressure is logarithmic; in the case of SONAR it is pressure referenced to 1 micropascal. It scales at 20 log (ratio); so a factor of 2000 is just over 66 dB, added to the jet engine.

    .

    Oh, and that jet engine is measured in dB SPL, which is referenced to 20 micropascals, which means 0 dB SPL = 26 dBr (SONAR). So that jet engine is actually 176 dBr. Add in our gain of 66 dB and we are at 242 dB.

    How much is that? A single atmosphere of pressure is approximately 219 dBr. Two atmospheres would be about 225, four would be 231, eight would 237, and sixteen would be 243 dBr.

    So, if we could get 16 atmospheres of pressure underwater, we would have the same as 2000 times that of a jet engine at 30 meters, in air.

    For every 10 meters of depth, you gain 1 atmosphere of pressure. So go down 160m and you're at the pressure level being complained about. Given that pretty much ALL marine mammals regularly dive to that depth and well beyond, I think we can safely say it's NOT the pressure that's the problem.

    Yet another case of attorneys using the ignorance of the public to create an outrage, when in fact the data as presented is entirely within the normal behavior and environment experienced by the alleged victims (the whales).

  • Re:Third world (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 13, 2008 @06:01AM (#25744909)

    By definition, I don't think you can consider one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council to be third-world.

    Security Council membership has nothing to do with the definition. If you want to consider the original definition, then China would be second-world (Soviet-allied), though that distinction never really made much sense since the only way in which they were allied was that they shared a similar form of government and a dislike of the US. They would never actually help each other, at best they would arm proxy nations on the same side.

    If you'd like to go with the more modern quality-of-living definition, most of China is indeed 3rd world. The farmers that were the backbone for China's industrial revolution and subsequent wealth make up a large majority of the population and yet are abused by their government to the point where they live in abject poverty. Sure those that live in the cities have it well off, but China really has two nations much more than the US has had in the last 100 years.

  • by Shivetya (243324) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @06:51AM (#25745131) Homepage Journal

    giving the fact that most of the groups trying to stop this are irrational most of the time I would suggest the Navy only be permitted to test sonar on land.

    I read some of the quotes. The fact remains that no harm was shown to marine life in the area the Navy uses for testing. Harm was shown elsewhere in the world but not specific to the claims presented here. Throw in the fact that according to one of the protesting groups the NRDC said the use of high- intensity sonar could disturb or threaten 170,000 marine mammals, and it predicted the exercises would cause permanent injury to more than 500 whales and lead to temporary deafness in at least 8,000 whales.

    In other words, there isn't an area of sea on this planet that would be acceptable.

    Find a place a majority of the group agree the testing can take place and the rest will get it blocked. The simple matter is that there are times when the "possible" harm to marine life must be acceptable.

  • Re: Damage (Score:4, Informative)

    by Lonewolf666 (259450) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @09:39AM (#25746417)

    Damage to eardrums can be expected when overpressures reach 720 pounds. Overpressures of 2160 pounds would have to be generated to produce lung damage.

    So, at 1000 feet, pretty much sweet FA is going to happen (where FA = Fuck All)

    Actually, the inner ear gets damaged first, long before the eardrums actually rupture. See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hearing_damage#Long-term_exposure_to_environmental_noise [wikipedia.org]

  • Re:Navy's response. (Score:5, Informative)

    by GooberToo (74388) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @09:47AM (#25746513)

    Your entire post is of course incorrect.

    Previous SONAR systems did not have enough strength to penetrate shallows depths with lots of clutter. Much of it would return from clutter or be reflected away from the source. This results in a greatly diminished signal return and very unlikely to generate a target. Not surprisingly, this is where diesel subs tend to operate. In old doctrine, this wasn't an issue because diesel subs were so noisy, SONAR wasn't needed to "spot", identify, and track.

    These days, the latest generation of diesel subs are often more quiet than the quietest of nuclear subs. As a result, there are only two options available. One, never allow NATO subs near shallow water. Which really isn't an option. Two, create new SONAR systems which can penetrate these areas and hope to get a return. This means more power.

    Furthermore, you're logic is completely flawed in that the old, lower powered SONAR systems actually place the crews are much higher risk than the newer, higher power systems. This is because when the low power systems "ping", more than likely they won't see the diesel sub and more than likely they sure won't hear it. Yet if they are looking rather than listening, they are pinging anyways, which means the unseen and unheard diesel sub already knows exactly where the NATO sub is at. This means sure death if the situation gets nasty.

    In short, your position is uninformed and not based on the facts on the ground.

  • Re:What? (Score:5, Informative)

    by jvkjvk (102057) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @10:44AM (#25747289)

    They did. There are laws on the books. Of course, the supreme court has decided that those Bush's Executive Order trumps those laws since he signed one that declared these exercises vital to national defense.

    So basically Executive Order >> Law. It will be interesting if Obama misuses presidential power the same way.

    It seems that all it takes is an Executive Order declaring something vital to national defense. Root to the Supreme Court?

  • by tacokill (531275) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @11:06AM (#25747617)
    I didn't respond to your questions because your questions are naive and show a poor understanding of the basics.

    But, since you asked for it, here ya go - put your flamesuit suit on and send the kids to bed :) ......
    1) Why, why, why you asked: because capitalism has imperfections. So does the US. Mistakes happen but they are far from fatal (which is what you implied earlier). If you haven't noticed, the US govt is working pretty hard to address the problems we have right now. But lets be clear, they are minor problems compared to the last 100 years of global finance. This isn't Argentina. This isn't Russia. This isn't 1890. This isn't 1929. The US is nowhere - and I mean nowhere - near defaulting. Hell, they didn't even default during the Great Depression and we a nowhere near those levels right now. Again, there is evidence for this because ppl are still buying US bonds. It's that simple. If the US was at risk, you'd see an entirely different price for those bonds -- much much lower.

    2) The truth is you don't have any wealth.: Are you kidding? Is this really a serious question? Re-read that WSJ link I gave you. Then go over to the WorldBank and read up on the stats and numbers. You are, simply wrong.

    3) Only debt. Tens of trillions of dollars of debt. And no way of paying it back.: Preposterous. Again, the US has never defaulted on it's debt. Never. I have no idea how you can claim they have no way of paying it back. Again, this statement shows a lack of understanding of the basics. Go read up on some productivity numbers. Go read up on US GDP and it's components. Compare to your own GDP. Compare to Iceland and while you're there, take a real good look at what happened to Iceland's bonds. Go find a historical trend for those bonds and look at the difference. They are orders of magnitude different than the US. Why? Because the US financial size is orders of magnitude larger. We have lots of debt, yes. But we have MORE than enough ability to pay that debt back. We just have to shift a few resources, which is what you see playing out on the front pages and within the halls of our govt....

    4) Some nations have already said they consider US Treasuries to be junk: You are wrong. Here's a chart [yahoo.com]. If they were junk, you would see yield rates > 10%. You do realize there is a market where they sort out who is junk and junk is not, don't you? I mean, it's right there in black and white for the entire world to see.

    5) Like 1929 - when for every sell there was a buy. Keep dreaming. Your economy is headed for a swift and horrible collapse. And what will you do then?: I will be just fine because I have a higher than 2nd grade understanding of what is happening. A graduate finance degree will do that.


    Look, I am not saying everything is rosy. I am simply saying your predictions of the collapse of Western Finance have been heard before. Lots of times throughout history, in fact. And every single time - they have been 100% wrong. Not a little wrong....a whole lot of wrong.
  • Re:Yeah we are. (Score:4, Informative)

    by Beyond_GoodandEvil (769135) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @11:19AM (#25747755) Homepage
    yes, submarine are cool, useful, stealth and so on. But future is unforeseeable and the only thing history teaches us is that the generic dug in tactic doesn't work. most of submarine task could now be performed by long range missiles.
    You do realize how close England was in being starved out due to the U-boats right? And submarines aren't dug in the wall, nor are sonar nets. And you mention radar not stopping bombing raids, then grant that interceptors helped stop the German bombing raids, well part of that was due to radar providing warning of where the bombers were. As for the "dug in a wall", not every siege in history was successful(see Vienna).
  • Re:Yeah we are. (Score:2, Informative)

    by ThatsLoseNotLoose (719462) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @01:32PM (#25749941)

    China invades Taiwan is one scenario where subs win the day.

    Russia asserts its ownership claims of the arctic circle is another.

    The US can launch a cruise missile attack at any position on earth with zero warning ONLY because we have an effective sub fleet. Long-range missiles launched from surface ships are no substitute since the target government might notice a carrier fleet creeping up to its coast.

  • by tacokill (531275) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @02:16PM (#25750699)
    As far as I can tell the yields for US bonds are sharply dropping at the moment

    Methinks you need to quit while you are still whole. You have a serious misunderstanding here. It' so far offbase it's like you are sitting there telling me the sky is red. This is finance 101 stuff.

    Here's why: Yields fall because the price paid for the bonds goes up (which drives down the yield because the coupon amount is fixed). Which is actually what *I* saying and the opposite of what you were saying. I have been sitting here telling you that US bonds are being bought for safety (thus the price goes up) and you reply to tell me yields have gone down. Yep, you're exactly right. If the US was going to junk, or even AA, you would see the yield go up and the price being paid for the bonds going down. Unfortunately for you, the charts are evidence for my position, not yours.

    I won't reply to the rest as I've read Taleb's "The Black Swan" too. Like peak oil, it's interesting to think about.

    BTW, are you really suggesting the bond markets and GDP are meaningless? If you think that, there is nothing more to talk about here. It's like a Java programmer telling me he doesn't know what an operating system is. No, thanks. I'll pass. Ask someone else because I can't help...

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