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  • richardmitnick 9:01 am on July 1, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Marine Biology,   

    From University of Western Australia: “Underwater cameras reveal biodiversity hotspot in tropical marine park” 

    U Western Australia bloc
    From University of Western Australia

    1 July 2020
    Professor Jessica Meeuwig
    (UWA School of Biological Sciences)
    0400 024 999

    Simone Hewett (UWA Media and PR Manager)
    08 6488 3229
    0432 637 716


    Researchers from The University of Western Australia have found an area of tropical ocean protected under law is a hotspot for iconic marine life but does not provide enough defence from human activities.

    While the Oceanic Shoals Marine Park was found to host an abundance of marine wildlife, the study, published in Frontiers in Marine Science, found the zoning classifications of the park permitted activities that were not compatible with the conservation of these species.

    The survey of marine life in one of the northernmost Commonwealth Marine Parks examined how species interacted with the area’s unique habitat features, including banks and pinnacles that attracted groups of sharks, turtles and large fish.

    Using a combination of sampling techniques, including underwater videography, the team from UWA’s Marine Futures Lab documented 32 species from 370 hours of video footage.

    These ranged from tiny baitfish to ocean top predators such as killer whales, but also included numerous sharks, manta rays, dolphins, turtles, seabirds and sea snakes.

    The data was then used to understand how animals were distributed within the park, particularly relative to prominent habitat features such as banks and pinnacles.

    The number of large vertebrates increased closer to banks and some communities of fish and sharks found on or around the banks also appeared to differ from those found elsewhere. This confirms that banks are key ecological features of regional importance for marine wildlife.

    All cetaceans sighted were in groups that contained young individuals, suggesting the marine park may be of importance in the early life stages of these species.

    Lead author Dr Phil Bouchet said while the declaration of the Marine Park appeared to be a successful example of proactive ocean management, the vast majority of the park remained open to many human activities, including various forms of recreational and commercial fishing.

    “All the banks that have been mapped to date fall into multiple use zones, raising concerns regarding the adequacy of protection provided by the park zoning,” Dr Bouchet said.

    Co-author Jessica Meeuwig, Director of the Marine Futures Lab at UWA, said the area was clearly a hotspot for marine wildlife yet only 4.6 per cent of the park was fully protected from exploitation, namely fishing, mining and oil and gas operations.

    “While the aim of the study was to document the marine wildlife found in the region, the data shows a large abundance and diversity of animals near these banks and shoals,” Professor Meeuwig said.

    “Fishing activities, such as pelagic longline fishing and purse-seining are allowed in 95 per cent of the park, despite marine wildlife such as dolphins and sharks being particularly vulnerable to these fishing gears.

    “This information provides a crucial baseline for park monitoring and management however, the level of protection falls well short of agreed international targets. Park management should be strengthened to protect this northern jewel.”

    The research was funded by the National Environmental Science Programs Marine Biodiversity Hub.

    See the full article here .


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    U Western Australia Campus

    The University of Western Australia (UWA) is a research-intensive university in Perth, Australia that was established by an act of the Western Australian Parliament in February 1911, and began teaching students for the first time in 1913. It is the oldest university in the state of Western Australia and is colloquially known as a “sandstone university”. It is also a member of the Group of Eight

  • richardmitnick 7:37 am on June 29, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Soft coral garden discovered in Greenland's deep sea", , Marine Biology, ,   

    From University College London via phys.org: “Soft coral garden discovered in Greenland’s deep sea” 

    UCL bloc

    From University College London



    Image from benthic sled. High density of anemones. Credit: ZSL/GINR

    A deep-sea soft coral garden habitat has been discovered in Greenlandic waters by scientists from UCL, ZSL and Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, using an innovative and low-cost deep-sea video camera built and deployed by the team.

    The soft coral garden, presented in a new Frontiers in Marine Science paper, is the first habitat of this kind to have been identified and assessed in west Greenland waters.

    The study has direct implications for the management of economically important deep-sea trawl fisheries, which are immediately adjacent to the habitat. The researchers hope that a 486 km2 area will be recognised as a ‘Vulnerable Marine Ecosystem’ under UN guidelines, to ensure that it is protected.

    Ph.D. researcher Stephen Long (UCL Geography and ZSL (Zoological Society London)), first author on the study, said: “The deep sea is often over-looked in terms of exploration. In fact we have better maps of the surface of Mars, than we do of the deep sea.

    “The development of a low-cost tool that can withstand deep-sea environments opens up new possibilities for our understanding and management of marine ecosystems. We’ll be working with the Greenland government and fishing industry to ensure this fragile, complex and beautiful habitat is protected.”

    The soft coral garden discovered by the team exists in near total darkness, 500m below the surface at a pressure 50 times greater than at sea-level. This delicate and diverse habitat features abundant cauliflower corals as well as feather stars, sponges, anemones, brittle stars, hydrozoans bryozoans and other organisms.

    Dr. Chris Yesson (ZSL), last author on the study, said “Coral gardens are characterised by collections of one or more species (typically of non-reef forming coral), that sit on a wide range of hard and soft bottom habitats, from rock to sand, and support a diversity of fauna. There is considerable diversity among coral garden communities, which have previously been observed in areas such as northwest and southeast Iceland.”

    The discovery is particularly significant given that the deep sea is the most poorly known habitat on earth, despite being the biggest and covering 65% of the planet. Until very recently, very little was known about Greenland’s deep-sea habitats, their nature, distribution and how they are impacted by human activities.

    Coral garden discovered off the coast of Greenland

    Surveying the deep sea has typically proved difficult and expensive. One major factor is that ocean pressure increases by one atmosphere (which is the average atmospheric pressure at sea level) every 10 metres of descent. Deep-sea surveys therefore have often only been possible using expensive remote operating vehicles and manned submersibles, like those seen in Blue Planet, which can withstand deep-sea pressure.

    The UK-Greenland research team overcame this challenge by developing a low-cost towed video sled, which uses a GoPro video camera, lights and lasers in special pressure housings, mounted on a steel frame.

    The lasers, which were used to add a sense of scale to the imagery, were made by combining high-powered laser pointers with DIY housings made at UCL’s Institute of Making, with help from UCL Mechanical Engineering.

    The team placed the video sledge—which is about the size of a Mini Cooper—on the seafloor for roughly 15 minutes at a time and across 18 different stations. Stills were taken from the video footage, with 1,239 images extracted for further analysis.

    A total of 44,035 annotations of the selected fauna were made. The most abundant were anemones (15,531) and cauliflower corals (11,633), with cauliflower corals observed at a maximum density of 9.36 corals per square metre.

    Long said: “A towed video sled is not unique. However, our research is certainly the first example of a low-cost DIY video sled led being used to explore deep-sea habitats in Greenland’s 2.2million km² of sea. So far, the team has managed to reach an impressive depth of 1,500m. It has worked remarkably well and led to interest from researchers in other parts of the world.”

    Dr. Yesson added: “Given that the ocean is the biggest habitat on earth and the one about which we know the least, we think it is critically important to develop cheap, accessible research tools. These tools can then be used to explore, describe and crucially inform management of these deep-sea resources.”

    Dr. Martin Blicher (Greenland Institute of Natural Resources) said: “Greenland’s seafloor is virtually unexplored, although we know is it inhabited by more than 2000 different species together contributing to complex and diverse habitats, and to the functioning of the marine ecosystem. Despite knowing so little about these seafloor habitats, the Greenlandic economy depends on a small number of fisheries which trawl the seabed. We hope that studies like this will increase our understanding of ecological relationships, and contribute to sustainable fisheries management.”

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    UCL campus

    UCL was founded in 1826 to open up higher education in England to those who had been excluded from it – becoming the first university in England to admit women students on equal terms with men in 1878.

    Academic excellence and research that addresses real-world problems inform our ethos to this day and are central to our 20-year strategy.

  • richardmitnick 7:31 am on June 1, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Scientists soak up marine sponge discovery", , Carnivorous sponges, , Marine Biology   

    From CSIROscope: “Scientists soak up marine sponge discovery” 

    CSIRO bloc

    From CSIROscope

    1 June 2020
    Nikki Galovic

    Dr Merrick Ekins from Queensland Museum was pretty excited by the new discovery of carnivorous sponges! Credit: Asher Flatt.

    Marine scientists from Queensland Museum and University of Munich have made a big discovery. It’s the biggest haul of new species of carnivorous sponges from a single deep-sea expedition. And no, they weren’t living in pineapples under the sea. Or wearing square pants.

    What is a marine sponge?

    Marine sponges (Phylum Porifera) are suspension feeders. This means they filter seawater for food. In the process, they remove toxic chemicals from the seawater excreted by other animals, plants and microbes. This has given them a reputation for being the most toxic animals on the planet.

    But a few decades ago, researchers discovered carnivorous sponges (now known as Family Cladorhizidae) in the deep seas. Unlike other marine sponges these do not filter feed from seawater. Instead they have evolved as predators that catch and digest their prey directly.

    From the abyss! This is the Lycopodina nikitawimandi marine sponge. Credit: Queensland Museum.

    A rare discovery

    Previously, we only knew of three species of carnivorous sponges in Australia. Now after this discovery off the east coast, there are 20! This comes after more than two years of work to describe the 17 new species.

    The team discovered the sponges live at depths of up to 4000 metres below the surface of the sea. They found them during the Sampling the Abyss voyage on our RV Investigator in 2017 along the eastern coast from northern Queensland to Tasmania.

    RV Investigator

    Dr Merrick Ekins from Queensland Museum said the very rare carnivorous sponge discovery was exciting.

    “We found many of these sponges at depths between 2000 and 4000 metres down on the ocean floor. As soon as we found them, we knew how rare they were,” Merrick said.

    “I would say it is the biggest haul of carnivorous sponges from any one expedition in the world.”

    Giving marine sponges a good name

    Dr Ekins worked with Queensland Museum Honorary Associate Dr John Hooper and Dr Dirk Erpenbeck from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich to describe the new species.

    Dr Ekins said one of the best parts of the study was coming up with the names for the new species.

    “I had a lot of fun naming them. We named one after a shark because it had these amazing fang like spicules (small needle-like or sharp-pointed structures that make up the skeleton of a sponge). The sponge uses them to ensnare hairy crustaceans,” he said.

    “Another had funky spicules that look like something out of an Escher drawing. So I named it after Escher.”

    Deep blue sea

    The discovery shows just how much there is still left to discover and understand about the inhabitants of our deep oceans. We know more about the surface of Mars than we know about our deep oceans. And this discovery shows how species have adapted to the harsh environments of the deep sea.

    The researchers published their findings in the international journal Zootaxa.

    This research was supported by a grant of sea time on RV Investigator from our Marine National Facility.

    This story originally appeared on the Queensland Museum Network.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    SKA/ASKAP radio telescope at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) in Mid West region of Western Australia

    So what can we expect these new radio projects to discover? We have no idea, but history tells us that they are almost certain to deliver some major surprises.

    Making these new discoveries may not be so simple. Gone are the days when astronomers could just notice something odd as they browse their tables and graphs.

    Nowadays, astronomers are more likely to be distilling their answers from carefully-posed queries to databases containing petabytes of data. Human brains are just not up to the job of making unexpected discoveries in these circumstances, and instead we will need to develop “learning machines” to help us discover the unexpected.

    With the right tools and careful insight, who knows what we might find.

    CSIRO campus

    CSIRO, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, is Australia’s national science agency and one of the largest and most diverse research agencies in the world.

  • richardmitnick 10:23 am on March 25, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Stanford researcher investigates how squid communicate in the dark", Humboldt squid, Marine Biology, , The creatures may be using these changing patterns to signal one another., The squid’s ability to subtly glow – using light-producing organs in their muscles – can create a backlight for shifting pigmentation patterns on their skin., Zipping past each other the predators move with exceptional precision never colliding or competing for prey.   

    From Stanford University: “Stanford researcher investigates how squid communicate in the dark” 

    Stanford University Name
    From Stanford University

    March 23, 2020
    Taylor Kubota

    Researchers begin to reveal how social squid communicate in the near-blackness of the deep sea.

    A group of Humboldt squid swim in formation about 200 meters below the surface of Monterey Bay. (Image credit: © 2010 MBARI)

    In the frigid waters 1,500 feet below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, hundreds of human-sized Humboldt squid feed on a patch of finger-length lantern fish. Zipping past each other, the predators move with exceptional precision, never colliding or competing for prey.

    How do they establish such order in the near-darkness of the ocean’s twilight zone?

    The answer, according to researchers from Stanford University and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) may be visual communication. Like the illuminated words on an e-book reader, these researchers suggest that the squid’s ability to subtly glow – using light-producing organs in their muscles – can create a backlight for shifting pigmentation patterns on their skin. The creatures may be using these changing patterns to signal one another.

    The research is published March 23 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    “Many squid live in fairly shallow water and don’t have these light-producing organs, so it’s possible this is a key evolutionary innovation for being able to inhabit the open ocean,” said Benjamin Burford, a graduate student in biology in the School of Humanities and Sciences at Stanford and lead author of the paper. “Maybe they need this ability to glow and display these pigmentation patterns to facilitate group behaviors in order to survive out there.”

    Seeing the deep sea

    Humboldt squid behavior is nearly impossible to study in captivity, so researchers must meet them where they live. For this research, Bruce Robison of MBARI, who is senior author of the paper, captured footage of Humboldt squid off the coast of California using remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), or unmanned, robotic submarines.

    While the ROVs could record the squid’s skin patterning, the lights the cameras required were too bright to record their subtle glow, so the researchers couldn’t test their backlighting hypothesis directly. Instead, they found supporting evidence for it in their anatomical studies of captured squid.

    A Humboldt squid shows its colors in the lights of a remotely operated vehicle 300 meters below the surface of Monterey Bay.
    (Image credit: © 2010 MBARI)

    Using the ROV footage, the researchers analyzed how individual squid behaved when they were feeding versus when they were not. They also paid attention to how these behaviors changed depending on the number of other squid in the immediate area – after all, people communicate differently if they are speaking with friends versus a large audience.

    The footage confirmed that squid’s pigmentation patterns do seem to relate to specific contexts. Some patterns were detailed enough to imply that the squid may be communicating precise messages – such as “that fish over there is mine.” There was also evidence that their behaviors could be broken down into distinct units that the squid recombine to form different messages, like letters in the alphabet. Still, the researchers emphasize that it is too early to conclude whether the squid communications constitute a human-like language.

    “Right now, as we speak, there are probably squid signaling each other in the deep ocean,” said Burford, who is affiliated with the Denny lab at Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station. “And who knows what kind of information they’re saying and what kind of decisions they’re making based on that information?”

    Although these squid can see well in dim light, their vision is probably not especially sharp, so the researchers speculated that the light-producing organs help facilitate the squid’s visual communications by boosting the contrast for their skin patterning. They investigated this hypothesis by mapping where these light organs are located in Humboldt squid and comparing that to where the most detailed skin patterns appear on the creatures.

    They found that the areas where the illuminating organs were most densely packed – such as a small area between the squid’s eyes and the thin edge of their fins – corresponded to those where the most intricate patterns occurred.

    Familiar aliens

    In the time since the squid were filmed, ROV technology has advanced enough that the team could directly view their backlighting hypothesis in action the next time the squid are observed in California. Burford would also like to create some sort of virtual squid that the team could project in front of real squid to see how they respond to the cyber-squid’s patterns and movements.

    The researchers are thrilled with what they have found so far but eager to do further research in the deep sea. Although studying the inhabitants of the deep sea where they live can be a frustratingly difficult endeavor, this research has the potential to inform a new understanding of how life functions.

    “We sometimes think of squid as crazy lifeforms living in this alien world but we have a lot in common – they live in groups, they’re social, they talk to one another,” Burford said. “Researching their behavior and that of other residents of the deep sea is important for learning how life may exist in alien environments, but it also tells us more generally about the strategies used in extreme environments on our own planet.”

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Stanford University campus. No image credit

    Stanford University

    Leland and Jane Stanford founded the University to “promote the public welfare by exercising an influence on behalf of humanity and civilization.” Stanford opened its doors in 1891, and more than a century later, it remains dedicated to finding solutions to the great challenges of the day and to preparing our students for leadership in today’s complex world. Stanford, is an American private research university located in Stanford, California on an 8,180-acre (3,310 ha) campus near Palo Alto. Since 1952, more than 54 Stanford faculty, staff, and alumni have won the Nobel Prize, including 19 current faculty members

    Stanford University Seal

  • richardmitnick 11:54 am on January 9, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "The Ocean’s Moveable Feast", , , Marine Biology, ,   

    From Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution: “The Ocean’s Moveable Feast” 

    From Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

    January 9, 2020
    Madeline Drexler

    Today, warming waters are redrawing the lines of the marine food web.

    Warm ocean temperatures caused large-scale ecological disruption that affected different species, including lobster. (© AP Photo / Robert F. Bukaty as seen in Oceanus magazine Vol. 54, No. 2)

    Over the past few decades, Carin Ashjian, a biologist at Woods hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), has explored the marine food web and how it has responded to changing ocean conditions. She wants to know how ecosystems are shifting, how species are moving, and how these factors fray or strengthen food webs.

    Because of warming seas, southern species have found northern waters newly hospitable. Killer whales now show up in Alaskan waters north of the Bering Strait. Salmon species are wending their way to lagoons north of the Arctic Circle, where indigenous fishermen catch fish with nets cast out from the beach. Ashjian fears that commercial fishing—currently prohibited in Arctic waters because the ecosystem is still not fully understood—might ruin the Arctic habitats if not effectively regulated.

    To gain a better understanding of the impacts of such climatic changes, Ashjian serves on the scientific steering committee for a developing international effort called the Synoptic Arctic Survey, or SAS, in which scientists on research cruises in the Arctic will collect data on ocean circulation, carbon cycling and ocean acidification, and ecosystem functioning and productivity. This comprehensive dataset will serve as a baseline by which researchers can track changing ocean conditions and their impacts over the coming years, decades, and centuries.

    Glen Gawarkiewicz, a physical oceanographer at WHOI, is tracking those changes, and their practical implications, right now. In May 2012, he was on a cruise around Cape Hatteras, North Carolina with fisheries biologists and acousticians, searching for cold-water fish.

    “But we had a nine-degree-Fahrenheit anomaly,” he says. “It was so warm, there were no cold-water species. I thought, ‘Oh, my word.’ It was a change I never could have imagined.”

    Since then, Gawarkiewicz has expanded his field of vision, from what he calls the “small patch” of the North Atlantic that was and still is his specialty to the warming Arctic atmosphere, the Jet Stream, and the Gulf Stream.

    “They’re all interconnected,” Gawarkiewicz says.

    The temperature anomaly that astonished him was due to a stationary wave in the U.S. Jet Stream (a meandering current of air in the atmosphere) that for six weeks held back the cold air in southern Canada that would normally have moved down into southern New England.

    “The air temperature was very warm—we were wearing t-shirts in mid-January on Cape Cod,” says Gawarkiewicz. “That skewed ocean temperatures for months afterward. And it caused incredible, large-scale ecological disruption that affected different species, such as puffin chicks and lobster.”

    Gawarkiewicz has since documented similar disturbances in his small patch of ocean.

    “Cold-water fish are struggling,” he says. Cod, in particular, has been retreating to the north. On the other hand, sea bass and Jonah crab are coming in because of warm waters,” he said. “There are huge year-to-year differences in abundance, and we’re not sure what drives them.”

    To help answer this question, Gawarkiewicz teamed up with the Commercial Fisheries Research Fleet to recruit fishermen as citizen scientists.

    “The climate shifts that we talk about theoretically, they’re experiencing every day,” Gawarkiewicz says.

    The fishermen take bi-weekly measurements of salinity, temperature, and depth, and note unusual ocean conditions. The scientists and fishermen later discuss and interpret the data. Scientists benefit because the fleet is a cost-effective way of collecting data, since research expeditions are typically expensive to conduct, while fishermen gain insights into the ecosystems on which their livelihoods depend. It’s an effective win-win scenario.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute

    Vision & Mission

    The ocean is a defining feature of our planet and crucial to life on Earth, yet it remains one of the planet’s last unexplored frontiers. For this reason, WHOI scientists and engineers are committed to understanding all facets of the ocean as well as its complex connections with Earth’s atmosphere, land, ice, seafloor, and life—including humanity. This is essential not only to advance knowledge about our planet, but also to ensure society’s long-term welfare and to help guide human stewardship of the environment. WHOI researchers are also dedicated to training future generations of ocean science leaders, to providing unbiased information that informs public policy and decision-making, and to expanding public awareness about the importance of the global ocean and its resources.
    Mission Statement

    The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is dedicated to advancing knowledge of the ocean and its connection with the Earth system through a sustained commitment to excellence in science, engineering, and education, and to the application of this knowledge to problems facing society.

  • richardmitnick 9:30 am on January 9, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Coral reef resilience", , , , , Katie Barott, Marine Biology, ,   

    From Penn Today: Women in STEM-“Coral reef resilience” Katie Barott 

    From Penn Today

    January 8, 2020
    Katherine Unger Baillie
    Eric Sucar, Photographer

    With coral reefs under threat from climate change, marine biologist Katie Barott of the School of Arts and Sciences is examining the strategies that may enable corals to bounce back from warming temperatures and acidifying oceans.

    Marine biologist Katie Barott investigates the strategies certain corals may use to tolerate the warmer temperatures and acidic waters that climate change is bringing to the world’s oceans.

    Mass coral-bleaching events, which occur when high ocean temperatures cause coral to expel the algae that dwell inside them, are a relatively recent phenomenon. The first widespread bleaching event occurred in 1983, the year before Penn marine biologist Katie Barott was born.

    The next one happened about 15 years later. And the intervals between them continue to shrink. In 2014, one bleaching event in Hawaii was so extreme that it carried over to affect corals into a second summer.

    “They’re increasing in frequency, getting closer and closer,” says Barott, an assistant professor in the School of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Biology. “And the ocean temperature is getting warmer and warmer, so the severity is increasing, too.”

    Yet as dramatic as the phenomenon sounds—and appears—coral bleaching does not always equate with coral death. Algae can return to corals once ocean temperatures cool, and scientists have observed formerly white corals regain their color in subsequent seasons.

    In a multifaceted research project funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Barott and members of her lab are studying the mechanisms by which corals withstand the effects of climate change, which include not only the warmer temperatures that trigger bleaching but also acidification of ocean waters, a slower-moving creep with subtle yet significant consequences.

    Bleached finger corals reside directly next to other corals that have withstood a bleaching event in Kaneohe Bay in Hawaii. Barrot’s research attempts to untangle some of the factors that cause some corals to be particularly hardy or resilient. (Image: Katie Barott)

    Barott’s work, based in Kaneohe Bay on Oahu, Hawaii, focuses on two of the bay’s dominant coral species: rice coral (Montipora capitata) and finger coral (Porites compressa). Barott began working there during a postdoctoral fellowship at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, conducting studies on which the new work is based.

    Climate threats

    Corals are invertebrate animals that live in large colonies, together forming intricate skeletons of varied shapes. To obtain food, they rely heavily on a symbiotic relationship with algae, which establish themselves within the corals’ tissue and produce food and energy for the coral through photosynthesis. A change in temperature or pH can upset this partnership, triggering the algae’s expulsion.

    “That leaves the coral essentially starving,” Barott says.

    Since her postdoctoral days, Barott has been working with colleagues in Hawaii to monitor coral patches. After the 2014-15 bleaching event, researchers were surprised and heartened to find certain patches of corals didn’t succumb to the bleaching, even those located directly adjacent to stark white corals. And many of those that did bleach bounced back within a month or so of the onset of cooling autumn temperatures.

    At the time Barott was writing her NSF grant application, she planned to compare the differences between bleached and unbleached corals. Yet just as the grant kicked off in July, another bleaching event was unfolding in Hawaii.

    “That gave us this unexpected opportunity to go back to those same colonies to see if the ones that bleached last time were the same ones that bleached again this past fall,” she says. “And more or less we saw the same patterns: The ones that bleached last time bleached again this time and vice versa. That gives us compelling evidence that there’s something specific about these resilient individuals that is make them resist bleaching, even in very warm temperatures.”

    Mechanisms of resilience

    While high temperatures triggers bleaching, acidity plays a key role in coral vitality as well. Lower seawater pH impedes corals’ ability to build their calcium carbonite skeletons, resulting in weaker, more fragile structures.
    Barott collects finger corals to take back for further analysis. Her research projects include investigations of the algae that lives symbiotically with the coral, and the bacteria that compose the corals’ microbiome. (Image: Courtesy of Katie Barott)

    In earlier work, Barott had discovered that corals possess a pH “sensor” that can respond to changes in their environment. And, indeed, sea water acidity can vary widely in the course of a day, a season, or a year, swinging as much as 0.75 pH units in a day. Perhaps, Barott hypothesizes, coral have molecular “tools” that they use to withstand these daily fluctuations that they could also employ to contend with the gradual ocean acidification that is occurring as the concentration of CO2 in sea water rises.

    Barott collects finger corals to take back for further analysis. Her research projects include investigations of the algae that lives symbiotically with the coral, and the bacteria that compose the corals’ microbiome. (Image: Courtesy of Katie Barott)

    “Maybe there are some reefs that are going to be more resistant to ocean acidification because they’re used to seeing these really large daily swings and are sort of primed to deal with that challenge,” she says.

    She’s also curious about how bleaching impacts corals’ ability to tolerate pH changes more generally. Using molecular tools, she and her students are investigating the epigenetic changes that affect how genes are “read” and translated into functional proteins in the organisms. Such changes could occur much more rapidly than coral, a long-lived species, could evolve to deal with a changing environment.

    In a variety of projects, the scientists are examining differences between species of coral, between species of the algal symbionts, and between populations located in different places in the Kaneohe lagoon.

    Early results suggest differences between the rice and finger coral in their strategies for managing bleaching.

    “One really resists the bleaching, but if it does succumb then it fares a lot worse than the one that bleaches more readily,” says Barott. “That one seems to be more susceptible to losing its symbionts, but if it does it recovers fast and has lower overall mortality.”

    Planning for the future

    Barott’s group is collaborating with others in Hawaii to see if hardier corals could be propagated to rebuild damaged reef communities.

    “We’re at the proof-of-principle stage,” she says, “where we’re trying to figure out if some of these differences are heritable.”

    Tank experiments in Barott’s lab in Philadelphia complement field work done in Oahu, Hawaii.

    While some of that work is being completed in Hawaii, carefully tended tanks in the basement of the Leidy Laboratories of Biology allow Barott and her students to complete experiments in Philadelphia on corals. Using both corals shipped from the field and sea anemones, a useful stand-in for corals due to their ease of care and rapid reproduction, the lab has been tracking the impacts of temperature and pH stress on energy systems, genetics, and even the microbiome of corals, the bacteria with which the corals and algae cohabitate.

    “The surface of coral is analogous to the lining of your lungs or intestines,” Barott says. “It’s covered in cilia, it’s got a mucus layer over the top of it, and there are tons and tons of bacteria that live in that mucus layer. We think those bacteria are playing a role in the health of the coral, but we don’t know if it’s playing a role in their temperature sensitivity, so that’s something we’ll be looking at.”

    With this “whole organism” approach, Barott’s aims to inject some optimism and scientific rigor into what is a largely dire outlook for corals worldwide. Encouragingly, she notes, this year’s bleaching event in Hawaii was much less severe than predicted, and corals that had bleached in 2014 were less strongly affected by this year’s event.

    “These reefs are facing a lot of impacts, not just from climate but also from local development, sedimentation, nutrient pollution,” she says. “Our hope is to predict how corals will respond to these challenges and maybe one day use our findings to assist them in rebuilding resilient reefs.”

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    U Penn campus

    Academic life at Penn is unparalleled, with 100 countries and every U.S. state represented in one of the Ivy League’s most diverse student bodies. Consistently ranked among the top 10 universities in the country, Penn enrolls 10,000 undergraduate students and welcomes an additional 10,000 students to our world-renowned graduate and professional schools.

    Penn’s award-winning educators and scholars encourage students to pursue inquiry and discovery, follow their passions, and address the world’s most challenging problems through an interdisciplinary approach.

  • richardmitnick 9:29 am on November 6, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Antje Boetius, , , , Erna Hamburger Prize, Marine Biology,   

    From École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne: Women in STEM “EPFL honors a climate advocate” Antje Boetius 

    From École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

    Anne-Muriel Brouet

    The EPFL-WISH Foundation will award this year’s Erna Hamburger Prize to German marine biologist Antje Boetius.

    The 2019 Erna Hamburger Prize will go to Antje Boetius, a professor at the University of Bremen’s prestigious Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology and the head of the Alfred Wegener Institute at the Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research.



    Prof. Boetius has had an exceptional career in marine biology research since completing her studies at the University of Hamburg.


    A staunch climate advocate, she received Germany’s Federal Cross of Merit in 2019 and was recently appointed as a climate advisor to the German government.

    The Erna Hamburger Prize is awarded every year by the EPFL-WISH Foundation to an influential woman in science. The award is named after Erna Hamburger, who, when she was hired by EPFL in 1967, became the first female professor at a Swiss federal institute of technology.

    One of Prof. Boetius’s breakthroughs was to describe the anaerobic oxidation of methane. She believes that, in the absence of molecular oxygen, the earliest forms of terrestrial life may have survived thanks to methane. She has also posited that such life forms could help slow the pace of climate change in the future. This is because methane is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, and there are vast quantities of deep-ocean microorganisms that can break it down and limit its release into the atmosphere.

    Dubbed by some “Marie Curie of the sea,” Prof. Boetius has also coordinated numerous marine and polar expeditions and has been involved in measuring firsthand the effects of global warming. The granddaughter of a whale hunter, she has helped focus attention on the impact that human activities have on our oceans. This includes the collapse in the cetacean population, which began in the 19th century, and its impact on the marine ecosystem down to the level of microorganisms.

    Prof. Boetius, an environmentalist committed to spreading knowledge, deplores the fact that “science is talking but people aren’t listening.” And she warns: “We cannot survive without the oceans.”

    The award ceremony will take place at 5pm on 6 November at the SwissTech Convention Center. Entry is free of charge, but registration is required: https://www.epflwishfoundation.org/erna-hamburger-2019

    See the full article here .


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    EPFL bloc

    EPFL campus

    EPFL is Europe’s most cosmopolitan technical university. It receives students, professors and staff from over 120 nationalities. With both a Swiss and international calling, it is therefore guided by a constant wish to open up; its missions of teaching, research and partnership impact various circles: universities and engineering schools, developing and emerging countries, secondary schools and gymnasiums, industry and economy, political circles and the general public.

  • richardmitnick 12:11 pm on June 23, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Bright spots shine light on the future of coral reefs", James Cook University Australia, Marine Biology,   

    From James Cook University Australia: “Bright spots shine light on the future of coral reefs” 

    From James Cook University Australia

    16 June 2016

    Josh Cinner
    mobile +61 417714138 –
    email: joshua.cinner@jcu.edu.au

    Nick Graham
    Office: +44 1524 595054
    Mobile: +44 7479438914
    Email: nick.graham@lancaster.ac.uk

    Christina Hicks
    Office: +44 1524 595089
    Mobile: +44 7479434791
    Email: christina.hicks@lancaster.ac.uk

    For further details contact:

    Kylie Simmonds, Communications Manager
    ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
    Phone: +61 (0)7 4781 6067, +61 (0)428 785 895
    Email: kylie.simmonds1@jcu.edu.au

    Coral reef. Pic: Tane Sinclair-Taylor tanesinclair-taylor.com

    Researchers have discovered a handful of ‘bright spots’ among the world’s embattled coral reefs, offering the promise of a radical new approach to conservation.

    In one of the largest global studies of its kind [Nature], researchers conducted over 6,000 reef surveys in 46 countries and discovered 15 ‘bright spots’ – places where, against all odds, there were a lot more fish on coral reefs than expected.

    “Given the widespread depletion of coral reef fisheries globally, we were really excited to find these bright spots that were fairing much better than we anticipated,” says lead author Professor Josh Cinner from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University.

    “These ‘bright spots’ are reefs with more fish than expected based on their exposure to pressures like human population, poverty, and unfavourable environmental conditions.

    “To be clear, bright spots are not necessarily pristine reefs, but rather reefs that have more fish than they should, given the pressures they face.

    “We wanted to know why these reefs could ‘punch above their weight’ so to speak, and whether there are lessons we can learn about how to avoid the degradation often associated with overfishing.”

    Co-author, Professor Nick Graham of Lancaster University says globally, coral reefs are in decline and current strategies for preserving them are insufficient.

    “Our bright spots approach has identified places we did not previously know were so successful, and the really interesting thing is that they are not necessarily untouched by man,” he says.

    “We believe their discovery offers the potential to develop exciting new solutions for coral reef conservation.”

    “Importantly, the bright spots had a few things in common, which, if applied to other places, might help promote better reef conditions.”

    “Many bright spots had strong local involvement in how the reefs were managed, local ownership rights, and traditional management practices,” says co-author Dr. Christina Hicks of Lancaster and Stanford Universities.

    The scientists also identified 35 ‘dark spots’ – these were reefs with fish stocks in worse shape than expected.

    “Dark spots also had a few defining characteristics; they were subject to intensive netting activities and there was easy access to freezers so people could stockpile fish to send to the market,” says Dr. Hicks.

    This type of bright spots analysis has been used in fields such as human health to improve the wellbeing of millions of people. It is the first time it has been rigorously developed for conservation.

    “We believe that the bright spots offer hope and some solutions that can be applied more broadly across the world’s coral reefs,” says Prof. Cinner.

    “Specifically, investments that foster local involvement and provide people with ownership rights can allow people to develop creative solutions that help defy expectations of reef fisheries depletion.

    “Conversely, dark spots may highlight development or management pathways to avoid.”

    Bright spots were typically found in the Pacific Ocean in places like the Solomon Islands, parts of Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Kiribati. Dark spots were more globally distributed and found in every major ocean basin.

    The study has been published in the journal Nature. 39 scientists from 34 different universities and conservation groups conducted the research.

    See the full article here .


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    James Cook University (JCU) is a public university in North Queensland, Australia. The second oldest university in Queensland, JCU is a teaching and research institution. The University’s main campuses are located in the tropical cities of Cairns, Singapore and Townsville. JCU also has study centres in Mount Isa, Mackay and Thursday Island. A Brisbane campus, operated by Russo Higher Education, delivers undergraduate and postgraduate courses to international students. The University’s main fields of research include marine sciences, biodiversity, sustainable management of tropical ecosystems, genetics and genomics, tropical health care, tourism and engineering.

  • richardmitnick 10:11 am on March 5, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Marine Biology,   

    From Stanford University: “Before reefs become deserts: Keeping coral healthy in Hawaii” 

    Stanford University Name
    Stanford University

    March 1, 2018
    Nicole Kravec

    Stanford researchers in the Hawaiian Islands compared healthy coral, left, with degraded coral dominated by algae overgrowth. (Image credit: Keoki Stender/Marine Life Photography)

    Researchers develop novel approach to understand both human and environmental impacts on coral reef health across the Hawaiian Islands.

    Many of Hawaii’s once-thriving coral reefs are now struggling to recover from recent extreme coral bleaching caused by rising water temperatures. These periodic increased temperatures combined with coastal runoff, fishing pressure and other impacts are all suspected of contributing to slow reef recovery.

    As a way of understanding which factors had the biggest impacts on Hawaii’s corals, a group of researchers from the collaborative Ocean Tipping Points project, co-led by Larry Crowder, the Edward Ricketts Provostial Professor of Marine Ecology and Conservation at Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station and senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, completed the first-ever comprehensive map of how both humans and natural events influence overall reef health. This new study was published March 1 in PLOS One.

    “When we jumped into the water in west Hawaii, over half of the coral reef was dead,” said Lisa Wedding, research associate at Stanford’s Center for Ocean Solutions and a lead author on the paper. “These are some of Hawaii’s most vibrant coral reefs, so we were heartbroken – and determined to better understand how reef ecosystems could be more resilient in the future.”

    Big step for Hawaii

    Reefs across the Hawaiian Islands have both cultural and economic value. Although people have known that natural and human-caused phenomena affect the health and resilience of coral reef ecosystems, little is known about which factors are more important in each region.

    To find out what factors play the largest role in reef resilience, the group synthesized 10 years of datasets from university and government sources examining factors they knew had an impact on coral reefs, such as sedimentation, development and fishing.

    This analysis revealed variations in what was inhibiting reef recovery across the islands. On the densely populated island of Oahu, dominant stressors were human activities, such as fishing and loss of natural habitat to coastal development. Sedimentation and nutrient runoff were dominant forces on less populated islands.

    “This area of research has been a long-term need for coral reef conservation and management. These findings will allow us to take a big step forward in understanding how corals are impacted by both human activities and by environmental stressors, in a place with incredible value,” said Joey Lecky, co-author on the paper and a geographic information system analyst for NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center.

    Bigger steps beyond

    The research team’s findings highlight the importance of tailoring strategies based on location to effectively address local impacts. This approach, synthesizing data from a large geographic area and over a long period of time to get a big-picture perspective on reef health and regional impacts, provides a foundation for further research and informs policies to protect coral reefs.

    Data created by this mapping study are available for free at the Pacific Islands Ocean Observing System, where scientists, managers and members of the public can explore and further analyze what drives variation on coral reefs. Users can download data layers in various formats and explore all layers in an interactive map viewer.

    “We live in a changing world, and changing oceans are a big part of that. Studies like this one provide crucial insights into how we can act locally to improve the resilience of reefs to global changes,” said Ocean Tipping Points lead investigator Carrie Kappel of the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis. “This is an approach that can be replicated for reefs elsewhere.”

    Co-authors of the publication include scientists from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa; NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration); University of California, Santa Barbara; Bangor University; Stockholm University; National Geographic Society; Conservation International; Arizona State University; Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences; Curtin University; and California Polytechnic State University.

    This research was supported by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program, U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and NOAA Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.
    Media Contacts

    Larry Crowder, Stanford Hopkins Marine Station: larry.crowder@stanford.edu

    Lisa Wedding, Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions: lwedding@stanford.edu, (805) 607-1519

    Nicole Kravec, Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions: nkravec@stanford.edu, (415) 825-0584

    Carrie Kappel, National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, UC Santa Barbara: Kappel@nceas.ucsb.edu, (831) 869-1503

    See the full article here .

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    Leland and Jane Stanford founded the University to “promote the public welfare by exercising an influence on behalf of humanity and civilization.” Stanford opened its doors in 1891, and more than a century later, it remains dedicated to finding solutions to the great challenges of the day and to preparing our students for leadership in today’s complex world. Stanford, is an American private research university located in Stanford, California on an 8,180-acre (3,310 ha) campus near Palo Alto. Since 1952, more than 54 Stanford faculty, staff, and alumni have won the Nobel Prize, including 19 current faculty members

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  • richardmitnick 10:54 am on February 16, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Marine Biology, , Study ocean currents and the tiny creatures they transport, Swarm of Underwater Robots Mimics Ocean Life,   

    From Scripps Institution of Oceanography: “Swarm of Underwater Robots Mimics Ocean Life” Jan 2017 

    Scripps Institution of Oceanography

    Jan 24, 2017 [Just found this]

    Mario Aguilera

    Miniature autonomous underwater explorers.

    Underwater robots developed by researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego offer scientists an extraordinary new tool to study ocean currents and the tiny creatures they transport. Swarms of these underwater robots helped answer some basic questions about the most abundant life forms in the ocean—plankton.

    Scripps research oceanographer Jules Jaffe designed and built the miniature autonomous underwater explorers, or M-AUEs, to study small-scale environmental processes taking place in the ocean. The ocean-probing instruments are equipped with temperature and other sensors to measure the surrounding ocean conditions while the robots “swim” up and down to maintain a constant depth by adjusting their buoyancy. The M-AUEs could potentially be deployed in swarms of hundreds to thousands to capture a three-dimensional view of the interactions between ocean currents and marine life.

    In a new study published in the Jan. 24 [2017] issue of the journal Nature Communications, Jaffe and Scripps biological oceanographer Peter Franks deployed a swarm of 16 grapefruit-sized underwater robots programmed to mimic the underwater swimming behavior of plankton, the microscopic organisms that drift with the ocean currents. The research study was designed to test theories about how plankton form dense patches under the ocean surface, which often later reveal themselves at the surface as red tides.

    “These patches might work like planktonic singles bars,” said Franks, who has long suspected that the dense aggregations could aid feeding, reproduction, and protection from predators.

    Two decades ago Franks published a mathematical theory predicting that swimming plankton would form dense patches when pushed around by internal waves—giant, slow-moving waves below the ocean surface. Testing his theory would require tracking the movements of individual plankton—each smaller than a grain of rice—as they swam in the ocean, which is not possible using available technology.

    Jaffe instead invented “robotic plankton” that drift with the ocean currents, but are programmed to move up and down by adjusting their buoyancy, imitating the movements of plankton. A swarm of these robotic plankton was the ideal tool to finally put Franks’ mathematical theory to the test.

    “The big engineering breakthroughs were to make the M-AUEs small, inexpensive, and able to be tracked continuously underwater,” said Jaffe. The low cost allowed Jaffe and his team to build a small army of the robots that could be deployed in a swarm.

    Tracking the individual M-AUEs was a challenge, as GPS does not work underwater. A key component of the project was the development by researchers at UC San Diego’s Qualcomm Institute and Department of Computer Science and Engineering of mathematical techniques to use acoustic signals to track the M-AUE vehicles while they were submerged.

    During a five-hour experiment, the Scripps researchers along with UC San Diego colleagues deployed a 300-meter (984-foot) diameter swarm of 16 M-AUEs programmed to stay 10-meters (33-feet) deep in the ocean off the coast of Torrey Pines, near La Jolla, Calif. The M-AUEs constantly adjusted their buoyancy to move vertically against the currents created by the internal waves. The three-dimensional location information collected every 12 seconds revealed where this robotic swarm moved below the ocean surface.

    The results of the study were nearly identical to what Franks predicted. The surrounding ocean temperatures fluctuated as the internal waves passed through the M-AUE swarm. And, as predicted by Franks, the M-AUE location data showed that the swarm formed a tightly packed patch in the warm waters of the internal wave troughs, but dispersed over the wave crests.

    “This is the first time such a mechanism has been tested underwater,” said Franks.

    The experiment helped the researchers confirm that free-floating plankton can use the physical dynamics of the ocean—in this case internal waves—to increase their concentrations to congregate into swarms to fulfill their fundamental life needs.

    “This swarm-sensing approach opens up a whole new realm of ocean exploration,” said Jaffe. Augmenting the M-AUEs with cameras would allow the photographic mapping of coral habitats, or “plankton selfies,” according to Jaffe.

    The research team has hopes to build hundreds more of the miniature robots to study the movement of larvae between marine protected areas, monitor harmful red tide blooms, and to help track oil spills. The onboard hydrophones that help track the M-AUEs underwater could also allow the swarm to act like a giant “ear” in the ocean, listening to and localizing ambient sounds in the ocean.

    Jaffe, Franks, and their colleagues were awarded nearly $1 million from the National Science Foundation in 2009 to develop and test the new breed of ocean-probing instruments. The study’s coauthors include: Paul Roberts, principal development engineer at Scripps, Ryan Kastner, professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering; Diba Mirza, postdoctoral researcher in computer science; and Curt Schurgers, principal development engineer at the Qualcomm Institute, and Scripps student intern Adrien Boch.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    A department of UC San Diego, Scripps Institution of Oceanography is one of the oldest, largest, and most important centers for ocean, earth and atmospheric science research, education, and public service in the world.

    Research at Scripps encompasses physical, chemical, biological, geological, and geophysical studies of the oceans, Earth, and planets. Scripps undergraduate and graduate programs provide transformative educational and research opportunities in ocean, earth, and atmospheric sciences, as well as degrees in climate science and policy and marine biodiversity and conservation.

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