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  • 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

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    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
    858-534-3624
    scrippsnews@ucsd.edu

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    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 .

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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.

     
  • richardmitnick 7:25 am on January 22, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Great Barrier Reef - Australia, Helping put the Great Barrier Reef on the road to recovery, Marine Biology   

    From CSIROscope: “Helping put the Great Barrier Reef on the road to recovery” 

    CSIRO bloc

    CSIROscope

    22 January 2018
    No writer credit

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    The Great Barrier Reef.

    We often hear the same depressing story about the Great Barrier Reef: Australia’s iconic living structure is struggling to cope with a plethora of problems. Deteriorating water quality, rising water temperatures and ocean acidification, and consecutive bleaching events all have their detrimental impacts on the Reef.

    Despite these multiple large-scale and complex problems, many areas of the Great Barrier Reef still show resilience, which presents a window of opportunity to act.

    The Hon. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull recently announced a $60 million package of measures to address the challenges that face the Reef. The range of activities includes $6 million for the Australian Institute of Marine Science, ourselves and partners to scope and design a Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program (RRAP). This program will assess and develop existing and novel technologies to assist the recovery and repair of the Reef.

    Dr Peter Mayfield, our Executive Director for Environment, Energy And Resources, said the magnitude of challenges facing the Reef means it cannot be addressed by one organisation alone.

    “The RRAP will provide a unique opportunity to harness our collective knowledge and expertise across the entire research and science sector,” Dr Mayfield said.

    “We’re delighted be working alongside our many partner institutions to help deliver material solutions for the Reef.”

    Bringing together the best

    The nature of the environmental challenge facing the Reef demands the best scientific minds across a range of Australian universities, research institutions, park managers and charities. These include the Australian Institute of Marine Science, Great Barrier Reef Foundation, James Cook University, The University of Queensland, Queensland University of Technology, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and researchers from many other organisations.

    We have a long history of working together with AIMS and the Great Barrier Marine Park Authority in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. The Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program takes this historical collaboration to a new level, involving many more national and international partners.

    Global solutions

    Coral reefs around the world support 25 per cent of all marine life and provide essential goods and services to an estimated one billion people. The solutions we uncover through this program could be used to help save reefs around the world.

    See the full article here .

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    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 11:46 am on December 31, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Daniel Vogt, Falkor research vessel, Marine Biology, NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, , PIPA-Phoenix Islands Protected Area, , ROV-remotely operated underwater vehicle, Schmidt Ocean Institute, , Squishy fingers help scientists probe the watery depths,   

    From Wyss Institute: “Squishy fingers help scientists probe the watery depths” 2017 

    Harvard bloc tiny
    Wyss Institute bloc
    Wyss Institute

    October 28, 2017
    Lindsay Brownell

    Wyss researcher Daniel Vogt tests out soft robotics on deep sea corals in the South Pacific.

    As an engineer with degrees in Computer Science and Microengineering, Wyss researcher Daniel Vogt usually spends most of his time in his lab building and testing robots, surrounded by jumbles of cables, wires, bits of plastic, and circuit boards. But for the last month, he’s spent nearly every day in a room that resembles NASA ground control surrounded by marine biologists on a ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, intently watching them use joysticks and buttons to maneuver a remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) to harvest corals, crabs, and other sea life from the ocean floor.

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    The squishy fingers are made of a soft, flexible material that is more dexterous and gentle than ROVs’ conventional grippers. Credit: Schmidt Ocean Institute.


    Deep corals of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area: How Wyss Institute researchers are changing underwater exploration. Credit: Schmidt Ocean Institute.

    This particular ROV’s robotic metal arm is holding the reason why Vogt is here: what looks like a large, floppy toy starfish made of blue and yellow foam. “Devices like this are extremely soft – you can compare them to rubber bands or gummy bears – and this allows them to grasp things that you wouldn’t be able to grasp with a hard device like the ROV gripper,” says Vogt, watching the TV screen as the “squishy fingers” gently close around a diaphanous bright pink sea cucumber and lift it off the sand. The biologists applaud as the fingers cradle the sea cucumber safely on its journey to the ROV’s collection box. “Nicely done,” Vogt says to the ROV operators.

    This shipful of scientists is the latest in a series of research voyages co-funded by NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research and the Schmidt Ocean Institute, a nonprofit founded by Eric and Wendy Schmidt in 2009 to support high-risk marine exploration that expands humans’ understanding of our planet’s oceans. The Institute provides marine scientists access to the ship, Falkor, and expert technical shipboard support in exchange for a commitment to openly share and communicate the outcomes of their research.

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    Falkor is equipped with both wet and dry lab spaces, the ROV SuBastian, echosounders, water sampling systems, and many other instruments to gather data about the ocean. Credit: Schmidt Ocean Institute.

    Vogt’s shipmates are studying the mysterious deep sea coral communities of the deep ocean, which live below 138 meters (450 feet) on seamounts which are mostly unexplored.

    The best place to find those corals is the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA), a smattering of tiny islands, atolls, coral reefs, and great swaths of their surrounding South Pacific ocean almost 3,000 miles from the nearest continent. PIPA is the largest (the size of California) and deepest (average water column depth of 4 km/2.5 mi) UNESCO World Heritage Site on Earth and, thanks to its designation as a Marine Protected Area in 2008, represents one of Earth’s last intact oceanic coral archipelago ecosystems. With over 500 species of reef fishes, 250 shallow coral species, and large numbers of sharks and other marine life, PIPA’s reefs resemble what a reef might have looked like a thousand years ago, before human activity began to severely affect oceanic communities. The team on board Falkor is conducting the first deep water biological surveys in PIPA, assessing what species of deep corals are present and any new, undescribed species, while also evaluating the effect of seawater acidification (caused by an increase in the amount of CO2 in the water) on deep coral ecosystems.

    The deep ocean is about as inhospitable to human life as outer space, so scientists largely rely on ROVs to be their eyes, legs, and hands underwater, controlling them remotely from the safety of the surface. Most ROVs used in deep-sea research were designed for use in the oil and gas industries and are built to accomplish tasks like lifting heavy weights, drilling into rock, and installing machinery. When it comes to plucking a sea cucumber off the ocean floor or snipping a piece off a delicate sea fan, however, existing ROVs are like bulls in a china shop, often crushing the samples they’re meant to be taking.

    This problem led to a collaboration between Wyss Core Faculty member Rob Wood, Ph.D. and City University of New York (CUNY) marine biologist David Gruber, Ph.D. back in 2014 that produced the first version of the soft robotic “squishy fingers,” which were successfully tested in the Red Sea in 2015. PIPA offered a unique opportunity to test the squishy fingers in more extreme conditions and evaluate a series of improvements that Vogt and other members of Wood’s lab have been making to them, such as integrating sensors into the robots’ soft bodies. “The Phoenix Islands are very unexplored. We’re looking for new species of corals that nobody has ever seen anywhere else. We don’t know what our graspers will have to pick up on a given day, so it’s a great opportunity to see how they fare against different challenges in the field.”

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    Daniel Vogt holds the ‘squishy finger’ soft robots aboard Falkor. Credit: Schmidt Ocean Institute.

    Vogt, ever the tinkerer, also brought with him something that the Red Sea voyage did not have on board: two off-the-shelf 3D printers. Taking feedback directly from the biologists and the ROV pilots about what the soft robot could and could not do, Vogt was able to print new components overnight and try them in the field the next day – something that rarely happens even on land. “It’s really a novel thing, to be able to iterate based on input in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, with no lab in sight. We noticed, for example, that the samples we tried to grasp were often on rock instead of sand, making it difficult for the soft fingers to reach underneath the sample for a good grip. In the latest iteration of the gripper, ‘fingernails’ were added to improve grasping in these situations.” The ultimate goal of building better and better underwater soft robots is to be able to conduct research on samples underwater at their natural depth and temperature, rather than bringing them up to the surface, as this will paint a more accurate picture of what is happening out of sight in the world’s oceans.

    PIPA may be somewhat insulated from the threats of warming oceans and pollution thanks to its remoteness and deep waters, but the people of Kiribati, the island nation that contains and administers PIPA, are not. The researchers visited the island of Kanton, population 25, a few days into their trip to meet the local people and learn about their lives in a country where dry land makes up less than 1% of its total area – a true oceanic nation. “The people were very nice, very welcoming. There is one ship that comes every six months to deliver supplies; everything else they get from the sea,” says Vogt (locals are allowed to fish for subsistence). “They’re also going to be one of the first nations affected by rising sea levels, because the highest point on the whole island is three meters (ten feet). They know that they live in a special place, but they’re preparing for the day when they’ll have to leave their home. The whole community has bought land on Fiji, where they’ll move once Kanton becomes uninhabitable.”

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    Daniel Vogt tests the squishy fingers on the forearm of CUNY biologist David Gruber, who spearheaded their development along with Wyss Faculty member Rob Wood. Credit: Schmidt Ocean Institute.

    Research that brings scientists from different fields together to elucidate the world’s remaining unknowns and solve its toughest problems is gaining popularity, and may be the best chance humanity has to ensure its own survival. “One of the most eye-opening part of the trip has been interacting with people from different backgrounds and seeing the scientific challenges they face, which are very different from the challenges that the mechanical and electrical engineers I’m with most of the time have to solve,” says Vogt. “I’ve been amazed by the technology that’s on Falkor related to the ROV and all the scientific tools aboard. The ROV SuBastian is one-of-a-kind, with numerous tools, cameras and sensors aboard as well as an advanced underwater positioning system. It takes a lot of engineers to create and operate something like that, and then a lot of biologists to interpret the results and analyze the 400+ samples which were collected during the cruise.”

    Vogt says he spent a lot of time listening to the biologists and the ROV pilots in order to modify the gripper’s design according to their feedback. The latest version of the gripper was fully designed and manufactured on the boat, and was used during the last dive to successfully sample a variety of sea creatures. He and Wood plan to write several papers detailing the results of his experiments in the coming months.

    “We’re very excited that what started as a conversation between a roboticist and a marine biologist at a conference three years ago has blossomed into a project that solves a significant problem in the real world, and can aid researchers in understanding and preserving our oceans’ sea life,” says Wood.

    Additional videos detailing Vogt’s voyage, including the ship’s log, can be found here.

    See the full article here .

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    Wyss Institute campus

    The Wyss (pronounced “Veese”) Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering uses Nature’s design principles to develop bioinspired materials and devices that will transform medicine and create a more sustainable world.

    Working as an alliance among Harvard’s Schools of Medicine, Engineering, and Arts & Sciences, and in partnership with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston Children’s Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital, the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, Tufts University, and Boston University, the Institute crosses disciplinary and institutional barriers to engage in high-risk research that leads to transformative technological breakthroughs.

     
  • richardmitnick 8:33 am on October 19, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: All important research in what is a chipping away of the many unknowns in the stories of the origins of Earth and the origin of life, , , Flow of electrons (electricity) from the core of the Earth, Geobiochemistry, , Marine Biology,   

    From Many Worlds: “2.5 Billions Years of Earth History in 100 Square Feet’ 

    NASA NExSS bloc

    NASA NExSS

    Many Words icon

    Many Worlds

    2017-10-19
    Marc Kaufman

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    Scalding hot water from an underground thermal spring creates an iron-rich environment similar to what existed on Earth 2.5 billion years ago. (Nerissa Escanlar)

    Along the edge of an inlet on a tiny Japanese island can be found– side by side – striking examples of conditions on Earth some 2.4 billion years ago, then 1.4 billion years ago and then the Philippine Sea of today.

    First is a small channel with iron red, steaming and largely oxygen-free water – filled from below with bubbling liquid above 160 degrees F. This was Earth as it would have existed, in a general way, as oxygen was becoming more prevalent on our planet some 2.4 billion years ago. Microbes exist, but life is spare at best.

    Right next to this ancient scene is region of green-red water filled with cyanobacteria – the single-cell creatures that helped bring masses of oxygen into our atmosphere and oceans. Locals come to this natural “onsen” for traditional hot baths, but they have to make their way carefully because the rocky floor is slippery with green mats of the bacteria.

    And then there is the Philippine Sea, cool but with spurts of warm water shooting up from below into the cove.

    All of this within a area of maybe 100 square feet.

    It is a unique hydrothermal scene, and one recently studied by two researchers from the Earth-Life Science Institute in Tokyo – microbiologist Shawn McGlynn and ancient virus specialist Tomohiro Mochizuki.

    They were taking measurements of temperature, salinity and more, as well as samples of the hot gas and of microbial life in the iron-red water. Cyanobacterial mats are collected in the greener water, along with other visible microbe worlds.

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    Microbiologist Shawn McGlynn of the Earth Life Science Institute in Tokyo scoops some iron-rich water from a channel on Shikine-jima Island, 100 miles from Tokyo. (Nerissa Escanlar)

    The scientific goals are to answer specific questions – are the bubbles the results of biology or of geochemical processes? What are the isotopic signatures of the gases? What microbes and viruses live in the super-hot sections? And can cyanobacteria and iron co-exist?

    All are connected, though, within the broad scientific effort underway to ever more specifically understand conditions on Earth through the eons, and how those conditions can help answer fundamental questions of how life might have begun.

    “We really don’t know what microbiology looked like 2.5 billion or 1.5 billion years ago,” said McGlynn, “But this is a place we can go where we can try to find out. It’s a remarkable site for going back in time.”

    In particular, there are not many natural environments with high levels of dissolved iron like this site. Yet scientists know from the rock record that there were periods of Earth history when the oceans were similarly filled with iron.

    Mochizuki elaborated: “We’re trying to figure out what was possible chemically and biologically under certain conditions long ago.

    “If you have something happening now at this unusual place – with the oxygen and iron mixing in the hot water to turn the water red – then there’s a chance that what we find today was there as well billions of years ago. ”

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    Tomohiro Mochizuki at collecting samples directly from the spot where 160 degree F water pushes up through the rock at Jinata hot spring. (Nerissa Escanlar)

    The Jinata hot springs, as the area is known, is on Shikine-jima Island, one of the furthest out in the Izu chain of islands that starts in Tokyo Bay. More than 100 miles from Tokyo itself, Shikine-jima is nonetheless part of Tokyo Prefecture.

    The Izu islands are all volcanic, created by the underwater movements of the Philippine and Pacific tectonic plates. That boundary remains in flux, and thus the hot springs and volcanoes. The terrain can be pretty rugged: in English, Jinata translates to something like Earth Hatchet, since the hot spring is at the end of a path through what does look like a rock rising that had been cut through with a hatchet.

    Hot springs and underwater thermal vents have loomed large in thinking about origins of life since it became known in recent decades that both generally support abundant life – microbial and larger – and supply nutrients and even energy in the form of electricity from vents and electron transfers from chemical reactions.

    And so not surprisingly, vents are visited and sampled not infrequently by ELSI scientists. McGlynn was on another hydrothermal vent field trip in Iceland over the summer with, among others, ELSI Origins Network fellow Donato Gionovelli and ELSI principal investigator and electrochemist Ruyhei Nakamura..

    McGlynn’s work is focused on how electrons flow between elements and compounds, a transfer that he sees as a basic architecture for all life. With so many compelling flows occurring in such a small space, Jinata is a superb laboratory.

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    The volcanic Izu island chain, starting in Tokyo Bay and going out into the Philippine Sea.

    For Mochizuki, the site turned out to be exciting but definitely not a goldmine. That’s because his speciality is viruses that live at very high temperatures, and even the bubbling hot spring in the iron trench measured about 73 degrees C (163 degrees F.) The viruses he incubates live at temperatures between closer to 90 C (194 F), not far from the boiling point.

    His goal in studying these high-temperature (hyperthermophilic) viruses is to look back to the earliest days of life forming on Earth, using viruses as his navigators. Since life is thought by many scientists to have begun in a super hot RNA world, Mochizuki wants to look at viruses still living in those conditions today to see what they can tell us.

    So far, he explained, what they have told us is that the RNA in the earliest lifeforms on Earth – denizens of the Archaean kingdom – did not have viruses. And this is puzzling.

    So Mochizuki is always interested in going to sample hot springs and thermal vents to collect high temperature viruses, and to look for surprises.

    Though the bubbling waters were so hot that both researchers had difficulty standing in the water with boots on and holding their collection vials with gloves, it was not hot enough for what Mochizuki is after. But that certainly didn’t stop him from taking as many samples as he could, including some for other ELSI researchers doing different work but still needing interesting samples.

    Researchers often need to be inventive on field trips, and that was certainly the case at Jinata. When McGlynn first tried to sample the bubbles at the scalding spring, his hands and feet quickly felt on fire and he had to retreat.

    To speed the process, he and Mochizuki built a funnel out of a large plastic water bottle, a device that allowed the bubbles to be collected and directed into the sample vial without the gloved hands being so close to the heat. The booted feet, however, remained a problem and the heat just had to be endured.

    Nearby the steaming bubbling of the hot spring were collections of what appeared to be fine etchings on the bottom of the red channel. These faint designs, McGlynn explained, were the product of a microbe that makes it’s way along the bottom and deposits lines of processed iron oxide as it goes. So while the elegant designs are not organic, the creatures that creates them surely is.

    “Touch the area and the lines go poof,” McGlynn said. “That’s because they’re just the iron oxide; nothing more. Next to us is the water with much less iron and a lot more oxygen, and so there are blooms of (green) cyanobacteria. Touch them and they don’t go poof, they stick to your hand because they’re alive.”

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    Patterns created by microbes as they deposit iron oxide at the bottom of small channel. (Marc Kaufman)

    McGlynn also collects some of the the poofs to get at the microbes making the unusual etchings. It may be a microbe never identified before.

    As a microbiologist, he is of course interested in identifying and classifying microbes. He initially thought the microbes in the iron channel would be anaerobic, but he found that even tiny amount of oxygen making their way into the springs from the atmosphere made most aerobic, or possibly anaerobes capable of surviving with oxygen (which usually is toxic to them.)

    He also found that laboratory studies that found cyanobacteria would not flourish in the presence of iron were not accurate in nature, or certainly were not accurate at Jinata onsen.

    But it is that flow of electrons that really drives McGlynn – he even dreams of them at night, he told me.

    One of the goals of his work, and that of his colleague and sometimes collaborator at ELSI, geobiochemist Yuichiro Ueno, is to answer some of the outstanding questions about that flow of electrons (electricity) from the core of the Earth. The energy transits through the mantle, to the surface and then often is in contact with the biosphere (all living things) before it enters the atmosphere and sometimes disappears into space.

    He likened the process to the workings of a gigantic battery, with the iron core as the cathode and the oxygen in the atmosphere as the anode. Understanding the chemical pathways traveled by the electrons today, he is convinced, will tell a great deal about conditions on the early Earth as well.

    It’s all important research in what is a chipping away of the many unknowns in the stories of the origins of Earth and the origin of life.

    6
    A boundary between where the very hot iron-rich water meets and the less hot water with thriving cyanobacteria colonies at Jinata.

    The field work also illustrated the hit-and-miss nature of these kind of outings. While McGlynn has not come up with Jinata surprises or novel understandings, he was so taken with the setting that he wondered if a seemly empty building not too far from the site could be turned into an ELSI marine lab.

    And while Mochizuki did not find sufficiently hot water for his work, he might still be coming back to the island, or others nearby. That’s because he learned of a potentially much hotter spring at a spot where the sea hits one of the island’s steep cliffs – a site that requires boat access that was unsafe in the choppy waters during this particular visit.

    In addition, McGlynn and Mochizuki did make some surprising discoveries, though they didn’t involve microbes, electron transfer or viruses.

    During a morning visit to a different hot spring, they came across a team of what turned out to be officials of the Izu islands – all dressed in suits and ties. They were visiting Shikine-jima as part of a series of joint islands visit to assess economic development opportunities.

    The officials were intrigued to learn what the scientists were up to, and made some suggestions of other spots to sample. One was an island occupied by Japanese self-defense forces and generally closed to outsiders. But the island is known to have areas of extremely hot water just below the surface of the land, sometimes up to 100 C (212 F.)

    The officials gave their cards and told the scientists to contact them if they wanted to get onto that island for sampling. And as for the official from Shikine-jima, he was already thinking big.

    “It would be a very good thing,” he said, “if you found the origin of life on our island.

    See the full article here .

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    About Many Worlds

    There are many worlds out there waiting to fire your imagination.

    Marc Kaufman is an experienced journalist, having spent three decades at The Washington Post and The Philadelphia Inquirer, and is the author of two books on searching for life and planetary habitability. While the “Many Worlds” column is supported by the Lunar Planetary Institute/USRA and informed by NASA’s NExSS initiative, any opinions expressed are the author’s alone.

    This site is for everyone interested in the burgeoning field of exoplanet detection and research, from the general public to scientists in the field. It will present columns, news stories and in-depth features, as well as the work of guest writers.

    About NExSS

    The Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS) is a NASA research coordination network dedicated to the study of planetary habitability. The goals of NExSS are to investigate the diversity of exoplanets and to learn how their history, geology, and climate interact to create the conditions for life. NExSS investigators also strive to put planets into an architectural context — as solar systems built over the eons through dynamical processes and sculpted by stars. Based on our understanding of our own solar system and habitable planet Earth, researchers in the network aim to identify where habitable niches are most likely to occur, which planets are most likely to be habitable. Leveraging current NASA investments in research and missions, NExSS will accelerate the discovery and characterization of other potentially life-bearing worlds in the galaxy, using a systems science approach.
    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 with a distinctly civilian (rather than military) orientation encouraging peaceful applications in space science. The National Aeronautics and Space Act was passed on July 29, 1958, disestablishing NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The new agency became operational on October 1, 1958.

    Since that time, most U.S. space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo moon-landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. Currently, NASA is supporting the International Space Station and is overseeing the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Commercial Crew vehicles. The agency is also responsible for the Launch Services Program (LSP) which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for unmanned NASA launches. Most recently, NASA announced a new Space Launch System that it said would take the agency’s astronauts farther into space than ever before and lay the cornerstone for future human space exploration efforts by the U.S.

    NASA science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System, advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Research Program, exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic missions such as New Horizons, and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories [Hubble, Chandra, Spitzer, and associated programs. NASA shares data with various national and international organizations such as from the [JAXA]Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.

     
  • richardmitnick 11:02 am on October 18, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: A seaweed protein that seems to be active against the H1N1 flu, , , Charting the movement of king crabs up the Antarctic Slope as ocean temperatures rise, Hearing scientists talk about how climate change is threatening the breathtaking landscape and wildlife can bring people to tears, Marine Biology, , , Palmer Station, Science at Antarctica, The discovery of chemicals contained in seaweed and sponges that may hold promise for treatment of melanoma and the deadly MRSA bacterium that is resistant to many antibiotics, The discovery of the ozone hole over Antarctica in the 1980s when scientists released a paper detailing how the protective layer between earth and the sun was thinning, , You don’t come back from Antarctica the same way you left   

    From UCSC: “Into the heart of a frozen continent” James McClintock 

    UC Santa Cruz

    UC Santa Cruz

    October 17, 2017
    Peggy Townsend

    1
    James McClintock has made 15 journeys to Antarctica.

    Looking through a three-foot-wide dive hole into the frigid blue waters of Antarctica, James McClintock saw something he’d never witnessed before. A passing shrimp-like amphipod appeared to be carrying a tiny orange pack on its back.

    Intrigued, McClintock, then a young assistant professor of polar and marine biology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, scooped up the creature and took it back to the lab at McMurdo Station where he and a fish biologist teased the pack from the creature’s back.

    To their stunned surprise, the orange pack opened up and flew away.

    The tiny sea butterfly, which had been captured and held by the amphipod, turned out to contain an unpalatable chemical that kept the crustacean from becoming lunch for some hungry fish. Its discovery not only landed McClintock in the pages of the prestigious journal Nature but also launched a career that has made him a something of scientific rock star.

    McClintock (biology, ’78, Cowell) has published 265 scientific papers, written two books, spoken about his work in front of 1,000 people at a Moth storytelling event at Lincoln Center in New York City, and had a point in McMurdo Sound in Antarctica named after him by the U.S. Board of Geographic Names in honor of his work. More importantly, his research in Antarctica has included studies on ocean acidification, the effects of climate change on marine life, and the discovery of chemicals contained in seaweed and sponges that may hold promise for treatment of melanoma and the deadly MRSA bacterium that is resistant to many antibiotics.

    If not for two professors at UC Santa Cruz, his story might have been very different.

    Arriving at the wooded campus from Santa Barbara with the idea of studying English, McClintock remembers becoming intrigued when a Cowell College core course in biology turned to talk of marine invertebrates. He soon signed up for an invertebrate zoology course taught by John Pearse and Todd Newberry, now both emeritus professors in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology, which focused on these amazing and adaptable creatures.

    As McClintock tells it, “John is this amazing teacher who has a way of grabbing you by the soul.”

    Pearse, for his part, recommended that McClintock spend a semester at a UC marine research lab in Bodega Bay studying sea stars and sea urchins.

    “Jim was a self-starter,” remembers Pearse, who later invited McClintock to accompany him to Antarctic as a post-doctoral researcher. “He was very curious and outgoing.”

    But if Pearse grabbed McClintock’s soul, Antarctica took his heart. He’s been there 15 times as a researcher and 10 times as lead lecturer for an annual philanthropic cruise focused on climate change organized by the ship line, Abercrombie and Kent. Listen to him talk by phone from his campus office in Birmingham and his description of Antarctica is close to poetic.

    “The scale of the landscape is absolutely stunning,” he says. Mountain ranges that appear close enough to touch are actually hundreds of miles away. The sea surface, glassy and calm one minute, can be lifted into the air by hurricane-force winds a few moments later, while the ice is alive with unimaginable shades of blue and green.

    “You don’t come back from Antarctica the same way you left,” he says.

    His research trips, the last 25 years of which have been funded with grants from the National Science Foundation, have included a collaboration with Bill Baker, a marine natural products chemist from the University of South Florida, and Charles Amsler, a seaweed biologist also from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

    Working out of remote Palmer Station, the trio has focused on defense mechanisms developed by invertebrates and seaweed involving chemicals that are unpalatable and sometimes toxic to their predators. The research also has had implications for drug development including the discovery of a substance in sea squirts that appears to fight melanoma and a seaweed protein that seems to be active against the H1N1 flu, which sparked a 2009 pandemic. Most recently, the group found a compound in an Antarctic sponge that could help in the treatment of a specific type of the deadly MRSA bacteria.

    Meanwhile, McClintock, along with his colleague Richard Aronson at the Florida Institute of Technology, is also charting the movement of king crabs up the Antarctic Slope as ocean temperatures rise. The arrival of these claw-equipped predators on the Antarctic Shelf could cause incredible damage to a pristine sea floor where rare invertebrates like sponges and anemones thrive, he says.

    But if the excitement of discovery is what brings McClintock back to Antarctica, it is the rapid changes he’s witnessed there makes him worry for our future.

    He’s studied the impacts of ocean acidification and watched a glacier that used to calve once a week now release chunks of ice four to five times a day, he says.

    “You can look across from Palmer (Station) and see the ghost rookeries where, 45 years ago, there were 15,000 breeding pairs” of Adélie penguins, says McClintock by telephone from Birmingham where he is now an endowed university professor of polar and marine biology. “Now there are 1,500 breeding pairs, which means 90 percent are gone, and we know very confidently it is because of climate change.”

    The seabirds, he explains, lay their eggs the same week each year but because of climate change, unseasonable snowstorms sometimes bury the colony and when the snow melts, the penguin eggs and chicks drown.

    That’s one of the reasons, he says, he has shepherded 200 well-heeled cruise-ship passengers to the Antarctic each year for the past decade.

    Experiencing a beach filled with a mass of penguins that have no fear of humans and will often wander up to inspect their two-legged visitors, seeing humpbacks surface, and hearing scientists talk about how climate change is threatening the breathtaking landscape and wildlife can bring people to tears, he says.

    “These people go home as ambassadors for Antarctica. They talk to senators and politicians about climate change,” McClintock says.

    That outreach has made him understand the importance of scientists letting their voices be heard. He helped start a website, UAB in Antarctica, which allows lay people an up-close look at scientific research; has traveled across the country speaking to students from third grade to college, and has lectured in front of groups including the famed Explorers Club. In fact, he says, since the United States pulled out of the Paris Accord, which laid out a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, his requests for climate-change talks have increased.

    Yet, his message, he says, is also hopeful.

    He likes to tell the story of the discovery of the ozone hole over Antarctica in the 1980s, when scientists released a paper detailing how the protective layer between earth and the sun was thinning.

    “What I like to tell people is that within several years of one of the most important papers of the 20th century,” McClintock says, “we had 20 countries sitting around a table in Montreal and they OK’d the Montreal Protocol” which phased out products that were harmful to the ozone layer. The treaty has now been ratified by 197 parties.

    Last year, McClintock says, a new paper showed that rather than expanding, the ozone hole is shrinking.

    “That’s what I leave audiences with,” McClintock says. “That maybe we can get together and figure this out after all.”

    See the full article here .

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    UCO Lick Shane Telescope
    UCO Lick Shane Telescope interior
    Shane Telescope at UCO Lick Observatory, UCSC

    Lick Automated Planet Finder telescope, Mount Hamilton, CA, USA

    Lick Automated Planet Finder telescope, Mount Hamilton, CA, USA

    UC Santa Cruz campus
    The University of California, Santa Cruz, opened in 1965 and grew, one college at a time, to its current (2008-09) enrollment of more than 16,000 students. Undergraduates pursue more than 60 majors supervised by divisional deans of humanities, physical & biological sciences, social sciences, and arts. Graduate students work toward graduate certificates, master’s degrees, or doctoral degrees in more than 30 academic fields under the supervision of the divisional and graduate deans. The dean of the Jack Baskin School of Engineering oversees the campus’s undergraduate and graduate engineering programs.

    UCSC is the home base for the Lick Observatory.

    Lick Observatory's Great Lick 91-centimeter (36-inch) telescope housed in the South (large) Dome of main building
    Lick Observatory’s Great Lick 91-centimeter (36-inch) telescope housed in the South (large) Dome of main building

    Search for extraterrestrial intelligence expands at Lick Observatory
    New instrument scans the sky for pulses of infrared light
    March 23, 2015
    By Hilary Lebow
    1
    The NIROSETI instrument saw first light on the Nickel 1-meter Telescope at Lick Observatory on March 15, 2015. (Photo by Laurie Hatch) UCSC Lick Nickel telescope

    Astronomers are expanding the search for extraterrestrial intelligence into a new realm with detectors tuned to infrared light at UC’s Lick Observatory. A new instrument, called NIROSETI, will soon scour the sky for messages from other worlds.

    “Infrared light would be an excellent means of interstellar communication,” said Shelley Wright, an assistant professor of physics at UC San Diego who led the development of the new instrument while at the University of Toronto’s Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics.

    Wright worked on an earlier SETI project at Lick Observatory as a UC Santa Cruz undergraduate, when she built an optical instrument designed by UC Berkeley researchers. The infrared project takes advantage of new technology not available for that first optical search.

    Infrared light would be a good way for extraterrestrials to get our attention here on Earth, since pulses from a powerful infrared laser could outshine a star, if only for a billionth of a second. Interstellar gas and dust is almost transparent to near infrared, so these signals can be seen from great distances. It also takes less energy to send information using infrared signals than with visible light.

    5
    UCSC alumna Shelley Wright, now an assistant professor of physics at UC San Diego, discusses the dichroic filter of the NIROSETI instrument. (Photo by Laurie Hatch)

    Frank Drake, professor emeritus of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz and director emeritus of the SETI Institute, said there are several additional advantages to a search in the infrared realm.

    “The signals are so strong that we only need a small telescope to receive them. Smaller telescopes can offer more observational time, and that is good because we need to search many stars for a chance of success,” said Drake.

    The only downside is that extraterrestrials would need to be transmitting their signals in our direction, Drake said, though he sees this as a positive side to that limitation. “If we get a signal from someone who’s aiming for us, it could mean there’s altruism in the universe. I like that idea. If they want to be friendly, that’s who we will find.”

    Scientists have searched the skies for radio signals for more than 50 years and expanded their search into the optical realm more than a decade ago. The idea of searching in the infrared is not a new one, but instruments capable of capturing pulses of infrared light only recently became available.

    “We had to wait,” Wright said. “I spent eight years waiting and watching as new technology emerged.”

    Now that technology has caught up, the search will extend to stars thousands of light years away, rather than just hundreds. NIROSETI, or Near-Infrared Optical Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, could also uncover new information about the physical universe.

    “This is the first time Earthlings have looked at the universe at infrared wavelengths with nanosecond time scales,” said Dan Werthimer, UC Berkeley SETI Project Director. “The instrument could discover new astrophysical phenomena, or perhaps answer the question of whether we are alone.”

    NIROSETI will also gather more information than previous optical detectors by recording levels of light over time so that patterns can be analyzed for potential signs of other civilizations.

    “Searching for intelligent life in the universe is both thrilling and somewhat unorthodox,” said Claire Max, director of UC Observatories and professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz. “Lick Observatory has already been the site of several previous SETI searches, so this is a very exciting addition to the current research taking place.”

    NIROSETI will be fully operational by early summer and will scan the skies several times a week on the Nickel 1-meter telescope at Lick Observatory, located on Mt. Hamilton east of San Jose.

    The NIROSETI team also includes Geoffrey Marcy and Andrew Siemion from UC Berkeley; Patrick Dorval, a Dunlap undergraduate, and Elliot Meyer, a Dunlap graduate student; and Richard Treffers of Starman Systems. Funding for the project comes from the generous support of Bill and Susan Bloomfield.

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  • richardmitnick 1:51 pm on September 14, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , Marine Biology   

    From EPFL: “Unexpected facets of Antarctica emerge from the labs” 

    EPFL bloc

    École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne EPFL

    14.09.17
    Sarah Perrin

    1
    the Akademik Treshnikov Russian icebreaker

    Six months after the Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition ended, the teams that ran the 22 scientific projects are hard at work sorting through the many samples they collected. Some preliminary findings were announced during a conference in Crans Montana organized by the Swiss Polar Institute, who just appointed Konrad Steffen as new scientific director (see the interview below).

    Nearly 30,000 samples were taken during the Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition (ACE). And now, barely six months after the voyage ended, the research teams tasked with analyzing the samples have already produced some initial figures and findings. These were presented in Crans Montana during a conference put together earlier this week by the Swiss Polar Institute (SPI), the EPFL-based entity that ran the expedition. The event, called “High altitudes meet high latitudes,” brought together world-renowned experts in polar and alpine research in an exercise aimed at highlighting the many similarities between these two fields of study.

    Over the course of three months – from December 2016 to March 2017 – 160 researchers from 23 different countries sailed around the Great White Continent on board a Russian icebreaker. They ran 22 research projects in an effort to learn more about the impact of climate change on these fragile and little-known regions. The valuable samples, taken from the Southern Ocean, the atmosphere and a handful of remote islands, are now back at the labs of the 73 scientific institutions involved in the expedition.

    1
    The route of the ACE expedition.

    Most of the teams that ran the 22 projects are still carrying out the preliminary task of sorting through and identifying the samples, which means the initial results are necessarily incomplete and provisional. It is only later that the samples will be analyzed. Some important observations can nevertheless be made at this stage.

    A solid database

    The sum total of the samples collected represents an impressive and valuable database. The SPI must now come up with ways to organize, group and present the data so that researchers can readily access and make use of it. What’s more, “the large number of potential collaborations and exchanges between projects is becoming clear,” says David Walton, the chief scientist on the expedition. “Some research projects have been found to have links with as much as nine others.” And some startling figures have already been released – here is a look at just a few of them.

    For the SubIce project, around 100 meters of ice cores were taken on five subantarctic islands and the Mertz Glacier, which sits on the edge of the Antarctic continent. The chemical composition of the cores will be analyzed in an attempt to trace climate change over recent decades. In some places, like Balleny, Peter 1st or Bouvet Islands, it was the first time an ice sample had ever been taken. “Of all the islands where we were able to take samples, that last one was the farthest from the continent,” says Liz Thomas, from British Antarctic Survey. “It’s also the island where the ice in the samples is the most granular. Our findings confirm significant seasonal variations at this location.”

    The air on the continent is so pure that even the hottest cup of tea does not produce any steam. “No particles, no clouds,” explains Julia Schmale, a researcher with the Paul-Scherrer-Institute who measured for aerosols – tiny chemical particles like grains of sand, dust, pollen, soot, sulfuric acid, and so on – throughout the expedition. These particles attach to water molecules and aggregate to form clouds. On Mertz Glacier, her measurements revealed aerosol levels below 100 particles per cm3, which is less than the level found in a cleanroom.

    Christel Hassler and her team, from the University of Geneva, studied bacteria and virus populations in the Southern Ocean. The team took some 170 samples from all around the continent. For the time being, their work consists in isolating and culturing the numerous cells found in the samples. “We will then analyze their DNA in order to identify them,” says Marion Fourquez, a marine biologist. “That will show us whether we have come across any new bacterial strains that have yet never been observed in this region.”

    2
    Bacteria collected on the sedimental floor beneath Mertz glacier, on the Antarctic continent, as part of Christel Hassler’s project (University of Geneva). ©M.Fourquez.

    One of the subsequent lines of research will be to determine their geographical distribution. The researchers will be able to tell if there’s a link between the presence of a given bacterium and that of other microorganisms by comparing their data with data from other projects, like Nicolas Cassar’s. Cassar, from Duke University in the United States, measured concentrations of phytoplankton, which sit at the very bottom of the region’s food chain. “This approach worked out well, and we have nearly continuous samples from along the entire route,” says Walton.

    More than 3,000 whales

    Brian Miller, from the Australian Antarctic Division, was interested in somewhat larger animals. For his project, he used a piece of sophisticated acoustic equipment to listen for and count the number of whales in the Southern Ocean. Walton notes: “In around 500 hours of recordings, the researchers counted for example over 3,000 individual blue whales, although we actually saw only three or so at the surface.” These cetaceans appear to be particularly plentiful in the depths of the Ross Sea.

    Peter Ryan, from the University of Cape Town in South Africa, observed and counted bird populations. He discovered that one of the largest colonies of king penguins, on Pig Island in the Crozet archipelago, had declined drastically – he estimates the numerical loss to be around 75%. “That’s around half a million animals,” says Walton. “We don’t know if they’ve died or migrated to other colonies, like the one in St. Andrews Bay, in South Georgia, which is actually in a growth phase.”

    More complete and detailed results will be published in the coming months.

    Detailed information on SPI and ACE can be found on http://spi-ace-expedition.ch

    __________________________________________________________________________

    “We urgently need to coordinate our efforts.”

    3
    Konrad Steffen, a glaciologist and the new scientific director of the Swiss Polar Institute (SPI), has been involved in polar research for the past 40 years. His work has focused primarily on the Arctic, particularly the changes taking place within Greenland’s ice sheet. He is also a professor at ETH Zurich and director of the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL.

    Professor Steffen, why is the Swiss Polar Institute so necessary today?

    Research in this field tended to be conducted by small groups that organized their own expeditions and ran their own projects. In Switzerland, there had never been any kind of initiative aimed at coordinating all this work. The effects of climate change on polar and alpine regions are now so evident that we urgently need to coordinate our efforts and conduct cross-disciplinary research. This is what we did with the ACE project, where researchers from fields like oceanography, glaciology and biology came together in an attempt to improve our understanding of the climate-change process in a region.

    What for you is the top priority when it comes to the polar regions?

    At the SPI, one of our aims is to devise a strategic plan within the scientific community. More personally, I think that we urgently need to assess the mass balance of ice sheets across the globe. That’s what will have the greatest and swiftest impact in terms of rising sea levels and changes to our coastlines. Instead of studying individual glaciers in the Alps, we need to look at the bigger picture and observe in detail how the atmosphere interacts with large ice sheets, such as those in Greenland and the Antarctic. We need to connect the dots to see how the system as a whole is affected.

    What made the ACE such an innovative expedition?

    There have been many scientific expeditions to the Antarctic, but they usually only cover part of the continent. This was the first time that an expedition went all the way around the continent in one three-month period, studying all the oceans during the same season. That provides a fuller picture of the issues, such as microplastics – during the trip, we really saw that they were everywhere! The expedition also served up attractive career opportunities for budding young scientists and enabled several research groups to establish long-term partnerships.

    Are any other expeditions in the pipeline?

    Yes, the next one is planned for 2019. The aim is to sail around Greenland. We are in the process of looking for a vessel and determining what sort of research will be undertaken during the trip.

    __________________________________________________________________________

    See the full article here .

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    EPFL campus

    EPFL is Europe’s most cosmopolitan technical university with students, professors and staff from over 120 nations. A dynamic environment, open to Switzerland and the world, EPFL is centered on its three missions: teaching, research and technology transfer. EPFL works together with an extensive network of partners including other universities and institutes of technology, developing and emerging countries, secondary schools and colleges, industry and economy, political circles and the general public, to bring about real impact for society.

     
  • richardmitnick 12:34 pm on August 18, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: A bioengineering class helped Stanford researchers understand coral bleaching and more, Aiptasia, , , Marine Biology, , , Team Traptasia   

    From Stanford: “A bioengineering class helped Stanford researchers understand coral bleaching and more” 

    Stanford University Name
    Stanford University

    August 16, 2017
    Nathan Collins

    1
    Polly Fordyce (left), assistant professor of bioengineering and of genetics, and graduate students Louai Labanieh, Sarah Lensch and Diego Oyarzun discuss the design of a microfluidic device built to study coral bleaching. The device was designed and built as part of Fordyce’s graduate-level microfluidics course. (Image credit: Courtesy Polly Fordyce)

    Team Traptasia had a problem: The tiny baby sea anemones they were trying to ensnare are, unlike their adult forms, surprisingly powerful swimmers. They are also, as team member and chemical engineering graduate student Daniel Hunt put it, “pretty squishy little deformable things.” Previous attempts to trap the anemones, called Aiptasia, while keeping them alive long enough to study under a microscope had ended in gruesome, if teensy, failure.

    But Traptasia had to make it work. Cawa Tran, then a postdoctoral fellow, and her research into climate change’s effects on coral bleaching were depending on them. (Sea anemones, it turns out, are a close relative of corals, but easier to study.)

    And then there was the matter of the team’s grades to consider, along with the outcome of an experiment in the “democratization” of a powerful set of tools known as microfluidics.

    Democratizing science

    Team Traptasia was part of a microfluidics course dreamed up by Polly Fordyce, an assistant professor of genetics and of bioengineering and a Stanford ChEM-H faculty fellow.

    At the time, she was feeling a bit frustrated.

    “Microfluidics has the potential to be this really awesome tool,” Fordyce said. That’s because microfluidic devices shrink equipment that would normally fill a chemistry or biology lab bench down to the size of a large wristwatch, saving space and materials, not to mention time and money. They also open up entirely new ways to conduct biological research – trapping baby sea anemones and watching them under a microscope, for example. But making high-quality devices takes expertise and resources most labs don’t have.

    “There’s this big chasm between the bioengineers that develop devices and the biologists that want to use them,” Fordyce said. Bioengineers know how to design sophisticated devices and biologists have important questions to answer, but there is little overlap between the two.

    To bridge the gap, Fordyce invited biology labs to propose projects to students in her graduate-level microfluidics course. The idea, she said, was to give students real-world experience while giving labs access to technology they might not have the time, money or expertise to pursue otherwise.

    In fact, the desire to break down disciplinary boundaries was something that attracted her to Stanford and to ChEM-H in the first place. “One of the reasons that I came to Stanford and ChEM-H was that I really love the idea of having interdisciplinary institutes that attempt to cross the boundaries between disciplines,” she said.

    Ultimately, researchers from four labs took part, including Tran, who was working in the lab of John Pringle, a professor of genetics. Fordyce will be describing her experiences teaching that class in an upcoming paper, which she hopes will provide a blueprint for people eager to help others make use of microfluidics tools.

    Shrinky Dinks vs. Aiptasia

    Before linking up with Fordyce’s class, Tran had been working with Heather Cartwright, core imaging director at the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Department of Plant Biology. Together they tried a more do-it-yourself approach involving the children’s toy Shrinky Dinks, an approach first proposed by Michelle Khine at the University of California, Irvine.

    The effort did not work. “We got some movies. They were mostly end-of-life movies,” Cartwright said.

    If Tran and Cartwright managed to trap Aiptasia, their Shrinky Dink device crushed or twisted the sea anemones apart. So when Fordyce approached them to work with what would become Team Traptasia – graduate students Salil Bhate, Hunt, Louai Labanieh, Sarah Lensch and Will Van Treuren – and Stanford’s Microfluidics Foundry, they jumped at the chance.

    A non-smashing success

    Team Traptasia, Tran said, solved her problem “completely.”

    After several rounds of design, troubleshooting and testing, Team Traptasia built a microfluidic device that kept Aiptasia alive and healthy long enough to study. As a result, the researchers could actually watch the effects of rising water temperature and pollution on living sea anemones and their symbiotic algae – something that has never been done before. Tran, Cartwright and Team Traptasia will publish their findings soon, Tran said.

    Other teams helped labs design devices to study how the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis infects human cells, to trap and study placental cells, and to isolate single cells in tiny reaction chambers for detailed molecular biology studies.

    Tran said the device Team Traptasia came up with could provide opportunities for the Pringle lab, as well as in education. Now an assistant professor at California State University, Chico, Tran said she’ll be using the device with undergraduates there. “Basically, this device has given me the opportunity to train the next generation of biologists” in a new, research-focused way, she said.

    Hunt, the chemical engineering student in Team Traptasia, said that his own research on intestinal biology could benefit from microfluidics. “I’m hoping to take the expertise that I gained in the microfluidics design process to my own research,” he said. Hunt is working in the lab of Sarah Heilshorn, an associate professor of materials science and engineering.

    Those are exactly the kinds of results Fordyce had hoped for.

    “This year was successful beyond my dreams, and the reason is that the students in the course were incredibly creative and talented and driven,” Fordyce said. She also credits her graduate student and teaching assistant Kara Brower, who won a teaching award for her efforts. “She went way above and beyond what would be required of a TA and really helped imagine and develop the course,” Fordyce said.

    “If you put this forward as a model for people at other schools, that could actually make a difference,” both for students and the labs that could benefit from microfluidics, she said.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.
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    Stem Education Coalition

    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 1:44 pm on December 3, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Giant manta rays, Marine Biology, University of Queensland (AU)   

    From University of Queensland: “Giant rays shown to be predators of the deep” 

    u-queensland-bloc

    University of Queensland

    30 November 2016

    Ms Katherine Burgess, k.burgess@uq.edu.au, +61 452 447 667
    Professor Anthony Richardson, ajr@maths.uq.edu.au, +61 (0)467 771 869.

    1
    Giant mantas can grow up to seven metres across, weighing up to 1350kg, but the average size is four to five metres. Photo: Andrea Marshall

    Research revealing that giant manta rays are deep-sea predators is likely to be critical to efforts to protect the species.

    Giant manta rays had been known to feed on zooplankton near the ocean surface, but a new joint study by The University of Queensland and the Marine Megafauna Foundation has discovered they are also deep-ocean predators.

    UQ School of Biomedical Sciences PhD student Katherine Burgess said the giant manta ray was one of the marine world’s iconic animals, but little was known about its feeding habits.

    “The previous knowledge of giant manta ray diet was based on observations of feeding activity on surface water zooplankton at well-known aggregation sites,” Ms Burgess said.

    “Giant mantas are found in tropical and temperate waters worldwide. They can grow up to seven metres across, weighing up to 1350kg, although their average size is four to five metres.

    Ms Burgess said the study began in 2010 and focused on Isla de la Plata, off the Ecuador mainland, that seasonally hosted the world’s largest aggregation of giant manta rays.

    The giant manta ray is listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Endangered Species because its population has decreased drastically over the past 20 years due to overfishing.

    Ms Burgess said researchers normally looked at stomach contents to determine an animal’s diet, but such a potentially distressing or lethal procedure was not appropriate with a vulnerable species.

    “We studied the giant manta rays’ diet using biochemical tests, such as stable isotope analysis, which works on the ‘you are what you eat’ paradigm,” she said.

    “These tests can determine what animals have been eating by examining a piece of tissue from a muscle biopsy from a free-swimming animal.”

    Ms Burgess said the study suggested the majority of the giant manta rays’ diet was from deep sources rather than surface zooplankton.

    Professor Anthony Richardson, a scientist with UQ’s School of Mathematics and Physics and CSIRO’s Oceans and Atmosphere division, said the research found an average 27 per cent of the giant manta rays’ diets came from surface zooplankton and 73 per cent was from “mesopelagic” sources including fish from 200m to 1000m below the ocean surface.

    “The deep ocean is the next frontier for open ocean fisheries, and we are only just realising the potential reliance on this zone by threatened marine megafauna,” Professor Richardson said.

    The research, published in the Royal Society Open Science journal, was a collaboration between The University of Queensland, the Marine Megafauna Foundation and Proyecto Mantas Ecuador.

    See the full article here .

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    u-queensland-campus

    The University of Queensland (UQ) is one of Australia’s leading research and teaching institutions. We strive for excellence through the creation, preservation, transfer and application of knowledge. For more than a century, we have educated and worked with outstanding people to deliver knowledge leadership for a better world.

    UQ ranks in the top 50 as measured by the QS World University Rankings and the Performance Ranking of Scientific Papers for World Universities. The University also ranks 52 in the US News Best Global Universities Rankings, 60 in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings and 55 in the Academic Ranking of World Universities.

     
  • richardmitnick 9:03 am on April 22, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Giant plankton, Marine Biology   

    From CNRS: “Giant plankton gains long-due attention” 

    CNRS bloc

    The National Center for Scientific Research

    21 April 2016
    CNRS researcher l
    Fabrice Not l
    T +33 (0)2 98 29 25 37 l
    not@sb-roscoff.fr

    CNRS press officer l
    Priscilla Dacher l
    T +33 (0)1 44 96 46 06 / 51 51 l
    priscilla.dacher@cnrs-dir.fr

    1
    Deployment of the underwater camera used in this study.© Rainer Kiko, GEOMAR

    A team of marine biologists and oceanographers from CNRS, UPMC1 and the German organization GEOMAR have revealed the importance in all the world’s oceans of a group of large planktonic organisms called Rhizaria, which had previously been completely underestimated. According to their findings, these organisms make up 33% of the total abundance of large zooplankton in the world’s oceans, and account for 5% of the overall marine biomass. The study was carried out on samples collected during eleven oceanographic campaigns (2008-2013) covering the world’s main oceanic regions, and included the Tara Oceans expedition. It is published on 20 April 2016 on the website of the journal Nature (print edition 28 April2 ).
    Although invisible to the naked eye, marine plankton play a key role in the balance of our planet. Still largely unexplored, they consist of an astonishingly wide variety of tiny organisms that produce half the Earth’s oxygen and form the base of the oceanic food chain that feeds fish and marine mammals. Rhizarians, from their Latin name Rhizaria, are a group of large planktonic organisms whose importance had been overlooked until now. Most estimates of the distribution of marine organisms are performed locally (in a defined marine area) and are based on collection with plankton nets. However carefully carried out, this operation can damage certain fragile organisms such as rhizarians, preventing their identification.

    Marine biologists and oceanographers have pooled their skills with the aim of analyzing samples collected during eleven oceanographic campaigns from 2008 to 2013, using a less destructive method, namely an underwater camera deployed at depth. This in situ imaging system, which involved no collection, was used to study the organisms directly in their environment without damaging them. In all, sampling was carried out at 877 stations (corresponding to 1 454 immersions of the camera down to 1 500 meters), covering the world’s main oceanic regions. In total, the scientists analyzed 1.8 million images in order to quantify the abundance and biomass represented by Rhizaria3.

    The results were surprising: their estimates unequivocally show that Rhizaria make up more than a quarter of the total abundance of the world’s large zooplankton. They also found that they account for 5% of the total biomass in the oceans (taking into account all organisms, from plankton to whales). The presence of Rhizaria in all the planet’s oceans had previously been completely overlooked. However, they are unevenly distributed: these giant plankton are predominant in the nutrient-poor regions (located at the center of the large oceans) that cover most of the ocean area. This distribution could be explained by Rhizaria’s ability to live in association (symbiosis) with microalgae, just like coral. In symbiosis, the partnership between organisms is based on mutual exchange of food: by directly benefiting from the products of photosynthesis, Rhizaria are able to survive in nutrient-deficient waters. Plankton are gradually giving up their secrets, unveiling unsuspected wealth and diversity.

    2
    Three rhizarians (Rhizaria) seen through an optical microscope. The small yellow dots seen around the periphery of the organisms are symbiotic algae. Each organism has an average size of 0.2 to 1 centimeter. These types of Rhizaria are solitary and do not form colonies. 3 rhizarians © Tristan Biard, Station biologique de Roscoff (CNRS/UPMC)

    3
    Overall view of rhizarians forming colonies (seen in optical microscopy). Each white dot is an individual member of the colony. The colonies can reach a size of several centimeters. They were collected in the Mediterranean by the Observatoire Océanologique de Villefranche-sur-Mer. © Christian Sardet, Observatoire Océanologique de Villefranche (CNRS/UPMC)

    4
    A large solitary rhizarian (Rhizaria) (around 0.5 cm) seen through an optical microscope. The small yellow dots seen around the periphery of the organism’s cell are symbiotic algae. © Tristan Biard, Station biologique de Roscoff (CNRS/UPMC)

    Notes:

    1 In the “Adaptation et Diversité en Milieu Marin” laboratory (CNRS/UPMC) at the Station Biologique de Roscoff and the Laboratoire d’Océanographie de Villefranche (CNRS/UPMC) located at the Observatoire Océanologique de Villefranche (southeastern France).
    2 This work will be published in the print edition in the same issue of Nature as the study carried out by Guidi et al. (View web site)
    3 Those considered in this article have a size comprised between 600 µm (0.6 mm) and a few centimeters (which is large for plankton). The smallest and largest Rhizaria are therefore not taken into account in this study. These estimates are therefore likely to considerably underestimate their real contribution to biomass.
    Bibliography:

    In situ imaging reveals the biomass of giant protists in the global ocean, Tristan Biard, Lars Stemmann, Marc Picheral, Nicolas Mayot, Pieter Vandromme, Helena Hauss, Gabriel Gorsky, Lionel Guidi, Rainer Kiko & Fabrice Not. Nature, 20 April 2016. doi: 10.1038/nature17652

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    CNRS encourages collaboration between specialists from different disciplines in particular with the university thus opening up new fields of enquiry to meet social and economic needs. CNRS has developed interdisciplinary programs which bring together various CNRS departments as well as other research institutions and industry.

    Interdisciplinary research is undertaken in the following domains:

    Life and its social implications
    Information, communication and knowledge
    Environment, energy and sustainable development
    Nanosciences, nanotechnologies, materials
    Astroparticles: from particles to the Universe

     
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