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  • richardmitnick 10:14 am on March 16, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Deep-sea corals, Desmophyllum dianthus, Ocean studies, Study: Cold Climates and Ocean Carbon Sequestration, Why the earth goes through periodic climate change   

    From Caltech: “Study: Cold Climates and Ocean Carbon Sequestration” 

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    Tony Wang (left) and Jess Adkins (right) with samples of Desmophyllum dianthus fossils.

    Deep-sea corals reveal why atmospheric carbon was reduced during colder time periods

    We know a lot about how carbon dioxide (CO2) levels can drive climate change, but how about the way that climate change can cause fluctuations in CO2 levels? New research from an international team of scientists reveals one of the mechanisms by which a colder climate was accompanied by depleted atmospheric CO2 during past ice ages.

    The overall goal of the work is to better understand how and why the earth goes through periodic climate change, which could shed light on how man-made factors could affect the global climate.

    Earth’s average temperature has naturally fluctuated by about 4 to 5 degrees Celsius over the course of the past million years as the planet has cycled in and out of glacial periods. During that time, the earth’s atmospheric CO2 levels have fluctuated between roughly 180 and 280 parts per million (ppm) every 100,000 years or so. (In recent years, man-made carbon emissions have boosted that concentration up to over 400 ppm.)

    About 10 years ago, researchers noticed a close correspondence between the fluctuations in CO2 levels and in temperature over the last million years. When the earth is at its coldest, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is also at its lowest. During the most recent ice age, which ended about 11,000 years ago, global temperatures were 5 degrees Celsius lower than they are today, and atmospheric CO2 concentrations were at 180 ppm.

    Using a library of more than 10,000 deep-sea corals collected by Caltech’s Jess Adkins, an international team of scientists has shown that periods of colder climates are associated with higher phytoplankton efficiency and a reduction in nutrients in the surface of the Southern Ocean (the ocean surrounding the Antarctic), which is related to an increase in carbon sequestration in the deep ocean. A paper about their research appears the week of March 13 in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    “It is critical to understand why atmospheric CO2 concentration was lower during the ice ages. This will help us understand how the ocean will respond to ongoing anthropogenic CO2 emissions,” says Xingchen (Tony) Wang, lead author of the study. Wang was a graduate student at Princeton while conducting the research in the lab of Daniel Sigman, Dusenbury Professor of Geological and Geophysical Sciences. He is now a Simons Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow on the Origins of Life at Caltech.

    There is 60 times more carbon in the ocean than in the atmosphere—partly because the ocean is so big. The mass of the world’s oceans is roughly 270 times greater than that of the atmosphere. As such, the ocean is the greatest regulator of carbon in the atmosphere, acting as both a sink and a source for atmospheric CO2.

    Biological processes are the main driver of CO2 absorption from the atmosphere to the ocean. Just like photosynthesizing trees and plants on land, plankton at the surface of the sea turn CO2 into sugars that are eventually consumed by other creatures. As the sea creatures who consume those sugars—and the carbon they contain—die, they sink to the deep ocean, where the carbon is locked away from the atmosphere for a long time. This process is called the “biological pump.”

    A healthy population of phytoplankton helps lock away carbon from the atmosphere. In order to thrive, phytoplankton need nutrients—notably, nitrogen, phosphorus, and iron. In most parts of the modern ocean, phytoplankton deplete all of the available nutrients in the surface ocean, and the biological pump operates at maximum efficiency.

    However, in the modern Southern Ocean, there is a limited amount of iron—which means that there are not enough phytoplankton to fully consume the nitrogen and phosphorus in the surface waters. When there is less living biomass, there is also less that can die and sink to the bottom—which results in a decrease in carbon sequestration. The biological pump is not currently operating as efficiently as it theoretically could.

    To track the efficiency of the biological pump over the span of the past 40,000 years, Adkins and his colleagues collected more than 10,000 fossils of the coral Desmophyllum dianthus.

    Why coral? Two reasons: first, as it grows, coral accretes a skeleton around itself, precipitating calcium carbonate (CaCO3) and other trace elements (including nitrogen) out of the water around it. That process creates a rocky record of the chemistry of the ocean. Second, coral can be precisely dated using a combination of radiocarbon and uranium dating.

    “Finding a few centimeter-tall fossil corals 2,000 meters deep in the ocean is no trivial task,” says Adkins, Smits Family Professor of Geochemistry and Global Environmental Science at Caltech.

    Adkins and his colleagues collected coral from the relatively narrow (500-mile) gap known as the Drake Passage between South America and Antarctica (among other places). Because the Southern Ocean flows around Antarctica, all of its waters funnel through that gap—making the samples Adkins collected a robust record of the water throughout the Southern Ocean.

    Wang analyzed the ratios of two isotopes of nitrogen atoms in these corals – nitrogen-14 (14N, the most common variety of the atom, with seven protons and seven neutrons in its nucleus) and nitrogen-15 (15N, which has an extra neutron). When phytoplankton consume nitrogen, they prefer 14N to 15N. As a result, there is a correlation between the ratio of nitrogen isotopes in sinking organic matter (which the corals then eat as it falls to the seafloor) and how much nitrogen is being consumed in the surface ocean—and, by extension, the efficiency of the biological pump.

    A higher amount of 15N in the fossils indicates that the biological pump was operating more efficiently at that time. An analogy would be monitoring what a person eats in their home. If they are eating more of their less-liked foods, then one could assume that the amount of food in their pantry is running low.

    Indeed, Wang found that higher amounts of 15N were present in fossils corresponding to the last ice age, indicating that the biological pump was operating more efficiently during that time. As such, the evidence suggests that colder climates allow more biomass to grow in the surface Southern Ocean—likely because colder climates experience stronger winds, which can blow more iron into the Southern Ocean from the continents. That biomass consumes carbon, then dies and sinks, locking it away from the atmosphere.

    Adkins and his colleagues plan to continue probing the coral library for further details about the cycles of ocean chemistry changes over the past several hundred thousand years.

    The study is titled “Deep-sea coral evidence for lower Southern Ocean surface nitrate concentrations during the last ice age.” Coauthors include scientists from Caltech, Princeton University, Pomona College, the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany, University of Bristol, and ETH Zurich in Switzerland. This research was funded by the National Science Foundation, Princeton University, the European Research Council, and the Natural Environment Research Council.

    See the full article here .

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    The California Institute of Technology (commonly referred to as Caltech) is a private research university located in Pasadena, California, United States. Caltech has six academic divisions with strong emphases on science and engineering. Its 124-acre (50 ha) primary campus is located approximately 11 mi (18 km) northeast of downtown Los Angeles. “The mission of the California Institute of Technology is to expand human knowledge and benefit society through research integrated with education. We investigate the most challenging, fundamental problems in science and technology in a singularly collegial, interdisciplinary atmosphere, while educating outstanding students to become creative members of society.”
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  • richardmitnick 11:21 am on March 2, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER), , Ocean studies   

    From NSF: “NSF announces new Long-Term Ecological Research sites off Alaska, New England coasts” 

    National Science Foundation

    March 1, 2017

    Scientists will expand research on ocean food webs in ecosystems that include recreational and commercial fisheries.

    Scientists at the Northern Gulf of Alaska LTER site conduct research off the coast of Alaska.

    National Science Foundation (NSF) grants will support two new Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites. Scientists will conduct research along the Northeast U.S. continental shelf and in the northern Gulf of Alaska, regions known for productive fisheries and abundant marine resources.

    The new LTER sites were each awarded $5.6 million over five years, adding to 25 existing LTER sites in ecosystems including the open ocean, coral reefs, deserts and grasslands. The complex food webs in these regions are affected by human activities, short-term environmental variability and long-term ecosystem changes.

    “The new LTER sites will bring new locations, technologies and scientists to the challenge of understanding our coastal oceans,” says Rick Murray, director of NSF’s Division of Ocean Sciences. “The sites are in areas where there’s much recreational and commercial fishing, and both sites are in the midst of significant environmental changes.”

    Murray adds that “research at the new sites will matter to everyone who eats U.S. seafood, is involved in coastal industries, or depends on the coastal oceans in any way. That includes all of us, through the oceans’ importance in weather and climate and a long list of other ‘ecosystem services’ the sea provides.”

    Researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), along with scientists at the University of Massachusetts, Wellesley College and the University of Rhode Island, will lead the Northeast U.S. Shelf LTER site.

    Scientists at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, in collaboration with researchers at Western Washington University, Oregon State University and the University of California, Santa Cruz, will manage the Northern Gulf of Alaska LTER site.

    Northeast U.S. Shelf LTER site

    Scientists have documented environmental changes in the Atlantic Ocean off the U.S. Northeast coast, but they’ve lacked an understanding of the links among the ocean environment, plankton food webs and fish stocks. That has limited their ability to predict how this ecosystem will respond to environmental change. Research at the new LTER site will fill that gap.

    The NSF Northeast U.S. Shelf LTER site spans the continental shelf across an area connecting the WHOI-operated Martha’s Vineyard Coastal Observatory with the Pioneer Array, part of NSF’s Ocean Observatories Initiative. The Pioneer Array, a group of moorings and other instruments, is located off the coast of southern New England where coastal waters meet the open ocean.

    These instruments collect continuous data and, along with samples retrieved by scientists aboard ships, will become integral parts of ecological models of the changing Atlantic ecosystem.

    “This is an exciting opportunity to develop a much more detailed understanding of the ocean,” says WHOI biologist Heidi Sosik, principal investigator of the project. “We want to know how different pathways in the food web may shift seasonally or with environmental change. Ultimately, we hope this knowledge can help promote science-based stewardship of marine ecosystems and be applied to the ocean beyond the waters of the Northeast.”

    Northern Gulf of Alaska LTER site

    Two decades of research along Alaska’s Seward Line — a series of ocean sampling stations extending from Resurrection Bay near Seward, Alaska to the continental slope 150 miles offshore — are the foundation of the new NSF Northern Gulf of Alaska LTER site.

    “We’ve monitored Prince William Sound and the continental shelf long enough to know where many of the important features are,” says Russ Hopcroft, a scientist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the principal investigator of the new LTER site. “But until now, we haven’t been able to study the processes and mechanisms in-depth behind what we’ve been observing.”

    The new LTER site will allow researchers to make observations across a larger geographic region. It will also give scientists an opportunity to undertake studies aboard the NSF research vessel Sikuliaq, operated by the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

    Researchers at the Northern Gulf of Alaska LTER site will study the gulf’s waters, which support the well-known fish, crabs, seabirds and marine mammals of Alaska.

    The scientists say that the addition of the Northern Gulf of Alaska site to the LTER network will lead to a better understanding of an ecosystem with many of the nation’s largest fisheries.

    See the full article here .

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    The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense…we are the funding source for approximately 24 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America’s colleges and universities. In many fields such as mathematics, computer science and the social sciences, NSF is the major source of federal backing.


  • richardmitnick 8:30 am on December 13, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Ocean studies   

    From JPL-Caltech: “Earth’s Magnetic Fields Could Track Ocean Heat: NASA” 

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    December 12, 2016
    News Media Contact
    Alan Buis
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

    Patrick Lynch
    NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

    Written by Kate Ramsayer, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    NASA scientists are developing a new way to use satellite observations of magnetic fields to measure heat stored in the ocean. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    As Earth warms, much of the extra heat is stored in the planet’s ocean — but monitoring the magnitude of that heat content is a difficult task.

    A surprising feature of the tides could help, however. Scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, are developing a new way to use satellite observations of magnetic fields to measure heat stored in the ocean.

    As Earth warms, much of the extra heat is stored in the planet’s ocean — but monitoring the magnitude of that heat content is a difficult task.

    A surprising feature of the tides could help, however. Scientists at aNASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, are developing a new way to use satellite observations of magnetic fields to measure heat stored in the ocean.

    “If you’re concerned about understanding global warming, or Earth’s energy balance, a big unknown is what’s going into the ocean,” said Robert Tyler, a research scientist at Goddard. “We know the surfaces of the oceans are heating up, but we don’t have a good handle on how much heat is being stored deep in the ocean.”

    Despite the significance of ocean heat to Earth’s climate, it remains a variable that has substantial uncertainty when scientists measure it globally. Current measurements are made mainly by Argo floats, but these do not provide complete coverage in time or space. If it is successful, this new method could be the first to provide global ocean heat measurements, integrated over all depths, using satellite observations.

    Tyler’s method depends on several geophysical features of the ocean. Seawater is a good electrical conductor, so as saltwater sloshes around the ocean basins it causes slight fluctuations in Earth’s magnetic field lines. The ocean flow attempts to drag the field lines around, Tyler said. The resulting magnetic fluctuations are relatively small, but have been detected from an increasing number of events including swells, eddies, tsunamis and tides.

    “The recent launch of the European Space Agency’s Swarm satellites, and their magnetic survey, are providing unprecedented observational data of the magnetic fluctuations,” Tyler said. “With this comes new opportunities.”


    Researchers know where and when the tides are moving ocean water, and with the high-resolution data from the Swarm satellites, they can pick out the magnetic fluctuations due to these regular ocean movements.

    That’s where another geophysical feature comes in. The magnetic fluctuations of the tides depend on the electrical conductivity of the water — and the electrical conductivity of the water depends on its temperature.

    For Tyler, the question then is: “By monitoring these magnetic fluctuations, can we monitor the ocean temperature?”

    At the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco this week, Tyler and collaborator Terence Sabaka, also at Goddard, presented the first results. They provide a key proof-of-concept of the method by demonstrating that global ocean heat content can be recovered from “noise-free” ocean tidal magnetic signals generated by a computer model. When they try to do this with the “noisy” observed signals, it doesn’t yet provide the accuracy needed to monitor changes in the heat content.

    But, Tyler said, there is much room for improvement in how the data are processed and modeled, and the Swarm satellites continue to collect magnetic data. This is a first attempt at using satellite magnetic data to monitor ocean heat, he said, and there is still much more to be done before the technique could successfully resolve this key variable. For example, by identifying fluctuations caused by other ocean movements, like eddies or other tidal components, scientists can extract even more information and get more refined measurements of ocean heat content and how it’s changing.

    More than 90 percent of the excess heat in the Earth system goes into the ocean, said Tim Boyer, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information. Scientists currently monitor ocean heat with shipboard measurements and Argo floats. While these measurements and others have seen a steady increase in heat since 1955, researchers still need more complete information, he said.

    “Even with the massive effort with the Argo floats, we still don’t have as much coverage of the ocean as we would really like in order to lower the uncertainties,” Boyer said. “If you’re able to measure global ocean heat content directly and completely from satellites, that would be fantastic.”

    Changing ocean temperatures have impacts that stretch across the globe. In Antarctica, floating sections of the ice sheet are retreating in ways that can’t be explained only by changes in atmospheric temperatures, said Catherine Walker, an ice scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

    She and her colleagues studied glaciers in Antarctica that lose an average of 6.5 to 13 feet (2 to 4 meters) of elevation per year. They looked at different options to explain the variability in melting — surrounding sea ice, winds, salinity, air temperatures — and what correlated most was influxes of warmer ocean water.

    “These big influxes of warm water come onto the continental shelf in some years and affect the rate at which ice melts,” Walker said. She and her colleagues are presenting the research at the AGU meeting.

    Walker’s team has identified an area on the Antarctic Peninsula where warmer waters may have infiltrated inland, under the ice shelf — which could have impacts on sea level rise.

    Float and ship measurements around Antarctica are scarce, but deep water temperature measurements can be achieved using tagged seals. That has its drawbacks, however: “It’s random, and we can’t control where they go,” Walker said. Satellite measurements of ocean heat content and temperatures would be very useful for the Southern Ocean, she added.

    Ocean temperatures also impact life in the ocean — from microscopic phytoplankton on up the food chain. Different phytoplankton thrive at different temperatures and need different nutrients.

    “Increased stratification in the ocean due to increased heating is going to lead to winners and losers within the phytoplankton communities,” said Stephanie Schollaert Uz, a scientist at Goddard.

    n research presented this week at AGU, she took a look 50 years back. Using temperature, sea level and other physical properties of the ocean, she generated a history of phytoplankton extent in the tropical Pacific Ocean, between 1958 and 2008. Looking over those five decades, she found that phytoplankton extent varied between years and decades. Most notably, during El Niño years, water currents and temperatures prevented phytoplankton communities from reaching as far west in the Pacific as they typically do.

    Digging further into the data, she found that where the El Niño was centered has an impact on phytoplankton. When the warmer waters of El Niño are centered over the Eastern Pacific, it suppresses nutrients across the basin, and therefore depresses phytoplankton growth more so than a central Pacific El Niño.

    “For the first time, we have a basin-wide view of the impact on biology of interannual and decadal forcing by many El Niño events over 50 years,” Uz said.

    As ocean temperatures impact processes across the Earth system, from climate to biodiversity, Tyler will continue to improve this novel magnetic remote sensing technique, to improve our future understanding of the planet.

    NASA collects data from space, air, land and sea to increase our understanding of our home planet, improve lives and safeguard our future. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth’s interconnected natural systems with long-term data records. The agency freely shares this unique knowledge and works with institutions around the world to gain new insights into how our planet is changing.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 1:08 pm on September 20, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: $10 million Benioff Ocean Initiative, , Crowdsourcing Sea Change, Ocean studies,   

    From UCSB: “Crowdsourcing Sea Change” 

    UC Santa Barbara Name bloc
    UC Santa Barbara

    September 15, 2016
    Shelly Leachman

    With a $10 million gift from Marc and Lynne Benioff, UC Santa Barbara establishes the Benioff Ocean Initiative to study and solve ocean issues.

    The Benioff Ocean Initiative based at and led by UC Santa Barbara aims to research the root causes of pervasive ocean issues and use science to solve them.
    Photo Credit: Jim Maragos

    Marc and Lynne Benioff have gifted UC Santa Barbara with more than $10 million to establish the Benioff Ocean Initiative, which will be directed by Douglas McCauley.
    Photo Credit: Ron McPeak

    Maybe it’s all the plastic you see on the beach where you take your kids. Or that news story you read about shark-finning and can’t quite get it out of your mind. Are you frustrated trying to identify sustainable options on the menu at your favorite seafood restaurant?

    These are common concerns, and they all lead back to one place: the ocean. And with climate change acidifying and heating up the seas, global fisheries being overharvested and more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic working their way into marine food webs, they’re the tip of a massive threat to our oceans.

    The Benioff Ocean Initiative, a bold new endeavor led by the University of California Santa Barbara, aims to research the root causes of these pervasive ocean problems and use science to solve them, supported by funding from Marc and Lynne Benioff.

    Marc Benioff is the co-founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Salesforce, one of the world’s leading software companies, and a leader in changing global attitudes about the social responsibility of businesses. Lynne Benioff is on the board of directors of Hampton Creek, the board of overseers of the University of California San Francisco Foundation, the board of directors of UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland and the board of directors of Common Sense Media. In 2015, Lynne Benioff was appointed to the board of directors of the Presidio Trust by President Obama. Known for their extensive philanthropic support of children’s health and education, the couple has gifted UCSB more than $10 million to establish the Benioff Ocean Initiative.

    ‘A Game-Changing Undertaking’

    Cast as an experimental new model for university-driven change, the innovative effort will bring senior ocean scientists together with students to develop science-based solutions that will address problems plaguing the oceans. In an effort to link together the strength of university-powered research with the creativity of global ocean communities, this new initiative will use a crowdsourcing campaign to collect ideas on ocean issues submitted from anyone, anywhere in the world. These ideas will set the agenda for the initiative.

    “We cannot stand by and watch our oceans become increasingly sickened and fisheries decimated,” said Marc Benioff. “Just as we have research hospitals seeking cures for devastating illnesses, we need a hospital to heal our oceans. We can bring the brightest minds in marine science and our communities together and empower them to bring our oceans back to health.”

    “On behalf of UC Santa Barbara, I wish to express our deep appreciation for the truly inspiring and generous commitment by Marc and Lynne Benioff,” said Chancellor Henry T. Yang. “With this transformative gift, we are proud to establish the Benioff Ocean Initiative, which will enhance the ability of researchers and community stakeholders to address current problems in ocean health through applied environmental science.

    “Building the capacity of the university, including educating our students — future environmental leaders — to investigate and address these challenges in innovative and demonstrable ways is a vital step to strengthening sustainable environmental practices worldwide,” Yang added. “Through their gift, the Benioffs’ visionary leadership sets the stage for tremendous beneficial change.”

    “This is a game-changing undertaking that will contribute invaluable research and solutions to ocean issues that will affect the world’s food supply for countless generations,” said UC President Janet Napolitano, who launched the Global Food Initiative to marshal the expertise of researchers across the UC system. “It’s significant, too, that The Benioff Ocean Initiative will bring students together with scientists and collect ideas from people throughout the world.”

    ‘A Hospital for the Oceans’

    Headquartered at UCSB’s Marine Science Institute, an internationally recognized center of excellence for interdisciplinary oceans research, the Benioff Ocean Initiative is being directed by noted marine biologist Douglas McCauley, but will be run as a collaboration among ocean scientists worldwide, as well as students. Together they’ll highlight the most pressing threats to ocean health through research, and then use what they learn to address these illnesses in the ocean.

    “The Benioff Ocean Initiative will be a first of its kind ‘hospital for the oceans,’ ” McCauley said. “A university hospital that studied illness without treating illness wouldn’t have a lot of value. Likewise, it is no longer tenable to operate marine research institutes that study ocean problems without using this science to fix these same issues.” The Benioff Ocean Initiative, McCauley says, will be a collective of “sharp minds that are not afraid to get their hands dirty making ocean change happen.”

    “This initiative is a bold statement by UC Santa Barbara to the world that we must redefine possibilities for creating change in academia,” he continued. “Universities must do more than studiously write up the obituary for the oceans. The Benioff Ocean Initiative is an experiment that will make universities themselves epicenters for change. In the case of the oceans, this is better late than never. This re-visioning of the responsibility of the university emulates the Benioffs’ progressive stance around corporations and business leaders taking on social and environmental

    Ideation. Research. The fix. That’s the three-step process at the heart of Benioff Ocean Initiative, which begins by inviting the global public to identify ocean issues that need solving by submitting ideas online. From each round of crowdsourcing one top idea will be selected by the initiative’s team of marine scientists, who will then, McCauley said, kick start the process of “doing what science does best — study the heck out of the problem.”

    The initiative will assemble and fund a team of global experts to intensely research a solution to selected problems. During a subsequent research summit at UCSB, scientists on the team will share what they’ve learned and collaboratively design a best fix for the problem.

    Then the best part: bringing that fix to life.

    Million-Dollar Ideas

    Benioff Ocean Initiative staff and the ocean scientists behind each solution will “work together to build the device, write the code or invent the tech needed to solve the ocean problem,” McCauley said. “A million dollars will be invested in putting each fix into place. And every fix that comes out of the Benioff Ocean Initiative will be designed so that these successes can be replicated as widely as possible.”

    In a world where the oceans provide millions of jobs and yield trillions of dollars in goods and services each year, and where 1.4 billion people frequently rely on fish as a food source, that replication will be key, according to McCauley.

    “Our fate is inextricably linked to the fate of the oceans,” he said. “This is becoming as much or more about saving ourselves than it is about saving the whales. This is about putting healthy food on our table, oxygen in our air, keeping pollution out of the bodies of ocean animals and off our dinner plates. It’s about protecting the vibrancy of our economies and giving our kids enough nature to marvel at.”

    And it absolutely can be done, McCauley assured, characterizing the oceans as “wonderfully resilient” places where life is “much healthier and still much wilder than life on land.”

    “There have been far fewer extinctions in the oceans, which means the building blocks of ocean life are almost all still swimming around somewhere out there,” he said. “With some strategic investment of intellect, resources and creativity, we can fix many of the problems facing the oceans and threatening our own well-being before they become irreversible.”

    Setting Sail

    Thanks to just such an investment by Marc and Lynne Benioff, that’s precisely what the ambitious Benioff Ocean Initiative intends to do.

    “I am honored and delighted that Marc and Lynne Benioff have decided to establish the Benioff Ocean Initiative here at UC Santa Barbara,” said Pierre Wiltzius, the Susan & Bruce Worster Dean of Science and executive dean of the College of Letters and Science at UCSB. “Their passion for creating a better world through meaningful, deliberate change is inspirational, and their desire to bring students together with top researchers is directly aligned with the goals of this university.

    “I can’t think of a better person to lead this new model for ocean change than Douglas McCauley,” Wiltzius added. “He and his team are widely cited as experts in fragile marine ecosystems and are at the forefront of developing new ideas for preserving our oceans. I speak for my entire division when I say that we enthusiastically look forward to the innovations that will come from this initiative.”

    Urging anyone who is interested to visit the just-unveiled Benioff Ocean Initiative website (www.boi.ucsb.edu) to submit an idea for ocean change, McCauley said, “We can’t wait to set sail on this important journey together.”

    See the full article here .

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    The University of California, Santa Barbara (commonly referred to as UC Santa Barbara or UCSB) is a public research university and one of the 10 general campuses of the University of California system. Founded in 1891 as an independent teachers’ college, UCSB joined the University of California system in 1944 and is the third-oldest general-education campus in the system. The university is a comprehensive doctoral university and is organized into five colleges offering 87 undergraduate degrees and 55 graduate degrees. In 2012, UCSB was ranked 41st among “National Universities” and 10th among public universities by U.S. News & World Report. UCSB houses twelve national research centers, including the renowned Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics.

  • richardmitnick 9:49 pm on September 12, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Ocean studies,   

    From Rutgers: “Oscar Schofield, Scott Glenn and the Marine Team: A New World Underwater” 

    Rutgers University
    Rutgers University

    September 12, 2016
    Ken Branson

    The Spanish vessel M/V Investigador approaches the Rutgers submersible robot glider Scarlet Knight off the coast of Spain in December 2009 after the glider completed its precedent-setting, 221-day underwater flight across the Atlantic Ocean. Photo: Rutgers University/Dan Crowell

    Nearly 20 years ago, Josh Kohut, a rising college senior, walked onto the ground floor of a revolution starting at Rutgers – the art and science of studying the world’s oceans, all at the same time.

    Kohut got a summer job working for Scott Glenn, a marine scientist who was just starting to use a high-frequency radar designed to hug the surface of the ocean and “see” over the horizon.

    It was one of several new technologies Glenn and his colleagues at Rutgers would go on to adopt and share with the world over the next two decades, forever changing the field of oceanography and the way scientists understand weather, marine life, and other related areas.

    “The development of ocean observing was championed here,” said Kohut, now an associate professor of marine science at Rutgers. “The benefits have been in understanding storms, water quality, fisheries and search and rescue.”

    For decades, oceanographers had gathered data by observing a spot in the ocean over a period of time with buoys or a tide gauges, or by surveying a swath of ocean by pulling sensors behind a ship.

    “The ocean is under-sampled, to put it mildly,” said Glenn, professor of marine and coastal sciences and co-founder of the Rutgers University Center for Ocean Observing Leadership (RU-COOL). “We needed spatial data – not just a time series at a point or a shipboard sample that was a one-off. Nobody could afford 1,000 moorings or 1,000 ships.”

    Glenn and his team first set out to work with satellite imagery, then on the high-frequency radar, called CODAR (Coastal Ocean Dynamics Application Radar). Then they started working with satellite imagery, sensors on drifters and buoys, and sensors on robot gliders.

    Their work made it possible – and practical – to study different points in the ocean at once. They also decided to make it public, posting the data online for others to use for their own work.

    “(Other universities) wanted to use (CODAR) data for research papers, but they wouldn’t put it up on their websites for others to look at,” said Donald Barrick, CODAR’s inventor and CEO of CODAR Ocean Sensors. “Rutgers has always been very open about this, not proprietary. They were the beginning in the United States of using our radars for societal applications, not just research.”

    The work has helped rescuers improve their search-and-rescue strategies, helped environmental agencies monitor water quality more precisely, helped fisheries officials manage fisheries better, and meteorologists better understand the underwater dynamics of hurricanes, thanks to robot gliders deployed in front of Hurricane Irene in 2011.

    “Before, we could accurately predict a hurricane’s direction but not the intensity of its landfall, said Oscar Schofield, a professor who co-founded RU-COOL. “Now, we know how to do that, which has huge implications for emergency preparedness, for land-use planning, and lots of other activities.”

    Now, gliders fly underwater in all the world’s ocean basins and CODARs line both coasts in the United States and are deployed in several other countries. Going forward, RU-COOL – which now stands for Rutgers University Center for Ocean-Observing Leadership – is at the heart of the effort to manage and understand all that data.

    In June, the National Science Foundation awarded $11.8 million to Rutgers to design, build and operate the data system for the Ocean Observatories Initiative, which collects and shares data from more than 800 sophisticated instruments deployed in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The data are then transmitted to labs ashore by submarine cable or satellite. The Rutgers team includes RU-COOL and the Rutgers Discovery Informatics Institute. The goal: to provide a holistic view of all the world’s oceans.

    “The view of the world before was that we’re data-limited, and if we just had the data, the ocean would make sense to us,” said Matt Oliver, professor of marine science at the University of Delaware who did his graduate work in RU-COOL. “Now, there is so much data going in, we’ve gone from being blind to staring into the sun, and we’re still blind.”

    Like Oliver, hundreds of undergraduates and graduate students have started their careers at RU-COOL to get hands-on experience. In 2009, when the lab sent a robot glider across the ocean for the first time, the professors often knew no more than their students, and weren’t afraid to admit it.

    “There were times when (Glenn) just gave us the keys and told us to drive,” student Shannon Harrison told Rutgers Today in 2011.

    The Rutgers scientists say they have been deliberate in choosing top students in hopes of identifying others from Rutgers who will go on to do revolutionary work.

    “We need a new generation of oceanographers,” Glenn said. “That’s why we developed our undergraduates as researchers. They’re still explorers. They’re still trying out new things.”

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  • richardmitnick 10:42 am on September 7, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Ocean studies   

    From MIT: “Study finds increased ocean acidification due to human activities” 

    MIT News
    MIT News
    MIT Widget

    September 7, 2016
    Jennifer Chu | MIT News Office

    “The ocean has been the only true sink for anthropogenic emissions since the industrial revolution,” says MIT graduate student Sophie Chu, pictured here. “Right now, it stores about 1/4 to 1/3 of the anthropogenic emissions from the atmosphere. We’re expecting at some point the storage will slow down.” Photo: Zhaohui Aleck Wang/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

    Oceanographers from MIT and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution report that the northeast Pacific Ocean has absorbed an increasing amount of anthropogenic carbon dioxide over the last decade, at a rate that mirrors the increase of carbon dioxide emissions pumped into the atmosphere.

    The scientists, led by graduate student Sophie Chu, in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, found that most of the anthropogenic carbon (carbon arising from human activity) in the northeast Pacific has lingered in the upper layers, changing the chemistry of the ocean as a result. In the past 10 years, the region’s average pH has dropped by 0.002 pH units per year, leading to more acidic waters. The increased uptake in carbon dioxide has also decreased the availability of aragonite — an essential mineral for many marine species’ shells.

    Overall, the researchers found that the northeast Pacific has a similar capacity to store carbon, compared to the rest of the Pacific. However, this carbon capacity is significantly lower than at similar latitudes in the Atlantic.

    “The ocean has been the only true sink for anthropogenic emissions since the industrial revolution,” Chu says. “Right now, it stores about 1/4 to 1/3 of the anthropogenic emissions from the atmosphere. We’re expecting at some point the storage will slow down. When it does, more carbon dioxide will stay in the atmosphere, which means more warming. So it’s really important that we continue to monitor this.”

    Chu and her colleagues have published their results in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans.

    Tipping the scales

    The northeast Pacific, consisting of waters that flow from Alaska’s Aleutian Islands to the tip of southern California, is considered somewhat of a climate canary — sensitive to changes in ocean chemistry, and carbon dioxide in particular. The region sits at the end of the world’s ocean circulation system, where it has collected some of the oldest waters on Earth and accumulated with them a large amount of dissolved inorganic carbon, which is naturally occurring carbon that has been respired by marine organisms over thousands of years.

    “This puts the Pacific at this already heightened state of high carbon and low pH,” Chu says.

    Add enough atmospheric carbon dioxide into the mix, and the scales could tip toward an increasingly acidic ocean, which could have an effect first in sea snails called pteropods, which depend on aragonite (a form of calcium carbonate) to make their protective shells. More acidic waters can make carbonate less available to pteropods.

    “These species are really sensitive to ocean acidification,” Chu says. “It’s harder for them to get enough carbonate to build their shells, and they end up with weaker shells, and have reduced growth rates.”

    Protecting shells

    Chu and her colleagues originally set out to study the effects of ocean acidification on pteropods, rather than the ocean’s capacity to store carbon. In 2012, the team embarked on a scientific cruise to the northeast Pacific, where they followed the same route as a similar cruise in 2001. During the month-long journey, the scientists collected samples of pteropods, as well as seawater, which they measured for temperature, salinity, and pH.

    Upon their return, Chu realized that the data they collected could also be used to gauge changes in the ocean’s anthropogenic carbon storage. Ordinarily, it’s extremely difficult to tease out anthropogenic carbon in the ocean from carbon that naturally arises from breathing marine organisms. Both types of carbon are classified as dissolved inorganic carbon, and anthropogenic carbon in the ocean is miniscule compared to the vast amount of carbon that has accumulated naturally over millions of years.

    To isolate anthropogenic carbon in the ocean and observe how it has changed through time, Chu used a modeling technique known as extended multiple linear regression — a statistical method that models the relationships between given variables, based on observed data. The data she collected came from both the 2012 cruise and the previous 2001 cruise in the same region.

    She ran a model for each year, plugging in water temperature, salinity, apparent oxygen utilization, and silicate. The models then estimated the natural variability in dissolved inorganic carbon for each year. That is, the models calculated the amount of carbon that should vary from 2001 to 2012, only based on natural processes such as organic respiration. Chu then subtracted the 2001 estimate from the 2012 estimate — a difference that accounts for sources of carbon that are not naturally occurring, and are instead anthropogenic.

    Sinking carbon

    The researchers found that since 2001, the northeast Pacific has stored 11 micromoles per kilogram of anthropogenic carbon, which is comparable to the rate at which carbon dioxide has been emitted into the atmosphere. Most of this carbon is stored in surface waters. In the northern part of the region in particular, anthropogenic carbon tends to linger in shallower waters, within the upper 300 meters of the ocean. The southern region of the northeast Pacific stores carbon a bit deeper, within the top 600 meters.

    Chu says this shallow storage is likely due to a subpolar gyre, or rotating current, that pushes water up from the deep, preventing surface waters from sinking. In contrast, others have observed that similar latitudes in the Atlantic have stored carbon much deeper, due to evaporation and mixing, leading to increased salinity and density, which causes carbon to sink.

    The team calculated that the increase in anthropogenic carbon in the upper ocean caused a decrease in the region’s average pH, making the ocean more acidic as a result. This acidification also had an effect on the region’s aragonite, decreasing its saturation state over the last decade.

    Richard Feely, a senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, says that the group’s results show that this particular part of the ocean is “highly sensitive to ocean acidification.”

    “Our own work with pteropods, and that of others, indicate that some marine organisms are already being impacted by ocean acidification processes in this region,” says Feely, who did not contribute to the study. “Laboratory studies indicate that many species of corals, shellfish, and some fish species will be impacted in the near future. As this study, and others, have shown, the region will soon become undersaturated with respect to aragonite later this century.”

    While the total amount of anthropogenic carbon appears to be increasing with each year, Chu says the rate at which the northeast Pacific has been storing carbon has remained relatively the same since 2001. That means that the region could still have a good amount of “room” to store carbon, at least for the foreseeable future. But already, her team and others are seeing in the acidification trends the ocean’s negative response to the current rate of carbon storage.

    “It would take hundreds of thousands of years for the ocean to absorb the majority of CO2 that humans have released into the atmosphere,” Chu says. “But at the rate we’re going, it’s just way faster than anything can keep up with.”

    This research was supported in part by the National Science Foundation Ocean Acidification Program, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program.

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  • richardmitnick 6:03 am on September 6, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Ocean studies   

    From New Scientist: “Ocean warming is already spreading diseases and killing corals” 


    New Scientist

    5 September 2016
    No writer credit found

    Georgette Douwma/Getty

    The warming of the world’s oceans is already spreading dangerous diseases and affecting fish stocks and crop yields, according to a report.

    Conservationists warned the world is “completely unprepared” for the impacts of warming oceans on wildlife, natural systems and humans, some of which are already being felt.

    Even with action to significantly reduce the greenhouse gas emissions which are causing ocean warming, there will still be a high risk of impacts, according to the report launched by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

    Completely unprepared

    “Ocean warming is one of this generation’s greatest hidden challenges – and one for which we are completely unprepared,” said IUCN director general Inger Andersen.

    “The only way to preserve the rich diversity of marine life, and to safeguard the protection and resources the ocean provides us with, is to cut greenhouse gas emissions rapidly and substantially.”

    As part of the report, findings from Camille Parmesan and Martin Attrill of the University of Plymouth, in the UK, show that marine-related tropical diseases and harmful algal blooms are spreading to colder regions for the first time.

    Outbreaks of Vibrio vulnificus, a relation of the bacteria causing cholera and which causes death in between 30 and 48 per cent of cases, have been newly diagnosed some 1,600 kilometres further north than previously recorded.

    The disease has previously been a problem in warm waters such as the Gulf of Mexico where mostly it has been contracted by eating infected oysters, but cases have recently occurred in the Baltic and Alaska, the report warns.

    Affected fish

    Warming sea surface temperatures in fishing grounds can also cause toxins from algal blooms to enter the food chain, including ciguatera which can cause severe and sometimes lethal gastric and neurological damage – though very hot seas may prevent spread.

    Parmesan warned new healthcare strategies will be needed to deal with and treat tropical pathogens where historically they have not been needed.

    The report, by 80 scientists from 12 countries also found that groups of species such as jellyfish, turtles, seabirds and plankton are being driven up to 10 degrees north by warming oceans, affecting the breeding success of marine mammals.

    Fish are moving to cooler waters and warming is damaging habitats, affecting fish stocks and potentially leading to smaller catches in tropical regions, the report said.

    In East Africa and the West Indian Ocean, warming seas have killed parts of the coral reefs fish depend on, reducing populations already hit by overfishing and destructive techniques such as dynamite fishing.

    In South East Asia harvests from marine fisheries are expected to fall by between 10 and 30 per cent compared to the period 1970 and 2000, if greenhouse gas emissions carry on at current levels.

    Weather effects

    Warming oceans are also affecting weather patterns, with the number of severe hurricanes rising by around 25-30 per cent with each degree centigrade of warming.

    And the changes to the world’s seas are leading to more rainfall in some areas, including those with monsoons, and less rain in sub-tropical areas, which is set to affect crop yields in important regions such as North America and India, it said.

    “Most of the heat from human-induced warming since the 1970s — a staggering 93 per cent — has been absorbed by the ocean, which acts as a buffer against climate change, but this comes at a price,” said IUCN’s Dan Laffoley, one of the lead authors of the report.

    The report calls for rapid and substantial cuts to greenhouse gases, expansion of marine protected areas, legal protection of the high seas, as well as recognition of the severity of the problem and efforts to fill in gaps in scientific knowledge.

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  • richardmitnick 5:30 am on June 28, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Ocean studies,   

    From U Cambridge: “Super-slow circulation allowed world’s oceans to store huge amounts of carbon during the last ice age” 

    U Cambridge bloc

    Cambridge University

    27 Jun 2016
    Sarah Collins
    Communications office

    Foraminifera “Star sand” Hatoma Island – Japan Credit: Psammophile

    The way the ocean transported heat, nutrients and carbon dioxide at the peak of the last ice age, about 20,000 years ago, is significantly different than what has previously been suggested, according to two new studies. The findings suggest that the colder ocean circulated at a very slow rate, which enabled it to store much more carbon for much longer than the modern ocean.

    Using the information contained within the shells of tiny animals known as foraminifera, the researchers, led by the University of Cambridge, looked at the characteristics of the seawater in the Atlantic Ocean during the last ice age, including its ability to store carbon. Since atmospheric CO2 levels during the period were about a third lower than those of the pre-industrial atmosphere, the researchers were attempting to find if the extra carbon not present in the atmosphere was stored in the deep ocean instead.

    They found that the deep ocean circulated at a much slower rate at the peak of the last ice age than had previously been suggested, which is one of the reasons why it was able to store much more carbon for much longer periods. That carbon was accumulated as organisms from the surface ocean died and sank into the deep ocean where their bodies dissolved, releasing carbon that was in effect ‘trapped’ there for thousands of years. Their results are reported in two separate papers in Nature Communications.

    The ability to reconstruct past climate change is an important part of understanding why the climate of today behaves the way it does. It also helps to predict how the planet might respond to changes made by humans, such as the continuing emission of large quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere.

    The world’s oceans work like a giant conveyer belt, transporting heat, nutrients and gases around the globe. In today’s oceans, warmer waters travel northwards along currents such as the Gulf Stream from the equatorial regions towards the pole, becoming saltier, colder and denser as they go, causing them to sink to the bottom. These deep waters flow into the ocean basins, eventually ending up in the Southern Ocean or the North Pacific Ocean. A complete loop can take as long as 1000 years.

    “During the period we’re looking at, large amounts of carbon were likely transported from the surface ocean to the deep ocean by organisms as they died, sunk and dissolved,” said Emma Freeman, the lead author of one of the papers. “This process released the carbon the organisms contained into the deep ocean waters, where it was trapped for thousands of years, due to the very slow circulation.”

    Freeman and her co-authors used radiocarbon dating, a technique that is more commonly used by archaeologists, in order to determine how old the water was in different parts of the ocean. Using the radiocarbon information from tiny shells of foraminifera, they found that carbon was stored in the slowly-circulating deep ocean.

    In a separate study led by Jake Howe, also from Cambridge’s Department of Earth Sciences, researchers studied the neodymium isotopes contained in the foraminifera shells, a method which works like a dye tracer, and came to a similar conclusion about the amount of carbon the ocean was able to store.

    “We found that during the peak of the last ice age, the deep Atlantic Ocean was filled not just with southern-sourced waters as previously thought, but with northern-sourced waters as well,” said Howe.

    What was previously interpreted to be a layer of southern-sourced water in the deep Atlantic during the last ice age was in fact shown to be a mixture of slowly circulating northern- and southern-sourced waters with a large amount of carbon stored in it.

    “Our research looks at a time when the world was much colder than it is now, but it’s still important for understanding the effects of changing ocean circulation,” said Freeman. “We need to understand the dynamics of the ocean in order to know how it can be affected by a changing climate.”

    The research was funded in part by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Royal Society and the Isaac Newton Trust.

    Jacob Howe et al. North Atlantic Deep Water Production during the Last Glacial Maximum. Nature Communications (2016): DOI: 10.1038/ncomms11765

    Emma Freeman et al.Radiocarbon evidence for enhanced respired carbon storage in the Atlantic at the Last Glacial Maximum. Nature Communications (2016). DOI: 10.1038/ncomms11998

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    Cambridge is formed from a variety of institutions which include 31 constituent colleges and over 100 academic departments organised into six schools. The university occupies buildings throughout the town, many of which are of historical importance. The colleges are self-governing institutions founded as integral parts of the university. In the year ended 31 July 2014, the university had a total income of £1.51 billion, of which £371 million was from research grants and contracts. The central university and colleges have a combined endowment of around £4.9 billion, the largest of any university outside the United States. Cambridge is a member of many associations and forms part of the “golden triangle” of leading English universities and Cambridge University Health Partners, an academic health science centre. The university is closely linked with the development of the high-tech business cluster known as “Silicon Fen”.

  • richardmitnick 9:01 am on June 20, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Ocean studies, R/V Thomas G. Thompson,   

    From U Washington: “UW’s large research vessel, R/V Thomas G. Thompson, gets a midlife overhaul” 

    U Washington

    University of Washington

    June 16, 2016
    Hannah Hickey

    The R/V Thomas G. Thompson, the 274-foot-long research vessel operated by the University of Washington, has spent 25 years carrying researchers, students and teachers out to sea. The ship has collected material from the bottom of the deepest ocean trenches and braved storms near Antarctica.

    The Thomas G. Thompson has spent a quarter century exploring the world’s oceans.

    This week, the ship will begin a yearlong stay in protected waters and dry dock near Seattle’s Harbor Island for a complete overhaul of its propulsion system, navigation and many core engineering systems. The $34.5 million project, funded by the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research and the National Science Foundation, will allow the boat, originally intended to operate for 30 years, to continue for another 20 to 25 years.

    The scope of the work, which will take about a year, includes many of the ship’s core systems.UW

    The bulk of the midlife refit project is a roughly $23 million contract awarded to Seattle’s Vigor Marine LLC. The boat leaves the UW dock Thursday at 9 a.m. to transit to Vigor’s shipyard near downtown Seattle. There the vessel will have its six diesel engines replaced, be outfitted with modern navigation and control systems, and get new plumbing and upgraded heating and ventilation.

    “It’s like an old car, eventually things start breaking and you’re spending more and more time and money on repairs,” said Doug Russell, the UW’s manager of marine operations.

    The overall project also includes training for the ship’s two captains and crew on the new systems, installing a new lifeboat, replacing the winches that lower instruments into the ocean from the deck and getting a fresh paint job.

    The upgraded and overhauled Tommy Thompson, as the ship is commonly and affectionately known, will use less fuel, produce fewer emissions and will have the capacity to support new, high-powered ocean instruments. Several local maritime companies will be involved in the work, including Ockerman Automation Consulting of Anacortes and Markey Machinery Co. of Seattle.

    “We are extremely proud of the Thompson and her crew. They play such a key role in our research and educational programs,” said Virginia (Ginger) Armbrust, professor and director of the UW’s School of Oceanography. “She was already a fantastic ship to sail on – I can’t wait to see what she’s like in this next phase of her life.”

    The Thompson was built in Moss Point, Mississippi, and arrived at the UW in 1991. Named for UW alumnus, professor, chemist and oceanographer Thomas Gordon Thompson, it was one of three similar vessels built in the 1990s to support U.S. oceanographic research.


    UW Oceanography also owns a smaller research vessel, the R/V Clifford Barnes, for shorter trips to coastal waterways.

    The R/V Clifford A. Barnes is owned by the National Science Foundation and operated under a Charter Party agreement by the School of Oceanography at the University of Washington as part of the UNOLS fleet. It is intended for use primarily in the sheltered waters of Western Washington and British Columbia.

    The ship recently made its 1,000th voyage, and the UW is working to fund a new ship.


    The Thompson can accommodate 21 officers and crew, two marine technicians and up to 36 scientists. Designed to carry out research, the ship is optimized for stability, not speed. Its typical cruising speed is just 11 knots, or about 12.5 miles per hour, but it can hold a fixed position to collect observations and lower instruments while at sea.

    The ship typically spends 260 to 300 days a year in open water, on trips that can last up to two months.

    Over the years, the ship has retrieved the first rock samples from smoking vents on the seafloor, witnessed a submarine volcanic eruption, used robots to explore a deep-ocean trench and carried local teachers to sea. It has even made a rescue or two. The Thompson did most of the installation of a cabled ocean observatory off the Pacific Northwest (the new R/V Sikuliaq will carry out this summer’s maintenance cruise). For its last voyage, the Thompson deployed an ocean robot to watch for harmful algae off Washington’s coast.

    The ship is owned by the Office of Naval Research, managed through the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System and operated by the UW. It is used by researchers from the UW and other institutions who secure research funding and then apply for time aboard the ship.

    The Washington legislature also funds 45 days of ship time per year to support undergraduate research and education. UW undergraduates have traveled to the Galapagos Islands, Nootka Sound and our own Puget Sound. Many also accompany UW faculty on research expeditions. The UW is among a handful of institutions where undergraduates can do research aboard a world-class research vessel.

    Between the serious and sometimes round-the-clock work, passengers get to view beautiful vistas and marine wildlife, as well as continue traditions like shrinking heads at sea.

    UW chemical oceanographer Thomas G. Thompson (left) founded the UW’s School of Oceanography and is the namesake of its large research vessel. He is shown with his student and then colleague, Clifford Barnes.UW

    The ship’s namesake, Thomas G. Thompson (1888-1961) was a chemistry professor who founded the UW’s School of Oceanography. He developed ways to measure trace amounts of metals, salts and nutrients in seawater, ultimately exploring how these affect the water’s physical properties. Thompson was born in New York, earned his doctorate in chemistry at the UW in 1918 and joined the UW chemistry faculty in 1919. He founded the UW’s Friday Harbor Laboratories in 1930 and formally established the UW School of Oceanography in 1951.

    The R/V Thompson is the first of the three similar major U.S. research vessels built in the same era to get such an overhaul. The Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution research vessels will undergo their refits in 2018 and 2020, respectively. The Thompson’s overhaul is expected to be complete by late spring 2017, and the ship is already booked to go back to sea next summer once the work is done.

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  • richardmitnick 8:06 pm on May 31, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA Coral Reef Airborne Laboratory project, , Ocean studies   

    From JPL-Caltech: “New NASA Instrument Brings Coasts and Coral into Focus” 

    NASA JPL Banner


    May 31, 2016
    Carol Rasmussen

    The PRISM instrument at JPL, undergoing testing in preparation for its use in the CORAL campaign by (left to right) CORAL systems engineer Ernesto Diaz, sensor technician Luis Rios and systems engineer Michael Eastwood. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    PRISM was designed to focus on hard-to-see phenomena in difficult coastal light conditions. Credit: Flickr user Ken Lund, CC BY-SA 2.0

    A coastal scene with deep blue seas and a coral reef is beautiful to look at, but if you try to record the scene with a camera or a scientific instrument, the results are almost always disappointing. Most cameras can’t “see” underwater objects in such scenes because they’re so dim and wash out the glaring seashore. These problems don’t just ruin vacation photos. They’re a serious hindrance for scientists who need images of the coastline to study how these ecosystems are being affected by climate change, development and other hazards.

    To the rescue: the new Portable Remote Imaging Spectrometer, created at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. PRISM is an airborne instrument designed to observe hard-to-see coastal water phenomena. In NASA’s upcoming Coral Reef Airborne Laboratory (CORAL) field experiment, PRISM will observe entire reef ecosystems in more of the world’s reef area – hundreds of times more — than has ever been observed before.


    “Coastal ocean science has specific requirements that had not been met with other instruments” when PRISM was initially proposed, said Pantazis Mouroulis of JPL, who designed the instrument. “At that time, it was not even known whether anyone could design an instrument with those characteristics. We had to devise new techniques for assembling and aligning the instrument, and even new technologies for the components.”

    With devastating coral bleaching taking place around the world, a sensor that can collect a detailed, uniform, large-scale dataset on coral reefs could hardly be more timely. “The value of doing this investigation right now is unimaginable because of the speed at which the environment is changing, and PRISM is the perfect instrument at the perfect time,” said JPL’s David Thompson, who is designing a computer model to use with PRISM’s measurements for CORAL. “It’s such a sensitive instrument — beyond anything I’ve worked with before.”

    How it works

    PRISM is a spectrometer, an instrument that splits light into its spectrum of wavelengths and measures the intensity of the light at each individual wavelength. Every type of molecule absorbs a unique combination of wavelengths, leaving dark gaps in the spectrum of light. The pattern of gaps is a sort of spectral “bar code” for that molecule. Spectrometers collect light and record these spectral patterns in it.

    PRISM’s spectrometer collects spectra in the visible, ultraviolet and near-infrared wavelengths, which encompass the “bar codes” for most phenomena of interest along coastlines. Because it is an airborne instrument, PRISM can measure wide swaths of coastline repeatedly in a short period of time — important when monitoring rapidly changing conditions such as rising floodwaters — and it creates a dataset on a regional scale, but with an amount of detail approaching what can be collected by boat-based campaigns. Boat campaigns can only produce local-scale datasets, because they are so expensive and labor intensive.

    PRISM measures all spectra in the entire scene below its airborne perch. Each airborne campaign that uses the instrument can select just the spectra it needs for its area of study. For the CORAL campaign, “We’re after that fraction of light that makes it all the way to the bottom of the ocean and comes back to the sensor, which carries the signal of the health of the coral reef,” said Thompson. Thompson designed his computer algorithms to eliminate the unneeded light and isolate just the seafloor spectra. “You can think of it as peeling back the layers of an onion,” he said. “Atmospheric haze is different from the surface glint off the ocean, which is different from light that’s gone partway down into the ocean, which is different from light that’s gone all the way down [to the seafloor and back]. All those other optical paths have to be eliminated in our modeling.”

    To test Thompson’s model, the light from each “onion layer” is compared against measurements of the same thing — the amount of atmospheric haze and the light-changing properties of the ocean water, for example — taken aboard boats at a few points along the plane’s path at the same time the instrument flies overhead. “It’s critical for the math [in the model] to be tied down at different points with actual, physical measurements,” Thompson said. When a shipboard measurement of the water’s murkiness agrees with the model’s calculation of the same thing, for example, it gives confidence that the model is correctly interpreting the spectra collected by PRISM.

    How it’s working

    Heidi Dierssen, an oceanographer and professor at the University of Connecticut, Groton, and co-investigator in the CORAL campaign, worked on the development of PRISM and took the instrument on its first field campaign to study eelgrass in California’s coastal waters. Dierssen has used many different instruments to gather coastal data in the past. When she used sensors that were optimized for land to observe the ocean, “They failed to give us good signals,” she said. “When you looked at a spectrum it was often wavy, and you had to spend a lot of effort to calibrate it to what you measured in the water.” When she used PRISM, “I was shocked,” she said. “The first time we collected imagery, we got very good agreement with the field data. That instrument is truly a leap forward.”

    CORAL’s project scientist, Michelle Gierach of JPL, has seen PRISM’s data from Dierssen’s study and used the instrument to observe ocean color (which can indicate phytoplankton presence) in the sea around Antarctica last winter. “We have only begun to scratch the surface of what PRISM is capable of doing, from eelgrass to biology within the Southern Ocean to now assessing coral reefs throughout the western tropical Pacific,” she said. “Those are just some of the things that PRISM has in its arsenal. There’s so much more that is possible.”

    NASA uses the vantage point of space to increase our understanding of our home planet, improve lives and safeguard our future. NASA uses airborne and ground-based instruments to develop new ways to observe and study Earth’s interconnected natural systems. The agency freely shares this unique knowledge and works with institutions around the world to gain new insights into how our planet is changing.

    For more information about NASA’s Earth science activities, visit:


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    NASA JPL Campus

    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge [1], on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

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