News from GSO
Vetlesen Speaker Series: Measuring ocean warming — Sept. 27
Knowing how much and where the ocean is warming is important to understand how fast the atmosphere will warm and how much seas will rise.
Gregory C. Johnson, an oceanographer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, is an expert on measuring ocean warming—and now he’ll share his research during a talk at the University of Rhode Island.
Johnson’s presentation at 4 p.m., Sept. 27 at the Graduate School of Oceanography is part of the annual Vetlesen Distinguished Speaker Series.
Free and open to the public, “Improving Estimates of Earth’s Energy Imbalance” will be held in the Coastal Institute Auditorium on URI’s Bay Campus, 215 South Ferry Road, Narragansett.
Because of the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere due to human activity, including burning fossil fuels, more energy is entering than leaving at the top of the Earth’s atmosphere.
The ocean has been absorbing most of this energy, slowing atmospheric warming but raising sea levels as it expands in response to the warming.
Climate change is expected to bring profound changes to coastal communities throughout the world. In Rhode Island, scientists project sea levels to rise 3 to 5 feet by 2100, and recent government projections are as high as 7 feet. This could cause catastrophic flooding, especially during storms.
Greatly improved ocean sampling over the last decade has made it easier to pin down how much and where the ocean is warming, says Johnson.
Johnson and his research group collect oceanographic data from Argo, an international program of 3,800 free-drifting floats that measure the temperature and salinity of the upper part of the ocean. Data are available on the Internet just hours after collection.
Scientific research papers using Argo data are published daily, Johnson says. The data are also used for weather, seasonal and El Niño forecasts; commercial navigational and naval operations; and fisheries research and operations.
“My talk will focus on measurements of uptake of heat energy by various parts of Earth’s climate system,” he says, “especially by ocean warming analyzed with Argo data.”
Johnson is also an affiliate professor at the University of Washington’s School of Oceanography, a position he’s held since 1993. He earned his doctorate in oceanography from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in 1991.
He was awarded the Georg Wüst Prize in 2013 by the German Society for Marine Research and the NOAA Administrator’s Award in 2014. He will receive the Henry Stommel Research Award from the American Meteorological Society in 2018.
The lecture series is sponsored by the G. Unger Vetlesen Foundation, presented by GSO, and coordinated by Brian Heikes, URI professor of oceanography.
The other Vetlesen lectures are:
Oct. 18, Patricia Yager, professor in the department of marine sciences at the University of Georgia, on “Climate Change Impacts on Antarctic Marine Ecosystems.”
Nov. 1, M. Dennis Hanisak, director of the Harbor Branch Marine Ecosystem Health Program at Florida Atlantic University, on “Exploring Pulley Ridge: The Deepest Mesophotic Coral Reef on the U.S. Continental Shelf.”
Since its founding in 1955, the Vetlesen Foundation has advanced prominent oceanographic and earth science institutions in the United States. The foundation provides grants totaling $5 to $7 million annually to various institutions.
The foundation also gives out the Vetlesen Prize, which is awarded biennially for scientific achievement that results in a clearer understanding of the Earth and its history or connection to the universe. The international award is one of the highest honors an earth, oceanographic or atmospheric scientist can receive.
GSO MO student Sean Duffey wins NOAA Coastal Management Fellowship
Sean Duffey, URI master’s of oceanography (MO) candidate, has been awarded a 2017 NOAA Coastal Management Fellowship. Duffey was one of only five students selected nationally for the fellowship, out of 44 applicants from around the country.
Duffey, a Watervliet, N.Y., native, will spend two years working in the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management on a project to protect critical ecosystem services by prioritizing at-risk habitats to improve their management.
Duffey gained experience in assessing coastal habitats as an intern at the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC), where he used various tools to determine which salt marshes in southern Rhode Island would be the best candidates for restoration. This internship led to his interest in coastal management at the state level.
“What I would like to do in this position is continue to pursue my passion for coastal zone management that I developed through my time with CRMC,” Duffey says, “I’m excited for the opportunity to stay here in the Northeast, where I believe a lot of good work is being done in the fields of coastal resiliency and management, and I am excited to get working on the issues of coastal management facing the state of Massachusetts.”
“We at CRMC are very excited for Sean,” says Caitlin Chaffee, CRMC policy analyst. “During his internship, he worked hard and showed a genuine interest in learning all he could about coastal management. This is a fantastic opportunity that is well deserved.”
Duffey was one of 12 national finalists for this competitive fellowship, which awarded five fellowships at coastal zone management agencies along the East Coast and in Oregon. He will receive his master’s of oceanography and a graduate certificate in GIS and remote sensing from URI on May 20.
“Sean’s academic background in oceanography and GIS combined with his hands-on experience at CRMC made him an ideal candidate for the Coastal Management Fellowship,” says Alan Desbonnet, assistant director for Rhode Island Sea Grant, which managed the state-level competition, “We’re very pleased he was selected and wish him the best.”
The Coastal Management Fellowship was established to provide on-the-job education and training opportunities in coastal resources management and policy for postgraduate students. It matches students with state coastal resources agencies to work on projects proposed by the state and selected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Office for Coastal Management. More information is online at https://www.coast.noaa.gov/fellowship/.
—Article by Meredith Haas, Rhode Island Sea Grant
GSO’s McDonough profiled in URI’s Commencement 2017
Carrie McDonough earns Ph.D from Graduate School of Oceanography
Shampoo makes our hair smell good, but at a price. Sweet-smelling tresses bring polluted waterways.
That’s the conclusion of Carrie McDonough, who will receive her doctorate in oceanography from the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography this month.
During her five years at GSO, McDonough has distinguished herself by researching how chemicals in products we use every day, like shampoo, are contaminating waterways.
She came to GSO from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—where she received her bachelor’s in chemistry—to work with Rainer Lohmann, an internationally recognized expert in marine pollutants.
McDonough had a successful run at GSO and will continue down that road at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colo. In June, she’ll join the laboratory of Professor Chris Higgins in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering to study fluorinated pollutants.
“I’m excited to begin my new work,” says McDonough. “Fluorinated chemicals are a huge cause for concern now, especially because of their widespread contamination in drinking water supplies.”
Higgins is a leading expert in using advanced analytical equipment to measure highly fluorinated organic chemicals that, for more than 60 years, have been in rain-proofing materials and products such as nonstick coatings, like Teflon.
They were widely used in firefighting foams to combat fuel-based fires at airports and military fire-training areas, and now they have become persistent pollutants contaminating the country’s drinking water supplies, as was recently seen in Hoosick Falls, N.Y., and the Ohio River Valley.
It’s vital to measure organic pollutants in the environment. The chemicals have been linked to serious human health maladies, including kidney cancer and suppression of the immune system so the body cannot make antibodies correctly.
“There are still a lot of fluorinated chemicals in our environment, and in our bodies, that we know nothing about,” says McDonough. “We need to understand how these chemicals are transported and transformed in the environment, and what they do when they find their way into the human body.”
Science—particularly how humans alter the environment—has fascinated McDonough since Hathaway Brown School, a private all-female K-12 school in Cleveland, Ohio. After graduating from MIT, McDonough took a break from her studies to play rhythm guitar in a rock band and work as an environmental consultant in Massachusetts.
GSO was a perfect fit. McDonough studied two groups of compounds: flame retardants, which are added to furniture, electronics and plastic toys to decrease flammability; and synthetic fragrances, which are added to shampoo, soap, deodorant, detergent and cleaning supplies. These chemicals can end up polluting waterways if they break down and travel to fragile environments, like the Arctic.
During her research at GSO, McDonough used passive polyethylene, or sheets of plastic, to discover and then measure the contaminants in Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, as well as the North Atlantic and the Canadian Arctic.
McDonough’s results involving flame retardants are disturbing: She found that sizeable concentrations of the chemicals exist in remote ocean waters. It’s troubling, she says, that the chemicals end up in such a delicate environment like the Arctic, which can be easily thrown off balance.
At Colorado School of Mines, McDonough will learn how to identify and measure fluorinated chemicals. Hundreds of these chemicals are still not identified, which means little is known about their abundance in waterways or toxicity.
McDonough will use a high-resolution mass spectrometry to analyze the chemicals, and measure these chemicals in blood and tissues of mice to better understand what they do to living creatures.
Her work with Professor Lohmann, she says, prepared her for her next academic journey. It’s no surprise to McDonough’s colleagues that in March she won the C. Ellen Gonter Environmental Chemistry Award from the American Chemical Society, the highest honor given by the organization’s Division of Environmental Chemistry.
At GSO, McDonough also started a marine science blog, oceanbites, which writes about marine science with clarity and humor. She’ll continue the blog after she leaves GSO and also start another, envirobites.org, which will focus on environmental science research topics such as toxicology and urban pollution.
“I’ve had the opportunity at GSO to work with so many expert faculty who have expressed real interest in my work and helped me become an independent researcher,” says McDonough. “I’ve had a wonderful experience.”
Photo credit: Nora Lewis
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