News from GSO
Graduate School of Oceanography Inner Space Center to visit Pawtucket middle school Nov. 17
From URI Today
Posted on November 14, 2017
WHO: The URI Graduate School of Oceanography’s Inner Space Center, which is a national facility that supports ocean exploration and education.
WHERE: Samuel Slater Middle School, 281 Mineral Spring Ave., Pawtucket, RI.
WHEN: Nov. 17, from 9:45 to 10:30 a.m.
WHY: The event will provide a unique opportunity for Samuel Slater Middle School students to directly engage with URI/GSO ocean scientists while they are conducting research at sea on the ship E/V Nautilus.
A team from the Inner Space Center will visit the school to facilitate this live event. GSO scientists aboard the ship will share highlights of their discoveries as they investigate a largely unexplored, volcanically active region of the Eastern Pacific Ocean—important gathering and breeding places for large fish, reptiles and marine mammals, such as humpback whales. This region is a newly designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
During the live broadcast, the students will be able to ask the scientists questions and also learn about the cutting-edge technology they use to explore the deep ocean. Samuel Slater Middle School was selected for this special opportunity because of its exemplary science program and its 8th grade focus on habitats around the world.
For more details, please contact Gail Scowcroft, associate director of the Inner Space Center, at 401-218-2546.
Posted on November 14, 2017
State of GSO – October 18th, 2017
On October 18th, 2017, GSO Dean Bruce Corliss gave his annual State of GSO Address. Dean Corliss discussed the accomplishments over the past year and detailed the priorities for GSO moving forward.
2017 State of Narragansett Bay and its Watershed Summary Report
The Graduate School of Oceanography is delighted to announce the release of the ‘2017 State of Narragansett Bay and its Watershed Summary Report’.
This report was developed in partnership between the Narragansett Bay Estuary Project, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission. Numerous faculty and alumni from the Graduate School of Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island contributed to the content of the report as well as the leadership of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Narragansett Bay Estuary Project.
Key findings highlight five themes:
- The water in the bay is getting cleaner.
- Scientists are tracking changes in the ecosystem after recent reductions in pollution from wastewater treatment facilities.
- Conditions vary greatly among places in the bay and watershed, generally improving with distance from urban areas—but urbanized areas are expanding.
- Climate change is affecting air and water temperatures, precipitation, sea level, and fish in the Narragansett Bay region.
- More research and monitoring are needed to understand the major changes occurring in the bay and watershed in order to enable well-informed adaptation and mitigation.
The summary report can be viewed online: http://nbep.org/01/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/State-of-Narragansett-Bay-and-Its-Watershed-Summary-Report.pdf
GSO’s Matt Wei wins prestigious NSF early career grant
We all know our planet spins, but did you also know it is constantly changing.
Earth’s outer crust moves in pieces over melted rock, coming together and spreading apart to reshape the geological landscape.
Those interactions—called the theory of plate tectonics—can cause natural disasters, including earthquakes, which are especially destructive. It’s crucial, then, that scientists understand them.
Unfortunately, quakes are not easy to study, much less predict.
Matt Wei, a geophysicist at the University of Rhode Island, is taking on the challenge, thanks, in part, to a grant from the National Science Foundation.
Wei, 36, of Wakefield, R.I., has received $600,000 from NSF’s Faculty Early Career Development Program, a prestigious initiative that supports junior faculty members throughout the country.
“I’m deeply honored,” says Wei. “I’m pleased the National Science Foundation has recognized the value of researching large earthquakes. Ultimately, our goal is to better forecast them and save lives.”
In his lab at the Graduate School of Oceanography, Wei is studying earthquakes beneath the ocean bottom to learn more about earthquakes on land.
Studying significant earthquakes on land is difficult for scientists because they can happen infrequently on the same fault line, says Wei.
“There are some faults on land that rupture every few thousand years,” says Wei. “In 2008, there was a big earthquake in Sichuan Providence, China, and scientists have estimated that the last one on that fault was 4,000 years ago.”
As the result of the long interval, modern instruments have only captured a snapshot of the earthquake cycle on land, says Wei. With limited data, he says, scientists have trouble validating models of the earthquake cycle.
The ocean provides better data. Some faults in the ocean rupture much more frequently, sometimes every five years. Many of those quakes are off the coast of Mexico in the Pacific Ocean—a region that Wei studies.
“Because these earthquakes occur more often, we are able to gather information that may detect patterns in earthquake occurrence,” says Wei. “This data is important to validate our three-dimensional computer model.”
His results, he says, might help scientists better understand faults on land, such as the San Andreas Fault in southern California—long overdue for a major earthquake that could impact more than 20 million people.
The San Andreas fault extends about 750 miles through California. Many cities and towns along the fault have been hit by earthquakes over the years, and scientists predict that another big one in southern California could happen soon.
“It could be tomorrow—it could be 30 years from now,” says Wei. “We don’t know. That’s why we need to do more studies to improve our understanding of what causes these faults to rupture.”
Wei’s grant will also support outreach activities to educate college and high school students, as well as the public. A software package that simulates earthquakes will be available to the public and scientists.
Wei and two graduate students, Pengcheng Shi and Bing He, both from China, demonstrated how earthquakes work during the recent open house at GSO. The team used computer models and an earthquake machine, which it built in Wei’s lab.
“Many people, especially kids, were fascinated,” says Wei. “We were happy to be part of this outreach effort and share our research. Maybe a budding geophysicist was in the crowd.”
Wei, a native of Xiangyang, China, received his bachelor of science degree in geophysics from Peking University in Beijing in 2004 and his doctorate in Earth sciences from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego in 2011. He joined URI as an assistant marine research scientist in 2013 and was appointed assistant professor in the fall 2016.
“I’m lucky to be around excellent colleagues, and an intriguing and supportive academic environment,” Wei says. “I expect my research on earthquakes to continue in the coming years, and make useful contributions to the field.”
Photo caption: Pengcheng Shi, GSO graduate student (on left); Matt Wei, URI oceanographer (in middle); and Bing He, GSO graduate student (on right). Photo courtesy of Matt Wei.
Vetlesen Speaker Series: Exploring deep coral reef ecosystems
Coral reefs are beautiful to behold, but they also play an important role in marine ecosystems by providing habitats and shelter for marine organisms. Reefs also protect coastlines from damaging storms.
An oceanographer at Florida Atlantic University will discuss one of the deepest coral reefs in the United States—Pulley Ridge—during the next Vetlesen lecture at the University of Rhode Island.
M. Dennis Hanisak, a research professor at Florida Atlantic’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute and director of its Indian River Lagoon Observatory, will present his research at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 1 in the Coastal Institute Auditorium at the Graduate School of Oceanography, 215 South Ferry Road, Narragansett. The event is free and open to the public.
Up to 265 feet deep 100 miles west of Key West in the southern Gulf of Mexico, Pulley Ridge is the deepest light-dependent coral reef in the United States. Known as mesophotic ecosystems, these reefs are a refuge for species of corals and fish that are stressed or dying in shallow water from global warming, disease, fishing pressure, and sedimentation from human activities.
Hanisak is a part of a collaboration of scientists studying coral reefs from Pulley Ridge to the shallow-water reefs in the Florida Keys. Results of the study—funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—will help experts develop more effective strategies to protect the reefs.
In his research—culled from videos taken on remotely-operated vehicles during deep-sea expeditions—Hanisak discovered a catastrophic 93 percent loss of coral on Pulley Ridge’s main ridge. He attributed the loss to cold water upwelling, hurricanes, disease and river runoff.
“But we also discovered dense populations of corals in an area never previously explored,” he says. “Our data are an important baseline to better understand the long-term health and status of mesophotic coral ecosystems and are being used for making management decisions about these habitats.”
Hanisak received his doctorate in biological sciences from the University of Rhode Island in 1977. His research in Florida, the Bahamas and the Caribbean focuses primarily on the biology and ecology of marine plants, particularly seaweeds and seagrasses.
The lecture series is sponsored by the G. Unger Vetlesen Foundation and presented by URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography. Since its founding in 1955, the Vetlesen Foundation has advanced prominent oceanographic and earth science institutions in the United States.
Vetlesen Speaker Series: Climate change and Antarctic marine ecosystems
The effects of climate change on marine ecosystems in Antarctica is the next topic of the annual Vetlesen lecture series at the University of Rhode Island.
Patricia Yager, a professor in the marine sciences department at the University of Georgia, will present her research at 4 p.m., Wednesday, October 18 in the Coastal Institute Auditorium at the Graduate School of Oceanography, 215 South Ferry Road, Narragansett. The event is free and open to the public.
For the last decade, Yager has been part of a team of scientists working in the Amundsen Sea in West Antarctica. Yager’s other projects are in coastal Alaska and Greenland, and the Amazon River Plume.
The Amundsen Sea is about as far as one can get from human civilization. It takes about two weeks to travel there by icebreaker from either the Ross Sea (south of New Zealand) or the West Antarctic Peninsula (south of Chile).
Satellites reveal the Amundsen Sea polynya—a seasonally open water region—to be the greenest and most productive region of coastal Antarctica. Nearby, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and its glaciers are melting rapidly, contributing to sea-level rise and harming the coastal ecosystem. Sea ice is also melting in the region.
Yager says her research shows a connection between the melting ice sheet and iron to support plankton productivity. Other work involves carbon sequestration by microbial communities in the Amazon River plume. Carbon sequestration is the storage of carbon dioxide that mitigates global warming and prevents climate change.
Yager’s talk is part of the Vetlesen Distinguished Speaker Series, sponsored by the G. Unger Vetlesen Foundation and GSO.
The final lecture is November 18, also at GSO. 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.
NSF awards URI $19 million to establish statewide coastal ecology research consortium; GSO’s Rothstein to co-lead
The National Science Foundation has awarded the University of Rhode Island a $19 million grant to establish a statewide research consortium to study the effects of climate variability on coastal ecosystems. The funding builds on more than $30 million of previous NSF funding through its Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), which aims to strengthen the state’s research competitiveness and fund workforce development initiatives.
The state of Rhode Island, through Commerce Rhode Island, has committed an additional $3.8 million toward the initiative over the next five years, which will be used to provide collaborative grants and support workforce development.
“This landmark grant will enable researchers from throughout the state to address some of the most pressing issues of our time while also providing economic development benefits to our innovation economy,” said URI President David M. Dooley. “At the same time, it will further position the Ocean State as a leader in the study of climate change and coastal ecosystems.”
The grant will establish the Rhode Island Consortium for Coastal Ecology, Assessment, Innovation and Modeling, which will assess the impacts of climate variability on coastal ecosystems, create innovative technologies for detecting those changes, and build computer models to predict and plan for changes in coastal ecology.
URI is the project lead on the grant and will work in collaboration with a statewide network made up of researchers at Brown University, Rhode Island School of Design, Rhode Island College, Bryant University, Providence College, Roger Williams University and Salve Regina University.
To accomplish the goals of the consortium, it will create a state-of-the-art Bay Observatory, including high-tech instrumentation and wireless data transmission, to collect real-time information at high resolution about the changing environmental conditions in Narragansett Bay. That data and imagery will be accessible to scientists and the public.
“We need to improve our ability to measure changes in climate variability and nutrient pollution, in terms of both time and space,” said Geoff Bothun, URI professor of chemical engineering and the grant’s principal investigator. “More accurate measurements at lower detection limits with greater frequency and finer spatial resolution will help dramatically to predict and plan for what is to come.”
Co-principal investigators on the grant are Breea Govenar, associate professor of biology at Rhode Island College; Jeffrey Morgan, professor of medicine and engineering at Brown University and co-director of its Biotechnology Graduate Program; Neal Overstrom, director of the Nature Lab at Rhode Island School of Design; and Lewis Rothstein, professor of oceanography at URI.
“The grant enables us to bring together research teams from around the state who have been studying various aspects of the bay for years,” Morgan said. “We think the collaborative approach we’re developing here in Rhode Island will be a model for the study of coastal resources elsewhere in the U.S. and around the world.”
The research funded through the grant will include studies to assess the ecological complexity of the coastal environment and how organisms interact with each other; the development of sensors to detect the nutrient pollution that contributes to harmful algae blooms; the creation of models that combine the biology, chemistry and physics of the coastal environment to predict environmental changes; and efforts to combine natural scientific data and models with socioeconomic models to inform decision making.
“The consortium has been carefully designed to steward our most precious natural resource, Narragansett Bay, in the face of both natural climate variability and human-induced climate change,” said Rothstein. “To accomplish this, we will demand that our predictive natural science and socioeconomic computer models are fully integrated with the measurements that has, and will come from our Bay Observatory. All of the forecasts will be analyzed and visualized in ways that will provide public and private decision-makers with the tools they need to optimize their decisions for the benefit of all Rhode Islanders.”
“RISD’s ongoing collaboration with the local EPSCoR community brings the unique critical perspectives of studio-based inquiry to scientific investigation, with artists and designers contributing to visual communication, ecological design, bio-imaging and other initiatives statewide,” said Overstrom. “We look forward to creating new partnerships, expanding our research capacity, and broadening opportunities for student engagement over the next five years.”
“The primarily undergraduate institutions in Rhode Island are highly valued partners in this effort,” added Govenar, “and the framework of the consortium provides several mechanisms to encourage authentic collaborations among researchers from all member institutions and foster new community partnerships.”
Another emphasis of the project will be the commercialization of the research outcomes through the formation of an academic-industry partnership enabling the scientists to learn about the challenges facing the marine and defense industries, for instance, and share with them some of the research discoveries and technologies. It will also be a way to connect students with potential employment opportunities.
Additional workforce development elements of the grant include the expansion of the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program into a year-round initiative, the funding of 40 to 50 graduate fellowships, and the hiring of additional junior faculty and post-doctoral researchers.
“We’ll be training the next generation of the STEAM workforce in Rhode Island,” Bothun said. “We’re really trying to populate the ranks at all levels with this grant.”
EPSCoR is designed to assist those states that have historically received less than 0.75 percent of NSF research funding annually. In 2006, URI received an initial grant that established shared research facilities for genomics, proteomics and marine life sciences. A second grant in 2010 capitalized on that infrastructure, enabling researchers to study how marine organisms are adapting to climate change.
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
Narragansett Bay Campus panorama by Alex DeCiccio