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Ocean Research


November 2013 Issue

NOAA Solicits Prepoposals to Advance Ocean Research
NOAA's Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER) is seeking preproposals and, ultimately, full proposals to help search, investigate and document poorly known and unknown ocean areas through interdisciplinary exploration, and to advance and disseminate knowledge of the ocean environment and its physical, chemical, archaeological and biological resources.

Competitive ocean exploration proposals will be bold, innovative and interdisciplinary in their approach. NOAA OER anticipates a total of approximately $3 million, including costs for ship and submersible assets, may be available.

Preproposals are a prerequisite for submission of a full proposal and must be submitted by email to oar.oer.ffo2014@noaa.gov and received by 5:00 pm (EST) October 15, 2013. Applicants will be contacted to be encouraged or discouraged to submit full proposals. Full proposals must be received by 5:00 pm (EST) on December 20, 2013.

OER may support approximately 8 to 15 awards, in amounts between $10,000 to $2.5 million. The amount of funding available will be subject to the final fiscal year 2014 appropriation for the Office of Ocean Exploration and Research.

Specific regions of interest include the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean and the Arctic, with particular interest given to deepwater areas within the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone and areas that have been mapped in support of the Extended Continental Shelf (ECS) effort. However, compelling proposals for other regions will be considered.

Megacheirans Fossil Indicates Complete Nervous System
A team of researchers from the University of Arizona and London Natural History Museum have discovered the earliest known complete nervous system, preserved in the fossilized remains of a creature that crawled or swam in the ocean 520 million years ago. The specimen belongs to an extinct group of marine arthropods known as megacheirans (Greek for 'large claws').

The finding, published in Nature, suggests that the ancestors of chelicerates—spiders, scorpions and their kin—branched off from the family tree of other arthropods—including insects, crustaceans and millipedes—more than half a billion years ago.

The scientists identified the 3-centimeter-long creature unearthed from the Chengjiang formation near Kunming in southwest China as a representative of the extinct genus Alalcomenaeus, which had an elongated, segmented body with about a dozen pairs of body appendages enabling the animal to swim or crawl or both. All featured a pair of long, scissor-like appendages attached to the head, most likely for grasping or sensory purposes.

The fossil shows the typical hallmarks of the brains found in scorpions and spiders: three clusters of ganglia fused together as a brain also fused with some of the animal's body ganglia. This differs from crustaceans, where ganglia are further apart and connected by long nerves. Other diagnostic features include the forward position of the gut opening in the brain and the arrangement of optic centers outside and inside the brain supplied by two pairs of eyes, just like in horseshoe crabs.

Shallow Arctic Ocean Found to Have History of Ice Sheets
Geologists and geophysicists of the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) discovered traces of large ice sheets from the Pleistocene on a seamount off the northeastern coast of Russia. These marks confirm that within the past 800,000 years in the course of ice ages, ice sheets more than 1-kilometer thick also formed in the Arctic Ocean. The climate history for this part of the Arctic now needs to be rewritten, reported the AWI scientists and their South Korean colleagues in Nature Geoscience.

Previously, many scientists were convinced that megaglaciations always took place on the continents. However, it was assumed that the continental shelf region of northeastern Siberia became exposed in these ice ages and turned into a vast polar desert in which there was not enough snow to enable a thick ice shield to form over the years.

The research now shows that the opposite was true. With the exception of the last Ice Age 21,000 years ago, ice sheets formed repeatedly in the shallow areas of the Arctic Ocean. These sheets were at least 1,200 meters thick and presumably covered an area as large as Scandinavia.

Subglacial Lake Drilling Unearths 100,000-Year-Old Life Forms
Evidence of diverse life forms dating back nearly 100,000 years has been found in subglacial lake sediments by a group of British scientists. Direct sampling of these lakes in the interior of Antarctica continues to present major technological challenges.

Scientists from the British Antarctic Survey and the Universities of Northumbria and Edinburgh have been searching around the retreating margins of the ice sheet for subglacial lakes that are becoming exposed for the first time since they were buried more than 100,000 years ago because parts of the ice sheet are melting and retreating at unprecedented rates as the temperature rises at the poles.

The group targeted Lake Hodgson on the Antarctic Peninsula, which was covered by more than 400 meters of ice at the end of the last Ice Age but is now considered to be an emerging subglacial lake, with a thin covering of 3 to 4 meters of ice. They drilled using clean coring techniques to delve into the sediments at the bottom of the lake, which is 93 meters deep.

The lake was thought to be a harsh environment for any form of life, but the layers of mud at the bottom represent a time capsule storing the DNA of the microbes that have lived there throughout the millennia. The top few centimeters of the core contained organisms currently or recently inhabiting the lake, but once the core reached 3.2 meters deep the microbes found most likely date back nearly 100,000 years.

Fossil DNA was discovered, showing evidence of many different types of bacteria in the habitat, including a range of extremophiles using a variety of chemical methods to sustain life both with and without oxygen.


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