Ocean Research 2018

2019:  FEB | APRIL | JUNE



Molluscs Unaffected by
PETM Climate Change

The impact of global warming on shallow marine life approximately 56 million years ago is the subject of a new paper by researchers at Syracuse University. This research is the first to address the effects of the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM)—a relatively brief period of global climate change, spanning 200,000 years—on marine invertebrates, including molluscs. Invertebrates now account for more than 98 percent of all animal life.

The research found that any potential selection pressure imparted by global warming was weak, taxon-specific, short-lived and ultimately inconsequential to overall molluscan evolutionary history. Their adaption to the prevailing warm conditions at the time, coupled with the slow release of carbon dioxide relative to the time scale of ocean mixing, likely mollified the impact of global warming; a “best-case scenario.”

Coral Bleaching Can Increase Disease Risk

Bleaching events caused by rising water temperatures could increase mortality among staghorn coral, already threatened by disease, says new research by Mote Marine Laboratory and Penn State. The study emphasizes the need for maintaining genetic diversity while increasing species resilience.

Once prevalent throughout the Florida Reef Tract, staghorn coral has suffered substantial declines over decades due to increasing ocean temperatures and disease outbreaks. The Florida Reef Tract is estimated to be worth more than $6 billion to the state economy. Ecosystem services will be lost if the living coral is not restored.

eDNA Potential Tool
For Beach Safety

A collaboration between researchers from UC Santa Barbara and the U.S. Geological Survey, with colleagues from California State University Long Beach and Central Michigan University, will enable detection of the presence of white sharks in beaches through developments in environmental DNA (eDNA). Scientists can extract and amplify specific genes in the DNA fragments found in water samples and determine if the DNA is from a specific species.

“One of the goals of this research is for a lifeguard to be able to walk down to the shore, scoop up some water, shake it and see if white sharks are around,” said researcher Kevin Lafferty.

White sharks had been declining due to overfishing but have lately been experiencing a comeback along the California coast due to the success of state and federal protections from fishing, recovery of marine mammal populations and better fisheries management. However, white shark population recovery has co-occurred during a period when more people than ever are using the coastal ocean for recreation, ultimately increasing the likelihood of interactions. White sharks don’t feed on humans, but they have been known to bite out of defensiveness, curiosity or mistaken identity.

eDNA monitoring could help public safety officials with clues as to when to be extra vigilant and also help marine biologists understand how well white sharks are recovering in response to protection.

AGU Says Economy Relies on
Ocean Research, Education

The American Geophysical Union (AGU) announced a revision to its position statement “Ocean Research and Education Are Foundations for Economic Growth.” The revision calls upon public and private entities to “forge cooperation and make bold investments that enable scientific discovery and solutions in ocean science to support the global economy.”

In 2016, 52 percent of the U.S. population lived in coastal watershed regions generating nearly 57 percent of U.S. GDP. Commercial fishing generates more than $36 billion in income. Recreational fishing supports $14 billion in income. In 2015, more than 22 percent of U.S. domestic oil was produced from coastal and offshore waters.

The statement asserts that “science provides the new knowledge we need to respond to rising sea levels and ocean temperatures, the decline of fisheries, expansion of low-oxygen zones, and changes in the chemistry of the ocean caused by increased carbon dioxide such as ocean acidification.”

VIMS Takes Delivery of RV

The 93-ft. RV Virginia successfully completed sea trials and will be home ported in Virginia. It was built by Meridien Maritime Reparation. JMS Naval Architects designed the RV and provided technical support during construction and sea trials. The Virginia will support the Virginia Institute of Marine Science’s (VIMS) fisheries research projects and increase the capability to perform general oceanographic research in the Chesapeake Bay and mid-Atlantic coastal waters.

AZFP to Detect Fish, Plankton In Arctic Marine, Lagoon

The North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management deployed a multifrequency ASL Environmental Sciences’ acoustic zooplankton fish profiler (AZFP) in the nearshore Beaufort Sea at an Arctic lagoon pass this summer. Data will be recorded continuously for a year to determine the presence of fish and plankton under ice and their movements between marine and lagoon environments, especially during freeze-up and breakup seasons. Arctic cod and neritic plankton are critical to the Arctic marine food web.


Salish Sea
Survey Expedition

SeaDoc Society and the OceanGate Foundation have partnered in support of deep exploration and research in the Salish Sea. In September, three teams of researchers were scheduled to dive to depths as great as 200 m (650 ft.) in Cyclops 1, a manned submersible owned and operated by OceanGate Inc.

During the week-long expedition, scientists could directly observe two important components of the Salish Sea food chain—the feeding strategies of deep-dwelling red urchins and the behavior of Pacific sand lance, which hide in deep sand wave fields—and collect data to assess the costs/benefits of scientific trawling.

The scientists will make the resulting data available to the public with the goal of informing future policy decisions related to the effects of scientific trawling and the management of the Salish Sea environment.

Warming Could Affect Fish
More than Coral Bleaching

Research published in Nature has found that fish respond to warming seas more strongly than they do to bleaching of corals. Griffith University researchers played a key role in the study, which was led by the University of Tasmania and included researchers from James Cook University. It analyzed data on fish, invertebrates and corals that were collected across the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea before and after the 2016 ocean heat wave. It identified important changes in reef animal communities that may affect the resilience of coral reefs, potentially reducing the capacity of corals to rebuild after mass bleaching.

Recent mass coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef has devastated large areas of coral, and corals are a key habitat for many types of fish. But fish also respond directly to warming waters. The fish that live on the Great Barrier Reef play a crucial role in its ecosystems, the tourism industry and fishing industries.

There were broad regional changes in fish communities that were consistent all the way from the far northern reefs to the southern reefs. Fish are cold-blooded organisms, so there are certain temperatures that suit them best. One of the groups of fish that responded strongly to the heat wave were herbivorous fish that eat algae, which assists coral recovery following bleaching. The study found herbivorous fish declined on the northern reefs, most likely because waters became too warm for them. They may have increased slightly at cooler southern reefs.

The team relied on extensive data on corals and fish provided by the Reef Life Survey (RLS) citizen science program.

The observations suggested that recovery processes would depend on functional changes in reef communities, which in turn depended on how temperatures changed the makeup of fish and invertebrates that lived on the reefs.

These findings underscore the importance of building the reef’s resilience through local management actions.

OSIL Multiple Corer
For Antarctic Projects

Ocean Scientific International Ltd. has delivered a 12-station multiple corer to Colorado-based ASC, a support contractor to the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), for use in Antarctic waters.

The corer will be deployed by upcoming projects in the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, a joint project of the U.K.’s Natural Environment Research Council and NSF’s Office of Polar Programs, which manages the U.S. Antarctic Program.

The corer will be used to investigate the role of the Southern Ocean biological pump in regulating atmospheric carbon dioxide and to determine the sediment-water fluxes of dissolved compounds in West Antarctic Shelf sediments.

Wirewalkers for Study of Monsoon Development

Six vertically profiling Del Mar Oceanographic Wirewalker vehicles were operated successfully in the Bay of Bengal as part of a joint U.S.-India experiment. The Wirewalkers were deployed in a free-drifting, 1.5-km linear horizontal array during the first two weeks of June under the southwest summer monsoon.

The “lead” Wirewalker carried an RBRconcerto CTD, Nortek Aquadopp acoustic current meter, and chlorophyll and turbidity sensors. Nearly 2,500 profiles from the surface to 100 m were obtained at 10-min. intervals.

Trailing Wirewalkers, separated at 300-m intervals by a submerged tether, profiled to 30 m at 3-min. intervals.

The focus of the experiment is on small-scale features that are formed as the freshwater from India’s major rivers mixes with oceanic waters. Understanding the influence of these processes on air-sea exchange is a key step in predicting the development of the monsoon, which directly affects more than a quarter of the Earth’s population.

All Wirewalkers were successfully recovered, and data analysis is underway.

New Great Lakes
Studies Center

Construction has launched for the $13.2 million Center for Freshwater Research and Education at Lake Superior State University (LSSU). The project builds on LSSU’s 40-plus years of Great Lakes fisheries development and management. The center will integrate hands-on learning opportunities so students can apply knowledge to real-world problems. The threats to the Great Lakes include increased demand from population growth, emerging contaminants such as from algal blooms, and invasive species like quagga mussels and sea lamprey that have changed the food web; a wild card is climate change. The construction should finish by summer 2020.


New Marilyn C. Link
Memorial Internship

In honor of the late Marilyn C. Link, whose service to the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Foundation and the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute (HBOI) at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) will be deeply missed, the board of the foundation has established the Marilyn C. Link Memorial Internship.

Beginning in fiscal year 2020, the foundation will annually fund one intern competitively selected with a focus on ocean engineering/technology to participate in the HBOI Summer Internship Program.

This year will mark the 45th year hosting outstanding ocean science and engineering students from around the U.S., which began when Link was Harbor Branch’s first managing director. There are currently 617 alumni of this program who have gone forward to distinguished careers in the sciences.

More information is available at www.fau.edu/hboi/education/internship.php.

OSIL Marine Snow Catchers
For NASA Research

Ocean Scientific International Ltd. (OSIL) has equipped the NASA EXPORTS Field Campaign with three marine snow catchers and will contribute to the upcoming PACE (Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem) mission to provide insight into Earth’s ocean and atmosphere using remote sensing.

The catchers are large-volume water samplers that allow collection and characterization of suspended and sinking particles in the water column. This provides a greater understanding of the export processes of the oceanic organic carbon cycle (removing carbon from the upper ocean) and can help predict how these processes may change in the future.

Gypsum Affects Arctic
Nutrient Cycling

Tiny gypsum crystals can make phytoplankton so heavy that they rapidly sink, thereby transporting large quantities of carbon to the ocean’s depths. Experts from the Alfred Wegener Institute recently observed this phenomenon for the first time in the Arctic.

As a result of this massive algal transport, in the future, large amounts of nutrients could be lost from the surface waters. The rapid export of phytoplankton could have a number of effects on the carbon cycle in, and productivity of, the Arctic at scales that we cannot yet accurately predict.

Once the phytoplankton die, they begin to sink. Yet only a small fraction actually reaches the seafloor. The vast majority of phytoplankton remains in the uppermost water layers, where it is broken down by bacteria, releasing their nutrients and carbon dioxide. Incorporated gypsum crystals drag the phytoplankton lumps down so quickly that there’s no time for them to be broken down, causing more phytoplankton mass to reach the seafloor.

If these crystals drag down phytoplankton before the bacteria can decompose them, the upper water layers could lose nutrients.

This loss could in turn affect the marine food web and the fishing industry.


Microplastics Discovered
In Bottled Water

Microplastics can be found in bottled water from around the world, according to a major new study using methodology developed by researchers from the University of East Anglia (UEA). The investigation found that most of the 259 bottles of water tested were contaminated with microplastics.

This study analyzed more than 250 bottles from 27 lots and 11 different brands from around the world, and almost all were contaminated to some degree.

Microplastics come from a variety of sources including cosmetics, clothing, industrial processes, packaging materials and degradation of larger plastic items. They are found in the environment at high levels, particularly in aquatic and marine ecosystems. Because plastics do not break down for many years, they can be ingested and accumulated in the bodies and tissues of many organisms. The entire cycle, movement and lifetime of microplastics in the environment is not yet known.

Whales Are Social Creatures Like Humans

Groundbreaking research from Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute is the first to demonstrate that, just like human societies, beluga whales appear to value culture as well as their ancestral roots and family ties.

Through a detailed genetic study of kinship published in PLOS One, an international team of collaborators has demonstrated that related whales returned to the same locations year after year, and even generation after generation. This involves some form of social learning from members of the same species, most likely from mother to calf.

Findings from this study pin down the fundamental structure of the building blocks of beluga whale society and provide compelling evidence that migratory culture is inherited. The study expands the understanding of how sophisticated nonprimate societies can be and how important culture is for the survival of these species and how they are going to adapt to dramatic environmental changes.

Atlantic Ocean Circulation at
Weakest Point in 1,600 Years

New research led by University College London (UCL) and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) provides evidence that a key cog in the global ocean circulation system hasn’t been running at peak strength since the mid-1800s and is currently at its weakest point in the past 1,600 years. If the system continues to weaken, it could disrupt weather patterns from the U.S. and Europe to the African Sahel and cause more rapid increase in sea level on the U.S. East Coast.

When it comes to regulating global climate, the circulation of the Atlantic Ocean plays a key role. The constantly moving system of deepwater circulation, sometimes referred to as the Global Ocean Conveyor Belt, sends warm, salty Gulf Stream water to the North Atlantic where it releases heat to the atmosphere and warms Western Europe. The cooler water then sinks to great depths and travels all the way to Antarctica and eventually circulates back up to the Gulf Stream.

This study provides the first comprehensive analysis of ocean-based sediment records, demonstrating that this weakening of the Atlantic’s overturning began near the end of the Little Ice Age, a centuries-long cold period that lasted until about 1850.

First Carbon Budget
For US East Coast

Coastal waters play an important role in the carbon cycle by transferring carbon to the open ocean or burying it in wetland soils and ocean sediments, a new study shows. The research helps establish how coastal processes influence atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and, in turn, climate.

The study team, which includes Virginia Institute of Marine Science researchers, constructed the first known carbon budget for the U.S. East Coast. They tracked the flows of organic and inorganic carbon into and out of coastal waters from the southern tip of Nova Scotia, Canada, to the southern tip of Florida.

About 20 percent of the carbon entering coastal waters from rivers and the atmosphere is buried, while 80 percent flows out to the open ocean.

Efforts like this help fill gaps in knowledge and inspire further research to help refine carbon budgets for the region. Carbon burial is an important metric when it comes to predicting future atmospheric CO2 levels because, once carbon is in the sediments, it has the potential to remain there and not contribute to the greenhouse effect. However, as sea level continues to rise and disturb the coasts, some of the buried carbon could be respired and released to the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide.

Flow Analyzer to Study
Eastern Mediterranean

Researchers at Haifa University’s Marine Biological Station in Israel are exploiting the ultralow detection limits of advanced laboratory equipment to measure extremely low nutrient concentrations in marine water. The Eastern Mediterranean has the lowest regional concentration of dissolved nutrients in the global ocean. The researchers use SEAL Analytical’s AutoAnalyzer 3 (AA3), a four-channel system measuring phosphate with a long flow cell that has a detection limit of 2 nM. Ammonia is measured using a JASCO fluorometer with a similar ultralow detection limit, and silicate, which has a higher concentration, is measured using SEAL’s high-resolution colorimetric technology.

The measurement data are being used to determine the season nutrient cycling in the system, which will help understand the nature of the food web and the effects of global environmental and climate change.


CFD Methodology for Slim
Vessel Regulation Testing

For the past two years, Damen has been working on a CFD-based research project called “Gone With The Wind” (GWTW) to study the capability of CFD to accurately model the aerodynamic forces that act upon vessels above the waterline. The specific issue being addressed has been the challenge of meeting the requirements of the IMO regulation 749.18. Its objective is to ensure that vessels have sufficient transversal stability to resist over-rolling in severe side winds. It is difficult for long, slender vessels to satisfy the empirical requirements of the rule without undertaking extensive and costly experimentation.

This has a direct impact on the time needed and the cost of gaining certification for vessels such as Damen’s monohull fast crew suppliers (FCS) and their variants. Typically, data have to be gathered from physical assessments using scale models in towing tanks and wind tunnels. The objective of GWTW has been to develop a CFD methodology to replace the physical assessments for vessels such as Damen’s FCS range that will demonstrate compliance to the satisfaction of the classification societies.

Damen has been developing the CFD methodology in partnership with Numeca while conducting the physical tests needed to validate and verify the CFD calculations, using a 1:18 scale model of Damen’s FCS 3307. Work is now underway to adapt this methodology to full-scale prediction.

SeaBat Sonar for Greenland
Seabed, Marine Mapping

The Greenland Climate Research Centre will take delivery of a Teledyne RESON SeaBat T50-R Extended Range high-resolution multibeam sonar early 2018. The sonar will be hull mounted on RV Sanna, a research vessel operating on the west Greenland coast. Researchers will utilize the sonar to map seabed topography and marine habitats in the 200- to 800-m deep waters of the Greenland Shelf.

Citizen Science Aids
Global Shark Research

Vital scientific information about whale shark behavior, biology and ecology is being uncovered by ecotourists and other citizens.

Whale shark habitat spans the globe, making long-term research over wide geographic ranges a challenge for whale shark researchers. Researchers have harnessed modern technology to create an online photo database called “Wildbook for Whale Sharks” and enlisted the help of ecotourists and citizens across the globe to upload any images of whale sharks they happened to see anywhere in the world. Photos of nearly 30,000 encounters representing 6,000 individually identified sharks across 54 countries over 22 years has given scientists a rich data set to analyze and better understand the nature of this endangered species.

Through this effort, researchers have now identified 20 whale shark aggregation sites globally.

ROV Video Informs
Deep-Sea Food Web Study

MBARI researchers have done the first comprehensive study of deep-sea food webs using hundreds of video observations of animals feeding off the central California coast. The study shows that deep-sea jellies are key predators and provides new information on life near the ocean surface.

Since the late 1980s, MBARI researchers have used ROVs to study deep-sea animals in their own environment. In the process, MBARI has amassed more than 23,000 hours of deep-sea video footage.

In this new approach, they used deep-diving vehicles to observe animals feeding on one another in the deep sea. Technicians in the MBARI Video Lab painstakingly analyzed every deep ROV dive, identifying animals and their behaviors and entering this information into the Video Annotation and Reference System (VARS) database. Combing through the VARS database, researchers discovered almost 750 different video observations of animals eating one another.

The video footage shows that jelly food webs encompass animals that live near the surface. Gelatinous animals have been found in the stomachs of animals ranging from penguins and albatrosses to sunfish and leatherback sea turtles.

AI for Eco-Friendly
Ship Tech

Eco Marine Power (EMP) will begin using the Neural Network Console provided by Sony Network Communications Inc. as part of a strategy to incorporate artificial intelligence (AI) into various ongoing ship-related technology projects, including the further development of the Aquarius MRE renewable energy power system and EnergySail.

The Neural Network Console uses deep learning for AI creation and has been used in deep-learning applied technology development within Sony since 2015. Various functions include recognition technology and a full-fledged graphical user interface. Deep learning refers to a form of machine learning that uses neural networks modeled after the human brain.

An initial area of focus will be studying how the Neural Network Console and AI can assist with the development of the automated control system for EMP’s EnergySail. This system automatically adjusts the position of the EnergySail depending on variables such as wind speed and direction. AI will also help analyze the results of computer simulations related to the Aquarius Eco Ship.