MAJOR NSF GRANTS SPOTLIGHT GLOBAL REACH
Since the beginning of August, researchers at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences have received over $2.4 million from the National Science Foundation for projects to advance understanding of the impact of global environmental changes on the world’s ocean systems. (11/01/2007)
Contact: Tatiana Brailovskaya,
Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences
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Major NSF Grants Spotlight Global Reach of Ocean Research at Bigelow Laboratory
$2.4 Million to Fund Ocean Exploration Worldwide
WEST BOOTHBAY HARBOR, ME, November 1, 2007 – Since the beginning of August, researchers at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences have received over $2.4 million from the National Science Foundation for projects to advance understanding of the impact of global environmental changes on the world’s ocean systems.
Dr. Michael Sieracki, Interim Director at Bigelow Laboratory and a recipient of one of the latest grants, believes the NSF awards are a reflection of an increasing trend toward the global, interconnected systems-based approach to ocean science that has earned the Laboratory an international reputation as a research pioneer.
“This series of grants brings the total number of active NSF-sponsored projects currently at the Lab to twenty-one, representing over $11 million in research funding over the last five years.” Sieracki said.
The NSF grants will fund a series of projects that examine the role of ocean life in stabilizing global climate conditions.
Research on the Open Seas
Sieracki and his team will use state-of-the art, cell sorting technology at sea to investigate the biochemistry and phytoplankton community in a vast and largely unexplored subtropical area in the South Atlantic. Scientific models have predicted that climate warming will lead to expansion of marine areas characterized by low biological productivity, especially in the southern hemisphere.
“The huge extent of these oceanic areas make them very important to the global carbon and sulfur cycles and, as a result, to global climate,” he said.
Dr. Patricia Matrai’s grant will fund investigation of organic microgels that form on the surface of the Arctic Ocean and their influence on summer cloud formation over the increasingly open waters of the high Arctic.
“The Arctic climate is changing fast,” Matrai said. “Near-surface warming, averaged over an area north of 60° N, is about twice the global average. Perennial Arctic sea-ice cover is being reduced at an alarming rate, glaciers in the north (including on Greenland) are retreating, and areas of permafrost are becoming smaller. All of this impacts the special ecology of the Arctic and its local societies, but it also has potential consequences for global climate.”
Dr. William Balch is leading a project to study the recurring, massive algal blooms of the Patagonian Shelf in the South Atlantic; the impact of increasing acidity of ocean water; and the role of the bloom’s microscopic algae E. huxleyi in absorbing carbon from seawater.
“Our focus is on the reasons for the regular formation of this massive bloom, Balch said. “There’s strong evidence from satellite remote sensing that these algal blooms are carried eastward off of the shelf region and affect enormous areas across the South Atlantic Ocean, with significant impact on the global carbon cycle.”
Microscopic, but Critically Important Marine Life
Marine virologist Dr. William Wilson’s project will analyze the genes of viruses that kill E. huxleyi in order to examine the mechanisms by which marine viruses infect these globally significant algae.
“The algal viruses are giants of the virus world and contain more genes than the smallest bacteria, Wilson said, "but most of the genes in these viruses are completely unknown to science. We’re sitting on a gold mine of biological novelty.”
Dr. David Fields has received funding to investigate copepod sensory systems. Copepods are a class of blind, microscopic shrimp-like crustaceans found throughout the oceans that play a pivotal role in the planet’s carbon cycle by collectively consuming around 80% of the organic carbon produced by marine algae. Fields and colleagues from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will model the fluid dynamics surrounding sensory hairs that copepods use to detect food, find mates, and elude predators, in order to discover how these tiny creatures are able to survive.
“Little is known about the sensory systems of these animals. “ Fields says. “The spectacular diversity of their structures gives us an ideal model for understanding how these relatively simple — but enormously important — organisms detect and process information everywhere in the ocean.”
Under the direction of Dr. Robert Andersen, the Provasoli-Guillard National Center for Culture of Marine Phytoplankton (CCMP) at Bigelow is an international biological resource center and the largest “library” of living marine algae in the world, housed in culture chambers that must be maintained in excellent condition.
“During 2007, the CCMP will distribute about 3,000 strains to approximately 800 different scientists, biotech companies, aquaculture hatcheries, and other researchers,” Andersen reported. “These scientists are located in nearly all of the 50 states and in approximately 50 foreign countries.”
Andersen’s grant will fund the replacement of 10 temperature-controlled culture chambers at the CCMP. The chambers keep algae at temperatures representing climates that range all the way from polar regions to tropical coral reefs.
Welcome News for Maine
Officials in the state welcomed the news about the influx of federal support for Bigelow Lab.
“Bigelow’s new NSF funds are an important reminder of the groundbreaking work being conducted at this quality Maine facility, and of the great significance it has for the State of Maine,” the Governor Baldacci said.
“The Lab’s success in attracting these funds is an example of the excellent return on the dollar for investments in research and development, and I hope that voters will voice their support Maine’s emerging research sector by approving the research and development bond on the November 6 ballot. ”
Congressman Tom Allen, one of the co-chairs of the bipartisan House Ocean Caucus in the Congress, stressed the need for ongoing federal support for ocean science.
“The oceans aren’t important only to coastal states,” Allen said. “They’re critical to the economy, security, and health of the entire nation. It’s imperative that Congress continue to provide funds necessary to create the infrastructure and conduct the research that will increase our ability to better understand, utilize, and protect the marine environment.”
Senator Susan Collins called Bigelow Laboratory “a priceless oceanographic resource for Maine and for the entire international science community.”
“The Lab has always demonstrated outstanding scientific research capabilities, and the new NSF funding underscores and affirms Bigelow's leadership in ocean research,” she said.
Established in 1974, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences (www.bigelow.org) is a center for global ocean discovery and home to marine scientists from all over the world. The laboratory’s primary research focus is on the foundation of biological productivity in the world’s oceans and the processes that drive the interactions between ocean ecosystems and global environmental conditions. A private, nonprofit research institution, Bigelow is supported by federal research grants and private funds.
High resolution photos available upon request.