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Ocean Research


September 2014 Issue

Exosuit to be Investigative Tool in Greek Shipwreck Site
A mission is scheduled for this fall at the Greek archeological site of Antikythera, where J.F. White (Framingham, Massachusetts), Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and the Greek Navy will investigate the site using the Exosuit atmospheric diving system (Sea Technology, December 2013), which will afford unprecedented time at depth to survey the shipwreck—best known for the discovery of the Antikythera Mechanism, possibly the world’s first analog computer. It is anticipated that one week of Exosuit operations will include more bottom time than has ever been accumulated at this site, dating back to Jacques Cousteau’s first visit in the 1950s.

AGU Sets Up Ocean Drilling Research Prize
The American Geophysical Union (AGU) has established the Asahiko Taira International Scientific Ocean Drilling Research Prize, which will recognize outstanding transdisciplinary research accomplishment in ocean drilling. The prize is in honor of Dr. Asahiko Taira of the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology and is made possible through a donation from the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program Management International (IODP-MI).

The prize will be given annually and the presentation venue will alternate between AGU’s fall meeting and the Japan Geoscience Union’s meeting, with the inaugural prize being presented at the 2015 AGU Fall Meeting in San Francisco. The honoree must be within 15 years of earning their Ph.D. and will receive $18,000 and the opportunity to present a lecture at the meeting where the award is presented.

New Scholarships for Advancing Pipeline Simulation
The Pipeline Simulation Interest Group (PSIG) will offer two annual educational scholarships honoring dedicated members of the PSIG board: Orin Flanigan and Don Schroeder.

PSIG facilitates the interchange of information and ideas related to the advancement of the state-of-the-art in the areas of modeling, simulation, optimization, transient flow and multiphase flow as applied to gas, liquid and multiphase pipeline systems.

Flanigan and Schroeder have each contributed more than 40 years of service to the oil and gas industry, to the general advancement of pipeline simulation, and to PSIG.

The scholarships are $5,000 each and will be awarded annually to research students.

Whale Shark Study Finds Staging Area for Juveniles
Scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) and Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries report on the movements of whale sharks tagged at coral reefs near Al-Lith on the central coast of the Saudi Arabian Red Sea in a study published in PLOS ONE. The researchers detail fieldwork that started in 2009, when the team found hundreds of juvenile whale sharks gathering at the site.

Forty-seven whale sharks were tracked from 2009 through 2011 with tags that measured water temperature, depth and light levels. Most of the fish remained relatively close to where they were tagged, and adult whale sharks were not seen at the site, which suggests that the area may serve as a “staging ground” for juveniles before they move on to regional aggregations of larger sharks.

Whale sharks are listed as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Knowing where the fish go at different times of the year is critical to designing effective conservation strategies for them.

Largest Parrotfish Have Positive and Negative Effects on Coral
Using direct observation, animal tracking and computer simulation, University of California, Santa Barbara’s Douglas McCauley, an assistant professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology, and his colleagues sought to understand whether the world’s largest parrotfish is necessary for positively shaping the structure and functioning of ecosystems. The study is published in Conservation Biology.

“We actually swam alongside bumphead parrotfish for close to six hours at a time, taking detailed data on what they ate and where they went,” McCauley said.

Bumpheads are major coral predators. They are also a threatened species across the Pacific. McCauley’s research demonstrates that bumpheads exert a complex mix of positive and negative effects on reefs. On the plus side, bumpheads reduce the abundance of fast-growing algae that compete with corals for light and space. Their feeding helps corals reproduce by opening up space on reefs. When feeding, they can also disperse small coral fragments around reefs that can later grow into adult coral colonies. But “they can completely consume small coral colonies, and the feeding scars they leave on large corals can be a source of physiological stress,” McCauley said. “Most species do things to ecosystems that we would construe as both positive and negative. Endangered species are no different from their more abundant counterparts.”

Viral Tagging Could Shed Light on Diseases in Nature, Humans
A study led by University of Arizona ecologists, published in Nature, reveals that the genomes of viruses in natural ecosystems fall into more distinct categories than previously thought. This enables scientists to recognize actual populations of viruses in nature for the first time. The team developed the viral tagging approach, which uses cultivated bacterial hosts as “bait” to fish for viruses that infect that host. The scientists then isolate the DNA of those viruses and decipher their sequence. They found at least 17 distinct types of viruses in one sample of Pacific Ocean seawater, including several that are new to science. The research lays the groundwork for a genome-based system of identifying virus populations, which is fundamental for studying the ecology and evolution of viruses in nature. This has implications for understanding how viruses affect pathogens that cause human disease, which is relevant for vaccine design and antiviral drug therapy.


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