WHOI Waypoint New Endowment Supports Innovative Seagoing Research

The Rinehart Initiatve for Access to the Sea


In May, WHOI announced the first awards in a new program designed to support leading-edge technology development and timely, opportunity-driven research. Several “Access to the Sea” grants each year will support innovative and independent exploration of the oceans and nurture a new generation of sea-going scientists and engineers.

Longtime friend of the Institution and Honorary Trustee Gratia “Topsy” Rinehart Montgomery provided the funding to launch the “Rinehart Initiative for Access to the Sea” by committing $5 million. “Going to sea is critical to making the observations necessary to advance our understanding of the oceans,” Topsy said. “Our scientists, engineers, and students need that access.”

The objective of Access to the Sea is to move oceanography from an expeditionary mode of one ship at one time to an approach that blends several ships, fixed and mobile observatories, long- and short-term campaigns, autonomous vehicles, and satellites. Another ambition is to facilitate rapid-response research, such as launching cruises in the wake of natural events (storms, tsunamis, seafloor eruptions) or adding complementary specialists and instruments to conveniently located expeditions.

“A large number of pioneering ideas and instruments never reach the water, so this program will really help translate some of those ideas into reality,” said WHOI President and Director Bob Gagosian. “Topsy is a visionary whose love of the oceans and generous support of the Institution are allowing us to be creative and take more risks on promising projects.”

Private funding provides scientists and engineers with more flexibility to conduct proof-of-concept tests of new observing systems and instruments, to consider riskier field expeditions with potentially greater scientific payoff, to instigate interdisciplinary and international research expeditions, and to carry out extended shore-based analysis and interpretation of seagoing data sets. The endowment will also provide crucial funding for younger scientists, technical staff, and students to participate in sea-going operations.

“This endowment program has provided us with the opportunity to address a research topic that the federal agencies have been reluctant to fund,” said Andone Lavery, an Assistant Scientist in Applied Ocean Physics and Engineering and one of the first awardees. “The experiments that we will conduct this fall will enable us gather preliminary data essential to the development of a competitive proposal for government funding.”

With the first awards from the Rinehart Initiative for Access to the Sea:

» Associate Scientist Carin Ashjian (Biology) will study the exchange of plankton and particles between the continental shelf and the Arctic Ocean basin near Alaska, with attention to how biological and physical processes influence the exchange.

» Associate Scientist Amy Bower (Physical Oceanography) will trace the deep-water currents that carry cold, dense water south past the Grand Banks and away from the high latitudes of the North Atlantic--an element of global ocean circulation thought to be critical in understanding climate change.

» Assistant Scientist Andone Lavery (Applied Ocean Physics and Engineering) and Senior Scientist Peter Wiebe (Biology) will investigate the scattering of high-frequency sound waves by both plankton and the small-scale physical properties (microstructure) of the ocean, which may lead to better understanding of the distribution and characteristics of both phenomena.

» Associate Scientist Jeffrey Seewald (Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry) will test new methods for sampling and analyzing vent fluid from mid-ocean ridge hydrothermal systems. A long-term goal is to characterize organic compounds that may represent precursors to life in this extreme environment.