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WHOI Waypoints: Awards Recognize Senior Technical Staff

The Institution announced two $60,000 Senior Technical Staff Awards in 2000—to recognize extraordinary accomplishments in engineering, instrument development, information systems, or oceanography, and mentoring of younger staff.

Gene Terray, a Research Specialist in the Applied Ocean Physics & Engineering Department (AOPE), won the first Allyn Vine Award, named after the legendary WHOI scientist. The award was sponsored by Palisades Geophysical Institute, whose principal, J. Lamar Worzel, collaborated closely with Vine at WHOI in the 1930s and 1940s, and a matching grant from the George F. Baker Trust.

Jean Whelan, a Senior Research Specialist in the Marine Chemistry & Geochemistry Department, received an R.K. Mellon Award—initiated by a 1996 gift from the R.K. Mellon Foundation to enhance transfer of knowledge within the WHOI technical staff.

Gene Terray has been the lead investigator on a number of experiments to study the small-scale mechanics of air-sea interaction, in particular the role of surface waves in transferring energy, heat, momentum, and mass between atmosphere and ocean. He has developed several new instruments, including Doppler sonars and, with Research Engineer Don Peters, the 40-foot Air-Sea Interaction Spar (ASIS) buoy, designed to provide a stable platform for obtaining near-surface observations on both sides of the air-sea surface.

More recently, working with AOPE Department members John Trowbridge and George Voulgaris (now at the University of South Carolina), Gene employed the Southampton Oceanography Centre’s Autosub, an autonomous underwater vehicle, to map near-bed flow over sand ridges in the North Sea.

Whelan’s research interests include the mechanisms of petroleum formation and migration, and the effects of natural oil and gas seeps on ocean chemistry. She and colleagues advocate a theory that some of the world’s oil and gas fields may be continuously refilling, refreshed by pools of hydrocarbons that lie deep within the earth.

A current focus of her work concerns gas hydrates, solids composed of cages of water molecules that trap methane under certain temperature and pressure conditions. Gas hydrates occur at the seafloor/water column interface and are buried within seafloor sediments.

“There is growing recognition,” Jean said, “that there is huge movement of gas beneath the sediments and that it happens not only on geological time scales but also on very short time scales. Gas hydrates are one expression of this movement, which I suspect has an enormous effect on the biogeochemistry of the ocean.”

Originally published: March 1, 2001