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Media Tip Sheet

The following are some of the key talks that will be presented by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) scientists at the 2012 Ocean Sciences Meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah, from February 20-24.
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Impact of Ocean Variability on Greenland's Glaciers

Increasing evidence suggests that ocean variability triggered the recent acceleration of the melting of glaciers in western and southeastern Greenland leading to a doubling of the ice sheet’s contribution to sea-level rise. This is supported by the fact that the timing of the glaciers’ acceleration coincided with the recent warming of the subpolar North Atlantic and by recent measurements showing that warm, salty subtropical waters circulate rapidly through Sermilik Fjord and Kangerdlugssuaq Fjord.

Yet the processes regulating the inflow and variability of warm, salty waters inside Greenland’s glacial fjords are complex and involve crossing shelves that are strongly influenced by cold, fresh waters of Arctic origin. WHOI physical oceanographer Fiamma Straneo presents recent measurements from one major glacial fjord in southeast Greenland and historical data—including a reconstruction of the shelf variability over the last 120 years—which indicate that the properties at the glaciers’ margins and the glaciers’ stability are affected both by Arctic and Atlantic variability on interannual to decadal time scales.



Presentation Title: Impact of Arctic and Atlantic Variability on Greenland’s Glaciers
Date: Tuesday, Feb. 21
Time: 11:15 a.m.
Location: Room 150

Special Session: Consequences of the March 11, 2011 Earthquake, Tsunami and Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant on the Ocean

The March 11, 2011, earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent radioactivity releases from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plants resulted in the largest accidental release of radiation to the ocean in history.

In a special session on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2012, researchers will present early results from several field and modeling studies examining the fate of more than a dozen radioactive isotopes in the air, water, and organisms impacted by the Fukushima releases. This is the largest international gathering to date of experts in this area.  The session will feature 15 talks and 17 poster sessions.

WHOI talks in the session:

WHOI marine chemist Ken Buesseler led a group of scientists from the U.S., Japan, and Europe on a June 2011 research cruise to study Fukushima-derived radionuclides in the waters off Japan. During the two-week cruise, 17 researchers and technicians collected more than 3,000 liters of water samples for analysis.

Buesseler’s talk will focus on cesium-137 and cesium-134 surface distributions and vertical profiles that were obtained during the June 2011 cruise. The highest cesium concentrations found in the waters at that time were 70-100 kilometers off shore, rather than at the closest sampling point, which was 30 km from the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. Buesseler said the data suggests that the Kuroshio Current—a strong, western boundary current comparable to the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean—prevented contaminated water from spreading southward. Fukushima-derived cesium was found out to at least 600 km off shore.  While cesium isotopes are elevated 10-1000 times over prior levels, radiation risks for waters >30 km off Japan are below those generally considered harmful to marine animals and human consumers, though continued releases from the nuclear power plant and accumulation of contaminants in sediments may be of long-term concern.

Presentation Title: Impacts of the Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Power Plants on the Ocean
Date: Tuesday, Feb. 21
Time: 11:30 a.m.
Location: Ballroom E

 

WHOI physical oceanographer Steven Jayne will report on what researchers learned from 24 surface drifters that were deployed and tracked in the waters off the eastern coast of Japan. The trajectories of these drifters indicate that much of the contaminated water was being pulled away from the coast on the northern side of the Kuroshio Extension. A few of the drifters stayed in the coastal region, suggesting that some of the contaminated water may actually recirculate in this area before being washed offshore. The absence of drifter crossings across the Kuroshio Extension core suggests that it inhibits the southward spreading of contaminated water, at least over the western Pacific Ocean. The drifter trajectories can be used to extend the tracking back to the initial releases and into the future to track the fate of the contamination, Jayne said.

Presentation Title: Tracing the Circulation Around Fukushima
Date: Tuesday, Feb. 21
Time: 11:45 a.m.
Location: Ballroom E

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Plenary Lecture: Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

On April 20, 2010, an explosion at the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico unleashed the largest accidental marine oil spill in history.

In the frenzied environment that followed, marine scientists—many with little background in oil spills—were called upon to quickly deliver ideas, initial results, and data to responders and decision makers. The academic community made major contributions during the disaster, but there were also missed opportunities and mistakes.

WHOI marine chemist Christopher Reddy, who studies oil spills and the long-term fate of oil in the ocean, will talk about academia’s response—including his own—during the spill, and how better communication, coordination, and an understanding of the cultures of other stakeholders involved in the crisis would have led to an even greater contribution by the scientific community.

Reddy collected some of the first oil samples from the Macondo well and was involved in calculating the flow rate of oil coming from the well’s leak sites. Reddy and his colleagues also mapped and characterized a large underwater hydrocarbon plume in the Gulf of Mexico and contributed to a study that provided a comprehensive picture of the fate of oil from the spill.

Reddy, who is also the director of the WHOI Coastal Ocean Institute, provided testimony to the National Commission on BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. He also testified twice before Congress on the oil spill and briefed numerous staffers and leaders in the executive branch.

Presentation Title: How Did We Do:  Academia’s Contributions to the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill
Date: Wednesday, Feb. 22
Time: 11:30 a.m.
Location: Ballrooms A-H

Learn more about WHOI’s response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the online, multimedia presentation: Science in a Time of Crisis.

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Squid Provide Valuable Insights into Hearing Mechanisms

While responses to sound have been described in many underwater vertebrate species (e.g., mammals and fish), considerably less attention has been paid to marine invertebrates. Despite their importance in the marine food web, little is known about how well squid hear and whether they rely on hearing to navigate, sense danger, and communicate with each other. Until recently, it wasn’t clear that they even hear at all.

WHOI biologist T. Aran Mooney will report on studies of physiological and behavioral responses to sound in squid (Loligo pealeii). Results suggest that squid likely “hear” similar to fish and that squid can sense acoustic stimuli from predators, prey, and ambient or anthropogenic sources. These novel findings are important for understanding controls on habitat ranges, prey selection and predator avoidance in a key marine invertebrate.

Presentation Title: Physiological and Behavioral Responses to Sound in the Longfin Squid (Loligo pealeii)
Date: Thursday, Feb. 23
Time: 12:15 p.m.
Location: Room 151

Related talk: Maxwell Kaplan, of the University of St. Andrews, will report on the potential effects of ocean acidification on squid. Kaplan, a former WHOI summer student fellow in Mooney’s lab, studied the effects of elevated carbon dioxide conditions on paralarval longfin squid (Loligo pealeii) —a commercially and biologically important species.

Date: Monday, Feb. 20
Time: 11:30 a.m.
Location: Room 150

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Winter Expedition to the Bering, Chukchi, and Southern Beaufort Seas

The Arctic system is undergoing significant changes related to a warming climate—most notably decreased sea ice cover—that may have significant impacts on Arctic ecosystems. Yet our understanding of seasonality in the Arctic, and in particular of winter conditions, has been severely limited because it has been so difficult to access these winter seas. The lack of knowledge has compromised scientists’ ability to model and predict future states of Arctic ecosystems, which are central to understanding the potential impacts of ongoing climate change.

In November 2011, a team of scientists embarked on a 40-day cruise to collect some of the first winter information on the physical, chemical and biological characteristics of three important Arctic Seas—the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas.

Carin Ashjian, WHOI biologist and co-chief scientist on the expedition, will present preliminary findings on the hydrography and aspects of the biology studies from the winter cruise.

Presentation Title: A Winter Expedition to Explore the Biological and Physical Conditions of the Bering, Chukchi, and Southern Beaufort Seas
Date: Friday, Feb. 24
Time: 11:45 a.m.
Location: Ballroom F

Media Contacts

Erin Koenig, ekoenig@whoi.edu  or  508-566-0989 (attending Ocean Sciences meeting)

Stephanie Murphy, samurphy@whoi.edu  or 508-289-2271

Erika Fitzpatrick, efitzpatrick@whoi.edu or 508-289-3281

WHOI Media Relations Office, media@whoi.edu or 508-289-3340

Last updated: February 16, 2012