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Forecast: Hotter East Coast Summers ...

Forecast: Hotter East Coast Summers …

... and other recent findings by WHOI researchers

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Forecast: Hotter Summers

If greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise at current rates, average
summertime high temperatures in the eastern United States could rise
10°F by 2080, and soar to more than 100°F in Chicago, Washington, and
Atlanta, according to a study by NASA and WHOI researchers published
April 2007 in the Journal of Climate.

The team fed results from a
computer model that simulates future global climate change into a
separate weather prediction model that forecasts summer temperature
variability in the eastern U.S. The global model alone failed to
account for periods without enough rainfall on the East Coast, which
cause temperatures to rise dramatically, said Rick Healy, an
information systems specialist at WHOI and co-author of the study. See more on the study here.

Photo by Kathy Elder, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

A rare chance to examine a rare turtle

A panoply of uncommon stories and specimens, from shrimp to whales,
passes through Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s Computerized Scanning and Imaging Facility. Another unusual subject arrived in May
2007, when a team of specialists from several institutions and agencies
used the facility to conduct a necropsy on a 900-pound leatherback
turtle. 

The leatherback, an endangered species, was inadvertently caught in
April off Jupiter, Florida, during a longline survey of Atlantic shark
carried out every two to three years by the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service. The turtle was kept for a
required 24-hour observation period before being confirmed dead, said
Teri Frady of the NOAA Northeast Marine Fisheries Center. NOAA
anticipates and accounts for this and other incidental catches when, as
the federal Endangered Species Act mandates, it evaluates the total
impact of fisheries on turtle populations.

The unintentional catch did have a positive side: It presented a rare
opportunity to learn more about this species. With funding from NOAA,
Jeanette Wyneken (in white), an  expert on turtle physiology from
Florida Atlantic University, came to WHOI to lead the necropsy. It
included WHOI biologist Darlene Ketten (in blue) and WHOI staff using
the high-resolution medical scanner to create precise three-dimensional
visualizations of the leatherback’s internal structure, which are
impossible to obtain by dissection.

Photo by Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

New Orleans toxic gumbo

When New Orleans’ levees broke after Hurricane Katrina, officials
feared Lake Pontchartrain might be infiltrated with a “toxic gumbo” of
water, polluted sediments, and sewage. Weeks after the flood,
scientists from several U.S. Centers for Oceans and Human Health,
including WHOI biologist Rebecca Gast, mobilized to sample mud and
waters around the lake, looking for disease-causing microbes.

In the
May 2007 issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences, they reported that the influence of contaminated floodwaters
on Lake Pontchartrain was relatively short-lived, limited to coastal
areas, and did not leave a lasting contamination or disease problem. See more about Rebecca Gast’s work.

Photo by Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Scientific Ice Capades

In the middle of a December, 2006 night, researchers use a specialized bulldozer (aka the “Piston Bully”) to pull a shipping
container mounted on skis (the “Thunder Sled”) across the ice covering
Antarctica’s Ross Sea.

Scientists had used these same vehicles the previous October to tow mooring
equipment, ice melting equipment, food, and camping supplies from
McMurdo Station on Antarctica 18 miles onto the ice shelf through
whiteout conditions and air temperatures ranging from 5° to -40°F (-15°
to -40°C). The trip took four hours. The team melted and cut a
2-foot-diameter hole through sea ice that was 23 feet thick to install
a mooring, designed by WHOI Senior Research Specialist Richard
Limeburner. It measured ocean currents swirling beneath the ice
shelf—in advance of deploying a drilling platform on the ice later this
year. The apparatus will extend through the ice and 1,700 feet of ocean
and then drill about ¾ of a mile into the continental shelf below the
seafloor.

The work was part of the ANDRILL project, involving hundreds of researchers from
several nations, that aims to obtain sediments (hard to come by on an
ice-covered continent) that provide a record reaching back 17 million
years of past climate and ocean conditions around Antarctica, as well
as the continent’s geological history. 

Photo by Sean Whelan, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

A Conversation of Narwhals

Individual narwhals, the Arctic whales with spiraled unicorn-like
tusks, can make individual sounds that may help other narwhals
recognize them or help them reunite with their group. Ari Shapiro, a
biological oceanography  graduate student in MIT/WHOI Joint
Program, and colleagues used digital-recording devices
temporarily suction-cupped to two narwhals in Admiralty Bay on Baffin
Island, Canada.

“For the first time, we could really ‘ride’ with the
animals as they were vocalizing and as they were moving,” said Shapiro,
who reported the findings in the September 2006 issue of the Journal of
the Acoustical Society of America. See more about this work.

Photo by Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Mercury in groundwater

WHOI scientists have found that a surprisingly substantial amount of
mercury enters the ocean from groundwater flowing out of underground
aquifers near the coast.

“This pathway for delivering nutrients and
contaminants into the ocean has long been overlooked and ignored
because it was difficult to quantify,” said WHOI marine chemist Matt
Charette, whose lab has advanced methods to detect mercury flowing out
of aquifers.

Charette and Sharon Bone, a former undergraduate summer
student fellow at WHOI, published their findings May 2007 in the
journal Environmental Science and Technology.

Photo by Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Ancient bridge reconstruction

Researchers have found evidence that the land bridge between Alaska and
Siberia—believed to be the major route for human migration from Asia to
the Americas—may have been cut off about 1,000 years earlier than
widely thought.

Working aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Healy (as seen in the photo) and extracting the longest piston core ever of seafloor
sediments in the Arctic Ocean, WHOI paleoceanographer Lloyd Keigwin and
colleagues analyzed and dated clues indicating that the Bering Strait
flooded into the Arctic Ocean about 11,000 years ago.

The finding,
reported in the October 2006 issue of Geology, offers a key milepost
for archaeologists reconstructing human history.

Photo by Mary Carman, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.