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Heat Release from Stagnant Deep Sea Helped End Last Ice Age

The build-up and subsequent release of warm, stagnant water from the deep Arctic Ocean and Nordic Seas played a role in ending the last Ice Age within the Arctic region, according to new research led by an international team of scientists.

The study, published today in Science, examines how the circulation of the combined Arctic Ocean and Nordic Seas – called the Arctic Mediterranean – changed since the end of the last Ice Age (~20,000-30,000 years ago). The results highlight the important impact that changes in ocean circulation can have on climate.

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Ultrasounds for Coral Reefs?

In a study, published Aug. 6, 2015 in Marine Ecology Progress Series, scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) used low-cost autonomous underwater recorders over four months to collect “soundscapes” of reefs in in the U.S. Virgin Islands. They showed how the collective sound recordings of reef inhabitants painted vivid pictures of the reefs’ abundance and diversity.


In a second study, published the same day in Marine Pollution Bulletin, the researchers recorded boat noise—showing how it could mask vital sounds that organisms make to reproduce, feed, and find new homes. They also demonstrated how underwater recorders could help marine managers keep an ear on potentially disruptive human activity in far-off locations.

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River Buries Permafrost Carbon at Sea

As temperatures rise, some of the carbon dioxide stored in Arctic permafrost meets an unexpected fate—burial at sea. As many as 2.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year are swept along by a single river system into Arctic Ocean sediment, according to a new study led by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) researchers and published today in Nature. This process locks away the greenhouse gas and helps stabilize the earth’s CO2 levels over time, and it may help scientists better predict how natural carbon cycles will interplay with the surge of CO2 emissions due to human activities.

“The erosion of permafrost carbon is very significant,” says WHOI Associate Scientist Valier Galy, a co-author of the study. “Over thousands of years, this process is sequestering CO2 away from the atmosphere in a way that amounts to fairly large carbon stocks. If we can understand how this process works, we can predict how it will respond as the climate changes.”

Permafrost—the permanently frozen ground found in the Arctic and Antarctic and in some alpine regions—is known to hold billions of tons of organic material, including vast stores of CO2. Amid concerns about rising Arctic temperatures and their impact on permafrost, many researchers have directed their efforts to studying the permafrost carbon cycle—the processes through which the carbon circulates between the atmosphere, the soil and surface (the biosphere), and the sea. Yet how this cycle works and how it responds to the warming, changing climate remains poorly understood.

Galy and his colleagues from Durham University, the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, the NERC Radiocarbon Facility, Stockholm University, and the Universite Paris-Sud set out to characterize the carbon cycle in one particular piece of the Arctic landscape—northern Canada’s Mackenzie River, the largest river flowing into the Arctic Ocean from North America and that ocean’s greatest source of sediment. The researchers hypothesized that the Mackenzie’s muddy water might erode thawing permafrost along its path and wash that biosphere-derived material and the CO2 within it into the ocean, preventing the release of that CO2 into the atmosphere.

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Shifting Winds, Ocean Currents Doubled Endangered Galapagos Penguin Population

New research suggests shifts in wind currents over the past three decades, possibly due to climate change and natural variability, have nudged the Equatorial Undercurrent north. The changing current expanded the nutrient-rich, cold water farther north along the coasts of the two islands, likely bolstering algae and fish numbers in the cold pool. This allowed the penguin population to double over the past 30 years, swelling to more than 1,000 birds by 2014, according to the new study.

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Whale Research Takes Flight

A research team has successfully demonstrated a new non-invasive tool to obtain hard-to-get health measurements of large endangered whales in the wild: Using a small remote-controlled hexacopter, scientists for the first time collected both breath samples from the whales’ spouts combined with aerial photos of their body condition.

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John W. Farrington Named 2015 American Geophysical Union Fellow

John Farrington 2015

John W. Farrington of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) has been elected a fellow of the American Geophysical Union (AGU).Farrington, Dean emeritus and an emeritus member in the Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry Department, is among 60 new fellows who will be honored for “exceptional scientific contributions and attained acknowledged eminence in the fields of Earth and space sciences.” 

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Carbon Dioxide Pools Discovered in Aegean Sea

The waters off Greece’s Santorini are the site of newly discovered opalescent pools forming at 250 meters depth. The interconnected series of meandering, iridescent white pools contain high concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) and may hold answers to questions related to deepsea carbon storage as well as provide a means of monitoring the volcano for future eruptions.

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Air Travel and Climate: A Potential New Feedback?

Global air travel contributes around 3.5 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions behind/driving anthropogenic climate change, according to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  But what impact does a warming planet have on air travel and how might that, in turn, affect the rate of warming itself?

A new study by researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and University of Wisconsin Madison found a connection between climate and airline flight times, suggesting a feedback loop could exist between the carbon emissions of airplanes and our changing climate.  The study was published in this week’s Nature Climate Change.

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WHOI Announces 2015 Ocean Science Journalism Fellows

Seven writers and multimedia science journalists from the U.S. have been selected to participate in the competitive Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) Ocean Science Journalism Fellowship program. The program takes place September 13-18, 2015, in Woods Hole, Mass., on Cape Cod.

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Where Iron and Water Mix

A new study by researchers from University of Washington (UW), Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), and the University of Southern California, demonstrates that chemical-laden plumes erupted from vents at one section of Mid Ocean Ridge in the SE Pacific can be traced all the way across the Pacific for more than 4000 kilometers.  Further, the study shows how the iron transported by this process is ultimately brought to the surface oceans of Antarctica where it is serves as a key life-sustaining micro-nutrient supporting up to 30 percent of all the organic carbon uptake in that ocean. 

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Deep-Sea Images Give New View of Arctic Ocean Methane Seeps

Working with colleagues from the Centre for Arctic Gas Hydrate, Environment and Climate (CAGE) in Norway, Dan Fornari from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s (WHOI) Geology & Geophysics Department collected nearly 30,000 high definition images at known methane release sites in the Arctic Ocean north of Norway.  The detailed images will provide new insights into the most remote areas of natural methane releases in the world.

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WHOI Earns 4-Star Rating from Charity Navigator

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s sound fiscal management practices and commitment to accountabilityand transparency haveearned it a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator, America’s largest independent charity evaluator. This is the 13th time that WHOI has earned this top distinction in the last 14 years.  


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WHOI Names Mark Abbott President and Director

The Board of Trustees of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) announces that Dr. Mark Abbott has accepted the position of president and director of the institution. Abbott becomes the tenth director in WHOI’s 85-year history. Abbott will assume the office October 1, 2015, succeeding Susan Avery, who served from 2008 to 2015.

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Camera’s Eye Sees Large Numbers of Young Scallops Off Delaware Bay

NOAA researchers and colleagues from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) have reported what appears to be a banner year for young sea scallops off the Delmarva Peninsula in mid-Atlantic waters of the U.S. NOAA’s HabCamV4, a towed imaging and sensor platform, has photographed miles of sea bottom packed with as many as 350 sea scallops in less than 1 square meter (less than three square feet). Other colorful images captured by the HabCam showed swimming scallops, sea stars and crabs—both scallop predators—and many species of fish, squid and sponges.

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Accelerated Warming of the Continental Shelf Off Northeast Coast

A new study by physical oceanographers at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, shows that water temperatures in this continental shelf region have been trending upward, with unprecedented warming occurring over the last 13 years. The study also suggests a connection between sea level anomalies and water temperature along the continental shelf.

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Making Organic Molecules in Hydrothermal Vents in the Absence of Life

In 2009, scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution embarked on a NASA-funded mission to the Mid-Cayman Rise in the Caribbean, in search of a type of deep-sea hot-spring or hydrothermal vent that they believed held clues to the search for life on other planets. They were looking for a site with a venting process that produces a lot of hydrogen because of the potential it holds for the chemical, or abiotic, creation of organic molecules like methane – possible precursors to the prebiotic compounds from which life on Earth emerged.   

For more than a decade, the scientific community has postulated that in such an environment, methane and other organic compounds could be spontaneously produced by chemical reactions between hydrogen from the vent fluid and carbon dioxide (CO2).  The theory made perfect sense, but showing that it happened in nature was challenging.

Now we know why:  an analysis of the vent fluid chemistry proves that for some organic compounds, it doesn’t happen that way.

New research by geochemists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, published June 8 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the first to show that methane formation does not occur during the relatively quick fluid circulation process, despite extraordinarily high hydrogen contents in the waters.  While the methane in the Von Damm vent system they studied was produced through chemical reactions (abiotically), it was produced on geologic time scales deep beneath the seafloor and independent of the venting process. Their research further reveals that another organic abiotic compound is formed during the vent circulation process at adjacent lower temperature, higher pH vents, but reaction rates are too slow to completely reduce the carbon all the way to methane.

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Diverse Corals Persist, But Bioerosion Escalates in Palau’s Low-pH Waters

As the ocean absorbs atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) released by the burning of fossil fuels, its chemistry is changing. The CO2 reacts with water molecules, lowering ocean pH in a process known as ocean acidification. This process also removes carbonate ions, an essential ingredient needed by corals and other organisms to build their skeletons and shells.

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Dr. John Holdren to Give 2015 Joint Program Commencement Address

Dr. John Holdren, President Obama’s science advisor, will present the commencement address at this year’s graduation ceremonies of the MIT/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Joint Program in Oceanography/Applied Ocean Science and Engineering. Sixteen PhDs and 1 Masters degree will be conferred at this year’s commencement, which will be held on Sat., June 6, 2015, on the WHOI Quissett Campus. 

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Sudden Draining of Glacial Lakes Explained

In 2008 scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and the University of Washington documented for the first time how the icy bottoms of lakes atop the Greenland Ice Sheet can crack open suddenly—draining the lakes completely within hours and sending torrents of water to the base of the ice sheet thousands of feet below. Now they have found a surprising mechanism that triggers the cracks.

Scientists had theorized that the sheer weight of the water in these supraglacial lakes applied pressure that eventually cracked the ice, but they could not explain why some lake bottoms cracked while others did not.

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Revealing the Ocean’s Hidden Fertilizer

A new study by a research team from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and Columbia University reveals for the first time a marine phosphorus cycle that is much more complex than previously thought. The work also highlights the important but previously hidden role that some microbial communities play in using and breaking down forms of this essential element.

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