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WHOI Expands Research in Tropical Regions with New Initiative

November 20, 2006

With more than 25 percent of the planet lying between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, researchers at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) are taking advantage of a recent gift to expand studies from Panama to Palau and elsewhere around the world.

A $600,000 gift from Rod and Liz Berens of New York will enable WHOI scientists, engineers, students, and postdoctoral investigators to pursue new opportunities and expand the Institution’s research in tropical regions. The gift supports the Institution’s Tropical Research Initiative (TRI) established in 2005, which was timed to take advantage of a newly constructed scientific research facility on the Pacific coast of Panama known as the Liquid Jungle Lab (LJL).

The LJL site offers an undisturbed coastal location where ocean scientists can study everything from plankton, viruses, dolphins, jellyfish, corals, reef fish and mangrove swamps to coastal currents.

“It provides WHOI scientists with advanced laboratory facilities in a region full of marine and terrestrial ecosystems that have not been well explored,” said Laurence Madin, acting WHOI director of research and coordinator of WHOI research at the site.  Scientists from WHOI, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and the Royal Botanical Garden of Madrid provided scientific and technical advice on the design and operation of LJL.

Beyond LJL in Panama, the Tropical Research Initiative has already launched several new research projects by WHOI scientists, including a study on coastal changes in Indonesia caused by the December 26, 2004, tsunami. In addition, five TRI grants were awarded in 2005 to pursue such projects as the reconstruction of ancient typhoons and Asian monsoons in Japan and the Caribbean Sea; the study of marine biotoxins in the U.S. Virgin Islands, which can cause poisoning in humans who eat contaminated fish; and the use of fossil DNA to study climate change in Palau.

“We’re excited about the possibilities this gift from Rod and Liz Berens provides to researchers in all disciplines,” said Cabell Davis, director of the WHOI Ocean Life Institute.  “It gives us much needed support for innovative pilot projects and provides funds for staff and students to conduct collaborative research in the tropics on a wide range of pressing issues.”

Rod Berens is a Trustee and Member of the Corporation of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. He also serves on the Institution’s Ocean Life, Access to the Sea, and Employee Retirement Trust and Campaign Committees.

WHOI is a private, independent marine research and engineering, and higher education organization in Falmouth, MA. Its primary mission is to understand the oceans and their interaction with the Earth as a whole, and to communicate a basic understanding of the ocean’s role in the changing global environment. Established in 1930 on a recommendation from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the Institution is organized into five departments, interdisciplinary institutes and a marine policy center, and conducts a joint graduate education program with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.