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WHOI Receives $8.1 Million Grant to Construct New Laboratory

The newly funded laboratory will be constructed on the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s Quissett Campus. (courtesy of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Ellenzweig Architecture)

January 13, 2010

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) will receive $8.1 million from the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to construct the Laboratory for Ocean Sensors and Observing Systems. The WHOI award is one of only 12 proposals of 167 submissions that were funded as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grants to support the construction of new scientific research facilities.

Construction on the new building on the WHOI Quissett campus is expected to start Aug. 1 and be completed by summer 2012.

“This is great news for the Institution,” said WHOI President and Director Susan Avery. “The Laboratory for Ocean Sensors and Observing Systems will provide essential space for several ongoing large projects, enabling new approaches to ocean observations well into the 21st century.”

Among those projects is the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI), a $300 million infrastructure project sponsored by the National Science Foundation. In 2009, WHOI received funds to begin work on coastal and global components of the OOI and will play a central role in developing the project over the next five years and beyond. As the lead institution for the coastal and global scale components, WHOI has significant responsibilities for development, testing, deployment and maintenance of a variety of complex instruments, vehicles and ocean moorings that must be both sensitive and rugged. WHOI will hire approximately 30 new scientists, engineers and technicians to accomplish this, with the new laboratory space devoted to this work.

“This facility will allow WHOI to continue its extensive efforts to develop and maintain cutting-edge observing methods critical to increasing our understanding of the ocean and its role in the climate system,” said Bob Weller, a senior scientist and the OOI principal investigator at WHOI.

The building will also include laboratory and operational office space for two other programs: the Martha’s Vineyard Coastal Observatory (MVCO), a state of the art underwater research facility and test site constructed and operated by WHOI; and the WHOI Ocean Bottom Seismometer Instrument Pool (OBSIP), currently occupying space on the WHOI dock.

In addition to the NSF-funded observing projects, all three programs accommodated within the new lab support NOAA priorities in ocean observing, climate studies, weather observing and forecasting, coastal processes and hazards, ecosystem and fisheries, earthquake and tsunami research, and ocean data management. Sensor and instrument design, construction, calibration and deployment, together with data quality assurance, also are relevant to NIST core functions.

“WHOI has successfully competed for significant federal and state support for major programs, including the OOI, MVCO and OBSIP programs, but that support has never included funds for buildings or other major plant facilities,” said Larry Madin, WHOI director of research and lead author on the proposal. “Construction of the new building will allow all scientists, engineers, and technicians involved in the three programs to work together productively, maximizing the value of the federal support for these programs.”

In addition to the funding for the new laboratory, WHOI received notice that NIST would grant $1.04 million for a separate project to develop and demonstrate sensor technology that will improve the ability to understand the origin, distribution, biogeochemical role and eventual fate of carbon dioxide (CO2) in marine ecosystems. The ocean absorbs approximately 25 percent of CO2 released into the environment. These new sensors, which will be developed by researchers in the WHOI chemistry and engineering departments and installed on buoys to provide long-term monitoring and measurement of CO2, are expected to provide new data critical to understanding and responding to global climate change.

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is a private, independent organization in Falmouth, Mass., dedicated to marine research, engineering, and higher education. Established in 1930 on a recommendation from the National Academy of Sciences, 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 oceans’ role in the changing global environment.