August 15, 2011
On Monday, Aug. 15, U.S. Senator Scott Brown visited the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), the world-renowned research and education organization based on Cape Cod. The visit was Brown’s first to WHOI.
“We are delighted to have been able to host Senator Brown,” said WHOI President and Director Dr. Susan K. Avery who, along with WHOI Director of Research Dr. Larry Madin, escorted Sen. Brown through parts of WHOI’s Woods Hole village facilities. “Senator Brown understands the importance of ocean science research and technology to society, to our national defense, and to the U.S. economy.”
After completing his visit, Senator Brown, a supporter of science, said, “The research done at WHOI helps protect and better understand our ocean. Their work has direct benefits for society in a wide variety of areas, ranging from working with the U.S. Navy to helping clean up the Gulf oil spill. I am proud to have this fine institution in our state.”
During his 60-minute visit, Sen. Brown met with WHOI Oceanographic Systems Lab (OSL) engineer Greg Packard, a leader in the development of unmanned autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), to learn about the utility of AUVs to defense and civilian ocean science research. The REMUS 6000 AUVs, developed in the OSL, were used earlier this year in the search for and discovery of Air France flight 447, which disappeared into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009. Also used to sweep for mines in the Persian Gulf, they were developed with funding from the U.S. Navy and are licensed for manufacture to Hydroid Inc., one of several “spin off” companies that were incubated and emerged from the WHOI’s innovation hub.
In the high bay building that holds the submersible Alvin during periodic overhauls, WHOI VP for Marine Facilities and Operations Rob Munier briefed the Senator on the Institution’s deep submergence capability, which, in addition to Alvin, includes the autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) Sentry and the remotely operated vehicle Jason. Together, the vehicles comprise a national facility with sampling and imaging capability to depths of 6,500 meters (approx. 4 miles) for use by ocean scientists across the U.S. “Each of the vehicles was used in the Gulf of Mexico last year to respond to and monitor the impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill,” Munier told the Senator, underscoring how the tools and techniques developed for fundamental research were creatively applied during that crisis and were invaluable in the Institution’s response to the spill.
Munier also described innovations associated with the Ocean Observatories Initiative, a large National Science Foundation program to build the next generation ocean science infrastructure. WHOI has a lead role in the OOI, designing and building its coastal and global components. The new infrastructure will transform the way ocean science is conducted, enabling scientists and others to view real-time data from remote ocean locations, and providing policy makers with science-based tools for decision-making.
In his briefing for the Senator, Director of Research Madin focused on three projects that underscore “the importance of fundamental research to developing innovative solutions to complex societal problems.” They included research on marine mammal hearing and communication to understand how sound from military and commercial activities impacts whales and other marine mammals; “red tide” or harmful algal bloom research to aid in forecasting major outbreaks and mitigating their impacts; and recent work to understand the impact to the ocean of the Fukushima plant radiation releases.
The Senator’s visit concluded with an update from VP for Academic Programs Jim Yoder on WHOI’s role in support of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) initiative.
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 ocean and its interaction with the Earth as a whole, and to communicate a basic understanding of the ocean’s role in the changing global environment.