WHOI in the News
Scientist hopes his smart system can reduce ship collisions with North Atlantic right whales. A new technology on the horizon may help to reduce one of those threats, however.
MPC Research Specialist, Hauke Kite-Powell, has recently been appointed to a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine committee to study U.S. contributions to global ocean plastic waste.
A new paper published in the journal Science of the Total Environment from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) puts an economic value on the benefit of research to improve knowledge of the biological carbon pump and reduce the uncertainty of ocean carbon sequestration estimates.
At the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, Robert S.C. Munier, the vice president for marine facilities and operations, said that the facility was feeling the effects of climate change already in a battering of the existing dock.
“The most striking thing is just how far down it is and how the light dissolves away,” says Joel Llopiz, a biologist with Woods Hole Oceanographic.
The high seas are legally defined as waters that don’t fall under any single nation’s exclusive economic zone. That means they technically belong to everyone. It also means they’re hard to protect against activities like fishing or mining because they’re beyond any single nation’s jurisdiction, explained Porter Hoagland, a senior research specialist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
News & Insights
By Elise Hugus | April 22, 2020
Critically endangered North Atlantic right whales swim in the waters off Massachusetts in February 2019. WHOI biologist Michael Moore uses drone technology to identify, track, and even take samples from the whales’ exhaled breath to learn more about their behavior and health. (Video courtesy of Michael Moore, © Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, NMFS Permit #21371)Critically endangered North Atlantic right whales swim in the waters off Massachusetts in February 2019. WHOI biologist Michael Moore uses drone technology to identify, track, and even take samples from the whales’ exhaled breath to learn more about their behavior and health. (Courtesy of Michael Moore, © Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, NMFS Permit #21371)
After a record-breaking string of North Atlantic right whale deaths in 2019, the birth of nine calves this winter signaled a little bit of hope for the critically endangered species. But in mid-January, a days-old right whale was severely injured by a ship propeller off the coast of Georgia-and it hasn’t been seen since.
For biologists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), losses such as these are not only tragic, they are preventable. From hydrophones attached to buoys or autonomous vehicles, to a passive acoustic monitoring system, WHOI scientists and engineers have developed innovative methods to monitor marine mammals in real time. The idea is simple: if authorities are aware of the presence of migrating whales, they will be able to tell ships to slow down, drastically reducing the likelihood of a fatality. Remote acoustic technologies can also alert scientists to a stranding event, buying critical time to save the animal’s life.Hydrophones on mooring lines are able to detect whale sounds, but violent seas make it difficult to discern them from the sound of rushing water. To solve the problem, WHOI engineers designed a two-tiered mooring line, separated by a steel flotation sphere. In rough seas (right panel), the tough, stretchy “Gumby hose” on top acts like a bungee cord, absorbing the tension of the surface buoy. The bottom line is decoupled from the movements of the top line; it remains a stable, quiet platform for the hydrophone. (Illustration by E. Paul Oberlander, © Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) A surface buoy in Massachusetts Bay helps scientists monitor the location and behavior of North Atlantic right whales. These buoys are equipped with stretch-hose technology to overcome North Atlantic weather and waves. (Photo by Nick Woods, © Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) To unravel the combination of circumstances that creates rich feeding areas for marine animals, scientists use autonomous underwater gliders, which collect data on water temperature and salinity, currents, copepod clusters, and whale sounds. Gliders may also be used to detect the presence of protected marine mammals while offshore wind farms are constructed. (Photo by Ben Hodges, © Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) A surface buoy in Massachusetts Bay helps scientists monitor the location and behavior of North Atlantic right whales. These buoys are equipped with stretch-hose technology to overcome North Atlantic weather and waves. (Photo by Nick Woods, © Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) To unravel the combination of circumstances that creates rich feeding areas for marine animals, scientists use autonomous underwater gliders, which collect data on water temperature and salinity, currents, copepod clusters, and whale sounds. Gliders may also be used to detect the presence of protected marine mammals while offshore wind farms are constructed. (Photo by Ben Hodges, © Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
Ships (and fishing gear) are not the only man-made hazards that whales face. Noise in the marine environment also cause distress, impacting the whales’ ability to feed and communicate. That’s why offshore wind operators are required to monitor for the presence of marine mammals during construction and operation. With several large-scale wind farms planned along the U.S. East Coast, the need for accurate, real-time monitoring technologies is enormous. But obstacles-such as maintaining the gear and recovering data from remote offshore locations-remain.
In a bid to overcome these challenges, WHOI has teamed up with Greentown Labs, the largest clean tech incubator in North America, and Vineyard Wind, the developer of a proposed 800-megawatt offshore wind farm off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, to launch the Offshore Wind Challenge. The program, which is also partnering with New England Aquarium, calls on entrepreneurs to submit proposals to collect, transmit, and analyze marine mammal monitoring data using remote technologies, such as underwater vehicles, drones, and offshore buoys.
“The goal is to assist the responsible development of technologies that are able to enhance real-time detection of North Atlantic right whales and other protected species in the waters off the northeastern United States,” says Emiley Z. Lockhart, WHOI’s senior counsel and director of regional initiatives.
Startups selected to participate in the program will benefit from networking opportunities, educational workshops, and focused programming through Greentown Launch, a six-month partnership acceleration program provided by Greentown Labs.
“Partnering with Greentown blends the creativity and innovation happening at WHOI, while putting it in a new sphere,” says Rick Murray, WHOI’s deputy director and vice president for research. “And with the offshore wind industry emerging right in our backyard, it’s a natural place for WHOI to responsibly participate through research, technology, and entrepreneurship.”
With at least three wind projects in development off the coast of Woods Hole, Mass., the offshore wind industry has turned to WHOI researchers to help navigate the dynamic and often treacherous marine environment. WHOI’s involvement as an institution kicked off in 2016 and has included initiatives such as the Offshore Wind Energy Research Program, which provides funding for technologies and methodologies that could be transferred to the nascent industry, in partnership with the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center.
“This partnership with Greentown Labs gives WHOI the opportunity to build on its well-earned reputation, and continue to be a highly relevant and active place where the cutting-edge work related to offshore wind development gets done,” Lockhart adds.
Qualified start-ups from the Woods Hole community and beyond are encouraged to apply to the Challenge, says Lockhart. Applications are due by May 31, and are available on the program website: http://bit.ly/OffshoreWindChallenge.Right Whales Biology Marine Policy Center
By Daniel Hentz | April 21, 2020Aria Finkelstein’s experiences at sea, here gliding amid a fjords of Southern Alaska on her family ketch, informed her desire to craft marine policy. (Photo courtesy of Aria Finkelstein)
How did you first get involved with WHOI’s Marine Policy Center and the Ocean Twilight Zone project?
I began the PhD program at MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP) knowing that I wanted to work on ecological infrastructure, but without a very clear idea of the specific project I wanted to take on.
Before coming to MIT, I spent months sailing and fell in love with the sea. That’s when it occurred to me that marine spaces could be a site for spatial planning. So when I realized that people were applying the same ecological planning methods I learned for land management to ocean spaces, I got really excited. A friend of mine at DUSP, Kelly Heber Dunning, was researching coral reefs with Porter Hoagland. She introduced me to him to start studying marine spatial planning.
Because so much of the Ocean Twilight Zone (OTZ) is in international waters, there’s a great deal of uncertainty about what’s there and how it should be managed. There’s a lot of complexity in the governance frameworks that will apply to it, but also the potential for equitable, sustainable distribution of its resources across the globe. So, it’s a fascinating part of the ocean, with each discovery more and more exciting–the perfect intersection of governance, politics, power, and science.
Why should policymakers pay attention to the Ocean Twilight Zone now?
One of the major applicable insights, maybe the most important one, is just how much we still have to learn about the OTZ and how valuable learning about it will be. With so much interest in exploiting parts of the ocean’s midwater through fishing or disruptive mining activities, there’s a real potential that we could destroy major ecosystems without understanding which organisms we’re losing. For one thing, it’s just tragic to damage sites of so much wonder and beauty. More practically speaking, we risk the destruction of systems that can teach us about the history of life on Earth, are critical for climate regulation, and are potential sources of nutrition. We also risk losing genetic material that we haven’t discovered yet, which we could potentially develop into life-saving drugs. Obviously, that last point is especially salient right now.
What are some of the challenges you and your colleagues face in drafting policies to manage use of the twilight zone?
One problem in drafting policy to protect the OTZ is simply that not enough people pay attention to it. Epipelagic ecosystems (those on the water’s surface and sunlit layer) are much more at the forefront of people’s minds–partly because their uses are much more developed. One thing we’re trying to do is keep the twilight zone a part of the discussion and make sure people are thinking about vertical linkages in the open ocean as much as horizontal ones.
WHOI’s twilight zone work in this regard is so important. The discoveries are crucial, but communicating them matters just as much. The awe-inspiring images, stories, and research insights produced by the OTZ Project aren’t just beautiful and informative-they play a huge role in motivating policy changes.Attendees of the Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction second session at the United Nations General Assembly in New York line up for a quick photo. (from left to right) Kristina Gjerde, Porter Hoagland, Aria Ritz Finkelstein, Harriet Harden-Davies, Jane Collins, Torsten Thiele, Muriel Rabone. (© Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
How do you envision the future of policy on the high seas and in the twilight zone?
There’s this idea of the common heritage of mankind, which was enshrined in the Law of the Sea Treaty. It’s the principle that the seabed belongs to everybody and that it should be reserved for peaceful purposes. On the other hand, there’s the principle of the freedom of the seas, which is that high seas resources are open to all. The balance between the two is an ideological one that runs throughout negotiations over how to manage the ocean. As we learn more about the OTZ, it only becomes clearer how important the balance between these principles is.
Right now, only a handful of countries have the technology and money to exploit the resources in the OTZ, and the rest of the world shouldn’t have to bear the brunt of the enrichment of the few.
A fundamental principle I haven’t touched on yet is the precautionary principle. Basically, it means that you should understand how a system works and what impact you could have before you interfere with it. We know that the OTZ plays a huge role in sequestering carbon, but we still have a lot to learn about how huge. If we’re not careful, over-harvesting mesopelagic organisms could reduce their regulating services catastrophically. The more we learn about the twilight zone, the more obvious it becomes how much we still have to learn. Let’s not ruin it first.MIT-WHOI Joint Program Ocean Twilight Zone Marine Policy Center
Hauke Kite-Powell, Marine Policy Center, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
To feed a growing population, the world needs more healthy protein from the sea. Nowhere is this more evident than in coastal communities of East Africa. Shellfish farming is an ecologically benign way to produce seafood while providing new economic opportunities, especially for women. Learn how WHOI researchers are working with local universities in Zanzibar, Tanzania to bring the science and technology of shellfish farming to East Africa.
Woods Hole, Mass. – Harmful algal blooms (HABs) occur in all 50 U.S. states and many produce toxins that cause illness or death in humans and commercially important species. However, attempts to place a more exact dollar value on the full range of these impacts often vary widely in their methods and level of detail, which hinders understanding of the scale of their socio-economic effects.
In order to improve and harmonize estimates of HABs impacts nationwide, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Center for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) and the U.S. National Office for Harmful Algal Blooms at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) convened a workshop led by WHOI Oceanographer Emeritus Porter Hoagland and NCCOS Monitoring and Event Response (MERHAB) Program Manager Marc Suddleson. Participants focused on approaches to better assess the socio-economic effects of harmful algal blooms in the marine and freshwater (primarily Great Lakes) ecosystems of the United States. The workshop proceedings report describes the group’s objectives, and presents recommendations developed by 40 participants, mostly economists and social scientists from a range of universities, agencies, and U.S. regions. Their recommendations fall under two broad categories: those intended to help establish a socio-economic assessment framework, and those to help create a national agenda for HABs research.
“This has been a goal of the research and response communities for a long time, but coming up with a robust national estimate has been difficult, for a number of reasons, mainly related to the diversity of algal species and the wide variety of ways they can affect how humans use the oceans and freshwater bodies,” said Hoagland. “This gives us a strong base on which to build the insight that will vastly improve our estimates.”
Framework recommendations call for enhancing interagency coordination; improving research communications and coordination among research networks; integrating socioeconomic assessments into HAB forecasts and observing networks; using open-access databases to establish baselines and identify baseline departures; facilitating rapid response socio-economic studies; improving public health outcome reporting and visibility of HAB-related illnesses; fostering the use of local and traditional ecological knowledge to improve HAB responses; engaging affected communities in citizen science; and engaging graduate students in HAB socio-economic research.
Research agenda recommendations include elements necessary for addressing gaps in our understanding of the social and economic effects of HABs. They include a suggested approach for obtaining an improved national estimate of the economic effects of HABs; supporting rapid ethnographic assessments and in depth assessments of social impacts from HABs; defining socioeconomic impact thresholds for triggering more detailed studies of impacts (such as in the case of designated HAB events of significance); sponsoring research on the value of scientific research leading to improved understanding of bloom ecology; assessing the value of HAB mitigation efforts, such as forecasts, and control approaches and their respective implementation costs; and supporting research to improve HAB risk communication and tracking and to better understand the incidence, severity, and costs of HAB-related human illnesses.
“These recommendations give us a strong series of next steps to increase focus on HAB-related socio-economic research,” said Don Anderson, director of the U.S. National Office for Harmful Algal Blooms. “The report is certain to spur increased collaborations that will provide a better understanding of the many complex socio-economic effects of HABs and provide the tools to increase the effectiveness of efforts to minimize impacts on society and the environment.”
The detailed final proceedings report and more information about the workshop is available on the U.S. National HAB Office website.
###About Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) is a private, non-profit organization on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, dedicated to marine research, engineering, and higher education. Established in 1930, its primary mission is to understand the ocean and its interaction with the Earth as a whole, and to communicate an understanding of the ocean’s role in the changing global environment. WHOI’s pioneering discoveries stem from an ideal combination of science and engineering-one that has made it one of the most trusted and technically advanced leaders in basic and applied ocean research and exploration anywhere. WHOI is known for its multidisciplinary approach, superior ship operations, and unparalleled deep-sea robotics capabilities. We play a leading role in ocean observation and operate the most extensive suite of data-gathering platforms in the world. Top scientists, engineers, and students collaborate on more than 800 concurrent projects worldwide-both above and below the waves-pushing the boundaries of knowledge and possibility. For more information, please visit www.whoi.edu Read the report
Workshop on the Socio-economic Effects of Marine and Fresh Water Harmful Algal Blooms in the United States
Projects will help enhance monitoring and determine socioeconomic impacts of blooms nationwide
Researchers at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) were recently named in a list of 17 new research projects funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to improve the nation’s collective response to the growing problem of harmful algal blooms (HABs). The four projects led, co-led, or supported by WHOI researchers total nearly $2.5 million over the coming year and $7.9 million over the course of the projects. A full list of the new grant awards is available online and includes projects funded under NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) and the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOSⓇ) Office.
“NOAA is funding the latest scientific research to support managers trying to cope with increasing and recurring toxic algae that continue to affect environmental and human health of coastal communities,” said David Kidwell, director of NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) Competitive Research Program. “These projects will address the largely unknown socioeconomic impact of blooms in various regions, improve local managers’ ability to keep drinking water safe, aid monitoring for algal toxins in seafood and advance a potentially valuable control method for Florida red tide and other blooms, enhancing our nation’s collective response to these events.”
Marine and fresh waters teem with life, much of it microscopic, and most of it harmless. Although most of these phytoplankton and cyanobacteria are harmless, there are some that create potent toxins and, under the right conditions, both toxic and non-toxic species can form blooms that threaten the health of humans and ecosystems, and cause significant societal and economic problems.
These impacts include human illness and death following consumption of or indirect exposure to HAB toxins, economic losses to coastal communities and commercial fisheries, and HAB-associated wildlife deaths. Freshwater HABs can also affect drinking water supplies far from the ocean and are a growing problem as water temperatures rise, precipitation patterns change, and the use of agricultural fertilizers becomes more widespread.
“It’s impossible to ignore the growing natural, social, and economic impacts that HABs are having around the world,” said Don Anderson, WHOI senior scientist and Director of the U.S. National Office Harmful Algal Blooms. “NOAA’s support is critical to ensure that we have appropriate scientific understanding of these events and adequate monitoring and forecasting in place to protect our nation’s people, animals, and ecosystems.”
Harmful Algal Bloom Community Technology Accelerator
Institutions: Southern California Coastal Ocean Observing System/University of California San Diego/Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Axiom Data Science LLC, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, University of California Santa Cruz, Central and Northern California Ocean Observing System
Project Period: September 2020 – August 2023
Funding: $1,193,561 (FY2020: $399,998)
HABs are persistent threats to coastal resources, local economies, and human and animal health throughout U.S. waters and are expected to intensify and/or expand as oceans change in response to climate change. As a result, there is an immediate need for more effective strategies and technologies to monitor and communicate the risk of algal toxins to human and ecosystem health in U.S. waters. A WHOI-based team led by biologists Heidi Sosik and Stace Beaulieu will contribute to this effort by helping deploy off the coast of California six Imaging FlowCytobots (IFCBs)—automated camera systems that image, identify, and count plankton species in the water and report data to shore in real-time.
Value of the Pacific Northwest HAB Forecast
Institutions: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, University of Washington, Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
Project Period: September 2020 – August 2023
Funding: $899,896 (FY2020: $299,948)
Razor clam and Dungeness crab fisheries along the Washington and Oregon coasts have been adversely affected by marine algae that produce the toxin domoic acid. The razor clam fishery is the largest recreational bivalve shellfish fishery in the region and a major source of tourist-related income to small communities along the coast. This project, led by Di Jin and Porter Hoagland of WHOI’s Marine Policy Center, will estimate the economic benefits of the Pacific Northwest HAB Bulletin, a forecasting tool that helps managers decide how and when to open and close the shellfisheries, by using a method for quantifying the value of information.
Assessing Societal Impacts of Harmful Macroalgae Blooms in the Caribbean
Institutions: University of Rhode Island and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Project Period: September 2020 – August 2023
Funding: $838,137 (FY 2020: $318,292)
The number, distribution, and magnitude of blooms have increased in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico since 2011, with subsequent impacts on coastal ecosystems that have led many to consider them a new type of natural disaster in this region. This study co-led by Di Jin of the Marine Policy Center will examine how periodic blooms of free-floating Sargassum and subsequent mitigation efforts in the Caribbean affect social resilience across multiple dimensions, including economic impacts, human wellbeing, local ecological knowledge, and individual attitudes, values, and behaviors.
Trophic Transfer and Effect of HAB Toxins in Alaskan Marine Food Webs
Institutions: NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center, NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, Alaska Veterinary Pathology Services, Sitka Tribe of Alaska, Alaska Sea Grant, University of Alaska Fairbanks, North Slope Borough, United States Geological Survey
Project Period: September 2020 – August 2025
Funding: $4,989,708 (FY2020: $1,460,870)
HABs and their toxins, particularly paralytic shellfish toxins produced by Alexandrium spp. and domoic acid produced by Pseudo-nitzschia spp., are increasingly present in Alaskan waters and have been detected in commercially valuable shellfish and finfish, and in animals that are not often studied by HAB researchers but which are targeted by subsistence hunters, including seabirds, seals, walruses, sea lions, and whales. The goal of this project, co-led by Don Anderson of the Biology Department is to model the movement and impacts of HAB toxins in Arctic and Subarctic food webs and reveal the extent of their impacts on human and natural ecosystems.
The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) is a private, non-profit organization on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, dedicated to marine research, engineering, and higher education. Established in 1930, its primary mission is to understand the ocean and its interaction with the Earth as a whole, and to communicate an understanding of the ocean’s role in the changing global environment. WHOI’s pioneering discoveries stem from an ideal combination of science and engineering—one that has made it one of the most trusted and technically advanced leaders in basic and applied ocean research and exploration anywhere. WHOI is known for its multidisciplinary approach, superior ship operations, and unparalleled deep-sea robotics capabilities. We play a leading role in ocean observation, and operate the most extensive suite of data-gathering platforms in the world. Top scientists, engineers, and students collaborate on more than 800 concurrent projects worldwide—both above and below the waves—pushing the boundaries of knowledge and possibility. For more information, please visit www.whoi.edu
The ocean plays an invaluable role in capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, taking in somewhere between five to 12 gigatons (billion tons) annually. Due to limited research, scientists aren’t sure exactly how much carbon is captured and stored—or sequestered—by the ocean each year or how increasing CO2 emissions will affect this process in the future.
A new paper published in the journal Science of the Total Environment from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) puts an economic value on the benefit of research to improve knowledge of the biological carbon pump and reduce the uncertainty of ocean carbon sequestration estimates.
Using a climate economy model that factors in the social costs of carbon and reflects future damages expected as a consequence of a changing climate, lead author Di Jin of WHOI’s Marine Policy Center places the value of studying ocean carbon sequestration at $500 billion.
“The paper lays out the connections between the benefit of scientific research and decision making,” says Jin. “By investing in science, you can narrow the range of uncertainty and improve a social cost-benefit assessment.”
Better understanding of the ocean’s carbon sequestration capacity will lead to more accurate climate models, providing policymakers with the information they need to establish emissions targets and make plans for a changing climate, Jin adds.
With co-authors Porter Hoagland and Ken Buesseler, Jin builds a case for a 20-year scientific research program to measure and model the ocean’s biological carbon pump, the process by which atmospheric carbon dioxide is transported to the deep ocean through the marine food web.
The biological carbon pump is fueled by tiny plant-like organisms floating on the ocean surface called phytoplankton, which consume carbon dioxide in the process of photosynthesis. When the phytoplankton die or are eaten by larger organisms, the carbon-rich fragments and fecal matter sink deeper into the ocean, where they are eaten by other creatures or buried in seafloor sediments, which helps decrease atmospheric carbon dioxide and thus reduces global climate change.
Rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, a result of human activity such as burning fossil fuels, warms the planet by trapping heat from the sun and also dissolves into seawater, lowering the pH of the ocean, a phenomenon known as ocean acidification. A warmer, more acidic ocean could weaken the carbon pump, causing atmospheric temperatures to rise—or it could get stronger, with the opposite effect.
“When we try to predict what the world is going to look like, there’s great uncertainty,” says Buesseler, a WHOI marine chemist. “Not only do we not know how big this pump is, we don’t know whether it will remove more or less carbon dioxide in the future. We need to make progress to better understand where we’re headed, because the climate affects all of humanity.”
Buesseler added that efforts like WHOI’s Ocean Twilight Zone initiative and NASA’s EXport Processes in the global Ocean from RemoTe Sensing (EXPORTS) program are making important strides in understanding the ocean’s role in the global carbon cycle, but this research needs to be vastly scaled up in order to develop predictive models such as those used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Current IPCC models do not account for change in the ocean’s ability to take up carbon, which Buesseler said affects their accuracy.
Though the paper’s assessment doesn’t account for the cost of a global research program, Buesseler said that investment would be a small fraction of the $500 billion expected benefit. The authors warn that this savings could also be viewed as a cost to society if the research does not lead to policy decisions that mitigate the effects of climate change.
“Just like a weather forecast that helps you decide whether or not to bring an umbrella, you use your knowledge and experience to make a decision based on science,” Jin says. “If you hear it’s going to rain and you don’t listen, you will get wet.”
This research was supported by WHOI’s Ocean Twilight Zone program and funded by the Audacious Project, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Cooperative Institutes (CINAR), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as part of the EXport Processes in the Ocean from RemoTe Sensing (EXPORTS) program.
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is a private, non-profit organization on Cape Cod, 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. For more information, please visit www.whoi.edu.
- The ocean takes up an estimated five to 12 gigatons of carbon dioxide per year through a process known as the biological carbon pump.
- More accurate estimates of the ocean’s capacity to remove carbon from the atmosphere will lead to more accurate climate models which could improve carbon emissions policies.
- The global economic benefit of studying the ocean’s biological pump is $500 billion, if the science leads to policy decisions that mitigate the effects of climate change.
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) scientists appear in two shorts and a feature film at this year’s Woods Hole Film Festival (WHFF). In addition, scientists will also participate in Q&A sessions connected to three of the festival’s feature-length, ocean-themed entries.
The short films, “Divergent Warmth” and “Beyond the Gulf Stream” are part of a program titled “The Blue Between Us,” offered on-demand from July 25 to August 1 as part of the festival’s virtual program.
In “Divergent Warmth,” producer-director Megan Lubetkin gives viewers a behind-the-scenes look at the synchronized ballet aboard a research vessel during a recent expedition to the East Pacific Rise. Experimental music provides rhythm to imagery of deck operations, launch and recovery of the human-occupied submersible Alvin, and other-worldly views of seafloor hydrothermal vents and lava flows. Interwoven throughout is an evocative reading of Adrienne Rich’s poem, “Diving into the Wreck.”
Dan Fornari, a WHOI emeritus research scholar, acted as associate producer of the 10-minute film. As one of the scientists on the December 2019 expedition, he invited Lubetkin, herself a scientist and the creative exhibits coordinator with the Ocean Exploration Trust, to assist with subsea camera operations and video data management on board. Lubetkin spent her free time shooting additional video, which she edited together while still on the ship to produce a first draft of “Divergent Warmth.”
“I was blown away. It was just fabulous,” Fornari said of his first viewing. “It captures the spirit of going out to sea and being involved in this exploratory effort in the alien realm, where very few people get to go.”
The complex winter currents that collide off the coast of Cape Hatteras are the focus of “Beyond the Gulf Stream,” a short documentary by the Georgia-based production company MADLAWMEDIA. Filmed aboard the WHOI-operated research vessel Neil Armstrong, the 10-minute film features WHOI physical oceanographers Magdalena Andres, Glen Gawarkiewicz, and graduate student Jacob Forsyth as they share their perspectives on the challenges and rewards of doing scientific research at sea, often in difficult conditions.
“I think we have a responsibility to communicate science and the process of doing of science to the public,” said Andres about the film, which was produced in collaboration with WHOI and the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography at the University of Georgia. “It does a really nice job of capturing life at sea in the wintertime.”
As a scientist who uses video to capture data from the ocean depths, Fornari is highly attuned to the impact that visual media can have in capturing the public’s imagination about the ocean.
“These kinds of artistic expressions help open doors to people’s minds.” he said. “That’s crucial for getting the public to understand how critically important the oceans are. Then maybe more students will say, ‘I want to be an ocean scientist when I grow up.’”
In addition to the shorts program itself, WHOI scientists, staff, and students will also participate in “Filmmaker Chats” open to the public and broadcast via Zoom, as well as the WHFF Facebook and YouTube channels. Maddux-Lawrence will take questions about “Beyond the Gulf Stream” on Sunday, July 19, beginning at 9:00 a.m. On Friday, July 31 at 9:00 a.m., Lubetkin will appear with Fornari, as well as Alvin pilot Drew Bewley, MIT-WHOI Joint Program graduate student Lauren Dykman, and Texas A&M graduate student Charlie Holmes II to discuss the making of and science behind “Divergent Warmth.” Recordings of both sessions will also be available for viewing afterward on the festival website.
In addition to the short films, WHOI whale biologist Michael Moore appears in the feature-length documentary “Entangled,” which looks at the intertwined plights of the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale and coastal fishing communities in New England and eastern Canada. After being hunted for centuries, the whales face new challenges in the form of climate change and increased fishing and shipping activity, and Moore has been an outspoken proponent of the need for increased protections to stave off their slide to extinction within the next 20 years.
WHOI scientists will also add their perspective to Q&A sessions following several ocean-themed, feature-length films selected for the festival:
- Thursday, July 30, at 10:00 p.m.: Research specialist Hauke Kite-Powell will answer questions related to aquaculture and seafood in relation to the film “Fish & Men.
- Saturday, August 1, from 4:00 to 5:00 p.m.: Marine chemist Chris Reddy will answer questions about microplastics in relation to the film “Microplastics Madness.”
- Saturday, August 1, from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m.: Marine biologist Simon Thorrold will answer questions about marine protected areas and fishing in connection with the film “Current Sea.”
- Films featuring WHOI scientists will be screened as part of “The Blue Between Us” shorts program at the virtual Woods Hole Film Festival, which may be viewed online by festival passholders and individual ticketholders during the festival, which runs from Saturday, July 25, to Saturday, August 1. Tickets and more information is available here.
- Whale biologist Michael Moore will appear in the feature-length film “Entangled” about the plight of critically endangered North Atlantic right whales.
- WHOI scientists will also participate in Q&A sessions associated with several ocean-themed, feature-length festival films.
- More information is available on the festival website.
Value Beyond View: Illuminating the human benefits of the ocean twilight zone
Did you know that there’s a natural carbon sink—even bigger than the Amazon rainforest—that helps regulate Earth’s climate by sucking up to six billion tons of carbon from the air each year?
A new report from researchers at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) reveals for the first time the unseen—and somewhat surprising—benefits that people receive from the ocean’s twilight zone. Also known as the “mesopelagic,” this is the ocean layer just beyond the sunlit surface.
The ocean twilight zone is a mysterious place filled with alien-looking creatures. The nightly, massive migration of animals from the zone to the surface waters to find food helps to cycle carbon through the ocean’s depths, down into the deep ocean and even to the seabed, where it can remain sequestered indefinitely.
“We knew that the ocean’s twilight zone played an important role in climate, but we are uncertain about how much carbon it is sequestering, or trapping, annually,” says Porter Hoagland, a WHOI marine policy analyst and lead author of the report. “This massive migration of tiny creatures is happening all over the world, helping to remove an enormous amount of carbon from the atmosphere.”
Exactly how much carbon is difficult to pinpoint because the ocean twilight zone is challenging to get to and is understudied. The WHOI Ocean Twilight Zone project, which launched in April 2018, is focused on changing that with the development of new technologies.
It’s estimated that two to six billion metric tons of carbon are sequestered through the ocean’s twilight zone annually. By comparison, the world’s largest rain forest sucks in only about 544 million metric tons of carbon a year—five percent of the world’s annual 10 billion metric tons of carbon emissions.
Using a range of prices for carbon, reflecting future damages expected as a consequence of a changing climate, this “regulating” service has an estimated value of $300 to $900 billion annually, Hoagland notes. Without the ocean’s ability to sequester carbon, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels could be as much as 200 parts per million higher than they are today (about 415 ppm), which would result in a temperature increase of about six degrees Celsius or 10.8 degrees Fahrenheit.
In addition to its role in the carbon cycle, the twilight zone likely harbors more fish biomass than the rest of the ocean combined, and it is home to the most abundant vertebrate species on the planet— the bristlemouth. While twilight zone fish are unlikely to ever end up on peoples’ dinner plates because of their small size and strange appearance, they do provide meals for larger, economically important fish, like tuna and swordfish, and for other top predators, including sharks, whales, seals, penguins, and seabirds.
The twilight zone’s biological abundance makes it an attractive target for commercial fishing operations. Ocean twilight zone animals could be harvested to produce fish meal to support the rapidly growing aquaculture industry and to provide fish oils for nutraceutical markets. Because the twilight zone is situated largely in unregulated international waters, there is concern that its potential resources could be subject to unsustainable exploitation.
The research team hopes that the report will be useful for decision makers, such as the United Nations delegates who will meet this spring in New York to continue developing a new international agreement governing the conservation and sustainable management of marine life on the high seas, in areas beyond the coastal waters managed by individual member States.
“We need to think carefully about what we stand to gain or lose from future actions that could affect the animals of the twilight zone and their valuable ecosystem services,” says Hoagland. “Increasing scientific understanding is essential if we are going to move toward a goal of the sustainable use of the resources.”
This research is part of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s Ocean Twilight Zone Project, funded as part of The Audacious Project housed at TED.
The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is a private, non-profit organization on Cape Cod, 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. For more information, please visit www.whoi.edu.
- The ocean’s twilight zone provides benefits to humans that occur largely out of sight.
- Ocean twilight zone creatures remove two to six billion metric tons of carbon annually, comprising a regulating service worth $300 to $900 billion each year.
- Without the nightly animal migrations that help shuttle carbon to the deep ocean, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels could be as much as one-third more than they are today, which translates to an average temperature increase of about six degrees Celsius or 10.8 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Commercial interests are considering the harvest of twilight zone organisms as a source of proteins and lipids for expanding aquaculture and nutraceutical operations, which are expected to grow by 37 percent from 2016 to 2030.
- The loss of the carbon sequestration service as a consequence of a changing climate or the overfishing of twilight zone animals could amount to significant mitigation and adaptation costs (estimated in the hundreds of billions to trillions of dollars) by the end of the century.
Two new grants to the Woods Hole Sea Grant program totaling more than $650,000 will support research aimed at expanding aquaculture production in Massachusetts. The projects won funding as part of a national strategic investment in aquaculture by the NOAA Sea Grant Program.
“The United States is one of the world’s leading seafood consumers, yet our marine aquaculture production trails other major seafood producing countries,” said Woods Hole Sea Grant Director Matthew Charette, a senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. “These newly funded projects complement Woods Hole Sea Grant’s efforts to support our regional aquaculture industry and the safe production and consumption of shellfish.”
One project, “Increasing Northeast U.S. Marine Aquaculture Production by Pre-permitting Federal Ocean Space,” aims to simplify the process and reduce the cost of obtaining permits to farm marine species in U.S. waters. Led by Hauke Kite-Powell, a research specialist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the project will conduct fisheries, protected species, shipping industry, and other reviews on selected offshore areas in advance, to reduce the regulatory burden for aquaculture growers.
“The permitting process for aquaculture in federal waters can be onerous and complex,” said Kite-Powell. “Our approach is to work with major stakeholders, including the aquaculture industry, the federal and state permitting agencies, and the fishing/shipping/protected species communities, to identify suitable areas in federal waters off New England, and identify a range of aquaculture gear types and native species for which they can be pre-permitted. With the pre-permitting process for these areas completed, we will establish a mechanism for aquaculture ventures to gain access and begin production.”
Ultimately, the project, which is estimated to take two years and involves the Massachusetts Aquaculture Association and researchers at the New England Aquarium and UMass Boston, will determine if this simplified permitting mechanism for aquaculture ventures enhances U.S. aquaculture production.
According to the 2016 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization report “The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture,” the United States ranks 17th in total aquaculture production behind China, Indonesia, India, Viet Nam, Philippines, Bangladesh, the Republic of Korea, Norway, Chile, Egypt, Japan, Myanmar, Thailand, Brazil, Malaysia, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The Massachusetts shellfish aquaculture industry had an estimated value of $23 million in 2015, with more than 93 percent of production from oyster culture. The industry is currently dominated by a single product – raw oysters served on the half shell.
“Aquaculture production in Massachusetts is growing, but it’s important to have diversity within the industry,” said Abigail Archer, a marine resource specialist with Woods Hole Sea Grant and the Cape Cod Cooperative Extension. “It’s inherently risky to rely on a monoculture of oysters – disease would significantly impact the industry.”
Archer is the lead on a second newly funded project to explore the potential to broaden the shellfish aquaculture market in Massachusetts to include two other native clam species – surf clams (Spisula solidissima) and blood arks (Anadara ovalis) as well as shucked oysters (Crassostrea virginica), for those who prefer not to eat raw oysters. The project, a collaboration between Woods Hole Sea Grant, Cape Cod Cooperative Extension, the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, and Wellfleet SPAT (Shellfish Promotion and Tasting), will conduct a market analysis of the potential consumer demand for and economic value of culturing alternative species, as well as for shucked oysters.
“We want to get ahead of the curve and diversify, but growers need a certain amount of market-based data before investing in a new species or new markets,” said Archer.
The project builds on past research by Woods Hole Sea Grant and the Cape Cod Cooperative Extension to culture surf clams and blood arks and social science research into consumer appetite for new shellfish products. Archer and her team see this as an important part of their strategic work toassist the regional aquaculture industry to continue to succeed as a growing contributor to the local economy and to the national and global production of farmed marineproducts in an environmentally sustainable manner.
“The shellfish aquaculture industry generates more than $20 million in labor income for the state and has a value of more than $45 million to the Massachusetts economy,” said Congressman William Keating. “The federal investment into these research projects will reduce barriers to growth and expand this important industry.”
Based at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the Woods Hole Sea Grant program supports research and education, and an extension program in concert with the Cape Cod Cooperative Extension, that encourage environmental stewardship, long-term economic development, and responsible use of the nation’s coastal and ocean resources. It is part of the National Sea Grant College Program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a network of 33 individual programs located in each of the coastal and Great Lakes states.