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The Satellite That Could Save the Coasts

Friday, September 16th, 2011

by Kristen Minogue

On a hot afternoon in July, a team of researchers sailing down Chesapeake Bay stumbled across a cluster of striped bass floating in the water. About a dozen of the iridescent black and silver fish bobbed at the surface near the ship’s bow. All of them were dead.

Scientists prepare to measure how light interacts with particles in the Bay. Credit: Carlos DelCastillo

The fish kill came out of a low-oxygen zone near Annapolis, just one symptom of the Bay’s declining health. Overflows of nutrients from farms and cities have fueled massive growths of algae that cut off light and oxygen to the Bay’s lower levels.

“There was a very quiet moment between everybody on the boat,” recalled Vienna Saccomanno, one of the Smithsonian research interns aboard when it was discovered. “You kind of knew what everyone was thinking, feeling empowered to continue with this research and hopefully contribute to prevention of this in our water system.”

The scientists on board weren’t there simply to document the Bay’s many ailments, however. They had joined the 10-day cruise to pave the way for a much larger goal: a geostationary satellite that could provide constant, detailed coverage of coastal health.
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Meanwhile, inside the Photobiology Lab…

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Go behind the scenes and into SERC’s photobiology lab. This is where photobiologist Pat Neale spends a great deal of time examining the impact of UV radiation on photosynthesis. In this video you’ll get a look at one experiment that seeks to determine what would happen to the ocean’s phytoplankton if the ozone layer was suddenly destroyed by cosmic radiation.

Video credits: Anne Goetz, Editor; Lia Kvatum, Producer/Writer/Camera; Tony Franken, Music.

Learn more about this experiment in an earlier Shorelines post.

The Beast and the big “What if?”

Friday, February 19th, 2010

For many SERC scientists, field research comes to a halt in the winter. Some manage to head off to the tropics to investigate invasive species or mangroves, but not photobiologist Pat Neale. Neale and his assistants are spending a good part of their time these days in his lab with the Beast.

Photobiologist Pat Neale with his photoinhibitron

Photobiologist Pat Neale wears eyeglasses that protect him from the Beast's UV rays.

The Beast does not bite, but if you look at it the wrong way it will hurt you. In fact it can char your corneas if you’re not careful. That’s because it reflects and filters ultraviolet light. UV rays are invisible to the naked eye, but are high in energy and potentially damaging to animals and plants. As a photobiologist Neale studies how UV rays affect aquatic environments and the organisms that live in them.
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