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Photo above: Dr. Flagg’s latest flight over the breach at Old Inlet

Here are the latest updates about our faculty and their research.

Dr. Hyemi Kim‘s recent publication “Insignificant QBO‐MJO prediction skill relationship in the SubX and S2S subseasonal reforecasts” was selected as an EOS Editors’ Highlight.

Dr. Charles Flagg made a partially successful photo flight over the breach at Old Inlet on February 15, 2020 and drafted Inlet Report 22.

Drs. Brian Colle, Pavlos Kollias and Michael French are working with collaborators on the NASA-funded IMPACTS project. Accuweather and News 12 Long Island have covered the project as it examines the structure of snow bands in winter storms. This project involves the use of our Radar Observatory network along with a team of researchers launching radiosondes to collect data while aircraft take measurements from above.

Dr. Roy Price has received a new award from NASA, in support of the project, “Habitability of Saponite-rich Hydrothermal Systems of Early Mars,” in the amount $489,221 for the award period 2/1/20 – 1/31/23.

Of all the potential sites in the solar system that may harbor life, those with hydrothermal vents have perhaps the greatest potential for creating environments conducive for life s origin and continued habitability. Energy production and availability is key: The disequilibria generated during water-rock reactions and the mixing of vent fluids with the overlying water column provides an energyrich environment for chemosynthetic life to thrive. Studies of different types of hydrothermal vents on Earth have revolutionized our understanding of how life on Earth might have emerged, and how and where life might exist. But, modern Earth analogs for ancient Mars systems are uncommon. Iceland rocks are similar to those found on Mars, and many authors have compared Iceland hydrothermal vents with putative vents thought to have once existed on early Mars. Environments where Iceland s iron-rich rocks are being altered by hot springs were suggested to reflect conditions on Mars more than three billion years ago. This makes Iceland a valuable analog site for upcoming missions to Mars, including that of the Mars 2020 rover. Set to launch in 2020, this mission will, among other things, search for evidence of extraterrestrial life, and will target environments that were similar to those found in Iceland.

Strytan Hydrothermal Field, Iceland (a) Location of vents as red dots. (b) Bathymetry of abundant, large saponite cones. (c) Schematic of Strytan cones with divers as scale (d) Photo of active venting (white = fresh saponite).

Strytan Hydrothermal Field, Iceland (a) Location of vents as red dots. (b) Bathymetry of abundant, large saponite cones. (c) Schematic of Strytan cones with divers as scale (d) Photo of active venting (white = fresh saponite).

Our target analog site, the Strytan Hydrothermal Field (SHF), is an exceptional terrestrial analog for past hydrothermal systems on Mars because of its basaltic setting and associated water-rock chemistry. The SHF is one of the only places on Earth where massive, hydrothermal saponite is being deposited in an anoxic, alkaline environment, making it an ideal locality for investigating the habitability of similar clay-rich deposits on Mars. Our overarching goal for this proposed work is to evaluate how, and to what extent, energy generated by ancient, saponite-rich, alkaline hydrothermal settings on Mars could have supported biological processes. Our focused objectives are to: 1) model the bioenergetics of SHF and compare to similar putative habitable sites on early Mars; 2) evaluate the electrical energy generated by Strytan vents and laboratory simulated vents that could support habitability via direct electron transfer from precipitates; 3) evaluate the amount of trapped organic matter in natural and synthetically generated laboratory vent precipitates and relate the results to the energy available for heterotrophic metabolisms.

The information gained by this project can be applied directly to the primary goals of the Habitable Worlds program: 1) to search for contemporary habitable environments relevant to exploring the possibility of extant life beyond Earth, and 2) to contribute to our understanding of the characteristics and the distribution of potentially habitable environments in the Solar System and beyond. It will use “field experiments that improve scientific understanding of how in situ measurements at analog sites can or will improve our understanding of the potential for the environment to support life”; it will investigate “sources of energy for life, using Mars as a target body”; and it will evaluate “the astrobiological potential of past or present environments on or in the Martian surface or subsurface.” The proposed work is not relevant to Exobiology because it is not an evaluation of “biosignatures” and does not evaluate “phylogeny, physiology, or adaptations of extant terrestrial organisms to extreme environments”, or PSTAR, as it is not designed to “develop technical or scientific basis to conduct planetary research”. We will use knowledge gained from characterizing diverse hydrothermal vent systems in Iceland as a guide for determining the processes and conditions that create and maintain habitable environments in hydrothermal systems broadly. This will provide significant insights into understanding the habitability of ancient hydrothermal systems on Mars.

Dr. Chris Gobler was awarded a collaborative grant from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science/NOAA, in support of the project “ECOHAB19: Multidisciplinary Approach to a Cross-Regional Problem: Dinophysis and DSP Toxicity”, for the project period 9/1/2019 – 8/31/2024, in the amount $914,237.

Species of Dinophysis, known to produce toxins that cause diarrhetic shellfish poisoning (DSP), have threatened the safety of shellfish consumers in Asia and Europe for decades. Only in the last decade has DSP become a human health threat in the US. Since first detected on the coast of Texas in 2008, D. ovum has been detected in six of the last eight years and has resulted in the closures of shellfish harvesting to prevent DSP. Since 2011, closures due to DSP from D. acuminata and D. fortii have also been enforced annually at multiple sites throughout Puget Sound, WA, and toxin levels in shellfish exceeding FDA regulatory limits have been reported in New York and Massachusetts due to D. cf. acuminata. Most recently Maine has undergone closures as a result of D. norvegica (ME) and the unknown toxicity of novel toxin dihydro-dinophysistoxin-1 (dihydro-DTX1). Chesapeake Bay and the larger DELMARVA region (Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia) harbor toxin-producing species of Dinophysis. The region, however, provides contrast as a relatively new area of concern, with evidence of an approaching tipping point.

The objectives of the project include: 1) Develop a nationwide network of IFCBs that is optimized for monitoring and providing early warning of Dinophysis spp. blooms; 2) Investigate environmental and biological drivers of Dinophysis spp. blooms and toxicity in situ within and across regions; 3) Quantify rates of growth and toxin production of Dinophysis spp. to a range of environmental and biological factors using controlled laboratory experiments; 4) Develop informative markers for species identification and investigate physiological responses among Dinophysis spp. to environmental and biological factors; 5) Determine the toxicity of dihydro-DTX1; and 6) Evaluate the potential for climate change to expand the threat of DSP in the US; and 7) Partner with State, Tribal, and industry groups to address management needs, disseminate results, and aid regional management programs.

Dr. Sara Hamideh was awarded an NSF CoPe EAGER award, entitled “CoPe EAGER: Collaborative Research: Evaluating Coastal Community Resilience Bonds to Facilitate Community Recovery”, in the amount $100,000, for the award period Oct. 1, 2019 – Sept. 30, 2021.

Disasters start and end locally – at the community level. The resilience of a community is a dynamic process resulting from complex interactions that are best studied at the nexus of social sciences, economics, engineering, and technology. While disaster resilience bonds are discussed in the literature as a mechanism for communities to protect themselves against catastrophe and enable a more rapid recovery for the overall community, the concept is often focused solely on physical infrastructure. This represents a substantial gap in the disaster resilience bond paradigm because repair of physical infrastructure is a necessary but not sufficient condition for community resilience. In this EAGER, we propose to develop the concept of Coastal Community Resilience Bonds (CCRB) which enable equitable recovery of both physical and social services and institutions through staged and comprehensive planning and investment prior to disasters that result from chronic or acute stressors, both of which are present in force where coastlines and people (CoPE) converge.

Stony Brook, NY; Stony Brook University: Anne McElroy, Director of Graduate Programs, SoMAS

Dr. Anne McElroy received an award from the Suffolk County Department of Economic Development in support of the project – Literature Review and Synthesis of Pesticides in Use By Suffolk County for Vector Control 2019, in the amount $32,236, for the period 7/1/19 – 12/31/19. This work was solicited from Suffolk County to conduct a literature review that builds in part on our prior funded research by the County, New York Sea Grant, and the National Park Service regarding pesticides and marsh processes and wildlife. Our results will support decisions by the Council on Environmental Quality on pesticide use for vector control.

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