Celebrating 50 Years of Making Scientific Research Count at Stony Brook University!

Research Highlights

Research is fundamental to the SoMAS mission. The research conducted at SoMAS seeks to understand the way the marine, atmospheric and terrestrial environments function, as well as the effects and impacts of human interactions with these systems. These problems all require knowledge from multiple disciplines and the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences encourages interdisciplinary research. Many of our faculty pursue research in collaboration with scientists at other University departments as well as with scientists from academic institutions around the country and the globe. Unlike many academic institutions, we do not have traditional departments at SoMAS. What we do have is a large number of faculty and students who work together to better understand our planet.

All SoMAS faculty are expected to maintain an on-going research program that meets the highest standards of scientific inquiry and to regularly publish the results of their work in refereed scientific journals and other outlets.  Research at SoMAS is generally carried out by a team headed by a faculty member that includes his/her graduate students, often aided by one or more undergraduate students.  Some of the larger projects employ full- or part-time research technicians and/or postdoctoral associates.

Research at SoMAS is externally-funded.  Our faculty have a well-deserved reputation for success in securing grants and contracts from a wide variety of sponsors at the federal, state, and local levels.  Among the most frequent and important sponsors of research at SoMAS are several U.S. federal agencies: National Science Foundation (NSF); National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); Department of Energy (DOE); Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Office of Naval Research (ONR).  

The following pages contain brief synopses of research projects underway at SoMAS that are representative of the breadth and diversity of research at the School.  More complete information on SoMAS research is available on the “Research” pages of our web site, as well as under the profiles of individual faculty members 

EDP Students Present Garden Proposals to FSA

During the Fall 2017 semester, undergraduate students in Dr. Donovan Finn‘s course EDP 404: Environmental Design Project developed designs for an organic garden located on the Stony Brook University campus. This is the capstone course for students majoring in Environmental Design, Policy and Planning requiring them to analyze and propose solutions to a real-world policy or design challenge.

This semester the students partnered with the Stony Brook Faculty Student Association to develop conceptual designs for an organic garden that FSA hopes to install in the open field between the new Chavez and Tubman residence halls. FSA plans to create a garden that will supply herbs to East Side Dining to help offset the $100,000 they spend annually on fresh herbs.

In multiple meetings with FSA staff and campus chefs, the students also learned that there was a desire to grow “superfoods” to be served in the dining halls, create a community gathering space, provide the opportunity for students to gain experience with organic gardening techniques and partner with faculty who could conduct research on innovative gardening techniques and related topics.

The students developed precedent studies of other campus organic gardens across the country, conducted an online survey of Stony Brook students, and worked individually and in teams to propose site plans for the layout of the garden, as well as branding recommendations, programming options, and simple business plans for operating and funding the garden.

Posters highlighting some of the recommendations from the team portion of the project were presented to the public on Thursday, December 7, 2017 in the atrium of East Side Dining.

View the photo album on Google Photos

The student posters are displayed below:

EDP 404 Student Poster Presentation
EDP 404 Student Poster Presentation
EDP 404 Student Poster Presentation

The Toll Terrace:  Campus Garden Proposal

Madeline Schoenfeld, Amy Su, Stephen Schiavetta, Jiwon Kim

The Freight Farm will be renovated with solar panels and art decorations on the sides. The glass windows will also provide natural light for the crops growing inside. The Freight Farm will become a public space where student art can be displayed. This will give the community the chance to connect with the garden as well as make the area more lively.

Seasonal Events & Partnerships with local farms, summer camps, and child care centers will serve to educate local youth as well as to integrate community into the garden. Field trips to the garden will allow children to learn about farming and agriculture in an engaging, hands-on experience.

The Toll Terrace will be a bastion for sustainability education in the heart of one of the University’s newest student residential communities. It will contain a campus garden for use by East Side Dining, as well as a social space for students living in the surrounding dormitories.

The Toll Terrace: Campus Garden Proposal Madeline Schoenfeld, Amy Su, Stephen Schiavetta, Jiwon Kim

Wolfie’s Garden

Michael Iorizzo, Vivian Chokry, Sijia Lu, Zhiying Zhao

Wolfie’s Garden is CHEMICAL FREE– implementing practices such as mulching and composting to develop healthy soils for growing crops.  Wolfie’s Garden “provides a sustainable lifestyle through education and experience, while building a sense of community to create  culture, inspiration and connectivity.”

Wolfie’s Garden is centered around the SUPERFOOD CIRCLE which contains amphitheater style seating from which garden beds form a radial pattern around. The garden features different aspects of gardening including a freight farm, greenhouse, composting area and 35 raised beds. Wolfie’s garden features a pond at the entrance and not only serves dining food purposes, but also as space people can go to for relaxation, socializing, learning, and exploration.

Wolfie's Garden Michael Iorizzo, Vivian Chokry, Sijia Lu, Zhiying Zhao

WG SBU: A Proposal for Wopowog Garden at Stony Brook University

Angelica Apolinaris, Daniel Panko, Shauna Wright

Wopowog is known to be the original name of the hamlet of Stony Brook as far back as the late 17th century. The name and design of the garden focuses on Native American language and culture: seasonal crops, architecture, and educational events will aim to recreate aspects of Native American culture.

Freight Farm: The freight farm design allows for a year-round growing season for the herbs. The safety of the crops will be ensured by using locking mechanisms on the doors. In order to establish the theme of Native American culture, the freight farm will be transformed into a replication of a longhouse using wood paneling and straw. The picture on the left shows the inside structure of a freight farm, which utilizes hydroponic techniques to save space and resources.

Geodesic Dome: Geodesic domes are an effective greenhouse structure because they contain the greatest volume for the least surface area. The structure is constricted from a number of latticed triangles. Biodomes are exceptional insulators, allowing us to extend the growing season of most every crop to almost a full year. The geodesic dome would focus on the three sisters crops: corn, beans, and squash. Initial conversations with Stony Brook chefs indicated a desire to grow super foods such as acai berries or avocados which can be easily accommodated in the temperature and humidity controlled environment of a biodome.

WG SBU: A Proposal for Wopowog Garden at Stony Brook University Angelica Apolinaris, Daniel Panko, Shauna Wright

Wolfie’s Garden: A community garden for Stony Brook University

Bryan Benitez, Stephen Boncimino, Tingyu Lai, Shenglin Wang

ORIGIN: Medicine garden for pharmaceutical company Novartis in Sweden.
PURPOSE: The garden lined with herbs and flowers creates a beautiful effect in the recessed garden. The elevated walkways cut diagonally over the planting area. Also, the site filled with benches, tables, and chairs, with a border of greenery, to give it a park like setting. The design resembles an ancient physic garden. The symbolic nature of the garden is a tribute to the history of medicine.

FUNCTIONALITY: Serves as garden with Long Island-compatible moisture & self-sustaining drainage system Designed as a large rectangle with rows upon rows. Two elevated walkways cut diagonally over the planting area, more for visual effect than function.

Advantages: (1) no need to build extra infrastructures to build raised-bed (2) A sunken garden is designed to capture maximum rainfall and retain moisture, so they dry out less quickly, keep roots cooler, and lessen the need for irrigation.

Wolfie's Garden - Bryan Benitez, Stephen Boncimino, Tingyu Lai, Shenglin Wang

Stony Brook Wolfie Garden

Bowen Chai, Bryan Gimler, Joseph Carney, and Tina Chen

The Blue Flag Iris is a flower that has the exceptional ability to absorb pollutants from the soil while adding aesthetic value to the space.

The Freight Farm is refitted shipping container that uses hydroponic gardening in order to minimize the resources needed to grow large quantities of produce.  The sides of the structure could also act as a billboard.

Sun Loungers allow individuals to lie down and have a short rest.  These allow for a full view of the garden.

A Vertical Garden draws attention to an area or disguises an unattractive view.  Use structures or columnar trees to create vertical gardening rooms or define hidden spaces ready for discovery.  The vertical garden grows tomatoes, cucumbers, peas, grapes, melons, strawberries, apples and squash.

Stony Brook Wolfie Garden Bowen Chai, Bryan Gimler, Joseph Carney, and Tina Chen

Two SoMAS Faculty Recipients of NSF CAREER Awards

STONY BROOK, N.Y., November 10, 2017 – The School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University is honored to have two faculty recipients of Faculty Early Career Development awards and federal funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF).  The 2017 Class of NSF early career awardees includes Hyemi Kim, PhD, and Lesley Thorne, PhD.

The NSF CAREER award is designed to recognize “teacher-scholars” and the recipients are selected based not just on the intellectual merit of their science but also on their plans to integrate education and research within the context of the mission of their organization.  CAREER awards support “early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.”

“It is rare for a school to have two recipients in a year,” noted Interim Dean Larry Swanson. “SoMAS is extremely proud of our two junior faculty who were recipients of this prestigious honor.”  Drs. Kim and Thorne join Dr. Minghua Zhang, Dr. John MakDr. Daniel Knopf and Dr. Heather Lynch as SoMAS faculty who have received National Science Foundation Career Awards.

Hyemi Kim, PhD, Assistant Professor in SoMAS, has been awarded nearly $750,000 over the next five years from the NSF for her project, titled “Understanding the Source of the Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO) Predictability and its Impact on the Mid-latitudes.”

The MJO is a special type of tropical convection system varying in subseasonal timescale. Understanding the essential dynamics and predictability of the MJO is key to improving global subseasonal prediction. Prof. Kim will use observations and climate models to better understand the physical processes of MJO and its teleconnection. By having a better understanding of subseasonal predictability, scientists and policy makers will be able to make decisions that impact agriculture, commerce and healthcare/outreach.

Lesley Thorne, PhD, Assistant Professor in SoMAS, is receiving more than $560,000 over the next five years from the NSF for her project, titled “Using Dynamic Energy Landscapes to Understand Drivers of Movement, Foraging and Life History Patterns in Albatrosses.”

Climate change is impacting where marine predators go to find food. This research will investigate how wind patterns influence the amount of energy that albatrosses have to spend when foraging, how this in turn impacts albatross reproduction, and how differences in wind patterns between El Nino and La Nina conditions influence the energetic cost of reaching foraging grounds. Professor Thorne will use new tagging technology to estimate energy expenditure of the birds and how they adjust to climate changes in their foraging patterns.

About the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences

The School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) is SUNY’s designated school for marine and atmospheric research, education and public service. SoMAS is one of the leading coastal oceanography institutions in the world and features classrooms on the water. The School is also the focus for the study of atmospheric sciences and meteorology and includes the Institute for Terrestrial and Planetary Atmospheres, Institute for Ocean Conservation Science, Institute for Particle-Related Environmental Processes, Living Marine Resources Institute, Waste Reduction and Management Institute, Long Island Groundwater Research Institute, Sustainability Studies and the Geospatial Center.

About Stony Brook University

Stony Brook University is going beyond the expectations of what today’s public universities can accomplish. Since its founding in 1957, this young university has grown to become one of only four University Center campuses in the State University of New York (SUNY) system with more than 25,700 students, 2,500 faculty members, and 18 NCAA Division I athletic programs. Our faculty have earned numerous prestigious awards, including the Nobel Prize, Pulitzer Prize, Indianapolis Prize for animal conservation, Abel Prize and the inaugural Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics. The University offers students an elite education with an outstanding return on investment: U.S. News & World Report ranks Stony Brook among the top 40 public universities in the nation. Its membership in the Association of American Universities (AAU) places Stony Brook among the top 62 research institutions in North America. As part of the management team of Brookhaven National Laboratory, the University joins a prestigious group of universities that have a role in running federal R&D labs. Stony Brook University is a driving force in the region’s economy, generating nearly 60,000 jobs and an annual economic impact of $4.65 billion. Our state, country and world demand ambitious ideas, imaginative solutions and exceptional leadership to forge a better future for all. The students, alumni, researchers and faculty of Stony Brook University are prepared to meet this challenge.

SoMAS Faculty Wins Marsden Fund to Investigate How Microbiomes Shape Fish Parasite Phenotypes

Photo above: Assistant Professor Nolwenn M Dheilly in her laboratory 

The microbiome revolution is rapidly changing how we study ecology and evolution, as researchers increasingly realize that much of an organism’s phenotype can be attributed to its metagenome (combined DNA of its resident microorganisms). Parasitic organisms also have their own microbiomes. Can these shape parasite biology and host-parasite interactions?

Assistant Professor Nolwenn M. Dheilly rallied researchers from around the globe to answer this question and together they launched the Parasite Microbiome Project (Dheilly et al., 2017).

Professor Robert Poulin, from the University of Otago, NZ and Assistant Professor Nolwenn Dheilly teamed up to investigate the presence of microbes and their role in two New-Zealand native parasites. They received NZD$890,000 from the Marsden Fund, the most stringent and prestigious national contest of research ideas in New Zealand.

Using two flatworms that parasitize aquatic animals, the team will test for ontogenetic, inter-individual and geographic variation in parasite microbiomes and experimentally quantify their impact on parasite development and, ultimately, on parasite and host phenotype. This research will use a set of powerful tools ranging from metagenomic sequencing to experimental manipulation of microbiomes, to explore how bacteria shape what parasitic worms actually do.

This could have far-reaching implications for our understanding of parasitism and the development of new anti-parasite therapies.


Dheilly NM, Bolnick D, Bordenstein S, Brindley PJ, Figueres C, Holmes EC, Martinez Martinez J, Phillips AJ, Poulin R, Rosario K 2017 Parasite Microbiome Project: Systematic investigation of microbiome dynamics within and across parasite-host interactions. mSystems 2(4)

–Nolwenn Dheilly

Relevant Learning on the Rise at Stony Brook

Above: Distinguished Professor Jeffrey Levinton and student Quemar Blake check on a basket of oysters in Stony Brook harbor.

From Relevant Learning on the Rise at Stony Brook on SBU Happenings, November 3, 2017

Relevant learning — a teaching method through which faculty reconfigure their curricula by linking academic content to real-world problems — has long been central to Stony Brook’s mission. Now a key national initiative in relevant learning is housed at the University thanks to a visionary program, Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities (SENCER).

Using the SENCER approach, for example, a biology professor may choose to teach a course from the perspective of an HIV/AIDS patient, or an engineering professor may identify problems in Third World countries and encourage the class to come up with solutions.

Engaging students — especially undergraduates in the STEM disciplines — is one of the main objectives of relevance in the classroom.

SENCER, which receives funding from the National Science Foundation and other public and private sources, arrived at Stony Brook’s College of Engineering and Applied Sciences in March 2016. This past August, the University hosted its first SENCER Summer Institute.

It was Distinguished Service Professor David Ferguson, chair of the Department of Technology and Society and University liaison for SENCER, who asked Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. about bringing the program to campus.

“As a co-principal investigator on the SENCER project, I will continue to work with faculty at Stony Brook and nationally to grow research and practice in the learning and teaching of STEM by engaging students and faculty in civic engagement projects,” says Ferguson.

Since 2001, when SENCER originated at the Association of American Colleges and Universities, 50 model courses and programs have been developed, engaging more than 3,000 educators and more than 600 formal and informal educational institutions and other organizations — all with the goal of connecting science, technology, engineering and mathematical content to critical local, national and global challenges.


Distinguished Service Professor David Ferguson (front, center) is the University’s liaison for SENCER, pictured with NCSCE Executive Director Eliza Reilly (left) and Lauren Donavan (right), from SBU’s Department of Technology and Society, surrounded by SENCER staff members.

At Stony Brook, courses with a heavy emphasis on the civic challenges of immediate relevance are on the rise. Among them are EHI 350: Design and Implement a Research Project in Ecotoxicology (Fall 2017) and EHI 351: Conduct and Communicate a Research Project in Ecotoxicology (Spring 2017), taught by Professor Sharon Pochron, who runs the Sustainability Studies Earthworm Ecotoxicology Lab.

There students investigate the role of environmental toxins, such as Roundup, on earthworm biomass and survivorship. They will unveil their findings at the Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities presentation in Spring 2018.

Another much-heralded course is EST 205: Introduction to Technological Design, taught by Professor Komal Magsi of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Students in this class designed Aerogel-lined inflatable baby carriers for working mothers in Africa, an all-in-one sustainable crop planting kit for people facing malnutrition in Angola, and a water filter for people facing unsanitary conditions and water scarcity in Bolivia.

At Stony Brook, there also are many non-SENCER courses that are compatible with its approach, Ferguson said. He cited ESG 201: Learning from Disaster, an online course taught by Professor Gary Halada that examines disasters such as the Hindenburg, the Titanic and the Long Island Rail Road Pickleworks Wreck of 1926.

Halada, who teaches the course at the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, had been attending SENCER meetings prior to the initiative’s arrival at Stony Brook. That experience helped him to develop undergraduate research programs in nanotechnology and explore new models for sustainable energy education. Halada originally taught the course in the classroom but decided it would have a wider reach if it went online, which happened this past year. Last semester, 200 students enrolled in the course.

“One of the biggest impacts of engineering in the world is when something goes wrong,” said Halada. “It’s important for the public to become informed citizens and understand the difference between real risk and perceived risk.”

Another Stony Brook professor is heeding the battle cry for relevance in the classroom by making the focus of his classroom Long Island’s water quality and the food it harbors. Jeffrey Levinton, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution, teaches Bio 371: The Restoration of Aquatic Ecosystems, which compares the survivability of oysters and oyster beds in the environment of Jamaica Bay with those in Stony Brook Harbor.

Levinton seeks students such as Quemar Blake, who is on a pre-med track, to assist him with his fieldwork. On a gray and breezy late summer day, Blake seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the experience. As the two measured the oyster height with calipers, Levinton noted that the bivalves increased their size 25 percent from the time they were lowered into cages a month before.

I wish I could teach all of my courses with this collaborative kind of approach. I strongly believe that team-based active learning increases a student’s dedication.”

Levinton gave a presentation on the course at the SENCER Summer Institute, and it was very well received.

Eliza Reilly, the executive director of the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement (NCSCE), who is responsible for implementing and cultivating SENCER curriculum reform, is encouraged by what Stony Brook is doing.

“Stony Brook has everything it needs to be a national leader in applying SENCER approaches,” she says. “It’s just a matter of understanding that the talent is all there right under your nose.”

— Glenn Jochum

SoMAS Researchers Correct Missing Key Elements in Computer Climate Models

From the Stony Brook Newsroom Featured Research Photo, October 27, 2017

A team of SoMAS researchers, led by Professor Minghua Zhang, discovered that computer climate models are missing key elements to forecasting weather – such as this one in the photo above of an atmospheric convective system in the central U.S.–leading to flaws showing persistent dry and warm prediction biases in the region. The researchers found a way to correct these flaws for a more accurate prediction of future climate patterns. The research and findings, published in Nature Communications, call for better calculations in global climate models.

Lin, Y., Dong, W., Zhang, M., Xie, Y., Xue, W., Huang, J., & Luo, Y. (2017). Causes of model dry and warm bias over central US and impact on climate projections. Nature Communications, 8.

The Fate of Forage Fish on East Coast Lies With November Decision

A letter signed by 118 scientists led by Professor Ellen Pikitch of Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) makes the case for the importance of managing menhaden, the leading forage fish on the Northeast Atlantic Coast, with an ecosystem based approach. The current approach by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Menhaden Management Board (ASMFC) is to manage catch of the forage fish as if they don’t compete with other species or other species do not depend on them. The scientists believe that if the status quo remains populations of important larger fish for consumption, such as striped bass, cod and tuna will be affected. On November 13, the ASMFC will vote on whether to continue managing menhaden as a single species or start an ecosystem based approach.

For more background see the letter from scientists and this Q & A.

SoMAS Researchers to use Climate Data to Better Predict Marine Distribution in Northeast

Photo above from left, Hyemi Kim, Janet Nye and Lesley Thorne

From Researchers to use Climate Data to Better Predict Marine Distribution in Northeast on SBU Happenings, October 23, 2017

Scientists from Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) will be developing seasonal predictions of fish and marine mammal distributions in the Northeast United States with the goal to enhance protected species management. The research is supported by a $509,573 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service Office of Science and Technology, in partnership with NOAA Research’s Modeling, Analysis, Predictions, and Projections (MAPP) Program.

The Northeast U.S. large marine ecosystem is highly productive and supports important commercial and recreational fisheries. It has also experienced some of the highest warming rates in recent decades. Communities in the Northeast have observed many climate-driven changes including shifts in fish distribution for most fish species, as well as changes in the timing of breeding or spawning, seasonal movements, and migrations.

Given these changes, the SoMAS team will use climate information to predict fish and marine mammal distributions on seasonal timescales to help fishermen and decision makers adjust their management approaches based on environmental conditions.

The team also plans to experiment with using these predictions to help reduce the incidental capture of non-target species, known as bycatch. Bycatch can increase costs and decrease yield for commercial fisherman, but more precise seasonal predictions of where marine mammals and fish will be distributed could decrease the likelihood of this concern.

“While traditional management approaches have focused on fixed areas, it is becoming increasingly recognized that bycatch could be reduced by incorporating dynamic environmental variables such as temperature into models to estimate high risk areas for fisheries bycatch,” said Lesley Thorne, PhD, Assistant Professor in SoMAS and lead investigator of the project, titled “Probabilistic Seasonal Prediction of the Distribution of Fish and Marine Mammals in the Northeast U.S.”

By combining species distribution models with climate models, the team will help predict where marine mammals and non-target species are most likely to occur over the next season.

“This information could have a significant impact in reducing fisheries bycatch,” said Thorne.

As part of this project, the research team will participate in the NOAA MAPP Program’s new Marine Prediction Task Force. The Task Force will allow the researchers to collaborate with other MAPP-funded scientists working on related projects, and combine resources and expertise to rapidly advance project objectives.

Co-investigators for the project are Hyemi Kim, PhD, and Janet Nye, PhD, both Assistant Professors in SoMAS.

Stony Brook Community Pioneers Technology-Based Response to Puerto Rico Crisis

From Stony Brook Community Pioneers Technology-Based Response to Puerto Rico Crisis on SBU Happenings on October 13, 2017

“In theory I would be on a plane heading for Puerto Rico, but I am a graduate student without much money — so I am glad to be helping the Red Cross with their relief efforts any way I can,” said Ian Bonnell ’16.

Bonnell, who is enrolled in the five-year Master’s program in mechanical engineering at Stony Brook, spoke as he documented the locations of storm-ravaged buildings in the hurricane-stricken U.S. territory. He was one of nearly 80 Stony Brook students, faculty and staff participating in an innovative initiative called “Disaster Relief Map-A-Thon: Puerto Rico.”

“It’s great that we can have an impact on the world from a remote location,” said Shafeek Fazal, associate dean for Library Technology, Discovery, and Digital Services.

Stony Brook is the first SUNY school to stage this type of technology-based response to a crisis, according to Chris Sellers, director, Center for the Study of Inequality and Social Justice and Policy. He and Sung-Gheel Jang, a lecturer and faculty director of the Geospatial Center, which offers Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and remote sensing related services for Stony Brook students, faculty, research and the surrounding community, read an article in The New York Times about similar efforts at Columbia University.

Department of History colleague Eric Beverley had attended that Columbia University event and upon his suggestion, Sellers and Jang decided to introduce the concept at Stony Brook as well.

The Map–A-Thon took place at the Stony Brook University Libraries North Reading Room and was organized by the Center for the Study of Inequalities, Social Justice and Policy, the Geospatial Center at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences and Stony Brook University Libraries.

Stony Brook, NY; Stony Brook University: Disaster Relief Map-Athon for Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico in the Melville Library North Reading Room Learning Lab.

Using their personal laptop computers, during a three-hour period Stony Brook students, professors and employees navigated satellite maps in search of buildings not yet documented in relief efforts. Next, they zoomed in on street maps, traced outlines of structures and then uploaded and saved them to a master file used by the Red Cross as an aid to providing relief services to hurricane victims.

Jang, who is proficient with GIS, walked them through the process. Other volunteers familiar with the steps involved were on hand to lend support and answer questions.

“I’m not tech-savvy and it took me about five to 10 minutes to learn how to do,” said Will Darger Jr., a psychology/business major in Professor Lily Cushenberry’s Leadership and Creativity Lab, which recruited five of its 15 students to participate in the virtual relief effort.

Thomas Muench, a professor emeritus in economics who retired last year, struggled briefly with the process because he had taught mapping and was used to a different program — initially “drawing lines where I didn’t need to.”

Lizandia Perez, a staff secretary in the Chemistry building, had a personal stake in all of this. “My entire family lives in Puerto Rico,” she said. “One of my relatives lost a house. Others are missing rooftops.”

She learned what she could from the teaching session and then went back to her desk to work from her computer on her lunch break.

History professors Lori Flores and Nancy Tomes provided sign-in sheets for participating students to receive class credits.

“If this is successful we will have many more Map-A-Thons,” said Fazal. “Be on the lookout for other relief efforts.”

SoMAS Participates in New York Harbor Educational Tour

On October 10, 2017, the National Institute for Coastal and Harbor Infrastructure commemorated the fifth anniversary of Super Storm Sandy with a Coastal Resiliency Storm Surge Barrier Boat Tour in New York Harbor.  As described in the invitation “Join us as Scientists, Engineers, Urban Planners and other experts narrate a NYC waterfront view of the impacts of Sandy and how the NY NJ Metropolitan Regional Storm Surge Barrier would provide a “layered defense” protecting the city and 820 miles of NYC Metro coastline for the next 100 years or more.” The group departed Chelsea Piers aboard the Classic Harbor Lines Yacht “Manhattan II” from Pier 62, West 22nd & the Hudson River

SoMAS Professor Malcolm Bowman was on board to continue to push for storm surge barriers to protect the New York area.  Dr. Bowman is the chairman and founder of the New York New Jersey Metropolitan Storm Surge Working Group.

Bill Golden, President of the National Institute for Coastal and Harbor Infrastructure sent this message following the event:

Thank you for joining us on Tuesday’s Coastal Resiliency and Storm Surge Barrier Boat Tour.

Our sold out Tour provided us all with an opportunity to witness first hand the continuing vulnerability of the region to flooding and devastation from the next Super Storm. It was clear from the presentations of over 20 experts given the physical oceanography of the region and the complicated regional interdependence of infrastructure, commerce, workforce and diverse lifestyles, only a regional storm surge barrier system could reliably and comprehensively protect the dense integration of development, recreational facilities and historic and cultural sites that is our Metropolitan area.


With your strong and continuing support, our proposal for a Regional Storm Surge Barrier System for Long Island and the New York and New Jersey Metropolitan Area has now been endorsed by a growing number of public and private sector leaders. Our Proposal has also attracted significant media interest and support.


In addition to being the cover story of amNewYork, the front page of the Metro Section of the New York Times, on CBS TV, PBS TV and Radio in both New York and New Jersey, the Boat Tour and our May Conference has been covered in an article just published in Downtown Magazine. I have also been contacted by Newsweek and by Associated Press and informed that they are working on more extensive articles.


Again, thank you for your continuing support and assistance and for working actively to build support for a regional storm surge barrier system with your elected representatives, colleagues and communities.

For more information about the event or the National Institute for Coastal and Harbor Infrastructure, please visit their web page.

SoMAS Research Brings Drone Boats to Setauket Harbor Day

Drs. Roger Flood, Kamazima LwizaMary Scranton and PhD student Sarah Nickford attended the Setauket Harbor Day on September 23rd and provided a hands-on demonstration of a drone boat.  SoMAS is currently testing two different versions of the boat, one is capable of carrying much more weight than the other. For this test the larger EchoBoat was carrying a survey-grade GPS and echosounder which can be used to create the maps of the floor of Setauket Harbor needed for studying and managing this important resource. The EchoBoat and HyDrone were provided by Seafloor Systems, Inc.

The boats are different from a typical remote-controlled vehicle in that routes can be programmed for autonomous operation.

Photos by Anne McElroy

U.S Global Change Research Program Climate Science Special Report

From Read the Draft of the Climate Change Report by the New York Times, August 7, 2017

A final draft report by scientists from 13 federal agencies concludes that Americans are feeling the effects of climate change right now. The report was completed this year and is part of the National Climate Assessment, which is congressionally mandated every four years.

One of the lead authors on the report is former MSRC faculty Dr. Duane Waliser, currently at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  The content of the report references papers by Dr. Gordon Taylor, Dr. Mary Scranton, Dr. Sultan Hameed, Dr. Chris Gobler, Dr. Brian Colle, Dr. Edmund Chang, Dr. Ping Liu, Dr. Minghua Zhang, Dr. Marvin Geller, Dr. Kevin Reed, alumnae Dr. Owen Doherty, Dr. Hannes Baumann, Dr. Kelly Lombardo, Dr. Zhenhai Zhang, and Elizabeth DePasquale.

The PDF file is available to view and download.

New SENCER Models Engage Students in Fieldwork and Research

From New SENCER Models Engage Students in Fieldwork and Research at the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement on August 8, 2017

The 2017 additions to the SENCER Model Series actively involve students in designing and carrying out projects as they master course concepts. Ecotoxicology, or the “Worm Lab” by Dr. Sharon Pochron of Stony Brook University, includes two courses, EHI 350: Design and Implement a Research Project in Ecotoxicology (fall) and EHI 351: Conduct and Communicate a Research Project in Ecotoxicology (spring). All projects have human angle: how dangerous is (fill in the blank with an environmental toxin) to soil and the creatures that live in soil? Students study existing literature, set up and run an experiment, and analyze results for publication and dissemination.

Field & Natural Science, a course for pre-service middle school teachers, models effective pedagogical methods that the students can later use in their own practice. Students participate in fieldwork surrounding environmental issues, collect and analyze data, and share results. Dr. Sarah Haines of Towson University focuses improving pre-service teacher education in environmental issues, and has been a leader in the SENCER community in this work. She is a SENCER Leadership Fellow and is currently part of a grant project through NCSCE and the Institute of Museum and Library Services to develop partnerships between colleges, universities, and informal education venues.

Ecotoxicology (“Worm Lab”), Dr. Sharon Pochron, Stony Brook University

By its nature, ecotoxicology pulls in policy and culture. For instance, it was the WHO that reclassified Roundup’s main ingredient as a probable toxin, and it is school districts across Long Island, the US and Europe who are pulling out grass fields and replacing them with fields made of recycled tires.

The first semester begins by articulating the environmental toxins that currently concern the students. Students then perform an extensive review of published literature regarding their toxin using Web of Science, Google Scholar and/or PubMed. After reading the literature, students walk through what we know and don’t know about the risks associated with the toxin, and devise a way to test the risk using earthworms and soil microbes. At this point, sample size issues, costs, and how to interpret various outcomes are discussed. If the students want to use techniques that Dr. Pochron doesn’t personally have in her toolkit, Dr. Pochron and the students discuss ways to get access to them. This has led to teaming with chemistry professors, ecotox labs, and Brookhaven National Laboratories. Over the course of two semesters, at least one research project is conducted, sometimes two or more, the paper is written, and the Spring students present their research at SBU’s science fair. After they get the project underway, the Fall students draft high-quality Introduction and Methods sections for their research. The Spring students complete the research and writing. In the Spring semester, effective ways and venues for communicating findings are discussed, thereby engaging local citizens in science in general and this research in particular. Access the full model here.

Photograph of Sharon Pochron and students in the Worm Lab courtesy of Sharon Pochron

SoMAS Professors Share Expertise and Advocacy on Hudson Fisheries

Photo above: The sloop Clearwater sails on the Hudson River.

From SoMAS Professors Share Expertise and Advocacy on Hudson Fisheries on Stony Brook Matters, July 18th 2017

Three Stony Brook science professors delivered a powerful message to Capitol Hill at a public forum on water quality last month. Professors Jeffrey Levinton, Joseph Warren and Michael Frisk journeyed to Washington, DC in conjunction with the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, a Beacon, New York-based grassroots organization founded by Pete Seeger.

Left to right, Professors Joseph Warren, Michael Frisk and Jeffrey Levinton advocate for the environment in Washington, DC.

These advocates for environmental action conveyed a “cargo of concern” consisting of municipal resolutions, petitions and personal messages from residents and communities between the Hudson Valley and Washington DC to decision makers in support of fair and equal environmental policies and projections based on science.

The action was symbolic of a historic event in 1970, when Seeger and the Clearwater sailed to DC in conjunction with the inaugural Earth Day, highlighting the need for strong federal clean water protections. This time the Clearwater attempted to sail on June 19 but was forced to turn back due to bad weather. Members of the organization used alternative transportation modes to reach their destination.

The group also sought to empower the next generation of environmental stewards and scientists by providing students firsthand experience of water quality monitoring, marine debris collection, fish and plankton ecology and watershed dynamics. The Clearwater event also launched an initiative to highlight the responsibility of scientists to communicate directly with the public and policymakers.

At the forum, which took place on June 29, Levinton, a distinguished professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution, in the College of Arts and Sciences, explained how public action over heavy metal pollution in the Hudson River resulted in the EPA taking action by declaring the river a Superfund Site and how the ensuing cleanup was extremely successful and reduced cadmium export into the Hudson River by 95 percent, which further diminished contamination of the blue crab, a major sports fishery.  He detailed how the Hudson enjoys a long history of industry beginning with a massive foundry established across from West Point, where our first New York Steam engine was cast in 1820 and where much of the ammunition and guns were cast for the North’s participation in the Civil War.

But the Nike missile system required a new innovative battery system, said Levinton, which resulted in a battery factory on the Hudson that produced the most cadmium-polluted water body in the world. The Superfund Law of 1980, supervised by the EPA and the urging of local activists and scientists who demonstrated the dangers of pumping cadmium into the Hudson at the rate of a metric ton a year, led to 75 percent reduction of cadmium in the Hudson fisheries.

“Without good laws and a powerful EPA this success would have never happened and our waterways will deteriorate rapidly,” said Levinton.

Professor Frisk, director of the Living Marine Resources Institute, in the School of Atmospheric and Marine Sciences (SoMAS), focused on sturgeon and how science is needed to understand its complexities as a species to help our regulations become more nuanced.

“Fisheries have been closed because these fish are on the endangered species list,” said Frisk. “But there are only certain times of the year and certain locations when this is really necessary. If science was understood by our policy-makers the economic losses from closed fisheries could be reduced.”

Warren, who heads up SoMAS’ Acoustic Laboratory for Ecological Studies, stressed the importance of forage fish such as Atlantic menhaden, to the Hudson River coastal ecosystem serving as prey for striped bass, ospreys and humpback whales. “There is anecdotal evidence of humpback whales increasing their usage of waters adjacent to New York City and Long Island and this may be due to an increase in menhaden in these waters,” he said.

Warren added that no organization or government entity is conducting stock assessments of the forage fish in New York waters and this would be extremely useful in assessing the health of the ecosystem.

According to Levinton, one “major victory” of the event was Congressman Sean Moloney’s announcement that oil barges are no longer able to anchor in the Hudson River.

Worm Lab Students Bring Their Research to Miller Place High School

After four semesters of research, students from the Sustainability Studies Earthworm Ecotoxicology Lab under the mentorship of Sharon Pochron were ready to discuss their findings with the public.

The students had investigated the effect of crumb rubber athletic fields on earthworm and soil microbial health. They’d asked if plants could translocate enough glyphosate into soil to harm earthworms. They’d quantified the effects of Roundup on earthworms and pinpointed environmental factors that influence earthworm sensitivity to Roundup. They’d made posters explaining their work and conclusions and spent a lot of time honing their oral presentations.

After presenting their work at the SAC during the reception for Roadshow of Resistance, at Earthstock, and at URECA among all the other student researchers, they felt prepared for a tougher audience. When the Science Club from Miller Place High School invited them to describe their research, students from the Worm Lab jumped at the chance.

MPHS students asked SBU students how dangerous Roundup is to people, what alternates exist to the popular herbicide, and what its like to be a student at SBU. The teachers asked about the different kinds of environmental majors available to students. Many of the SBU students are preparing for a new year of research!

SoMAS Study Finds Climate Change Threatening Humans Through Toxic Algae Spread

Above: Professor Chris Gobler

From SBU-led Study: Climate Change Threatening Humans Through Toxic Algae Spread on SBU Happenings on 

One oceanic consequence of climate change is well underway, and it’s likely already having a negative impact on human health, according to a new study led by a professor at Stony Brook’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS).

This study demonstrates that the global warming that has already occurred is now impacting human health and our oceans,” Professor Christopher Gobler said. “An important implication of the study is that carbon emission and climate change-related policy decisions made today are likely to have important consequences for the fate of our future oceans, including the spread and intensification of toxic algal blooms.”

The study shows that since 1982 our oceans have warmed to become more hospitable for toxic algal blooms, the rapid increase of algae within a body of water, to spread and intensify. This means bad news for seafood eaters and ocean dwellers alike.

Algae types such as Alexandrium and Dinophysis, which were both subjects of the study, generate toxins that can cause neurological and gastrointestinal effects, including paralytic and diarrhetic shellfish poisoning in humans.

“Toxic or harmful algal blooms are not a new phenomenon, although many people may know them by other names such as red tides,” Gobler said. “These events can sicken or kill people who consume toxin-contaminated shellfish and can damage marine ecosystems by killing fish and other marine life.”

In the wake of climate change, harmful toxic algae events like these show no sign of slowing, according to the study.

“The distribution, frequency and intensity of these events have increased across the globe, and this study links this expansion to ocean warming in some regions of the North Atlantic and North Pacific Oceans,” Gobler said.

Gobler’s team’s study is one of the first to successfully link the recent intensification of toxic algal blooms directly to ocean warming and climate change through critical, quantitative evidence. The team achieved this by bringing together biologists and climate scientists who used ecosystem observations, laboratory experiments and 35 years of satellite-based temperature estimates to reach their conclusion.

“Today collaborating with scientists outside of your discipline is almost a requirement to solve the tough questions,” said Owen Doherty, climate modeler, study co-author and SoMAS alum.  “This study showed the value of interdisciplinary collaboration through a novel combination of laboratory, observational and modeling work.”

The study, titled Ocean warming since 1982 has expanded the niche of toxic algal blooms in the North Atlantic and North Pacific Oceans,” is now published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Work to accomplish the study was supported by the James Simons and Laurie Landeau foundations, as well as awards from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Ocean Service.

Peterson Lab Investigates Clam-Seagrass Mutualism in Panama

Photo above by Kevin Katcher:  using an airlift

Using an underwater vacuum to suck clams from a seagrass bed might not be the first choice of activity for everyone traveling to a tropical destination, but when Diana Chin had the opportunity to apply for funding to do it, she jumped at the chance. Diana, a PhD candidate in the Peterson Lab, recently returned from a 14-week visit to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) Bocas del Toro research station in Panama. She was investigating mutualism among chemosymbiotic clams and tropical seagrasses as part of her dissertation research, in collaboration with Smithsonian Staff Scientist Dr. Andrew Altieri.

Seagrasses are flowering marine plants with numerous ecologically and economically valuable functions in coastal areas: they blunt wave energy, trap and stabilize sediment, sequester carbon, and provide food, habitat, and nursery grounds for many other species. Sediments from seagrass beds tend to have a strong “rotten egg” smell because seagrasses shed leaves that are then decomposed by bacteria, producing sulfides. At very high concentrations, or in combination with other stressors like high temperature or high salinity, sulfides can damage or kill seagrasses.

Clams in the family Lucinidae are common in seagrass beds worldwide. Lucinid clams have chemosynthetic bacteria in their gills that convert sulfides to non-toxic sulfate and produce food for themselves and their hosts in the process. Recent studies (van der Heide et al. 2012, de Fouw et al. 2016) have shown that one species of lucinid can lower sulfide levels in seagrass beds, reducing the negative effects of sulfides on seagrass growth. The lucinids then benefit from the oxygen that healthy seagrass releases through its roots.

Diana wanted to know: does this mutualism exist in other tropical regions with different species of lucinid and seagrass? Do different species of lucinid have different effects on sulfide levels in sediment? Beyond oxygen, does seagrass benefit lucinids by shielding them from predators? And what can the abundance and distribution of lucinids tell us about the current status of their relationship to seagrass?

To answer these questions, Diana conducted an intensive survey of 11 seagrass sites in Bocas del Toro. The data collected at each site included water quality parameters, sediment porewater sulfide concentrations, lucinid abundance, and standing seagrass biomass. She also conducted laboratory experiments to measure changes in sediment sulfide levels in the presence of lucinids and a field experiment to determine whether lucinids affect seagrass growth. She discussed her research at a public talk in Bocas Town in October 2016 and will present additional results at the upcoming Benthic Ecology Meeting in Myrtle Beach, SC in April.

Diana was joined in Panama by full-time assistants Kevin Katcher and William Wied (SoMAS ‘16). Will earned a B.S. in Marine Sciences after working as a research assistant and technician in the Peterson Lab in 2015 and 2016. He will be returning to Bocas in March as a Smithsonian Intern.

Diana’s research in Panama was supported by the federal Graduate Research Internship Program (GRIP), which is open to recipients of the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, and by a STRI Short-Term Fellowship.

Photo above by Diana China: a lucinid, Ctena orbiculata

About the Author

Diana Chin is a PhD candidate in the Peterson Lab with broad interests in marine community ecology and a professional background in environmental risk assessment. Her dissertation research concerns the origin and maintenance of facultative mutualism, with specific focus on the chemical and biological interactions between seagrasses and chemosymbiotic bivalves.

Worm Lab Research Discovers Crumb Rubber Contains Heavy Metals

Chemosphere, a peer-reviewed journal that focuses on environmental contaminants, has published a paper from the Sustainability Studies Earthworm Ecotoxicology Lab:

Pochron, S., Fiorenza, A., Sperl, C., Ledda, B., Patterson, C., Tucker, C., … & Panico, N. (2017). The response of earthworms (Eisenia fetida) and soil microbes to the crumb rubber material used in artificial turf fields. Chemosphere.

The team leader on this research project was a BIO/EHI student, Andrew Fiorenza, who graduated in December. The team also included bio major, Clara Tucker, engineering majors, Charles Patterson and Nick Panico, and three students from Miller Place High School: Brianne Leda, Cassandra Sperl and Wade Tucker.

Over the summer of 2016, the team examined the effects of the crumb rubber used in artificial turf athletic fields on soil contamination, microbial activity, and earthworm health. The high school students spend a lot of their free time on artificial fields, which use crumb rubber made from recycled tires. One of the students, a soccer goalie, worried about the crumb rubber because he eats a lot of it when he dives to save the ball. They found that crumb rubber caused earthworms to lose weight and increased zinc levels in contaminated soil.

The Sustainability Studies Earthworm Ecotoxicology Lab focuses on student-run research. These remarkable students helped design methodologies, set up the projects, collected the data, and came up with the original idea. Congratulations on their impressive achievement!

Ellen Pikitch Part of Team Studying Marine Fisheries Reform in China

From SoMAS’ Ellen Pikitch Part of Team Studying Marine Fisheries Reform in China on Stony Brook Matters, 

Professor Ellen Pikitch, executive director of the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University, is part of a research team led by Stanford University, that published its perspective piece, “Opportunity for Marine Fisheries Reform in China,” in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

As global fish stocks continue to decline, this study found that China’s most recent fisheries conservation plan can achieve a real shift in marine fisheries management, but only if the Chinese government embraces major institutional reform.

The researchers examined the history of Chinese government priorities, policies and outcomes related to marine fisheries since the country’s 1978 Economic Reform and examined how its leaders’ agenda for “ecological civilization” could successfully transform marine resource management in the coming years.

They found that while China has attempted to reverse the trend of declining fish stocks in the past, serious institutional reforms are needed to achieve a true shift in marine fisheries management. The authors recommend new institutions for science-based fisheries management, secure fishing access, policy consistency across provinces, educational programs for fisheries managers, and increasing public access to scientific data.

As China accounts for almost one-fifth of global catch volume, it has made great efforts to carry out conservation and management of fisheries resources by adopting and practicing various measures during the last three decades. The government is introducing a series of new programs for sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, with greater traceability and accountability in marine resource management and area controls on coastal development. The most recent plan notably includes marine ecosystem protection as a significant component of the central government’s environmental agenda.

Although the researchers view China’s efforts as a signal of dedication toward furthering fisheries conservation, they hope their paper helps highlight the need for true institutional reform in order to see the Chinese government’s goals realized.

SoMAS Featured in Two Top SBU Stories for 2016

(Above) Interviewed outside the Stony Brook Southampton-based Marine Science Research Center, SoMAS Professor Chris Gobler provides insight on the algae bloom problem.

From Stony Brook University’s Top Stories in 2016  on the Stony Brook Newsroom

Stony Brook, NY, December 29, 2016 Reflecting on all that 2016 brought our way, Stony Brook University is taking a look back at the top stories that are shaping our future. Along the way, Stony Brook experts played a role in impacting the news of the day as we followed the road to the White House, the medical miracle that gave a young Congolese boy his smile back, global health advances in Madagascar, men’s NCAA basketball and more. Visit the Stony Brook Newsroom to look back at the complete list of top stories of 2016.  The School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences was featured in two of the top ten stories at Stony Brook University in 2016.

Stony Brook University Water & Marine Biology Experts Featured Extensively in News Coverage

Stony Brook University faculty were widely cited in news coverage throughout 2016, ranging from the Flint water crisis and brown tide to the Fire Island breach caused by Superstorm Sandy. News organizations that interviewed Stony Brook experts included:  Associated Press, The New York Times, NPR, CNN, Buzzfeed, Business Insider, Forbes, Huffington Post, Newsday, Slate Magazine and many more.

 Reduced Mercury Levels in Tuna Mirror Declines in Mercury Emissions from Industry

A national groundbreaking study led by Stony Brook University Professor, Dr. Nicholas Fisher in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) was published in Environmental Science & Technology . The study provides a new data set — the largest of its kind — of mercury concentrations in Atlantic Bluefin tuna. The data demonstrate that while tissue concentrations were higher than in most other fish species, there has been a consistent decline in mercury concentrations in these tuna over time, regardless of age of the fish. The rate of decline parallels the declines – over the same time period — of mercury emissions by industry as measured in air and seawater. The news media continue to report on these findings, including a detailed report by the Reuters international news agency.


(Below) Nicholas Fisher talks to Reuters news reporter Matthew Stock in his lab in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences in Nov. 2016.

Interviewed outside the Stony Brook Southampton-based Marine Science Research Center, SoMAS Professor Chris Gobler provides insight on the algae bloom problem.

About Stony Brook University
Part of the State University of New York system, Stony Brook University encompasses 200 buildings on 1,450 acres. Since welcoming its first incoming class in 1957, the University has grown tremendously, now with more than 25,700 students and 2,500 faculty as well as over 175,000 alumni worldwide. Its membership in the prestigious Association of American Universities (AAU) places Stony Brook among the top 62 research institutions in North America. U.S. News & World Report ranks Stony Brook among the top 100 universities in the nation and top 50 public universities, and Kiplinger named it one of the 35 best values in public colleges. One of four University Center campuses in the SUNY system, Stony Brook is one of seven universities with a role in running a national laboratory (Brookhaven National Lab). The Center for World University Rankings lists Stony Brook in the top 1 percent of institutions worldwide. It is one of only 10 universities nationwide recognized by the National Science Foundation for combining research with undergraduate education. As the largest single-site employer on Long Island, Stony Brook is a driving force of the regional economy, with an annual economic impact of $4.65 billion, generating nearly 60,000 jobs, and accounts for nearly 4 percent of all economic activity in Nassau and Suffolk counties, and roughly 7.5 percent of total jobs in Suffolk County.

Reporter Contact:  Alida Almonte
Phone:  631 632-6310

SoMAS secures NSF Grant to Bolster Geosciences Education Support for Underrepresented Students

From “NSF Grant Bolsters Geosciences Education Support for Underrepresented Students” on SBU Happenings, December 21, 2016 with contributions by Brian Colle

Stony Brook University was recently awarded a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop the Stony Brook GeoPATH-IMPACT program. This project expands the university’s two decades long effort to engage underrepresented minority (URM) in the geosciences. This project follows the highly successful GeoPREP program at Stony Brook, which was a 5-year NSF sponsored project to enhance the participation of underrepresented groups in the geosciences through an 8-week summer research program for high school students and a week long workshop for teachers to develop lab exercises for the classroom. The GeoPATH funding will add new elements to draw in URM and low-income community college students into the geosciences. The primary focus will be engaging students in geoscience research projects that will also provide relevance to the chemistry, mathematics, and physics course work the students have taken. These three subject areas, especially math and physics are often stumbling blocks for students who transfer from community colleges to a four-year institution such as Stony Brook University. Our primary goals are to: 1. Mitigate the anxiety that transfer students often feel when confronted with the challenges of math and physics at SBU and 2. To provide a meaningful research experience that enhances the students’ understanding of their chosen geoscience discipline, be it Atmospheric Science (ATM), Geology (GEO), or Marine Science (MAR).

GeoPATH-IMPACT involves collaborations within The School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS), the Department of Geosciences and the STEM Smart program housed in the Department of Technology and Society. STEM Smart is an amalgam of programs that serve low income and under-represented undergraduate students who are majoring in STEM disciplines. The STEM Smart participating programs will be the Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (CSTEP), the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) and the current OEDG project. Off campus collaborators include Nassau and Suffolk County Community Colleges (NCC and SCCC), both of which are within geographic proximity of the Stony Brook University campus.

GeoPATH will focus on enhancing undergraduate research skills, encouraging matriculation in Geoscience majors and promoting the relevance of geoscience careers as viable career paths in academia, government service, and private industry. The program will allow for some undergraduate stipend and fellowship support. The main features of our IMPACT proposal are:

  • Increasing geoscience involvement and experience from high school through the community college to the 4-year institutions.
  • Expanding a summer research experiences for community college (CC) students interested in the geosciences through the development of a 6-week summer program at Stony Brook.
  • Collaborating with CCs during the academic year with joint club activities, seminars, and mentoring of CC students by SBU faculty, senior undergraduates, and graduate students.
  • Working with local CCs to develop curriculum that results in a smoother transition for students from the CC to a 4-year institution, such as SBU.
  • Providing scholarship support to students transitioning from CC to SBU geoscience majors, including URMs by incorporating them into the support structures of the University’s CSTEP, LSAMP and OEDG programs.
  • Providing more internship and research opportunities for undergraduates in the geosciences at SBU and at other nearby locations (e.g., Brookhaven National Laboratory).
  • Collecting data for a longitudinal study that gauges the awareness of, and reasons for students pursuing geoscience majors or leaving the program part way through.

The PI of GeoPATH-IMPACT is Dr. Brian Colle (SoMAS). Co-PIs are Dr. Gilbert Hanson (Geosciences), Dr. Kamazima Lwiza (SoMAS), Dr. Hyemi Kim (SoMAS), and Dr. Edmund Chang (SoMAS). Senior personnel are Mrs Lauren Donovan and Mr. Paul Siegel (Department of Technology and Society). Off campus collaborators are Mr. Sean Tvelia and Dr. Candice Foley from SCCC and Lisa Bastiaans from NCC. The funded amount is $409,289.

SoMAS Study Uses Radar to Better Predict Shallow Cloud Coverage

Shallow convection plays a critical role in the heat and moisture transfer between the boundary layer and free atmosphere above about 2 km. However, with an average spatial scale of 0.5–1.5 km, shallow cumuli are not resolved in weather forecast and climate models, and their broken cloud coverage results in uncertainties in estimations of domain-averaged cloud fraction profiles (CFP). Prof. Pavlos Kollias’s group (SoMAS), sponsored in part by the U.S. Department of Energy‘s (DOE) Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) Climate Research Facility and DOE’s  Atmospheric System Research (ASR) Program, collaborated with Dr. Satoshi Endo and Dr. Andrew. M. Vogelmann, scientists of Brookhaven National Laboratory, Dr. William. I. Gustafson Jr. of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and Dr. Aleksandra Tatarevic and Mr. Kirk W. North, of McGill University, to understand the capability of radar observations for estimation of cloud properties (e.g CFP) and evaluation of the large eddy simulations (LES) for shallow convection over land.

Figure 1: Shallow cumulus clouds (shown as bright regions) observed by satellite over the Southern Great Plains on 9 June 2015. The figure shows satellite-observed reflectance.

This study used LES output from the LES ARM Symbiotic Simulation and Observation (LASSO) capabilities currently under development and of the Routine ARM Aerial Facility Clouds with Low Optical Water Depths (CLOWD) Optical Radiative Observations (RACORO) field campaign. The LES outputs provided detailed shallow cumulus cloud fields that serve as proxies of true cloud fields in this study (Figure 2a). The LES combined with to the Cloud Resolving Model Radar SIMulator (CR-SIM), which is a scanning and profiling multi-parametric radar simulator capable of emulating the interaction between transmitted polarized radar waves and rotationally symmetric hydrometeors, provide an estimate of what can be observed in the atmosphere.

Uncertainties in domain-averaged CFP estimates were addressed using LES of shallow convection over the Southern Great Plains coupled with the CR-SIM. Analysis of the radar simulation indicated that observation from a single vertically-pointing Ka-band radar (KAZR) is inadequate to provide reliable CFPs (Figure 2b). Use of Ka-band scanning cloud radar (Ka-SACR), performing a sequence of cross-wind horizon-to-horizon scans, is not straightforward because radar sensitivity decreases with distance as shown in Figure 2a. Sampling a small region in the vicinity of Ka-SACR ensures higher sensitivity, but this results in undersampling the overall cloud field. Alternatively, a larger sampling region ensures sampling more clouds, but the lower sensitivity farther from the radar underestimates the CFP.



Figure 2: (a) Horizontal cross sections of hydrometeor mixing ratio from the LES (left column) and Ka-band reflectivity (right column) at 4.19 km (top) and 2.42 km (bottom) above ground level. Xs in represent the center of LES domain and the location of the Ka-band scanning cloud radar. Radar sensitivity was applied to the reflectivity plots assuming cross-wind horizon-to-horizon scans (CWRHI). Radar sensitivity decreases with distance as shown in Figure 2a, causing uncertainty of CFP estimates. (b) The CFP from hydrometeor mixing ratio over the LES domain, and CFPs from 10 KAZR dwells with their mean CFP and standard deviation. Even 10 Ka-band zenith-pointing radar dwells (thin colored lines) cannot capture the domain-averaged CFP (black dashed line).


Using the cumulative distribution function (CDF) of reflectivity as a function of altitude, as depicted in Figure 3a, an optimal minimum detectable reflectivity at each height is determined from the CDF isoline that provides an optimum selection of region size and radar sensitivity. CFP from the optimum regions using this new method shows good agreement with the model CFP. The Ka-SACR observations need to be conducted for 35 min or more for CFP estimates to converge with the LES-simulated CFP (Figure 3b) with an RMSE less than 1% on the order of 5% CFPs.

The new techniques developed in the study increase confidence in the retrieved CFP when looking at the true atmosphere and improve our ability to compare model output with cloud radar observations for shallow cumulus cloud conditions.



Figure 3: (a) Contoured frequency altitude diagram (CFAD) of simulated Ka-band reflectivity for 9 June 2015 at 2100 UTC. Black line represents the mean profile and white lines represent CDF isolines of 5, 10, 15, 20, and 50% going from left to right. (b) Cloud fraction profiles corresponding to the 10% CDF isoline with changing scan duration time (colored lines). Black dashed line in (b) represents the LES domain-averaged CFP for hydrometeor mixing ratio ≥ 0.01 g kg-1.


Using the cumulative distribution function (CDF) of reflectivity as a function of altitude, as depicted in Figure 3a, an optimal minimum detectable reflectivity at each height is determined from the CDF isoline that provides an optimum selection of region size and radar sensitivity. CFP from the optimum regions using this new method shows good agreement with the model CFP. The Ka-SACR observations need to be conducted for 35 min or more for CFP estimates to converge with the LES-simulated CFP (Figure 3b) with an RMSE less than 1% on the order of 5% CFPs.

The new techniques developed in the study increase confidence in the retrieved CFP when looking at the true atmosphere and improve our ability to compare model output with cloud radar observations for shallow cumulus cloud conditions.




Oue, M., P. Kollias, K. W. North, A. Tatarevic, S. Endo, A. M. Vogelmann, and W. I. Gustafson (2016): Estimation of cloud fraction profile in shallow convection using a scanning cloud radar. Geophysical Research Letters, 43,10998–11006, doi: 10.1002/2016GL070776.

About the Author

Mariko Oue received a degree of Ph.D in environmental science in 2010 at Nagoya University, Japan, followed by postdoctoral research at Nagoya University and the Pennsylvania State University. I am currently a postdoctoral researcher at SoMAS since 2016, studying on cloud dynamics/microphysics using polarimetric Doppler radars. Clouds are composed of many tiny particles such as cloud droplets, raindrops, and snowflakes and play a key role in climate. My interest is formation pricess of cloud and distributions and growth processes of the cloud/precipitation particles observed by radars.



North Atlantic Tuna Less Toxic, SoMAS Study Finds

From “North Atlantic Tuna Less Toxic, Study Finds” on SBU Happenings, 2016-12-07

In a piece of welcome news for seafood lovers, a Stony Brook-led research team has found declining levels of mercury in bluefin tuna caught in the North Atlantic over the past decade. Mercury is a neurotoxin harmful to humans, and tuna provide more mercury to humans than any other source.


A study led by Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) and published in Environmental Science & Technology provides a new data set, the largest of its kind, of mercury concentrations in Atlantic bluefin tuna. The data demonstrate that, while tissue concentrations were higher than in most other fish species, there has been a consistent decline in mercury concentrations in these tuna over time, regardless of age of the fish.

The rate of decline parallels the declines – over the same time period — of mercury emissions, mercury levels in North Atlantic air, and mercury concentrations in North Atlantic seawater. Authors of the study include Stony Brook’s Cheng-Shiuan Lee, a Ph.D student in chemical/biological oceanography, SoMAS Professor Robert Cerrato and Nicholas S. Fisher, Distinguished Professor & Director, Consortium for Inter-Disciplinary Environmental Research at SoMAS.

According Fisher, the finding appears to indicate that changes in mercury levels in fish tissue respond in real time to changes in mercury loadings into the ocean. The study suggests that mercury levels may be improving as a result of declining coal use, reducing emissions that drift over the Atlantic.

The researchers measured mercury concentrations from the tissue of 1,292 bluefin tuna caught between 2004 and 2012. Some of the key findings:

  • Over the eight-year period, mercury levels in the fish fell 19 percent.
  • Mercury concentrations were generally high, and were highest in the largest, oldest fish; no differences were noted between males and females.
  • Mercury in the air over the North Atlantic fell 20 percent from 2001 to 2009.
  • Global levels of mercury emissions have fallen 2.8 percent a year from 1990 to 2007.

The study was supported in part by a grant from the Gelfond Fund for Mercury Research & Outreach.


Dr. Nicholas Fisher
Cheng-Shiuan Lee

Cheng-Shiuan Lee

News from the NAno-Raman Molecular Imaging Laboratory (NARMIL)

In September, we celebrated the first anniversary of Ms. Tanya Zaliznyak joining the SoMAS staff and taking the helm at NARMIL.  Her first year has been filled with exciting accomplishments demonstrating that this facility is reaching its scientific potential. We’d like to share some of these achievements with you.

1) Developed protocols to interrogate single microbial cells and marine aerosol particles in the confocal Raman microspectrometer.

2) Produced sub-micrometer scale Raman maps of cells and engineered materials on the Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) stage by co-locating the Raman laser beam on the AFM tip.

3) Developed software scripts, pipelines and shortcuts to optimize routine Raman spectral analyses.

4) With Prof. Taylor’s group (SoMAS), refined techniques to map distributions of intracellular storage products, such as globular sulfur and polyhydroxybutyrate (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. Raman map of intracellular distributions of the lipid-like energy storage product, polyhydroxybutyrate (red area with accompanying Raman spectrum) within a marine bacterium (below arrow in right panel). Blue area is relatively rich in amino acids (blue spectrum) and proteins. Cell is approximately 2.5 micrometers long.


5) For ongoing studies in Prof. Taylor’s lab (SoMAS), improved capabilities for routine Raman-FISH single cell analyses. Technique enables recognition of photosynthetically-active phytoplankton by quantifying stable isotope incorporation into biomolecules by Raman signatures and identifying players by genetic probes (FISH = fluorescent in situ hybridization).

6) Currently assisting Prof. Taylor’s group (SoMAS) in development of novel Raman and AFM techniques to follow movement of carbon through protistan symbiotic associations, between hosts and viral pathogens, and from detritus through microbial communities. This new project is supported by the Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation and funds two new postdoctoral investigators.

7) Facilitated Profs. Knopf and J. Aller group’s (SoMAS) exploration of chemical variability in sea spray aerosols and their role in cloud formation using Raman spectroscopy (Fig. 2).

Figure 2.  Raman spectrum of a single aqueous sea spray droplet (marked by red arrow in panel on right) that contains biogenic polysaccharidic and proteinaceous material obtained from a laboratory mesocosm experiment.


8) Assisted Ms. Yoonja Kang, Prof. Gobler’s student (SoMAS), to spectroscopically characterize how cellular storage products and pigment concentrations change when a harmful bloom-forming microalga (Aureoumbra lagunensis) enters a resting stage.

9) Facilitated Prof. Robert Aller’s group (SoMAS) in spectroscopically characterizing effects of animal-sediment interactions on biogeochemical processes near the sediment-water interface.

10) Assisted Ms. Emily Herstoff, Prof. Stephen Baine’s student (Ecology & Evolution), by performing single-cell Raman analyses on an array of cultured microalgae to characterize differences in macromolecular composition.

11) Facilitated Prof. Irena Tannenbaum (Materials Sciences and Engineering) and undergraduates in characterizing interactions between biomolecules and gold nanoparticles using Raman microspectroscopy.

12) Assisted Prof. Balaji Sitharaman’s group (Biomedical Engineering) in study of bioactivity of some novel nanocomposites for bone tissue engineering using Raman microspectroscopy.

13) Provided spectral data to Prof. Yizhi Meng’s group (Materials Sciences and Engineering) to guide establishment of a 3D spheroid model of breast microcalcifcation.

14) With Prof. Stanislaus Wong’s group (Chemistry) expanded Raman spectral characterization of carbon nanotubule functionalization, primarily for photovoltaic applications.

15) Provided spectral data to Prof. Nancy Goroff’s group (Chemistry) to enable their evaluation of methods for preparing carbon-rich and all-carbon materials via self-assembly.

Not too shabby for her first 12 months and we’re only getting started!

Figure 3. In answer to the question, “What is Raman scattering spectroscopy?” Measurement of the Stokes-shifted photons which provide molecular “fingerprints” of a sample.


NARMIL was established in 2014 with a National Science Foundation Major Research Instrumentation Grant through the Division of Ocean Sciences and through matching support from Stony Brook University. This facility supports research in marine, atmospheric, environmental, biological, chemical, geological, materials sciences, and biomedical engineering, and is certainly open to other applications. The lab provides state-of-the-art instrumentation and expertise for analyses of single cells, aerosols, natural materials, engineered surfaces, minerals, biofilms, thin films, and novel synthetic materials.  The lab’s mission is to offer unique analytical solutions to chronic limitations experienced in many research areas, to enable transformative discoveries, and to educate the next generation of scientists. If you have a potential application or questions, don’t hesitate to contact us at


Updates from the Shinnecock Restoration Program

The ShiRP 2016 trawling season is almost over and we would like to thank all the great volunteers we have had this season. A special thanks goes to the Saint Joseph College and Stony Brook University Undergraduate students who volunteered their time this summer to help us on the boat.

This season we have tagged 50 summer flounder in Shinnecock Bay with acoustic transmitters as part of an ongoing study on their migratory patterns and factors controlling the timing of their migrations. We have also caught our first two sharks, smooth dogfishes, since our surveys started in 2011. In summary, this year, as always, we had a lot of fun!

Finally, we would like to extend a big thank you to our friends from Citimarine Store for their generous donation to the Shinnecock Restoration Program. The GPS they sent us came in really handy to track our trawl locations during our fish survey of the bay, and we plan to put it to good use on our future surveys.

SoMAS Graduate Student Helps Develop Tool to Constrain Silicon Cycle

Our understanding of the global silicon (Si) cycle has changed progressively over the past several decades. In the late 1970’s, the silica (SiO2) produced by weathering on the continents and delivered in dissolved form from the world’s rivers to the ocean was thought to eventually deposit largely in the Southern Ocean and other regions of the deep sea where biologically formed siliceous oozes are found.

It is now known that the marine silicon cycle is far more nuanced and that significant quantities can be removed from the ocean not only in the form of biologically formed opal such as diatom frustules (bSi) but also minerals such as clay that can form rapidly during reactions (termed reverse weathering) in surface sediment. Silica is also supplied to the oceans from hydrothermal regions. Unfortunately because clay is a very common class of mineral that is also eroded from the continents, it has been very difficult to determine exactly how much new clay (termed “authigenic”) is actually being formed and buried in different environments.

In a recent article published in Geophysical Research Letters (“Cosmogenic 32Si as a tracer of silica burial and diagenesis: major deltaic sinks in the silica cycle” GRL, 43, 7124-7132), SoMAS PhD graduate Shaily Rahman and her advisors, Robert Aller and J. Kirk Cochran, showed for the first time that naturally occurring cosmogenic 32Si, which has a half- life of ~ 140 years, can be used to determine the different modes of silica burial in recently deposited sediments. They demonstrate that in tropical deltaic environments such as the massive Amazon delta and coastal muds derived from it along French Guiana, virtually all biologically-formed silica such as diatom frustules (bSi) carrying 32Si is rapidly converted to clay. Because there is less than ~ 1 kg of cosmogenic 32Si on Earth, its measurement is extremely difficult. Nevertheless, Rahman, Aller, and Cochran show that it is possible to independently and quantitatively constrain the sinks for silicon in the ocean using 32Si as a new tool, and to much more accurately resolve the global Si cycle, particularly the role of the continental margins where most sediment in the oceans is deposited. Indeed, these results suggest that deltaic and associated dispersal systems may rival or exceed the Southern Ocean in importance as sites of reactive silica (bSi + altered products of bSi) storage.


HyCRISTAL: Integrating Hydro-Climate Science into Policy Decisions for Climate-Resilient Infrastructure and Livelihoods in East Africa

LOCATION: Lake Victoria Basin, East Africa

SoMAS Members Involved: Kamazima Lwiza and Thomas Wilson


HyCRISTAL is one of five projects in the Future Climate for Africa (FCFA) program working with partners to conduct research for decision-making on a 5-40 year timescale, demonstrated in 2 main pilots for urban and rural to enable adaptive climate-smart livelihood adaptations. These cover two of three “areas of need” from the African Ministerial Council on Environment’s Comprehensive Framework of African Climate Change Programmes.


East Africa (EA) has one of the world’s fastest growing populations. The population is characterized by highest concentrations around lakes and rapid urbanization. The vulnerability to the Climate change is adding to existing problems. HyCRISTAL is driven by EA priorities. EA communities rely on rainfall for food via agriculture. EA’s inland lakes are rain-fed and provide water, transportation, power, fisheries, and recreation. HyCRISTAL will therefore operate in both urban & rural contexts.

Change in water availability will be critical for climate-change impacts in EA, but projections are highly uncertain for rain, lakes, rivers and groundwater, and for extremes. EA “Long-Rains” are observed to be decreasing; while models tend to predict an increase (the “EA Climate paradox”) although predictions are not consistent. This uncertainty provides a fundamental limit on the utility of climate information to inform policy. HyCRISTAL will therefore make best use of current projections to quantify uncertainty in user-relevant quantities and provide ground-breaking research to understand and reduce the uncertainty that currently limits decision making.

HyCRISTAL is working with users to deliver world-leading climate research quantifying uncertainty from natural variability, uncertainty from climate forcings including those previously unassessed, and uncertainty in response to these forcings; including uncertainties from key processes such as convection and land-atmosphere coupling that are misrepresented in global models. Research will deliver new understanding of the mechanisms that drive the uncertainty in projections. HyCRISTAL will use this information to understand trends, when climate-change signals will emerge and provide a process-based expert judgement on projections. Working with policy makers, inter-disciplinary research (hydrology, economics, engineering, social science, ecology and decision-making) will quantify risks for rural & urban livelihoods, quantify climate impacts and provide the necessary tools to use climate information for decision making.

HyCRISTAL collaborates with the FCFA global & regional projects and Coordination Capacity Building and Knowledge Exchange (CCKE), by sharing methods, tools, user needs, expertise & communication. Uniquely, HyCRISTAL will capitalize on the new Lake Victoria Basin – HydroClimate to Nowcasting for Early Warning Systems (LVB-HyNEWS), an African-led consortium, governed by the East African Community, the Lake Victoria Basin Commission and National Meteorological and Hydrological agencies, with the African Ministerial Conference on Meteorology as an observer.

HyCRISTAL is building EA capacity directly through collaboration (11 of 25 HyCRISTAL Co-Investigators are African, with 9 full-time in Africa), including data collection and via targeted workshops and teaching. HyCRISTAL will deliver evidence of impact, with new and deep climate science insights that will far outlast its duration. It will support decisions for climate-resilient infrastructure and livelihoods through application of new understanding in its pilots, with common methodological and infrastructure lessons to promote policy and enable transformational change for impact-at-scale. Using a combination of user-led and science-based management tools, HyCRISTAL will ensure the latest physical science, engineering and social-science yield maximum impacts. HyCRISTAL will deliver outstanding outputs across FCFA’s aims; synergies with LVB-HyNEWS will add to these and ensure longevity beyond HyCRISTAL.

Stony Brook Part of HyCRISTAL

Stony Brook University’s (SBU) role is in two parts. The first part is to install observational equipment on a ferry boat on Lake Victoria to monitor lake surface temperature, ph, chlorophyll, precipitation, photosynthetically active radiation (PAR), air temperature, and wind. The second role is to develop a suite of models to determine climate-related impacts on and fish stocks. SBU will use the output from a Hydro-climate model from the Climate Co-Investigators to force a coupled hydrodynamical and an ecosystem-level model to assess fish-management strategies and effects of climatic forcing on lake ecology, predicting changes in species, especially important food fishes, driven by chlorophyll (proxy for primary production), turbidity, temperature, water level, and other environmental factors.


Stony Brook University; University of Leeds; African Centre for Technology Studies; British Geological Survey; Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (UK); Evidence for Development; Jomo Kenyatta University; Loughborough University; Met Office (UK); National Centre for Atmospheric Science (UK); National Fisheries Resources Research Institute (Uganda); North Carolina State University; Practical Action; Tanzanian Meteorological Agency; Ugandan National Meteorological Authority; Ugandan Ministry of Water Resources; University of Connecticut; Makerere University; Maseno University; Walker Institute; Africa Climate Exchange, University of Reading.

The United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID) and Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

HyCRISTAL Sponsors

The United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID) and Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

First Annual General Meeting of HyCRISTAL scientists in Kampala, Uganda, September 2015

First Annual General Meeting of HyCRISTAL scientists in Kampala, Uganda, September 2015

SoMAS Electronics Workshop engineer Thomas Wilson spreading his tools on the MV Serengeti ferry ready for installation of meteorological and hydrological sensors, in Mwanza, Tanzania, January 2016 (Photo credit Lwiza).

SoMAS Electronics Workshop engineer Thomas Wilson spreading his tools on the MV Serengeti ferry ready for installation of meteorological and hydrological sensors, in Mwanza, Tanzania, January 2016 (Photo credit Lwiza).

Kamazima Lwiza and Thomas Wilson installing communications cable in the engine room of MV Serengeti, 18 January 2016 (Credits Yusufu Wastara).

Kamazima Lwiza and Thomas Wilson installing communications cable in the engine room of MV Serengeti, 18 January 2016 (Credits Yusufu Wastara).

Morning break over Lake Victoria near Bukoba town, Tanzania, January 16, 2016 (Photo credit T. Wilson)

Morning break over Lake Victoria near Bukoba town, Tanzania, January 16, 2016 (Photo credit T. Wilson)

Bismarck Rocks, named after a famous German Chancellor who served during the Berlin Conference of 1884. (credits T Wilson)

Bismarck Rocks, named after a famous German Chancellor who served during the Berlin Conference of 1884. (credits T Wilson)

Driving through the main market in Mwanza, Tanzania, January 2016 (Credits T. Wilson)

Driving through the main market in Mwanza, Tanzania, January 2016 (Credits T. Wilson)

It looks better than the original African Queen, permanently anchored at Tilapia Hotel, Mwanza (credits T Wilson).

It looks better than the original African Queen, permanently anchored at Tilapia Hotel, Mwanza (credits T Wilson).

Going Deep: Novel Microscopy Helps Researchers Examine the Ocean Like Never Before

From Going Deep: Novel Microscopy Helps Researchers Examine the Ocean Like Never Before on SBU Happenings

There are about one million bacteria, thousands of species and untold genetic diversity in just one drop of seawater. This amazing fact and the powerful roles played by marine microbes in shaping the health of the ocean’s ecosystem and our climate has led Gordon T. Taylor, a Professor of Oceanography at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS), to focus his research on uncovering the wonders of marine microbial life.

Now, a new $800,000 grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation will enable Professor Taylor and colleagues to develop new microscopy-based technologies to probe this environment at levels not seen before.

“Most microorganisms in the ocean are beneficial, but their roles are still poorly known. We do know that their activities and diversity strongly influence the health and balance of marine ecosystems and therefore our entire planet,” said Professor Taylor. “This is why we need to better define what we call ‘marine microbial communities’ and more fully understand their full impact on ocean health, climate, pollution, and diseases in marine life.”

The new grant, established through the SUNY Research Foundation, is part of the Moore Foundation’s Marine Microbiology Initiative (MMI), which promotes innovative, high-risk research on marine microbial communities in order to explore their structure and function, genetic diversity, ecological roles and contribution to ocean health and productivity. MMI supports current and emerging leaders in marine science through investigator awards, multidisciplinary team projects and community resource projects.

Led by Professor Taylor, the research team includes Dr. Virginia Edgcomb of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and Dr. Joaquin Martínez Martínez of the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences. Professor Taylor emphasized that the Moore Foundation support enables his team to pursue avenues of marine research that are not often supported by traditional funding sources.

The research team will develop novel technologies to examine organization of marine microbial communities or as coined by Taylor the study of “microspatial seascape ecology”. More specifically, the grant will help advance studies on how marine microorganisms control cycling of major elements in the ocean, primarily carbon but also nitrogen, oxygen and sulfur. The grant will help support the development of cutting-edge techniques to map out three-dimensional distributions of organic resources and community members at spatial scales meaningful to marine microorganisms.

Professor Taylor and colleagues will examine the marine environment at sub-micrometer spatial scales using state-of-the-art Confocal Raman Microspectrometry and Atomic Force Microscopy in the SoMASNano-Raman Molecular Imaging Laboratory. The lab was previously established with a National Science Foundation Major Research Instrumentation program grant and matching SBU support.

“Our lab will be able to probe and define the marine microenvironment at scales not previously possible and reveal how resources are cycled to micropredators and viruses within plankton communities,” explained Dr. Taylor. “This research will hopefully reveal more about the actual behavior of microbial populations, and about biodiversity, biogeography, and the transmission of infectious diseases within this environment.”

“The support of the Moore Foundation grant serves an essential role in advancing the field of marine ecology,” said Minghua Zhang, PhD, Dean and Director of Stony Brook’s SoMAS. ”With this grant and growing support, the SoMAS Nano-Raman Molecular Imaging Laboratory will emerge as a powerful entity to expand oceanographic research at Stony Brook and in our region.”

Gordon T. Taylor, a Professor of Oceanography at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS)

Bruker Innova Atomic Force Microscope

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