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From the lab, the beach, the abyss

January 25, 2011

Category: A Closer Look

Atmospheric view of ocean surface. Along with sun rays, water mixing in the depths drives climate cycles. (NOAA photo)

COAST research, students tell trustees, delves into array of marine realms

To reach the restaurants and fish counters of Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, seafood travels an average of 3,400 miles.

The ocean-atmosphere feedback systems affected by climate change may have their pace set by waters mixing far below the surface—in the abyss.

Those nuggets are among findings from the inaugural CSU’s Council on Ocean Affairs, Science and Technology (COAST) student-research showcase, at which faculty mentors and student researchers discuss their work with the CSU’s Board of Trustees and campus presidents.

A sea slug of the genus PolyceraThe studies come from 20 campuses, the Ocean Studies Institute consortium and the CSU’s Moss Landing Marine Laboratory. Presented at a CSU Chancellor’s Office reception after the Board’s Jan. 25 meeting, they focus on topics that include unseen internal waves, highly publicized marine-protection areas, ocean acidification, gene-tracking in the sea, and ripple patterns in submerged sand.

According to COAST program coordinator Krista Kamer, the event itself is a sampling, designed to convey the range of excellent marine and coastal research being conducted throughout the CSU. Details are in the poster reception’s Book of Abstracts here.

Seafood circuits, mixing ‘hotspots’

Professor Rick Starr (r) examines fish. (Cal Poly San Luis Obispo)In one project, a student-faculty research team from CSU Channel Islands surveyed 134 restaurants and 64 markets to collect data about seafood origins; and it measured tissue samples for mercury levels. Among other discoveries, the results indicated that, on average, more than twice as much carbon dioxide is emitted getting a fish to a restaurant than is getting it to a market. (This video explores CSUCI research into sustainable seafood.)

Meanwhile, Moss Landing Marine Laboratory and San Jose State graduate student Katie Morrice spent two months at sea as part of an expedition traveling offshore from South Africa to Ghana examining submerged canyons and other “hotspots” for deep-water mixing. Morrice also ventured off California’s shore to study mixing layers of deep water over the continental shelf.

Microbes’ fungal-fighting role in biofilm

Provocatively retitled, some of the projects could be tabloid fodder:

Watersipora subtorquata, bryozoan invader of California coast, about 10x17 cm (USGS photo)

“Aliens use custom slime to battle scum,” for example, would sum up the CSU Bakersfield report “Diversity and antifungal ability of epibiotic microorganisms associated with invasive marine bryozoan species from California.” Four student researchers subjected the invaders—including the fleshy, often-reddish Watersipora subtorqhata of the shoreline (left)—to tissue collection, electron microscopy, DNA extraction, and more to characterize the film of microbes that covers them.

And, instead of a question-as-title for the CSU Fullerton poster “Does extended incubation affect morphology, swimming, or feeding of larval California grunion, Leuresthes tenuis?,” a headline could be in the answer: “Yes! Simulating beach sex reveals timing can affect appetite!”

Accumulation. Contamination. Plastics.

Such folly aside, the projects, however, make serious scientific contributions by providing new images of important ocean phenomena and by tracking key aspects of critical issues. Two, for example, tracked toxins.

At CSU Long Beach, a team using proteomics techniques—exploring how specific proteins are expressed–discovered more about the impacts of DDT and PCBs on fish organs.

At San Diego State University, doctoral student Chelsea Rochman, a member of the Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastic Expedition (SEAPLEX), measured how plastic debris accumulates toxins from sea water – and what happens when animals ingest contaminated plastic.

Chelsea Rochman gathers samples with dipnetIn “Plastic Soup,” a post in the CSU Voices and Views blog, Rochman describes her wide-ranging, far-cruising research into the extent and impacts of plastics in the ocean.

Here are reports of the COAST poster presentes from around the CSU:

For more about COAST, see

For a complete set of condensed research profiles see The Book of Abstracts for COAST research reception.

–Sean Kearns

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