UCLA joins Southern California Marine Institute to revitalize marine research in Los Angeles

Originally posted by UCLA Newsroom
Author: Kim DeRose

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UCLA has entered into a collaboration with the Southern California Marine Institute (SCMI) that will streamline marine research operations and expand research opportunities for UCLA students and faculty, Joseph Rudnick, dean of the UCLA Division of Physical Sciences, has announced.

UCLA joins the SCMI at the onset of a bold initiative to build a new research and clean-technology facility at the Port of Los Angeles that may become the largest marine research institute in an urban setting in the world, Rudnick said.

Through the new partnership, UCLA will share resources with 10 local universities to operate a facility at the port that provides waterfront access for oceanographic and marine biology studies, maintenance for scientific vessels, and a formal channel for cooperation among researchers in the Los Angeles area.

"We are eager to join the Southern California Marine Institute to help reinvent the way we conduct marine research in Los Angeles," Rudnick said. "We do so at a critical point for the Earth’s oceans, when questions related to issues such as pollution and climate change can be tackled only through this kind of interdisciplinary framework."

Studying the oceanographic features of the Santa Monica Bay and surrounding coastal waters requires a dedicated research vessel and unrestricted ocean access, said Burkard Baschek, a UCLA assistant professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences, who is the leading UCLA–SCMI marine science effort.

Logistical support provided by the SCMI has enabled UCLA to obtain a new research vessel with unique capabilities for research and teaching. Undergraduates and graduate students interested in marine science will now have the opportunity to gain valuable fieldwork experience on the water through specialized courses being offered as soon as next spring.

The new research facility initiative, known as the City Dock #1 project, is a campaign to build a center for marine research at the Port of Los Angeles that will rival in size the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, one of the leading facilities for marine research in the United States, Baschek said.

Benefits from this association and the City Dock #1 project will go beyond the UCLA community, said James McWilliams, the Louis B. Slichter Professor of Earth Sciences in the UCLA Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences and an early advocate of this inter-university collaboration. Cooperation with the SCMI will enable UCLA to revive public outreach and K–12 education programs that had become impossible to manage without direct water access.

Marine scientists at UCLA add a "whole new level of expertise" to the collaboration, said Larry Allen, director of the SCMI and a professor of biology at California State University, Northridge. Future SCMI research will target the management of fisheries for sustainability, the effect of harmful algal blooms on sea life and the consequences of pollution, he said.

Understanding how climate change influences the ocean and coastal areas is also a priority, Allen said. Accordingly, research through the SCMI will study the effects of ocean acidification, rising sea levels and increased water temperature associated with global warming.

A new research vessel

UCLA brings a new research vessel to the SCMI — a 27-foot Zodiac that seats 10 and can travel 60 miles per hour on the water. Expected to be fully operational in the spring of 2011, the Zodiac will have the instrumentation necessary to make simultaneous measurements of water temperature, salt content and current flow.

"The vessel is designed for cost-efficient, high-speed research applications in the coastal ocean and will be an ideal platform for coastal and oceanographic research for faculty and researchers in several UCLA departments," Baschek said.

Unlike standard research vessels at other universities, the Zodiac boasts the unique capability of being able to make measurements of sub-mesoscale eddies — whirlpool-like features that can be several miles in diameter and can change on relatively short time scales, Baschek said.

"These kinds of sub-mesoscale fronts or filaments are now accessible by this kind of boat in a way they have not been before, because you can keep up with them as they change and move," added UCLA’s McWilliams, who also credited Keith Stolzenbach, a UCLA professor of civil and environmental engineering, for his early leadership in promoting UCLA’s collaboration with the SCMI.

A floating classroom

Starting in the spring 2011 academic quarter, Baschek will teach an upper-division course in the department of atmospheric and oceanic sciences (AOS 130) that will give eight UCLA undergraduates the opportunity to design and undertake their own research cruise on the research vessel.

"Students in this course will design exactly where they want to go, take measurements and analyze the data they collect based on their own research ideas," Baschek said. "They will plan their own research cruise from the start."

Baschek hopes that eventually a similar class can be run as part of the graduate-level curriculum, allowing students to learn essential fieldwork skills without the need for extensive travel.

City Dock #1

The $430 million City Dock #1 project will provide office and laboratory space for permanent staff across all sectors, deep water access for large research vessels and a wave-tank filled with more than 1 million cubic feet of water — equivalent to more than 11 Olympic-size swimming pools.

Representing a total revitalization of an 1,800-foot portion of dockside, the project will bring together local universities, private industry and governmental agencies in a concerted effort to improve our understanding of the Santa Monica Bay and surrounding coastal waters, Baschek said. In addition to basic oceanographic and conservation research, marine scientists and students at the new facility will study the effects of urban pollution and climate change on reef ecology, aquaculture and fishing, and marine engineering.

The educational capacity of the SCMI headquarters will also be greatly expanded, with the addition of lecture halls, teaching laboratories and K–12 science programs to inspire the next generation of marine scientists, Baschek said.

Marine research at UCLA

UCLA is the 11th university to join the SCMI since it was founded in 1994. Other members include the University of Southern California, Occidental College and eight local California State Universities (Dominguez Hills, Fullerton, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Northridge, Pomona, San Bernardino and San Marcos).

Though the collaboration with the SCMI is managed primarily through the UCLA Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, professors from the departments of civil and environmental engineering, ecology and evolutionary biology, and public health will also participate. The Coastal Center at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, which is co-directed by Baschek, provides common ground for UCLA’s interdisciplinary efforts to tackle issues related to coastal and marine conservation.

One of the only observational physical oceanographers in Los Angeles, Baschek concentrates his research efforts on understanding sub-mesoscale eddies, rogue waves and mechanisms for gas exchange between the atmosphere and ocean.

"It is wonderful to be part of this overall consortium to collaborate with our colleagues to significantly expand our research and teaching capabilities," he said. "We are delighted to be part of the overall development of the City Dock #1 project, which could be a major milestone for oceanographic and coastal research in the Los Angeles region."

Those interested in learning more about coastal and marine research at UCLA may visit the website for the Coastal Center at the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at www.environment.ucla.edu/cc/.