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Newsworthy events from the Sea Grant community.

Student Assists in QPX Research

In September, Elizabeth Cushman returned to Palm Beach Atlantic University for her senior year with a lot of hands-on experience under her belt. As a summer student fellow in the WHOI laboratory of Becky Gast, the molecular biology major was able to apply methods she had studied in class to marine organisms, namely hard clams, Mercenaria mercenaria, known locally as quahogs.

Cushman's summer project--to refine the molecular methodology for a set of experiments on QPX (quahog parasite unknown)--is part of a Woods Hole Sea Grant-supported study to determine the source of QPX in the environment. "There are two opposing theories," explains Cushman. "One is that QPX is found naturally in the environment and that the opportunistic parasite attacks the clams when they're down." But another theory suggests a different scenario--that "QPX is only in some places, perhaps in the sediments, maybe in the water," she says.

"Before I arrived [in Woods Hole], I had researched QPX but not the molecular methods. Learning how to do everything took a while." Gast says her efforts were an important part of the overall project. "Elizabeth did a lot of ground-truthing work that set us up for the project," says Gast. Cushman's analyses of water samples showed that QPX could be detected at levels of 50500 cells per liter.

Data for sediment samples was still underway as the fellowship came to an end, but Cushman and Gast suspect that the detection levels will be similar to those found in water samples. The project, once complete, may lead to a diagnostic test that could be used for early detection of QPX in sediments and the water. Cushman says her summer experience has solidified her plans to go to graduate school.

Cape Cod Landforms Poster

A new poster blends original artwork and the geological history of Cape Cod in an eye-catching, educational product. Written by Jim O'Connell, coastal processes specialist for Woods Hole Sea Grant and Cape Cod Cooperative Extension, and illustrated by Martha's Vineyard artist Dana Gaines, the poster depicts the history of Cape Cod landforms since the Ice Age ended, approximately 20,000 years ago. Why does the south side of Cape Cod experience low erosion rates? What is a 'nodal zone' and how does it affect sand transport? How did Sandy Neck barrier beach form? Answers to these questions and many more can be found on the poster, titled "Cape Cod Landforms and Coastal Processes." For information on ordering the poster, call Woods Hole Sea Grant at (508) 289-2398 or visit www.whoi.edu/seagrant and click on "What's New."


Going Wireless Underwater

MIT Sea Grant has received funding from the National Science Foundation to design and implement a wireless communication system allowing multiple AUVS to operate together. This will dramatically increase the scientific community's ability to gather information from deep-sea surveys. Collaborators in the project include researchers from WHOI and Johns Hopkins University.

MITSG's principal investigator for the project is Milica Stojanovic, who also conducted acoustic communications experiments in the Aegean this past summer. "My experiments are concerned with testing methods for faster (more bits/sec) acoustic communications underwater, and also methods for communication between several simultaneously active users (such as AUVs)," explains Stojanovic.

AUV Lab Update

MIT Sea Grant's Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) Lab recently traveled to Greece to search the Aegean for clues to ancient history. Working with Greece's Hellenic Center for Marine Research and the Ministry of Culture's underwater archaeologists, AUV Lab members deployed OII Xanthos-- a completely rebuilt and refurbished vehicle equipped with a digital camera system and an underwater sonar system. While the team had been looking for relics from the Byzantine era, it found an anchor from World War II. That discovery was a powerful demonstration of what role AUVs can play in underwater searches.

Closer to home the AUV Lab is working this fall in Mystic Lake (Medford, Mass.) to attempt transmission of pictures underwater using an underwater acoustic modem that radiates sound on a given frequency band and allows underwater communications--a technological feat not yet achieved with AUVs.

In collaboration with the Northeast Consortium, the lab is also conducting research on a fishery survey in Gloucester around Cape Ann. That work is aimed at an improved understanding of how fisheries that employ dragging nets impact the seafloor. In addition, the lab is working with its commercial spin-off, Bluefin Robotics Corp., in developing a hovering AUV that would be used for scanning ship hulls for attached mines. Currently, the state of the art for seeking such explosives involves using a remotely operated vehicle, which can have trouble locating desired destinations. And the more traditional, risky method relies on divers. "Those guys describe it as walking around two football fields in the dark and trying to find what you are looking for with your hands," says Rob Damus, MITSG research engineer.

GEMS Awards

MIT Sea Grant awarded seven grants to Massachusetts schools for 2004-2005 as part of The Grants for Education in Marine Science (GEMS) program. This program helps support Massachusetts students and educators participate in new, collaborative approaches to marine science beyond textbooks. In newly funded projects, students will explore biodiversity in marshes, build remotely operated vehicles through the Sea Perch program, examine eelgrass restoration, and more. For details, see web.mit.edu/seagrant/edu/gems.html.

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