March 9, 2016

MIT Sea Grant's summer UROP openings

The effects of ocean acidification and warming on the calcification of New England mollusks

Atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (pCO2) increases since the Industrial Revolution has caused the acidity of surface seawater to decrease by 30% or 0.1 pH units. As this increase in atmospheric pCO2 is largely due to the anthropogenic combustion of fossil fuels and deforestation the pH of high latitude surface seawater will likely decrease by another 0.3 0.4 units by the end of this century. This, in turn, will result in a nearly 50% reduction in the carbonate ion concentration of seawater, making it more difficult for many calcifying organisms to produce and maintain their shells and skeletons. This research seeks to advance our understanding of the combined effects of pCO2 and temperature on critical aspects of shell/skeletal mineralization during the juvenile stage for five economically and ecologically important species of mollusks found in Massachusetts waters. This area has among the highest sensitivity to the potential effects of ocean acidification in the US due to its economic dependence on the shellfish industry and strong use of shellfish resources. This highlights the importance of understanding the impact of acidification on the early life stages of the mollusks that support these shellfish industries. Lab training will be provided in at least two of the following techniques: carbonate chemistry analyses, maintenance of living organisms in seawater, 3-D stereomicroscopy (to measure key shell morphometric parameters), Bulk powder XRD analysis of CaCO3 and X-ray diffractometer (for polymorph mineralogy), TESCAN scanning electron microscope and petrographic microscope (for analysis of ultrastructure and of shell/skeletal thin-sections).
Prerequisites: The most important attributes are interest in the project, self-motivation and reliability. If possible, I would like to extend the UROP into the 2016 Fall semester. Prior lab or image analysis experience preferred but is not required.

Contact Name: Carolina Bastidas

Are Marine Aliens Winning the Space Wars?

The introduction and establishment of marine non-native species have ecological and economic impacts. Interactions between non-native and native species result in winners and losers that change the appearance and function of fouling communities. In some cases, non-native species outcompete native species but little is known about these processes in view of altered global patterns due to climate changes. Increased seawater temperatures, poleward extension of organisms’ range and increased occurrence of diseases, can alter the suite of physical and biological conditions that open space on surfaces where fouling can establish: piers, docks, hulls, walls and other human made structures. The purpose of this project is to examine the settlement and establishment of fouling organisms on settling plates throughout the year to assess the role of open space and early competition on settlement. We will compare these patterns at two locations along the Massachusetts coast, as much as possible by examining plates with living organisms, but also from photographic record. We expect to see different communities develop based on the prevalence of recruits for any given month, as settlement in fouling is highly seasonal and may be influenced by vectors such as recreational and commercial traffic, as well as location and established local populations.

Lab training will be provided in the following: identification of marine organisms common in fouling and other natural hard substrates, field ecological methods, dissecting microscopy and image analysis for estimating abundance of organisms, basic data analysis and visualization.

Pre-requisites: Interest in the project, self-motivation and reliability. Prior lab or image analysis experience preferred but is not required.

Contact Name: Judy Pederson
Contact Email:

A bathymetric chart of the lower Charles River by and for recreational boaters

The lower Charles River is one of the most heavily-used recreational boating waterways in the country, yet is threatened by sediment deposition. To address this problem, the Charles River Alliance of Boaters (CRAB) has developed a partnership with the MIT Sea Grant College Program to create a chart of the river depth between Science Park and the Watertown Dam, and to monitor changes in the river bottom in the future. The CRAB-MIT Chart Project ( will use inexpensive sonar to determine bathymetry and water level loggers to develop a model of the river. The selected student will be directly involved in all aspects of data processing, from field data collection to data preprocessing and qualification to final production of the finished chart in ArcMAP. The UROP will interact with the members of the boating community during this project, as well as personnel of the Autonomous Underwater Vehicles Lab.

Prerequisites: The student must have ArcMAP\GIS experience, a strong interest in cartography, keen attention to detail, and ability to work independently. Experience with Python or similar scripting language helpful. Small power-boat handling skills and field collection experience are strong pluses.

Contact Name: Michael Sacarny

Investigation of bioluminescent algae responses to water motion produced by various excitations such as vibrations, bubbles, sound and music.

This MIT Sea Grant project is an investigation of the response characteristics of dinoflagellates (bioluminescent marine algae) to various excitations related to motion waves such as vibrations, bubbles, sound and even music. A dinoflagellate culture system will be set-up to provide the proper light, temperature, salinity and O2/CO2 and to continuously monitor key culture parameters. A source of mechanical excitation will be developed to generate controlled waves with known, measurable characteristics. Finally, a system to simultaneously record the mechanical stimulation waves and the resultant bioluminescent responses of the dinoflagellates will be developed. Experiments will be carried-out to measure: the response characteristics to different types of excitation sources, the threshold excitation for bioluminescence, the frequency response, and the responses to complex stimulation such as music.

• Dinoflagellate culture protocol and the design of the culture system.
• Design of the stimulation apparatus.
• Design of the experimental and data recording apparatus.
• All data recordings from the experiments including: discrete measurements, video records, and written records in lab notebook
• Conclusions about the dinoflagellate bioluminescent response, its characteristics and potential practical applications in sensor design, environmental monitoring and STEM education.

Prior Knowledge

Bioluminescence is the production and emission of light by a living organism. Bioluminescence occurs in marine vertebrates and invertebrates, as well as microorganisms and terrestrial animals . Luciferins, a class of light-emitting heterocyclic compounds, are responsible for bioluminescence. Luciferin reacts with oxygen in the presence of Luciferase or photoprotein - an enzyme catalyst - and this reaction produces photons of light . Diatoms are a major group of algae, and are one of the most common types of phytoplankton .

Bioluminescent diatoms or algae were studied in the past as environmental indicators in three bays on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico . Home growing of bioluminescent algae for fun, seems to be quite common and easy nowadays and it’s really interesting to read about their “Light Cycles” and how these could be controlled. Other growing instructions can be also found - . Suppliers of bioluminescent algae are: No research has been found about sensitivity of bioluminescence on sound or vibration excitation although sensitivity to motion is reported a lot.

Background Websites and

Contact Name: Tom Consi
Contact Email:

Check out the UROP website for more information