Active Research Projects

The research projects listed below are active and ongoing. Funding is provided by MIT Sea Grant through an annual, competitive RFP. Click on a project title for more information, or the name of a principal investigator for his/her contact information. Basic facts on the past 40 years of funded projects can be discovered through the "Search All Projects" button to the right. For more detailed information on Sea Grant projects, send email to

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Making Sense of the Variability of Coastal Ocean Acidification: Potential Long-Term Impacts on the Oyster Aquaculture Industry

Robert Chen, UMass - Boston

Project Number:2018-R/RC-146

Abstract: The project seeks to determine the potential impacts of ocean acidification on aquaculture practices of the Eastern oyster, Crassostrea virginica. Seawater has decreased by 0.1 pH units and may decrease by another 0.3 by 2100 threatening the health of shelled organisms. Extremely low aragonite saturation events have been found to have the most impact on the health and survival of oysters. Chen and colleagues will characterize the variability in pH and pCO2 continuously in Duxbury and Barnstable Harbor (hatchery) and its causes. Two ocean acidification monitoring systems will be constructed and deployed. The Endurance Ocean Acidification System (EOAS) will be deployed permanently at the Duxbury Harbor Town Pier. The Pioneer Ocean Acidification System (POAS) will be deployed at a variety of coastal sites for periods of 6-12 months, initially at Barnstable Harbor. pH of surface seawater will be measured continuously (every 15 min) using a spectrometric method and calibrated using discrete seawater measurements. pCO2 will be measured using an equilibrator and a LI-COR infrared CO2 detector and calibrated using reference gases. That data will then be used to predict future levels and durations of pH, pCO2 and aragonite saturation. Characterization of future ocean acidification variability over short and long terms can inform the oyster aquaculture industry to develop resilient and sustainable aquacultural practices. Researchers plan to work closely with stakeholders to determine potential impacts on the aquaculture industry. Data from this project will be used to inform the Massachusetts Shellfish Initiative.

Measuring Acid/Base Chemistry in the Extrapallial Fluids of New England's Commercially Important Mollusks to Explore their Differential Responses to Ocean Acidification.

Justin Ries, Northeastern University

Project Number:2018-R/RCM-53

Abstract: This project seeks to quantify impacts of ocean acidification (OA) and warming on extrapallial fluid pH (EPF-pH) of three commercially important mollusk species: eastern oyster, Atlantic sea scallop, and blue mussel. Previous research by Ries has shown that mussels exhibit greater resilience to OA than oysters and scallops and that control over calcification site pH can be an important factor controlling a species’ response to OA. Ries and et al. propose to apply a recently developed pH-microelectrode approach to quantify mollusk EPF-pH response to combined OA and warming. Three hypotheses will be tested: are more OA-resilient mussels able to maintain baseline EPF-pH at levels above those of less OA-resilient oysters and scallops; is the EPF-pH of mussels less impacted by reductions in seawater pH than EPF-pH of scallops and oysters; and, lastly, do temperature and , and OA stress synergistically impact calcification in all three species. Controlled 90-day laboratory experiments will be conducted to quantify effects of ocean acidification (pCO2 = 400, 900, 1800 µatm) and warming (optimal + 5 ºC) on EPF-pH, calcification rate, and physiological conditions of three commercially important mollusk species. Linking EPF-pH-control to calcification response to combined OA and warming may enable rapid assessment of relative vulnerability/resilience to these stressors at species, population, and individual levels via relatively easy-to-execute EPF-pH measurements. Likewise, results from this study could be used by shellfish hatcheries to identify high-EPF-pH individuals to selectively breed for OA resistance.

Quantifying Coastal Ocean Acidification Impacts on Estuarine Nitrogen Removal

Robinson Fulweiler, Boston University

Project Number:2018-R/RC-148

Abstract: This research seeks to determine the effect of coastal acidification on sediment denitrification. Sediment denitrification provides a critical ecosystem service by removing nitrogen from estuaries thereby combatting eutrophication. The effect of acidification on sediment denitrification is unknown. However, research on terrestrial ecosystems demonstrates pH as a regulator of denitrification: as pH decreases denitrification efficiency also decreases. Coastal acidification could inhibit denitrification which would decrease water quality and have significant impacts on economically important fauna (e.g., commercial/recreational fisheries, oyster aquaculture). Fuleiler and colleagues will use a multipronged biogeochemical-molecular approach to meet our objectives in the field and laboratory. Initial research will include a survey of the active microbial community in estuarine sediments to characterize the potentially active sediment microbial community under different pH regimes. Researchers will couple rates of sediment denitrification (i.e., N2 and N2O fluxes) to the activity of key functional genes (nirS, nirK, nosZ) and the denitrifying community at sites under different pH regimes. There will also be an experimental component, where researchers will alter water column pH to directly test coastal acidification impacts on sediment denitrification and the active microbial community. This research will ultimately help to improve water quality by providing novel insight on the impact of coastal acidification on sediment denitrification.

Magnetic Induction (MI) Wireless Underwater Data Communications: Bottom-to-Surface Ocean Temperature Monitoring

Chathan Cooke, MIT

Project Number:2018-R/RCM-52

Abstract: This project seeks to establish base-line technology for magnetic induction (MI) wireless communications in the underwater environment. Reliable capability to communicate from the underwater sensor station to a surface vessel for downloading of stored time series data is a key component that enables consistent highly cost-effect data acquisition. Researchers will quantify the MI wireless channel characteristics and design source and receiving antenna to better match to the MI channel properties. A water-tight temperature measurement demonstration system will be designed, constructed and tested to validate wireless MI data communications. The demonstration will also establish the viability for economical automated data communications using MI from seafloor data acquisition to a surface vehicle on a periodic collection basis. Changes in ocean temperatures have been shown to have strong effects on fish habitat use. Accurate, consistent and timely monitoring of ocean temperatures is of great importance to fisheries surveys and assessments, and its implications for sustaining resilient coastal communities and their economics. By removing most of the human at-sea time we greatly enhance the practicality to monitor more sites on a long-term basis.

Towards a Cost-Effective Monitoring System of Coastal Ocean Acidification in the US North East

Themistoklis Sapsis, MIT

Project Number:2017-R/RCM-49

Abstract: It is important to accurately monitor coastal acidification (COA) in the coastal environment as this area is particularly affected by anthropogenic inputs. However, distributing pH sensors throughout Boston Harbor, Mass Bay or the Gulf of Maine with pH sensors would be impractical and very expensive. Computer simulations can help alleviate much of the cost and increase accurate predictions but requires validated, biochemical simulation models for the Northeast. We propose an integrated methodology that will combine and analyze all available information from monitoring stations in Mass Bay, Boston Harbor and their tributaries. We will use deep Gaussian Processe to blend information from diverse sources at variable fidelity in a multi-fidelity Bayesian framework, where all uncertainties are accounted for in the final prediction. Increased development of coastal communities has brought more runoff, sedimentation, nutrients and contaminants, and habitat degradation in coastal areas. Integrating multi-fidelity data with the biogeochemical-augmented coastal model (FVCOM-ERSEM) will result in highly accurate predictions of COA that will enable improved, cost-effective management of coastal resources, and support environmental preservation and remediation efforts.

Sensors for Measuring Carbon Dioxide, Bicarbonate, and pH in the Ocean

Timothy M. Swager, MIT

Project Number:2017-R/RCM-50

Abstract: This proposal seeks to develop small, economical, low-power sensors to be deployed in networks in coastal marine eco-systems to record levels of CO2, CO3H-, and pH. The sensors will use a hybrid of silicon-based, field-effect transistors and electroactive organic molecules/polymers. These organic materials are designed to have variable Fermi levels that change with pH and CO3H- concentrations. The new sensors can be used for persistent, distributed monitoring of coastal waters needed to understand the effects of river emissions and atmospheric perturbations on ocean ecology. Shallow regions are particularly sensitive to these chemical changes in the water; they are habitat to abundant shell fish populations and also provide a breeding ground for economically important fish species and other sea life. The sensors will allow for the collection of critical spatial-temporal data to be used in models that can explain the origins of chemical changes.

Developing a Miniaturized In-situ Sensor Technology for Simultaneous Measurements of Seawater Dissolved Inorganic Carbon and pCO2

Zhaohui Aleck Wang, WHOI

Project Number:2017-R/RCM-51

Abstract: The development of carbon sensors to monitor and study ocean acidification is widely recognized as a research priority at this time in history. Dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) and partial pressure of CO2 (pCO2) are desirable parameters for accurately characterizing the marine CO2 system. This project will develop a miniaturized, in-situ sensor, Channelized Optical System II (CHANOS II) for simultaneous, spectrophotometric measurements of seawater DIC and pCO2 with high frequency (~1 Hz) for up to 1000 m of water depth. Built on the success of the original CHANOS, CHANOS II will develop a miniaturized fluidic CO2 equilibrating manifold for both DIC and pCO2 channels, applying miniature pumps and switches to dramatically reduce sensor size, power consumption, and cost, and improve robustness. CHANOS II will be capable of making high-quality measurements on both stationary and mobile platforms, such as buoys, profilers, and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs). The deployable time depends on what platforms it will be on. For stationary platforms, it can be up to 4 months at hourly sampling interval; for mobile platforms, it can be up to one week continuous measurements.

Quantification of the contribution of wastewater effluent to coastal ocean acidification

Scott Doney, WHOI

Project Number:2016-R/RC-143

Abstract: This project seeks to understand the effect of effluent from wastewater treatment plants, specifically those in Fairhaven, New Bedford, and Wareham, on the acidification of coastal waters in Buzzards Bay. Mathematical modeling of the effluent plumes using tracers will be combined with field sampling of carbonate chemistry and nutrients in the plumes -- namely, dissolved inorganic carbon and total alkalinity using titration methods; pH using spectrophotometric methods; nutrients including NO3-+NO2-, NH4+, PO4-3, SiO4-, TN, PON, and POC; and organic matter enrichment of sediments. Modeling efforts will use and refine the Southeastern Massachusetts hydrodynamic model (SEMASS-FVCOM). Coastal acidification destroys economically important habitats that support aquaculture and commercial fisheries, and little is known about the contribution of outflow from towns’ wastewater treatment plants. If this study shows that wastewater treatment plants are strong point sources of dissolved inorganic carbon, FVCOM’s high-resolution hydrodynamic/plume tracking model can help design mitigation strategies such as sewer expansions, changes to levels of wastewater treatment, and re-siting of effluent outfall pipes

Marine Center for Development of Biomimetic Underwater Sensors

Harbor seal

Michael Triantafyllou, MIT Sea Grant

Project Number:2013-R/RT-2/RCM-34

Abstract: This Marine Center will focus on developing a new generation of biomimetic pressure and flow sensors for underwater use, beginning with a velocity sensor that emulates the outstanding sensitivity of the whiskers of harbor seals. The hydrodynamic mechanisms and the structure of the whiskers that seals use to “see” and navigate in dark waters has not been explained or exploited. Having studied these structures, we will design velocity sensors able to detect minute flow disturbances. These will then be combined with MEMS (Micro Electro-Mechanical Systems) based pressure sensors. These new sensors will allow underwater robots and vessels to detect obstacles at very low power consumption with the sensitivity of a live animal.

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MIT Sea Grant News

Congratulations to MIT Sea Grant's 2019 Knauss Finalist, Gualtiero Spiro
MIT Sea Grant... 7 / 11 / 2018

Northeast Aquaculture Conference & Exposition January 9-11, 2019
Northeast Aquaculture Conference & Exposition (NACE)... 6 / 13 / 2018

MIT Sea Grant Ocean Acidification Project Completion Seminar Tuesday June 26th at 10:00 AM
MIT Sea Grant... 6 / 1 / 2018