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, contact Kathy de Zengotita (, 617-253-7042.

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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.

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

Investigation of the Effects of Ocean Acidification and Warming on the Calcification Rate & Shell Properties of Commercially Important Early Stage New England Mollusks

Justin Ries, Northeastern University

Project Number:2016-R/RCM-44

Abstract: Ries and colleagues will investigate the combined impacts of ocean acidification and warming on shell formation during the early life stages of commercially and ecologically important species of New England mollusks . Controlled 90-day laboratory experiments will be conducted to observe five key aspects of mollusk shell formation in response to pCO2 and temperature: (1) calcification rate; (2) polymorph mineralogy; (3) elemental partitioning; (4) shell structure; and (5) shell biomechanics . Basic physiological responses will also be assessed under the various treatments. Study results will be disseminated to regional shellfish associations, commercial/academic shellfish growers, the scientific community, and the general public.

Multiple stressors on American Lobster, Homarus americanus: synergistic effects of ocean acidification, temperature increase, and epizootic shell disease

Robyn Hannigan, UMass - Boston

Project Number:2016-R/RCM-45

Abstract: Lobsters are an integral part of the Gulf of Maine ecosystem as well an economically significant fishery. We hypothesize that ocean acidification (OA) and rising temperatures will serve as multiple, synergistic stressors on larval and early benthic juvenile lobsters, resulting in decreased shell growth and changes in the shells’ mineral composition. In addition, we will investigate the effects of OA on lobster health through shell disease, given that this disease is a bacteria-based assault whereby the bacteria create low-pH conditions on the shell as a means of entry. Critical to understanding the mechanistic responses of lobsters to OA and increased temperature, as well as associated susceptibility to disease, is isolating the genetic controls on shell hardening. Physiological data such as enzyme activity and transcriptomics will be used to discover cellular responses to thermal stress and acidosis. This laboratory-based study will track lobster larvae as they metamorphose to benthic juveniles in aquaria under experimental conditions. Data from specimens exhibiting shell disease will be examined across all treatments and disease states, comparing the enzymatic activity of Na+/K+ ATPase (acid-base regulation) to respective changes in gene expression 100s to 1000s of other genes encoding proteins known to be involved in acid-base and ion regulation, protein biosynthesis, and cellular stress responses. The transcriptomic analyses will be correlated to shell mineralogy, structure, growth, disease, and survival.

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