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The disappearing of the largest lake in the Middle East

U5The world’s third largest hypersaline lake, Urmia Lake is located 1267 meters above sea level in a closed continental drainage basin in northwestern Iran. The lake and its associated wetlands are home to 27 species of mammals, including the endangered Mesopotamian Fallow Deer, 212 species of birds, 41 reptiles and 7 amphibians. High levels of salinity – 200 ppt, which is 5.5 times more than average seawater – limits the fauna and flora that can survive within the lake. The most dominant flora is a green algae and the only marine zooplankton is a unique brine shrimp; Artemia urmiana, which plays a key role in the lake’s food chain, in particular as the primary source of food for migratory birds such as flamingos.

RSMAS_scientistsAlthough the unique and fragile environment of Urmia Lake is protected under the United Nations Ramsar Convention and registered as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve location, the lake and its surrounding wetlands have been subject to extensive disturbances since the early 1980s. One of the main developments that severely impacted the lake’s environment was construction of the dyke-type “Kalantari” highway to connect two major cities across the lake. As a consequence, natural water circulation, sedimentation pattern and evaporation rates have been significantly altered and high levels of heavy metal contaminants have been introduced to the lake environment.

Lake UrmiaOur study of the elemental distribution patterns in the lake’s sediments reveals high mercury contamination near the Kalantari highway. Moderate mercury contamination is also detected in the main rivers that supply water to the lake, indicating progressive human development in the Lake’s catchment basins. Another major anthropogenic disturbance comes from excessive damming on the Urmia Lake’s tributaries and poor water management in their watershed areas. As a result, the lake’s water level has dropped by as much as 9 meters over the last two decades. The lake has also been losing water to enhanced evaporation in its southern “sub-basin” due to construction of the Kalantari highway.

IMG_8204Covering an area of 5000 km2, Urmia Lake is one of the largest bodies of water in west Asia and plays a crucial role in conditioning regional climate. Rapid shrinkage of the lake not only changes climate conditions in northwest Iran, but it also has a transboundary climatic effect on the neighboring countries such as Turkey, Azerbaijan and Armenia.  Decreasing the lake’s surface area leads to expansion of salt planes with high albedo and affects the thermal balance of the atmosphere above the lake. Freshly exposed salt planes become new point-sources of toxic slat aerosols into the atmosphere, and can cause serious agricultural and health complications across the region. While enhanced global climate change cannot be ruled out as a contributor to higher evaporation rates at Lake Urmia, it is clear that anthropogenic sources have played a far more significant role in the graduate demise of the largest continental lake in the Middle East. The fate of Lake Urmia and the demand for saving it has increased tension between people and state authorities in a way that an environmental disaster has turned into a national security concern (“The Guardian” September 5, 2011).

600px-Urmia_lake_1984_to_2011Another important aspect of our research is the study of abrupt climate change in the history of the Lake Urmia. Long-term climate data can be used to assess the natural trends in regional climate and their effect on the lake’s water and sedimentary regime. During September of 2012, in collaboration with the Iranian National Institute for Oceanography, we conducted a field campaign in Urmia National Park and collected more than 20 meters of split cores from different locations around the Lake.  The preliminary results of our study has revealed possible abrupt variations in past climate condition of the region, but the severity of such variability and its impact on Lake Urmia is the subject of our ongoing investigation.

By: Assistant Professor Ali Pourmand and graduate student Arash Sharifi of the Division of Marine Geology and Geophysics at RSMAS

 

FantaSEA Football Furor Takes Over UMiami Rosenstiel School

It has been a long grueling season for you Fantasy Football owners. The roller coaster ride of emotions has been full with moments of joy, confusion (anyone owning C.J. Spiller or Jamaal Charles) and bewilderment (Seahawks vs. Packers).  Now it is playoff time – Winners move on, losers pack their bags and empty their wallets. But this had us thinking. What would the ultimate Fantasy Football roster look like? And what if this hypothetical roster was composed of sea life? So, in spirit of Fantasy Football playoffs, here is our Pro Bowl roster. Good luck!

OctopusQuarterback Octopus: It makes sense to put a cephalopod with 8 arms behind center. Honestly, who else would you want as your field general? Not to mention, the Octopus is highly intelligent and capable of making those crucial decisions. The Octopus is also able to camouflage himself as a defensive mechanism.

Running baTiger SharkckTiger Shark: This is our top point getter – think Arian Foster. This top predator is going to rack up tons of points and eat everything in sight. Sharks are the police of the ocean. If it’s 4th and goal, you are handing it off to the Tiger Shark.

MahiRunning backMahi-Mahi Flashy, quick, and strong.  Mahi grow quickly and are always ready for a good fight.  Their acrobatic moves and ability to change color make them a top pick for any good fantasy team.Otter

Wide Receiver Sea Otter: Think Julio Jones here. The sea otter is one of the only marine animals that can use his hands, is quick and reliable. The otter is very popular and is going to give you lots of points on a weekly basis.

SailfishWide ReceiverSailfish: Every team needs a player like AJ Green. Fast, explosive and has a deep threat potential. The Sailfish is arguably the fastest and most aggressive fish out there, and eats smaller fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner! Chalk up 6, because the Sailfish is going deep!

Humpback Whale by Kyra Hartog

Tight End Humpback Whale: Does Rob Gronkowski ring a bell? Much like Gronk, the Humpback Whale is multi-talented. It can block, dive, breach, swim long distances or stay in the same area (Hawaii breeding grounds). The Humpback Whale is our go-to passing option in the red zone.

KickeDolphinr – Dolphin: Can you think of a better option here? The Rosenstiel School is in Miami, we have the Dolphins, and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to reference Ray Finkle in a blog post. Ace Ventura aside, the Dolphin is a highly charismatic mega fauna, and can score you lots of points if need be. Don’t worry, pressure doesn’t get to ol’ Snowflake during that last second 50 yard field goal for the win.

TunaDefenseSchool of Blue Fin Tuna: The Chicago Bears defense has had a great fantasy season. Much like the Bears, the Bluefin Tuna are big, fast and it’s hard not to appreciate them. You can’t go wrong with the Bluefin Tuna.

 

Check out our FantaSEA team in action!
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hKu1yYibdeA]

So what sea creatures would YOU have on your FantaSEA team?  Think you can beat us?  Write a comment below and let us know who you would have picked and why?

Brought to you by Andrew DeChellis & Laura Bracken; Drawings by Kyra Hartog; Animation by Lizzie Bracken. Special thanks to Austin Gallagher and Peter Chaibongsai for their invaluable assistance.

 

School Visit to Cape Town’s Sophumelela Secondary School Introduces Ocean Currents to Students

Thanks to the efforts of Juliet Hermes and Thomas Mtontsi of the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON) Drs. Meghan Cronin (NOAA) and I visited Mr. Ndemane’s science class at Sophumelela Secondary School in the township of Phillipi on the Cape Flats outside of Cape Town, South Africa this past October 2012.

During the presentation we introduced ocean currents to the learners, in particular the Agulhas Current, and discussed their impact on sea surface temperature (SST) and climate. I annotated ocean currents on blow-up globes to donate to the students as fun learning tools.

The high school students were clearly engaged and one learner stood up and thanked us for meeting with them and encouraging them to be scientists. Another learner from the SAEON program came up afterwards to ask for advice on a science fair project on climate change.

The class is involved in the NOAA Adopt A Drifter program (ADP), whereby three pairs of drifters were deployed in the Agulhas Current. Data from these drifters contribute to the NOAA Global Drifter Program (GDP), a component of the Global Ocean Observing System, and can be viewed at http://www.adp.noaa.gov/track_drifting_buoys.html.

I hope to see these learners again next February, when they have been invited to visit the R/V Knorr while she is in Cape Town, on the way to the final scientific cruise of the Agulhas Current Time-series experiment.

IMG_9044Lisa Beal, Ph.D. is an associate professor of Meteorology and Physical Oceanography at the University of Miami, Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science and Principal Investigator of the Agulhas Current Time-series experiment http://act.rsmas.miami.edu/


My Month At Sea Sampling Coastal Waters With NOAA

Before beginning at the Rosenstiel School, I had the opportunity to participate in NOAA’s second Gulf of Mexico and East Coast Carbon (GOMECC-2) cruise through the Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies (CIMAS) at the University of Miami. After driving to Miami from Massachusetts and moving all of my belongings into storage, I moved on to the RV Ronald H. Brown, which would become my home over the next twenty-four days. We set sail from Miami on 21 July 2012, heading into the Gulf of Mexico to begin sampling and analyzing seawater for its physical and biogeochemical properties. We collected seawater throughout the water column using a 24-bottle rosette along eight transects that were approximately perpendicular to the coast, beginning the first transect near Louisiana and ending with the eighth in the Gulf of Maine on 13 August. In addition to the transects, we also collected surface water samples while in transit between each transect and the majority of the samples collected were also analyzed at sea aboard, keeping us busy during the course of the cruise. Analyses conducted at sea included salinity, oxygen, nutrients, dissolved inorganic carbon, total alkalinity, partial pressure of CO2 (pCO2) and pH, which will be used in conjunction with other parameters that are being measured in land-based laboratories to improve our understanding coastal ocean acidification.

My duties at sea were to collect seawater samples and perform the analysis of the pCO2 for all samples collected along the eight transects and while in transit. In addition to pCO2, I also collected samples for the analysis of total organic carbon (TOC), which I have here at RSMAS and have recently begun analysis in the Hansell Lab. Once I begin analysis, I will investigate TOC’s relationship with the other seawater properties that were measured and also compare TOC concentrations along transects in the Gulf of Mexico with transects on the Atlantic coast. As a result of my participation in the GOMECC-2 cruise, nearly 600 seawater samples were collected for TOC analysis along seven sections and approximately 1,200 seawater samples from all eight sections were analyzed for pCO2 by me and my supervisor, Kevin Sullivan (CIMAS).

The responsibility of collecting and analyzing samples was typically shared by two people, alternately working around the clock on opposite, twelve-hour shifts. For the GOMECC-2 cruise, the majority of the scientists had shifts beginning and ending at 3 o’clock, however, the pCO2 shifts began and ended at 1 o’clock. I had the shift that began at 1 am, which was challenging to get used to and to get back to a normal sleep schedule after the cruise, but during the cruise I couldn’t have been happier with my shift. I was able to overlap with the 3 pm to 3 am shift for a couple hours and get to know that group while sampling from the rosette or while taking a break to gaze at a sky full of stars, highlighted by the glowing Milky Way. It was also nice to get to know the people who I spent the majority of my shift working with while sampling on deck, watching sunrises together or enjoying meals together. My shift was perfect for maintaining high morale over the course of the cruise.

Every morning I woke up it would be dark and I would have my typical breakfast of instant oatmeal, occasionally topping it off with a left over dessert from the day before. I always worked through the 3 o’clock shift change and had an assortment of friendly faces to work with, which made the morning go by extremely fast. Sunrise always marked the middle of my shift, whether I was on deck sampling or taking a quick break to watch the sky brighten with an assortment of colors and feel the warmth that came along with the sun, reminding me that breakfast would soon be served. After breakfast remained a half day of work, which always found ways to surprise me with visits from pods of dolphins or pilot whales, or even schools of sergeant major fish on a detour to the Dry Tortugas National Park that we took before exchanging chief scientists in Miami.

The GOMECC-2 cruise was twenty-four days long and a great opportunity for me to meet scientists and students from universities in the eastern United States, as well as to meet scientists from RSMAS, CIMAS and NOAA. It was also a great opportunity for me to establish myself as a part of the RSMAS family before beginning graduate school, and I look forward to the next opportunity to participate in a NOAA research cruise.

Links

GOMECC-2: http://www.aoml.noaa.gov/ocd/gcc/GOMECC2/

CIMAS: http://cimas.rsmas.miami.edu/

RV Ronald H. Brown: http://www.moc.noaa.gov/rb/

ocean acidification: http://www.oar.noaa.gov/oceans/ocean-acidification/

Hansell Lab: http://www.rsmas.miami.edu/groups/biogeochem/

Dry Tortugas National Park: http://www.nps.gov/drto/

Andrew R. Margolin is a first-year Ph.D. student in the Marine & Atmospheric Chemistry Division at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science.

RSMAS Student’s Tropical Cyclone Poster Recognized By AMS

Tropical cyclones are one of nature’s most destructive manifestations. Known as hurricanes in the Atlantic and typhoons in the Pacific, they operate as a heat engine, gaining energy from the warm ocean and converting it to extreme wind speeds.  Tropical cyclones can grow to have radius upwards of 500 km and travel thousands of km gaining strength. When these storms make landfall their devastation is counted in both the loss of

life and the devastation to property and infrastructure. Hurricane Sandy’s landfall alone killed over 70 people, while the financial burden is estimated will be as much as $50 billion, $20 billion coming from damages and $10 billion to $30 billion due to loss of business.

Understanding the dynamics of tropical cyclones is one of scientists’ most pressing challenges. Assembling intricate information about the mechanisms which drive them is a critical component of accurately predict their movement and intensity. By improving our forecasts we can be primed to deal with future landfalling storms.

Understanding the processes that govern the transfer of energy between the ocean and atmosphere during tropical storms is the essence of my research at RSMAS. My working group is a component of the ITOP (Impact of Typhoons on the Ocean in the Pacific) campaign, which is devoted to understanding the ocean’s response to typhoons in the Western Pacific. The research is a multinational collaboration employing both field observations and models from many research institutions.

My contribution to the campaign started during the 2010 Pacific typhoon season when a team of A.M.P. students and research staff, working with Drs. Hans Graber and Will Drennan, helped deploy two mooring pairs in the Philippine Sea. The moorings were anchored ~740 miles east of Southern Taiwan. Each pair consisted of an Air-Sea Interaction Spar (ASIS) tethered to a moored Extreme Air-Sea Interaction (EASI) buoy. The platforms were equipped to make multiple atmospheric and oceanographic measurements.

Environmental conditions were monitored and recorded for over three months, a period which included the passage of three typhoons and one tropical storm. Sustained wind speeds over 26m/s and significant wave heights exceeding 10m were experienced.

Looking at the data we can see how dynamic the environment becomes with the passage of these storms. Along with increased wind speeds and wave height, we witnessed ocean and air temperatures changing, transformation of the ocean mixed layer structure, increased sea spray, pressure dropping, relative humidity increasing, and changes in the wind and wave direction, amongst other phenomena. With further investigation we’ll also learn how these storms affect aerosol composition, momentum and heat fluxes, and the evolution of the wave field.

Making in situ measurements at sea in such harsh conditions is extremely challenging, very few groups are equipped to do so, making this a very unique and valuable dataset.  The potential to use this data to learn about how typhoon conditions affect the marine environment is effectively limitless. I am just one of a group of students and research staff who continue to investigate this data to uncover information about high wind speed boundary layer dynamics.

I was pleased to be recognized for my poster at the AMS conference on air-sea interaction, but I am one of many people who participated in the research. I was just lucky enough to be there to present some of our findings.

Henry Potter is a Ph.D. candidate in Applied Marine Physics at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science.

SETAC Announces 2012 Chris Lee Award Winner UM Ph.D. Kevin Brix

The Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry will present the SETAC/ICA Chris Lee Award to Kevin Brix at the its 33rd Annual Meeting, November 11–15 at the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center. Brix recently completed his Ph.D. at RSMAS and has already made exceptional contributions to the understanding of the fate and effects of metals in the environment, to the mechanistic environmental toxicology of metals, and to the improvement of environmental regulations for metals.

Brix entered UM’s PhD program in Marine Biology and Fisheries, where he was supervised by Professor Martin Grosell, in 2008. During the years 2008-2012 Brix published no less than 22 peer-reviewed papers, solidifying his reputation in the field of trace metal toxicity and environmental physiology of aquatic organisms. He was recruited, in part, through a Maytag fellowship and received a prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowship while at the Rosenstiel School. After defending his PhD in October, Brix accepted a Postdoctoral position at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada where he will continue his contributions to the field.

The SETAC/ICA Chris Lee Award, sponsored jointly by SETAC and the International Copper Association,recognizes the leadership and technical contribution of the late Chris Lee by providing up to $5,000 to a graduate student or recent graduate whose ongoing research focuses on fate and effects of metals in the environment.