2023 Division Of Research Annual Report

DIVING DEEP Into the Abyss The DEEPEND Consortium—comprising more than 120 participants to date, including over 40 NSU graduate students— continues to work around critical pre-disaster data gaps to assess long-term impact. DEEPEND research encompasses studies of biodiversity, ocean circulation, genetics/genomics, contamination, carbon cycling, and numerical modeling. DEEPEND’s biodiversity studies have changed the way we look at the open ocean. For example, 1 out of every 10 fish species now known to live in the Gulf of Mexico was identified by DEEPEND research. Tracey T. Sutton, Ph.D., and his consortium of scientists note signs of resiliency among the smallest organisms (plankton), but declines of larger animal populations appear to be ongoing. Thus, a decade later, we have no indication that the Deepwater Horizon disaster is over. Long-term population trends are a focus of DEEPEND’s funding from the NOAA RESTORE Science Program. Apart from the oil-spill assessment, DEEPEND’s deep-sea research has global implications. During the day, scores of deep-pelagic nekton (fishes, crustaceans, and cephalopods) hide from predators in the deep, dark depths. At night, they rise to feed on plankton and micronekton in surface waters. This process drives the “biological pump,” which is the ocean’s primary way of locking carbon in the deep sea. “Without deep-pelagic animals to transport carbon into the deep-water column, the only place for carbon to go is into our atmosphere,” Sutton explained. “A crash below means a crash above. And that includes commercial fisheries. So, these remain trillion- dollar questions worldwide.” Deep-sea realms remain largely understudied, even as human encroachment and resource extraction continuously rises. The Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010. The ensuing oil/gas leak at the wellhead 5,000 feet below caused the largest and deepest marine oil spill in history. NSU’s Tracey T. Sutton, Ph.D., developed an ongoing program to understand the effect on the Deep Gulf. 9 NOVA S OU T H E AS T E RN UN I V E R S I T Y Deep Awareness Tamara Frank, Ph.D., is a consortium scientist and fellow NSU professor who helped develop new methods to collect deep-sea animals without exposing them to lethal temperature changes or blinding light levels. Her deep-sea findings illuminate scientific understanding while connecting students with real university research. Through a new National Science Foundation grant to study the visual ecology of shrimp found at the deep-sea hydrothermal vents, students on Native American reservations in South Dakota and Colorado will also learn about oceanic research and how organisms relate and adapt to their surroundings. Frank will be presenting two- and three-day sessions on visual ecology with multiple hands-on activities. For example, using “portholes” covered with blue filters, students will be able to see what deep-sea animals see and understand why deep-sea animals do not have color vision. “There’s no visible downwelling light below 1,000 meters, yet a lot of animals below these depths have large and lovely eyes,” Frank said. “So, they have to be specialized for seeing bioluminescence.” Such ideas inspire researchers and students alike. SUTTON Scan for more. FRANK Scan for more.