Two URI research teams recognized for ocean research by Secretary of Interior

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Research projects sponsored by Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

KINGSTON, R.I. — February 3, 2014 – U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell presented the Partners in Conservation Awards to two science teams conducting ocean research sponsored by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. earlier this month. Both research teams included University of Rhode Island scientists.

One of the recognized research teams, which consisted of a partnership among 12 public and private agencies, was led by URI’s Jen McCann, director of coastal programs for the Coastal Resources Center and director of extension programs for Rhode Island Sea Grant, both at the URI Graduate School of Oceanography. The project involved the development of environmental monitoring tools for offshore renewable energy development.

“Any type of offshore development has the potential to impact the marine environment in some way,” said McCann. “Unlike with oil platforms that have long been established in U.S. waters, there is much less certainty about how offshore renewable energy technologies such as wind and tidal power will affect the ecosystems in which they are developed.”

According to McCann, the team developed monitoring programs that can be tailored to each development project during both construction and post-construction phases. The researchers also generated a “decision tree” to help guide regulators in designing monitoring requirements depending on the specifications of the project and its location.

The second award-winning project, Deepwater Atlantic Canyons, includes participation by Rod Mather, URI professor of history and director of the University’s underwater archaeology program, who served as co-chief scientist. His team, including 17 partner organizations, was honored for its research off the mid-Atlantic continental shelf, where they discovered abundant deep-water coral habitats and the world’s largest methane cold seep. The research yielded a wealth of oceanographic data never before assembled about this region, as well as information about historic shipwrecks and their biological communities.

Mather directed the archaeological aspects of the project, and he had a similar role in the environmental monitoring project as well. He said the Atlantic Canyons project included the first archaeological investigations of eight German warships from World War I that were sunk off the coast of Virginia in a series of military experiments in 1921 designed to test the effectiveness of air power at sea. The experiments ultimately led to the formation of the U.S. Air Force.

“The Department of the Interior is proud to recognize the accomplishments of those who are innovating and collaborating in ways that address today’s complex conservation and stewardship challenges,” Secretary Jewell said at the awards ceremony. “These partnerships represent the gold standard for how Interior is doing business across the nation to power our future, strengthen tribal nations, conserve and enhance America’s great outdoors and engage the next generation.”

“These partnerships help us better understand our oceans so that we become caretakers of, not just takers from, this vital resource,” said U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who co-chairs the Senate Oceans Caucus. “As we turn to our oceans to support clean energy projects we must also protect the communities and ecosystems they support. I am proud to see the University of Rhode Island recognized, among others, for its contributions in this field.”