Rhode Island’s Ocean and Coastal Magazine

Summer 2018: Exploration


This issue examines how we explore the vast oceans, which yield new discoveries but largely remain a mystery.

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From the Editor


Even as this issue of 41˚N was being put together, the Okeanos Explorer was busy examining deep-water sites in the Gulf of Mexico and may or may not have discovered a new species of squid. Boston College deep-sea biology students got to participate virtually on the expedition, viewing the live video stream on the University of Rhode Island Inner Space Center’s 288-square-foot screen and communicating via intercom with the team.

The vast oceans—responsible for generating half of the air we breathe, sequestering carbon to reduce the impacts of climate change, and providing us with food and other natural resources—yield new discoveries regularly, but much about them remains mysterious.

The research needed to better understand them is challenged by a number of issues, one of which is funding contraints—something that is nowhere more recognized than at the URI Graduate School of Oceanography, home to the Inner Space Center and the soon-to-be-retired R/V Endeavor.

The competition to be the host of a replacement for the Endeavor (pg 12) has brought together a number of institutions and universities along the East Coast, all contributing to URI’s proposal to the National Science Foundation, which owns the academic research fleet. Partnerships like these are the present and future of ocean exploration (pg 2), not only because they marshal limited financial resources, but also because they speed up discoveries.

For example, Northeastern University’s Ocean Genome Legacy Center, a repository for marine DNA and tissue samples from all over the world, is open to contributions from anyone and distributes samples for study to researchers all over the world. “We’re pretty open minded about the value of samples, because you never know where discovery is going to come from,” said Dan Distel, executive director of the Ocean Genome Legacy Center, in a page about the project on Northeastern’s website.

Similarly—though iconic explorers like Robert Ballard, discoverer of the Titanic, will always capture the imagination—more and more, it will be teams of researchers (see “Drilling Down” on page 8) from a variety of institutions, businesses, and countries who are uncovering the lost treasures, new species, and hidden terrains of the oceans’ vast depths.

Monica Allard Cox, Editor

– Features –

A Lifetime Under the Waves

    THE WORD "LAB" may suggest white coats, microscopes, and petri dishes. But for Jon Witman and the members of his lab at Brown University, the word has a completely different—and wetter—connotation. The group of 10 spends much of their time together as a lab in the...

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Endeavor | Fantastic Voyages Near End

    IT HAS CRUISED THE WORLD'S OCEANS FOR 42 YEARS—more than a million nautical miles from the North Atlantic to the South Pacific and from the Arctic to the Black Sea—and now is nearing retirement. But the R/V Endeavor is still hard at work about 200 days each year,...

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Diving Deep For New Drug Therapies

HUMANS HAVE RELIED ON A VARIETY OF NATURAL COMPOUNDS from plants, fungi, and other organisms for their medicinal properties for many thousands of years. The search for new medicines to treat diseases has long relied on these natural products, so much so that...

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Polymer Tides | Shared Inspiration at the Shoreline

    The Rhode Island shoreline has inspired generations of artists—you can scarcely browse an art fair anywhere in the state without seeing evidence of it—but where many are moved to paint watercolors of lighthouses or take pensive photographs of sunsets over the bay,...

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Book Review | The Stowaway

    THERE WAS A TIME WHEN ANTARCTICA, not the deep ocean, was considered “the last frontier on Earth left to explore,” and in 1928, the man determined to do so—and to cement his fame,  if not his fortune—was Cmdr. Richard Evelyn Byrd. By then, the explorer and retired...

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