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Science Research Led in Gulf of Mexico by Penn State Biologist to be Honored with U.S. Award

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30 August 2012 —

Click on any images below for high-resolution files.

fishes swimming among coral

Lophelia pertusa reef at 450m depth with an orange brisingid starfish in the foreground and a school of fish overhead. Image courtesy of Lophelia II 2012 Expedition, NOAA-OER/BOEM.

A research project deep in the Gulf of Mexico, led by Penn State University Professor of Biology Charles Fisher, the project's lead scientist, and James Brooks of TDI Brooks International, the project's manager, has been honored with the Excellence in Partnership award by the National Oceanographic Partnership Program (NOPP), an organization established by the U.S. Congress.

The project is titled "Exploration and Research of Northern Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Natural and Artificial Hard Bottom Habitats with Emphasis on Coral Communities: Reefs, Rigs, and Wrecks." It also is known as "Lophelia II" for the main reef-building coral found in deep waters in the Gulf.

Charles Fisher on a boat. Credit: Eric Simms, FLEXE

Charles Fisher

The results of the research include new discoveries of coral communities in the deep Gulf of Mexico, new findings on the ecology and population genetics of the deep-water corals and communities, marine archaeological discoveries, and new data on growth rates of corals on oil platforms and shipwrecks. A primary purpose of the work is to gather data that will inform environmental review and decision making for the protection of deep-water corals and other hard-bottom communities in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

Squat lobster on Lophelia pertusa at 450m depth

Squat lobster on Lophelia pertusa at 450m depth. Image courtesy of Lophelia II 2012 Expedition, NOAA-OER/BOEM.

Begun in 2008 with funding from the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the Ocean Exploration Program of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the project completed the last of its series of data-collection expeditions in the Gulf in July 2012 and is expected to finish analyzing the data by the middle of next year. The research results will be published in scientific journals and also will be available from BOEM. The project was selected for the award in recognition of its exceptionally diverse partnerships, which include university scientists, graduate students, technicians, public-outreach professionals, industry scientists, and both government scientists and administrators from BOEM, NOAA, and the U. S. Geological Survey.

Click on any image below for a high-resolution version.

a community of gorgonian corals with commensal brittle stars at 540 m depth

A community of gorgonian corals with commensal brittle stars at 540 m depth. Image courtesy of Lophelia II 2012 Expedition, NOAA-OER/BOEM.

Lophelia growing on the Zinc subsea installation, which was installed in 1992 at a depth of 457 meters.courtesy of Lophelia II 2012 Expedition, NOAA-OER.

Lophelia growing on the Zinc subsea installation, which was installed in 1992 at a depth of 457 meters. Image courtesy of Lophelia II 2012 Expedition, NOAA-OER/BOEM.

One of the impacted corals with attached brittle starfish.  Although the orange tips on some branches of the coral is the color of living tissue, it is unlikely that any living tissue remains on this animal.Credit: Lophelia II 2010, NOAA OER, and BOEMRE, copyright WHOI.NOTE TO EDITORS: Permission is granted for use of this photo by news organizations for use only in conjunction with stories associated with the research described in the March 2012 press release, titled New Research Reveals Deep-Ocean Impact of the Deepwater Horizon Explosion, posted online at science.psu.edu/news-and-events/2012-news/Fisher3-2012.

Coral with attached brittle star discovered to have been impacted by oil released during the Deepwater Horizon disaster. This photo was taken at a project site 11 km from the site of the spill. Although the orange tips on some branches of the coral is the color of living tissue, it is unlikely that any living tissue remains on this animal.To read more about the disaster's impact on corals, read the press release or the research paper published in PNAS.

Credit: Lophelia II 2010, NOAA OER, and BOEMRE, copyright WHOI.
NOTE TO EDITORS: Permission is granted for use of this photo by news organizations for use only in conjunction with stories associated with this award or with the research described in the March 2012 press release.

Fisher and Brooks will accept the award on behalf of the large interdisciplinary team later this year during a ceremony at the Oceans ‘12 Conference of the Marine Technology Society and the Oceanic Engineering Society of IEEE, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. In addition to Fisher, other Penn State members of the team who will be recognized include Assistant Professor of Biology Iliana Baums; Graduate Students Dannise Ruiz, Pen-yuan Hsing, and Elizabeth Larcom; Outreach and Education Coordinator Elizabeth Goehring, and Postdoctoral Fellow Erin Becker, who earned her doctoral degree at Penn State.

Fisher joined the Penn State faculty in 1990 as an assistant professor and was named associate professor in 1995 and professor in 1999. He earned his doctoral degree in biological sciences at the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1985 and his bachelor's degree in biology at Michigan State University in 1976. Baums joined the Penn State faculty in 2008. She earned her doctoral degree at the University of Miami in 2003 and her bachelor's degree in marine biology, with minors in ecology and cell and molecular biology/genetics, at the University of Bremen in Germany in 2000.

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The National Oceanographic Partnership Program was established by the U.S. Congress with Public Law 105-85 in Fiscal Year 1998 to promote the national goals of assuring national security, advancing economic development, protecting quality of life, and strengthening science education and communication through improved knowledge of the ocean; and to coordinate and strengthen oceanographic efforts in support of those goals by identifying and carrying out partnerships among federal agencies, academia, industry, and other members of the oceanographic scientific community in the areas of data, resources, education, and communication, and by reporting annually to Congress on the program. More information is online at <http://www.nopp.org>.

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