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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

URI Oceanographers Receive $2.9 Million Grant to develop better water sampling technology

NARRAGANSETT, R.I. -- July 8, 1999 -- University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography (GSO) Marine Research Scientists Percy Donaghay of Saunderstown, R.I. and Margaret Dekshenieks of Middletown, R.I. have been awarded a $2.9 million grant by the National Ocean Partnership Program (NOPP) to develop and test a new technology for sampling coastal waters. The award will be shared with two commercial and three federal partners, with URI receiving $1.1 million over three years. The highly competitive grant was awarded to fund only one of five proposals submitted this year.

The partnership is centered around the development of the Ocean Response Coastal Analysis System (ORCAS), a new system of automated oceanographic profilers and sensors that will monitor biological, physical, chemical, and optical parameters within the ocean, in three-dimensional space, over time. The profilers are designed to determine how the coastal environment responds to environmental events such as harmful algal blooms, low oxygen, and storms, among others.

"The partners are very excited about this project. It represents a unique opportunity to make a quantum leap in our ability to observe the coastal ocean while simultaneously transitioning research discoveries into commercial products with broad application," said Donaghay.

"We're extremely proud of the work of these scientists. Their efforts to provide the sophisticated tools needed to monitor our coastal waters are crucial to enhancing our understanding of both the human and natural impacts on this precious environment," said URI President Robert L. Carothers. "This partnership award is also just one more example of how URI's Graduate School of Oceanography and the Ocean Technology Center are at the forefront, bridging the gap between scientific endeavors and creating rich economic development opportunities."

A key component of the profiler design is a novel underwater winch that was developed by Donaghay, with funding from the URI Ocean Technology Center (URI-OTC) and the Navy.

One of the commercial partners, SubChem Systems Inc., of Jamestown, R.I., will receive $.6 million to apply a new submersible technology that allows nutrients to be measured in real time at higher spatial resolution and lower concentrations than is currently possible. SubChem Systems will also assist GSO with project coordination. SubChem Systems is a small environmental company that was founded in 1996 by GSO marine research scientist, Alfred K. Hanson of Jamestown, R.I.,. The company also has received funding from the URI-OTC and the RI Economic Policy Council to develop new technology for submersible chemical monitoring in marine waters. Hanson stated that "the technology development funding, received from the State of Rhode Island, was essential to our success in obtaining this award."

The other commercial partner is WET Labs, Inc., of Philomath, Ore. WET Labs will develop the next generation of underwater optical systems. These systems will have sufficient on board computer power to control the profilers and process the data in real time. The federal partners, who will be involved in the design and evaluation of the systems, include the Naval Research Laboratory and the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command, both in Stennis Space Center, Miss.; and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Gulf Breeze, Fla. All the partners are contributing internal matching funds, raising the total level of research funding to $4.4 million.

In the first year of the grant, field testing will take place in Narragansett Bay. Subsequent field testing is planned in concert with the federal partners in the Gulf of Mexico.

At the close of the three-year grant period, the partners anticipate that the new profiling technology will aid in the development of early warning capabilities and predictive models for episodic events in the marine environment that could be used by federal, state and local agencies.

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For More Information: Lisa Cugini, (401) 874-6642

Jhodi Redlich, (401) 874-2116
 

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