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Media Advisory

For immediate use

Sept. 12, 2007

UNC marine scientists to teach classes live from underwater

Tuesday and Thursday (Sept. 18 and 20)
9:30 a.m. to 10:45 a.m.
Room 235, Chapman Hall
UNC Campus, Chapel Hill

Thursday (Sept. 20)
9:30 a.m. to 10:45 a.m.
UNC Institute of Marine Sciences
3431 Arendell St., Morehead City

Note: Members of the news media are welcome to attend the classes, but please contact Dee Reid at (919) 843-6339 or Becky Oskin at (919) 962-8596 in Chapel Hill to arrange parking and classroom access on the UNC campus, or Janelle Fleming at (252) 726-6841 in Morehead City for access to the Institute for Marine Sciences.

Two marine scientists working and living undersea continuously for nine days in the Florida Keys will broadcast live lessons about coral reef life and climate change to the public and to their classrooms in Chapel Hill and Morehead City.

Marine sciences professors Christopher S. Martens and Niels Lindquist, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s College of Arts and Sciences, are among six aquanauts who will be working out of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Aquarius Underwater Habitat, the world’s only undersea scientific laboratory, from Sept. 17 to 25.

The aquanauts will be exploring in the open sea and along the reef, and eating and sleeping inside the facility, which is submerged 60 feet below the ocean on a sand patch at the base of Conch Reef in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, about four miles out from Key Largo.

The Chapel Hill classes will take place during Martens’ first-year seminar in Chapman Hall, part of the new Carolina Physical Science Complex. The Morehead City class will be take place in UNC’s Institute of Marine Sciences.

Students watching the broadcasts will be able to see inside the Aquarius facility as well as observe their professors swimming outside in the open sea where they will explore fish, corals, urchins and other natural life on the reef. Martens and Lindquist will discuss what they are finding and will be able to answer questions that their students type in via the Internet.

Martens, the William B. Aycock distinguished professor of marine sciences in UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences, researches how organisms change the chemical composition of seawater and sediments through biological processes such as respiration. For the Aquarius mission, he and Lindquist will be studying how reef sponges may add to or remove nitrogen from the water.

Lindquist, a professor at UNC’s Institute of Marine Sciences in Morehead City, is an organic chemist interested in how marine life affects chemical compounds in the water. He will measure changes in organic matter in the water going into and out of the sponges.

The aquanaut team also includes Kate Thompson and Scott Donahue of NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary Program, and Aquarius technicians James Talacek and Tim Gallagher. UNC marine sciences professor John Bruno and doctoral student Patrick Gibson will also be in Florida providing “topside” support to the research team.

The mission, called “Aquarius 2007: If reefs could talk,” is to explore sponge biology and ecology and monitor coral and fish species. The researchers will learn more about what makes reefs healthy and unhealthy, and update data to measure what is occurring to the fragile reef ecosystem, in order to help protect these ecosystems for the future.

Aquarius is 9 feet in diameter and 43 feet long and can support diving to depths of 120 feet. The aquanauts will remain submerged continuously for nine days supported by a life support buoy on the surface and a shore-based crew on watch around the clock.

Real-time video, audio and internet capabilities will provide high resolution communications and an exciting virtual experience for their students and the general public via the OceansLive website on the Internet www.oceanslive.org

Aquarius is owned by NOAA, administered through its National Undersea Research Program, and operated by the University of North Carolina at Wilmington’s National Undersea Research Center (NURC).

College of Arts and Sciences contact: Dee Reid, (919) 843-6339 or deereid@unc.edu
News Services contact: Becky Oskin, (919) 962-8596 or becky_oskin@unc.edu
Institute of Marine Sciences contact: Janelle Fleming, (252) 726-6841
NOAA contact:  Lou Cafiero, (240) 205-0400