Monday, September 21, 2009

Science Class

The Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS) has been making waves (no pun intended). In February the 106-year-old research institution was heralded for contributing a chapter on the Sargasso Sea to National Geographic’s “Ocean: An Illustrated Atlas,” an in-depth study of the world’s oceans co-authored by renowned oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle and Linda Glover, who sits on BIOS’ board of trustees. And in August The New York Times' T Magazine raved about the institute’s weekly hour-long tours, every Wednesday at 10 a.m. when a representative guides you through its research labs, “where experiments might involve converting algae into biofuel, observing the mating quirks of arrow crabs or investigating the rarity of cancer in sea urchins.” Heady stuff indeed, so I decided to see what all the fuss was about. Admittedly the weekend was a perfect time for a visit since the institute was hosting its annual Marine Science Day, an open house with mini research cruises, wacky science demonstrations and an “Ask a Scientist” tent where visitors could toss questions to experts about coral reefs, climate change, marine biology and more. Best of the bunch was a guided tour of the institute’s 168-foot research vessel Atlantic Explorer, a massive ship seemingly straight out of a Clive Cussler novel (see above; my wife and I were not-so-secretly hoping that Dirk Pitt and/or Admiral Sandecker might surprise us onboard). We learned about the ship’s main functions—how among other things it measures the ocean’s temperature, salinity, and density with a fancy submersible pod called a CTD—and were shown its intricate radar screens on the bridge, certainly a visit worthy of all the hype. Now if only the institute’s experts can figure out why all Bermuda’s fish are dying

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