A science education that hits close to home

Rosenstiel has it all: Reefs, sharks, storms

Though just an 8.4-mile drive from the University of Miami’s main campus in Coral Gables, the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science’s pristine beaches and quaint tropical atmosphere might have you thinking you’ve reached maritime paradise.

From boats to laboratories to coral reefs, Rosenstiel has equipped students for all aspects of scientific education. Resources such as these have been used for studies that include coral reef research, climate change and air-sea interactions.

The school is using these studies to help preserve its community on the Virginia Key campus, located on Miami’s Rickenbacker Causeway, just north of Key Biscayne in Biscayne Bay.

“Students are studying anything from coral reefs to sharks to erosion,” said Barbara González, communications director at Rosenstiel. “They study meteorology to air-sea interaction to typhoons and earthquakes. This campus has all of the resources for them.”

Laura Bracken, head of the Committee Outreach and Green Committee program, is enthusiastic about the campus location. “Students can jump onto the beach and study,” she said. “It is very accessible, and this helps bring scientists to our facility. We have had the ability to recruit some of the best students and faculty.”

The Rosenstiel School was formed in 1940, when Bowman Ashe, president of the University of Miami, recruited F.G. Walton Smith, a British marine biologist working in the Bahamas. Smith joined the Department of Zoology, where he developed a marine laboratory.

Three years later, the University of Miami Board established the marine laboratory as part of the university. The laboratory’s three original objectives were teaching, basic research and applied marine research. It focused on the tropical environment.

For the next 20 years, problems with infrastructure and budget caused the school to transfer to various locations and management.

But, in 1969, the marine laboratory was converted to an independent school and named in honor of Lewis and Dorothy Rosenstiel after a major donation from the Rosenstiel Foundation.

From its modest beginning in the 1940s, the school has grown into a premier marine and atmospheric research institution.

Rosenstiel encompasses virtually all marine-related sciences, which include understanding the planet, establishing environmental policies, and aiding in the improvement of life and society.

Ramón Alfonso, director of Rosenstiel’s Facilities Administration, defined the school as a place of marine biology and atmospheric studies. Students of marine biology focus on everything from red tides to the effects of oil spills on marine life.

Those majoring in atmospheric studies deal a lot with hurricanes, emphasizing the interaction between air and water, Alonso said. “We study below the ocean, in the ocean, interaction of the ocean and other forces, and the atmosphere.”

Bracken said that students, researchers and scientists study marine and atmospheric sciences in some shape or form.

One student is Dan Holstein, a doctoral candidate majoring in marine biology and fisheries. He is currently working on a dissertation regarding coral reef ecology.

Holstein said he focuses on how deeper coral reefs could serve as a natural refuge for species when climate change damages those reefs.

He said the campus has excellent scientists committed to investigating climate change in the ocean and atmosphere. “We also have premier researchers working on the effects of climate change with hurricanes and the atmosphere, which is very important,” he said.

Faculty research grants are rewarded through peer-reviewed evaluations. And the National Science Foundation conducts a nationwide student competition for the Graduate Research Award Fellowship. In 2010, five Rosenstiel students received these awards; two got honorable mentions.

Students and faculty do extensive research with these grants. Nine main areas are included: climate and environment, sustainable coastal ecosystems, sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, oceans and human health, severe weather observations and prediction, innovative observational technologies and applications, air-sea interactions, the solid earth system and the hydrological cycle.

Sustainable coastal ecosystems include the physical and biological interactions at the coast, the meeting point of the terrestrial and oceanic systems.

Sustainable fisheries and aquaculture incorporate advanced technologies that help maintain and support the ocean’s living resources.

Severe weather observations and prediction embrace technologies and numerical models to improve the prediction and track the intensity of tropical cyclones and other natural disasters.

Innovative observational technologies and applications incorporate new instrumentation and technologies for solving problems in marine, atmospheric and geophysical sciences.

The solid earth system comprises the evolutions of geological components in the marine environment and their interaction with human activities.

The hydrological cycle includes the continuous movement of water on, above and below the surface of the earth.

Even with a proven record of achievements, the Rosenstiel School is looking to improve by what it calls greening its buildings.

Bracken said that some facility directors have started a push in that direction. “They started with the obvious things,” she said, “such as fixing the vents to control the air and fixing the chiller plants.”

Now that the big things have been taken care of, Bracken said, they are working on the smaller problems. “There have been more warm days outside,” she said, “yet we have had a decrease in energy consumption because of these changes.”

Alfonso spearheaded these improvements to minimize the carbon dioxide emissions necessary for daily procedures. He and his team have spent more than four years turning buildings green.

He said they began with the replacement of wasteful fluorescent lights, providing on-demand water heaters instead of a centralized system, reducing the exhaust from air conditioners, and regulating the levels of seawater pumps.

They also replaced a leaky underground fuel tank with an above-ground one, and they replaced an old ammonia refrigerant thermal plant with a more efficient central chiller plant.

Alfonso said these efforts reduced the school’s annual energy consumption in 2010-11 by 21 percent. That’s the equivalent of more than 2.5 million pounds of carbon dioxide, which meant a saving of nearly $200,000 for the school.

A main objective, Alfonso said, “is to reduce our energy consumption by another five percent in the next 12 months by heat exchange, temperature and local level of air conditioning controls.”

The construction of the school’s newest building, the Marine Technology & Life Sciences Seawater Complex is the newest green endeavor.

“It’s amazing!” González said. “Plus it is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)-certified.”

What, the reader might ask, does that certification mean? González explained that the entire 85,000-square-foot building will be fed with seawater from the bay. It will have 1,000 gallons circulating per minute.

“Half of the building will be designated for marine technology,” González said, “where scientists can run experiments like how a hurricane interacts with the environment. The other half will be the life sciences section.”

“The life sciences houses marine organisms such as damselfish, toadfish, sea hares and coral,” she said. “They will use the organisms for studies such as sea hares to test memory and learning.”

The groundbreaking research by the students and faculty at the Rosenstiel School is leading to a better understanding of the earth, which will improve the planet and our quality of life.

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