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$210M federal award to fund UH research focused on how ecosystems are changing

Published: Jun. 9, 2021 at 9:57 AM HST|Updated: Jun. 9, 2021 at 12:02 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A small trap sits on the coral reef for four months, imprisoning tiny particles for environmental DNA analysis. These findings give researchers a snapshot in time of the microhabitats of our oceans, and in the long-term, a sense of how our ecosystems are changing.

This is just one of the many research projects developed by students at the University of Hawaii at Manoa through the Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research — a partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Last week, NOAA set plans to continue their 44-year-old partnership, awarding $210 million to the University of Hawaii — more than double the amount of previous funding. The money will go toward the next five years of research for NOAA’s new institute: the Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research.

According to deputy director of NOAA’s Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center Tia Brown, CIMAR “will help NOAA achieve our mission to better understand the ocean and atmosphere, which depends on all the research that we do … as well as the data and information to make sound decisions for healthy ecosystems, communities and a strong blue economy.”

In fiscal year 2022, CIMAR will continue the work of JIMAR while expanding to eight new research themes: ecological forecasting, ecosystem monitoring, ecosystem-based management, protection and restoration of resources, oceanographic monitoring and forecasting, climate science and impacts, air-sea interactions, and tsunamis and other long-period ocean waves.

Brown said that there is very little distinction between NOAA and University of Hawaii researchers because they’re collectively working on critical information for future decision making.

“What UH and JIMAR bring, is the science expertise that sometimes, we can’t always have in house, in the federal government,” she said.

For Douglas Luther, director of JIMAR, the new research themes will better address predictions on climate change, specifically in the Indo-Pacific region. They will look beyond the direct environmental impact to include new studies on the nation’s economic and social effects on vulnerable communities.

Ongoing studies directly impacting Hawaii’s economy — fishery footprint and natural disaster tracking — are just some of the areas said to influence people locally.

“There are people involved in CIMAR who are doing work on that for short-term prediction, so that people can be warned that something might be happening in three days,” he said. “But also, for the long-term, for planning purposes.”

When Luther looks at the evolution of the institute, he sees many former students working full-time with JIMAR and emphasized that the continued partnership with NOAA is a testament to the quality and significance of their work.

“This is the future,” Luther said. As a young researcher, he remembered going out on a boat, and having limited time on the water to collect data. Now with autonomous vehicles, that’s not necessary. For a fraction of the cost, they’re able to conduct studies for longer periods of time, giving scientists a more thorough understanding of our changing ecosystems.

NOAA supports 20 cooperative institutes consisting of 70 universities and research institutions in 28 states and the District of Columbia, providing educational programs that promote student and postdoctoral scientist involvement in new findings.

To learn more about their partnership, click here.

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