Plymouth marine science centres scoop £1.4 million in funding awards

12 Nov 2014 | 137

The quality of Plymouth's marine science expertise has once more been recognised, this time through five funding awards totalling £1,436,155, for four of the City's marine science centres.    The funding has been awarded from the Natural Environment Council's (NERC) £8.4 million, 2014 Strategic Environmental Science Capital Call (SESCC). NERC awarded funding to just one third of those who submitted proposals, so for four of Plymouth's marine science centres to be selected, and for Plymouth's centres to receive five of the thirty awards made and 17% of funds available, further highlights the excellence emanating from the city. NERC has made these awards to support world class environmental science, with the potential to stimulate innovation and economic impact - aims which are in line with the experience and expertise of Plymouth's marine science centres.

Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) - PML gained the single largest award of £495,000 for 'Environmental Single Cell genomics instrumentation' which will provide equipment that is unique in Europe and will enhance PML's scientists' ability to look at the genetic makeup of single cells of microbes from the Western English Channel. Each cell has a slightly different compliment of genes, which control how it functions, grows or reproduces, for example. Knowing which of these genes are being called upon to do a job, what they actually do, and how they change through the seasons or from year to year is crucial in understanding how our seas work and how they may be changing.

"The acquisition of this equipment will take our ability to understand what is going on in our seas to a new level. We know that microbes drive ocean systems; being able to look inside individual cells and unravel the genetic codes to understand what they do and how they change brings a whole new dimension to understanding ocean processes. These processes underpin everything in the ocean, ultimately supporting all life on this planet," added PML Chief Executive Professor Stephen de Mora.

Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science (SAHFOS) - SAHFOS has been awarded £396,095 to equip its fleet of Continuous Plankton Recorders (CPRs) with state-of-the-art environment sensors that will measure water temperature, salinity, chlorophyll fluorescence, pH and pCO2. The CPRs which are towed behind ships of opportunity across 125,000 nautical miles of ocean each year, already have a long record of collecting plankton samples. The addition of this new equipment integrates the environmental data with the plankton monitoring to provide a unique, high quality, cost effective way of measuring the health of the oceans.

"We are delighted to get this funding; the introduction of this state-of-the-art equipment to SAHFOS' surveying process will allow new areas of data to be collected. This is a major step forward in SAHFOS plans to expand the scope and impact of our work - for the betterment of industry, fisheries, the public and our ocean environment", said Professor Nicholas Owens, SAHFOS Director.

Plymouth University - Plymouth University has been awarded two grants from the NERC SESCC totalling £368,060.

  • £225,000 will fund the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences to obtain an 'Ultra High Performance Liquid Chromatograph - Time of Flight - Mass Spectrometer'. This will update, enhance, and extend provision for the measurement and identification of organic chemicals. This will build upon work undertaken over the past 30 years to identify the complex mixtures of marine chemicals often found at sea - as demonstrated most recently in their analysis and identification of the chemicals that caused the death of thousands of seabirds along the South Coast.
  • A 'Video and image seabed sampling platforms facility' will be added to those used by the School of Marine Science and Engineering, thanks to a grant of £143,060. This will pay for seabed survey, monitoring and experimentation equipment used in areas beyond dive-able depths, but above the deep sea (around 50-100m). There is a need for flexible, cost effective visual survey of the shelf and upper bathyal seabed, and this project will fund the development of an enhanced system including the purchase of an advanced winch and video cable.

Professor Martin Attrill, Director of the Marine Institute at Plymouth University, said: "To secure not one, but two grants from such a competitive bid process is further evidence of the scale, breadth and quality of marine research at the University. It builds on our major capital investment in marine over recent years, and follows on from our success with two NERC urgency grants earlier in the year.

Marine Biological Association (MBA) - The award of £177,000 to the MBA funds an advanced microscopy system that will allow precise studies of the environment around and within plankton cells, particularly the photosynthetic phytoplankton. The precision equipment will allow researchers to control the cells' environment (temperature, pH, carbon dioxide, oxygen, light, turbulence), together with optics and detectors to monitor and quantify physiological parameters such as photosynthesis and cellular pH on a cell-by-cell basis. This will provide critical new information that will allow better understanding of the impact of changing climate on the biology of plankton which themselves play a key role in long-term regulation of the Earth's climate.

MBA Director, Professor Colin Brownlee added: "This award will allow us to enhance our existing facilities and gain new insights into the biology of the organisms that form the basis of the food chains in the oceans and play key roles in regulating atmospheric carbon dioxide".

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