Director’s Letter April 2022

Beaver Pond

Alvin rocks! Not the chipmunk but the deep-sea research submarine.

Hosted by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), Alvin can transport scientists miles underwater to explore the deep sea. With no light, organisms scavenge material falling from above or manage to make a living off thermal vents. Deep sea fish are composed almost entirely of water; any air pockets would get crushed. The water pressure three miles down is equivalent to about 50 times the earth’s surface, or 730 pounds per square inch of pressure compared to 14.6 pounds at sea level.

Odd facts for an article about a field station located almost two miles above sea level?

RMBL’s Board recently finished meetings at Woods Hole, home to the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) as well as WHOI, two very different institutions. RMBL’s Board typically meets in person three times a year, with one of those meetings held at a scientific institution that offers opportunities for our trustees and senior staff to think about RMBL within a larger scientific context. In previous years RMBL’s Board has met at La Selva, a field station in Costa Rica, the Archbold Field Station in central Florida, and USC’s Wrigley Institute for Marine Studies on Santa Catalina Island.

One item I took away from this visit was the clarity of WHOI’s scientific value as an institution. They integrate engineering and science, not just the Alvin but ships and instrumentation, to see oceans and connect them to earth’s systems.

MBL was confusing. The science is great; they have supported 60 Nobel Prize winners. But with projects stretching from lakes in the north slope of Alaska to the use of clawed frogs in tanks to understand tissue regeneration, I struggled to understand how the pieces fit together. I couldn’t help but wonder if that in part explained why WHOI has thrived, while MBL turned to The University of Chicago for financial support.

RMBL’s Board has been talking a great deal about our science strategy. Emerging sensor technologies and machine learning techniques are changing how we can see the world. At the same time, RMBL’s strength has always been serving the needs of individual scientists and their research objectives. How can we provide scientists tools to see the world’s metaphorical nooks and crannies, from micro-organisms to long-term trends, while creating opportunities to synthesize across individual discoveries? Perhaps MBL was a glimpse of RMBL’s past and WHOI of the future.

RMBL is supported in this endeavor by the addition of Dr. Susan Avery, who served as President of WHOI from 2008-2015, to RMBL’s Board. She has been a leader in integrating technology and science in the marine world and now turns to drier landscapes. While we can’t offer her rides in the Alvin, which she told us about, we can offer beautiful wildflower hikes around Crested Butte.

RMBL’s Board also welcomes Dr. Elvia Melendez-Ackerman and Dr. Lara Souza. An alum who conducted doctoral research at RMBL, Elvia is a full Professor at the University of Puerto Rico-Tres Piedras and former director of the El Verde Field Station. An active RMBL scientist, Lara is an Associate Professor at the University of Oklahoma and Director of the Oklahoma Biological Survey. You can read more about more about our new trustees in the adjoining article.

It is an exciting time to be involved in planning for the future of field science, from the depths of the ocean to mountain peaks, it’s one world. What we learn will shape the world our children live in!

Ian Billick - Director RMBL

Ian Billick | PhD
Executive Director, RMBL