Governor Lincoln D. Chafee and the Rhode Island Science & Technology Advisory Council (STAC), a division of Commerce RI, today announced the recipients of the 2014 Rhode Island Research Alliance Collaborative Research Grants. The awards, totaling $806,501 will fund seven diverse teams bringing together deep expertise in the natural and social sciences as well as the arts and environmental conservation to study how marine plant and animal life are responding to climate change in Narragansett Bay.

"This research affirms Rhode Island's status as an international leader in understanding and predicting the response of marine organisms and marine ecosystems to climate variability," Governor Chafee said. "There has been strong evidence and scientific consensus that manmade greenhouse gases will have profound effects on global climate, weather patterns and ocean conditions; effects that the state cannot afford to ignore. These STAC grants will help maintain and protect our waters and marine life."

Data from these projects will lead to improved strategies for fisheries and aquaculture management, better understanding of how to predict harmful algal blooms and the development of communications tools to engage and inform the public on the localized effects of climate change.

Awardees will be recognized during a ceremony hosted by the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), which is involved in two of the seven awards. "RISD values creative problem-solving, critical thinking, and an openness to risk and uncertainty – fundamental and necessary skills in developing innovative approaches to the world's most challenging problems," said RISD Interim President Rosanne Somerson. "These STAC grant awards represent our belief that bringing art and design together with STEM disciplines can have a transformative effect on education, innovation and economic development."

These grants are the eighth round of awards aimed at facilitating collaborative research in Rhode Island and support STAC's partnership with the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR). To date, STAC has invested $9.3 million in collaborative research projects that have yielded a return of $36 million back to the state in the form of grants for continued research, new federal programs, infrastructure improvements, commercialization of new products and venture funding for new companies.

More about the 2014 Collaborative Research Grants Awardees: The Impacts of Climate Change and Variability on the Biogeochemistry and Ecology of RI's Coastal Waters – Regional Climate Modeling ($160,402) Since the 1950's, Narragansett Bay has been the site of two long-term marine monitoring studies. This team brings together an ocean chemist, physicist and ecologist to use a computer simulation specifically designed for the coastal waters of Rhode Island to model the complex data that has been collected to better understand the impact of our warming waters on animal and plant life. The data will also help groom the next generation of scientists from kindergarten to the college level, by providing new material that can be included in the K-12 Next Generation Science Standards and a recently added Environmental Chemistry track at Rhode Island College. • Lewis Rothstein, University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography • Susanne Menden-Deuer, University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography • Sarah Knowlton, Rhode Island College

Data Narratives: Climate Change in Narragansett Bay as a Case Study for Engaging Communication of Scientific Information ($125,000) This team's efforts will focus on gaps in data collection and its dissemination to scientists, decision makers and the public. Bringing together deep local expertise in the natural and social sciences as well as the arts, this project will improve communication and understanding of localized effects of climate change by developing interactive, highly engaging data narratives. Their goal: to develop the proof of principal necessary to demonstrate RI's national leadership in this area. • Susanne Menden-Deuer, University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography • Neal Overstrom, Rhode Island School of Design • Sunshine Menezes, Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Science

Developing an aerial imaging system using a robotic helicopter for tracking harmful algal blooms in Narragansett Bay ($133,057) Working in partnership with the state Department of Environmental Management and the federal Environmental Protection Agency, an ocean engineer and marine biologist will develop a unique approach to monitor and analyze of harmful macroalgal blooms in Narragansett Bay. The proposed method – a low altitude aerial survey with small robotic helicopters – is a means to provide high resolution, large area data coverage over time at a reasonable cost. Once proven, this new autonomous robotic imaging can be used to not only to collect data, but also to visualize global climate change in compelling and immediate ways. • Stephen Licht, University of Rhode Island • Carol Thornber, University of Rhode Island • Christopher Deacutis, Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management • Giancarlo Cicchetti, United States Environmental Protection Agency

Resilience to Climate Change: Testing Sculptural Forms for Coastal Habitat Restoration ($135,000) Bringing together artists, biologists and conservationists, this project will develop sculptural forms for a future coastal habitat restoration project at an urban site in RI. In addition to providing a platform for direct engagement of the public into research on the impact of climate change on coastal ecosystems, this project also hopes to lead to commercial investment on the development of new materials and sculptural forms for coastal habitat restoration and shore protection from the impacts of climate change. • Marta Gomez-Chiarri, University of Rhode Island • Scheri Fultineer, Rhode Island School of Design • Edythe Wright, Rhode Island School of Design • Breea Govenar, Rhode Island College • Dale Leavitt, Roger Williams University • Pam Rubinoff, Rhode Island Coastal Resources Center/Rhode Island Sea Grant • Steven Brown, The Nature Conservancy

Changes in plankton bloom patterns and trophic relationships in response to climate-induced warming of Narragansett Bay. ($95742) This project builds the case for selection of Narragansett Bay (NB) as a designated sentinel site for global coastal monitoring. By combining the synergy of two remarkable, multi-decade long-term NB data studies with the Bay's unique position at the convergence of two climatic zones, this project will demonstrate how the effects of climate change are intense and detectable in NB. • Theodore Smayda, University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography • David Borkman, Salve Regina University

Molecular Basis for Pathogenesis in the Oyster Pathogen, Roseovarius crassostreae ($50,000) Oyster aquaculture is expanding in Narragansett Bay, but this economic endeavor is threatened by a variety of pathogenic infectious agents including the causative agent of Roseovarius oyster disease (ROD). Warming waters that stress the host have led to devastating ROD outbreaks which have resulted in some cases in losses of oyster seed of greater than 90%. This project combines the talents of a molecular biologist, a natural products chemist and a shellfish pathologist to seek a better understanding of ROD in order to better manage the disease • David Nelson, University of Rhode Island • David Rowley, University of Rhode Island • Roxanna Smolowitz, Roger Williams University

Environmental Genomics and Proteomics of Nitrogen Stress in Narragansett Bay ($107,300) Because phytoplankton forms the base of the highly productive food web in Narragansett Bay (NB), understanding their adaptive potential and evolutionary responses are fundamental to understanding the past and future ecological responses of the entire Bay system. This trans-disciplinary project, which is the first study of its kind in NB, brings together oceanography, ecology and evolutionary biology to gain insight into the environmental stresses and adaptive responses of important phytoplankton. • Tatiana Rynearson, University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography • David Rand, Brown University

Read the full press release here