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By UNH News Service: The University of New Hampshire’s School of Marine Science and Ocean Engineering (SMSOE) has received a federal government contract worth up to $6.5 million to study ocean ecosystems through underwater acoustic research.

“The funding will support ongoing monitoring and research with state-of-the-art underwater acoustic technology,” said Jennifer Miksis-Olds, associate director of research at UNH’s SMSOE. “This acoustic research will help develop a deeper understanding of patterns and trends in regional ocean soundscapes and processes, the effect of humans on ocean life, and larger issues like climate change, as well as debut the new acoustic expertise at UNH and establish the university as a leader in this area.”

The study will focus on the mid- and south Atlantic Ocean especially along the outer continental shelf and shelf break. The sound will be gathered from a network of seven proposed deep water observatory moorings from Virginia to Florida and will be known as the Atlantic Deepwater Ecosystem Observatory Network (ADEON). Hydrophones, or underwater microphones, as well as echosounders will be mounted on the moorings, allowing researchers to eavesdrop on the ocean life in that area.

The multiple-year contract, of which the first two years are currently funded, came from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), on behalf of the National Oceanographic Partnership Program (NOPP). NOPP is an innovative collaboration of federal agencies that supports research partnerships among academia, government, industry, and non-governmental organizations. The ADEON NOPP is comprised of a partnership between the U.S. Department of the Interior BOEM, Office of Naval Research, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The goal is to establish a base line for environmental monitoring that can be replicated in other regions for comparative analysis. The data would be used when determining, among other things, potential future exploration for natural gas or oil in this region. In this area of the Atlantic waters, environmental assessments of the potential impacts of marine pollutants, including their transport and environmental sensitivity, relies on an accurate understanding of the marine ecosystem that could be affected. For instance, it’s understood that human noise from sources like sonar, military vessels, shipping, and recreational boating can act as underwater pollutants. However, a full understanding of the relationship between marine organisms and their environment, including acoustics, is lacking.

“Sound is a big issue for marine life, because a lot of human use of the ocean produces sound,” said Miksis-Olds. “You can learn a lot from listening like deriving wind speed, getting a sense of surface conditions, whether it’s rough or ice covered, you can also get an idea of the animals in an area by the vocalizations they make.”

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