SMAST receives $1.1 M unrestricted grant

School for Marine Science and Technology at UMass Dartmouth receives $1.1 M unrestricted grant from Brayton Point Station to study Mount Hope Bay System

School for Marine Science and Technology at UMass Dartmouth receives $1.1 M unrestricted grant from Brayton Point Station to study Mount Hope Bay System 

The School for Marine Science and Technology (SMAST) at UMass Dartmouth today (July 27, 2001) announced it will conduct a comprehensive five-year study of the Mount Hope Bay system ecology. The research is funded by an unrestricted $1.1 million grant from Brayton Point Station, an affiliate of PG&E National Energy Group. 

The study will make the Mount Hope Bay a natural laboratory for extensive data collection and analysis by SMAST researchers and scientists. It will specifically address local concerns regarding the significant decline in the winter flounder population in the Mount Hope Bay area over the past 20 years. 

In its operation, the Brayton Point Station discharges water into Mount Hope Bay. Environmental groups and others speculate that elevated water temperatures may be the cause of the winter flounder decline. The Brayton Point Station has proposed - and is awaiting the go-ahead from the US EPA and Massachusetts DEP - to proceed with a plan to install a new $58 million cooling system that reduces water intake and discharge by 33 percent. 

Dr. Brian J.Rothschild, dean of SMAST, said, There have been a lot of well-intended theories and opinions, but we need extensive data and a complete analysis to have a better understanding of the problem and its solution. The plant's new cooling system will benefit the environment, but it may not help restore the winter flounder population if it's not causing the problem to begin with. 

Rothschild said SMAST proposed the study to the Brayton Point Station. There are no strings attached, so SMAST's scientists and researchers have complete academic freedom to study and learn about the watershed system, Rothschild said. 

To be sure, we're going to take a hard look at the impacts from the plant's existing and proposed cooling system, but we have to equally consider the Taunton River and factor-in data that shows a similar decrease in and recovery retardation of the winter flounder population across adjoining Narragansett Bay, he said. 

We are pleased that we can help a world-renowned marine science institution-in our own state of Massachusetts-in a way that will benefit all of us by providing a better scientific understanding of the Narragansett and Mt. Hope Bay ecosystems and the fishery resource they hold, said Tom Powers, director of external and environmental affairs for :PG&E National Energy Group. 

SMAST intends to establish a Scientific Advisory Committee of outside experts to provide a critical and independent review of the study's conduct and results. In addition, a series of symposiums will be held at the UMass Dartmouth campus to discuss the study with the public and entire scientific community. We will welcome the interaction with members of the community and other scientists at these symposiums, said UMass Dartmouth Chancellor Jean F. MacCormack. Providing this type of intellectual resource to fishermen, residents, environmentalists and the energy industry is central to the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth mission. 

While the study will take five years to complete, there will be a series of milestones that will provide useful information about the system. By early 2002, the multi-disciplinary SMAST team will have completed a critical analysis of historical data and recent studies regarding the winter flounder population decline. During the next six-months, the observation and modeling system will be defined. The natural laboratory should be operational by the end of the second year. The final years of the study will be spent refining and verifying the model so that its projections of future threats to the watershed can be viewed with confidence. 

For the longer term, SMAST will develop a computer model to simulate the physical, biological and chemical interactions focusing on Mount Hope Bay and its connections to Narragansett Bay and the Taunton River. The model will be an important tool in predicting the impact on the system of both future development and environmental protection measures. 

We are very excited about this study, because it allows SMAST's staff and students to support our local community by addressing an ecological problem right here in our backyard, Rothschild said. Challenging projects such as this help us attract the world-class scientists and researchers necessary for the school's continued growth. 

SMAST is dedicated to the applying scientific research to the formation of sound public policy for Massachusetts, MacCormack, the UMass Dartmouth chancellor, emphasized. It has been doing so since the beginning, she said. 

SMAST, established in 1988, combines the talents and experience of faculty in 10 UMass departments and has been successful in attracting renowned scientists to its New Bedford laboratory. Approximately $7.5 million in research efforts for NASA, NOAA, NSF, Massachusetts state agencies and private corporations are underway and are focusing on cross cutting themes such as ocean prediction and monitoring systems; fishery management science and advanced aquaculture systems; and coastal zone systems and ocean communication, tracking and control. 

Further information about the Mount Hope Bay System Project and SMAST can be found at www.cmast.umassd.edu.


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