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Science research led in Gulf of Mexico by Penn State biologist to be honored with US award

A research project deep in the Gulf of Mexico, led by Penn State University Professor of Biology Charles Fisher, the project's lead scientist, and James Brooks of TDI Brooks International, the project's manager, has been honored with the Excellence in Partnership award by the National Oceanographic Partnership Program (NOPP), an organization established by the U.S. Congress.

The project is titled "Exploration and Research of Northern Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Natural and Artificial Hard Bottom Habitats with Emphasis on Coral Communities: Reefs, Rigs, and Wrecks." It also is known as "Lophelia II" for the main reef-building coral found in deep waters in the Gulf.

The results of the research include new discoveries of coral communities in the deep Gulf of Mexico, new findings on the ecology and population genetics of the deep-water corals and communities, marine archaeological discoveries, and new data on growth rates of corals on oil platforms and shipwrecks. A primary purpose of the work is to gather data that will inform environmental review and decision making for the protection of deep-water corals and other hard-bottom communities in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

Begun in 2008 with funding from the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the Ocean Exploration Program of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the project completed the last of its series of data-collection expeditions in the Gulf in July 2012 and is expected to finish analyzing the data by the middle of next year. The research results will be published in scientific journals and also will be available from BOEM. The project was selected for the award in recognition of its exceptionally diverse partnerships, which include university scientists, graduate students, technicians, public-outreach professionals, industry scientists, and both government scientists and administrators from BOEM, NOAA, and the U. S. Geological Survey.

Fisher and Brooks will accept the award on behalf of the large interdisciplinary team later this year during a ceremony at the Oceans '12 Conference of the Marine Technology Society and the Oceanic Engineering Society of IEEE, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. In addition to Fisher, other Penn State members of the team who will be recognized include Assistant Professor of Biology Iliana Baums; Graduate Students Dannise Ruiz and Pen-yuan Hsing; Outreach and Education Coordinator Elizabeth Goehring, and Postdoctoral Fellow Erin Becker, who earned her doctoral degree at Penn State.

Fisher joined the Penn State faculty in 1990 as an assistant professor and was named associate professor in 1995 and professor in 1999. He earned his doctoral degree in biological sciences at the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1985 and his bachelor's degree in biology at Michigan State University in 1976. Baums joined the Penn State faculty in 2008. She earned her doctoral degree at the University of Miami in 2003 and her bachelor's degree in marine biology, with minors in ecology and cell and molecular biology/genetics, at the University of Bremen in Germany in 2000.

Contact: Barbara K. Kennedy
Penn State

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