Campus: CSU Northridge -- December 11, 2002

Science Channel Show Chronicles Undersea Research of CSUN Professor, Students

Last summer, Cal State Northridge biology professor Peter Edmunds, a couple of graduate students and an undergraduate student spent about three weeks studying the effects temperature has on the fragile underwater coral reefs off the Florida Keys.

Inclement weather threw a monkey wrench into some of their planned experiments and part of the team had to deal with the effects of living in an underwater laboratory about the size of a mobile home for a week. And The Science Channel series "Science of the Deep" captured it all on tape.

The show, "Aquarius: Undersea Lab," will premiere on The Science Channel Saturday, Dec. 14, at 8 p.m.

Edmunds said he agreed to allow the camera crews to follow his team, both on ground and under water, to dispel the myth that scientists were drab persons in lab coats who only care about statistics and to underscore the fragility of the Florida coral reefs, the only coral reef system in the continental United States.

"The reefs are facing a very profound threat in the next 10 years or more in terms of global climate change," Edmunds said. "I think it's appropriate and important to take every opportunity to educate people about what is going on."

Edmunds and his crew, which included two CSUN graduate students, an undergraduate student and a former CSUN student who is now getting his doctorate in marine biology at the University of Delaware, specifically were studying the effects of global climate change on the biology of coral larvae. Together with colleagues Ove Hoegh-Guldberg and Bill Leggat from the University of Queensland, Australia, and Ruth Gates from UCLA, Edmunds fielded an international and diverse research team.

The project took place in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and was in conjunction with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which owns the Aquarius undersea lab off Key Largo.

Half the team spent a week down in the underwater lab off Key Largo with technicians from NOAA while the other half, which included Edmunds and undergraduate student Sergio Saucedo, stayed above water, directing and monitoring the work done by those in the lab and making daily dives to the research area.

The lab is an 80-ton cylindrical chamber that is 43-feet long and 12 feet in diameter.
Edmunds, who spent 10 days doing a similar project in the lab in 1995, chose to stay above water this time and direct operations from the surface.

"Being underwater that long is very stressful ad physically exhausting," he said. "You suffer from nitrogen narcosis which makes it somewhat difficult to work. We were told that it is like being on a one- or two-beer buzz all day … and in 1995, I underestimated the difficulties of this scenario. It becomes very challenging to do complete complex science … or even to deal with simple tasks!"

The Science Channel's cameras captured the work in the lab as well as Edmunds and his colleagues making changes in their research plans when bad weather impacts their project. They had to shift focus slightly because the weather meant they couldn't capture as many larvae as they wanted. Instead, they focused on how coral responds to different light intensities at different depths.

"The show should give people a taste of what science is really like," Edmunds said. "Not everything goes as planned, but a lot of field science is being able to think on your feet. Regardless of the path, the process is exciting and very satisfying."

Contact: Carmen Ramos Chandler (818) 677-2130

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