Two UCSB research teams have received multimillion dollar long-term research grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to fund their studies of kelp forests and coral reefs along the Santa Barbara coast.
The Santa Barbara Coastal Long Term Ecological Research (SBC LTER) and the Moorea Coral Reef Long Term Ecological Research (MCR LTER) will now be funded with approximately $1 million per year for up to six years.
Russell Schmitt, head of the MCR LTER, explained that this funding is special because it is free from certain regulations of the federal government.
“The [NSF] program is unique for the federal government in that the programs aren’t ever intended to disappear. A normal grant has a sunset period where you can only have a center for 11 years, for example. This is unique in that it is exempt from that sunset regulation from the federal government,” Schmitt said. “And the intent is that the research at these sites — if their research stays cutting edge and good — can potentially go on for many decades.”
The SBC LTER has been active since 2000 and focuses on the study of kelp forests. As one of the most productive ecosystems in the world, kelp forests provide valuable research opportunities. Dan Reed, a research biologist at UCSB’s Marine Science Institute, and his team at the SBC LTER want to find out how offshore and land-based processes come together to influence these coastal ecosystems.
The MCR LTER was created in 2004 and focuses on the recovery of coral reefs. Typically, after coral reef systems degrade they are able to recover within a couple decades. However, recently this has not been the case. Schmitt and his team have focused on key causes, like climate change, ocean acidification, rising sea levels and changes in ocean calcification.
Reed said that, aside from research, these LTER sites will be positively impacted on many levels by the new funding, explaining that there are numerous outreach activities associated with these projects which are tailored to K-12 students as well as the community.
“In addition to the research that is shared through our peer-reviewed publications, there’s also a very important training element in it that provides a huge opportunity for students,” Reed said.
There are about 25 LTER sites in the U.S. network that are funded by the NSF, two of which are administered by UCSB. In addition, scientists from UCSB created a LTER site in the Antarctic, which is now under the leadership of a different institution.
For more information on LTER sites or getting involved, visit http://sbc.lternet.edu/ or http://mcr.lternet.edu/.
A version of this article appeared on page 9 of January 22nd, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus.