Humans in the 19th century knew little about the oceans, but other forms of life knew a lot. Our job over the last two centuries has been to catch up and surpass other forms of life in knowledge of the oceans. The advance of observation through science and technology, including new carriers and processors of information, has vastly expanded the oceans knowable to humans beyond what a sailor’s five senses could directly provide. By infiltrating the ocean with informationally connected sensors, humans are becoming the top experts on the oceans in the 21st century.
PHE has actively engaged in advancing oceanographic research of all kinds. PHE director Jesse Ausubel conceived and managed The Census of Marine Life (CoML), a decade-long (2000-2010) international research effort supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. CoML aimed to document and assess the diversity (how many different kinds), distribution (where they live), and abundance (how many) of marine life—a task never before attempted at the global scale engaging some 2,700 scientists from around the globe.
Currently active PHE Ocean research efforts focus on three areas:
Aquatic environmental DNA (eDNA). Analyzing “naked DNA” in water samples can reveal what animals are nearby. Aquatic eDNA offers low-cost, minimally invasive technology to complement traditional surveys, including in difficult environments, for protected species, and if pandemics or other events curtail routine surveys. We have tested this emerging technology in more than 700 samples from marine and freshwater environments, many from waters around New York City as well as diverse coastal habitats from Massachusetts to New Jersey.
With support from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), our current efforts aim to improve accessibility, affordability, and reliability of core methods in marine eDNA metabarcoding. Working with NOAA, PHE is active in developing methods for Aquatic eDNA collection and analysis.
Ocean Exploration. PHE hosted the 2016 National Ocean Exploration Forum at The Rockefeller University. The meeting brought together a range of stakeholders to help identify and harness new technologies for ocean exploration including the growing role of autonomous vehicles. The Final Report of the 2016 National Ocean Exploration Forum (NOEF) found on the NOEF website, also includes reports from subgroups developing plans for exploration to the Arctic, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Southeast US Atlantic Bight. The report contains PHE director Jesse Ausubel’s keynote address to the Forum: SuBastian and the Roboats
International Quiet Ocean Experiment. The IQOE aims to complete a large-scale international effort to measure soundscapes of the world’s oceans and better understand potential biological effects of sound under the ocean surface. Advances in signal processing are opening exciting new opportunities for passive acoustics to listen, for example, to coral reefs or kelp forests and learn about the diversity and abundance of species present.
Starting in 2020, the global COVID-19 pandemic created a sudden, dramatic reduction in the noise generated by international shipping, offering an experimental control that has been the dream of IQOE scientists. In 2019, the IQOE began expanding its hydrophonic network used for ocean sound measurement and in 2020-2021 used the expanded network to measure ocean sound, beginning with the first few months of the pandemic. See Studying Marine Life’s Brief Break from Human Noise. High-quality observations of the ocean soundscape, as well as possibly related behavior of marine life during this period, may offer unique opportunities of exceptional value.
Integrating our streams of ocean research, we participate in the Clean Oceans International Working Group for the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development and in US efforts to lift benefits and lessen harms of the “Blue Economy.”
Publications about Oceans
Current laboratory protocols for detecting fish species with environmental DNA optimize sensitivity and reproducibility, especially for more abundant populations [external link]. ICES Journal of Marine Science vol. fsab273, 2022.
How eDNA Could be a Cornerstone of the New Blue Economy (PDF). Maritime Executive 2021.
Measuring Ambient Ocean Sound During the COVID-19 Pandemic (PDF). Eos vol. 102, 2021 acoustics, Quiet Ocean Experiment.
Biological information for the new blue economy and the emerging role of eDNA (PDF). Chapter 13 (pp. 249-258) in Preparing a Workforce for the New Blue Economy: People, Products, and Policies, . Elsevier, 2021 https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-821431-2.00030-5 aquatic eDNA.
Improved Environmental DNA Reference Library Detects Overlooked Marine Fishes in New Jersey, United State [external link]. Frontiers in Marine Science 7 (226): 2020 edna.
Trawl and eDNA assessment of marine fish diversity, seasonality, and relative abundance in coastal New Jersey, USA. [external link]. ICES J Marine Sci ..., 2020 doi:10.1093/icesjms/fsaa225.
Introducing the International Quiet Ocean Experiment [external link]. Pp. 6-9 in ECO - Environment, Coastal, Offshore 2019 Ocean Sound Special Issue.
Final Report of the 2016 National Ocean Exploration Forum: Beyond the Ships 2020–2025. (PDF). Pp. 34 pp in The Marine Science and Policy Series, Program for the Human Environment, The Rockefeller University, and Monmouth University 2017.
SuBastian and the Roboats (PDF). Pp. 28-31 in Final Report of the 2016 National Ocean Exploration Forum: Beyond the Ships 2020–2025, . 2017 (Slightly abridged version published in Sea Technology 58(1):7, January 2017.).
Fishing for DNA: Free-floating eDNA identifies presence and abundance of ocean life [external link]. The Conversation 2017.
Ocean Past, Ocean Future: Reflections on the Shift from the 19th to 21st Century Ocean (PDF). Michelson Memorial Lecture, United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, MD, 15 October 2015.
Impact of Volcanic Eruptions on the Seafloor Around Montserrat, West Indies. Oceanography 27 (1): 36–37, 2014.
Ocean Exploration (PDF). Pp. 34–35 in The Report of Ocean Exploration 2020: A National Forum, Aquarium of the Pacific and NOAA, Long Beach CA 2013.
Wealth from the Oceans: Use, Stewardship, and Security (PDF). Keynote address, 8th Annual Future of the Ocean Symposium, Monmouth University, West Long Branch, N.J., 26 October 2012.
An International Quiet Ocean Experiment (PDF). Oceanography 24 (2): 174–181, 2011 doi:10.5670/oceanog.2011.37.
A census of ocean life: On the difficulty and joy of seeing what Is near and far (PDF). SGI Quarterly vol. April, 2010 Census of marine life.
First Census of Marine Life 2010: Highlights of a Decade of Discovery (PDF) [external link]. CoML 2010.
Making marine life count: A new baseline for policy [external link]. PLoS Biology 8 (10): 2010 Census Marine Life.
Broadening the scope of global change to include illumination and noise [external link]. Seed Magazine 2009.
Future knowledge of life in oceans past (PDF). Pp. xix–xxvi in Oceans Past: Management Insights from the History of Marine Animal Populations, . London: Earthscan, 2008 Biodiversity, marine life, fisheries, ocean.
High school students track down fish fraud (PDF). Pp. 34 in Pacific Fishing September, 2008 barcode, dna barcode, barcoding, dna barcoding.
On the Limits to Knowledge of Future Marine Biodiversity (PDF). Electronic Journal of Sustainable Development 1 (2): 19–23, 2008 Biodiversity, marine life, fisheries, ocean.
Inaugural speech, South American workshop on Marine biodiversity for the census of marine life (PDF). Gayana 67 (2): 143–144, 2003 Biodiversity, marine life, fisheries, ocean.
The Census of Marine Life and the Role of Aquariums Bulletin de l'Institut océanographique, Monaco 20 (1): 67, 2001 Bulletin de l'Institut océanographique, Monaco, no spécial 20, fascicule 1 Census of Marine Life, aquarium.
The Census of Marine Life: Progress and Prospects Fisheries 26 (7): 33–36, 2001 Fisheries, marine life.
Toward a Census of Marine Life (PDF). Oceanography 12 (3): 4–5, 1999 marine biodiversity.
The Census of the Fishes: Concept Paper phe.rockefeller.edu, January 1997.