February  2017
The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa is ranked 12th among universities internationally in earth and environmental sciences for the period of November 2015-October 2016, according to the Nature Index. The ranking is based on the number of research papers published in Nature and a select group of other prestigious journals. "This is an affirmation of the exceptional research and education capabilities of the university and underlines the special role this institution plays in advancing knowledge that is of critical importance to the state, the nation and the world-including climate, marine and terrestrial biodiversity, coastal hazards, fisheries and marine resource management," said UHM Vice Chancellor for Research Michael Bruno.
Credit: Falls of the Ohio State Park
A study by paleontologist Steven Stanley revised estimates of the largest mass extinction to have taken place since animals appeared on Earth. It remains undisputed that more than 250 million years ago, during the end-Permian "great dying," the number and diversity of marine species dropped catastrophically. However, Stanley's article introduces new methods for estimating the magnitude of background extinction--the extinction scattered throughout but having nothing to do with the mass extinction. "I have now estimated that the terminal Permian crisis eliminated only about 81% of marine species," said Stanley. "Life did not nearly disappear at the end of the Permian, as has often been claimed."
Earth's mantle is home to a primordial soup even older than the moon. Among the main ingredients is helium-3 (He-3), a vestige of the Big Bang and nuclear fusion reactions in stars, and the mantle is its only terrestrial source. Scientists studying volcanic hotspots find high He-3 relative to helium-4 in some plumes, the upwellings from the Earth's deep mantle that may contain this primordial material. A recent study co-authored by geologist Jasper Konter showed that only the hottest hotspots with the slowest seismic velocity draw from the primitive reservoir formed early in the planet's history.
The Senckenberg Nature Research Society, a 200-year old scholarly society based in Germany, awarded its 2016 Nature Research Prize to oceanographer Craig Smith. The Senckenberg prize in the Nature Research category, endowed with $10,000, is awarded annually to a scientist who has made excellent, internationally recognized achievements in nature research. Smith's research is focused on species diversity and disruptions and human impacts on the ocean floor-for example, from deep-sea mining. His research led to the recognition of the importance of whale carcasses as special habitats contributing to the diversity the deep-sea fauna.
Credit: NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research
NOAA's Okeanos Explorer recently began its 2017 American Samoa Expedition to explore deepwater habitats, geology, and biology of sea animals in areas of American Samoa and Samoa. Oceanographer Chris Kelley is the science lead for CAPSTONE, a major three-year effort to collect information to support science and management needs throughout the Pacific. Educators, students, and the general public can watch this expedition unfold in real-time via live feeds of the ROV dives. At the SOEST video wall, NOAA and SOEST established an Exploration Command Center--a location that enables tele-presence collaboration between scientists on land and the shipboard team.
Alison Nugent joined SOEST as a new faculty member in Atmospheric Science. Nugent uses ground observations, in situ aircraft observations, and models to research the dynamics of orographic convection and the development of precipitation in shallow tropical clouds. Hawaii is an ideal natural laboratory for her research. Her doctoral research at Yale focused on understanding the dynamics of orographic convection and precipitation in the tropics over a mountainous island in the Caribbean. Her postdoctoral work at the National Center for Atmospheric Research focused on cloud microphysics through aerosol-cloud-precipitation interactions and giant sea salt nuclei growth. 
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