Bernhardt Trout, assistant professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering, and Julian Sachs, assistant professor in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, have each been awarded a 2001 Doherty Professorship in Ocean Utilization from the MIT Sea Grant College Program. Every year, the program selects one or two new faculty members for a supplemental award of $25,000 per year for two years.
Professor Trout's Doherty-funded research will focus on the formation and dissolution of hydrates -- ice-like materials -- in the ocean. CH4 hydrates are practically ubiquitous in the ocean floor and could be used as an enormous source of clean- burning fuel. CO2 hydrates could be used as a way to sequester and store carbon dioxide in the ocean. Dr. Trout will develop and apply theoretical and computational methods to obtain data about mechanisms and rates of formation and dissolution of hydrates, as well as use that data to predict how these materials will behave in the ocean under varying conditions.
Professor Sachs is a paleoclimatologist who uses innovative new organic geochemical techniques to decipher the complex climate changes that characterized the past 150,000 years. While oceanic currents are critical to climate control, uncertainty -- particularly about the sensitivity of the deep circulation to small climate changes -- clouds climate forecasts and assessments of sequestration of carbon dioxide in the deep ocean. In his Doherty-funded research, Professor Sachs will analyze ocean bottom sediments to reconstruct past episodes of abrupt climate change and determine their cause, helping us to better understand the ocean's role in future climate change.
In 2000, the Doherty chair went to Assistant Professor Martin Polz of civil and environmental engineering to research the increasing and unexplained incidences of marine-related illnesses and harmful algal blooms, and Associate Professor Nicholas Makris of ocean engineering to study natural and man-made ambient noise in Massachusetts Bay to improve our understanding of the relative distribution of sounds arising from marine mammal sources versus those caused by shipping and wind and waves.
The Doherty Professorship, endowed by the Henry L. and Grace Doherty Charitable Foundation, encourages promising, nontenured professors to undertake marine-related research that will further innovative uses of the ocean's resources. The area of research may address any aspect of marine use and/or management, whether social, political, environmental or technological.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 4, 2001.