October 31, 2014  

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Southern Miss to Take Lead Role in New Center for Gulf Studies

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Dr. Stephan Howden, foreground, associate professor in the Department of Marine Science at Southern Miss, inspects a buoy with electronics technician Richard Slaughter prior to deployment. The buoy provides important data on waves, currents and other ocean conditions used in ocean modeling and forecasting. (Submitted photo)

Environmental disasters, both manmade and natural, have prompted the need for improved, comprehensive understanding of the waters and resources of the Gulf of Mexico.

To that end, The University of Southern Mississippi has taken the lead role in formation of the new Center for Gulf Studies (CGS). The center represents a partnership between Southern Miss and the state’s other research universities – Mississippi State University, the University of Mississippi and Jackson State University.

Administered through the Southern Miss Department of Marine Science at Stennis Space Center, CGS seeks to serve the people of Mississippi, the northern Gulf region and the country with a scientifically-based understanding of ecosystem status and trends (past to present, predictive) with special emphasis on improved forecasting abilities to ensure sustainable coastal and ocean ecosystems of the Gulf of Mexico.

“From hurricanes that date back hundreds of years to the BP Oil Spill of 2010, the northern Gulf Coast has been under-represented and under-served compared to the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. And yet, it’s the hardest-working coast of the three,” said Dr. Monty Graham, chair of the Department of Marine Science at Southern Miss and the new center’s acting director while the search for a permanent director continues.

Through the CGS, Mississippi’s residents and industries will be provided with a powerful new ocean observing and forecasting system for improved use of the ocean in a manner analogous to atmospheric weather forecasting. The resulting trend information and predictions will supply decision-makers and residents with a unique capability to prepare for and respond to changes in the ecosystem.

“The BP oil spill highlighted our need for a better understanding of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem,” said Southern Miss Provost Dr. Denis Wiesenburg. “As the designated marine science university for Mississippi, this new center will enable Southern Miss to focus resources on the ocean in our back yard.”

A steering committee comprised of membership from the partner universities is developing core research directions related to the center’s overarching mission. Project proposals will be developed collaboratively by university researchers, with emphasis on multi-institutional collaborations that leverage with non-CGS entities.

Dr. Gordon Cannon, vice provost for research at Southern Miss, said the Center for Gulf Studies will provide a much-needed conduit for coordinating and performing a wide range of studies in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Southern Miss is delighted to be leading the effort to better understand this economically important body of water and to work with other universities and agencies to provide guidance and long-term understanding of the Gulf’s complex ecosystem,” said Cannon.

The Northern Gulf of Mexico faces a number of priority issues, which include:

  • Water quality and human health
  • Habitat conservation and restoration
  • Ecosystem integration and assessment
  • Nutrients and nutrient impacts
  • Coastal community resilience
  • Environmental education and outreach
  • Coast hazards and risk assessment
  • National security
  • Marine transportation
  • Ocean resource and resource management
  • Ecosystem health
  • Climate variability and sea level rise
  • Oil spills and other human disasters
  • Technology development

Graham notes that details are still being finalized with regard to protocols and procedures within the universities’ partnership. But there are no gray areas where the educational component of the new consortium is concerned.

“One of our primary goals with this venture is to train new scientists,” said Graham. “Students will be at the forefront of exciting research both on the undergraduate and graduate levels. This center will afford the opportunity to knock down some barriers that have existed for a long time and offer a better world view for everyone involved.”