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UVI Scientists to Publish Results of Climate Modeling Research

As hurricane season continues, the need to better understanding the oceans, weather and other components of the local ecosystem is on everyone's mind. That is especially true for researchers at the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI).

Scientists at UVI's Center for Marine and Environmental Studies (CMES) routinely collect information about the conditions of the waters surrounding the Virgin Islands and those of the broader Caribbean region. Recently, some of this data was used to create new, state-of-the-art computer-generated models of our oceans. These models are designed to help to determine patterns in the ocean, in the sky, and where the two interconnect.

Co-principal investigators for the project were CMES Director Dr. Richard Nemeth, UVI Assistant Research Professor Dr. Nasseer Idrisi, a biological oceanographer, and Dr. Laurent Chérubin, a visiting research oceanographer who is based at the University of Miami. In September, an article describing their study will be published in the prestigious international journal Ecological Modelling (volume 222, issue 17). This specific study is titled: "Flow and transport characteristics at an Epinephelus guttatus (red hind grouper) spawning aggregation site in St. Thomas (US Virgin Islands)."

Based on the UVI model's predictions, the article describes how larval fish - very tiny, young fish that float or swim in ocean currents - might spread out from an important reef fish spawning aggregation site. Such aggregation sites are areas where many fish gather to reproduce. The UVI ocean model also makes predictions about where the tiny red hind might end up - on St. Thomas reefs or elsewhere down current.

This spawning site where the study was conducted is within a large marine protected area in the USVI known as the Red Hind Bank. Results from this research indicate an important relationship exists between the timing of a spawning event and the phase of the tidal cycle, according to Dr. Idrisi. The spawning fish need to coordinate or synchronize with this timing so that they can successfully produce the next generation.

The field portion (collection of oceanographic data) of the study was conducted from February of 2005 through March of 2006, according to Dr. Nemeth. The computer modeling work was conducted in 2009 and 2010.

Although the authors have not yet looked into how climate change affects the ocean's delicate balance, it is possible to model different climatic scenarios with the programming system developed at UVI. One goal would be to better understand how populations of commercially important fish species in the Caribbean region will be affected.

Researchers, natural resource managers, and others can also use these models to better predict climatic events such as hurricanes, changes in oceanic and coastal currents, and changes in rainfall patterns, according to Dr. Idrisi.

Understanding how these events unfold in the context of global climate change will be extremely valuable. It is expected that the success of this research will improve the ability to anticipate and plan for catastrophic events such as hurricanes, storm surges, and droughts.

A major portion of the funding for UVI's ocean modeling research came from the federally funded Virgin Islands Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (VI-EPSCoR). VI-EPSCoR supported the purchase of hardware and software as well as the funding of personnel who conducted the research.

Along with the U.S. Geological Survey, VI-EPSCoR has also recently funded a collaborative study between the University of Miami and the University of the Virgin Islands, in which researchers used the ocean model that UVI is developing.

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For more information, please use the following contacts:

Nasseer Idrisi, nidrisi@uvi.edu, (340) 693-1388
Richard Nemeth, rnemeth@uvi.edu, (340) 693-1381
Laurent Chérubin, lcherubin@rsmas.miami.edu, (786) 863-1583