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CCPO Celebrates 20 Years of Keeping Tabs on Oceans

The Center for Coastal Physical Oceanography at Old Dominion University has been observing its 20th anniversary throughout the 2011-12 school year, although the building blocks for the center actually began falling into place nearly 25 years ago. That's the way A. D. Kirwan Jr., a former faculty member at CCPO, remembers it. And one of those building blocks, he says, was the product of luck.

In 1988, William Spong, a former U.S. senator from Virginia, was selected as president of ODU, and, as Kirwan relates it in an article he wrote for the latest CCPO Circulation newsletter (http://www.ccpo.odu.edu/Circulation/2012/spring.pdf), Spong spent his first few months huddling with advisers not associated with ODU. Rumors were flying among the faculty about major changes coming for the university, Kirwan wrote.

Then, on a Friday afternoon, Spong emerged from his private meetings to take a whirlwind tour of the campus. "This happened to be the Friday before the fall American Geophysical Union meeting. When he came to the old rug warehouse on 47th Street (the makeshift office building at that time for oceanographers), the entire Department of Oceanography was working frantically on presentations for the meeting. The activity convinced President Spong that oceanography was the most active academic unit on the campus."

Spong's favorable impression and a substantial gift from the Norfolk newspaper owners Samuel and Fay Slover, according to Kirwan, combined to give CCPO its start in 1991. When Spong persuaded state officials to give the go-ahead, CCPO became the first university center in the world devoted solely to physical oceanography.

Kirwan, who is now on the faculty at the University of Delaware, served as the Slover Chair of Physical Oceanography at ODU. His article in CCPO Circulation is a walk down memory lane for him, chock-full of names of former and present CCPO researchers: Gabe Csanady, Larry Atkinson, Tom Royer, Ann Gargett, Brian Ward, Glen Wheless, Lou Codispoti, Glenn Cota, Arnoldo Valle-Levinson, Jerry Miller, Chet Grosch, Tal Ezer, Eileen Hofmann and John Klinck. He also notes the contributions of staffers Carole Blett and Beverly Mitchell.

Klinck, the current CCPO director, together with Atkinson, the founding CCPO director, will host a private celebration of the center's 20th anniversary at the Town Point Club in downtown Norfolk on April 26. Close to 75 people are expected to attend. CCPO also has launched a new and improved website at www.ccpo.odu.edu -- coordinated by office manager Stephanie Paul -- in conjunction with the anniversary celebration.

The guest speaker at the anniversary dinner will be Paul Clancy, a Virginian-Pilot newspaper columnist who has used the services of CCPO himself. When Clancy was researching his book, "Ironclad: The Epic Battle, Calamitous Loss, and Historic Recovery of the USS Monitor" (2005), he could find only sketchy information about the storm off North Carolina that sank the vessel. To elaborate what he had found into a full weather report, he turned to Atkinson, an expert in coastal climatology.

CCPO's research can be very local, and sometimes very far away from Hampton Roads.

Close to home, news media have produced reports this spring about the blue crab harvest starting early because of the warm weather so far in 2012. Warmer waters are encouraging the critters to emerge early from the mud and sand where they hunker down for the cold season. But these reports about the crabs haven't been clear about just how much warmer the Chesapeake Bay water is now than it usually is this time of year,

That's a question for CCPO, which gathers and interprets data in physical oceanography.

For much of its existence, CCPO researchers have taken measurements in the lower bay of temperature, salinity and other water characteristics during regular cruises aboard ODU's research vessel - the current one is the RV Fay Slover - and have also had access to data from permanent collection points, such as the NOAA National Ocean Service Station on the first island of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.

Measurements for 2012 show record high temperatures in the lower bay for January and March. Readings from late March show that the water was about 56 degrees Fahrenheit, which is about six degrees above the average for that time of year from 1993 to 2011.

Atkinson, who is an eminent scholar and Slover Professor of Oceanography, said cooler temperatures so far in April seem to be lowering the temperatures at the mouth of the bay, but that they should stay above normal for the near future. "Abnormal temperatures, either high or low, can have significant effects on well-known animals such as oysters, shrimp and many fish," he said.

CCPO researchers also gather information from equipment that generates hourly pictures of the surface currents in the lower Chesapeake Bay using high frequency radar. As part of a regional and national high- frequency radar network, this program supports a national network website that displays surface currents for large coverage areas along the U.S. coastlines.

Surface current information may be used in a wide variety of applications that benefit the maritime and scientific communities as well as the general public. The data may be applied to search and rescue operations, maritime navigation, pollution tracking, recreation, fishing and research of coastal ocean processes. The information feeds into Coast Guard servers to improve environmental observations for the agency's operational Search and Rescue Optimal Planning System.

More recently, CCPO has been the base for ODU's Climate Change and Sea Level Rise Initiative (CCSLRI), which was launched in 2010 to promote multidisciplinary research that helps urban coastal areas such as Hampton Roads deal with mounting threats from flooding, storm surges and other economic ramifications of climate change.

But CCPO research is not limited to southeastern Virginia or the Chesapeake Bay. Projects of the staff include extensive water circulation research in the Arctic and Antarctic regions, climate change research in the polar regions as well along the U.S. East Coast, physical oceanography studies in the Dead Sea and Red Sea, offshore wind power feasibility studies for the mid-Atlantic and numerical modeling of shellfish populations on the East Coast.

CCPO affiliate Eileen Hofmann, a professor of ocean, earth and atmospheric sciences, leads an international organization, Integrated Marine Biogeochemistry and Ecosphere Research (IMBER) based in Brest, France, that coordinates global-change studies related to the oceans. She was appointed to a three-year term as chair of the IMBER Science Steering Committee in January 2010.

This article was posted on: April 13, 2012

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