NOAA 2002-044
Contact: Jana Goldman, Mark Ward
NOAA News Releases 2002
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Undersea Lab Will Host Astronauts, Scientists, Students

Sports fans mark the arrival of spring with baseball's first pitch, but for many marine biologists the first signs of spring include the start of undersea missions aboard the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Aquarius, an underwater ocean laboratory where scientists live and work on the seafloor.

The lab's season opener runs from April 15-24, and includes an all-female science team. Aquarius, the nation's only "innerspace" station is operated by the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (UNCW) and is located in NOAA's Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. NOAA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

This year's first mission is led by State University of New York at Buffalo biologist Dr. Mary Alice Coffroth. Coffroth will be joined by her doctoral candidate Tonya Shearer, Leanne Rutten a master's student at Florida International University, and Dione Swanson, a doctoral candidate at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.

During their 10 days beneath the sea, the scientists will measure the size and condition of corals. They will also collect tiny coral samples for DNA profiling (similar to DNA fingerprinting), which will help determine how coral populations grow and sustain themselves, providing information for management and preservation of fragile coral reefs in Florida.

Other Aquarius missions scheduled for 2002 include science missions with researchers from California State University - Northridge; University of Queensland (Australia), University of California - Los Angeles; University of South Carolina; College of William and Mary in Virginia; NOAA's National Marine Sanctuary Program, and three NASA-sponsored space simulation and training projects. Among the many subjects to be studied: coral bleaching, global climate change, coral recruitment, fish and marine protected areas and studies looking into the effects of water motion and temperature on reef health.

Aquarius will also undertake several educational and outreach projects this year including a student writing contest (where the winning essayist will enjoy an underwater tour of Aquarius); a visit by representatives from the Girl Scouts of America, and many interactive video links with science centers, aquaria and museums throughout the country. Throughout each Aquarius mission, expedition journals, photos, and live undersea webcam views of the lab and surrounding area along with detailed program information will be available on the Aquarius Web site at

Aquarius is an integral part of NOAA's National Undersea Research Program (NURP) and has successfully completed 34 missions since its commissioning in 1993. Each year NURP supports over 100 undersea research projects related to NOAA's mission as steward of oceanic resources and environment. For more information about NOAA or NURP please visit and