A Joint Venture by the University of Haifa and Texas A&M University will Help Identity and Halt the Expansion of Oil Pollution at Sea and Prevent Ecological Disasters

The University of Haifa, in cooperation with Texas A&M University, is establishing an innovative sea monitoring system in Israel at a cost of around $5.5 million. The project includes the installation of a network of special buoys connected to sensors that extend as far as 1500 meters under the surface. For the first time in the Eastern basin of the Mediterranean Sea, the sensors will transfer information about sea currents.

The partnership was announced on a live international press conference with speakers at the University of Haifa, Texas A & M from College Station, Texas, (large image on screen) and Italy (smaller insert image).

Among other uses, this information will help improve the response to the spread of oil pollution at sea and reduce the scale of ecological disasters such as the massive and ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, which is considered the worse environmental disaster in history.  Following the disaster, Texas A&M University established a similar system of buoys in the Gulf of Mexico, which shares many similarities with the Eastern Mediterranean. Researchers from the Leon H. Charney School of Marine Sciences at the University of Haifa study the Eastern Mediterranean basin.

“This collaboration with one of the biggest and best universities in the United States strengthens the role of the University of Haifa as the leading university in Israel in the field of marine sciences,” said Amos Shapira, President of the University of Haifa. “Our understanding on what is happening in the deep water around Israel’s shores is one of strategic importance because the sea is the future of the State of Israel and of humanity as a whole.”  The system of sensors will also enable the long‐term and constant collection of diverse information from the surface of the sea and from deep underwater concerning climactic conditions, temperature and sea warming, salinity, turbidity, and acoustic pollution. It will also illuminate the condition of marine life, including dolphins, turtles, and jellyfish. These and other data will help researchers understand the character and impact of climactic changes.

Gulf of Mexico Texas AM Buoy

Buoys like these deployed by Texas A&M in the gulf of Mexico will be used for research in the Mediterranean Sea near Haifa.

As part of the cooperative project, two systems of buoys connected to sensors will be installed. One will be located in shallow water, within Israel’s territorial waters, while the second will be installed tens of kilometers offshore. This system will have a more complex structure and will reach a depth of 1500 meters.  The high pressure at this depth requires the use of innovative and technologically‐advanced equipment.

According to Prof. Morel Gropper, head of the Department of Marine Technologies at the University of Haifa: “The great depth makes it difficult to supply electricity to the sensors from the buoy.  Unlike the shallow water system, the deep water sensors must include their own power systems.  Other difficulties relate to the stability of the buoys, the strength of the material used, erosion, the transfer of data to the shore, and so forth. In many ways, work at this depth is similar to the technology used in space exploration. This project definitely exposes us to advanced and unusual technologies.”

In addition to the new sea monitoring system, the University recently purchased an unmanned underwater robot – the first of its kind in Israel. The robot can perform tasks in deep water without intervention by researchers, in a similar way to the robots NASA has sent to Mars.  These tasks include mapping the seabed and locating underwater objects, such as sunken ships and airplanes that crashed in deep water. These research tools will allow more intensive and precise study of the deep sea – an aspect that has not previously been possible in Israel.

According to Prof. Zvi Ben‐Avraham, head of the Charney School of Marine Sciences at the University of Haifa and head of the Israel Center for Mediterranean Sea Research: “Many of the changes that occur at sea are due to natural processes. It is important for us to understand these processes in greater depth, particularly in light of the major gas findings. However, there is growing evidence from around the world that human activity is also causing changes that are disrupting the delicate equilibrium of marine ecosystems. Ongoing and long‐term monitoring is the only way we can know what is happening in our sea.”

The cooperative venture between the University of Haifa and Texas A&M University, the fourth‐largest university in the US, will provide access not only to the technological and engineering knowledge of the Texas researchers, who have already installed similar systems, but also to the data they are collecting, particularly from the Gulf of Mexico. According to Prof. David Faraggi, Rector of the University of Haifa: “This cooperation will significantly advance our studies in the field of marine research and forms another important part of the enormous effort we at the University of Haifa are devoting to marine research. A few months ago we inaugurated our coastal laboratories, which for the first time will provide Israeli research with a reliable picture regarding shallow water. Now we are ‘deepening’ our capabilities in both senses of the word. Together with the unmanned submarine we purchased, which can reach a depth of up to three kilometers, and the underwater robot, which is already in the purchase process, we will be able to provide a much fuller and more profound picture of the seawaters that are under the economic control of the State of Israel.”

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