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© 2018 Pexels




© 2018 Pexels


CONTENTS Message from the director Plankton communities’ warm response to nutrient availability fACULTY FOCUS: PROF. Susana agusti »» p.4

WORKSHOP: The Ocean Soundscape Of The Anthropocene the other red sea: Dr. Zahra alsaffar RSRC OPEN SCIENCE CONFERENCE 2018

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Contents | 2



© 2019 Andrea Bachofen-Echt

Prof. Michael Berumen Happy New Year to all! As we enter another spring semester, exciting things are on the horizon. This issue of the RSRC Newsletter gives us a chance to look back at the end of 2018 and also a chance to look forward to the start of a new year. As with the end of every calendar year, we recognized the accomplishments and bid farewell to another graduating cohort of students from the Marine Science academic program. Now under the leadership of Prof. Xelu Moran (whose work you can read about on the facing page), the program saw 6 PhD students and 4 MSc students receive their degrees at the annual commencement ceremony. We wish them all the best on their next steps in their careers, and we thank them for all their contributions to the Center. You can read about one of our star graduates, Dr. Zahra Alsaffar, on page 8. In this issue, we continue to share with you the stories about our faculty members. This issue features Prof. Susana Agusti and her important work on the impacts of climate change. This and other faculty members’ stories will also be featured on the RSRC website. Keep an eye on feature newsletter issues for new stories, too. In other faculty news, we are delighted to share that Prof. Carlos Duarte, one of the Center’s most prolific publishers, was recognized by his inclusion in the Clarivate Analytics list of “Highly Cited Researchers”. This list includes exceptional researchers publishing multiple highly cited papers ranked in the top 1% in the Web of Science. I would like to extend my thanks to the co-chairs and all the Center members that contributed to the success of the 2018 Open Science Conference. You can read more about this on pages 9 and 10.

3 | Message from the Director

KAUST remains a dynamic institution, and last semester was no exception. It has been great to see KAUST’s new President, Tony Chan, settling in and learning more about all the aspects of KAUST. This semester, we anticipate the arrival of his new Vice President for Research, Prof. Donal Bradley. Meanwhile, we bid farewell to the former VPR, Prof. Jean Frechet. The impact that Prof. Frechet had on KAUST - and all of its research centers - is hard to overstate. He was instrumental in pushing KAUST research to levels of global prominence in many fields. Prof. Bradley will pick up where Prof. Frechet left off and will no doubt continue to play a significant role in guiding the future of research at KAUST. Please enjoy this issue. As always, if you have any suggestions for a story to include in our newsletter, please share them with the wonderful Seda Gasparyan, who keeps us all informed! Sincerely, Mike

PLANKTON COMMUNITIES’ WARM RESPONSE TO NUTRIENT AVAILABILITY Microbial plankton communities will be boosted in productivity and biomass from warmer water temperatures provided sufficient nutrients are also readily available, suggest KAUST researchers.

© 2018 Miguel Viegas

The response of marine ecosystems to global warming depends on complex factors. The growth rates and activity of plankton communities are largely dictated by nutrient availability (bottom-up control), predation (top-down control) and changes in water temperature. Warming will probably alter life in cold and temperate waters more dramatically than in the equatorial belt. Nutrients, which are necessary to enhance plankton growth, are generally more abundant in colder waters. If nutrient levels in the oceans drop due to rising temperatures, this will have a knock-on effect on aquatic lifeforms. “We wanted to investigate the response to warming in three planktonic communities simultaneously—picophytoplankton, heterotrophic bacteria and heterotrophic nanoflagellates,” says Tamara M. HueteStauffer, a postdoc in Xosé Anxelu G. Morán’s group in KAUST’s Red Sea Research Center. The two KAUST scientists collaborated with scientists in Spain and the United States to complete the work.

Xosé Morán (left) and Tamara Huete-Stauffer during one of their monthly sampling trips of planktonic microbes in the Red Sea

© 2018 Miguel Viegas

“These three communities represent different elements of the food web. Phytoplankton are the primary producers in the ocean, rather like plants in a terrestrial ecosystem. Bacteria process the dissolved organic matter released from phytoplankton and other organisms, while nanoflagellates are the major predators of bacteria and small phytoplankton,” explains Huete-Stauffer.

Read more on KAUST Discovery here.

The KAUST team took multiple seawater samples every month for a year and incubated them to determine microbial plankton communities’ response to rising water temperatures.

Research Highlights | 4

FACULTY FOCUS Prof. Susana Agustí - By David Murphy

Susana Agustí is a professor of marine science in the KAUST Red Sea Research Center (RSRC) with a long history of marine research. Agustí is a much-respected biological oceanographer who has taken part in numerous oceanographic expeditions over her lengthy research career. She is also the first female professor of marine science in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. From her research beginnings in her native Spain, she has conducted research that has spanned the entire world, including expeditions in all of the world’s five oceans as well as playing a vital role in the Malaspina Expedition 2010 (a global interdisciplinary circumnavigation research project to evaluate the impact of global change on the biodiversity of the world’s oceans). At KAUST, Agustí’s research focuses on the ecology of photosynthetic plankton and the metabolic balance of the oceans, with the goal of evaluating the global change effects on oceans. Her research interests, with an emphasis on the Red Sea, include testing the vulnerability of planktonic communities to warming, as well as to other stressors associated with global change, such as increased UV-B radiation, persistent pollutants and ocean acidification. She is also the principal investigator of the Biological Oceanography Lab research group, a group dedicated to the study of marine organisms and how they interact with ocean ecosystems.

5 | Faculty Focus

© 2018 Anastasia Khrenova

“My research is focused on quantifying and learning what the impact of global change in the oceans is. In the past, we expected that environmental perturbation was limited to local regions where these pollutant-causing human activities were taking place,” she noted. “However, this is not true anymore, because the atmosphere is transporting and accumulating all the chemicals emitted as a result by human activities. Now we have areas in the world with small amounts of human activities, for example, in the Arctic, where human activity is very small, but there is a high concentration of pollutants there because of the dynamics of the pollution atmospheric transport. “Because of atmospheric pollution we have decreased stratospheric ozone with an increase of ultraviolet radiation that is reaching the earth surface, and this is a harmful agent for all species. Moreover, with atmospheric CO2 increasing and the associated climate warming, we are inducing other changes in the environment, resulting in a situation of multiple stressors for organisms; when several stressors are acting jointly, we can hardly predict the consequences for marine organisms and ecosystems.

© 2019 Anastasia Khrenova

Prof. Susana Agustí’s group Standing (from left to right): Dr. Gauri Mahadik (Postdoc), Ruba Ashy (PhD student), Ananya Ashok (PhD student), Dr. Danang Prabowo (Postdoc), Afrah Alothman (PhD student), Dr. Sreejith Kottuparambil (Postdoc), Reny Devassy (Research Specialist), Dr. Sebastian Overmans (Postdoc), Chunzhi Cai (PhD student), Dr. Alexandra Coello-Camba (Research Specialist), Dr. Ricardo Nuno Alves (Research Specialist), Malak Abdallah (PhD student) Sitting (from left to right): Dr. Daffne López-Sandoval (Postdoc), Ashwag Asseri (PhD student), Melany Villegas (intern), Tabea Lamprecht (intern), Gala Gonzalez (Laboratory Technician) and Prof. Susana Agustí

“With my research, I try to lessen the impact of global change stressors in the marine organism. Also, I learn if micro-adaptation processes it may help to create more resilient organisms,” Agustí added. Having studied many of the major marine ecosystems found worldwide, the opportunity to explore the Red Sea firsthand was one of the major driving forces in Agustí’s decision to join KAUST and the RSRC. “The Red Sea is a fascinating place because I’m concerned with the adaptation and responses of marine organisms to warming. The Red Sea has some of the highest ocean temperatures because of its location, and because it is also warming fast. “To study this region and the responses of organisms and biogeochemical processes within the Red Sea to increasing temperature, together with other environmental stressors as oil pollution, was something that I was extremely interested in investigating,” she noted.

“Understanding and protecting the Red Sea ecosystem is essential for this country. For example, there is increased development in the region and Saudi Arabia is becoming more focused on tourism. However, to carry out a sustainable development, we must understand this pristine and beautiful environment that borders its coastline. It will be imperative to know what is the capacity of this ecosystem to future stressors associated with development. “We want to know the capacity of the Red Sea ecosystems to adapt to environmental changes, and this is very important because policymakers need to make decisions based on the degree of environmental stress or pollution that is acceptable. With our research findings, we can assist the country in recognizing the tolerance or resilience of its local ecosystems,” Agustí concluded.

Agustí believes that through her practical research—centered on understanding and identifying the current state of the Red Sea region—she can help to inform the Kingdom’s policymakers regarding the possible future development of Saudi Arabia’s coastal areas.

Faculty Focus | 6

© 2018 KAUST

WORKSHOP: The Ocean Soundscape Of The Anthropocene - By Prof. Carlos Duarte

Prof. Carlos M. Duarte convened, as part of the activities of the Tarek Ahmed Juffali Research Chair in Red Sea Ecology, a working group on “The Ocean Soundscape of the Anthropocene” co-convened with Prof. Francis Juanes, University of Victoria. The underwater soundscape is a critical but understudied habitat feature of aquatic animals that rely on sound. The world has become noisier. This is especially true in the ocean with the advent of submarine construction and seismic exploration, and the ever-increasing noise produced by ships. Noise travels much further underwater than in air and thus has the capacity to have more widespread effects on marine life. For instance, the sound of calving icebergs in Antarctica has been recorded by hydrophones in SW Australia, almost 4,000 Km away from the source, and the sound of rainfall falling on the sea surface is clearly detected by organisms inhabiting the abyssal depths of the ocean. The soundscape is composed of three elements: biophony, geophony, and anthrophony, identifying the source of the sounds composing submarine soundscapes. Anthrophony is likely to have changed the most in the Anthropocene thereby potentially dominating aquatic soundscapes. However, the decline in marine life has led to a reduction in biophony, while human actions has also increased geophony. So, the oceans are becoming depleted of biological sounds while it is becoming louder with human noises and, indirectly, geo-sounds. Yet, we are just realizing of the importance of sound for animal communication. Whereas the importance of acoustic communication for whales was recognized in the early 1970’s, more recently we recognized that a broad range of organisms, ranging from jellyfish, to bivalves, cephalopods, and fish also rely on sound to communicate and locate their habitats as their larvae disperse in the oceans. We need to listen to the ocean to better understand its ecology and the pervasive impacts of human activity on ocean soundscapes. 7 | Recent Workshops

Prof. Carlos Duarte

Tim Gordon

Dr. Erica Staaterman Prof. Francis Juanes

Prof. Hans Slabbekoorn

Dr. Dan Costa

Jana Winderen

THE OTHER RED SEA DR. ZAHRA ALSAFFAR Dr. Zahra Alsaffar is one of the first Saudi female marine scientists in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. She recently graduated from the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) with her PhD thesis defense titled: Shallow Soft Sediment Communities in the Central Red Sea: Revealing Patterns in Community Structure across Space and Time. She has obtained a Post-Doctoral fellowship at King Saud University (KSU) in Riyadh. In her new position, she is planning a potential collaboration between KSU and KAUST. Zahra is extremely passionate about science and, more importantly, how we can use this science to improve society. She is seeking to extend her Ph.D. work to find effective and sustainable ways to conserve natural resources and to solve environmental issues. During Zahra’s Ph.D. studies, she had the opportunity to present her work at a number of international conferences where she won awards, including first prize poster presentation “Soft-sediment macrobenthic assemblages in space and time: exploring patterns of variation in a hypersaline sub-tropical coastal lagoon” at the 52nd European Marine Biology Symposium (EMBS) in Piran, Slovenia 2017.

© 2017 Meres Weche

She also won second prize for her poster presentation “Seasonality does not affect the signature of macrobenthic assemblages associated with seagrass meadows in a hypersaline sub-tropical coastal lagoon” at the Aquatic Biodiversity and Ecosystems Conference in Liverpool, UK 2015. Zahra has published an article “The other Red Sea” in The Marine Biologist magazine issued by the Marine Biological Association, Issue 10, May 2018. Read Zahra’s article here.

From left to right: sieving sediment samples for macrofauna analysis; washing sediment samples nearshore. All images are from the Saudi Arabian Red Sea. © Zahra Alsaffar

Research Highlights | 8

Reflecting upon the second annual red sea research center open science conference - By Dr. Marco Fusi and Matt Tietbohl

The second student and postdoc-organized departmental conference, the Red Sea Research Center Open Science Conference was held on November 28th and 29th, 2018. This 2-day event originated in order to create a friendly environment that could favor the communication and the collaboration among students/postdoc/researcher/PIs in the RSRC. Multiple research activities happening in the center create a vibrant and stimulating research environment but often, the tight schedules and time constraints limit the opportunity to exchange and discuss ideas, projects and experiences. We believe that OSC capitalized on its ability to bring center members together to share their work in an open environment and provide a chance to increase interaction among everyone. The conference was an opportunity to offer a showcase of the RSRC activities to the KAUST community. This year we had the participation of students from KAU from Jeddah, as well as students from local high school in Thuwal. They participated with oral presentations and posters, and we believe that this offered an important opportunity for integration and sharing experiences between universities. Four keynote speakers were invited for this conference: Prof. Mark R. Patterson, Northeastern University, USA; Prof. Paul Barber, UCLA, USA; Dr. Alison Green, The Nature Conservancy, AUS; Mr. Ian Williamson, Chief Development Officer, The Red Sea Development Company, KSA.

9 | Open Science Conference

The first three gave us a glimpse of their research activities encompassing several aspects of crucial importance to the RSRC: Environmental monitoring and successfully building protected areas, biodiversity and evolution, and different conservation strategies. Mr. Williamson took a different turn, and shared with us the vision and the development trajectory of the Red Sea Project, part of Saudi Vision 2030, which aims to bring tourism to the Red Sea. This talk offered not only an interesting perspective on Red Sea development but also an opportunity for Red Sea Research Center members to reach out and communicate with the project to help share their expertise. Students had a chance to have two sitdown lunches with the keynote speakers. These lunches were a great opportunity for conference attendees to better meet and know the keynote speakers and be inspired by their scientific journeys. Casual interaction with top scientists in their field is not always a common experience, and allowed a great time for knowledge to be shared! The conference offered four oral session and one poster session, where the students from Thuwal had the opportunity to present their work, developed with the KAUST Social Responsibility Initiative group that included several volunteers from RSRC.

Š 2018 KAUST

At the end of the two days of conference, conference attendees enjoyed a social dinner where all the participants, their families and the invited speakers joined together to wrap up a busy two days. We believe that this experience significantly enriched our experience as conference co-chairs, and give us a unique experience to organize a legitimate conference. Dealing with organizational issues and coordinating with all the people in the committees has been a great experience of synergy that improved our relationships as people and as colleagues. We look forward to seeing the next conference organizers enjoy similar fruits of their labor.

We are very grateful to have helped build a successful conference for RSRC members and visitors, and are thrilled to see how the next committee builds together the RSRC 2019 Open Science Conference! We must finally thank the really great supporters who allowed for this conference to happen and provided invaluable support with their organization skills, funding, and administrative assistance: Prof. Michael Berumen, Ms. Manal Bamashmos, Ms. Christine Nelson, and Ms. Seda Gasparyan!

The overall effort resulted in a well-organized conference enjoyed by all. The full team of organizers worked tightly together, and no negative experiences were recorded. In particular we were grateful for the enthusiasm and commitment to their work shared by all the speakers, especially from KAU and Thuwal.

Open Science Conference | 10

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Contact Us Red Sea Research Center (RSRC) King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) Ibn Al-Haytham (building 2) Thuwal 23955-6900 Kingdom of Saudi Arabia


Profile for Red Sea Research Center

RSRC Newsletter, Issue 6, Winter 2019  

RSRC Newsletter, Issue 6, Winter 2019