Diving right in: Thayer partners with Beneath The Waves on vital marine research

Diving right in: Thayer partners with Beneath The Waves on vital marine research

World-class science is taking place on Thayer’s campus. 

In Glover 301, to be exact. 

Beneath The Waves, a nonprofit dedicated to marine science research, is a partner with Thayer, and several of its researchers serve as Academy scholars-in-residence. Recently, the organization published a paper in the journal Nature detailing the discovery of the world’s largest seagrass meadow. The seagrass habitat measures roughly 92,000 square kilometers (35,521 square miles) and is found across the banks of the Bahamas. The discovery is crucially important because these grasslike meadows combat climate change due to their ability to capture large amounts of carbon through photosynthesis and safely store it in their deep root systems within the seafloor. 

“What this discovery shows us is that ocean exploration and research are essential for a healthy future,” said Austin Gallagher ‘04, PhD, the nonprofit’s chief executive and lead scientist. “The untapped potential of the ocean is limitless.”

And, said Upper School Science Department Head Don Donovan P ‘10, ‘13, core samples of these seagrass beds are being shipped to the Beneath The Waves Laboratory in Thayer’s Glover Building where researchers will analyze the samples to determine the amount of carbon they sequester. 

“This is a major worldwide scientific discovery,” said Donovan, explaining further that seagrass meadows act as a “carbon sink,” locking up the carbon so that it is no longer part of the carbon cycle in any way. Donovan quoted Carlos M. Duarte, PhD, a world-renowned marine scientist and one of the researchers involved in the project, when he said that “the decarbonization of the atmosphere must begin with the recarbonization of the biosphere.” 

And, while not on the same scale as the Bahamas find, the Beneath The Waves/Thayer partnership is yielding tangible scientific scholarship closer to home. Donovan, who also runs the Academy’s Independent Science Research (ISR) program — a junior elective which introduces students to primary research opportunities in scientific laboratories in the Boston area the summer before their senior year — pointed to Madi Richman ‘23 and Charlie Denomme ‘23, whose ISR project involved working with Beneath The Waves to search for and then study seagrass meadows in Duxbury Bay. Donovan added that Sam Taylor ‘23 worked hand in hand with Richman and Denomme and wasn’t even in the class. 

“They did a fantastic job,” said Donovan. “They were ready, willing, and able to do whatever was needed.” And sometimes, he added, what was needed involved heading into the frigid waters of Duxbury Bay in early June. 

The end result: a small but discernible addition to the climate change discussion via the discovery of five seagrass meadows in Duxbury Bay and the sampling of several of them. The students processed the samples by first drying them out, grinding them into a powder, and measuring their mass. They then burned the samples and measured them again, with the difference in mass being the total amount of carbon. 

Donovan praised the partnership between Beneath The Waves and the Academy. 

“Our students have the opportunity to do real scientific research with real scientists,” said Donovan, “and those scientists, in turn, are conducting essential research for the betterment of our world.” 

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