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Danes Present Expedition Findings During Charter Day Seminars

March 16, 2007 — Earthquakes, tsunamis, global pollution and the cure for cancer were just some of the topics touched upon as a team of Danish scientists was joined by colleagues from UVI in making presentations at a Friday afternoon seminar in Chase Auditorium on the St. Thomas campus.
The seminars were presented in conjunction with UVI’s Charter Day, as the university hosted scientists from the Galathea III, an expedition that consists of 71 scientific experiments pertaining to geological, oceanographic, ecological and other areas of interest.
The Danes arrived recently on the navy surveillance vessel Vaedderen (The Ram), which has been revamped to accommodate all the scientific equipment needed for the experiments. In addition to the 30 scientists on board, there are 10 journalists, three students and a Navy crew of 50.
Introduced by Adam Parr of the UVI Division of Science and Mathematics, geology professor Finn Surlyk of University of Copenhagen began the afternoon with a brief history of the expedition, saying that the Vaedderen is the third part of an ongoing scientific research project that began 150 years ago.
The corvette Galathea I sailed the oceans from 1845 to 1847. A little more than a century later, from 1950 to 1952, Galathea II went on an expedition to explore the deep sea, and the scientific results produced by that voyage in many ways exceeded expectations.
Now 50 years later, funded by both the public and private sectors, the project continues with a further gathering of information. The natural science researchers have traversed the globe, focusing on biological processes, topographical and climatic change, bacteria, plankton and algae.
Surlyk spoke of the ship’s advanced abilities to make perfect 3-D pictures of the ocean, using a multi-beam scanner, and to analyze many types of data in real time. It is hoped that the expedition will not only advance knowledge but also stimulate interest in science and promote further research.
Following Suryk, came a series of highly technical presentations. The first, presented by Holger Lykke-Andersen, an associate professor of Geophysics at the University of Arhus, was entitled, “Plate tectonics and derived effects.”
In his presentation, he noted that the territory sits directly on the junction of several huge tectonic plates — the Caribbean, and the North and South American plates. The trough crated by these plates, the Anegada Gap near St. Croix, is 4.5 kilometers with extremely steep slopes.
The plates are scraping against each other and moving in opposite directions, creating the hundreds of earthquakes that affect the area each year.
He noted that in 1867 there was an earthquake here that is estimated to have been 7.5 on the Richter scale and which created a 20-foot tsunami. The data gathered in these two weeks of field work will be available online next week.
The next seminar was called “Fluorescent proteins, light show in the sea and tool in biological research” and was presented by research director Ole Thastrup. Using brilliant and unusual photos of glowing coral beds and multicolored sea creatures, he described the biological processes that produced fluorescence and how it is being used in medical research.
Currently fluorescence aids in demonstrating how insulin is transported in the body and how tumors metastasize in cancer research. Thastrup is famous for his work on the cutting edge of the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry.
The last of the Danish presenters was Ole Andersen, whose topic was global pollution and its effects. He and his 10-member team are sampling waters around the world and building upon a database of the current proliferation and migration of pollutants. These contaminants include industrial, agricultural and urban, and those created not only by petroleum products, but also created by its transportation.
Andersen said that pollutants tend to migrate northward and that they can even be found in the Artic, where there are no known sources. Globally there is a whole host of pollutants including, PCBs, DDT, TBT and mercury.
His team is studying whether these compounds interact additively or synergistically. This is being done by analyzing snails and mussels because they accumulate the pollutants but do not metabolize them, so the pollutants remain in concentrated form. They also study the effects in sediments, fish and crustaceans.
After the Danes finished their presentations, two professors from UVI spoke. The first was Richard Nemeth, director of the MacLean Marine Science Center, who spoke about the biology and conservation of the grouper. He traced grouper aggregations in relationship to fishing practices and noted that fish numbers have recovered due to the permanent ban during propagation periods.
The afternoon ended with UVI chemistry professor Omar Christian’s presentation entitled, “Novel anticancer metabolites from marine sponge and associated fungi.” Christian noted that several important and profitable treatments for cancer have been developed in the last 20 years from natural products, Taxol being one of the most significant and effective. Taxol is most commonly used to treat ovarian, breast and nonsmall-cell lung cancer.
Christian explained that sponges are important because they filter large amounts of water. He also said they were easy to work with because “they did not bite, did not move, were easy to collect and lacked organs, nerves and muscles.”
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