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Department of Marine Sciences FACILITIES


Chapel Hill, NC

Since November 2010, the Department of Marine Sciences has been located in Venable and Murray Halls, seen to the right, a $95M facility that was the final phase of UNC Chapel Hill’s new Science Complex. MASC occupies 34,514 sq. feet of research and office space in this state-of-the art facility, including a rooftop greenhouse and an aquarium research facility for mesocosm experiments. In addition, MASC has two classrooms (30 and 40 person) in Venable Murray.


Our Chapel Hill location fosters interactions with faculty, students and staff from other UNC-CH departments, nearby research institutions (e.g., Duke, NCSU) and companies (e.g., Glaxo-Wellcome); places scientists within easy reach of RDU International Airport, allowing for the convenient transport of equipment and personnel to distant ports and field locations; and provides ready access to RTP’s advanced computational resources. The department’s sister unit, the Institute of Marine Sciences in Morehead City, provides coastal access for field studies and instruction. Shared, flexible laboratory space is also now available at the Institute since the addition of a new wing.

Specialized analytical equipment and facilities include low background alpha, beta and gamma detectors, a dedicated GC/MS system, a state-of-the-art isotope ratio monitoring mass spectrometry facility for compound specific carbon analyses, high capacity light- and temperature-controlled incubators, and a full range of specialized chromatographic and spectroscopic gear.

Observational instrumentation for field use includes a suite of current meters and temperature/pressure sensors, near-bottom and sub-bottom water samplers and profilers, and a specially built a sensor and data system for aircraft sampling of the coastal ocean and atmosphere.

Shared with the Department of Chemistry, MASC has access to a ThermoFinnigan Element2 ICP-MS with Photon 193 nm laser ablation sample inlet system. This facility includes a ThermoFinnigan Element2 inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer (ICP-MS) and a Photon 193 nm laser ablation sample inlet system for high-resolution analysis of the elemental and isotopic composition of most liquid and solid materials on Earth. The Element2 has 5 key features that distinguish it as a leader in high-resolution elemental and isotopic analysis: (1) high precision and accuracy; (2) variable mass resolution; (3) broad mass range; (4) ultralow detection limits; and (5) rapid analysis. The Photon laser ablation sample inlet system is equipped with a 193 nm laser that affords rapid and relatively high spatial resolution in situ analysis of most solid materials. The LA-ICP-MS system is housed in UNC’s Mass Spectrometry Lab, an approximately 800 sq. ft. centralized user facility. The LA-ICP-MS system became operational in late summer 2012.
A trace metal clean room, also known as the elemental prep room, is part of Marine Sciences in Venable Murray Hall.  The Trace Metal Clean (TMC) room consists of 150 sq. ft. of space under positive pressure HEPA filtration. Equipment inside the room includes a A10 Milli-Q water purification system, a laminar bench top flowhood and a fumehood designated for acid cleaning. The TMC room is used by the Marchetti Lab group for preparation of phytoplankton growth medium and culture transfers where the concentrations of elements are controlled to examine the effects of trace metal limitation on phytoplankton growth. Other research groups also use this room to prepare samples sensitive to trace metal contamination.

Drs. Scotti, shown seated in the image to the right, and White have played central roles in the development of The UNC Joint Fluids Lab (JFL), which is an interdisciplinary facility for fluid dynamics research founded as a joint collaboration between the Departments of Marine Sciences and Mathematics. The JFL was made possible by generous contributions from the College of Arts and Sciences, the Provost and the University, making available 4,500 sq. ft. and $600K for the upfit to a working laboratory located in the “Heel” Space of the Carolina Science Complex building, Chapman Hall. With external funding from two NSF “Major Research Instrumentation” (MRI) Grants and two ONR “Defense University Research Instrumentation Program” (DURIP) grants, the Fluids Lab now houses a 36 meter long modular stratified wave tank, which includes a unique 3 m-deep section for the study of deep-water waves, and a 3-m wide section that can simulate currents in open, shallow bays, as seen below. The wave tank is fully equipped with remotely-controlled instrumentation carts that move on high precision rails and two Particle Image Velocimetry (PIV) instrumentation systems that permit high-resolution 3D measurements of currents in wave-driven, density-stratified, and turbulent flows important to ocean physics. A new wavemaker will facilitate the study of surface waves, with two primary focuses: (1) better prediction of the forces of waves on vulnerable shorelines and (2) the development of new technologies to capture energy inherent in surface waves.

A new addition to the Fluids Lab project recently completed in September 2012 with generous support from both the College of Arts and Sciences and an external ONR DURIP grant has created a recycling system for saltwater. The system consists of storage tanks for salt and fresh water, a reverse osmosis filtration system, and a series of pumps with external control that can deliver salt/freshwater with arbitrary concentration to the wave tank. This new system creates a unique facility (one of perhaps less than five of its kind in the world) for studying density-stratified flows at large scales, capturing physics relevant to ocean scales. The wave tank and stratified flow facility will permit the study of large internal waves, turbulent mixing in stratified flows, buoyant plumes formed during deepwater oil blowouts, and particulate carbon sinking in stratified water columns. These stratified flows are important both to the water and energy cycles that drive the global ocean circulation and in coastal waters for their influence on the transport of biological organisms, chemicals, and pollutants in nearshore and continental shelf regions.

The Aquarium Research Center (ARC), shown right, is a fully equipped, 900-square-foot flow-through seawater lab in the basement of Venable Murray Hall. This lab was custom-designed for experimental ocean acidification/warming research. The facility features a flow-through plumbing system designed to mimic coastal culturing facilities (seawater is created from salt-mixtures within the lab), space and electricity for the simultaneous operation of 60 20-L aquaria, a custom-built CO2-air gas-mixing system, in-line temperature, salinity, pCO2, and seawater-flow control/metering, continuous online data-logging of most monitored parameters, fully adjustable lighting above each aquarium, corrosion-resistant plumbing and hardware, self-draining floors, and saltwater-protected GFCI electrical outlets. ARC became operational in 2010.
A joint MASC/Applied Math/Computer Sciences NSF MRI proposal was instrumental in setting up the first computational cluster at UNC. It has been the kernel around which the university has built what is presently the Kill Devil cluster, a Linux-based computing system available to researchers across the campus. With more than 8000 computing cores across 706 servers and a large scratch disk space, it provides an environment that can accommodate many types of computational problems.