Depths of Discovery
Earth’s oceans are vast, deep, and full of secrets. They’re also stressed: temperatures rising, oxygen declining, biodiversity and food stocks dwindling. Few people know this in greater, real-time detail than University of Delaware oceanography professor Matt Oliver.
Based at UD’s Lewes campus, Oliver plumbs the depths of the sea with a fleet of high-tech tools: a 146-foot research ship. Torpedo-like, robotic “gliders” that swim with sharks. Probes that descend to 2,000 meters in Antarctic waters, then bob to the surface to transmit data.
Oliver’s monitoring of ocean health sheds crucial light on how climate change is affecting marine life, ranging from one-celled plants to penguins, halibut, and tiger sharks. The news isn’t good. “The oceans are under serious threat,” he says, “by almost every measure.”
Oliver’s high-tech, deep-diving tools—as well as his endowed professorship—are funded by philanthropy, most notably by Patricia and Charles Robertson, longtime UD donors with a passion for science and the coastlines.
“The Robertsons love the research, and they love interacting with students,” Oliver says. “They’re very engaged.”
They’re so engaged, in fact, that they themselves launched one of Oliver’s probes, setting it adrift in the frigid waters between Antarctica and South America. For more than a year it drifted, descending and surfacing, uploading data on temperature, salinity, oxygen saturation, and phytoplankton densities and die-offs: crucial measures of ocean health and stress.
Oliver credits the Robertson’s generosity with enabling his breakthrough research. Stable, endowed funding allows cutting-edge research to continue and to build, opening new windows of exploration.
“If we were chasing grants year after year,” he explains, “we’d never be able to do this long-term, ongoing research. You’re not just funding specific projects. You’re investing in careers—in the scientists of tomorrow—and in future discoveries.”
Discoveries that could help safeguard the oceans—and the planet itself.