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Boston from Nahant

Marine Science Center Project Update - 9/24/19

On July 23, the Nahant Preservation Trust—together with 29 Nahant residents—informed Northeastern of its intent to sue the university. To protect its interests, and to mitigate costly litigation, on August 9, Northeastern responded by asking the Massachusetts Land Court to issue a declaratory judgment clarifying the university’s rights with respect to its East Point property.

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Boston from Nahant

World-class researchers in the fields of marine and environmental science and coastal sustainability are studying the oceans and developing solutions to create a sustainable and resilient planet. In order to enhance the impact of this critically important work, Northeastern is planning to expand the research and teaching capacity of its Marine Science Center in Nahant, Massachusetts.

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Boston from Nahant

An Open Letter from Northeastern University - 5/31/19

This morning, Northeastern filed an Environmental Notification Form (ENF) with the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act office requesting review of its proposed addition to the Marine Science Center and replacement of existing seawater intake system. In light of this development, we are sharing this open letter with the Nahant community.

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Boston from Nahant

An Open Letter from Northeastern University

Following up on the series of informational mailings we sent last spring, we are writing again to update you on Northeastern’s proposed addition to the Marine Science Center at East Point.

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faq

How does the MSC’s seawater system compare to other local systems?

The MSC’s seawater system is an open loop — or single pass system—which means there is constant flow through our facility with no recirculation. This allows researchers to conduct experiments under naturally occurring seawater conditions. Moreover, water does not remain in one area for extended periods of time, which reduces the effects of our activities on the water that is ultimately discharged back to the sea. In contrast, the New England Aquarium has a closed loop system, where water is changed far less frequently. This system, which pumps less water overall, is necessary because many of the Aquarium’s species are tropical and require elevated water temperatures. In short, the two systems are fundamentally different, each suited to specific needs.

faq

Why did Northeastern’s original permit request include discharging heated water into the ocean?

The MSC’s withdrawn MEPA filing included a proposed system upgrade that would have used seawater to heat and cool expanded teaching and research labs. In response to community feedback, Northeastern has eliminated this design element from the proposed addition to Murphy Bunker. Seawater will not be used to heat or cool any MSC buildings.

faq

Does the current seawater system discharge exceed allowable temperatures?

No. Since questions were raised earlier this year, scientists have been monitoring the thermal impacts of seawater discharge to Bathing Beach. The data show that the average discharge temperature at the seawater intakes is well below the maximum increase allowed under the Massachusetts Surface Water Quality Act and the federal Clean Water Act. Moreover, installation of a new diffuser system will further reduce any minimal thermal effects by dispersing seawater over a larger area farther out in the cove.

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Does discharge from the MSC seawater system negatively affect the local lobster population?

No. Since 1985, University of Washington biologist Dr. Ken Sebens has been monitoring lobster abundance — and other species — off of Dive Beach and two areas close to Bathing Beach (inside and outside of Shag Rocks). Each year, lobster abundance is counted by divers along 25 meter by 1 meter transects — a common approach to sampling. These data show no significant change to lobster abundance over time at these sites. The data also indicate considerable variability in lobster abundance over this 33-year period, with boom and bust years for lobsters. Nevertheless, Northeastern remains committed to working closely with local lobstermen to minimize any impacts on the local fishery.

faq

Will upgrading the MSC’s seawater intake system reduce erosion on Bathing Beach?

Yes. The MSC’s expected proposal will reduce scour — or erosion — on Bathing Beach by eliminating the existing seawater discharge pipe from the seawall face. The proposed system would redirect the discharge to an offshore underwater diffuser system that will disperse the seawater over a larger area, farther out in the cove. This diffuser system would further reduce the already minimal thermal effects associated with discharged seawater.

faq

What is the current status of the MSC seawater upgrade project?

As noted in an earlier FAQ, the university withdrew its application to upgrade its existing seawater intake system so that we could better understand the comments and concerns of Nahant residents. We have been working with independent marine scientists, engineers, and regulatory agencies to ensure that the concerns of Nahant residents are addressed. We are confident that any final upgrade proposal will meet or exceed the regulatory requirements of all state and federal agencies.

faq

What are the Marine Science Center’s plan to upgrade its seawater system?

Because the existing seawater system is substantially degraded, it is necessary for the MSC, in consultation with the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) office, to request a permit to upgrade the system. Because our scientists require flowing seawater for their ongoing research, this upgrade would be required even if there were no proposed plans to add research and teaching space to Murphy Bunker.

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What is the current condition of the Marine Science Center’s seawater system?

The MSC’s current seawater system, last upgraded in 2012, has reached the end of its useful life. In its current state, seawater flow rates are far below designed capacity. The system is also routinely clogged, which drops the pressure in the system’s pipes and severely reduces water flow to the research tanks and labs.

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Why does the Marine Science Center need a seawater system?

To address the major coastal sustainability issues confronting society today, Northeastern scientists use seawater for experiments to study how different conditions—such as ocean warming and acidification—affect marine life.

research
Queen Angelfish

Northeastern divers combed Cozumel's coral reef for exotic species. Here's what they found, and why it matters

A massive Nassau grouper, four species of black corals, and a spotted drum fish were among the aquatic treasures Northeastern divers found on their expedition to Cozumel, Mexico. The trip laid the groundwork for Northeastern students and researchers to plan future expeditions to Cozumel.

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Ocean Genome Legacy

Northeastern University collection preserves thousands of ocean species that may go extinct

Northeastern’s Ocean Genome Legacy maintains a collection of marine DNA and tissue samples that is unlike anything else in the world.

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Boston from Nahant

An Open Letter to the Residents of Nahant

This week, Northeastern University received an open letter signed by a significant number of Nahant residents. We thank you for sharing your thoughts and concerns. It is in the spirit of transparency and open dialogue that we are writing to you.

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research
Samuel Munoz studies a core sample.

Mississippi River keeps flooding and humans are to blame, data show

After billions of dollars spent on navigation and flood mitigation infrastructure over the past 150 years, humans have transformed the Mississippi River. But it still floods, and in fact, human activity has dramatically increased the risk of a 100-year flood, according to new research by Northeastern geoscientist Samuel Munoz and his colleagues.

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community outreach
MSC - Field Outreach Program

Local teens get hands-on learning at Marine Science Center

Northeastern’s Marine Science Center kicked off its outreach field season on Tuesday by hosting teenagers from a school in Lynn, who spent the morning exploring marine life along the center’s rocky shores, learning about biodiversity at the center’s touch tanks, and engaging with Northeastern researchers who are studying everything from salt marshes to the physiology and health of corals.

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faq

How did Northeastern come to own property in Nahant?

According to official town documents, in the mid-1960s, the Town of Nahant declined the option of acquiring all of East Point from the federal government for use as a public park. Several private developers wanted to purchase the site to build high-rise apartment complexes. Instead, the Town Conservation Committee approached many area non-profits, ultimately encouraging Northeastern to obtain the surplus parcels, which it did in February 1966. Over the years, Northeastern helped clean up the former WWII coastal defense and Nike missile site, enhancing the environment of East Point and the Nahant community.

faq

Is Northeastern seeking to build-out all of its property in East Point?

No. According to the Town of Nahant’s 2008 Open Space and Recreation Plan, Northeastern owns 20.42 acres in Nahant, or 889,495 square feet. The proposed 60,000-square-foot expansion—just 15,000 of which would touch new ground—would be built into and on top of the existing Murphy Bunker. Overall, this represents just 6.7 percent of Northeastern’s property.

faq

Will the proposed expansion prevent residents’ use of open space in East Point?

No. Nahant residents will continue to have unrestricted use of Lodge Memorial Park, which comprises 8.3 acres in East Point. The proposed expansion will not impact public access to Lodge Park. Moreover, Northeastern is not seeking to develop Eastern Bluff, open space contiguous to Lodge Park. Nor is the university seeking to develop Dive Beach. Thus, there will be no impact to the rocks and shoreline habitats at East Point used by migratory birds. Northeastern will also enhance existing vegetation around Murphy Bunker.

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Aron Stubbins

The coldest rivers on Earth may hold clues about a warming globe

New faculty member Aron Stubbins studies how carbon moves off the land into rivers, where it eventually gets converted into carbon dioxide-a greenhouse gas that's causing global warming.

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faq

How can Northeastern scientists support spoiling East Point’s pristine natural environment?

The site has not been pristine for at least the past century. Beginning in 1917, the United States Army constructed bunkers and guns behind man-made hills, and stripped vegetation. After the military base closed, the Nike missile silos at East Point were filled in with a variety of materials and topped with landfill, including asphalt and cement. The result was uncontrolled, invasive plant growth and an unsightly public hazard. In the mid-1990s, Lodge Park was created by sculpting a rolling meadow and covering it with loam. Northeastern has left the vast majority of its property undeveloped as an ecological study area.

faq

Why can’t Northeastern do its research and teaching in a smaller facility?


The environmental threats faced by the world’s coastal communities—collapsing fisheries, microplastics pollution, loss of biodiversity, and sea-level rise—are complex and interconnected. Scientists need every tool at their disposal to solve these and other problems; such tools include sophisticated sensor and data-gathering technology, and computer analytics for climate-change modeling. This requires a variety of well-equipped labs that give our researchers and students the capabilities to utilize these new tools and facilitate collaboration across different fields.

faq

Why hasn’t a traffic study been conducted yet?

Preparation of a Transportation Impact Assessment (TIA) is generally triggered as a function of the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act review process. A TIA is warranted when certain minimum thresholds are met (for example, 2,000 average daily trips to a single site or construction of 1,000 or more new parking spaces). The proposed building expansion is only projected to increase the daily onsite population by 37 faculty members, staff, and postdoctoral students combined. There will also be additional students, but it is important to note that they do not travel to Nahant every day and often carpool or take small shuttlebuses. Once Northeastern requests a permit, it will pay for an independent traffic study should the MEPA process or other agency review require one.

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Intertidal

Researchers use ‘robomussels’ to monitor climate change

For ecological forecasters like Northeastern’s Brian Helmuth, mussels act as a barometer of climate change. That’s why Helmuth created “robomussels”—tiny robots that look like mussels but are outfitted with sensors to track temperature conditions.

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faq

Why doesn’t Northeastern provide Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) funds to Nahant?

If Northeastern were a commercial enterprise, its annual property tax assessment due to the Town of Nahant would be approximately $55,000. By contrast, the university provides more than three times this amount in cash and in-kind benefits annually to the Nahant community. This includes $100,000 for four half-tuition undergraduate scholarships for Nahant residents to attend Northeastern. It also includes $25,000 in funding for the Johnson Elementary School’s art and music program. The university also provides scholarships for K-12 Nahant students to attend the Marine Science Center’s summer Coastal Ocean Science Academy, paid student internships, and free public lectures and films for Nahant residents. In addition, Northeastern hosts community fundraisers and events at the Marine Science Center, and is a proud sponsor of the Nahant Little League.

faq

What examples of collaboration exist between Northeastern and Nahant to preserve the local marine environment?

There is a long history of collaboration between the Town of Nahant and Northeastern to protect ocean and marine life around Nahant and beyond. Our faculty have offered many hours of free scientific consultation and have joined forces many times over the years with the town, SWIM, and community stakeholders to secure secondary sewage treatment, prevent cruise ship discharge off Nahant, and study and manage Boston Harbor’s coastal and estuarine ecosystems. The MSC has also monitored water quality around Nahant, led annual Nahant beach cleanups, housed community beekeeping onsite, and provided education and outreach programs for local students.

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6 pack ring

Three ways the Northeastern community is addressing ocean plastics pollution

A big emphasis of World Oceans Day this year is bringing awareness to the problem of marine plastic pollution. Members of the Northeastern community are already focused on this challenge by building sustainable skateboards, visualizing ocean plastics data, and building sensors to identify microplastics in the sea.

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research

A love affair with the ocean

Pursing a career in marine science requires a deep affection for aquatic environments. So we asked faculty and staff at Northeastern’s Marine Science Center what they find so fascinating about the ocean.

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Jennifer Bowen

The ecosystems ecologist, a wonderer at heart

Associate professor Jennifer Bowen, a new faculty member at Northeastern’s Marine Science Center, studies the interconnectedness between human activity and some of the world’s tiniest inhabitants—microbes—nestled in marine environments.

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faq

What external recognition has the Marine Science center received?

The MSC is widely recognized as one of the world’s leading coastal sustainability research institutes. In partnership with environmental advocates such as The Nature Conservancy and MassBays, our faculty have received more than $16.5 million in funding over the last five years from the National Science Foundation and NOAA, among other research agencies and foundations. In appreciation for its dedication to the local community, the Nahant Board of Selectmen presented Northeastern with Certificates of Appreciation in 2016. And as SWIM notes on its website, “Marine Science Center professors and staff have given hours and days of free scientific consultation that we could never have afforded if they demanded payment as expert consultants. Northeastern has been essential in protecting the environment of Nahant.”

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Sea acorn colony on a stone

Underwater crustaceans could solve missing plane mystery

As authorities continue to debate the topic, marine science expert Brian Helmuth explains how barnacles on a recently discovered fragment of an airplane wing could help investigators determine if the debris came from missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

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Conch

Carnivorous conchs to blame for oyster decline

David Kimbro, a marine and environmental science professor at Northeastern University, has solved the mystery of why reefs in Florida inlets were experiencing large numbers of oyster loss. Drought and subsequent high salt levels in water led to a population spike in one of the oysters’ main predators: conchs.

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research
Squat Lobster

Marine biologists develop portable kit to preserve coral DNA at sea

Coral DNA could improve ocean conservation and reveal secrets about our own evolutionary history. Researchers at Northeastern’s Marine Science Center have made it easy to extract coral tissue aboard a ship and preserve the DNA for analysis.

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Kathleen Lotterhaus

Marine scientist uses genetics to inform conservation

New assistant professor Kathleen Lotterhos of Northeastern’s Marine Science Center uncovers clues to environmental sustainability by using genetic analyses to study species from pine trees to Pacific rockfish.

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Dan Distel

Researchers discover new digestive strategy in shipworms

An international research team led by Dan Distel, director of the Ocean Genome Legacy at Northeastern University, has discovered a novel digestive strategy in a wood-boring clam. The breakthrough, the researchers say, may also be a game-changer for the industrial production of clean biofuels.

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research
Deep Blue

Rare biorepository finds new home at Marine Science Center

A collection of DNA samples featuring some of the world’s most rare, strange, and remarkable ocean creatures will move to Northeastern’s world-class coastal research facility later this year

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faq

How large will the proposed building be?

There has been significant confusion about the size and scope of what is being proposed. The preliminary design—for a two-story building plus a basement level—would expand the footprint of the existing research facility by 15,000 square feet and the total amount of research space by 60,000 square feet. By pushing the building into the hill and against the existing bunker, we effectively hide as much of the building as possible. This design is the direct result of our commitment to keeping the building’s profile low, while still enabling the critical research of the Marine Science Center.

faq

When did Northeastern first decide to undertake this project?

Prior to 2017, there were sporadic, very broad discussions about a new Marine Science Center research facility in Nahant. Only in January 2017 did university leaders start to focus in earnest on actual concepts for a new research building and the financial resources required to support it. In June 2017, we initiated the process of securing project cost estimates, a necessary factor in any decision to proceed. It was not until December 21, 2017 that Northeastern’s senior leadership authorized a preliminary building design.

research

Marine Science Center works to protect oceans’ ‘vital role in sustaining life on earth’

In honor of World Oceans Day, we spoke with Marine Science Center director Geoff Trussell about ocean conservation and what the MSC is doing to help protect our marine ecosystem.

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faq

How will that affect the number of Northeastern personnel in Nahant?

Currently, there are 20 faculty, 20 staff, and 11 postdoctoral scientists working at the Nahant campus. In addition, 45 to 60 undergraduate and graduate students commute two to three days per week via shuttle bus from the Boston campus for classes and research. The proposed expansion is projected to increase the daily onsite population to 40 faculty, 25 staff, and 22 postdoctoral scientists.

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Professor to speak at UN General Assembly on climate change, sustainable development

Climate change biologist Brian Helmuth will speak today at a high-level meeting at the United Nations headquarters, where he will highlight his research and participate in a discussion on efforts worldwide to address climate change and meet global sustainable development goals.

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faq

Does the project include dorms?

No, we are not considering housing of any kind.

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Giant Shipworm

‘Unicorn’ shipworm could reveal clues about human medicine and bacterial infections

Northeastern professor Daniel Distel and his colleagues have discovered a dark slithering creature four feet long that dwells in the foul mud of a remote lagoon in the Philippines. They say studying the giant shipworm could add to our understanding of how bacteria cause infections and, in turn, how we might adapt to tolerate—and even benefit from—them.

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faq

Why is Northeastern seeking to expand its Marine Science Center at Nahant?

Over the last 50 years, our researchers in Nahant have conducted groundbreaking work in the fields of marine and environmental science and coastal sustainability. This important work continues to have positive impacts on coastal regions around the world.

Today, the threats posed to coastal communities, including storm surge and sea-level rise, demand that Northeastern enhance its capacity to develop scientific knowledge and engineering solutions for a sustainable planet, and to educate the next generation of innovators that can continue this critically important work. To do that effectively, we must expand the research and teaching capacity of the Marine Science Center.

faq

What is the sea water intake system component of this project?

The university has withdrawn its application to expand its existing seawater intake system. Should Northeastern seek to move ahead with the project, we will work closely with local lobstermen to avoid any impacts to the local fishery. The health of fisheries locally and around the world is central to the research mission of the Marine Science Center.

faq

Why should Nahant residents trust the university? What has Northeastern ever done for the town?

For more than 50 years, Northeastern has been a collaborative partner with the Town of Nahant. This has included university funding for local educational programs, Marine Science Center tours and learning opportunities for K-12 students, and scholarships for Nahant residents who attend Northeastern. The university has also worked with the town on conservation and restoration projects, including joint advocacy on shared environmental issues such as cruise ship discharge in Boston Harbor. Because the university greatly values these strong partnerships, many months ago we reached out to Nahant elected officials in good faith to discuss our interest in expanding our research capabilities at the Marine Science Center. Today, we are expanding these communications to reach residents directly.

community outreach
Nahant from above

Marine Science Center to celebrate 50th anniversary at annual open house

Where can you see markings from the world’s oldest mollusks, learn about oyster diseases, and meet a scuba diver—all in the same day? At the Marine Science Center’s free open house on Saturday, which will coincide with the center’s 50th anniversary.

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faq

How will the increase in the number of scientists and staff affect the parking situation?

Any additional parking will be kept within the confines of the current campus. There will be no need for our faculty and staff to park on the street.

faq

What is the purpose of the expansion?

It is entirely focused on adding research and teaching space—precisely the same activities that we’ve been engaged in since we opened the Marine Science Center in 1967. Because our mission and its impact are so important to society, we plan to continue recruiting outstanding new faculty in a variety of fields, including climate-change mitigation and coastal sustainability.

community outreach
Students learn the concept of animal stranding and why it happens during the High School Marine Science Symposium

Inspiring the next generation of marine scientists

Northeastern hosted some 250 area high school students last week for the Boston High School Marine Science Symposium. The event, presented by Northeastern and the Massachusetts Marine Educators, stays with the young participants “long after the event is over,” said the symposium coordinator.

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faq

How will Northeastern’s project impact the environment of East Point?

The university’s expansion proposal remains in development and has not yet reached final design. No permit application is currently pending before the town or any other agency. Therefore, it is too early in the design process to fully understand the potential impacts on the environment or the community. Northeastern is committed to a final project design that has the least possible adverse impacts to the ecology of East Point. And historically, Northeastern has invested in restoring East Point from the impact of prior development there. The university will work collaboratively with Nahant residents to ensure that the Marine Science Center expansion project poses only minimal and short-term disruption to the community.

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