November 20, 2013
University of Maine marine scientist Rhian Waller has been named a Fellow in an elite international group of adventurers who encourage scientific discovery while exploring land, sea and space.
Founded in 1904, Explorers Club members attempt to attain new heights and depths; they’ve been the first to reach the moon, North Pole, South Pole, the Mount Everest summit and the deepest part of the ocean.
Waller, an associate research professor in UMaine’s School of Marine Sciences, fits right in. In 2013, National Geographic Magazine celebrated her as a 21st-century risk taker who presses the limits in this “New Age of Exploration.”
Based at the Darling Marine Center (DMC) in Walpole, Maine, Waller has pushed the limits of diving during more than 40 expeditions around the planet. In a submersible, she has plunged to a depth of 3,600 meters to examine corals on the New England Seamount chain.
“I feel extremely honored to have been voted into the Explorers Club, and really pleased to have been recognized for the scientific exploration work I’ve been doing across the globe,” Waller says.
“There are so many conservation issues surrounding the deep ocean, I hope I can use this opportunity to spread the word more widely that the deep sea is important to our whole planet, and does need our protection.”
As a Fellow, Waller has access to the Explorer’s Club research collections, including a library and map room, and she’s connected with a global network of expertise, experience, technology, industry and support. The Explorers Club supports exploratory expeditions and provides opportunities for the 3,000 members worldwide to carry an Explorers Club flag on voyages that further the cause of exploration and field science. Since 1918, flags have flown at both the North and South poles and aboard Apollo 11.
The seven founders of the Explorers Club were two polar explorers, a curator of birds and mammals at The American Museum of Natural History, an archaeologist, a war correspondent/writer, a professor of physics and an ethnologist. Today its members — including archaeologists, astronomers, entomologists, mountaineers, zoologists and a now a new deep-sea researcher — conduct explorations and research in more than 60 countries around the globe, and beyond.
For her research, Waller routinely scuba dives in temperatures 35 F and colder. She studies how environmental factors such as climate change, fishing and oil exploration affect deep-sea coral ecology and reproduction, as well as what effect that altered life cycle could have on the rest of the marine ecosystem.
Last summer, Waller was part of a research team that discovered two deep-sea coral communities in the western Jordan Basin and Schoodic Ridge regions of the Gulf of Maine.
Last month, Waller returned from an expedition to Chile. She had traveled to Huinay Scientific Field Station near the northern Patagonian fjords to collect final samples from a yearlong deep-sea coral monitoring program. She’s examining how climate change, salmon farms, fishing and oil exploration affect deep-sea coral reproduction, and what effect any altered life cycle could have on the marine ecosystem.
In her Oct. 11 blog on that trip, Waller wrote that corals, which she calls the rainforests of the ocean, “are not just beautiful to look at … they’re also extremely important to the health of our oceans, and ultimately the health of the planet.”
Next year, Waller will utilize a $381,384 National Science Foundation grant to investigate how Antarctic corals, which provide habitat for thousands of connected species, are coping with warming ocean water.