Hurricane Nicole sheds light on how storms impact deep ocean

In early October 2016, a tropical storm named Nicole formed in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. It roamed for six days, reaching Category 4 hurricane status with powerful 140 mile-per hour-winds, before hitting the tiny island of Bermuda as a Category 3.

Hurricanes like Nicole can cause significant damage to human structures on land, and often permanently alter terrestrial landscapes. But these powerful storms also affect the ocean.

Scientists have a good understanding of how hurricanes impact the surface layer of the ocean, the sunlit zone, where photosynthesis can occur. Hurricanes' strong winds churn colder water up from below, bringing nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus to the surface and stimulating short-lived algae blooms. However, until recently, we didn't know much about how hurricanes impact the deep ocean.

A new study of Hurricane Nicole by researchers at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), Woods Hole, and the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS) has provided novel insight on those impacts. Nicole had a significant effect on the ocean's carbon cycle and deep sea ecosystems, the team reports.

Studying the deep ocean

The Oceanic Flux Program (OFP) has been continuously measuring sinking particles, known as marine snow, in the deep Sargasso Sea since 1978. It's the longest-running time series of its kind.

Before hitting Bermuda, Hurricane Nicole passed right through the OFP site, about 50 miles southeast of Bermuda. This gave the scientists a unique opportunity to study how hurricanes impact the deep ocean.


To study the deep ocean, the OFP strings scientific equipment, including sediment traps, at various depths on a mooring line that extends up from a 2,000-pound anchor situated on the seafloor (2.8 miles below the surface).

Key findings

In the new study, published in Geophysical Research Letters, MBL and BIOS scientists provide the first direct evidence that hurricanes affect the ocean's biological pump, a process in which living organisms transfer carbon from the surface to the deeper ocean layers and the seafloor.


High-velocity winds associated with Hurricane Nicole generated intense surface-ocean cooling and strong currents and underwater waves, some of which lasted more than two weeks. This significantly accelerated the biological pump, with the currents pushing nutrients into the surface layer, triggering an algae bloom.

The supercharged biological pump then rapidly funneled the organic material from the hurricane-induced algae bloom down into the deep ocean. This provided a big boost of food for marine life in the deep ocean where light doesn't reach.

The scientists found substantial increases in fresh organic materials in sediment traps at 4,900 feet and 10,500 feet below the surface. Algae growth measurements at the OFP site after Hurricane Nicole's passage were among the highest observed in October over the last 25 years.

"The surface and the deep ocean are really well connected in the aftermath of these powerful storms," explained Rut Pedrosa Pàmies, a biogeochemist and oceanographer at MBL's Ecosystems Center and first author of the study. "The material that is reaching those depths is crucial for the deep-ocean ecosystem."

Long-term implications

Since 1980, seven Category 3 or greater hurricanes have passed within 186 miles of Bermuda. These hurricanes affected a total of more than 32,800 square miles of surface water, an area greater than the state of Maine.


Current climate models indicate that hurricane intensity could increase as human-induced global warming continues. This could expand the area of ocean disturbed by hurricanes, with implications for the ocean's biogeochemical cycles and deep-ocean ecosystems.

Earth's last frontier

Due to the extreme conditions of the deep ocean, this remarkable biome has been notoriously difficult for scientists to study. Additionally, due to difficulties of shipboard data collection in extreme weather conditions, the direct impacts of hurricanes are not well understood. Sediment traps like those used by the OFP are crucial to understanding their influence on the deep ocean.

When the OFP began in 1978, scientists were only able to collect a single cup of sinking particles every two months. "Now, we have biweekly sample resolution and sediment traps at three depths," Pedrosa Pàmies said.

With the proliferation of new equipment and technologies to study the deep ocean, understanding this last frontier is finally within reach.

Cuban Medical Team holds 16th Scientific Forum

The Cuban Medical Team in The Gambia, on Saturday held their Sixteen Scientific Forum to further research and share experiences among themselves.

The forum was held at the former Royal Victoria Teaching Hospital (RVTH) on Independence Drive in Banjul.

The Cuban ambassador to The Gambia, Lazaro Herrera M. explained that the forum was for studies, analysis, experiences and efforts shared by a group of enthusiastic Cuban and Gambian professionals who, without abandoning their fundamental duties in the different regions where they provide services, have dedicated part of their time to research inspired by the purpose of offering the best of their medical experience to the Gambian population.

“There is no more noble or honourable work than that which you are doing. I am pleased to recall at this moment that with the celebration of these events, different generations of Cuban health collaboration who have served in The Gambia in different period of time, have been materialising for sixteen years; the initiative of eternal Commander in Chief, Fidel Castro, the main inspirer of scientific research in Cuba,” he stated.

He express with delight to know that  this year; a group of Gambia health professionals have joined their Cuban colleagues to carry out several research projects which is appreciated. He added that hopefully that is the beginning of a joint effort and that in years to come, they can achieve a greater number and a stronger integration between health workers of both countries for the common goal of defending in the best possible way the most human of all the rights, the right to life and to enjoy a healthy life.

Ambassador Herrera assured them that at the end of the occasion, some of them will be well deserved and acknowledged for the papers presented.

Head of Department of Basic Science, UTG, Dr. Rebecca Lahera Cabrates, said that their work in the country is hard but they rejoice so many successes.

 “Today is a day of scientific festivity where we will see our daily work turn into science. Let this gathering be a greater commitment with our work in the teaching research and medical services,” she prayed.

  • Published in Cuba

Cuba Lung Cancer Vaccine: Researchers develop world's first lung cancer vaccine

Cuba has developed the world's first lung cancer vaccine, which is already making its way into other Latin American countries. And, it's the first Cuban patented drug being allowed to undergo clinical trials at a US cancer research institute. CGTN's Michael Voss has this report from Havana.

Caridad Gomez started smoking when she was 13. Four years ago, she was diagnosed with lung cancer. After undergoing intensive chemotherapy, she is now being treated with the world's first lung cancer vaccine. CimaVax- EGF is a Cuban developed drug aimed at preventing the recurrence of the disease. Gomez is now back at work and once a month, she returns to the hospital for a series of intramuscular injections.

CARDIDAD GOMEZ LUNG CANCER PATIENT "I feel good, I have even gained some weight. I've been using the vaccine for two years and four months now and so far I've felt really good."

Patients still have to complete a course of chemo or radio therapy before moving onto the vaccine. There are other lung cancer fighting drugs which work by attacking the cancer cells. What's different about the vaccine is that it helps the body generate its own immune system in a way that starves the cancer and stops it from growing.

DR YOANNA FLORES ONCOLOGIST "It has revolutionized lung cancer treatment in our country. It's a new therapeutic weapon for treating the disease. Patients are responding well and surviving for longer than those not being treated with it."

Early results were so positive that in 2016, the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in the United States persuaded the U.S. government to allow it to test the vaccine. The first time a Cuban produced drug is undergoing clinical trials in the U.S. The vaccine is just one of an impressive array of cancer drugs developed at Cuba's Center for Molecular Immunology.

MICHAEL VOSS HAVANA, CUBA "This research center has been working on cancer treatments for more than 20 years. It already has drugs to help with pancreatic cancer and brain tumors. Lung cancer is its first vaccine. Now it's working on one for prostate cancer."

 It was Cuba's former leader Fidel Castro who decided to concentrate on developing a world-class biotechnology sector and it's been well-funded ever since. If the clinical trials now underway in the United States are successful, pharmaceuticals could prove an important new income source for the Cuban economy. Michael Voss CGTN Havana.

  • Published in Cuba
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