Hundreds gather for opening of MESOM lab in La Jolla Shores


Scripps’ MESOM laboratory

■ What: Located on the Scripps Institution of Oceanography campus, UCSD’s Marine Ecosystem Sensing, Observation and Modeling (MESOM) Laboratory will house researchers who study coastal ecosystems and fisheries to provide information that can help predict a coastal ecosystem’s response to climate change.

■ Where: 8880 Biological Grade (off La Jolla Shores Drive)

■ Size: Three stories, 40,100 square feet

■ Labs: 12

■ Offices: 15

■ Total staff: 76

■ Cost: $26.5 million

■ Notable: The building is on track to become the first research facility at UCSD to be awarded the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification.

By Pat Sherman and Ashley Mackin

An invitation-only dedication ceremony for Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s new Marine Ecosystem Sensing, Observation and Modeling (MESOM) laboratory drew a crowd on June 14.

The three-story, 40,100-square-foot building is located directly across La Jolla Shores Drive from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) 240,000-square- foot Southwest Fisheries Science Center building, which opened in April.

During the ceremony, UC San Diego and Scripps’ officials heralded the collaborative nature of the work to be conducted at the new ocean research facilities. Motioning to the five-story Southwest Fisheries building, Scripps’ Interim Director Cathy Constable touted the “extraordinary scientific achievements that lie ahead” for both research organizations, adding that the MESOM lab would provide “greater interaction with our NOAA colleagues across the street.”

“They have a great location there where they can supervise everything we do by looking down on us,” Constable quipped, noting Scripps’ and NOAA’s collaboration on the California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations (CalCOFI) program, which will have a lab in the MESOM building.

CalCOFI was formed in 1949 to study the sardine population collapse off the California coast. As the population rebounded, the program’s focus shifted to the general study of the marine environment off the coast, the monitoring of its living resources and indicators of El Niño and climate change. The lab conducts quarterly research cruises from San Diego as far north as San Francisco to collect data on ocean temperature, salinity, oxygen levels, plankton levels and other information at depths of up to 500 meters.

“We’re trying to establish the health of the food chain and the relative amounts (of various plankton) in different areas in different seasons,” explained CalCOFI’s David Wolgast, during a tour of the facility, noting that their research is used to establish catch quotas for sardine fishing.

Addressing those in attendance, UCSD Chancellor Pradeep Khosla said the collabor- ative research to take place at the MESOM lab is what the university is increasingly known for, which he said involves the re- moval of boundaries and bureaucracy that often slow the research process.

“My job as chancellor is to make sure this bureaucracy in fact speeds up the process of collaboration,” Khosla said. “I think the existence, the creation of this building is going to have an impact not just for Scripps Institution of Oceanography, but for UCSD as a whole.”

The MESOM lab was funded, in part, by $12 million research construction grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). That grant program was established to help fund new construction or expansion at 24 research facilities across the United States.

Willie May, NIST’s associate director for laboratory programs, said the MESOM project was selected from a pool of 93 project applications.

“Of those, we were only able to make three awards, and this was the first of those three,” May said. “That gives you an idea of how highly we considered your proposal.”

The grants were awarded to facilities studying everything from marine ecology to quantum physics and earthquake simulation, he said.

“We at NIST understand ... that science progresses more or less in lockstep with our ability to measure the world around us,” May said, noting the “public good” that comes from investing in science and technology.

“The oceans are, to date, one of the new frontiers for measuring science — a huge and hugely challenging environment that we need to measure and understand far better than we do today.”

Constable said the public would not only benefit from the research conducted inside the MESOM building, but from the building itself, which is on track to receive platinum certification through the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.

Its design allows for natural light to illuminate 75 percent of the building spaces during the day, reducing the need for electric light. In addition, 20 percent of materials used in the MESOM lab construction are recycled, such as old blue jeans and scrap waste used as wall installation.

The building also includes a 61-kilowat, rooftop solar panel system owned and maintained by SDG&E’s Sustainable Communities Program.

During the ceremony, SDG&E’s Chief Environmental Officer, Pam Fair, presented the MESOM project with the utility company’s Sustainable Communities Champion Award.

“The electricity that’s produced by those solar panels goes directly onto the SDG&E grid to serve local customers and our electricity system,” she said, adding that the energy produced by the MESOM panels would be enough to power 40 homes and prevent the equivalent of 128,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere annually.

Chancellor Khosla said UCSD’s history in sustainability harkens back to its pioneering global warming researchers, Roger Revelle and Charles David Keeling. “Their work and their vision sowed the seeds for where we are today and we’ve been reaping this harvest many times over,” he said.