Key areas of focus currently comprise:
Coastal waters provide a
rich environment for life, with an incredible diversity of plants and animals
located in the aquatic zone just beyond the seashore. However, with a large
percentage of the world's population living within a narrow band adjacent to
this coastal area, the deterioration of water quality and coastal resources has
become an increasingly noticeable problem.
Marine ecology and microbial ecology
Oceanography and coastal zone processes
Eutrophication and ecotoxicology
Environmental hydrodynamics and modeling
Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta (PRD) region offers a series of contrasting
marine environments, including estuarine, coastal and oceanic, within a
relatively short distance. As one of the fastest growing economic areas in the
world, this region has also experienced varying degrees of pollution in many
Marine research has therefore become a core research area of HKUST's Institute
for the Environment (IENV), presenting a significant opportunity to extend our
understanding of these environments, both in terms of their natural propensities
and the impact of man-made pollutants.
Our present studies indicate a need for more comprehensive and world-class
research into specific geographical regions. For example, most marine pollution
studies have been conducted on temperate estuaries and there are few large-scale
studies investigating the impact of pollution in sub-tropical estuaries. Thus,
our research in the Pearl River Delta region will make an important contribution
to global knowledge.
The range of specializations among HKUST faculty members, IENV's
interdisciplinary approach, and the excellent research facilities available open
the way for major advances in our comprehension of different marine
environments. The results of such pioneering work should greatly improve
prospects for a sustainable future.
Some of the exciting marine research areas being explored by
- Ecology of marine organisms, including bacteria, plankton
and invertebrates; microbial extremophiles; biofouling and anti-fouling;
natural products from marine organisms; microbial biodiversity; molecular
biology and pollutant toxicity; ecotoxicity and the transfer of heavy metals
in the food chain; biosensors for monitoring pollutants; eutrophication
including algal blooms, nutrient dynamics and dissolved oxygen supply to
bottom waters, understanding the physical and chemical properties of
estuarine and coastal waters and their influence on biological organisms.
- Environmental hydrodynamics; modeling and predicting the
dispersion and transport of pollutants in water bodies and a coupled
hydrodynamic-ecosystem-chemistry model providing a decision-making tool for
marine environmental policy-makers.
- Wave loading on undersea slopes, off-shore foundations
and structure and retaining structures against wave loadings.
Studies being carried out
Studies in marine biotechnology include the search for bioactive compounds from
marine organisms. Research is focused on bacteria that grow in biofilms and
their compounds that enhance (biofouling) or deter (anti-fouling) settling of
organisms on surfaces such as drilling platforms, ships and pipelines.
Discoveries include the identification of several highly potent antifouling and
antibiotic compounds from sponges, seaweeds, and the bacteria and fungi living
on these organisms. (Pix in Newslette- Winter 2004)
Studies of the Pearl River Delta region can increase knowledge of the impact of
pollution on sub-tropical estuaries. Various chemical pollutants (for example,
heavy metals) and emerging chemicals (for example, pharmaceuticals and endocrine
disruptors) are increasing and their sources, biological impact and water
transport mechanisms will be identified.
Research into bacteria, picoplankton, micro- and mesozooplankton and associated
hydrodynamics of the coastal flow field is boosting the sparse information
available for Hong Kong waters. Our longer-term goal is to develop a
three-dimensional model of physical-biological coupling for Hong Kong waters and
a forecasting model system for various biological events.
Go With the Flow
We are seeking greater understanding of shallow wake flow behavior and the
subsequent flow patterns and mixing processes in the wake of natural
protrusions. This is critical for the prediction, assessment, analysis and
mitigation of pollution problems in air and water and is particularly important
for Hong Kong, which includes over 200 islands of varying sizes. The flow
pattern in the wake of these islands is a decisive factor in locating outfall
discharges, mud disposal, cooling intakes, reclaimed land, marine parks and
We are studying the ecology of red tides and the relationship between these
algal blooms and physical processes and eutrophication resulting from excessive
nutrients in the western waters of Hong Kong. These studies have particular
relevance to sewage treatment in Hong Kong and the control of algal biomass
production and subsequent low oxygen in the bottom water.