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BIOS: world leader in ocean science

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Acting as a bridge between science and industry, the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences has performed a crucial role in the research and understanding around the important issue of climate risk.

Founded in 1903 as the Bermuda Biological Station for Research, BIOS has developed from a small marine biological centre and field station into a world-class ocean science research and education facility that has supported Bermuda's standing as the “world's climate risk capital”.

Dr William Curry is president and chief executive officer of BIOS. He joined the organisation in 2012, having previously served as a senior scientist in the department of geology and geophysics at the world-renowned Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and as director of WHOI's ocean and climate change institute.

Today, he heads an organisation with a $15 million annual operating budget. Some 12 lead research scientists are among a total staff of 65 people, half of them Bermudian, who focus on areas of research including climate change, oceanography, marine biology, genetics and molecular biology, chemistry, air/environmental quality, optics, and biogeochemistry.

BIOS is home to the longest-running time-series on seawater chemistry, biology and physics — the Bermuda Atlantic Time-series Study — while the longest record of ocean sediment-trap studies in the world, the Oceanic Flux Programme, was started at BIOS, where it remains an active area of research.

From Bermuda's location in the North Atlantic, BIOS scientists, faculty and staff — and visiting scientists and students — can easily venture into the surrounding Sargasso Sea, one of the world's most diverse open-ocean ecosystems, aboard the well-equipped ocean-class research vessel R/V Atlantic Explorer. The island is also home to some of the world's most northern coral reefs, allowing researchers from around the globe an opportunity to study corals outside tropical waters.

“We have a goldmine of information about oceans, and coral reefs, that has been accumulated by the organisation,” Dr Curry said. “For more than 100 years, BBSR and BIOS have made an important contribution to marine science research.”

He added: “There is a tremendous opportunity for BIOS to play an important educational role in the areas of climate risk and ocean science.”

For nearly 30 years, Bermuda's insurance and reinsurance market has benefited from the scientific research produced by BIOS's Risk Prediction Initiative, which has helped inform the industry's assessment of catastrophic risk since it was set up in 1993 following the devastation wrought by Hurricane Andrew.

Dr Curry said: “The early members of the insurance industry in Bermuda wanted a better understanding of that type of risk. The RPI has represented a fraction of what we do at BIOS, but it has been an important piece.”

The RPI assisted in that understanding by facilitating natural catastrophe research relevant to the risk transfer industry and helping to translate that research into viable and actionable results for its member companies.

RPI's science network has included universities such as Columbia, Princeton, Cambridge, McGill, Dalhousie, Melbourne and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as organisations including the National Center for Atmospheric Research in the United States, Scripps Institute of Oceanography, and the Barcelona Supercomputing Centre.

The RPI has accepted research proposals from top scientists in the areas of tropical cyclones, extratropical storms, earthquakes and tsunamis, tornadoes, and floods. RPI's industry members ranked the proposals before RPI made funding decisions, contracted with university researchers, and managed the various projects.

Scientists reported on their progress before delivering data sets and publishing their results. RPI's cross-disciplinary seminars and workshops provided industry members with direct access to the experts and their research results prior to publication. In addition, BIOS hosted bespoke in-house meetings for the benefit of industry and supported speakers for conference attendance.

The value of the scientific research made available to industry members by scientists contracted by the RPI is underlined by the fact that at least one re/insurance company set up a subsidiary to conduct the type of research that RPI delivered.

Going forward, the RPI seeks to strengthen its position as a centre of excellence in global risk research in Bermuda. This involves expanding its academic links, international network of world-class scientists and industry members and associations.

Stephen Weinstein is executive vice-president and group general counsel of RenaissanceRe Holdings Ltd, chairman of the RenaissanceRe Risk Sciences Foundation, and a member of the board of directors of BIOS.

Mr Weinstein said: “Bermuda's reinsurance sector is world-class, and unparalleled as the global capital of complex risk transfer. Scientifically informed tools to manage natural catastrophe risk were pioneered, developed and deployed in Bermuda.

“When you speak about development of the reinsurance market in the early 1990s in Bermuda, we encountered something similarly world-class, and that was BIOS, which predated us by the better part of a century.

“BIOS's unique operating platform takes advantage of Bermuda's unique geographic presence. This is the best place in the world to study the health of the world's oceans and the impact of climate change on the world's oceans.”

Mr Weinstein said the parallel between BIOS's approach, and the natural catastrophe reinsurance industry that developed in Bermuda, is striking.

“Both are data-driven, long term in outlook, and heavily influenced by robust modelling as well as data,” he said.

Mr Weinstein said the number of professional staff and students who have travelled through BIOS on the way to the reinsurance sector is significant.

“It is marvellous that many young and formerly young Bermudians who studied, interned or worked at BIOS have gone on to a career in ocean science, and that a number of them have found their way into the reinsurance industry as well,” he said. “The tool kits of numeracy, data usage, collaboration, project execution and open mindedness in testing are extremely valuable in reinsurance.”

Mr Weinstein revealed that BIOS played a crucial role in convincing industry stakeholders that climate-related stochastic risk modelling could be used to price risk.

He said: “That was radical in the 1990s and was an innovative game-changer. As a widely respected scientific institution, BIOS played an important role validating climate-related risk modelling as a tool in the insurance and reinsurance sector, for example, robustly modelling southeast hurricane risk.”

Nearly three decades after it began, Mr Weinstein said he expects the symbiotic relationship between BIOS and the reinsurance industry to endure.

“Over the years, a wide variety of reinsurers have supported and have partnered with BIOS — and I am confident that will continue,” he said.

The organisation also supports the local understanding of natural hazard risk through its Bermuda Risk project, which includes student mentoring, liaison with the island's emergency management community, the compilation of reports on local catastrophic risk and participation in community conversations as technical advisers on climate change and disaster risk reduction in Bermuda.

BIOS has also been actively involved in a marine planning effort for Bermuda that aims to support healthier, more sustainable marine ecosystems and provide socio-economic benefits to local communities, and also operates the Ocean Academy, a marine science education programme for students in Bermuda 12 and older. In a normal year, Dr Curry said, some 700 to 800 students attend the BIOS campus at Ferry Reach in St George's.

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Published June 23, 2020 at 5:32 pm (Updated October 11, 2020 at 6:20 pm)

BIOS: world leader in ocean science

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