Brian Helmuth and lab technician Sahana Simonetti photographed conducting research on the shores of Northeastern's Nahant campus.

When a heatwave comes, this scientist takes a shellfish’s perspective

NAHANT, MASS. — Stepping into the gap between the rocks, it’s easy to understand what Brian Helmuth is talking about.

The summer sun beats down, and the rocky shore surrounding Northeastern’s Marine Science Center is toasty. But in this crevice, the marine biologist is partially shaded from the midday rays, and his feet are submerged in the shallow sea water that remains here when the tide goes out. It’s noticeably cooler and more comfortable.

And so are the creatures that Helmuth studies. Mussels fill the corners of the shallow pool, a crab darts over seaweed, snails cling to the submerged rocks, and barnacles mark a distinct high-water line on the walls of the small coastal canyon. It’s a safe haven for the sea creatures, shaded a bit from the heat of the summer sun and kept cool by the water that collects here.

But when Helmuth steps out of this sanctuary, just a few steps from its entrance, he exclaims, “Everything is dead.”

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Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University.

Marine and Environmental Sciences
Marine Science Center