Researchers gathering ocean data during a GLOBEC research cruise. Global climate change can affect the ocean’s ecology in many ways. In addition to direct warming of the ocean, climate has the potential to alter the strength and position of major ocean currents, change the seasonal runoff of fresh water and its mixing into the ocean, and create a more acidic ocean through changing chemical reactions. Because so many of these effects can interact with each other, predicting what could happen will require fairly complex models that link climate projections to ocean ecology.
The U.S. Global Ocean Ecosystems Dynamics (GLOBEC) program is making it possible for today’s graduate students to learn about cutting-edge climate change research that will prepare them for careers in this growing scientific field.
Map of U.S. GLOBEC sites. Red stars mark where U.S. GLOBEC studies have taken place to date.
Through the program, students gain exposure to cross-disciplinary modeling approaches through the efforts of Dr. Dale Haidvogel from Rutgers University, who chairs the U.S. GLOBEC scientific steering committee.
"A unique legacy of the GLOBEC program has been its advancement of the practice of interdisciplinary science," Haidvogel said, "The training of graduate students and post-graduate scientists in these new practices has been an integral part of the GLOBEC program since its beginning. Now these educational activities are taking on important new forms as we enter the final phase of the program."
Understanding how to make linkages between climate and ecosystem models is a complex problem. U.S. GLOBEC has spent more than a decade studying how ocean ecosystems work to see what might happen when the world’s climate changes. A few regions have been studied extensively — the Northwest Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Cape Cod, the Northeast Pacific Ocean off the coasts of Oregon and Alaska, and the Southern Ocean bordering Antarctica.
Through years of sampling in these regions, GLOBEC gained knowledge of how the ecosystem functioned from plants at the base of the food chain, through microscopic animals known as zooplankton, and to fish and higher predators such as birds and whales. That knowledge is incorporated in computer models to predict future states of the ocean and resulting effects on ecosystems.
However, increased knowledge and advanced modeling tools created by GLOBEC are only useful if future scientists are trained to use them. In recognition of this, Haidvogel arranged for a two-week summer colloquium at the National Center for Atmospheric Research to expose graduate students who applied to the models and analysis tools available to study interactions between climate and marine ecosystems.
GLOBEC's integrated approach to studying climate-ecosystem interactions is unique—such a cross-discipline approach to science is typically not offered in standard university courses. The colloquium will include students from various climate and marine ecosystem communities to foster interactions at early stages of their careers, and to train them in ecological forecasting techniques.
By making scientific advances known and training young scientists in modeling techniques developed, U.S. GLOBEC is educating the workforce of tomorrow to tackle the daunting problems associated with climate change and the oceans.
GLOBEC is supported through the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science’s Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research and the National Science Foundation.
This summer’s colloquium is just one of many GLOBEC-led initiatives to train young scientists.
Another effort is led by Dr. Elizabeth North, a member of the GLOBEC scientific steering committee.
North, pictured here with graduate student Maggie Sexton, designed a graduate course at the University of Maryland to take advantage of a seminar series sponsored at NOAA Headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland.
During the series, scientists reported on major findings of the U.S. GLOBEC program, ranging from field observations of zooplankton and fish to modeling of climate-ocean interactions.
Students read background papers suggested by the seminar speakers, watched a recorded presentation by a GLOBEC scientist, and then participated in a discussion of papers after the presentation.
"The U.S. GLOBEC program has given us a new understanding and appreciation for the connection between physical conditions, ecosystems, and key species like salmon, cod, and scallops," North said. "In addition, new observational techniques and numerical modeling approaches have been developed. It is critical to pass on these concepts and tools to the next generation of scientists and policy makers; it will help them support and make wise decisions about use of our natural resources."