Research in Biological Oceanography

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Research in Biological Oceanography


Biological oceanography focuses on understanding what controls the abundance, kinds and variation of organisms in the ocean. Our research and teaching are oriented towards a mechanistic understanding of the interactions between biology and oceanic processes. We use a variety of approaches in the field, laboratory and theoretical models. Our work is interdisciplinary, often working with the other Oceanography options as well as the Departments of Biology, Microbiology, Genome Sciences, the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences and Friday Harbor Laboratories.

Polar Oceanography and Extreme Environments - Marine microbes inhabit extreme environments including sea ice, ancient marine brines, anoxic sediments and hydrothermal vents. We explore their unique adaptations that enable survival and the influence they have on biogeochemical cycles. 

Phytoplankton Physiology and Ecology - Phytoplankton are responsible for half of the photosynthesis on the planet. We study the productivity, genetic diversity and expression, and physiology of these microbes and how they impact global climate and marine ecosystems. 

Bacteria, Archaea and Viruses - there are 1 million bacteria and 10 million viruses per 1 mL of seawater. The high level of genetic diversity and distinct evolution encompasses mostly uncultured species and groups that carry out important biogeochemical processes such as nitrogen cycling, methane production and sinks, and nutrient regeneration. 

Food Web Dynamics and Interactions - Interactions between zooplankton, phytoplankton and protists, their distributions in time and space, connections between individual behavior and populations level demographics. Zooplankton link primary producers with higher trophic levels, including economically important fisheries, and are important indicators of the health of ecosystems. We have a particular focus on Puget Sound ecology, ocean acidification, heat waves and ocean anoxia. 

Astrobiology - Many faculty and students are associated with the UW Astrobiology Program. Studying the adaptations of marine microbes, especially to stressful or extreme oceanic conditions, can provide analogs useful in the search for life beyond our planet.