Ocean Systems in a Changing Climate

Ocean Systems in a Changing Climate

FLBS Awarded $9.5 Million to Help Advance Understanding of Ocean Systems in a Changing Climate

A new research project led by the University of Montana’s Flathead Lake Biological Station (FLBS) is expanding the impact of the Bio Station’s renowned expertise beyond the Flathead watershed and into the depths of the ocean.

Dubbed SUBSEA—which stands for Subtropical Underwater Biogeochemistry and Subsurface Export Alliance—the project is one of five global science and technology projects selected by the Schmidt Sciences Ocean Biogeochemistry Virtual Institute (OBVI), which aims to address gaps in ocean data and modeling efforts by improving the breadth of research and expanding the capacity to understand ocean resources.

Led by FLBS aquatic microbial ecology professor Matthew Church, the SUBSEA research team will receive $9.5 million over the next five years to help refine details of ocean carbon cycling and ecosystem resilience.

“I’m most excited by the collaborative opportunities afforded by the Schmidt Sciences investment in our SUBSEA project,” said Church. “By bringing together an international team of scientists and cutting-edge tools this project will allow us to explore how plankton growth in understudied regions of the oceans modifies global climate.  We are particularly interested in improving understanding of how nutrient cycling in the upper ocean impacts carbon dioxide storage in the deep sea.”

Specifically, Church and his international collaborative team of scientists will focus on subtropical ocean gyres. Defined as large, circular currents propelled by wind and the Earth’s rotation, subtropical ocean gyres are some of the largest ecosystems on Earth. Algal production in these gyres consumes significant amounts of carbon dioxide, and sinking of these algal cells moves large quantities of carbon to the deep sea.

The SUBSEA project will examine how marine organisms in the photic zone—the area from sea surface to approximately 200 meters below the surface—affect the gyres’ absorption and circulation of carbon dioxide from the North Pacific to the South Atlantic. 

Started by Eric and Wendy Schmidt, Schmidt Sciences is bringing together 60 scientists from 11 countries through the five inaugural research projects selected by the OBVI program. The hope is that the research from SUBSEA and the four additional selected projects will provide clarity on how much carbon dioxide the ocean can hold and the resilience of marine ecosystems in a rapidly warming world. 

“The ocean plays a powerful role in regulating Earth’s climate and acts as a vast repository for carbon and heat,” said Lexa Skrivanek, OBVI program lead at Schmidt Sciences. “Studies to date reveal that the ocean has absorbed and stored nearly one-third of the carbon dioxide that humans have emitted over the last century. The question of whether it can continue to do so at the same rate is one of the most critical ones we face today.” 

To this point, scientists have developed a broad understanding of how the ocean shapes climate. However, they lack a deeper knowledge of the processes that govern carbon cycling and storage in the ocean, connections between carbon and other elemental cycles, and the roles that marine microbes and animals play in shaping those relationships.

Together, the five selected teams will make up a global research network and receive financial support from Schmidt Sciences and access to Schmidt Ocean Institute’s research vessel, the Falkor (too). They will also receive expert shipboard assistance to tackle the challenges associated with collecting large amounts of biological, chemical, geological and physical oceanography data. Through this research, the teams will develop accurate modeling across ocean systems to address ocean processes in climate projections and mitigation. 

“Climate research is one of Schmidt Sciences’ priority areas, and we are pleased to launch OBVI as part of a series of globally connected climate programs focused on advancing fundamental science to understand the implications of climate change and mitigation strategies,” said Stu Feldman, president of Schmidt Sciences. “OBVI will address fundamental questions about specific mechanisms and regional processes. More broadly, it will fill a need in the ocean sciences for model refinement and integration looking across systems, scales, and habitats.” 

Schmidt Sciences is partnering with the Schmidt Ocean Institute in order to maximize opportunities to support ocean observing and data collection at sea through the use of Falkor (too), a state-of-the-art 110-meter global-class research vessel. 

“One of the largest knowledge gaps in the global carbon cycle is the ocean component, and so this is one of the key research topics in SOI’s strategic framework,” said Jyotika Virmani, executive director of Schmidt Ocean Institute. “Alongside Schmidt Sciences, we look forward to supporting scientists on board Falkor (too) over the next three years as they gather the data needed to improve our understanding of the processes controlling the carbon cycle in the Ocean.” 

Additional researchers on the SUBSEA project include FLBS stream ecology professor Bob Hall; University of Hawaii assistant professor Nick Hawco, research oceanographer Benedetto Barone, and professor Angelicque White; University of Cape Town (South Africa) associate professor Sarah Fawcett; University of Miami associate professor Hilary Close; Instituto Nacional de Investigación y Desarrollo Pesquero in Argentina associate researcher Daniela del Valle; Carnegie Institution for Science researcher Emily Zakem; and Oregon State University professor Ricardo Letelier.

For more the official OBVI press release, visit the Schmidt Sciences website at https://www.schmidtsciences.org/five-projects-will-receive-funding-to-advance-understanding-of-ocean-systems-in-a-changing-climate.

Additional information can be found at the OBVI website at https://www.schmidtsciences.org/the-ocean-biogeochemistry-virtual-institute-obvi.