2005 David Packard Distinguished Lecturer

David M. Karl, Ph.D.

University of Hawaii

Microbial Oceanography: Its scope, challenges, and opportunities

Wednesday, November 2, 2005
Pacific Forum—3:00 p.m.

Life on Earth most likely originated as microbes in the sea. Over the past 4 billion years, microorganisms have shaped and defined Earth’s biosphere, and created conditions that allowed the evolution of macroorganisms and the complex biological communities that we observe today. In open ocean ecosystems, planktonic microbes dominate the living biomass, harvest light energy, produce organic matter and the oxygen we breathe, and facilitate the storage, transport, and turnover of key bioelements. Their metabolic activities are also responsible for the production and consumption of most of Earth’s greenhouse gases. As microbiologist Louis Pasteur noted more than a century ago, “The very great is accomplished by the very small.”

The Earth’s inhabitants need solutions to the global scale issues concerning the impact of the burgeoning human population, and this will require a comprehensive understanding of ocean habitat variability and biodynamics. There is an opportunity, using recent advances in molecular ecology, genomics, remote sensing and ecological modeling, to make great strides. By combining novel and rapidly evolving methods and technologies with more traditional approaches in microbiology, oceanography and ecology, it may be possible—for the first time—to address fundamental questions and to develop a meaningful predictive understanding of the ocean with respect to energy transduction, carbon sequestration, and bioelement cycling and their relationships to habitat variability and climate change. The synergy created by bringing together experts who traditionally have not worked together will facilitate the creation and dissemination of new knowledge, the training of a new generation of ocean scientists, and the education of the public at large.

This seminar will review the scope of the field of microbial oceanography from the early stages of its development in the 17th century, to the contemporary research themes and future challenges.


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