Role of Marine Ecosystems

Abundant modern and geological evidence attests to the vital role of marine ecosystems in the evolution and functioning of Earth’s atmosphere and climate system. In setting the levels of free oxygen in the atmosphere to the variable albedos of ocean, land, and ice, biological systems clearly matter. Indeed life in the oceans plays a central role in the global carbon cycle, which in turn is an important regulator of the greenhouse effect that warms the Earth.

By the same token, marine ecosystems are significantly affected by climate and climate change. Comprehending these intimate relationships is of critical importance to understanding both the causes and consequences of climate change and the affect of man on ocean ecosystems.

Some of our most threatened marine ecosystems feature coastal vegetation, such as mangroves, seagrass meadows, kelp forests, and salt marshes.  These ecosystems provide important ecological services, including coastal protection from waves and storm surge, habitat for shell-fish and fin fish, nutrient cycling, water clarity enhancement, and finally carbon sequestration.

Because of the services they provide, efforts to restore vegetated ecosystems are accelerating around the world.  The design of sustainable restoration requires an understanding of the feedbacks between vegetation, flow, and bed stability.

Modeling Ocean Ecosystems

Our researchers are developing and refining tools that enable marine ecosystems and biogeochemistry to be represented within ocean circulation models. Modeling can help us understand controls on marine ecosystem structure and the role they play in the cycling of essential elements like nitrogen, phosphorus, and iron—elements that are often growth-limiting for phytoplankton.

Informed by observations, our models then help us to explore and describe the feedbacks between climate and biogeochemical processes.

Key Questions We’re Exploring
  • What essential physical, biological, chemical, and dynamical processes dictate the interaction of the marine biosphere with climate?
  • Which are the dominant ecosystems that influence and are influenced by the climate system?