Presidents Lecture

Taking the Pulse of the Ocean in a Changing World

Margaret Leinen

Edited by Nerine Clemenzi
Copyright © Philosophical Society of Washington.  All rights reserved.

Sponsored by The Policy Studies Organization
In Cooperation with the American Public University

About the Lecture:

The revolution in engineering that resulted in miniaturization, autonomy, and biological sensing made its way rapidly to ocean observation.  When oceanographers started using the constellation of new sensors, platforms and systems made possible by this engineering revolution, they found that the ocean is even more dynamic than previously understood, and that it is changing rapidly.  

Some changes are associated with climate, for example the changes in ocean oxygenation with time.  Time series observations of the heat content of the ocean allowed scientists to determine the extent of ocean warming and the way it is distributed globally in the oceans.  Some changes are part of large natural oscillations in the state of the oceans, such as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and the North Atlantic Oscillation.  Natural changes like these have large physical effects on the oceans, changing sea levels for instance, and they have dramatic biological effects as well, including dramatic changes in the distribution of fish species.

Other changes clearly are  brought about by human activities on the oceans such as over-fishing and the systematic removal of large segments of the food chain in the ocean.  The impact of the removal of primary predators on the nature and abundance of the ecosystems of which they are a part is dramatic and changes due to physical and chemical pollutants are readily and frequently observed as well.

It is sobering to recognize that human activities can dramatically affect the oceans, and to dramatically alter the largest ecosystem on the planet.  We have to wonder, what are the implications of these changes for us, perhaps the most vulnerable community depending on the oceans?

Taking the Pulse of the Ocean in a Changing World
Taking the Pulse of the Ocean in a Changing World


About the Speaker

Margaret Leinen is the Director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Vice Chancellor for Marine Science of the University of California, San Diego (UCSD).  She also is a Science Envoy for the US Department of State for Latin America and the Pacific, and she is Vice-Chair of the Research Board of the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative started in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. 

Before coming to UCSD, Margaret served as Vice Provost for Marine Sciences at the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute of Florida Atlantic University, as Vice Provost for Marine Programs at Rhode Island University's Graduate School of Oceanography, and as Assistant Director for Geosciences at the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Among many notable scientific undertakings, Margaret served on the Steering Committee of the Joint Global Ocean Flux program of the International Geosphere Biosphere Program (IGBP) that defined the relationship between ocean carbon fluxes and ocean ecosystems.  She was co-chair of the seven cruise NSF study of the equatorial Pacific Ocean to define the relationship between carbon flux and El Nino conditions there.  And she served as Vice-Chair of the IGBP effort of the International Counsel for Science to foster interdisciplinary studies of atmospheric, terrestrial and oceanic carbon fluxes and their relationship to climate.

While at NSF she co-chaired the first US government interagency plan for ocean research and she served as Chair and Vice-Chair of the US Global Change Research Program.  She was instrumental in NSF's funding the R/V Sukuliaq, it's first ice-strengthened oceanographic ship, and to transforming the ocean drilling program to a fully internationally activity,

She has served as President of the American Geophysical Union and as President of The Oceanography Society, and chaired the Atmospheric and Hydrospheric Section of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Margaret's research focuses on paleo-oceanography, paleo-climatology and biogeochemistry of the ocean.  She was among the first to identify the importance of biogenic and eolian contributions to the trace element geochemistry of deep sea sediments.  She also worked on deep sea hydrothermal systems and discovered the first hydrothermal vents on the Juan de Fuca Ridge, where the National Science Foundation (NSF) now operates a regional cabled ocean observatory.

Margaret is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Geological Society of America and the California Academy of Sciences, and she has been awarded Distinguished Alumni awards by the University of Illinois, Oregon State University and the University of Rhode Island,, all three of the institutions where she studied.

She earned a BS in Geology from the University of Illinois, an MS in Geological Oceanography from Oregon State University and a PhD in Oceanography from University of Rhode Island.

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