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Report from the Executive Vice President & Director of Research
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Research > Research Departments > Biology

Overview | Awards & Recognition | Photos

John J. Stegeman, chair of the Biology Department (left) with postdoctoral investigators in molecular toxicology Joanna Wilson, a graduate of the MIT/WHOI Joint Program, and Tim Verslycke. (Photo by Tom Kleindinst)
Biology Department research reflects the breadth of the field: from bacteria to whales, from ocean depths to surface waters, from fossils to newly discovered species, and from molecules to global ecosystems. Collaborating with colleagues here and elsewhere, WHOI biologists also develop and refine instruments and techniques that increase the reach of science and bring new information within our grasp.

In 2003, our biologists traveled more than ‘Seven Seas’ for answers to scientific questions. They studied material from the Barents, Bering, and Beaufort seas, and visited the Mediterranean, Ross, and Sargasso seas. They sailed the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, the Sea of Japan, and the Sea of Cortez—and spent time in their own backyards: Long Island Sound, Georges Bank, the Gulf of Maine, and Vineyard Sound.

Some biologists concentrated on small scales of research, while others collaborated in large-scale national or international research programs, such as the Southern Ocean GLOBEC (Global Ocean Ecosystem Dynamics), ECOHAB (Ecology of Harmful Algal Blooms), or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Ocean Exploration programs. Their work uses genetic, molecular, or isotopic techniques and ranges from studying disease-causing organisms in lobsters and clams to how whole communities and populations of marine animals—at vents, seamounts, or in shallower environments—are connected over distances. Some studied genetic responses of marine organisms to environmental pollutants, and others investigated the roles of plankton in the cycling of elements in the ocean and atmosphere; models of population change; or the effectiveness of marine protected areas in maintaining populations.

Instrument development continued on several fronts. Equipment to sample microbial life in the deep biosphere beneath the ocean floor at hydrothermal vents was tested, as was a new suction collector on Alvin. Data-archiving tags were used to accumulate information about normal whale diving behavior and responses to controlled sound experiments.

A unique instrument system installed at the Martha’s Vineyard Coastal Observatory (MVCO) continuously monitors conditions throughout the water column, collects and identifies images of small animal plankton using imaging technology and artificial intelligence, and transmits data to shore. Also at the MVCO, a continuous automated flow system was deployed to count and identify phytoplankton, producers in the ocean food chain. The long-term data sets these instruments collect will reveal the effects of local climate change on important coastal systems. Another instrument, the Large Area Plankton Imaging System, which produces images of larger plankton, such as jellyfish, was successfully tested at sea.

—John J. Stegeman (jstegeman@whoi.edu)
Department Chair

Related Web Sites
Biology Department
Global Ocean Ecosystem Dynamics (GLOBEC)
Ecology of Harmful Algal Blooms (ECOHAB)
Martha's Vineyard Coastal Observatory (MVCO)