USFCMS researcher taking core samples in Antarctica

Assuring Healthy Ocean, Human Interactions

What do we mean by Ocean, Human Interactions? The oceans are a source of food, moderate our weather and control our climate. Our oceans are a tremendous economic resource in Florida via tourism. Our college’s research portfolio can be broadly described as focused on assessing the health of ocean, human interactions, and predicting future changes with the aim of insuring healthy interactions for our children and beyond.

Our Strengths are Diversity and Rigor

What are the unique strengths that enable us to address such an ambitious goal? First, we are an inherently interdisciplinary group. Our college is comprised of biologists, physicists, geologists and chemists, but more importantly we are all first and foremost “oceanographers”. We combine our complimentary views to understand the ocean as an inherently, intimately interconnected system. And we conduct our studies to the most rigorous standards.

Some Examples of the Problems We Study

How do we insure sustainable fisheries? How will sea level rise affect us? What will ocean acidification do to our coral reefs? Can we predict red tide now and how its frequency might change in the future? How does pollution, such as the oil spilled during the Deepwater Horizon, spread through the Gulf and what harm does it do? We group our research into three broad areas: Healthy Ecosystems, Climate Change and the Ocean, Human Interface.

Healthy Ecosystems

We define ecosystem in the broadest fashion, including the chemical and physical properties of the seawater through the biota all the way to humans, and we focus on understanding future changes. For example, at the local level we might ask about harmful algal blooms. At the regional level we might ask how changing conditions allow invasive species to thrive. At the global scale we might ask what the consequences of ocean acidification might be.

Climate Change

Is our climate changing? Most scientists say yes, which means that we need to plan societal responses. We work on a variety of time scales with geologists and paleoceangraphers providing a long-term context for others working on modern and future changes. Our studies go from local studies on how storm surges might change in Tampa Bay to acidification impacts on reefs to global sea level rise studies to studies in the critical polar regions.

The Ocean, Human Interface

How do the oceans affect human health? How much do we know about marine viruses? How does overfishing or environmental changes due to climate change affect our food supplies and our valuable recreational fishing industry? How does pollution from oil spills like the Deepwater Horizon event affect the ecosystem? Nutrient loading due to human activities is also pollution. How does this affect the health of our coastal ocean?

Local to Regional to Global

World-class universities are relevant at levels. We have a commitment to understanding local problems and providing applications that will inform local decision makers. At the next level our research is relevant to the region we inhabit, which we take to be the Gulf of Mexico to the Caribbean to the southeastern United States. And we have significant programs aimed at understanding the global context for our regional and local studies.

Observations, Quantitative Analysis, Modeling

What is required to obtain robust results that will further our broad research goals? As with all science, it begins with careful observation. We have a long history in this area and the CMS Ocean Technology (COT) group stands ready to contribute. These observations must be analyzed with state of the art methods in order to illuminate the important processes. Then models can be built that allow us to convert our understanding into predictions.

Partners in Our College and Beyond

How can we accomplish our ambitious goals with relatively few faculty members? We first focus on hires who are committed to interdisciplinary collaborations. We also reach out to colleagues in other colleges at the USF who have complimentary expertise. We also encourage partnerships with other state universities and with universities across the country and internationally. By fostering partnerships at all levels we tremendously broaden our reach.