The structure and inner-workings of one of the largest and globally significant biomes on Earth, the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre (NPSG), has captured the attention of scientists for decades. Since 1988, oceanographers from around the world have been studying the gyre ecosystem from Station ALOHA (A Long-Term Oligotrophic Habitat Assessment) — a region twelve miles in diameter in the Pacific Ocean located 100 km north of Oahu, Hawaii. At the start of their studies, scientists thought the NPSG encapsulated a fairly stable plankton community with low variability in microbiological rates and processes. Now, after nearly three decades of observing and experimenting at Station ALOHA, scientists have found this not to be the case.

At the heart of this research is renowned oceanographer Dr. David M. Karl, co-director of the Simons Collaboration on Ocean Processes and Ecology (SCOPE, supported by the Simons Foundation) at the University of Hawaii and a Moore Foundation Marine Microbiology Initiative Investigator. In 1999, Dr. Karl published a review in the journal Ecosystems on the state of knowledge of the NPSG, its microbial community and the impact of NPSG microbes on ocean biochemistry. Now, in the 20th anniversary issue of the journal Ecosystems, Karl and his colleagues present a new perspective of the NPSG. 

In their article, “Ecosystem Structure and Dynamics in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre: New Views of an Old Ocean,” the authors present a revised paradigm for the NPSG biome resulting from what only advances in science can provide: high-quality time-series observations built on the insights of more modern techniques in fields such as genomics and transcriptomics, and the discovery of new microorganisms and metabolic processes. This revised view is one of a more dynamic open ocean with greater variability in its ecosystem processes. Through collaborative efforts at Station ALOHA, Dr. Karl and the broader oceanographic community have gained a more comprehensive understanding of the trophic dynamics (the position an organism has in the food web) and biological interactions within the NPSG, allowing both the scientific community and the public at large to be better informed of the potential impacts of human-induced climate change. Karl and his colleagues write: “the importance of integrating this new knowledge into conceptual paradigms and predictive models is an enormous contemporary challenge with great scientific and societal relevance.”

The Moore Foundation’s Marine Microbiology Initiative has supported Dr. Karl in his research efforts since the initiative began in 2004. Dr. Karl is currently an MMI Investigator, and his pioneering research resonates with initiative’s 2019 goal of deepening the community’s understanding of microbial interactions and nutrient flow in the ocean. Learn more about the initiative here.


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