From global warming to species extinctions, the planet is looking increasingly fragile. On July 1, the Carnegie Institution established a new department of Global Ecology on the campus of Stanford University to help develop the scientific foundation for a sustainable future. The scientists received a big boost to their effort with a seven-year, $4.26-million grant for oceanographic research from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation in San Francisco. “With this funding, Carnegie’s Department of Global Ecology will be able to pioneer a new kind of integrated science,” said Chris Field, director of the new department. Mick Seidl, who heads the foundation’s environment program, believes “Carnegie is a terrific institution, and the interdisciplinary nature of the new Department of Global Ecology, under the able leadership of Chris Field, is definitely deserving of support.”
The new Department of Global Ecology grew out of a century of ecological research at Carnegie’s Department of Plant Biology, also at Stanford. Using the latest technology—from satellite imagery to the tools of molecular biology—Carnegie scientists have been analyzing the complicated interactions of Earth’s land, atmosphere, and oceans. Building from biological details at the level of biochemistry and physiology, they link data from the microscopic world to the global scale. The interdisciplinary Carnegie team views the planet through a biological lens, linked to physical processes, to probe the function, assess the fragility, and explore the integration of the world’s ecosystems. They tackle issues such as the global carbon cycle, the role of land and oceanic ecosystems in regulating climate, the interaction of biological diversity with ecosystem function, and much more. According to Field, “We know too much about influences of the land on the oceans and of the oceans on the land to stick with traditional disciplinary approaches. We need to establish a new, interdisciplinary scientific field—global ecology.”
The Moore Foundation grant will be used to develop a state-of-the-art oceanographic program. The Earth’s oceans are vast and complex, with global responses of climate, fisheries, and biological diversity controlled by interactions among physical, chemical, and biological processes. Carnegie researchers will address questions such as how the mix of plankton species affects the way in which the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide is taken out of circulation, and how events such as the El Niño/La Niña cycles affect ocean food chains. “Most of the environment problems that threaten the future interact with land, atmospheric, and oceanic processes,” said Field. “It’s wonderful to see an investment in understanding the processes and their interactions—key steps in finding solutions."
The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation was established in November of 2000, by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore and his wife Betty. In seeking positive outcomes for future generations, the foundation supports four major program areas: the environment, higher education, scientific research, and select projects in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The Carnegie Institution (www.CarnegieInstitution.org) has been a pioneering force in basic scientific research since 1902. It is a private, nonprofit organization with six research departments in the U.S.: Embryology, Geophysical Laboratory, Terrestrial Magnetism, The Observatories, Plant Biology, and Global Ecology.