Paul G. Falkowski is Board of Governors’ Professor in the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences and the Department of Earth and Planetary Science at Rutgers University. His scientific interests include evolution, paleoecology, photosynthesis, biophysics, biogeochemical cycles, and symbiosis. His current research efforts are directed towards understanding the co-evolution of biological and physical systems. Dr. Falkowski received a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in 1992; the Huntsman Medal in 1998; the Hutchinson Prize in 2000; and the Vernadsky medal from the European Geosciences Union in 2007. In 2001, he was elected a fellow of the American Geophysical Union; in 2002, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; in 2007, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences; and in 2008, he was elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology. Dr. Falkowski joined Brookhaven National Laboratory in 1976 as a scientist in the newly formed Oceanographic Sciences Division. He served as head of the division from 1986 to 1991 and deputy chair in the Department of Applied Science from 1991-1995, responsible for the development and oversight of all environmental science programs. In 1996, he was appointed as the Cecil and Ida Green Distinguished Professor at the University of British Columbia. He moved to Rutgers University in 1998. Dr. Falkowski earned his B.S. and M.S. from the City College of the City University of New York and his Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia.
The ocean has been a feature of Earth’s surface for at least 4 of the past 4.5 billion years and has provided the primary environment for the evolution of microbes that drive the biogeochemical cycles on Earth. Over this long period of time, the ocean has witnessed extreme changes, ranging from complete coverage with ice to extensive periods when there was no ice at all and from periods of extraordinary extinction of animal life to periods of dramatic evolutionary radiation of animals. Throughout all of Earth’s history, the ocean has served as the primary backbone of life on the planet, and the core metabolic processes have been successfully transferred across vast stretches of geological time. Humans, in contrast, evolved only about 200,000 years ago and, in that short period of time, have come to outcompete and plunder many of Earth’s living resources successfully. Over the past 100 years, in particular, we have increasingly altered the trophic structure of the ocean as well as its physical circulation and chemical properties. While human impacts will surely alter ecosystem functions, the core metabolism of the ocean will go on. Rather, ironically, humans are the fragile species that will lose capabilities of using the ocean as a source of food and novel molecules. Our future is intimately tied to that of the ocean. We have to begin viewing the ocean as a key component of the Earth system–one that we cannot live without.
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