University of Rhode Island (URI) Professor of Oceanography Tatiana Rynearson likens her research technique to that of police officers using forensics when investigating crimes, finding similarities between her expertise in the microscopic world of phytoplankton and the collection of DNA. “I use genetic techniques to investigate plankton, single celled marine organisms that float with tides and current,” Rynearson says. “I want to know who is there and what are they doing.” Knowing the answers to these questions can tell us how well plankton might respond to climate change. These are crucial details for organisms that form the base of the marine food web, make the ocean ecosystem run, and provide every other breath we draw in. Plankton affect nutrient levels, species shifts, fisheries, and atmospheric oxygen levels. Using genetic and molecular techniques allows Rynearson to understand not only the sequence of events taking place today, but also what the future might hold as the effects of climate change play out. Rynearson joined the URI Graduate School of Oceanography (GSO) in 2005 as part of a $3.5 million National Science Foundation (NSF) ADVANCE grant. The funding allowed URI to hire nine female faculty members in physics, oceanography, engineering and life sciences. Rynearson also serves as director of GSO’s long- term plankton time series in Narragansett Bay, which, at nearly seven decades old, is one of the world’s longest time series on plankton abundance and composition.

A large winter phytoplankton bloom is seen in the Gulf of Aden on Feb. 12, 2018. (NASA)

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