Life above the abyss: how ocean chemistry and biology shape each other

Time: Wednesday, March 8, 2017 - 10:30am - 11:30am
Type: Seminar Series
Presenter: François M. M. Morel; Albert G. Blanke Professor of Geosciences Director, Princeton Environmental Institute
Room/Office: Becton MC035
Becton Seminar Room
15 Prospect Street
New Haven, CT 06511
United States

Yale School of Engineering & Applied Science Department of Chemical & Environmental Engineering and The Olin Corporation present
The John McClanahan Henske Distinguished Lecture in Chemical Engineering

"Life above the abyss: how ocean chemistry and biology shape each other"

François M. M. Morel 
Albert G. Blanke Professor of Geosciences Director, Princeton Environmental Institute 
Associated Faculty at the Department of Chemistry and Civil and Environmental Engineering 
Princeton University

Abstract: Photosynthesis by oceanic phytoplankton and settling of biomass play a critical role in exporting CO2 to the deep ocean. This vertical transport of carbon from the sea surface to the abyss – known as the "biological carbon pump" – is partly responsible for the low CO2 concentration in the atmosphere and its variations over glacial/interglacial cycles. The vertical carbon flux is accompanied by an export of all major and trace nutrients necessary for phytoplankton growth. The functioning of the biological pump is thus critically dependent on the evolution of molecular mechanisms that allow marine phytoplankton to acquire the necessary nutrients from depleted surface seawater and to fix inorganic carbon into organic biomass at very low ambient CO2 concentration.

I will discuss some of the key mechanisms that allow marine phytoplankton to photosynthesize and grow efficiently under the low nutrient and CO2 depleted conditions of the surface ocean. Among those are uptake systems for essential nutrients that function at the limits allowed by physics and chemistry and an ability to replace essential elements in short supply by other in key enzymes. The biochemistry of marine phytoplankton reflect their co-evolution with ocean chemistry through earth history.

Bio: François M. M. Morel is the Albert G. Blanke Professor of Geosciences at Princeton University. He received a B.S. in Engineering from the University of Grenoble, France, and a Ph.D. in Engineering Science from the California Institute of Technology. He was a faculty member at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1973 to 1994 and joined the Princeton faculty in 1994. The research in his laboratory focuses on the interaction of trace metals and microorganisms in the environment, with particular emphasis on the role of metals in the global cycles of carbon and nitrogen in marine and terrestrial systems. Morel's research group discovered the only known cadmium enzyme, a cadmium carbonic anhydrase used by marine phytoplankton to acquire inorganic carbon for photosynthesis. At Princeton, Pr. Morel teaches both undergraduate and graduate courses. Morel and his student Janet Hering authored the widely used teaching text: "Principles and Applications of Aquatic Chemistry (Wiley). He directed the Ralph M. Parsons laboratory at MIT from 1991 to 1994, the Princeton Environmental Institute from 1998 to 2006 and the NSF-supported Center for Environmental BioInorganic Chemistry from 1998 to 2007.

Morel is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and of the Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettre ed Arti. He is a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union and of the Geochemical Society. He received the Patterson Medal from the Geochemical Society in 2001, the Urey Medal from the American Geophysical Union in 2005, the Distinguished Alumni Award from the California Institute of Technology in 2009, and the Award for Creative Advances in Environmental Science and Technology from the American Chemical Society in 2010. He is the recipient of the 2010 Eni Environmental Award from the Eni Foundation and of the 2012 Dickson Prize in the Sciences from Carnegie Mellon University.


Wednesday, March 8, 2017
10 Hillhouse Avenue 
New Haven, CT 06511 
Becton Seminar Room MC035

This series of lectures is named in honor of John M. Henske. He was born in Omaha, Nebraska, on June 3, 1923. After spending two years at Yale University, he served in the army with the Corps of Engineers from 1943 to 1946 and then returned to Yale to graduate in 1948 with degrees in both Chemical Engineering and Industrial Administration. He joined Dow Chemical Company in 1948 as a research engineer and became a vice-president in 1968. In 1969 Mr. Henske joined Olin Corporation as group vice president for chemicals and later served as a director and as president (1973-1980 and 1983-1985) and chief executive officer (1978-1987).

In addition to his leadership roles in Dow and Olin he left a legacy of constructive activity in professional societies, higher education and community service. Under his chairmanship in 1979-1980 the Chemical Manufacturers Association embarked on new directions. He served as chairman of the United Negro College Fund and served his alma mater in numerous ways. He was a trustee of Stamford Hospital and Yale-New Haven Hospital and was the creative force behind the innovative Science Park in New Haven.

The John McClanahan Henske Distinguished Lectures in Chemical Engineering are made possible by a fund established by Olin Corporation. They are administered by the Department of Chemical Engineering, Yale University. The series was launched in September, 1989, when Rutherford Aris, (Regents Professor, University of Minnesota), and Frederick J. Krambeck, (Manager of Process Development, Mobil Research and Development Corporation), presented lectures on "Reactions in Continuous Mixtures."

The John M. Henske lectures are made possible by a gift from the Olin Corporation administered by the School of Engineering & Applied Science, the Department of Chemical & Environmental Engineering, Yale University.