By using the most advanced technologies and engaging a wide range of stakeholders, our faculty and students are devising innovative strategies to protect these vital resources. While understanding the ocean’s composition provides knowledge of its role in our global ecosystem, human interaction with marine and coastal species is equally important to informing sustainable solutions. This process requires an interdisciplinary team — both to understand how humans impact our oceans and coasts, and to develop science-based recommendations to mitigate damage and create a healthy balance between people and our environment.
Nicholas School faculty members and industry partners include thought leaders in ﬁelds that include marine science, conservation, ecology and policy; ocean, earth and sustainability science, coastal environmental management, and the social sciences. Working in teams across Duke’s campus and beyond, they are able to prepare the next generation of environmental professionals with the knowledge and skills they need to make a greater impact on coastal management and marine systems for tomorrow.
Predicting climate change
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) constantly overturns warm and cold water. The associated release of heat to the atmosphere at higher latitudes of the North Atlantic has a major impact on the earth’s climate, climate variability and sustainability of ocean life.AMOC’s critical role inspired the creation of Overturning in the Subpolar North Atlantic Program (OSNAP), an observing system that measures the meridional overturning in the subpolar North Atlantic. Led by Susan Lozier, Ronie-Richelle Garcia-Johnson Professor of Earth and Ocean Sciences, the seven-nation effort continuously records the full-water column and ﬂuxes of heat, mass and freshwater. The goal is to better understand our planet as it undergoes change.Dr. Lozier and her colleagues anticipate that OSNAP data will help climatologists reﬁne their models to better predict climate change.
Balancing marine ecosystems with human interaction
Maintaining healthy ocean ecosystems requires a complicated balancing act: the management of plants and marine mammals, predators and prey, habitat structures for reproduction and open waters for migration. Because ﬁsh signiﬁcantly impact both ecological well-being and local, regional and national economies, achieving a balance between ocean sustainability and commercial, subsistence and recreational ﬁshing remains a major challenge in coastal communities worldwide.
Xavier Basurto, Associate Professor of Sustainability Science, is working to better understand the human impact on small-scale ﬁsheries in the Mexican state of Baja California Sur. By evaluating the environmental and economic impact on fishery management in the region, Dr. Basurto is identifying key intervention points to support the balance between people and the ﬁsh that sustain their livelihoods. This work is informing the development of innovative ﬁshery-management strategies in Mexico and defining approaches for maintaining sustainable ﬁsheries on a global scale.
Understanding the underwater landscape
Understanding the evolution of the underwater ocean landscape is key to understanding both life on earth and the geophysical processes that shape our land and ocean environments. By better deﬁning our ocean geology we are better able to predict coastal change and the future hazards that may impact our coastal areas, ocean resources, and coastal and marine ecosystems. Emily Klein, Professor of Earth Sciences and an ocean geochemistry expert, is leading research aimed at exploring how mid-ocean ridges initiate and evolve in the poorly understood Cocos-Nazca Rift.
A voyage to the Galapagos Triple Junction will allow Dr. Klein’s team to characterize the transition — from initial rifting to seaﬂoor spreading — and the associated fragmentation of ridges into segments. The team will collect data on morphology, gravity and magnetic variations; rock samples for chemical analyses; and water-column data for identifying hydrothermal activity. By learning more about the evolution of mantle melting and melt-delivery systems and their relationship to tectonic segmentation, we can better understand the geological forces that inﬂuence the earth’s continuing evolution.
Mapping marine animal migration
Marine animals are not stationary, and in fact must travel great distances throughout their lifetime to fully support their lifecycle and ensure reproductive success. While we understand that marine life displays a wide-range of migratory behaviors, historically we have not considered migration patterns when developing marine conservation plans. To ﬁll in the knowledge gap about the global routes and connected areas of migratory marine mammals, seabirds, sea turtles and ﬁsh, Pat Halpin, Professor of Marine Geospatial Ecology, and Daniel Dunn, Assistant Research Professor of Marine Science and Conservation, created The Migratory Connectivity in the Ocean (MiCO) system.
Using oceanographic geospatial data from remote sensing imagery, Drs. Halpin and Dunn build predictive species-distribution models, model habitat connectivity and detect space-time patterns in ﬁsheries and wildlife by collecting time-series data. The data assembled by MiCO informs conservation efforts of migratory species; global fisheries and deep-sea mining authorities; the Convention on Biological Diversity; the Convention on Migratory Species; and UNESCO. It also provides a framework for spatial management and conservation on the high seas.
Microbial biosensors detect pollutants
An estimated 2,000 new chemicals are introduced into the environment every year, and little is known about the toxicity, natural prevalence or environmental persistence of most of them. The sheer number of potential environmental contaminants makes developing methods to monitor their presence and environmental impact daunting. Moreover, pollutants are not often unique to a single environment. Activities from industrial manufacturing to residential gardening pollute wastewater treatment plants, streams and estuaries. Dana Hunt, Assistant Professor of Microbial Ecology, is harnessing the power of naturally occurring marine microbes and microbial communities for use as highly sensitive bioindicators of chemical pollutants. The microbes respond to pollutants with unique gene-expression profiles, providing an innovative solution to monitoring chemicals that present a potential risk to humans and the environment.
Microalgae, the future of food
Current estimates indicate that the world will likely require a 70 percent increase in protein-based food by 2050. Zackary Johnson, Arthur P. Kaupe Associate Professor of Molecular Biology in Marine Science, believes one solution may lie in microscopic algae (“microalgae”), unicellular organisms found in salt water. Microalgae grow rapidly, require no arable land and little (to zero) freshwater and aren’t as fossil fuel-intensive as industrial agriculture. They also are very nutritious because of their high content of protein, beneficial amino acids and micronutrients. Dr. Johnson leads the Marine AlGae Industrialization Consortium (MAGIC), a partnership with university and industry colleagues. The group has been developing microalgae as feed for a variety of animals, and it is also exploring the use of microalgae as a milk-protein replacement for human consumption.
A personal connection to these environments - and immersion in the science that's clarifying and information solutions to our most complex challenges.
The Nicholas School's coastal and marine program offerings include:
- A Master of Environmental Management, with natural and social science concentrations pertinent to coastal environmental management
- Master’s certificates in Community- Based Environmental Management, Geospatial Analysis, and Environmental Innovation & Entrepreneurship
- Doctoral programs that address conservation from multidisciplinary perspectives
- An undergraduate Certificate in Marine Science and Conservation Leadership
To gain practical experience, Nicholas students intern with conservation organizations that include Environmental Defense Fund, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Natural Resource Defense Council, North Carolina Coastal Federation, Oceana, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center and The Nature Conservancy. Working in cross-disciplinary, faculty-student teams, Nicholas School students participate in faculty research around the world. They also play an active role in their education by inviting conservation leaders to on-campus workshops and conferences to discuss and work to solve coastal and marine challenges and take part in on-campus workshops and conferences attended by conservation leaders, during which they discuss and work to solve coastal and marine.