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Wet and wild: A new era of marine sciences at UC Davis

UC Davis 2010 teaching prize winner Rick Grosberg checks samples collected at the university's Bodega Marine Laboratory. Grosberg is a professor in the department of evolution and ecology and has been named the founding director of the new Coastal and Marine Sciences Institute at UCD. Karin Higgins, UC Davis/Courtesy photo

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From page ONC7 | September 25, 2013 | Leave Comment

The new Coastal and Marine Sciences Institute at UC Davis will bring an undergraduate program in marine sciences, a spruced-up Bodega Marine Laboratory and enhanced opportunities for collaboration and education among marine scientists spread across UCD.

From the laboratories at the university’s main campus near the state’s political center of Sacramento to the shores of Bodega Bay on California’s north coast, a diverse group of marine scientists and policymakers at UCD has been studying the most critical issues affecting oceans, and the creatures and people who depend on them. Now, the Coastal and Marine Sciences Institute will begin to connect, strengthen and leverage those efforts.

UC Davis evolution and ecology professor Rick Grosberg was recently appointed as the institute’s founding director.

“I hope to take the incredible expertise on our main campus and at the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory to assemble a comprehensive, interdisciplinary program in marine science,” Grosberg said. “One of our goals is to pull together an exceptionally strong and diverse group of faculty and really build the health of the coastal ocean.”

The institute’s work primarily will focus on coastal Northern California — from north of Monterey to the Lost Coast on the California-Oregon border.

Ten faculty currently reside at Bodega Marine Laboratory, while 69 campus faculty consider themselves marine scientists. By providing a collaborative framework, the institute aims to enhance opportunities for research, teaching, outreach and stakeholder engagement surrounding marine sciences.

The Coastal and Marine Sciences Institute features four key components, expected to be rolled out over the next five years:

* Research enterprises that use novel combinations of existing expertise at UCD in the physical, biological and social sciences to address issues affecting coastal and ocean environments.

* New degree programs. The institute plans to introduce a highly interdisciplinary undergraduate degree program in marine sciences, expected to launch in 2014. New graduate and professional training programs in marine sciences are also being developed.

* The Bodega Learning Center aims to educate and engage the public — from “K to gray” — about marine and coastal issues. It will be located at Bodega Marine Laboratory, with plans to further develop visitor exhibits and programs for schools, professional training and lifelong learning throughout Northern California.

* The Center for Coastal Ocean Issues will provide a forum for engaging with stakeholders, from the beginning, to identify and address challenges related to human, natural and economic coastal health. This includes bringing together scientists, government agencies, policymakers, ocean industries and the public.

As a major center for integrative research and education on the coastal oceans, the institute also could open funding opportunities, such as the ability to pursue large grants, for marine sciences research, education and outreach.

“The CMSI has the potential to transform research and education on coastal ecology and marine ecosystems, and place UC Davis among the global leaders in this dynamic, interdisciplinary frontier of science,” said Harris Lewin, vice chancellor for research. “With distinguished scientist and educator Rick Grosberg serving as founding director, CMSI will be off to a fast start and will have the full support of more than 60 faculty that will join him in the formation of the new institute.”

Location, location

The UCD Bodega Marine Laboratory sits amid the Bodega Marine Reserve about 100 miles west from the main campus and is ideally located for studying coastal health and human impacts that could affect it. The facility is in one of the world’s four major upwelling areas, which are highly productive — yielding 20 percent of global fish production while occupying less than 1 percent of the ocean surface area.

The Bodega Marine Lab is also near one of the most densely populated regions of the state — the San Francisco Bay Area — where coastlines are increasingly impacted by human activities.

The laboratory was founded in 1960 by UC Berkeley and was transferred to UCD in 1983. Recent work includes research on ocean acidification and climate change, invasive species, fisheries management, the effects of oil spills on marine life, and a program to bring back the endangered white abalone from the brink of extinction.

As one example of how such collaborations envisioned by CMSI can produce meaningful solutions for ocean environments, researchers on the Davis campus and at the Bodega Marine Lab recently played a large role in assessing the impact of California’s new system of Marine Protected Areas. This included creating mathematical models to calculate the expected consequences of the proposed areas to marine life and the economy.

Full circle

For Grosberg, becoming director of the new institute represents a full circle in his career. His involvement with the Bodega Marine Laboratory goes back to 1974, when he took a spring course at the facility as an undergraduate at UC Santa Cruz. He called it “one of the great experiences of my life.”

Grosberg joined the faculty at UCD 30 years ago and has since served as director of the Center for Population Biology, led two National Science Foundation Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship programs in environmental sciences, and was honored by his students and colleagues in 2010, when he won the UC Davis Prize for Teaching and Scholarly Achievement.

“Building a comprehensive marine sciences program at UC Davis is the culmination of everything I’ve wanted to accomplish in my career,” Grosberg said.

Start-up funding totaling $1.3 million for the Coastal and Marine Sciences Institute is being provided by the UC Davis Office of the Provost, Office of Research and Administrative and Resource Management.

— UC Davis News Service

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