Climate Change and the Legacy of Moss Landing

By Erick Partida, MLML Chemical Oceanography Lab


One of the many points of pride that Moss Landing Marine Laboratories holds up is the legacy of our former director Dr. John H. Martin, and his formulation of the Iron Hypothesis. This hypothesis, and the experiments conducted to prove the hypothesis transformed our understanding of oceanography as well as our understanding of climate change and earth’s history.


John Martin’s Iron Hypothesis

Throughout the ocean, the growth of microscopic plants, or micro-algae in a particular region is controlled primarily by the availability of nutrients (things like nitrate and phosphate that are like food to a plant) within that region. These micro-algae are extremely important, not only for oxygen production but for the uptake of the greenhouse gas, CO2 from our atmosphere, and their eventual transfer of that carbon to the deep ocean. This process of removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere is a vital component controlling the earth’s climate, and its function relies almost entirely on the availability of nutrients.

Read More

I’ll Take Kids and a Career for $500, Alex

By Holly Chiswell, MLML Chemical Oceanography Lab


I went hiking yesterday, and one of my friends made mention of how in Santa Cruz we are in a little bubble. Our access to redwoods and the ocean all in one hike is a natural escape and we are particularly fortunate to live and work where we do. Besides the stress-reducing getaway aspect, I think we are also lucky for the marine science community we are a part of, and Moss Landing Marine Laboratories (MLML) is certainly included within this. However, there is a world outside of this redwood-duff, kelp-canopy bubble, where we all can do more to support the greater marine science community, especially those who wish to start families and maintain their careers.

Last week at MLML, SWMS hosted one of our female tenure-track faculty members, Dr. Gitte McDonald, and her colleague Dr. Stella Hein, a visiting faculty/staff at UC Santa Cruz, for a lunch discussion centered around a recent paper published in Marine Mammal Science titled: “Equity and career-life balance in marine mammal science?” [1]. I found this conversation on career-life balance appreciated and I’d like to share my thoughts and some takeaways from the afternoon.

Read More

Twelve students defend theses in 2018!

By June Shrestha, MLML Ichthyology Lab

Congratulations to the twelve students that successfully defended their theses in 2018!

  • Laurel Lam, Ichthyology
  • Alex Olson, Chemical Oceanography
  • Holly Chiswell, Chemical Oceanography
  • Cody Dawson, Phycology
  • Evan Mattiasen, Ichthyology
  • Tyler Barnes, Geological Oceanography
  • Catarina Pien, Pacific Shark Research Center
  • Natalie Yingling, Biological Oceanography
  • Drew Burrier, Physical Oceanography
  • Jen Chiu, Fisheries and Conservation Biology
  • Anne Tagini, Fisheries and Conservation Biology
  • Suzanne Christensen, Phycology

Read More

The Search for Clean, Green Energy in the Cosmic Center of the Universe

By Katie Graves, MLML Chemical Oceanography Lab katie

It is generally well known that our planet’s fossil fuel reserves are being used up at an alarming rate. Recent studies suggest that we should transition to using renewable energy by 2030 to ensure a smooth switch from fossil fuel dependence [1].

What isn’t as well known is that the answer to producing clean, sustainable energy is closer than we think. In fact, if you live in the area of Elkhorn Slough you might see the solution as you drive over the HWY 1 bridge and notice the water is covered in a green carpet.

Read More

Another “Thank You” to Dr. Kenneth Coale: A Student’s Perspective

By Sharon Hsu

Moss Landing has had a series of faculty retirements in the last year, including many who have been a part of the local community for decades. Kenneth Coale has long been synonymous with the lab space, helping students in the shop and forever carrying his coffee mug down the hallway. While we welcome this influx of new blood in the near future, we feel keenly the loss of familiarity and trust. Sharon Hsu, a student in the Vertebrate Ecology lab, wrote this piece to read aloud during Kenneth's retirement party. It echoes a sentiment many of us in the student body feel keenly. - Amanda Heidt

I’m really mad at Kenneth.

Wait, let me explain.

The first time I met Kenneth, he was shining a laser pointer on giant squid in a plastic tube. I had seen him before, in the hallways, making what I know now are trips to the staff room coffee pot, but I’d never spoken with him before.

I said, “What are you doing?”

Kenneth didn’t even bat an eye and went smoothly into an explanation about how the blue laser could penetrate much further in the liquid while the green (and this is where he nonchalantly took out another laser pointer) did not.

kenneth-coale-1bkhonwWhat I would come to learn is that this interaction summed up so much of what we the students (and let’s be honest… everyone else as well) love about Kenneth – his ability to teach and explain, without pushing or judging.

Months after this first meeting, I found myself in Kenneth’s Chemical Oceanography class. His first announcement in Chemical Oceanography was, “You’re only going to do as well as you want to in this class.” And this was the most amazing thing anyone has ever said. Because honestly, it’s amazing to have someone who wants to teach you things yet has the patience and belief that you can learn and do on your own accord.  I like to think that what Kenneth was implying was, “You’re only going to do as well as you want to in life.”

So it’s not just the academic teaching that we love. It’s also just Kenneth – how he checks in to make sure we are okay. Because honestly, being okay is difficult sometimes, especially for grad students. Sometimes checking in is easy. Once on a boat trip in the Slough, half of the boat ended up clothed in extra jackets Kenneth had brought along. And once, checking in involved Kenneth single-handedly combating the housing crisis and temporarily adopting homeless students.

Sometimes, however, checking in is a little more difficult. More than once I have heard Kenneth tell us that the faculty is here to support us and not put us down, and more than once he has offered to listen to students who are feeling lost or down. And whether or not we choose to talk, just to have someone – and especially someone who could just as easily not have the time - offer to listen, means everything.

IMG_0969-e1511984893378-300x197And now…. Kenneth is retiring. We are looking for a new faculty chemical oceanographer. Candidates have been chosen, interviewed, and evaluated. As students, we are also asked for our evaluations. And as a student, I really don’t feel qualified to evaluate any candidate’s academic merit. The only thing I can evaluate is how any new faculty member might interact with students. Will they understand the grad student struggle? Will they care? Will they make me feel comfortable talking to them about things I might be struggling with?

Quite frankly, I’m a little skeptical, which is not to say I can’t be won over. But there it is. I’m mad at Kenneth because he’s leaving. I’m mad that the new students won’t be able to take Chem Oce or shop class with him. I’m mad that we’ll see less of him shining laser pointers at dead squid, and I’m mad that trips in the Slough sampling swirling vortexes will end, along with using calculators to calculate the slope of a line and jeopardy using the loudest metal objects as buzzers. I’m mad there will be one less faculty member that says, “I’m available. You can email me or call me. Here are all my phone numbers.” And I’m mad that no one is going to start off another class saying, “You’re only going to do as well as you want to in this class.” I’m mad that we may be losing one of the biggest champions of the students.

So yeah, I’m mad. But mostly, I’m thankful.

Can the words “thank you” sum up everything we want to say to Kenneth Coale?

I don’t think so, but I’m not sure what else we can say.

Thank you, Kenneth, for your patience.

Thank you, Kenneth, for your kindness, and your willingness to be a champion of the students.

Thank you, Kenneth, for keeping an eye out and making sure we are okay.

Thank you, Kenneth, for teaching us – about chem oce, but more importantly, about life.

Thank you, Kenneth, for showing us what we can strive to be.

Congratulations to our 2017 graduates!

By June ShresthaIchthyology Lab

Congratulations to 14 students who defended their research theses and graduated from our program this year! Student research spanned across continents, taking us from the kelp forests of California, to the deep seas of South Africa, and even Antarctica!

The following students were awarded a Masters of Science in Marine Science:

  • Angela Zepp, Phycology
  • Devona Yates, Ichthyology
  • Maureen Wise, Chemical Oceanography & Phycology
  • Melinda Wheelock, Invertebrate Zoology
  • Kristin Walovich, Pacific Shark Research Center
  • Dorota Szuta, Benthic Ecology
  • Scott Miller, Ichthyology
  • Ryan Manzer, Physical Oceanography
  • James Knuckey, Pacific Shark Research Center
  • Jen Keliher, Invertebrate Zoology
  • Jinchen (Martin) Guo, Invertebrate Zoology
  • Christian Denney, Fisheries and Conservation Biology
  • Paul Clerkin, Pacific Shark Research Center
  • Stephan Bitterwolf, Phycology

Read below to learn more about the graduates' research. Feel free to leave a comment if you have any additional questions!

Read More

Tacos, Takis, and Fish Diet: A Spring Break Saga

By Holly Chiswell, MLML Chemical Oceanography Lab

Andddd we're back!

Over our spring break and the week after, 20 Moss Landing-ers drove down to Baja California Sur to conduct fieldwork on the island of El Pardito, off of La Paz…for class! The drive down took three days and we were equipped with: two trucks, a van, two large trailers, two boats, two kayaks, a metric crap ton of dive dear, camping gear, personal gear and food. The first night we glamped, aka stayed in a hotel in San Diego after a day of driving which included going through “fun” Los Angeles traffic trying to get truck drivers to honk their horns. Apparently this is what entertains a car full of students in their mid to late 20s. The next morning, we crossed the border into Mexico, filled out the visa paperwork and trucked on.

We continued down highway 1 through Baja California on the Pacific side to our camping destination of the evening, Cataviña, where an adorable Labrador greeted us in the desert. The next day of driving landed us in Bahia Concepción, which just so happened to have a carnival on the beach! So after we swam, kayaked and explored the bay, we went to the carnival to indulge in a mechanical bull, bumper cars (it may have gotten personal), and a ride that hung us upside down for far too long for comfort. We continued the next day across the peninsula to hit the Gulf side where we were going to camp in Portugues, a small town where the family from the island has friends and our pick up location to get to the island, but that afternoon we ran into trouble. The dirt road we were supposed to take is usually completely dry, but when we got there it was a little wet and the tide was coming in. Therefore, one of the trucks complete with a trailer attached and the dive compressor inside got stuck at about 4 o'clock in the afternoon. Seeing this treachery, the other two vehicles were able to back out but we spent hours attempting to get the truck out, digging and placing rocks while also utilizing local help. We ended up unloading the truck and detaching the trailer before a SEMI truck was able to pull us out at around 11 that evening. The brothers that helped us were so kind and let us camp in what was essentially their backyard before getting to the rally point in the morning.

Alexa snaps a quick photo at our campsite.
Alexa snaps a quick photo at our campsite.

The next morning we loaded everything onto 5 pangas (boats) and traveled about 30 minutes to the island of El Pardito. This was our beautiful home for the following nine days of science. We would wake up around dawn (some of us went out with the fishermen to pull in nets they had set the night before), and then went about fieldwork for the day: diving, fishing, surveying, or spending time in the mangroves for respective projects. At night we would convene, (pretty late because some of us went hand-lining at night and then had to do some post fishing processing), to eat dinner (usually fish of sorts) and go around the circle saying what we did that day, what our plans were for the next day and if help was needed in the form of dive buddies or boat companions. As everyone took their turn speaking, I was very impressed with how on top of his or her research everyone was. They knew what they were doing, had protocols set and made the most of the limited time we had. After dinner, I would stay up pretty late each night processing fish stomachs from the fishermen for my project, a diet study, and now have 88 preserved samples to look through!

The families on the island were the sweetest people you'll ever meet. They were patient with our range of Spanish speaking abilities within the group, wanted to help us on our projects however they could, and were interested to learn about what we did. One woman on the island even let us come into her house and taught us how to make tortillas! Towards the end of the trip we had a bonfire and played music and chatted for quite some time, really bonding everyone on the island.

A view from the island.
A view from the island.

We decided as a group to stay a night in La Paz before driving back up which was amaaaaazing. Mostly because we finally got a chance to shower, but also because we went out to dinner as a group and hit the town after working so hard for those eight days straight! On our way back we had a flat tire one of the days, but we worked really well as a group and got it changed within the hour. After the rest of the journey continued without a hitch, we made it back to Moss Landing and have been playing sleep catch up and life catch up since then.

pardito2Overall, it was an amazing experience. I learned a great deal by choosing a project not in my area of expertise and expanded my worldview... all while getting a tan! Who’s up to take the trip again?

Fog Blog: Smoke on the Water

By: Alex Olson and Holly Chiswell, Chemical Oceanography Lab

Able Seaman Pat Breshears of Oregon State University’s R/V Oceanus shuttles Holly Chiswell and Alex Olson out into the haze to collect sea surface microlayer samples offshore of Northern California.
Able Seaman Pat Breshears of Oregon State University’s R/V Oceanus shuttles Holly Chiswell and Alex Olson out into the haze to collect sea surface microlayer samples offshore of Northern California.

The Chemical Oceanography and MPSL labs set out on their latest cruise this past summer in hopes of bolstering and expanding their search to answer the question:  how is monomethylmercury (MMHg) transported into coastal marine fog? For those who missed our first post, a quick review:

MMHg is a neurotoxic form of mercury (Hg) recently discovered in marine advective fog along the central Californian Coast at trace levels, yet still 100 times higher than that of rain. Naturally, monomethylmercury is the byproduct of cellular metabolism in certain anaerobic bacteria; created (or methylated) from available elemental Hg. Oxygen minimum zones in the ocean also show increased levels of MMHg, suggesting its production occurs within microenvironments in these zones. In other words, it’s possible that bacteria that make their living in the anoxic depths of the ocean may be pumping out MMHg from any available elemental Hg in seawater. Elemental Hg (the kind found in old thermometers) is widespread and found globally in trace amounts. Volcanoes and other geologic venting were the main contributors of elemental and reactive forms of Hg to the atmosphere before the Industrial Revolution. Since then, global atmospheric levels of Hg have more than quadrupled. Anthropogenic sources of Hg are responsible for most Hg poisonings worldwide. One event, involving MMHg in waste discharge from a chemical plant, led to thousands of deaths in the small Japanese fishing town of Minamata. This event in the 1950’s, led to elevating global awareness of MMHg pollution. “Minamata’s Disease” is now a term used to describe the symptoms associated with the degradation of the body’s nervous system as a result of high MMHg toxicity. In case you are wondering, these symptoms include:

  • Tremors
  • Changes in vision
  • Deafness
  • Muscle coordination
  • Loss of sensation
  • Memory loss
  • Personality changes (nervous, irritable, shy)

MMHg is lipid-soluble, meaning it can enter tissue membranes and accumulate in organisms that take it up.  This is how a chemical plant’s refuse contaminated Minamata’s local seafood populations, yet this process of biomagnification also occurs naturally.  The EPA has suggested moderating consumption of certain fish species of higher trophic levels (upper food chain) and water-filtering organisms (mussels) for a few decades now. Increased atmospheric deposition of Hg from increased industrial activity contributes to the growing Hg levels in seawater, which could potentially expose the global population to MMHg contaminated seafood.


So how does this MMHg we normally see in anoxic (no oxygen) mud bacteria end up in the ocean and then coastal fog?

There are a few suspects in this investigation...

Plankton is prolific in the ocean, and one of the first likely steps for MMHg bioaccumulation into the food web. The genes hgcA and hgcB responsible for methylation in known methylating bacteria (typically sulfate reducing) can be compared to observed plankton species to see if they are genetically capable of producing and excreting MMHg as well. If methylating plankton are identified, then Hg enriched incubations can confirm which species are methylating in the water column, a “Who’s who in the zoo”.

MPSL Lab tech Chris Beebe eyes a colorful plankton tow.
Graduate students Holly Chiswell and Kristin Walovich filter samples for an onboard methylation experiment.
Graduate students Holly Chiswell and Kristin Walovich filter samples for an onboard methylation experiment.

The interface between air and sea is a place of biogeochemical shenanigans, where phase changes and aerosol production play a major role in the creation and cycling of organic/inorganic matter and pollutants. This sea surface microlayer (SML) is ~50-100 microns thick, and a zone where insoluble material accumulates, often concentrating trace materials and contaminants. It is from this layer that MMHg may also accumulate, and eventually be vaulted into the atmosphere by wave action, where it would then become the MMHg signal we detect in the fog.

The Chemical Oceanography Lab will be discussing their latest results with other fog researchers as part of a group called FogNet. Here they will examine their data in the context of fog dynamics along the California Coast. Check out some pictures and stay tuned!

Unofficial cruise mascot "Bear" secures the fog sampler for sea.
Unofficial cruise mascot "Bear" secures the fog sampler for sea.
Collecting microlayer samples attempting to capture the air-sea interface.
Collecting microlayer samples attempting to capture the air-sea interface.
Collecting microlayer samples attempting to capture the air-sea interface.
Returning to the R/V Oceanus after microlayer sampling.
Returning to the R/V Oceanus after microlayer sampling.
Resetting the CTD in some splashy weather.
Resetting the CTD in some splashy weather.
Resetting the CTD in some splashy weather.
Resetting the CTD in some splashy weather.
MPSL director Wes Heim helps prepare labels before mustering the science crew on deck.
MPSL director Wes Heim helps prepare labels before mustering the science crew on deck.
The stern of the R/V Oceanus gets a salt rinse.
The stern of the R/V Oceanus gets a salt rinse.
Collecting fog samples shortly after escaping an offshore fog bank.
Collecting fog samples shortly after escaping an offshore fog bank.
Collecting fog samples shortly after escaping an offshore fog bank.
Collecting fog samples shortly after escaping an offshore fog bank.


Fog Blog: the June Edition

By Alex Olson & Holly Chiswell, Chemical Oceanography

Fog Tower deployed, the crew of the R/V Point Sur spotlights night waters to avoid crab pots during fog collection operations off the California Coast (Photo by Alex Olson)

On June 5th, members of the Marine Pollutions Studies and Chemical Oceanography Labs under the direction of Dr. Kenneth Coale, began a week-long journey on the R/V Point Sur to investigate the recent findings of mercury in coastal marine fog. Dubbed “The Fog Cruise”, the crew and science party aboard sampled near and offshore waters using oceanographic tools for signs of methylmercury (MeHg), from deep sea sediments to fog above the sea surface.

Read More

Back-to-Back Cruises on the Point Sur

By Liz Lam

The week before spring break, I had the pleasure of going on two class cruises back to back on MLML’s research vessel, the Point Sur. On Monday, I set sail with the biological oceanography class as we went out into the Monterey Bay to do a few CTD casts. The Point Sur is equipped with many oceanographic devices, and one of the most important is the CTD, or conductivity, temperature, and depth sensor. Once the CTD is lowered into the water and through the water column, we can get real-time information about the conditions at each depth.  Surrounding the CTD is a rosette of 12 open bottles that can be triggered to close whenever we desire, so as we pull the device back up and onto the ship, we can also sample seawater at various depths.

Biological oceanography students help deploy the CTD
Biological oceanography students help deploy the CTD

The biological oceanography class was particularly interested in phytoplankton and how they differ among different depths. After collecting water samples from the CTD rosette, several different measurements were made, including ATP concentrations and variable fluorescence through a PAM fluorometer. We also filtered water at each depth so that we could later conduct chromatographic analysis on the pigments found in each sample.

Chemical oceanography students prepare the multi-corer
Chemical oceanography students prepare the multi-corer

The next day, I went out with the chemical oceanography class. Early in the day, we also utilized the CTD to collect water samples at various depths to measure the nitrate, phosphate, and silicate composition at each depth. In addition, we got to deploy the multi-corer, which allowed us to collect sediment samples from the bottom of the ocean. Net tows were done to gather concentrated samples of phytoplankton and zooplankton.

Net tows allowed us to collect concentrated samples of phytoplankton and zooplankton
Net tows allowed us to collect concentrated samples of phytoplankton and zooplankton

A smaller group of students was also selected to launch a small boat from the Point Sur and collect surface water samples.

Launching a small boat from the Point Sur!
Launching a small boat from the Point Sur!

We were fortunate enough to have beautiful weather on both days, resulting in two incredible cruises out in the Monterey Bay. For many students, it was their first opportunity to be aboard the Point Sur, and I’m sure we’re all hoping it wasn’t our last.