Marine phytoplankton are microscopic photosynthetic organisms living in the ocean surface. They form the base of the marine food chain, and can thus impact larger marine organisms, from zooplankton to commercially important fish and even whales. Phytoplankton also play instrumental roles in the global cycles of carbon, oxygen, and other elements. Yet despite their tremendous ecological, societal, and global importance, we are only beginning to explore the great biodiversity of phytoplankton, and understand their complex ecology and interactions with the environment.
Our research seeks to map the distribution of phytoplankton species in the ocean, and illuminate the fundamental biological and ecological processes that underpin these patterns. We investigate how changes in Earth’s climate, including natural variability and long-term changes driven by human activities, have the potential to alter phytoplankton species distributions and community composition. To illustrate and study these complex natural processes, we develop cutting-edge computer models that simulate the marine environment and the many types of plankton living in the ocean. We integrate these models with real observations from the sea, using large compilations of environmental, ecological, and biological data to glean novel inferences about marine plankton life. Our research is building understanding of a critical, if individually tiny, component of life on Earth.
Andrew Barton received his Ph.D in Climate Physics and Chemistry from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2011, and was an NSF International Research Postdoctoral Fellow hosted jointly between Duke University and the University of Liverpool in the United Kingdom. Dr. Barton joined the faculty of Biological Sciences and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 2016.