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March 7, 2005

Ocean scientist Mary Silver to give annual Faculty Research Lecture on March 10

By Tim Stephens

Professor of ocean sciences Mary Silver will give the annual Faculty Research Lecture at UCSC on Thursday, March 10. Her lecture, titled "A Naturalist's View: Toxic Algae in the Coastal Ocean," will begin at 8 p.m. in the Colleges Nine and Ten Multipurpose Room. The event is free and open to the public. A reception will be held at the University Center after the lecture.

Photo: Mary Silver

Professor of ocean sciences Mary Silver.
Photo: UCSC Photo Services

See related story on Mary Silver's research.

An internationally recognized leader in biological oceanography, Silver has been highly influential through her research and teaching. Her findings have affected research directions for the entire field of oceanography and have often caused the oceanographic community to rethink and change the prevailing wisdom of the time.

In recent years, Silver has been studying one of the most pressing issues of ocean health: harmful algal blooms caused by toxin-producing marine phytoplankton (microscopic algae). When other organisms eat the toxic algae, the toxins can move through the marine food web, poisoning marine mammals and seabirds and accumulating in fish and shellfish that may be harvested for human consumption. This issue is receiving increased attention because of growing human populations near the coasts, increasing human consumption of marine food sources, and more frequent and widespread occurrence of harmful algal blooms.

Silver's research on harmful algal blooms focuses on determining the environmental conditions that lead to toxin production by phytoplankton and understanding the pathways by which these toxins are transmitted to higher organisms, including humans.

Silver joined the UCSC faculty in 1972, and she was a founding member and leading developer of the campus's highly respected program in ocean sciences. She is probably best known for her studies of "marine snow" that began in the mid-1970s. The small flocs and flakes of nonliving particles that drift down through the water like snow had been ignored by other scientists until Silver decided to take a close look at them. She showed that marine snow is a major source of sinking organic matter in the world's oceans and that it is the site of intense microbial activity.

Silver's findings on marine snow had a major impact on the basic understanding of the way that decomposition and nutrient regeneration processes occur in the ocean and the ways in which microbial populations interact. This work resulted in the first estimates of the abundance of marine snow and the communities of microorganisms that inhabit it. It also showed that many planktonic organisms thought to be "free-living" actually reside on particles. Because these organisms are abundant and active, the particles are actually semi-isolated microhabitats for dense and unique microbial communities.

"Silver's collective body of work on marine snow stands out as one of the great individual contributions in modern biological oceanography," wrote the committee of the UCSC Academic Senate that recommended her as this year's Faculty Research Lecturer.

Silver has received many awards and honors in recognition of her accomplishments, including the Mary Sears Woman Pioneer in Oceanography Award in 2002 and the Henry Bryant Bigelow Award in Oceanography in 1992, both awarded by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. She received the 1995-96 Outstanding Faculty Award from UCSC's Division of Physical and Biological Sciences, was elected as a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences in 1997, and was selected by the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary to give the 2001 Ricketts Memorial Lecture.

A popular teacher, Silver has taught well over 4,000 students in her years at UCSC and has sponsored and encouraged many young marine biologists and oceanographers. She received her bachelor's degree in zoology from UC Berkeley and her Ph.D. in oceanography from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.


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