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