Student Vignettes

Shannon Burns

About my research:

As a Ph.D. student in Dr. Kristen Buck’s lab, I am investigating the feedbacks among phytoplankton communities and the bioavailable trace metal distributions of iron, zinc, manganese, nickel, copper, cobalt, cadmium, and lead. I want to understand how these feedbacks develop and change across coastal and open ocean systems, from the Southern Ocean to the North Pacific and North Atlantic Oceans. Trace metals act as nutrients to phytoplankton and are used in their enzymes to make processes like photosynthesis possible. Phytoplankton ultimately supply about half the oxygen to our atmosphere, while sequestering carbon dioxide. They are also a part of the carbon export process when they die and sink into the deep ocean. I am excited to look more closely at how trace metals interact with this process as part of the NASA and NSF ExPORTS project currently underway. Understanding how different environmental conditions change ocean chemistry, phytoplankton communities, and phytoplankton uptake of trace metals will provide context for future studies, as forces like climate change alter marine nutrient distributions and phytoplankton production. To understand how to sustain ocean ecosystems, we must recognize what governs the oceans from the bottom-up, on an elemental level.



I was hooked by all of the opportunities for fieldwork at sea that are available at USFCMS. After all, seeing the ocean is what inspired me to become a chemical oceanographer in the first place. In addition to a few previous expeditions in the Gulf of Mexico, I will be at sea in the Bahamas, Bermuda, the North Atlantic, the North Pacific, and even the Southern Ocean in the coming year and a half!

The College of Marine Science is also more than just an academic program, it is a unique community of people who support each other. The professors here are more than willing to hear out new ideas and help students follow their passions. The possibility for collaboration here among other science institutions and community organizations is endless. Furthermore, I appreciate the opportunities for science communication and advocacy provided here at USF CMS. How can we expect the public and political bodies to develop fact-based opinions without access to new scientific information, and without that information being translated into digestible terms? From writing blogs for the Oceanography Camp for Girls, to meeting with congresspeople in Washington, D.C., to participating in the St. Petersburg Science Festival, I am grateful to consistently have the opportunity to grow as a science communicator here at USF CMS.

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