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Leadership and reputation

Royal Society of Canada honours Memorial ocean sciences researcher with prestigious award

By Kelly Foss

The Canada Research Chair in Biological Oceanographic Processes and a professor of ocean sciences at Memorial is the 2022 recipient of the prestigious A.G. Huntsman Award for Excellence in the Marine Sciences.

The award is being presented to Dr. Uta Passow by the Royal Society of Canada and recognizes her significant contributions to our understanding of the ocean and its ability to respond to anthropogenic changes such as climate change and oil pollution.

“I feel extremely honoured and thrilled to receive this recognition, and am deeply appreciative of the investment of time and effort by colleagues who put together the nomination package, as well as of the award committee, who, I’m sure, has a difficult choice to make each year,” she said.

Dr. Passow’s research centers on the functioning of the biological carbon pump (BCP), specifically the pathway of sinking particle flux.

The term BCP encompasses all processes leading to the formation of particles that sediment into the deep ocean or to the sea floor.

The BCP is a key feature of the marine carbon cycle and an important driver of the ability of the ocean to take up carbon. It also plays a critical role for the distribution and fate of buoyant contaminants such as oil and microplastic.

“In the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon spill, I also uncovered the role of marine snow in transporting oil to the seafloor.” — Dr. Uta Passow

Since her training as a field-going biological oceanographer in Kiel, Germany, Dr. Passow has worked at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in the U.S., and at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Germany.

She has studied the role of aggregation of phytoplankton for sedimentation, discovering the key role of marine gels along the way. She has also explored various drivers of the BCP with a focus on the flux of aggregates and marine snow as a function of ecosystem structure.

“For 10 years, research targeted the impact of climate change, including ocean acidification, on the functioning of the BCP, the marine carbon cycle and the ability of the ocean to sequester carbon,” she said. “In the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon spill, I also uncovered the role of marine snow in transporting oil to the seafloor, thus changing its fate and impact drastically.”

At Memorial University she leads the Anthropogenic Effects on Oceans around Newfoundland Lab, which investigates the impacts of oil spills, microplastic pollution and climate change on the BCP and the role of BCP for the fate of pollutants.

Dr. Passow also enjoys an international reputation for her ongoing efforts to mentor the next generation of marine scientists, as well as her leadership within the marine science community.

Marine scientific thought

The A.G. Huntsman Award was established by the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in 1980 to recognize excellence of research in, and outstanding contribution to, the marine sciences.

The award honours persons, of any nationality, who have had, and continue to have, a significant influence on the course of marine scientific thought.

The award was created to honour the memory of Archibald Gowanlock Huntsman (1883–1972), a pioneer Canadian oceanographer and fishery biologist.

The 2022 award ceremony and distinguished lecture will be held in November, with plans to include both an in-person event and a simultaneous livestream.

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