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Tom Malone on understanding nutrient pollution in the world’s oceans

September 23, 2020

As a biological oceanographer, Tom Malone has focused his recent research on building the requirements for the coastal component of the Global Ocean Observing System, a global system of sustained observations in the world’s oceans to assess the health of the ocean and document the impacts of nutrient pollutions on coastal marine ecosystems, including the Chesapeake Bay.

Malone’s most recent paper sheds light on the current global crises caused by nutrient pollution of coastal ecosystems including the loss of critical habitat, such as seagrass meadows and coral reefs, ongoing development of oxygen depleted "dead zones," toxic algal blooms, and mass mortalities of marine animals.

Malone served as interim president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and subsequently, the director of UMCES’ Horn Point Laboratory from 1990 to 2001, and the Ocean U.S. Office for Sustainable and Integrated Ocean Observations.

Why is it important to understand your research as a scientist?
Understanding how marine ecosystems are structured and how all of its components of ecosystems—from primary producers at the bottom of the food chain to apex predators at the top—interact with each other is critical to effectively inform environmental policy, environmental protectio,n and resource management.

How will this research make a broader impact?
This research will promote the continued development of ocean observing systems to track nutrient inputs, including nitrogen and phosphorus from both point and non-point sources and their impacts on ecosystem services and people. It will also highlight priorities for and challenges of controlling nutrient pollution.

What are some important issues to focus on next?
Understanding how coastal ecosystems services are affected by nutrient pollution and implementing measures to sustain them in perpetuity. Examples of these ecosystem services include: fish production, protecting coastal communities from storm surge and flooding, absorbing heat and sequestering CO2 from the atmosphere, maintaining water quality, and biodiversity.

Also enhancing the Global Ocean Observing System to monitor biological variables, like biodiversity, phytoplankton production, grazing by herbivores, and predation by fish populations and developing operational ecosystem models.