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Climate Change research

Climate Change

Understanding climate change is the predominant scientific challenge of our time, as rising atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) and temperatures influence shifts in weather, storm activity, sea level, biodiversity, and numerous other processes. While direct study of long-term climate variability is not feasible during a six-week voyage, SEA Semester leverages the opportunities presented by its remote, open ocean cruise tracks and repeated annual sampling to build valuable datasets in poorly studied areas of the world. Furthermore, first-hand interactions with small island communities during port stops offer the chance to explore the community impacts of regional climate-related changes already underway. Student policy research aims to first identify the most pressing climate issues along each cruise track, then explore and expand upon ongoing adaptation, mitigation and response efforts by local governments and agencies.

Research Themes

Sea Education Association Research

Ocean acidification

As dissolved carbon dioxide (CO2) levels increase in seawater, the oceans become more acidic. Effects to marine environments are varied, with consequences for calcium carbonate-structure building organisms such as corals and shelled plankton significantly negative. Coastal ecosystems and higher latitude waters are most susceptible to acidification, offering target study locations. Using shipboard measurements of seawater pH and alkalinity (buffering capacity), SEA Semester students establishe baseline conditions of ocean chemistry and assesses changes over time.

Selected Ocean acidification papers and publications

Sea Education Association Research

El Niño-Southern Oscillation

A large-scale coupled ocean-atmosphere pattern in the equatorial Pacific, El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) alters wind, current, temperature, and ecological conditions of both the surface and deep oceans throughout the region. SEA has sampled the central Pacific for more than 15 years, yielding a dataset that includes multiple El Niño and La Niña phases as well as transitional periods. Oceanographic research in this region includes a consideration of the influences of ENSO regardless of discipline; changing productivity, coral bleaching and recovery, carbon fluxes with the atmosphere and fisheries influences are frequent areas of focus. Our research with the Phoenix Islands Protected Area and across remote small Pacific islands significantly enhances regional understanding.

SEA faculty and collaborators: Jan Witting (SEA)

Selected El Nino-Southern Oscillation papers and publications

Sea Education Association Research

Carbon cycling

Carbon occurs in the ocean in a variety of chemical compounds; the many and diverse processes that alter its form and transport it between atmosphere, sediments, living organisms, land and ocean are collectively termed the carbon cycle. SEA Semester student research focuses on measuring organic and inorganic carbon using shipboard instrumentation and laboratory analysis of water samples in order to quantify reservoirs of ocean carbon and the fluxes between them.

Selected Carbon cycling papers and publications

Papers and Publications

Peer-reviewed publications

Harden, B.E.*, G. G. Gawarkiewicz, M. Infante, 2020. Trends in physical properties at the southern New England shelfbreak. J. Geophys. Res. e2019JC015784. doi: 10.1029/2019JC015784

Deary, A., S. Moret-Ferguson*, M. Engels*, E. Zettler*, G. Jaroslow* and G. Sancho, 2015. Influence of central Pacific oceanographic conditions on the potential vertical habitat of four tropical tuna species.  Pacific Science , 69, 461-475. doi: 10.2984/69.4.3

Selected student research

Asher, L., 2018. The impact of El Nino upon the availability of Equatorial Undercurrent-derived nutrients. Unpublished student research paper, Class S-281, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

Watson, K., 2018. Variations in sub-surface temperature and salinity in the central Pacific due to El Nino Southern Oscillation. Unpublished student research paper, Class S-280, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

Mose, K., A. Davis and W. Lounsbery-Scaife, 2018. Impacts of ocean acidification on pteropod population dynamics and shell condition in the South Pacific. Unpublished student research paper, Class S-278, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

Dailey, E., B. Hernandez and R. Tan, 2018. The relationship between air-sea carbon dioxide flux and ocean acidification in the South Pacific Ocean. Unpublished student research paper, Class S-278, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

Racioppi, A. and C. Gaunt, 2018. Temporal trends in Antarctic Intermediate Water temperature, salinity and stratification in the Southern Pacific Ocean. Unpublished student research paper, Class S-278, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

McLaughlin, L., 2018. Sea surface temperature and thermocline depth: climate change effects in the Caribbean. Unpublished student research paper, Class C-277, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

Benz, J., 2017. Assessing alkalinity in relation to urchin spatial distribution across Caribbean reefs. Unpublished student research paper, Class C-276, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

Livingston, K. and C. Stoudt, 2017. The role of particulate organic carbon on the global carbon cycle in the South Pacific Ocean. Unpublished student research paper, Class S-276, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

Benton, M., 2017. Fueling the fire: growing intensity of tropical cyclones during climate change. Unpublished student research paper, Class S-275, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

McKenna, F., 2017. Salt water intrusion from sea level rise in Tonga. Unpublished student research paper, Class S-275, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

Ranney, J., J. Rose and C. Bradham, 2017. Seawater pH and aragonite saturation effects on calcifying zooplankton diversity and abundance around the Phoenix Islands Protected Area. Unpublished student research paper, Class S-274, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

Ferguson, L. and M. Burnett, 2017. Quantifying the effects of ENSO and the Western Pacific Warm Pool on geostrophic flows and nutrient dynamics in the South Pacific gyre. Unpublished student research paper, Class S-273, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

Ravn, M., 2016. Investigation of change in hurricane intensification and the underlying drivers with focus on sea surface temperature. Unpublished student research paper, Class C-270, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

Lucas, D., J. Irving and K. York, 2016. Temporal trends of intermediate water masses in the subtropical North Atlantic. Unpublished student research paper, Class C-270, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

Davis, A. and S. Botia, 2015. Distribution and Transport of Dissolved Inorganic Carbon (DIC) in the Antarctic Intermediate Water and the Sub-Antarctic Mode Water in the South Pacific Ocean. Unpublished student research paper, Class S-258, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.


Harden, B.*, 2016. The fate of the Gulf Stream. Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Next in Science program. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

Meyer, A.*, M. Becker^, K. Grabb^ and SEA Cruise S-250 Scientific Party, 2014. SEA Semester undergraduates research the ocean's role in climate systems in the Pacific Ocean. AGU Fall Meeting, San Francisco, CA.

* SEA faculty and staff
^ SEA Semester alumnus


SEA Semester

Climate & Society: New Zealand

Posted on: July 20, 2020

Explore the intersection of climate change and human society… Survey the social and cultural impacts of climate change while engaging with stakeholders, community leaders, and policymakers addressing these issues at the local and global levels. Take action toward acquiring the climate leadership and communication skills necessary to be an agent of change. Engage in guided fieldwork on shore in New Zealand before embarking on a tall ship sailing voyage throughout its coastal waters.

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SEA Semester

SEA Alum Featured in Live Science

Posted on: February 06, 2020

SEA Alumni in the NEWS
LIVESCIENCE, Feb. 5, 2020
What is Ocean Acidification?
By Tom Childers

SEA alumnus and former trustee Scott Doney, professor of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia, gives an explanation of the causes and effects of ocean acidification.

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SEA Semester

A Reflection on Ocean Literacy, 2020 and Beyond

Posted on: January 28, 2020
By: Kerry Whittaker, Assistant Professor of Oceanography

With the start of the new year, we are introducing a series of articles by Sea Education Association faculty and staff titled “Study Abroad and the Sea: Perspectives on Climate Change and the Ocean Environment.”  The series is a diverse and varied examination of relevant ocean topics for college students interested in ocean research and policy.  The first of this series examines the value of ocean literacy by SEA Assistant Professor of Oceanography Kerry Whittaker.

Here, on this last day of 2019, I find myself reflecting on another year as Oceanography Faculty with SEA.  Even today, gazing out onto snow falling along the New England coastline and piling onto branches, railings, and roofs, my mind can easily jump back to the quarterdeck of the Robert C. Seamans carried by the humid trade winds of the South Pacific, or aloft on the Corwith Cramer as we glide through the Bermuda blue water.

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JWO (Not-So-)Scaries

Posted on: December 06, 2019
By: Nicole Pollack, Middlebury College

Things I learned on my first day as JWO (junior watch officer): it’s not as scary as it seems, your watch has your back, and when in doubt, the JWO survival guide holds the answer. It turns out calling the shots is a lot of fun, especially when everybody else’s goal is to help the JWO succeed.

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To Land and Back

Posted on: December 04, 2019
By: George Edison, Vassar College

Today was a day of celebration, as not one, but two shipmates had birthdays today, Jessie, and Jeff! We just rounded out the day, which was sunny and warm, with carrot cupcakes and a couple of rounds of Happy Birthday singing, including a Danish rendition by our resident Dane, Amelia.

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