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John Hobbie at the Arctic Circle

Hobbie Elected to American Academy; Peterson and Hobbie Honored by ASLO

Two scientists at the Ecosystems Center have recently received major national honors and awards. John Hobbie was named a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the nation’s most prestigious honorary societies. Dr. Hobbie, a senior scholar at the center, also received the Redfield Award from the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO).  Bruce Peterson, a senior scientist, was the recipient of ASLO’s Martin Award.
Dr. Hobbie  is one of  212 scholars, scientists, artists, and civic, corporate and philanthropic leaders elected to the American Academy this year, including Craig Mello of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, 2006 recipient of the Nobel Prize for discovery of RNA interference; computer company founders Michael Dell (Dell Computer), and Charles M. Geschke and John E. Warnock (Adobe Systems, Inc.); two-time cabinet secretary and former White House Chief of Staff James A. Baker III; astronomer Adam Riess, who contributed to the discovery of dark energy in the universe; Academy Award-winning filmmakers Ethan and Joel Cohen and Milos Forman; Darwin biographer Janet Browne; soprano Dawn Upshaw; Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Edwards P. Jones; and blues guitarist B.B. King.

The new class will be inducted at a ceremony on October 11, at the Academy’s headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Dr. Hobbie, former co-director of the Ecosystems Center, was named Distinguished Scientist at the MBL in 2006, only the second person to achieve that status in the MBL’s 120-year history. An aquatic ecologist, his research centers on discovering the activities of microbes in nature. Recently, he moved into soils research, where new techniques he developed with his son, Erik Hobbie, are providing rates of nitrogen transfer from mushrooms into shrubs and trees.

Dr. Hobbie is also lead principal investigator of the Arctic Long-Term Ecological Research Site at Toolik Lake, Alaska, funded by the National Science Foundation. He was instrumental in founding the research program, located on Alaska’s North Slope, and in the development of the network of Long Term Ecological Research sites.

The American Society of Limnology and Oceanography awarded Dr. Hobbie its 2008 Alfred C. Redfield Lifetime Achievement Award, “to recognize and honor major, long-term achievements in the field of limnology and oceanography.” The award is named for Dr. Redfield, a renowned Woods Hole scientist who was one of the founders of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

According to George Kling of the University of Michigan, who nominated Dr. Hobbie for the award, his first of two seminal breakthroughs in aquatic ecology was to use radioisotopes to measure microbial activity in nature. Dr. Hobbie and Richard Wright, a fellow post-doctoral scientist at Uppsala University in Sweden, developed techniques to understand, for the first time, the rates of processes in lakes and oceans.  The paper describing this research was published in 1965 in Limnology and Oceanography.

“Before this research we knew what microbes were capable of doing in the laboratory but had only the sketchiest notions of what they are actually doing in their natural habitat,” said Dr. Hobbie.  “Another major problem of aquatic microbial ecology was the difficulty of determining just how many microbes are present in lakes and oceans.  Bacteria are easy to grow in the laboratory but we had hints that only a small percentage of the bacteria in nature would grow on the agar plates of microbiologists.”

In his second seminal contribution to the field, Dr. Hobbie, along with colleagues R. J.  Daley and J. Jasper, solved that problem as well by developing the “Use of nuclepore filters for counting bacteria by fluorescence microscopy,” published in 1977 in Applied Environmental Microbiology. That paper has been cited by colleagues more than 3,200 times.  “Ecologists now had the breakthrough to study both the population dyn amics and the ecosystem function of the most diverse and abundant group of organisms on Earth. These approaches, coupled with others’ ideas about the cycling of microbial biomass, stimulated our progress for the next 20 years,” said Dr. Kling.

Bruce Peterson

Ecosystems Center senior scientist Bruce Peterson shared ASLO’s John Martin Award with Richard Eppley of Scripps Institution of Oceanography for their 1979 paper which, according to ASLO, is given to the authors of “a paper in aquatic sciences that is judged to have a high impact on subsequent research in the field.”

“Particulate matter flux and planktonic new production in the deep ocean,” was published in Nature. In this paper, Drs. Eppley and Peterson emphasized that photosynthesis in the upper zone of the ocean creates algal material containing nitrogen.  Some of this material continually sinks into deep zones of the ocean.  This sinking rate of material can only be maintained if there is continual new algal material being formed and this so-called “new” production must be based on imported sources of nitrogen, such as the mixing of nitrogen into the upper zone, nitrogen-fixation, etc.

Drs. Eppley and Peterson’s paper provided the first estimate of global new production, and showed how the ratio of new to total production varies with depth and proximity to land. In a widely-ranging analysis, the authors discussed the implications of this balance for fisheries production, estimates of nitrogen fixation, carbon sequestration, and climate change. Their concept shaped biological oceanography research for the next decades.  The paper has been cited over 1,100 times.

Dr. Peterson’s present research at the Ecosystems Center includes studies of the food web structure and biogeochemistry of Arctic streams and rivers, nitrogen cycling in headwater streams and estuaries, and the impacts of climate change on the freshwater cycle of the Arctic.