Peter Ortner

peter ortner

This Special CIMAS spotlight is written by Director Emeritus Peter Ortner himself!

"I came to CIMAS in 2007 as Associate Director after I retired from NOAA/AOML and became the Director in 2009 upon the retirement of Dr. Joseph Prospero. Since 1978, I have been a faculty member at RSMAS- while still a NOAA employee I served as an Adjunct Professor but after that as a Research Professor. I am particularly proud of the wonderful graduate (and post-doctoral) students who have come through my lab and their marvelous subsequent careers. Since the mid-1970’s, my research has centered upon how ocean circulation and currents regulate the abundance, distribution and productivity of planktonic aka drifting marine organisms. My focus has remained upon the development of “indirect” methods of sampling and upon improving the methods available to address this fundamental problem, in particular upon the use and integration of optical and acoustic technologies. Since 2000, I have been developing and promoting the concept of using not just specialized research vessels but Ships-of-Opportunity (commercial vessels regularly transiting the ocean) to sample ocean biology, physics and chemistry – a concept we call OceanScope (see

The research findings and methodologies of our research group are directly contributing to understanding the basis of fluctuations in fisheries resources and the changes in the ocean associated with global warming and ocean acidification. In recent decades, the urgency of understanding these issues has markedly increased with recognition of the enormous impact humans have had upon the natural ecosystem and the enormous challenges we face. Although I did not know it at the time, the USN funded my work for decades not because of their interest in the environment but because the distribution of plankton affect acoustic (and optical) submarine communication systems (and submarine detection!).

My interest in (and study of) science began in middle school and has continued since but my attachment to and concern for the marine environment began much much earlier. My parents were sailors and I grew up on the water in a coastal community. That said, having studied at Columbia University in NYC during my high school years I had satisfied all science requirements before college. When I got to Yale, I became first a classics major, then literature and finally a philosophy major. I did not return to science until after I graduated eventually becoming the first student in the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution graduate program and moved to the NOAA laboratory in Miami in 1977 joining the RSMAS faculty shortly thereafter. Some years later I got a law degree at UM and joined the UM Law School faculty as well. Over the years, my law training has proven repeatedly useful to me both at NOAA and at UM, with respect to marine pollution, ship groundings and the local effort to restore the Florida Everglades.

Along with hiking and camping trips, my wife and I spend as much time as we can cruising Biscayne Bay, the Keys and Bahamas aboard WAIF our family sloop with our two daughters. I tried to ensure that they (like I did) grow up on the water with a love of the sea. I think I have been successful.

At this very moment, my research group is busily instrumenting a new luxury passenger vessel that is being purpose built in the Netherlands to cruise the Galapagos Archipelago in the eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean. Our programs aboard Royal Caribbean Cruise Line Ltd. ships incorporates significant outreach efforts. Passengers learn about the problems the ocean environment is experiencing and the data generated aboard that we are making freely available to both the scientific and marine operations communities. We then encourage them both as citizens (and consumers) to do whatever they can to mitigate the negative environmental impacts of industrial society.

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