UCI OCEANS Faculty, Kate Mackey, Awarded Sloan Research Fellowship

By Nicole Block, Climate Communications Student Writer

Dr. Katherine (Kate) Mackey, a member of the UCI OCEANS Initiative, was named a 2017 Sloan Research Fellow. This esteemed award includes a $60,000 grant to support future research.

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation presented 126 fellowships to early-career scholars who show promising scientific research in eight different categories: ocean sciences, chemistry, computational or evolutionary molecular biology, computer science, economics, mathematics, neuroscience, and physics. The Sloan Foundation has awarded fellowships since 1955 and their Fellows have collectively won 43 Nobel Prizes, 16 Fields Medals, 69 National Medals of Science, 16 John Bates Clark Medals, among other distinguished awards.

Kate Mackey and members of her lab studying marine life at Corona del Mar State Beach. Photo by Steve Zylius/UCI

Kate Mackey and members of her lab studying marine life at Corona del Mar State Beach. Photo by Steve Zylius/UCI

“Early-career recognition can make a significant difference in the life of a scientist,” said Daniel L. Goroff, vice president of the Sloan Foundation and director of the Sloan Research Fellowship program. “The rigorous selection process and the prominence of past awardees make the Sloan Research Fellowships one of the most prestigious awards available to young researchers.”

Mackey is an Earth System Science assistant professor who studies the ways that photosynthesis shapes and is shaped by ocean processes. She looks at microscopic, single-celled organisms called phytoplankton in the lab and at sea to analyze what factors allow certain species to dominate different regions, particularly in relation to climate and global change. This is important because phytoplankton play a large role in regulating the ocean’s biogeochemical cycles.

Phytoplankton are a key species in ocean ecosystems. Through photosynthesis, they use energy from the sun to “fix” gaseous carbon dioxide into sugars that, in turn, form the base of aquatic food webs. Though phytoplankton have huge populations, they are sensitive to changes in ocean temperature, currents, and nutrient levels. They are directly affected by global warming because increases in sea surface temperatures reduce upwellings of nutrient-rich water that phytoplankton are dependent on.

Mackey hopes to better understand the way that phytoplankton respond to these changes, and how their distributions could shift in the future. About her research and receiving the award, Mackey says, “Marine phytoplankton do half of all photosynthesis on Earth and directly influence global biogeochemical cycles and climate, but there are still many fundamental, unanswered questions about how they will respond to global change. I am honored to receive the Sloan Fellowship, and grateful that it will help support several of my new projects looking at how phytoplankton acclimate and adapt as the Earth system changes.”

Congratulations to Kate Mackey! We are glad to have her on the UCI OCEANS team leading the way in ocean climate change research.