Center for Chemical Currencies of a Microbial Planet (C-CoMP)

Lead PI: Sonya Dyhrman , Kujawinski, Elizabeth; Moran, Mary Ann; Eren, A Murat; Epstein, Howard; Doney, Scott

Unit Affiliation: Biology and Paleo Environment, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)

October 2021 - September 2026
North America ; United States
Project Type: Research

DESCRIPTION: Functions carried out by microscopic inhabitants of the surface ocean affect every aspect of life on our planet, regardless of distance from the coast. Ocean phytoplankton are responsible for half of the photosynthesis on Earth, the first step in a complex system that annually withdraws 50 billion metric tons of carbon from the atmosphere to sustain their growth. Of this, 25 billion metric tons participate in a rapid cycle in which biologically reactive material is released into seawater and converted back into carbon dioxide by marine bacteria within hours to days. The chemical-microbe network at the heart of this fast cycle remains poorly constrained; consequently, its primary currencies and controls remain elusive; its sensitivities to changing ocean conditions are unknown; and its responses to future climate scenarios are not predictable. The Center for Chemical Currencies of a Microbial Planet (C-CoMP) integrates research, education and knowledge transfer activities to develop a mechanistic understanding of surface ocean carbon flux within the context of a changing ocean and through increased participation in ocean sciences. C-CoMP supports science teams that merge biology, chemistry, modeling, and informatics to close long-standing knowledge gaps in the identities and dynamics of organic molecules that serve as the currencies of elemental transfer between the ocean and atmosphere. C-CoMP fosters education, outreach, and knowledge transfer activities that engage students of all ages, broaden participation in the next generation of ocean scientists, and extend novel open-science approaches into complementary academic and industrial communities. The Center framework is critical to this mission, uniquely facilitating an open exchange of experimental and computational science, methodological and conceptual challenges, and collaborations that establish integrated science and education partnerships. With expanded participation in ocean science research and ocean literacy across the US society, the next generation of ocean scientists will better reflect the diverse US population. Climate-carbon feedbacks on the marine carbon reservoir are major uncertainties for future climate projections, and the trajectory and rate of ocean changes depend directly on microbial responses to temperature increases, ocean acidification, and other perturbations driven by climate change. C-CoMP research closes an urgent knowledge gap in the mechanisms driving carbon flow between ocean and atmosphere, with global implications for predictive climate models. The Center supports interdisciplinary science teams following open and reproducible science practices to address: (1) the chemical currencies of surface ocean carbon flux; (2) the structure and regulation of the chemical-microbe network that mediates this flux; and (3) sensitivity of the network and its feedbacks on climate. C-CoMP leverages emerging tools and technologies to tackle critical challenges in these themes, in synergy with existing ocean programs and consistent with NSF?s Big Ideas. C-CoMP education and outreach activities seek to overcome barriers to ocean literacy and diversify participation in ocean research. The Center is developing (1) initiatives to expand ocean literacy in K-12 and the broader public, (2) ocean sciences undergraduate curricula and research opportunities that provide multiple entry points into research experiences, (3) post-baccalaureate programs to transition undergraduates into graduate education and careers in ocean science, and (4) interdisciplinary graduate student and postdoctoral programs that prepare the next generation of ocean scientists. The C-CoMP team includes education faculty who evaluate the impacts of education and outreach activities and export successful STEM initiatives to the education community. C-CoMP is revolutionizing the technologies for studying chemical transformations in microbial systems to build understanding of the outsized impact of microbes on elemental cycles. Open science, cross-disciplinary collaborations, community engagement, and inclusive practices foster strategic advances in critical science problems and STEM initiatives. C-CoMP science, education, and knowledge-transfer themes are efficiently addressed through a sustained network of scientists addressing critical research challenges while broadening the workforce that will tackle multi-disciplinary problems with academic, industrial and policy partners.


Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution


National Science Foundation




Sheean Haley


Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution