New endowment serves as research support – and as a call to action

Submitted by gallagm7 on Mon, 07/20/2015 - 12:55pm

For Dr. Greg Rau (’71),  the critical issue of ocean acidification – caused by an excess of atmospheric CO2 – is a trans-disciplinary problem. Rau, a senior scientist with the Institute of Marine Sciences at UC Santa Cruz and is also affiliated with the Carbon Management Program at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, has spent most of his professional career researching and working on carbon cycling. “I’m a marine bio-geo-chemist,” he says, “and the cycling of carbon cuts across these disciplines.” This makes ocean acidification (OA), the rising levels of which threaten ocean life, of particular interest to Rau as a scientist and as a concerned citizen. “Not only is CO2 a climate issue, it’s a marine chemistry and biology issue. The ocean is connected to the land and to the air, so if you’re studying carbon you can’t look at just one aspect – they’re all interconnected.”

Rau, who graduated from Western as a biology major with a double minor in mathematics and chemistry, would love to see his alma mater at the research frontlines of this particular global challenge. He recently established the Ocean Acidification Research endowment for faculty, staff and student-focused activities at Western’s Anacortes-based Shannon Point Marine Center, a gesture that he hopes will be as transformative for SPMC and OA research, as Western was for him.

“My experience at Western gave me a great grounding,” he explains. “It really laid an important foundation for what I’ve ended up doing. I was very interested in aquatic biology and aquatic ecology and I took some terrific courses from professors there. For example, biology professor Dr. Clyde Senger taught us how to use the campus mainframe computer, which was a really big deal at the time, and Professor Carter Broad, a marine invertebrate specialist, was also a strong influence. I think it’s a great thing that Western has a marine station and I am happy to support it.”

In a larger context, Rau hopes that his endowment will serve as a call to action. While part of the intent is to heighten awareness of OA, Rau also hopes that his gift will ultimately prove to be the start of something much, much bigger. “I’m hoping this is an open-ended process where I put in this seed money and that, in turn, elevates the visibility of Shannon Point and its research activities related to OA and to marine science in general. Ideally, it will also inspire others – companies and individuals alike who are concerned about the damaging impact of OA on marine ecosystems – to also contribute to the fund.”

For Shannon Point, the gift is an exciting way forward. “Greg Rau is a highly respected scientist, thinker, and writer with a passion for spurring society to seek unconventional approaches to climate change challenges,” says SPMC director Dr. Erika McPhee-Shaw. “We are extremely honored by his investment in ocean acidification research at Western’s Shannon Point Marine Center and inspired by his desire to draw in even more donors. The funds will help Dr. Brady Olson and other faculty, staff, and students in his group, who are doing truly creative and innovative research in ocean acidification. They look at how increasing ocean pCO2 can disturb complex systems such as predator-prey interactions in plankton, or modify the lipid content of phytoplankton, affecting the food chain to copepods and eventually higher trophic levels. These are cutting-edge questions that go well beyond the shell dissolution studies that have traditionally characterized ocean acidification studies until recently, and it is wonderful of Greg Rau to recognize and promote this groundbreaking work of Western scientists. “

As to future additions to his endowment, Rau is optimistic: there’s a lot of money out there, he notes, and the time it right to support this type of research. “We need some new thinking on how we’re going to study and conserve marine ecosystems,” he says. “This isn’t just a critical need for the region, for Washington, for the Pacific Northwest, but for the world, and I’d really like to see Western be part of the solution here.”

Daneet Steffens
Author Title
Western Foundation