Largest ever private award to UH funds microbial oceanography research

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UH logoThe Simons Foundation has awarded Drs. Edward DeLong and David Karl, both UH Mānoa professors in the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST), $40 million to lead the Simons Collaboration on Ocean Processes and Ecology (SCOPE), making it the largest private foundation gift UH has ever received. SCOPE is one of the programs of the Simons Foundation’s division of Life Sciences, which aims to advance basic research in life sciences.

SCOPE aims to further our understanding of the microscopic organisms that inhabit every drop of seawater and how those creatures control the movement and exchange of energy and nutrients, from the surface waters to the deep sea.


“In SCOPE, we’re going to be using a range of technologies – from in situ autonomous sensing to the advanced genomic analyses – to more deeply understand how the ecosystem really works in the ocean waters around Hawaii, and how that relates to ecosystem function on the rest of the planet,” said DeLong.

Microorganisms in the sea are responsible for producing oxygen that we breathe.  They form the base of the food web for all of the fisheries of the world, and they are the organisms that can degrade human-produced pollutants.

This funding will enable researchers to perform innovative field studies and laboratory characterization of microbes, as well as develop new theories and models about the complex ocean ecosystem at the SCOPE field site (Station ALOHA, 100 km north of Oahu).

“SCOPE is the foundation’s first project in microbial oceanography. We are confident that collaborative efforts by this terrific team of scientists will lead to new discoveries and deeper understanding of the microbial ecosystem,” said Marian Carlson, Director of Life Sciences at Simons Foundation.

A central premise of SCOPE is that the ocean ecosystem must be studied in situ, at a variety of levels, in order to fully describe and model it.

“The Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education (C-MORE) and the Hawai‘i Ocean Time-series (HOT) program have been studying Station ALOHA for over 25 years.  So we have a good understanding of its physical variability and how that’s structured. And now we want to build upon that information – and add new measurements, that include genomics, metabolism, molecular biology – to better understand the blueprint of life in the open ocean setting, how everything is connected, and how all of these independent phenomena work together to make the ecosystem whole,” said Karl.

“This generous support from the Simons Foundation is a resounding endorsement and multiplier of University strategic investments through the Hawai‘i Innovation Initiative in excellent researchers such as Karl and DeLong, both of whom are members of the National Academy of Sciences,” said SOEST Dean Brian Taylor.

DeLong is the first scientist to be hired by the University under the auspices of the Hawai‘i Innovation Initiative.

“We are incredibly grateful to the Simons Foundation for this remarkable investment in Ed’s and Dave’s work,” said David Lassner, recently named to be the 15th President of the University of Hawai‘i.  “Private funding is increasingly essential to our ability to recruit, retain and support our world-class faculty so that UH can advance research and innovation in Hawaiʻi.”

While the leadership and program locus will be at UHM, with DeLong and Karl as Co-Directors, SCOPE will be a multi-institutional collaboration with inaugural partners at University of California – Santa Cruz, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and University of Washington.

“No individual or laboratory working alone would be able to achieve all of the things we are proposing to do, to get to the bigger picture. To get to that bigger picture, we need to have these integrative symbioses, these multi-Investigator collaborative efforts, and that’s what a large part of this project is all about,” noted DeLong.

To learn more about SCOPE, please visit