Research Topics

Bigelow Laboratory scientists are advancing what is known about marine microorganisms, how they affect global ocean processes, and how these processes are being impacted by changing environmental conditions. This knowledge is helping to address pressing ocean issues from ways to help mitigate the consequences of ocean acidification to helping ensure the safety and sustainability of seafood. To learn more about how our scientists are making a difference, click on one of the topics below.


As the need for food and nutrients for the expanding global population continues to rise, aquaculture is growing in response, but faces challenges in creating a sustainable and profitable seafood market. Learn how Bigelow Laboratory scientists are helping to resolve obstacles to growth and productivity by helping to determine optimal sites, identify marketable products, and control disease.

Changing Arctic

Climate is changing faster in the Arctic than anywhere else on the planet. Warmer temperatures are leading to the acceleration of sea ice melting, rapid thawing of permafrost (the year-round ice within the ground), and increasing release of greenhouse gases from Arctic environments. Microbes in the Arctic Ocean and surrounding environment may help to lessen the impact of these changes...or they might speed them up. Bigelow Laboratory scientists are involved in several research projects to understand the role of these tiny giants in the changing Arctic.

Gulf of Maine and Beyond

The Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 99.9 percent of the water bodies on the planet. Bigelow Laboratory researchers have been taking continuous measurements of the Gulf of Maine for 16 years. Their data show an 80 percent decline in the growth rate of phytoplankton, which indicates lower production of the critical plants at the bottom of the marine food web. Because phytoplankton are food for fish larvae, lower production by these microscopic plants could mean lower numbers of adult fish populations years from now.

Human Health

Bigelow Laboratory house about 3,000 strains of phytoplankton, bacteria, and marine viruses from around the world. Researchers here are using this collection to develop natural nutritional supplements, and pharmaceuticals with the potential to yield medical breakthroughs. Scientists here also are investigating the harmful effects of marine algae that produce a suite of neurotoxins, and exploring ways to mitigate and manage such harmful algal blooms.

Ocean Acidification

The pH of the ocean is already dropping, and scientists predict a decrease of 0.3 pH units in the next 100 years. While this may not seem like much, the pH scale is logarithmic so this equates to a threefold increase in acidity. This increase in acidity will impact shelled organisms the most, such as clams, oysters, scallops, and sea snails by reducing their ability to make protective shells. Bigelow Laboratory scientists are actively engaged in not only investigating ocean acidification, but are developing ways to help reduce its deleterious effects.

Microbial Mysteries

The vast quantity of marine microbes in the ocean comprise the largest reservoir of genetic diversity on Earth, yet they remain one of the least explored and understood groups of life. Found everywhere in the ocean – in boiling hydrothermal vents, in sediments deep below the seafloor, and in nutrient-depleted ocean gyres— marine microbes display an incredible ability to evolve, adapt, and impact the health and wellbeing of entire marine ecosystems. Bigelow Laboratory researchers are actively engaged in unraveling the mysteries of these amazingly resilient and adaptable organisms.