Did You Ever Wonder About the Mysteries of Ocean Chemistry?
SOLO Launch
Berkeley Lab researchers launch a SOLO float equipped to measure and report on carbon in the sea.

The world's oceans cycle and store far more carbon than any other natural system. Yet exactly what happens to carbon in the ocean is a mystery, one we urgently need to solve.

"Before we can decide whether schemes for storing excess atmospheric carbon in the ocean are safe -- or would even work at all -- we need to know a lot more about the ocean carbon cycle," says Jim Bishop of Berkeley Lab's Earth Sciences Division, who studies the chemistry and biology of the sea.

Now a U.S. citizen, Bishop comes from a long line of Canadians. His father was an engineer in the Canadian Army, decorated by Queen Elizabeth. "I thought I was predestined to be an engineer," Bishop remarks. "I was planning on majoring in engineering at the University of British Columbia when I fell in love with chemistry."

Fate held another surprise: when a summer job he thought would have him roaming the corridors of Parliament in Ottawa went to someone else, Bishop found himself roaming the fiords of British Columbia instead, crewing a Boston Whaler. An assistant in the Department of Fisheries, his orders were to "pick up one of every living thing you see."

After a senior year studying quantum chemistry Bishop was back in the boat, this time as skipper. "By now I was as interested in oceanography as I was in chemistry, so I applied to do graduate work at institutions that did both."

Given a choice of renowned establishments, Bishop chose the MIT/Woods Hole Joint Program in Oceanography "partly for Boston's historic buildings." On one of his research cruises near the Galapagos Islands, his thesis advisor, John Edmond, found clues that later led to the discovery of life around undersea hydrothermal vents.

"The experience with John taught me you almost never find what you expect at sea; we're continually confronted with exciting new mysteries to unravel -- which is the great value of a multidisciplinary approach," Bishop says. "Working at sea is never easy. I learned not to give up in the face of obstacles."

Following Bishop's doctorate he earned a postdoctoral fellowship and research appointments at Columbia University's Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory and NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, where he used satellite pictures to study ocean photosynthesis. After a stint as professor of ocean sciences at the University of Victoria, Bishop joined UC Berkeley and Berkeley Lab in 1998, where he teaches in the Department of Earth and Planetary Science and devises instruments to study the ocean carbon cycle.

"Berkeley Lab has such capabilities: in designing and building new instruments, in attracting bright, dedicated students . . . I can't imagine a better place for instrumental oceanography."

More about Jim Bishop.

Did You Ever Wonder Web Site

Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory