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Faculty Spotlight - Dr. Leanne C. Powers

Dr. Leanne C. Powers joined ESF August 2021 as an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry.

She earned her bachelor's degree from Colby College before moving on to the University of Georgia to obtain her Ph.D. in marine science. Before joining ESF, she served as a postdoctoral research assistant with the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography from 2015 to 2016 and as an assistant research scientist at the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory from 2016 to 2021.

Powers' research is broadly aimed at understanding the fate and reactivity of dissolved organic matter/carbon (DOM) in the ocean, with a particular focus on improving quantitative understanding of photochemical DOM cycling by sunlight. To achieve that, she and her team use a variety of analytical techniques and develop new methods to characterize DOM composition, sources, and reactivity in both the field and in the laboratory.

The pool of reduced carbon stored in the ocean as DOM is one of Earth's major carbon reservoirs, and is similar in size to the pool of oxidized carbon stored in the atmosphere as CO2. However, DOM is arguably the most dynamic and therefore least understood, carbon pool on Earth. It is believed that the marine DOM pool can sequester carbon for millennia, but if this is wrong the ocean may not sequester carbon as efficiently as we currently assume. Powers said a process-level understanding of DOM transformations is critical to fully grasp future changes in the size and impact of the DOM pool on global carbon and redox cycles.

She and a colleague, Dr. Michael Gonsior of the University of Maryland, recently outlined their research ideas in connection with the U.N. Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. The federal government has asked the U.S. National Committee for the Ocean Decade to identify a handful of cross-cutting themes that incorporate promising and innovative research concepts. Those themes will be based on the body of submissions, called "Ocean-Shots," which now includes Powers and Gonsior's submission about the Marine Dissolved Organic Matter Reactivity Continuum Concept.

At ESF, she has enjoyed the welcome from what she describes as a friendly and helpful community. Away from campus, she enjoys trail running and has become a fan of Green Lakes State Park and the unusual blue-green hue of its water.