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Aquatic Geochemistry

at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Research Projects

Crude Oil

Sunlight alters the physical and chemical properties of crude oil spilled at sea. We study how these alterations impact oil spill fate and trajectory models and response operations.


Plastics are ubiquitous in the environment. We want to understand what controls their breakdown so that we can inform designs of new materials that breakdown quicker.

Dissolved Organic Matter

Sunlight can completely oxidize DOM into CO2, a greenhouse gas, and partially alter DOM into new compounds. We study the rates and controls of these reactions.

Instrument Development

We’re building tools that make it easier for folks to study how organic carbon cycles in surface waters.

The Ward Lab

Our facility is housed in Fye Laboratory as part of the Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry Department at WHOI.  We are broadly interested in characterizing the rates and pathways of organic carbon degradation in aquatic ecosystems. We study lots of different types of organic carbon, including naturally derived organic carbon, like dissolved organic matter, and organic pollutants, like crude oil and plastics.

Recent Publications

  • Sutherland, K.M., Johnston, D.T., Hemingway, J.D., Wankel, S.D., and Ward, C.P. Revised Microbial and Photochemical Triple-Oxygen Isotope Effects Improve Marine Gross Oxygen Production Estimates. In Press at PNAS Nexus.
  • Walsh, A.N., Mazzotta, M., Nelson, T.F., Reddy, C.M., and Ward, C.P. Synergy between Sunlight, Titanium Dioxide, and Microbes Enhances Cellulose Diacetate Degradation in the Ocean. In Press at Environmental Science & Technology.
  • Mazzotta, M.G., Reddy, C.M., & Ward, C.P. 2022. Rapid Degradation of Cellulose Diacetate by Marine Microbes. Environmental Science & Technology Letters. 9, 1, 37-41.
  • Walsh, A.N., Reddy, C.M., Niles, S.F., McKenna, A.M., Hansel, C.M., & Ward C.P. 2021. Plastic Formulation is an Emerging Control of its Photochemical Fate in the Ocean. Environmental Science and Technology. 55, 18, 12383-12392.
  • Nelson, T.F., Reddy, C. M., and Ward, C. P. Product Formulation Controls the Impact of Biofouling on Consumer Plastic Photochemical Fate in the Ocean.  Environmental Science and Technology. 55, 13, 8898-8907.
  • Ward, C.P., Bowen, J.C., Freeman, D.H, and Sharpless, C.M. Rapid and Reproducible Characterization of the Wavelength Dependence of Aquatic Photochemical Reactions Using Light Emitting Diodes. 2021. Environmental Science & Technology Letters. 8, 437-442.
  • Ward, C.P. & ­Reddy, C.M. We need better data about the environmental persistence of plastic goods. 2020. Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences. 26, 14618-14621.
  • Bowen, J.C., Ward, C.P., Kling, G.W., & Cory, R.M. Arctic amplification of global warming strengthened by sunlight oxidation of permafrost carbon to CO2. 2020. Geophysical Research Letters. 47, e2020GL087085.
  • Ward, C.P. & Overton, E.B. How the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill reshaped our understanding of crude oil photochemical weathering at sea: a past, present, and future perspective. 2020. Environmental Sciences: Processes & Impacts. 22, 1125-1138.