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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 the fate, transport, and efficacy of chemical agents used to clean up spilled oil.


Plastics are ubiquitous in the environment and we want to understand their fate and impacts.

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

  • Mazzotta, M.G., Reddy, C.M., & Ward, C.P. Rapid Degradation of Cellulose Diacetate by Marine Microbes. In Press at Environmental Science & Technology Vos, A., Aluwihare, L., Youngs, S., DiBenedetto, M., Ward, C.P., Michel, A., Colson, B.,
  • Walsh, A.N., Reddy, C.M., Niles, S.F., McKenna, A.M., Hansel, C.M., & Ward C.P. Plastic Formulation is an Emerging Control of its Photochemical Fate in the Ocean.
  • 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.
  • Ward, C.P., Armstrong, C.J., Walsh, A.N., Jackson, J.J. & Reddy, C.M. Sunlight converts polystyrene into carbon dioxide and dissolved organic carbon. 2019. Environmental Science & Technology Letters. 6 (11), 669-674.
  • Ward, C.P., Sharpless, C.M., Valentine, D.L., Aeppli, C., Sutherland, K.M., Wankel, S.D. & Reddy, C.M. Oxygen isotopes (δ18O) trace photochemical hydrocarbon oxidation at the sea surface. 2019. Geophysical Research Letters, 12, 6745-6754.
  • Ward, C. P., Armstrong, C. J., Conmy, R. N., French-McCay, D. P., & Reddy, C. M. Photochemical Oxidation of Oil Reduced the Effectiveness of Aerial Dispersants Applied in Response to the Deepwater Horizon Spill. 2018. Environmental Science & Technology Letters, 5, 226-231.