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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

  • Freeman, D.H, Niles, S.F., Rodgers, R.P., French-McCay, D.P., Longnecker, K., Reddy, C.M., & Ward, C.P. Hot and Cold: Photochemical Weathering Mediates Oil Properties and Fate Differently Depending on Seawater Temperature. In Press at Environmental Science & Technology.
  • Nelson, T.F., and Ward, C.P. Diffusion ordered spectroscopy (DOSY) for rapid and facile determination of consumer plastic molecular weight. 2023. Analytical Chemistry. 95, 22, 8560–8568.
  • Sutherland, K.M., Johnston, D.T., Hemingway, J.D., Wankel, S.D., and #Ward, C.P. 2022. Revised Microbial and Photochemical Triple-Oxygen Isotope Effects Improve Marine Gross Oxygen Production Estimates. PNAS Nexus. 1, 5, pgac233.
  • 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.
  • Freeman, D.H. & Ward, C.P. 2022. Sunlight-driven dissolution is a major fate of oil at sea. Science Advances. 8, eabl7605.
  • 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.