Researcher Heads to Capitol Hill "Science Fair"

By Vickie Chachere


St. Petersburg, Fla. (April 7, 2010) – USF seawater chemist Bob Byrne has seen his share of science fairs over the years, but none as prestigious or as important as the one that will introduce members of Congress to cutting-edge scientific work, including Byrne’s leading-edge research on ocean acidification.


Byrne is one of a small group of American scientists and mathematicians selected to participate in the April 14 Coalition for National Science Funding Exhibition and Reception at the Rayburn House Office Building – more casually known by some scientists as Congress’ science fair. The exhibition is a rare opportunity for scientists to display their work for members of Congress, informing them on both the issues they are investigating and the nation’s needs in meeting its scientific research and education goals.

The invitation comes on the heels of publication of Byrne's major finding of that seawater in a vast section of the northeastern Pacific Ocean shows signs of increased acidity brought on by manmade carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Byrne is the principal investigator in the research, which was published in January in the American Geophysical Union’s journal Geophysical Research Letters.

The project analyzed Pacific seawater between Oahu, Hawaii, and Kodiak, Alaska and provides the first direct measurements of basin-wide pH changes in the ocean’s depths and at its surface, producing the first direct evidence of acidification across an entire ocean basin. Ocean acidification carries with it serious implications for the ecology of the marine food web.

Byrne will be exhibiting his work in conjunction with the American Geological Institute, the Geological Society of America and American Geophysical Union. His research is one of just 37 scientific projects from the nation’s leading research universities to be featured.

The evening event will be preceded by researchers making the rounds of Capitol Hill offices to discuss their science and the need for research funding directly with members of Congress and their staff.

For Byrne, the opportunity to speak directly with lawmakers is an important step in communicating his concerns about ocean acidification to those with the power to decide how the nation grapples with climate change and pollution.

“I don’t think the public has a very firm understanding of ocean acidification, it’s lost in the controversy over climate change,” Byrne said. “There is a real inevitability of ocean acidification as long as we continue to put CO2 in the atmosphere the way we are.”

Byrne said he also hopes to educate members of Congress on how ocean acidification may affect marine life. Ocean acidification makes it difficult for shellfish to develop because the acid levels interfere with the development of calcium carbonate, the building block of shells. However, more acidic conditions can promote some forms of marine life such as sea grasses and create opportunities for other types of organisms, he noted.

“There are going to be some winners and some losers,” he noted. “There are many, many different studies that need to be performed on the many kinds of organisms that call the oceans home.”

Last year more than 450 people attended the exhibition including members of Congress, congressional staff and representatives from the National Science Foundation, the Office of Management and Budget and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.


The University of South Florida is one of the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of only 25 public research universities nationwide with very high research activity that is designated as community engaged by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.  USF was awarded $380.4 million in research contracts and grants in FY 2008/2009. The university offers 232 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The USF System has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 47,000 students on institutions/campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.