The Phytoplankton Laboratory at SERC seeks to increase understanding about the relationship of phytoplankton to their environment. Using the Rhode River and Chesapeake Bay as a focal site, the Phytoplankton Lab conducts both long-term observational studies and manipulative experiments to discover and model the factors determining the primary productivity and population dynamics of phytoplankton, as well as how phytoplankton in turn impact the estuarine environment. Comparative studies around the world help generalize and broaden the impacts of findings derived from Chesapeake Bay.

As primary producers, phytoplankton form the base of the aquatic food web and have far-reaching influence over dissolved oxygen, light penetration and other crucial players in the health of our waters. Understanding the role they play and the factors that influence them is a critical step in learning to manage our environment for sustainable, healthy ecosystems.

The common factor linking these topics is the role of land-sea interactions in structuring and regulating plankton communities and regulating water quality in estuaries. The long-range goal of the phytoplankton program is to develop a predictive understanding of plankton communities in shallow estuarine systems, expressed as mathematical models of plankton dynamics in relation to terrestrial discharge, atmospheric inputs, mixing, and ecological interactions. As that process unfolds, interim models representing the best understanding to date are applied to real-world problems of eutrophication and water quality created by human habitation of the coastal zone.

The phytoplankton Lab at SERC conducts long-term measurements and experimental research to help understand these complex issues and provide sound scientific evidence for managers making important environmental decisions. 

More about the lab's scientific goals

Dr. Charles Gallegos
Scientist Emeritus

Smithsonian Environmental
Research Center
PO Box 28
Edgewater, Maryland 21037
Curriculum Vitae 

Phytoplankton Guide to the Chesapeake and Other Regions
A virtual guide to the phytoplankton of Chesapeake Bay and beyond. This photo glossary features phytoplankton from North America, Central America, southeast Asia and Antarctica.

Intern Alicia Pritchard on the SERC docks, summer 2008  Polar Island bloom

Intern Projects

Students in our  lab study various aspects of phytoplankton ecology and how it is affected by light,  nutrients and other physical paramters. Each student completes a project and presents it in a seminar before SERC staff. Read about their projects here.

Water Quality

If you've ever wondered what makes water blue, clear, brown or even purple, this crash course on water quality has the answers. Learn how different particles change how light behaves in water, and shift what bounces back to our eyes.