Fall 2009

[Alumni News]

Francisco Chavez

Sizing Up the World’s Oceans

Francisco Chavez (’77, Oceanography) has helped chart many new courses in biological oceanography. His groundbreaking work with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) has helped identify decades- and centuries-long oceanographic cycles.

“I took a course in biological oceanography at Humboldt and that really changed my life. I was looking for what I wanted to do with my life and that course sent me in the right direction,” said the 2009 Distinguished Alumni Award winner.

Francisco Chavez

After graduating from HSU, Chavez earned a Ph.D. in botany from Duke University and has worked to understand how natural cycles and human activities impact the ocean and climate. “The early work showed how phenomena like El Niño affected the coasts of Peru and California, how it changed the abundance of fish and other living marine resources. Since then we’ve come up on longer-term cycles, which we have tried to call El Viejo and La Vieja, a play on El Niño and La Niña. They also show big impacts.”

More recently Chavez’s research has shown how C02 is infiltrating the ocean and how its waters have become more acidic because of it. “The ocean is saving us from a greater global warming problem but it may pay the price. We can explain those year-to-year changes by looking at the large-scale global patterns and that we are able to identify very clearly how our society is changing the ocean.”

Looking forward, Chavez predicts an abundance of opportunities in environmental sciences, specifically oceanography. “We have the weather service that looks at the weather in the atmosphere and gives us day-to-day reports. We’re moving closer to having the same thing for the ocean. There’s going to be a big need to have folks to manage that operational system.”