Nobel Conference 48 Profile of Barbara Block

Posted on May 25th, 2012 by

On October 2 and 3, scientists, students, and the interested public will converge on Gustavus Adolphus College to discuss “Our Global Ocean.” Through time, oceans have fascinated and nourished us, yet we know very little about the sustainability of the organisms we harvest from their depths. In order to know more, we first must find and count organisms living there.

Did you ever play Marco Polo? Using echoed sound clues, a blindfolded player must catch constantly moving people. Now, picture how much more difficult the game would be if those people were in an ocean moving up to 60 mph. The champion of this oceanic game no doubt would be Dr. Barbara Block. She uses telemetry to track the movement and migration of large, nomadic ocean fish like tuna and billfishes across vast distances.

Dr. Block was the first to consistently track the movement and population structure of large migratory fish populations, and to explore how the fish generate heat in cold water. She and colleagues engineered a special remote satellite tag that records a fish’s navigational information, depth, and body and ambient temperatures. She also uses molecular techniques to examine the genetic diversity of populations. Her interdisciplinary research improves our understanding of the biology of these species and increases our ability to manage international fisheries effectively. Most tuna species are so unsustainably exploited that they are endangered or threatened and may fetch from six figures to over a million dollars at auction.

Dr. Block earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Vermont and her doctorate from Duke. She was a postdoc at the University of Pennsylvania and a faculty member at the University of Chicago before joining Stanford. Among Block’s awards are a National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator Award, the President’s Medal of the Society for Experimental Biology, and Stanford’s prestigious Terman Fellowship. Her research is supported by the National Institutes of Health, the National Geographic Society, and the Packard Foundation. She is co-director of the Tuna Research and Conservation Center at Hopkins Marine Station and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is the only place in the world that studies large nomadic fish in captivity.


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