Colloquium: April 6, 2010

Going Coastal – Or is It Coming to Us? Shoreward Lessons for a Changing Planet

Dr. John D. Rummel

TUESDAY: April 6, 2010 2:00 P.M. in the H.J.E. Reid Auditorium


A perspective from space provides insights into the evolving planet we call “Earth,” although even the casual observer (from space) can see that it should be called “Ocean.” Likewise, a comparison among the planets of our solar system can provide insights into what Earth was like in the ancient past, and what it may become in the distant future. Despite the power of the space perspective, citizens generally focus on aspects of Earth that are more familiar, and appreciate the intimate beauty that we find-not hundreds or thousands of miles away, but right in front of us. Likewise, it is a matter of record that the most appreciated parts of our planet are not found in the middle of the ocean, or on the driest land, but at those places where the land and the water meet-the coasts. Today’s coasts are the locus of problems and opportunities that can be addressed successfully to meet human needs for a sustainable future-preserving economic, cultural, recreational, and natural benefits for future generations. Nonetheless, these benefits cannot be maintained without accounting for the changes that are, and have, taking place in coastal regions. Sea-level rise is a reality, today, and coasts have always been subject to change. Human influences-both direct and indirect-need to be understood and anticipated in order to preserve these fascinating regions in the years, centuries, and millennia to come.


John D. RummelDr. John D. Rummel is the Director of the Institute for Coastal Science and Policy and a Professor of Biology at East Carolina University (ECU). The Institute’s goals are; to understand the North Carolina coastal systems so that the problems and opportunities associated with them can be addressed successfully, applying that knowledge to meeting our needs for a sustainable future; to train students in both the specific lessons of the coastal region, and in the techniques of both natural and social science applied to coastal environments; and to provide direct service to the community whenever possible, testing knowledge gained through research against the real-world challenges met every day along the coasts. His responsibilities include operating the ICSP PhD Program in Coastal Resources Management and ECU’s diving and water safety activities.

Dr. Rummel also serves as the Chair of the Panel on Planetary Protection of the International Council for Science’s Committee on Space Research (COSPAR), based in Paris, which maintains a consensus international policy on planetary protection to help space-faring nations to conduct solar system exploration in a way to minimize the potential for harmful biological contamination both “forward,” when spacecraft visit other worlds, and “backward” when samples of other solar system bodies are returned to Earth.

Immediately prior to his arrival at ECU in 2008, Dr. Rummel was the Senior Scientist for Astrobiology, based in Washington, DC, responsible for leading all aspects of NASA’s program to understand the origin, evolution, and fate of life in the Universe. He re-entered the astrobiology world in 2006, after serving from 1997 as the NASA Planetary Protection Officer, ensuring that NASA’s planetary exploration missions did not contaminate other worlds and that missions returning samples to Earth would be safe from biological hazards. Previously at NASA Headquarters from 1986-1993, Rummel held posts as the Deputy Chief, Mission From Planet Earth Study Office and as the Exobiology Program Manager and SETI Program Scientist in both the Life Sciences and Solar System Exploration Divisions. During that time he also served as the Life Sciences Branch Chief for the Gravitational Biology, Life Support, and Biospheric Research Programs, and for the first time as the NASA Planetary Protection Officer. Among other accomplishments, he led the US teams responsible for defining joint exobiology and life support activities with the Soviet Union / Russia from 1987-1993.

Rummel left NASA from 1994-1998, to take a position as the Director of Research Administration and Education at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, where he was responsible for the MBL’s year-round and summer research efforts, its fellowship program, and the MBL’s world-famous program in advanced biological education.¬†For his work at NASA Headquarters Dr. Rummel has been the recipient of numerous performance and achievement awards, and was made a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science “for leadership in fostering NASA-sponsored life science research.” He is also the recipient of the Life Sciences Award from the International Academy of Astronautics, “For significant and lasting contributions to the advancement of the astronautical sciences.”

His research interests have included ecosystems ecology, community ecology, and evolutionary biology, the ecology and biogeography of deep sea hydrothermal vents, and the potential for life elsewhere in the universe. Dr. Rummel first came to NASA (Ames Research Center) in 1985 as a National Research Council Research Associate, conducting research on microbial ecology and on the modeling of Controlled Ecological Life Support Systems. He was awarded a Doctorate by Stanford University in 1985 for his research in community ecology and evolution, and was an undergraduate at the University of Colorado in Environmental Biology. Before attending graduate school, he served on active duty for five years as a Naval Flight Officer.