College of Fellows Distinguished Lecture Series Speaker

Bess Ward headshot

Bess Ward
Princeton University
United States of America
Primary Affiliation: Ocean Sciences

Nitrous oxide (N2O)is a potent greenhouse gas, with a global warming potential per molecule of about 300-fold greater than for CO2.  The main sources of N2O are rom natural terrestrial ecosystems, agriculture and fossil fuel burning on land, but the ocean is responsible for a large, although highly uncertain, fraction of the total N2Oemissions to the atmosphere.  The oceanic N2O source is due to microbes, which perform many important functions in the biogeochemistry of the ocean. 

Dr. Ward received her Bachelor of Sciences degree in zoology from the Michigan State University in 1976. Ward went on to obtain a Master's degree in biological oceanography from the University of Washington in 1979, followed by her PhD at the same institution in 1982.[4] Ward's early work focused on quantifying the rates of nitrogen transformation performed by bacteria and phytoplankton, and was the editor for a special edition of Marine Chemistry on "Aquatic Nitrogen Cycles" in 1985. After her PhD, Ward worked as a research biologist and oceanographer at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, California, where she also served as the chairperson of the Food Chain Research Group.

Dr. Ward became a professor of Marine Sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz in 1989. From 1995–1998, Ward was the Chair of the Ocean Sciences Department at University of California, Santa Cruz before becoming a professor in the Department of Geosciences at Princeton University in 1998. In 2006, Ward became the Chair of the Department of Geosciences at Princeton and has held the position ever since. Ward has held numerous visiting scientist and trustee positions throughout her career at institutions such as the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, and the Max Planck Institute für Limnologie. As of 2018, Ward had advised 21 graduate students and 20 postdoctoral scholars. Broadly, Ward and her lab members research how bacteria and phytoplankton transform and use nitrogen in marine and coastal ecosystems using various molecular and isotopic techniques. Ward spends time on research cruises and expeditions, conducting research (and sometimes teaching remotely) while on the ocean for days to weeks at a time. 

Dr. Ward has served on review panels of university graduate programs, institutional oceanography programs, and National Science Foundation funding programs.