Creative Research Medal 2008
Wei-Jun Cai, professor of marine sciences, studies the role of the oceans in regulating carbon-dioxide dynamics. Cai realized early in his career that traditional methods of sampling the oceans could not provide spatial and temporal data at the resolutions needed to accurately understand CO2 dynamics. He thus became a pioneer in developing deep-sea microelectrodes and automated shipboard sensors to obtain CO2 information. These new data greatly enhance scientists’ ability to predict global atmospheric CO2 concentrations and, potentially, to determine their contribution to global warming. His
research has drawn great attention to the role of coastal oceans in regulating CO2 dynamics. Cai challenged the notion that the oceans are simply a large sink for atmospheric carbon dioxide, and he offered a new approach that divides them into subsystems. If confirmed, his view could have major implications for carbon-cycle research and the modeling of global CO2 fluxes.