A satellite image of Earth makes a powerful statement about the staggering scope of our oceans, but it takes a microscope to reveal their true vastness.

A single drop of seawater contains thousands of microscopic organisms. They lie beyond human perception and push the limits of our imagination. They represent astounding diversity, global influence, and untapped potential.

I am proud to lead this team of remarkable scientists as we continue to answer the questions, address the challenges, and uncover the opportunities of our oceans. Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences has made incredible progress this year.

Our scientists have made significant discoveries about our planet and used their research to develop innovative applications and science education programs. This report shares a snapshot of the impact we have had through the help of our generous supporters.

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Deborah Bronk, PhD, President and CEO



Under crushing pressure and total darkness, microbes thrive beneath the seafloor. Little is known about them or this hard-to-reach environment. This year, a team of our researchers spent a month at the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, using a deep-diving robot to study life in the Earth’s crust.

In a Science paper, our researchers shared their discovery that nitrite-oxidizing bacteria in deep, unlit ocean waters play a significant role in the global carbon cycle. This finding sheds light on the mysterious “dark ocean” and the influence this hidden realm exerts on the rest of the planet.

The Great Calcite Belt is visible from space as giant turquoise swirls in the dark blue waters of the Southern Ocean. This seasonal phytoplankton bloom covers 16 percent of the ocean and has dramatic effects on our planet. Our scientists have uncovered the conditions that support this amazing feature.

nights spent in our new Graham Shimmield Residence Hall by students learning from our scientists
professionals in our 10-day course on identification of toxic algae
Antarctic lakes studied for insights into the role of marine viruses


Interactions between Antarctic phytoplankton and bacteria have huge implications for our changing planet. Our researchers completed a two-month Antarctic expedition to uncover microbial connections to our global climate and study how one chemical compound may shape this important relationship.

Some of the most valuable fisheries in the United States are located in the rapidly warming waters off Alaska. Our scientists traveled to the Chukchi Sea this summer to study the microscopic plants and animals that sustain this Arctic ecosystem and understand how they are responding to climate change.

Ocean warming and acidification threaten tiny crustaceans that drift in the water column. These zooplankton are key animals in food webs and include the larvae of valuable commercial species, such as lobsters. Our comparisons between species and ecosystems are helping us predict and plan for their future.

miles traveled across the Gulf of Maine to study changes at the base of the food web
citizen science reports collected to power our models for forecasting jellyfish and tick encounters
undergraduate students in our “Changing Oceans” semester-in- residence program


The ocean’s most productive fisheries occur where nutrient-rich waters flow up from the deep. We are studying the potential climate benefits of artificially generating upwelling zones, which spur ocean productivity and alter the exchange of gases between the atmosphere and the sea.

A microscopic oyster parasite may prove a key player in the fight against malaria, which kills about half a million people each year. Our scientists are using genetic engineering to leverage the parasite as a platform for malaria vaccines and mine its other unique genetic properties for their medical value.

Algae supplements can reduce the methane emissions of livestock. Scientists have previously demonstrated seaweed’s potential, but micro-algae offer distinct advantages when scaling up production. Our Sash A. and Mary M. Spencer Entrepreneurial Fund helped us explore this and other innovative ideas this year.

More than
microbial genomes sequenced by our Single Cell Genomics Center
organizations in 31 countries purchased our algae strains for research and commercial applications


Even the most remote coral reefs in the Pacific are being impacted by climate change. Our scientists returned to Palmyra Atoll this year to study a damaging reef fungus that is bolstered by rising ocean temperatures and acidity. Understanding this disease is critical to slowing its spread on reefs around the world.

As spilled crude oil degrades in the environment, the tens of thousands of compounds it comprises change drastically. This makes it very difficult to determine the long-term impact of a spill. This year we developed a computational approach that makes it possible to predict the toxicity of weathered oil based on its chemical composition.

Alaska’s Aleutian Islands sit at the front line of ocean warming and acidification. Our research in this region is unraveling the effects of climate change and their connections to urchins, otters, kelp, and reef-building algae that have persisted there for millennia. What we are learning provides valuable insights for managing ecosystem changes.

shellfish samples tested for biotoxins by Bigelow Analytical Services
megawatt hours generated by our solar arrays — enough to power eight homes for a year!
Partner organizations engaged with our Center for Seafood Solutions

We believe in the unfathomable opportunity contained in each drop of the ocean.

Its waters teem with microscopic life that sustains our planet and offers potential solutions to many of the world’s challenges — from new medicines to new climate change strategies. Microbes represent 90 percent of life in the ocean. While invisible, they provide half the oxygen we breathe, feed our oceans, clean our atmosphere, and recycle nutrients vital to all life. Their unique approaches to life and powerful influence over the planet offer a wellspring of knowledge and potential. Emerging scientific technologies are only now illuminating the full magnitude of this resource. Each teaspoon of seawater contains millions of unstudied organisms with enough genetic data to fill a typical hard drive. Each year, our scientists conduct research in every ocean on the planet and turn their discoveries into solutions.

papers published in peer-reviewed journals — one every 4 days!
team members, including 19 senior research scientists and 20 postdocs


Bigelow Laboratory is an independent, nonprofit institute. Our research, enterprise, and education programs are only possible with the help of a generous community of supporters. They share our passion for the ocean and our optimism about its boundless potential. They advise us, inspire us, and provide the philanthropic support that powers our work.

We are immensely grateful to these Founders and Council members, whose exceptional generosity has advanced our mission and enabled our transformative growth.

    Harold Alfond Foundation  Louise and Robert Bowditch*  Bill and Barbara Burgess  David and Margaret Coit  Paul and Giselaine Coulombe  Andrew Davis  The Shelby Cullom Davis Charitable Fund  Robert and Margery Healing*  Horace and Alison Hildreth  Jane’s Trust  Russell and Mary Jeppesen  Lyn and Daniel Lerner  Jane C. MacElree  Admiral Kinnaird McKee^  Richard and Eleanor Morrell  Walter^ and Helen Norton  Herbert and Harriet Paris  Richard and Denise Rubin  Cyrus^ and Barbara Sweet  A.R. and Marylouise Tandy Foundation  Anna Marie and John E. Thron

  • Anonymous (2)
  • Mariann and Jon Bigelow
  • Dr. and Mrs. Harris J. Bixler
  • Mr. and Mrs. Joseph F. Boulos
  • Mrs. Donna Lee Cheney*
  • Ken and Ginny Colburn
  • Mr. and Mrs. Guy Comer
  • Consigli Construction Co., Inc.
  • Mr. and Dr. Rory J. Cowan
  • Crooker Construction, LLC
  • Chip and Nan Davison
  • First Advisors
  • First National Bank
  • Mrs. Marion T. Flores
  • Mr. and Mrs. Christopher Flower*
  • H.M. Payson
  • Mr. and Mrs. Peter Handy
  • Mr. and Mrs. William D. Haney
  • Mr. Charles P. Harriman
  • Mr. and Mrs. Lewis A. Heafitz
  • Mr. and Mrs. Mark Howard
  • Mr. and Mrs. Will Mackenzie
  • Mr. and Mrs. Arthur C. Martinez
  • Dyke Messler and Rickey Celentano
  • Craig and Katherine Muir
  • David Newbower
  • Pamela Daley and Randy Phelps
  • Pine Tree Conservation Society
  • Abby and Larry Pratt
  • Mr. and Mrs. Dana Robes
  • Dr. and Mrs. Louis E. Sage*
  • Kristin and Michael Sant
  • Chet and Evelyn Shuman
  • Ms. Mary M. Spencer
  • Paul and Chandler Tagliabue
  • Deborah Saltonstall Twining^
  • Mr. Peter P. Twining
  • Ms. Sara Walbridge and Mr. Henry Barber
  • Mr. David Wilde
  • Ms. Lisa Wilde
  • Mr. Richard A. Wilde
  • Ms. Sally Winkel
  • Dr. Wendy J. Wolf and Dr. Mary B. Neal*

    Deceased donors are noted with a caret (^). Those who have named Bigelow Laboratory in their estate plans are noted with an asterisk (*).


    These charts pertain to our 2017 fiscal year – July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017. You can view our audited financial report at bigelow.org/financials.