Coastal Biogeochemistry Lab

Understanding how coastal ecosystems work, one jar of mud at a time

Amanda Spivak

Coastal Biogeochemistry

Welcome to the Spivak Lab at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution!

Coastal ecosystems sit at the interface of terrestrial and marine habitats and are extraordinarily valuable. We study the biogeochemistry and ecology of wetlands and estuaries to understand how these ecosystems function and respond to perturbations.

Understanding how coastal ecosystem work is critical because they provide human societies with economically valuable services and are important, but poorly constrained, components of global biogeochemical cycles. Estuaries and wetlands are biologically, chemically, and physically complex environments that are acutely impacted by disturbances such as nutrient pollution, over-fishing, and climate change. Because efforts to reverse or remediate the effects of disturbances can further perturb fragile wetlands and estuaries, a key unknown is whether impacted habitats can be restored to pre-disturbance conditions.

We aim to develop an integrated understanding of ecosystem biogeochemistry and ecology in order to refine the role of estuaries and wetlands in the global carbon cycle and predict the likelihood of recovery from human disturbances. We use innovative geochemical tracer approaches in combination with mesocosm and landscape scale experiments to quantify carbon pathways, transformations, and fate in wetland and nearshore habitats and evaluate the effects of human disturbances. By taking an interdisciplinary approach, our research has demonstrated that ecological communities have profound effects on sediment biogeochemistry and, as a result, coastal carbon cycling and ecosystem responses to anthropogenic disturbances.


We designed the Mesocosm Lab to understand processes in coastal food webs, shallow estuaries, and salt marsh ecosystems.