Research centers upon an integral component of the global carbon cycle, dissolved organic matter (DOM). All forms of life release DOM, sometimes on purpose, sometimes as waste. DOM lost from one organism provides sustenance to others, including microorganisms at the base of aquatic foodwebs that fuel our fisheries. DOM cycling also redistributes carbon between land, ocean and atmospheric stores. Rivers carry vast amounts of DOM from land to the ocean where most of the global store of DOM resides. As the ocean DOM pool of carbon is equivalent in magnitude to the CO2 pool in the Earth’s atmosphere small shifts in the size of the oceanic DOM pool influence climate.
In addition to its importance as a metabolite and carbon pool, the complexity of DOM makes it incredibly interesting to study. DOM contains thousands, if not millions or trillions, of different molecules. Each derived from a living organism and subsequently altered in the environment. On mass these molecules provide a suite of tracers carrying the signatures of each molecule’s source and subsequent history in the environment. DOMeomics, the decoding of these signatures, is casting new light upon the biogeochemical cycles of the planet. Key to harnessing this information are developments in the characterization of biomolecules which allow us to determine the isotopic, spectral, structural and molecular signatures of DOM. We study these signatures. As DOM is derived from all the life within an ecosystem these messages provide valuable information about the functioning of these ecosystems today and their likely response to local and global change. The information DOM provides is being used to determine the extent of feedbacks between climate, carbon storage and ecosystem function in diverse habitats including glaciers, rivers, the salt marshes at Skidaway, and the open ocean.