The University of Delaware Graduate College of Marine Studies has announced the appointment of Dr. David Kirchman as associate dean. He will oversee the college’s academic programs and day-to-day operation of the Lewes campus, working closely with Dean Carolyn A. Thoroughgood in Newark.
Kirchman succeeds Dr. Nancy Targett in the administrative post. After five years of service as associate dean, she has returned to research and teaching on a full-time basis.
“I am very pleased that David has accepted this new challenge,” said Dean Thoroughgood. “I strongly believe his leadership skills, enthusiasm, vision, and experience will serve us well as we continue to advance our programs of excellence in research, education, and service.”
A member of the UD faculty since 1986, Kirchman conducts research on the most abundant, yet largely unseen life form on Earth — marine bacteria. While invisible to the naked eye, these one-celled organisms play major roles in the ocean’s health, from serving as the base of the food chain to controlling the amount of oxygen in the water.
In 1998, Kirchman was named the Maxwell P. and Mildred H. Harrington Professor of Marine Studies in recognition of his significant achievements in marine microbiology — in particular, for his efforts to reveal the critical functions performed by marine bacteria in producing carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that affects global climate.
Currently, Kirchman is involved in a multi-year research program that is investigating the impacts of global climate change on the Arctic Ocean. Sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the Office of Naval Research, the Western Arctic Shelf-Basin Interactions (SBI) program includes more than 30 U.S. scientists and international collaborators.
As a member of the SBI team, Kirchman recently spent six weeks conducting research in the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska aboard the 420-foot Coast Guard Cutter Healy— an icebreaker that can operate in temperatures as low as -50°F. His mission is to assess the microbial community’s role in cycling nutrients along the southern Chukchi Shelf, one of the Arctic Ocean’s most biologically productive regions.
More locally, in research funded by the UD Sea Grant College Program, Kirchman is assessing the impact of industrial pollutants called polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) on microbes in the Delaware River near the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. Originating in tar, wood preservatives, and oil and other fossil fuels, PAHs can have lethal effects on fish and shellfish. While PAHs also harm the river’s microscopic life, Kirchman has identified several microbes that can detoxify the pollutants.
This summer, as part of a research project sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, Kirchman is sharing the latest microbiological techniques with undergraduate interns from Lincoln University, the nation’s oldest historically black college. The hands-on educational program is now in its fourth year.
In addition to maintaining an active research program, Kirchman teaches several graduate courses each year, ranging from marine microbiology to scientific writing. He also recently edited the textbook Microbial Ecology of the Oceans,which was published by John Wiley & Sons in 2000.
A native of De Pere, Wisconsin, Kirchman received his bachelor’s degree in biology from Lawrence University and his master’s and doctoral degrees in environmental engineering from Harvard University. He and his wife, Dr. Ana Dittel, reside in Lewes, Delaware.