Richard Dodge, Ph.D., professor of oceanography and dean of the Oceanographic Center, does not have many hobbies, but with a job that takes him to Guam, Hawaii, Monaco, American Samoa, Japan and other parts of the world, there’s no need for them.
But when he’s not abroad studying coral reefs, there is plenty to keep him busy in his office. “The working environment at the OC is very collegial and friendly, and we’re located right by the water,” he said, speaking of the OC’s location at John U. Lloyd State Park. “It’s a beautiful place to work.”
Dodge became interested in oceanography during graduate school when he took a field trip to Jamaica and first saw coral reefs. He is now the executive director of the Oceanographic Center’s National Coral Reef Institute, which received a grant from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association.
One area of Dodge’s research on coral reefs is their growth rate.
“If you cut it open and take a slab, it shows that these corals have rings of growth just like trees,” Dodge said. “So, you can not only tell how old the coral is but you can try to understand how the variation in the annual growth is affected by the environment. Therefore, you can sometimes tell what the environment was like hundreds of years in the past.”
Dodge said that coral reef research is important to understand the ocean’s climate. People haven’t measured historical data in the ocean as long as they have on land, he said.
But Dodge’s research and work with corals affects more than just the ocean.
“Coral reefs have dramatically declined over the past decade, and one of the reasons that’s suspected is pollution,” Dodge said. “Global warming affects the ocean because the ocean gets warmer, and corals die close to their upper temperature limits, so, if it gets too warm, they die.”
Dodge was recently appointed to the Gulf Initiative Research Research Board by former Florida governor Charlie Crist. The board consists of a group of scientists from the Gulf Alliance, which consists of the five states that border the Gulf of Mexico: Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas.
The board will administer a 10-year, $500 million grant, which was pledged by BP to the Gulf Alliance to conduct research to understand and better react to oil spills.
“Our job will be to request proposals so that people can apply for the money and then to evaluate the quality of the work that was proposed,” Dodge said.
Dodge was also named the 2010 South Florida Business Leader by the Seafarer’s House.
“They often give [the award] to business leaders, but this year they understood that the environment has a lot to do with business, and you can’t have business without a clean environment,” he said. “I think that’s one of the reasons they looked at me. We are trying to make the ocean a more useful place for people and also a place that retains its ecosystems.”
Dodge said that one of the defining moments during his time at NSU was co-authoring and receiving a $15 million grant from the National Institute of Science and Technology to construct a new building. The grant was the biggest in NSU history.
“We expect that we’ll be able to hire more people and give our existing people better facilities, so that we can increase our research abilities,” he said.
Even with other responsibilities, Dodge recognizes that his main job is to help others.
“I try to be a good scientist. I try to be a good facilitator so that other people can be empowered to do their jobs,” Dodge said. “So that’s kind of my role — to make it run well so that all the faculty and staff can have a good opportunity to do good work.”