Robert F. Anderson

Anderson graduated summa cum laude from the University of Washington in 1975 with a double major in chemistry and in oceanography. In 1981 he was awarded his PhD in Chemical Oceanography from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology - Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Joint Program in Oceanography. Since 1981 he has been at the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, rising through the ranks until reaching his current position of Ewing-Lamont Research Professor in 2010. Along the way he has taught chemistry of the ocean and of continental waters and served as Associate Director for the Observatory (2003 to 2008), when he oversaw the construction of the Comer building for the Geochemistry Division.

As a student, Anderson was convinced that naturally occurring radionuclides could be used to quantify the rates of key processes in marine biogeochemical cycles. Some of the essential principles were defined initially in the paper by Bacon and Anderson (1982). GEOSECS, the first program to systematically study the chemistry of the ocean at a global scale, was then demonstrating the value of synthesizing results from diverse sources. In 2000, following these principles, Anderson teamed with international scientists as architects of a program to study the marine biogeochemistry trace elements and their isotopes, GEOTRACES. The value of using radionuclides to establish rates is shown in Anderson et al. (2009), where rapid changes in the circulation of the ocean around Antarctica were first demonstrated to be responsible for the release of CO2 to the atmosphere as Earth emerged from the last ice age. Work on this project led to a partnership with George Denton to synthesize records from the ocean and from land, respectively, to define features that characterized Earth’s last transition from ice age to interglacial conditions (Denton & Anderson et al., 2010). By elucidating the important role of ocean circulation, it was possible to determine that the low atmospheric CO2 levels of the Pleistocene ice ages was due to increased storage of CO2 in the deep ocean (Anderson et al., 2019). Now, a growing number of synthesis papers from the GEOTRACES program (Anderson, 2020) are exploiting naturally occurring radionuclides to establish rates of processes that regulate the chemistry of the ocean, such as the delivery of dust from the continents, the sinking flux of biogenic material exported from the surface ocean, and the accumulation of sediments world wide, bringing to fruition Anderson’s dream in graduate school.

Fields of Interest

  • CHEMICAL OCEANOGRAPHY, I am involved in an international program to study the marine biogeochemical cycles of trace elements and isotopes, known as GEOTRACES. GEOTRACES examines trace elements that serve as essential micronutrients for marine organisms, trace elements and isotopes that serve as proxies for past ocean conditions, and radionuclides that allow us to derive rates of processes of interest to oceanographers, such as fluxes of particulate organic carbon exported from surface waters.
  • MARINE BIOGEOCHEMISTRY, I am interested in the ocean carbon cycle and its sensitivity to global change. This interest spans a range of topics, from climate-related changes in the ocean's carbon cycle in the past, associated with changes in ocean circulation and marine ecosystems, to understanding the fluxes of carbon in the modern ocean, to predicting the ocean's response to anticipated global warming, and the implications for the ocean's uptake of fossil fuel CO2. Of particular interest is the Southern Ocean, around Antarctica, where deep waters exchange carbon dioxide and other gases with the atmosphere, and where ecosystems are particularly sensitive to perturbations in ways that may impact the ocean's carbon cycle.
  • PALEOCLIMATOLOGY, My interest in paleoclimate is, in a way, an application of the principles learned through the study of modern ocean processes. My main interests are in understanding climate related changes in ocean circulation and in marine ecosystems (both ecosystem structure and biological productivity) across glacial-interglacial cycles, as well as during events of shorter duration (e.g., abrupt climate change). Much of my effort is focused on developing, testing and validating (or rejecting!) methods used in paleoceanography.


  • 1975 B.S. Chemistry/ Oceanography, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington
  • 1981 Ph.D., Chemical Oceanography. Massachusetts Institute of Technology/ Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Joint Program in Oceanography

Honors & Awards

  • 2015 Ludwick Lecture, Old Dominion University
  • 2014 Inducted as fellow of the Geochemical Society
  • 2010 C. C. Patterson Medal, Geochemical Society (environmental geochemistry)
  • 2010 Sverdrup Lecture, Ocean Sciences Section of the American Geophysical Union, presented at the Ocean Sciences meeting, Portland, Oregon, 23 February.
  • 2005 A.G. Huntsman Award for Excellence in the Marine Sciences by the A.G. Huntsman Foundation, Dalhousie University and the Bedford Institute of Oceanography.
  • 2005 Inducted as Fellow of the American Geophysical Union
  • 2003 LDEO, Director’s Award for Research Excellence.
  • 2003 LDEO, Excellence in Mentoring Award