Maria Vernet is a marine phytoplankton ecologist with specialization in polar environments, both Antarctic and Arctic. Her interests are wide ranging, from taxonomy to primary production, dynamics of plankton communities, planktonic food webs and pelagic-benthic coupling. Her approach has been mostly experimental, based on laboratory and field studies, more recently including inverse modeling of food webs and detection of the optical properties of glacial meltwater through satellite remote sensing. During the last 15 years, Vernet’s projects have concentrated on ice-phytoplankton interactions, studying response of plankton after Antarctic ice-shelf breakup, the ecosystem around drifting icebergs and more recently the influence of glacier meltwater in Antarctic and Greenland fjords. For the last five years, her lab has collaborated with the International Association of Antarctic Tour operators (IAATO) to the Antarctic Peninsula through citizen science to extend sampling of phytoplankton along the Peninsula fjords, a highly successful approach not only to obtain samples of scientific relevance but also as an effective way to reach non-scientists and involve them in research. Vernet has published over 200 research papers, and in 2018, she was named an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Accomplished Scientist Fellow.

As part of science education outreach, students in Vernet’s lab give public lectures onboard Antarctic tour ships seasonally, with hundreds of listeners each year. She is also involved in K – 12 and undergrad outreach in the U.S. and Canada by giving virtual Zoom guest lectures about polar ecosystems. Vernet is passionate about enhancing diversity in the sciences and has previously mentored students in the Scripps Undergraduate Research Fellowship as well as advised multiple first generation students. She has been a part of the faculty at Scripps Institution of Oceanography since 1990.

Vernet received her B.S. in Biological Sciences from the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina. She received both her M.S. and PhD in Biological Oceanography from the University of Washington.

(Updated March 2021)