Peter Franks is a professor of biological oceanography in the Integrative Oceanography Division at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego.

His research interests include red tides, phytoplankton ecology, and computer modeling of the interaction of physical and biological processes in the ocean.

Franks studies recurrent red tides, particularly in the Gulf of Maine. Blooms of a toxic phytoplankton have been appearing each year in the region, forcing the closure of shellfish beds along the coasts of southern Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. After conducting extensive field studies and analyzing historical data, Franks determined that the toxic cells were transported along the coast in a freshwater plume originating from the Androscoggin and Kennebec rivers. He has developed computer models to understand the details of the transport mechanisms and to locate the source populations.

Franks’s main interests lie in the study of physical/biological interactions in plankton. In one project, Franks studied how thin layers of phytoplankton form beneath the ocean surface. These microscopic patches of plant life are believed to provide a vital source of food for zooplankton, tiny animals that form a key link in the marine food chain.

Another project explored how larger patches of phytoplankton form at oceanic fronts. Like fronts in the atmosphere, oceanic fronts are regions of intense water motion. These flows appear to be very important in the formation of biological patchiness and the control of plankton growth. Franks and his colleagues have developed computer models to study how water flows at fronts affect plankton patchiness. One of these models simulates the physical and biological dynamics on Georges Bank. Franks hopes that this model will help explain why this New England fishing area east of Cape Cod is so productive and how the bank might be affected by changes in global climate.

Born in Toronto, Canada, Franks received a BSc in biology from Queen’s University, in Kingston, Ontario. He received an MSc in oceanography from Dalhousie University, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology–Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Prior to joining Scripps, Franks was a faculty research associate at Oregon State University.

Last updated May 2004