Case study: Professor Daniela Schmidt

Wolfson Research Merit Award holder, 2015-2020
University of Bristol

The future of shelf ecosystems in a warmer, more acidic ocean

Professor Daniela Schmidt was a University Research Fellow at University of Bristol 2006-2015 and is now a Wolfson Research Merit Award holder at the same institution. The Wolfson Research Merit Award has now been superseded by the Royal Society Wolfson Fellowship which continues to promote the recruitment and retention of outstanding senior researchers to UK institutions.

What attracted you to apply for the Wolfson Research Merit Award? What were the challenges that influenced you to seek support?

I have been a Royal Society Research Fellow for nine years and have enjoyed all the opportunities this has given me. As a University Research Fellow, I particularly appreciated the interactions with staff working in the Policy team at the Royal Society and the various events with stakeholders. The Wolfson Research Merit Award allows me to continue taking part in these opportunities which I valued as an early career researcher. The financial support by the award supports our family and allows me to travel to conferences and events more easily.

Tell us about your research.

My research focuses on understanding the causes and effects of the increases in CO2 on the ocean and its ecosystems. The ocean serves us in many ways, regulating climate, providing food, livelihood and recreation. Human driven emissions of CO2 to the atmosphere affect the ocean either directly (ocean acidification) or indirectly though climate change (warming and deoxygenation). Substantial revenue declines, job losses, and indirect economic costs may occur if ocean acidification damages marine habitats and disrupts ecosystem services. Ecosystem shifts would create significant sustainability and management challenges, particularly amongst countries with a strong dependence on proteins from the sea. 

I study the impacts of global warming and ocean acidification on marine ecosystems, both in the modern era and in geological time. I study open ocean and shelf ecosystems focussing on foraminifers, bivalves, bryozoans, and coralline algae. These organisms are ideal high-resolution archives for climate change but also provide a wide range of ecosystem services by building habitats for other species, regulating our climate or providing food. 

My aspiration is to develop an overarching framework for understanding the effect of climate change and ocean acidification on calcifying organisms. I aim to provide policy relevant information about the impact of climate change on biodiversity and food security.

What additional Royal Society opportunities have you taken up as a result of your award?

The most recent opportunity was a joint meeting by the British Academy and the Royal Society on Blue Oceans Green City. This workshop, at the Royal Society at Chicheley Hall brought together scientists, engineers, social scientists, and representatives from industry and civil society in a two day workshop. For me working across the disciplines is where real novelty can be found and advances made.

What have been the defining moments in your career since you have taken up the award?

I have been asked to become the coordinating lead author for the WGII IPCC (Working Group II for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) for the regional chapter on Europe. I am looking forward to the challenge of providing the best evidence of impacts and potential for adaptation and regional vulnerabilities. I am hoping to interact with the Royal Society Policy team in this capacity and use the opportunities of the cross disciplinary meetings to gather experts together to develop the best information.

What are your future plans?

I would love to expand my research into supporting low and middle income countries in protecting and benefitting from the ocean as coastal ecosystems are fundamental to subsistence fishers in many low income countries. Most pressingly, these societies in the tropics will be most impacted by climate change. This poses a risk to the people dependent on fish from coral reefs, mangroves and seagrass meadows and increases the pressures on the ecosystems.


Professor Nishan Canagarajah, the Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise at University of Bristol, commented on the impact of retaining Daniela to the university through the support of the Wolfson Research Merit Award.

“Daniela Schmidt was one of the first female professors at Bristol to secure a Wolfson Research Merit Award. Her field of research links climate change and ocean acidification to paleobiology and she is a leading member of the paleobiology community here, which I would argue is one of the major disciplinary (indeed multidisciplinary) strengths of the University. This grouping, with Daniela as one of its leaders, attracts outstanding PhD students and early career researchers from across the world and translating to Royal Society, RCUK and Marie Curie Research Fellows. That, in turn, strengthens our world leading reputation for research in this field.

Daniela has led and contributed to initiatives within our interdisciplinary Cabot Institute bringing a wide range of different stakeholders to Bristol to develop research for policy, and this extends significantly her reach and impact.”