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Distinguished Scientist to Direct University of Minnesota’s Sea Grant Program

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John A. Downing, chair of the executive board of the Council of Scientific Society Presidents, is joining UMD as the director of Minnesota Sea Grant.

John A. Downing, an internationally prominent aquatic researcher and educator, has agreed to become the University of Minnesota Sea Grant College Program’s director and a professor in UMD's Department of Biology. 

“Given the number and quality of organizations and researchers pursuing aquatic science, I truly think the Duluth-Superior area is poised to become the nation’s new center of aquatic research and outreach,” said Downing. “I’m excited about the opportunity to work with such motivated people and this terrific program.”

Minnesota Sea Grant is funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the state of Minnesota to help create the science, knowledge, and partnerships needed to support the sustained use of Minnesota's coastal and inland waters. Noting Sea Grant’s successes in addressing environmental and economic challenges along Lake Superior and Minnesota's inland waters with science, Downing said he looks forward to broadening the program’s achievements, particularly in areas such as regional resiliency with respect to a changing climate and understanding the global and regional role of Lake Superior. His vision includes increasing collaborations between the Minnesota Sea Grant Program and colleges and universities across the state.

Downing, who begins his directorship in January, 2016 will move to Duluth from Iowa State University, where he is a Regent’s Excellence Professor of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology and Chair of the Environmental Science Graduate Program. Downing is also the chair of the Executive Board of the Council of Scientific Society Presidents and the immediate past-president of the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography.

In addition to academic appointments in Iowa and professional leadership roles that necessitate an office in Washington, D.C., Downing is an adjunct professor at Itasca Community College and a founding member of the Itasca Water Legacy Partnership. Revealing Minnesota roots that extend 110 years and exemplifying his personal commitment to freshwater resources, he and his family manage a tract of land and shoreline in Minnesota as a conservation area.

Reflected in over 150 academic publications, his areas of expertise range from the nuances of aquatic ecology and fisheries biology to whole ecosystem management, resource economics, and global carbon cycling. Limnology: Inland Water Ecosystems, the book he is co-authoring with Jacob Kalff emeritus professor at McGill University and the first limnologist to work in Québec, should be available next year. 

Downing’s career involves accolades for research, education, and science policy. His awards and honors include: 

  • Thieneman-Naumann Medal for Excellence in Limnological Research from the International Society of Limnology
  • Ruth Patrick Award (for outstanding research addressing environmental problems) from the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography 
  • Bruce Gardner Memorial Prize for Applied Policy Analysis from the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association
  • Invited membership on the U.S. Committee for the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNSECO
  • Outstanding Alumni Achievement Award from Hamline University
  • Research Excellence award from Iowa State University
  • Invited member of the editorial boards of Inland Waters, the journal of the International Society of Limnology, and Limnology and Oceanography, the flagship journal of the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography

Downing was formerly a professor at McGill University and the Université de Montréal where he was director of the Laurentian Biological Station and a founding member of the Groupe de Recherche Interuniversitaire en Limnologie. He sees water as the world’s most important strategic resource and commented that he feels privileged to be focusing the next part of his career on his home waters in the “land of 10,000 lakes” and on Lake Superior, the world’s most expansive freshwater sea.

“I have built a career crossing scales in the aquatic sciences,” Downing said. “My life is aquatic science. I’m built for this job, and I’m very much looking forward to it.” 

Minnesota Sea Grant facilitates interactions among the public and scientists to enhance the environment and economies along Lake Superior and Minnesota's inland waters by identifying information needs, fostering research, and communicating results. Minnesota Sea Grant is funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Minnesota. It is part of NOAA Sea Grant, a network of 33 similar science-based programs.



September 2015

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Cheryl Reitan,

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