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coral reefs
Stephen Smith’s early research focused on carbonate chemistry on coral reefs. (Photo credit: Hitoshi Namura via Unsplash)

University of 51׻ʻi at Mānoa Emeritus Professor died on April 14, 2024. He was a well-respected scientist whose endeavors focused on biogeochemical processes at a global scale. He earned a PhD in oceanography from UH in 1970 and worked at the (HIMB) from 1970 to 1977. Smith split his time between HIMB and the beginning in 1978.

Smith retired in 2003 then, as an Emeritus Professor, worked for several years at Centro de Investigación Científica y de Educación Superior de Ensenada in Mexico.

man standing by ocean
Steven V. Smith

Smith was trained as a carbonate geochemist; and his early research focused on coral reefs. He became interested in the biogeochemistry of ecosystems, particularly their roles as net consumers or producers of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Although he did not consider this question in the context of climate change, it is clear in retrospect that his work was highly relevant to understanding the factors controlling carbon sequestration (or not) by marine ecosystems. Smith was a master at identifying ecosystems whose emergent properties could be addressed directly through simple measurements.

His interests led him to study the North Pacific Gyre; Kāneʻohe Bay, 51׻ʻi; Shark Bay, Western Australia; Tomales and San Francisco Bays, California; and lagoonal systems in Baja California.

He was a leader in the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program, developing a standardized protocol that allowed reliable comparisons between ecosystems, leading to new insights on the cycling of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus in coastal environments. His final publication returned to considering the role of carbonate precipitation in global climate cycles at geologic time scales.

Smith encouraged his students and colleagues to approach biogeochemical studies from a variety of approaches and scales. He loved to challenge the assumptions made by others in pursuit of their science. He was a strong advocate and supporter of early career scientists and colleagues from developing countries. His ability to mentor students and expose them to scientific issues of a global nature created lifelong opportunities for many. Through those students and those who were touched by their careers, Smiths work and life made a huge difference to generations of scientists.

Adapted from an obituary written by S. Atkinson DeMaster, S. Dollar, B. Popp, B. Tillbrook, J.T. Hollibaugh and D. Smith.

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