Board Spotlight – Dr. Robert Letscher

Posted on April 30, 2021 by

Dr. Robert Letscher serves as Board Secretary and has been a Freshwater Future Board Member since January 2019. Rob lives in Durham along the New Hampshire seacoast where he is a professional Earth scientist and assistant professor of chemical oceanography at the University of New Hampshire. His research interests include illuminating the ways in which the biology and chemistry of the oceans regulate global climate and in turn formulating predictions of how the changing climate will impact marine ecosystems. This work takes him out to sea on oceanographic research vessels for weeks at a time. 

Of particular interest to Rob are the marine ecosystems located in the subtropics, between roughly 15 to 35 degrees of latitude, that are often called ‘ocean deserts’, owing to their low levels of chemical nutrients supporting low levels of biological productivity and diversity. Rob’s most recent research pursuits have taken him to the subtropical latitudes of the North Pacific Ocean in the vicinity of the Hawaiian islands where he is studying the sources of nutrients to sustain marine algal growth in the open ocean far from any land influence. This research will help gather foundational data on the natural functioning of the Earth’s largest biome which will be useful as a baseline from which to gauge future changes due to ongoing planetary warming and the changing climate. 

Rob is also involved with the translation of scientific knowledge on the biology and chemistry of the oceans to the numerical code used in international climate modeling efforts that find their way into the decadal Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports. 

Rob also shares a passion for the health of the Great Lakes, spending his summers along the shores of Little Traverse Bay in the Petoskey, MI area. He is lending his expertise and resources to study the annual nutrient levels in Little Traverse Bay waters, hoping to monitor how water quality in the Lake evolves with time due to changing Lake levels, suburban development along its shores, and invasive mussel populations. 

It was through his connection to Little Traverse Bay that Rob became familiar with the work of Freshwater Future. He believes strongly in the work that Freshwater Future does to educate, promote, and protect access to clean and healthy aquatic environments and drinking water. 

Rob is particularly proud of the work by Freshwater Future to surveil for the emerging environmental contaminant, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These chemicals that are now linked to a handful of cancers have been used as flame, water, and oil retardants/repellants in many commercial and residential products, and have now been detected in a growing number of groundwater and well water reservoirs around North America. Rob applauds Freshwater Future’s advocacy work on this issue to continue to pressure local and state governments to remove these harmful chemicals from the environment.


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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.