Varela, Diana

Associate Professor


Phone number: (250) 472-5425
Department: Biology

Research description:

-Marine Biogeochemistry
-Ecological Physiology of Phytoplankton
Expertise Profile
For most of us, the words "climate change" conjure up images of rising temperatures. But for biological oceanographer Diana Varela, what comes to mind are microscopic floating algae called phytoplankton, which form the basis of the marine food chain.

Dr. Varela studies how phytoplankton use nutrients during photosynthesis to better understand the cycling of nutrients in the oceans and changes in marine primary productivity. Phytoplankton produce about half of the oxygen we breathe and exert a global influence on climate by removing carbon dioxide--one of the main culprits in global warming--from the atmosphere. "Understanding the cycling of the nutrient elements that phytoplankton need is a key piece in the climate puzzle," says Varela, whose fieldwork sometimes takes her to opposite ends of the planet.

In the Arctic, Dr. Varela and her graduate students have participated in a number of international ship-based research expeditions, primarily to measure changes in phytoplankton productivity and nutrient levels as the ocean warms and sea ice decreases over time. And in 2013-14, she spent more than a month in Antarctica working with Argentinian scientists to study the effects of climate change on coastal planktonic communities.

In her biological oceanography class, Dr. Varela has students complete their own research projects. "We actually go out to sea on the UVic research vessel" she says. Her students get the opportunity to take samples of plankton and measure, among other things, the water's temperature, salinity and oxygen levels. Afterwards, they analyze their data and write reports on their findings.

International research:

Dr. Varela has collaborative projects in polar regions with scientists from Canada, U.S.A. and Argentina.

Countries lived or worked in:

Argentina and U.S.A.



Community projects

Dr. Varela and her research group have studied algal blooms and water quality in Esquimalt Lagoon (city of Colwood), only a few kilometres from the city of Victoria. Her team also performs time-series measurements of phytoplankton productivity and nutrient cycling in Saanich Inlet, and has been involved in research cruises on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

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