Susana Agustí is a professor of marine science in the KAUST Red Sea Research Center (RSRC) with a long history of marine research. Agustí is a much-respected biological oceanographer who has taken part in numerous oceanographic expeditions over her lengthy research career. She is also the first female professor of marine science in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
From her research beginnings in her native Spain, she has conducted research that has spanned the entire world, including expeditions in all of the world's five oceans as well as playing a vital role in the Malaspina Expedition 2010 (a global interdisciplinary circumnavigation research project to evaluate the impact of global change on the biodiversity of the world's oceans).
At KAUST, Agustí's research focuses on the ecology of photosynthetic plankton and the metabolic balance of the oceans, with the goal of evaluating the global change effects on oceans. Her research interests, with an emphasis on the Red Sea, include testing the vulnerability of planktonic communities to warming, as well as to other stressors associated with global change, such as increased UV-B radiation, persistent pollutants and ocean acidification.
She is also the principal investigator of the Biological Oceanography Lab research group, a group dedicated to the study of marine organisms and how they interact with ocean ecosystems.
"My research is focused on quantifying and learning what the impact of global change in the oceans is. In the past, we expected that environmental perturbation was limited to local regions where these pollutant-causing human activities were taking place," she noted.
"However, this is not true anymore, because the atmosphere is transporting and accumulating all the chemicals emitted as a result by human activities. Now we have areas in the world with small amounts of human activities, for example, in the Arctic, where human activity is very small, but there is a high concentration of pollutants there because of the dynamics of the pollution atmospheric transport.
"Because of atmospheric pollution we have decreased stratospheric ozone with an increase of ultraviolet radiation that is reaching the earth surface, and this is a harmful agent for all species. Moreover, with atmospheric CO2 increasing and the associated climate warming, we are inducing other changes in the environment, resulting in a situation of multiple stressors for organisms; when several stressors are acting jointly, we can hardly predict the consequences for marine organisms and ecosystems.
"With my research, I try to lessen the impact of global change stressors in the marine organism. Also, I learn if micro-adaptation processes it may help to create more resilient organisms," Agustí added.
Having studied many of the major marine ecosystems found worldwide, the opportunity to explore the Red Sea firsthand was one of the major driving forces in Agustí's decision to join KAUST and the RSRC.
"The Red Sea is a fascinating place because I'm concerned with the adaptation and responses of marine organisms to warming. The Red Sea has some of the highest ocean temperatures because of its location, and because it is also warming fast.
"To study this region and the responses of organisms and biogeochemical processes within the Red Sea to increasing temperature, together with other environmental stressors as oil pollution, was something that I was extremely interested in investigating," she noted.
Agustí believes that through her practical research—centered on understanding and identifying the current state of the Red Sea region—she can help to inform the Kingdom's policymakers regarding the possible future development of Saudi Arabia's coastal areas.
"Understanding and protecting the Red Sea ecosystem is essential for this country. For example, there is increased development in the region and Saudi Arabia is becoming more focused on tourism. However, to carry out a sustainable development, we must understand this pristine and beautiful environment that borders its coastline. It will be imperative to know what is the capacity of this ecosystem to future stressors associated with development.
"We want to know the capacity of the Red Sea ecosystems to adapt to environmental changes, and this is very important because policymakers need to make decisions based on the degree of environmental stress or pollution that is acceptable. With our research findings, we can assist the country in recognizing the tolerance or resilience of its local ecosystems," Agustí concluded.