Trevor Platt (1942 – 2020) – a reflection

Director of CBIOMES Mick Follows reflects on his pick of five of Trevor Platt’s papers that have illuminated the path to work underway in CBIOMES today.

by Mick Follows

This spring we were saddened by the passing of our very distinguished and valued CBIOMES colleague Professor Trevor Platt. As a tribute to Trevor, I’d like to highlight here five of his important publications which illustrate the impact of his thought and work on our field. These studies address aspects of the biogeography of the sea, plankton physiology, remote sensing, and mathematical modeling: all important themes in CBIOMES.

Each of us might easily pick a different selection from his numerous significant papers to reflect upon but below are five that have particularly influenced me in my career. Trevor’s papers are always presented clearly and frankly and are a pleasure to read. If you haven’t read these already I recommend picking one and diving in.

T. Platt and B. Irwin (1973), Calorific content of phytoplankton, Limnol. Oceanogr., 18(2), 306-310, doi: 10.4319/lo.1973.18.2.0306

In Platt and Irwin (1973), Trevor and Brian Irwin calibrated the energy content of marine plankton from field samples to carbon content, providing a practical and more precise calibration than the previous relationships with bulk dry weight. While the goal was to improve understanding and calibrations of carbon and energy flow in the system, the work also provided (I think the first) characterization of the changes in macro-molecular composition of the plankton across the spring bloom. Today, the comprehensive characterization and quantitative modeling of macro-molecular composition and physiology is an important goal in CBIOMES and Gradients.

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T. Platt and K. Denman (1978), The structure of pelagic marine ecosystems.
Rapp. P.-v. Reun. Cons. int Explor. Mer., 173: 60-65

In Platt and Denman (1978), Trevor and Ken Denman developed an elegant mathematical interpretation of the observed partitioning of biomass amongst size classes in marine plankton populations. They connected the allometry of the metabolism of individuals to ecosystem-scale structure and drew inspiration from models of energy cascades in physical turbulence. The size structuring of plankton populations is still a very current topic in our efforts to monitor and model marine ecosystems.

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M.J.R. Fasham and T. Platt (1983), Photosynthetic response of phytoplankton to light: a physiological model, Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 219, 355-370, doi: 10.1098/rspb.1983.0078

In Fasham and Platt (1983), Trevor and Mike Fasham presented an elegant mathematical model of the relationship between light intensity and photosynthetic rate in phytoplankton. By explicitly considering the molecular machinery of photosynthesis they quantitatively capture observed photosynthesis-light relationships, including photo-inhibition, with a mechanistic, yet idealized model. Such parameterizations are key components of the marine ecosystem and biogeochemistry models that we employ today.

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T. Platt and M.R. Lewis (1987), Estimation of phytoplankton production by remote sensing, Adv. Space Res., 7(2), 131-135, doi: 10.1016/0273-1177(87)90177-3

Satellite-based remote sensing platforms provide a global, almost daily view of the reflected spectrum of short wave radiation from which we extract information about surface ocean chlorophyll, biomass, and productivity often using regression models. In the concise and thoughtful paper, Platt and Lewis (1987), Trevor, and Marlon Lewis outlined a theory connecting depth-integrated primary production to surface incident radiation, exploiting measured power in fluorescence wavelengths. The paper presents the ideas cleanly and openly discuss the limitations and potential in just a few pages, setting the scene for efforts to extract the most information from remote sensing platforms that continue today.

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T. Platt, S. Sathyendranath, O. Ulloa, W.G. Harrison, N. Hoepffner and J. Goes (1992), Nutrient control of photosynthesis in the Western North Atlantic,
Nature, 356, 229-231, doi: 10.1038/356229a0

In Platt et al (1992), Trevor, Shubha, and co-authors measured, compiled, and interpreted the photosynthetic parameters of the ecosystem of the Sargasso Sea remarkable constancy of key parameters on smaller space and timescales. On a seasonal basis, photosynthetic efficiency changed significantly with nitrogen availability and the spring bloom. The work provided insight into the mechanistic controls on productivity in the ocean and highlighted the potential for aggregation into coherent regional and seasonal provinces which can be exploited for interpretation and modeling: an important thread that continues in CBIOMES and beyond.

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Related Links

In memoriam: Professor Trevor Platt FRS – PML News

Trevor Platt’s bibliography via Google Scholar