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Dr. Daniel Thornton
Daniel Thornton
(979) 845-4092
(979) 845-6631
Eller O&M 518BA and 521

Texas A&M University O&M Building
Room 518BA and 521 MS 3146 
College Station, Texas 77843


Ph.D., Queen Mary, University of London, UK, 1996

B.Sc., Marine and Freshwater Biology, Queen Mary, University of London, UK, 1991

  • 2008   Texas A&M Association of Former Students - College Level Teaching Award
  • 2007   Visiting Scientist Award – Baruch Marine Field Laboratory

Daniel Thornton

Associate Professor

Research Interests

I am a biologist interested in microbial ecology and biogeochemistry. I am fascinated by the fact that the smallest organisms on the Earth have profoundly changed our planet over its geological history. My students and I combine hypothesis-drive laboratory and in situ experimentation with in situobservation of natural systems. I have conducted field work in the United States (North Inlet in South Carolina, and the Gulf of Mexico), Europe (Estuaries in the United Kingdom and Denmark, the Adriatic Sea), Belize (mangrove islands), Indonesia (coral reefs), and the Pacific Ocean. On this page, I have divided my research interests into four categories: 1) biogenic gases and aerosols, 2) the physiology and ecology of phytoplankton, 3) benthic biogeochemistry, and 4) the biogeochemistry of exopolymers.

Production of biogenic gases and aerosols: The interface between ocean and atmosphere covers 71 % of the Earth’s surface. My collaborators and I are interested in the role of marine microorganisms in producing gases and aerosols that affect atmospheric processes. Exchanges of matter and energy across the ocean-atmosphere interface affect weather and climate. For example, aerosols and the clouds that form on them are a major uncertainty in our current understanding of Earth’s radiative budget.

Physiology and ecology of phytoplankton: Approximately half the carbon fixed by photosynthesis each year on Earth is fixed by phytoplankton. This organic carbon supports almost all food webs in the ocean. I am interested in how phytoplankton affect the marine carbon cycle. Much of his research is conducted using diatoms as model organisms as they are an incredibly successful group of primary producers in the ocean.

Benthic biogeochemistry: Coastal marine sediments play a major role in carbon and nitrogen cycling in the coastal ocean. For example, estuarine sediments can provide a valuable ecosystem service by removing excess biologically available nitrogen from the overlying water via the process of denitrification.

Biogeochemistry of exoploymers: Exopolymers (EPS) are large molecules (e.g. polysaccharides) that are produced by microorganisms in the ocean. The sticky properties of EPS means that they play a central role in the transport and transformation of organic carbon in the marine environment, and consequently, the global carbon cycle.

Selected Publications

Production of biogenic gases and aerosols
Deng C, Brooks SD, Vidaurre G, Thornton DCO (accepted). Using Raman microspectroscopy to determine chemical composition and mixing state of airborne marine aerosols over the Pacific Ocean. Aerosol Science and Technology

Liu Y, Yvon-Lewis SA, Thornton DCO, Butler JH, Bianchi TS, Campbell L, Hu L, Smith RW (2013) Spatial and temporal distributions of bromoform and dibromomethane in the Atlantic Ocean and their relationship with photosynthetic biomass. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans 118: 1-16. doi:10.1002/jgrc.20299

Liu Y, Yvon-Lewis SA, Thornton DCO, Campbell L, Bianchi TS (2013) Spatial distribution of brominated very short-lived substances in the Eastern Pacific.Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans 118: 1-11. doi:10.1002/jgrc.20183

Hiranuma N, Brooks SD, Thornton DCO, Auvermann BW (2010) Atmospheric ammonia mixing ratios at an open-air cattle feeding facility. Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association 60: 210-218

Dong LF, Nedwell DB, Underwood GJC, Thornton DCO, Rusmuna I (2002) Nitrous oxide formation in estuaries: the central role of nitrite. Applied and Environmental Microbiology 68:1240-1249

Phytoplankton physiology & ecology
Thornton DCO (accepted) Dissolved organic matter (DOM) release by phytoplankton in the contemporary and future ocean. European Journal of Phycology

Rzadkowolski CE, Thornton DCO (2012) Using laser scattering to identify diatoms and conduct aggregation experiments. European Journal of Phycology 47(1): 30-41

Thornton DCO (2012) Primary production in the ocean. In: Advances in Photosynthesis – Fundamental Aspects. Edited by M. M. Najafpour. pp 563-588. Intech, Rijeka, Croatia

Thornton DCO (2009) Effect of low pH on carbohydrate production by a marine planktonic diatom (Chaetoceros muelleri). Research Letters in Ecology, Article ID 105901, doi:10.1155/2009/105901

Patel D, Thake B, Thornton DCO (2005) Effect of light and turbulent mixing on the growth of Skeletonema costatum (Bacillariophyceae). Marine Biology146: 633-644

Thornton DCO (2002) Diatom aggregation in the sea: mechanisms and ecological implications. European Journal of Phycology 37:149-161

Thornton DCO (2002) Individuals, clones or groups? Phytoplankton behaviour and units of selection. Ethology, Ecology and Evolution 14:165-173

Thornton DCO, Santillo D, Thake B (1999) Prediction of sporadic mucilaginous algal blooms in the Northern Adriatic Sea. Marine Pollution Bulletin 38(10): 891-898

Thornton DCO (1999) Phytoplankton mucilage in coastal waters: A dispersal mechanism in a front dominated system? Ethology Ecology and Evolution11(2): 179-185

Thornton DCO, Thake B (1998) Effect of temperature on the aggregation ofSkeletonema costatum (Bacillariophyceae) and the implication for carbon flux in coastal waters. Marine Ecology Progress Series 174: 223-237

Chiappori A, Balostro R, Thake B, Santillo D, Thornton D, Patel D, (1995). The Adriatic Sea and coastal resources; a management and pollution control study. In: Coastal Ocean Space Utilization III. Edited by N. D. Croce, S. Connell and R. Abel. pp 331-344. E & FN Spon, Chapman and Hall, London

Benthic biogeochemistry
Nunnally CC, Gilbert RT, Thornton DCO, Quigg A, (2013) Oxygen consumption and nutrient regeneration by sediments in the Northern Gulf of Mexico Hypoxic Zone. Journal of Coastal Research – special issue 63: 84-96

Tice MM, Thornton DCO, Pope MC, Olszewski TD, Gong J (2011) Archean microbial mat communities. Annual review of Earth and Planetary Sciences39: 297-319

Thornton DCO, Kopac SM, Long RA (2010) Production and enzymatic hydrolysis of carbohydrates in intertidal sediment. Aquatic Microbial Ecology60: 109-125

Thornton DCO, Dong LF, Underwood GJC, Nedwell DB (2007) Sediment-water nutrient exchange and nitrogen budgets in the Colne Estuary. Marine Ecology Progress Series 337: 63-77

Thornton DCO, Dong LF, Underwood GJC, Nedwell DB (2002) Factors affecting microphytobenthic biomass, species composition and production in the Colne estuary (UK). Aquatic Microbial Ecology 27:285-300

Dong LF, Thornton DCO, Underwood GJC, Nedwell DB (2000) Denitrification in the sediments of the Colne estuary, England. Marine Ecology Progress Series 203: 109-122

Dalsgaard T (Editor), Nielsen LP, Brotas V, Viaroli P, Underwood G, Nedwell DB, Sundbäck K, Rysgaard S, Miles A, Bartoli M, Dong LF, Thornton DCO, Ottosen LDM, Castaldelli G, Risgaard-Petersen N. (2000) Protocol handbook for NICE - Nitrogen Cycling in Estuaries: a project under the EU research programme: Marine Science and Technology (MAST III). National Environmental Research Institute, Silkeborg, Denmark. 62pp

Thornton DCO, Underwood GJC, Nedwell DB (1999) Effect of light and emersion period on the exchange of ammonium across the estuarine sediment-water interface. Marine Ecology Progress Series 184: 11-20

Biogeochemistry of exopolymers
Thornton DCO (2009) Spatiotemporal distribution of dissolved acidic polysaccharides (dAPS) in a tidal estuary. Limnology and Oceanography 54: 1449-1460

Thornton DCO, Visser LA (2009) Measurement of acid polysaccharides (APS) associated with microphytobenthos in salt marsh sediments. Aquatic Microbial Ecology 54: 185-198

Thornton DCO, Fejes EM, DiMarco SF, Clancy KM (2007) Measurement of acid polysaccharides (APS) in marine and freshwater samples using alcian blue.Limnology and Oceanography: Methods 5: 73-87

Thornton DCO (2004) Formation of transparent exopolymeric particles (TEP) from macroalgal detritus. Marine Ecology Progress Series 282: 1-12

Additional Information


  • 2013-present: Assistant Department Head, Department of Oceanography, Texas A&M University
  • 2010-present: Associate Professor, Department of Oceanography, Texas A&M University
  • 2004 - 2010: Assistant Professor, Department of Oceanography, Texas A&M University
  • 2003: Research Fellow, Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Southern California
  • 2000 - 2002: Research Fellow, Ecology Centre, University of Sunderland, UK
  • 1996 - 1999: Senior Research Officer, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Essex, UK
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