From Dean Bruce H. Corliss— 


It is with great sadness that I write of the passing of Professor Ted Smayda on April 5, 2017 after a period of declining health. Ted was a long time faculty member at GSO who had a significant influence on the institution. An expert in marine phytoplankton, he authored over 150 research papers, served on many national and international committees, and was the major professor to many successful GSO graduate students, including 33 Ph.D. students.

Professor Smayda attended Tufts University and received a B.S. in Biology and received a M.S. in Biological Oceanography in 1955 from the University of Rhode Island. He enrolled in the Ph.D. program at Yale University, received a Fulbright Fellowship to study in Norway, and studied phytoplankton ecology for four years, receiving his Ph.D. from the University of Oslo. He returned in 1959 and took a position at URI at the Narragansett Marine Laboratory.  


Following a fire that destroyed one of the lab buildings, he had at one time an office in Kingston at the historic Pettaquamscutt Jail across from the main entrance. He became one of the first professors at the newly founded Graduate School of Oceanography in 1961 and helped establish biological oceanography as a strength at GSO, with phytoplankton ecology gaining a national and international reputation. He was responsible for the Narragansett Bay phytoplankton time series for over 40 years, which helped guide the management of Narragansett Bay. The time series began in 1952, but the lab fire destroyed all of the data, and was restarted in 1959. Ted took over the time series in 1963 and was responsible for 27 measurements taken weekly.


He also took a strong interest in the Pell Library, and, with the support of Dean John Knauss, was instrumental in increasing the library holdings. In addition to his many oceanographic activities, he was a co-founder of the Narrow River Preservation Association, and with Professor Perry Jeffries, did one of the first phytoplankton study of Narrow River while they were students. He was also a member of the Jamestown Conservation Committee.


On a personal note, I took his Phytoplankton Ecology course while a student, as did my wife, and we greatly enjoyed his approach to teaching and science. I always appreciated his encouragement while a student, and his encouragement and support of GSO continued to the very end. He was dedicated to his work and students and was working on manuscripts until the very end.

We send our condolences to his family, friends, colleagues, and many students.


—Bruce H. Corliss

Dean, Graduate School of Oceanography,

University of Rhode Island

From Carmelo R. Tomas—


A week ago the HAB and research community lost another giant intellect. Professor Theodore J. Smayda (Ted as he preferred to be called) passed away after a period of illness.  A graduate of the Braarud School of phytoplankton ecology of Oslo, Norway, Ted held unique skills and insights into phytoplankton dynamics including those of HAB species. Author of over 150 peer reviewed publications and numerous book chapters, he remained a prolific writer and active researcher until the last days. His command of the literature in all languages was legendary and his ability to synthesize information from disparate sources was truly a skill few mastered with his proficiency. His inquisitive mind probed continually for major principles governing the dynamics of phytoplankton, which were constantly used to stimulate his many students and colleagues alike. Always willing to listen, Ted developed ideas, questions and testable hypotheses with novice students to well established colleagues alike. Generous with his thoughts and ideas, he freely shared these through his many presentations at meetings, symposia and invited seminars. Among his many scientific accomplishments, Ted took pride in the excellent library holdings at the GSO Pell Library in which he personally scoured sources for pertinent literature. This was in keeping with an overriding philosophy of providing an environment where the mind was the limiting factor and all else was provided. Another scientific accomplishment he was particularly proud of was the long term Narragansett Bay Time Series, a data set beginning in 1959 and continuing weekly into the late 1990s. This data, obtained for various stations in Narragansett Bay but specifically for Station 2 that was sampled weekly over the entire period, remains one of the most complete phytoplankton data sets to date. Unlike other long-term data sets, this was one conducted on whole water samples, detailed species observations to a significant level and included physical chemical data. The legacy of this data set will be available to all in the near future. The data set was also a cohesive element for his students who all contributed to its completion and often generated the hypotheses realized in their thesis research and subsequent publications. Analysis of this data resulted in Ted’s understanding of the open niches provided for HAB species development, phytoplankton patterns occurring over unexpected periods spanning several years and trends significant to understanding effects of climate change. Ted’s unique view of looking at HAB events as “Rosetta Stones” giving us insights into functioning of complex marine environments where we have few tools to dissect their elements rose from delving this data. He continuously looked through a microscope, knew the species and was able to document their changes in time and in various environments. This occurred at a time when skills at the taxonomic level were disappearing for more convenient but less informative and labor intensive methods. The foundation of these insights will provide stimulus for ideas for many years to come. In a personal vein, Ted was a happy family man, enormously proud of his children and their accomplishments and dearly loved nature including his beloved gardens and pond environment. His love for languages continued and was reveled in his private writing of poetry. A mentor, teacher, perpetual student and lover of knowledge, Ted will be sorely missed but deeply remembered through his enormous legacy of literature, ideas, and continued stimulus to know more. His contributions will continue for yet many years.


Carmelo R. Tomas

April 10, 2017