Svetlana Milutinovic
Svetlana Postdoctoral Researcher
Department of Earth and Environmental Science
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6316
(+1) 215-573-5145



2011: Ph.D. in Oceanography;
Geophysical Institute, University of Bergen, Norway.

1999: M.Sc. in Biology/Ecology;
Faculty of Science and Mathematics, University of Zagreb, Croatia.


Jan. 2012 - present: Postdoctoral researcher;
Department of Earth and Environmental Science, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA.

Jun. 2011 – Dec. 2011: Postdoctoral research assistant;
Nansen Environmental and Remote Sensing Center, Bergen, Norway.

Jan. 2005 – Jun. 2011: Ph.D. candidate;
Nansen Environmental and Remote Sensing Center, Bergen, Norway. (Affiliated with the Geophysical Institute and Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, Bergen, Norway.)

Jan. 2003 – Dec. 2004: Scientific assistant;
Nansen Environmental and Remote Sensing Center, Bergen, Norway.

Feb. 2001: Substitute teacher in Biology & Natural Science;
Voltino primary school, Zagreb, Croatia.


My research currently focuses on the size composition of oceanic phytoplankton. These mostly single-celled, free-floating organisms use sunlight to convert carbon dioxide (CO2) – the main driver of the observed recent climate change – into organic compounds, which is a process known as photosynthesis. The photosynthesis by phytoplankton is comparable in magnitude to that by land plants. Without it, heterotrophic life in the ocean (including animals) would hardly exist and the atmospheric CO2 concentration, currently being ~390 ppm, would soar by a few hundred ppm.

World ocean is home for thousands of species of phytoplankton. They differ in size of their cells, which can range from less than a micrometre to a few hundred micrometres in diameter. Size is a fundamental property of phytoplankton cells, as it relates to the rates of metabolic processes (e.g. growth), sinking in the water column (which, if deep enough, can isolate carbon from the atmosphere for centuries or even millennia) and the susceptibility to being eaten (the consumers of phytoplankton tend to prefer smaller prey). Thus, the size composition of phytoplankton communities has a significant influence on the structure and functioning of ocean ecosystems, the cycling of carbon and, consequently, climate. Because the phytoplankton within distinct cell size intervals perform unique ecological and biogeochemical functions, they are sometimes called phytoplankton functional types (PFTs).

Recently, PFTs in the near-surface layer of the ocean have become detectable remotely, by development of various methods that use data from optical sensors mounted on satellites. One such method, which uses the satellite-observed spectrum of backscattered light, has been developed by our collaborator Tihomir Kostadinov (University of Richmond). At present, I am applying this method to determine how much carbon is stored in phytoplankton in total and how it is divided among PFTs across the global ocean. Based on this information, I am studying how the carbon biomass of PFTs varies in response to climate-related factors. Additionally, I am interested in the kind of predictive ecological modelling that can help us understand how phytoplankton size distribution might evolve under pressures associated with future climate change. In that regard, my advisor Irina Marinov, our two undergraduate students (Ryan Dungee and Mo Green) and I have begun collaboration with Jorn Bruggeman (Plymouth Marine Laboratory), in order to adapt his mathematical model of phytoplankton size distribution in a lake ecosystem for ocean applications. Our ultimate goal is to incorporate this modified model into a coupled physical-biogeochemical global ocean model, which would enable an inclusion of the fundamental principle of biological evolution into a tool for predictive modelling of future climate and ocean biosphere. The results of this work would make it possible to do truly long-term prognostic simulations of the global ocean system with the unprecedented yet crucial inclusion of the forces of biological evolution.


2011: Milutinović, S: The Influence of Input Uncertainties on Remotely Sensed Estimates of Ocean Primary Productivity, Ph.D. thesis, 161 pp, Geophysical Institute, University of Bergen, Norway. (link)

Peer-reviewed Papers
2011: Milutinović, S. and L. Bertino: Assessment and propagation of uncertainties in input terms through an ocean-color-based model of primary productivity, Remote Sensing of Environment, 115(8), 1906-1917, doi:10.1016/j.rse.2011.03.013. (link)

2009: Milutinović, S., M. J. Behrenfeld, J. A. Johannessen, and T. Johannessen. Sensitivity of remote sensing–derived phytoplankton productivity to mixed layer depth: Lessons from the carbon-based productivity model, Global Biogeochemical Cycles, 23, GB4005, doi:10.1029/2008GB003431. (link)