The chemistry of ocean waters and underlying sediments play a fundamental role in controlling the ecology, species composition and overall health of the marine environment and determine the role of the oceans in larger-scale societal issues such as global climate change. Chemical research at SkIO addresses a broad set of science topics that span the breadth of these research areas. Because carbon plays a central role in the biogeochemical functioning of all ecosystems, it is the focus of numerous research efforts.
The biogeochemistry group investigates the characteristics and reactivity of organic matter in aquatic environments by examining its molecular and isotopic composition. Aron Stubbins employs a suite of techniques at SkIO and through collaborating laboratories to identify the optical (UV-visible absorbance, fluorescence), isotopic (d13C, D13C), structural (Fourier transform infrared and nuclear magnetic resonance) and molecular (high resolution mass spectrometry and biomarkers) signatures. The information provided enables us to read the molecular messages carried by organic matter. These messages tell of the organisms responsible for synthesizing organic matter, the processes that have acted upon the organic matter since its formation, and the likely fate of the organic matter in biosphere. Tracked through time in rivers, glaciers, sediments, the open ocean, and at hydrothermal vents, this information provides insight into how ecosystems have evolved in the past and how present ecosystems may be altered in the future in response to natural cycles and human-induced changes.
Work in the area of global ecology (Brandes) focuses on determining the mechanisms controlling the flow of C, N, and P in ecosystems, from extremely large basin-wide scales to nanoscales. Tackling problems over such wide spatial scales provides a different view of diagenesis. Dr. Brandes is a biogeochemist with expertise in stable isotopes, x-ray microscopy, nutrient cycling and organic geochemistry.
The cycling of inorganic carbon in the oceans is also a major research focus as it plays a dominant role in the mitigation of greenhouse warming by carbon dioxide. Uptake of anthropogenic carbon dioxide by the oceans also leads to ocean acidification which may alter marine ecosystems and specifically impact organisms that make shells and structures from calcium carbonate such as foraminifera and corals.
Trace metals also play a major role in structuring the composition of marine ecosystems (Mann) and determining the health of coastal environments (Windom). By examining the variations of specific metals captured in coastal sediments, the history of metal pollution and the effectiveness of regulations and policies can be assessed (Alexander, Windom).