2018 Geochemistry Group Postdoctoral Awards Announced

by Susan H. Little

Winning Geochemists!

For the third year in a row, the Geochemistry Group is thrilled to award two Postdoctoral Prizes, recognizing the outstanding work being carried out by UK-based early career researchers.

We are delighted to announce that the 2018 winners are:

Postdoctoral Medal: Alex J. McCoy-West

ECR Prominent Lecturer: Rosalie Tostevin

ECR Prominent Lecturer

Dr Tostevin is currently a Postdoctoral Research Assistant at the University of Oxford. Her research primarily focuses on the interactions between life and the environment on the early Earth.

She will be offering a choice of two talks on her fully funded (Agilent Technologies) UK-wide tour in 2018-19. Interested institutions are encouraged to contact the Geochemistry Group (who? link?) in the first instance.

The first talk will describe a radical new theory for the genesis of ancient sediments, which transforms our understanding of ocean chemistry and has implications for microbial evolution.

The second lecture will share five years of work tracking the distribution of oxygen in Neoproterozoic basins, and discusses the consequences for early animal life.

Rosalie follows in the footsteps of the successful tours of Dr David Wilson (2017-18) and Dr Kate Kiseeva (2016-17). We can’t wait!

The Geochemistry Group would like to thank Agilent Technologies for generously funding this award.

Postdoctoral Medal

This year, the Geochemistry Group Postdoctoral Medal was awarded to Dr McCoy-West for the following outstanding paper:

McCoy-West, A.J., Millet, M.A. and Burton, K.W., 2017. The neodymium stable isotope composition of the silicate Earth and chondrites. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 480, pp.121-132. doi: 10.1016/j.epsl.2017.10.004

This paper presents the first accurate and precise measurement of Nd stable isotope compositions and uses a combination of a double-spike techniques and high-precision TIMS analyses. As such, it marks a significant breakthrough in measuring stable Nd isotopes.

As well as representing a major analytical advance, the paper addresses the problem of the non-chondritic neodymium (Nd) 142Nd/144Nd ratio of the silicate Earth, which has been attributed variously to collisional erosion, nucleosynthetic variations between solar system bodies, or segregation of sulphide to the core.

The data show that chondrites and the silicate Earth possess an indistinguishable Nd stable isotope composition, indicating that Earth’s excess 142Nd is best explained by a higher proportion of s-process Nd in the Earth.

Overall, this is a very impressive paper, both technically and scientifically. Congratulations Alex!

Finally, the Geochemistry Group committee would like to thank all the applicants/nominees for both Postdoctoral Awards. Both were extremely difficult decisions!

Deadline for the next round of applications: 15 January 2019

#GGRiP2018 starts with a Bang, a Pop, and a Dance…

by Wesley T Fraser

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The Geochemistry Group annual Research in Progress meeting got off to a fantastic start with a sell-out public lecture delivered by Dr James Rae at the Byre Theatre on Monday evening.

James told us all about global climate change, with an explosive introduction to the burning of fossil fuels, a balloon-based demonstration of the influence of water on the thermal capacity of our planet, and a groovy energy dance to explain transfer of solar radiation to the Earth.

J_Rae_danceA thoroughly entertaining evening, with a truly interactive spirit, and informative to boot!

Dr James Rae is a Research Fellow at the University of St. Andrews. His research focuses on understanding past climate change, particular glacial-interglacial cycles, and the climate of the Cenozoic.

You can follow updates from this years conference using the Twitter hashtag #GGRiP2018 and follow James on @mudwaterclimate

ChAOS in the Arctic.

by Christian März

The NERC-funded project “The Changing Arctic Ocean Seafloor” (ChAOS) has been going for a year now, and it is one of the most exciting interdisciplinary projects I have ever been a part of! ChAOS will quantify the effect of changing sea ice cover on organic matter quality, benthic biodiversity, biological transformations of carbon and nutrient pools, and resulting ecosystem function at the Arctic Ocean seafloor. We will achieve this by determining the amount, source, and bioavailability of organic matter and associated nutrients exported to the Arctic seafloor; its consumption, transformation, and cycling through the benthic food chain; and its eventual burial or recycling back into the water column.

We will study these coupled biological and biogeochemical processes by combining

  • a detailed study of representative Arctic shelf sea habitats that intersect the ice edge, with
  • broad-scale in situ validation studies and shipboard experiments,
  • manipulative laboratory experiments that will identify causal relationships and mechanisms,
  • analyses of highly spatially and temporally resolved data obtained by the Canadian, Norwegian and German Arctic programmes to establish generality, and
  • we will integrate new understanding of controls and effects on biodiversity, biogeochemical pathways and nutrient cycles into modelling approaches to explore how changes in Arctic sea ice alter ecosystems at regional scales.

We will focus our research on the Barents Sea, a part of the Arctic Ocean where drastic changes in sea ice cover and water mass distribution are the main environmental control. Common fieldwork campaigns will form the core of our research activity. Our focal region is a N-S transect along 30 degree East in the Barents Sea where ice expansion and retreat are well known and safely accessible. In support of our field campaign, and informed by the analysis of field samples and data obtained by our international partners (in Norway, Canada, USA, Italy, Poland and Germany), we will conduct a range of well-constrained laboratory experiments, exposing incubated natural sediment to environmental conditions that are most likely to vary in response to the changing sea ice cover, and analysing the response of biology and biogeochemistry to these induced changes in present versus future environments (e.g., ocean acidification, warming). We will use existing complementary data sets provided by international project partners to achieve a wider spatial and temporal coverage of different parts of the Arctic Ocean.

The unique combination of expertise (microbiologists, geochemists, ecologists, modellers) and facilities across eight leading UK research institutions will allow us to make new links between the quantity and quality of exported OM as a food source for benthic ecosystems, the response of the biodiversity and ecosystem functioning across the full spectrum of benthic organisms, and the effects on the partitioning of carbon and nutrients between recycled and buried pools. To link the benthic sub-system to the Arctic Ocean as a whole, we will establish close links with complementary projects studying biogeochemical processes in the water column, benthic environment (and their interactions) and across the land-ocean transition. This will provide the combined data sets and process understanding, as well as novel, numerically efficient upscaling tools, required to develop predictive models that allow for a quantitative inclusion seafloor into environmental predictions of the changing Arctic Ocean.

More information can be found at https://www.changing-arctic-ocean.ac.uk/

‘Green Prince’ campaigns for ‘Blue Economy’

by Susan H. Little

The Grantham Institute Annual Lecture 2018

His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco

1 March 2018

In 2017, the BBC’s Blue Planet II plunged viewers to new, murky depths. Breaking hearts with stories of plastic waste and baby pilot whales, it swept to the National Television Awards Special Impact Award.

The Oceans, and human impact on them, were suddenly thrust to the centre stage of public consciousness.

Now it’s 2018, and this month the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College London, hosted His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco to deliver its 10th Annual Lecture.

Appropriately, the affectionately titled ‘Green Prince’ spoke about the Oceans. His focus? The threat of Climate Change, and a suggested new way forward: a sustainable ‘Blue Economy’.

After campaigning for over 25 years on environmental issues, including setting up his Foundation whose purpose is to protect the environment, Prince Albert II has certainly earned his nickname.

His Serene Highness also stands out as the only head of state to visit both poles. And, obviously a fan of cold climes, he competed in bobsleigh for Monaco in five successive Winter Olympics … so luckily wasn’t put off by the polar conditions that greeted him in London!

HSH Prince Albert began the lecture with a plea: now is the time for scientists, policy leaders, economic players and civil society to devote the time and effort needed to safeguard our oceans.

Why? Because the oceans are a key player in global climate, absorbing more than a quarter of anthropogenic (human-produced) CO2 and 93% of the excess heat caused by human activity.

The health of our oceans is suffering from the effects of climate change. The warming of the waters greatly endangers ecosystems and damages their biodiversity. Ocean acidification affects certain species… and the melting of glaciers increases sea level and damages the health of polar ecosystems.”

Yet it was only in 2015 at COP21 in Paris, 23 years after the Rio Earth Summit and 18 years on from the Kyoto Protocol, that the Oceans even made it ‘onto the negotiating table’ as a relevant player in global climate.

Three years on from Paris and great strides have been made, culminating in a new UN Special Envoy for the Oceans (Mr Peter Thompson of Fiji).

Nevertheless, HSH Prince Albert argued that much more must be done; and efforts are being held back as some states fail to act.

HSH Prince Albert attributed scientists (that includes Geochemists!) a central role in the effort to convince sceptics. It’s time to step up our efforts to provide the data that will direct future policy and investment decisions.

Like Blue Planet II, His Serene Highness highlighted plastic pollution as one area of growing public awareness, urging action, including an expansion of wastewater treatment. According to the UN, 52% of the world’s wastewater is currently left untreated.

Despite the challenges, HSH Prince Albert also highlighted the ocean of opportunities that awaits a civilisation that loves and respects the sea.

Like a ‘green economy’ has sprung up around renewable energy and sustainable development, so ‘blue growth’ is ripe to be invented.

This blue economy may include initiatives such as solar- or hydrogen- powered shipping, harnessing ocean-based renewable energy sources like the wind and waves, and promoting tourism and managed fishing in newly created Marine Protected Areas.

Sir Brian Hoskins, Chair of the Grantham Institute, said:

“Thanks to progressive international agreements informed by scientific evidence, and humanity’s sense to do the right thing, there is a new hope in the notion of the blue economy, the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs.”

Or, as His Serene Highness ended, with Winston Churchill:

“What is the use of living if it be not to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone?”

Meet the committee

The Geochemistry Group committee are:

Dr Jason Harvey (Chair): Lecturer, University of Leeds

Dr Christopher Pearce (Secretary): Senior Marine Geoscientist, National Oceanography Centre, Southampton

Dr Sam Hammond (Treasurer): Project Officer, The Open University

Dr Wes Fraser (Communications officer): Senior Lecturer, Oxford Brookes University

Ordinary members:

Dr Pallavi Anand: Lecturer, The Open University

Dr Christian März: Associate Professor, University of Leeds

Dr Andrea Burke: Senior Lecturer, University of St. Andrews

Prof. Craig Storey: Professor, University of Portsmouth

Dr David van Acken: Postdoctoral Researcher, iCRAG, University College Dublin

Dr Nicola Potts: Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Edinburgh

Dr Patricia Clay: Research Fellow, University of Manchester

Co-opted members:

Dr Marc-Alban Millet: Lecturer, Cardiff University

Dr Susan Little: Leverhulme Research Fellow, Imperial College London

Student Representative:

Rachael Shuttleworth: Research Student, University of Southampton

 

iGEO 2018 – an Irish event aimed at early career geoscientists

by David van Acken

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In January 2018, NUI Galway hosted the inaugural Irish Geosciences Early Career Symposium 2018 event, a two-day conference with discussion hubs, workshops and presentations for PhD students and postdocs. Organized by PhD students and postdocs from NUI Galway, Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin, Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies, and University College Cork, the symposium aimed to connect early career geoscientist with senior scientists, industry members and policy makers to provide opportunities for collaboration, debate, and knowledge exchange. Attended by around 100 delegates, scientific discussion hubs spanned a wide range of topics, including Public Perception, Tectonics, Modelling, Geochemistry, Fluid Flow, and Big Data Management. After an address by the Minister for Community Development, Natural Resources and Digital Development, Sean Kyne TD, keynotes about the future of geoscience were delivered by Dr. Patrick Redmond (Teck), Dr. Joel Gill (British Geological Survey) and Dr. Margaret Desmond (MaREI), followed by a panel discussion. The day was rounded out by 20 lightning talks, a poster session, and a conference dinner.  The second day comprised workshops on Science Communication, Writing of Publications and Funding Applications, Career Development, Statistics, and introductions into specialist topics geared at non-specialists. The meeting was wrapped up by the awards for outstanding posters and lightning talks.  A field trip to County Clare to study Karst landscapes and deltaic deposits was offered on the days following the meeting.

The successful symposium will surely be repeated, and possibly interesting for early career scientists from across the Irish Sea as well!

Life on the ocean waves can be SWEET.

by Rachael Shuttleworth
Geochemists and palaeoceanographers use the chemical and isotopic composition of preserved foraminifera (carbonate microfossils) in deep sea sediments to reconstruct the environment of the past. There are a vast range of things we can reconstruct based on the chemistry of these fossils from temperature to nutrient utilisation. The research I do focuses on the boron isotopic composition of foraminifera, and how this can be used to calculate the pH that the carbonate shell precipitated in.

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Preparing the net for plankton tow – a little different to working in the clean lab!

Palaeoclimate and palaeoceanography is a very necessary branch of geochemistry in today’s world as we head towards a higher CO2 world. By looking back in Earth’s history to a time when CO2 was equal to that or higher than observed today we can make better predictions as to how environments will change in our future. However, to do this effectively we need to better understand how different the chemical composition the forams (foraminifera) record is to the ambient environment, it is this question that led to my venture into modern biology and hitting the fieldwork jackpot of 3 months in Bermuda…

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Unimpressed isotope geochemist faced with going through a jar of freshly towed zooplankton…

The idea here is that respiration, calcification (& photosynthesis if the foram hosts symbionts) work to alter that chemistry of the environment immediately surrounding the foram where based on the viscosity of water diffusion dominates over turbulence. In order to investigate this we aim to initially define what this offset is by measuring the isotopic composition of the water and forams of a range of species and size fractions. We then want to look at how much each process (eg. Respirartion) contributes to altering the isotopic composition of the microenvironment. This work was a massive learning curve for me, swapping a clean lab for boat trips, and Teflon cleaning for shackling up plankton nets!

This work is still ongoing and is part of the SWEET (http://www.thefosterlab.org/sweet/) project and will (hopefully) form part of my thesis.

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Fieldwork; it’s a tough life.