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Marine Chemisty and Geochemistry - Overview
Overview | Awards and Recognition

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The Australian RSV Aurora Australis approaches the Mertz Glacier field in the Southern Ocean in late 2001, where Senior Scientist Ken Buesseler studied the natural iron cycle during the early melt season. Early in 2002, Buesseler returned to the Southern Ocean, serving as chief scientist aboard the US Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star for the Southern Ocean Iron Experiment (SOFeX). The three-ship operation investigated the relationship between biological productivity and iron added to the ocean surface to mimic dust inputs thought to stimulate growth of marine plankton. (Photo by Ken Buessler)

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Research in the Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry Department (MCG) involves all aspects of oceanic chemical fluxes. MCG researchers use laboratory, field-based, and computational tools to understand the processes that control the chemistry of the oceans. Research projects often focus on mechanisms and rates of chemical transport at ocean boundaries, from the flux of pollutants in the coastal zone to the effects of ocean biology on atmospheric carbon dioxide, and hydrothermal influences on the deep ocean. Many studies require the use of ships in remote places: MCG cruises in 2002 ranged from the North Pacific to the Antarctic. Ken Buesseler and his research group participated in the Southern Ocean Iron Experiment (SOFeX), which was unique in the simultaneous use of three ships in the Ross Sea, Antarctica. Ken was the chief scientist on board the Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star. Scientists from 17 institutions, including WHOI, collaborated to examine the relationship between biological productivity and dust inputs to the ocean surface. Using samples collected on the cruise, the WHOI group will measure how much carbon was removed from the surface by an iron-induced phytoplankton bloom.

Because the ocean can be chemically and biologically variable in both space and time, MCG scientists are heavily involved in making time-series measurements. Two additions to the department in 2002, Senior Scientist Bill Jenkins and Associate Scientist Scott Doney, bring valuable expertise to this pursuit. Bill’s newest project uses tritium-helium and noble gas measurements to understand the biological productivity variations and gas exchange processes near Bermuda. Scott and David Glover are coupling satellite observations with ocean measurements from the Bermuda region to formulate and test mathematical models of the biogeochemical processes. Their time-series work uses data from the Oceanic Flux Program (OFP) operated by Associate Scientist Maureen Conte (see Science Highlights Seasons in the Deep Ocean). Started 25 years ago by Scientist Emeritus Werner Deuser, the OFP uses moored sediment traps near Bermuda to continuously measure the carbon flux to the deep ocean. It is the longest record of its kind.

The research programs of assistant scientists Katrina Edwards and Chris Reddy are part of a new departmental initiative in microbial biogeochemistry. Katrina is studying the role of microtopography in microbial attachment to mineral surfaces. This research has important implications for life in the deep ocean, how rapidly minerals weather, and biofouling in the marine environment. Chris is conducting research crucial to understand the long- and short-term effects of oil spills in the ocean. He is using comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography to study the effects of microbial degradation on sedimentary petroleum hydrocarbons in both laboratory and field samples (see Science Highlights story on the Effects of an Oil Spill).

Mark Kurz, Department Chair