Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry
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Lary Ball and Ken Buesseler the Plasma Mass Spectrometry Facility, which provides state-of-the-art sensitivity, precision, and accuracy for elemental and isotopic analysis of aqueous and solid materials. (Photo by Tom Kleindinst, WHOI Graphic Services)
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Scientists in the Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry (MCG) Department were extremely active in 2004 analyzing the chemical composition of the ocean and its constituent sediments, rocks, and biota. While laboratory studies, modeling, and remote sensing of the ocean all are important to many of our staff, what stands out in 2004 was the wide range and number of field programs.

Jeff Seewald, Katrina Edwards, and Wolfgang Bach conducted research cruises to undersea hot spots in the Pacific, where chemical and microbiological transformations at high temperature and pressure take place in and around underwater volcanic systems. Such sites are accessible several miles below the surface only by remote samplers and submersibles that take measurements and collect samples for analyses.

At the ocean surface, MCG scientists studied processes in waters off Bermuda. Ed Sholkovitz measured chemical input to the surface ocean on a novel buoy-mounted aerosol sampler, catching dust as it falls on the waters off Bermuda. Bill Jenkins made monthly measurements of dissolved gases in the ocean, to understand ocean productivity and the physical processes that mix water to depth.

Bill Jenkins and Ken Buesseler also joined an interdisciplinary team of scientists from three WHOI departments to look at ocean eddies off Bermuda, which alter the local physical conditions and induce plankton blooms that change chemical conditions as they move through the ocean.

Bermuda and the wider Sargasso Sea also attracted the attention of Jim Moffett and his group for studies of very rare metal compounds required for phytoplankton growth. In a related study in the Pacific, Jim and other U.S. scientists made detailed comparisons of the analytical methods they use to measure minute traces of iron in seawater.

Notable in 2004 was the launch of VERTIGO, an international and interdisciplinary study of ocean particles in the “twilight zone,” depths below about 100 meters, where sinking particles are either consumed by bacteria and zooplankton, or settle to the bottom. It is a region of interest to many on our staff (Ken Buesseler, Dave Glover, Karen Casciotti, Benjamin Van Mooy, and Tim Eglinton).

Scientists in MCG also worked close to home. Bill Martin studied marine sediments and their fluids in local waters, Matt Charette studied how ground water flows from the Cape into Waquoit Bay, and Nelson Frew investigated the chemical exchange of gases across the ocean surface. Bernhard Peucker-Ehrenbrink and Chris Reddy examined riverine systems in the Hudson River and Gulf of Maine, respectively, while a bit further from home, Dan Repeta studied coastal systems of Chesapeake Bay and Jean Whelan worked on Saanich Inlet, Washington.

Our scientists recover samples that require chemical analyses with cutting-edge analytical facilities at WHOI, including mass spectrometers (above), gas chromatographs, spectrophotometers, low-level radiation detectors, and other instruments, to tease out the chemical composition.

What does all this traveling and chemical analysis mean for the advancement of ocean sciences? Without direct measurements of chemical distributions and transformations in the oceans, we’d be studying the oceans with our eyes closed. MCG scientists work diligently in the field and lab, make models of ocean processes, and open our eyes with chemical analyses that help us better see how this ocean planet works.

—Ken Buesseler (kbuesseler@whoi.edu)
Department Chair

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