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Marine Chemistry & Geochemistry

The Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry Department had a busy and productive year in 2012. Scientists participated in research cruises throughout the world’s oceans, analyzed samples in the laboratory using state-of-the-art analytical techniques, conducted laboratory-based experimental studies and developed computer models of natural processes. Many projects examined processes affecting the transport and fate of chemicals at ocean boundaries, such as the release of pollutants in the coastal zone, the effects of biological activity on the release of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, and the impact of hydrothermal activity in in the deep ocean. Collectively, these efforts focused on understanding processes that regulate ocean chemistry and the role of the oceans in supporting life on Earth.

The past year saw a significant investment by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation in new marine microbial research initiated by MC&G Scientists. Ben Van Mooy, in collaboration with Tracy Mincer, Mathew Johnson (Biology Dept.), and colleagues from other institutions, is leading an investigation into how microbial populations in the oceans use “infochemicals” to communicate and coordinate activities associated with the cycling of carbon and other nutrients. In another project, Liz Kujawinski is working with Krista Longnecker and Melissa Kido Soule, using ultra-high resolution mass spectrometry to identify key chemicals (metabolites) that can fingerprint how microbes extract metabolic energy from their environment and the interactions between coexisting microbial populations. In a third study, Dan Repeta, working with Ed DeLong at MIT, is examining the role of microbes in biochemical transformations associated with the degradation of dissolved organic matter in the oceans.

Towards the end of 2012 Mak Saito received an Investigator award from the Moore Foundation. This extremely competitive award is given to highly influential scientists examining the role of microbes in regulating nutrient flow in marine ecosystems. The award will provide Mak with the resources and flexibility to develop a novel capability for detecting and studying the distribution in the ocean of metalloenzymes—metal bearing proteins that catalyze chemical reactions and are critical in maintaining ocean ecosystem health and function.

These studies will build on other continuing research supported by this foundation: Erin Bertrand, a MIT/WHOI Joint Program student in Mak Saito's laboratory, discovered a novel protein that binds vitamin B12 in a marine alga. Their study showed that this protein is useful in determining the extent of B12 starvation in marine algae, and they have a patent pending for the potential biomedical uses of this new compound.

In the fall of 2012, Amy Apprill, Justin Ossolinski and Whitney Bernstein participated in a highly successful expedition led by Konrad Hughen to the Federated States of Micronesia aboard the M/V Alucia, which is privately owned by philanthropist Ray Dalio. Their research goals included obtaining long coral drill cores for reconstructing past climate changes, as well as investigating microbial communities on the coral reefs and conducting surveys of coral disease. Coral and water samples collected from diverse environments—ranging from semi-urban regional capitals to uninhabited atolls—will be used to assess ecological functioning of healthy coral reef communities and impacts of anthropogenic activity on coral health.

Matt Charette received an NSF RAPID award to study the impact of Greenland ice sheet melting on glacier hydrology and meltwater chemistry. In July 2012, a warming event over the continent resulted in a sudden increase in the aerial extent of ice sheet melting. Matt, in conjunction with JP student Ben Linhoff and collaborators from the Universities of Bristol and Edinburgh in the UK, quantified the impact that this large-scale melting event had on ice sheet motion and meltwater-derived chemical inputs to the ocean. Linhoff wrote about his experiences in the field during this study in a Scientific American blog.

Ken Buesseler continued his community-leading efforts to investigate the Fukushima radionuclide release to the oceans in the spring of 2011. In addition to the participation of his lab in research cruises monitoring the fate of nuclides released to the marine environment, Buesseler has been briefing U.S. and international agencies and educating the general public on the impacts of the release. He was instrumental in organizing a symposium in Tokyo in 2012 and a Morss Colloquium at WHOI in 2013 that provided forums to discuss lessons learned from the Fukushima disaster with policy makers, media, and a broad public audience.

Other news from MC&G includes recognition of accomplishment through awards and promotion. Mark Kurz was elected as a Fellow of the Geochemical Society in recognition of major contributions to the field of geochemistry. Bernhard Peucker-Ehrenbrink received a Sitka Sound Science Center Scientist in Residency Fellowship that allowed him to entrain community volunteers from Sitka, Alaska into a program to sample local rivers and streams for chemical analysis, visit local schools, and educate general public on the importance of rivers for the coastal ocean.

The list of promotions includes Ben Van Mooy to Associate Scientist with Tenure, Tracy Mincer to Associate Scientist without tenure, Matt McIlvin to Research Associate III, Catherine Carmichael to Research Assistant III, and Sheila Clifford to Administrative Associate II.

Two new Scientists joined MC&G Department in 2012, adding new skills and breadth to our research activities: Scott Wankel is a new Assistant Scientist focused on biogeochemical cycling of nitrogen and carbon in marine and coastal environments. He is an expert in the application of N and O isotopes to provide a mechanistic understanding of biogeochemical processes. Colleen Hansel joined WHOI as an Associate Scientist. She is a biogeochemist who studies the interactions of microbes and geochemistry to understand the stability of minerals and fate of metals in a broad spectrum of natural environments.

Jeffrey Seewald, Department Chair