Calibration of a Novel Nutrient Paleoproxy in the Southern Ocean Grant uri icon


  • Human observations of Earth's climate span only a narrow window of Earth History. Understanding how and why Earth's climate changed before human observations can be overcome through the measurement and interpretation of the chemical composition of marine sediments. Accurate interpretation of these records -- also known as "proxy" records, because they stand in for direct measurements of environmental conditions in the past -- first requires that the behavior of the proxy be properly calibrated against direct observations in modern environments. This project will develop a novel proxy for marine nutrient utilization based on a comprehensive characterization of the chemical composition of particulate organic matter in the Southern Ocean. The formation and export of organic matter in the ocean requires nutrients, consumes carbon, and can influence the global air-sea balance of carbon dioxide. New proxies and calibrations offer novel ways of looking at Earth's climate history and can potentially illuminate interactions within marine ecosystems. The efficiency of the biological carbon pump depends critically on the availability and utilization of marine nutrients, particularly in the Southern Ocean. However, ambiguity in, and disagreement between current nutrient utilization paleoproxies renders reconstruction of past nutrient regimes uncertain. Cadmium -- a known proxy for phosphate -- offers a means to circumvent many of the known limitations of existing nutrient proxies, but requires a full isotopic characterization before its application. In this project, researchers will trace the stable isotopic composition of cadmium recorded in organic matter using multiple collector inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. The researchers will make isotopic measurements across numerous surface nutrient regimes in the Southern Ocean, with a focus on three critical geochemical transitions: the formation of organic carbon at the sea surface, its transit and decomposition through the ocean's interior, and its behavior during burial on the sea floor. This sea surface-to-sea floor calibration will thus comprehensively determine the utility and fidelity of a novel nutrient proxy, allowing a more accurate view of how Earth's climate was related to ocean biogeochemistry in the past.

date/time interval

  • February 1, 2015 - January 31, 2018

sponsor award ID

  • 1443577