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The University of Southampton

Southampton scientists join cruise to trace ocean's vital nutrients

Published: 8 October 2010
Investigate 'micronutrient' metals
The cruise will trace ocean's vital nutrients

A new scientific expedition sets sail for the South Atlantic on 17 October 2010 to investigate the 'micronutrient' metals which are vital to marine life and also affect global climate and societies and economies around the world.

Five University of Southampton doctoral researchers will be taking part in the 39-day mission. They will cruise from Cape Town, South Africa, to Montevideo, Uruguay, studying the processes that supply metals, such as iron and zinc, which are essential 'fuel' for ocean ecosystems.

In total, 24 scientists from 10 UK institutes, all part of the UK-GEOTRACES consortium, will be aboard the Royal Research Ship Discovery , one of the Natural Environment Research Council's research vessels, to collect samples and carry out experiments.

Dr Rachel Mills, from the University of Southampton, the major partner in the consortium, says: "Much of our understanding of past climate comes from measurements of marine sediments, but understanding how such climate information is reflected in the chemistry of the sediments is essential if we are to interpret this evidence correctly.

"Understanding the cycle is also vital if we are to assess whether proposed geo-engineering schemes, such as 'seeding' the oceans with iron to increase their carbon uptake, might work."

The RRS Discovery will head to the South Atlantic where the ocean is particularly rich in life, but where the sources of micronutrients are a mystery. By collecting samples, and making a wide range of measurements both onboard and back in the lab, the research team hopes to learn how the metals enter and leave the ocean, and how their abundance in seawater influences marine biology.

"Understanding changes in the productivity of our oceans will help us to understand global climate change," says Professor Gideon Henderson of Oxford University's Department of Earth Sciences and the Oxford Martin School, who is leading the consortium.

"However, changes in marine ecosystems also have a wider impact: these ecosystems are vital for food production, biodiversity, international development, tourism, and pollution management. Any changes in the cycling of micronutrients in the South Atlantic will have an impact not just on the local area but also on the natural resources, economies and standard of living of countries around the world."

The cruise will leave Cape Town on 17 October 2010 and is scheduled to dock at Montevideo on 25 November. The consortium website will feature a blog with daily reports of the mission's progress.

Notes for editors

  • The UK-GEOTRACES consortium is comprised of 10 UK institutions: The Universities of Oxford, Southampton, Edinburgh, East Anglia, Plymouth, Manchester, Cambridge, and Imperial College London, the National Oceanography Centre Southampton and Plymouth Marine Lab. A related project is being conducted by the Universities of Oxford, Southampton, and Bristol. Both the UK-GEOTRACES consortium and the related project are supported by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) which has also provided the research vessel RRS Discovery for the 17 October cruise.

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