Skip to main navigationSkip to main content
The University of Southampton
Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton

Research project: Resolving past changes in ocean oxygenation

Currently Active: 

The record of changes in the dissolved oxygen concentration of seawater is crucial for understanding Earths climate in the past, and for predicting future climate scenarios. Changes in ocean oxygenation are commonly determined from sedimentary records of metals that have multiple valence states at Earth surface conditions. However, the interpretation of such records is not straightforward because metal concentrations are influenced by many different variables that vary independently of oxygen.

(Source: R.H. James)
Ocean Biogeochemical Cycle of Cr

Project Aims

This project aims to validate the utility of Chromium (Cr) isotopes as a tracer of dissolved oxygen in the oceans, through study of natural and experimental systems. These results will ultimately lead to an improved understanding of the mechanisms and feedback processes that regulate ocean oxygenation, including the operation of the carbon cycle, ocean circulation and climate.



Core sites investigated for their record of sapropel formation in the Mediterranean, and an example of a dark organic-rich sapropel layer. (Source: H. Planquette)
Core sites investigates


To determine the isotopic fractionation and mechanisms of Cr uptake and use by:

  1. Characterising the chemical and Cr isotopic signature of marine sediments deposited in a range of redox conditions.
  2. Assessing the potential for post-depositional mobility of Cr and Cr isotopes by analysis of turbidites, sapropels and a carbonate diagenetic sequence.
  3. Quantifying the effects of weathering processes and hydrothermal exchange, through measurement of continental and hydrothermal sources in a range of continental rock types, rivers and hydrothermal fluids.
  4. Assessing the effects of biogeochemical processes on Cr stable isotopes by measurement of seawater profiles, in open ocean and shelf sea environments.

Current Progress: Sapropels

Sapropels are sharply-defined organic-rich units deposited in the Mediterranean. Although their formation is still under debate, it is generally thought that they represent intervals of enhanced palaeoproductivity in surface waters combined with improved organic matter preservation under decreased oxygen conditions.

Recent work by Hélène Planquette has shown that the upper part of Sapropel unit S1 (deposited between 6 and 9 kyr B.P.) is associated with positive δ53/52Cr ratios, suggesting that post-depositional processes remobilized and oxidised Cr in this layer. Further work is currently being performed to assess the extent to which the Cr isotopic composition of other sedimentary records may be affected by reventilation processes.


This project is funded by NERC and will run from 2010 to 2014

Key Contacts

Professor Rachael James (Professor of Geochemistry)

Dr Ian Parkinson (Collaborator, Open University)

Dr Caroline Peacock (Collaborator, Leeds University)

Dr Helene Planquette  (Post Doctoral Research Assistant)

Dr Christopher Pearce (Research Fellow)

Related Publications

Planquette, H., James, R.H., Parkinson, I.J. (2012) Goldschmidt Conference, P13H/120

Bonnand, P., Parkinson, I.J., James, R.H., Karjalainen, A.-M., Fehr, M.A. (2011) J. Anal. At. Spectrom., 26, 528- 535

PhDs and Other Opportunities


Associated research themes

Past Present and Future Environmental Change

Related research groups

Share this research project Share this on Facebook Share this on Twitter Share this on Weibo
Privacy Settings