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The University of Southampton
Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre SouthamptonOur research

Past Present and Future Environmental Change

Introduction

A central goal of Earth Science is to better understand how the actions of humanity are currently perturbing the Earth System and, crucially, to a gain some insight into the likely magnitude and impact of future environmental change. For instance, the burning of fossil fuel since the industrial revolution, in combination with cement making and deforestation has resulted in a ~40 % increase in the atmospheric concentration of the potent greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2; from 280 ppm to 392 ppm). Since the industrial revolution, the Earth has warmed by approximately 1oC. Exactly how the Earth's climate system, biosphere and oceans will change in response to current and future anthropogenic CO2 emissions is a subject of significant scientific, public and political debate. CO2 of course is not the only pollutant emitted by human actions, the sum total of which have left such an imprint on the Earth that some scientists propose we have now entered the Anthropocene Epoch. In the Geochemistry Group we use multidisciplinary approaches, often rooted in cutting edge technology and geochemical and isotopic methodologies, to study the past and present climate and Earth system, with the aim to gain vital insights to our largely uncertain future.

Research

The research carried out in Southampton dealing with past, present and future environmental change can be split into two parts, the first deals with a better understanding of the major geochemical cycles of the Earth System and the impact of humanities action upon them, The second part is focused on the reconstruction of the climate of the past to better understand the drivers of natural climate and environmental change. 

Expertise

Due to the wide scope of the research we do as part of this theme we  are necessarily multidisciplinary, drawing upon a variety of approaches and geochemical/isotopic techniques for a better understanding of environmental change. As a result we fully utilise the analytical facilities housed in the Geochemistry group. Highlights of our expertise include the development of unique sensors able to monitor nitrogen and phosphorous pollution in estuaries in real time, new approaches to the analysis of nanoparticles from landfill leachate resulting from coupling asymmetric fluid-field fractionation to HR-ICPMS, reconstructing the major element composition of the ocean (Mg/Ca and Sr/Ca) through time using the elemental and isotopic composition of hydrothermal calcium carbonate veins in oceanic crust, and the measurement of the boron isotopic composition on marine carbonate by MC-ICPMS to reconstruct past ocean pH and hence atmospheric CO2. Many of our approaches utilise non-traditional stable isotope systems (δ7Li, δ11B, δ26Mg, δ44Ca, δ56Fe, δ88Sr), radiogenic isotope systems (e.g. Nd & Pb), and elemental concentration analysis of solid (via laser ablation) and solution samples.

PhD's and Other Opportunities

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