The importance of micronutrient cycling in glaciated environments for the global carbon cycle – a case study from Greenland

Theme: Earth, Atmosphere & Ocean Processes

Primary Supervisor:

Susan Little

Earth Sciences, UCL

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Secondary Supervisor:

Philip Pogge Von Strandmann

Earth Sciences, UCL

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Additional Supervisor(s):

Tina van de Flierdt (Imperial College London)

Project Description:

One of the key targets of current environmental research is an advanced understanding of Earth’s climate, in particular the complex feedback mechanisms between climate, oceanic and atmospheric circulation patterns, and the carbon cycle.
The ocean can affect climate through its high heat capacity, its ability to distribute heat (ocean currents, sea ice), and exchange of gases with the atmosphere. In addition, there is life in the ocean. Photosynthesising algae are important for global carbon cycling because they remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and convert it to organic carbon. In order to do so they rely on nutrients dissolved in seawater. But what controls the supply of nutrients to the ocean? How will these controls change in the future?

This project will target seawater and particulate samples collected on two field seasons from fjords around Nuuk (Greenland). Glaciers are important for nutrient supply, releasing key elements from rocks into the fjords. However, we don’t know how this ‘glacial signal’ is fed to the oceans. In this project, you will study contrasting fjord environments and investigate the biogeochemical gradients that exist from fjord to the open ocean (i.e. the Labrador Sea).

You will be part of a larger, ERC-funded project, called ICY-LAB, led by Kate Hendry at the University of Bristol ( You will tackle the cycling of the nutrients Zn, Cu and Cd, by analysing the stable isotope composition of these elements and using their fingerprints to understand natural processes. Analyses will be carried out in state-of-the-art clean room and mass spectrometry facilities. Dependent on your interests, the project can be extended to other trace metals, including the utilisation of radiogenic isotope systems as provenance tracer.

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Policy Impact of Research:

Documenting and understanding modern biogeochemical cycles is critical to evaluate the potential threats of anthropogenic climate change and to unravel the ocean’s role in past climate change. Glaciated environments, in particular, are at the forefront of change in a warming world and are thus a critical frontier. This research will provide valuable constraints on nutrient cycling in glaciated environments, along with the downstream impact of these nutrients on open ocean ecosystems.

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