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Tier 1 grant to Patrick Martin for study using corals to see connection between terrestrial and marine carbon cycle

14 Dec 2018

Congratulations to Asst Prof Patrick Martin for being awarded a Tier 1 grant for a study entitled “Humic acids in coral skeletons: developing a new proxy to estimate past seawater carbon concentrations”.

Peatlands consist of dead plant material that has removed large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere when alive, that is now locked up as organic matter in the soil. Because South-East Asian peatlands are all located close to the coast and receive abundant rainfall, some of this organic matter is leached out of the soil and into rivers, from where it quickly reaches the sea. Once this organic matter reaches the sea, it can have multiple environmental impacts, such as reducing the light level underwater, and producing more carbon dioxide in the water. Unfortunately, we have no historical records of organic matter levels in South-East Asian seas, and this means that we do not know how this flow of organic matter to sea is controlled, and whether human activities on land have changed the amount that enters the sea. This project aims to validate chemical measurements in the skeletons of long-lived corals as a way to estimate the organic matter concentration in the water when the coral grew. Because corals extend their skeletons layer-by-layer over hundreds of years, rather like the rings of a tree, we ultimately hope to reconstruct a precise history of seawater organic matter content over past centuries. This would provide us with unprecedented insights into the connection between the carbon cycle on land and in the ocean.